With the theme of: "Making the United Nations fit for purpose in the 21st Century", the conference was opened up by the NSW UNAA President declaring that change starts with us. That those of us who are convinced of the mechanisms of the UN must seek to not only scrutinize and improve it, but also be an advocate for it.
Many UN observers have suggested that a suite of radical reforms are required to transform the UN, preserve its relevance, and make the organisation fit for purpose.
Of course, the conference was held during a time of transition for the UN - during the Secretary-General elections, which continue to take place.
Of course, some of the major challenges the UN faces is dealing with the displaced persons and refugee crisis.
Over the last five years, half of the Syrian population has either been killed or displaced. Approx. 4.7 million Syrians now live in neighboring countries, while 6.6 million remain displaced within the country's borders.
The conflict in the Middle East has contributed to an unprecedented refugee crisis - with over 60 million displaced world wide.
Calibrating the UN's humanitarian and political response will be an early test for the next Secretary-General.
Institutional reform also needs to be front and center for the next S-G, and will first be required to respond to the three recent reviews, including on:
- Peace operations,
- peace-building, and
- women, peace and security.
The newly-elected S-G will also need to negotiate implementation of the recent multinational deals:
- the Sustainable Development Goals that cane into effect in 2015, and
- the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Helen Clark - former Prime Minister of New Zealand and current senior United Nations Official has done extremely well in the first round of candidature debates, leaving her with 8 votes in favor, and a mere 5 against - putting her straight in the middle of the contest polls.
There is much about the next UN S-G being a woman - and how the world may be ready for that.
Professor Gillian Triggs - Australia's Human Rights Commissioner gave a compelling presentation on the first day of the conference, titled: "Human Rights, Australia, and the UN".
Prof Triggs highlighted Australia's lack of implementation of the United Nation's recommendations in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) 2011, which is a peer review of Nations State's human rights records.
Australia's first UPR was released in 2011, and contained 290 human right violations observed, centered around our offshore processing of asylum seekers, our atrocious record on juvenile detentinon families, with 48% incarcerated being aboriginal young people, and Australasia's growing record on domestic violence.
According to Professor Triggs, the Australian government has only implemented 10% of the recommendations within this report, with the second UPR for Australia being released earlier this year.
We we looked at the Global Peace Index 2016 and the Sustainable Development Goals as catalysts for change, and discussed the Middle East and the quest for peace.
On the second day of the conference, we analysed NU Peace operations - current and past, and discussed a more holistic and robust procedure for governments deciding whether to engage in peace operations.
The danger of non-democratic countries contributing peacekeepers were discussed, in light of last year's renewed allegations of UN peacekeepers trafficking and sexually abusing those they are meant to protect. They are now subject to internal investigations, and the UN recognises the process of selecting peacekeepers needs to be tightened.
Nuclear weapon disarmament was also discussed, with the point raised that nuclear weapons are actually illegal under international law, given their sheer impact on civilians, and an inability to contain such an impact.
Under the women, peace and security agenda, it was recognised that the role of gender advisers and women protection advisers are crucial for the protection, advancement and support of all women and girls in all of the UN operations, and have known to make a significant impact.
It was noted, however, that these crucial roles are not given budgetary priority, and therefore hardly exist.
Lastly, the conference discussed the need to move towards a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly to be established for the sake of accountability, transparency and scrutiny of all UN operations, particularly taking on the role of overriding the P5 - who are often known to block Resolutions, when they are not in their favor.
Luis Canberra from the Center for Global Governance and Public Policy at the Griffith University put up some strong arguments on this proposal, as well as outlined a possible model of UN Parliamentary Assembly structure.
The Institute for Global Peace and Sustainable Governance as well as the World Citizens Association campaigned for democratic global governance, outing a model forward, which included:
- Creating a world constitution;
- Uniting the Democracies;
- Integrating the regions; and
- Transforming the United Nations.
it was proposed that this model which sought to move towards global peace and sustainable governance was best to begin with uniting the Democracies.
I still have not decided what I think of ts proposition.
The above are all complex matters to consider, and will need strong leadership, a clear and undivided mind, strong values foundations and leaders that look beyond themselves and their own agendas to accomplish.
In saying that, I am neither for nor against such proposals, as there are yet too many questions left unanswered.
I think that we all need to be involved in these important discussions and engage in international affairs - for the sake of our nation and our future.
Call to action: I encourage you all to be informed citizens, and to get involved in international affairs and the UN as much as you can. There are various volunteer programs you can be a part of.
If you would like to know more about the United Nations Association of Australia, join one of their branches, or go to the next conference to engage in such important matters, go to: www.unaa.org.au