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October 18, 2003

The United Nations--
United Thugs

R.J. Rummel

The United Nations has become a weapon and a shield for the world's dictators.

Not all dictators are the same. Some are no more than thugs. While hiding behind their guns and goons, they murder their captive citizens, condone torture (and a few even approve slavery and rape), and loot their country's wealth and resources for personal gain, for power, for an ideology, or for a religion. Of the many such thugs since 1945, the list would include Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Idi Amin of Uganda, Pol Pot of Cambodia, and recently deposed Charles Taylor of Liberia Now we have such ruling thugs as General Than Shwe of Burma, Fidel Castro of Cuba, General Teodoro Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamenei of Iran, Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi of Libya, Kim Chong-il of North Korea, King Fahd Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, General Umar al-Bashir of Sudan, Bashar al-Asad of Syria, Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan, General Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, to mention some of the worst of them. These and the other thugs, along with the more moderate, but sympathetic and collaborative dictators, dominate the UN and now defeat its mission. This is a reluctant conclusion about the UN that I've come to since my early years of strong support.

To many horrified by the Second World War, the Holocaust, and the life devastating atomic bomb, when the United Nations came into being in 1945 they saw it as a global agency of peace, conflict resolution, and human rights, as I did in the 1950s to the 1980s. It is now none of this.

Out of the vast array of facts that make this case, I will select a few. But first, as one who made considerable use of UN reports, studies, and statistical services, such as the Demographic Yearbook and Statistical Yearbook, for my research, the story of the United Nations is not entirely negative. Indeed, some will make the argument that on balance the UN has contributed to the welfare of countries. But, then, one would have to downplay or ignore the political functions of the UN. These are the most important of all, since their purpose is to alleviate, resolve, and prevent the most catastrophic dangers facing humanity--international and internal war in the nuclear age, and mass democide. Now, some specifics.


As has been shown on this website, the promotion and protection of human rights (the essence of liberal democracy) are essential to create and secure world peace. And the premier UN body charged with doing this is the 53 member UN Commission on Human Rights. Yet, who are its members? Incredibly, the membership includes some of the worst mass murderers and violators of human rights, including Cameroon, China, Congo (DRC), Cuba, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Uganda, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. The Chairman of the Commission for 2003 is the terrorist state, Libya. And the United States, one of the best exemplars of civil rights and political liberties and foremost proponents of human rights, was kicked off the Commission for the 2002 session.

The current membership of the Commission simply reflects the continual involvement of the very human rights violators that the Commission is supposed to investigate and expose. No wonder, then, that it has been obstructed from criticizing China's human rights violations, discussing slave labor when the former Soviet Union existed, considering the sale of white women and children in Saudi Arabia, investigating the denial of the most basic human rights to women in Asia and Arab countries, and examining the slave trade in Arab countries. Recently, the Commission has voted against "special observation" of Zimbabwe's violations of human rights; and for the upgrading of the human rights status of Sudan, even while its dictatorship is committing genocide against its southern black Christians, carrying on slavery, and approving of systematic rape.

One of the recent outrages concerns Commission member Cuba. Castro had thrown into prison seventy-five dissidents, including journalists and librarians; and it had executed three men who hijacked a ferryboat to escape from this communist hellhole. No matter. The Commission reelected Cuba to another three-year term, "undoubtedly a recognition of the Cuban Revolution's work in human rights in favor of all our people," so Cuba proclaimed,

The Commission also takes overt action against those upsetting its member dictatorships. Cuba and Libya, for example, successfully pressured the body to end its consultative relationship with the free speech organization Reporters Without Borders. It had the nerve to criticize the UN's human rights record, and among its claims were that Cuba is "the world's biggest prison" (not correct--North Korea is) and "that granting the chair to Qadhafi 's [Libyan] regime has been a disgrace to the commission." One of the reforms Reporters Without Borders suggested was to restrict voting by dictatorships. This is, of course, anathema, and the Commission voted 27 to 23 to suspend its relationship with the organization, with virtually all democratic members voting against it.


Cheers were loud and hopeful when the United Nations passed the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948. Here was the world body of practically all sovereign countries agreeing that genocide was a crime against humanity, and that its perpetrators should be tried and punished. Thereafter, the Convention was ignored for almost five decades.

Finally, the UN has taken action against genocide, as well as crimes against humanity, although sometimes half-heartedly. It has set up Tribunals to try perpetrators of the genocides in Rwanda and Yugoslavia (Bosnia), has agreed with Cambodia on setting up a joint tribunal to try those Khmer Rouge responsible for murdering millions of Cambodians, and has negotiated with Sierra Leone a Special Court to try perpetrators of crimes against humanity during its ten-year civil war.

Such tribunals or courts are one reason the UN's record is not entirely negative. But, and this is a very crucial but, the UN has ignored or paid nominal attention to the mass murders by most other thugs, such as those who rule Burma, Iran, Syria, and Sudan. Although with the murderers still in power a formal Tribunal may be impossible or impractical in these cases, at least they could be thoroughly investigated in the light of some of its own reports, and sanctions taken against them.

One of the most telling cases is the mass murders, and government created famine in North Korea. The country is one vast prison in which hundreds of thousands have been murdered in the last decade, and possibly three million have been starved to death. Still, except for food aid the UN is trying to provide the North Korean people, with regard to the ruling thugs responsible, the UN is like the three monkeys that see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.

Similarly with the Taliban of Afghanistan, who when they controlled the country were systematically murdering their own people, repressing all their human rights, and enslaving all woman. The UN sat on its hands despite the written reports it received from its officials in the country pointing out that the murders were ordered or approved by Mullah Omar, the Taliban ruler. Just consider the Taliban murder of 178 people in the Yakaolang district of north-central Afghanistan, where UN officials had evidence that Omar was in contact with the Taliban troops doing the democide. One UN official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, exclaimed that, "These are the same type of war crimes as were committed in Bosnia and should be prosecuted in international courts." Out of frustration that the UN was doing nothing to stop the Taliban, staff members leaked their reports to the public.

Then, consider Rwanda, in which during four months of 1994 about 800,000 people were murdered in a systematic genocide organized by the Hutu government, and carried out against the Tutsi minority by its troops, police, and specially trained death squads. In 1999, an independent report, commissioned by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and headed by former Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, condemned the UN's reluctance to accept evidence of a genocide, and reluctance to act once the genocide was undeniable.

Perhaps the most famous case, although the genocide involved a much lower number of murdered--around 8,000 Muslim men and boys--was in Srebrenica, Bosnia, during the Bosnian war of 1995. Another UN commissioned report on this asserted that the UN peacekeepers stood by while Serb troops massacred those to whom the UN had promised protection. The UN had refused to reinforce their peacekeepers with enough troops, and even then severely restricted the action of those that were there.

Presently, there are a civil war and the mass murders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And again, UN peacekeepers are under armed, under manned, and over restricted by rules of engagement. Some three million Congolese have been killed so far, but all UN peacekeepers have done is stand by and watch them being murdered. In response, the UN Security Council voted to deploy an additional French led 1,400 soldiers to Bunia, the capital. But, their mandate was temporarily confined to Bunia--they could not leave it to protect refugees in neighboring areas where most of the killing was taking place. As this killing escalated, the UN deployed a new force of 3,000 Pakistani and Bangladesh troops with permission to prevent killing and violence across the whole Ituri region--3,000 UN peacekeepers across a region over twice the size of Albania.

There is also Russia's Moslem Chechnya in which Russian troops and agents have carried out a campaign of democide, torture, and war crimes. In 2000 and 2001, the Human Rights Commission noted Russian abuses there and asked that the Russian government investigate them, and cooperate with UN human rights monitors. At no cost to itself from the UN, Russia has ignored these resolutions and in 2003 a similar resolution failed to get enough votes.


I am sure that for most of us with high hopes for the UN, we especially thought it would help resolve international disputes and help prevent or end war. This did not happen in its first decades, which many assumed was due to the Cold War. When this ended, we thought that UN peacekeeping now would take the center stage. It did not.

In its most telling Report of the Panel on UN Peace Operation (the Brahimi Report, named after the Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi who chaired the panel), the UN itself recognized that its peacekeeping has failed. It undertook peacekeeping in only a third of the conflicts during the 1990s, and even then it was not effective. This failure is now increasingly the subject of serious study and commentary. See for example, the book Deliver Us From Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords, and a World of Endless Conflict by William Shawcross.

The problem is with the fifteen member Security Council. The UN Charter explicitly empowers it to "determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" and "make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken . . . to maintain or restore international peace and security." Each of the five permanent members of the Council, the US, France, United Kingdom, Russia, and China can veto any proposed action of the Council. China is still a communist dictatorship, and Russia is barely an electoral democracy, whose people still suffer from the absence of most civil and political rights. Either one of these countries by itself can scuttle any UN attempt to keep the peace and prevent or deal with aggression, terrorism, or democide. This veto is bad enough. But, consider. The General Assembly elects for two-year terms ten members of the Security Council. Each has one vote, and nine votes, absent a veto by a permanent member, are required to pass a substantive resolution.

The importance of this cannot be overstated. For 2003, Security Council elected members are (with freedom ranking on civil and political rights by Freedom House in parentheses, where F = free, PF = partly free, and NF = not free) Angola (NF), Bulgaria (F), Cameroon (NF), Chile (F), Germany (F), Guinea (NF), Mexico (F), Pakistan (NF), Spain (F), and Syria (NF). Of these, then, there is a five to five split between free democracies and the worst countries suppressing civil and political rights. Adding the US, United Kingdom, and France, the three permanent members rated free, to carry a resolution the eight free, democratic members must first persuade China or Russia to abstain rather than exercise their veto, and then find one absolute dictatorship to vote with them. Often times, especially when there are less free countries on the Council, this is frustrating diplomatic effort (perhaps entailing the bribery of a dictator--grants, economic aid that can be skimmed, favorable trade deals, silence on his crimes, and so on). The achievement of nine votes becomes even more difficult if any democracies abstain. Thus, Saddam Hussein, the bloody dictator of Iraq, could defy Security Council resolutions and kick out UN weapons inspectors at no cost. Finally, with Resolution 1441, the fourteenth resolution of the Security Council against Iraq, Hussein defiance posed too great a perceived danger to wait any longer and the United States led a successful military coalition against him.


The dictatorships in the UN body even have frustrated UN agencies dealing with educational, economic, and health--matters seemingly removed from politics. For example, it is easy to believe that education and law are so removed, but even in this area politics can paralyze and frustrate lower UN officials. Consider this quote of the UN international Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project: "The bald truth is that many of the most critical and pressing problems facing the international community today are due to an incomplete or inadequate or misguided or politically skewed or motivated United Nations action. While occasionally, effected governments are able to at least raise some legitimate concerns, they may be outvoted or even persuaded by undue pressure to abandon concerns."

Regarding UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the High Commissioner for Refugees, and other U.N. agencies, they have been very helpful in improving the lot of refugees and promoting the health of countries. Frequently, their humanitarian services have been not only valuable, but life saving. However, they would have been more effective were it not for the direct interference and demands of the dictators themselves, their representatives to the UN, or citizens in high positions within the UN (in theory, high level officials of the UN only act in the interest the UN and its policies--hardly true for those from countries ruled by absolute dictators whom they must obey, or else) A dangerous case in point has to do with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Because of the opposition of China's communist rulers Taiwan has been denied membership in WHO, although membership in this organization includes the Red Cross, Malta, and the Palestine Liberation Organization. So, when SARS struck Taiwan, help from WHO and the international community was reluctant and slow. This endangered the people of Taiwan, but fortunately, its democratic government could handle the outbreak.

As to the High Commissioner for Refugees and other relevant UN agencies, high UN officials consistently frustrate them with their political interference. In Angola, for instance, over 31 percent of the population--four million people--are internal refugees. This vast movement of refugees is due to a civil war and democide, and to Jose Santos' dictatorship and its enemy UNITA forcing people out of their homes. The UN is not protecting these people. It is failing to monitor individual cases of abuses. This is part of its refusal to confront Santos over the welfare of these refugees.

Another case of the UN's bowing before a dictatorship that has cost the lives of many refugees involves those fleeing the deadly border-to-border concentration camp that is North Korea. China not only provides no aid to these poor people, but also searches for them so that it can forcibly return them to North Korea. When returned, they are executed or imprisoned, which is execution of a more gradual kind. This, though China is obligated under the UN Refugee Convention not to return refugees to countries which may thus persecute them. On this the UN does nothing.

True, the UN has provided considerable aid to war torn areas, but not without life consuming wrangling over the details and delays. Sometimes, just the political wrangling over a resolution proposed by a democracy may cost months of delay, as it did for such aid to the Iraq occupied by the American coalition. Moreover, the UN's record of aid and administration in postwar Cambodia, Bosnia, and Kosovo have not been good.

Some other UN agencies, commissions, or conferences (really permanent bodies) are strictly political, as is the UN Conference on Disarmament. Ironically, it was announced in January of this year, when Iraq's defiance of the United Nations resolutions on its weapons of mass destruction headlined the news, that one of Saddam Hussein's henchmen would chair the May sessions of the Conference. As with virtually all UN bodies, such chairmanships are by rotation. Nonetheless, Iraq then chairing a disarmament conference is a symbol of what is wrong with the UN.

Aside from what the dictators do to the UN, it is infected by corrosive and program destroying corruption. One of the worst examples was the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Recognizing that UNESCO was riven with corruption, as well as mismanagement and politicization, the United States withdrew from it in 1984. In 2003, nineteen years later and after UNESCO instituted a number of reforms, including eliminating half of its top staff members, the United States rejoined the body.

Another serious case of corruption surrounded the UN's Oil-for-Food Program organized to allow Saddam Hussein to by bypass the UN sanctions against Iraq and sell its oil to supposedly buy food and medicine for his captive subjects. The program involved massive corruption, including kickbacks and bribes from the $2 or $3 billion Hussein skimmed from the program. Said Benon Sevan, the executive director of the Office of Iraq Program, "Everybody knew it, and those who were in a position to do something about it, were not doing anything." He excused himself by saying, "I have no power."


Israel is a liberal democracy. It has as high a Freedom House score on political rights as the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom. On civil liberties, it is not as good, but still much better than the dictatorships and monarchies that surround it. Yet, and maybe partly because of this, it is the pariah in the United Nations. It is the only UN member systematically excluded from participation in virtually all the committees. For example, it has recently been rejected for membership on the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Human Rights Committee, UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, UN Racial Discrimination Committee. It does serve on the UN Administrative Tribunal until December of this year. After that, Israel will be denied membership in every UN body, including the important UN's five regional groups.

Contrast this with the dictatorships of Algeria, China, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, just to mention a few of them that are members of the UN Commission on Human Rights; with the dictatorship of Egypt, which is a member of the many UN bodies, including all six concerned with human rights treaties; with the dictatorships of Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan that participate on the Governing Council of the International Labor Organization; with that the bloody dictatorship Iran that is on the five-member UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; and with those dictatorships who treat women as second class citizens or slaves like Egypt, Iran, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates that are members of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

But, the worst of this UN treatment of democratic Israel is its ignoring the genocide against Israeli Jews by Palestinian terrorist organizations, aided and abetted by Arab states, all dictatorships. The repeated genocide bombings of civilian Jews (103 such attacks on civilians since September 2000) going about their lives in restaurants, markets, and on buses is disregarded by the UN, while it condemns whatever Israel does to defend itself or retaliate against those responsible for this terrorism and genocide.

The October 4, 2003, bombing of the Maxim restaurant in Haifa is a case in point. On latest count, twenty men, women, children, and babies were murdered, and forty suffered diverse wounds, including the loss of limbs, that will all but destroy their lives. The bombing was planned by Islamic Jihad, which is supported by Syria. In retaliation, Israel attacked the Islamic Jihad training camp in Syria. No one was killed.

Rather then condemn the genocide of Israeli Jews, or at least investigate the killings or the Israeli attack, the only response in or by the UN was the Syrian dictator's demand through his representative for an emergency meeting of the Security Council. He got it. Syria then proposed a resolution condemning Israel. And had it not been for an American veto, the resolution would have passed.

Such treatment of a democratic member of the UN is reprehensible, and alone calls into question how much support democratic countries should give the organization.


Those that recognize that our hopes for the UN are in shambles explain this in several ways. One is that this is mainly an organizational and bureaucratic screw up. As was done with UNESCO, a thorough root and branch study of its functions, problems, and mistakes should help reform UN bodies and enable them to deal with world problems in a more even handed, efficient, and successful way. This especially will be so if UN members and people of good will help in this overdue and necessary process.

A second explanation is that while all countries are not equal in resources and capabilities, the UN assumes they are, with the one exception of the veto in the Security Council. This is its structural flaw, so it is said, and obvious when such countries as the Cameroon, Bahrain, Gabon, and Oman have an equal vote with Germany, Japan, and Spain on the Security Council, or with China and Russia on the various UN commissions. This flaw is at the root of the UN's problems. The solution is to rewrite the UN Charter to weight votes by some function of population and economic development

A third explanation is that the wealthy countries are unwilling to provide the UN with the funding, resources, and peacekeeping troops it needs to deal with global problems. Empower the UN to tax its members and call up troops from those that each member would be mandated to keep in reserve, and the UN will not only be taken more seriously, but also will be better able to prevent or resolve conflicts.

I think these explanations are inadequate. They miss the dictatorship glut. This dominates the UN through their votes and caucuses; through their henchmen filling crucial bureaucratic positions in the organization; and through their intimidation of democratic leaders with their control over oil and other resources, their strategic geographic location, their trade, or their sympathetic voting émigrés (such as the Muslims in France and Germany). These dictatorships are against human rights, they are against the UN promoting democracy, and they are against resolving any conflicts or violence that involves their power or ambitions. What we have here are the major aggressors and murderers of the world having the same UN voting rights as the democracies--the absolute dictatorships of Cuba, Liberia, and Oman have the same one vote as democratic France, Canada, and Japan.

A major conceptual error is to think of the representative of, let us say, Iran, as representing Iran. So, we think in terms of Iran having a vote, as does the representative of Italy. But, these two representatives are of different political universes. That of Iran only follows the direct or indirect orders of the mass murderer and theocratic dictator of Iran, "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamenei. The representative of Italy, however, was selected by and represents a democratic administration of Italy. It was voted into power by the people of Italy and can be voted out at the next election. Fundamentally, then, the UN representative of Italy represents the Italian people. At its simplest, what we have in the UN is the henchmen following the orders of mass murdering and criminal thugs that maintain their power over a whole country at the point of the gun formally equal to the representatives of the people of the democracies.


I don't suggest withdrawing from the UN. It has too many useful functions, serves as a neutral forum for contact and communication between adversaries or enemies. When there is general agreement on conflicts, interventions, peacekeeping, refugees, humanitarian aid, sanctions, criminal tribunals, human rights, and so on, the UN saves lives and promotes human welfare and security. It has just done this for Iraq, where after intense American lobbying, the Security Council passed resolution 1511 unanimously. In effect, this resolution approves an international occupying force in Iraq under American authority, gives UN backing to contributions to that force and to reconstruction, recognizes a UN secondary role, and sets a deadline for the Iraqi Governing Council to submit to the Security Council a schedule for a constitution and subsequent elections. This resolution is a victory for the American coalition, but it comes only after the coalition took the initiative, acted on resolution 1441, and freed the Iraqis from the bloody tyrant that killed and repressed them.

One of these rare UN victories for freedom having been noted, what is clear to me from the UN's overall record is that given the millions dying from war, democide, famine, and poverty, the good of the organization is still much too limited by its dictatorships. Two things should be done.

A decade ago, Max Singer and Aaron Wildavsky argued in their The Real World Order--Zones of Peace, Zones of Turmoil that since democratic societies create among themselves a zone of peace (the Democratic Peace so prominent on this website), they proposed that the democracies organize in the UN a "UN Democratic Caucus" to advance the cause of democracy. I would make this broader. There should be such a caucus to deal with all issues before the UN. In the Clinton Administration there was some chatter about doing this, but except for the democracies consulting and collaborate with each other on one issue or another, nothing to make this a formal, all inclusive democratic caucus, was done then, or has been done by the Bush Administration.

Second, there should be an international governmental organization of all democracies to deal with issues about which the UN cannot or will not act, but particularly the promotion of peace, human security, human rights, and democracy. I have written on such an Alliance of Democracies, and need not say more here. Given what I have pointed out about the UN's problems, the need for such an organization is obvious. It would not compete with the UN where that body could act to promote democratic values. But, where it could not, particularly because of the opposition of the dictatorships, then the Alliance would serve a most useful cause.

There is already growing movements and governmental activities pointing in the direction of such an Alliance. Democratic activists, practitioners, academics, policy makers, and funders, have come together to cooperate in the organized international promotion of democracy. They call this a World Movement for Democracy. It has it's own website, publications, regular online Democracy News, courses, a steering committee, secretariat, and periodic assemblies. Its first and organizing Assembly was held in India in 1999; its second in Brazil in 2000 involved democrats from 93 countries. The third will be held in South Africa. The stated purpose of the organization is "to strengthen democracy where it is weak, to reform and invigorate democracy even where it is longstanding, and to bolster pro-democracy groups in countries that have not yet entered a process of democratic transition."

Then there is the new Community of Democracies. Foreign ministers and representatives of 106 governments met in Warsaw, Poland, in 2000 and concluded with the Warsaw Declaration. This expressed their unified "commitment to promote, strengthen and preserve democracy."

There also was a meeting in Warsaw of a non-governmental first "World Forum on Democracy". It included 300 democratic activists, current and former political leaders, academics, and nongovernmental organization representatives from 85 countries. Its purpose is to discuss and advance "democratic governance and values throughout the world." American Secretary of State Albright addressed the forum, and pointed out that, "We need a true democratic community; defined not by what we are against, but by what we are for; enshrined by leaders from every point on the compass; and strengthened by the full participation of civil society"

Obviously, the democracies are coming close to the Alliance that is required to advance not only democracy, but also human rights, peace and human security. All that seems needed now is for some democratic country or coalition to take the lead and convene what would amount to a founding constitutional convention of such a governmental international organization among all democracies.

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