NY Times Op Ed: Unshackle the United Nations

LONDON — Glance at any newsstand or catch any rolling news channel, and you will be confronted by a seemingly unrelenting tide of horror. Limp bodies pulled from rubble, shells and barrel bombs pounding once leafy neighborhoods. Refugees huddled for warmth or risking life and limb for survival. Mass abductions and beheadings.

From Ukraine to Nigeria, from Libya to Syria, the last 12 months have been a year of harrowing bloodshed. Millions of civilians have been caught up in conflict, with violence by states and armed groups inflicting untold death, injury and suffering. For the first time, Amnesty International has tallied the number of countries where war crimes have been committed: a shocking 18 in 2014. Among the worst were Syria, the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, Nigeria and Israel and the Palestinian territories.

As a result of the growth of groups like the Islamic State and Boko Haram, abuses by armed groups spilled over national borders, reaching at least 35 countries.

Faced with the enormity and the relentlessness of this horror it is easy to feel hopeless. But we are not powerless. Our governments and institutions may lack the will but they have the capacity, both individually and collectively, to help protect civilians in danger. It is a duty that they are abjectly failing to fulfill.

In our annual report being released Wednesday, we examine the human rights situation in 160 countries. We find that the global response to conflict and abuses has been shameful and ineffective.

Weapons have been allowed to flood into countries where they are used for grave abuses by states and armed groups with huge arms shipments delivered to Iraq, Israel, Russia, South Sudan and Syria last year alone. As the Islamic State took control of large parts of Iraq, it found large arsenals, ripe for the picking.

An historic Arms Trade Treaty came into force last year, providing a legal framework for limiting the international transfer of weapons and ammunition. But many nations have yet to ratify the treaty. There is also an urgent need for restrictions to tackle the use of explosive weapons — including aircraft bombs, mortars, artillery, rockets and ballistic missiles — that have devastated populated areas.

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