- Title: Lights out for multilateralism? Alarm as U.N. faces cash squeeze
- Date: 19th December 2019
- Summary: GENEVA, SWITZERLAND (DECEMBER 12, 2019) (REUTERS) ENTRANCE OF ROOM 19 WHERE CCW MEETING TOOK PLACE LIGHTS GOING OFF IN ROOM 19 GENEVA, SWITZERLAND (DECEMBER 10, 2019) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR WHO WAS THE CHAIRMAN DURING THE CCW MEETING, KHALIL HASHMI, SAYING: "At the end of the day I think the processes like the CCW, but others also, are, are extremely important in the big picture, I think, so they should not be held hostage to these, you know, financial or efficiency measures."
- Embargoed: 2nd January 2020 09:55
- Keywords: U.N. budget U.N. funds funding shortage multilateralism
- Location: GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
- City: GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
- Country: Switzerland
- Topics: Government/Politics,United Nations
- Reuters ID: LVA006BAN6X53
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: During talks on disarmament at the U.N.'s Geneva headquarters last month, alarm bells went off in the chamber to indicate that delegates had infringed new cost-cutting rules that restrict the length of meetings.
Screens and microphones were also shut off, forcing ambassadors to shout their speeches across the large hall, and some feared the lights would be next, according to one of several people present who described the scene to Reuters.
"At 6:10 (pm) the interpreters left us. And I think the sound engineer also left at 6:25 (pm) or 6:30. I think the first, my first experience in my diplomat career was when I saw the alarms going off at around 6:30 (pm)", said the Pakistani Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Khalil Hashmi, who as chair eventually managed to get a limited agreement after assembling participants in a huddle.
The disruptions - which have happened on at least two occasions - were the result of emergency measures introduced to cut costs at U.N. centres such as Geneva and New York.
The cuts, now in their third month, are a response to a situation described by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as "deepest deficit of the decade".
The United Nations has a $768 million hole in its $2.85 billion 2019 general budget because 51 countries have not paid all their fees, including two big paymasters: the United States and Brazil. Both say they intend to pay the bulk of their dues, but even if they do, arrears remain from past years and spill into future budgets.
Diplomats and analysts say the cash crisis points to some states' weak commitment to multilateral diplomacy, as evidenced by the suspension of the Geneva-based World Trade Organization's top appeals court and U.N. climate talks in Madrid last week reaching only a limited deal.
Ambassador Hashmi urged members to pay their dues, saying important U.N. business should not be "held hostage" to financial constraints.
Built nearly 100 years ago to house the U.N.'s forerunner the League of Nations, Geneva's colossal Palais des Nations - the home of multilateralism - hosts thousands of meetings each year on everything from refugee rights to peace in Syria and is showing its age.
Corridor notices say the liquidity crisis has forced the closure of lifts and escalators.
Hallway lights have been dimmed and some diplomats have brought in their own heaters as radiators have been dialled down despite the Swiss winter.
But for Marc Limon, a former diplomat and Executive Director of Universal Rights Group, by putting these signs, the U.N. plays a "strategic game" to send a political message.
"The United Nations has been under pressure for many years to reduce its resources and yet to deliver more. At one point it becomes very difficult," said Corinne Momal-Vanian, U.N. Geneva's director of conference management, who confirmed that meeting costs had been cut, for example, by using fewer interpreters and sound technicians.
Some speculate that cost-saving measures, thought to be making just small dents in the $14 million annual running costs for the Palais, are aimed more at annoying diplomats so they urge their capitals to pay up.
U.N. officials deny this and say savings are necessary.
(Production: Cecile Mantovani, Marina Depetris)
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