[Special] United Nations: Year in review

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Flags of member nations flying at United Nations Headquarters.
[UN Photo/Joao Araujo Pinto] 
New York: In 2012, climate change made headlines. Countries struggled between turmoil and transition, putting the United Nations to the test to negotiate peace and define "A Future we Want" for all.

In SYRIA, violence spiralled out of control. Fighting and human rights abuses by government and opposition groups left, according to some estimates, over 40.000 people dead and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said, "We must stop the violence and the flow of arms to both sides and set in motion a Syrian led transition as soon as possible."

The UN Security Council could not agree on action to stop the bloodshed.

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State asserted, "The international community should say with one voice – without hesitation or caveat – that the killing of innocent Syrians must stop and a political transition must begin."

But some argued for caution.

"There is no doubt whatsoever that the Syrian authorities bear a huge share of the responsibility for the situation, but one shouldn't ignore the fact that for a long time now they've been fighting not unarmed men but combat units such as the Syrian Free Army and extremist groups including Al-Qaeda," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

Syria's UN ambassador Bashar al-Ja'afari accused some council members of actually fuelling the flames.

Bashar al Ja'afari, Syrian Permanent Representative to the UN, stated, “The same countries are undermining my country's sovereignty by encouraging terrorism and by supplying and providing all types of logistical and political support to armed groups in Syria."

The Joint Special Envoy of the UN and Arab League, Kofi Annan presented a plan to end the violence and start dialogue, but the various Syrian parties failed to reach an agreement to end the conflict.

The Security Council sent 300 unarmed observers to investigate alleged massacres and other human rights violations and monitor a ceasefire that never really took hold.

Lakhdar Brahimi, who took over as envoy after Annan resigned in frustration, continued to shuttle between various stakeholders and tried to engage regional actors.

While the violence continues, the humanitarian needs are escalating in Syria and beyond. The World Food Programme is scaling up to feed 1.5 million people in the country.

In GAZA, a new cycle of violence erupted after months of standstill in negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon headed to the region to personally appeal for a ceasefire.

In late November a great majority of countries approved a UN General Assembly resolution to elevate Palestine to a non-member observer state at the UN.

LIBYA saw its first free and transparent elections in half a century. The UN Development Programme assisted in setting up voting booths and ballot boxes, while the UN Mine Action Programme removed 180 thousand explosives all over the country to help create stability and prevent arms smuggling across the region.

Instability and turmoil in nearby MALI. After a military coup toppled the government, Islamic Jihadists used the power vacuum to occupy the country's north. Refugees have flooded the Sahel region, which is suffering from drought and pervasive poverty.

The African Union called on the UN Security Council to endorse military intervention to free Northern Mali from the extremists.

"Mali is at a crossroads. Time is of essence. We need to act fast and to send a clear and strong message on the resolve of international community and its support to the African-led efforts," urged Antonio Tete, Permanent Observer of African Union to the UN.

In the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, renewed fighting between government forces and rebel troops left two million people displaced and a million vulnerable children at even greater risk. As rebel soldiers advanced on the city of Goma in late November, the UN peacekeeping mission deployed attack helicopters to help the national army protect civilians amid the violence.

A first Birthday for SOUTH SUDAN – as the UN Security Council made diplomatic efforts to ease tensions with neighbouring Sudan over unresolved issues such as its borders and oil production.

"The agreements that were signed last week in Addis on security, oil, finances, nationality and trade issues were very important and potentially historic," said Susan Rice, US Permanent Representative to the UN.

Nuclear worries about IRAN, as questions remained on the country's uranium enrichment programme.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu emphasized, "A red line should be drawn right here, before Iran completes a second stage of nuclear enrichment necessary to make a bomb."

Iran insisted on the peacefulness of its nuclear programme – and President Ahmadinejad accused the General Assembly of applying double standards.

"The United Nations - which were created with the purpose of expanding justice and re-instituting universal rights - have in practice been engulfed by discrimination, preparing a supportive ground for the domination of a few powerful countries," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad alleged.

MYANMAR's Nobel laureate and pro-democracy activist Aung Sun Suu Kyi received a hero's welcome at the UN in Geneva and New York. Elected to parliament after years of house arrest, she invited international aid to build a better future for her country.

She said, "If we all want to achieve genuine democracy for Burma, we have to learn to work together."

In 2012 storms and severe weather left countries ravaged across the globe – a stark reminder that the threat of climate change is real.

Action on climate change was a major topic at the UN's Rio+20 summit in Brazil, where 40 thousand people gathered to discuss strategies for sustainable development in the 21st century.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, "My message to world leaders is clear: Sustainable development is an idea whose time has come."

At the summit 191 countries agreed on an outcome document, called "A Future we Want"...

... A future that has already started in Indonesia, where the UN inspired project "Teens go Green" motivates students from all over the country to make environmental protection a priority.

According to Claudia van Nasution, an Indonesian Journalism student, "We have to work on changing our mindset… If teenagers get to know the issues then we can keep the commitment to the environment going in the future."

One teenager whose courage impressed the world was Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year old girl from Pakistan. She survived an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen, who accused her of promoting education for girls.

"The terrorists showed what frightens them most: A girl with a book," Ban Ki-moon stressed.

2012 will be remembered as complex and challenging year. Conflict, poverty, natural disasters, terrorism, climate change and human rights violations continue to plague humankind.

Carrying the torch against all these issues, Ban Ki-moon, at the Olympics in London, implored the world to keep the fire burning for tolerance, peace and harmony, for a "Future we Want". -UNifeed
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