Recently, the United Nations dodged 2 bullets that would have done serious damage to its prestige and effectiveness. Both involve the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The first occurred when UNESCO, the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization, withdrew its support for events celebrating World Philosophy Day in Tehran. World Philosophy Day was established in 2005 to promote an international culture of philosophical inquiry and debate.
Iranian-Canadian philosopher Rahmin Jahanbegloo and other academics had asked philosophers around the world to boycott the forum in a city where, as Mr. Jahanbegloo said, "No debate or critical thinking is possible." Many observers agreed with the inappropriateness of the venue where intellectuals, students, and journalists languish in prison for expressing their beliefs and where the government recently imposed restrictions on the liberal arts curriculum at Iran's universities.
The United States welcomed the decision by UNESCO and asked that all participants who celebrate World Philosophy Day "pay due respect to philosophers, teachers, and other thinkers who exercise and defend freedom of expression every day, even in countries whose governments try to exploit such events for political purposes as they repress the opinions and ideas of their own people."
The U.N. avoided a second blow to its reputation and its value as a champion of human rights when Iran was denied its bid to join the Executive Board of a new UN agency, UN Women, whose mission is to promote gender equality and women's empowerment. The idea of a government that has imprisoned scores of women's rights activists who peacefully seek to change discriminatory gender laws, and that recently sentenced a woman to death by stoning, occupying such a position, caused international concern. When the member states of the UN's Economic and Social Council chose among 11 nations to occupy the 10 seats set aside for Asia, Iran received the fewest votes of any contender.
U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. Susan Rice applauded the results: "We've made no secret of our concern that Iran joining the board of UN Women would have been an inauspicious start to that board," said Ambassador Rice. "We think it was a very good outcome."
President Barack Obama has noted that the United Nations "was founded on the belief that the nations of the world could solve their problems together." The decisions the UN has taken this month help keep that belief alive, and also help the United Nations play, as President Obama has said it must, "an indispensable role in the advance of human rights."