It is widely argued that the United Nations is needed for the promotion of international peace and security, as well as for the protection of human rights and the advancement of human development worldwide. But it is also widely held that the UN is unequal to its tasks, mainly because a few powerful states have a monopoly over its decisions and control the selection and functions of its secretary general and other officials. It is not, therefore, surprising that it is those very countries, led by the US, which oppose every attempt to improve the functions, procedures and powers of the UN and its various officials and agencies. Worldwide attention on these fault lines was focused by the appointment of the foreign minister of South Korea(which is a close ally of the US) as secretary general to succeed Kofi Annan, whose term of office ends in December.
Because this time it is the turn of the Asian states to provide candidates for the post of UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, the South Korean foreign minister (right), emerged as the winner. He was officially nominated for the job on October 10 by the security council. His candidacy was strongly backed by the US as well as by the four other members of the security council who have veto powers, Britain, China, France and Russia. The UN’s general assembly then formally appointed him secretary general on October 13; he will take office on January 1.
The theory is that the 15-member security council only nominates candidates, while the general assembly appoints the new secretary general. It was in 1947 that the general assembly asked the security council to nominate a single candidate, and since then the council has been providing with it the name of a single candidate, with not even the name of a second runner forwarded. Clearly then, it is the council, not the assembly, that decides who will become the chief administrator of the UN. More accurately, it is the five permanent members with veto powers who effectively nominate the single candidate, since they can (and in fact do) use their veto to block any nomination they object to. This means that only five of the some 190 member-states have a real hand in choosing and appointing the next secretary general.
The 62-year-old new secretary general had diplomatic postings in New Delhi and Washington, at the UN and in Vienna, before becoming South Korea’s foreign minister in 2004. He is said to have acquired diplomatic and management skills as a result of these experiences, which he will apply to his new post, his supporters claim. But according to commentators, Ban has acquired his new position by pleasing the US and China, both effective players in the security council and the general assembly, and obdurate opponents of the reforms that the UN urgently needs. He is therefore expected to kow-tow to them while pretending to be independent. One of the fields in which he is expected to cooperate with them – and indeed with the other three permanent members of the security council – is the appointment of the heads of the various UN agencies.
Ban, like his predecessor, will not, for instance, transform the human rights and peace agencies into effective bodies that will challenge states such as Israel and the US, which are known to commit war crimes and have in fact been widely condemned by international human-rights groups. Human Rights Watch, an American pressure-group based in New York, accusedIsrael of war crimes on October 3. In a 50-page report, which claimed to have analysed almost two dozen air and artillery attacks on civilian homes and vehicles, the group concluded thatIsrael’s killing of civilians “cannot be dismissed as mere accidents and cannot be blamed on wrongful Hizbullah practices.”
Amazingly, Mark Mallock Brown, the UN deputy secretary general, indirectly but unequivocally jumped to Israel’s defence. More seriously, he criticised Hizbullah though Human Rights Watch (an American group) had absolved it. In an interview with the Financial Times, Brown said that while Hizbullah’s campaign had claimed fewer lives, it had been “a thousand times more indiscriminate in its effort to target civilians”. His criticism of Hizbullah was again contradicted by Kenneth Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch. According to Roth, while it is wrong for “Hizbullah fighters to hide behind civilians. The image that Israel has promoted of such shielding as the cause of so high a civilian death toll is wrong.” Roth then added: “In the many cases of civilian death examined by Human Rights Watch, the location of Hizbullah troops and arms had nothing to do with the deaths because there was no Hizbullah around.”
For a UN deputy secretary general to take the course of defending Israel’s war crimes against defenceless Palestinian civilians, in contradiction to the report of a widely known human-rights group, is unacceptable. He should have been dismissed, but Kofi Annan, the departing secretary general, has chosen to ignore the entire issue. It is true that Islamic organisations such as Hizbullah are not kindly looked upon by human-rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, which has accused it of war crimes in the past. But its new report is an objective study of massive and well known war crimes which cannot validly be rejected or contradicted – least of all by a senior UN official.
But will the new secretary general want action, not only against Israel but also against his deputy? The most likely answer is no. Ban, who is expected to rely on the US and China, is not likely to defend the rights of Palestinians targeted by a US ally, and will probably, like his predecessor, ignore the issue. He is also very likely to ignore, for instance, the fate of Chinese Muslims who are being oppressed by China and denied their right to self-determination. It is not too pessimistic to expect that there will be very little improvement in the performance of the UN under Ban – especially as far as Muslim causes are concerned.