The sixty-sixth volume of the Yearbook of the United Nations records the work of the Organization in 2012, a year that highlighted the challenges involved in mounting effective and coherent international responses to complex crises and in achieving progress in development and human rights.
In 2012, the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic intensified, threatening to engulf the entire region. In April, the Security Council established for an initial period of 90 days the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria. The Mission was unable to fulfil its mandate, however, due to the escalating violence across the country. By November, full-fledged civil war resulted in the deaths of some 60,000 persons and the displacement of millions. In the Sahel region of Africa, millions of people continued to suffer from the impact of transnational organized crime, resource scarcity and political instability, and the crisis was compounded by a severe drought. The United Nations worked closely with the African Union and other partners in developing an integrated strategy for the region. The Organization also supported the restoration of constitutional order in the Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau and Mali following unconstitutional changes of government and resultant instability in those countries. Despite the swearing-in of its first democratically constituted Government, Libya continued to experience security challenges. Violence in Yemen caused massive internal displacement and the destruction of infrastructure. The Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Yemen was established for an initial period of 12 months. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo increased its activities aimed at protecting civilians in response to the threat posed by the rebel group M23. After 14 years of a Security Council-mandated UN presence, the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste completed its mandate on 31 December. At year’s end, 15 peacekeeping operations served by some 114,000 uniformed and civilian personnel, along with 13 political and peacebuilding missions with more than 4,000 staff, were deployed worldwide
In June, at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Member States confirmed their commitment to economic development, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. The outcome document of the Conference, entitled “The future we want”, articulated an agreement to define universally applicable sustainable development goals and launched the process for their elaboration. Member States also underscored that combating climate change—which undermined the ability of all countries, and especially developing countries, to achieve sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals, and threatened the viability and survival of nations—required urgent and ambitious action. Following Rio+20, the General Assembly established an intergovernmental high-level political forum to build on the experiences of the Commission on Sustainable Development and to replace it by 2013. At the eighteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar, Member States launched a new commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol and agreed on a timetable to adopt a universal climate agreement by 2015. The observance in 2012 of the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All raised global awareness of the importance of energy for sustainable development.
The review of 14 countries by the Human Rights Council in May marked the start of the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, designed to assess the human rights record of all States every four years. During the year, the Human Rights Council held three regular sessions and one special session on the deteriorating situation of human rights in Syria. The Secretary-General, in September, launched the Global Education First Initiative to spur international efforts to make education a top global priority.
The world economic situation and prospects continued to present challenges, as growth remained subdued in most regions and the jobs crisis continued. The thirteenth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XIII), held in April in Doha, helped mobilize international consensus towards the objective of a development-centred trading system.
At year’s end, an estimated 28.8 million people worldwide were displaced within their own country as a result of conflict. Of those, 17.7 million benefited from the protection and assistance of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The number of identifiable stateless persons stood at 3.3 million. During 2012, an estimated 526,000 refugees were able to return voluntarily to their place of origin.
In spite of progress made—a record 9.7 million people in low- and middle-income countries had access to antiretroviral therapy in 2012—AIDS remained a global challenge, with an estimated 35.3 million people living with HIV and 1.6 million dying of AIDS-related illness during the year. More than 300 natural disasters claimed an estimated 9,300 lives in 2012, affecting 106 million people and causing $138 billion in economic damage. In September, the General Assembly convened a high-level forum on the culture of peace, emphasizing education, youth outreach and women’s empowerment as keys to a more peaceful world.
The International Court of Justice delivered four Judgments, made two Orders and had 14 contentious cases pending before it. The delivery of the final trial judgement in the Ngirabatware case marked the end of substantive trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, mandated to execute the residual functions of ICTR and the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia since 1991 following the closure of those entities, commenced operations at its Arusha branch on 1 July and started assuming functions from ICTR.
In November, the General Assembly granted Palestine non-member observer State status.