The U.N.’s powerful continue to fail

Mwendah M'Mailutha and Mwendah M'Mailutha

The annual United Nations General Assembly is on course this week in New York. The ritual, an assembly of all 192 UN members takes place mainly as an obligation, perfunctorily so. It is a way of telling the world that the UN is actually working very hard to solve the world’s problems.

However, does it really? Is the UN General Assembly annual ritual worth the thousands of productive hours expended, tons of paper and print applied during the meetings? Ideally, it is all good and in order to have the General Assembly meet. In reality, it is a sham. Other than giving a bunch of overstuffed guys in suits and trim skirts an opportunity for a photo op at the UN headquarters, the assembly is toothless, emasculated, a rubber stamp.

The one organ that really matters at the UN is the Security Council. The council is made up of 15 members. Ten of the 15 are rotating (non-permanent) members, drawn every other year from the general membership. However, the real crème is a group of five nations, the permanent members of the Security Council. These are not just any members; they are the guys who, at the end of Second World War, showed Germany and Japan who was boss.

These five very important members of the Security Council comprise a very strategic mix. The world’s sole super power, a former super power, another one who used to be world king, a country whose economy is on steroids and another one with a hyperactive newly-minted president. These are the United States, Russia, Britain, China and France.

So what if they are the most important at the UN? Whatever agenda that serves their strategic interest, individually or as a group carries the day. What is more, their agenda gets implemented, by the UN or by these very important members themselves. When it comes to these members, the UN and the UN General Assembly might as well go jump into the sea.

That explains why Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, even North Korea, are now hot button UN issues. Taiwan is also an issue, you know, the giant panda thinks Taiwan is her little panda and should not harbor an idea as repugnant as being sovereign.

Forgotten in this mix are tragedies that are happening and have been, for quite a while: in Darfur, Northern Uganda, Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo. These, especially Darfur, exemplify what is wrong at the UN.

These flash points hardly get a hearing at the UN organ that really matters; the UN Security Council. Mostly, it is because the tragedies do not have a major bearing on the West’s “high politics.” Mainly, it is because Sudan or the DRC are essentially jinxed for having natural resources.

Darfur is rightly labeled genocide. It started in 2003, in western Sudan, a region inhabited by subsistence farmers and semi-nomadic cattle herders. The Justice and Equality Movement and Sudan Liberation Movement/Army attacked military installations to protest the government’s historic economic and political marginalization.

Khartoum responded mightily; sponsoring a rag-tag army, also known as the Janjaweed from the northern Arabic camel herding groups. Darfur was heavily bombarded reducing the vast region into a conflagration of hunger, disease, despondency and death. It has been downhill since, eerily reminiscent of the Rwandese genocide in 1994.

What has the UN done to salvage Darfur from this mire? I believe the buck stops with the UN Security Council. This is the only organ that can authorize the use of force. At another level, the United States, the world’s super power should also share some blame. In the same period that Rwanda happened, former president, Bill Clinton finally acted decisively on Bosnia, ending the killings. The U.S can do the same now for Darfur.

I believe this tragedy in Darfur persists for mainly two reasons; it is not in the strategic ambit of the big five or the status quo serves the interests of the big five, individually or as a group.

It is such a shame and in complete disregard of one of the UN charter’s tenets (To maintain peace and security among members). The cloak of nonintervention and sovereignty, though also enshrined in the charter do not preclude the use of force to prevent genocide (it has been used before, it can be in Darfur). In 1994 when the world remembered the Rwandese genocide; there was a rallying cry, “Never again.”

That is a mirage now. It is happening, again, every day in Darfur. Maybe when it completely collapses and many more million perish, the UN will sponsor another “Never again” round.

What a shame. What a betrayal.