Fisking Kofi Annan

When looking for an article to fisk, I used to go straight to sites like Indymedia, and pick on the fringe. But now that many more in the left are taking similar stances to the fringe left, it's much easier to find fiskable material. So you can imagine how big the smile was on my face when I saw that Kofi Annan had an opinion piece in today's Australian:
EARLY this morning I presented my report In Larger Freedom to the UN General Assembly. For my audience in New York, yesterday was also the first day of spring and I hope this report will mark a new beginning for the international system and for the UN.
So this piece is making it to The Australian just a little out of date. You could say it's late, but it's nowhere near as late as the UN's decision to financial compensate the victims of the 1990 Gulf War - thirteen years after the creation of the Commission whose role it was to work out who was owed what.
Some will find that a surprising and pretentious statement from an organisation they see as part of an obsolete world order, which anyway had little to do with freedom.
There's a reason for that - where was the UN when Bush was bringing freedom to Afghanistan and Iraq? Where were they when government sponsored Sudanese militias were putting ends to all freedoms of so many in the Darfur region? And where are the UN now that Lebanon is crying out for freedom? Hmm... let me see: The UN wanted Israel out of Lebanon, but when it comes to the terrorist-supporting Syria? Passing resolutions, which like the UN, will be ignored.
Yet the words "in larger freedom" are taken from the preamble to the UN Charter - whose opening words, "We the peoples", I used as the title for my millennium report five years ago.
Yet strangely, Annan does nothing to support freedom in Iraq, although he does allow the Oil For Food scandal to encourage corruption and affect the judgement of the Security Council, and then appoints an insider - against his own regulations - to investigate.
In both cases, I wanted to remind the governments of the world, who put me in my job and to whom I am accountable, that they are in the UN to represent not themselves but their people, who expect them to work together for the aims set out in the charter.
Actually, the UN Security Council recommends someone to the UN General Assembly, who then appoints the Secretary-General - Annan would know this if he'd read that very charter he invokes.
These aims can be summarised as peace, human rights, justice and development - but in 1945 that last word was not yet as fashionable as it is today. The actual words of the charter are "to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom".
This requires a four-point attack:
- Peace? Considering the failure of UN peacekeepers around the globe, I don't think we really need to go into this.
- Human rights? Is that why the UN elected Libya to head its human rights commission in 2003? Is that why Cuba, China and Zimbabwe have enough power between them to decide what human rights cases are and aren't heard, despite their horrid human rights record?
- Justice? By their stance on human rights, you can see there's very little justice in the UN.
- Development? By their stance on Iraq, you can see they obviously favour the backwards nature of dictatorship over democracy. Maybe that's why they reward dictators with prominent positions.
By that magnificent phrase our founders clearly implied that development is possible only in conditions of freedom and that people can benefit from political freedom only when they have at least a fair chance of reaching decent living standards. But "larger freedom" can be taken as embracing the other aims, too.
Once again, the example of Iraq shows that the UN is all talk and no action. Your article is titled "My strategy for a more effective UN" - yet you're still going on about the same old half-diplomacy, half-whinge that has got the UN virtually nowhere in 60 years. Why do you think every nation that has a resolution passed against it just ignores it straight off the bat?
You can be truly free only if you are secure from war and violence, and if your fundamental rights and dignity are upheld by law. Human rights, development and security are mutually interdependent, and taken together they add up to larger freedom.
Once again, Iraq... the fact that I can shoot down Kofi's arguments with one word seriously shows a lack of depth to his drivel.
They also form the three main planks of a UN platform that can definitely have global appeal today - simple, readily understandable aims that clearly matter to ordinary people, whether they are citizens of London or New York fearing another terrorist attack, or shantytown dwellers or villagers in Latin America and Africa, where hunger, disease, desertification and civil conflicts seem the more immediate threats.
I think I've covered human rights and the UN enough - as for security, I wonder how secure the people of Morocco/Western Sahara who saw the UN come in to establish peace and security felt - it only took 7 years to get to the point of peace being likely. But what I really wonder is why Kofi doesn't feel the need to mention oppressive dictatorships, or even just plain old dictatorships. Is it quite possibly that since the UN isn't actually elected, isn't accountable and makes their own rules - we can lump them in with the dictators? It might be a stretch, but it's nowhere near as stretched as the gymnast manoeuvre Kofi has to pull to make us believe something's actually going to change at the UN.
Of course, the UN often falls short of these noble aspirations, since it reflects the realities of world politics, even while seeking to transcend them. But political freedom has been making its way in the world, as first the people of Asia and Africa won their freedom from colonialism, then more and more people shook off dictatorship, asserting their right to choose their own rulers.
Wow, a mention of people freed from dictatorship, but no credit to the US. In fact, not even a mention of the mere fact that the UN's biggest derider, and the world's biggest power, has seen their major foreign policy help spark a chain reaction of democratic events around the Middle East. But I digress. Anyway, you can already see that Kofi's about to take credit for Afghanistan and Iraq, and not even mention America - but not before this laughable detour:
Twenty years ago it was almost unthinkable for the UN to take sides between democracy and dictatorship or seek to intervene in the internal affairs of its members. Today, by contrast, almost all UN members accept democratisation as something desirable, at least in theory, and the UN does more than any other single organisation to promote and strengthen democratic institutions and practices around the world.
Almost all UN members accept democratisation? Not only should all of them accept it, and not just in theory, but Annan's just plain wrong. According to Freedom House, 70 of the UN's 191 nations - that's about 37% - are not electoral democracies (2002 figures). And over 55%, or 106 of the 191, don't respect basic political rights. As for the rest of Annan's "o-mi-gawd-i-luv-the-UN" talk, can you name three democratic institutions or practice seriously strengthened by the UN? I can't. But Annan can:
In the past year alone it has organised or helped organise elections in more than 20 countries - often at decisive moments in their history, as in Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq and Burundi. The UN's member states can agree, if they so decide, to increase that assistance and to make the international machinery for defending human rights more effective and credible. In my report I have proposed to them a way to put human rights on a par with security and development in the renewed UN.
Annan is waltzing in after the hard work has been done. Yes, the UN established the Iraqi Electoral Commission, but they had 24 years to push for democracy under Saddam - but they didn't. In Palestine, only two elections have ever been held - one of which resulted in the previous dictator staying on for years past his term. The UN had almost 60 years to push for democracy in Palestine - but they didn't. In Burundi, the elections due for this month have been postponed indefinitely - despite UN involvement. And in Afghanistan, many resolutions were passed against the Taliban - but how many involved bringing democracy to Afghanistan pre-the US-led Coalition's regime change? Hint: If you make a fist out of your right hand, and hold it up, count how many fingers you're holding up. And if these are the four countries Kofi chooses to hold up as examples, then how bad must the worst cases be?
Sixty years of peace and economic growth in the industrial world have also given the human race today, for the first time, the economic and technical power to overcome poverty and its attendant ills. And, thanks in large part to a series of UN conferences, culminating in the summits at Monterrey and Johannesburg in 2002, there is also very broad agreement on what needs to be done. The UN's Millennium Development Goals, with their daring promise to halve extreme poverty by 2015, have become a kind of manifesto for newly enfranchised poor people throughout the world.
We'll hold you to that "daring promise", Kofi. More than half the population in the developing world - who strangely appear to be in a lot of those non-democratic countries that the UN claim don't exist - are in poverty. I'd like to see you get them out of there, Kofi, given your horrid record on clamping down on dictators.
There is no longer any excuse for leaving well over a billion of our fellow human beings in abject misery. All that is needed is some clear decisions by the governments of rich as well as poor countries.
But it's ok to leave people in abject misery if it's a dictatorship, like Iraq or Afghanistan? It's these dictatorships that cause huge drops in income.
Five years ago, peace and security seemed more within our reach than development. Terrorist attacks and bitter disputes over Iraq have since made that much more doubtful, and we continue to face vicious conflicts in several parts of Africa. But crisis can breed opportunity. The existence of common threats makes nations more aware of the need for collective responses.
The UN made a few collective responses - they collectively responded to Israel with even more resolutions!
Decisions can, and should, be taken to strengthen our common defence and action against terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, organised crime, sudden world epidemics, climate change, recurrent state collapse, civil war and genocide.
Of course though, there was no genocide in Sudan. And the UN can't define terrorism, so they can't really condemn it. But trust me, they want to punish suicide bombers after they've already killed themselves (sentence them to posthumous, optional community service for Hamas's social programs?). By downplaying these horrendous crimes, the UN doesn't have to work quite as hard to stop them.
The UN is a forum where sovereign states can work out common strategies for tackling global problems and an instrument for putting those strategies into effect. But it can be a much more effective instrument if its governing body, the General Assembly, is better organised and gives clearer directives to us in the secretariat, with the flexibility to carry them out, and holds us clearly accountable for how we do it.
This is a section where Kofi could've written any old garbage, because the UN could do very little to be even less effective.
The Security Council, for its part, needs to be more broadly representative, but also more able and willing to take action when action is needed.
Read: The Security Council needs to include less members of the Coalition Of The Willing, who appear to have a monopoly on all the good global works at the moment. This way we can take more action against Israel.
I have proposed decisions in all these areas and challenge world leaders to respond with action at the UN summit in September. By then, in the northern hemisphere, autumn will be approaching. But if world leaders rise to their responsibilities, the rebirth and renewal of the UN will be just beginning - and, with them, renewed hope for a freer, fairer and safer world.
"Proposed". "Challenge". "If". These are the words which Kofi would like you to believe combine into a phrase like "concrete meaningful action". But let's look at it seriously: it'll be months before they get anything even on the table, and then even more months before it gets debated. Then it'll be years by the time it gets passed, and you'll need to make even more changes to make the UN effective again. It's a downward spiral, and Kofi Annan is taking the slow lane in an effort to keep his organisation appearing relevant in the meantime.

In the end, all this amounts to is another "we'll sit down and have a talk about it" situation. The UN needs to actually act on something, instead of talking about it for three years then passing a pointless resolution. Then we just need to work on accountability, the democratic process of the UN, and removing the seemingly ingrained anti-Semitic nature of the Security Council. Only then will the UN be even a half-legitimate organisation in my eyes.

(Cross-posted to The House Of Wheels.)

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