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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Role of United Nations for Human Rights

Thursday, April 1, 2010 - 0 Comments

Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance

The pursuit of human rights was a central reason for creating the UN. World War II atrocities and genocide led to a ready consensus that the new organization must work to prevent any similar tragedies in the future. An early objective was creating a legal framework for considering and acting on complaints about human rights violations. The UN Charter obliges all member nations to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights” and to take “joint and separate action” to that end. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though not legally binding, was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948 as a common standard of achievement for all. The Assembly regularly takes up human rights issues.

The UN and its agencies are central in upholding and implementing the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A case in point is support by the UN for countries in transition to democracy. Technical assistance in providing free and fair elections, improving judicial structures, drafting constitutions, training human rights officials, and transforming armed movements into political parties have contributed significantly to democratization worldwide. The UN has helped run elections in countries with little democratic history, including recently in Afghanistan and East Timor. The UN is also a forum of support the right of women to participate fully in the political, economic, and social life of their countries. The UN contributes to raising consciousness of the concept of human rights through its covenants and its attention to specific abuses through its General Assembly, Security Council resolutions, or International Court of Justice rulings.

On 15 March 2006 the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to replace the United Nations Commission on Human Rights with the UN Human Rights Council, Its purpose is to address human rights violations. The UNCHR had repeatedly been criticized for the composition of its membership. IN particular, several of its member countries themselves had dubious human rights records, including states whose representatives had been elected to chair the commission. The new council has stricter rules for peacekeeping membership including a universal human rights review and a dramatic increase in the number of nations needed to elect a candidate to the body, from election-by-regional-slate on the 53-member Economic and Social Council to a majority of the 192 member General Assembly.

On 9 May 2006 elections were held to elect all 47 members to the council. Seats are allocated by region: Africa (13), Asian (13), Eastern Europe (6), Latin American and Caribbean (8) and Western Europe and other (7). Members of the council serve for three year terms, and may not serve three consecutive terms. While some governments with poor records were elected, such as Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Azerbaijan, some other rights violators that ran for election did not receive enough votes: Iran, Thailand, Iraq, and Kyrgyzstan. This change in membership has been cited as a positive first step for the council. There are now seven UN-linked human rights treaty bodies, including the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Secretariat services are provided regarding six of those (excluding the latter) by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Inaction on Genocide and Human Rights

The UN has been accused of ignoring the plight of people across the world, especially in parts of Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Current examples include the UN’s inaction toward the Sudanese government in Darfus the Chinese government’s ethnic cleansing in Tibet, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the wake of the Rwandan Genocide, the UN and the international community in general drew severe criticism for its inaction. Despite international news media coverage of the violence as it unfolded, most countries, including, France, Belgium, and the US, declined to intervene or speak out against the massacres. Canada continued to lead the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda, UN Assitance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). However, the UN did not authorize UNAMIR to intervene or use force to prevent or halt the killing.

Peace Keeping of UN


UN peacekeepers are sent to various regions where armed conflict has recently ceased, or temporarily frozen, in order to enforce the terms of peace agreements and to discourage the combatants from resuming hostilities, for example in East Timor until its independence in 2001. These forces are provided by member states of the UN, and participation in peace keeping operations in optional; at this point only 2 nations, Canada and Portugal, have participated in all peacekeeping operations. The UN does not maintain any independent military. All UN peacekeeping operations must be approved by the Security Council. The founders of the UN had envisaged that the UN would act to prevent conflicts between nations and make future wars impossible. Those hopes have not been fully realized. During the Cold War (from about 1945 until 1991), the division of the world into hostile camps made peacekeeping agreement extremely difficult. Following the end of the Cold War, there were renewed calls for the UN to become the agency for achieving world peace, as several dozen military conflicts continue to rage around the globe. But the break-up of the Soviet Union also left the U. S. in a unique position of global dominance, creating a variety of new challenges for the UN.

The UN Peace-Keeping Forces (called the Blue Helmets) received the 1988 Nobel Prize for Peace. In 2001, the UN and Secretary General Kofi Annanwon the Nobel Peace Prize “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world the UN maintains a series of United Nations Medals awarded to military service members who enforce UN accords. The first such decoration issued was the United Nations Service Medal, awarded to UN forces who participated in the Korean War The NATO Medal is designed on a similar concept and both are considered international decorations instead of military decorations.

Peacekeeping assessments

A large share of UN expenditures addresses the core UN mission of peace and security. The peacekeeping budget for the 2005 – 2006 fiscal year is approximately $5 billion (compared to approximately $1.5 billion for the UN core budget over the same period), with some 70,000 troops deployed in 17 missions around the world. UN peace operations are funded by assessments, using a formula derived from the regular funding scale, but including a weighted surcharge for the five permanent Security Council members, who must approve all peacekeeping operations. This surcharge serves to offset discounted peacekeeping assessment rates for less developed countries. In December 2000, the UN revised the assessment rate scale for the regular budget and for peacekeeping. The peacekeeping scale is designed to be revised every six months and was projected to be near 27% in 2003. The US intends to pay peacekeeping assessments at these lower rates and has sought legislation for the US congress to allow payment at these rates to make payments towards arrears.

Success in security issues

The Human Security Report 2005 produced by the Human Security Centre at the University of British Columbia with support from several governments and foundations, documented a dramatic, but largely unrecognized, decline in the number of wars, genocides and human rights abuses since the end of the Cold War. Statistics include: a 40% drop in violent conflict; an 80% drop in the most deadly conflicts; and an 80% drop in genocide and politicide. The report argued that international activism – mostly spearheaded by the UN – has been the main cause of the post-Cold War decline in armed conflict, though the report indicated the evidence for this contention is mostly circumstantial.

In the area of Peacekeeping, successes include: The US Government Accountability Office concluded that UN Peacekeeping is eight times less expensive than funding a US force. A 2005 RAND Corp study found the UN to be successful in two out of three peacekeeping efforts. It also compared UN nation-building efforts to those of the US, and found that of eight UN cases, seven are at peace, whereas of eight US cases, four are at peace.

Failures in security issues

In many cases UN members have shown reluctance to achieve or enforce Security Council resolutions. Iraq is said to have broken 17 Security Council resolutions dating back to June 28, 1991 as well as trying to bypass the UN economic sanctions For nearly a decade, Israel delayed implementing resolutions calling for the dismantling of Jewish communities in “occupied territories”. Such failures stem from the UN’s intergovernmental nature – in many respects it is an association of 192 member states who must reach consensus, not an independent organization. Even when actions are mandated by the 15-member Security Council, the Secretariat is rarely given the full resources needed to carry out the mandates.

Other serious security failures include: Failure to prevent the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which resulted in the killings of nearly a million people, due to the refusal of Security Council members to approve any military action. Failure by MONUC (UNSC Resolution 1291) to effectively intervene during the Second Congo War, which claimed nearly five million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 1998-2002, and in carrying out and distributing humanitarian aid. Failure to intervene in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre: despite the fact that the UN designated Srebrenica a “safe haven” for refugees and assigned 600 Dutch peacekeepers to protect it, the peacekeeping force was not authorised to use force. Failure to successfully deliver food to starving people in Somalia; the food was instead usually seized by local warlords. A US/UN attempt to apprehend the warlords seizing these shipments resulted in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. Failure to implement the provisions of UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701 calling for disarmament of Lebanese paramilitary groups such as Fatah and Hezbollah. Allegations of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers during UN peacekeeping missions in Congo Haiti Liberia, and Sudan.

Role of United Nations in Maintaining World Peace

Peace and Security

The 1945 UN Charter envisaged a system of regulation that would ensure “the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources”. The advent of nuclear weapons came only weeks after the signing of the Charter and provided immediate impetus to concepts of arms limitation and disarmament. In fact, the first resolution of the first meeting of the General Assembly (24 January 1946) was entitled “The Establishment of a Commission to Deal with the Problems Raised by the Discovery of Atomic Energy” and called upon the commission to make specific proposals for “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction. The UN has established several forums to address multilateral disarmament issues. The principal ones are the First Committee of the General Assembly, the UN Disarmament Commission, and the Conference on Disarmament. Items on the agenda include consideration of the possible merits of a nuclear test ban, outer-space arms control, efforts to ban chemical weapons and land mines, nuclear and conventional disarmament, nuclear-weapon-free zones, reduction of military budgets, and measures to strengthen international security.

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