Global Poll: U.N. Should Protect Against Genocide

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon (R) meets with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the U.N. Headquarters in New York on July 31. (Photo: Timothy A. Clary / AFP-Getty Images)

In a global poll released earlier this year, respondents collectively indicated their belief that the United Nations has the responsibility to protect people from genocide and other severe human rights abuses — even if it meant acting against the will of their own government. Large numbers of those polled were open to U.N. intervention in Darfur, Sudan, where Arab militias linked to the Sudanese government are accused of massacring civilians.

The survey was conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.org, in cooperation with other polling organizations.

The study was taken in 18 countries — China , India, the United States, Indonesia, Russia, France, Thailand, Ukraine, Poland, Iran, Mexico, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Argentina, Peru, Israel and Armenia — in addition to the Palestinian territories.

The international press has not been reticent in expressing opinions and making observations about the U.N.'s actions, or the lack thereof, with respect to Darfur. To say the least, there appears to be a healthy amount of skepticism regarding the U.N.'s ability to provide an effective solution.

Former British Labor government adviser David Clark, writing in London's Guardian Unlimited (Aug 1), posited that the mission had been handled incorrectly from the start:

The fallacy at the heart of our failure in Darfur until now has been the idea that you can stop genocide and ethnic cleansing with the consent of those responsible. That error persists even now, as the resolution describes the U.N.'s "determination to work with the government of Sudan, in full respect of its sovereignty."

There is no credible reason to believe that this noble sentiment is shared in Khartoum, and the sooner the international community realizes that the better.

A press release from Switzerland's online ReliefWeb (July 31) followed the same line of reasoning:

After months of pressure the Government of Sudan recently agreed to the deployment of a more robust AU/UN "hybrid" force. … However, there has been some skepticism about this breakthrough, as the Government of Sudan has proven to be adept at diffusing pressure by making concessions once international pressure reaches a crescendo, only to renege on it's promises at a later date.

Reporting on the most recent U.N. initiative to ameliorate the situation in Sudan, London's BBC News (Aug 1) struck a cynical tone:

The mission, to be known as Unamid — the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur — is expected to cost up to $2bn a year and will be world's largest peacekeeping force.

The new force will not have the right to disarm the militias and it does not have the powers to pursue and arrest suspected war criminals indicted by the International Criminal Court. Furthermore, the resolution does not threaten sanctions against Sudan if it does not comply.

Much harsher criticism of the U.N. effort was leveled by Professor Eric Reeves of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, who wrote an article for the Sudan Tribune (July 11) under the headline, "Darfur situation makes a mockery of Ban Ki-Moon fatuous optimism":

Since U.N. Secretary-General Ban cannot possibly point to "progress" on the ground in addressing the security crisis in Darfur, or to improvement in the terrifying humanitarian picture in Darfur and eastern Chad, he is committed to the claim that the international community is moving ahead with a "peace process," and that efforts are underway to provide protection in the form of a UN/AU "hybrid force" … But the voices from Darfur, from the camps, from eastern Chad, from civilians throughout the greater humanitarian theater, now including Central African Republic, are all urgently one: "Protect us, protect us and our families!" The cry is painfully simple, direct, anguished. A fifth year of genocidal counter-insurgency warfare proceeds, and still this cry is not heard.

Remaining true to its ideological point of view, the China Worker (July 11) views the United Nations as nothing but a willing pawn of capitalism:

Despite the failure of the United Nations since its inception to prevent and resolve wars and conflicts, and its inability to eradicate crushing poverty and prevent climate change on a world scale, many (including those on the political left during last year's Lebanon war), continue to promote it as a 'world parliament'. But the U.N. is beholden to the world's major capitalist powers and cannot play an independent role. … United Nations' peacekeeping interventions are often controversial affairs and lay bare the U.N.'s inability to keep the peace when there is no peace to keep.

According to a commentary by Joseph S. Nye in Lebanon's Daily Star (July 19) there are many in the United Nations' host country who think that the organization is not living up to its responsibilities:

With 192 members and a mandate that covers everything from security to refugees to public health, the United Nations is the world's only global organization. But polls in the United States show that two-thirds of Americans think the U.N. is doing a poor job, and many believe it was tarnished by corruption during the Iraq oil-for-food.

Writing for Japan's Daily Yomiuri (July 11), Ramesh Thakur noted that there is perhaps a wider societal failure in the global inability to stop genocide:

Revulsion at the murder of large numbers of civilians in a range of atrocity crimes (crimes against humanity, large-scale killings, ethnic cleansing, and genocide) — the drowning of the ceremony of innocence — has led to a softening of public and governmental support for the norms and institutions that shield the perpetrators of atrocity crimes from international criminal accountability. … Darfur is the current poster child for callous international indifference.

Citing another example where the international community has failed in this regard, Canada's online MWC News (July 11) carried a scathing column by Richard Falk concerning the current status of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, under the headline, "Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust":

If ever the ethos of "a responsibility to protect," recently adopted by the U.N. Security Council as the basis of "humanitarian intervention" is applicable, it would be to act now to start protecting the people of Gaza from further pain and suffering.

But it would be unrealistic to expect the U.N. to do anything in the face of this crisis, given the pattern of U.S. support for Israel and taking into account the extent to which European governments have lent their weight to recent illicit efforts to crush Hamas as a Palestinian political force.

Summing it all up, the Brunei Times (July 9) pessimistically noted:

Today, unfortunately, the concept of "responsibility to protect," which established itself a while ago is losing strength.