Compliance or the lack of it depends on the balance of power or realpolitik
As early as 2002, the UN correspondent of the Los Angeles Times, Maggie Farley, noted that more than a hundred UN resolutions were being violated, and that in many cases, enforcement of resolutions was blocked by the US or its allies.
She made this observation based on a 15-year review of compliance with UN resolutions done by the University of San Francisco Professor Stephen Zunes. Zunes had concluded that compliance depended on the influence of each State and its backers. The more powerful the backer, the less the chance of compliance, he said. Those countries which did comply were made to comply by a powerful country or a set of powerful countries through sheer coercion, economic or military or both.
For a start, UN resolutions are not binding, and if they are, as in the case of some Security Council resolutions, the powers-that-be might not enforce them for economic, political or geo-political reasons. Between 1967 and 2002, Israel had violated 31 resolutions. Twelve violations related to the “Fourth Geneva Convention for Occupying Powers,” relating to deportations, demolitions of homes and seizure of property.
Among the resolutions violated was No: 487 of 1981 which had called upon Israel to place its nuclear facilities under the safeguard of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. While the US went to war with Iraq for violating UN resolutions, it would not envisage war against Israel to enforce a UN resolution. In fact, the US had used the veto several times to block resolutions on Israel. In 2018, the US quit the UNHRC complaining against its bias against Israel.
When Turkey was an ally of the US, it was able to defy UN Security Council resolutions on its troop deployment in Cyprus. Morocco flouted resolutions seeking withdrawal of its forces from Western Sahara and allow a referendum there on self-determination. The US invaded Iraq as per a UN mandate because it suited its interests.
The UN Charter authorizes military action for the enforcement of Chapter 7 resolutions. But military interventions have proved to be difficult because of inadequate commitment from member states. The UN action in Bosnia-Herzegovina proved to be disastrous because of this.
Big Power hegemony is a major factor. The US would not allow its forces to be commanded by non-US citizens. Though the UN is a US institution essentially, no government in Washington has wanted it to be powerful, as stated by Daniel Moynihan, former US ambassador to the UN.
“The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. The task was given to me, and I carried it forward with not inconsiderable success,” he wrote in his memoirs.
The UN has also shown its incompetence in implementing resolutions on North Korea. In their article in journal of the “Institute for Science and international Security” in 2018, David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, Allison Lach, and Andrea Stricker say that 52 countries were involved in violating UNSC Resolutions on North Korea throughout most of 2017.
US President Donald Trump threatened to withhold “billions” of dollars of US aid from countries voting in favor of a UN resolution rejecting his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But despite the warning, 128 members voted to maintain the longstanding international consensus that the status of Jerusalem (claimed as a capital by both Israel and Palestine) can only be settled as an agreed final issue in a peace deal, wrote. Nevertheless, despite the UN resolution, in May 2018, the US went ahead and reclassified its Jerusalem Consulate as the US Embassy in Jerusalem.
The US also vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israel’s use of force against Palestinian civilians. At least 116 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza border protests since the end of March 2018.
Any UN body can pass a resolution. But they are generally not binding. But even those which are biding, are either imperfectly implemented or not implemented at all .The Security Council is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security. The UNSC comprises 15 members, five permanent (Russia, the UK, France, China and the US) and ten non-permanent members, elected on a regional basis to serve two- year terms. Permanent members can veto any substantive UNSC resolution.
Security Council Resolution 1373, which was adopted unanimously on September 28, 2001, was a counter-terrorism measure passed following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York. The resolution was adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and is therefore binding on all UN member states. If the US has been complying with this, it is because it is directly affected by terrorism since the 9/11 attack.
International Criminal Court
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) has been unsuccessfully trying to extend the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which enables the ICC to exercise jurisdiction over the island nation. However, a Sri Lankan human rights violation case can be brought to the ICC if the UN Security Council resolves to do so. But in the UNSC, Sri Lanka is supported two veto wielding powers, China and Russia.
It is pointed that following the recent UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka, any member State can file a case against a Sri Lankan national on human rights or war crimes grounds. But here again, it is argued that the political interests of nations will play a determining role.
It is noteworthy that most cases brought before the ICC relate to poor and backward countries which have no political influence in the world. Thus far, 45 individuals have been indicted in the ICC. The list includes Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony, former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Ivor Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, and DR Congo Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba. The over-representation of Africa and the total absence of the developed countries in the ICC cases are noteworthy.
Western Laws to Protect Soldiers
While on the one hand, Western nations are itching to prosecute soldiers from the developing countries on war crimes charges, they themselves are enacting laws to prevent the prosecution of their soldiers for war crimes committed abroad.
The British House of Commons recently adopted a Bill to prevent ‘vexatious’ prosecutions of British military personnel and veterans over war crimes allegations. The prosecution of British soldiers for alleged past crimes in Northern Ireland, and more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, has dogged the country’s military and government for years.
The new legislation proposes measures to “reduce uncertainty arising from historical allegations and create a better legal framework to deal with claims from future overseas conflicts,” said the UK Defense Ministry. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told the House of Commons that the Bill would deliver on the Conservative Government’s 2019 Election promise to protect service personnel and veterans from “vexatious claims and endless investigations.”
Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer, a former Army Officer who served in Afghanistan, insisted that the legislation “does not decriminalize torture” but strikes “an appropriate balance between victims’ rights and access to justice.”
Sri Lanka is contemplating a similar protective law in view of the UNHRC’s bid to prosecute its soldiers, Education Minister and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) spokesman, Prof. G.L.Peries, told the media recently.