The United Nations could use something like them - and would be well-advised to follow the rules it already has.
For decades, United Nations officials could do their business in comparative security, knowing that American news media, at least, would be too polite to mention those little business arrangements and shakedowns that make positions of power so satisfying for some.
Then, a nice, straightforward business deal with the former ruler of Iraq became the Oil for Food scandal. Much of the blame for exposing this little arrangement goes to an upstart news service, that doesn't recognize United Nations immunity from scrutiny.
As if that wasn't bad enough, a whistleblower pointed out ways that the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) was breaking United Nations rules. Among other things, this person said that the UNDP had redirected millions in cold, hard, cash to North Korea's own Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il. It gets better. It seems that North Korean government employees ran key aspects of the UNDP development program there.
Faced with these charges, the UNDP did the only thing it could do. It fired the whistleblower. 'Allegedly' fired, I should say.
But, the damage was already done. Real investigators went in, and found out that the whistleblower hadn't been very thorough. The investigators confirmed every accusation, but uncovered wrong-doing missed in the original disclosure.
That was then. Recently, the United Nation's ethics commissioner has been trying to get restitution for the whistleblower.
His efforts may, or may not, be successful.
If they're not, it's business as usual for the United Nations.
This may be a 'multicultural' issue. It's my impression that in some parts of the world, public officials are expected to make part, or the bulk, of their income from bribes, kickbacks, and other activities which a comparatively intolerant American system of law and custom doesn't permit.
Perhaps we should recognize that the United Nations, as a global body, lives by its own rules, and shouldn't be trammeled by the stultifying restrictions of western law and custom.
I don't think so.
My hope is that the United Nations, encouraged by the knowledge that somebody's watching them, will make restitution to the whistleblower: and start behaving like a legal, respectable, rule-following institution.
My Own View of the United NationsSome people hate the United Nations. I don't.
When I was in my teens, I was quite a fan of the world organization. I still think that, by and large, the world is better off with that well-intentioned institution, than without it. If nothing else, things like the General Assembly give world leaders a place where they can yell at each other in comparative safety.
I recognize that it's far from "Parliament of man, the Federation of the world" envisioned by Tennyson. Very far.
However, warts, chronic scandals, and all, it's the closest thing we've got to a competent legal authority on a global scale.
Like it or not, we need to deal with it.
Something that affects my perception of the United Nations is my being an historian and a Catholic. About fifteen centuries ago, as Rome's influence was fading, the Catholic Church was dealing with the leaders of war-bands in Europe.
At the time, they were the closest thing Europe had to competent governments. (I'm using "competent" in the sense of functionally and legally qualified for a task.)
There's a pretty good case for saying that the Catholic Church's influence on these warriors is what gave us chivalry: a code of ethics which wasn't always followed, but served as a guide and an example.
Today, Europe has gone from a patchwork of warlords' territories, to a feudal system, and then nation-states. The European Union promises to be a next step in that region's political organization.
Also today, the United Nations is the closest thing the world has to a competent legal authority with global influence. I think it is a poor excuse for a 'world government,' but I also think that the European warlords of post-Roman times weren't competent to form the European Union. These things take time.
Meanwhile, the Vatican has an 'ambassador' to the United Nations. The official title is the"Holy See Permanent Observer to the United Nations."
It's my hope that, between the Vatican's Permanent Observer, impolite news agencies, and whistleblowers, the United Nations can continue to do more good than harm. And, who knows: in another fifteen centuries or so, Tennyson's dream may come true.
- "Review of the External Independent Review Panel's Report: United Nations Development Programme Activities in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, 1999-2007" (a *.pdf document)
Conducted by the Director of the United Nations Ethics Office
- "ANALYSIS: Does the United Nations Accept the Rule of Law?"
FOXNews (July 3, 2008)