Peter Signorelli
October 4, 2001


To: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan
From: Peter Signorelli
Re: Break the Silence

Congratulations on your recent testimony regarding the vision of former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskj÷ld. It was heartening to read that his legacy helps you to better appreciate your responsibilities. It also is refreshing to learn that you agree with his vision of a UN Secretary-General who accepts a political role, rather than merely functioning as a purely administrative official. As you declare, the essential task of the UN is "to protect the weak against the strong," and, as you further state, you understand your own obligation to be "an authentic and independent voice of the international community." The UN after all is an expression of the international community, that should "carry out decisions taken by States collectively rather than bending to the will of any one of them."

Especially now, with the General Assembly devoting this entire week to debate and discussion of a unified response to terrorism, the UN has the opportunity to redress what has become a widespread perception of the growing chasm between the Security Council and the General Assembly. This perception is accompanied by the belief that one power has been able to dominate the Security Council on behalf of its own national interests, oblivious to the general sentiments of other UN member states. Specifically, I am referring to the way in which the United States has almost unilaterally (with the U.K. its consistent accessory) carried out policies that violate the very charter and resolutions of the UN. As an American, I regret seeing my country having gone from the once universally revered Uncle Sam to the now feared and hated Uncle Bully. This transition began after the Persian Gulf War and accelerated during the past eight years of the previous Administration in the U.S.

Now, no one disputes that America has the right to respond unilaterally against the terror attacks of September 11. All countries agree that those atrocities are terrorism in its most undiluted and evil form. It appears the current Administration seeks to build a multilateral coalition to take on and root out terrorism, and it is reassuring that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and President George W. Bush seek a global consensus around this task. Thus far, the world has not had to endure the reckless unilateral U.S. military responses of the past that hit innocent civilian targets, mocked the UN, and underscored the impotence of U.S. foreign policy. Not that there is any assurance the U.S. might not again strike unilaterally, but the attention the U.S. is now giving to the concerns of others for an effective war against terrorism -- the role of the UN in directing the effort, the need for a clear definition of terrorism, the drying up of those breeding grounds that nurture and serve the terrorists, etc. -- offers hope that the hegemony of sole superpower U.S. may recede.

You, of course, have a monumental role to play in this situation. Yet, Mr. Secretary-General, it has been under your tenure that the U.S. has used the UN Security Council to advance its own national interests, and simply rendered the UN as irrelevant to global peace and prosperity. This has to be redressed if the UN is to have any credibility at all. The most egregious instance of usurpation of international laws has been the continuation by the U.S. -- and its dutiful accomplice Britain -- of war against Iraq. Certainly the Iraqi characterization of you as "a passive witness to genocide" is harsh, but it is a criticism that is close to the mark.

You are fully aware that there is no UN sanction for the continued (almost daily) bombing of Iraq by the U.S. and Britain. Certainly you know that the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), among others, have confirmed the terrible loss of life in Iraq (with the death of some 500,000 Iraqi children alone) as a consequence of the economic sanctions imposed by U.S. The no-fly zones were established to prevent interference with the humanitarian efforts on behalf of dislocated Kurds in northern Iraq (Operation Provide Comfort). But that operation ended in July 1991. Subsequent operations were arbitrary actions with no UN mandate behind them. That is why France withdrew, declaring the operations had become purely unsanctioned military ones rather than humanitarian tasks. When Iraq did conduct ground military operations within its internationally-recognized borders -- at the request of the main Kurdish faction -- against military aggression by another Kurdish faction allied with a foreign power, the U.S. declared that to be a violation that required missile attacks on Iraq. The U.S. and U.K. also used the occasion to deny humanitarian aid to Iraq under the oil-for-food formula agreed upon between the UN and Iraq.

These instances, Mr. Secretary-General, are clear, unambiguous violations by the U.S. of the UN charter and numerous resolutions. So why the silence? Which UN resolution abrogated Iraq's sovereignty over its own territories? Which UN resolution gave the U.S. and U.K. authority to stop humanitarian aid to Iraq? Which UN resolution authorized the use of missiles against Iraq then? Which UN resolution permits the retention and extension of the "no-fly" zones? They don't exist, Mr. Secretary-General, and you know that. So why the silence?

Iraq has complied with the Security Council resolution 687 regarding its obligations for the lifting of sanctions. It possessed no prohibited weapons nor any of their components. Inspection after inspection confirmed that, but on the basis of mere suspicions -- without any material evidence being produced -- Iraq was declared to be not in compliance with its obligations and sanctions were not lifted. According to Britain's deputy ambassador to the UN, Stephen Gomersal, sanctions remained in place "because of Iraq's nuclear and chemical weapons program." Never mind that no material evidence has ever been offered that such a program is operational. "Intensified suspicions" are sufficient to indict Iraq without evidence. I am sure you recall the revelations in July of former UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) official Scott Ritter, certainly no apologist for Saddam Hussein nor the Iraqi regime. The U.S., he revealed, had asked UNSCOM officials to provoke confrontations with Iraq so that the bombings could be justified. According to Ritter, former chief UN weapon inspector Richard Butler planned inspections designed to provoke confrontations between Iraq and the UN, and even established a timetable for doing so. Why the silence when Edward W. Gnehm, U.S. deputy ambassador to the UN, declared that the U.S. is not bound by international law in its dealings with Iraq since by its actions, Iraq has placed itself outside the law-abiding family of nations [my italics]?

At least now, though, there appears to be an appreciation by the U.S. President and his Secretary of State of diplomacy rather than the arrogant unilateralism. Perhaps realization that continuation of the polices of Uncle Bully could turn 1.2 billion Muslims against the U.S. introduces a bit of reality into U.S. foreign policy. Yet the U.S. is going to need a lot of help. A UN Secretary-General who finds his voice and breaks the silence over the devastation being heaped upon Iraq would be a valuable asset.