THE SPINE OCTOBER 3, 2006
There are some articles that one owes to history. It is not I, however, who am fulfilling the obligation. It is Adam LeBor of The Sunday Times (London). And the obligation is to clarify Kofi Annan's role in history, a pusillanimous role that he has somehow covered over or neutralized by his charm and capacity for deceit. The secretary-general's character is an important element in the politics of our time, as was finally altogether apparent when everyone found out that Kurt Waldheim had been a Nazi. Boutros Boutros-Ghali was just a windbag. Others were mere crooks, or fakers, or inflators. And Dag Hammarskjold was a real live spiritualist, as you can tell from a newly reissued edition of his Markings. (It has a preface by Jimmy Carter, if you see what I mean.) But Kofi, well, read here what he did and how worse than inept he was during the time he strutted in history:
Annan's term has also been marked by scandal: from the sexual abuse of women and children in the Congo by UN peacekeepers to the greatest financial scam in history, the UN-administered oil-for-food programme. Arguably, a trial of the UN would be more apt than a leaving party.
The charge sheet would include guarding its own interests over those it supposedly protects; endemic opacity and lack of accountability; obstructing investigations, promoting the inept and marginalising the dedicated. Such accusations can be made against many organisations. But the UN is different. It has a moral mission.
It was founded by the allies in 1945 to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war" and "reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights". Its key documents--the Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the genocide convention--are the most advanced formulation of human rights in history. And they have been flouted by UN member states for decades.
A more specific charge would be that, under the doctrine of command responsibility, the UN is guilty of war crimes. Broadly speaking, it has three principles: that a commander ordered atrocities to be carried out, that he failed to stop them, despite being able to, or failed to punish those responsible. The case rests on the second, that in Rwanda in 1994, in Srebrenica in 1995 and in Darfur since 2003, the UN knew war crimes were occurring or about to occur, but failed to stop them, despite having the means to do so.