Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was called “a diplomat and humanitarian who embodied the mission of the United Nations like few others” in a Facebook post by former President Obama. Annan, the first African secretary-general and a Nobel laureate, passed away on Saturday, August 18th. His service to the UN was noted as revitalizing to the organization and prioritizing its commitment to international human rights. It was, however, not without criticism. He expressed regret over his handling of the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s, which many believe he could have stopped earlier.
What do students think of the role of the United Nations in the modern-day international community?
On the United States leaving the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO):
• “We have left and rejoined UNESCO before. Ronald Reagan pulled us out, back when UNESCO had a thing for the Soviets. George W. Bush put us back in. Barack Obama even pulled U.S. funding to UNESCO in 2011. We haven’t had a vote on it since 2013. Hillary Clinton, who was critical of the program before, probably would have said that UNESCO needs to UNES-GO away.”
• “However, as should be expected, some on the left have preached that this is their absolute last straw with Trump. The fact that he can just so boldly turn his back on world culture just makes their head pop Scanners-style.”
• “What should be an organization to promote free press, protection of cultural sites and education rights has become nothing more than a mouthpiece for anti-Israel stances and disturbing support for terrorism.”
• “I am certainly not always the biggest fan of the United Nations. I think it has lost its way a bit, but I do not believe it to be some evil force of anti-American scorn and hate, even if many of the member states have nothing but contempt for Western values.”
On the United States leaving the United Nations Human Rights Council:
• “Although I agree that the administration’s decision is morally objectionable, I do not think this decision will fundamentally alter U.S. policy on international human rights. Contrary to decades of American rhetoric placing humanitarian rights at the heart of U.S. foreign policy, the United States has categorically held its political and economic interests above those of humanitarianism and morality.”
• “By continuously blocking the [International Criminal Court], vetoing UNHRC and UN Security Council measures against Israel, and supporting regimes like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the United States has made it clear to the international community that it never intended to uphold a commitment to human rights.”
• “Critics think Haley’s announcement marks a departure from America’s ostensible commitment to defend human rights. However, in reality it reveals how American rhetoric about freedom and democracy functions as a façade for imperialist and geopolitical calculations.”
The Bottom Line:
The United Nations is just one piece of the complicated world peace puzzle. And just like all governing bodies, the UN needs reform in order to perform its duties well. The United States is right to criticize the UN if it has legitimate concerns. However, if the United States is not going to uphold the values of the UN commissions and resolutions it is a signatory to, then why be involved? Well, if the United States continues to withdraw from commissions, that is likely to cause alarm among its allies. For the sake of keeping tensions low, it is better for the United States to remain in its current position. The purpose of the UN is to create compromise - if the US wants things to change, the best way to do that is to stay involved and be clear about what it believes, not to sit out.