Next up: the Oil for Food scandal – which, as Claudia Rosett, the top-notch UN expert and eloquent UN critic, tells Horowitz, was absolutely “designed to produce corruption.” Allegedly, the objective of the program was to provide food, medical supplies, and so forth to the Iraqi people in exchange for oil; in reality, a bunch of UN big shots, up to and including Security Council representatives (and perhaps even one or two folks higher up), lined their pockets with kickbacks. But, again, the UN did nothing – it was, as Rosett says, “the biggest scam in the history of human relief,” but nobody was fired or jailed. As always, the UN proved that nothing could be more alien to its institutional culture than the idea of accountability.
The Rwanda genocide gets its own sad chapter in UN Me. The head of the UN peacekeepers in that country, General Romeo Dallaire, actually wanted to do the right thing. But when he asked Kofi Annan, then in charge of all UN peacekeeping forces, for authority to take relatively modest action to prevent a looming genocide, Annan said no. Why? Because it was more important to protect the UN’s “image of impartiality” than to protect people from genocide. UN forces were even ordered to withdraw from a school where they were the only thing standing between Tutsi refugees – many of them children and old people – and Hutus with machetes. Result: a brutal massacre for which – yet again – no UN personnel were punished.
While this nightmare was unfolding in Rwanda, Boutros-Boutros Ghali, then secretary-general of the UN, was on a European tour, which he refused to cancel in order to deal with Rwanda. When he did return to New York, he denied that Tutsi were being exterminated. Interviewed by Horowitz about this outrage, David Bosco of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace observes that the UN has “an institutional difficulty with determining that one side is the aggressor and one side isn’t.” Indeed, Horowitz and Groff even got Jean-Marie Guéhenno, former Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, on camera smoothly asserting that in the wake of the Rwanda genocide, it’s best not to “allocate the blame to one actor or the other.”
Horowitz also interviews Jody Williams, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was invited by the UN to examine the situation in Darfur and who ended up livid at the UN’s palpable discomfort with her undiplomatic conclusions and its failure to act on her urgent recommendations. “Avoiding the truth seems to be in the DNA of this organization,” Williams charges. It’s “totally a joke.” Cain essentially agrees: “The notion isn’t to do the right thing. The notion is to keep your job. They’re bureaucrats in the most banal and cowardly sense of the word bureaucrat.” And Rosett charges that the UN, with its emphasis on “secrecy and privilege,” actually “has a lot in common with dictatorships, not democracies.”
At film’s end, Horowitz and Graff pose a simple question: what, given all these unpleasant facts, does the UN stand for? The answer, alas, is clear. It stands for itself – period. Like many other pointless bureaucracies, it is about perpetuating its own existence and enhancing its own image – and about seeking to squelch the truth about its fecklessness, incompetence, and absolute lack of a moral compass. It’s also, I would suggest, about providing hack politicians from around the world with yet another career steppingstone, once they’ve risen to the top of the ladder in their own crummy little countries and finished emptying their own citizens’ pockets.
Oh, well. Some of us, as I acknowledged at the beginning of this rant, already know all this. But even though I’m one of those who did, UN Me still fired me up – a useful service. What’s more important, however, is that all too many intelligent and otherwise well-informed people on this planet still actually revere this massive con game disguised as a staunch defender of human rights, international peace, and social harmony. If this film doesn’t at least start to open their eyes, nothing will.
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