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Friday, March 24, 2023
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 8 2022 (IPS) - A legendary quote attributed to Joseph Stalin most likely applies to the United Nations too. “How many divisions does the Pope have?” asked the Soviet leader, interrupting a speech by Winston Churchill in a bygone era.
If you don’t have an army of your own, or a military force behind your edicts or your resolutions, so the argument goes, you are fighting a losing battle—even as the United Nations remains helpless in the face of thousands of civilian deaths and the destruction of densely populated cities by Russian armed forces in Ukraine since February 24.
When he addressed the UN Security Council via video-conferencing on April 5, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine did not pull his punches when he told delegates the purposes of the UN Charter, especially Article I — to maintain international peace and security — are being blatantly violated by Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
“What is the point of all other Articles (in the UN charter)? Are you ready to close the United Nations? Do you think that the time for international law is gone?” If not, “you need to act immediately,” he told delegates.
To support peace in Ukraine, he argued, the Security Council must either remove the Russian Federation from the UN, both as an aggressor and a source of war, so it cannot block decisions made about its own war, or the Council can “dissolve yourselves altogether” if there is nothing it can do other than engage in conversation.
“Ukraine needs peace. Europe needs peace. The world needs peace,” he insisted.
But what Zelenskyy did not realize was a longstanding political reality: Russia, along with the US, UK, France and China (P5), are “permanent members” armed with veto powers.
And they are “permanent” for life, either their life as a member state or the life of the United Nations– whichever comes first.
Meanwhile, the US led a successful campaign to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) with a resolution which garnered two-thirds majority in the General Assembly on April 7. The voting read: 93 Yes, 24 Noes and 58 Abstentions.
Which triggers the question: can Russia be suspended from its membership in the 193-member UN General Assembly (GA)?
Thomas G. Weiss, Distinguished Fellow, Global Governance at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, told IPS: “The GA suspended apartheid South Africa for 20 years, from 1974 to post-elections in 1994. Russia qualifies as a comparable pariah with its unprovoked and illegal war in Ukraine. It would be an important new precedent to say “nyet” to recolonization.”
The precedent in the HRC is Libya, which the HRC voted to suspend and then the GA by consensus voted to suspend that regime, said Weiss, Presidential Professor of Political Science and Director Emeritus, Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY)
In an oped piece for IPS, Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, a former President of the Security Council and UN Under-Secretary-General, pointed out that the General Assembly effectively suspended three UN member states on three different occasions: Cambodia in 1997, Yugoslavia in 1992 and South Africa in 1974.
He said the suspension or expulsion of Russia is “almost impossible” according to the UN Charter. “To that, I would add that it is a deadlock but not a dead-end.”
Some UN watchers, he wrote, are of the opinion that there are still ways to limit Russia’s presence in the U.N. beyond the Security Council, as has been just decided by the UNGA to suspend its membership in the UN Human Rights Council.
Louis Charbonneau, United Nations director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS: “Given the evidence of war crimes and serious human rights violations committed by Russian forces in Bucha and elsewhere in Ukraine, it’s essential that the UN and International Criminal Court move swiftly with their investigations to gather and preserve evidence”.
He said the victims and their families need justice. Suspension of Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, a body it’s clearly unfit to be a member of, is an important step to holding Russian authorities accountable for their actions.”
After the vote to suspend Russia from the HRC, Charbonneau said: “The General Assembly has sent a crystal-clear message to Russia’s leadership that a government whose military is routinely committing horrific rights violations has no business on the UN Human Rights Council”.
He said gruesome images from Bucha have shocked people around the world. Victims and their families deserve to see those responsible held to account. Investigators from the UN and International Criminal Court should set the wheels of justice in motion by moving swiftly to gather and preserve evidence of war crimes.
In his address to the Security Council, the Ukrainian President also said the “UN Charter must be immediately restored and the system reformed so that the veto power does not represent the right to die, and so there is fair representation in the Council of all world regions.”
If tyranny in places from Syria to Somalia had received a response, it would have ceased to exist, and an “honest peace” would have prevailed.
A war against Ukrainian citizens would not have been launched. Instead, the world watched, and turned its eyes away from the occupation of Crimea, the war against Georgia, the taking of Transnistria from the Republic of Moldova and the preparations of Russian troops for another war near the border.
“The Russian military and those who gave them orders must be brought to justice and charged with war crimes in Ukraine, before a tribunal similar to the one created in Nuremburg,” he declared.
Asked whether Russia could be kicked off the Security Council, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said: “Look, the Security Council was created as a product of the creation of the UN after World War II. They are a member of the Security Council. That’s a fact. We can’t change that fact, but we certainly can isolate them in the Security Council. We can make their presence in that body very uncomfortable. And we have done that,” she added.
In an interview last week, she was asked: Given the restraints on the United Nations because they sit on the Security Council, because they still have the support of China—and given all that, does the world needs to have some sort of alternative body? That enforces the rule of law, that enforces the kind of values that, frankly, humanity demands?
“The UN is the body that we have, and we have to work to improve the UN and to continue to use this body to put pressure on the Russians. And while they do have the veto power, they can’t veto our voices.
“They cannot veto the Ukrainian president coming in front of the Security Council and condemning them. They cannot veto you, and others who are reporting the truth to the world. And they are uncomfortable”.
“And as for the Chinese, they’re uncomfortable in this position that they find themselves in defending what the Russians are doing. So, we’re going to keep the pressure on. We’re going to keep applying that pressure until Russia comes to understand that they cannot continue this unconscionable war against the Ukrainian people,” she declared.
Meanwhile, at a press conference on 6 April, one of the questions raised was about Pope Francis pointing out that the Ukraine war was a reflection of the impotence of the United Nations.
“Also, President Zelenskyy said something similar —that the United Nations, the way it is, should be completely reformed, even the Security Council. So, any comments from the Secretary General?”
Responding to the questions, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the UN and its Charter are resilient.
“We have faced crises in the past. It is a fact for all to see that, I think, the security aspect of it, which is really guided by the Security Council, is divided, and that is not the responsibility of the Secretary General. It is a reflection of the situation between the Member States and some of the most powerful Member States of this organization who sit on the Security Council”.
“But I think you have to look that the UN is more than just the Security Council. Right? The UN is the 1,200 or more colleagues that we have in Ukraine. It is the peacekeepers who are on the front lines in the Congo, in the DRC. It is all the humanitarian workers we have in the Sahel. And I think that part of the UN is working and is working as if… is working efficiently and trying to do whatever it can to alleviate the suffering of people around the world,” he declared.
IPS UN Bureau Repor
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