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Is UN arbiter of peace or toothless bulldog?

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SINCE 1945, October 24 is set aside to celebrate UN Day, meaning this year marks the 78th year since the grouping of nations was established.

The day marks the anniversary of the day the UN Charter entered into force in 1945.

In his message for this year’s UN Day, secretary-general Antonio Gutteres (pictured) had this to say:

“United Nations is a reflection of the world as it is and an aspiration of the world we know it can be. It is our responsibility to help build that world of peace, sustainable development and human rights for all. I know we can do it. The Charter of the UN which entered into force 78 years ago today, points the way.”

According to the UN, the Charter “…codifies basic tenets of international relations – from the sovereign equality of States to prohibition of use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”

So, in theory, one can say, in commemorating UN Day, the world is presented with an opportunity to amplify the common agenda and reaffirm the purposes and principles of the Charter that has ‘guided’ nations for the past 78 years.

In other words, the establishment of the UN was nations collectively agreeing to uphold tenets and promises meant to maintain peace and harmony.

To be more precise, the commemoration of the UN day is described as a symbol of hope for global unity in relation with its mission which incorporates maintaining international peace and security; to protect human rights; to provide humanitarian aid; and to promote sustainable development.

However, what boggles the mind is that; what is transpiring around the globe clearly reflects that the UN is somewhat struggling in keeping intact not only its missions but also principles of the Charter.

Rather, the chaos in the world is highlighting that, as an institution, the UN is to some extent getting ‘better’ in theory and not in practice — it is becoming a moribund institution.

This is reflected by the challenges the world is witnessing today, especially in developing nations.

For instance, the US and Britain unilaterally imposed illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe that were not supported by the UN.

The US and the EU sanctions on Zimbabwe are illegal and unjustified because they violate Article 41 of the UN Charter, which states that sanctions can only be decided on by the UN Security Council.  Cognisant of this, in its Resolution 39/210 of 18 December 1984, the UN General Assembly called on developed countries to “…refrain from threatening or applying trade restrictions, blockades, embargoes and other economic sanctions, incompatible with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and in violation of undertakings contracted multilaterally or bilaterally, against developing countries as a form of political and economic coercion which affects their economic, political and social development”.

And the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights on June 25 1993, is even clearer, calling on States to “…refrain from any unilateral measure not in accordance with international law and the Charter of the United Nations that creates obstacles to trade relations among States and impedes the full realisation of the human rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights instruments, in particular the rights of everyone to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being, including food and medical care, housing and the necessary social services”.

The Human Rights Council, in September 2014, adopted a res olution on human rights and unilateral coercive measures.  The resolution stressed that unilateral coercive measures are contrary to the UN Charter, international law, international humanitarian law as well as the norms and principles governing peaceful relations among States. It highlighted that these measures result in socio-economic problems in the targeted States.

In this regard, the Council decided to create the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights. The current Special Rapporteur, Alena Douhan, has stressed the unquestionable negative impact of these measures on the enjoyment of all human rights and, therefore, called on those States that have imposed sanctions against other States to lift them.

More than two decades later, since their imposition, the illegal sanctions have decimated the socio-economic strata of Zimbabwe.

“Over the last 20 years, sanctions and various forms of over-compliance with sanctions have had an insidious ripple effect on the economy of Zimbabwe and on the enjoyment of fundamental human rights, including access to health, food, safe drinking water and sanitation, education and employment,” Douhan said on the impact of sanctions.

“This situation also limits Zimbabwe’s ability to guarantee the functioning of public institutions, delivery of services, and maintenance of essential infrastructure, and undermines the right to development of the Zimbabwean people and impedes the achievement of the sustainable development goals.”

Douhan said sanctions in Zimbabwe have resulted in many companies, as well as foreign banks, applying zero-risk policies and were overly compliant, fearing heavy penalties for breaching sanctions, resulting in inefficient high-cost bank transactions, serious challenges in accessing credit lines and major disruptions in supply-chains, which impinged the ability to secure infrastructure financing and business continuity.

‘Loss and damage’ was the major phrase as government leaders met in Egypt for the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference.

It refers and continues to refer to the costs, both economic and physical, that developing countries are facing from climate change impacts that they have not been able to adapt to.

It is a fact that the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries have done little to cause climate change, yet they are experiencing extreme heat waves, floods and other climate-related disasters.

And the wealthier nations — historically the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions — have refused to pay.

For instance, in Pakistan, summer of 2022, extreme rainfall on the heels of a glacier-melting heat wave flooded nearly one-third of the country.

And the UN, besides talking, has not been able to make the wealthier nations, the big emitters, be responsible for their damage.

The whole of Africa presents a good example of countries affected by devastating effects of climate change despite being the least emitters.

All the talk of equality means nothing.

About US$120 billion is needed yearly to mitigate climate change damage while the world’s highest polluters are reluctant to contribute, despite making promises at the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to deliver US$100 billion per year to help cover developing countries’ adaptation and transition costs.

Outbreak of diseases has also shown the socio-economic disparities and inequality of nations in the world.

It is distressing to note that diseases, such as HIV, Tuberculosis and malaria, are stated as diseases of poverty and marginalisation, with a heavy toll among populations that are chronically disadvantaged.

Recurring conflicts around the world are among challenges that have reflected the pretense of nations when it comes to being united.

On the ongoing Israeli-HAMAS war , Aljazeera recently reported that Israeli attacks killed 30 in Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp while hospitals have also been attacked.

The report not only reflects a breach of International law but clearly points out the uncertainty of hope, peace and safety for civilians in Gaza.

 It should not be forgotten, as the UN commemorates 78 years of existence, its principles and promise of a peaceful world and missions to protect civilians and human rights are being shattered.

The question needing an urgent answer is: Where is the UN when innocent people in a refugee camp are being bombed and killed?

 To make matters worse in the same conflict, Jordan and Egypt, as neighbours, have come out in the open in denying Palestinian refugees from Gaza, a move experts say is for ‘economic and security reasons’ — lives do not matter.

In other words, the move by Egypt and Jordan confirms Lord Palmerstone’s famous statement that in international relations, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”

Clearly, today’s world affairs are about protecting interests and consolidating ‘power’.

One cannot talk about wars and conflict in Africa without talking about the recurring clashes in the eastern part of the DRC which has not only hampered Africa’s development but has led to looting of Africa’s  rare minerals.

Conflicts and some other global challenges are a reflection of a disjointed world.

However, UN secretary-general Gutteres remains optimistic.

“On this United Nations Day, let us commit with hope and determination to build the better world of our aspirations,” said Gutteres.


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