TANZANIA, Tanzania — The United Nations marked the 75th anniversary of its birth with a scaled-down event Friday because of the coronavirus pandemic, one of many challenges a deeply divided world faces along with poverty, inequality, discrimination and unending wars.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the virtual commemoration of the signing of the U.N. Charter that “global pressures are spiraling up” and “today’s realities are as forbidding as ever.”
He said people continue to lose trust in government and political establishments. He has also spoken repeatedly about the rise of populism triggering increasing threats to multilateralism. And he has often denounced what he calls a “groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance,” including anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred.
“Today’s marches against racism were preceded by widespread protests against inequality, discrimination, corruption and lack of opportunities all over the world — grievances that still need to be addressed, including with a renewed social contract,” he said in the video address.
“Meanwhile,” Guterres said, “other fundamental fragilities have only grown: the climate crisis, environmental degradation, cyber attacks, nuclear proliferation, a push-back on human rights and the risk of another pandemic.”
He recalled the hope that the birth of the United Nations brought to people everywhere as World War II was ending, and said the U.N. Charter remains “a touchstone for a world mired in a pandemic, torn by discrimination, endangered by climate change and scarred by poverty, inequality and war.”
The delegates from about 50 countries — representing over 80% of the world’s population — who signed the charter in San Francisco on June 26, 1945, “seized their opportunity to plant the seeds of something better and new” after the devastation of World War II and the Holocaust, Guterres said.
Nations and people everywhere “must do the same today,” he said.
The secretary-general said multilateralism must be given “teeth” to ensure “that effective global governance is a reality when it is needed.” Civil society, cities, the private sector and young people also must be brought to the table because they are “essential voices in shaping the world we want,” he said.
Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, president of the 193-member General Assembly, said multilateralism must not only include civil society but “ensure the full participation of voices that have gone unheard for too long: those of women, youth, indigenous persons and people with disabilities.”
“This is a moment of reckoning for our shared planet and shared future. This is a time for action, ambition and partnership,” he said. “Three-quarters of a century ago, skeptics doubted the resolve of the members of the United Nations. Cynicism did not prevail then, nor will it now.”
Guterres said in an Associated Press interview ahead of the anniversary that the U.N.’s biggest accomplishment has been the long period since World War II without a conflict by the major powers, and the avoidance of World War III or a nuclear war.
He said its biggest failing has been its inability to avoid the proliferation of medium and small conflicts, singling out Syria, Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan as examples of conflicts where peace is overdue.
At a news conference Thursday, he expressed growing concern over the “very dysfunctional relations” between the world’s two major nuclear powers, the United States and Russia, and its two major economic powers, the U.S. and China. It was a repeat of his warning in September about the looming risk of the world splitting in two, with the United States and China creating rival internets, currencies, trading networks and financial rules.
Nine months later, Guterres said in the AP interview, “we are witnessing this divide deepening.”
He said at the news conference that these rifts are growing at a time when global co-operation is urgently needed.
“One virus has put us on our knees, and we have not been able to fight it effectively,” Guterres said. “It’s spreading now everywhere. There was no control, no effective co-ordination among member states. We are divided in fighting COVID 19.”
Similarly, he said, nations have not been able to come together to effectively deal with climate change or to address the implications of genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and other technological advances.
Guterres said multilateral institutions need to be more powerful and international co-operation must be greater and more effective “to create the conditions for humanity to overcome these challenges.”
Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press