A dangerous turn at the UN

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial
Tuesday 12 Apr 2022

Together with the vast majority of Arab countries, Egypt has been trying to maintain an extremely difficult balance in the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Last week it could not but abstain during a vote on a US-drafted resolution at the 193-member UN General Assembly to suspend Russia’s three-year membership in the UN Human Rights Council.

The US-EU Resolution received 93 votes, while 24 countries voted no, and 58 abstained. A two-third majority of the voting members present was needed to suspend Russia from the 47-member Geneva-based body and, since abstentions do not count, it was passed.

 As the Egyptian envoy to the United Nations explained in a statement before the vote, Egypt’s decision is not a response to the Ukraine crisis itself, and does not imply any loosening of Egypt’s commitment to refraining from the use of force or its rejection of any violation of the sovereignty of nations. Instead, it is more of a warning against the abuse of UN mechanisms and agencies to achieve political goals, setting a dangerous precedent for the future.  

The resolution was seen to constitute a “dangerous turning point” on the path of the UN, according to Egypt’s UN ambassador, who also noted that the international community’s reliance on the UN to establish international modus operandi is at stake.

“The organisation’s respect for its charter, rules and procedures has redoubled the international community’s dependence on it to consolidate the international modus operandi,” Egypt’s Permanent Representative to the UN Osama Abdel-Khalek said. “This has been based on rules and mechanisms that it relies on for the proper management of international relations and the maintenance of international peace and security,” he added. The resolution approved under tremendous US pressure meant that the international dependence on the UN for these reasons “is now under threat.”

 Still, another key reason why Egypt and the majority of Arab countries abstained were the flagrant double standards the US and other Western nations have applied while pushing for a favourable vote for the Russia resolution. Citing alleged violations of human rights by Russian forces in Ukraine, the US and its allies, including nearly two dozen mini-island states, such Tuvalu, Nauru, Andorra, Micronesia, Kiribati and Tonga who always vote US, said Moscow did not deserve a seat at the UNHRC.

Only a few years ago, ironically, former US president Donald Trump proudly announced in 2018 the suspension of US membership in the same UN body because its resolutions have been repeatedly critical of Israel, its occupation of Palestine and its inhumane, racist practices against the Palestinian people living in their homes in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

 All demands to investigate horrific killings of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan by occupying US forces were limited to statements by international human rights organisations, without even the slightest hope of reaching any international tribunal or body due to the US veto power and influence.

 As a matter of fact, the United States has passed legislation that criminalises and prevents any attempt to pursue American citizens charged with human rights violations oversees. Trump went as far as threatening to arrest and sanction judges and other officials of the International Criminal Court if it moves to charge any American who served in Afghanistan with war crimes.

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton bluntly stated: “If the court comes after us, Israel or other US allies, we will not sit quietly. We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system.”

 In his statement, Abdel-Khalek rightly warned against “double-standards” in dealing with human rights violations worldwide, saying that “on many occasions, less decisive and more lenient decisions were taken regarding clear human rights violations in the not-so-distant past.

 “Egypt’s principled and consistent stance rejects this approach as it involves a waste of the purpose for which the organisation, its agencies and organs were established and as this leads to squandering its credibility and international multilateral action.”

Egypt has nonetheless stressed its firm rejection of any human rights violations in Ukraine. However, such allegations must be fully investigated, considering that both sides have happily used misinformation in the ongoing war.  

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, Egypt has highlighted the need to prioritise dialogue and diplomatic solutions to settle the crisis, supporting all endeavours that might accelerate a political settlement.

Last week, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri held talks as part of the Arab League’s Ukraine crisis group separately with the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers, in Moscow and Warsaw, respectively, to push for a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

Early in March, along with 140 countries, Egypt voted for a UN Resolution calling for a halt to Russia’s invasion and an immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from its western neighbour. However, Egypt also warned against economic sanctions that are not based on the mechanisms of the multilateral international system.

It remains clear that all world efforts at this stage should be to bring a speedy end to this military confrontation in Ukraine, instead of widening the gulf between the warring sides, and pushing them to adopt more stubborn stands.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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