Robert Singer: Democratic nations must ensure the United Nations changes its ways

Last week, the United Nations appointed Antonio Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal and an experienced statesman, as its new secretary general.

UN Secretary General-designate António GuterresMr. Guterres is a safe pair of hands. However, he needs to show now that he has the willpower to spearhead reform of the United Nations.
One of the key areas here is to address the anti-Israel bias of key UN bodies, which has discredited the entire United Nations system.

The Human Rights Council, which recently marked the tenth anniversary of its creation, maintains a blatant and unjustified bias against Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. This manifests itself in the 67 condemnations of the Jewish state adopted by the Council over the past decade. That is more than condemnations by the Council of all other countries in the world combined.

It is apparent that UN bodies apply very different standards to Israel, in particular the body tasked with implementing the UN human rights agenda. Notorious human rights abusers in the Middle East, a group that surely includes Hamas in Gaza, or the Syrian regime, often get a free ride at the United Nations.

Other UN bodies are engaging in similar smear tactics. For instance, in a resolution adopted last year, UNESCO’s Executive Board declared the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest place, a Muslim site.

This isn’t primarily a problem for Israel. The Jewish state’s existence is not in danger because of resolutions adopted by the United Nations. The attempts to slander Israel are futile because everyone knows that they are largely based on fiction and not facts.

What this is really about is the credibility of the United Nations, and its ability to stand up for the disenfranchised, the poor and the wretched of this world. 

There are 60 million people world-wide who are fleeing war, injustice and persecution, and the hundreds of millions who suffer from regimes that violate human rights on a daily basis.

Many of those whose lives are threatened by murderous groups, whose human rights are infringed, or who are struggling to provide food and education to their children, look to the United Nations for support. They must shake their heads when often the only thing they see is finger-pointing at Israel.

For many world leaders, pillorying Israel is of course a convenient way to cover up their dismal track records back home. And for the Palestinian leadership, which is behind many anti-Israel resolutions at the UN, this is about winning the “diplomatic war.”

However, I do not see any reason for Western nations, or for UN officials, to play along or to even partake in the Israel-bashing.

Instead, democratic nations should throw their weight behind a thorough reform of the UN. They should insist that the UN follow an agenda that is genuinely focused upon the realization of the aims laid out in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The nomination of Mr. Guterres, who knows the UN system well, having served for many years as UN high commissioner for refugees, will hopefully provide a window of opportunity to reform the world body.

The United Nations is the only truly global governance instrument there is. We have no alternative. The UN must not be allowed to fail.
But it must live up to its ideals and promises. If it wants to regain its credibility and improve its effectiveness, it must shed its anti-Israel bias and in fact, any form of bias. Democratic nations may be in a minority at the UN, but nonetheless, they must assume moral leadership. 

They carry economic and political clout, and they can make a moral case by just invoking the founding texts of the United Nations. 

In the preamble of the UN Charter, member states have pledged “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”

Of course, to put these lofty principles into practice is not an easy task. But it should be everyone’s obligation to try, and try again.

Mr. Guterres, helped by the democratic UN member states, must take the lead.

This article authored by WJC CEO Robert Singer was first published by the Portuguese weekly 'Expresso' (read it in Portuguese here).

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