he United Nations (UN) established on 24 October 1945, was set up to promote international co-operation in the aftermath of World War II in an effort to prevent such large-scale conflicts breaking out in the future.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established by the UN General Assembly on December 14, 1950, and began work a fortnight later, on January 1, 1951. It was given a three-year mandate to help find a solution to the problem of the near 1 million European refugees displaced in the aftermath of World War II, and was expected to disband with the refugee problem ‘resolved’ once and for all.
Sadly, today we are faced with a litany of failures of the UN system to prevent even minor conflicts from escalating into wars of a mega scale. A few examples of its more recent failures have been the Israeli-Palestine conflict, the war in Vietnam, the Korean Peninsula, the war in Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria show how badly the UN has failed.
All of these wars have seen a mass dislocation of populations, huge human casualties, and triggered a world-wide refugee crisis -today euphemistically referred as a migrant problem. Sixty-five years after the UNHCR was set up as short-term measure with a deadline to settle a specific refugee problem within a specified three-year time limit, the UNHCR is today very much alive. And the problem of refugees and displaced people has exacerbated from a million at the time it was set up to over 60 million today.
By 2015, the number of refugees had grown to 65.3 million…and the numbers of persons displaced by conflicts is estimated to exceed 40.8 million. The UN has in short, not been able to tackle the single-most important reason that led to its creation. The ‘conflict’ in Palestine was a creation of the UN –the setting up of the State of Israel in what was originally Palestine without consultation or consent of the people of Palestine.
It subsequently failed to stop Israel’s annexation of not only Palestinian lands but also of lands belonging to Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. The Israel-Palestine has seen the creation of around 5 million Palestinian refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) services.
The Vietnam war –again an internal conflict in Vietnam saw the US invading that country with the landing of around 3,500 US marines in addition to the presence of around 23,000 military advisors already present in that country. That war saw over 60,000 US troops killed, in addition to over a million Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians (mainly civilians) being killed.
There wasn’t much the UN could do to stop the Vietnam War. The permanent members of the UN Security Council the US, the Soviet Union, China and France -Vietnam’s former colonial ruler- had opposing interests in the outcome of the war, and could use their veto to block any coherent Vietnam policy proposed by the United Nations. The US also used chemical weapons and dropped napalm on the civilian population. During its adventure in Vietnam, US efforts to overthrow the regime in Cambodia spawned the murderous Khmer Rouge –a precursor to today’s ISIS in Iraq and Syria- which was responsible for the killing of over a 1.4 – 2.2 million Cambodians during its reign.
While the UN looked on helplessly, it took a Chinese military incursion to end the Khmer massacres. In Afghanistan the UN response to the US invasion of that country was to set up the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) -resolution 1386 (2001)- to assist an interim regime set up by the invader force to secure Kabul!
The UNHCR reports interventions in Afghanistan had produced over 3.7 million refugees since the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979 as at 2014; and more than 700,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). The UNHCR reports add, as at December 2014 around 2.5 million Afghan refugees lived in Pakistan, and another million more in Iran.
In 2002 the US and UK invaded Iraq on blatantly false claims of Iraq having Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). In a sad turn of events the UN by Resolution 1483, recognized the US and the UK as occupying powers under international law, with legitimate authority in Iraq. Today 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance within the country. According to UNHCR, 4.8 million have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. Around one million others have requested asylum in Europe.