The UN brings together 193 countries in allegedly shared aims: ‘to maintain international security, to develop friendly relations between nations, to co-operate in solving problems and promote human rights’. In June 1945 representatives of 50 countries met to draw up a United Nations charter. The UN officially came into existence on 24 October 1945, with 51 member states.
The major powers wanted a controlled form of international cooperation in order to ensure their world dominance, while at the same time avoiding the scale of destruction of property, wealth and lives brought about by world wars. The ill-starred forerunner of the UN was the League of Nations, established in 1919, which failed to prevent World War II.
The UN is a product of its times, founded in the wake of two disastrous world wars. Its organs and way of functioning reflect the balance of power of that era. Since 1945, the number of political players ‘states and organizations ‘has increased exponentially. So, in the wake of numerous modern-day challenges, reforms in this supreme body are inevitable.
Although, in the early years, the UN forums were dominated by the ‘Cold War’ clash of interests between the Soviet Union and the United States, from its inception the UN has been a tool of imperialism. Even today it is dominated by the only world superpower, the United States, and thus also by the interests of the multinational companies that it represents. The US would use the UN where useful and ignore it where necessary. Where the UN frustrates the US, for example voting against war in Iraq, they simply circumvent it.
The UN seems to be in a state of paralysis for it is almost dysfunctional in meeting the challenges that come under the ambit of its mandate that is written and ratified in its Charter.
Article 99 of the Charter empowers the Secretary-General to bring to the attention of the Security Council ‘any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security’. But the efficiency of these instruments is limited by the reluctance of the UN member states and particularly by the permanent members of the Security Council (SC) to confer more power on the Secretary-General and his organization. The proposal for a UN Rapid Reaction Force, an important element for conflict prevention, has been thwarted, even though eminent policy-makers and experts have called for it.
Clearly, the resistance by some members of the SC that limits the Secretary-General’s ability to make vital decisions in conflict resolution is a significant, if not the most important, factor that hampers the progress towards peace.
Today, the situation is so precarious that the international laws, which all member states have to abide by, are being violated with impunity by those with big muscles within the Security Council and their client states. Some of the conflicts are so old that they even predate the establishment of the ‘world body’ itself. But, despite many UN resolutions adopted to end these conflicts, there are no signs of peace in sight.
Let’s look around. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the India and Pakistan confrontation over Kashmir, the Eritrean-Ethiopian border issue, the wars in Somalia, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo are but few examples of international crisis that pose a great threat to world peace. Sadly, the United Nations has done very little, if any, in resolving those as a result of which the people continue to suffer.
Speaking of international law, it’s interesting to note how the US government is showing great interest in the current Ukraine crisis, citing importance of respecting ‘international laws and treaties ‘ in protecting the sovereignty of a nation while totally ignoring similar treaties in other parts of the world to which it’s a signatory as well as a guarantor.
In support to his decision to impose additional sanctions on Russian officials over Crimea, Mr Obama recently made a statement which one finds rather odd, especially given the way US handles similar situations in other parts of the world.
Granted that the peace-loving people of the world are unequivocally for the respect of sovereignty of every nation as was articulated by the US President, it’s the hypocrisy with which world conflicts have been handled and America’s lack of sensitivities on other countries whose sovereignty have been violated that one takes Obama’s stand on Ukraine with a grain of salt.
A retrospective look at the causes that led to the 1998 Eritrea-Ethiopia war reveals that one major cause of the problem was TPLF (Ethiopian) regime’s unilateral redrawing of Tigray’s map, which included a big chunk of Eritrean territory and the subsequent forced eviction of Eritrean citizens from their villages. Did we see the US government intervene in the same fashion as it is doing now with Ukraine to such total disregard to international law perpetrated by the belligerent Ethiopian regime, other than the usual lip service calling on both the aggressor and the victim to cease the hostilities, and often with the intention of appearing neutral’? Sadly not!
As it’s difficult to awaken someone who pretends to be asleep, so efforts by oppressed countries to seek justice by calling on the UN repeatedly have proved futile. It’s thus long overdue that all nations must stand in solidarity and demand that the World Body lives up to its responsibilities as are enshrined in its Charter and take radical measures aimed at reshaping its misguided policy and changing the way world conflicts are being managed. That should include, but should not remain limited to, major reform within the Security Council, putting some restrictions on its unlimited power to intervene in world conflict as it has often been biased, and to seek for more transparency so as to prevent that no permanent member of the SC abuses the system and that justice is served for all member states on equal terms.
The Rwandan genocide of 1994 details the gross inability of the United Nations to carry out its sworn duty to maintain peace and security. In 1993, UN peacekeeping forces entered the nation, attempted to secure the capital and enable humanitarian aid. The peacekeeping forces were not authorized to use military manoeuvres to achieve these goals.
In January of 1994, a cable was sent from the Canadian Force Commander to the UN headquarters detailing the imminent threat of genocide by Hutu mobs on Tutsi minorities. The Security Council never received the cable, and the notice was largely ignored.
In 2003, the unstable nation of Sudan erupted in conflict. Early in the war, rebel forces defeated the Sudanese military. Seeing that defeat was imminent, the government funded the Janjaweed, a group of Arabs. By 2005, the Janjaweed were carrying out attacks on populated villages using artillery and helicopters, prompting condemnation by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Despite this condemnation, the UN did not enter Sudan, instead urging members of the African Union to intervene.
3. The Cold War
The Cold War exemplifies the failure behind the United Nations Charter. In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was established, which was binding to all nations, along with the Convention Against Genocide. But, almost immediately, the USSR disregarded these. Civic rights were virtually non-existent and Stalin continued to rule with an iron fist. With the United Nations unwilling to act upon such atrocities, the words in the Charter were rendered meaningless for those who needed them the most.
4. Khmer Rouge
Ruling Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge practiced an extreme form of Communism, as dictated by their borderline-psychotic leader Pol Pot. In 1979, the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia to oust the Khmer Rouge and end the massacre and a new government was put in place in Cambodia. Shockingly, the United Nations refused to recognize this new government because it was backed by Vietnam, which had recently ended a decade-long conflict with the United States.
5. Srebrenica Massacre
This 1995 Bosnian War massacre was the single worst act of mass murder on European soil since World War II. After an ethnic cleansing campaign led by the Serbs targeted the Bosniaks, a largely Muslim community, the United Nations designated Srebrenica a safe-zone in 1993. But, as many as 7,800 Bosniaks were killed by Serbian soldiers mainly due largely to an ill-equipped and unprepared UN force.
6. Veto Power
Five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council enjoy the luxury of veto power; when a permanent member vetoes a vote, the Council resolution cannot be adopted. Most recent example of a veto came when the UNSC attempted to evoke chapter VII sanctions from the UN Charter to intervene and prevent genocide in Syria. But the vetoes by China and Russia halted any international intervention and rendered the UN hapless.
7. Child Sex Abuse Scandal
To the oppressed people, the blue helmets of UN peacekeepers represent stability and safety. Unfortunately, the reports from Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia, Haiti, and Mozambique revealed a shocking trend; areas with peacekeeping forces saw a rapid rise in child prostitution. But, the senior officials in the UN refused to even condemn the peacekeepers.
8. Sri Lanka
In the final months of the war between LTTE and Sri Lankan army, the opposing sides fought in the heavily populated northeast coastline, a designated safe zone. Independent experts urged the Human Rights Council of the UN to investigate claims of war crimes, but the United Nations made no attempts to intervene on behalf of the civilian population.
9. Nuclear Proliferation
In 1970, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was signed by 190 nations, including five nations that admitted to owning nuclear weapons: France, England, Russia, China, and the US. Despite this treaty, nuclear stockpiles remain high, and numerous nations continue to develop these devastating weapons. The failure of the non-proliferation treaty details the ineffectiveness of the United Nations, and their inability to enforce crucial rules and regulations on offending nations.
Many experts agree that ‘modern’ terrorism began with the 1968 hijacking of El Al Israel Flight 426 by a Palestinian organization. The United Nations condemned the action, but failed to take any further action. These terrorist acts continued throughout the remainder of the twentieth century, with no reaction from the UN; a simple condemnation was as far as they would go.