When I heard that Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand was going to stand for the Secretary General’s role, I was delighted. I was more so when the Government, despite it being the same one that defeated Ms Clark’s Labour-led Government in 2008, enthusiastically came on board to back her bid. The unity across the political spectrum of New Zealand politics that Helen Clark would be a long overdue force for the better in the United Nations said much. But with two United Nations votes now having been cast, and Ms Clark a long way back in the field, is the United Nations about to blow a historic chance?
Sadly it would appear so. Unfortunately the United Nations Security Council, which is the most out of date of all of the organs of the United Nations, does not – Britain aside – seem to want a female Secretary General. Given the poor state of womens rights around the world and the strength of the “Old Boys Club” of Permanent Five members who do not want change because it will upset their agenda, are on the verge of causing lasting damage to the entire United Nations.
The damage will be lasting because the credibility of the Security Council, which is probably 25 years out of date and increasing unable to deal with crises around the world, is already painfully stretched. The last time the Security Council co-operated to an extent that was respected by the world would probably have been when it authorized the United States-led liberation of Kuwait in 1991. Since then a rash of crises have happened, or – in the case of Iraq and Syria – are continuing to happen and the Permanent Five have been unable to agree on a solution. The full list is too long to remember, but would include all of the following:
- Srebrenica persecution of Muslims in Bosnian civil war
- Rwandan genocide of 1994 when nearly a million Tutsi were killed in just a couple of months
- The Darfur Crisis where 250,000 lost their lives to ethnic cleansing
- Syrian Civil War where the death toll now stands at over 300,000 and
It is not just the inability of the United Nations to deal with crises any more, but also the endemic corruption that has tainted its credibility as a global organization. Whether it has had to do with peace keepers, especially those from African countries being found to have raped civilians that they were supposed to be protecting, or alleged corruption around Secretary General Kofi Annan’s office, the problems plaguing the United Nations have grown substantially.
The out going Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea has done his best. He has been transparent in ways Mr Annan never was. He has had to cope with a bitterly divided Security Council whose divisions have only worsened since the failure of the Arab Spring in 2011. At every opportunity, lest their client states be overtaken by popular revolutions, Russia and China have persistently blocked United Nations resolutions calling for action on Syria. For its part the United States have consistently vetoed any resolution calling on Israel to stop establishing new settler towns.
But Ms Clark would have struck a monumental blow for women in the same way Kate Sheppard all those years ago in 1893 struck a blow by enabling New Zealand women the right to vote. It would have been a blow that forced womens rights onto the international agenda of the United Nations. It would have been a huge boost for transparent practices and the accountability of a global body whose forums provide opportunities for small nations like New Zealand to be seen on the world stage.
Could the United Nations survive too many lost chances like this and still be a credible global body? Maybe, but a failure to elect someone like Helen Clark for Secretary General just makes an recovery that much more difficult. And the probability of rueing it? Very good.