A Caucus of Democracies How to reform the U.N.


The United Nations is perceived by most Americans as indispensable for maintaining stability in the world. That was certainly the intent when it was created at the end of World War II. Its charter proclaims that "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women" are principles central to peace and security. Regrettably, the U.N. has failed to act upon the centrality of human rights to its mission. Secretary-General Kofi Annan apparently recognized this reality in his Nobel lecture when he said: "The sovereignty of states must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights." Since the U.N.'s creation, millions have been killed, maimed, starved, tortured or raped by brutal rulers whose governments nevertheless wield great influence in the U.N. General Assembly and the Security Council. These facts clearly reflect the inadequacies and failures of the U.N. For example, North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong Il, has inflicted a holocaust on his people. Defectors and observers have estimated that more than a million people have starved to death in brutal Gulag-type camps. The resulting flood of refugees into China, where an estimated 360,000 North Koreans may now be hiding in an effort to escape brutality, has not produced action in the U.N., though the U.N. High Commission on Refugees is fully aware of this human catastrophe. China classifies these tragic human beings as "economic migrants" and "not refugees," while cynically embracing the refugee convention as the "Magna Carta of international refugee law" and thereby earning the applause of U.N. officials.

The U.N. Human Rights Commission has become a travesty. Two years ago, the U.S.--which has worked diligently to make the commission an effective instrument--was replaced by Syria, a corrupt, totalitarian supporter of terrorism. This year, in spite of American efforts, Libya was elected to chair the commission, an egregious challenge to the commission's integrity considering Libya's rule by a militant tyrant responsible for the 1988 bombing of a U.S. civilian jet in Lockerbie in which 270 people were murdered. U.S. opposition to Libya was supported only by Canada and Guatemala; 33 countries voted for Libya, while our European "friends" conspicuously abstained from voting at all. In electing such states as Syria, Libya, Vietnam, China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Zimbabwe to serve on the commission, the ostensible guardian of human rights, the U.N. has forfeited its commitment to those values.

In 1948, the U.N. recognized Israel as a new state and member. Shortly thereafter, Israel's Arab neighbors--refusing to accept the U.N. decision--invaded Israel. Since that time, and until quite recently, neighboring Arab states have publicly considered themselves in a perpetual state of war with Israel, and have acted accordingly. How has the U.N. responded? Since 1964, the Security Council has passed 88 resolutions against Israel--the only democracy in the region--while the General Assembly has passed more than 400 such resolutions. The U.N., an organization committed to peace, permitted Yasser Arafat to address its General Assembly in 1974 with a pistol on his hip, and subsequently formed--under U.N. auspices and with U.N. funding--three separate entities with large staffs which advance the Palestine Liberation Organization's anti-Israel agenda: the Division for Palestine Rights; the Committee for the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Human Rights Practices Affecting the Palestinian People. No Arab state has ever been chastised by the U.N. for actions against Israel and for its defiance of the 1948 U.N. resolution.

Is it any wonder that many Americans hesitate to place our security concerns in the hands of the U.N.? Daniel Patrick Moynihan, as he was leaving his role as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in 1976, called it a "theater of the absurd."

The U.N. today remains far short of realizing its potential or its stated aspirations. Its direction and control have been hijacked by authoritarian regimes, the relics of yesterday. We must work diligently toward realizing its original goals: freedom, democracy and human rights for all the peoples of the world. Until then, with our national values and security at stake, we must not permit our interests to be diverted and undermined by the unprincipled. At a minimum, it is essential that the U.S. take the lead in establishing and strengthening a Caucus of Democratic States committed to advancing the U.N.'s assigned role for world peace, human dignity and democracy. The recently established Community of Democracies (CD) has called for this move, a recommendation jointly supported in a recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations and Freedom House.

In June 2000, the U.S., under the leadership of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and in cooperation with Poland, Chile, Mali and other democratic states, convened the first meeting of the CD to "collaborate on democratic-related issues in existing international and regional institutions . . . aimed at the promotion of democratic government." More than 100 countries participated. It was necessary for the CD to withhold full membership from some countries that sought to be included but did not adequately meet democratic standards. A second such meeting took place in Seoul in November 2002, where participants reaffirmed the need to create a U.N. Caucus of Democratic States. Secretary of State Colin Powell called it "a new tool in the U.S. policy tool bag." A third meeting of the CD is scheduled for Chile in 2005. The CD could be effective in refocusing the efforts of the U.N. to more closely follow its founding principles. At the same time, the CD is uniquely capable of filling the gaps left by the U.N.'s inadequacies, both internally and externally. But the CD's existence seems to be a great secret in the press. How often have you read about it?

The Community of Democracies is not alone in recognizing the need for more ardent advocacy of democratic principles in the U.N. The European Parliament early last year called for the creation of a working democratic caucus at the Human Rights Commission. Recently, Sen. Joseph Biden introduced a resolution in the Senate in support of the establishment of a U.N Democratic Caucus as "an idea whose time has come." It would be enormously valuable for the president of the United States to address the American people and enunciate a strong overall policy on the U.N., its opportunities and its limitations. He should make clear that broad promises about human rights must be replaced by specific implementation of human rights standards.

In order to advance the principles of the U.N. Charter, a strong Democratic Caucus must emphasize human dignity as an essential ingredient for peace and stability. It must challenge and limit the influence of the regional blocs that, for example, decide on the rotating membership of the Security Council and the various U.N. missions and commissions. Decisions and resolutions of the heavily politicized General Assembly--including the selection of states for commissions and other U.N. activities--should be formally approved by the Security Council before being considered decisions of the U.N. This would provide a safeguard for the U.N. Charter's foundational principles and objectives. More difficult is the need to reorganize the composition of the Security Council itself to reflect today's realities and not those of 50 years ago.

A strong case may be made for the need for an international body to which all of the world's states, democratic and authoritarian, belong. Discussion and constructive exchange may flow from it. But let us not bestow on it the appearance of being a forum of principle or wisdom qualified to judge the dimension of our national welfare and value. The changes necessary in the U.N. will be difficult to achieve, and some may not be achieved at all. But the impetus for such change must be a commitment to human rights and democracy. We should put Kofi Annan's statement to the test: "When the U.N. can truly call itself a Community of Democracies, the Charter's noble ideas of protecting human rights . . . will have been brought much closer."

Mr. Kampelman was U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.