So, early this month the United Nations refugee agency managed to convince at least 15 other countries to begin taking in Syrian refugees. Overall, the UN notes, more than one-third of Syria’s 23 million people are displaced from their homes.
But Syria isn’t the UN’s only Middle Eastern preoccupation this month. A few days ago it released a damning report on Libyan prisons. It found that at least 27 people have been tortured to death in these prisons. That should not be so surprising, given the anarchical state of Libya today. The larger problem is that the government does not control the vast majority of the nation’s territory. Various militias, many of them extremist, hold sway over large portions of Libyan land.
As this UN report put it: “From late 2011, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya has recorded 27 cases of deaths in custody where there is significant information to suggest that torture was the cause—and is aware of allegations about additional cases which it has not been able to fully investigate. Eleven of the 27 cases, detailed in this report, took place in 2013, all in detention centers” theoretically under government control but “effectively under the authority of armed brigades”.
Move just a short distance east, and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq just made public casualty figures for the month of September. Sectarian strife killed nearly 1,000 people—and 5,000 overall since April.
“As terrorists continue to target Iraqis indiscriminately, I call upon all political leaders to strengthen their efforts to promote national dialogue and reconciliation,” Nickolay Mladenov, the secretary general’s special representative for Iraq, said in a statement.
“Political, religious and civil leaders as well as the security services must work together to end the bloodshed and ensure that all Iraqi citizens feel equally protected.” Mladenov is certainly not alone in calling for peace in Iraq. Unfortunately the situation grows only worse day by day—20, 30, 50 or more people killed daily.
Most people worldwide who pay attention to the UN follow the action (or inaction) of the Security Council. It’s usually deadlocked on Syria, North Korea, and so many other issues of importance because of the council’s out-of-date veto rule, ensuring that almost no difficult or controversial proposal will pass.
But the Security Council is just one part of a vast agency with numerous offices that do important work—not just in the Middle East, but all over the world.
By Jennifer Birich
Photo-Credit: AFP- United Nations headquarters in New York