UPDATE ON UN TRIP
New dates: Tuesday the 28th and Friday the 31st. From start to finish the time commitment should be from 11:15 to about 1:15—however, if you need to leave a little early, we can let them know and they’ll have someone walk you out.
We’ll meet at the entrance (46th Street and 1st Avenue) at 11:15. Be ready to go through security at 11:30. BRING YOUR IDs.
The noon briefing will finish around 12:45 and the Q&A section where they take questions from reporters will go for about 30 minutes.
So for next week, we will not have class on Monday (this trip is taking its place) but we WILL have class on Wednesday.
Intro to the United Nations
It was established after WWII to prevent something like that from ever happening again. How successful has the UN been in that mission?
Members include nearly every nation in the world: 193 out of 196 (or 195 depending on whether you count Taiwan). When it was founded, they wrote the UN charter (sort of like its constitution) and a universal declaration of human rights.
The United Nations is made up of a number of main bodies:
General Assembly: This is the chief policymaking branch, and it plays a significant role in codification of international law. It’s the deliberative body of the UN, in which all member states have one vote. Issues on which the General Assembly deliberates and makes recommendations include matters of peace and security, budgetary matters, and nearly anything else within the scope of the UN Charter. Major questions require a two-thirds majority, and minor questions are resolved by a simple majority. It meets to go into session every year in the fall.
Security Council: This department is charged with maintaining international peace and security. Its main functions include hearing complaints, recommending peaceful solutions, and working to end conflict in areas where hostilities have already erupted through such means as cease-fire directives and UN peacekeeping forces. It is in charge of sending “peacekeepers,” also known as blue helmets, who are only supposed to use force in self-defense and who have been known to cause some problems of their own.
The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, also known as the Permanent Five, Big Five, or P5, include the following five governments: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The members represent the five great powers considered the victors of World War II. They’re the only ones with veto power, which ruffles some feathers.
Economic and Social Council: This body discusses international economic and social issues, identifies issues hindering the standard of living in various regions of the world, and makes policy recommendations to alleviate those issues.
International Court of Justice: Located in The Hague, the ICJ is the judicial body of the UN. It includes 15 elected judges and settles cases according to International Law.
Secretariat: This body is the administrative branch of the UN and is charged with administering the policies and programs of the other bodies. The Secretary General is the top official in the Secretariat. The current secretary-general is António Guterres, a Portuguese diplomat who was previously the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees between 2005 and 2015.
Aside from the main bodies, the UN has 15 specialized agencies. These are autonomous organizations working with the UN and each other and governments through the Economic and Social Council as well as at the inter-secretariat level.
These agencies include:
The World Bank
The rest can be found here.
Covering the UN as a journalist
As an international journalist, it’s good to be familiar with how the UN works for a number of reasons. Its affiliated agencies are often extremely helpful for journalists, especially freelancers, but you have to be very careful about how accepting assistance from these agencies could affect your objectivity as a journalist.
Aside from that, the UN itself can be a bountiful source of stories, and it’s good to examine it with a critical eye to hold it to account. No matter how noble its mission, it is a massive bureaucratic entity run by fallible people. It’s prone to corruption and is known for fostering a culture of impunity as well as mismanaging funds. (The UN has a LOT of money—member states pay dues—and wherever large amounts of money can be found, you can always find people being tempted to do bad things. Good rule of thumb for any humanitarian crisis situation: follow the money.)
“Six years ago, I became an assistant secretary general, posted to the headquarters in New York. I was no stranger to red tape, but I was unprepared for the blur of Orwellian admonitions and Carrollian logic that govern the place. If you locked a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result. The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again.”
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight international development goals for the year 2015 that were established by the United Nations in 2000. All 189 United Nations member states at that time, and at least 22 international organizations, committed to help achieve the following Millennium Development Goals by 2015:
- To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- To achieve universal primary education
- To promote gender equality and empower women
- To reduce child mortality
- To improve maternal health
- To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
- To ensure environmental sustainability
- To develop a global partnership for development
The MDGs have since been replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals. This sort of thing can provide excellent news pegs.
The UN used to have its own news agency, IRIN, but in 2015 IRIN split off to become its own nonprofit entity devoted to covering humanitarian news: http://www.irinnews.org/
Not to be confused with UN agencies, there are also a number of high-profile nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) out there doing similar kinds of work with similar aims, but they’re not affiliated with the UN. These also merit scrutiny. Aid business is good business.
A few of the most well-known of these include:
Partners in Health
Save the Children