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Friday, April 13, 2007

The United Nations: what moral authority?

There are some optimists who think Iran might be chastened by its recent experience with the seizure of fifteen British sailors and Marines.  Britain's diplomatic effort behind the scenes secured the release of our people by forcing an Iranian climbdown and they'll think twice about doing anything so silly again.

Dream on.  Iran, which this week announced that it has achieved its goal of producing nuclear fuel on an industrial scale (and is therefore capable of producing nuclear weapons pretty much at any time it chooses), has been re-elected as a vice-chair of the U.N. Disarmament Commission. At the same time another state-sponsor of global terrorism, Syria, was elected as rapporteur of the same Commission.

Anne Bayefsky in the National Review comments:
It took the U.N. a mere five days to rehabilitate Iran after the British kidnap victims made it home alive. Just the night before on April 8, Faye Turney, the only female victim, revealed her Iranian abductors stripped her to her underwear, caged her in a tiny, freezing cell, and subjected her to mental torture such as leading her to believe that her death was imminent.

But while this was actually happening to Faye Turney, Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico, the president of the U.N.’s lead human-rights body — the U.N. Human Rights Council — was making this announcement, March 26, 2006:

I would like to make the following statement adopted by the Council. One,…the Human Rights Council has in closed meetings examined the human rights situation in…the Islamic Republic of Iran…Two, the Human Rights Council has decided to discontinue the consideration of the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran…Three,…members of the Human Rights Council should make no reference in the public debate to the confidential decisions and material concerning [the Islamic Republic of Iran]…
This is not simply a very bad joke. The U.N. is feted by many as the go-to address for international progress in the world today. Congressman Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, declared at a hearing on U.N. reform in February that “the U.N. provides vital support to core U.S. foreign-policy initiatives” including on Iran and the way forward is to “ratchet up our level of diplomacy there.”

“Ratchet up” suffers from some elementary numerical challenges — not to mention the netherworld where that ratcheting is headed. Congressman Lantos and his close friend former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan have long been drinking from the same well. The “reformed” Human Rights Council was Annan’s creation. Lantos is the leading advocate of the United States joining the Human Rights Council — where presumably we could jump up and down while exercising one vote out of 47. Annan, of his own volition, went to Tehran last September and urged the world not to isolate Iran immediately after the Iranian president had ignored a Security Council deadline to suspend its nuclear activities. Lantos confessed to the House Committee at the end of February that he has been begging for a visa to go to Iran for the past ten years and “will be among the first ones to do so once this visa is granted.”
The United Nations is widely regarded as a moral arbiter for the world - a beacon of moral authority in a world of lawlessness and war.  The truth is precisely the opposite. An organisation which gives equal voting rights to third world tyrants, totalitarian despots and democratic governments can never hold any meaningful moral authority.  It is folly to claim otherwise when Iran can hold a leading role in the Disarmament Commission; when, as in 2003, Libya can be elected to chair the U.N. Human Rights Commission. 

The authority which the Uniterd Nations presumes to hold is entirely spurious, and we should not continue to be bamboozled by it.  A forum for dictators and gangsters is hardly likely to produce a forward-looking institution for serving the widest purposes of humanity.  The U.N. pays lip-service to humanitarian values (and in fairness has done some valuable humanitarian work) but in the political field it can never aspire to embody its own values as it is merely a reflection of the world as it is.  This is worth bearing in mind, when we are looking to appeal for a higher moral authority in international affairs.  There is none.