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by Orlando Marville
Monday, Oct. 27, 2003 at 2:03 PM
While the United Nations is seen by many as merely a talk shop that gets little done, the truth lies elsewhere. For example, UNESCO has done a great deal for education and the work of UNICEF has been phenomenal.
MARVELLING: The United Nations
Orlando Marville, Barbados Nation Online, October 26, 2003
The war in Iraq brought once more into focus, one of the fundamental problems of the United Nations. Ultimately, any nation or group of nations powerful enough can ignore the will of the majority of nations.
While multilateralism, the process of acting together as a group has been the focus of the United Nations, and while President Bush and even more so Prime Minister Blair recognised the importance of multilateral moral support, they put the proposal to attack Iraq to the Security Council.
It was only when France et al used their veto power to indicate that it was not accepted to one and all that Messrs Bush and Blair invaded Iraq.
This attack on multilateralism was hailed by the Libertarian neo-conservative Richard Pearl in the strongest terms. He declared, "Thank God for the death of the United Nations. Saddam will go quickly. In a passing moment, . . . will go with him the fantasy of the United Nations." Soon thereafter, Pearl died and remained silent. Recent events might otherwise have led him to conclude, if we may paraphrase Mark Twain, the announcement of the demise of the United Nations was somewhat exaggerated.
The proof was simple. The same president Bush who had unilaterally declared war on Iraq was now coming back to the said United Nations for assistance in rebuilding that country. When at first rebuffed by the secretary general no less, he was prepared to reform his proposals to gain unanimous approval in the Security Council.
The neo-conservatives were generally silent except to indicate that it was a victory for the United States President in getting even the former objectors back on board. That is commonly referred to as spin.
This about-face may not be enough to satisfy the critics of the United Nations who insist that it is merely a talking shop. Yet, somehow, this talking shop has created a lot of jaw, jaw and not a great deal of war, war.
No one can, however, deny the need for a serious reform of the United Nations system. It was an unwise compromise to give the victors of the Second World War the power of veto in the United Nations. The failure of the League of Nations should have been a lesson. Unlearnt as that lesson was, we are now left with a United Nations that has a small segment of its membership -- to wit, the Security Council- that is more powerful than all the nations of the world.
A vote against the construction of a wall by Israel on Palestinian territory can be scuttled by a United States veto, which argues that the criticism/sanction is not valid unless there is some mention of terrorism.
Serious reform is needed either to remove the power of veto from the Security Council or to make the Security Council decisions such as can be overridden by a 67 per cent vote in the General Assembly.
Naturally, those who now possess the veto are unlikely to allow themselves to be deprived of a power reserved for the victors of a past war.
All of this, however, does not begin to scratch at what the United Nations has done through its agencies like United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Educational Scientific & Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), International Labour Organisation (ILO), Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Health Organisation (WHO) -- of which PAHO is an outcrop -- International Telecommunications Union (ITU), United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), United Nations Development Fund For Women (UNIFEM) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to name a few.
UNESCO has done a great deal for education, especially in the least developed countries, and has left us the first non-Eurocentric history of the world.
UNDP has funded many a small project in developing countries. The success of micro loans in Bangladesh and in the countries of the African Sahel point the way -- alas little heeded for other developing countries -- on how to attack poverty at its roots.
The ILO, as a meeting place for trade unionist and employers as well as Governments has done a great deal for the advancement of the working man not only in poor developing countries, but surprisingly in some of the more developed. It has attacked abuses like child labour.
Diseases like malaria which kill millions each year, but only a handful of developed country citizens, and sickle cell anaemia, en essentially African and African Diaspora (not only the Americas, but also India and the Mediterranean) would have gone unnoticed except for the work of the WHO. Regrettably, it is not only in areas of technology, but even in areas of relatively available medicines that we get left behind. Their work too in the area of HIV/AIDS has been considerable.
The work too of UNICEF has been phenomenal. One only has to look at the attention paid not only to children's health in today's world, but even the debate on children's rights to recognise how far we have come from children working exceedingly long hours in British mills less than 200 years ago.
It is true that we still have -- in spite of some efforts by the government to stop it -- child labour in a number of countries including India. But even that this fact is registered as an abuse of the young human kind is significant in that it highlights evils that would have been taken for granted before the days of the United Nations.
While the United Nations is seen by many as merely a talk shop that gets little done, the truth lies elsewhere. I was once dropped off at the United Nations by a taxi driver who pointed to the General Assembly building and remarked: "That is the biggest country club in the world."
The sarcasm is not untypical of United States citizens either complaining that the United Nations did not support them in some area -- however unjustified their action or that it does nothing.
Orlando Marville is a retired diplomat and specialist on African affairs.
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