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Congresswoman McKinney Asks For UN Accountability After Its Complicity in Four Disasters:

"There is something seriously wrong with the current state of affairs: you can kill two people and be sentenced to prison. Kill 20 people, and go to an insane asylum. Kill 200,000 people and get invited to peace talks.

Allow thousands to die; become aiders and abettors to genocide and crimes against humanity; invoke "institutional immunity"; and head off to the next cocktail party.

And what of the victims?"

April 11, 2000

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- I'd like to thank you for inviting me to participate in this forum on the future of the United Nations. It's an honor for me to be invited to such a prestigious forum and to serve with such studied panelists.

I had never visited the United Nations until after my election to Congress eight years ago. I'm new to your world. And I'm sure, as I survey the faces in this room today, that most of you in here, are probably completely unaware of the world that put me here with you.

I have been honed from my experiences as a proud African American woman living in the United States. My country has practiced an apartheid no subtler than that of the Old South Africa. For me, the fight for justice is no intellectual matter.

I may happen to be a member of the United States Congress but, more important than that, I am a black mother who, like any black mother in America, is afraid to allow her teen-aged son to travel to New York City because he might come home in a body bag. Who I am has been chiseled on my own struggle to be free. And there is no room for compromise on that.

My constituents have come to expect nothing less from me. They have given me a tremendous privilege and responsibility to represent them in the United States Congress. For this I remain humble.

But today I find myself at the intersection of my world and yours. And I hope that what now brings us together, will keep us together.

Indeed, one of our most fundamental problems seems to be our resort to war where diplomacy hasn't been given a chance to succeed. You know that the United Nations was born from the ashes of two global conflicts; and you also know the Preamble to the United Nations Charter. It succinctly states the very reason for the existence of the United Nations: . . . to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war; . . . to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small; . . .to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained; . . . to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

It is clear that the Member States of the United Nations have a responsibility to live up to the ideals of the United Nations Charter.

But we know that that isn't always the case.

Leaders, themselves, of the United Nations have a responsibility to live up to the ideals of the founding of the institution even when the member states do not. Every Secretary General, I'm sure, pledges to uphold these noble declarations, conventions, international laws, and most fundamentally, the United Nations Charter, itself.

One great United Nations leader who helped to broaden international justice and the community of nations was Dag Hammorskjold. Despite great peril to his own personal security, he relentlessly pursued the higher interests of the Organization. Unfortunately, it appears that he was murdered for this very reason, and the broader international community has allowed that murder to be swept into the trash heap of history.

Even though my life and career have been steeped in single-minded pursuit of the fundamental principles of justice, peace, and freedom, I also happen to believe that America needs the world and the world needs America. I am not a neo-isolationist trying to withdraw my country from the community of nations.

My country was once a great force for good in the world, with immense prestige and widespread respect, and this was long before we became a great military power. Our current influence in the world has come to us from our steadfast commitment to the preservation of world peace and our generous support of the vanquished and not, as some would now suggest, from our vast military assets. I want to see my country recommit itself to imaginative ideas, generosity to the poor, and protection of the weak.

And that's really how I came to be here this morning.

However, let me put this squarely on the record: I believe in the UN.

I want the United States to live up to its international obligations to the UN.

In short, you could say, I'm no Jesse Helms.

However, your world has had a head-on collision with Jesse Helms. And Jesse is still standing. The United Nations, on the other hand, cannot afford another such collision.

And so today, I would like to ask you to work with me to help the United Nations avoid yet another collision with Jesse Helms.

In light of the UN's recent history, however, it appears to me that the UN might just be on the verge of yet another collision with Mr. Helms. Only this time, serious questions are being raised about your purpose in the world and the UN's ability to live up to that purpose. If the United Nations fails to navigate these challenges, then it could lose its credibility and therefore its right to exist as a useful political entity. And despite all the lofty rhetoric surrounding its birth, it could well die as ignoble a death as did its leader, Dag Hammorskjold.

Four recent tragedies directly involving the United Nations threaten to impale it on the swords of those who currently stand arrayed against it; accusing it of incompetence, cowardice, and mismanagement. What disappoints me, a defender of the UN, is that the criticisms, by the UN's own admissions, have merit.

I would like to talk to you briefly about three of these recent incidents in particular - you know them well - Rwanda, Srebrenica, and East Timor.

Rwanda. As you know, the United Nations in 1993 was given the mandate by its Security Council to protect the fragile peace in Rwanda in order that the fledgling transitional government, as agreed upon in the Arusha Accords, would be implemented. In April 1994, a plane carrying the Presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi was shot down, killing the two Presidents. Despite pleas to UN Headquarters for help, United Nations personnel on the ground in Rwanda were forced to fend for themselves in a situation of planned, but preventable, chaos.

I feel that I can take some credit for helping to create the international environment that forced Secretary General Annan to commission the Carlsson Inquiry into the Conduct of the United Nations in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

Last December, I appeared before the Carlsson Commission, along with two prominent Rwandan families, whose loved ones were surrendered by UN troops to the extremist Presidential Guard for subsequent killing. Not only was there this direct UN complicity in the murders, but the same UN troops then stood by carousing and drinking stolen beer taken from one of the families' homes as the Presidential Guard troops set about torturing the wife and two teenaged daughters of one of the victims.

Years ago, defenders of the integrity of this Organization won a Nobel Peace Prize for their humanitarian work. But in 1994 in Rwanda, they were aiders and abettors to genocide.

General Douglas Mac Arthur spoke of the critical role of the soldier in preserving civilization: "The soldier, he said, "be he friend or foe, is charged with the protection of the weak and unarmed. It is the very essence and reason for his being."

We all now know that the available evidence confirms that the United Nations knew well in advance the disaster that was about to befall Rwanda . . .

And the United Nations knew even before the genocide occurred about the secret plans to kill moderate Hutus and all Tutsis…

And the United Nations knew soon after the genocide began in April 1994 that tens of thousands of innocents were being slaughtered throughout Rwanda . . .

And the United Nations knew in late 1994 and early 1995 that tens of thousands more people were being murdered in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo . . .

And yet it did nothing in each instance to stop or prevent the carnage.

It did, however, express "deep remorse" for what had happened.

Srebrenica. Srebrenica is now a name that is associated with one of the worst international crimes in Europe for 50 years. But what makes the events in Srebrenica even more egregious, and what elevates Srebrenica onto a completely different plane of wrong doing, is that the United Nations was directly complicit in these crimes as well. The people of Srebrenica could have been saved by the UN.

They weren't.

As you know, the United Nations was given the mandate by the Security Council to create a series of safe havens in Bosnia for the Muslim population who were being systematically cleansed from areas controlled by the Bosnian Serbs. One such safe haven was the city of Srebrenica--declared as a UN-protected city which would protect the Bosnian Muslim population from advancing Bosnian Serb nationalists. Muslims were disarmed & encouraged to leave their homes to find protection in the United Nations declared "safe haven" of Srebrenica.

However, in July 1995, General Mladic's Serb forces finally encircled Srebrenica, whereupon he ordered them to brush aside the lightly armed UN troops and enter the city and cleanse it of all Muslims. Despite the clear warnings that a human catastrophe was about to unfold, the United Nations refused to fight for its own declared "safe haven" and instead surrendered thousands of men, women and children to the Serbian Army. Srebrenica fell, the UN base camp at Potocari was then emptied by the UN itself of all the desperate Muslim population gathered there, including the elderly, the sick and even mothers with infants. Lists were drawn up by UN troops of the Muslim men inside their camp and given over to the Serbian Army who then checked off the men and boys as each was located and taken aside to waiting transports. Thousands of Muslim men and young boys, some as young as 12, were then bused by the Serbs to nearby fields to be slaughtered. In a bitter irony, General Mladic then insisted that the UN pay for the fuel used in his buses and transports.

After reviewing the evidence submitted to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia against General Mladic, Judge Riad wrote:

"After Srebrenica fell to besieging Serbian forces in July 1995, a truly terrible massacre of the Muslim population appears to have taken place. The evidence tendered by the Prosecutor describes scenes of unimaginable savagery: thousands of men executed and buried in mass graves, hundreds of men buried alive, men and women mutilated and slaughtered, children killed before their mothers' eyes, a grandfather forced to eat the liver of his own grandson. These are truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history."

Once again, the United Nations conducted an inquiry into its behavior in Srebrenica and issued yet another apology. Srebrenicians--in the meantime--scattered across the four corners of the planet, are forced to eke out a survival relying on their wits, with help no where equal to the great losses they've sustained.

East Timor. The United Nations has had a long interest in the situation in East Timor. Despite powerful patrons on the other side, the United Nations valiantly never recognized Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor. And for 25 years, the United Nations remained a steadfast supporter of the right of self determination for the East Timorese people. Yet, in late August 1999, it appears that once again the UN acted like the frozen deer in the headlights--bracing for collision and certain death rather than agile action to avoid it: The UN did nothing to prevent the sacking of Dili despite having been warned well in advance that massive destruction was about to take place. The United Nations failed to act swiftly and the result was the razing of Dili and the displacement of thousands of East Timorese. Some weeks later, after the town had been razed, with the coast now clear for the UN Secretary General to act, he sent his representative to Dili, who, among other things, apologized for UN inaction.

Most recently, the UN has issued yet another apology for its failures to adequately address the human rights situation in Kosovo.

So, the UN, in four months, has issued four apologies for its acts and omissions in four international disasters.

What's going on here?

And why is it that when I speak with UN leaders, they cavalierly throw around this phrase, "Oh, of course, we have immunity."

In any democratic country on this planet, what the United Nations did in these four instances would result in prosecution and punishment. Yet the people who made these decisions feel that, at best, they can issue an apology and leave their victims to fend for themselves.

Well, the United Nations is supposed to be better than that. That's why it exists. And this notion of the United Nations being able to turn a blind eye to genocide, or worse still, actually being complicit in genocide, is untenable.

The United Nations is a respected public international institution which is accountable to the world community.

Mr. Kofi Annan spoke on this point issue on April 7, 1999, on the fifth annive rsary of the outbreak of the Rwandan genocide. Kofi Annan, as Secretary General declared:

"As long as I am Secretary General, the United Nations as an institution will always place human beings at the center of everything we do. No government has the right to hide behind national sovereignty in order to violate the human rights or fundamental freedoms of its peoples. . . . There can be no doubt that if we fail this challenge, if we allow the United Nations to become the refuge of the "ethnic cleanser" or "mass murderer," we will betray the very ideals that inspired the founding of the United Nations."

I couldn't have said it better myself. Yet it appears to me that Kofi Annan's UN is on the wrong side of his own rhetoric. I have tried to answer those who have asked "If the United Nations is truly committed to protecting the innocent peoples of the world then how could it have allowed the tragedies in Rwanda, Srebrenica and East Timor to occur." I have tried answering this question myself without success. The fact is there is no justifiable answer. To the questioners, who now cite these recent tragedies, they say it is less the UN's stated intentions, but more its ongoing pretensions on its commitment to safeguarding human rights which they find objectionable. I have to wonder will this perception of false principle be the most significant long term cost coming out these three tragedies. Could this seriously damage, or worse still, destroy the credibility of the UN? In my mind it is the UN's hard won credibility coupled with the recognition of its important purpose in the world, which is the foundation of its influence in the world today.

There is something seriously wrong with the current state of affairs: you can kill two people and be sentenced to prison. Kill 20 people, and go to an insane asylum. Kill 200,000 people and get invited to peace talks.

Allow thousands to die; become aiders and abettors to genocide and crimes against humanity; invoke "institutional immunity"; and head off to the next cocktail party.

And what of the victims?

They are left to fend for themselves any way they can.

Surely, this will not be allowed to persist by the freedom-loving and democratic peoples of the world. We saw what happened in Seattle, Washington as young Americans left their comfortable homes to protest secrecy, back-room dealing, and lack of accountability in a multinational organization.

They're at it again this week in Washington, DC.

The line from Seattle, through Washington, to New York is a straight one. Attentive Americans and people across this planet will force reform on these organizations. Their back burner status on the American political landscape is over.

I think the UN has recognized that. I believe that my efforts with respect to the UN make it a stronger, more transparent institution. I believe that the United Nations holding itself accountable for its actions makes us all have greater faith in its ability to pursue its mission and its mandate.

However, the leaders and supporters of the United Nations have a clear choice.

They can deal with America's neo-isolationists who won't lose one night's sleep if that institution ceases to exist.

Or you can deal with people like me, committed internationalists who only ask that the United Nations live up to its own principles.

And as the role of Congress in the formulation of US foreign policy is accentuated, I hope that the leaders and supporters of the UN make the choices that make my role a supportive one rather than one in coalition with the likes of neo-isolationists like my colleague, Senator Helms.


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