In a talk to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, I responded to the deep frustration of genocide survivors, that the international community has failed to prevent countless acts of oppression, violence and warfare that provides cover for acts of genocide around the world today, and outlined the case for reforming the United Nations (UN).
By mid 2022 the UN reported that 103 million people had been forcibly displaced worldwide, with 32.5 million of them refugees. In this country our attention is focused on those arriving on our shores seeking safety, rather than on the root cause of why so many have to flee from their homes and the inability of the UN to maintain peace and justice around the globe.
The people in Ukraine are just the latest victims of those who flout international law and abuse human rights, as I highlighted in an earlier article. Others include:
- the people of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and Libya;
- the ongoing war in Tigray East Africa which has so far resulted in at least 600,000 deaths and is largely unreported here;
- the plight of the Uyghur people – described by Noam Chomsky in his book The Precipice as: “The largest incarceration of a religious or racial group since the holocaust”;
- the old hatreds that erupt into genocidal violence as experienced by the people of Sri Lanka and Myanmar;
- the ongoing oppression of people seeking self-determination and nationhood such as: the Kurds, the Tibetans and the Palestinians.
If our political leaders and media were serious about looking for solutions to this crisis, why then are they not looking at the reform that is so clearly needed so that people can live in peace, free from fear.
The UN is often too powerless to act
The UN describes itself as a body with a number of key organs. Just looking at four of these organs, it is soon clear what the problem is, and where the solution lies.
- The charter of the UN establishes the purposes, governing structure, and overall framework of the UN.
- The security council is charged with ensuring international peace and security. It can make decisions and enforce them. It can set up peacekeeping missions, implement trade sanctions and take military action. It is the only part of the UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions on member states. The council consists of representatives from 15 states:
- The five permanent members are China, France, Great Britain, Russia and the United States, each of which has the power to overturn or veto any decision made by the security council.
- Ten other nations appointed by the general assembly.
- The general assembly is where nations debate and vote on policy. There is one member for each of the 193 member states. It is has many responsibilities including the budget. It appoints the ten non-permanent members to the security council. It can pass resolutions, but only the security council can authorise action.
- The international court of justice settles disputes between states in accordance with international law and gives advisory opinions on international legal issues, but it cannot enforce its judgments.
Calls for action by the general assembly, or the international court of justice, may be passed to the security council. If 14 of the 15 members of the security council support the resolution, but one permanent member opposes it and uses their power of veto, then the resolution will fail, and the UN can take no action.
In 1945, as the UN was being formed, the smaller states expressed their opposition to the composition of the security council and with the power of veto given to the five permanent members. As a result of this opposition, Article 109 was introduced as a compromise so that at any time after ten years (i.e. 1955), the UN could if it wished review the charter. This could open the door for the UN to become a more democratic organisation.
All that is needed to enact Article 109 and start the process of reform is:
- A majority vote of the UN general assembly.
- A majority vote on the UN Security Council where no veto right would apply.
A conference would then be held to review the charter.
One UN for all
Hans Christoph von Sponeck is a former German diplomat with over 30 years’ experience of working in the UN. His book A different kind of war (reviewed recently in West England Bylines) exposed the genocidal policies of the UN, US and UK in the implementation of the sanctions regime imposed on the Iraqi people. In a recent article published in German, he sets out the need to reform the UN pointing out that …
“All legal obligations of the UN Charter with its 111 articles are repeatedly ignored or broken by the permanent members of the Security Council without scruples and with impunity … international law only applies to others. There is no lack of evidence of the powerlessness of the UN. The wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and of course in Ukraine are the horrific witnesses of this double standard.”
The article sets out a number of reforms, but von Sponeck lists the following four as the most urgent:
- The general assembly
Should have the power to decide and act.
- The security council
The composition of the security council needs to be adjusted to ensure that Africa, Latin America and Asia are adequately represented. With decisions based on a majorities to stop individual members from going it alone to project their own interests. The existing right of veto has repeatedly prevented peace-building measures.
- The international court of justice
Can only become effective if it is given the authority to make enforceable decisions.
The gap between what is required and the funds available to the UN secretary-general is widening. The UN has a budget of $3.2bn for its worldwide initiatives, whilst the annual budget of the New York police department is nearly $6bn.
Reform is needed
The UN was forged at a time when the world was recovering from a global war that had exposed the horrors of the Holocaust and atomic weapons. Peace and justice were woven through its charter, but time and time again since 1945 it has failed to protect people in desperate need.
The world clearly needs a United Nations that has the power to intervene to stop disputes within and between nations before they escalate into:
- the oppression of communities;
- the forced deportation of minorities;
- open warfare.
Any of these would lead to more refugees and give cover for acts of genocide.
Nobody wants to be forced to leave their home and become a refugee. People just want to be able to live in peace and security, with their basic needs met. How many more times must the UN be allowed to fail before there are wider calls for a vote to trigger the reform that is so clearly needed?