Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Jan Klabbers and Åsa Wallendahl
Chapter 18: The United Nations
Sabine von Schorlemer INTRODUCTION The United Nations (UN), being the only international organization today with a truly universal membership, is a multi-faceted institution with a comprehensive mandate. The UN Charter, with its focus on peace, security, human rights, environment and cultural, social and economic affairs, is certainly one of the most ambitious regulatory undertakings in international relations. This does not mean that the record of the UN in the past decades was always ‘bright’. The UN was founded on the ruins of war-torn Europe – devastated by Nazi tyranny – as a symbol of vigilance against the axis powers,1 but also as a symbol for peace and prosperity in international relations.2 The latter seems to have come true for ‘old-Europe’ – reconstructed, unified and prosperous. However, large parts of non-European developing states still desperately long for peace and economic and social well-being. Moreover, despite successes in Namibia, Central America, Mozambique and Cambodia, the Security Council (SC) was not able to prevent some of the world’s worst humanitarian tragedies – above all, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the slaughtering in Darfur – and the economic sanctions on Iraq in the aftermath of the liberation of Kuwait proved to be a humanitarian disaster. With regard to the most threatening scenarios of misuse of weapons of mass destruction and an imminent climate collapse – to come to another ‘hot issue’ – the UN is struggling hard to come up with the necessary solutions. Thus, the impression of the UN’s ‘weakness’ in the field of some hard topics...
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