A dramatic week

2011-09-27 00:00

THE drama that played itself out at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last week is the best example of the contested nature of the norms that govern our world today and those that a new world order must be fashioned on.

The developments in New York are important to us who understand that the new South Africa will benefit from the emergence of a new and progressive global order.

Every September, the UNGA convenes to give heads of 193 countries an opportunity to discuss and revisit the role of the UN. Leaders use this occasion to highlight their positions on the most critical international and regional questions of the time and try to persuade each other to take certain corrective actions. This is the reason very few leaders miss this annual gathering, and if they do the reasons should be quite serious. For instance, Mohamed el-Bashir of Sudan has an International Criminal Court warrant out for his arrest. President Jacob Zuma was heavily criticised for choosing to attend what must have been his most crucial National General Council meeting in Durban last year instead of the UNGA. Generally, countries understand that the UNGA is a very important, even if not the most powerful, policy-making and deliberative international platform.

The tensions within the UN over growing unilateralism by three of the five veto-wielding members of the UN Security — France, UK and the United States (the P3) — presaged a tense and heated debate on the floor of the UNGA months before it actually took place. Most countries share concerns about damaging political stalemates and conflicts that we saw in countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

While there was a division of opinions on the UN Security Council Resolution 1973, the decision by the P3 to sub-contract Nato to carry out more than a mere no-fly zone, but to use “all means” deemed necessary to remove Colonel Muammar Gaddafi from power and to drag the UN secretary-general, who was seeking a second term, into it took divisions to new heights.

This followed the same P3 forcing the UN system into taking sides in another civil conflict, the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. For the first time in memory, the UN’s blue helmets were involved directly in shifting the balance of power in a civil conflict in favour of the side that the P3 wanted to win. Again, a secretary-general who was desperate for a second term was happy to hand over the command of the UN soldiers to France.

On both occasions, the UN charter was violated and the integrity of the UN as an international regime was undermined. While some felt that perhaps the UN and its principles needed to change in order to respond to the exigencies of our time, others felt that the accepted international norms ought to be adhered to whether or not it is convenient to do so. Critical among this is that the UN system should not be controlled by a few powerful states. Also important are the principles of national sovereignty, justice, equity and multilateralism. The questions needed resolving and the UNGA as the most representative platform was where these could best be discussed.

But it was the intention by the Palestinian Authority to launch a bid for formal recognition as the 194th state on the UNGA that made the run-up to the session last week particularly unmissable. Here was a stateless people who have been under occupation in apartheid-style conditions, whose hopes of a negotiated statehood via negotiations with Israel had been dashed more than 10 times, who put the world on the spot to decide for or against their right to self-determination. Israel predictably opposed this. But it seemed very odd that the U. S. under Barack Obama, who mesmerised the world with his open-mindedness barely two years ago, turned around and sounded like a George Bush-governed U.S., threatening to veto any decision in favour of a Palestinian state. Obama eloquently supported the democratic aspirations of all of the Arab world, but ate his words on Palestine. What hypocrisy!

Zuma joined many others in sticking to the principle that what is good for South Africans and other nations, surely must be good for the Palestinians. The Arab Spring bolstered the cause for a free Palestine, but the U.S. and its allies that went to great lengths to support regime change in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya, are poised to stifle the democratic aspirations of the Palestinians.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue. He writes in his personal capacity.


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