2016 was a difficult year for international organizations and international governance. Many international institutions that have come to define the current world order suffered hits to their legitimacy.
The United Nations General Assembly
The United Nations General Assembly had a notable year in that it elected a new secretary general in a surprisingly quick decision. All fifteen ambassadors from the security council unanimously supported António Guterres, the former Portuguese Prime Minister, for the position. Many observers expected the selection process to last much longer, and some believed that Russia would block Guterres in favor of an eastern European. However, Russia seemed to favor the prospect of the decision coming during their time as president of the Security Council. Guterres is the former head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He served in that position for ten years and as such vowed to carry on being a spokesman for refugees and those who suffer. As the head of UNHCR he appealed to the conscience of the international community over the worst refugee crises since World War II. It remains to be seen whether he will continue to speak out for human rights as the Secretary General.
Guterres ended 2016 by appointing three women to high level leadership positions. Amina Mohammed will serve as his deputy, Maria Luiza Ribeir Viotto will serve as his chief of staff, and Kyung-wha Kang will serve as the special adviser on policy. Guterres has made achieving gender parity a priority of his tenure.
The United Nations Security Council
Outside of their support for Guterres, the United Nations Security Council did not reach much consensus in 2016. The most significant example of this has been the Security Council’s continued inability to meaningfully address the six-year civil war in Syria. After an entire year in which the United States and Russia were unable to come to any real agreement on the situation, the Security Council finally agreed to support a ceasefire that was formed not by the Security Council, but by Russia and Turkey. The Security Council remains deadlocked on any sort of international accountability for the war crimes carried out in Syria by both sides of the conflict.
The International Criminal Court
The International Criminal Court experienced a crisis of legitimacy this past year as South Africa became the second African country to announce that it planned to leave the International Criminal Court. Many supporters of the institution saw this as a decision that could lead to a mass exodus from the Court. South Africa’s main critique of the Court is that it focuses disproportionately on Africa, as all the people it has convicted so far have been African. The attempt at withdrawal by South Africa has since been blocked by South African courts.
The European Union
The European Union suffered a blow this past year with the UK voting in a referendum to leave the Union. Britain had not played a significant role in the governance of the European Union, with France and Germany playing more of a role as members of the Eurozone. But the UK was one of the most powerful countries in the European Union. Their vote to leave had immediate ramifications and continues to today. However, the nation has yet to leave the European Union as the negotiations on their departure have been slow moving.