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United Nations just an expensive show

UN’s $5.15b budget should be put to better use such as ensuring no child dies of starvation in famine zones instead

Image Credit: Reuters
A Syrian regime supporter feeds a fire of burning tyres during a protest against Salafistswho are supporting the Syrian opposition and are leading a sit-in in Sidon.
Gulf News

The United Nations is arguably the most worthwhile organisation on earth. On paper that is. Established in 1945, primarily to prevent a third world war, the goals encapsulated in its charter are admirable. Bringing the international community together under the UN umbrella was achieved to maintain peace and security, to nurture friendship between nations on the basis of human rights, fundamental freedoms, international laws — and the self-determination of peoples.

The idea was to provide a forum for the resolution of disputes with the benefit of muscle to be exerted as a last resort under Chapter VII of the Charter that permits the UN Security Council “to take military action to “restore international peace and security”.

No doubt UN organs such as Unicef, Unesco, the UNHCR and the WHO do invaluable work, but the main body has overall proved to be a spectacular failure.

A glaring example of the UN’s impotence is its ineffectiveness in halting the Syrian regime’s mass murder. It’s good at drafting resolutions and holding press conferences which make not one jot of difference to Syrian men, women and children who are being tortured, shelled and bombed.

I’ve been following the numerous Security Council meetings intently, hoping that its members will take decisive action to halt the killing, but all I see is squabbling and obstruction. On Friday, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution “deploring the failure of the Security Council to agree on measures to ensure the compliance of Syrian authorities with its decisions”.

But as the General Assembly has no power, that resolution is destined to be filed away.

Kofi Annan, the envoy appointed by the UN to mediate in Syria, has thrown up his hands, announcing his resignation effective end August.

“At a time when the Syrian people need action there continues to be name calling and finger pointing in the Security Council,” Annan said.

This isn’t the first time that the UN has reneged on its responsibilities; it abandoned the people of Rwanda.

A report published by an independent investigatory commission led by a former Swedish Prime Minister accused the UN of failing to stem the genocide in Rwanda that robbed the lives of some 800,000. Annan in his capacity as UN Secretary-General expressed his regret while pledging to thwart a similar future disaster. That promise has turned out to be empty.

The UN has also admitted failure in its peace-keeping role by permitting Bosnian Serbs to systematically murder thousands of Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995. Srebrenica was supposed to be a safe area under the protection of UN-led troops.

“The tragedy of Srebrenica will haunt our history forever,” is a quote from a self-flagellating UN report.

Virtually powerless

Just like Rwandans, the Syrian people are crying out for international protection and all they’ve received so far are commiserations. To be fair, neither Annan nor his successor Ban Ki-Moon should be held accountable. Any UN head is virtually powerless with decision-making resting with the Security Council.

It’s preposterous than the Big Five — the US, the UK, France, Russia and China — can veto UNSC resolutions blessed by all other members.

Russia and China have recently used their vetoes to thwart resolutions censuring the Al Assad regime to preserve their respective interests. They’ve been condemned by Washington but the US doesn’t hesitate to wield its own veto to block resolutions that justly chastise Israel. Moreover, whenever the US fails to bring fellow members into line it threatens to cut UN funding.

Exposed as a bad joke

As long as individual countries prioritise their own national interests over the principles in the UN Charter, the organisation will continue holding out false hope to the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. Few had much faith in the Security Council before Syria erupted but now that it’s witnessed massacres of children from the beginning of the uprising on March 15, 2011 until now and done nothing, it’s been exposed as a bad joke.

I never imagined that I would agree with that hawkish neoconservative John Bolton, a former US Ambassador to the UN, who controversially said if the UN lost ten floors “it wouldn’t make a bit of difference”. Better still, the entire bloated edifice should be turned into a museum or mall. Those 7,750 pen pushers in the UN Secretariat and the 8,230 specially funded administrators should be sent home.

The UN’s annual budget currently standing at $5.15 billion (Dh18.91 billion) (2012-2013) should be put to better use such as ensuring no child dies of starvation in famine zones. I wonder how much goes on cocktail parties, trips and personal allowances. It should be investigated and audited. Its failures and accomplishments should be made public so its usefulness can be fairly evaluated.

The UN is a tool of big powers. The body’s charter is no longer worth the paper it’s written on. It’s lost its credibility so it should be replaced by an international organisation headquartered in a neutral country like Switzerland wherein member countries enjoy voting rights proportional to their populations — and where no one nation is empowered to lead the others by the nose.


Khalaf Al Habtoor is a businessman and chairman 
of Al Habtoor Group


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