UN 2008: a hard year at the office

At the United Nations, 2008 was a complicated year filled with conflict and controversy.

The first jolt to UN solidarity came in February, when Kosovo’s Albanians unilaterally declared independence from Serbia. The move was backed by the US and most European countries. Meanwhile, Belgrade and Moscow called for more dialogue, stating that a precedent for unilateral independences had been cemented for breakaway provinces worldwide.

“If you allow this illegal act to stand, you will show that justice may go unrespected in the world,” reasoned Serbian President Boris Tadic

Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin called for urgent action: “The international presence in Kosovo must take immediate steps to bring the situation back to what existed prior to the illegal act by the province,” he said.

One month later in the town of Mitrovica in Kosovo, UN police and NATO peacekeepers clashed with Serbs who were protesting against Kosovo’s independence. One UN officer was killed and dozens were injured. An independent investigation later concluded the force used against Kosovo Serbs was unwarranted and lacked balance.

“The decision to resort to the use of force was a careless blunder to say the least,” Vitaly Churkin reflected.

In March, Western powers triumphed in the Security Council, when members approved a third round of sanctions against Tehran, which stood accused of continuing its uranium enrichment programme. The US called Iran a threat to international peace.

Then in August, war breaks out in the Caucasus, when the Georgian military strikes at South Ossetia. Russia calls for an emergency meeting of the security council at midnight on August 7. Russia proposes a UN statement on a ceasefire. But when the international community fails to act, Russian forces take steps to protect civilians in South Ossetia.

“How many civilians must die before we describe it as genocide?” Vitaly Churkin asked the UN assembly.

However, escalating rhetoric from US officials and endless TV appearances from the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili intensified the propaganda war.

Taken in at the time by Saakashvili’s claims, President Bush stated: “Russia has invaded a sovereign neighbouring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century.”

The really unacceptable actions came to light later, and eventually were acknowldeged by all sides.

Also at the time of the hostilities, Georgia’s ambassador to the UN, Irakli Alasania said: “We demand the termination of the aerial bombardments of the Georgian territory and we demand the withdrawal of the occupying forces.”

Alasania, himself, later resigned his position as Georgia’s ambassador to the UN and joined the opposition to Saakashvili.

Yet in the end the Western media were forced to admit that they’d originally called it wrong. They confess that Saakashvili had been lying all along and it had been Georgia that had sparked the conflict. The UN president, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, then declared that Georgia had violated international law by invading South Ossetia.

In September, Georgia’s other disputed province Abkhazia joined South Ossetia in declaring independence from Georgia. The declarations received full support from Russia. However, many countries, incuding the US, that had supported Kosovo’s independence, condemned the move.

Meanwhile, issues surrounding Cuba, Ukraine and Zimbabwe also kept the US and Russia in opposite corners.

However, finally, in December, there was a show of solidarity between the two countries, when their ambassadors to the UN stood side by side, presenting a joint resolution on the Middle East.