*This tribune was originally published in French in Le Monde dated 30/3/2022
After unsuccessfully and repeatedly calling on Russian President Putin to end this deadly conflict and respect the United Nations Charter, Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations (SG), seems to have disappeared from the radar. Heads of State talk to Putin, heads of State visit Ukraine, and the SG stays in his office in New York… far from the fighting and the images.
In front of Putin, who has long decided on this war and this invasion and has prepared his people to believe all the lies he utters, all efforts seem to remain vain. The resolutions of the Security Council of the United Nations are blocked by the Russian veto, those of the General Assembly of the United Nations, not legally binding, are not respected by Russia.
Despite his limited room for manoeuvre, it is urgent that the Secretary-General intervene with force and use what remains of power in the United Nations to impose an immediate ceasefire and the opening of negotiations, taking into account the right of people to self-determination (UN Charter, Article 1, paragraph 2). He may not succeed, but trying is part of his responsibilities and a moral obligation.
It is essential that he does not content himself with speeches but acts on all fronts. But where is he? Has he developed with his teams a strategy of influence, in support of the discussions he should have with all countries, on solutions acceptable to both parties? Has he appointed envoys to discuss with opinion leaders, politicians, and civil society on all continents? Maybe he did, we don’t know…
And yet apart from the terrible price paid by Ukraine and Russia’s non-respect for human rights and other conventions, all countries and especially the poorest, some of whom abstained at the time of the vote at the General Assembly, will suffer from what is happening today. The increase in the price of wheat and other cereals, energy, certain metals, added to the consequences of climate change, will have a major impact on many countries, particularly the poorest ones. It is likely that food riots such as those we have experienced in the past will break out in several countries, increasing the suffering of populations and reinforcing authoritarian regimes. This conflict is not only a European war, it will have consequences all over the world. It is the role of the United Nations (its secretariat and its specialized agencies: WHO, FAO, UNHCR, etc.) to be a tool for peace, influence, and information, as set out in the United Nations Charter signed in 1945 and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed in 1948.
The United Nations is not only there to repair the damage of war, but it also exists to develop political solutions with the Member States and to defend the people. Has the UN become a politically neutralized organization? Is it only good for humanitarian issues: assessing the damage, taking care of the victims, sending equipment, finding funding –with no means to act on the causes-? That seems to be the case today. The humanitarian component is deployed, often effectively, in Ukraine and the surrounding countries (WHO, UNHCR, UNDP, etc.) but the UN is no longer using it to advance the political agenda.
In this regard, it is interesting to note that most UN agencies involved in Ukraine carefully avoid using the word “war” and to name the aggressor: the Russian Federation. An attitude denounced by some media but which persists despite the clarification of the Secretary-General. Last example: on March 17, the Director-General of the WHO did not mention the word Russian Federation once during his remarks on Ukraine before the Security Council. Naming what is happening in the most objective way possible is one of the primary tasks of the secretariat, is it in the process of capitulating in front of Russia?
Mr. Secretary General, wake up… The United Nations must mobilize around a strategy that gives priority to policy, information (countering fake information), and the mobilization of all countries in favor of a negotiated solution acceptable to Ukraine, the invaded country. All the staff, wherever they are, can and must work for a just peace, all means must be used. Be present on all fronts, unify the secretariat and all agencies in the same “fight” for peace, communicate what you know about the situation, the fake news, the atrocities, and make proposals that could lead to fair negotiations – for example with the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and other regional organizations – support the efforts of the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) in defense of the Geneva Conventions and for the respect of humanitarian law, support the current legal battles at the International Court of Justice. Get involved politically!
Avoiding a global disorder that will lead to more suffering is a priority. This conflict opens a particularly dangerous chapter in international relations and may mark the end of the United Nations.
Mr. Secretary-General, use the weapons of courage, will, intelligence and ethics in the face of the greatest crisis the world has known since the end of the USSR…. We can’t wait any longer!