When the Syrian conflict began, Rashed al-Ahmad, a pharmacist from Kurnaz, Syria, fled his hometown and moved to a town outside the regime’s control where he worked in a local clinic. But now Ahmad and his family are refugees near the Turkish border after the regime, with the support of Russia, bombed the town they lived in and destroyed the clinic.
Ahmad wrote an op-ed for Al Jazeera in which he recounted his story and unabashedly blamed not just the regime and Russia but also the UN for not protecting humanitarian workers and then not even recognizing or condemning the forces that destroy Syrian villages, clinics, and lives.
“It’s dark humour but this is the reality in Syria where bombing hospitals seems no longer to be a crime and naming the perpetrators seems no longer to be the UN’s duty,” Ahmad writes.
Just weeks before the clinic was destroyed, Ahmad explains that after much deliberation the directors decided to give the UN their facility’s coordinates. The UN could then share the location with all sides in the conflict, and the aggressors could avoid it during attacks and bombings. But the clinic was soon bombed, and the UN did nothing and did not even condemn Russia or the regime for their part in the destruction.
Though the UN’s job, according to its charter, is to maintain international peace and security, protect human rights, deliver humanitarian aid, promote sustainable development, and uphold international law, the organization is becoming increasingly ineffective in all these areas. And now people like Ahmad see help from the UN as a dangerous mistake.
“Today, I live with the heavy conscience that one year ago we probably made a mistake giving the UN the coordinates of our centre. It is clear by now that the very institutions that are supposed to protect us, civilians, have failed us,” Ahmad writes. “And what adds insult to injury is that they won’t even name those who bomb us, kill us and destroy our homes, hospitals and schools on a daily basis.”
Ahmad’s story is just one of the many that illustrate how the UN has not only become ineffective, but dangerous. It is no secret that the UN is terribly inefficient, corrupt, and consequently a threat against its purpose of maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development, and upholding international law. And the fact that Ahmad believes his clinic’s use of UN aid was the mistake that destroyed it just adds to the pile of UN misdeeds over the past several decades.
The UN’s inefficiency (and perhaps corruption) stems from its organization. It is a massive bureaucratic machine that Claudia Rosett, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal known for investigative reporting on the UN’s corruption and foreign affairs, said had “no transparency or accountability and operates with virtual diplomatic immunity.”
Though the UN is supposed to be a place for all nations, large and small, to have a voice, it has been dominated by the world powers for decades. The P5+1 members (permanent members), which are China, Russia, the US, the UK, France, and Germany, are the ones running the show, particularly since they have the power to veto. Any of these P5+1 members can veto any measure, and they have all done so, continually, for years. Technically, the General Assembly is allowed to act if a veto is threatening peace or security, but the P5+1 and their veto rights are rarely stood up to. It’s no wonder that small, developing countries view the UN as top-heavy and undemocratic. The “big six” run it, and the remaining 187 countries have little say.
But aside from being undemocratic, the UN is famous for bad decisions and just plain corruption. Rashed al-Ahmad’s story of Syrian clinics being bombed and the UN doing nothing is just one of the many instances of the UN’s horrible decisions.
In 1971, during the Bangladesh Liberation War, the Pakistani army began the Bangladesh genocide. But the UN did nothing to prevent the genocide. It was the Indian military that finally stopped it. Again in 1995, when Serbian troops began massacring Bosnian Muslims in the UN proclaimed “safe area” of Srebrenica, the UN did nothing. In 2009 the UN failed to intervene or even publicize the Sri Lankan civil war and its horrors. In 2010 cholera broke out in Haiti and killed more than ten thousand. The source of the cholera was UN aid workers. But the UN claimed diplomatic immunity and refused to provide compensation, once again smacking its charter in the face. And currently, the Sudanese government is supporting the Janjaweed while they carry out ethnic cleansing on many of the indigenous Sudanese tribes and the UN does nothing.
If still in doubt over whether or not the UN is an inefficient and corrupt organization, just look to some of its leaders, past and present. Sabrina Martin of the PanAm Post called the UN “a kind of refuge for officials involved in serious corruption cases.” John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda was president of the UN General Assembly from 2013 to 2014. He was then arrested on charges of bribery and tax evasion. Michelle Bachelet was the high commissioner for human rights at the UN, but was linked to corruption with Chilean millionaire real estate and was a former supporter of Nicolás Maduro. Chavez’s daughter, Maria Gabriela Chavez Colmenares, is the alternate ambassador of Venezuela to the UN, despite suspicions that she is involved in international criminal organizations and money laundering. The list goes on.
The UN’s corruption and inefficiency are undeniable, and poor Rashed al-Ahmad was one of the thousands of individuals to suffer from it. And sadly it has continued like this for decades. But there is no sense in hoping for the UN’s end. It is a powerful machine, and as Madeleine Albright said, “If it didn’t exist, we would invent it.” But it is key to understand its corruption and inefficiency to better understand the broader position of world crises and the UN’s ever-present role in them and then stories like Ahmad’s.
Abigail Liebing was an intern at Providence and is a student at Hillsdale College, pursuing a BA in history and a minor in journalism.