UN Peacekeeper Killed Amid Israel – Hezbollah Tension

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Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo, 36, was mortally wounded on Wednesday while serving with UNIFIL in southern Lebanon. (photo: UN/Spain)

Jan 28, 2015 –  A Spanish peacekeeper serving with the UN force in Lebanon was killed on Wednesday after Israel responded to an attack by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

“Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo died this morning during incidents between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the area of ​​responsibility of the Spanish contingent,” Spain’s UN mission said in a statement. “Corporal Cordoba was serving in the 4-28 position in the vicinity of Al Ghajar village [see map of UNIFIL deployment].”

The Security Council was meeting behind closed doors at 4pm ET to discuss the incident. Spain is currently a non-permanent member of the Council, beginning its two-year term on Jan 1 this year.

There are some 10,000 troops from 36 countries serving with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. Corporal Toledo, who was married, was serving his second tour of duty with UNIFIL, having deployed in November. He is the 308th peacekeeping fatality for the mission since its formation in 1978.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed earlier when Hezbollah fired on an Israel army convoy in the Shebba farms area along Israel, Syria and Lebanese borders.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Rwanda and Yemen Among Eight Countries to Lose UNGA Voting Rights

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Jan. 26, 2015 – Rwanda and Yemen are among eight countries to have their General Assembly voting rights suspended over non-payment of dues.

These countries have fallen foul of Article 19 of the UN Charter, which 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.”

Rwanda completed a two-year stint on the Security Council on Dec. 31, 2014. It is the fifth biggest troop contributor to UN peacekeeping operations.

Minimum payments of $69,948 from Yemen and $7,636 from Rwanda are required to get their voting privileges back, according to a letter from Ban Ki-moon to the president of the General Assembly. Liberia is also listed in Ban’s letter but he has since informed the GA that Monrovia has made the necessary payment.

Macedonia is also among the countries currently without a General Assembly vote. It will have to make a minimum payment of $24,606.

In total, 12 countries are not in compliance with Article 19, but four of those, including Guinea-Bissau and Somalia, can still vote as the GA decided that inability to pay is beyond their control.

The eight countries currently without a vote in the General Assembly:

1. Yemen
2. Grenada
3. Kyrgyzstan
4. Marshall Islands
5. Rwanda
6. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
7. Tonga
8. Vanuatu

Rwanda has been assessed dues of $54, 271 for 2015 while Yemen’s dues are $271,357 for the year.

UPDATE Jan. 28: Following publication of this story, Rwanda has since made the necessary payment to restore its UNGA vote, a representative of the committee on contributions has informed UN Tribune.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Pope Francis’s Sept. UN Visit Will be Fourth by a Pontiff

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Jan. 21, 2015  - Pope Francis’s visit to the United Nations in September will be the fourth by a pontiff and comes fifty years after Paul VI became the first pope to address the UN General Assembly.

The Catholic News Agency reported on Sunday that Francis will visit the UN on September 25 and address the assembly.

Sept. 25 is also the opening day of the high-level summit on the post-2015 development agenda when world leaders will agree on goals to replace the MDGs.

The pope is likely to address poverty, the plight of refugees, the persecution of Christians, climate change and religious freedom in his speech before the 193-member assembly. It is not yet clear if he will address the post-2015 summit.

The Vatican, or Holy See as it is know diplomatically, is a non-member observer state of the United Nations, joining the organization in 1964.

The following year, Paul VI became the first pontiff to address the assembly where he called for an end to war. John Paul II visited the UN twice, in 1979 and 1995. In the latter visit he spoke of the growth of unhealthy forms of nationalism. Benedict XVI’s speech in 2008 praised the UN as a defender of human rights but said those rights come from God and no government or religion has a right to limit human rights.

The Vatican’s cachet in diplomatic circles has increased in recent weeks after the White House said that it was instrumental in bringing to a close the 40-year US embargo of Cuba. Pope Francis was the only world leader mentioned by US President Barack Obama in his state of the union address on Tuesday.

Francis will come to New York from DC where he will address a joint session of Congress. From New York, he will travel to Philadelphia.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Four Insiders Who Could Succeed Valerie Amos as OCHA Head

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Jan. 20, 2015 – It’s rare that a top United Nations post goes to someone already working for the organization as headline jobs are doled out as political favors to the permanent five members of the Security Council as well as top donors such as Germany, Sweden, Japan and Norway.

But there is precedent, not least in the case of Kofi Annan who started his career as a staffer with the World Health Organization, later becoming head of peacekeeping, until his appointment as secretary-general in 1997.

With Ban Ki-moon under pressure from aid groups not to succumb to political pressure and appoint David Cameron’s preferred candidate, Andrew Lansley, to succeed Valerie Amos as head of OCHA, he could do worse than look for potential replacements inside his own ranks.

Here are four candidates that fit the bill to succeed Amos as the world’s top humanitarian aid official.

1. David Nabarro

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Nabarro is currently managing the UN’s response to the Ebola outbreak. A native of the UK and a medical doctor, he had stints with the British National Health Service, Save the Children and the the British government’s Overseas Development Assistance program before joining WHO in 1999. His UN experience includes serving in Iraq, where he survived the Canal Hotel bombing in 2003; coordinating the health response to the 2004 Tsunami; coordinating the UN response to the Avian flu outbreak; and coordinating the UN system’s task-force on global food security. That he is British may well make him a good choice for a compromise candidate if it comes down to a political appointment versus appointment on competence.

2. Philippe Lazzarini

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Lazzarini, a Swiss native, is currently the UN’s deputy special representative and humanitarian coordinator in Somalia. He previously held senior positions with OCHA, serving in Angola and Iraq as well as Somalia and the Palestinian territories. Prior to coming to the UN, Lazzarini worked for the ICRC, with postings to Amman, Angola, Beirut, Bosnia, Gaza, Rwanda and Sudan.

3. Amina Mohammed

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Mohammed is currently Ban Ki-moon’s special adviser on post-2015 development planning. She worked for the Nigerian government throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, serving under three presidents, including as an adviser on achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In the early 2000s, she headed up the Task Force on Gender and Education for the UN Millennium Project.

4. John Ging

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Ging is currently OCHA’s head of operations. A former officer in the Irish army, he served three tours of duty as a UN peacekeeper. He later worked with the aid agency GOAL in Rwanda, DRC and Tanzania following the Rwandan genocide. He has also worked with the OSCE in Bosnia and served as head of the UN mission in Kosovo in 2005. He worked for UNRWA as head of operations in Gaza from 2006 – 2011, a period which coincided with Israel’s 2008/09 offensive.

Related Story: Replacing Valerie Amos: Political Appointment or Merit-Based

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Foreign Min of New UNSC Member Spain is Visiting Gaza

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Jan. 13, 2015 – Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel Garcia-Margallo has arrived in Gaza as part of a Middle East tour that also saw him visit Jordan, a fellow non-permanent Security Council member.

Garcia-Margallo arrived in Gaza from the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing after visits to Amman and Ramallah. He was to be accompanied by the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, according to the Spanish foreign ministry.

Spain began a two-year term on the Security Council on Jan. 1, winning one of the two available seats in the Western Europe & Others Group vacated by Australia and Luxembourg.

The Spanish parliament on Nov. 18, in a non-binding vote, called for recognizing Palestine as a state.

A Security Council resolution that calls for Israel’s withdrawal from territory it occupied since 1967 is expected to put to a vote sometime early this year, after the same measure was defeated in a 8-2-5 vote on Dec. 30 last year.

Garcia-Margallo is expected to visit areas devastated by this past summer’s war during his visit to Gaza. In Ramallah, he signed a cooperation agreement with his Palestinian counterpart, Riyad Al-Malaki, which sees Spain donate $33 million to the Palestinian Authority for 2015-17.

He will hold meetings with Israeli officials on Wednesday.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Is it Time for ICC to Open Nigeria Investigation?

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Jan 12, 2015  - Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan is again under scrutiny for his handling of the Boko Haram insurgency after the group’s attack in Baga last week which Amnesty International says killed up to 2,000 people but which the Nigerian government estimates killed some 150.

The Baga assault was followed by an attack in Kano this weekend that killed 23 and reportedly involved strapping a bomb to a 10-year-old girl.

The latest atrocities will lead to more calls for the ICC to open an investigation into the situation in Nigeria, citing the Nigerian government’s apparent unwillingness or inability to carry out genuine investigations or prosecutions into Boko Haram. The Islamist group has killed an estimated 9,000 civilians in the past five years, with attacks becoming more frequent and deadly, in addition to attacks on schools and the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reported in December that her office’s preliminary examination of the situation in Nigeria is currently at Phase 3, the stage where the prosecutor is determining whether the Nigerian government’s proceedings “are substantially the same as those that would likely arise from an investigation” by her office and whether “those most responsible for the most serious crimes are being brought to justice.”

“Information gaps remain with respect to national proceedings, in particular regarding the high discrepancy between the reported number of arrests of persons associated with Boko Haram and information on relevant legal proceedings,” Bensouda’s December report said. “The Office will request further information on and continue to analyze the relevance and genuineness of national proceedings by the competent national authorities.”

Critics of Jonathan say he is deliberately turning a blind-eye to Boko Haram’s assaults in the northern part of the country ahead of the February 1 presidential election. The claim is that by disenfranchising millions of voters in the pre-dominantly Muslim northern part of the country, he is assuring himself of victory over his presidential rival General Muhammadu Buhari.

Nigeria ratified the Rome Statute in Sept. 2001. The Court has determined that the situation in the north constitutes a non-international armed conflict and that there is a reasonable basis to believe that Boko Haram has committed crimes against humanity including murder and persecution and that the attacks on educational institutions and the kidnapping of schoolgirls could constitute crimes under the Court’s jurisdiction.

There are credible fears that next month’s election could lead to further violence. In addition, the activities of Boko Haram are now spilling over into neighboring countries, including Chad, where some 7,300 Nigerians have fled in recent days. Chad has troops serving with a Multinational Task Force (MNJTF), consisting of soldiers from Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon, in addition to Chad. The MJNTF is supposed to provide a bulwark against Boko Haram but that has not materialised and soldiers abandoned their base in Baja during last week’s deadly assault.

ICC Prosecutor Bensouda is not likely to rush her decision but much will depend on the outcome of the Feb. 14 election in Africa’s most populous nation. Jonathan is expected to win handily but it is his commitment to investigating and prosecuting Boko Haram leaders following his expected re-election that will be closely monitored by the ICC prosecutor ahead of her next report.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Palestine Accession to ICC Effective April 1

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Jan 7, 2015, Palestine will become the 123rd member of the International Criminal Court on April 1st, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Ban, in his capacity as the UN depository of treaties, said in a statement on Tuesday that the State of Palestine had acceded to the Rome Statute, which governs the Court, and this would become effective in April. Palestine handed over the required documentation on Jan 1 and the court’s jurisdiction becomes effective 60 days the first day of the following month.

In a submission on Jan 2, Palestine granted the Court jurisdiction over crimes committed in their territory since June 2014. That would include the war in Gaza this past summer.

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Security Council Inconsistent on Women, Peace and Security

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Jan 6, 2015 – The Security Council, as well as UN officials and member states, lack commitment to the women, peace and security agenda.

A new policy brief from the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security notes while there has been improvement in some country situations and in thematic agenda items, overall there is “inconsistency in the Council’s discussion of gender…from the information provided by the UN system, to the discussion in the Council, to the action taken and to implementation on the ground.”

Security Council Resolution 1325, which will mark its 15th anniversary this year, recognized the different ways conflict affects men and women and the important roles both have to play in peace and security. In particular, it calls for the participation of women in peace processes, the protection of women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence, and the prevention of violence against women through gender equality, accountability and justice.

The policy brief, which examines the 2013/14 Council, states that the 15-nation body has not “truly internalized” the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda.

“When considering crisis situations in countries that have peacekeeping or political mandates, the Council rarely addressed WPS concerns… Similarly, briefings from senior UN officials included reference to WPS inconsistently, regardless of the inclusion of WPS in the mandate on which they were briefing,” the paper says.

It adds that while the Council has strengthened the language of several peacekeeping mandates with regard to WPS, this is not matched by financial and human resources. It also says that on-the-ground missions are failing to consult local civil society organizations “despite being well connected and established in their area.”

“Further, there is often a gender-blind approach to civil society engagement; engagement with women’s organizations is not referenced or identified as a priority. Despite some gains, civil society and women human rights defenders are
increasingly targeted, and their rights impinged upon with little official Council recognition of the need for better protective mechanisms,” it says.

While the protection of women in armed conflict is receiving greater attention from the Council, this is still a massive gulf in the number of men and women participating in peace negotiation teams.

Overall the UN system, the Security Council, and all Member States must more consistently address WPS issues across their work in order to meet their obligations, the paper concludes, and it outlines a number of recommendations, including stronger efforts to ensure accountability matched by greater leadership efforts by UN actors, and that Ban Ki-moon’s special envoys and representatives report explicitly on the implementation of the WPS components of their mandates.

Less than 20 percent of the more than 100 personal and special representatives, envoys and advisors appointed by Ban Ki-moon are women while about one-third of his senior cabinet are women.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

2014 Ends with Security Council Defeat of Palestinian Resolution

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Jan 5, 2015 – The last act of the 2014 Security Council was to defeat a draft resolution calling on Israel to withdraw from territory it occupied since 1967.

Eight countries supported the text which was put to a vote on Dec. 30 – Argentina, Chad, China, Chile, France, Jordan, Luxembourg and Russia – while five abstained – Britain, Lithuania, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Korea. The United States and Australia voted against the text.

That the draft did not secure the requisite nine votes needed for adoption meant the United States was not forced to use its veto for the 43rd time in defense of Israel. But it was Samantha Power’s first no vote in the Council since assuming the post of US envoy to the UN in August 2013.

It was also Australia’s fist no vote in the Council in its two-year term which ended on Dec. 31st.

The vote exposed the lack of unity among EU countries on the Palestinian question with France and Luxembourg voting for the draft while Britain and Lithuania abstained. There was also disunity among UN regional groups, with the exception of Latin America where both Council members from the region – Argentina and Chile – supported the text.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday said he plans to re-submit the resolution. Two of the countries who ended their non-permanent term on the Security Council on Dec. 31 supported the resolution – Argentina and Luxembourg, two more abstained, Rwanda and South Korea, while Australia voted against it.

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Security Council membership in 2015

Of the five new countries joining the Council for 2015/16, Angola, Malaysia and Venezuela are almost certainties to support the draft resolution and while the positions of New Zealand and Spain are unclear, neither is thought to oppose the resolution.

Although the chances of the draft securing the nine votes needed for adoption increase with the composition of the new Council, the United States will more than likely use its veto to defeat the text.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo/UN Photo

Peshawar Attack is Deadliest Assault Yet on Children’s Education in Pakistan

Schoolgirls in Abbotabad, Pakistan, 2013 (wikimedia)

Schoolgirls in Abbotabad, Pakistan, 2013 (wikimedia)

Dec. 16, 2014 - Less than one week after Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousefzai collected the Noble Peace Prize for her championing of children’s education, a cause for which she was shot in the head by the Taliban as a 14-year-old two years ago in the Swat Valley, the fundamentalist group has carried out its deadliest attack so far on a school in the country.

Tuesday’s assault by the Pakistan Taliban on a military-run school in Peshawar, which killed scores of children as well as teachers, is the latest in a growing list of attacks in which Taliban militants have attacked childhood education, with girls schools and female university students frequently the target.

Two schools for girls in Pakistan were blown up in November and October this year, one of which had recently been reconstructed following a previous attack.

According the UN envoy for children and armed conflict, 78 schools in Pakistan were attacked in 2013. A separate report, from the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, reports there were 838 attacks on schools in Pakistan from 2009-2012, more than in any other country, as well as attacks on school buses, such as the one targeting Malala, which also resulted in two of her schoolmates being shot.

Research from Save the Children, a non-governmental organization, suggests that children entering primary school in countries affected by conflict are 20 percent more likely to leave primary school before completion than children in countries not affected by conflict.

In addition to Pakistan, neighboring Afghanistan, where some 550 children have been killed in the past year, according to reports by Ban Ki-moon, and Nigeria, where the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in March this year, are two of the other worst countries for attacks on children’s education.

Intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to education is a war crime, according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz