November 6, 2000
Still in the throes of the Second World War, twenty six nations, allies against Nazi Germany and the Axis forces, had a vision. The Declaration by the United Nations was signed on 1 January 1942 by by the United States, the United Kingdom, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, China, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Poland, South Africa and Yugoslavia.
The document read:
The Governments signatory hereto,
Just over half a century later the world would be a vastly different place. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Czechoslovakia would be history. Cuba would be a pariah. The South American states would have gone through an indeterminate number of revolutions and changes of governments. China would be reviled as one of the great abusers of human rights. India would have the atom bomb. South Africa would see Nelson Mandela as President. Of the penultimate twelve of those original signatories, six would be allies in a 78-bombing war against a seventh, with two more cheering on, one waiting in the wings to join the bombing alliance, and the last, as far as I know, still innocent.
Of the other signatories, those who joined between the years of 1942 and 1945, nine more were South American countries, some of which were ruled by the likes of Pinochet; at least two of them have ongoing current internal "wars". The African contingent included a country whose civil war stories nauseated the world, and a country that has been ripped apart by a savage ethnic conflict within its borders and a colossal famine which made the very name of that country irreversibly tied to the concept of starvation. The Middle East and the Arab world nations include two who fought a bitter war with each other before one of them became a fundamentalist muslim stronghold ruled by a religious theocracy and the other an international outcast which has now wilted under bombs and sanctions for a decade. This list also includes a nation only just starting to rebuild after a civil war which left its capital city a synonym for destruction, and a Near East ex-empire builder whose abuses of human rights are conveniently overlooked by the powers that be. France, a powerful European nation, only joined the signatories of this document practically in 1945, after internal wartime convulsions.
There are countries here whose ruling elites killed, murdered, starved, tortured. There are countries here whose ruling elites, current or past, adhered to extremely intolerant xenophobic religious or secular views. There are countries here which do not, as such, exist any more - but whose successors had never had trouble simply picking up at the point where the mother country had ceased to be.
When Yugoslavia disintegrated in bloody mayhem in the early nineties, it was convenient for the powers that be to recognise every single one of the breakaway republics that tore itself away from the mother country, despite the unprecedented nature of such a recognition. Croatia and Slovenia were inducted with almost unseemly haste. Only one of the "pieces" was not acceptable - the one that retained the name of the country which was one of the first that signed the United Nations Declaration, the one that was attacked without provocation in defiance of all established UN principles as stated in the charter of the organisation. Yugoslavia, the remnants of the old Yugoslavia, was declared unacceptable and ejected from the General Assembly.
On November 1, 2000, Yugoslavia was ceremoniously "received" into the United Nations General Assembly once again. US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke congratulated "United Nations' newest member".
Sometimes the levels of willful ignorance and hypocrisy that need to be climbed in order to utter a statement like that to one of the signatories of the charter of the very organisation to which such an ambassador might belong are beyond the comprehension of the mere mortals left behind here in the valleys.
Aleksandra Priestfield is a writer and an editor. She contributes her regular columns to Swans
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