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Sashi Tharoor defends U.N. as being indispensable to the global community

Sashi Tharoor, the United Nation’s Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information, told an audience of 300 at Zoellner Arts Center that the world needs the U.N now more than ever. “No one country, however powerful can solve issues like terrorism and the war in Iraq alone,” Tharoor said. “They are the world’s problems.”

Tharoor was the speaker for the 19th Annual Cohen International Relations Lecture on Thursday, April 14th.

Throughout his speech, Tharoor stressed that he firmly believes that the world needs a forum like the U.N. to address global programs and seize opportunities. He believes that in the 21st century, as the U.N. approaches its 60th year, this need is as important as ever.

When the U.N. was formed after World War II, it spawned from the desire for humans to think, work, and act differently. Since 1945, Tharoor believes the U.N. has had a profound influence, especially in spreading ideals such as democracy. “Now, democracy and humans rights are more the norm than the exception,” Tharoor said.

Professor Henri Barkey, the faculty coordinator for the event, said he was pleased with the delivered message. “Tharoor eloquently defended the U.N. and showed that at the ripe old age of 60 it continues to be not only a relevant institution today but perhaps even an indispensable one at that,” Barkey said.

Provost Mohamed El-Asser introduced Tharoor and spoke of the key role that Tharoor played in helping Lehigh to gain the non-governmental organization (NGO) status with the U.N. El-Asser expressed that this NGO status provides a key relationship and partnership with Lehigh. “Lehigh’s relationship with the United Nations is an amazing opportunity, especially in today’s global society,” El-Asser said.

Tharoor echoed El-Asser’s opinion and noted that the relationship is mutually beneficial for both Lehigh and the U.N. “Universities like Lehigh are the engine of ideas,” Tharoor said, explaining that although the business of the U.N. is one of policy making, it is ideas, which Tharoor referred to as “the currency of universities,” that should drive the policies.

The U.N. belongs to the whole world

Throughout his speech, Tharoor linked the U.N.’s past to current world issues and looked toward the future. This overview, Tharoor hoped, would illustrate the relevance of the U.N.

“I refer to the U.N. as our organization,” Tharoor said. “I firmly believe it is yours as much as it is mine. The U.N. charter belongs to the whole world.”

Providing examples of U.N efforts ranging from relief for tsunami victims, aid in the Iraqi elections, and other peacekeeping efforts, Tharoor highlighted work that the U.N. partakes in across the globe. “The U.N. embodies collective interest, hence it is often unchallenged as a coordinating authority,” he said.

Tharoor could also not ignore the recent criticisms of the U.N. by the mass media, specifically reports of negative conduct of U.N. workers that have resulted in public hostility towards the U.N.

Tharoor admitted that he was shocked by some of the reports, and he believes that the highest level of behavior should be upheld at all times. Though, Tharoor stressed that many of the reports have been distorted and noted that good news is rarely and minimally covered in the mass media.

Tharoor also acknowledged that the U.N. is not perfect and that often resolutions pass that member states do not implement. Yet, he also noted the U.N. is often used as a scapegoat when those who actually may be to blame cannot admit so because of politics. Therefore, the U.N. falsely appears to be in the wrong.

Tharoor concluded by posing a question to the audience: “Is there another institution like the U.N.? The answer is ‘no.’” Therefore, Tharoor the U.N. must try to be more effective and more relevant, but it will continue to be indispensable to the global community, he said.

Tharoor began his work with the U.N. in 1978 and has led the Department of Public Information since January 2001. His is in charge of the U.N.’s communication strategy, with particular effort to ensure the cohesiveness and effectiveness of the U.N’s external message. Tharoor has also won several journalism and literary awards.

The Cohen International Relations Lecture series was established in 1986 by Bernard L. ’36 and Bertha Cohen, to bring thought-provoking speakers to the Lehigh Valley.

--Blair Tapper

Posted on Monday, April 18, 2005

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