It is clear to anyone who is not from another planet that the United Nations has now been eclipsed and completely sidelined in its global role by the United States. That dominant, predatory, super power has pretty much told the UN what it can and cannot do. When to stop talking and get out of the way so that the US can wage war. What limited humanitarian role it can play in a war ravaged nation. When to impose sanctions, how severely to impose them against innocent children, women and men, and when to lift them. The US whim is the UN’s command.
It is fairly easy for Bush and his pre-emptive posse to make the UN seem irrelevant and ineffectual. It really doesn’t take a lot of doing to kick the UN into a corner and keep it there. Why? Because the UN has directly contributed to its own near demise. It has sunk to a new low in world opinion. It has only itself to blame. The UN has abandoned its own mission, revoked its own Charter and pooh poohed its own Preamble.
The United Nations clearly has to find ways to remain relevant in the face of a direct onslaught on its credibility, legitimacy (a favorite word of the current Secretary General, Kofi Annan) and capacity to promote discussion and negotiation. In order to remain relevant, the UN will have to find new, proactive and creative ways to acknowledge the popular will of the polity of peace-loving, anti-violence, pro-social justice citizens in a global world. It is answerable not merely to the heads of member states and their representatives, but to the dynamic collective will of transnational polities who bring their concerns directly to the UN. The Preamble of the UN Charter states in part that it exists to advance…”.…..the equal rights of men and women, and of nations large and small…..”
A recent case in point, in which the UN failed to acknowledge and act upon the collective will is the dramatic example of a global petition drive to avert war in Iraq. A million plus petitions were generated within a few short weeks of frenzied activity by various anti-war groups acting in tandem against a backdrop of repeated US refusals to allow inspections to continue, and a massive deployment of troops and firepower to Iraq.
These million-plus petitions were brought directly to the attention of the UN. The petitions were served up to the members of the UN Security Council. What did the UN do? The UN ignored the petitions. It failed to mention them in its press releases. Already, the UN Secretary General had failed to deplore the US-UK withdrawal from Security Council negotiations. If there is one thing that the UN exists to promote, it is negotiation. Now, in the case of the petitions, The UN Secretary General made absolutely no public mention of them. In short, the petitions were made invisible by the UN. The UN ignored the collective will and direct democratic mobilization of antiwar opinion of people from all over the world. It gave a bureaucratic, uncreative, non-response by completely ignoring 12 boxes of petitions that were presented to the 15 members of the UN Security Council (the 5 permanent Big Five members and the 10 others).
We the People expect the UN to carry out its Charter. We expect the UN to find ways not to be servile to US interests. Clearly, reform of the UN so that it will implement its own Charter will have to come from outside.
A cumbersome, status-conscious, self-protective bureaucracy jealously safeguarding its salaries and perquisites, cannot be expected to undertake substantive reform of itself, by its own entrenched delegates and staff.
The UN has the choice to enact its Charter and become relevant. Or else, let it stay abjectly in the corner into which the US has kicked it. Some other organization will have to be created that represents the dynamic collective will of citizens who are not content to act only within their state borders and who want a responsive global entity to meet their demands for social justice for all the people of the world.
A text of an email interview with a staff member of www.moveon.org which orchestrated the petition drive online follows:
On Tue, 8 Apr 2003 09:40:44 -0700 (PDT) chithra karunakaran firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
April 08, 2003
Thanks so much for your call. I hope you can help me with some queries I have on the petitions. I do hope we can talk after your reply. If you would like to know my work, you are welcome to read my Focus on the UN and immigrant/diaspora stories at www.calicutnet.com I live in NYC and can be reached at (tel. provided) Thanks so very much for your time and effort.
Q. How did MoveOn arrive at this petition collection and dissemination strategy?
A. MoveOn knew that a critical vote was going to happen with the U.N. Security Council and they wanted to influence them as much as possible before the vote with an international petition, as well as attract press coverage. The meetings were organized to officially deliver the petition and have direct conversations with the mission representatives by a representative group of people.
Q. What specifically did moveon and other orgs (please name them) do to collect and disseminate the petitions?
A. MoveOn generated the petition and collected signatures by setting up the petition on-line, sending a message to its large membership, and encouraging members to forward it to associates. Win Without War and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) were involved and likely promoted it within their networks; they definitely helped with the distribution of the signed petitions. Each copy of the over-one-million-signature petition consisted of twelve boxes of paper and I coordinated the delivery by five trucks with an earlier press conference and 15 meetings that happened at the same time. The AFSC coordinated with MoveOn to do some international deliveries; I do not have further information on this.
Q. Do you have any data on who were the signers — which countries mainly, age, gender, etc etc. Is that data available for analysis, without violating confidentiality and privacy concerns of individual signers? (I was also a peace marcher, signer and I volunteered to be part of the delivery crew on March 10!)
A. I thought we had data on the countries where the signers are from, but I can’t find it electronically or otherwise at the moment. You will need to contact MoveOn to find out if they have this or any other data, but I very much doubt there is any information besides country because I don’t recall providing that data myself when I signed and they don’t normally ask for that.
Q. Who were the petitions submitted to? Which permanent mission and other agencies?
A. The petitions were submitted to the missions of the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council. Three of them – Mexico, China, and Syria – rejected the delivery due to administrative issues with dealing with 12 boxes of paper. The AFSC distributed them to the U.N. Security Council international offices and, I’m pretty sure, the White House and possibly other locations.
Q. What has been the reponse so far from the signature recipients (please be specific).
A. I can only speak about the immediate response. The U.S. and Britain politely and unhesitatingly accepted the deliveries and assisted with security issues. Germany welcomed it with open arms. Others rejected the entire delivery, but accepted a cover letter and tried to work with us. Spain was somewhat uncooperative, but polite and responsive. The others basically thought it was fine, though inconvenient. Besides the political considerations, many of these missions are very small and/or have security and time issues that made the delivery difficult for them.
Q. What became of the petitions?
A. The petitions that were rejected were discarded, unfortunately, due to logistical reasons. I am not aware of the disposition of the others. I am, however, very confident that the top personnel took notice of the action.
Q. What plans, if any does moveon have in terms of follow up?
A. I do not have this information. However, as the situation changed with the start of the attacks a week after the petition delivery, and the petition was for strengthening the inspections and preventing war, follow-up would need to be in an adjusted direction and not specifically as follow-up on the petitions.
Q. What specific help, if any, are you looking for in terms of followup on the petitions?
A. Same as #7 above.
Best of luck! Thank you so much for your interest in our great work! I certainly look forward to your other writing when I have a chance.