One of America’s biggest supporters of the United Nations, Ambassador Guillaume vanden Heuvel, died on June 15 in New York at the age of 91. The son of European immigrants, Vanden Heuvel grew up in the upstate city of Rochester, NY. He was a young man of enormous energy and idealism. He greatly admired Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency and sought his own life of activism at home and abroad. After graduating from Cornell Law School with the highest honors, he joined a New York City law firm – a choice that quickly led him to work in Thailand as an assistant to the United States Ambassador William Donovan; assistance to the famous International Rescue Committee; an unsuccessful race for the US Congress; and work for Robert Kennedy when he was United States Attorney General and later United States Senator from New York.
I wrote two years ago in a review of vanden Heuvel’s invaluable memoir, “Hope and History”, about how vanden Heuvel quickly began to gravitate more and more towards the UN – the body that had been created by its hero, Roosevelt, seeing it as the best way to solve global problems. Almost as a revelation, in 1977, another Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, appointed Vanden Heuvel as the new American envoy to the UN’s European office in Geneva. There he assumed the responsibility of serving as U.S. delegate to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, U.S. representative to GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and liaison with the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization and the International Red Cross, among other agencies. At the end of Carter’s presidency, Vanden Heuvel returned to New York to become the United States’ deputy permanent representative to the UN.
His immersion in UN affairs became the northern star of his life. After Carter’s defeat, Vanden Heuvel left his post at the UN and focused ardently as a private citizen on the organization. Along with other philanthropists in the United States, he helped raise funds for the World Federation of Associations for the struggling UN, or Wfuna, a non-profit organization that coordinates the work of more than 100 United Nations national associations. His efforts saved the organization during a difficult financial time.
He also spent years collecting gifts, donations and, finally, Congressional appropriations totaling over $ 50 million to establish the brilliant Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island, across the East River from the UN. The park was designed, first, to honor Roosevelt’s adherence to the Four Freedoms during World War II – freedom from poverty and fear, freedom of speech and worship – and, second, to commemorate the role of FDR in the founding of the UN.
In another UN-related action, vanden Heuvel helped the National Organization for Disability establish a Franklin Roosevelt International Disability Award, which is presented annually at the UN to the representative of the country who has made the most progress. significant in improving the lives of citizens with disabilities. The award is the only privately held UN award, and the Secretary-General still attends the ceremony.
Vanden Heuvel has expressed himself on several occasions on the areas where, according to him, improvements could be made to the institution. For example, almost 20 years ago, in 2003, in a prophetic speech, he outlined a 10-point program to improve the body’s operations. Among other things, he suggested that the UN develop a nation-building agency. This idea, in fact, materialized two years later, thanks to the reforms adopted by Secretary General Kofi Annan at the time. Vanden Heuvel continued to defend the organization in various public ways, giving lectures, writing opinion pieces, sending letters and speaking across America. He was not always worthy of the praise of the UN. He lamented the fact that he had not been able to stop the cycle of wars around the planet.
Yet at the same time, he feared, as he put it, that a “feeling of fatalism” would take hold over the UN because of its failure to uphold the organization’s Charter. Hence his mandate, as he mentioned in his memoirs, is “to humanize the United Nations to allow the ‘peoples’ who created it to participate in the construction of the peace that was promised during its creation. creation. His loss to the United Nations is immeasurable.