Happy Birthday, United Nations

The UN is sixty-one today. But there’s not much to celebrate, especially in Darfur, as I write in today’s Times:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY United Nations, 61 today. The best present that could be given to your Secretary-General elect, Ban Ki Moon, is a copy of your charter, so that he can focus on returning the UN to its founding humanitarian principles. These, after all, are why the UN was set up and why it still exists.

The charter, ratified on October 24, 1945, aims to save “succeeding generations from the scourge of war . . . to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and nations large and small”. The charter, the accompanying Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide are the most advanced formulation of human rights in history. They have for decades been comprehensively flouted by UN member states.

Mr Ban takes over Kofi Annan’s desk next January. He inherits a battered and demoralised organisation. Many among the secretariat, the permanent officials, are gloomy about the South Korean Foreign Minister’s ability to lead the UN out of the doldrums. At first glance the not very charismatic Mr Ban seems to have neither sufficient moral authority nor political clout. But perhaps it’s too early to judge: Dag Hammarskjöld, the Swedish Secretary-General from 1953 to 1961, had a similar background as a professional diplomat but brought great moral force to the fledgling organisation.

A good place for Mr Ban to prove his mettle would be Darfur, where the Sudanese Government has unleashed a campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide, with more than 400,000 dead and more than two million homeless since the conflict began in 2003. The abuses committed by the Sudanese military and its proxy militia, the Janjawid, have been comprehensively documented by the UN’s International Commission of Inquiry (ICI). Its 176-page report last year established “that the Government of the Sudan and the Janjawid are responsible for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law amounting to crimes under international law. In particular the commission found that government forces and militias conducted indiscriminate attacks, including killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillaging and forced displacement throughout Darfur.”

Every UN member state agrees to abide by the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But the ICI’s findings triggered little more than a yawn in Khartoum. Sudan remains a member state of the United Nations in good standing. And here is the crux of the matter: as long as there is no linkage between UN membership and human rights Sudan has no need to stop the carnage in Darfur. Especially while the Security Council remains divided, with China and Russia watering down the sporadic attempts by the West to put in place sanctions against Khartoum.

read more here.