March 28, 2006
UN Once Again Fails at ReformBy Eliott Engel
Kofi Annan attempted to calm the naysayers of the UN's latest concoction, the new Human Rights Council, in a recent Wall Street Journal commentary (free link here). Secretary General Annan used his characteristic mellifluous tone and soothing verbiage — techniques he has used his entire tenure — deflecting people from the obvious with his calming and noble words.
Despite his efforts, the new Human Rights Council will be as feckless as the Human Rights Commission it replaces, the group that at one point gave Libya the position to preach about the rights of humanity, while giving the boot to the US. This new Council will inevitably make two grave mistakes. It will give credence to such polemics as can be heard from the humanistic French, German and Norwegian talent pool, as well as from the theocratic Muslim bench. It will also give those countries with a repulsive human rights history a say in the future of global human rights, based merely on its voting structure.
John Bolton and the US administration are not enthralled with the outcome this Council will bring. The world should join in disappointment.
After explaining the superior voting structure and capacity for action, Annan attempts to comfort:
This is not reassuring. The UN has a multitude of factious groups, all vying for power, often in an international arena that affords them much greater power than would be given to them at home. Factions that are created to prevent a group from obtaining power, as Annan proposes, can easily be reversed or corrupted by the interests of member states. There are inherent and inevitable dilemmas with any type of voting structure, but one that involves so many different agendas, from so many different member states, is particularly untrustworthy.
Anann goes on to write
He starts off that sentence with a truly big 'if.'
Annan goes on to defend the new group.
Annan is quick to state this point and move on, but this mandate smacks of the creation of another UN sponsored forum for nations to group together and pin collective blame at the US. This point is well—illustrated by Annan himself, who was one of the first to question the legitimacy and legality of the War in Iraq.
With the Soviet Union's downfall, many believe the UN has evolved into the only arena of influence to combat the supremacy of the US. Particular voting blocks do so collectively and consistently in General Assembly votes, stifling US initiatives. Mark Steyn points out that the UN is
To line up and follow the US mindlessly down any path it proposes is obviously absurd, but for someone to argue that somehow the UN is above any particular interest of a member state's government is foolish. When a delegation walks into the UN building they do not magically shed all of their presuppositions and engrained ideologies, thwarting all which is 'universally bad' and lifting up all that is 'universally good.' One would hope that objectivity could muster humans' emotions into an immediate, good, singular response, but the illusions produced from the UN's sweeping rhetoric of 'unity' and 'purpose' flop squarely on their face when actually tested, showing how frail, inactive and disjointed the world is. We all hope to solve 'universal' problems. But the fact that humankind, at least at the UN, cannot decipher if genocide in Darfur should be allowed or stopped (years into the conflict!), is a prime example of monumental inaction that is intolerable.
The West gave the world the very concept of fundamental human rights, but its conception of human rights will be at odds with most in this new Council. The forty—seven seats in the Council will be elected by a simple majority of the General Assembly. Membership is required by region, therefore the least spotless regimes can be granted seats. Block voting regions like Africa and the Middle East will automatically be on board. Will killing a convert from Islam to Christianity be considered contrary to human rights in this Council? Even member states under UN sanctions are eligible for membership.
The UN is in quite a pickle. If it cannot reform itself due to the voting behavior of its member states, it will become more and more dysfunctional and cease anyeffetciveness in bringing about its stated goals. It will become an even easier target for the complaints of fiscally conservative politicians and countries which have grown weary of its taxing, both monetarily and from a policy formation standpoint. The US cannot trust elements in the UN that are explicitly contradictory to the democratic and capitalistic structures from which it has flourished.
It must be acknowledged the UN does some good, if merely for outwardly expressing venerable idealistic notions and providing a place for nations to talk. But substance is a required output of idealism. The ills of the world need a tangible, pragmatic response. The UN has made some progress since its inauspicious beginning from the League of Nations, but it has not become able to realize more than a tiny portion of its expressed ideals. The new Council does not look promising in directing it towards that goal either. The ideological schism is set to broaden when one 'universal' vision of a group of member states collides with another.
The new Council is called on to be proactive, according to Annan. It is all the more worrying when those countries being discussed are seated at the Council, enjoying numerical comfort.
Eliott Engel is a real estate analyst in Phoenix. He is Vice President of American Initiative, a nascent online journal dedicated to fostering civic responsibility in Americans.