The Case for Humanity

The adoption of the Sustainable Development goals by the world leaders during September's UN General Assembly was historic. It was a significant step forward in our collective quest for ending poverty and injustice around the globe. It was notable that the consensus-based vision coincided with the commemoration of the United Nations 70th anniversary.

In 1999, the United Nations sponsored a referendum that gave birth to the millennium's first new democracy: my country, Timor-Leste. The organization "midwifed" the fledgling country during its first two years while it cleaned up the ashes of conflict, got people back into their homes, held elections and put the country's democratic structure in place. Since that time I have served in various positions for the UN, including a mission as Special Representative of the Secretary General to Guinea Bissau, and Chairman of the recent High-level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations.

Created from the ashes of World War II, the UN is a multilateral and value-based organization that can neither be sidelined or replaced. In a world so divided by mounting political tensions and a vicious circle of violence, we need the United Nations more than ever, and can no longer arrogantly push it aside for partisan interests. The consequences of trying to do so will eventually affect us all.

This is not to say that there is no scope for reform or improvement of the United Nations. Indeed, there is. But we are all responsible for making positive contribution in that direction.

The United Nations have made significant achievements since its establishment, including the formulation of, and agreement of universal values enshrined in a comprehensive framework of international human rights law, the deployment of peacekeeping forces, the delivery of humanitarian assistance and now the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in 2015 on the eve of the organizations 70th commemoration.

At the same time, we have also seen a proliferation in arms across the globe, a growth in ethnic and religious conflicts. As we seek to attain political consensus, timely and adequate responses, we still have a distance to go. My chairmanship of the United Nations High-Level Peacekeeping Panel indeed reminded me of both the challenges, but also the opportunities, that lie ahead. More needs to be done, and these reforms are not exclusively related to peacekeeping.

Our world is at a point in time where we also need to review how we shape and govern our structures, societies and nations. The achievement of the SDGs, the end of armed conflict, justice and peace will require good and democratic governance as the very foundation. Governance and leadership is no longer merely a matter of holding office. It also requires a review of how we relate to the universal values, as once proclaimed by the United Nations at its foundation.

These values, derived from East to West, from North to South, pertain to the human family. They are not the privilege, nor the responsibility, of just one nation or one people, as opposed to another. To attain the SDGs and to create a world of peaceful coexistence we need to revisit the human characteristics that have the force and the strength to actually materialize our aspirations.

Visions are not attained in a vacuum. They are realized through the concerted effort of people in all ranks applying the very best of their characters, insights and wisdom. This means having the moral courage to speak up before an injustice; it means an unbending commitment to hold on to the essence of our values; it means creativity to tirelessly find solutions; and it means a willingness to reexamine oneself again and again with a sense of humility and reverence before the human family.

In other words, we need to acknowledge the interconnection between the state of the world and our own state of mind. As the late United Nations Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold once said: "Everything will be all right - you know when? When people, just people, stop thinking of the United Nations as an abstract Picasso painting and see it as a drawing they made themselves."

In her groundbreaking and recently released book, The Case for Humanity: An Extraordinary Session, the passionate UN veteran, Yasmine Sherif, offers an enlightening narrative and pioneering approach as to how this is to be done. Through a fictitious UN Security Council session, some of the greatest minds through times, such as Aristotle, Albert Camus, Confucius, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gandhi, Pope Francis, Helen Keller, Khalil Gibran, Eleanor Roosevelt and Simone de Beauvoir, have gathered to assist us in finding solutions to the challenges of the 21st century. Woven together with the realities on the ground and contemporary politics that Sherif has encountered in her work over the past quarter of a century, their answers unfold and offer invaluable inspiration as we face the road ahead.