Why The United Nations Fails When It Comes To Preventing Genocides
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Politics and Activism

Why The United Nations Fails When It Comes To Preventing Genocides

Rwanda, Aleppo, and Cambodia remain blaring examples of an international organization plagued by inadequacies in policy and enforcement.

Why The United Nations Fails When It Comes To Preventing Genocides
Real Future

There are too many cases of mass killings by governments or insurgent groups that have gone unchecked by the global committee known as the United Nations. From the massacre in Rwanda to recently in Aleppo, the global community continues to stand by while millions are killed in crimes that break almost every universal human right. Many advocate for humanitarian intervention, an uninvited interference by a state, states, or an international organization in the domestic affairs of another state to prevent or end abuses of human life and rights. Sadly, there are many complications when it comes to humanitarian intervention by an organization like the UN which ultimately undercut the entire premise of the organization: to ensure peace in the modern era.

The Problem of Sovereignty

Countries as we know them are a relatively new creation, the idea of a self-governing state which gave it's rulers the sole authority over its territory was put into place after the Thirty Years War in Western Europe. National sovereignty was originally intended to restore international order and prevent more religious wars rather than protecting individual rights. Fast forward to the ending of World War 2 where Nazi officers are pleading the case for sovereignty as a "right" of theirs to treat the citizens of Germany as they please. These pleas went without sympathy, making a statement that freedom wasn't absolute. Within a year the UN drafted up a charter that took back the verdict of human rights going over national sovereignty. It states, "all members (to) refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." So if that didn't make the United Nations stance murky enough, they soon after released a non-binding document known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is a long list of universal rights each country needs to uphold on its citizens. But with such opposing and perplexing measures, it has made the dominance of human rights over sovereignty very hard to defend in conferences. Paired with the reluctance of countries to risk their own citizen's lives, genocides such as those in Rwanda are considered by global leaders as only a domestic civil war which can only be solved by the state itself.

Morals and Geopolitics

There are two reasons why the US came to the aid of the Iraqi people to liberate them from the Saddam Hussein regime rather than anyone coming to the assistance of the Tutsi population in Rwanda: Iraq had oil and was a threat to the national security of the United States. This is the sad part of the United Nations. While many lives were being taken in Rwanda, each state in the coalition has its interests. It is idealistic to believe that a state would spend money, resources, and sacrifice members of their military to aid the people of a tiny country in the middle of Africa that has no strategic importance. Political scientist Samuel Huntington speaks about the US's involvement in Somalia from 1992-1994 stating, "it is morally unjustifiable and politically indefensible that members of the (U.S.) armed forces should be killed to prevent Somali's from killing each other." Arguments such as this blur the morality of intervention. Also, certain geopolitical boundaries and proxy wars prevent global intervention on certain human rights offenses. The current tragedy in Aleppo, Syria has resulted in the death of thousands of civilians by airstrikes from the Russian-backed President Bashar Assad. While these are clear violations of international law and human rights, Russia continues to bomb the city despite diplomatic and economic pressures by the global community. Propositions for things such as no-fly zones and more aggressive tactics towards Russia may sound like the right thing to do until the realization comes that if a Russian jet is shot down by a U.S. missile, we could have a war on our hands. Then when the fact that both countries involved has nuclear weapons, such propositions no longer sound practical. The truth is Putin is in Syria to directly oppose U.S. influence in the Middle East. Putin also knows that no one wants to go to war with him. So he has had free reign to due things like Aleppo while also invading the countries of Georgia and Ukraine without any apparent resistance from the West. The fact that Russia has put the UN in a position that it can't intervene to aid the people of Aleppo is not only deplorable but a direct exposure of the weakness of the coalition to protect human rights.

Who Would Intervene?

The issue of exactly which countries would intervene in the case of genocide can in itself prevent any humanitarian intervention. The first problem that arises is if it should be unilateral (one country) or multilateral (several countries). Unilateral intervention has two flaws in the fact that the single country can intervene without any checks by other countries and usually unilateral intervention is done in the case of strategic goals rather than human rights (U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan). But there is a clear case for unilateral intervention when it came to putting down Pol Pot in Cambodia. Pot was murdering millions of his citizens through executions, labor camps, and starvation. While it seemed as if no one in the international community would stop this, border disputes with communist Vietnam caused them actually to go to war with Cambodia and ultimately overthrow Pot. This highlights the benefits of a nearby states self-interests were stopping genocide from continuing, but this doesn't reflect most other cases of mass murder by governments. Multilateral intervention has many benefits in that it has a better chance of being motivated by protecting human rights rather than the self interest which can counteract abuses by intervening states. Most would probably prefer the multilateral intervention to be done through the United Nations. But there's a problem. The UN still fails to act on several genocides. The question arises then, should nations intervene against international law and UN approval? Many people also create theories on which countries should involve themselves. Ideas such as an African coalition consisting of countries such as South Africa and Ethiopia getting involved in Rwanda or the United States assuming the role of the global police officer, intervening wherever human rights are violated, have been suggested. But they ultimately can't solve the issue of why anything is not being done in the face of mass murders.

The United Nations is held back by abstract ideas of sovereignty, politics, and problems with imperfect answers. While this doesn't make the United Nations a failed organization, they have made strides in humanitarian aid, disease prevention, ending poverty, and counteracting climate change, it most definitely needs revision. The world can not continue to stand by as millions are massacred in horrific events such as the Hutu revolution in Rwanda and the current civil war in Syria. The globe needs to ultimately take a stand as it did during the Nuremberg trials of Hitler's deputies and said that not only are human rights more important than sovereignty but take the proper steps to prevent another Holocaust from ever occurring.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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