The Necessity of Rethinking the U.N. Approach towards International Developments

United Nations Organization, established in 1945, is an international organization with some important missions. As it has been stated in its charter, United Nations Organization is dedicated to maintaining international peace and security and cooperating in solving international problems and in promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. A review of the U.N.’s record in fulfilling those missions may raise serious questions about the U.N. approach to deal with international developments. From its inability to stop the horrors in Myanmar, to the more recent crises like the Yemeni crisis, U.N.  double standards have projected the image of U.N. inefficacy. The U.N. was supposed to play a pivotal and unbiased role in upholding rights and international law and ensuring accountability. The biased stance of the U.N. towards different international developments and crises has raised the question that “how credible and qualified is U.N. in fulfilling its stated mission?”

There have been controversy and criticism of the U.N. and its activities since at least the 1950s. One of the main criticisms has been about the excessive influence of oligarchies over U.N. decisions and policies. The influence of some rich countries, such as Saudi Arabia which is known to be the chronic violators of human rights issues, on the U.N. decisions has jeopardized the credibility of the Organization. One of the most recent palpable examples that shows the seriousness of the criticisms against the U.N. is the Yemeni crisis.

The Yemeni crisis began in 2011 continued to be a protracted war against Yemeni people. The Saudi-led coalition, which is backed by the United States, Britain and others, created increasingly adverse circumstances which brought devastating and catastrophic consequences for Yemeni women, children and unarmed civilians. The conflict has left more than 21 million people in Yemen dependent on foreign aid to survive. In addition to crippling the infrastructure of the country, the widespread lack of access to healthcare has led to the fastest-growing cholera epidemic ever recorded. Indiscriminate violence has resulted in more than 10,000 civilians being killed and at least 1,340 children being killed or maimed since March 2015.

With the mission to put an end to the international conflicts, the U.N. has just failed to do so. In 2016, the former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly acknowledged that the Saudis applied full pressure with a threat to cut off ties with the U.N. if the organization did not remove the country from a blacklist of groups violating children’s rights in the conflict in Yemen.

The annual “Children and Armed Conflict” report is produced at the request of the U.N. Security Council. The U.N.’s 2015 report originally listed the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen under “parties that kill or maim children” and “parties that engage in attacks on schools and/or hospitals.” The report, which was based on the work of U.N. researchers in Yemen, attributed 60 percent of the 785 children killed and 1,168 injured to the bombing coalition. Saudi Arabia used the threat of withdrawing funds from critical U.N. programs to compel the U.N. Secretary-General to remove the coalition from his “List of Shame” for killing and maiming children and attacking schools and hospitals in Yemen.

To the U.N.’s great discredit, Saudi’s threatening to issue a fatwa (religious decree) “against the U.N., declaring it anti-Muslim, which would mean no contacts of O.I.C. members, no relations, contributions, support, to any U.N. projects, programs.” succeeded. With United Nations bowing to Saudis pressure, the legitimacy of this international organization is under a big question mark. The U.N. action brought many condemnations from other international organizations. Amnesty International, as one of the important international organizations, stood against this action and severely criticized the U.N. for doing so.

The U.N. overlooked horrific violations of international laws by the Saudi-led coalition in exchange for receiving money from it. Such examples seriously undermine the credibility of the U.N. as a mediator in international crises. If the United Nations does not resist the blackmailing of Saudi Arabia and other rich countries including its Gulf state’s allies, it might leave the impression that one can do anything and buy immunity with money.

With the pressure that Saudi Arabia received from its attack on Yemen, it seems that Saudis are trying to continue their attacks under a thin veneer of humanitarian aids. In doing so, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on 28 March 2018. In his meeting, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman presented a cheque for $930 million to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. It is an irony that the country which has created the crisis says that it tries to alleviate the problem but still continues its ruthless bombardments.

Receiving such donations from countries like Saudi Arabia seems to deepen the dependency and vulnerability of this international organization. Receiving aid from a country which has made no effort to solve the Yemeni crisis but just added to the insecurity of the region, makes the United Nations vulnerable to Saudi’s policy towards purchasing immunity from any U.N. determinations on their actions including their horrendous record of bombing hospitals and civilian targets in Yemen. Being always subject to pressure from member nations, especially the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia, U.N. secretary-generals must not succumb to pressure and act decisively, without fear of reprisal, to stop countries from exerting undue pressure.

It is a fact that the United Nations has been derailed from its primary goals to some extent and there are big and serious questions about its inadequacies and failures. The United Nations needs urgent reform to ensure the Organization is fit for purpose in coming decades. Reform must be met in different parts including structure, functions and responsibilities.

One of the main factors that can contribute to the U.N.’s efficiency to be more applicable in the present international context and in the future is its decisive fight against gross and systematic violations of human rights by authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia.

Although the implementation of reform is extremely complex and widely contested, it is inevitable for the U.N. to take a serious look at revising itself. With the emergence of new global threats such as global financial instability, global terrorism, climate change, regional conflicts and so on, United Nations presence should more serious and independent.

Mohammad Yusefvand
Mohammad Yusefvand
Mohammad Yusefvand is a regional analyst and scholar with focus on North American political affairs