The United Nations is increasingly becoming a parody of itself while American taxpayers last year provided $439 million to the regular U.N. budget — plus a headquarters in New York that the U.N. management wants to expand. Not only has this dysfunctional and occasionally corrupt organization failed to stop the genocide in Darfur, but on May 11, the insatiably brutal Robert Mugabe's government of Zimbabwe was elevated by the United Nations to chair its Commission on Sustainable Development — dealing with land, rural and economic development, and the environment.
Astonished, The Economist magazine (May 19) noted that Zimbabwe, once known as "the breadbasket of Africa," has had its agriculture "largely destroyed by its government's catastrophic policies."
This year, it was Africa's turn to lead the Commission on Sustainable Development, and the U.N.'s African members shamefully and inexcusably support Mugabe's government for that post.
Zimbabwe is a disaster area. The country's own Social Welfare Commission, as reported by The New York Times on Dec. 19, found that 63 percent of the rural population and 53 percent of the urban population cannot meet basic food requirements.
Under Mugabe's rule, Zimbabwe's inflation is the highest on the planet — more than 2,200 percent.
The African nations voting to bestow "legitimacy" on Mugabe's terrorism against his own people closed their eyes and consciences to the fact — as reported by The Economist — that "every day desperate Zimbabweans cross the Limpopo river, braving crocodiles and occasionally drowning, to try their luck in neighboring South Africa. Trapped into illegality there, many are exploited and abused."
Meanwhile, the liberator of Zimbabwe from white rule into its present wasteland is planning a 2008 campaign for an additional six-year term and a $4 million museum (a "shrine") of his lifetime achievements (Washington Times, May 2). Mugabe will surely win — if not by acclamation then certainly through long-practiced intimidation. In May, for example, he forbade Zimbabwe journalists — those who still risk beatings and prison for reporting the truth — from marching in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day (New York Times, May 7).
While the United Nations elevates Mugabe to alert the world on vital issues of sustainable development, Christopher Dell, who is ending a three-year assignment as U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, gave National Public Radio (May 15) his assessment of the living hell Mugabe has created:
"The metaphor I have is that it is like a lake. And as the waters of the lake recede, more and more of the fish are being left to die in the mud. At the center, the big fish are swimming around nicely and making huge fortunes, huge fortunes."
Metaphor turns into reality in this Dec. 17 dispatch by Erik German of Newsday from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe:
"A few miles south from empty luxury hotels in this once dazzling tourist spot, dozens of gaunt young men survive by scavenging food from the town dump. Alan Sibanda, 23, has been coming here … for the past five years, scuffling with baboons and vultures for the least-rotten scraps. Since midsummer, garbage has been his main source of food."
I guess the U.N. members who voted to honor Mugabe by making Zimbabwe the head of the Commission on Sustainable Development didn't bother to interview Sibanda before the final ballot.
To cap the current (and chronic) disgrace of the United Nations, guess who the new officers of the U.N. Disarmament Commission are? The chair is Syria, home of abundantly armed warring factions — and the vice chair, believe it or not, is Iran, the leading prospect to blow up its region of the world. Having this proud stoker of nuclear destruction become second-in-command of the U.N. Disarmament Commission is like springing Jack Abramoff from prison to fill the new vacancy at the World Bank.
In one of its series of editorials, "Your U.N. at Work," the May 19-20 Wall Street Journal said: "It's a shame the U.S. didn't respond to the outcome of these two 'leadership' elections (including Zimbabwe heading the Development Commission) and walk away from both of these useless U.N. outfits."
It makes much more sense for us to walk away from the United Nations itself, period. There are other organizations that — with more help from us and other concerned nations — can feed the hungry and provide medical aid for those in need around the world. But Eleanor Roosevelt's dream of the United Nations serving as an international beacon of human rights has become a nightmare of millions of people's betrayed hopes.
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of many books, including "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance" (Seven Stories Press, 2004).