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13 November 2019

UN “in danger of collapsing” unless it becomes more relevant, Doha Debates told

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The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has voiced his fears for the future of the organization.

The United Nations is at risk of “collapsing” unless it makes itself more globally relevant, its former High Commissioner for Human Rights has claimed during the latest edition of Doha Debates.

The Qatar Foundation production staged a live debate on the issue of lack of public trust in institutions at the 2019 Paris Peace Forum, with solutions suggested by three expert speakers ranging from creating governing systems on blockchain to replacing government with randomly selected “citizens’ assemblies” and rebuilding faith in government by improving the quality of leadership.

The Doha Debates event at the Paris Peace Forum focused on loss of trust in institutions.

And answering questions from the studio audience, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, who was among the debate’s participants and spoke of the need to engage more young people in assuming leadership roles, revealed his concern for the UN, saying: “It is only as great or pathetic as the world – it will not great if the world is in a pathetic state, and it will not be pathetic if the world is in a great state.

“It’s a reflection of the world. The UN, in analogue form, is a network of people in civil society, government, and all walks of life, nationalities, and religions working together. But we cannot perfect harmony. If the UN does not quickly make itself relevant for much of the rest of the world, I think it is in danger of collapsing.”

The only difference between a leader who is young and someone who is just young is that the leader has decided to shed fear. If you shed fear, you are ready to lead.

Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein

Outlining his solution to loss of trust in institutions, Prince Zeid – who served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2014 to 2018 – told the latest edition of Doha Debates: “What we need are young, courageous, smart, and passionate people not just to take part in elections, but to stand for political office and believe in their capacity for leadership, because once they do, we will see more trust in government and we will see societies thrive.

“The only difference between a leader who is young and someone who is just young is that the leader has decided to shed fear. If you shed fear, you are ready to lead.”

Technology is a tool, and tools only endure because of the people who use them and the values they hold.

Toni Lane Casserly

Toni Lane Casserly, co-founder of Cointelegraph – the largest media network in the blockchain industry – told the debate that blockchain governing systems would be a response to governments and institutions “failing to serve the people they are meant to represent”, and reflect the fact that “we have more power voting with a credit card than we have in a national election”.

“I believe technology represents something innately human,” she said. “Technology is a tool, and tools only endure because of the people who use them and the values they hold.

“At the end of the day, we are a sovereign humanity, and the tools that we use do not need to prioritize connecting with our devices over connecting with each other. If we want any of these tools to be effective, we need to remember what is so deeply important about merely being human. And that’s why, around the world, people no longer trust governments because they do not have the humanity required to move the world forward."

I believe societies can still thrive with low levels of trust if governments engage with new ways of listening to people and acting on what they say.

Brett Hennig

The idea of citizens’ assemblies – with “experts on tap, but not on top” – was proposed by Brett Hennig, an author and the co-founder of the Sortition Foundation, which advocates for decision-making by representative random samples of people. “I believe societies can still thrive with low levels of trust if governments engage with new ways of listening to people and acting on what they say, and some governments have realized this,” he explained.

“There are already 100 citizens assemblies around the world. If it becomes thousands, or tens of thousands, maybe we will learn to do politics differently. These assemblies can happen anywhere – on a city level, a regional level, a national level and, who knows, maybe even larger.

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Three million people watched the Paris debate online.

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“How do we get young people’s voices in? How do we get women’s voices in? You randomly select a representative sample of people – and it really works.”

Following a panel discussion moderated by Ghida Fakhry, the speakers faced questions from the studio and online audience about their stance, ranging from whether global government can survive in its current form, how new systems can be trusted more than traditional ones, and if the breakdown of trust in institutions has been exacerbated by social media. Students from Qatar were among those posing questions from the live audience.

The final round of voting following a debate watched by three million people online saw Prince Zeid’s solution gather nearly 61 percent of the vote, with Hennig’s proposal claiming 26.6 percent and Casserly receiving a 12.5 percent share.

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