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Zelensky’s compelling question: What is the UN for?

This weird mini circus at the beginning of a Painful Security Council session Tuesday was only intended to demonstrate the later point of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky: What good is the United Nations if it cannot act against crimes against humanity and punish the perpetrators?

The Ukraine crisis is not the first time the inability of the UN has been entrenched in its institutions by the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council and the constant need to seek consensus on the most controversial issue – did not act. to prevent atrocities.

But the onslaught in Ukraine is really exposing the limits of this post-World War II institution. Russia, as a permanent member of the Security Council, can effectively veto investigations into its own alleged crimes.

Zelensky proposed a conference to discuss reforming the United Nations and the Security Council – an idea that was persuasive but never worked out. He said that the Security Council is of no use if it cannot promote security for UN member states. He also called for a Nuremberg-style trial to bring Russian war criminals for justice.

“Show how we can reform or change and work for peace,” Zelensky told Security Council members in his latest powerful video speech.

“If there is no alternative and no other option, then the next option would be to dissolve yourself completely. And I know you can admit that if you can’t do anything but chat.”

Some US lawmakers have called for Russia to be expelled from the Security Council. However, even if the UN General Assembly had to cast a two-thirds vote needed to do so, Moscow could still use its veto power to block the removal of its administration. And even if it doesn’t, China will likely support Moscow.

Critics of the United States and the West often complain that they also manipulate the Security Council for their own ends. For example, in 2003 the Bush administration tried, unsuccessfully, to get a second council resolution authorizing military action in Iraq, fueling opponents’ claims that the following war that is illegal.

In the past, the Security Council has established international courts and investigations into war crimes in places like Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. But there was no chance for Moscow to vote to put itself on trial, meaning that if Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals were to face justice, it would not get through the UN.

The applause that rang throughout the Security Council room for Zelensky’s speech must have sounded rather hollow from Kyiv.

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