The UN and Annan really deserve it


PressInfo # 135

 October 15, 2001 


By Jan Oberg, TFF director


There is all reason to rejoice at the fact that the United Nations and Secretary-General Kofi Annan have been awarded the centenary Nobel Peace Prize. It is the right choice. Though one would wish it had happened before, the award comes at a critical moment when governments around the world need to be reminded of the fundamental importance of the UN and its norms.

It is the only government organisation that truly represents "the international community." It is the leading one symbolising humanity's struggle to abolish war and seek peace by peaceful means. It does a lot of good and much less harm than most self-appointed peacemakers like NATO. And its budget is still about 3% of what its governments waste on weapons and wars.


Kofi Annan

The Nobel Committee correctly emphasises that Kofi Annan has brought new life to the organisation. He is a soft-spoken man with inner calm, a consensus-maker and an idealist Real politician. Annan has boosted the self-confidence of the organisation and protected its integrity as much as he probably can. He has pushed necessary reforms and listened attentively to the world NGO community.

Perhaps he could have raised his voice a bit when small countries are being bombed, when socio-economic gaps widen, when intolerance and fundamentalism thrives even among the well-to-do. Perhaps he will now it is his last term? Member governments constantly need to be reminded by him of the basic idea of the UN, which is to abolish war, to work for peace by peaceful means, to use military force only in the common interests. It is to promote tolerance, human rights and the welfare of all.


The assaults on the UN

The fact is that the UN Charter, with all its shortcomings, is the best road map toward a more humane world for all. It is the international treaty par excellence that tells us squarely that non-violence is better than violence.

When you listen to statesmen comforting themselves that the ongoing bombing of Afghanistan is in accordance with the UN Charter, you wonder whether they have ever read the Charter and, if they have, whether cynicism knows any limits. Just imagine what the world would be like if each and every of the almost 200 member states began practising the absurd idea that self-defence means attacking other member states with sophisticated weaponry thousands of kilometres away from their own territory. If they want a world operating on the law of the jungle, on might makes right, could they at least not stop sullying the UN?

The United Nations has been marginalised. There have been deliberate assaults, by the United States and other NATO countries in particular, on its global role. The UN has been humiliated as a peacekeeper in, among others places, Croatia, Bosnia, Eastern Slavonia, Yugoslavia/Kosovo and Macedonia. The same countries dominate the IMF and the World Bank that have done a lot to globalise poverty and inequality.

Though it has no historical experience, NATO members (one-tenth of the world's nations) have promoted and expanded their outdated nuclear alliance as the new peace-keeper even in domestic conflicts. They have violated international laws and the UN Charter and done so in the name of the "international community." It has harmed the UN as well as international peace and security.


Terrorism and the UN

Most recently, a few governments have hijacked the United Nations to back up their nationalist counter-attacks on terror. We got the panicking, unfortunate and ill conceived Security Council resolution 1373 on wide-ranging anti-terrorism measures. It does not define what terrorism and it focuses exclusively on terrorism by private or non-governmental actors.

By doing so, it excludes state terrorism from its agenda that harms many more people world wide than private small group terrorism: governmental torture, repression, covert operations, bombing of civilians, death squads, intelligence infiltration, lies and propaganda, small arms and repression technology exports, etc.

This is what many governments would like but it is not what "we the peoples" around the globe need. In fact, it is a potential assault on civil society since "fighting terrorism" can now be used to limit human rights and civil liberties anywhere. In the name of fighting terror, authoritarian governments can now safely reduce democracy. But to combat terrorism, we need more democracy, not less.


The UN is what we make it

Whenever someone tries to tell you that the UN is a failure or a useless organisation, remind him and her that there is no UN independent of its members. As Tryggve Lie pointed out more than fifty years ago, the United Nations will never be better than the sum-total of its members' policies.

More citizens must read the Charter. We must use its peace provisions to criticise our governments when they ignore the norms of the UN Charter in big and small affairs. Make sure the Charter is disseminated in our schools. Quote from it when the media ignorantly let prime ministers get away with referring to it to legitimate criminal acts, their own or those of others. It's time "we the peoples" stand up for the UN and its norms and that we do it at home whenever our own governments abuse it.

The world would be a much worse place without the world organisation. As the world changes so rapidly, the UN as an organisation needs to reform itself almost permanently. We may need something new too, something that is much less government-oriented than the present UN is. And we need a Peoples Assembly inside it, a forum for global dialogue, early warning and for hearings with conflicting parties before it is too late.


Criticise governments and go for the UN!

But we should take care not to fiddle with the basics and not to hand out bits and pieces of the tasks of the UN to organisations that care more about the privileged few than about all of humanity. We should take care not to throw away "old" international law before we have a "new" and better, acceptable to all. And we should have learned by now that selective humanism and military-based humanitarian intervention (if there is such a thing) is not humanism. And, these very days, that counter-terrorism is terrorism, too.

The UN family and its Charter expresses the most global, ethical and visionary aspirations of humanity. Trying to demolish the UN is a crime against humanity. This year's Nobel Peace Prize offers legitimacy and inspiration to the world wide struggle for the abolition of war, for non-violence and for peace by peaceful means.

The UN is a force for good, for non-violence, for peace and justice. The day we can honestly say the same about the majority of its member governments, the UN will be a terrific organisation. Let's go for it!


 © TFF 2001



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