Unworthy of the Peace PrizeDecember, 11 2001
Yesterday, the Nobel Committee awarded its prestigious Peace Prize to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and to the United Nations itself. According to Alfred Nobel's will, written in 1895, the peace prize in his name should go to the person who "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding of peace congresses." It is difficult to see how this year's prize meets any of Nobel's three conditions.
It should not take a great feat of memory to recall that, just days before September 11, a day that shall be marked for its barbarity, the United Nations closed one of the most hate-filled international conferences in history. The Durban Conference Against Racism and Intolerance, though ostensibly a "peace conference" of the sort that Nobel hoped to encourage, had been transformed into a hate fest against Israel and the Jewish people. "Protesters" contributed to the ambience of the conference with signs saying "Kill the Jews," "Hitler should have finished the job," "Zionism is racism," and "End Israeli apartheid." At the last minute, and only after a walkout by the United States and Israel, vicious condemnations of Israel and attempts to belittle the Holocaust were removed from the resolutions. An endorsement of the Palestinian "right of return" - a barely disguised recipe for Israel's destruction - remained in the final document.
In defense of its decision, the Nobel Committee might argue first that the UN's leaders should not be blamed for the terrible acts of some of its member nations, and in any case we were all less sensitive about these things before September 11. But UN officials, including Annan himself, could not bring themselves to unequivocally reject the Arab states' hijacking of a conference against racism and their transforming it into a weapon against their region's only democracy, Israel. By the time UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson held up an anti-Semitic book being distributed at Durban and proclaimed that she was "a Jew," it was too little, too late.
Nor does the idea that the UN has changed since September 11 hold water. On December 5, for only the second time in 50 years, the signatories of the Fourth Geneva Convention were gathered for one purpose: to condemn Israel.
Though the conference was held under Swiss, rather than UN auspices, the same Durban dynamic was at work there, and United Nations officials could not be found uttering a word of protest against this flagrant politicization of international humanitarian law. Again, the United States, Israel, and to their credit, Australia, felt compelled to boycott the meeting, which accused Israel of "occupying" a land that is the subject of negotiations and which Israel offered to withdraw from in exchange for peace. The Palestinian use of terrorism against Israel was, of course, completely ignored.
Though Annan is personally no worse and perhaps, by some measures, better than many of his predecessors, it is hard to see why a peace prize should be given to officials who so regularly tolerate gross hypocrisy and double standards. Perhaps it is impossible to expect of a bureaucracy that represents every almost every nation in the world - democracy and dictatorship alike - to reflect something higher than those nations' lowest common denominator. In this respect, Annan's Nobel acceptance speech was at once encouraging and disappointing, in that it accentuated what the UN does not say or stand for when it counts.
Annan concluded his speech not just with platitudes about peace, but with a relatively ringing call for the real source of peace - democracy. "When states undermine the rule of law and violate the rights of their individual citizens," Annan declared, "they become a menace not only to their own people, but also to their neighbors, and indeed the world. What we need today is better governance - legitimate, democratic governance that allows each individual to flourish, and each state to thrive." Annan unabashedly recognized that democracy has earned its place among universally desirable values, such as promoting human rights and ending poverty. Yet he and the UN have not taken the next step: speaking out against bands of dictatorships when they abuse their power in international bodies and make a mockery of international law. The UN should not be receiving a prize for peace, but should be shamed for straying so far from its ideals and its true potential.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post