Critique: Who Will Police The United Nations?

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With the United Nations’ spectacular failures and weakness, there can be no doubt that it is an organization in a state of crisis, unsure of its future, suffering from a lack of direction, and morally ambiguous in outlook. In other words, it is a world body that is increasingly ill-equipped for the demands of the 21st century and working its way towards irrelevance unless it takes dramatic steps to restore its sinking credibility

[Global: A Critique of the UN]

If good people-earnest and strong in their belief to make a difference in the world-were to think of creating a new global organisation that actually does some good in protecting the lives of the most vulnerable, it probably wouldn’t  be much different from the  ideals, goals and principles of the United Nations.

The principles and purposes of the UN, established in its founding Charter, remain as valid and relevant in their intentions today as they were in 1945.  But over the past decades, the UN has shown deficiencies and dysfunctions that are completely at variance with the core values and objectives of forging global understanding, keeping peace, fostering development, ensuring human rights and human equality. 

The UN's image has lost some of its lustre, and its credibility has been challenged by its incoherent, haphazard, and feeble responses to internal, national and regional crises of conflicts, wars, mass murder, human right’s abuses, genocide, and crimes against humanity.

To many outside the hegemony of the dominant Western global powers that call the tunes at the UN, the organisation is fast losing credibility and is increasingly becoming irrelevant. Others regard the UN as nothing more than a bloated, corrupt "not-for-profit" charity organization experiencing acute brand crisis. Its priorities seem to be the comforts of its "disaster tourists" whose approach to catastrophe and genocides has always been to express "deep concern."

Being a "not-for-profit" organisation whose success relies heavily on constituent perception, the UN is facing a significant challenge on its brand relevance and consideration, particularly in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. It is no longer perceived as an effective global body whose legitimacy and authority are respected when its actions must go against the strategic interests of the most powerful states on its Security Council.  

The United Nations has let down millions of the world's weakest and most vulnerable people, especially in Africa. The U.N.'s failure to prevent the slaughter of hundreds of thousands in Northern Uganda, 23 years with over 550,000 dead and counting; Rwanda, in 1994, over 800,000 dead; Democratic Republic of Congo, five million dead; Southern Sudan, over 200,000 dead; and, Darfur, 300,000 dead, are shameful episodes that have contributed to cyniscms about the capability and authority of the United Nations to preserve world peace and ensure human rights and global justice for all.

The United Nations has also been plagued with other troubles. It stood aside and watched as the United States, the UK and their coalition illegally invaded a sovereign state, Iraq, toppled the regime and hanged its leaders, on fictitious claims that the country was producing WMDs and was behind 9/11; a move that has proved a costly disaster both to the Iraqis and allied forces. The United Nations has also failed miserably to intervene in the Israel – Palestine onslaught.

Then there is the Oil for Food scandal, where it is alleged that upward of $20 billion was siphoned off the program set up to aid the people of Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s brutal rule. The money was, according to the conclusions of several investigations used to bribe U.N. officials, people in high posts of foreign governments, including that of France, and even Kofi Annan's son, Kojo.

Without NATO action in Bosnia and Kosovo, it is likely that the United Nations would have done nothing but deliberated and issued condemnations while genocide occurred there.

The U.N. credibility crisis has also been compounded by a series of peacekeeping scandals, from Bosnia to Burundi to Sierra Leone. By far the worst instances of abuse have taken place in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); it has the U.N.'s second largest peacekeeping mission, with over 16,000 peacekeepers.

In the DRC, the UN recently failed to ensure that civilians were protected from a botched "Operation Lightening Thunder" by the armies of Uganda, DRC and Southern Sudan – resulting in over 1,200 deaths. Again this was an operation planned, blessed and monitored by Washington, wherein Uganda sent its army in a failed bid to neutralize the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) under Joseph Kony.

Previously, acts of criminality have been perpetrated by U.N. peacekeepers and civilian personnel entrusted with protecting some of the weakest and most vulnerable women and children in the world.

The crimes involved rape and forced prostitution of women and young girls, including inside a refugee camp in the town of Bunia in north-eastern Congo. The alleged perpetrators include UN military and civilian personnel from Nepal, Morocco, Tunisia, Uruguay, South Africa, Pakistan, and France.

They stand accused of over 150 major human rights violations. They equally stand accused of plundering DRC’s mineral resources, and turning a blind eye to crimes committed by the occupying forces of Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Angola.

Such scandals make a mockery of the U.N.'s professed commitment to upholding basic human rights. U.N. peacekeepers and the civilian personnel who work with them should be symbols of the international community's commitment to protecting the weak and innocent in times of war. The exploitation of some of the most vulnerable people in the world is a massive betrayal of trust.  

The U.N.'s failure has been multifaceted and cannot be ascribed to one single cause. It is partly a failure of leadership, combined with poor management, indiscipline, and widespread inefficiency, as well as a deep-seated culture of corruption and fat salaries to maintain a life of luxury for its personnel. 

It is also due to a lack of moral clarity on the international stage—an unwillingness to confront acts of genocide or totalitarian regimes, coupled with a ready willingness to accommodate tyrants and dictators who are responsible for crimes against humanity, which has led to the loss of faith in the U.N.'s ability to stand up even for its own Universal Charter of Human Rights, or protect the world's most vulnerable people, including victims of ethnic cleansing and refugees seeking protection under the U.N.'s very own flag. How does one reconcile Uganda’s presence on the Security Council with the criminality of the regime inside and outside Uganda’s borders?  

The U.N. has shown its victims that its ability to counter malicious minded intent to deceive the organization is almost non-existent.  In addition, its fairness doctrine which assume all nations participate with equal authority does not take into account that not all nations recognize the need for fairness, indeed some use that rather naive approach as a weapon for delay and obfuscation. 

Whatever the causes of the U.N.'s spectacular failures and weakness, there can be no doubt that it is an organization in a state of crisis, unsure of its future, suffering from a lack of direction, and morally ambiguous in outlook. In other words, it is a world body that is increasingly ill-equipped for the demands of the 21st century and working its way towards irrelevance unless it takes dramatic steps to restore its sinking credibility

One seriously wonders under these circumstances whether the UN, which claims to be "the conscience of the international community," has any future. To remain relevant, the United Nations must aggressively expose and even-handedly respond to human rights abuses worldwide, which will go a long way into restoring the public faith in its institutions and in its own credibility.



The Writer is a human rights advocate resident in the UK and can be reached via

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