On Monday, Sept. 18, the Associated Press published an article entitled: “NEW MISCONDUCT ALLEGATIONS HANG OVER UN MEETING ON SEX ABUSE”:
The UN, it reported, had “mishandled 14 abuse cases involving peacekeepers in Central African Republic…The cases cited by the Code Blue campaign, a watchdog group, were investigated last year to determine whether the allegations could be substantiated…in eight cases the alleged victims were not interviewed, and 10 cases did not appear on the U.N. website where data is supposed to be released about sexual misconduct cases.”
This is not the first time the UN has been directly implicated in sexual abuse and exploitation in the regions in which it “keeps peace.” An Associated Press investigation into the UN, published in April 2017, revealed that there had been 2,000 reported cases of sexual abuse by UN Peacekeepers in the last 12 years, 15% of which involved children. What happens to the peacekeepers who are involved in sexual abuse? And how many have served time in prison for their crimes? Respectively: Nothing, and virtually none. “Legally,” AP reports, “the U.N. is in a bind. It has no jurisdiction over peacekeepers, leaving punishment to the countries that contribute the troops.”
“Here in Haiti,” AP wrote, “at least 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers exploited nine children in a sex ring from 2004 to 2007, according to an internal U.N. report obtained by the AP. In the wake of the report, 114 peacekeepers were sent home. None was ever imprisoned.”
Let’s hear that again: 114 out of 134 peacekeepers who exploited children in a human trafficking ring for at least three years were sent home. This is a travesty of justice. As Secretary General of the UN Antonio Guterres said on Sept. 18: “We cannot allow the unspeakable acts of a few to tarnish the work of thousands of men and women who uphold the values of the United Nations Charter, often at great personal risk and sacrifice.”
And yet what are these progressive values which threaten to be “tarnished” by the “unspeakable acts of a few,” and how were they being upheld in the UN’s involvement in Haiti?
In 2004, the UN launched the “UN Mission for the Stabilisation of Haiti,” MINUSTAH, following a US-backed coup of their left-wing and first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In January of 2004, Aristide had “called for France, the former colonizer of the country, to pay $21 billion in restitution to Haiti for the 90 million gold francs supplied to France by Haiti in restitution for French property that was misappropriated in the Haitian rebellion, over the period from 1825 to 1947.” Less than a month later, in February of 2004, Aristide was abducted and reportedly forced to resign from office after being told that he and a large swathe of Haitians would be killed if he refused. Following his “resignation,” UN forces invaded Haiti under the guise of stabilizing the country in the wake of the coup’s violence and would occupy the country for 11 years. These forces barred Aristide’s return to Haiti for years—again, under the guise of preventing the violence his return would instigate. In reality, the U.N.’s “peacekeeping” directly involved the economic exploitation of the Haitian people, whose minimum wage averages out to $120 per month, and the violent political suppression of Aristide’s followers, then a majority of the Haitian people.
Under the guise of shutting down drug deals, MINUSTAH regularly raided Haitian slums for the true purpose of pursuing known political radicals—people who advocated for “populist and anti-market economy political forces.” This nice little quotation is taken from a 2008 US embassy cable in which Janet Sanderson, former US ambassador to Haiti, argues against the withdrawal of UN forces from Haiti:
“A premature departure of MINUSTAH would leave the [Haitian] government…vulnerable to…resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces—reversing gains of the last two years. MINUSTAH is an indispensable tool in realizing core USG [US government] policy interests in Haiti.”
Independent journalists have reported that more than 20,000 people have been reported missing in the span of the UN’s occupation. Hundreds of reports of sexual violence, amongst the ostensible thousands of unreported assaults, were committed by UN peacekeepers in this time. This is the context of the involvement of 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers in the Haitian child sex trafficking ring. The UN’s own Office of Internal Oversight Services has reported that “acts of sexual exploitation and abuse (against children) were frequent and occurred usually at night, and at virtually every location where the contingent personnel were deployed.”
The UN really gives a new lively meaning to the phrase “rape and pillage,” for that is exactly what has been and is being practiced by it. One might wonder how the UN justifies or even defines its mission of “peacekeeping” amidst the reality of its violence. In fact, what even are UN Peacekeepers? From the United Nations website: “United Nations Peacekeeping helps countries torn by conflict create conditions for lasting peace.”
Ah, peace. Lasting peace. Of course: the people of developing nations seem to be naturally and inevitably prone to bloody conflict, if you take the beneficent register of this claim at face value. Yet military occupation of developing nations in which “conflict” is the product of imperialist violence or a code word for popular anti-colonial independence movements by its people is not a way of keeping peace; it is a way of enforcing a violent imperialist order.
Under the limiting binary logic of our neoliberal political milieu, liberals and some on the left view the UN as a force of good, a vanguard of progressivism in global and globalizing capitalist world. They view its apparently universal establishment of “international law” as an instrument of peace and understanding. Conservatives, the story goes, generally declaim the UN as a powerless or alternatively dangerous powerful tool of liberals. Both imagined sides in this easy-made formula are satisfying their own agenda. The claim that the UN has the power to secure peace internationally, if only this power would be legitimately harnessed, is clearly contradicted by the flagrant disregard for peace and basic human rights shown by UN practices, while the claim that the UN has too much power seems to be contradicted by its contingent inability to act without express approval from its major powers.
Those who love to scream myopically about violations of international law, as if there are sanctions for this breach of “law” or a body capable of and willing to discipline those states in violation, are only fooling themselves; in fact international law, and diplomacy at large, is a farce constructed to facilitate just these “violations.”
Foreign policy, always a transplantation of domestic policy onto the global political stage, is exercised in much the same way. And that’s what the UN is—a stage, or an apparatus—for the major players in global imperialist conquest to divide with justified impunity the bounty of their conquests according to an apparently universal “international law.” Just look at the “Big 5” permanent members of the Security Council: China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. They are all empires with a long-documented or rising history of violence and which have been permanent, yes, permanent members of the Security Council since the foundation of the UN in 1945.
All right, all right, you might say, so maybe the Security Council isn’t the most democratic format – but what about the General Assembly, which gets to elect 10 non-permanent members to the Security Council for two-year terms? Surely this is a safeguard against the undue abuse of power? All nations in the General Assembly, that is to say, all nations “recognized” as nations by the U.N (a related problem) get one vote each, and indeed many a resolution has passed against the will of the major permanent powers. And yet nothing is done, indeed, nothing can be done because of rules of engagement, when these major powers enact the very policies the “international community” has voted democratically against, because action requires the agreement of all Big 5 powers. Yes, you read that correctly: every nation in the General Assembly save for one permanent power—say, the US—can pass a resolution against that power, and nothing can happen, because the permission of that power is needed to act. If it sounds paradoxical, it isn’t: this system was constructed for the purpose of facilitating, legitimizing, and reifying imperial power.
Taking a broader look at the UN’s historical track record of strategically exercising geo-political power confirms its imperial direction. Who sent US and Belgian troops in 1960 to the Congo—that newly independent state formerly colonized by Belgium so brutally —to “support” the Congo’s first democratically-elected prime minister and independence leader Patrice Lumumba? And who passively requested—with a Belgian Secretary General at the time, no less—that Belgians withdraw from the Congo while simultaneously facilitating Lumumba’s coup and assassination? There is no question that the United Nations worked to sabotage and ultimately decimate the progress of the Congo in its independence from colonial powers.
The UN’s track record just gets worse. Which peacekeeping organization did nothing but wring their hands when 3 million Vietnamese were killed by the US during the Cold War because the US was the invading power?
What international body supposedly committed to peacekeeping did nothing, and continues to do nothing in the wake of Bashar al-Assad’s massacre of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians because these lives are worth less than the consensus of the 5 Omnipotents? And who, more recently in 2016, appointed Saudi Arabia as the Chair of the UN Human Rights Panel almost immediately after “[the posting of a] job advertisement,” The Independent wrote in the wake of this carnivalesque reality, “for eight new executioners, to cope with what Amnesty International branded a ‘macabre spike’ in the use of capital punishment, including beheadings, this year.” These are only a few instances of the fundamental lack of integrity of the part of the UN.
Perhaps the most ironic part of all of this is that an earnest search for the truth – an internet search, say, for “United Nations war crimes” will only provide you with an account of the UN as the global arbitrator of war crimes committed by various nation-states—predominantly, of course, those committed by developing nations—rather than an account of the UN itself as a facilitator or even perpetrator of such crimes of scale; there can be no accountability for crimes enabled and enacted by the UN when the UN has given itself jurisdiction over all crime. Or rather, the powers that be have granted the conglomerate body that is the United Nations international jurisdiction; it is quite obvious that the UN itself does not have power, but rather is the site of the interrelation of competing neo-imperial powers and their permanent interests of expanding capital. We could all stand to think twice before legitimizing in our own discourses the “values of the UN charter” as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, and instead inform ourselves and others about just how much the United Nations and its unspeakable acts need tarnishing.