UN’s legal immunity breeds inertia

The impression I got after reading Ban Ki-Moon’s speech delivered at the 20th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi, is that the UN secretary general is genuinely sincere.

The impression I got after reading Ban Ki-Moon’s speech delivered at the 20th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi, is that the UN secretary general is genuinely sincere.

Sadly, Ban’s virtuous personality can’t change history especially that of the United Nations and its pitiable track record at performing the primary purpose of its establishment.

But it was a good speech he gave and if he wrote it himself; a well written one as well.

With 60 full-stops, it stood out for its terse single line sentences delivered in his characteristic diplomatic but sinewy style. His starting line was in Kinyarwanda which immediately connected with thousands of his attentive audience; the rest of the diction was well chosen and it clearly left its mark — that the 1994 genocide was indeed a regrettable incident.

The shortest paragraph was composed of a three letter word- ACT; a word Ban’s predecessors at the UN refused to invoke; a word which had capacity to alter the direction of Rwanda’s history; a word that was over-looked in 1994. Terse as it is; a word whose absent power then led us to where we’re today — mourning a million lives.

“But we could have done much more. We should have done much more. In Rwanda, troops were withdrawn when they were most needed,” regretted Ban.

Surely that’s a confession of failure, isn’t it? A failure with fatal consequences; but this failure has faces behind it, men and women who occupied positions of authority whose choice not to ACT led us to the 1994 calamity.

Normally; when a person or an organisation fails to meet their legal obligations, they’re made to account. The UN, as many have since come to confess, failed in its international obligations to avert catastrophe yet it has not been held responsible. Why?

Article 104 of the Charter of the United Nations provides that the UN shall enjoy in the territory of each of its members (Rwanda is and was a member in 1994) such legal capacity as may be necessary for the exercise of its functions and the fulfillment of its purposes.

And what is UN’s cardinal purpose other than avert calamity?

In essence, that article means that the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) had every legal right to ACT to save lives yet they chose to withdraw in the process giving way for murderers to swing into action.

In his speech, Ban talks of another incident where his organisation again failed to ACT — the 1995 Srebrenica massacres that claimed close to 10,000 lives. Ironically, as he spoke in Rwanda, Mothers of Srebrenica, a group representing some 6,000 widows and victims of that massacre, were filing a civil suit against the Dutch government, saying Dutch UN-peacekeepers failed in their role to stop what the International Court of Justice has since ruled was genocide.

Much as he has the will, Ban can’t do much to sanitise the UN because it’s a tool for the veto powers to guard their global geo-political and economic interests and the good secretary general can’t do anything about it because the UN is held hostage by USA, France and Britain and not even the frail attempts at changing that status-quo by Russia and China, the other veto holders, are likely to succeed.

Because the UN is in captivity, Ban also regrets ‘Syria’s being in flames-’ but his organisation helplessly watched as United States and other western governments donated weapons to Syrian rebels to oust Assad’s regime, the result is a long-standing killing spree.

The UN also watched as USA and its allies side-stepped the Security Council to raid Iraq in pursuit of Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. Later, we were to learn that it was all a lie, a lie that cost hundreds of thousands of civilian lives.

Today, the UN again is looking on as Western allies play dangerous politics with Russia over Ukraine, a crisis that is more manufactured than natural.

But even as the UN fails to play its rightful international legal obligations; victims of its incompetence can’t hold it to account because of Article 105 of the Charter of the United Nations which bestows upon it far reaching immunities, including against legal action.

That legal immunity can only breed impunity not only for the UN but even countries that act under it. It explains why Victims of 1994 will never get real justice; why the Mothers of Srebrenica stand no chance and why France will always sneer at Rwanda.

The writer is a post-graduate student at the Communication University of China


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