May 4, 2007 | WebMemo on International Organizations
The United Nations was founded in 1945 to maintain international peace and security and undertake collective measures to remove threats to peace; to promote equal rights and self-determination of peoples; to help solve problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character; and to encourage "social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom." The United Nations has failed more often than it has succeeded in meeting these objectives. A significant reason for this failure is its universal membership, which grants repressive, abusive, or dictatorial regimes the same stature and privileges as states that abide by the U.N.'s founding principles. These states use their membership to undermine the objectives of the organization and to shield one another from scrutiny and actions to curb their abuses. The case of Iran demonstrates how a U.N. member can flout the organization's principles while avoiding sanction and maintaining great clout. The United States should take steps within and outside of the U.N. to prevent bad actors like Iran from exerting undue influence on international processes.
Iran's Violations of Basic U.N. Principles
The U.N. Charter proclaims that all U.N. member states must be "peace loving" and "shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity…of any state."  The current Iranian regime, however, bases no small part of its foreign relations policy upon destroying another U.N. member, Israel. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stated that Israel "must be wiped off the map" and that "Zionists are the true manifestation of Satan." True to his word, Ahmadinejad, with the support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the clerical mullahcracy, continues to sponsor terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah as part of Iran's ongoing unofficial war against Israel. Iran's aggression is not limited to Israel. By harboring senior members of al-Qaeda and arming terrorists in Iraq with deadly bombs, Iran has become a clear danger to U.S. national security. Iran's support of terrorism violates many U.N. Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 1373, passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Through its nuclear weapons program, Iran also threatens the Middle East region and the world. Defying Security Council resolutions with impunity, Iran has come to realize that the U.N. and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are unwilling or unable to stop its nuclear ambitions. Iran is also developing an arsenal of ballistic missiles that could potentially deliver the nuclear weapons it is eagerly pursuing. The Iranian Shahab-3 missile can reach every nation in the Middle East, and Iran is allegedly developing missiles that could reach Europe and beyond.
The Iranian regime also poses a serious danger to the Iranian people. Iranian protesters and dissidents are routinely beaten, tortured, and killed. The U.S. Department of State reports that Iran "continued to commit numerous, serious abuses [including]: severe restriction of the right of citizens to change their government peacefully; unjust executions after reportedly unfair trials; disappearances; torture and severe officially sanctioned punishments such as death by stoning;…political prisoners and detainees; severe restrictions on civil liberties including speech, press, assembly, association, movement, and privacy; severe restrictions on freedom of religion;… violence and legal and societal discrimination against women, ethnic and religious minorities, and homosexuals." Iran violently represses its ethnic Arab and Kurd populations as well as its religious minorities, such as the Baha'i community, whose members are routinely detained and arrested. Non-Muslims are protected in Iran only so long as they "refrain from engaging in conspiracy or activity against Islam." All of these actions are in contravention of Iran's obligations under multilateral treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a cornerstone of human rights protections, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Iran's Impunity at the U.N.
Despite its failure to live up to the basic principles of the United Nations and its efforts to undermine those principles, Iran is lionized within the U.N. organization. The U.N. membership has acted several times lately to reward or protect Iran from scrutiny or action:
Iran's treatment within the U.N. system is an extreme case, but is not unique. On the contrary, the organization finds itself similarly handicapped in holding other abusive, aggressive, or oppressive regimes to account for their failure to abide by basic U.N. principles. Specific examples include the inability to sanction or take substantive action against Sudan's government for its actions in Darfur; refusal to confront Robert Mugabe over his increasingly violent actions to preserve his authority that have led to mass refugees and widespread poverty; the weak stance of the U.N. toward abuses in Burma; and the inability to constrain the tyrannical regime in North Korea.
The U.S. should recognize that the source of these problems is not the U.N., per se, but the membership of the organization, and take actions to combat the collective influence of repressive states in the U.N. system:
A Member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the Organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.
Obviously, the drafters of the Charter envisioned the possibility of ejecting nations from the organization. A two-thirds vote in the General Assembly would be difficult to achieve, as would a Security Council recommendation for the ejection of a member country, but the threat alone may encourage better behavior and shame U.N. member nations into being more vocal and rigorous in their support of freedom and human rights.
Iran is a prominent example of how a nation can routinely violate the principles of the U.N. without fear of sanction and even prosper within the body. Other examples include Sudan, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Burma. The U.S. should recognize that the source of many of these problems is not the U.N. but its membership. The U.S. should, therefore, take actions to combat the collective influence of repressive states in the U.N. system while simultaneously exploring alternative coalitions to address issues of international importance.
Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs, and Steven Groves is Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow, in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
 Ibid., Article 2.
 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speech at "The World Without Zionism" conference, Tehran, October 26, 2005, at www.nytimes.com/2005/10/30/weekinreview/30iran.html, and "Ahmadinejad in Sudan: 'Zionists Are the True Manifestation of Satan,'" Haaretz, March 1, 2007, at www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/832229.html.
 Faye Bowers, "Iran Holds Al Qaeda's Top Leaders," The Christian Science Monitor, July 28, 2003, at www.csmonitor.com/2003/0728/p01s02-wome.html, and Michael R. Gordon, "The Struggle for Iraq: Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says," The New York Times, February 10, 2007, p. A1.
 See Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2006 (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman Littlefield, 2006), pp. 337-342, at www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=15&year=2006, and Human Rights Watch, World Report 2007 (New York: Human Rights Watch Publications, 2007), pp. 463-468, at http://hrw.org/wr2k7.
 Amnesty International, Report 2006; U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Annual Report 2006, May 2006, pp. 187-188; and U.N. General Assembly Resolution 60/171, 60th Session, U.N. Doc. A/RES/60/171, at 2(a), March 7, 2006.
 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, art. 14.
 The Working Group on Situations (WGS) examines the particular situations referred to it by the Working Group on Communications under the 1503 procedure. The WGS, which makes recommendations to the Council on how to proceed on particular situations, recommended that the Council discontinue consideration of the situations in Iran and Uzbekistan leading into the 4th Session of the Council. The WGS is composed of representatives from five countries. Stunningly, Zimbabwe is one of the five countries on the WGS despite massive abuses of its own that merit Council consideration. See Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, "Working Group on Situations," at www.ohchr.org/english/issues/situations/index.htm.
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
"Human Rights Council Round-Up: Adopts Ten Resolutions and Four
Decisions, Including on Follow-up to Missions to Darfur and
Occupied Palestinian Territory," Press Release, March 30, 2007, at
 Human Rights Watch, "UN: Rights Council Fails Victims in Iran, Uzbekistan," March 27, 2007, at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/03/27/uzbeki15577.htm.
 Charter of the United Nations, Article 4.
 Charter of the United Nations.