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Suing the UN

Today, Reuters reports that a Dutch court has rejected the UN’s claims of immunity and allowed the families of massacre victims to sue the Netherlands and the global body. In 1995, Bosnian Serbs were able to enter Srebrenica and slaughter approximately 8,000 Muslims. The town had been guarded by Dutch soldiers serving as UN peacekeepers, but they failed to stop the Serb forces from taking control of the enclave. The families allege that the Dutch troops could have prevented the massacre if the UN had provided air support. It appears that senior Dutch officers inside the UN wanted to prevent friendly-fire casualties and so blocked the use of aircraft. Srebrenica is considered the worst atrocity in Europe since the end of World War II.

“The UN has the duty to prevent genocide,” said Marco Gerritsen, lawyer for the families, in a statement. “An appeal to immunity in a case of genocide, as in the Srebrenica drama, is irreconcilable with the UN’s own objectives and its international obligations.”

So if the UN has an obligation to prevent genocide, does it have other responsibilities as well? For instance, has it made a binding commitment to the people of the world to enforce its Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Article 3 states that every person has the right to “liberty.” Article 18 guarantees “freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Article 21 recognizes “the right to take part in the government of his country.” Why can’t a court just outlaw autocracy on the basis of the Declaration? Personally, I have a hard time justifying the presence of either China or Russia on the Security Council. And why do Cuba and Saudi Arabia sit on the new Human Rights Council?

I am sure that readers of contentions can think of other ways to use judicial mechanisms to make the UN live up to its ideals. And if the organization ultimately proves incapable of doing so, perhaps someone might ask a judge to abolish it.



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