After the Second World War in 1945, being moved by the scourge and horrors of two successive world wars, world leaders thought of establishing a global governance system. The League of Nations (LON) was blamed for failing to stop war and was replaced by the United Nations Organization (UNO). Rules based new world order emerged. The objective of the UNO as enshrined in the UN Charter is to prevent successive generations from the scourge of war. It is two years on since the UN celebrated its 75th founding anniversary on 24 October 2020. In commemoration of the occasion all member states reiterated their commitment to uphold the UN Charter. Critiques of UN, especially the human right groups, were found cynical about UN’s failure in maintaining global peace and security in the recent past and urged for immediate reforms. In the wake of outbreak of Russia’s war in Ukraine and apparent helpless condition of UN to prevent and stop the war has rekindled the argument for reforms of UN Security Council (SC).
The blatant and outright aggression into an independent sovereign state Ukraine by a powerful neighbor has put UNO in a serious credibility challenge. UN Security Council’s repeated attempts to condemn the unprovoked act of aggression by Russia failed due to veto against the motion. It appears the UN body is united in its name only but deeply divided and need urgent reform.
The principal tasks vested to UN are to maintain world peace and security, uphold human rights, maintain international law and ensure prosperity and development. Critics accuse UN for its consistent failures. Deep seated corruption and widespread inefficiency coupled with bureaucratic wrangling are the serious hurdles in the UN working system. Double standard of co-existence of tyrants and democrats, liberals and autocrats, totalitarian dictators often clash each other’s interest. As a result humanity suffers and international law and order is flouted. Though there was no Great War after Second World War, the UN failure in all other accounts being heard loud and clear.
The chief protagonists of the Second World War – the UK, USA, France, Russia and China who became victors of the war had set the terms of governing principals of UNO in their favors in order to perpetrate their post-colonial domination. If the UN was created for preventing war, then it would not be an exaggeration to say that the world body has failed in its obligations on numerous occasions.
The Peace Research Institute Oslo has recorded 285 international distinct armed conflicts that took place since 1946 till 2017. Among these, except civil wars and terrorism, only 12 major conflicts have claimed a total of 5,421,452 fatalities which is almost equal to total death tolls of the Second World War. The plight of refugees is beyond description. According to UNHCR, in the year 2020, a total of 82.4 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide. Consequential effect of refugees are manifold than it is noticeable. The main brunt of armed conflict is borne by the refugees and it breeds several other socio-political and economic burdens. The Ukraine war is compounding the present trend of human catastrophe of armed conflict globally. The world multilateral body UN and its SC have proved utterly helpless and hopeless too in the face of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
Responsibility to Protect (R2P), a legal instrument for preventing mass atrocity and genocide was introduced by UN in 2005 with the affirmation of all previous legal provisions. Though state responsibility comes first, the international community has a role that can’t be ruled out on the pretext of state sovereignty. The doctrine of R2P embodied in the article of genocide convention and in the principle of sovereignty as responsibility. Despite existence of such legal tools and evidence of grave nature of numerous scales of crimes under international law, our generation has experienced several gruesome genocidal mass atrocities during the last three decades. SC’s failure in R2P have been chronic, structural and at the expense of millions of lives. Starting from Rwanda in 1994 to Bosnia in 1995, Sri Lanka, South Sudan and Myanmar the heinous crimes of mass atrocity were unleashed against innocent unarmed people either by their own government or rival armed groups. In every occasion the UN not only failed to stop and prevent mass atrocities, it also failed to bring the perpetrators into justice. Alleged crime against humanity in Ukraine by Russia is now adding to the list of UN failure in R2P only.
Human Rights Protection record of UN is full of abysmal stories in last fifty years except the adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and introduction of annual human rights report. Key weakness of this UN affiliated organ is that it was created to dialogue and engage without teeth to protect rights. It has no tool to enforce when a state fails to comply with obligation. The UN is seen helpless when gross violation of HR occurs unabated. Persecution against people of Uighur Muslims, Palestinian refugee, Kashmir, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan etc. has become breeding ground for human rights violation and constant source of interstate and global tension. Manifestation of political consideration in shielding allies of powerful nation, and at times shifting spotlight onto one or other pariah state, ignoring abuse within powerful nations often undermines the UN’s credibility in protection of human rights.
In fulfilling obligations related to international peace and security is fundamentally incompatible with refusing or preventing from investigation of crimes against humanity, war crimes and use of weapons of mass destruction like chemical weapons. The UN failed to investigate such serious violations of international law in Syria and the alleged Ukraine case is the latest example. In all cases perpetrators remain still at large. It was only Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia and Radovan Karadzic, the former leader of Serbia were tried for committing genocide and war crimes that stands out as the most expensive trail in the annals of international justice system. The UN funded tribunals took more than one decade to deliver their verdicts. Charles Taylor’s trial alone had incurred cost to the tune of 250 million US dollar to the UN exchequer.
The UN is not a democratic organization, nor does the organization represent the interest of the world’s people but the interests of the governments that formed it. The UN play double standard as it legislates arms control but cannot enforce it because the P5 members of the Security Council are among the ten largest arms manufacturing and exporting countries in the world. The Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) are discriminatory and monopoly of P5 nations.
The UN is bearing the burden of congenital anomaly of veto power which was embedded during the birth of UN. Unscrupulous exercise of veto by permanent members of SC is undermining its credibility seriously. The root cause of UN’s underperformance lies with the voting system. As a result the world body has become an underdog and irrelevant to a great extent.
It is quite evident that the SC addresses only the political and strategic interests of its P5 members. Veto power arrangement of P5 members of the SC questions the democratization of UN. The Veto powers have been abused to advance individual member’s national interests and not that of the UN. Since 1982 the US has voted against 32 SC resolutions they think are anti-Israel. Since beginning of Syria uprising in 2011, Russia and China have vetoed 16 draft UNSC resolutions aimed at addressing plight of Syrian people. China, in connivance with Russia, blocked SC resolution seeking immediate measures against crimes of atrocity against Rohingya Muslim minorities by Myanmar military several times.
The elite nations constitute the permanent members of the SC, made up of the US, UK, France, Russia and China otherwise called the big five. This council was formed when the UN had only 51 members. Now the UNO has 194 members. All previous attempts have failed to bring reforms in SC. The context and time at which UN was created has changed. In order to prevent further chaos in world order the SC’s reform is a sine qua non once and for all.
UN has been carrying the stigma of failures due to desperate nationalistic feeling of P5 members driven by realism. The world leaders must be pragmatic and abandon cliché that UN can’t be changed. The UN must devise some means to save and protect nations like Ukraine from certain annihilation. A moderate agenda for reforms may include removing veto power at least in all cases of investigations and referral of cases to ICC. Secondly, the SC must ensure representation of all regions by inclusion of permanent members from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Third, number of non-permanent members should be increased. Expansion of permanent and non-permanent membership would make it difficult in forging unholy coalition in one’s favor. Above all, establishing clear mandatory guideline and accountability in rules of business of the SC is felt necessary; flouting of which might inflict penalty to concern member state(s).
The writer is a retired army officer