Monday, June 15, 2009

Dreams of the UN

Many in Israel, politicians and the public alike, view the UN with a great deal of suspicion. This is truly a shame. The UN as an international organization can, and does in many ways have great moral influence and can be a leader in pursuing the causes of international peace, security, stability and in promoting the welfare of people around the world. The UN's worth is clear through, as examples, the work of agencies like UNICEF, through the provision of basic aid in the regions most in need and the like. The UN also gave us documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is responsible for the further development and maintenance of international law through the international Court of Justice. Many consider UN resolutions to be sources of international law themselves. The UN is also the only place in the world where diplomats from all countries brush shoulders on a regular basis and have easy access to one another both bilaterally and multilaterally.

Israelis, however, have their reasons to mistrust the UN. The UN security council has 5 permanent members and the remainder of countries rotate and are appointed to the council for a 2 year term and are supposed to be appointed from regional groups of states (ie. the Americas, Asia, Africa, etc.) Israel, however, is the only state that--as things currently are--can never be appointed to the UN security council because even though it has been granted membership in one of the regional groupings (in 2004, and not in the group to which is actually geographically belongs) it has been accepted on condition that it not seek a seat on the Security Council. In other words, on even the must fundamental level of where Israel belongs in the world, it is singled out for discrimination.

This article approaches the issue from a more detailed angle. It notes the singling out of Israel as the worst human rights abuser in the world--meriting a permanent agenda item on the UN Human Rights Committee--while many more, and worse violations occur all over the world. Israelis perceive, and there is some merit to the argument, that they face disproportionate and discriminating criticism at the UN while far worse violations take place around the world with nary a peep.

The impression created by the mounds of paperwork, resolutions passed against Israel, which it is then chided for violating, sow the seeds of suspicion and so many Israelis barely express surprise at stories like this, that came out of Spain not to long ago. Apparently, Spanish peacekeepers in Lebanon, whose task it is to ensure that Hizbollah not take up a military presence in the south of the country, have been actively helping Lebanese officials find and arrest alleged Israeli spies in the country. If the reports alluding to this are accurate, then most Israelis would be correct to believe that these peacekeepers, representatives of the UN, have overstepped their mandate which speaks of establishing security in the region by assisting the Lebanese Army in taking control of the region, providing humanitarian aid and the like. Not in arresting spies.

This perception of bias and discrimination against Israel in the UN is not just a position taken by Israelis, but even the likes of Madeleine Albright has offered her perception that the UN is a place that is extremely unfriendly to Israel.

All sorts of ideas have been proposed to reform the UN. Everything from eliminating it altogether, to only allowing in democracies to all sorts of formulae to offer new members seats on the Security Council. These all Have their flaws, however. Should a country as powerful and as populous as China be kicked out of the UN for not being a democracy and violating human rights? If so, where is the voice of those over 1 billion Chinese? What is the venue for the whole world to speak to China and tell them that they don't stand for the human rights abuses? How can a country like China be ignored? The answer is, they can't. But something needs to change. How is it that some of the greatest violators of human rights can chair the UN agencies dedicated to upholding these rights? How is it, that Israel, a country that is certainly far from perfect, can be so repeatedly singled out when atrocities like Rwanda were all but ignored, just as Darfur is being all but ignored now?

It's time for the UN to restore it's moral authority and leadership on all matters. It's time for the UN to speak loudly and clearly about equal treatment of all members within the accepted practices of international behaviour, meaning, condemnation where it is due, praise where it is merited and the examination of all cases with equal scrutiny and fair mindedness. This is a dream. A politicized group with states interacting each with their own agendas will not offer a clear analysis, they will do it through the prism of their ideologies and national goals and interests. Still though, it's nice to dream.

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