Day By Day

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Another UN Lapse

It is becoming harder and harder to defend the UN. Claudia Rosett reports on yet another major lapse from the UN refugee office and this time she's not talking about sexual harrassment. She writes:
If you believe in the U.N. charter's promise to promote "justice and respect for obligations arising from treaties," along with "the dignity and worth of the human person," then the real scandal--less racy, but colossally more devastating in human cost--has been the UNHCR's failure in recent years to stand up for refugees fleeing North Korea. The problem here is not, as far as I am aware, one of embezzlement or fraud. Nor is it on a par with any amount of sexual harassment in the comfortable Geneva headquarters of the UNHCR--however upsetting that might be. The true horror is the way in which the well-mannered nuances of U.N. bureaucracy, structure and management have combined to dismiss demurely the desperate needs of hundreds of thousands of human beings fleeing famine and repression in the world's worst totalitarian state....

[These] refugees have been dying faceless, nameless and scarcely even remarked upon by the world community. But these were human beings. They had faces and names.

Where is the U.N. in all this? Under the U.N. Refugee Convention--which Beijing has signed and the UNHCR, with its $1.1 billion budget, is supposed to administer--these North Koreans refugees had rights. The convention promised them not a return to their deaths, but at least safe transit through China to a place of asylum.
The establishing hopes for the UN were that it would provide collective security, a task at which it has conspicuously failed, and that it would promote human rights throughout the world, a task that often does not seem to engage its interest. I am convinced that there is a positive role that the UN can play in the future, but what seems to be lacking in the present discourse is any serious suggestions as to what that might be.

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