By Riva Enteen
50 years ago, Jamaican musician Jimmy Cliff sang:
Well, they tell me of a pie up in the sky
Waiting for me when I die
But between the day you’re born and when you die
They never seem to hear even your cry
So as sure as the sun will shine
I‘m gonna get my share now, what’s mine.
Today, Jamaicans are still waiting to get their share – the minimum wage is less than $2 an hour, or $85 dollars a week. It is clear that the economic, social and cultural rights in the UN Charter were only meant to be aspirational, and not enforceable. If they were enforceable, this would not be the case:
• Food: Today, a fifth (278 million) of the African population are undernourished, 55 million of Africa’s children under the age of five are stunted due to severe malnutrition and one person is dying of hunger every four seconds. From 2019 to 2022, the number of undernourished people grew by 150 million while 20 corporations in the grain, fertilizer, meat and dairy sectors delivered $53.5 billion to shareholders. The UN estimates that it would take $51.5 billion to provide food, shelter and lifesaving support for the world’s 230 million most vulnerable people.
•. Water: On 28 July 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution: the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights. But according to the UN, 1 in 4 people in the world do not have access to clean drinking water. Is a right a right, if not enforced?
•. Literacy: Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to education.” Today however, 57 million children remain out of school. UNESCO reports that 250 million children lack basic literacy skills.
Contributing to, and aggravating, the violations of human rights listed above, the use of sanctions — an economic war crime — is the accepted norm. The US has imposed sanctions on over 40 countries, one-third of humanity. These unilateral coercive measures are illegal under international law, but continue unabated since the 1962 trade embargo against Cuba.
Amadou Tidiane Wone, Senegal’s former Culture Minister, asserts that “the adjustable sanctions imposed not according to the rules of international law are beginning to irritate…The law of the strongest is often implemented under the guise of rules of law that trample on the aspirations of peoples. This is unjust and worrying.”
But if the UN is unable, by design, to truly address and guarantee the basic rights to food, water, shelter, education and healthcare, one hopes it exists to facilitate peaceful resolution of disputes. If peaceful resolution fails, at minimum, the UN must protect against war crimes — including the protection of civilians in a war zone — if it is to have any credibility. If the UN is impotent to address, and hopefully prevent, genocide and war crimes, what is its purpose, or raison d’etre?
The genocide of 14,000 Donbass civilians since the 2014 US-led coup was ongoing, so in 2022, Russia launched its Special Military Operation to protect the people of the Donbass from further killings. The only UN attempt at peaceful resolution were the Minsk Accords, which France and Germany now admit were never meant to be implemented, and were only delay tactics to strengthen Ukraine. The UN did not hear the cries, nor respond to numerous official written complaints, in the eight bloody years leading up to Russia’s actions.
Early in the conflict, Russia created humanitarian evacuation zones, which Ukraine continually attacked. The UN didn’t monitor and protect the civilians fleeing the war zone, so it is the utmost irony that the International Criminal Court [ICC] issued an arrest warrant on President Putin because he helped war-torn children escape to safety.
To add insult to injury, it appears that the ICC is now a pay to play institution. An investigation shows the top ICC prosecutor brought in millions of dollars after the court issued the warrant. Even the Guardian linked the timing of the Putin arrest warrant to a fundraising conference: [ICC prosecutor Karim] Khan made his dramatic move against the Russian president last week ahead of a conference in London co-hosted by the UK and the Dutch government aimed at raising cash to fund the ICC’s war crimes investigatory work inside Ukraine.
Professor Alfred de Zayas, former UN independent expert on international order, declared that the decision to seek indictment of President Putin “may be the last nail in the coffin of the ICC’s credibility.” The arrest warrant was even met with mockery. The Russian Embassy called the US stance on the arrest warrant ‘Schizophrenia,’ officials said the warrant was toilet paper and demanded arrest of ICC judges. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said: The ICCis headed by aprosecutor who…is following the orders of his masters, who forbid this body to investigate the crimes of NATO member states…in order to advance the agenda of the so-called collective West.
On the first day of the 2014 coup, the Russian language was outlawed by the new Kiev regime. Banning a language is defined as genocide, but is still ignored by the UN, even after the Mayor of Ukraine’s second-largest city was recently fined for speaking Russian. A festering wound…
As military historian Yuri Knutov said: If we talk about the [Kiev regime’s] shelling of civilians, social infrastructure facilities, residential buildings, of course, this constitutes a war crime. Moreover, it can even be considered as elements of genocide against the Russian-speaking population.Ukrainian violations of international law are well documented and extensive. By July 2022 Zelensky’s government had:
- outlawed 13 opposition parties and jailed his main presidential rival
- shut down all critical media
- banned the Russian patriarchate of the Orthodox Church and was on its way to arresting its top priest
- disappeared and tortured political opponents and human rights advocates as part of an assassination campaign targeting Ukrainian officials accused of collaborating with Russia.
- In addition, Neo-Nazi militants videotaped themselves executing suspected Russian sympathizers, and the Ukrainian military attacked civilian targets throughout Donetsk and Lugansk, bombing markets and massacring a bus load of commuters with a Tochka-U missile.
- Ukrainian soldiers were recorded executing unarmed Russian prisoners of war and shooting them in the knees. When those videos were deemed authentic, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk called on Kiev to fully investigate what Moscow called an outright execution, a prime example of “the fox guarding the hen house.”
Targeting the Unarmed: Ukraine’s Grim Record of Terrorist Attacks, describes other war crimes, including the October 2022 blast on the Kerch Strait Bridge in Crimea. If the UN does address potential war crimes, its response is only to urge, encourage, press, but not exert any enforcement authority. Again: Is a right a right, if not enforced?
Of course, any UN talk of protecting the environment is disingenuous, while it ignores the criminals who blew up the Nord Stream pipelines in September 2022, one of the greatest environmental disasters in history. 72% of the UN Security Council (by population) backed Russia’s call for a UN investigation of the Nord Stream bombing but it was denied. The UN’s absence, if not collaboration with the collective West, is astounding.
Attacks on the largest nuclear power plant [ZNPP] in Europe, occupied by Russian forces, continue. The IAEA chief says an accident at the nuclear power plant in Ukraine can happen ‘any moment’ and confirmed damage to the plant, but has been reluctant to name the side responsible for the attacks. Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova urged the The International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] to start acting like an“authoritative and independent international body and clearly and unambiguously identify the culprits of the shelling.” Securing the safety of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe being beyond the means, or interest, of the UN is simply staggering.
As to biological weapons, Russia’s permanent representative to the Geneva-based UN headquarters, Gennady Gatilov, said Russia has“not received a proper and meaningful response to the documents and evidence presented, which shed light on the true nature of interaction between the Pentagon… and the Ukrainian side in the field of military and biological activities…Russia’s complaint was ignored and its proposal for an international investigation under the auspices of the UNSC under Article VI of the BWC was blocked by the United States.” Why is the UN ignoring nuclear power and biological weapon concerns?
Russia, the number one global grain exporter, agreed to a grain deal in July 2022, brokered by the UN, to unblock Russian grain and fertilizer exports via the Black Sea lanes amid Western sanctions. In May, Moscow accused Kiev of using the grain corridor to attack Russia, saying that Ukrainian forces took advantage of the UN-brokered agreement to target Sevastopol. After talks with the United Nations Trade and Development chief, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin stated: The grain…is probably being exported to the most developed countries…However, the very idea that was put forward by the UN secretary general [Antonio Guterres] to ensure food security in the world, as it turns out, is not actually happening. Is the UN aiding food security or a Western agenda?
Threats by Ukraine’s military intelligence chief Kirill Budanov confirm that Kiev plots terrorist attacks. In May, he said, “we’ve been killing Russians and we will keep killing Russians anywhere on the face of this world until the complete victory of Ukraine.” That month, the Kremlin was attacked – an assassination attempt on a head of state of a nuclear armed country. Where is the UN?
Trust is essential for a body like the UN to function fairly. However, instead, members are spied on and strong-armed, while exposure of abuse of power continues unabated:
• In 2003, Katharine Gun, translator for the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters [GCHQ), risked prison to expose a plot by US security officials to spy on UN members as they ramped up pressure to secure a resolution to go to war with Iraq.
•. The United Kingdom bugged the office of then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2005. •. In 2021, documents showed that the US spied on then-Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkle and other diplomats.
•. In April, evidence that UN Secretary-General Guterres and several senior diplomats were spied on brought only an expression of “concern” from the UN.
The ICC was established in 2002 as a tribunal to criminally prosecute individuals. Zayas declares that: In 20 years it only indicted Africans, and for that reason it was rightly called neo-colonial. Now it indicts Putin, revealing its flagrant Western bias. Since the entry into force of the Rome Statute there have been thousands of war crimes under the responsibility of NATO governments…War crimes have been documented in NATO wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Why has no one ever been indicted there?…ICC would only serve a purpose if it were rigorously independent, objective and professional. The weaponization of the ICC to buttress US imperialism is painful… After 20 years of largely political, not strictly legal activity, the ICC deserves to be abolished. Justice means Justice for all, not only for privileged countries.
The writing was on the wall since 1984, when the US refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the World Court. The International Court of Justice is a civil, not criminal, tribunal that hears disputes between countries, and ruled against the US for mining the Nicaraguan harbors. Nicaragua’s ambassador to The Netherlands, Carlos Arguello, asserted: Either the United States obeys the decision, or it becomes an outlaw government — a government that does not abide by the decisions of the highest legal authority in the world.
With no pretense of impartiality, in 2017, when the ICC tried to investigate alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan, the US imposed sanctions on court personnel, prosecutors, and their families. When the sanctions were lifted, the investigation was dropped. The liberal rules-based international order is just a polite euphemism for US global hegemony.
As stated in US ‘should be in the dock’ for breaking international rules,Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wenbin Wang says: For the overwhelming majority of countries in the world the term international rules means the basic standards of relations enshrined in the UN Charter…However, when the G7 talk about international rules, they mean the Western rules. Those rules serve the vested interest of very few countries, including the G7, rather than the common interests of the international community…The US has blatantly invaded Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and other countries that are smaller and weaker than the US, killing and displacing tens of millions of innocent civilians. When it comes to international rules, the US’s place is in the dock.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and the stunning absence of the UN to facilitate world cooperation is leading to promising developments. Recent successful efforts at diplomacy, including Russia, China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, are noteworthy for the absence of any UN role.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Eurasian political, economic, and security bloc founded in 2001, has great potential to become a UN for the non-Western world, according to Robinder Sachdev, geopolitical and economic diplomacy analyst. Robinder: If the SCO wants to make a meaningful impact worldwide, then the boldest path is for it to transform itself into a new-age global organization…The SCO has the historic opportunity to become the modern, ideal, mini-United Nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Such a globalized SCO can have membership of non-USA, non-European nations, with doors later also open for Western nations to join. Patterned by the UN, the norms and practices of the SCO should be equitable, democratic, and will be based on the reality of the 21st century.
In Europe’s Fate, Patrick Lawrence analyzes three Chinese documents released in February. The first, “U.S. Hegemony and Its Perils,” states: Since becoming the world’s most powerful country after the two world wars and the Cold War, the United States has acted more boldly to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, pursue, maintain, and abuse hegemony, advance subversion and infiltration, and willfully wage wars, bringing harm to the international community.
However, a positive alternative is presented in the second document, “The Global Security Initiative Concept Paper:”This is an era rife with challenges. It is also one brimming with hope. We are convinced that the historical trends of peace, development and win-win cooperation are unstoppable. Upholding world peace and security and promoting global development and prosperity should be the common pursuit of all countries.
Lawrence concludes that there is renewed insistence on adherence to the UN Charter and international law. The requirements of mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-aggression, noninterference in the internal affairs of others, equality and peaceful coexistence are outlined in the “Joint Statement on International Relations Entering a New Era,” made public during Vladimir Putin’s summit with Xi Jinping last year.
In an article titled 1945 to 2023? World on the Precipice of a New Global Realignment, Thomas W. Pauken II, geopolitical commentator, declared: Whatever happens, the world will continue to require a truly global and neutral negotiating platform, perhaps a revamped UN purged of its current pro-Western bias, to allow nations in conflict to engage in dispute resolution. This means a mechanism for talks, as well as mediation by neutral third parties that’s acceptable to both sides, and whose decisions both sides would be willing to accept.
“Decisions both sides would be willing to accept” implies enforceable, since governance requires consequences for illegal behavior and there can be no refusal to recognize jurisdiction. Without these sorts of mechanisms, Dr. Marco Marsili, a research associate at the Center for Strategic Research and Analysis, claims “the post-US and Western world order threatens to become a free-for-all ‘jungle.’ Given that the world order is a priority to the international community, common rules must be rewritten – including United Nations governance.”
The United Nations was founded in 1945 on the ashes of the ravages of WWII. Never again was declared, but this year the May 9 Victory Day celebration of the defeat of the Nazis was suppressed in multiple countries, and even made illegal in Latvia. On that proud day, Putin said, “the US and its allies are seeking to destroy Russia. It seems that they have forgotten what the insane ambitions of the Nazis led to.” Tragically, today, the escalation to a world war, including a nuclear war, is even greater than at any moment in history.
There is clearly a seismic shift in the world’s balance of power. We must hope and work for the success of the Chinese vision, which builds on the strengths of the UN, and analyzes its weaknesses, in order to uphold world peace, security and promote global development and prosperity.
Riva Enteen, former Program Director of the San Francisco National Lawyers Guild, is a lifelong peace and justice activist, retired social worker, lawyer, and editor of “Follow the Money,” interviews by Pacifica Radio Flashpoints producer Dennis J. Bernstein. In 2019, she went to Russia with a 50-member peace delegation. Black Agenda Report printed many of her articles. She can be reached at email@example.com