Monday, 8 August 2011

Has the UN failed in its mandate to protect?

In Syria the government has begun a war against its own population. Machine guns, artillery, assault rifles, grenades and bombing have all been used against men, women and children whose only crime has been to protest for peace and better governance. Huge courage has been shown by people facing armed gangs of Syrian army and secret police pushing into their towns.
These people have not taken up arms in the same way as Libya, they often face armed forces with stones and homemade Molotov cocktails. Hundreds have died at the hands of the Syrian state apparatus.
After weeks of debate, the UN released a statement on the 3rd of August (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14396703). By this point upwards of 1600 civilians had died. The statement began with the lines:
'The Security Council expresses its grave concern at the deteriorating situation in Syria, and expresses profound regret at the death of many hundreds of people.'
I'm sure the people of Deir al-Zour would feel safe from abuse and death now that the UNSC has expressed its grave concern on the subject. On the 7th a column of tanks rolled into this small town and killed over 50 in a pre-dawn raid.
I'm sure the families of the hundreds dead feel less grief now that the UN has given them its profound regret.

The case of Syria does show the problems afflicting the UNSC in the new post-Cold War, post-9/11 world. The combination of imperial overstretch for the US, UK and France and a dislike of any detraction of sovereignty by China and Russia leads to a complete inability to do anything productive in cases which are less than full-on state warfare. Syria is such a complex case that the big lumbering edifice of UNSC decision making is like using a chainsaw to attempt laproscopic surgery.

This is not to say that the UN is flawed. Many arms of this great organisation have performed wonders and, indeed, the UNSC has had its successes in the past. What needs examination is its responses to intra-state warfare and protest. Its focus on the preservation on sovereignty means that many abuses and often obvious crimes against humanity cannot be tackled fully and this leads to an inadequate response using what legislation can be employed (or simply relying on other agencies or part s of the UN). This is often poorly planned and executed and is like using a plaster on a bullet wound.