UN is ‘under siege’ in Trump era, deputy leader claims

Amina Mohammed calls for the body to highlight its successes ahead of Dublin visit

The United Nations is "under siege" due to the retreat from multilateralism in the era of Donald Trump and must speak more about its successes, its deputy secretary general Amina Mohammed has said.

She was speaking in an interview ahead of a visit to Dublin to speak at a conference today.

She said the pressure on the UN from a shift to isolationism “has given us great concern” and the 193-nation representative body based in New York has had “to find a different narrative in our response to that”.

This has meant showing the UN can deal with reforms and "being more fit for purpose", with new plans including the Sustainable Development Goals, the ambitious targets aimed at tackling poverty and hunger by 2030, the Paris climate change agreement and the Addis Ababa deal in 2015 to fund international development.


“It is difficult. Every year we have changes in leadership and government around the world of which the UN is made up of, and we have to continue to communicate the values of multilateralism, the positive side of some of the responses that have been a success,” she said.

The deputy to UN secretary general António Guterres is visiting Dublin to speak at a conference marking the 50th anniversary of humanitarian agency Concern.

Other speakers at the conference, entitled Resurgence of Humanity: Breaking the Cycle of Conflict, Hunger and Human Suffering, include President Michael D Higgins and former US president Bill Clinton.

On the US decision last week to cut funding to the UN’s programme for Palestinian refugees, Ms Mohammed said that the UN would “continue to listen to their concerns” and hoped the Trump administration would acknowledge the importance of humanitarian work in saving lives and giving hope for peaceful solutions.

Ms Mohammed, a former environment minister in Nigeria, talked up the importance of having small countries as temporary members of the UN Security Council, weeks after the State launched its candidacy for a seat on what is the UN's most powerful body for its 2021-22 term.

“Some of the smallest countries around our table have the biggest voices when it comes to vulnerabilities and making a point,” she said.

Irish effort

Ireland’s co-facilitating of talks on the Sustainable Development Goals left the country well placed at the UN, she said, as the ambitious plan agreed was “largely to do with the experiences and voices of Ireland”.

“We believe that your voice is strong; your experience and expertise stand you in good stead to ensure that your voice can inform the reforms that we have,” she said.

She praised Ireland’s record on 60 years of UN peacekeeping, saying that the commitment was “commendable and deeply appreciated” and that the UN was trying to do more to prevent conflict, noting that in some cases “we have not had the right investment to sustain peace”.

The 10 temporary Security Council members, in addition to the permanent five – China, France, Russia, the UK and the US, "can play a big role in making sure that those issues and challenges are tabled", she said.

Ms Mohammed, who has briefed the Security Council on security risks from climate change, was still optimistic of global action to tackle the issue and to keep a global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius, despite the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement.

“Where we see governments step down and away from some of the commitments, you are actually seeing business and civil society step up,” she said.

“So I think the momentum is still there.”

Praising Concern’s work over five decades, Ms Mohammed said that its work “speaks to the values and to the norms that we believe are so key to ensuring human rights and that drive peace and development”.

“Civil society plays a very big role in making sure that we hang together as a humanity and that we remember the voices of the most vulnerable,” she said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times