The UN continues to be on trial

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Friendly Fire

Khalid Saleem

PRESIDENT Obama’s declaration of support for India’s quest for permanent membership of the Security Council brings to the fore fundamental questions regarding the obligation of member states regarding implementation of its resolutions as well as the effectiveness of the United Nations itself. While fretting about the expansion of the Security Council, little attention is being paid to the effectiveness of the World Body. With the change at its helm some years ago, an expectant world had hoped to see some movement in the United Nations to at least signify that the stupor that it had fallen into was at long last over. The least that was hoped for was that the world would see the last of the filth that had accumulated over the past several years. It is a bit of a shame that precious little appears to have changed. The United Nations that is expected to oversee the establishment of peace and security in the world at large has not even been able to move out of its lethargy vis-à-vis its own age-old resolutions. What is one to make of an Organization that is yet to boast of having shown a modicum of progress on implementation of its own resolutions on the Middle East problem and the Jammu and Kashmir dispute – issues that are practically as old as the World Body itself?
On its way, the United Nations has managed to gather quite a few bad chits as it chugged merrily along. Take just one random instance: that of the scandal related to the Food for Oil program. This program – it may be recalled – was put in place in1996 for the laudable purpose of feeding the Iraqi people during the harsh regime of economic sanctions. Not that there was anything wrong with the program as such. On the contrary, it was a humanitarian landmark effort that possibly saved millions of Iraqis from starvation. Regrettably, though, some United Nations officials (read: former Secretary-General’s cronies), in collusion with oil merchants and some international figures had misused it to “steal” some ten billion US dollars. The world had a right to know the truth behind this and other acts of omission and commission. It was disappointed.
It was said in defense of the former Secretary General that he, personally, had nothing to do with the affair. This may well be true, but as Secretary General, and a Nobel laureate at that, Annan was expected by his friends to accept responsibility for what happened on his watch. The line had to be drawn somewhere. The powers that be, apparently, intervened on his behalf and the whole affair was swept under the proverbial rug. No one had a quarrel with that, since apparently that is the way things are sorted out under the New World Order. The only positive sign to have emerged after the changeover was that several high officials of the Secretariat had been asked to submit their resignations to enable the new incumbent to name his own choices in their place. It appears to be the age old custom of filling the old wine in new bottles. The world is still in the dark as to what criteria was used to fill in the resulting vacancies. It is a regrettable fact that the United Nations Secretariat has always conspicuously lacked any workable system to attract the best available talent.
Much ink flowed from the pens of some weighty analysts extolling the report of the United Nations Reform panel set up by the former Secretary General during the fag end of his tenure. By hindsight, though, this looks more like a ruse to divert the world’s attention from all that was ‘rotten in the Kingdom of Denmark’. It is an irrefutable fact that the United Nations Secretariat was – and regrettably is – largely serviced by a coalition of self-seeking international civil servants and manipulative multilateral diplomatists, all under the direct tutelage of the Secretary General. The new incumbent apparently failed to usher in a fresh and fair order.
The record of the administration of the United Nations over the past several years has hardly been anything to write home about. To call a spade a spade, the favorite activity of the World Body and its former Secretary-General (joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize) was no more than a frenetic exercise in papering over the cracks. In fact, between them, the two exhibited the most blatant genre of political expediency, aimed less at the establishment of durable peace and more at garnering brownie points. Things came to such a pass that whispers could be heard that, given its inadequate response to the new dangers facing the world, the days of the United Nations itself may well be numbered. This may have been an overly pessimistic view but it was best to take heed before the world found itself at the edge of the precipice. Yet people who ought to know better preferred to look the other way.
The evasive action set in motion by the so-called reform process did help to stem the bleeding, at least for the time being. Decision to bring about cosmetic changes, similar to the one to replace the “Human Rights Commission” with the “Human Rights Council”, was one such. The only visible difference between the two Human Rights groups was the prospect of the several lucrative jobs that the proposed new body appeared to hold out; for which a scramble among the multilateral diplomatists was soon under way.
There is no system in place to attract the best talent to the UN Secretariat, nor is there any foolproof system of evaluating an employee’s worth. The new Secretary General, who happened to have some political as well as diplomatic experience, was understandably expected to put his many talents to good use and if nothing else at least take steps to bring some exciting new talent into the Secretariat of the World Body. His position was inhibited by the hackneyed system based on kowtowing to the heavyweights among member states, but still a new incumbent does have sufficient freedom of maneuver to put his stamp on the top echelon of the Secretariat.
It was expected that perhaps he might use his persuasion to draw attention of the World Body to the several flashpoints spread around the world and to the advisability of trying to implement several important resolutions that have so long been abandoned by the roadside. But no such luck! Today, several years down the road, he has yet to bring forth a rabbit out of his multilateral hat! The eyes of the “peoples of the United Nations”, who looked up to him, continue to scan the horizon for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. So far as the United Nations Organization is concerned, it continues to be on trial.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.

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