The failure of the United Nations to maintain peace and justice around the world shows that the UN Charter in no longer fit for purpose. Those who drafted the original charter included Article 109 to trigger the process of reform, it’s needed now!!
Following the atrocity committed by Hamas on the 7th October, the government of Israel has ordered the displacement of over one million people in Gaza. In an interview with Sky News Crispin Blunt MP spelled out that not only is Israel committing a war crime by forcing the displacement of 1 million Palestinians, but by encouraging and supporting Israel to commit this crime, UK politicians in government and opposition are complicit in it and may as a result face prosecution.
This is not of course to diminish the awfulness of Hamas’s actions but two wrongs do not make a right.
There are currently over 100 million displaced people around the world, many of whom are now refugees. Politicians and the media in the UK are focused on how to stop the boats and the people traffickers, rather than seeking to understand why it is that so many people experience insecurity sufficient to force them to leave their homes, and what would need to be done to help them stay.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, President Zelenskyy turned to the UN for justice, but the UN was powerless to act against the Russian veto. Similarly 25 years ago the people of Iraq had nowhere to go when, according to a senior UN diplomat at the time, the sanctions imposed by the UN on the people of Iraq became genocidal under the direction of the US and British Governments. Neither Putin, Blair or Clinton will face investigation or trial for war crimes.
With the stark reality of 100 million displaced people across the globe, the scale of the failure of the UN to maintain peace and justice amongst the nations, and uphold basic human rights, has become clear. As someone who has organised a number of events to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, I have met those who have lived through the most dreadful events, and listened as they have shared their frustration at the repeated failures of the international community to protect ordinary people. In recent years there have been so many victims of violence: Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Tigray, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Rwanda, Bosnia, Myanmar, Xinjiang, Kurdistan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Tibet, Palestine and in so many other places that have led to millions being displaced.
In many of these conflicts there is a perception that might is right, one side has an army, with guns, planes and bombs to oppress the other. We need think only of the Tamil people being pounded by artillery, or the Muslims in Myanmar forced to flee to Bangladesh. The Uyghur in Xinjiang have become victims of the largest incarceration of a religious or racial group since the holocaust. The UN has striven for peace and justice, but it only takes the action of one the permanent members of the security council (known as the P5) to deny justice. The United States has used its power of veto at the United Nations Security Council 42 times to block resolutions against Israel.
In setting up the United Nations the five imperial powers at the time, namely Britain, China, France, Russia and the US, gave themselves permanent seats on the UN Security Council along with the power to veto any decision of the council. The power of veto allows these nations to use the UN to further their own national interest, and to treat international law with impunity. But even as the charter of the UN was being drafted in 1945, other nations expressed concern at the powers granted to the P5. They saw the risk that this power could be abused, and as a compromise Article 109 was added of the UN Charter.
The first two clauses of Article 109 relate to arrangements for calling a conference to make changes to the UN Charter during its first 10 years. In this period changes would require the approval of all 5 members of the security council. The final clause though explains that after 10 years all that is needed to call a conference is a simple majority in the General Assembly and 7 members of the Security Council.
“3. If such a conference has not been held before the tenth annual session of the General Assembly following the coming into force of the present Charter, the proposal to call such a conference shall be placed on the agenda of that session of the General Assembly, and the conference shall be held if so decided by a majority vote of the members of the General Assembly and by a vote of any seven members of the Security Council.”UN Charter, Article 109
The leaders who founded the UN in the shadow of the 2nd World War were determined that in the future justice should prevail over violence. That hope has long gone. Currently with 100 million victims and with Israel on the verge of displacing another million people, now is surely the time for the UN to shake off the yoke of the imperial powers and trigger Article 109 of the UN Charter and start the process of reform that the world desperately needs, so that justice and peace can prevail over violence and fear.
If not now when? There really is no need to wait for the climate emergency to make more land uninhabitable displacing another 200-500 million – something which would in turn fuel further conflict and misery. It’s time for 109.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.
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