Aiden Turek ’20
The United Nations is a fundamentally flawed institution which has failed to accomplish the lofty goals set forth at its inception. The United Nations is built on the ashes of the League of Nations. The League of Nations failed to preserve the peace, and in its own way brought about the Second World War. Take, for example, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, a flagrant breach of international law ‘provoked’ by a false flag attack on the part of elements of the Japanese army. The League responded to this by organizing the Lytton Commission, whose report confirmed Japanese aggression and recommended the withdrawal of that nation from China. In response, Japan quit the League of Nations. Two years later Hitler rose to power in Germany, five years later Italy invaded Ethiopia, and a decade after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. By far the greatest failure of the League of Nations was the power of enforcement. A law that is not obeyed or enforced can hardly be called a law.
That notion ties in well with the United Nations. The Convention on Genocide makes unlawful ‘any acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.’ But there is nothing in that Convention that creates a legal ‘hook’ that would necessitate action, nor a legal precedent that would make legal intervention in sovereign nations. The United Nations was created to uphold national sovereignty—the idea being that the United Nations could have stopped Japanese or German aggression by protecting the sovereignty of a China or a Czechoslovakia. The Rwandan genocide serves as a grotesque demonstration of the limits of that precedent. UNAMIR, the United Nations mission in Rwanda, tasked with maintaining peace after a civil war, had no authority to intervene in domestic affairs. There was no authority, much less an expectation, to defend the lives of innocent Tutsi Rwandans—indeed, Romeo Dallaire, UNAMIR commander, requested permission to intervene but was refused—actually preventing genocide was beyond his mandate. The resulting deaths, measured in the hundreds of thousands, lies squarely with the United Nations. That the limited mandate of UNAMIR is at fault is misleading. Just one year after the events of the Rwandan Genocide, United Nations forces in Bosnia were peaceably disarmed and voluntarily removed from the town of Srebrenica while the town’s 8,000 Muslim inhabitants were murdered by Serbian militant forces—this while UN forces had a mandate and the resources to uphold that.
It has only been in since the beginning of the 21st century that the “Responsibility to Protect,” or R2P, devised in 2005, has explicitly stated state sovereignty entails the responsibility to provide for the welfare of its people, including preventing genocide. But R2P is merely a statement of intent, not substantively different from earlier propositions declaring universal human rights and upholding internationally recognized borders. Take, for instance, the role of China in the United Nations. Abroad, China seeks, generally speaking, to prevent U.N. action on behalf of sovereignty, a notion tied closely to China’s internal mission—authoritarian control. China is currently engaged in a crackdown on its native Muslim Uighur population, constructing ‘reeducation camps’ and forcing resettlement of Uighur populations—acts that destroy in part Uighur culture, violating the Genocide Convention. It is, however, the pretense of the Security Council—on which China occupies a permanent position—to debate and decide when the Genocide Convention is violated.
Thus, the sovereignty the U.N. protects becomes a cover for abundant human rights violations that lead to genocide. Moreover, I would suggest that any measure adopted by the United Nations towards protecting human rights—from preventing genocide to promoting individual rights—will be hollow words, a poor consolation to the countless lives that have been ruined and cut short because of the weakness of the U.N, which patently fails to protect its member peoples from the oppression of their own governments. A fine balance must be met, between upholding the sovereignty of nations and enforcing universally accepted human rights, a true responsibility to protect all peoples of the world—a balance the U.N. cannot uphold.
Aiden Turek ’20