Thursday, October 22, 2009

U.N. Injustice

Claudia Rosett, 10.22.09, 12:01 AM ET

Founded "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war," today's United Nations is instead laying the groundwork for war galore. In the name of "justice," the U.N. handicaps democracies trying to defend themselves against tyrants and terrorists. That's the bottom line of the so-called Goldstone report, the 575-page product of the U.N.'s "fact-finding mission" on the war this past winter between Gaza and Israel.

Led by former South African judge Richard Goldstone, this U.N. mission set out to explore, as Goldstone summed it up, "All violations of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law that might have been committed at any time in the context of military operations that were conducted in Gaza from 27 December 2008 - 18 January 2009 whether before during or after."

From this exercise Goldstone emerged to accuse Israel of "reprisals" and "collective punishments" and "war crimes." He also criticized "armed groups" in Gaza (where the major "armed group"--terrorist Hamas--runs the enclave). But in the U.N. universe, that is a nod to the appearance of impartiality, of no real relevance to action. Last week the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted Goldstone's report, with a resolution slamming Israel and omitting any mention of Hamas. Goldstone duly expressed his "sadness" over this predictable action by the same Geneva-based Human Rights Council that earlier this year hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a star speaker at its anti-Israel Durban Review conference.

In a process weirdly akin to the enrichment of uranium into weapons grade material, the Human Rights Council's anti-Israel distillation of Goldstone's anti-Israel report is now wending its way toward debates at U.N. headquarters in New York. This process is fraught with threats that Israelis will face prosecution by the International Criminal Court, if Israel does not preempt that possibility by conducting its own public investigations and prosecutions as prescribed by Goldstone's mission.

Hamas has welcomed all this. The Israeli government has rejected it, and the U.S. government--from its new seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, has voted against it. Plenty has been written already on the specifics of the Goldstone mission, report and ensuing resolution.

Troubling though each step of this has been, there's a deeper problem underlying this entire scene. That problem is the idea that the U.N. is in any way equipped to dispense "justice." It is not.

Unless the U.N. secretly reports to the divine (and its record of corrupt and self-serving abuses, from Oil-for-Food to current complicity in Congo atrocities strongly suggests it does not), the only over-arching authority operating here is the U.N. itself. The U.N. is not a system of justice; it more closely resembles an extremely well-funded and plushly appointed kangaroo court.

The U.N.'s 192-state membership is stacked with manipulative despotic governments, ringed with immunities, and has been engaged for decades now in the process of turning the democratic state of Israel into a pariah. Israel, as we all know, has been condemned over the years more often than any other U.N. member state. Israel is unwelcome to serve among the 10 rotating members of a U.N. Security Council, which in recent years has seated such tyrannies as Syria and Libya.

Nonetheless, this entire exercise in crucifying Israel is taking place in the name of "justice." Never mind that Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005 in hope of peace, and was rewarded with the takeover of Gaza by the terrorist group, Hamas--dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Having suffered thousands of terrorist rocket and mortar attacks launched out of Gaza, Israel finally fought a brief war to defend itself.

The U.N. responded by dispatching Goldstone, who at lightning speed (by U.N. standards) produced a report stuffed with hundreds of mentions of justice, law and accountability. In a statement on Sept. 29 to the Human Rights Council, presenting his final report, he said "it is accountability above all that is called for in the aftermath of the regrettable violence that has caused so much misery for so many."

But to whom is Goldstone himself accountable? He reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which in turn reports to the U.N. General Assembly. Which in turn reports to ... itself. And what is that General Assembly? It is a conclave dominated by the 130-member G-77, chaired this year by Sudan, which overlaps with the Organization of the Islamic Conference. This is the same General Assembly, which, in its own version of global "justice," gave more than equal time on its main stage last month not only to representatives of free nations, but to Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi, Iran's Ahmadinejad and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

It can happen from time to time that the U.N. does dispense justice--if only through the accidents of Brownian motion. But in this system, as a general rule, the advantage goes to those least wedded to law and most willing to wallow in impunity. Brazen rule-breaking trumps justice.

Why? Because states built around decent frameworks of law have internal drivers to hold them to account. By contrast, states piloted by despots, tyrannical dynasties or thug juntas have no such internal checks and balances.

Nor are U.N. "inquiries" and "fact-finding missions" required to conform to any particular over-arching, impartial and accountable standard of justice. U.N. missions by and large make up their own rules as they go along, subject to mandates, which member states have themselves devised to suit their own aims.

Thus do we see the Goldstone mission completed with blinding speed, mandated, launched, signed, sealed and adopted within eight months of the conflict it purports to have explored. Meanwhile, the U.N. investigation launched in 2005 into Syria's role in political assassinations in Lebanon is now dragging into its fourth year, with no clear results yet.

U.N. missions also tend to be highly selective in focus--and not in the interest of justice. For Israel, the grave menace right now is the growing influence in the region of Iran, which has threatened to destroy Israel, and is clearly pursuing the makings and know-how for nuclear weapons. Iran has been training and arming not only Hamas, but other terrorist groups such as Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which has made a tradition of stockpiling forbidden munitions under the gaze of U.N. peacekeepers, and in 2006 launched a war against Israel by kidnapping two soldiers from Israeli territory.

In Goldstone's report, so devoted to "justice," Iran is mentioned only twice: once in a footnote on page 455, in a list of munitions "held by Palestinian armed groups," which includes the 220 millimeter Fadjr-3 rocket, described as "Iranian-designed" and "thought to be smuggled into Gaza." And in an annex on the last page, listing groups which replied to calls for submissions, there is one mention of the Iranian Islamic Human Rights Commission, based in Tehran.

The real force for civilized order in the world is not the fiction of U.N. global "justice" but the requirements of decency imposed at the margin by a global top cop, when one steps forward. That was the role played by the U.S. as the U.N.-deplored lone superpower. Now America is relinquishing that role. President Barack Obama, who has just proclaimed Oct. 24 "United Nations Day," likes to describe the U.N. as "indispensable, if imperfect." The U.N. is much worse than imperfect; it is misleading and dangerous. Far too much of what it does is not only dispensable, but damaging. What's indispensable--though largely missing from the current debate--is a public understanding that the U.N. system has plenty to do with licensing the interests of its most ruthless member states, and almost nothing to do with "justice."

Claudia Rosett, a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes a weekly column on foreign affairs for Forbes.

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