U.N. Officials Worry Image of Bias Damaging to Credibility

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A U.N. troubleshooter said Tuesday that the world body must combat the perception in some parts of the globe that it is biased if it is to maintain its credibility as a mediator in conflict situations.

Lahkdar Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat and former U.N. envoy to Iraq, told the Security Council at a special session on conflict mediation on the sidelines of the General Assembly that the world body often comes under criticism that it is unresponsive to some needs.

"The credibility of the United Nations and the world's faith in its relevance suffers greatly when the mediation of certain conflicts is left unattended for long periods of time, or ignored altogether," Brahimi said, adding that the continued failure to strike a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians has fed such a perception in parts of the world.

"When the U.N. Security Council is perceived to be concerned about the suffering of some over others, selective in the enforcement of its resolutions, or employing 'double standards,' the credibility of the U.N. as a whole is affected."

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, addressing the council, urged officials to "to invest up-front in our mediation capacity so that we can do more of this quiet diplomacy — and less often cross that Rubicon to where vast suffering and huge peacekeeping expenditures become inevitable."

The Security Council echoed this call in a statement read at the end of the meeting.

It underlined "the importance of mediation as a means of pacific settlement of disputes, and encourages the further use of this mechanism in the settlement of disputes."

The council emphasized the importance of actions taken by the secretary-general and his envoys and the contribution of regional organizations, civil society and others to the peaceful settlement of disputes. It stressed the need to direct greater resources to Africa — a region persistently plagued by war.

Brahimi said that while the U.N. is working hard to mediate and end conflicts, including through 100,000 peacekeepers attached to 18 missions, a greater emphasis on mediation would help ensure the success of those missions or even make them unnecessary.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko used Tuesday's debate to address the subject of Kosovo — on the same day Serbian President Boris Tadic argued at the U.N. that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence in February represented a challenge to the entire U.N. system.

"One should not impose unilateral decisions nor give reason to doubt that the mediator is biased or has preferences toward one of the parties," Yakovenko said. "The failure to comly with one of those requirements inevitably creates problems. There are ample examples of that. It is enough to recall how the Kosovo settlement went about."

Russia has refused to endorse Kosovo's independence from Serbia, arguing that it was illegal under international law.