portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article

human & civil rights | imperialism & war

UN faces an uphill task in attaining its goals

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been a leading advocate of the principle that national sovereignty cannot be used as a shield to conceal extreme violations of human rights. Sovereignty, like the state itself, exists to serve and protect the people, not the other way round.
Mustapha Karkouti: UN faces an uphill task in attaining its goals
Mustapha Karkouti, Gulf News, 22-04-2003

London - When Switzerland, a country built on the notion of independence and a nation proud of being uniquely stubborn, decided to join the United Nations in a referendum last year, it credited the world organisation with a great deal of relevance.

Despite the fiercely despicable campaign against the Security Council, the world's highest reference authority, by a few but excessively powerful member-states, the UN is now more representative of virtually the entire population of the world, than the League of Nations ever was.

But President George Walker Bush has threatened the UN to enjoy the fate of the League of Nations, created after the First World War, at the time when the Security Council was debating whether to side with the United States and United Kingdom on the Iraqi question.

Bush's supporters, and they are quite influential, may consider now that the UN has reached its destiny, because the Security Council failed to actually prevent the war despite the conclusion reached by its heroic majority who refused to bend to the president's dictates.

As a result, and for this reason alone, many may find the Security Council as being ineffective as it shamefully demonstrated just before the American-led war against Iraq was launched in March.

However effective or ineffective the Security Council is, UN membership itself is almost universally regarded as an essential criterion for independence and sovereignty. This is likely to continue to be the case as events in post-war Iraq clearly demonstrate.

Some have suggested that an alternative body should be created to rival with the UN or to replace all together.

Although it is theoretically imaginable that such a body can be created, to which only states with impeccable democratic and human rights credentials would be admitted, it is very doubtful such a body could serve the purposes that the UN does, or enjoy such a widely accepted legitimacy.

In fact such a body is unlikely to come into existence because many - even among those states that might be eligible to join it - would regard UN membership as preferable.

Bill Clinton's administration talked a lot more about this "new body" that Bush's has ever done. Clinton wanted to set up a "community of democracies" instead, i.e. countries with democratic credentials only would be allowed to join.

Such a community may perhaps have a useful role, in certain contexts, as a caucus within the UN, but not replacing it. Ideally, all UN members will one day be eligible to join it. Until that day comes it is most unlikely to replace the UN; and when that day comes there will be no need to.

If such a policy is allowed to materialise, it will be dangerously divisive as it will isolate the non-democratic block and shield it against any influence by the "democratic community" states.

In fact, in the African context, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan offers a better alternative for such reform by pressing on the non-democratic countries the need for political and economic reform as criteria to remain, or be accepted as members in the UN.

In the African context, the UN Secretary-General himself has been a leading advocate of the principle that governments coming to power by unconstitutional means should not be recognised (and has said he looks forward to the day when this principle is adopted by the UN General Assembly).

He has also been a leading advocate of the principle that national sovereignty cannot be used as a shield to conceal extreme violations of human rights. Sovereignty, like the state itself, exists to serve and protect the people, not the other way round.

Any rival body will fall short of the UN duties world wide. There are so many global issues on the UN agenda no regional body can solely undertake, nor could be carried through by any suggested alternative organisation.

Africa, Iraq, questions of Palestine, terrorism, disarmament, peace and security, the population and refugees are only few of some 50 global issues of great concern on the UN agenda.

Other issues include: ageing, agriculture, AIDS, atomic energy, children, climate changes, culture, de-colonisation, de-mining, development co-operation, drug control and crime prevention, education, elections, energy, environment, family, food, government, health, human tights, human settlements, humanitarian affairs, indigenous people, information communications technology, international finance, labour, international law, law and the sea and Antarctica, least developed countries, the Millennium General Assembly Agenda, social development, outer space, statistics, sustainable development, trade and development, volunteerism, water, women and youth.

In tackling this broad agenda, UN agencies are not acting as unsolicited busybodies.

They are carrying out mandates given to them by member states - most notably in the Millennium Declaration, adopted when political leaders from the entire world came together in 2000 at UN headquarters, to set a world agenda for the new century, or at least the first decades of it.

Among the pledges given there are the eight Millennium Development Goals, most of which are supposed to be achieved by 2015 - the halving of extreme poverty, universal primary education, equal access for both sexes to all levels of education, reductions in child and maternal mortality, a halt to the spread of HIV/AIDS (Estimated world total adults and children to be living with HIV/AIDS is 33.4 million, 22.5 million of the total are in Sub-Saharan Africa alone).

It is far from certain that these goals will be achieved in that time-scale, especially if economic resources and political and media attention continue to be monopolised by major conflicts like that in Iraq. Certainly any attempt to break up the UN or hinder its course to lessen the humanity suffering would amount to a crime.

With the UN, the world won't be a safer place only, but the cost of sustaining its stability and peaceful coexistence would be much less in human and financial terms.

The writer is the former president, Foreign Press Association in London. He can be contacted at  mkarkouti@gulfnews.com

homepage: homepage: http://www.gulf-news.com/Articles/opinion.asp?ArticleID=85075