After nine days of Israeli bombings, Annan said, over 300 Lebanese have been killed and more than 600 wounded. On the other side of the battle zone, 28 Israelis have been killed and over 200 wounded.
Annan has also come up with several proposals to contain the military crisis: an immediate halt to the fighting; a "humanitarian corridor" to provide assistance to some 500,000 people in urgent need of food and medical supplies; an expanded UN peacekeeping force; and an international conference to find a long term solution to the problems facing Lebanon.
But all -- or most of the proposals -- are bound to fall on deaf U.S. and Israeli ears.
Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has implicitly accused Israel of war crimes. "The scale of the killings in the region, and their predictability, could engage the personal criminal responsibility of those involved, particularly those in a position of command and control," she points out.
Yet, the 15-member UN Security Council, mandated to keep the peace and maintain international security, has remained ineffective even after a desperate plea by Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.
"Can the international community stand by while such callous retribution by the state of Israel is inflicted on us?" he asked in a letter to the secretary-general and the president of the Security Council.
In his letter, the Lebanese Prime Minister told the Security Council: "Will you allow innocent civilians, churches, mosques, orphanages, medical supplies escorted by the Red Cross, and people seeking shelter or fleeing their homes and villages, to be casualties of this ugly war? Is this what the international community calls self-defense?"
Despite Israel's determination to reduce Lebanon to rubble, the United States stands ready to veto any strictures against Israel or block any demands for an immediate ceasefire.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton says he cannot visualise a ceasefire between Israel and a "terrorist organization." End of story.
"As has happened so often in the past, UN potential is being destroyed by the untrammeled U.S. domination of the global organization," Phyllis Bennis, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told IPS.
She said the U.S. acknowledgement that "it was not yet time" for a ceasefire made clear that ending the killing of innocents is not the goal here, nor, ironically enough, is the release of Israel's captured soldiers.
"This is very much Washington's war. Not only in a direct, immediate and physical sense, in which Washington has provided virtually all of the military hardware -- the F16 fighter-bombers, the Hellfire missiles, the Apache helicopters and more -- in Israel's war arsenal. But also from the vantage point of parallel U.S. and Israeli goals," says Bennis, author of "Calling the Shots: how Washington Dominates Today's UN"
Michael Ratner, an international human rights lawyer and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said it is disheartening to see the impotence of the UN Security Council regarding Israel's invasion of Lebanon and its failure to call for an emergency meeting of the Council that could try and impose an immediate ceasefire.
"Clearly the United States is behind this failure of the United Nations to act," Ratner told IPS. He said the administration of President George W. Bush is obviously allowing Israel -- with U.S.-supplied weapons -- to continue its onslaught.
The other key Security Council countries -- Britain, France, China and Russia -- ought to immediately call for an emergency meeting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which deals with "action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression," said Ratner, author of "Guantanamo: What the World Should Know."
He also pointed out that the Israeli invasion clearly is a threat to peace, breach of the peace or an act of aggression as laid out in Article 39 of the UN charter.
Neil Hicks, director of international programs at Human Rights First, said the current crisis in Lebanon demonstrates the limitations of the United Nations when faced by a conflict on which leading member states hold sharply divergent views.
"There is nothing especially new or surprising about this, but it naturally undermines the credibility of the United Nations as a body capable of acting promptly and effectively to resolve conflicts and to put an end to serious violations of human rights," Hicks told IPS.
While it will be of little comfort to the civilians in Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories who are coming under military attack, he said, "We should not lose sight of the fact that the international community, including the U.S. government, is making use of the United Nations as a forum in which to address the crisis."
"It is out of these discussions that an international response to the crisis will likely emerge, however belatedly, so we should not write off the United Nations completely."
Having said that, Hicks added, powerful member states, especially the five permanent members of the Security Council -- namely the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- have a particular obligation to promote and uphold the UN Charter and the principles of human rights and international law that underpin international peace and security.
In this context, the Security Council should act swiftly to protect civilians caught up in the conflict, regardless of their political differences, he added.
James E. Jennings, president of Conscience International, told IPS that the United Nations is the world's only indispensable organization, but is totally dysfunctional when one of the permanent members of the Security Council wants to throw a monkey wrench into the machine.
"The United States, with its veto of a ceasefire in Lebanon, has done just that. UN agencies are often supremely effective when backed by collective action at the Security Council level, but impotent without such agreement," he added.
Now it is up to China and Russia to try to find a way out of the impasse, but it may prove impossible, he added.
If powerful Council members -- especially France, Russia, China -- joined other UN member states and groups of member states such as the Arab Group, the Group of 77, the Non-Aligned Movement, and also key individual countries such as South Africa, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, perhaps the Nordic states and others, backed by the bully pulpit of Kofi Annan and other UN leaders, there are options for calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.
This can be done, said Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, within the context of the 192-member General Assembly, through convening a Special Session of the Assembly or the UN Committee on Disarmament, or perhaps even using the Bush administration's favorite diplomatic gambit, creating a "Coalition of the Willing to Stop the Killing" to launch an international crusade for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.
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July 22, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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