Seventy-five years ago, the most violent, far-flung and devastating war the world has ever seen was brought to an end. Millions fought, suffered and died, and millions more were uprooted with no homes to return to, no jobs and no idea where the next meal would come from. It was from this desperate crucible that, 75 years ago, the United Nations was born.
While far from perfect, the UN was—and remains—the best covenant humanity has yet conceived to prevent the slippery slide into war between nations. Over time, this pact was broadened to include the understanding that peace does not only mean the absence of war, but also the promise of dignity and well-being for all. Integrating peace, development and human rights evolved to become a seamless, kaleidoscopic vision for human progress.
India and the UN
Since the day when two Indians signed the UN Charter (26 June 1945), committing their not-yet-independent nation to a global normative framework designed to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights”, India and the UN have partnered in the truest and deepest sense of the word toward internationalism, working closely at refining ethical rules, by which, Member States can cooperate on a level-playing field through dialogue and mutual understanding.
In a press statement in 1945, M.K. Gandhi had said that “the future peace, security and ordered progress of the world demand a world federation of free nations… (and therefore) India’s nationalism spells internationalism.” And as early as 1946, India spoke up at the UN for the disenfranchised and urged a nascent and emerging international order to embody the spirit of the UN Charter in word and deed.
India’s multilateral vision was reiterated in its enthusiastic participation in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, underlining the belief that everyone, across continents, political status, and socio-economic contexts, has the same inalienable right to life, liberty, fairness, conscience, democracy and well-being. It was these universal human values that were built into the global vision, not only by the old elite – the Western powers – but also through the persistent efforts of India’s leaders, women and men, who sought to reflect this country’s deep universal convictions into the declaration. It was India’s Hansa Mehta, for example, who in 1947 urged the UN to change the words of the draft Universal Declaration from “all men are born free and equal” to “all human beings are born free and equal”.
Continuing its belief in vasudaiva kutumbakam (seeing the world as one family), India drew the attention of the UN General Assembly to racial discrimination in South Africa and raised its voice against colonialism at home and around the world. India co-sponsored the landmark 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, which proclaimed the need for an unconditional end to colonialism in all its forms.
India’s commitment to multilateralism
Over the years, India’s commitment to multilateralism has never wavered, spanning a broad spectrum of support, including UN Peacekeeping, climate change, human rights and sustainable development. Most recently, India joined the Alliance for Poverty Eradication at the UN as a founding member to boost the global economy in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, stressing that ending poverty is not just about monetary compensation but guaranteeing access of the poor to quality education and sanitation.
There are countless other examples of India’s inspiring leadership at the UN, including in the declaration of the International Day of Yoga; as the founder of the India-UN Development Partnership Fund, the first ever single-country South-South cooperation initiative to undertake projects across the developing world; as the first country to voluntarily contribute money to the UN Trust Fund for International Cooperation in Tax Matters, walking the talk for multilateral support on tax cooperation and flows of black money, and of strengthening UN mechanisms in this area; in its initiative to pilot a draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT); as the founder of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure; as the founder of the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF); as the founder of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), registered with the UN as a treaty-based inter-governmental organisation; and through its leadership in the framing of Agenda 2030.
Why the UN remains relevant
At this time of great global uncertainty and stress, as the whole world struggles to deal with the shock waves unleashed by the Covid-19 pandemic, tragically, we see a shift away from multilateral cooperation. Narrow-minded nationalism, protectionism, trade wars, other manifestations of a “me first” reframe have overshadowed the architecture and ethos of cooperation for the common good. Some go so far as to claim that the UN is past its sell-by date. But it is precisely during times of great upheaval in the world that multilateral cooperation is most needed. Imagine how much better the world could have performed in response to Covid-19, had countries coordinated their lockdowns and articulated their approach to safeguarding global value chains. And think how many more lives could be saved if all countries cooperate in the UN’s call to produce People’s Covid-19 Vaccine.
So, on completion of 75 years of the signing of the UN Charter, I remain firm in my conviction that the UN is not just the best, but it is the only institution that can calm the roiling tensions buffeting member states and build the bridges of cooperation needed to stem the spread of coronavirus, and hasten the global recovery, guided by the timeless norms of its Charter. But for the UN to be effective, countries have to agree to cooperate.
India understands the importance of multilateralism and has proven its commitment time and again. Prime Minister Modi expressed it most eloquently when, from the floor of the UN General Assembly in 2016, he said, “Our engagement can make a difference by promoting cooperation, not dominance. Connectivity, not isolation. Inclusive, not exclusive mechanisms. Respect for global commons, and above all, for international rules and norms.”
Thank you, India.
Renata Dessallien is UN Resident Coordinator in India. Views are personal.