Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

How to Un-Unite the United Nations: A Slap to Eleanor Roosevelt's Face

By Julie GokhmanPublished October 2, 2015

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By Julie Gokhman, 10/02/15 The recent appointment of Faisal Bin Hassan Trad, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the UN, to chair a panel of experts that heads the United Nations Human Rights Council, places the legitimacy of the organization itself in serious question. With this issue of the institution's authority, both states and global citizens must ask: what are the consequences of this fall from grace, does it really matter, and if it does, what can be done about it?

On September 20th, the United Nations (UN)
announced the appointment of Faisal bin Hassan Trad, the Saudi Arabian ambassador, to chair a panel of experts that heads the United Nations Human Rights Council. In this position, Trad will be instrumental in selecting 77 independent experts to serve around the world.


A follower of Sharia law, Saudi Arabia is infamous for its human rights atrocities. Officially, the country has failed to ratify an alarming number of human rights treaties, including the International Bill of Human Rights, the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombing, and the Slavery Convention. More recent abuses include the sentencing of a 20-year old man to "death by crucifixion" as well as the government classifying atheism as a form of terrorism. The most prominent abuse currently covered by Western media is the imprisonment and high profile punishment of Raif Badawi; the blogger was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for "insulting Islam" and his wife continues to fight for his release.

More shocking than the oxymoronic nature of the appointment is the actual timestamp on the event; while this appointment was only recently publicized, it had actually been decided June, three months earlier. This disconnect between the actual announcement time and the actual decision points to the United Nations' awareness about the potential outrage this appointment could cause. While global citizens have expressed their alarm, thus far, the United States and the European Union have remained silent on the decision. Some members of the international community have argued that this decision was made after Saudi Arabia lost their initial bid to lead the entire United Nations Human Rights Council earlier this year.

The appointment of Hassan Trad is a slap in the face of humanitarian efforts around the world.  As a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world, this event raises serious concerns about the legitimacy of this international institution. As a consequence to what we see here today, one could argue that the United Nations has devolved into an ineffective mess that resembles a 21st century League of Nations.

By handing out positions as if they are consolation prizes for other positions, the United Nations is fast losing any authority it seeks to maintain on the international stage. Even if the Saudi Arabian ambassador performs his duties without the prejudices that accompany being a citizen of the Islamic monarchy, the very nature of his country of origin places a shadow of doubt on all of his actions and possibly hidden intentions.

With the United Nations balancing precariously on a cliff of legitimacy, more questions arise: does it even matter? What role does this international institution play on the global affairs stage? And if this organization becomes a shell of its former anticipated strength (if it hasn't already done so), would it matter? In the current state of international relations, the United Nations functions as a puppet of democratic institutions and ideals. Official documents about the existence of North Korean concentration camps or atrocities in Eritrea are released, publicized, and then slowly fade from relevancy.

If the United Nations hopes to convince the world that it is a vital instrument in international affairs, the organization must do more in calling on the global community to take action against countless injustices. At its very weakest, the United Nations can hold other states accountable; if the organization stands strong as a beacon of justice and integrity, its harsh criticism of other nations will still have value on the international stage.

If the United Nations remains on its current trajectory, however, the world can anticipate a further fall from grace with countries entirely ignoring any further statements or actions of the organization.