Global Policy Forum

UN Loses Face over Hurried Vote on Spain Bombing


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
March 16, 2004

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stopped short of criticising the Spanish government Tuesday for misleading the Security Council into believing that last week's train bombings in Madrid were the handiwork of ETA separatists. The Council adopted a resolution last Thursday by a vote of 15-0 condemning ''in the strongest terms the bomb attacks in Madrid, Spain, perpetrated by the terrorist group ETA''. The bombings claimed the lives of 200 people, with injuries to more than 1,400 others. Subsequent to the council resolution, ETA was ruled out as a prime suspect in the attacks.

Asked if he was concerned at the way the Security Council rushed into condemning ETA, Annan said, ''I think there is a lesson here for everybody, including the council members''. The U.N. chief told reporters the Spanish government had sent a formal letter to the council president explaining that it acted in good faith and had ''genuinely thought'' that ETA, a group fighting for independence of northern Spain's Basque region, was behind the bombings.

The letter did not offer an apology, but said Madrid was ''firmly convinced (at that time) that the terrorist group ETA was behind the terrible events''. That judgement, the letter said, was based on available information and ''analysis of such information by the experts''. "Since then, as a result of the active efforts of the Spanish security forces, new elements have been discovered that suggest other lines of investigation, and point to the involvement of citizens of other countries in the attacks,'' the letter said.

The al-Qaeda terrorist group of Osama bin Laden or other Islamic militants are now believed to be the prime suspects in the bombings. But not everyone is buying the argument that the Spanish government was naive. ''The Security Council was taken for a mighty ride,'' an Asian diplomat told IPS, speaking on condition of anonymity. ''Some of the members are angry and embarrassed about the entire episode. This has never happened before,'' he added. The council has yet to make an official statement on the flawed resolution but one is expected in the near future because the statement must be officially removed from the council record. Judging by reports coming out of Madrid, the diplomat said, the Spanish government exploited the bombing for its own political ends. ''But unfortunately it misfired,'' he added.

Speculation in Madrid is that the government deliberately tried to pin the bombings on a homegrown terrorist group to evoke sympathy for the re-election of the government of outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, one of the closest allies of U.S. President George W. Bush in his war against Iraq. In Sunday's nation-wide elections, held less than 72 hours after the bombings, Aznar's government lost to the Socialist Workers' Party, whose leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will take over as the new prime minister of Spain.

Zapatero has announced that Spain will withdraw its 1,300 troops from Iraq by Jun. 30 unless they can serve under a U.N. force, dealing a heavy blow to the Bush administration. El Pais, a leading Spanish newspaper, said Sunday the outgoing Aznar government had briefed is diplomats overseas to blame ETA for the bombings. ''You should use any opportunity to confirm ETA's responsibility for these brutal attacks, thus helping to dissipate any type of doubt that certain interested parties may want to promote,'' the newspaper quoted Foreign Minister Ana Palacio as saying in a message to embassies overseas.

The New York-based newspaper, the Sun, quoted U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte as saying the Security Council based its conclusions on information from the Spanish government. ''They tell us there have been other threats in previous days and weeks in the run-up to the elections. There have been some threats that have been intercepted recently, so it is the judgement of the government of Spain that these attacks were carried out by ETA and we have no information to the contrary,'' he said after the council vote. Ambassador Abdallah Baali of Algeria, one of the non-permanent members of the Security Council, expressed doubts after the vote. ''If it is established in two days that it was someone else, that would be really embarrassing''.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, has a different interpretation of the Security Council's hasty judgement on the Madrid bombings. ''Does the list of U.N. Security Council responsibilities include providing urgent assistance to boost the domestic political fortunes of government leaders aligned with Washington?'' he asked. ''In this case, that's how the Security Council acted. It would have not required more than one minute, let alone five, to properly condemn the terrible Mar. 11 bombings in Spain. But to name the group purportedly responsible, simply on the say-so of the Aznar government, was an outrageous action that provides a glimpse of the U.N.'s structural rot,'' Solomon told IPS.

''The journey into Alice In Wonderland -- first the verdict, then the evidence -- has shamed every nation state that voted for the resolution'', said Solomon, author of 'Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You'. ''When the United States, Britain and its assembled coalitions stop running the U.N. Security Council, we might be able to look to the United Nations as truly a world body instead of a Frankenstein-like zombie casting its shadow on the world stage,'' he added.

Unlike on the council, in the real world people are not divided into permanent and non-permanent human beings or nations, said Solomon, adding it is time for the 21st century to overtake the somewhat colonial mentality that still infuses the power politics of the Security Council.

More information on the Security Council


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