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Two Faces of War

by Lee Horstman
June 20 Marks World Refugee Day
Every war on our planet has two faces; the armed conflict face and the human face. In my opinion, it would be wrong to dismiss the United Nations as dangerously ineffectual in either. Today’s UN continues to struggle mightily to meet the challenge of the ongoing war in Ukraine at this universally perilous and dangerous moment.

And why should persons of goodwill everywhere, all who esteem the grail of freedom and democracy, however evanescent and faraway these guiding precepts seem to be, find common cause in supporting the UN? Because every effort should be made to pressure Russia to end its antiquated and imperialist war of aggression in Ukraine; a war formally commenced in February of last year that continues unabated with tragic consequences for everyone to this very day.

Meanwhile, despite much surface bluster from Russia, there are cracks beneath the facade. Rumors keep leaking out about tension within the Kremlin. Sanctions slowly but surely are leaving their marks. Efforts at a blanket of propaganda within Russia keep springing persistent leaks. The two main votes in the UN General Assembly against the war are grievous to Russia’s sense of self-worth, however much these symbolic spears are dismissed with much diplomatic hemming and hawing by spokesmen for Putin’s criminal gang.

There is, of course, a focus upon stalemates within the Security Council as unilateral veto power is held by its five permanent members: the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France and China. Russia has vetoed any UN effort to guard and enforce the pre-existing borders of Ukraine with a peacekeeping contingent. The Security Council stalemate is dangerous, no doubt. But the two previous condemnatory votes within the full General Assembly make it plain that the whole world is watching. And nearly every sovereign state in the world is leaning in the direction of seeing Russia as a pariah; a terrorist state; a country that’s been hijacked by a corrupt tyrant and his gangster cabal.

But the UN is also positively engaged on the human rights stage. History has a way of making neutrality untenable, even dishonest. To stay neutral is, by default, to sanction war. It’s as plain as that.

The unprovoked invasion by Russia has forced Ukraine into a violent conflict resulting in the tragic and brutal deaths of thousands of people. But just as alarming, more than 8 million refugees from Ukraine have fled into neighboring countries and beyond.

The majority of these refugees are women and children, and when many of them leave Ukraine they first enter Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. In these host and transit countries they face severe barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health care and the laws and policies on sexual and reproductive rights are among the most restrictive in Europe.

In response, the United Nations has partnered with national organizations on the ground in a joint initiative to identify and address barriers to sexual and reproductive health care faced by refugees. It has also provided support to these organizations for their direct support and assistance to refugees in Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. For those fleeing Ukraine, longstanding barriers to the fundamental right to reproductive health care in many neighboring countries are giving rise to real-time harm. At a time when the reproductive rights of women in our own country are being severely diminished, nothing could be more relevant or important.

So please join in supporting the local United Nations organization by visiting the UN Association store and office at 903 Pacific Avenue, Suite 102, Santa Cruz CA or by calling Steve Pleich (Director, (831) 466-6078) or Jean Piraino (Treasurer, (831)334-4303). The UN is all we’ve got! The world needs to say no to war and violations of basic human rights. Let’s continue to do all we can.

Lee Horstman is a proud volunteer with the United Nations Association of Santa Cruz County
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