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December 6, 2004
Vol. 2, No. 34



Sister Rita Larivee Adventures in global community

By Sr. Rita Larivee, NCR associate publisher

Does the United Nations really matter? The Oil-for-Food scandal leaves an already politically weakened U.N. even more open to criticism and controversy. A quick survey of the United Nations' history will reveal an assortment of difficulties and inconsistencies at its core. If nothing else, it's an easy target of negative attention and often deservedly so.

Though it has been around for 59 years, other than for specific events, the United Nations escapes the imagination of most people. Its purpose is unclear, its structure is understood by few, and its decisions are often perplexing.

The reality, I suspect, is that most of us know little of the internal workings of the United Nations and just as little about its founding ideals. Perhaps I'm wrong, but as a society it would seem that insufficient energy is given to understanding this institution. As a student many years ago, I spent little time studying about it and I suspect today's curriculum gives it modest space as well.

Other Today's Takes by Rita Larivee
Sept. 20, 04 Looking for elephants
July 6, 04 Celebrating community
March 12, 04 Spring is in the air
March 11, 04 Can you hear me now?
March 10, 04 Fighting for the corporate soul
March 9, 04 What's worse than ignorance?
March 8, 04 Disposable words
Jan. 30, 04 Integral reality
Jan. 29, 04 The spiral of existence
Jan. 28, 04 Eight groups of consciousness
Jan. 27, 04 Not new solutions, new questions
June 25, 03 Use closed sessions with caution
How then is it possible for us as a populace to have an informed opinion of the current questions at stake? Should Kofi Annan step down? Should other countries be admitted to the Security Council? What reforms are necessary within the United Nations? Should the United Nations be dissolved?

In 1956, Dag Hammarskjöld, the second secretary general of the United Nations, stated: "I have no doubt that 40 years from now we shall be engaged in the same pursuit. How could we expect otherwise? World organization is still a new adventure in human history."

How right he was in predicting the current state of affairs and that the United Nations would still be in its infancy in the year 2004. If early indications are correct, the challenge to growth and maturity will not be easy.

The current revelation of fraud and greed within the United Nations leaves me disappointed, saddened and disgusted. But I'm not willing to let the misconduct of others determine the fate of what might be peace in the world.

My fear, however, is that we will become cynics rather than take the time to rekindle the flame of hope lit 59 years ago. We live in an age where finding fault has become an art form and disbelieving in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions is an easy road to follow -- which is why I spent the afternoon surfing on the Internet for information about the United Nations and its history and the people committed to its founding principles.

For starters, here are a few Web links:


The structures of the United Nations are not for the faint of heart. The organizational chart is a nightmare to navigate. Of course, complexity is not bad and much good has been accomplished over the years. But if the dream is to come alive, the convolutions and inconsistencies must be recognized as potentially self-annihilating.

The founding ideals set forth in the U.N. Charter (1945) cannot be left as unrealized dreams of a past generation.

  • To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which … in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to humankind;
  • To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small;
  • To establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained;
  • To promote social progress and better standards of life;
  • To practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors;
  • To unite our strength to maintain international peace and security;
  • To ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest;
  • To employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples;
  • To maintain international peace and security;
  • To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples;
  • To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
  • To be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

It's ironic to note that two of the first international organizations established for global cooperation were the International Telecommunications/Telegraph Union (founded in 1865) and the Universal Postal Union (founded in 1874), both global communication systems. We've been working at it for more than a hundred years and we continue to be baffled by the intricacies of human relations.

Does the United Nations really matter? I think so. Adherence to its founding principles may be the only hope we have.

Rita Larivee, a Sister of St. Anne, is NCR associate publisher. She can be reached at rlarivee@natcath.org

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