UN ‘celebrations’ overshadowed by its failures
Seventy-five years ago on Saturday, the UN officially began its operations following the ratification of its founding document, known as the UN Charter, by the dozens of nations that wanted to change the course of history. They took the commitment to work together for peace following the end of the Second World War.
The organization’s aim was to prevent another devastating global war. It has achieved this goal, but its success has been overshadowed by several failures. Given the rising tensions we are currently seeing around the world, the UN’s ability to maintain global peace and security appears ever shakier. Over the past seven-and-a-half decades, there have been countless conflicts, some of them still ongoing, all under the watch of the 193-member world body. The list of conflicts seems alarmingly long: Srebrenica, Rwanda, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria, etc.
The UN was created with the aim of achieving several goals, among which were gender equality, human rights, global health, peace, and security. The UN’s record in achieving these goals can only be measured by its successes and failures. In retrospect, the UN’s greatest failure was Srebrenica, a town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, only 10 miles from the border with Serbia, which came under attack by the Serbs in July 1995 during the Bosnian War. Despite having apparent knowledge that an attack was coming, UN forces were not reinforced and one of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophes took place, with more than 8,000 Bosniaks murdered. And, only a year before this atrocity, more than 800,000 were massacred in just 100 days in Rwanda after about 2,500 UN peacekeepers were withdrawn following the murder of 10 Belgian soldiers. As an article in The Daily Telegraph pointed out: “A 1999 inquiry found that the UN ignored evidence that the genocide was planned and refused to act once it had started.”
Even after the Balkans and Africa, the UN failed to respond to humanitarian disasters in the Middle East. More than a million Iraqis have died due to the conflict in their country since the US invasion in 2003, according to research conducted by a leading British polling group. Subsequent developments, such as the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime and its aftermath, caused civil and economic instability, which created fertile ground for extremist groups to emerge in the following years.
In Asia too, people’s suffering is still falling on deaf ears. In Myanmar, according to the Ontario International Development Agency, a major military crackdown on the Muslim ethnic minority Rohingya group in 2017 caused the deaths of almost 24,000 civilians and forced 750,000 others, including women and children, to flee to Bangladesh. China stood behind Myanmar on the Rohingya crisis by blocking efforts to condemn the atrocity in the UN Security Council (UNSC).
Another UNSC permanent member, Russia, stood by the Syrian regime after it launched a brutal crackdown on its own people that started one of the world’s greatest humanitarian tragedies. Today, several state and non-state actors are involved in the war, while no action can be taken due to the vetoes of Russia and China. The Syrian conflict has pushed millions of people out of the country, with Syrians now accounting for nearly a third of the global refugee population.
Although it is the world’s leading provider of humanitarian aid and UN peacekeepers operate in more than a dozen unstable areas, the world body has been unable to end the war in Syria, among other conflicts. The conflict resolution aspect of the UN, the principal body of which is the UNSC, has failed several times, mostly because of five countries’ right to veto any proposed resolution. These catastrophic events might have been prevented if some members didn’t place their own interests ahead of the need for peace.
The UN’s 75th birthday is a symbolic show thanks to Security Council members’ self-serving vetoes.
Syria is not an isolated story that tells of the inaction of the international community in terms of stopping people’s suffering. As already stated, there was also Bosnia, Rwanda, and numerous smaller conflicts in the Middle East and Africa where the global community could only say: “We don’t know what to do.” As Albert Einstein said: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
Yes, the UN is today “celebrating” its birth in 1945 from the ruins of a world war. Though celebrating might seem an odd word considering how the world is currently challenged by the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a climate crisis, rising poverty, a growing refugees crisis, xenophobia, and a global pandemic. As long as the five permanent members of the UNSC fail to unite for the sake of humanity, all such anniversary “celebrations” will be nothing more than a symbolic show.
- Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey's relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz