§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Lord Ahmed rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they support strengthening of the United Nations.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to thank the Government and all your Lordships for taking part in this important debate. The United Nations remains the only global institution, with a membership of 191 member states, which has truly universal principles. The main objectives of the United Nations charter, being drawn up and coming into existence in 1945, were conflict prevention; to promote human rights, justice and respect for international obligations; and to promote social progress and better standards of life. The UN has evolved to deal with the challenges of peacekeeping roles as well as humanitarian work in times of conflict and during natural disasters.
§ The task for the United Nations is enormous, but the resources somewhat limited. Since 1945, its membership has increased from 51 to 191 and the world population has increased from 2.5 billion to more than 7 billion. The challenges of dealing with poverty, hunger and disease, such as HIV/AIDS, have also increased. Along with those problems, there have been many conflicts that have cost millions of lives in Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, Kashmir, Chechnya and the Far East.
§ In my view, the United Nations Security Council is now facing the biggest challenge, which is its perceived lack of legitimacy since its birth. At least during the Cold War, debates took place within the Security Council, although with many vetoes been used by both superpowers. However, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, slowly, the role of the United Nations has been diminishing and recent events in the Middle East have 88 proved that the sole superpower can and does ignore the United Nations—or at least, that is how it is perceived.
§ Much of the United Nations' work gets little publicity in relation to social development, gender equality, environmental protection, human rights, economic development and co-operation, international organised crime and other bodies such as UNHCR, UNICEF, UNESCO, the IMF, the WHO—the list goes on of the successful work carried on by those UN bodies. The recent successful work of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Iran has been important and deserves to be commended.
§ The United Nations' credibility in preventing wars and genocides is also seriously damaged since the massacres of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995 and the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. We have witnessed massacres of near-genocidal proportions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia, where the United Nations' response has been hesitant and slow. Much of the reason for that could be said to be due to the fact that the UN does not have available a rapid reaction force for peacekeeping and preventing wars and genocides.
§ The UN's ability to implement many outstanding resolutions is also seen as selective. Resolutions on the right of self-determination in Kashmir, for example, are outstanding from 1948 and 1949. The suffering of the Kashmiri people is continuing, with more than 80,000 deaths while both India and Pakistan continue to waste money on nuclear weapons rather than using their valuable resources for the eradication of poverty, which is desperately needed in both countries. India has more than 300 million people living below poverty, with half of Pakistan's population also living on less than two dollars a day.
§ The United Nations' biggest failure has been in relation to the Middle East, where the United States has vetoed resolutions in the Security Council in its support of Israel; and actions in Iraq have further undermined the authority of the Security Council.
§ There is a danger of the UN becoming ever more irrelevant in matters of world security, as did its predecessor, the League of Nations. If so, the job of stopping wars and genocides and of constraining tyrants would become even closer to impossible. For all those reasons, we must support the strengthening of the United Nations and help to regain its legitimacy. Otherwise, many countries will increasingly feel free to take unilateral action against perceived threats, further undermining world security.
§ I wholeheartedly support the Government's commitment and support for the reform of the UN in their Command Paper. I welcome the latest round of the Secretary-General's programme of reforms, launched in September 2002, entitled, Strengthening of the United Nations: an agenda for further change. I also welcome the Secretary-General's appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, to a high-level panel examining the ways in which the UN handles threats to international peace and security. I am delighted to see the noble Lord's name on the speakers' list and look forward to hearing his contribution.89
§ Reform of the UN is inevitable and necessary. It must be democratic, less bureaucratic and more modern in all its services. The non-aligned movement must feel equal to the developed world; as the OIC and the Arab League must also feel as important as the European Union.
§ The question now being asked is how we can strengthen the United Nations. That is a vital and significant topic of debate which needs strategies and answers to avoid future problems. The UN must not lose its integral authority, importance and respect as an international forum. People's confidence in the council is weakening, and we must focus on the meaning and significance of what it is to be a part of the United Nations. As British citizens as well as international neighbours, we must be proud and confident that we are helping those in need.
§ Thousands and thousands of individuals and organisations around the world are working hard to control and manage issues of international peace and security. Many organisations have been extremely effective in protecting human rights and exposing gross violations wherever they have occurred, even in the past few days. Reforms need to be instigated to ensure that UN resolutions are strictly followed through and that international peace and security is looked at thoroughly and dealt with in the best way.
§ It is important that the United Nations states clearly the difference between Chapters 6 and 7 resolutions—although, in my opinion, all United Nations resolutions, from whichever chapter, are important and should be implemented. We must also ensure that countries such as Israel cannot defy and ignore UN authority time after time. If it is good enough for Mohamed El Baradei of the IAEA to go into Iran and Libya, it must be right for him to go into Israel to investigate its nuclear capabilities and weapons of mass destruction.
§ I support the Government's proposal for the expansion of the Security Council membership from 15 to 24, including some additional permanent members. It makes sense to include Germany and Japan as well as countries from Africa, Latin America and Asia. However, we must not support membership of any countries that have outstanding UN resolutions with which they have not complied.
§ We must also consider making the Security Council more inclusive and relevant to modern challenges. Seventy per cent of the wars and disputes are related to the Muslim world, whether in Nagorno-Karabakh, Sudan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq or the Balkans. Therefore, it makes sense to include at least one permanent member from the OIC or the Arab League to ensure that there is representation from this section of the world community.
Another major challenge to us all has been international terrorism. We must fight it together whenever it threatens our national security and interests. We must be prepared to condemn state terrorism also. Many countries now abuse UN Security Council Resolution 1373 of 2001, which is binding on all member states to combat terrorism by all means—that is, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts. Resolutions 1377 and 1373 of 2001 have a
far-reaching impact on international human rights and humanitarian law, particularly in cases where the pursuit of human rights may be confused with the animation of terrorism. I quote the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:
An effective international strategy to counter terrorism should use human rights as its unifying framework. The suggestion that human rights violations are permissible in certain circumstances is wrong. The essence of human rights is that human life and dignity must not be compromised and that certain acts, whether carried out by the state or non-state actors, are never justified no matter what the ends. International human rights and humanitarian law define the boundaries of permissible political and military conduct. A reckless approach towards human life and liberty undermines counter terrorism".
§ We must ensure that a war on terrorism is not perceived as a war on Islam or Muslims. We must give special attention to people's rights of liberty and security, the right to be free from arbitrary arrest, the presumption of innocence, the right to a free trial, freedom of opinion, expression and assembly, and the right of self-determination.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Lord Hannay of Chiswick
My Lords, this brief debate is extremely timely. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, for raising the need to strengthen the UN.
In my experience, support for the UN in this country is broad but also tends to be rather shallow. There is a tendency to expect too much of the UN and then, when it fails to deliver, to assume that it is a hopeless case, a noble aspiration but not one that will play an effective role in achieving global peace, security and development as its charter requires. There is an unwillingness to look beneath the surface of our failures and to analyse our own joint responsibility for those failures. The UN is, after all, an intergovernmental organisation; it is not some disembodied entity, sent to rule the world. When it fails, it often does so because its stakeholders, the member states, have failed to give it the resources and political backing that it needs to carry out the tasks it has been asked to undertake.
For the UN, 2003 was a bad year. Its Security Council was divided and paralysed in the run-up to the war in Iraq; its leading members lapsed into acrimonious public dispute; and then, in August, it lost some of its finest public servants in an outrage in Baghdad designed to ensure that it did not play the essential role that was needed if Iraq was to move towards peace, democracy and prosperity. So the Secretary-General was surely right to sound the alarm when he spoke to the General Assembly in September last year and to argue that we were at a fork in the road, where we could either lapse into unilateralism, with the risk of an increasingly insecure world, or summon up the collective will to make the UN more effective at facing up to the threats and challenges that we face. To give him advice on all that, he set up a panel, on which I have the honour to serve, and we are due to report to him in December.
What are the threats and challenges that we face? They are certainly not the same ones as we faced during the Cold War. The failure to think through the post-Cold War agenda in a systematic and purposeful 91 way is one of the explanations for the UN's patchy performance over the past 15 years. During that time the UN has had its successes. It reversed an aggression by Iraq against Kuwait; it wound down a fair number of the proxy wars that had sprung up during the Cold War—in Namibia, El Salvador, Cambodia, Mozambique and, eventually, in East Timor.
But it had some serious failures too—in Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda. Those failures and others that followed—in Kosovo and in Iraq last year—reveal basically two types of failure: one of execution and the other of concept. It became clear during the 1990s that the UN was not equipped to handle enforcement operations and that its member states were not prepared to equip it to do so. Nor were they prepared to step in and do it themselves with UN authority, except in the one case of Iraq's attack on Kuwait. The failure of concept arose over what to do when Security Council resolutions were defied, as they were in Kosovo and Iraq, and where fundamental disagreements over the use of force paralysed the Security Council.
Of the new threats that we now face, clearly international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and, worse still, the possibility of the combination of those two threats are real and present dangers. But they are not the only ones, and they are not the ones that seem most pressing in many parts of the world. The collapse of states, leading sometimes to genocide and often to regional mayhem, extremes of poverty, pandemic diseases such as AIDS, environmental degradation and unequal opportunities for trade all represent threats, even if indirect ones, to peace and security.
So we need a broad agenda, not a narrow one. We must not neglect old, festering problems such as those in Palestine and Kashmir, to which the noble Lord referred. They are, if anything, even more dangerous now than they have ever been before, and their neglect leads to legitimate accusations of double standards.
It is clear that the responses to those threats and challenges must be policy-driven. It makes no sense to believe that simply tweaking the institutions in New York will somehow bring of its own volition a substantially better outcome than we have already. But it is surely just as unwise to believe that you will have no need to adjust institutions to make them capable of handling effectively the policy prescriptions for the future.
The two aspects are really two sides of the same coin, and both will need to be addressed. We will need to look at ways of preventing states failing and learning to marshal the joint efforts of the international financial institutions and the Security Council to that end. We will need to consider how the UN can work in tandem with regional and sub-regional organisations. In some parts of the world—Africa for example—regional and sub-regional organisations are showing a welcome willingness to engage in conflict prevention, peacemaking and peacekeeping. But they lack resources. They need help in training, logistics, the civilian aspects of complex operations and, above all, 92 money. The European Union is showing the way by earmarking 260 million euros of assistance for the African Union, but more will need to be done.
We will need to strengthen the organisations working against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In the case of biological weapons we will need to break the impasse over an intrusive inspection regime. We will need to intensify our co-operation against terrorism through shared intelligence and police work and the denial of safe havens for terrorists.
At the end of this year it will be up to the member states to decide what to do with the panel's report and the Secretary-General's recommendations on it. As always at the United Nations, implementation and follow-up are matters for governments, not for panels of experts, however expert they may be. I hope very much that the British Government, as both a permanent member of the Security Council and a leading member of the European Union, will play an important and proactive role in the handling of the report. In the first half of 2005, with a newly elected or re-elected US president in office, we will discover whether the attempt to build a new consensus around a more effective UN has any chance of success. I would argue that no country has a greater stake in the success of that venture than Britain, and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something of the Government's thinking.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Lord Parekh
My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Ahmed for raising this important subject this evening.
In international affairs, the United Nations, unlike the League of Nations, which preceded it, enjoys considerable moral and political authority and has, over the years, become a major source of legitimacy. The actions of a state are generally accepted as right and carry a good deal of authority, if they are authorised by the United Nations. Why is that so? There are several reasons. When a state's actions are authorised by the United Nations, that state acts not in an individual capacity but on behalf of and in the name of the international community. Its actions are publicly debated and approved and therefore carry broad global consensus. They are also deemed to be lawful and just.
As the United Nations is so important as a newly emerging source of international legitimacy, everything should be done to respect and nurture its authority. If its authority were to be undermined, we would be in a state of anarchy in which might could become the sole criterion for right. Although that is generally accepted, as it ought to be, the United Nations can be only as good as its members, and their record, sadly, has not always been honourable.
Many United Nations resolutions have been selectively enforced, even when they fall within the same chapter. The latest incident—the war on Iraq—shows how much the authority of the United Nations has been undermined. The way in which the United States went about buying up small, non-permanent 93 members of the Security Council is an example of that. Resolution 1441 was interpreted as if every state were free to consult its own lawyers and decide whether the war was lawful. The United Nations should have been consulted, and a body of international jurists should have been asked to decide whether Resolution 1441 authorised action without a further resolution. The work of the United Nations inspectors was cut short, without the approval of the United Nations. In other words, we went to war in the name of upholding the authority of the United Nations, but we did everything in our power to undermine that authority and to expose that organisation to public ridicule.
There is a grave danger that the United Nations might be reduced to a moral fig leaf for the dubious and aggressive designs of powerful states. The question is not just one of strengthening the United Nations. We could strengthen it, so that it could be used as a moral fig leaf only by certain powers. Thus, the authority of the United Nations would become a veil behind which the aggressive designs of a particular country might be pursued. It is a question of restructuring the United Nations in such a way that it enjoys the respect of world opinion and can exercise independent authority.
How should we restructure the United Nations? We should rely on three criteria. The first is, "How can we make it more representative?"; the second is, "How can we improve the quality of debate?"; and the third is, "How can we increase its independence and capacity for collective action?". Those are the three criteria by which I would judge any proposal made for the restructuring of the United Nations.
There is no shortage of proposals for restructuring the United Nations. I shall not take the House through the whole syllabus, but I shall suggest three or four that are of great importance. Everything possible should be done to increase the power of the General Assembly and to make the Security Council accountable to it. In so far as it resembles a parliament, the General Assembly has a certain representative legitimacy that the Security Council does not have. No war or act of humanitarian intervention should be undertaken without authorisation by the General Assembly. In short, we should increasingly think about making the General Assembly more like a world parliament.
Secondly, the Security Council needs to be more representative, and its powers must be carefully rethought. It is extraordinary that the five permanent members of the Security Council should include two European powers, one Western power and a half-European power—Russia—while the rest of mankind, by accident of history, is represented only by China. The current structure of the United Nations simply freezes the state of the world as it was in 1945. But the world has moved on: either we should get rid of the veto or it should be regionally distributed, so that every major continent has, in one form or another, a right to exercise the veto. Alternatively, the veto could be overridden, either by an ordinary majority on the Security Council or by the General Assembly.
94 Thirdly, the Secretary-General should have the right, as the representative of the United Nations, to require troops or such other help as is needed from member states to carry out the resolutions of the United Nations.
Fourthly, the United Nations, as its name indicates, is really a trade union of nation states. It is a closed shop. Only the states can speak in the name of their citizens, and many important voices, such as the voices of ordinary citizens who are critical of the policies of their government or the voices of civil society and the NGOs, are simply not heard.
It is unacceptable that the state or government should be the only spokesman for all the citizens of a country. There are many ways in which that can be changed. It should, for example, be possible to devise bodies in which non-official bodies can be heard. Lots of proposals have been made. One is that there is no reason why the Secretary-General should not consult representatives of NGOs, civil society and other associations that are accredited to the United Nations and recognised by it. Nor is there any reason why unofficial organisations such as the World Social Forum or others may not be given the facility to meet from time to time and express their views, which, although not binding on the Secretary-General, would have powerful moral authority.
In other words, what should we do? We need to find ways of ensuring that the United Nations does not simply function as a trade union of the states and simply strengthen the power of the states vis-à-vis their own citizens or unofficial bodies.
I should like to think that this debate could not have taken place at a more appropriate time. The Iraq war and what has happened subsequently give us the opportunity and the incentive to restart the debate on how the United Nations should be transformed. The war was conceived in secret, based on deception and manipulation of world opinion, conducted in a legal void and created a culture of lawlessness, the consequences of which we are witnessing even now.
If one embarks on a war without clearly knowing why one is embarking on it, and on the basis of alleged practices that are themselves suspect, a climate is created in which people feel free to take the law into their own hands. What has happened in Iraqi prisons, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere are simply—I am almost tempted to say—moral entailments of the very climate in which the war was conducted and legitimised.
In this country and elsewhere, we have all been ashamed by what we saw in Iraqi prisons at the hands of our soldiers. I readily concede that it involved an extremely small number of soldiers. Nevertheless, that it should have happened or should have been allowed to happen for several months is a matter of disgrace to every sensitive citizen here and elsewhere.
Therefore, it is very important that we should rethink what the United Nations should and could do in such situations. I should have thought that as one small, tentative step to restoring authority, it might not be a bad idea to ask the United Nations to conduct an 95 investigation into what has gone wrong in Iraqi prisons and at Guantanamo Bay. That would be one way in which we could recognise the authority of the United Nations and create a climate in which we can think more intelligently and sensitively about where we should be going in this increasingly chaotic world.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, for giving us the opportunity to discuss the reform of the United Nations. As he said, its tasks are enormous. It is impossible to do more than scratch the surface of the subject in the few minutes that we have at our disposal.
I want to pick up the point that the noble Lord made about the credibility of the United Nations having been severely damaged by some of the failures, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has also referred, and, in particular, the failures that we suffered in Rwanda and Srebrenica. Your Lordships may remember that four years ago we had a debate on the lessons to be learnt from the reports that were commissioned by the United Nations on its operations in Srebrenica and Rwanda.
Recently, we have been commemorating the 10th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. There was an event in Portcullis House at which the First Lady of Rwanda spoke, as did the Secretary of State for International Development. As people do on those occasions, they said that such an event must never be allowed to happen again. The problem is that people were saying that for years after the Holocaust, and it did happen again. The genocide in Rwanda is a reminder of the fact that we failed the purposes of the United Nations when it was first established, which was to prevent that kind of thing occurring.
A key recommendation of the report on Rwanda was that the Secretary-General would initiate a plan of action to prevent genocide, which would involve the whole UN system. There was to be an effective early-warning system involving NGOs and academics, as well as the secretariat itself. The UN, and in particular the Security Council, were to be prepared to act to prevent genocide or gross violations of human rights. But all that we have done so far is to create better systems for picking up the pieces after the event.
It is true that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has no doubt been strengthened in the wake of the Brahimi report. I was pleased to see that the Security Council is to conduct a debate on 17 May on the recent surge in demand for peacekeeping operations and to evaluate the progress that has been made on the Brahimi recommendations. I am proud to say that the UK is involved in 14 peacekeeping operations and we have played a leading part in the reform process. We are also closely involved in the Secretary-General's examination of the way in which the UN deals with threats to international peace and security. I think that that is the biggest challenge of all. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on the way in which this is being approached by the panel of which he is a distinguished member.
96 Under the charter, there are only two circumstances in which any state can intervene in another's territory with military force; that is, first, in self-defence, under Article 51, and, secondly, in pursuit of a resolution of the Security Council, under Article 42, which almost invariably is preceded by a declaration that a threat to peace exists under Article 39.
Now there is also said to be,a clear justification in international law to protect people where they are threatened by an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe".That was said by the Secretary of State for Defence in evidence given to the Defence Select Committee, and was the argument for the intervention in Iraq in 1991 and, more recently, in Kosovo. The Foreign Affairs Committee wanted the principles governing humanitarian intervention to be established in the United Nations, and that problem still remains. If, in all the cases not explicitly covered by the charter, the judgment of risk is entirely a matter for the state concerned, there is no law. The essence of the rule of law is that the actors, whether they be individuals in the case of domestic law or states under international law, submit to the jurisdiction of their peers. I therefore respectfully suggest that the Secretary-General's commission should concentrate on formulating a set of rules to cover the circumstances that have arisen or may arise where, in the opinion of the member states, or a majority of them, intervention is justifiable.
I accept that it is not possible in practice to amend the charter. What might be considered by the Panyarachun commission, of which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is a distinguished member, is a set of guidelines to be applied voluntarily by states in considering whether to use force under the humanitarian rubric, which I have quoted, or in self-defence under Article 51, and particularly where action is to be taken against a threatened rather than an actual attack. If at some time in the future two-thirds of the UN member states had adopted these guidelines, they could then be approved as a form of secondary legislation to extend the charter.
I do hope that the mechanisms that are to be developed as a result of the Panyarachun commission will confirm the principle that intervention is justifiable against the wishes of the state concerned to prevent an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. The examples mentioned by the noble and learned Lord the Attorney General in the debate held last month on UN action, and which have cropped up again this evening—Somalia, eastern DRC, East Timor, Sierra Leone and, most recently, Haiti—were all cases where the state concerned had agreed that the UN did have a role.
However, I want to mention the case of Darfur, where Sudan has not agreed to UN involvement. We are now 30 days into the 45-day humanitarian ceasefire. Although ethnic cleansing is still in full swing, there is not even the international monitoring mechanism which has been identified as necessary by everyone from the acting UN High Commissioner for human rights downwards. Outlining an action plan to prevent genocide last month, and specifically 97 mentioning his deep foreboding over the reports from Darfur, the Secretary-General said that the one legacy he most wished to leave to his successors was an organisation better equipped to prevent genocide and to act decisively to stop it when prevention fails. That is our objective too. As Bill Rammell said in another place last November:Action should be taken only to prevent genocide or major loss of civilian life that could destabilise other states and threaten international peace arid security". [Official Report, Commons, 11/11/03; col. 207.]That situation has now been reached in Darfur. US AID warns that perhaps 30 per cent of the affected population, some 360,000 people, could perish over the next nine months. Ten years after Rwanda, 60 years after the Holocaust, Britain must do everything possible to prevent this catastrophe and to see that the action plan to prevent genocide proposed by the Secretary-General is not just a piece of paper.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Lord Howell of Guildford
My Lords. like others, I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, for promoting this debate. He speaks with authority and feeling on this issue and we are all indebted to him. It is difficult to be optimistic about the immediate future of the United Nations, but I believe very strongly that it is necessary and possibly, as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, said, more necessary than ever in the past.
To begin where we are, everyone is now looking to the United Nations to step into Iraq and somehow stabilise the situation as it enters its most critical postwar stage. But the question hangs in the air: is the United Nations either capable of performing this role, or willing to do so? If there is hesitation at the UN headquarters in New York, that is entirely understandable. As has already been mentioned, the last chief official of the UN, the late and brilliant Sergio de Melo, was murdered by a bomb. Most of the non-governmental agencies such as Oxfam and the Red Cross are now leaving Iraq, not going in, and in the current frenzied atmosphere it seems that UN personnel are themselves regarded as agents of the coalition in some distorted way, and therefore just as much enemies of Iraqi extremists and terrorist groups as are the Americans. Indeed, the Secretary-General himself, Kofi Annan, has been named by some Shi'ite extremists as the target for assassination, along with Mr Paul Bremer and other leading members of the provisional administration. How can the UN send its officials and workers back into this sinister maelstrom, and who is going to volunteer to go? This questions have to be addressed. One cannot just assume that hope will solve them. It will not.
The Iraq drama has raised even bigger questions behind those. The main question is whether an organisation which includes every recognised state on Earth—all 191 of them— which was constructed more than half a century ago in totally different conditions, is capable of policing a turbulent world. Is it capable of meeting the sort of threats that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned in his very authoritative speech. such as global terrorism, when there are 98 disputes even on how to define terrorism and on what is, or is not, a rogue state? Is this asking too much of the organisation?
The list of where it has totally failed to engage is, alas, a long one: Chechnya, Rwanda, Kosovo. the lethal Arab- Israeli dispute and, of course, Iraq itself. Its failures in Bosnia, notably the appalling massacre at Srebrenica, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, led to probably the lowest point in the inhuman treatment of humans in the 20th century. Certainly it was the lowest point in Europe since the Holocaust.
We all know the current structure of the UN is archaic, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, emphasised. It is perfectly obvious that major nations like Japan, Germany and India ought to have a similar status to the existing permanent five Security Council members, even if the overall status of those nations has to change. Furthermore, the UN's membership includes some of the world's worst dictatorships and, regrettably, these unsavoury regimes play an active role in the UN's activities. It still strikes me as very odd that Libya—where, I read this week, some nurses are currently being threatened with execution —chairs the Human Rights Commission, even if it has recently declared itself to be a more responsible nation. Sudan. which is currently conducting murderous attacks on tribal minorities—as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. constantly reminds us—is a member of that committee, along with Syria and Cuba. That cannot be right.
It gets worse. The entire UN organisation is now mired in a gigantic scandal, arising from the former Oil for Food scheme, which was meant to help Iraq's starving and dying children while Saddam Hussein still ruled in Baghdad. The cynicism and cruelty of that operation is breathtaking, and it seems that all those protestors who were raining down curses on Western governments for making the innocent Iraqi populace suffer were aiming at the wrong target. Suspicion now points not only at the former Iraqi dictator— who no-one trusted anyway—but at officials in Moscow, Paris and, alas, in New York, in the UN itself. Until this stain on the UN is removed, as I hope it can be, it obviously has to be asked how anyone can expect that organisation to fulfil the massive new governing tasks being asked of it, or to carry out, proudly and credibly, its supposed role as the source of all international legality and justice.
Yet, having said all that—and I know it is negative—what could conceivably replace the United Nations? For all its obvious faults, it is a great deal better than nothing. After all, many of its numerous agencies—although not all—do superb humanitarian work, as noble Lords have already said, and are staffed by amazingly dedicated and brave people. I have to say that some of the agencies raise questions somewhat when one looks at them. I am not sure that UNCTAD has fulfilled its role. I have never quite understand what UNIDO—the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation—is up to in Vienna. And I am not sure what the UN Economic Commission for Europe, which is a sort of left-over of the era of the 99 Marshall plan and the Cold War, gets up to nowadays. But no one questions the superb work of the UNHCR, nor of the UNDP; nor, of course, of UNICEF, which is a marvellous organisation.
Currently, the UN has 13 authorised armed forces wearing the famous blue helmets operating in peacekeeping situations around the world. People compare it with the old League of Nations, but it is quite different; unlike the League of Nations, every single nation state on earth is a member. So for all its glaring faults—and we must be realistic about those—it is probably the best kind of global assembly that can be brought together in today's novel, difficult and sometimes terrifying conditions.
In my view the real enemies of a stronger UN are not those who express scepticism or concern about its potential, but those who would overload it with almost divine powers and promote it as some kind of world government which it can never be. Many coalitions and policing operations are bound to continue outside the UN purview. Many ugly perversions of human dignity and rights are bound to continue unchecked by such a diverse and rambling construction.
I believe that the best way to see the UN is as a mirror of the world as it is, a reflection of both our high hopes and of course our disagreements. That amazing man Dag Hammarskjold had a marvellous phrase when he said that it was created not to take mankind to paradise but merely to save it from hell. I thought that a very good summary, made many years ago, of course, before his untimely death. That is probably about right. What does it mean? It means continuing to work patiently to reform the UN, but not to demand or expect too much from it, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, warned us. Dozens of plans for streamlining and modernising the structure, and particularly the Security Council, have been tabled in recent years, including proposals from our Government—indeed from successive governments—in their White Paper and on other occasions. Dozens more will have to be put forward to ensure that there is real improvement.
As for the Iraq situation, with which I began, it is going to be resolved only by the Iraqis themselves, notably by the moderate Shia majority. The sooner they are handed proper sovereignty, and the sooner they state quite clearly what kind of coalition and which security forces they want to stay at their request in their country, the sooner that the poisonous extremist factions will be driven out. The task appears to be too complex for the Americans alone; I have always thought that. But it is also far too tough a task for a UN administration magically to solve, whether the UN is reformed or unreformed and whether it has the capability and the will or not. Other countries, including very much our own, I am afraid, will now have to take not only the strong lead we have taken but a still stronger lead.
Realism, not idealism, is the best friend of the United Nations. That is the approach that will enable it to work as well as possible in a highly imperfect and very dangerous world.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, the whole House is grateful to my noble friend Lord Ahmed for securing this debate. I congratulate him on his powerful advocacy of the role of the United Nations. He was somewhat more optimistic about the future of the United Nations than perhaps was the noble Lord, Lord Howell. However, the whole debate has balanced the need for reform, based on optimism and what the United Nations can do to improve the situation in the world by means of resolution conflict and in so many other ways, with realism about past failures and weaknesses which need to be addressed.
I assure the House that the United Nations is at the heart of the Government's foreign policy and that strengthening it to face the future is a government priority. This debate is particularly timely as the Secretary-General's High Level Panel on the UN response to threats to peace and security is now fully under way. I shall say a little more about the panel later. I am very grateful that we had a contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who serves on that panel. He has given the House some very judicious insights about the challenges that we face and some constructive indications about how the work may proceed.
When discussing the strengthening of the United Nations, we should not lose sight of the fact that there is much that the United Nations already does well. In introducing the debate, my noble friend suggested that the Security Council has been increasingly ignored. That is not entirely true. The Security Council has never been more active than recently; for example, in the past two years we have seen the deployment of an effective peacekeeping operation in Liberia, and UN support for the formation of a transitional government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, offering hope and the chance of peace to millions of people. Sierra Leone, East Timor and, despite recent problems, Kosovo are UN success stories.
I understand that those accomplishments may appear minor compared with some of the very major threats that we all recognise exist in the world at present. I would be the last to ignore the importance of the points that have been raised on all sides of the House in this very well informed debate, but it is also right that we should keep in mind some balance in regard to the achievements of the UN.
In recent years the UN has played a leading role in the fight for justice to be meted out to the perpetrators of the worst international crimes: genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Tribunal, set up by the Security Council to deal with the atrocities in Rwanda and the Balkans, has convicted dozens of perpetrators of such crimes.
I turn to the point emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that we need to act in time to stop such horrors, rather than deal with justice after they have occurred. I shall seek to answer many of the constructive points that he made. Nevertheless, we should also recognise that those who perpetrate such crimes against humanity have clear signals sent out to 101 them that the United Nations and the international community will play their part in bringing to justice those guilty of such horrors.
In 2002 the World Food Programme provided assistance to 72 million of the world's poorest people, while the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provides support to the world's estimated 45 million refugees. Such matters are not trumpeted widely; those are not the headline-grabbing issues that we see in the newspapers—the great conflicts play that role—but they are solid achievements of the United Nations and they should not be underestimated.
As noble Lords including the noble Lord, Lord Howell, have pointed, despite those successes, there are many areas where the United Nations is not succeeding as well as we would want. Estimates suggest that over 60 per cent of African nations emerging from conflict return to that state within five years. Despite the many excellent examples of peacekeeping operations, it would clearly be better if the international community, through the UN, could prevent conflict, rather than take action after conflict has broken out.
In the past few years we have seen the emergence of new threats to our security. My noble friend Lord Ahmed emphasised the issues of international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Issues as diverse as the spread of HIV/AIDS and environmental degradation are beginning to have a potentially devastating impact on the lives of millions of people, particularly those in Africa. Those issues were simply not envisaged as global threats to security when the UN charter was written. If we consider the threats to the quality of life, even to the continuance of life for so many people in the world, we have to recognise how significant the issues are.
The UN has, however, started to take effective action to counter the threat of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Security Council sent out a clear message immediately after 11 September that terrorism is a threat to peace and security and that those supporting or harbouring terrorists could therefore expect Security Council action. The Counter Terrorism Committee, set up by the Security Council to monitor action taken by countries to suppress and prevent terrorism, has been strengthened and revitalised. A new executive directorate will make it more effective to act against those states that fail to meet their obligations. On the bright side, I should also mention that it is encouraging that Libya, although not under the auspices of the United Nations, has changed its perspective in relation to such issues. We should derive some satisfaction from that.
Similarly, we have recently seen a breakthrough with the adoption of a resolution by the Security Council on Counter-proliferation. All states will be obliged to act to prevent weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of non-state actors. The Security Council will set up a mechanism to monitor states' actions in this area, which the Government welcome.
102 Strengthening the United Nations is possible without changes to institutions. However, some areas will clearly benefit from institutional reform. The UK has long been a firm supporter of enlarging the Security Council. My noble friend Lord Ahmed made it an important part of his contribution, and I believe that it probably was the main theme of my noble friend Lord Parekh, that an institution that was set up against the power relationships of 1945 needs to change in the light of new relationships in a modern and very different world.
We believe that there should be new permanent members. We have supported the candidatures of Japan and Germany for many years. We also support the creation of permanent seats for Africa, Asia and Latin America, and we believe that India and Brazil are pre-eminent candidates from the latter two regions. We also believe that there should be new non-permanent members. That model would significantly increase the representation of the developing world, but the council would not be so large as to be inefficient. The point was forcefully expressed that it is not representative of the modern world while developing countries are unrepresented on the inner councils of the United Nations.
It is important to stress that the strengthening of the UN is about more than expanding the Security Council. The General Assembly has a vital role to play in allowing all member states to debate and vote on a wide range of important international issues. I heard my noble friend Lord Parekh emphasise the significance of the General Assembly's role. The UK supports the efforts of the current president of the General Assembly to improve the workings of that body.
Reform of the UN secretariat is also important. The UK is a strong supporter of the UN Secretary-General's reform programme, which he set out in September 2002. Despite those proposals for reform, the Government feel that a more comprehensive approach is required to strengthen the UN's capacity to deal with new challenges. That is why we greatly welcome the Secretary-General's initiative in establishing the High Level Panel to which the noble Lord, Lord Hanhay, is making a most distinguished contribution. How fortunate it is that this House is able to debate such a significant developing institution and have one of its representatives present to make his contribution to our deliberations.
The panel was established in November 2003. It is tasked with identifying threats to global peace and security and with making recommendations to improve the international community's responses. Peace and security are broadly interpreted to include both traditional threats and those posed by underdevelopment, economic instability, poverty, environmental degradation and social inequality. We consider that an essential task for the panel is to agree on the full range of threats. If UN reform is to be successful, all member states must feel that their security fears are being addressed.
A common theme throughout the debate, possibly expressed most cogently by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was that we need an improvement in the UN's capacity for 103 threat analysis and early warning so that threats to international and human security can be dealt with at an early stage when it is likely to be most effective. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, emphasised that point in respect of Rwanda.
To reply to one other point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, we are making a positive response to the Darfur crisis. He will know that we are very concerned about this. Ministers will raise it directly with the Sudanese Foreign Minister tomorrow, seeking immediate and concrete improvements. It is particularly important in relation to the threat of genocide that action is taken early. That is what we hope to see arising from the reformed structure of the United Nations.
This has been an all-too-brief debate on such an extensive and significant topic. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated. They have done what I think the noble Lord, Lord Howell, enjoined us to do—to balance an element of optimism in an area in which we could be constructive with the realism that there are crucial difficult areas which need to be tackled and where early results will not be produced. It is the Government's role to play their part in ensuring that we pursue as constructive a strategy as possible for the reform of the United Nations, which is all we have in terms of representing all the nations of the earth in reconciling each to the other.
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until 8.46 p.m.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 8.41 to 8.46 p.m. ]