The UN: at cross-purposes with itself

There are times when you see things being done in a manner so clearly ridiculous, so antithetical to the goals the actions are supposed to achieve, that you wonder how anyone could deceive themselves into it. I guess we all do it from time to time, but some seem to adopt it as a lifestyle, and when you observe them you’re left wondering what (if anything) is going through their heads. People who cuss and rage at their kids because they think it will teach them to behave … folks who run up debt on their credit cards to try and achieve financial freedom … politicians who lie to protect themselves so they can keep their positions as “public servants” … you get the idea.

Reading the news yesterday, I ran across a textbook example of this, an event that is almost guaranteed to achieve the exact opposite of the ends it’s supposed to. It’s the United Nations’ Durban Review Conference on Racism, which began today in Geneva, Switzerland.

Now, one thing I want clear: I am NOT one of those right-wing-talk-show devotees who think the UN is Antichrist or a prelude to a one-world dictatorship or the major cause of the world’s halitosis problems or whatever. I spent four years in college studying the UN (among other things), was part of my university’s Model United Nations program and participated in four MUN conferences. I’ve learned a lot about the UN, the three most important things being:

  1. The UN is a good forum for discussion and debate among the various governments of the world – not a perfect one, but helpful in certain circumstances.
  2. The UN has no power of enforcement for any of its proclamations except what its member nations agree to give it.
  3. Thank Heaven for #2!

One of the reason for that third point is that with a few exceptions (such as the International Monetary fund, aka the World Bank), the rule in the UN’s committees is “one country, one vote.” That means if there is a small country being picked on by its neighbors, that country better hope it can come up with enough votes from other nations to offset the ones surrounding it. If it can’t, it gets flayed alive — but because the UN has no built-in mechanism for enforcement, the whipping is thankfully only a written one.

I don’t know about recently, but it used to be an annual event for the UN General Assembly to condemn Israel for its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip – not because Israel’s actions were more or less heinous than anyone else’s, but because the bloc of Muslim nations had plenty of votes, and Israel had one. Plenty of other member nations were engaged in whopping human rights violations over that time and never even sniffed a resolution condemning them, but you could set your watch by that one against Israel. Hardly fair, regardless of what you think of the Palestinian situation.

Another problem is that often some of the people running the UN seem to let their good intentions override their good sense. I sometimes wonder if they have this assumption that they can take the most calloused, psychopathic dictator, bring him to a UN conference and he will suddenly transform into a genial, cooperative statesman willing to work for worldwide peace and higher standards of living. This sort of “magical thinking” is the only explanation I can think of for some of the organization’s more embarrassing moments – Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe on the podium, Muammar Gadhafi’s rambling address before the General Assembly, et cetera and so forth. It would also explain the decision to have the keynote address at an international conference on combating racism be given by … Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Think about it – Ahmadinejad has a well-founded reputation for being … well, there’s no way to pussyfoot around this, is there? Ahmadinejad has a reputation for being a racist. He has made numerous statements against Jews, including that the nation of Israel must be removed from the pages of time (a literal version of what most Western media translated as “Israel must be wiped off the map”). He has not only questioned whether the Holocaust ever happened, but has personally hosted a conference of Holocaust deniers in Tehran. So this is the guy you want giving a keynote address at a UN anti-racism conference … on April 20, Holocaust Remembrance Day?!? Yeah, me neither. As I said to a friend over the weekend, “Isn’t Ahmadinejad giving a keynote speech at a summit on race kind of like having Louis Farrakhan as the opening speaker at a PromiseKeepers conference?”  Could you find anyone more opposed to the cause you’re espousing?  Was David Duke unavailable?

And a number of world leaders feel the same way. Ten nations announced beforehand that they would be boycotting the conference entirely, including Israel (who can blame them?), Canada (the home country of the previous UN commissioner for human rights) and the United States. A little tip for the UN: if you’re throwing a get-together to promote racial harmony, and Barack Obama wants no part of it, you’re probably doing things the wrong way. (Also, remember all the rumors in the 2008 campaign about how Obama was some sort of crypto-Muslim who would withdraw U.S. support from Israel and give it to their enemies? So much for that.) The British refused to even send a Cabinet-level minister. And Ahmadinejad is the only head of state that actually showed up –all the others have decided they have better things to do. And/or they’re avoiding this meeting and its top speaker like they’re contagious …

But wait, there’s more! The whole reason for this conference is to heal the damage caused by the last conference on race, held in Durban, South Africa back in 2001. They’ve even referred to this meeting as “Durban II.” Yes, that’s right – an international meeting designed to foster racial harmony left so many wounds that now they’re having to hold another meeting just to try and patch things up! How dedicated the organizers are to actually do so, though, is an open question … since the draft resolution negotiated for this conference reaffirms the declaration adopted at the previous one (including the condemnation of Zionism as racist that led Israel to just not come to this meeting at all).

Another open question is whether any of those organizers see the tremendous gap – more like a canyon, really – between the results they’re trying to achieve and the methods they’re using to achieve them. How blind do you have to be to basic facts to bring in one of the world’s most famous anti-Semites to address a conference on racial reconciliation – on Holocaust Remembrance Day, no less? How dense must one be to try and stop the bleeding from a failed meeting, yet at the same time seek the approval of the same meeting’s written declaration? How mindlessly stubborn are you when push ahead with a get-together on racial harmony that’s being supported by the nations with the worst human rights records, and partially or fully avoided by those with the best (such as New Zealand, Sweden and the Netherlands)? And how do people who do all these things, and keep doing them, end up in positions of any influence in the first place?

I don’t have an answer to that last question, but I have some guesses as to the others: blind as a mole, dense as a granite block, stubborn as a mule with all four feet planted. And if you don’t believe me, check this paragraph from the article I cited above:

The absence of Western powers in Geneva is a blow to the United Nations and could undermine future diplomatic efforts to tackle sensitive questions of race, ethnicity and religion, which Pillay [note: Navi Pillay, the current UN Commissioner for Human Rights] has warned can explode into violence if ignored.

Gosh, Ms. Pillay, who could have guessed that “sensitive questions of race, ethnicity and religion” could “explode into violence if ignored”? I mean, aside from anyone with half a brain and the front section of a newspaper. Things of that nature have been going on for all of recorded history, and the UN has so far had (at best) only minimal success in slowing that trend.  Part of that is our fallen human nature. Part of it is the lack of cooperation with the UN by many of the UN’s own member states. But I wonder how much might also be due to UN efforts like this one, so wrong-headed that they almost seem designed to make problems worse instead of better.

And as far as the pullout of the ten nations … if their actions “undermine future diplomatic efforts” as ham-handed and badly managed as this one, with all due respect, I’d say that’s progress.

(Final note: During Ahmadinejad’s address earlier today, he accused Israel of forming a “cruel and repressive racist regime” and that “following World War II they resorted to military aggressions to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering.” In short, he said exactly what anyone who knows anything about Ahmadinejad would expect him to say. Dozens of diplomats attending the event got up and walked out on his speech. Even UN spokesman Rupert Colville later said that it “was completely inappropriate at a conference designed to nurture diversity and tolerance.” True, it was.What it wasn’t was a surprise … to anyone but Colville and his ilk, I guess.)


One Response to The UN: at cross-purposes with itself

  1. Chris says:

    Thanks for this article Ray. My feelings exactly and said so much better than I could do.


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