A Bad Quarter for the U.N.
The international body has embarrassed itself plenty already in 2013 — and it’s only March.


Brett D. Schaefer

This year, United Nations officials have spent a lot of time in Washington meeting with administration officials and Congress, trying to defend their funding from sequestration and the threat of other cuts. Small wonder they are concerned: The U.N. has had a rough 2013.

On international peace and security, human rights, and issues of management and accountability, the organization has reminded the world just how ineffective, inept, and embarrassing it is. Let’s go through a few of the year’s major stories.

The organization’s inability to address the ongoing atrocities in Syria has, by the U.N.’s own estimate, resulted in 70,000 deaths. Russia and China have blocked the Security Council from applying sanctions, so the U.N. has instead focused on distributing humanitarian assistance and engaging in unsuccessful diplomatic initiatives. The U.S. and organizations such as the Arab League have recognized the Syrian rebels, but the U.N. continues to recognize Bashar Assad and his representatives in Turtle Bay.

North Korea successfully tested a long-range missile in December and a nuclear bomb in February. Both actions flouted multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. The Security Council responded with a “timid squeak of U.N. indignation,” passing a fifth resolution that slightly tightened sanctions on North Korea. Pyongyang was unimpressed. It proceeded to abandon the 1953 armistice (again) and threaten a nuclear strike on the U.S.

While U.N. secretary general Ban Ki Moon was on stage at the fifth Global Forum of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations in March, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated, “Just like Zionism, anti-Semitism, and fascism, it becomes unavoidable that Islamophobia must be regarded as a crime against humanity.” Only after extensive, critical commentary led by U.N. Watch did the U.N. finally issue a belated condemnation. The event rekindled unwelcome reminders of the U.N.’s famous and odious “Zionism is racism” resolution.

At a closed-door meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran accused Israel of “genocide,” forcing Australia, Canada, and the U.S. to walk out.

Following Hugo Chávez’s death earlier this week, the U.N.’s Human Rights Council honored the Venezuelan autocrat with a moment of silence. The U.N. flag flew at half mast in Turtle Bay on March 8 “in respect of the death of His Excellency Mr. Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” — who spent years persecuting and intimidating judges, journalists, and human-rights activists. 

The U.N. rejected claims for compensation over the outbreak of cholera it caused in Haiti. U.N. officials tried to cover up their responsibility for the situation, which has killed over 8,000 Haitians and sickened hundreds of thousands more. Subsequent scientific analysis confirmed that the cholera strain originated in southern Asia and was likely introduced by U.N. peacekeepers.   

The U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services issued a report in January revealing that the U.N. vastly overspent on its travel budget in 2010 and 2011. As U.S. ambassador Joseph Torsella observed, “The 2010–11 budget included $72.5 million for travel. . . . [Yet] the U.N. spent a total of $575 million in travel-related expenses in the 2010-–11 biennium.” Torsella attributes much of the overrun to unjustified upgrades to business- and first-class airline travel and “direct payments to travelers of, on average, nearly twice the actual cost of travel.”


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