United Nations Report: Double Standards Cast Pall Over Upcoming U.N. Jubilee
By Ian Williams
Next year is the 50th, Jubilee, anniversary of the United Nations, but the outlook is not for jubilation. For years it has been clear that U.N. resolutions come in various degrees of seriousness, determined not by their content but by the degree to which they harmonize with what the United States and its allies want.
Rejecting a Reasonable Libyan Offer
For example, at the end of November, the Security Council renewed sanctions against Libya over its refusal to hand over to Scottish or American courts two of its citizens accused of causing the explosion of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. One does not have to be an uncritical fan of the eccentric Libyan leader to think that there is legitimate doubt about the guilt of the accused. Further, there are many international lawyers who think that the demand to hand over the two is both unprecedented and of dubious legality.
Therefore, Libya's offer to hand over the two to be tried by Scottish judges at the World Court in the Hague does not seem unreasonable. The refusal to accept it came immediately after the United Nations had agreed to reduce sanctions against Belgrade, whose government has been complicit in the killing, rape and deportation of so many thousands in Bosnia. Ironically, Libya itself has recently set an exemplary model of international behavior by accepting a World Court judgment and handing over a huge swath of disputed territory to its southern neighbor, Chad. (The U.S. withdrew from the World Court when the judges ruled against it over the mining of harbors in Nicaragua.)
Saddam Makes It Easy to Continue Sanctions on Iraq
The Council also decided to maintain sanctions against Iraq, which of course has a much less exemplary record even than Libya in international affairs. Pressure is building up from Security Council members like Russia and France, who are owed a lot of money by Baghdad, to reconsider the sanctions. Other members remember comments after the Gulf war which make them think that London and Washington have added an unspoken clause to the list of conditions that Iraq must meet--namely, that Saddam Hussain must go.
Of course those seeking to retain sanctions on Iraq are aided in this by the ineptitude of the Iraqi president, whose military maneuvers near the Kuwaiti border almost gave the administration a mid-term election fillip. Saddam's mysterious maneuvers also gave Britain and the U.S. a pretext for spurning Iraq's plea to lift sanctions, even after Baghdad finally conceded on the one point on which it had consistently hedged and fudged--the recognition of Kuwait and even of the U.N.-imposed boundary between the two countries. This belated Iraqi recognition probably was seen as a sign of weakness by British and American U.N. representatives, who fought a rearguard action to minimize its significance in the presidential statement which took note of the change in the Iraqi position, while leaving the U.N. position on sanctions unchanged.
An Utter Abdication of Principles in Bosnia
Such a resolution was, of course, in complete contrast to the U.N.'s utter abdication of principles in the Balkans, where events that took 50 years to unfold in the Middle East have whizzed by in three short years. Just as the U.S. has so often protected Israel at the U.N. no matter what it does, Russia now seems to have adopted the same uncritically supportive view of Serbia. At the beginning of December, the Russians used their veto against a resolution that simply reaffirmed an existing resolution that embargoed shipments of fuel from Serbia through Serb-occupied portions of Bosnia and into the Serb-controlled part of Croatia. In fact the U.N. monitors in the so-called Contact Group had already connived at the delivery of this fuel, in defiance of the resolution.
Lest anyone blame the Russians as uniquely perfidious, on the same day the U.N. requested NATO to stop the flights over Bosnia which were supposed to be enforcing the much-broken "no-flight" rule. It seems that the Serbs had been locking their radar on the planes, and the U.N. was concerned that NATO aircraft might take appropriate action. It's as if the dog warden were instructed to keep off the streets because the stray dogs were barking and biting.
Whatever shreds of credibility or prestige that remained to the U.N. also were grounded over Bihac. There, Serb planes and heavy weapons from the U.N. "Protected Areas" of Croatia have attacked across an international frontier against the U.N. "Safe Haven" of Bihac, shelling civilian targets as they did so. The U.N. protects the Croation Serbs from attack by the Croats themselves and, supposedly, in return has the Serbs' heavy weapons under lock and key. The "locked up" weaponry was of course moved with the help of the fuel supplies shepherded by the U.N. from Serbia proper across the River Drina.
After the most ferocious threats of retaliation if this went ahead, NATO aircraft flew over Bihac for an hour without finding a target! This became less mysterious over the next few days as it emerged that British Lt. Gen. Michael Rose had ordered his U.N. "spotters" on the ground not to identify any targets. The situation deteriorated even further as the Serbs kidnapped hostages from among British, Canadian, Dutch, Czech, Jordanian and Ukrainian U.N. troops and positioned them on what they thought would be NATO targets. At last the Great Powers took action. They decided to reconsider their plan to enforce an arms embargo against the Bosnian government while rewarding its genocidal attackers by giving Karadzic's and Mladic's Serbs half of Bosnia. Instead France, Britain and their allies would offer the Serbs more.
Why is it that the New World Order looks even more odoriferous than the old? Could it be that without the Cold War rivalry everybody is now a tacit accomplice to hypocrisy at best--and genocide at worst?
Lebanon, Syria Object to UNRWA Move to Gaza
Of course, the Palestinians are no strangers to hypocrisy, nor to strange alliances. On the resolution on UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee program, Israel, the United States and the Marshall Islands (which is possibly the most dependent state in the world on Washington funding) abstained, because of the language. These were joined by unlikely allies Syria and Lebanon, who abstained for totally different reasons. They feel that the secretarygeneral had no right to decide unilaterally that UNRWA's headquarters would be moved from Vienna to Gaza. Its original home was, of course, in Beirut until conditions grew bad and Kurt Waldheim saw a chance to roll a pork barrel in the direction of the Austrian electorate.
However, the reasons for Syrian and Lebanese objections are not totally selfish, given present conditions. Objectors want to know how their representatives can get to UNRWA Council meetings in Gaza when all the means of access are still very much under Israeli control?
Palestinians Have the Deeds, But Israel Has the Land
Other resolutions pertaining to the Palestinians called for the application of the Geneva Conventions to the occupied territories--including Jerusalem--and the building of an "Al Quds" University in Jerusalem. Perhaps the most controversial was a resolution calling for devoting the revenues from Palestinian refugee property to the Palestinians. Although the U.S. and Israel opposed the resolution and some 40 U.S. allies abstained, it was adopted over-whelmingly.
The abstentionist position sums up the dilemma of many countries in dealing with Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Generally such countries accept that the Palestinians, in this and other resolutions, are legally entirely in the right. But in practical terms, since Israel is substantially built on refugee property, they feel that there is no way that the Palestinians ever will get all their rights. The principle that possession is nine-tenths of the law, which has taken only a few short years, indeed months, to apply in Bosnia, has had half a century to apply in Israel.
So while the U.S. almost brusquely calls upon the Palestinians to shut up and accept whatever crumbs fall their way from the Declaration of Principles, Israeli Ambassador Gad Yaacobi, who is genuinely committed to the peace process, appeals to them "to leave the issues which relate to the permanent settlement to their appropriate time, as was agreed to by the parties...Let us concentrate on building understanding and cementing the agreement between us."
In return, Western diplomats have credited Nasser El-Kidwa, the Palestinian representative, for his constructive work in toning down inflammatory language and reducing the number of resolutions. But, understandably, he sees no reason why basic principles of international law should be ignored because of negotiations. In a sense, Israel has possession, but the Palestinians still have the deeds. Since the Palestinians already are negotiating from a position of considerable weakness, they are hardly likely to give away one of their few assets.
In a year in which the U.N.'s reputation has been battered by its failures in Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda, and in which it has, as usual, been marginalized in the Middle East negotiations, it is worth remembering that the world organization is the only body which can articulate the global community's consensus on right and wrong. Israel's own legal existence as a state stems from a U.N. resolution, which had much less of a consensus than many of those supporting the Palestinians' legal rights. While the Likud government's scorn for the views of other countries was manifest, Israel's Labor government does pay some attention to the good opinion of the rest of the world. It is no wonder the PLO representatives insist on restating the legal position, regardless of what the U.S. and Israel say.
Ian Williams is a British free-lance journalist based at the United Nations, and the author of the forthcoming The U.N. for Beginners, published by Writers and Readers Ltd.
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