Issue 2: High Commissioner condemns attack of human rights worker in Cambodia; UN reports on Iraq’s weapons; and Annan calls for cooperation between the UN and the private sector


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A recent attack by armed forces in Cambodia on a UN human rights worker is condemned by High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.

Analysis: This attack in Cambodia is just the latest in a growing list of human rights workers who are mistreated, abused, abducted, and even killed.  UNHCR worker Vincent Cochetel still languishes in captivity somewhere in the Russian Federation.  Six ICRC delegates were killed in December of 1996 in Chechnya.  Ten ICRC workers and a Somali aid worker were just kidnapped in Mogadishu.  The trend continues while the chambers of the UN and conferences on humanitarian law fail to produce real solutions.  Recommendations for educational dissemination of international humanitarian law are insufficient in the absence of enforcement.

The increase in attacks on human rights workers is largely the responsibility of non-state actors who do not feel bound by international law.  The establishment of a permanent international criminal court may be the best way to confront such violators, but its jurisdiction must be widely accepted (especially by noted violators), and its jurists consistently of the highest quality.  The current system of ad hoc tribunals, though a stop-gap measure, at least enjoys legitimacy and is creating a body of jurisprudence.  The depth of the problem probably requires that a permanent and effective institution be created.

* UNSCOM reports Iraqi data on biological weapons is “inadequate.”  The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) preliminary findings suggest Iraq is not in possession of prohibited nuclear materials or agents.

Analysis:  Although potentially promising, the IAEA report still needs further confirmation.  Meanwhile, Iraq’s non-compliance with the UN’s efforts to account for all biological weapons and materials is unacceptable.  Iraq’s policies of subterfuge must be met with firmness, and the world’s expectations of quick results should be appropriately restrained.  UN success is not just gauged by its ability to broker an agreement, but by having the discipline and staying power to see it through to its conclusion.

* Secretary-General Kofi Annan has reported to the Security Council on the need for cooperation between the UN and the private sector to usher political stability into Africa’s nations and boost its economies.  The report has the Secretary-General singing a  welcome tune: give civil society a chance.

Analysis: New approaches to long-standing issues of development are desperately needed, and the Secretary-General’s call for partnership between the UN, the private sector, and national governments is welcome. While the levels of donor countries’ Official Development Assistance (ODA) falls, the private sector is replete with capital, skills, and technological innovation. If the UN can broker an equitable relationship between the private sector and needy nations, then the World Organization will play a constructive role without needing to vastly increase its budget or bureaucracy.

The UN’s role should include identifying development needs, communicating those needs to the private sector, and aiding the transfer of skills and technology to developing countries. Additionally, UN engagement with governments can define governmental roles in creating an “enabling environment” for private enterprise, thus linking political reform with stability and needed economic growth.