It is no news that the Syrian government has committed lots of atrocities against its own people seeking democratic change in their country. It is no news that the acts of repression and denial of basic rights to the people of Syria continues daily. News time these days is shared between bad news of financial woes threatening to swallow up the world, and bloody responses by a few Arab leaders to the quest for freedom by their people.
In fact, the world has been watching helplessly as bloody images emerge from the daily clashes. Anyone with a shred of conscience and with any regard for human lives would agree that there is a need to do something about this. As it always happens though, there are two basic issues that first need to be addressed. The first is to agree on what should be done. The second is to agree on who should be doing it.
Ms. Susan Rice, the United States’ Ambassador at the UN reacted angrily to the vetoes used by Russia and China to block the Security Council’s resolution calling for action to stop the Syrian government from terrorizing its own people. She described the action as shameful and spoke of a “very sad day”. She made it clear that the United States “is outraged that this council has utterly failed to address an urgent moral challenge and a growing threat to regional peace and security.”
Ms. Rice was stating the obvious. She was certainly not alone on this when she expressed her frustration with a world body, and in particular a Council of the world body for which the largest majority of the human race has lost total confidence. Several opinion polls have shown that while the vast majority of people all round the world support (and indeed see no alternative to the) United Nations, very few people outside the countries that are permanent members of the Security Council have any faith in the Council.
Yet, the Security Council was established to be the principal organ of the world body, charged with the responsibility for the maintenance or restoration of peace. The SC was given broad powers of enforcement under Chapter VII of the UN Charter in order to be able to perform its duties. With all the good intentions and the goodwill invested in the SC, in the past two decades, it has become famous or infamous for the voting patterns of its permanent members. This has been so much the case that, over the years, there have been several calls to review membership of the Council, and the powers of its members.
When Ms. Rice spoke of “a very sad day”, she was speaking for hundreds of millions of people. Yet, people are already used to such “sad days”. In fact, the very first of such sad days was when the United Nations decided to create a group of five countries, each with the power to hold the whole world to ransom. Ever since then, year after year, these countries, and in particular, China and the United States, have not failed to use, misuse or abuse their SC power. Each time the power is abused or misused in blatant, selfish and shameful manner, “a very sad day” is produced and felt all over the world.
For example, in the first quarter of 1997, two such days were lorded on the world by China and the United States.
After very bloody conflicts in Guatemala which had threatened to soak in neighbouring states in the region, a set of peace agreements were signed between the warring factions. These were at best very shaky deals which badly needed some international peace-keeping force to keep the sides under control and abide by their commitments. A draft resolution was proposed for a UN peacekeeping mission for the country. The mission was requested by all sides to the accords. It had a defined mandate and its timetable was precise. China promptly vetoed it on January 12 1997.
Two months later, to be precise, on 21 March 1997, a draft resolution was placed before the Security Council of the United Nation at its 3756th meeting. It had demanded that Israel stopped construction of a new housing settlement in the Jabal Abu Ghneim area of East Jerusalem. Of the fifteen countries represented on the Security Council that year, thirteen – Chile, China, Egypt, France, Guinea-Bissau, Japan, Kenya, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Russian, Sweden, and the UK voted for the draft resolution.
One country – Costa Rica, abstained. One country – United States vetoed the resolution.
In the January 1997 instance, China’s reason for exercising its veto power had nothing to do with the issue of peace or security, or any concern for a possible abuse of the resolution. Guatemala, a small country of no consequence for China, happens to have close link and ties with Taiwan. The veto against the UN peacekeeping force was a pay-back for its keeping the wrong company.
In the March 1997 instance, the United States was anything but acting in the interest of peace of the world. It was certainly not acting as a honest broker in this conflict as it was meant to be doing. There was an on-going peace process. The status of East Jerusalem was one of the key contentions between Israel and the Palestinians. Continuing settlement activities in any part of East Jerusalem had made reaching a peace deal impossible. By abusing the use of its voting power, the United States gave the green light to Israel to continue building on contested land while pretending that there was a peace process.
In 1997, the United States which Ms Rice represents today, told the world, that as honest brokers, they believed that there was no short-cut to reaching a settlement in the Israel-Palestinian issue. There was also no alternative to face to face negotiation. Other than 14 years of settlement activities which make reaching a deal more difficult, nothing has changed. In 20 years from now, nothing will change.
In place of true leadership which is badly needed today to guide the world through very difficult times and to protect it against despotic regimes, all that a frustrated and angry world see, and are requested to live with by the like of Ms. Susan Rice, are hypocrisy and double standards. Disappointingly, all these come from the same countries which the world looks up to and to which so much power and trust are invested.
Over and over again, the five countries that were given the special preference on the Security Council of the world body had used the power vested on them to short-change the world, often through selfishness and shortsightedness. They have held world peace and security to ransom. More often than not, they create situations that result in endangering the peace and security of the same world which they were expected to protect.
By far, the worst offenders among the five are the United State and China. China has used its privileged power on the Security Council to protect despotic regimes especially in Africa in exchange for favour. Dafur is just one sad example.
The United States has used its privileged power on the Security Council to cause instability in the Middle East in particular. Its blind support for Israel and lack of leadership in brokering a honest peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians has created deep-seated hatred for the United States and Israel around the world especially in the Middle East. It has been used as an excuse for many atrocities committed in the region and against American interest in other parts of the world.
The UK representative in the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant was visibly sad when he observed that it “will be a great disappointment to the people of Syria and the wider region that some members of this Council could not show their support for their struggle for basic human rights.”
Any one in any part of the world who cares about basic human rights including rights for self-determination will share the sentiment of Mr. Grant.
They might also wish to hear him express this same sentiment by declaring that it “will be a great disappointment to the Palestinian people and the wider region that some members of this Council could not show their support for their struggle for basic human rights” and their rights to self-determination.
If Ms. Susan Rice wants to know which of the two countries are using their voting powers as permanent members of the Security Council, in selfish and reckless ways that endangers rather than enhance the security of the world, she should look no further than her own country.
It is perhaps time to end the special privilege accorded to the five countries that do not particularly represent any body or any logic within the present world community. It is time to remove the veto power and introduce a more realistic modality for true world democracy in the world body.