The UN, a bone for the wretched of the Earth

, by @Alfred, Soopa Seb

The recent nominations of John Bolton as U.S. Embassador to the UN and Paul Wolfowitz at the head of the World Bank made quite a stir in the French media : the title of a recent article on the RFI website read :
« A hawk at the UN » [1]; for Libération, the nomination of the new director of the World Bank put « the wolf in the fold » [2] (03/24 article), these being just two examples of how our media can blow sometimes blow things totally out of proportions.

Hey, wanna play musical chairs ?

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Nice mustache, buddy...

For if you look more closely at the people they’re replacing, you won’t see much of a difference. If ever confirmed by Congress, Bolton would replace John Negroponte, who just left his seat as American Embassador in Iraq, a position he once held in Honduras in the good old days of the Iran/Contra scandal. The king of anti-communist dirty tricks has just been crowned intelligence czar for the US... good news for American civil liberties. Wolfowitz replaces James Wolfensohn, whose actions as head of the World Bank never wavered from the expected freemarketeering structural adjustments and what Joseph Stiglitz calls “white elephants”, those huge economic projects with no benefit whatsoever for local populations. Wolfowitz is leaving his position as number 2 in the Pentagon. Talk about credentials in the defence of development and world peace... Wolfensohn will apparently be observing the Israeli pull-out of the Gaza strip.

With a little perspective, those nominations are not suprising nor unexpected. But once again, something happens that can be easily exploited to make good, sensational, alarmist news: Point fingers and boo, they’re putting very bad men in office ! (Remember how the French media insisted on the violations of international law in the invasion of Iraq. Let me laugh it off and I’ll get back to that later). While you’re booing, you don’t have to think too much about what it was like before, or about how seriously our own beloved country follows international law, and finally, if these nominations are really going to make any difference.

A Lion’s Club of Nations

All the power of the UN is in the hands of the Security Council, a very select club where only World War II winners (or affiliated...) are allowed, and whose rules are not very democratic : since all important decisions (among others those concerning military interventions) can be vetoed by any of our five club members (USA, Russia, China, Great Britain and France). So if there’s anything they don’t like, shazam ! it’s veto time, and you can forget about your little resolution.

Everything that involves blabber and heart-warming, yet harmless decisions is the General Assembly’s job. In the Assembly, democracy can reign supreme, it’s all in good fun, with little consequences. And when I say democracy, I mean this kind of democracy :

- when the UN was created, 3 of the Lions were colonial powers, another had its own apartheid at home, and the late comer China was never exactly what you’d call a holiday camp ;
- Dictatorships such as Chirac’s good belated friend Eyadema’s in Togo, and many others, have a seat in the concert of nations ; that is democratic in spirit, but you know... [3].
- the legitimacy of our representatives in the UN is highly dubious : they are nominated by governments, not voted in.
As Eduardo Galeano notes cunningly, the gang of five is made up of the main weapons-exporting countries, leading him to conclude that « world peace is in the hands of the five powers that benefit the most from weapons sales ». [4]

But anyway.
I won’t delve into the obvious and many violations of international law from Iraq to Palestine or Guantanamo. Let us just remember Nicaragua 1985, an example often cited by Noam Chomsky, but well worth its weight in United Fruit bananas.

First Nicaragua, then Venezuela

As our beloved politicians sing in unison their respect for international justice and institutions, they tend to forget that along the years, leaders of the free world and commanders in chief of the axis of good have made America the first and foremost rogue state, and this long before the invasion of Iraq. While Chirac poses as the great defender of world justice, he never mentions America’s faults, but that’s easy to understand, a story of motes and beams...

Back to the facts : the progressist sandinist government of Nicaragua had been in power since 1979, when they had overthrown the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, who, like Reagan said about indonesian dictator Suharto, was « our kind of guy » [5]
The USA didn’t like it, and organized a covert military operation based in neighboring Honduras [6] with a cadre of former members of Somoza’s National Guard : the Contras. And they weren’t fucking around : harbors bombed, pressure put on neighboring countries to stop commercial exchange with Nicaragua, CIA-backed destruction operations against oil raffineries, naval bases, so on and so forth...Check out the International Court of Justice judgment on the case here.

After 136 pages of arguments, we reach the conclusions of the Court. The judges condemn the US for violating different treaties banning the use of force against other countries and finally call for reparations :
«The court Decides that the United States of America is under an obligation to make reparation to the Republic of Nicaragua for all injury caused to Nicaragua by the breaches of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation between the Parties signed at Managua on 21 January 1956... » (see the whole text here)

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Negroponte using veto power at the UN.

Nicaragua still waits. Nobody enforces the the decisions of the ICJ agains the US, which probably explains how little the US cares about international law. And since the same fine team that brainstormed Nicaragua is now led by George W. Bush, Chavez can seriously consider the coup of April 2002 as a mere taste of the forecoming US-sponsored world of pain... [7].

France, land of human rights and colonies

US has serious competition in France. Along the years, France has also become a fixture in the resolutions of the UN’s General Assembly.
Take the case of Mayotte, in the Comores islands. In 1975, the French government played a dirty little trick on the results of the referendum on independence. By imposing separate counts for each of the four Comores Islands, France managed to keep the island of Mayotte. Since then France has been regularly condemned by the UN. Still French police reserves a right to control Comorians going into Mayotte and possibly to kick them out, that after 20 years of UN warnings.
And now, for another exotic territory the arm of justice is too short to reach, I give you New Caledonia.
This file is studied at the UN by its Committee on Special Political Issues and Decolonization, and more specifically the special committe on the application of the Declaration on the independence of colonized countries and people... whew ! But wait a minute ? Decolonization ? Indeed, Kanaky (as Kanaks call it) is still a colony, whose « Administrative Power » is France. The UN has been following and supporting the process towards independence for the archipelago. To show how committed it is, the UN put New Caledonia on its list of Non-autonomous-territories. And as for Mayotte, it votes a series of resolutions condemning France, with the usual consequences or lack thereof.

A bone or a vine leaf ?

While the concert of nations finds it hard to enforce international Law and the decisions of the International Court of Justice, the rules of commerce are defended with care. When you think about it, the nominations of Wolfowitz and Bolton are coherent with a certain world view, also unveiled in Hubert Sauper’s somber documentary, Darwin’s Nightmare. He shows on the one side NGOs and UN organizations distributing food in Tanzania to fight against famine, while cargoplanes crammed full of of fat Nile perch take off towards over 2 million european consumers. They will come back with crates packed with weapons and ammunition, destined to be used in the deadliest war since WWII (5 million dead as of now) that has been raging since 1998 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the UN mission MONUC is based.

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He’s got the whole world bank in his hand...

For the innocents who hope that the International Penal Court might change things, let us just note that the US refuse to be part of it, and that among those countries that ratified it, France pushed for the acceptance of a new clause, protecting French personnel engaged in military operations from trials for war crimes for a period of 7 years. All of this for a very simple reason: they know they will violate international law, and for them, the UN is, has been and always will be a bone for the Wretched of the Earth to gnaw on.


[3and one can wonder how free the minions of the western powers have in their votes. Insuring their obedience was the reason behind the Foccart network created by De Gaulle in order to reinforce France’s pull in the UN

[4Translated by yours truly from Eduardo Galeano , Sens Dessus Dessous, L’Ecole du Monde à l’Envers , Homnisphères coll.Imaginaires Politiques, 20€.

[5read Chomsky’s articles on Z Magazine. His compared analysis of the media treatment of the genocides in Khmer Rouge-controlled Cambodia and the one East Timor at the hands of Reagan’s "kind-of-guy" Suharto is compelling, and a must-read as journalists prepare to commemorate the 30 yr anniversary of the taking of Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge.

[6and where the Embassador for the US was none other but John Negroponte

[7see the Monde Diplomatique ]