Wednesday, August 20, 2003

UN: safety of humanitarian aid workers

I was stunned by the bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq yesterday. I don't think I'm alone in seeing the UN as something sacred -- though we fail to live up to the ideals outlined in the Charter, the fact that "we" recognized those ideals and articulated them there, is reason for hope. I am fully aware of the UN's failings and limitations ... and you will often find me railing against UN excesses and indecisiveness. But ultimately, the UN is an imperfect institution in an imperfect world and it's better than nothing. But that is no reason for complacency. We should work to improve the system .... engage in debate to see what we want the UN to be.

I was particularly affected by this New York Times article on yesterday's attack.
Mark Malloch Brown, the under secretary general for development, spoke for many at headquarters when he voiced a sense of betrayal, saying: "We do this out of vocation. We are apolitical. We were there to help the people of Iraq and help them return to self-government. Why us?"

... "Even before this, there was concern" about security, he said. "But there was also a desire to operate as normally as possible, not live within a perimeter of guns and barbed wire. The United Nations is a people organization. If we lose that thread, if that gets cut, it's more than an umbilical cord. It's at the core of the trust and legitimacy and moral authority of the blue flag."
The article also says that about 240 civilian United Nations workers have died in the line of duty since 1992.