CBC’s The Sunday Edition host, Michael Enright, gave an opening essay on the Feb. 13 program that lamented the failure of the United Nations to provide meaningful support to the people of Egypt in their courageous battle to end the tyranny under which they have lived for 30 years.
In the essay titled, “The United Nations of Nowhere,” he said Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon offered nothing more than platitudes, token phrases to the people of Egypt.
Enright then went on to note, “When we say the words ‘United Nations,’ we automatically think of four things — the Security Council, the Secretary General, the General Assembly and peacekeeping.
“It is of course a lot more.
“The various agencies of the UN, organizations like UNICEF and UNRRA have performed miracles on the ground in the forsaken places of the developing world.”
The essay quoted extensively from Madame Justice Rosalie Abella of the Supreme Court of Canada. She happened to give a recent speech in Toronto, attended by Enright, in which she, too, bemoaned the failings of the UN in the realm of human rights.
The UN’s non-performance in Egypt would be less surprising to Enright were he to look closer to home, in Haiti. There, the UN Security Council has not only failed to protect the Haitian people, it is an agent of their continued suffering. Its military presence in the country, known by its French acronym as MINUSTAH, is a parasitic and wasteful endeavour.
As was widely discussed at the time of the anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake, the UN’s agencies are among those that have failed to deliver aid and reconstruction in the quantities and speed of action required. In the words of former Governor General Michaelle Jean, “As time passes, what began as a natural disaster is becoming a disgraceful reflection on the international community.” (Open letter co-authored with Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, Jan. 11, 2011).
Further sullying its record in Haiti, the Security Council was an active player in the disgraceful electoral exercise of Nov. 28, 2010 that was imposed, and financed to the tune of $30 million, from abroad. Only 22 per cent of Haitians could bring themselves to vote in an election where the only candidates allowed to run were those beholden to local and foreign capitalist interests. The Fanmi Lavalas party of exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was one of the parties excluded from participation.
A second round of this exercise — what Attorney Bill Quigley, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights in the U.S., has termed a “puppet show” — will now proceed on March 20, due almost entirely to the pressure, cajoling and threats of the big powers in Haiti, including the Security Council and other spokespeople for the UN.
In a recent interview on Democracy Now, Quigley compared the choices in the March 20 runoff to an election in the U.S. where the only choices would be the Tea Party or the Republican Party.
This sad performance by the big powers in Haiti is a continuation of a sad history. In Feb. 2004, Haiti’s elected government was overthrown by force and violence. The countries that sent soldiers to assist in that overthrow — the United States, Canada and France — received an after-the-fact blessing from the UN Security Council in the form of Resolution 1529.
Two months later, the Security Council Resolution 1542 established the permanent police and military occupation force known as MINUSTAH.
The 2004 coup d’etat was preceded by a murderous embargo of aid and loans by the U.S., Canada and Europe. One of the consequences of that embargo was that Haitian government programs to install potable water delivery were blocked in the very region where the cholera epidemic broke out in 2010.
In an astonishing interview in late December, 2010, the representative to Haiti of the Organization of American States decried the wasteful expenditure of international resources exemplified by MINUSTAH. “Haiti is not an international threat,” said Ricardo Seitenfus, a Brazilian. “There is no civil war.”
“If there is proof of the failure of international aid,” he said, “it is Haiti.” For his words, the diplomat was immediately fired.
All of this should be of grave concern to Canadians. Our government helped finance the Nov. 28, 2010 “puppet show.” Together with its U.S. partner, it then urged that the show go on.
When the election debacle was debated in the House of Commons on Dec. 13, not a single member from any party questioned the legality or morality of proceeding to a second round vote. This is in sharp contrast to declarations of the Congressional Black Caucus and other members of the U.S. Congress who have repeatedly called for the electoral process of Nov. 28 to be scrapped and begun anew under fair and democratic procedures.
Surely the current experience in Egypt and across north Africa shows that only an informed and mobilized citizenry can guarantee the protection and advancement of human and social rights.
To the extent that the United Nations’ General Assembly, Charter, resolutions and agencies uphold universal human values, they should be vigorously defended.
But the 15 member Security Council, the right of veto of its five permanent members, and its powers of military intervention are a threat to peace and social justice in the world. There is nothing to lament in those failings; they are the very nature of the beast.
Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network and one of the editors of its website. He resides in Vancouver.