August 5, 2012
A New Documentary Exposes the U.N.'s DNABy Lauri B. Regan
When I was in grade school, I was given a UNICEF collection box every year with marching orders to solicit donations from family, friends and neighbors. My parents always had me toss the box in the garbage explaining that the United Nations was an anti-Semitic organization and we would not support its projects.
Decades later, my children were still sent home from school every year before Halloween with a UNICEF collection box and instructions to take it along while trick-or-treating. Like my parents, my initial reaction was to forbid my children from collecting money for the U. N. It was not just the anti-Semitism emanating from the organization that caused this visceral reaction. It was my awareness of the corruption and dysfunction that permeated that institution that infuriated me every time I drove by the headquarters on the East River, passed a diplomat's car double parked wherever it chose in Midtown Manhattan, or got stuck in traffic delays due to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again coming to New York to address the General Assembly. But that was difficult to explain to my children as well as adults who questioned my evident callousness at not supporting this organization founded on idealistic hopes and dreams.
Well not anymore. In a brief and entertaining 93 minutes, Ami Horowitz and Matt Groff, writers, producers, and directors of the documentary, U.N. Me, take the viewer on a fascinating, disturbing, and often humorous ride through the corruption, criminal activity, ineffectual bureaucracy, and profound uselessness of an institution that was initially created to fight the bad guys and address the problems related to war and peace. As Horowitz, also the star of the film, explains, "In the aftermath of World War II, the leaders of the world created the UN to ensure global security and protect human rights."
Alas, by the end of the movie the viewer is left with a sick feeling knowing that the $8 billion of U.S. funding of the U.N. in 2010[i] is being used to finance some of the world's worst atrocities and line the pockets of many of the vilest dictators and despots in modern history. As Claudia Rosett explains, "It's a culture that has a lot in common with dictatorships. It's what you'd find in despotisms, not in democratic societies. Secrecy and privilege. And that's unfortunately what's come from that utopian charter."
This Michael Moore-style documentary so artfully and skillfully produced by Horowitz and Groff appropriately begins and ends with Ahmadinejad taking the stage as the keynote speaker at the U.N's premiere human rights conference in 2009 in Geneva. At the start of the film, Horowitz questions the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and Conference Director as to how Ahmadinejad was chosen as the keynote speaker. There was no substantive answer - how could there be?
Horowitz ties the film together by returning to this theme at the end. In an interview with an Iranian diplomat defending his government's human rights record, the Iranian explains that each country may have its own standard of human rights based on cultural differences. So when Iran forces sex change operations on suspected homosexuals and stones women for untold number of reasons, they are simply enforcing laws based on cultural differences rather than abusing an individual's right to live. Horowitz's sarcasm once again gets the better of his interviewee as he hugs him goodbye and asks, "You like my shirt? It's not too gay is it?" The irony is not lost on the viewer as the film then points out that Iran was elected to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, the agency assigned with protecting the rights of women across the globe.[ii]
Just as Iran does not believe that there should be one standard of human rights, the U.N. apparently believes that there should not be one definition of terrorism. In one segment of the film, Horowitz interviews Javier Ruperez, whose title of Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate of the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the Security Council in and of itself reflects the messy bureaucracy plaguing this dysfunctional institution. You cannot make this stuff up and the filmmakers do not have to.
The U.N.'s Counter-Terrorism Committee was created as a response to the attacks on 9/11. Ruperez explained that 9/11 "was the day that was the moment when the whole world came to realize that we were facing a new and very serious threat." But apparently, no one in the U.N. hierarchy truly understands the threat since, as Ruperez explains, "[T]he United Nations so far has not been able to define terrorism."
So what exactly does the Committee do to combat terrorism? They fill out "reports" and when a country does not comply they send "missions" and they "talk to them." Not surprisingly, the Committee has never denounced a nation as having ties to terrorism. And when Horowitz pointed out that Syria, despite its numerous connections to terrorism and terrorist organizations, was elected to sit on the Security Council just months after 9/11, Ruperez responded, "there are a number of countries which certainly could improve their performance as far as terrorism is concerned." Indeed.
Other segments of the film address the corruption of the U.N.'s peacekeepers in Cote D'Ivoire (which includes rampant sexual abuse and gunning down of unarmed civilians), the ineffectiveness of the International Atomic Energy Agency established to prevent nations from acquiring nuclear weapons (and under whose watch Iran is moving ever closer to attaining that goal as it sits as vice chair of a disarmament commission), and the abuse that occurred in the "biggest scam in the history of humanitarian relief," also known as Oil for Food.
But one of the most disturbing segments of U.N.Me is entitled "1,000 people every 20 minutes." That was the number of innocent people killed in the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994 due to the failure of Kofi Annan, then U.N. head of peacekeeping missions, to authorize intervention despite having a mission in place ready and willing to act. The film does a superb job of walking the viewer through the background leading up to the extermination of the Rwandan people and the callousness and disregard for human life that occurred under the U.N. watch.
Ironically, the U.N. human rights body is supposed to be the first line of defense against Holocaust-type atrocities. But as U.N. Me illustrates, the world's worst human rights violators avoid condemnation by sitting on the very body that allows the persecution and abuses to continue. Governments who care the least about upholding the U.N. Charter's principles have the most to say about how they will be defended. Such upholders of human rights as Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Idi Amin's Uganda, Libya, China, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and North Korea have all sat on the Human Rights Commission.
In one of the most powerful video clips of the movie, Jody Williams, the head of the U.N. Mission to Darfur is seen presenting her report on the atrocities occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan while being told by representatives from Algeria, Syria, China, and Iran that her report is flawed and not legitimate. Her reply summarizes the ineffectiveness of the United Nations and its appalling corruption:
The world hung its head in shame and said never again. Well too many of us have lost hope that never again seems to have no applicability whatsoever in Darfur. When will the world hang its head in shame again? And our job is to attempt to try to alleviate the suffering of the people of Darfur who are being raped, pillaged and burned while political wrangling goes on here in the hallowed halls of the United Nations.
One of the things that makes U.N. Me so effective in reaching its audience is Horowitz's wit as he interviews various officials too ignorant to know what to do with him. His sarcasm ostensibly flies over their heads as, for instance, the Sudanese Ambassador explains away the genocide claiming that the conflict is due "primarily [to] climate change" and that the deaths are a result of "desertification and drought." While earlier in the film images of dead bodies hacked to death by U.N. funded machetes and weapons appear on the screen along with tables covered with endless numbers of skulls bearing brutal signs of injury and abuse, Horowitz responds, "Really? I never heard of drought causing axe wounds" and suggesting that perhaps driving Priuses would help the situation.
Toward the end of the film, Horowitz visits the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where the U.N. Charter is housed. We learn early in the film that the Charter, beginning with the words, "We the Peoples," was based on the ideals of the U.S. Constitution. So it seems apropos that both documents are stored at the National Archives. But whether Horowitz meant to make a political point or not, one cannot help but draw a connection between the rampant corruption that exists in the U.S. government and that seen permeating the dealings that take place at the U.N. Security Council.
Hundreds of thousands are slaughtered in Rwanda and Darfur on the U.N. watch. And most recently, the present U.S. government sits back and watches thousands slaughtered in Syria. Whether motivated by politics in the lead up to an election or a philosophy born out of belief in the power of the international community, Obama's ideological conviction that the U.S. must turn to the U.N. before intervening in atrocities committed throughout the world is untenable in the face of the lessons of U.N. Me. For, as Jody Williams concludes, "These countries on the Council, they're protecting their power... They don't give a shit about the civilians."
U.N. Me should be watched by every U.S. government official beginning with the POTUS. It should be required viewing in high school civics classes. And it should be watched by every U.S. taxpayer who will come away with the knowledge that their money is being wasted. This is an entertaining, well made, documentary that I highly recommend as a must see. You can view a trailer of U.N. Me and the DVD can be purchased by going to www.unmemovie.com.Watch it today - and contact your local representative tomorrow.
[i] This is a 21% increase over the 2009 budget.
[ii]And, since the filming of U.N. Me, and despite its defiance of Security Council resolutions directed at it in the face of its pursuit of nuclear weapons, Iran has since been named to sit on a conference bureau at the U.N. Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty.
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