The UN Millennium Summit and Assembly
by HPN staff June 2003

In what was billed as the largest-ever gathering of heads of state and government, more than 180 members of the UN came together in New York for the Millennium Summit on 6–8 September 2000. The summit’s broad agenda covered issues as diverse as globalisation and governance; issues of poverty and income inequality, both within and between nations; internal conflict; sustainable development; and a reformed, stronger UN. Whether the large powers find the collective will to turn rhetoric into action is, of course, another matter.

The summit closed with the adoption of a wide-ranging ‘Millennium Declaration’ setting out the challenges facing the UN in the twenty-first century. The declaration put forward a series of detailed commitments.

Among the steps aimed at development and eradicating poverty, the declaration pledged that, by 2015:

  • the proportion of people with incomes of less than one dollar a day would be halved;
  • that access to all levels of education would be equal, both for girls and boys;
  • that primary schooling would be available for all children everywhere;
  • that maternal mortality would be cut by three-quarters; and
  • that the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases would be halted, if not reversed.

By 2020, the declaration committed UN members to achieving a ‘significant improvement’ in the lives of at least 100m slum dwellers.

In terms of peace and security – subject of a special Security Council summit – the declaration resolved to strengthen the rule of law and ensure compliance with decisions of the International Court of Justice; to provide the UN with the resources it needs for conflict prevention and resolution; and to take action against drug-trafficking and terrorism. UN members also pledged to minimise the adverse effects of economic sanctions, and to review sanction regimes regularly.

Africa was given special attention; here, UN members undertook to support the consolidation of democracy, and pledged to help African states in their attempts to reduce poverty, move towards sustainable development and ‘bring Africa into the mainstream of the world economy’. Specific measures included a restatement of the pledge to cancel debt, as well as greater official development assistance and investment.

Alongside these ambitious objectives, the declaration also called for a stronger, better financed and more effective and better-equipped UN. The document pledged ‘comprehensive’ reform (that is, expansion) of the Security Council – an objective put forward particularly strongly by South African President Thabo Mbeki – and a stronger International Court of Justice. It also called on members to make their contributions more predictable and more timely, and acknowledged the need for the more efficient use of these resources by the UN itself.

The declaration ends with a ‘solemn’ reaffirmation of the UN’s position as the ‘indispensable common house of the entire human family’. But how far the rhetoric becomes reality remains dependent on the political will of the organisation’s members.

For details of the Millenium Summit and Assembly, see: <www.un.org/millennium/index.html>.