21 November 2009

The United Nations - hope turned to empty speeches

Dag Hammarskjöld, second Secretary-General of the United Nations

When I was at school in a little Welsh valley, staffed by little chalk smelling, pipe smoking pedagogues, with little minds and even smaller vision, we had a teacher who was affectionately nicknamed Jed.

Jed was a rarity in British schools of that era - a teacher who not only knew how to teach, but who encouraged students to explore their ideas and passions - a concept that even today is still frowned upon by the, "teach 'em the three R's brigade," who are unable to think outside a box fortified by impenetrable ignorance and institutionalized indoctrination - but whose votes are worth buying at the expense of the children of today, the adults of tomorrow.

A quick glance at Britain's tabloid newspapers will leave many overseas readers with the vivid and sadly correct perception, that Britain's favorite past time is to put down young people at every opportunity. Those who are unable to fight back and whose voices are rarely heard - even their screams and cries for help ignored by those whose moral and legal duty is to protect the young. A country where institutionalized child abuse has always flourished, and Establishment cover ups and whitewashing of wide spread abuse, the norm rather than the exception.

A system that allows those who perpetrate crimes against children to be protected, while the lives and careers of hard working, truth seeking coppers at home and abroad, are publicly discredited and destroyed by Establishment lackies and a compliant hear-no-evil-see-no-evil media.

I refused to be stifled by such traditions, values and agendas, so when Jed became the school History teacher, it was as though a window of opportunity to the wider world had been opened.

He didn't teach the sort of history that was traditionally taught in schools, (which I was later to discover was often inaccurate, based more on nationalistic propaganda and patriotic wishful thinking than factual detail. "Can't tell them the truth ole boy - that would never, ever do"). He taught modern history - and more importantly to my mind - civics.

He introduced us to the Kellogg Pact, the League of Nations and the United Nations. I can still see the blue text book crammed with flow charts of the various structures of the UN.

It was the era of Vietnam, the Summer of Love, the promise of change in the air. The young were taking to the streets, singing, chanting, demanding change. I looked upon the United Nations as an organization that could help bring about such change. How could an organization with so many fine internal bodies with a seemingly never ending stream of acronyms, fail to resolve differences between nations, put an end to hatred, bigotry and sexual, religious and racial discrimination?

I was impressed.

But soon, initial and naive expectations turned to disillusionment. Nothing was changing - and nothing ever has.

These days I post articles about conflict, about refugees, about the starving children of the world. The UN has an answer for all these - but they are merely words not deeds. I receive press releases where the head of this and that UN organization is "calling" for action. They call upon others to do what the UN itself has never come close to achieving.

Then there are the "keys" magical solutions to the world's problems. "Education the key to reducing poverty" "Mobile phones the key to escaping poverty" (I kid you not). There are always "calls" and "keys" but no action from those who stand behind lecterns for the benefit of the cameras and their bank balances (Hi Koffi, how are you these days or is that a daft question?)

I have been posting such articles for four and a half years, and despite all the fine speeches, there are more people dying, increasing numbers of children perishing in conflict zones or dying of hunger, homeless without a country - let alone a shelter of even the most basic kind.

Don't get me wrong - there are UN workers on the ground putting their own lives at risk, working their butts off to save others. But they can only do so much. It is the men and women who head the bodies, the ones who get the lucrative awards while UN field workers are dodging landmines and dressing the wounded, that have the real power to make change.

But what do they do? They make speeches. Moving from one prestigious venue to another, they roll out the promises and calls for action like a guide on a budget coach tour pointing out the attractions. If it's Tuesday it must be Belgium and a speech calling for "both sides to resolve their differences".

The UN offered so much, and delivered so little, to the cost of so many.

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