While I was combing the news on CNN.com, I came across an article about the trial of one of the perpetrators of the Cambodian genocide. After 31 years, it appeared that the families of the victims of mass murder and crimes against humanity would have their justice. One of the executioners of the Khmer Rouge was being tried and sentenced for his part in running a death camp that killed 14,000 people. As I read the article, I hoped and expected this man to receive the death penalty.

But the verdict shocked and horrified me — 35 years shortened to 19 for past prison time and good behavior. 19 years for someone who was responsible for the deaths of 14,000. In the United States, people receive 19-year sentences for many non-violent crimes. I couldn’t believe that the Cambodian justice system would let someone like this off with such a disproportionately light penalty compared to his crime. But as I continued to read the article, I discovered that this was not a Cambodian court, but a United Nations-backed tribunal.

I always thought the UN was a place where countries met, negotiated and worked out their problems and conflicts. But over the years, as I read and learned more, I became increasingly skeptical of the UN. This article was the tipping point — 19 years for a cold-blooded killer who claimed he was “just following orders.” Josef Mengele and the Sudanese Janjaweed were “just following orders” too.

This isn’t the only case where the UN has acted against the good of the people. UN peacekeepers famously pulled out of Rwanda and consciously permitted the slaying of 800,000 men, women and children. Even worse, many of the UN human rights committees are headed by some of the worst offenders of human rights. For example, the UN Commission on the Status of Women is headed by Iran. This is the same country where women are regularly stoned to death for committing adultery, where homosexuals “don’t exist” according to the current Iranian president and where there is an ongoing systematic attempt to wipe out the minority Baha’i faith. On top of that, the UN Human Rights Council is headed by notorious human rights violators like Libya, Cuba and Saudi Arabia.

Many of the so-called “human rights” projects of the UN have even perpetuated the violations of human rights. A prime example of this was the Oil for Food Programme. The premise of the program sounded swell: Iraq would export its oil in exchange for food for the general population. But after many international investigations, including by the US Congress and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, it was discovered that the Oil for Food Programme provided inedible food to the Iraqi populace. What’s worse, the oil was contracted out only to individuals sympathetic to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Slapping the idea of “human rights” in the face, as much as $35 million from the program was used to compensate families of Palestinian suicide bombers (a human rights violation in itself), which in effect helped fuel the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many of the UN officials, as high up as the Deputy Secretary General, attempted to cover up this corruption. It’s estimated that between 10 and 21.3 billion dollars went unaccounted for — probably used as bribes and kickbacks between certain members of the UN, international criminals and the Hussein regime. This lack of accountability seems to be pandemic within the UN.

What’s most shocking is who funds all of these programs. The UN is composed of 192 countries, yet American taxpayers pay for about a quarter of all of the funding. Like most University students, I believe in human rights for all as well as in the values of liberalism and pluralism. Because of my views, I cannot tolerate our tax dollars going to fund what is at best an organization that passes toothless resolutions and “writes letters, telling you how angry we are,” as satirized by “South Park.” Above all, I cannot support an organization that claims to be an international peacekeeper but has done very little to stop the genocide in Darfur, allows for the proliferation of nuclear weapons in countries like Iran and North Korea, tolerates its forces raping girls in the Congo, going easy on murderers in Cambodia and has no way of accounting for where hundreds of billions of dollars end up.

Eric Stulberg can be reached at estul@umich.edu.

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