“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” – United Nations, Charter, 1945
What do you know about the United Nations (UN)? Over the years, the UN has been rocked by numerous scandals. The latest scandal to have gutted its image is that of a video clip which clearly shows a male and female in the back seat of a marked UN vehicle engaging in sexual intercourse. The incident purportedly took place in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Prior to this, UN peacekeepers went to Haiti after the 2010 devastating earthquake. The UN then coordinated efforts regarding relief and logistics operations in this impoverished Caribbean island. Many of the UN peacekeepers have exploited their position and have taken sexual advantage of a number of poor Haitian girls and women.
In December, a report claimed peacekeepers at the UN had ‘hundreds of babies with women in Haiti before abandoning the young mothers. The study into the UN mission in the disaster-hit Caribbean country said girls as young as eleven were left pregnant after being sexually abused. Some of the girls were traded for ‘a few coins’ in order to get food and would have sex with the peacekeepers so they could survive, the British academic-led study found.
After their children were born, the young mothers were left to a life of poverty, according to the New York Times. Will the United Nations take some form of financial responsibility for those children fathered by UN peacekeepers? History has shown that such children often become social outcasts and are stigmatized by the rest of the society.
Soldiers from as many as 12 different countries, including Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Canada and France, were found to have impregnated local women, the report stated. The UN also knew of charity workers offering refugees food in exchange for sexual favours for more than a decade, it has been revealed. An 84-page report on ‘food-for-sex’ practices in West African refugee camps was compiled and handed over to the UN in 2002, but was never published. Shame on the United Nations!
The report claimed that workers at more than 40 aid organizations, of which 15 are major international charities including Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières, sexually exploited young refugees.
The United Nations has been caught too often with its pants down. There needs to be some level of accountability and transparency surrounding that organization. It appears that the UN has entrenched patriarchal views built on an ethnocentric foundation which, over the years, has resulted in systemic ill-treatment and abuse of women, girls and individuals from cultures deemed inferior. It bares thought that such negative views must be revisited and far-reaching changes are urgently required.
What if the United Nations had a female Secretary General? Do you think having a female at the head of such an important international organization would make a difference in the behaviour of peacekeepers, some of whom are clearly sexual predators? The Secretary General is the daily administer or Chief Executive Officer of the UN.
History of the United Nations
The United Nations came into being in 1945, following the devastation of the Second World War, with one central mission: the maintenance of international peace and security. The UN does this by working to prevent conflict; helping parties in conflict make peace; peacekeeping; and creating the conditions to allow peace to hold and flourish. These activities often overlap and should reinforce one another, to be effective. The UN Security Council has the primary responsibility for international peace and security. The General Assembly and the Secretary-General play major, important, and complementary roles, along with other UN offices and bodies.
Functions of the United Nations
One of the purposes of the United Nations, as stated in its Charter, is “to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character.” The UN first did this in the aftermath of the Second World War on the devastated continent of Europe, which it helped to rebuild. The organization is now relied upon by the international community to coordinate humanitarian relief operations due to natural and man-made disasters in areas beyond the relief capacity of national authorities alone. The UN Charter, in its Preamble, set an objective: “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained”.
Since then, the development of, and respect for international law has been a key part of the work of the organization. This work is carried out in many ways – by courts, tribunals, multilateral treaties – and by the Security Council, which can approve peacekeeping missions, impose sanctions, or authorize the use of force when there is a threat to international peace and security, if it deems this necessary.
These powers are given to it by the UN Charter, which is considered an international treaty. As such, it is an instrument of international law, and UN Member States are bound by it. The UN Charter codifies the major principles of international relations, from sovereign equality of States to the prohibition of the use of force in international relations.
From the start in 1945, one of the main priorities of the United Nations was to “achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”
Improving people’s well-being continues to be one of the main focuses of the UN. The global understanding of development has changed over the years, and countries now have agreed that sustainable development – development that promotes prosperity and economic opportunity, greater social well-being, and protection of the environment offers the best path forward for improving the lives of people everywhere.
Due to the powers vested in its Charter and its unique international character, the United Nations has the mandate to take action on such issues as peace and security, climate change, sustainable development, human rights, disarmament, terrorism, humanitarian and health emergencies, gender equality, governance, food production, and more.
The UN also provides a forum for its members to express their views in the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, and other bodies and committees. By enabling dialogue between its members, and by hosting negotiations, the organization has become a mechanism for governments to find areas of agreement and solve problems together. The UN’s Chief Administrative Officer is the Secretary-General.
The way forward
Undoubtedly, the world needs the United Nations. However, we can all do without the scandals after scandals which have plagued it in recent years. It is unfortunate that the actions of a few members are allowed to tarnish the image of this institution. Maybe we need to have a change in the leadership of the male dominated UN. Is it safe to say that having female leadership at the helm of the United Nations would bring about real reform?
The United Nations needs to do a better job in recruiting staff members for the various missions which it has to respond to throughout the world. Perhaps, the UN can work together with Interpol to cross check the backgrounds of some of those who are being recruited in order to minimize the likelihood of another scandal.
Those peacekeepers and any other UN employees implicated should be barred from participating in any future UN missions. Additionally, some form of DNA testing should be done to establish paternity of these children. Each child has a right to know his or her lineage.
While we wish the United Nations well, we cannot turn a blind eye to the various scandals which have negatively impacted the image and work of this larger-than-life institution.
In the words of Chuck Hagel, the United Nations has a critical role to play in promoting stability, security, democracy, human rights and economic development. The UN is as relevant today as at any time in its history, but it needs reform.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
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