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Published by Ian Williams

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Published by: Ian Williams on Dec 08, 2012
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When you need friends to help you on your way Tribune 1 December 2012Ian Williams
United Nations SG Ban Ki Moon has often quipped that the acronym for his title, SG, stands for “Scape Goat”. Events both in Goma in the Congo and the kickback over the recent Sri Lanka re- port could reinforce that feeling. They certainly highlight the weaknesses of the international or-ganisation.The UN can only function if its member states want it to. As Ban’s predecessor as SecretaryGeneral, Boutros Boutros Ghali, used to lament, the UN has no army of its own. It relies on oth-ers to provide troops, whose professionalism is not always guaranteed. Nor it just a case of de-veloping world contingents not caring to risk themselves. The troops who seem to have acted astraffic cops for the Rwandan rebels who took over Goma bring back sad memories of the Dutchcontingent that handed over Srebrenica to Ratko Mladic and his thugs.Rwanda has achieved a sort of historical symmetry all of its own. The previous murderous gov-ernment was actually sitting on the UN Security Council while the latter was being totally inef-fectual over the mass killings of Rwandans. Now, while a UN report blames Rwanda for effec-tively running the M23 rebel group that has just taken Goma, the country itself is preparing to re-sume a seat on the Security Council in the New Year. The recent elections to the Human RightsCouncil manifested the same UN problem, in which almost all the regional groups but particular-ly Africa, operate on the Buggins’ turn principle which avoids elections and results in completelyinappropriate candidates being appointed unopposed. The results are appalling.One might have mixed feelings about Venezuela’s Bolivarian record – but Hugo Chávez’s gov-ernment consistently supports murderous regimes against international scrutiny, while Ethiopiaand Kazakhstan, also elected unopposed, have abysmal records in their own right.Sri Lankan diplomacy has always been masterful in its cultivation of international allies. Promi-nent among the non-aligned, it maintained relations with all sides during the Cold War and stilldoes now. So its conduct of the war against the – admittedly unsavoury –Tamil Tigers has beenignored by most other governments. The UN found that, in the closing days of the war that de-feated the Tamil rebels, there were indeed war crimes committed, but among member states noone has a dog in the fight, in former US Secretary of State James Baker’s memorable phrase.The UN Security Council refused to take action about the unfolding disaster, since no membersseriously wanted the issue raised. After all, even nations which used to talk about human rightshad decided that the importance of war against terrorism overshadowed mere details like humanrights. In Sri Lanka, various UN agencies repeated the Sarajevo syndrome.As long as the perpetrators allowed some humanitarian aid through, why would they consider human rights an issue? In response to human rights groups, the UN set up a Panel of Experts,which detailed the wholesale violations of international law by both sides. When Sri Lanka re-fused to investigate the allegations in any meaningful way, Ban went ahead with yet another in-quiry into what the UN should have done.The government of Sri Lanka has blustered since, and its supporters want to know why Ban hadthe temerity to keep the issue alive instead of burying it at the crossroads – or wherever the tens

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