DURING the last few weeks the anniversary of several monumental, historic events emblazoned the horizon.
Magna Carta: June 15 was the 800th anniversary of this seminal constitutional document executed between King John of England and his barons. It planted the seeds of “constitutional monarchy”, a monarchy under the law and bereft of unbridled powers based on the divine right of Kings.
The Magna Carta inspired many core features of a rule of law society.
The great English poet Rudyard Kipling eulogised: “No freeman shall be fined or bound, Or dispossessed of freehold ground, Except by lawful judgment found”.
Charter of United Nations: The Charter was signed in 1945 at the conclusion of the UN Conference on International Organisation.
American Declaration of Independence: July 4 was the 239th anniversary of the American Declaration of Independence 1776. It was not just an assertion of self-determination against British colonial subjugation, it was also one of the world’s most stirring affirmations of the constitutional ideals of limited government, human rights and public participation in politics.
Day of International Criminal Justice: July 17 was the anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Each of the above remarkable events deserves separate examination. Today’s column will concentrate on the UN Charter.
Seventy years ago, this august organisation was created to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, to establish conditions under which justice can be maintained and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.
All in all the UN’s record is a mixed one of sunshine and shade, hope and hoax.
On the positive side, the UN has many organs besides the Security Council, the General Assembly and its other councils.
There are many specialised agencies and commissions like the World Health Organisation, the UN refugee agency and the International Court of Justice, which have performed yeomen’s service.
At its inception, the UN was in the forefront of the struggle against colonialism, imperialism and apartheid. Regrettably, new forms of colonialism have emerged and the UN is helpless.
The UN has supported North-South dialogue and despite the West-centric and inequitable role of Bretton Woods institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, UN agencies like WHO, the UN Children’s Fund and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation have played a positive, transformative role in the socio-economic struggles of the poorer nations of the world.
Though its work in preventing war has failed in many theatres of conflict, it has nevertheless mounted many peace-keeping operations around the world and has negotiated nearly 200 peaceful settlements.
It has generated many laudable international laws on a host of human rights issues like the rights of children, refugees and women.
On the negative side, the UN has largely operated as a “victor’s club” for the allied victors of World War II.
It still embodies an age of European and American empires.
Its Security Council has a distinctly colonial, racist look and bears little resemblance to the pristine ideals of the Charter.
The members of the UN have failed miserably to disarm the world and make it nuclear-free.
The promised New International Economic Order is more of a Disorder.
The UN is impotent against the Israeli-perpetrated genocide in Palestine and silent against the military, financial and diplomatic support of this decades-old perfidy by US and Europe.
Before the US conquest of Iraq, illegal economic sanctions were in place that killed thousands of children. The cruelty of the sanctions provoked several high-level resignations within the UN, but the sanctions continued.
Afghanistan and Iraq have been destroyed by the United States and its “coalition of the willing” in wars that were clearly racist, colonial and illegal.
The UN also watched helplessly as Britain, France and the US abandoned Srebrenica and eight thousand Bosnian Muslims were massacred over four days in July 1995 by Bosnian Serb death squads after they took the besieged town, which had been designated a “safe area” under the protection of UN troops.
Ironically, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation later rained bombs on former Yugoslavia without UN authorisation.
In the 1960s, American perfidies in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos went unnoticed by the UN.
The Kashmir conflict has festered since 1947 and has gained no UN-brokered solution.
US-European Union support for rebels, terrorists and separatist groups in Libya, Syria and Yemen continues to add to the turmoil in this region.
American exceptionalism and unilateralism make one wonder whether, at the international level, we have a rule of law or a rule of the jungle.
UN members have failed to protect the environment. The UN talks of democracy around the world while being one of the most undemocratic institutions on the globe.
We need UN reform. From the view of the Third World, the following functional and structural changes are needed:
> The representative General Assembly must be strengthened vis-a-vis the unrepresentative Security Council.
> The Security Council must be more representative of regions, races and religions. Veto power within the Council must be abolished.
> The ICC and the ICJ must be strengthened.
> UN agencies and their committees must work closely with willing NGOs.
> The UN must evolve coherent macro-economic strategies for the world and make the Economic and Social Council the centrepiece for global economic policy.
> The UN’s humanitarian work must be extended.
> Human rights must be promoted, not only within nations but between nations.
> The arms race must be curbed. All nuclear weapons must be banned.
> The use of force under the UN Charter needs to be clarified to prevent its abuse.
> The UN’s peace-keeping role must be strengthened.
> The West-centric concept of “terrorism” that excludes state terrorism must be refined. The root causes of terrorism must be understood and holistic approaches developed to combating this crime against humanity.
It would be unwise to push the reforms as a package because if there is disagreement in some areas, the whole package may fall.
> Shad Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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