UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the assembly during a UN Security Council meeting Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The UN’s Crimes of Omission

In the face of violent conflicts that are producing widespread death and destruction, the UN and its most powerful members have a responsibility – as stated in the UN Charter – to do whatever they can to restore peace. They have exercised power without responsibility for too long.

CAIRO – When the United Nations was founded, its primary goals, as stated in its Charter’s preamble, included saving future generations from “the scourge of war” and reaffirming “faith in fundamental human rights.” More than 70 years later, the world has more – and more advanced – weapons than ever, and armed conflicts are raging worldwide, resulting in large-scale death and suffering of combatants and civilians alike.

Among the most widely discussed conflict is that in Syria, which, according to United Nations sources, has left an estimated 500,000 dead and injured, and displaced millions more. In Myanmar, the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in an overwhelmingly Buddhist country, have experienced an assault that the UN itself has labeled ethnic cleansing. Yemen has become the site of a devastating proxy war, producing large numbers of casualties. Conflicts also rage in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

For all of its supposed influence, the UN has proved glaringly ineffective in stopping the violence. Here, the UN secretary-general must shoulder significant responsibility. After all, the secretary-general is the ultimate symbol of the UN and, in a sense, the moral compass of the international community. The secretary-general’s mandate is delivered by the entire world, which is especially true of the incumbent, António Guterres, who was selected through a revised process that included a more prominent role for the General Assembly, the “world congress.” He is thus duty-bound to lead us toward a less violent, more humane future.

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