While observing the intensity and proportions of the conflicts that broke out during the past decade, a question that comes to mind is that how can all of this be happening on such a scale, given that there are supposed to be some mechanisms which not only prohibit, but can, in some (rare) cases, even result in entire nations being put under harsh sanctions, merely for just the accusations that certain illegal activities might be committed against other nations or stateless groups of people.
According to the second paragraph of the Article Two of the United Nations Charter, the alpha and omega document of modern-day international law, the entire Organization of the United Nations is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members. What does the sovereign equality mean? Sovereign equality is a fundamental axiomatic premise of the international legal order. It serves as the basis of other equally important principles, namely the prohibition of force and the prohibition of intervention. In other words: the international law prohibits military intervention in sovereign states by other sovereign states. This sounds nice in theory, but is it actually respected in practice?
Let’s take a look at Syria as an example. Syria is a sovereign state ruled by a government which was approved by the majority of its population. The authorities conformed to all predefined terms and conditions of international law, such as providing the population with all basic needs and rights granted by the ratified conventions, charters and declarations, having established rule of law throughout the entire territory within its legal borders, etc. Nevertheless (and in complete opposition to the international law) Syria was destabilized by bringing thousands of jihadists to the country, as well as by domestic terrorist groups which were funded, supplied and trained by foreign powers. All this was achieved by making strict violations of the international law, ironically by those who consider themselves the world’s greatest guardians of freedom, human rights and democracy.
To the world powers, Syria was basically a hotel than anyone can enter at any time and relax the way he pleases. Other states were making illegal incursions and invasions in and out of the country on countless occasions, ignoring any rule of international law or the fact that Syria still had a stable government that managed to rule the majority of the state’s territory. The international law strictly prohibits intervention by external powers in sovereign states, tolerating it only in the so-called “emergency circumstances”, such as in cases of complete dismantlement of the stable authority, a thing that could pose an impending danger for the rise of criminal or terrorist groups that might exploit the circumstances and violently impose their own rule. In the case of Syria, the UN has done nothing to prevent illegal interventions and acts of aggression against that sovereign country, thus violating its own principles and foundations. Nothing was attempted or planned to prevent the damage to Syria’s sovereignty either.
Regrettably, this is not the only unacceptable thing that happened amidst the alleged rule of international law. The Organization of the United Nations, the very subject that has laid down foundations and the basic principles of international law has done nothing to preserve the principle of the second paragraph of the Article Two of its own Charter. By failing to grant the rule of its own command, the UN has not only failed to grant the integrity of a sovereign state, it also undermined its own integrity and legitimacy.
The Syrian conflict is, however, not the only recent example where the UN failed. A rather similar situation, in terms of granting the key principles of international law and preserving its own integrity, also happened in Ukraine. In February 2014, this country was a subject of an illegal overthrow of its legitimately elected government that was approved by the majority of its citizens. The UN did not raise any specific concern, despite the fact that provocateurs were not only violent, but immediately targeted at least one ethnic and linguistic group as soon as they seized power, thus violating the very basic principles of international law.
The situation in which some of the citizens found themselves in, forced them to organize a legitimate form of revolt against the new self-appointed rulers. The citizens whose fundamental rights were about to be affected by the rise of the junta regime, first tried to revolt politically, but once it became apparent that the self-appointed ones had no interest in a peaceful political solution and continued with their radical and aggressive policies, the citizens were forced to arm themselves and started to take matters into their own hands.
Does the international law permit the formation of such armed groups? One of its fundamental principles grants full sovereignty to states in relation to other states. Every state has the right to execute its law and order within its sovereign borders. However, as of February 2014, Ukraine no longer has a legitimate authority, but rather a junta-style ruling regime, a thing which is not tolerated by international law. Since the legitimate authority is no longer in place, the citizens got their right to organize themselves in order to maintain stability and assure everyone preservation of their fundamental rights. Therefore, the formation of Donetsk Republic and the associated militias is not against the international law per se. The establishment of authority of the Donetsk Republic can be seen as a response to political provocations in Kiev as well as to maintain law and order. Although separatist elements within the Donetsk Republic always were present, it is important to note that separating territories of sovereign entities does not mean the violation of international law if carried out within the scope of the acceptable circumstances and conditions.
According to the UN General Assembly Resolution 637, nations and people have the rights to their self-determination. The General Assembly further recommends this to be respected and upheld whenever possible. In order to maintain stability and universal peace, wishes of the people that are leaning towards self determination shall be ascertained through plebiscites or other recognized democratic means, preferably under the auspices of the United Nations.
Were the secessionists in Ukraine’s predominantly Russian region of Donbass willing to express their rights through any of these means? Yes, but their wishes and desires fell on deaf ears in Kiev. Even more – instead of attempting to solve the situation in a civilized or democratic manner, Kiev responded with force and new waves of aggressive policies aimed at people of Russian background. In order to secure their own existence even within Ukraine, the Donbass residents were literally forced to take up arms.
What is really remarkable at this whole situation is how the UN responded. There was no specific attention paid to the rights and needs of the people of the Donbass region. To the UN their wishes were practically non-existent. Even after the outbreak of a humanitarian crisis, the UN has hardly ever lifted a finger, despite Kiev’s anti-separatist measures causing a real catastrophe, with thousands of people being killed and more than a million of them becoming refugees. Why was there no such scenes as we could have seen on the case of the Syrian conflict? Indeed, whenever the Syrian Forces decided to carry out any major-scale anti-terrorist operation, even in areas not inhabited by civilians, “grave concerns” were immediately risen by the UN. Why was there no such “grave concerns” in the cases of the Kiev regime’s operations? Are the lives of the people in Syria worth more to the UN than the lives of people in Donbass? Doubtful, because even in the cases of the gruesomest terror attacks such as cremating children alive, the UN has remained pretty much silent, instead just urging the sides to lay down their weapons and start talking. As if establishing a dialogue with Al Qaeda-affiliated groups is possible.
For comparison: when the NATO-supervised and often very violent separatism broke out in former Yugoslavia, the UN immediately and without any hesitation supported the secessionist elements, urging the then Yugoslav authorities to immediately submit to secessionist demands, while at the same time ignoring that secessionism often went against the principles of its own Charter. The question which arises here is why didn’t the UN also communicate in that way with Kiev authorities? Given that the UN Charter maintains full equality of all Member-states, there shall be no difference between the authorities of Syria, Ukraine, Yugoslavia or whatever. After all, all of these Member-states are said to be equal.
The UN ran into serious issues as regards recognizing legitimacy of the Donbass separatists, yet it displayed no such hesitation with Kosovar (Albanian) separatists, despite the fact that the latter were involved in a number of activities that violate international law and all relevant agreements, charters and declarations – terrorism, human and organ trafficking, drug smuggling, ethnic cleansing and so on. The Donbass rebellion, on the other hand, signed itself under none of these things. On top of that, the region is majority Russian. It shall be noted that this is not the result of any recent demographic trends (unlike in Kosovo, which is a historically Serbian region, there even is some socio-historical legitimate ground for seceding Donbass from Ukraine. But this is apparently not enough for the UN.)
On a number of occasions, Dr. Bashar Al Jaafari, Syria’s permanent envoy presented relevant evidence and detailed explanations behind the moves made by the Syrian authorities whenever questioned by the “concerned” fellow UN member-states. He not only provided the international community with facts and explanations, all of his official statements heavily relied on international law and the relevant UN documents that were passed. Nevertheless, the UN as a whole paid very little attention to that, instead giving the impression that it is not interested in preserving what it was supposed to preserve in the first place.
The biased approach of the UN is nothing of surprise in relation to the funding of the organization. At least 22% of all the funds allocated to UN on an annual basis are provided by the United States. Looking further at the board of the International Monetary Fund, a UN-linked organization, it becomes obvious that a number of people involved with chairing the organization, previously used to be either government ministers of various NATO states or assumed top positions at the world’s leading multinationals, the very same multinationals which provoked assaults on Yugoslavia, invasion of Iraq and the current war in Syria. Now it is no longer difficult to figure out why Donbass separatism and Syrian counter-terrorism weren’t treated the same way as Kosovar separatism or American “counter-terrorism” (if we can even call it that of course).
The two examples mentioned are far from being the only ones where the UN failed. Since its establishment in 1945, the UN has failed to prevent some of the biggest and bloodies conflicts of the 20th century, especially Vietnam, the illegal overthrows of the legitimate governments in Chile, Argentina and El Salvador etc… None of the political powers responsible for triggering the major humanitarian disasters were ever tried for their wrongdoings, yet the UN immediately rushed to issue a number of sanctions against Iraq as soon as it began invading Kuwait, and which resulted in a massive humanitarian catastrophe, a thing known in advance to likely happen. Why didn’t the UN also rush with sanctions against US for its crimes in Vietnam, particularly in the village of My Lai? And how come that pretty much all people who have so far been persecuted for war crimes under any international tribunal, with the exception of the Germans right after the end of the Second World War, were not from a single Western country? Since its inception, we have seen the people from pretty much all of the Balkans countries in front of the International Criminal Court, as well as some Africans. Why are there no people from the five leading NATO member-states or Israel? Over the past 50 years, armies of the five leading NATO member-states and Israel were involved in a number of war crimes. And war crimes, according to the international criminal law, have no limitations set, which means that legal proceedings could at any time be initiated.
All this brings up a question: do we really need the United Nations to solve major geopolitical questions? A few years ago, the governments of Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Republic signed a bilateral agreement on jointly fighting terrorism on the Syrian soil. The agreement, which was not made under the auspices of the United Nations, resulted not only in elimination of the terrorism-related problems in the areas of the joint Syrian-Russian cooperation, but also in the return of more than two million people that were previously forced to leave their homes due to threats posed by terrorism. The UN-brokered deals, on the other hand, did not have that kind of success.