Annan’s Shameful Legacy

Former UN human rights lawyer Kenneth Cain has a scathing piece on the legacy of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in The Guardian:

Like its cousin, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Rwanda’s stunning new genocide museum, perched on a quiet hillside overlooking Kigali, is at its most arresting when it honours the lost children. One installation invites us to consider David, a cute, shy boy, with big round black eyes: David’s favourite sport was soccer; he enjoyed making people laugh; his dream was to be a doctor; he was tortured to death; his last words were: ‘The UN will come to get us.’

Next to David’s biography is Ariane’s, four, stabbed in the eyes and head; Fillette, also four, smashed against a wall; Yves and Yvonne, three and five, hacked to death at their grandmother’s house; Aurone, two, burnt alive in a chapel; and 12-year-old Mami, whose last words were: ‘Mum, where can I run to?’

The UN’s horrendous failure to act in Rwanda is a black mark upon the organization — although no one else seemed to be interested in stopping the genocide either. However, when one considers that the very mission of the UN is dedicated to preventing such acts, one has to wonder why the hell we have a United Nations if it is unwilling to act.

The museum’s silent juxtaposition of personal courage versus Annan’s passive capitulation to evil is an effective reminder of what is at stake in the debate over Annan’s future: when the UN fails, innocent people die. Under Annan, the UN has failed and people have died.

His own legions have raped and pillaged. In two present scandals, over the oil-for-food programme in Iraq, and sex-for-food in Congo, Annan was personally aware of malfeasance among his staff, but again responded with passivity.

The United Nations has been given a kind of sainthood, and its supporters seem to think that it can do no wrong. Yet while the UN may stand for a set of noble ideals, the reality of the UN as an institution is that it is a bureaucracy filled with self-serving apparatchiks who are getting filthy rich off of corrupt deals, a structure that gives some of the world’s worst serial abusers of human rights a seat at the table on a council dedicated to preserving human rights, and is far more interested in protecting the status quo than in protecting human life.

The resignation of Kofi Annan is only the first step towards making the UN live up to its only ideals, and the fact that Annan is still allowed to dither about Turtle Bay is symbolic of how untouchable the UN can be. The UN can engage in one of the biggest financial scandals in human history, its “peacekeepers” can rape and pillage the people that they’re supposed to protect, and its staff can line their pockets with blood money, and the international consensus isn’t outrage, but an insistance that the UN never be called to account. The international community has become the battered wife that sticks by his abusive husband “because he loves me,” a reaction that will only serve to hurt more people like the innocent children of Rwanda.

Just because an institution serves a noble purpose, that does not insulate it from criticism, review, or accountability. For too long the UN has been placed on an altar, above any criticism or demands for reform. This must end — elsewise more children like those murdered in cold blood in Rwanda will perish while the UN does nothing. It is time for the shameful legacy of Kofi Annan to be ended for someone who is willing to clean out the miasma of corruption that hangs over Turtle Bay to take his place.

One thought on “Annan’s Shameful Legacy

  1. Here’s the best part of the story, though — a remarkable thing to read in The Guardian:

    “The second searing irony for me is that the American neoconservative right has occupied the moral high ground in critique of Annan, outflanking the left, which sits on indefensible territory in his support. But if prevention of genocide and protection of the vulnerable are not core priorities on the left, then what is? If anyone’s values have been betrayed, it is those of us on the left who believe most deeply in the organisation’s ideals.

    “I am mystified by the reluctance of the left both in the US and the UK (the Guardian ‘s coverage, for example) to criticise Annan’s leadership. The bodies burn today in Darfur – and the women are raped – amid the sound of silence from Annan. How many genocides, the prevention of which is the UN’s very raison d’être, will we endure before the left is moved to criticise Annan?”

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