Sunday 18 August 2019

Ian O'Doherty: Aleppo is just another awful reminder that the UN is dead

Siege: Syrians leave a rebel-held area of Aleppo after a ceasefire is called
Siege: Syrians leave a rebel-held area of Aleppo after a ceasefire is called
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

First it was Guernica.

Then it became more like Grozny.

Now we're talking in terms of Srebrenica. Some people have even begun to reference Rwanda. The one thing nobody seems to be talking about, however, is the fact that the UN has, once again, proved itself to be nothing more than a poisonous, impotent bureaucracy that has no place in the modern world.

I interviewed the late Christoper Hitchens on several occasions and he was consistent in his view that the UN ceased to have any claim to moral authority after Srebrenica, but the organisation as a whole had actually died when it cleared out of Rwanda and allowed the Hutu Interahamwe and sundry génocidaires slaughter nearly a million Tutsi 'cockroaches' in 100 days.

The only reason the United Nations ever had any moral authority was because we were constantly reminded that if we didn't have it, the world would tear itself apart.

Well, the world tore itself apart in the mid-90s. The UN didn't just stand and back and do nothing, its very public refusal to intervene was the green light that allowed genocide to take place.

It's remarkable to look back and remember that Rwanda and the Balkans happened in such quick succession - the slaughter ended in Rwanda in 1994, by July of 1995, Serb forces were separating 10,000 terrified men and boys from their families and taking them to the shooting pits in the kind of massacre that could have come straight from the Nazi playbook.

On both occasions, we got strong words, angry letters and stern admonishments from the UN.

"Never again", was its rallying cry. Well, never again - or what? Another angry letter? A motion of condemnation which may or may not pass, depending on what mood Russia is in?

The UN is not a peacekeeping force. No, it's a ghoulish bystander to just about every man-made atrocity of the last 40 years; a sick rubbernecker who turns up at a crash, refuses to provide any assistance and then throws its hands in the air and condemns everyone else after they have all gone home.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon steps down from his role next week. The best thing that could be said about him is that he was no worse than his predecessors and actually has the basic human decency to be embarrassed by his organisation's response.

As he admitted on Wednesday: "We have collectively failed the people of Syria. The Security Council has not exercised its pre-eminent responsibility with regard to the maintenance of international peace and security."

He then added, for good measure, that: "Since September, the Security Council has failed to adopt three resolutions that could have enabled a humanitarian truce, evacuation of civilians and the entry of lifesaving aid."

Then, in perhaps the most honest admission we have seen from a Secretary General for quite some time, he added: "History will not easily absolve us... this council has failed."

This. Council. Has. Failed.

These are the words which should forever follow Ban Ki-Moon into whatever lucrative post-UN sinecure he chooses to accept.

The reason the UN has failed so spectacularly, that even it's own chief has been forced to admit its powerlessness and ineptitude, is very simple - it was never designed to succeed.

The fact that Russia, the very country the Secretary General has been condemning was able to block a retirement honour for him - because of his support for gay rights - shows how mired in atrophy and chronic cynicism the organisation really is.

It's a chimera, nothing more.

Even those of us who have always been sceptical of the UN's goals and abilities were able to raise a rueful smile every time someone from Saudi Arabia was placed on its human rights council.

Not anymore.

Because what we have seen over the last few years, and it's now being hammered home in the most brutal and gruesome fashion, is that the UN is not just a ridiculous international talking shop which gives despots and tyrants a veneer of international respectability.

No, it is an organisation which prefers to stand by and bear witness to evil rather than step on diplomatic toes - particularly when those diplomatic toes also have a permanent place on the UN Security Council.

For all the easy, predictable, unthinking criticism of America as the only force for bad in this world, it should be remembered that it was the US which stopped the genocide in the Balkans - not the French UN commanders who resisted air strikes on Serb military columns as long as they could. Certainly not the Dutch UN soldiers who were forced to stand down and watch as Ratko Mladic's men insulted them and openly boasted about what they were planning to do to the civilians under their control.

So why do so many Irish people still insist on holding the UN up as the great moral authority in this world?

That's not even a rhetorical question - why, when we have largely discarded the Catholic Church, were we so quick to replace one form of foreign moral instruction with another?

I'm always amazed whenever I debate someone and they use the old line 'well, the UN says so'.

Who cares what the UN says? Not the Russians. This has been a remarkable year for the overthrow of the old political orders.

The UN is next on the list.

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