The dysfUNctional nations

By Andrew L. Urban 

The United Nations is dysfunctional and ineffective, many of its member states being oppressive, undemocratic regimes which have forfeited their sovereignty and should be declared illegitimate; they should have their voting rights revoked or suspended.

There is a long queue of detractors hurling insults and criticism at the UN but it would be negligent of not to join the queue when rogue states are trampling, shooting, torturing and raping their own citizens and the UN mouths platitudes – belatedly at that.

Our readers will know of the sorry history of the UN’s failure to resolve conflicts, halt genocide and keep the vulnerable safe in brutal states around the world. Our readers will also be aware that the UN is a cesspit of base agendas and self serving power plays; the organisation’s true charter has also been trampled and raped. The failures are many and systemic.

But what to do? Doing nothing – as the world is doing now – proves the adage that for evil to succeed it takes nothing more than for ‘good men to do nothing’.

It is evident that the UN is unable to heal itself for the same reasons that it is unable to carry out its intended roles – nor has it the capacity to take responsibility for the new roles a new world order presents.

The first six words of Article 1 of the UN charter [1] (the purposes of the UN) immediately reveal how deep the malaise is:

“To maintain international peace and security….”

All four paragraphs of Article 1 are declarations of failure, the last being a black joke:

“To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.”

The UN is a perfect demonstration of the truth of the saying that the path to hell is paved with good intentions. We can’t blame the UN Charter – but we can blame the organisation’s ability to adhere to it.

For example, Article 6 states: “A Member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the Organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.”

If this Article had been effectively enforced, the UN would not have had Libya as a member state sitting on the UN’s 47 member Human Rights Council – from which it was finally suspended on March 1, 2011, for committing “gross and systematic violations of human rights”. It was the first time any member had been suspended from the council.

Yet the Council’s members include the following countries whose human rights record is universally deplored, including China (yes, China, whose embrace of Tibet is crushing it), Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain.

On Pakistan, for instance, THE 2011 Human Rights Watch report states:

“Violence and mistreatment of women and girls, including rape, domestic violence, and forced marriage, remain serious problems. The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, unanimously passed by the National Assembly in August 2009, lapsed after the Senate failed to pass it within three months as required under Pakistan’s constitution.

On November 7, 2010, Aasia Bibi, a Christian from Punjab province, became the first woman in the country’s history to be sentenced to death for blasphemy. The sentence was greeted with international and domestic condemnation amid renewed calls by rights groups for repeal of Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy laws.” [2]

Hardly exemplary behaviour by a member of the UNHRC.

Saudi Arabia likewise; Human Rights Watch says:

“King Abdullah should immediately order the release of Manal al-Sharif, who was arrested on the morning of May 22, 2011, after she defied the kingdom’s de facto ban on driving by women.”


“May 3, 2011: The Saudi interior minister should immediately release Fadhil Makki al-Manasif, a human rights activist arrested on May 1, 2011, in ‘Awwamiyya in the Eastern Province for taking part in peaceful demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said today. Al-Manasif’s arrest follows amendments to the Press and Publications Law on April 29 that further restrict the right to free speech in Saudi Arabia, and days after the authorities arrested at least 20 peaceful protesters, including two bloggers.”

The litany of human rights abuses by several members of the Council is a savage indictment of the UN itself.

The spectacular irony is that the General Assembly established the UNHRC by adopting a resolution (A/RES/60/251) on March, 15, 2006, in order to replace the previous body, the OHCHR, which had been heavily criticised for allowing countries with poor human rights records to be members.

But this is only one failure of the UN, albeit a significant one and one that constantly erodes its moral authority. Given the UN’s moral authority is the primary source of its perceived legitimacy, this is a disaster. It means that its resolutions can be – and regularly are – ignored by rogue states. It also means that any military intervention it may take lacks the moral authority that can only be drawn from an organisation that is morally unassailable.

One of the fundamental problems of the UN is the naïve (if well meaning) format of its charter, which assumes a world of likewise well meaning sovereign states coming together in genuine partnership for peace. It fails to address reality; a reality in which dictators and despots are given membership privileges alongside democratic states. Article 5  of the charter talks about the suspension of rights and privileges for member states “against which preventive or enforcement action has been taken by the Security Council” and Article 6 warns that a member “which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled”.

No member has ever been expelled. No member has ever been suspended from the General Assembly. Hasn’t the world been a good boy then.

No, it hasn’t. A number of member states are very bad global citizens; they are undemocratic, oppressive, abusive of human rights, brutal to their people with severe limits on personal and press freedoms. These are states where ruling power is not contested at free and fair elections, where either dynastic family rule is the norm (poor man’s version of monarchy) or the barrel of a gun – usually both. These states are characterised by a small but powerful elite controlling the army and security forces as well as the information systems and media. These states are run on fear.

These states have forfeited their sovereignty and should be declared illegitimate; they should have their voting rights revoked or at least suspended with limited observer status. They may engage with the other members unofficially but have no vote. Full membership of the UN should be a stamp of legitimacy. 

The fact that UN resolutions are ignored with impunity is self evident. The fact that the UN is useless in many an international crisis is also self evident. The UN ignored its charter obligations many times. Remember Kosovo, says Christopher Hitchens.

“We lose something important if we forget Kosovo and the harrowing events that finally led to the self-determination of its nearly 2 million inhabitants. Long deprived of even vestigial national and human rights, then forced at gunpoint onto deportation trains and threatened with the believable threat of mass murder, these people were belatedly rescued by an intervention that said, fairly simply, there is a limit beyond which law cannot be further broken and conscience further outraged. There is no oil in Kosovo. The state interests of Israel were not involved. There were no votes to be gained; rather to the contrary, in fact. A large proportion of the victim population was and is Muslim. The least embarrassing way of phrasing this is to say that American and European honor was rather hastily saved, and a horrible threat to the peace of the region removed. Many brave and principled Serbs have good reason to recognize that a menace and an insult to their country, too, was abolished in the process.

“That was then. Now it seems incautious to speculate how far a rogue regime can go, and still feel itself immune from reprisal or consequence. The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have sapped and eroded our confidence. The dictators in Iran and North Korea sense this, and probe, and often find only mush. And as in the case of Kosovo then and now, Russia and China can be counted on to provide the protection and the excuses.” [3]

According to an entry in Wikipedia [4] John J. Mearsheimer [5] claimed that “since 1982, the US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members.” Since candidates for the Security Council are proposed by regional blocs, the Arab League and its allies are usually included but Israel, which joined the UN in 1949, has never been elected to the Security Council. The Council has repeatedly condemned the Jewish State. Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Jeane Kirkpatrick declared that what takes place in the Security Council “more closely resembles a mugging than either a political debate or an effort at problem-solving.”

That veto power available to each of the five permanent members of the Security Council – US, UK, France, China, Russia – is often rightly criticised. But primary criticism should be aimed at the inclusion of Russia and China, two states that can be relied on to ignore international law when it suits them.

In a nutshell, the UN has become a part of the world’s problems, not a provider of  solutions.

“In 2004, former ambassador to the UN Dore Gold published a book called Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos. The book criticized what it called the organization’s moral relativism in the face of (and occasional support of) genocide and terrorism that occurred between the moral clarity of its founding period and the present day. While the UN during its founding period was limited to those nations that declared war on at least one of the Axis powers of World War II, and thus were capable of taking a stand against evil, the modern United Nations has, according to Gold, become diluted to the point where only 75 of the 184 member states during the time of the book’s publication “were free democracies, according to Freedom House.” He further claimed that this had the effect of tipping the scales of the UN so that the organization as a whole was more amenable to the requirements of dictatorships.” [4]

This is feeds my argument in favour of disenfranchising the undemocratic member nations. Such a measure would be part of a package of directives with the overall objective to pressure those states into urgent reforms in human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the media as the precursors towards democracy. Progress toward these objectives would be measured and states that do not respect the basic human rights of their people would be offered exit plans – preferably without military intervention. But the UN must be capable and willing to enforce minimum standards of human rights around the world. Otherwise, what is the point of it?


[1] UN Charter Chapter 1:

[2] Human Rights Watch World Report Pakistan 2011

[3] Christopher Hitchens, July 26, 2010


[5] John J. Mearsheimer PhD is an American professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. He is an international relations theorist.

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