Idris bin Abdul Rahman bin Issa Al Khanjari, Permanent Representative of the Sultanate of Oman to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva © Oman Mission, Geneva

Oman: engagement, mediation, and the future of multilateralism
In conversation with Ambassador Idris Al Khanjari, Permanent Representative of Oman to the United Nations at Geneva
1 Jul 2024

“The United Nations was not created to take us to heaven but to save us from hell” Dag Hammarskjöld, 1954 (SG/382). 

There couldn’t be a more focused, incisive, and realistic statement. Dag Hammarskjöld summed up all too well the situation of our world body then, and the one it finds itself in today. The following perspectives, exchanged last month with Ambassador Mr. Idris Al Khanjari, the Permanent Representative of the Sultanate of Oman to the United Nations and other organizations at Geneva, follow in this same line and vein. And what comes out above all else is that dialogue and diplomacy alone, not armed conflict, not over-expansive interpretations of international law, not the “us and them factional mentality” of the like-minded, and/or the military superiority, could foster genuine and lasting peace. Institutional reform is of the essence, nonetheless, if we are to safeguard and foster international cooperation and multilateralism. 

Yes, the task is very arduous, but is still achievable and worth our collective efforts, and is a quest for peace and prosperity for all.

When determination and dedication pave the way to success

It was in Brunei in 1991 that I first met and worked along Mr. Al Khanjari. We were both young aspiring men then, but I noticed at once his moral rectitude, enthusiasm and eagerness to learn and explore. And learn and explore we did. After a short stint there, we each went our own way. Thirty years later, it was on a pleasant evening mid-April that we met around dinner, only to find ourselves reminiscing. I was pleased to discover that most diplomats we knew went on to become full-fledged ambassadors. I was not surprised that he was accredited to the UN in Geneva in February 2020. The last time I enquired, he was deputy head of the GCC delegation in Brussels.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman © Shutterstock

Dialogue, no matter the parties involved, is key to genuine and lasting peace

Since I like to exchange views and perspectives with insiders, it did not take us long before we talked about ongoing conflicts. So, ours was a long informal discussion about Ukraine, the US, China, Russia, and, obviously, Gaza. But before delving into these thorny issues, the UN’s present and future situation was somehow our main topic. Although we differed on some points regarding the superpowers’ rivalry, we agreed on the UN’s vital role in keeping world peace and making states respect the tenets of international (humanitarian) law and related covenants, no matter the challenges. Dialogue, we agreed, was key to genuine and lasting peace around the world. Open, armed conflicts should be shunned by all peaceful means at a time humanity faces climate-related/Artificial Intelligence “existential threats,” to quote our UNSG, Mr. Guterres, in Davos last January.

Neutrality is active engagement, not passive isolationism

Asked about Oman’s official stand, Mr. Al Khanjari referred to a lecture delivered by Foreign Minister, Sayyid Badr Al Busaidi, at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies in mid-February 2024. The lecture, he said, sums up the way Oman’s main foreign policy pivots regarding multilateralism, cooperation, mediation, conflict resolution, and other pressing issues. It reflects, he continued, the Minister’s firm conviction that multilateral institutions need urgent reform because of the frequent Security Council’s deadlocks, and because the world is simply long past 1945. The five permanent members with veto power right, for one, has to go, and the International Court of Justice should be further empowered and strengthened. The same goes for the General Assembly. Direct negotiations must be opened between all parties in Palestine, Hamas included. There must be a check on factionalism, religious or otherwise. In this, Northern Irelands’ Good Friday Agreement is a successful example to emulate for armed conflicts worldwide. Nothing, the Minister concluded, comes from ignoring present realities and delaying the redress of historical wrongs and injustices. There is no fatalism in diplomacy.

The UN is the ultimate guarantor of multilateralism and the rule of international law

The situation in Gaza is catastrophic and further military operations will make things worse, Mr. Al Khanjari stressed. Genuine commitment to the two-state solution is therefore the only viable bulwark against going back to violence and instability. In our region, Oman has readily mediated each time it was approached by near neighbors and far-away friends alike.

The UN is a political entity. As such, it is the sum of its members and their willingness to trade some of their sovereignty for the good of all mankind. It is cliché to state that being political entails lobbying, partnering, and even pressuring. When I remarked that small countries, no matter their development level, need the UN more than the powerful, Mr. Al Khanjari concurred. We noted that the UN, a commendable and unparalleled collective decision in human history, is an achievement in and by itself. Occupying our collective moral high ground, it exudes our deep quest for justice, development and prosperity. With its specialized agencies, it remains the ultimate guarantor against the potential hegemony of some states. International law is therefore our safeguard, regardless how often it is disregarded by some of its members. Otherwise, the world will revert to previous savagery, only this time the warring parties may at some point use weapons of mass destruction… not swords, not slings and not arrows, I said to myself. 

* Hassan Harrafa is a Translator at the Arabic Translation Section at UNOG.
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