United Nations: Building For Sale, All Bids Considered

Excerpt adapted from an article published in Counterpunch, May 1, 2018)

by Stanley Cohen

Loud on bark, little on bite, the U.N. has long served as the world’s most impressive moot court… debating whether commas or semi colons should punctuate its impressive pronouncements before the predictable veto sends the Security Council home for dinner and the resolution to the scrap heap of rhetorical history.
U.N. inaction, or sanctioned violence, has long betrayed any meaningful effort to serve as the world’s neutral arbiter to ensure equal and just application of international law and the pursuit of world peace.
While examples of meaningless, indeed failed, political debate abound, two in particular … one of recent vintage, the other as old as the body itself… expose the U.N. as little more than an excuse for yearly September get-togethers of world leaders. In between, career politicians, ensconced in Manhattan high rise splendor, debate, ad nauseum, issues of life and death as the refugee and body counts swell.
Examples of meaningless, indeed failed, political debate abound … expos[ing] the U.N. as little more than an excuse for yearly September get-togethers of world leaders. In between, career politicians, ensconced in Manhattan high rise splendor, debate, ad nauseum, issues of life and death as the refugee and body counts swell.
In real time, in real places, hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest, most frail, and vulnerable pay the price daily for the hollow promise that is the UN.

UN 1.jpgIt sits on First Avenue, just off of 41st Street, overlooking the East River in New York City. It opened to great applause and expectation. A wishful answer to the madness that had become a world unleashed with the scent of blood and the all too customary wail of mourn.

It was to be our collective hope. A grand oath by which, together, the world could find answers to the greed and arrogance of states long unbound in their historical feed upon those less powerful. It has not worked.

Founded in San Francisco on October 24, 1945, the United Nations opened with endless promise. As proclaimed in its lofty preamble, the original 51 member states committed themselves to saving:

“succeeding generations from the scourge of war… [reaffirmed]… faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights… of nation’s large and small… to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from… international law [could] be maintained… to ensure… that armed force [would] not be used, save in the common interest.”

With all too comfortable ease, 73 years later, these passionate words of humanity have once again proven themselves to be little more than idle gossip in which the powerful not only craft the tone of the debate but set about to ensure its content reflects their unique and predatory vision of the rule of law.

For those who have come of age to the U.N. promise, we’ve long been witness to state terrorism that has become the international norm whether carried out by imperial fiat, proxy march or by the U.N. itself.  After all, was it not the United Nations failure to act decisively against the unlawful U.S. led invasion in Iraq that essentially provided a papal-like blessing to its destruction?

Loud on bark, little on bite, the U.N. has long served as the world’s most impressive moot court… debating whether commas or semi colons should punctuate its impressive pronouncements before the predictable veto sends the Security Council home for dinner and the resolution to the scrap heap of rhetorical history.

In what has become a political art form of pain and punishment, with repeated rerun a handful of powers have used their veto to ensure that the Security Council is long on vent but short on action.

US-UN-USSR flagsIn first place stands Russia/Soviet Union which has used its veto 123 times… more than any other permanent member of the Security Council.

In second place stands the United States. It has exercised its veto power some 79 times since the U.N. opened its doors to the facade of justice. Since 1972, it has neutered Security Council action more than any other permanent member and.

In its most basic form, the veto power ensures that permanent members of the Security Council can, as they choose, prevent any collective UN action whether a diplomatic or armed response to an international crises… thus sacrificing the will of the world community to their own narrow geo-political program.

U.N. inaction, or sanctioned violence, has long betrayed any meaningful effort to serve as the world’s neutral arbiter to ensure equal and just application of international law and the pursuit of world peace.

(See full article for detailed accounting of UN inaction in atrocities: Yemen, Palestine & Lebanon)

Examples of meaningless, indeed failed, political debate abound … expos[ing] the U.N. as little more than an excuse for yearly September get-togethers of world leaders. In between, career politicians, ensconced in Manhattan high rise splendor, debate, ad nauseum, issues of life and death as the refugee and body counts swell.

Conclusion

refugee campToday, in Rohingya, Syria, Kashmir and other war zones throughout Africa and Southeast Asia, rape, torture, forced displacement, carpet bombing, and prohibited chemicals are the preferred weapons of war… with civilians the prime targets.

The International Committee of the Red Cross notes that, in 1859, one protracted war caused 40,000 military casualties but only one civilian death.

Since that time, we have seen the expansion of the Law of War and the passage of the Convention for the Amelioration of the Wounded in Time of War which serves as the precursor to the Geneva Conventions.

Both hallmarks of international law were designed to safeguard people and property that did not contribute to warfare… and to protect civilians and civilian communities from unnecessary destruction and hardship.  Yet, despite evolving principles and efforts to insulate non-combatants from the horrors of war, now more than ever, they have become the prime victims of its intended death and destruction.

“At one time wars were fought by armies” said a U.N. report entitled “The State of the World’s Children.” Today, however, civilians bear the brunt of modern conflict.

Indeed, according to UNICEF, during this century, the proportion of civilian to military casualties has increased from 5 percent in World War I to 50 percent in World War II to 90 percent in the conflicts over the last few decades. Most civilian casualties are children and women.

Can it be mere coincidence that the dramatic increase in violence and civilian casualties parallel the establishment and growth of the United Nations as constituted?

un general assemblyDoes the fact that 5 permanent members of the Security Council ultimately dictate where and when the U.N. acts with independence and certainty all but guarantee that it will never be more than a political playground dominated by the few as they pursue their own unique partisan agenda?

In 2018, it is simply not enough to issue press releases or pound the speaker’s podium from on high exalting lofty U.N. ideals to those foolish enough to buy the sale.  Toothless resolutions condemning war crimes, crimes against humanity or violations of any of the other hundreds of UN covenants and prohibitions remain but a tease unless and until that world body acts with resolve to ensure international promise and equal application of law becomes reality.

It is long past time to permit a world body to be shared equally by a world community.

For more than seven decades, the hallways of the United Nations have served as exciting field trips for young students and world visitors. I know… I was one.

refugee camp 2Awed by the majesty of the General Assembly, with its impressive French murals, green marble desks, matching lecterns and UN emblem on gold backdrop, tourists escape the reality of the moment with an inspiring recorded narrative of its accomplishments.

Yet, in real time, in real places, hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest, most frail, and vulnerable pay the price daily for the hollow promise that is the UN.

Stanley L. Cohen is lawyer and activist in New York City.

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