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PSIR 2A-9 UNITED NATIONS – Previous Year Questions – Solved

Model Answers to PYQs (2018-2023)

1] What is the structure and functions of International Court of Justice? [2023/10m/150w/1d]

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN) and is often referred to as the “World Court.” It was established in 1945 and is located in The Hague, Netherlands.

The ICJ is responsible for settling legal disputes between states and providing advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by UN organs and specialized agencies.

ICJ consists of 15 judges who are elected by the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council. Judges serve nine-year terms, and the terms are staggered to ensure continuity. Judges are elected based on their qualifications, experience, and integrity from different geographical regions. In elections, a candidate must obtain an absolute majority in both the General Assembly and the Security Council to be elected.

The primary function of the ICJ is to settle legal disputes between states. States that are parties to a dispute can voluntarily submit it to the Court for adjudication. The Court’s decisions are legally binding on the parties.

The ICJ can provide advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by UN organs and specialized agencies. While these opinions are non-binding, it carries significant legal weight and serve as guidance on international law issues.

The International Court of Justice plays a critical role in the peaceful resolution of international disputes and the development of international law. Its judgments and advisory opinions contribute to the clarification and development of legal principles and norms in the international community. [244 words]

2] Discuss the structure and functions of UN Security Council? [2023/10m/150w/1e]

The United Nations Security Council is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations (UN) and is responsible for maintaining international peace and security. It has both a distinct structure and a set of functions that are crucial to its role in the global arena.

The Security Council consists of 15 member states, with five permanent members (P5) and ten non-permanent members. The P5, often referred to as the “Big Five,” are the United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom. The P5 have veto power over substantive matters, while non-permanent members serve two-year terms and do not possess veto power.

The presidency of the Security Council rotates among its members on a monthly basis, following the English alphabetical order of the member states’ names. The presidency is responsible for chairing meetings, setting the agenda, and facilitating discussions.

The Security Council meets regularly to discuss and make decisions on a wide range of international issues. Meetings can be called at any time, including in the case of emergencies, to address urgent matters.

The primary function of the Security Council is to maintain international peace and security. It does so through various means, including the authorization of peacekeeping missions, enforcement actions, and sanctions. The Security Council authorizes and oversees peacekeeping operations in regions affected by conflict. These operations aim to prevent or resolve conflicts, protect civilians, and help countries transition to peace. The Security Council has the authority to impose sanctions on states or entities to influence their behavior and promote peace. Sanctions can include economic restrictions, travel bans, and arms embargoes.

The Security Council also has the authority to authorize the use of force when necessary to respond to a threat to international peace. This is a critical function, and such authorization is required for military interventions.

The Council has faced criticisms related to its structure, particularly the issue of the veto power held by the P5, which some argue limits the Council’s effectiveness and represents an outdated distribution of power. The UNSC is in urgent need of reforms so that it remains relevant in changing international politics. [351 words]

3] Describe the composition of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Discuss its voluntary jurisdiction. [2022/15m/200w/2c]

The International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, is the main judicial organ of the UN. It was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations and began its work in April 1946.

The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected for terms of office of nine years by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. It is assisted by a Registry, its administrative organ. Its official languages are English and French.

The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies. The Court decides disputes between countries, based on the voluntary participation of the States concerned. If a State agrees to participate in a proceeding, it is obligated to comply with the Court’s decision.

The policy of voluntary jurisdiction was made keeping in mind the sovereignty of member states. In an international setting, nothing can force states to cooperate or submit to a higher authority, since there isn’t a higher authority. Therefore, the only way to get states to accept the jurisdiction of the court was by not making it compulsory.

The ICJ, however, can decide only those cases in which the parties have consented to its jurisdiction. Parties may confer jurisdiction upon the ICJ either by a specific agreement between two or more states or by a single state’s unilateral acceptance. 

In addition, a state may consent to the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction by making a unilateral declaration to accept the jurisdiction of the World Court for all international legal disputes that fall into one of the categories defined in Article 36(2) of the ICJ Statute. Even after a state accepts such jurisdiction, nothing prevents a revocation of such consent in the future.  Since 1971, France, the United States, and the Republic of China have revoked their acceptances of the optional clause and Turkey allowed its acceptance of May 23, 1967, to lapse on May 23, 1972.

The very nature of an international court brings up the question of enforceability. In an international setting, unlike in separate countries, there is no higher authority to ensure the countries follow the law or the word of the court. In a situation where the power balance of nations hangs precariously, the role of an international court feels only perfunctory. [402 words]

4] What measures have been undertaken by the United Nations for its reforms? [2021/10m/150w/1d]

Efforts to reform the United Nations are almost as old as the United Nations itself.

In December 1997, the General Assembly under the leadership of Kofi Annan, adopted the Track One measures and most of the Track Two recommendations by consensus, improving the efficiency of UN activities in the areas of development, humanitarian relief, human rights, and peacekeeping.

On governance, the main U.N. Charter reforms that have taken place have involved the enlargement of the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council. For many countries, the enlargement of the Security Council tops the current list of desired reforms. Enlargement of bodies does not, of course, increase their efficiency.

Besides the SC reform, the UN reforms also cover other important aspects, such as management reform to increase efficiency, and the role of the UN in responding to broader humanitarian crises, among others.

As regards budgeting, many efforts have been made by major contributors, especially the United States, either to reduce the cost of the United Nations or at least ensure some minimum level of efficiency or impact from the expenditures. However, this goal has not been shared by the majority of U.N. member states that contribute little to the budget. In general, the smaller contributors have favoured ever-expanding U.N. budgets because they bear almost no responsibility for the cost.

Although we cannot deny the reforms in the UN so far, the contrasting interests of different countries, diverse cultures, religions and ideologies have ensured that the progress remains slow. [245 words]

5] Discuss the significance and urgency of the UN Security Council reforms. Explain the relevance of the reform proposals made by the UN Secretary General António Guterres for the developing countries. [2020/20m/250w/4a]

The UNSC is the highest decision-making body of the United Nations. It is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security.  But ironically it does not contain the voices of the countries and regions inflicted with violence.

The UNSC is dominated by the P-5 who mostly sit there to veto each other’s decisions without considering the people and area in question. Except for China, the UNSC consists of only white northern nations which makes UNSC a non-representative body which is far from the current reality. Many new nations are emerging and it is necessary to give them a voice and representation. It is important to ensure that the UN’s decisions are more responsive to the needs of all countries and that the UN is better equipped to address the challenges facing the developing world.

In light of the above, the reforms proposed by the UN Secretary-General become important to discuss:

  • Increasing the number of permanent members: It is proposed that the number of permanent members is increased from five to ten. This would make UNSC more representative and give developing countries a greater voice in the UNSC.
  • Introducing a new category of members: The Secretary-General also proposed introducing a new category of members, called “permanent rotating members.” These members would have the same voting rights as the permanent members, but they would serve for a limited period of time.
  • Limiting the use of the veto: Guterres has proposed limiting the use of the veto. He has suggested that the veto should not be allowed to be used on issues of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. This would make it more difficult for the P5 to block action on these important issues.
  • Improving the transparency and accountability of the UNSC: UN Secreatary-General have also proposed improving the transparency and accountability of the UNSC. He has suggested that the UNSC should publish its meeting records and that it should be more transparent about its decision-making process. This would make the UNSC more accountable to the international community.

It is not the first time that the reforms have been proposed in UNSC. While multiple models can be developed for better functioning of the UNSC, their implementation, particularly in light of P5 opposition and lack of consensus remains problematic. [378 words]

6] In what way does the predominance of the USA in the UN funding affect its decision-making? [2019/10m/150w/1c]

The finance of United Nations works from assessed contributions and voluntary contributions. The assessed contributions are made by all the member countries which help in functioning of the core of the UN. But many UN bodies like UNHCR, UNICEF rely upon voluntary contributions.

The United States remains the largest donor to the United Nations, contributing roughly $10 billion in 2018, slightly less than one-fifth of the body’s collective budget. This financial reliance on the US has led to a power imbalance in the UN tilting towards the USA.

The USA can single-handedly disrupt the functioning of a UN body. For example, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which previously relied on the United States for about one-third of its budget, said it would be forced to cut 250 jobs in 2018 after the Trump administration halted contributions to the agency.

The US can coercively impose its decisions by threatening to stop the funding. Moreover, it is powerful enough to disregard the position of the UNSC as a decision-maker. The US did not wait for UN negotiations during the 2000s, post the 9/11 incidents.

The pre-dominance of USA in the UN funding has made the UN a mere tool of the USA’s foreign policy. A more practical and shared approach is needed which will reduce the dependence on donations for the day-to-day working of the United Nations. [225 words]

7] Do you think that sustainable development goals are really attainable by 2030? [2019/10m/150w/1e]

The sustainable development goals were adopted in 2015 and consist of seventeen goals and 169 targets. the SDGs are a successor to the millennium development goals, to be achieved by 2030.

Since the inauguration of the SDGs, several start-ups have debuted cost-effective and innovative tech solutions. All geared toward attempting to effectively curb the incidence and severity of the world’s problems.

Custom-built portable water filters for households lacking access to safe drinking water and compact medical kits designed to provide essential medical care to individuals in isolated communities are sterling examples of such efforts.

The current pace of innovation in the mobile industry is also expected to foster a data revolution for SDGs and the development of all-encompassing applications and tools that take into account the needs of vulnerable communities.

While some progress has been made, the SDGs are not being accomplished at the speed, or with the appropriate momentum, needed to meet the 2030 deadline. On some measures of poverty, only slight improvements have been made. Similarly, Hunger levels have not been contained, moreover, any progress that was made got cancelled out due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Another area of the SDGs that lacks progress is gender equality. This goal is the most intersectional goal of the SDGs any progress or regress would reflect in the achievement of gender equality which is not being achieved as desired by the people.

The deadline is less than a decade away and it would be achievable only if we construct far more responsible politics and a much stronger social consensus. And that will require a fundamental shift in mindset, from one of competition to one that emphasises cooperation. [276 words]

8] Evaluate the role of the International Court of Justice in inter-State disputes. [2019/15m/200w/2c]

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is an organ of the United Nations for the purpose of adjudication among states.

As per the mandate, the ICJ has voluntary as well as compulsory jurisdictions. The voluntary because state sovereignty is a principle of international law. And compulsory in cases where states have a specific agreement or a treaty, or if both states agree to refer the matter to ICJ.

Article 94 of ICJ suggests that the decisions of ICJ are binding on both parties and there is no appeal against it. In case of non-compliance, the affected party can approach UN Security Council.

Arbitration on international law involves the interpretation of treaties and agreements, and sometimes domestic laws of countries. The problem arises when either there are conflicting provisions or when the law is silent on some aspect.

For example, in the recent Enrica Lexie case, ICJ opined that the case calls for concurrent jurisdiction of Italy and India. International law (UNCLOS) is silent about jurisdiction in EEZ, and the court took the reference of the old case to refer in the matter. The Supreme Court of India decided to quash the criminal proceeding against the Italian marines. Italy assured to conduct their criminal trial in domestic court, coupled with financial assistance to families of Indian victims.

The idea of an international court of justice is certainly inspiring. Though it will take some more time to see that these institutions function smoothly. However, the legal, and political infrastructure generated in the process is no small achievement. [252 words]

9] Discuss the relevance of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on the security of women in conflict zones. [2018/20m/250w/3a]

The UN Platform for Action (1995) described how girls and women are especially affected by armed conflict because of their unequal status in society and their sex. Among the specific effects experienced by women of all ages are displacement, loss of home and property, loss or involuntary disappearance of close relatives, poverty and family separation and disintegration, victimization through acts of murder, terrorism, torture, involuntary disappearance, sexual slavery, rape, and sexual abuse

In 2000, the United Nations Security Council formally acknowledged through the creation of Resolution 1325 the changing nature of warfare, in which civilians are increasingly targeted, and women continue to be excluded from participation in peace processes. The resolution specifically addresses how women and girls are disproportionally impacted by violent conflict and war and recognize the critical role that women can and already play in peacebuilding efforts. The resolution has four pillars; participation, protection, prevention and relief & recovery.

UNSCR 1325 is relevant for bringing gender issues into the mainstream and gives a viable framework to the international community. The adoption of the resolution by the Security Council has broken the barrier between women’s issues and international peace and security.

The resolution identifies women as active agents rather than passive recipients. Instead of being seen as weak or victims, UNSCR 1325 manages to balance women as human beings in need of protection and equals who have good inputs and are needed at all levels of peace and conflict mitigation processes.

Despite UNSCR 1325 not being legally binding, the fact that it is a Security Council Resolution that passed unanimously holds states and organisations, at least to some extent, liable to its recommendations. Finally, UNSCR 1325 has also encouraged organisations and governments to implement gender-based programs and integrate women into their working ranks.

UNSCR 1325 has paved the way for more resolutions and action plans, and it is one of the first steps in creating new international norms that protect women and integrate them into all levels. [328 words]

The post contains answers to the last 6-year papers i.e. (2023-2018). Answers to the previous year questions from 2013-2017 are a part of our book PSIR Optional Model Answers to PYQs (2013-2022)

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