For almost two weeks in mid-November, the world watched on as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict erupted into violence. Bearing a sickeningly familiar resemblance to the scenes of 2008, international media was filled with stories of civilian deaths and inhumane suffering on both sides of ‘the Middle East’s Berlin wall’.
World leaders from Barack Obama to Mohamed Morsi sought to condemn the attacks, calling for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. At the time of writing it would appear that, largely due to the efforts of the aforementioned President of Egypt, the newly agreed ceasefire is holding.
Yet, in the aftermath of the bloodshed in Gaza, the question has arisen as to whether one organisation has become ineffective.
The UN is no stranger to criticism. A recent internal report into its response to the Sri Lankan civil war condemned the role played by officials in failing to prevent the deaths of approximately 30,000 civilians.
The report, published on 14th November, concluded that weak diplomacy and inexperience had led to significant failures by the organisation in permitting human rights violations to take place throughout the final years of conflict on the Southern-Asian island.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon responded to the report by stating that the organisation had “failed in its basic responsibilities” to the Sri Lankan people. This, more than a decade after the former Secretary General, Kofi Annan, proclaimed that the mistakes made during the 1994 Rwandan genocide would “never” be repeated.
However, as the UN continues to analyse its past failures there is a fear that history is repeating itself. Continuing violence in Syria has seen the death toll in the nation’s civil war rise to an estimated 40,000, with all attempts to negotiate a peaceful resolution having thus far been unsuccessful.
Similarly, despite the UN’s recognition of the Federal Government of Somalia, much of the population remains under the control of the extremist militant group al-shabaab which continues to commit war crimes.
There is no doubt, as the presence of Ban Ki-moon in Gaza showed, that the UN is desperate to be seen as enforcing international moral authority. But this does not satisfy the concern that its inability to instigate enduring diplomatic strategies is allowing for the widespread abuse of International Law.
There is therefore a belief that, despite its commitment to provide more than just vocal support, the UN is failing to learn from its mistakes. There is a belief that, once again, the UN is acting as a spectator.
The role of the UN should not be oversimplified. It is, by nature, an organisation of almost inconceivable complexity with ambition the like of which no other body on earth can boast. Its fundamental objective in times of conflict however is simple; to protect the basic human rights of citizens regardless of their race, religion or nationality.
Whilst this is no mean feat, for many the guardian angel of the world’s most vulnerable inhabitants is failing to provide reassurances. Although there is hope that the current ceasefire between Israel and Palestine will continue to hold, it is clear that a long term, peaceful resolution is required.
With such problems in the Middle East and continuing violence on other parts of the globe, a strong UN is as needed now as it has ever been. If it wishes to meet its mandate, the UN will have to start doing more than just talking.
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