Boutros Boutros-Ghali Turning Point in the United Nations

  • by Roberto Savio (rome)
  • Wednesday, February 17, 2016
  • Inter Press Service

Boutros Boutros-Ghali Boutros Boutros-GhaliBBG, who died February 16, was considered too independent. We have now forgotten that on American request, he did authorize in 1992, a United Nations intervention in Somalia, run by an American general, whose aim was to distribute 90 million dollars of food and aid to the former Italian colony, shaken by an internal conflict by several lord of war. The intervention did cost 900 million dollars in military expenses, and ended with the downing of two Black Hawk helicopters, and the tragic death of 18 American soldiers, dragged in the street of Mogadishu. An obvious expedient for the US was to out squarely the fault on BBG, who become the scapegoat during the American electoral campaign. Bill Clinton did refer to him by in his campaign by shouting BoooBoooGhali, and an alliance was made with the US Ambassador to the United, Madeline Albright, to get rid of him, in exchange of becoming Secretary of State. As you can see, I do not intend to make a ritual commemoration of Boutros. I did travel on the same flight to Paris when he left the UN (only the Italian ambassador went to say good bye at the airport), and I remember the ease with which, when we arrived at the immigration line, he went to the Non EU queue, in spite of a policeman inviting him to the diplomat exit. He said: My friend those times are gone, now I am a citizen like you. And when we took a taxi, he had to fight with the driver, who was an Egyptian, who did not want him to pay. BBG was not popular in the UN. He was very strict, very private (he never went to any reception), and very aloof. He was, in reality, a professor of International Law, which was his real interest in life. And he did not like very much people. He was suddenly alert when he met somebody with a personality, or an unusual person. But he looked the world of the UN as too pompous and formal.

He did always prefer a book to a diplomat. But if you could become his friend, you would find a very ironic and amusing mind, with a striking intellectual depth, and a shy human warmth. He came from an historical Egyptian orthodox family, who was very rich, until president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalizations. He did consider that because of his family, he could not be conditioned by power. He was a Copt, married with a strong and intelligent Jewish Egyptian, Leila, and he was able to make a career up to Secretary of State, keeping his tenure at the University. When he was vetoed by the US for a second mandate, he told me: Americans do not want you to say yes: they want you to say yes, sir. He never forgot his identity. He spoke of himself as an Arab, and he did openly wonder if he would have had the same treatment if he was white and American or European. He did openly sympathize with what he called the underdogs and the exploited, and he tried to make of the United Nations again a point of global governance. We have to remember that when BBG become Secretary General, in January 1992, The UN was at the end of a long process of decline, initiated under Reagan, in 1981. In 1973, for the first time in history, the General Assembly unanimously approved a global plan of governance, which made of international cooperation the basis for its action. Out of this plan, for instant, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (Unido) was created. Even a Summit of Heads of States was held in Cancun, Mexico, in 1981, to advance on a New Economic Order. It was the first outside visit of the newly elected American President, and he made immediately clear that the days of the UN were finished. US would not accept to be straightjacket in an absurd democratic mechanism, where his vote was equal to the one of Montecarlo (he probably intended Monaco). The US become rich because of trade, and his slogan was trade, not aid. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was part of the Cancun Summit, and a new alliance based on making of markets and free movement of capitals the new basis for international relations. From 1981 to 1992, the world changed dramatically, not only because of the collapse of a bilateral world, with the end of the Soviet Union, but because the winners took literally the end of communism as a mandate for a capitalism encumbered from any governance. BBG was not a left wing person. But he felt how the big powers were marginalizing the UN. The two engines of globalization, Finance and Trade, were already running outside of the organization. He spoke about this trend based on national interest with the concern of an Arab, and the distaste of a professor of International Law. He made a strong effort at his beginning as Secretary General, forestablishing an Agenda for Peace, a strong juridical document on a clear role of the UN, which was conveniently ignored by the great powers. And then he proceeded to held a number of extraordinary conferences, from the one of Climate at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (the basis of the path to Paris),to the Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993, to the Conference on Population in Cairo in 1994, to the Social Summit in Copenhagen in 1995, and the Woman Conference in Beijing in the same year. In all those conferences, the US and the other great powers had to bow again to the rules of international democracy, and accept resolutions and plan of actions that would have gladly avoided. When finally, they got rid of him, in 1996, the decline of the UN retook its course. Even Kofi Annan, who was chosen to succeed him on Madeline Albright request, felt eventually in disgrace, because he tried to keep some independency for his action. And now, the UN has no funds for action, and has become a dignified Red Cross International, left with education, health, food, children and any other humanitarian field, which is totally out from where money, power and governance are plaid. The Millennium Development Goals, adopted with great fanfare from all the Head of States of the world in 2000, would cost less than 5% of the world military expenses. The five permanent members of the Security Council are responsible for the international trade of 82% of the weapons, and its legitimacy for military intervention is a blanket conveniently used according the circumstances. The sad situation of Iraq, Syria and Libya is a good case study. And the great powers have not hidden their agenda of displacing from the UN the debate on governance. The Group of Seven has become the Group of 20, and Davos� World Economic Forum a more important space for exchange than the General Assembly. BBG saw the decline of the UN with regret. He went into positions which were consistent with his concerns. He become Secretary General of the International Francophone Organization, where again he had troubles with the French, because he wanted to make alliances with other Latin languages, as he had a cultural view and not merely linguistic one of the world to mobilize.½ He then become Commissioner for Human Rights in Egypt, and he did not deviate from his overall political view by becoming the Honorary President of the European Centre for Peace and Development, an organization created by the General Assembly, based in Belgrade, and who has plaid a unique role in creation academic cooperation all over the Balkans and other countries of Eastern and Central Europe. In this centre he found the place where his ideals for justice and peace, development and cooperation, were still vibrant and active. He died in the moment of clash between the fundamentalist of Islam and the others. He tried to draw the attention on this problem that he was clearly seeing to come, and he leaves a world where his idea and his view have become too noble for a world where nationalism, xenophobia and conflict have become the main actors in international relations. It is time now to loom more at those idea and ideals, and less to BBG as a human being, with its inevitable flaws and shortcoming. This would be also as he would like to be remembered. With him, we lived through unfortunately looks at the last great moment of the United Nations, and international law as basis for cooperation and action.

Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

© Inter Press Service (2016) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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