The UN Apologist

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

If not the UN, what? (no need convincing any of you!!)

If not the UN, what?

Critics of the organisation should explain their alternative to it, for it remains the only mechanism we have to uphold peace and human rights in the world today.

Conor Foley


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August 9, 2006 03:08 PM | Printable version

Shortly after the Kosovo war in 1999, Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general, famously posed a question about the relationship between state sovereignty and international human rights. "For those who think the former inviolable", he asked, "how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica - to gross and systematic violations of human rights that affect every precept of our common humanity?"

In the last few pieces that I have written on humanitarian interventions a variety of commentators have posed the same question to me. I think that interventions that seek to sideline the UN are likely to be counter-productive. But what if the security council refuses to intervene in a case of clear genocide? "Are we supposed to watch the Hutus sharpening their machetes while we wait for a UN resolution?" asked one respondent.

The simplest answer is that the failures in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot actually be blamed on the UN charter, as the security council did agree to Chapter VII interventions in both countries. That the interventions were late, feeble and ineffective is beyond doubt, but this does not automatically mean that a more robust mandate would have made them successful. These interventions followed the disaster of Somalia, which was the first time that the UN had used its Chapter VII powers in respect to a purely internal crisis. "Operation shoot-to-feed", as it became known, undoubtedly contributed to the reluctance of western nations to put their troops at risk in future humanitarian missions.

The UN is obviously not beyond criticism, but it is reasonable to ask what alternatives would be better? Did NATO do a better job protecting minorities in Kosovo? Was the ECOWAS mission to Liberia more successful?

To a large extent the weaknesses of the UN system simply reflect the inequalities and injustices of the world that we live in. The UN has "failed" to intervene in Cechnya and Tibet because Russia and China are world powers as well as permanent members of the security council. It has "failed" to bring an end to the conflict in Lebanon because the British and US governments tacitly support Israel's intervention.

The UN mission to Lebanon has recently come under attack from both sides. A commentator here described its unarmed observers as "next to useless" and stopped just short of justifying the Israeli attack on their post. One of my relatives, Captain James Kelly, was a UN blue beret in a previous mission to northern Israel and the Golan Heights back in the 1960s and has written about what it is like to be pinned down by hostile fire. He subsequently became a defendant in the 1970 arms trial when ministers in the Irish Government were accused of sending guns to republicans in Northern Ireland. I have posed the question before about whether this is a better way to "protect the victims" when the state proves unable to fulfil this responsibility?

It should also be recognised that the UN has got a lot better at peacekeeping over the last decade, as the falling number of conflicts and refugees shows. Last year, language embodying the concept of the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) was endorsed by the world's heads of state at the UN's 60th anniversary summit. In April of this year, the security council accepted its responsibility "to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the security council, in accordance with the Charter, including chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis" to protect people against war crimes, ethnic cleansing and other violations.

The words "through the security council" make it clear that R2P does not legitimate actions taken outside this framework. For those who see conflicts in black and white terms this is probably a pity. Some may view the renewed outbreak of conflict in Darfur as another indictment of the UN's failure to prevent "genocide", although most informed observers seem to take a more nuanced position about the conflict. This does not mean that we do not care about the victims, just that we do not want to make things any worse for them.

For those of us who believe in collective security, however, the UN remains the only mechanism that we have to uphold peace and human rights in the world today. To those who disagree with this statement, what is your alternative?







Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The UN has a new Human Rights Council!!

New U.N. rights body under pressure to prove itself

18 Jun 2006 11:33:55 GMT

Source: Reuters

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By Richard Waddington

GENEVA, June 18 (Reuters) - The United Nations' new human rights body, the Human Rights Council, begins its inaugural session on Monday under close scrutiny to see if it does more to protect fundamental freedoms than its discredited predecessor.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a prime mover behind the replacing of the old Human Rights Commission, will attend the launch and a host of ministers will be in Geneva to address it in the opening days.


Much of the initial two-week session of the 47-state body will be devoted to planning future work, but its chairman ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico has set aside time for examining current rights crises around the world.


The latter will be a test of whether the new body is ready to break out of the confrontational and highly politicised atmosphere -- often pitting developed nations against developing -- that hampered the commission, diplomats and activists say.

"The new Human Rights Council must be more than the dysfunctional old commission by another name," said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.


"The new members must ... find new and more effective ways to help the victims of human rights violations across the globe," she added in a statement.

But the council, intended to spearhead a series of U.N. reforms, had a difficult birth, with the United States declining to stand for membership because it said that changes to the old commission did not go deep enough.



Unlike the commission, whose 53 members were nominated by regional blocs, those wanting to take part in the council had to win a majority in the U.N. General Assembly.


Washington backed Annan's initial call for a two-thirds vote, which it said would help keep out abusers who had been able to join forces within the commission to bloc effective action against violations.


But rights activists say that with the storm of international criticism over Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. detention centres, as well as alleged secret prisons, it was far from certain that Washington would have won election.


One of the other key changes is that the rights records of all members will be periodically reviewed. It will be the job of the council to decide how this will be done.

While some states whose records have been questioned, such as Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China won election, others failed or did not even stand.

Washington has not ruled out standing in the future and it has been active in preparatory work. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva will address the council on Wednesday.


The Organisation of the Islamic Conference has already made it clear that the situation in territories under Israeli military occupation must be discussed.

It also wants a debate on respect for religion following the furore stirred up by the publication late last year in some Western countries of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad -- something which is abhorrent to Muslims.


European countries have warned they will not allow Israel to be the only one signalled out for censure. Its routine condemnation, in resolutions repeated year after year, symbolised for many the sterility of the old commission.


European diplomats say there will certainly be discussion of Sudan, Myanmar and North Korea, although what form it will take and whether there will be resolutions was not decided.


But China, which has faced attempts at censure over charges of suppression of religious and ethnic minorities, has warned that there must be no return to the finger-pointing of the past.





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Tuesday, June 13, 2006



-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of
Sent: lundi 12 juin 2006 22:01



New York, Jun 12 2006  6:00PM

Warning that the United Nations is facing “a moment of truth,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan is urging all UN Member States to tone down their rhetoric over a proposed package of reform measures and join forces to reach a sensible compromise that will prevent a budget crisis and pave the way for more fundamental change later.   


“It is time for those who really care about reform to come together and form a new coalition – one that bridges the artificial, destructive divide between north and south and brings together all those who are willing to work together because they share the vision of a UN that really works, for the benefit of all the world’s peoples,” the Secretary-General said in an <"">op-ed article published today in The Financial Times.


The situation, he noted, stemmed from a decision made by Member States last December when they adopted a budget for the current 2006-2007 biennium, but gave the UN “authority to spend only enough to carry us through the first six months.” The main contributors, led by the US, insisted that this spending cap should be lifted only when there is significant progress on UN reform.


“We are now perilously near the deadline and it is far from clear that enough reform to satisfy them has been achieved,” the Secretary-General wrote. “Neither side has found a way of engaging with the other to agree on further reforms.”


In the midst of this stalemate, he recalled a “minor storm” broke out last week when Mark Malloch Brown, the Secretary-General’s deputy, made a speech suggesting that the US should engage more fully and wholeheartedly with other members of the UN to bring about reform.


“That is absolutely right, but he and I believe the same message needs to be heard in many other countries besides the US,” he said, maintaining that that country is trying to use “the power of the purse” to force through the badly needed reforms and the tactic has provoked a negative reaction among developing countries, who see “overwhelming influence of a few rich countries.”


It was crucial to get passed this impasse in order to get on to the full scope of reforms that needed to be accomplished in the organization, including updating the Security Council, which would require greater political vision on the part of all governments.


“But even while we wait for political vision to catch up with the scale of today’s challenges, we have vital work to do right now - programmes that have been mandated by members and provide essential services to people in acute danger or need,” he said.


“We must not let that work be stalled,” he urged.

 2006-06-12 00:00:00.000





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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Updates on UN reform...







Report: UN Agrees on Reform Compromise



191 members have to agree on the proposed UN reform plans

191 members have to agree on the proposed UN reform plans



Shortly before the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, negotiators have reportedly come up with a watered-down compromise deal on the organization's reform plans.


While there was no word on the proposal for expanding the UN Security Council, the apparent agreement, to be specified on Tuesday, ends deadlocked negotiations that some had believed would end in failure.


"What we can say now is that we will have a document that will reflect what is politically possible right now among 191 members," Gunter Pleuger, Germany's ambassador to the UN, told The New York Times. "It may not be the great reform idea that (UN Secretary General) Kofi Annan put into the world two years ago and might not meet with the excitement of all member states and of the press, but it will be an important step in the direction of a basic reform of the UN."


The draft document addresses topics that include the creation of a new human rights council, ways to increase economic development and reduce poverty and a UN management overhaul.


In many cases impasses were resolved by substituting specific goals with broad statements of principle, according to the newspaper.

Annan's centerpiece

The UN's 60th anniversary logo

The original reform plan was meant to be the centerpiece of Annan's ambitious plan to reform the world body on its 60th anniversary. Enlarging the powerful, 15-member Security Council was supposed to reflect the 21st century's new balance of forces, enshrining the enhanced status of economic powerhouses Germany and Japan -- the World War II losers -- and the emerging power of India and Brazil.

But the plan, which was to have been endorsed by world leaders at their summit this week, seems to have fallen victim to the competing egos and interests of rival nations. 

The most promising expansion plan came in a draft introduced to the UN General Assembly in July by the so-called G4: Brazil, Germany, India and Japan. It called for boosting council membership to 25, with six new permanent, non-veto-wielding seats -- the G4 nations plus two from Africa -- and four non-permanent seats.

Power to veto a sticking point

But the African Union, led by Algeria and Egypt, rejected the G4 proposal and pushed instead for their own draft calling for two permanent Security Council seats for Africa -- with veto power -- as well as five non-permanent council seats, including two for Africa. This plan would correct what they perceive as a historical injustice that has left them as the only continent not represented on the Security Council.

UN Security Council

That demand for veto power was generally viewed as unrealistic by the five current permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. Early on, the United States warned it would reject any major expansion of the council, stating its preference for only two additional permanent seats, including one for Japan.

In an attempt to reconcile these differences, at a July meeting in London, the G4 proposed a plan by which Africa would drop its demand for veto power in exchange for a fifth non-permanent seat.

Yet as the United States and China signaled opposition to the G4 blueprint, the Africans decided at a summit in Addis Ababa in August to reject the compromise deal offered by the G4 and backed by Nigeria, the current AU chairman.

US to UN:  Fix what you have before expansion

DW staff (aal/win)







Thursday, September 08, 2005



-----Original Message-----
From: UN News Service []
Sent: jeudi 8 septembre 2005 17:01



New York, Sep  8 2005  1:00PM

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today stressed that cities and local authorities have a critical role to play in global progress in education, hunger, health, water, sanitation, gender equality and other areas of the development agenda to be discussed at next week's World Summit.


"Ultimately it is in the streets of your cities and towns that the value of what's decided here will be tested," he <"">said to the mayors and other local representatives attending the United Cities and Local Governments Summit at UN headquarters in New York. "It is there, in the daily lives of your citizens, in their safety and security, in their prosperity and sense of opportunity, that our progress will be most visible, and our setbacks felt most keenly."


"While our Goals are global," he added, "they can most effectively be achieved through action at local level."


Calling the present era "the urban millennium," Mr. Annan noted that urban centres of the developing world are engines of economic growth but also reservoirs of poverty so large that one out of every six people on earth now lives in a slum or squatter settlement.


Indeed, he said, half the world's people now live in cities and towns and in the next 30 years virtually all of the world's population growth will occur in the urban areas of low- and middle-income countries.  "How we manage that growth will go a long way toward influencing the world's future peace and prosperity," he said.

 2005-09-08 00:00:00.000





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Monday, June 06, 2005

International court to probe Darfur war crimes

International court to probe Darfur war crimes
Last Updated Mon, 06 Jun 2005 07:03:59 EDT
CBC News
The International Criminal Court announced Monday it will launch a formal investigation into suspected war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region.

The investigation is expected to be the largest handled by the court since it was established in June 2002.

The decision follows a vote by the United Nations Security Council in March to let the ICC try people accused of committing war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region, the first case the council has referred to the ICC. The U.S., which opposes the ICC because it fears it could be used to launch politically motivated prosecutions against Americans, had agreed not to use its veto power on the Security Council.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has given the ICC a list of 51 people, including top Sudanese government and army officials, militia leaders and army commanders, suspected of slaughter and rape in Darfur.

The ICC is not expected to get help from Sudan, which has insisted on prosecuting any suspects itself. The UN says Sudan has done little to disarm the Arab militia.

Critics say the Sudanese government has been supporting the Janjaweed, Arab militias accused of attacking Darfur's black residents and carrying out a brutal campaign to drive out the local population. The government denies the charge.

Tens of thousands of Darfur residents have died and more than 2 million have been displaced from their homes.

Human-rights groups and other observers – including former U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell – have condemned the violence as genocide.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Interpreter (filmed partly in the UN!) Opens...

Kidman's latest film takes centre stage in Sydney

Nicole Kidman's latest film The Interpreter is making its world premiere in Sydney tonight.

The political thriller explores the inner workings of the United Nations and in a cinema first, permission was given to shoot inside the General Assembly.

Academy-award winner Nicole Kidman, who plays the role of a UN interpreter in the film, was the star attraction for the 1,200 guests attending the premiere.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Security Council, gave permission for the filming to help demystify the workings of the General Assembly.

Veteran director Sydney Pollack made the pitch to the UN personally.

"I didn't try to make a piece of propaganda for the United Nations, because that's not my job," he said.

"My job is to make a thriller."

The story centres on Kidman's character Sylvia Broome, an interpreter of an obscure African dialect who becomes caught up in an assassination plot.

FBI agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) is assigned to protect Broome after she overhears the assassination plot.

The film opens to the public next week.