UN Spent $319 Million on Staff Travel Last Year

Feb. 8, 2018 – UN Secretariat staff took almost 100,000 trips last year at a cost to the global taxpayer of $319 million, according to a new report by Antonio Gutteres.

The UN chief was tasked by the General Assembly to issue the report and to devise recommendations for cutting down on travel costs.

Of the 98,000 flights taken by some of the 41,000 people working for the UN Secretariat, 12,000 were in business class and just 51 traveled by first class, and that number looks set to decrease.

In his conclusions, Guterres says assistant and under-secretaries general representing him in an official capacity should no longer travel first class but stick to business class for all their travels.

Business class is offered to UN staffers when their flight time is 9 hours or more. This is not insignificant as the flight from New York to Geneva, a popular route for world body employees, is just over nine hours. [Correction: A reader pointed out that the travel time from NYC to Geneva is 7.5 hours and that unless there is a special circumstance UN staff travel on economy for these trips.]

The deputy secretary-general and the president of the General Assembly still retain their first class travel rights.

The average cost of travel for UN staffers works out at about $3,000 with about half that spent on the price of the flight.

The full report is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Global Hunger on Rise, Mostly Caused by Increasing Conflict

January 31, 2018 – Hunger is on the rise again after seeing a reversal in the past few years. The majority of those suffering from hunger are living in conflict affected countries.

A new report from the World Food Program and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization states that the number of people globally who are food insecure rose from 777 million to 815 million last year.

Of those, almost 500 million are living countries affected by conflict including Afghanistan, DR Congo, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

In Afghanistan, more people are being driven from their homes as a resurgent Taliban is now active in 80 percent of the country.

Conflict in Eastern DR Congo is the prime driver of hunger in the country with some 72 million people food insecure.

In Lebanon, not traditionally on the list of countries suffering from hunger, up to a third of Syrian refugees living in the country regularly go hungry.

The almost three year old war in Yemen has proven catastrophic for the population, where the humanitarian situation was already precarious before the Houthi takeover of Saana and subsequent air campaign by a Saudi-led coalition. Some 60 percent of the people in the Arab world’s poorest country are in need of food assistance.

Forty-five percent of South Sudanese need food aid. The world’s newest country has been beset by conflict since it declared independence in 2011. A complete and utter disregard for the people by political leaders is the prime cause for the lack of a political solution.

Four years of conflict has also brought hunger to Ukraine, where some 26 percent of the population, mostly in the country’s east, are in need of food assistance.

The full report is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Only 14 Countries Have Paid 2018 UN Dues

Jan 24, 2018 – South Sudan and Benin have paid their 2018 United Nations dues but the world body’s biggest contributors, the United States, Japan and Germany have still to pony up, according to latest figures from the Committee on Contributions.

Only 14 countries have paid as of January 23, and besides the United States, none of the other permanent members of the UN Security Council have paid up yet.

Member states are being given until Feb. 9 to pay in full but if past years are any indication only some 15 percent of the UN’s 193 member states will have stumped up by then.

The 14 countries that have paid their dues so far are as follows:

Member State
Net assessment
(in US$)

Date of Payment

1 Armenia
2 Benin
3 Hungary
4 Liberia
5 Poland
6 South Sudan
7 Ukraine
8 Australia
9 New Zealand
10 Latvia
11 Switzerland
12 Canada
13 Luxembourg
14 Norway


Iran to End Death Penalty For Many Drug Offenses

January 10, 2018 – The Iranian judiciary on Tuesday amended the country’s drug trafficking law, which if implemented, could save the lives of about 4,000 of the some 5,000 inmates on death row in the Islamic Republic.

The order to suspend death sentences for drug-related crimes pending sentence reviews—issued by Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani —requires judges to rescind death sentences that do not meet the new conditions set by parliament for the death penalty, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran.

The amended law allows for sentence of the death penalty in cases of armed drug-trafficking, using children to traffic drugs, previous death sentences, life sentences and sentences of 15 years or more, as well as playing a leading role in a drugs organization and possession of certain quantities of drugs, including 50 kilos of opium, two kilos of heroin and three kilos of amphetamines, according CHRI.

UN Officials have in recent years urged those countries that continue to execute their own citizens to limit it to people convicted of murder or intentional killing following a fair and transparent process.

The UN General Assembly has since 2007 annually passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The resolution, spearheaded by EU countries, particularly France and Italy, is supported by some 100 countries while about 40 countries consistently vote against it.

The text of the General Assembly resolution on establishing a moratorium also calls on states that retain the use of executions to limit the number of offenses for which the death penalty can be applied.

In addition to Iran, at least seven states, including Saudi Arabia as well as Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and China impose the death penalty for drug trafficking.

But it’s not just drug crimes that are punishable by death in some countries. Apostasy is considered a capital crime in both Saudi Arabia and Iran. In Yemen, there are some 360 crimes punishable by death including adultery and prostitution. In Morocco, there are more than 325 while in Egypt there are more than 40, and death sentences have increased there since the 2011 protests that led to the fall of former dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Confidence is high that over time the death penalty will be abolished universally.

When the UN was founded only eight countries had taken the death penalty out of their laws while the figure is now 99, and only five states now execute more than 25 people per year – China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United States.

UN officials have yet to comment on the amended law but The Center for Human Rights in Iran warned that the “the ultimate decision lies with Iranian judges, which have historically yielded to pressure by hardline security agencies in issuing sentences regardless of the law.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Chief: Iranian Weapons Proliferation Under Investigation

Numbers mark features that supposedly identify Iranian Qiam-class ballistic missile remnants on display at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C., Dec. 12, 2017 .

Dec. 15, 2017 – Antonio Guterres has reported to the Security Council that the UN is examining evidence that Iran has transferred ballistic missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen in violation of Security Council resolutions.

Saudi authorities claim a missile fired at Riyadh airport last month was of Iranian origin, a claim backed by the United States, whose ambassador, Nikki Haley, presented evidence at a military base in Washington DC on Dec. 12 of what she says is confirmation of Iranian weapons proliferation.

In his report, Guterres says that markings found on remnants of missiles fired into Saudi Arabia by Houthis bore similarities to a logo used by a sanctioned Iranian industrial company.

His full report is here.

US Still Biggest Aid Donor to United Nations, But That May Change

November 16,2017 – The United States is still the biggest donor to United Nations aid programs but there is uncertainty if that will be the case in 2018 as the Trump administration seeks to cut spending and to specifically reduce spending on UN programs.

If the $1.5 trillion tax bill put forward by Republicans passes then cuts to certain programs will be made to reduce the overall impact on the federal deficit, and cuts to the UN will be an easy target. In addition, the Trump administration has also said it plans to shift some of its aid money away from UN programs and instead give to groups working for persecuted minorities in the Middle East. Little detail has been provided so far on this.

But as it stands, the US remains the top donor so far in 2017 to UN relief programs, contributing $4.2 billion or 33 percent of all funds received this year, according to information from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The top country recipient for US funds this year is South Sudan, $483 million, followed by Syria, $459 million, and Yemen, $427 million.

The European Union is the next top donor to UN aid programs, contributing a total of $1.7 billion.

Other top donors include:

Germany $1.5 billion,
United Kingdom $998 million
Japan $402 million
Sweden $269 million

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Latin America, Middle East Deadliest Place for Teens

November 9, 2017 – Adolescents in Middle Eastern and Latin American countries stand the greatest risk of a violent death, according to a new report from the UN children’s agency.

More than half of the 51,000 teenage homicides globally occur in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras and Venezuela while adolescents are killed from conflict and civil war in the Middle East at a rate higher than all other regions combined, with the greatest burden on Iraq and Syria.

Overall, there were 89,000 adolescents violently killed last year, or one death every seven minutes.

For boys, the risk of dying violently is highest in Colombia, El Salvador, Iraq, Syria and Venezuela while for girls the risk is highest in Syria, Iraq, Honduras as well as Afghanistan and South Sudan.

Sex and race distinctions put some groups of teens at a higher risk. For example, the rate of homicides among teenage boys is four times greater than that of girls and teenage boys are far more likely to be killed by a stranger.

Teenage girls on the other hand have a far greater risk of being killed by a family member. Globally, almost 50 percent of female homicides are perpetrated by family or intimate partners compared with six percent for males.

In the United States, African-American teenage boys are 19 times more likely to be a victim of a homicide than all other races. If the rate of homicides for Black teenagers in the U.S. was applied nationwide, the United States would be among the ten deadliest places for teenagers.

Teenage girls stand a far higher risk of sexual violence than boys but the authors note that limited data on sexual violence and boys constrains their understanding of the full extent of the problem. Worldwide, some 9 million girls aged between 15-19 were the victims of rape last year.

The full report is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Libya Still Without Vote in UN General Assembly

August 1, 2017 – Libya remains in arrears to the United Nations and will not be allowed vote for the remainder of the General Assembly’s 71st session, which ends next month.

Sudan and Venezuela also had their voting rights suspended this year for non-payment of dues but have since made the necessary payment to put them back in good standing.

Article 19 of the UN Charter states that countries will lose their UNGA vote if their “arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years.”

In all, a total of 116 countries have paid their 2017 dues, according to the Committee on Contributions, but noticeably, permanent members France and the United States have yet to pay.

The US typically makes a payment in October when its financial year begins.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

How UN Negotiations on Yemen Exclude the South and Why That Must Change

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, briefs the Security Council


May 31, 2017 – The article below begins with an introduction from Nadwa al-Dawsari, an independent consultant and researcher, who contextualizes the Southern Question in Yemen’s current crisis. It is followed by an article from Ahmed Omer Ben Fareed, a prominent voice in the Southern movement, explaining the importance of addressing the Southern Question in UN negotiations aimed at resolving the Yemen conflict, which began in 2014:

In mid-March 2015, when former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Houthi forces pushed into Aden and wreaked havoc on its infrastructure and homes, it wasn’t the first time the city, once the capital of South Yemen, was invaded by Northern forces. Aden, which became the temporary capital of Yemen after President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi was forced out of Sanaa’ by Houthi forces in 2015, was first invaded in 1994 when Saleh, then president, and his Northern allies mobilized forces under the banner “unity or death” to prevent a secession attempt by Southern leaders. 

Four years earlier, in 1990, South Yemen had voluntarily unified with North Yemen. The unification was done hastily and the countries’ two militaries were never integrated. With only 20% of the population, South Yemen soon lost much of its political power to the Northern elite. Tensions built up and civil war broke out in April 1994. By July of that year, Saleh’s force had invaded and wrested full control of Aden, defeating the Southern resistance.

In 2007, the Southern Movement, known as Hirak, started organizing peaceful protests demanding reforms. As protests were met with excessive force and Southerners lost hope in being treated equally, their demands escalated to calls for secession. 

As Saleh entered Aden under vastly different circumstances in 2015, many civilians picked up arms and fought back, pushing Houthi forces out of the South and creating a new reality — one that the international community has chosen to overlook.

The entire South is currently controlled by Southerners and they plan to determine their own fate this time around. In the article below, Ahmed Omer Ben Fareed, a prominent Southern Hirak leader, who was jailed, tortured, and forced into exile by the Saleh regime in 2009, explains why it is imperative the South’s demands are addressed in any future plans for Yemen. The text has been translated from the original Arabic.


Through its two special envoys to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, who served between 2011 and 2015, and Ismail Ould Chiekh Ahmed, who took over for Benomar, the United Nations, which has been leading efforts to resolve the current Yemeni crisis, continues to completely ignore one very critical element of the conflict: the Southern issue. The UN’s failure to effectively recognize the genuine grievances and fair demands of the Southern Movement (Hirak) will hamper its efforts to resolve the civil war, which recently marked its second year.

Ever since unification with the North, Southerners have felt marginalized and disadvantaged by the central government. The Southern issue, as it stands today, represents the rights and legitimate political, economic, and social demands of Southerners to reclaim their State.

Southern factions have expressed their belief in dialogue as a means to resolve political differences, no matter how difficult or complex these divergences may be. We have made clear our willingness to enter negotiations with Northerners under the auspices of regional and international bodies, in order to find a permanent solution to the Southern issue, provided these negotiations occur without pre-imposed conditions.

But UN-supported processes, including the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), a transitional dialogue held in Sana’a from March 2013 to January 2014 following Saleh’s forced resignation as president, have all been designed to marginalize Southerners, or at least to refrain from recognizing them as equal to Northerners.

The NDC’s decision-making mechanism was, for example, developed in a way that would leave Southerners at a disadvantage. As a result, during the NDC process, protests in the South only increased, as millions of Southerners rallied in Aden to demand secession. The vast majority of Southern political forces determined that these conditions made negotiations unworkable, and, so, most Southern factions officially refused to participate in the NDC.

The one faction that did participate, eventually withdrew. Trying to prevent a total Southern withdrawal, Benomar and the NDC approached a few members of this faction and convinced them to participate; these few individuals were, then, treated as representatives of the entire South, a move that contradicted the basic principles of dialogue and disrespected the will of the people of the South.

After the Saudi-led coalition pushed the Houthis and Saleh out of the South in July 2015, UN peace talks were mainly held between two parties, President Hadi’s government and the Saleh/Houthis coalition. Southerners remained excluded from the negotiations, even though they controlled the area of the former state of South Yemen. An important fact many do not understand is that when Southerners fought during the current war against pro-Saleh forces and the Houthi rebels, they fought under the South Yemen flag and not to support Hadi’s government.

The parties currently represented in UN talks have no control or influence over any part of the South. In his speech at the opening ceremony for the recent round of peace negotiations in Kuwait, UN envoy Ould Chiekh Ahmed mentioned the Southern issue as one that had to be resolved with participation from Southern leaders. Yet, the talks continued without any Southern leaders invited to participate.

Most recently, on May 4, 2017, a exiled President Hadi dismissed the governor of Aden, popular Hirak leader Aidarous al-Zubaidi, from his post, creating backlash and leading to mass demonstrations protesting his removal and calling for secession. A week later, on May 11, al-Zubaidi announced the formation of a transitional political council to govern South Yemen.

Even before this incident, various Southern parties had repeatedly made clear they would not accept any negotiated agreement they did not participate in and will not allow any other party to control their land. Southerners are keen to engage in the current negotiations, but, in order for that to happen, the UN must provide conditions for their participation.

This article was originally published in Muftah and has been republished here with permission. Copyright Muftah.org 

Interview with Malaysia’s Ambassador to the United Nations

Dato’ Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob presents his credentials to Antonio Guterres


May 23, 2017 – Javier Delgado Rivera sat down in New York with Malaysia´s Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Dato’ Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob. Among other issues, they talked about Kuala Lumpur’s role in the United Nations Security Council during its 2015-16 membership as well as the Council’s controversial resolution on Palestine last December; Malaysia’s sizable involvement in peacekeeping operations around the word; and the country’s coordination with the U.N. in the aftermath of the assassination of the North Korean leader’s half-brother in Kuala Lumpur.

During 2015-2016 Malaysia served a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) – the world’s top diplomatic body. What was Malaysia’s top achievement?

There were several accomplishments that I could highlight, but if I have to single out one I would pick the historic UNSC Resolution 2334 (2016) of last December, where we played a leading role towards its adoption. The resolution called for Israel to stop the illegal construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. It was the first time in 36 years that the Council issued such a warning on Israeli settlements and we were behind this significant success. The last attempt by the Council to adopt such a resolution was vetoed by the U.S. back in 2011.   

Just before the adoption of that resolution, your predecessor, Ambassador Ramlan Ibrahim, stated thatfor far too long, the Council has been in a state of inaction when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” What should the UNSC be doing to help settle the situation in Palestine after more than half a century of clashes and tensions? Is there any scope for that to happen now with a Trump’s administration in the U.S. much more supportive of Israel than the Obama’s ever was?  

A political deal should be reached based on the two-state solution where Israel and Palestine live side by side, along the lines of the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is not only our focus but the one of the majority of U.N. member states. Together with them, we will continue to assess current and future actions taken by the new U.S. administration in our collective efforts to find amicable solutions to the conflicts of the Middle East.

Currently Malaysia contributes 891 personnel to U.N. peacekeeping operations across 7 missions – with 825 alone stationed in the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Since Malaysia began sending blue helmets in 1960, the country has suffered 29 fatalities in 13 missions. What do Malaysians gain from getting involved in U.N. peacekeeping missions?

Supporting the U.N.’s goal of maintaining international peace and security is a fundamental responsibility of all its member states. As a small country, Malaysia believes that one of the areas where we can make a substantive contribution to conflict resolution and nation building in the world’s most trouble spots is through peacekeeping initiatives. As you point out, we have suffered 29 fatalities, although actually only one of our soldiers was killed in action, specifically during the 1993 Bakara market incident in Somalia [an incident which had been made into a Hollywood film, the Black Hawk Down]. The remaining 28 died in unfortunate circumstances, like road accidents. The sacrifices made by our soldiers and police personnel will not be forgotten. In fact, they further strengthen Malaysia’s resolve to support future U.N. peacekeeping efforts around the world.

Tan Sri Dr. Ramon Navaratnam, a prominent Malaysian economist, recently wrote that Malaysia could be the first country in the world to fully implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – or Global Goals, a UN-spearheaded initiative launched in 2016 to end poverty and hunger and lift the living standards of the world’s most vulnerable people by 2030. Yet according to UNESCO, 4 out of 10 Malaysians are in the lowest income bracket. Are you as optimistic as Dr. Navaratnam?

I am very optimistic about Malaysia’s ability to achieve the 17 Global Goals. Remember that in the framework of the Millennium Development Goals (the SDGs precursor), our government did a remarkable job in raising the living standards of millions of Malaysians by breaking the circle of exclusion and destitution in which they were trapped for generations.

As the U.N. highlighted in its 2015 Malaysia’s Millennium Development Goals Report, poverty incidence has already been halved in all Malaysian states and their poverty rate (population living with less than US$ 1 per day) is today less than 1% – except for the state of Sabah and Labuan Federal Territory.

The Malaysian government, through its Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), is decidedly committed to ensuring equitable opportunities for all with a focus on the bottom 40% of the country’s households. For this to happen, the government will launch initiatives centered on productivity assistance, entrepreneurship and skills training, as well as technology adoption and investment in connectivity, to name just a few targets.

Representatives of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have warned that without effective collaboration among ASEAN partners, terrorism in Southeast Asia will thrive, noting that as the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) continues to lose territorial control in the Middle East, its fighters will disperse and move back to their countries of origin – it is reckoned that they are more than 1,000 IS militants from Southeast Asia fighting in the Middle East. Do these U.N. officials have a point?

They do, although this problem does not affect every ASEAN state in the same way. In fact, ASEAN has the mechanisms in place to address the question of IS returnees and its members are already addressing security issues and concerns linked to this phenomenon, such as human trafficking, counter-terrorism and drugs. This also includes cooperation and arrangements in information sharing among the organization’s ten member states.

In Malaysia we have foiled several terrorist attempts carried out by IS sympathizers. In only one instance extremists were able to inflict some damage, when in June 2016 a hand grenade was thrown at a night club at the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur injuring eight people. This highlights that the threat is real and therefore, we must remain vigilant.

A few weeks ago, Malaysian Foreign Minister said that Kuala Lumpur does not acknowledge Beijing’s “nine-dash line” expansive claim over territories in the South China Sea. Have you actually talked about this with your Chinese counterpart?

I have not discussed this issue with my Chinese colleague here in New York. We focus our work around issues on the U.N. agenda.

In late February, the UK Ambassador to the U.N. urged Malaysia to share evidence with the U.N.’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Security Council about the gas used in the attack that killed a half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un in Kuala Lumpur’s international airport on February 13. Has this already happened?

At that point of time it was too early for us to share the information as investigations were still ongoing. We have now identified the gas used in this assassination as VX, a powerful nerve agent classified by the U.N. as a weapon of mass destruction. We are now working closely with the OPCW to address a host of questions around this incident, such as how the gas was brought in or whether there could be any stockpiles in the country or the region.

Last month Malaysia decided to ask the U.N.’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) to review a 2008 ruling on Singapore’s ownership of the small island of Pedra Banca (Pulau Batu Puteh by Malaysia). Why this is happening now?

We have the right to do so. Article 61 of the ICJ Statute allows for the resumption of a claim if it is brought within six months of the discovery of the new evidence or facts, and within 10 years of the date of the judgment. We have recently found new evidence to strengthen our arguments, so we are requesting the ICJ to review this case.

Javier Delgado Rivera is a freelance journalist covering the United Nations and is the editor of The UN Times @TheUNTimes. He is on Twitter @JavichuDR