Since the question of how to encourage the resumption of US-DPRK negotiations has appeared to fade from much of the mainstream media coverage of the UN, it becomes ever more urgent to review recent developments and consider what is needed for forward motion.
In September 2019, several Korean peace and international activists visited New York City to raise concerns during the period of the opening of the 2019-2020 session of the UN General Assembly.
One of the issues they raised related to the growing concern in South Korea with the activities of an entity calling itself the “United Nations Command,” despite the fact that the UN has no role in determining or overseeing its activities.(1)
It has been reported that the so called United Nations Command prevented inter-Korean joint activity to inspect railroad compatibility in the two Koreas. The activists pointed out that there was increasing attention in the Republic of Korea to such activity of the United Nations Command by various government officials and others questioning the legitimacy of the so-called United Nations Command.
One action taken by activists concerned with these issues was to send a letter by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) on behalf of itself and 46 other Korean and international peace organizations to UN Secretary General Anthonio Guterres dated September 30, 2019. (2) Also the group held a press conference across from the UN on October 1, 2019 about their letter.
The activists pointed out that over the years there have been various complaints and concerns raised about the inappropriate activity of the US using the name United Nations Command.
For example, the letter points to GA Resolution A/RES/92 (I) in 1947 which refers to the need for the UN to protect the name of the organization and its official emblem and seal from any use not authorized by the UN Secretary General.(3)
The letter also cites provisions of the United Nations Flag Code providing for how the UN flag can be used.(4)
And the letter refers to action taken in the General Assembly by 28 member states in 1972 seeking to encourage the peaceful reunification of Korea to ask among other proposals that the “right to use the United Nations flag … in South Korea, should be annulled.”(5)
The letter also cites a UN document from June 1975 (S/11737) in which the US agrees to work toward the termination of the UN Command including restricting the use of the UN flag.(6)
In this 1975 document, the US said it would be part of negotiations to replace the UN Command.
Citing other references to actions taken by the General Assembly or members of the Security Council, the letter raised four questions for the Secretary General and requested that the Secretary General act to stop such use.
The letter also referred to some of the concerns raised by legal scholar Hans Kelsen in the Supplement to his book “The Law of the United Nations: A Critical Analysis of its Fundamental Problems.”(7)
In response to their letter to the UN Secretary General, the IADL received a reply from Stephen Mathias, Assistant Secretary General for Legal Affairs.
ASG Mathias wrote “regarding the use of the United Nations flag by the United Nations Command…. I regret to inform you that the questions that you have asked concern matters that do not fall within the competence of the Secretary-General.”
There was no further explanation from the ASG for Legal Affairs about why he gave the response he did or what authority he was referring to in stating that the UN Secretary General was unable to act in a way that would fulfill on the obligations that the GA had assigned to the Secretary General.
Commenting on the reply received from the UN Secretariat, activists of the “International Campaign to Abolish the Fake United Nations Command” write:
“Due to the irresponsible neglect of the UN in the last 70 years, an abnormal state of affairs persists for the United Nations because the so-called ‘United Nations Command’ which is not a UN entity, has been continuing its activities—undermining the dignity and order of the United Nations….A first step is to prohibit the abuse of the UN flag in the name of the ‘UNC’.”
This exchange between the activists raising the legitimacy of the US use of the United Nations name and the use of the UN flag, and the statement without explanation by the UN legal office top official, presents two different views as to whether there is activity contrary to the obligations of the UN Charter in the US government’s actions calling some of its military and control activities on the Korean Peninsula, the United Nations Command, and of its use of the UN flag by this so called United Nations Command.
The activists propose that the Secretary General has the authority under the Charter to determine what is appropriate and not appropriate use. The UN Legal Office claims that the Secretary General does not have such “competence.”
If in fact, the United Nations Command is an entity functioning without any connection with the UN Charter, then by what authority does the so-called United Nations Command act to restrict interaction by the two Koreas? This is indeed a serious question for the UN to consider.
(1) Ronda Hauben, “US Misrepresents its Role in Korean War and in Armistice Agreement as UN Command.” https://blogs.taz.de/netizenblog/2013/06/26/us-misrepresents-its-role-as-un-command, June 6, 2013. See also, Ronda Hauben, “United Nations Command As Camouflage: On the Role of the UN in the Unending Korean War,” https://blogs.taz.de/netizenblog/2013/08/31/united-nations-command-as-camouflage/, August 31, 2013.
(2) Letter to Secretary General, September 30, 2019, https://www.veteransforpeace.org/files/8015/7065/0224/IADL_letter-Final_1.doc [ www. veteransforpeace. org/files/8015/7065/0224/IADL_letter-Final_1. doc ]
(3) A/RES/92 (I), Official Seal and Emblem of the UN, 7 December, 1946; A/RES/167 (II), United Nations Flag, 20 October 1947.
(4) ST/AFS/SGB/89. The United Nations Flag Code (as amended), 28 July 1950.
(5) A/8752/Add. 9.” Creation of Favourable Conditions to Accelerate The Independent and Peaceful Reunification of Korea”.
(6) S/1137 27 June 1975 “Letter Dated 27 June 1975 from the Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations Addressed to the President of the Security Council.”
(7) Hans Kelsen, “The Law of the United Nations: A Critical Analysis of Its Fundamental Problems With Supplement,” 1951, pages 938-940.