Marginalising UN system

Jul 11,2017 – JORDAN TIMES – Hasan Abu Nimah

The United Nations was established more than 70 years ago. Any objective assessment of its function would likely yield a poor outcome.

The UN Charter was signed on June 26, 1945. The purpose of the organisation was defined in Article 1. 

It reads: “1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.

“2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.

“3. To achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.

“4. To be a centre for harmonising the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.”

This may be a long quote for such a short article, but I need it to press my point: the UN has not now, not for decades, been living up to its simplest Charter rulings.

Judging from the situation in our region, the UN has not succeeded in either preventing perpetual conflicts, or resolving them. 

The century-old Arab-Israeli conflict, continues to be one of the main sources, if not the main source, of political instability and strife in the Middle East. 

Over the years, it metamorphosed into various forms of lethal phenomena including radicalisation, terrorism, war, conquest, lawlessness, poverty, massive destitution and forced migration, misery and more.

All along, the contribution of the UN to dealing effectively with this conflict has been dismal. 

The UN did not even stand up in defence of its own principles and rulings when repeatedly violated by aggressors and international bullies who — through intimidation and rogue tactics — ended up subjecting the rule of international law to their aggressive conduct.

Think of the recent UNESCO declaration on Hebron.

Instead of being respected, coming from an important UN body, UNESCO was chastised by member states for being honest and correct in applying the rule of law that aims at serving the best interests of all UN members. 

In the same manner, UNESCO was previously reprimanded and punished by withholding financial contributions to its budget by the same member states when it passed a similar resolution protecting Islamic heritage sites in Jerusalem.

Last March, a senior UN official at the time, undersecretary general and executive secretary for the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia Rima Khalaf, was practically forced to resign for disagreeing with the UN secretary general, over the withdrawal of a report accusing Israel of imposing an “apartheid regime” on Palestinians. 

Khalaf blamed “powerful member states” for pressuring the world body and its chief “with vicious attacks and threats”.

While Israel’s hostile attitude towards the UN since its creation is well known, because Tel Aviv thrives on aggression outside the most basic perimeters of the law, it is hard to understand superpowers’ trailing behind Israel in condemning rightful UN actions, shamelessly endorsing international law violation and putting illegal interests before the requirements of the universally approved UN charter. 

The United States’ permanent representative at the UN, Nikki Haley, has been openly on Israel’s side regardless of where Tel Aviv stands with respect to its international obligations. 

Haley called UNESCO’s decision to recognise the West Bank city of Hebron as a Palestinian World Heritage site an “affront to history” that “discredits an already highly questionable UN agency”.

Obviously, the US is not the only permanent Security Council member with veto power that often blocks resolutions it deems objectionable. Other permanent council members have done the same. 

All such obstructive actions have contributed to weakening the council’s function at critical moments and when action was most needed to abort major crises.

It is precisely because the work of the UN and its specialised agencies is often undermined by its own members, who are supposed to be its protectors and staunch supporters, that the international body’s function has been steadily incapacitated.

The UN record in resolving international disputes anywhere as a result is very poor. 

With respect to most conflicts, it either remains inactive at best, or — at worst — it intervenes upon the demand of influential powers to precipitate action compatible with their interests rather than lawful justice.

Our experience with the UN in the Middle East, however, has been unique. 

The Arab-Israeli conflict has been sitting on its agenda for the last 70 years. 

The UN’s handling of a conflict that constituted, and still constitutes, a major threat to regional and world peace, has been counterproductive. 

Dozens of UN resolutions regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict and the ongoing occupation are yet to be implemented. 

UN action is often hesitant, cautious, selective and sometimes non-committal. Some UN decisions, the Palestine Partition Resolution of 1947 in particular, did more harm than good.

The UN has been equally ineffective in playing any useful role with respect to the vicious wars currently destroying Syria, Libya, Yemen and parts of Iraq, and the UN has no excuse for being so inert. 

The same can be said about the new, and potentially dangerous crisis erupting in the Gulf region, where the UN remains totally absent. 

It is true that the states involved wish to keep the dispute within the Gulf family, but well intended mediation could be of great value even within that context.

It is really depressing that the UN has ended so helpless. 

The UN is its members, and when the powerful among them refrain from offering the organisation the needed support, it ends up like that. 

Former UN secretaries general were more forceful in taking initiatives when needed. They monitored world affairs and they acted accordingly. They used to put UN agencies and the concerned member states first when crises emerged.

But that is not the case anymore.

The new generation of secretaries general seems to be guided by the interests and the desires of those who brought them into office, and the prestige and privileges that come with the job. 

They keep an eye on a second term, rather than the principles and rules of the UN Charter, even if the price is world peace and security.

Unfortunately, this is the way the UN has become.


1 reply

  1. I am surprised that the author did not spell it out more clearly: The UN is controlled by the veto powers in the Security Council. The Secretary cannot do anything against their wishes, even if he wanted to. Already Churchill is reported to have said: “We will control the world in the Security Council, the rest of the world can go on talking at the General Assembly (which will have no effect what so ever).

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