International Responsibility to Save Humanity from Hell... Before it's Too Late

The United Nations logo is seen on a window in an empty hallway at United Nations headquarters during the 75th annual UN General Assembly high-level debate in New York, US, September 21, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar
The United Nations logo is seen on a window in an empty hallway at United Nations headquarters during the 75th annual UN General Assembly high-level debate in New York, US, September 21, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar
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International Responsibility to Save Humanity from Hell... Before it's Too Late

The United Nations logo is seen on a window in an empty hallway at United Nations headquarters during the 75th annual UN General Assembly high-level debate in New York, US, September 21, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar
The United Nations logo is seen on a window in an empty hallway at United Nations headquarters during the 75th annual UN General Assembly high-level debate in New York, US, September 21, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

“The United Nations was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell”. A quote famously said by Dag Hammarskjöld, a former secretary general of the United Nations, who gave his life in 1961 while on UN duty. It is one of the truest statements that summarize the role of the United Nations as an international organization that does everything in its power to bring countries and peoples together, promoting peace and fraternity among them to avoid the tragedies and the scourge of war, and to work for peaceful solutions that end armed conflicts.

This phrase also shows that the United Nations does not possess a magic wand. It cannot resolve all the persistent crises, if Member States do not respond to its calls for collective endeavor.

The hell that threatens our world today is these recent global crises that cast heavy shadows on the international community. Today, our planet is more threatened than ever, not only by the serious socio-economic consequences caused in particular by the Covid pandemic’s outbreak in the past two years, but especially by the repercussions of Russia's war in Ukraine. The war threatens to undermine the Charter of the United Nations, when Russia annexed the territory of an independent State in a flagrant violation of the Charter, and therefore, violated the respect for the sovereignty of States.

Major dangers

Since February 24, the world has seen Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, occupying another independent country, and annexing parts of its land by force, in a clear breach of international law.

The ongoing war in Ukraine poses dangers that jeopardize the United Nations’ Charter, and might potentially lead to the complete collapse of the principle of the territorial integrity of States, and lead to the return to the era of colonialism and conquests.

Furthermore, a greater danger is looming over all of us. That is of a nuclear annihilation. The repeated threat of using nuclear weapons is now a trend we have been hearing from senior Russian leaders since the start of the war in Ukraine, and which, if it becomes true, will bring devastation never seen before, while not sparing the launchers of the first missile themselves.

Specter of the League of Nations

Past experiences of the League of Nations - the international organization that arose after the end of the First World War - proved that the predominance of the logic of applying military force to occupy and annex States, was the main reason responsible for the failure of the League's effort to protect world peace, and for the entry into a second world war.

The failure of the League of Nations to stop the Japanese invasion of Chinese Manchuria, and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930s, was an incentive for the expansionist countries, led by Nazi Germany, to take advantage of the deteriorating collective security prestige, to achieve its expansion projects.

However, the reaction of the major Member States in the League was feeble. In particular, France and Britain, whose reactions were not sufficient to deter the venture of the Japanese and Italian expansion at the expense of two independent countries - China and Ethiopia - that were members of the League of Nations. Many reasons can explain their weak responses, but the most noticeable are their interior preoccupations with combating the repercussions of the global economic crisis.

This logic of expansion whet the appetite for Nazi, as well as Soviet expansion in neighboring countries. In the German case, despite the policy of appeasement pursued by Britain and France towards the Nazis, especially at the Munich Conference in 1938 - a strategic political victory for Nazi Germany - the Nazis took advantage later to wipe neighboring Czechoslovakia off the map. Czechoslovakia was also a member of the League of Nations. The expansion contradicted Nazi Germany’s promises at the Munich Conference to preserve the integrity of Czechoslovakia. Then the German expansion continued, which eventually led to the eruption of the Second World War, resulting in horrors on an unimaginable scale.

Today, the complete collapse of collective security, if it occurs, will lead to major and regional countries racing to impose their military hegemony and annex their neighbors. Remarkably this time, an imminent nuclear war, will threaten the very existence of human life.

UN: Partial success, hard work

The United Nations is aware of these looming dangers, and it is making all possible efforts to end the Ukraine war in a manner consistent with the territorial integrity of the Member States of the organization.

I also saw during my stay at the United Nations as part of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fellowship for Young Journalists, and over the course of more than two months, the great efforts made by the United Nations with all its capabilities, to alleviate the humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Ukraine. It succeeded in securing humanitarian aid significantly, but was unable to put an end to this war, especially since Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council and the pivotal party in the war, has constantly resorted to its veto power at the Council to block any draft resolution to end it.

Diplomacy subject to consensus of warring nations

Even with the obstruction of the resolution to end the war, the United Nations’ role remains important and very urgent. The UN has the option of diplomatic initiatives, a mechanism that might be very effective to put an end to the war in Ukraine. The UN is a reliable diplomat and would be a guarantor of any upcoming peace.

To mediate, the UN will have to reach an agreement with the main warring nations. But are the belligerent nations ready to end hostilities and negotiate peace? Let us have a look at the main players in the current conflict. The main powers are three: Russia (the aggressor) and Ukraine (the defender in a life-or-death battle), the two countries involved in the direct conflict. The third major player, is the United States, which is by far, the first provider of military and economic aid to Ukraine, and the main factor for the Ukrainians’ success in launching the large-scale counter-attack against the Russian army.

We have just recently seen the result of this support: the Ukrainians have just retaken the city of Kherson. In addition to these major players, other countries remain. Some may play an important role, but they are less influential than the aforementioned three main countries in determining the course of the war.

There is no indication that the three major players will agree to reach a solution that ends the crisis soon. Therefore, the United Nations’ diplomatic activity, will remain the best intermediary so far. UN officials must increase their efforts to urge the largest number of countries to vote on draft resolutions transferred from the Security Council (after the use of the veto in the Security Council) to the General Assembly, to end the war in Ukraine.

This would guarantee the preservation of Ukrainian territorial integrity. Here emerges the responsibility of Member States to propose such resolutions, and vote to protect the Charter in any upcoming vote at the General Assembly. The adopted resolutions, although not legally binding, would morally compel the international community to take bold economic and political measures to press towards ending the war, while ensuring the protection of the UN Charter.

COP27 climate summit

In this context, the COP27 climate summit, which is currently being held in Egypt, is a great opportunity to mobilize international consensus under the umbrella of the UN, press for an end to the war, and save the human race from hell, as Dag Hammarskjöld said. The Member States of the UN are invited to link the existential danger that climate change poses to human life, with the same menace that a long-term conflict in Ukraine may lead to. They must seek out to devise effective solutions to address the two major crises, as soon as possible, before it is too late.



Syrians in Lebanon Fear Unprecedented Restrictions, Deportations 

A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
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Syrians in Lebanon Fear Unprecedented Restrictions, Deportations 

A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)

The soldiers came before daybreak, singling out the Syrian men without residence permits from the tattered camp in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. As toddlers wailed around them, Mona, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon for a decade, watched Lebanese troops shuffle her brother onto a truck headed for the Syrian border.

Thirteen years since Syria's conflict broke out, Lebanon remains home to the largest refugee population per capita in the world: roughly 1.5 million Syrians - half of whom are refugees formally registered with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR - in a country of approximately 4 million Lebanese.

They are among some five million Syrian refugees who spilled out of Syria into neighboring countries, while millions more are displaced within Syria. Donor countries in Brussels this week pledged fewer funds in Syria aid than last year.

With Lebanon struggling to cope with an economic meltdown that has crushed livelihoods and most public services, its chronically underfunded security forces and typically divided politicians now agree on one thing: Syrians must be sent home.

Employers have been urged to stop hiring Syrians for menial jobs. Municipalities have issued new curfews and have even evicted Syrian tenants, two humanitarian sources told Reuters. At least one township in northern Lebanon has shuttered an informal camp, sending Syrians scattering, the sources said.

Lebanese security forces issued a new directive this month shrinking the number of categories through which Syrians can apply for residency - frightening many who would no longer qualify for legal status and now face possible deportation.

Lebanon has organized voluntary returns for Syrians, through which 300 travelled home in May. But more than 400 have also been summarily deported by the Lebanese army, two humanitarian sources told Reuters, caught in camp raids or at checkpoints set up to identify Syrians without legal residency.

They are automatically driven across the border, refugees and humanitarian workers say, fueling concerns about rights violations, forced military conscription or arbitrary detention.

Mona, who asked to change her name in fear of Lebanese authorities, said her brother was told to register with Syria's army reserves upon his entry. Fearing a similar fate, the rest of the camp's men no longer venture out.

"None of the men can pick up their kids from school, or go to the market to get things for the house. They can't go to any government institutions, or hospital, or court," Mona said.

She must now care for her brother's children, who were not deported, through an informal job she has at a nearby factory. She works at night to evade checkpoints along her commute.

A sign that reads "The return of the displaced is a right and a duty", is placed along a highway in Jounieh, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)

'WRONG & NOT SUSTAINABLE'

Lebanon has deported refugees in the past, and political parties have long insisted parts of Syria are safe enough for large-scale refugee returns.

But in April, the killing of a local Lebanese party official blamed on Syrians touched off a concentrated campaign of anti-refugee sentiment.

Hate speech flourished online, with more than 50% of the online conversation about refugees in Lebanon focused on deporting them and another 20% referring to Syrians as an "existential threat," said Lebanese research firm InflueAnswers.

The tensions have extended to international institutions. Lebanon's foreign minister has pressured UNHCR's representative to rescind a request to halt the new restrictions and lawmakers slammed a one billion euro aid package from the European Union as a "bribe" to keep hosting refugees.

"This money that the EU is sending to the Syrians, let them send it to Syria," said Roy Hadchiti, a media representative for the Free Patriotic Movement, speaking at an anti-refugee rally organized by the conservative Christian party.

He, like a growing number of Lebanese, complained that Syrian refugees received more aid than desperate Lebanese. "Go see them in the camps - they have solar panels, while Lebanese can't even afford a private generator subscription," he said.

The UN still considers Syria unsafe for large-scale returns and said rising anti-refugee rhetoric is alarming.

"I am very concerned because it can result in... forced returns, which are both wrong and not sustainable," UNHCR head Filippo Grandi told Reuters.

"I understand the frustrations in host countries - but please don't fuel it further."

Zeina, a Syrian refugee who also asked her name be changed, said her husband's deportation last month left her with no work or legal status in an increasingly hostile Lebanese town.

Returning has its own dangers: her children were born in Lebanon and do not have Syrian ID cards, and her home in Homs province remains in ruins since a 2012 government strike that forced her to flee.

"Even now, when I think of those days, and I think of my parents or anyone else going back, they can't. The house is flattened. What kind of return is that?" she said.