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UN Managed ‘to Save Humanity from Hell’

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By Somar Wijayadasa* | IDN-InDepthNews Viewpoint


“Enlightened Universe”, a monumental art installation by Spanish artist Cristóbal Gabarrón was unveiled on  October 24 in Central Park in New York City in celebration of the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. UN Photo/Cia Pak

NEW YORK (IDN) - October 24 marked the 70th anniversary of the entry into force in 1945 of the Charter of the United Nations, an intergovernmental organisation, which was created to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, protect human rights, maintain international peace and security, and uphold international law.

Its 70-year history is marked with many successes, but also disappointments. We need to look at both sides so that we can make the UN more effective in the future.

The UN has an impressive record of resolving many international conflicts. UN peacekeepers have, since 1945, undertaken over 60 field missions and negotiated 172 peaceful settlements that ended regional conflicts. Right now, peacekeepers are in 16 hot spots around the world trying to save lives and avert wars.

The UN also encouraged the liberation of countries that had been under colonial rule for over 450 years: 80 nations and more than 750 million people have been freed from colonialism.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights empowered the UN to act as custodian for the protection of human rights, discrimination against women, children’s rights, torture, missing persons and arbitrary detention that was occurring in many countries.

Moreover, the UN and its specialized agencies are engaged in enhancing all aspects of human life, including education, health, poverty reduction, the rights of women and children, and climate change.

Peacekeeping Forces

As a result, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded 12 times to the UN, its specialized agencies, programs and staff. This included an award in 1988 to the UN Peacekeeping Forces, and in 2001 to the UN and its Secretary-General, Kofi Annan.

The UN defined, codified and expanded the realm of international law, governing the legal responsibilities of States in their conduct with each other, and their treatment of individuals within State boundaries. More than 560 multilateral treaties on human rights, refugees, disarmament, trade, oceans, outer space, etc. encompassing all aspects of international affairs were negotiated by the UN.

The UN has made progress with its eight Millennium Development Goals, which will be followed next year by 17 Sustainable Development Goals to enhance social, environmental and economic progress by 2030.

But the UN could not stop the United States from abandoning the Kyoto Protocol, ignoring the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), repudiating the Biological Weapons Convention, and repealing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The UN is not without shortcomings. In 1970, when the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed by 190 nations, all five superpowers owned nuclear weapons. Later, despite the NPT and Partial Test Ban Treaty, several countries – North Korea, Israel, Pakistan, and India – developed nuclear weapons. This revealed the UN’s inability to enforce regulations on offending nations.

Along similar lines, the UN’s International Court of Justice has resolved major international disputes, but the UN’s veto powers have limited its effectiveness at critical times.

The International Criminal Court, established in 2002, has prosecuted several war criminals – but it has been criticized for prosecuting only African leaders while Western powers too have committed war crimes.

Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary-General from 1953-1961, said that the “UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.” The UN has solved many violent conflicts, prevented wars, and saved millions of lives but it also faced disappointments.

In Cambodia, a peacekeeping mission (1991–95) ended violence and established a democratic government, but well after Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge (1975-79) had executed over 2.5 million people.

Arab Spring

In Rwanda, over 800,000 were massacred in100 days. In 1995, Bosnian Serb forces overran the “safe zone” of Srebrenica and massacred 8,000 Muslim men and boys. In Darfur, an estimated 300,000 Sudanese civilians were killed. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has killed over 13,000 people.

A recent report by “Body Count” revealed that “in addition to one million deaths in Iraq, an estimated 220,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan as a result of US foreign policy”.

In 2014, Israel attacked homes, schools, hospitals, and UN shelters in Gaza killing 2,200 Palestinians. Condemning that action, Navi Pillay, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that “Israel was deliberately defying international law in its military offensive in Gaza and that world powers should hold it accountable for possible war crimes.” The UN Security Council (SC) has failed as the United States vetoes any action against Israel.

The Arab Spring in the Middle East caused thousands of deaths and regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Libya is devastated with over 40,000 deaths, and the civil war in Syria has killed over 220,000 people. These wars have displaced over 50 million people. Now, ISIS has infiltrated these countries causing gruesome killings, human rights abuses, and war crimes, at an unprecedented rate.

These catastrophic events might have been prevented if the Member States of the UN had the ability to resolutely act in a timely manner. But the UN is not a world government, and it does not have a standing army of peacekeepers ready for deployment. And, it is the Member States that make decisions at the UN.

These setbacks clearly reflect the shortcomings of the UN Security Council, and its veto powers that allow some members’ own interests to be placed ahead of the need to end a raging conflict.

Global needs and challenges

Navi Pillay, addressing the Security Council, said, “short-term geopolitical considerations and national interest, narrowly defined, have repeatedly taken precedence over intolerable human suffering and grave breaches of – and long-term threats to – international peace and security”.

During the last 70 years, geopolitics has changed drastically. This calls for reform of the UN – to meet global needs and challenges of the 21st century.

Member States accuse the Security Council of being arrogant, secretive and undemocratic but the veto powers resist change. Meanwhile, violations of the UN Charter by powerful countries continue to erode the effectiveness of the world body.

However, as mandated by its Charter, the UN has prevented another World War. The UN has made impressive and unprecedented progress in all aspects of human development, bringing great benefits to millions of people around the world.

Our convoluted world needs the UN. The Security Council must be reformed and strengthened to enable the UN as a whole to confront and resolve complex challenges of our world.

*Somar Wijayadasa, a Moscow educated International Lawyer was a UNESCO delegate to the UN General Assembly for ten consecutive years from 1985-1995, and was Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations from 1995-2000. Read his previous article on IDN and on IPS. [IDN-InDepthNews – 27 October 2015]

Photo: “Enlightened Universe”, a monumental art installation by Spanish artist Cristóbal Gabarrón was unveiled on Saturday, 24 October, at the Rumsey Playfield in Central Park in New York City in celebration of the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. The commemorative work of art depicts seventy life-size figures joined in hand around a central globe, creating a human chain of global citizenship, respect for nature and shared responsibility. The sphere measures 6,371 millimetres in diameter to correspond to the Earth’s average radius of 6,371 kilometres and the figures represent the seventy years of the United Nations.

2015 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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