The UN has failed

13 Sep 2014

I stated in a previous article for Chat Politics that the crisis in Iraq is worsening by the day. Slaughter and ethnic cleansing has been reported from Northern Iraq and Syria, yet the world is standing by watching. This is a disgrace; we should be helping our fellow homo-sapiens in the struggle against brutal organisations like the Islamic State. Re-reading my piece brought up another question: where is the United Nations (UN) in this conflict? It's becoming clearer over time that the influence of the UN is almost non-existent in these parts of the world, as it has been in other crises throughout the past half a century.


The aims of the United Nations, as stated on their website are:

·       To keep peace throughout the world

·       To develop friendly relations among nations

·       To help nations work together to improve the lives of poor people, to conquer hunger, disease and illiteracy, and to encourage respect for each other’s rights and freedoms

·       To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations to achieve these goals

The UN has failed in all of these four aspects. It has failed Iraq; it has failed West Africa; and it has failed the world. 

Two conflicts that show the UN's failure the most in recent times are Rwanda and Bosnia. The UN's position on Rwanda can be summed up in one simple story. In 1994 General Roméo Dallaire, Force Commander of the 250-weak UN peace-keeping force in Rwanda, discovered through sources within the Hutu diplomatic circles essential information concerning upcoming massacres against Tutsis and Hutu moderates. He alerted the UN and asked for almost double the number of troops to help try to prevent a larger genocide. This life-saving knowledge of the situation was known to the UN early on in the conflict, yet no action was taken to prevent an oncoming genocide. 

This brings complete shame on the UN, and I'm sure nobody would dispute that. What worsens this story is that even when the genocide was occurring, the UN did nothing to stop it. They could neither engage in fighting with brutal soldiers, nor could they confiscate any munitions or arms, sent to the Hutus incidentally by countries like France and the UK. The UN did nothing before the crisis, did nothing during the crisis, and spectacularly failed to prevent genocide on a scale not seen since in Africa. 

The failure and ignorance of the UN has also been extended to our very own continent. In 1993 UN peacekeepers were sent to Bosnia, yet had almost no effect whatsoever. They were ordered specifically not to engage in fighting, not to actively engage in the conflict, and not to get involved in either side's fight. Generals on the ground repeatedly told the UN they had to get involved or they wouldn't be able to stop the genocide they saw unfolding in front of their eyes. But, yes, you guessed it, the reply they received was to not shoot, as that would go against the UN rules of engagement. All Ratko Mladić’s forces had to do was not engage with the UN forces. The worst example of the UN's lack of action in Bosnia was in the town of Srebrenica. Most of the town's Muslims fled their homes after Bosnian forces were allowed to shell then enter the town. The Muslims ran to the UN camp just outside the town, which was inhabited by a regiment of Dutch peacekeepers. They were given orders to expel the refugees from the compound, and not provide solace for those in need; this was of course intervening in the war far too much for the UN's liking. It begs the question, how bad do things have to get before the UN gets up off its comfy armchair and actually does something? Past disgraces have shown the UN either to be lazy, incompetent, or simply immoral. 

Where the UN forces are now? Where are they in Gaza? Where are they in the Ukraine? Where are they in North Korea? The UN's aim to keep peace throughout the world and to develop friendly relations among nations is collapsing in front of their eyes, and they are doing nothing to stop it. It is an insult to those countries who try and stop genocide and brutality that the organisation set up to unite countries across the world for peace sits idly by not doing anything. 

The incompetence of the UN verges on comical. In May 2003, had Saddam Hussein still been in power in, Iraq would have chaired the UN committee for disarmament. It appears that there was a monumental loss of common sense when this decision was made. Furthermore, Libya was appointed the chair of the UN Human Rights' Commission. Now, I say it's comical; however these decisions affect peoples' lives. Actions like this led to the betrayal of Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, and Darfur. Furthermore, any country with self-interest in a resolution can veto any efforts at rescue in times of crisis, as Bill Clinton told his UN representative with in Rwanda.

I will say it clearly to round things off; the UN has failed the poorest and neediest in the world. The organisation was set up to protect the world against immoral and evil organisations committing atrocities. Just being a military presence is not enough; the world knows the UN will never engage unless some serious institutional changes are made. Perhaps however, the UN was flawed from the beginning. As a British general who served in Bosnia said, “the UN is like a convoy of ships crossing the Atlantic. It cannot go at the pace of the fastest ship; it can only go at the pace of the slowest.” It doesn't let the world act in an appropriate way against genocide and slaughter. The world deserves something better than what we have at the moment, and it needs to come fast.

By Julius Haswell

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