A refugee scandal in the real world

Claudia Rosett:

So prolific in scandal has the United Nations become that it's getting hard to keep tabs. You can surf the channels, from rape by peacekeepers in the Congo, to theft at the World Meteorological Organization, to a Human Rights Commission crammed with despots; from inadequate auditing to botched management to wasted money to running the biggest heist in the history of humanitarian work--the Oil for Food program in Saddam's Iraq.

An aggrieved Secretary-General Kofi Annan has chosen to describe the reporting of such outrages as "attacks on the United Nations"--as if the problem lay in the reporting, rather than the scandalous behavior that is the real threat to the U.N.'s peace-and-human-dignity mandate. But at least a little daylight has prompted some acknowledgement from the U.N. Secretariat itself that there is a need, as Mr. Annan's new chief of staff, Mark Malloch Brown, just wrote in London's Sunday Times, for reform at the U.N. "through deeds, not words."

Fine, let's look to the deeds. One test of that promised reform will be the next move at the U.N.'s refugee office, where High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers resigned Monday over allegations that he had sexually harassed a woman who worked for him. The allegations were not new. The U.N.'s internal auditors concluded last June, in a secret report, that Mr. Lubbers had engaged in "misconduct and abuse of authority" by way of "unwanted physical contact with the complainant." This report was submitted months ago to Mr. Annan, who ignored the findings, and kept Mr. Lubbers on, until the press last week got hold of the document. In the ensuing flap, Mr. Lubbers resigned.

But that's hardly the worst outrage that's been bubbling at the UNHCR. If you believe in the U.N. charter's promise to promote "justice and respect for obligations arising from treaties," along with "the dignity and worth of the human person," then the real scandal--less racy, but colossally more devastating in human cost--has been the UNHCR's failure in recent years to stand up for refugees fleeing North Korea. The problem here is not, as far as I am aware, one of embezzlement or fraud. Nor is it on a par with any amount of sexual harassment in the comfortable Geneva headquarters of the UNHCR--however upsetting that might be. The true horror is the way in which the well-mannered nuances of U.N. bureaucracy, structure and management have combined to dismiss demurely the desperate needs of hundreds of thousands of human beings fleeing famine and repression in the world's worst totalitarian state.

The situation, by U.N. lights, is of course complex. For more than a decade, North Koreans have been fleeing their country by the only avenue even partly open to them--past the northern border patrols, into China. An estimated 300,000 North Koreans are in hiding in China today. They have a well-founded fear of persecution, should they be sent back. Testimony has stacked up high and wide--much of it over the past four years, on Mr. Lubbers's watch-- that if returned these refugees would likely end up starved or worked to death in the labor camps of Kim Jong Il. Some are murdered outright. One recent dispatch from a South Korean private aid group, the Headquarters for the Protection of North Korean Defectors, reports that according to sources inside North Korea the regime there just last month executed some 60 North Korean would-be defectors sent back by China, killing at least eight in public, in the northern city of Chongjin--to deter others from making a run for it.

The corruption of the UN is such that the organization could probably be prosecuted under the RICO Act if we did not have to worry about diplomatic immunity. What Ms. Rosett points out is a failure of the UN in one of its most important missions. It is estimated that the Norks have killed up to two million of their own people in the slow genocide of famine, while Kim et.al. lived in luxury. What this proves is that the UN is not only corrupt, but incompetant, or unserious when it comes to one of its basic missions. Why is it that liberals see this organization as bring legitimacy to any undertaking? Why arn't liberals concerned about the humanitarian situation in this "peoples republic"?


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