Prospect of Lost Generation in Syria Now a ‘Reality’

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Nov. 25, 2014 – UN aid chief Valerie Amos on Tuesday told the Security Council that more than 12 million people, including 5 million children, need assistance in Syria and the amount of aid getting into the country is only a fragment of what is needed to address the humanitarian situation.

She said the there was “considerable challenges in implementing”
Resolution 2139 (Feb. 2014), demanding safe, unhindered access to aid, and Resolution 2165 (July 2014), authorizing cross-border aid without state consent.

“This is a conflict that is affecting every Syrian. Syria’s economy has contracted some 40 per cent since 2011. Unemployment now exceeds 54 per cent. Three quarters of the population live in poverty. School attendance has dropped by more than 50 per cent. Young people have few prospects of a bright future,” Amos told the 15-nation body.

“We have lamented the possibility of a lost generation of Syria’s children: it is now a reality.”

She said the resolutions have made a difference and “nearly all the hard-to-reach locations in the four governorates – Aleppo, Idlib, Dar’a and Quneitra” have received aid.

“But despite the progress we have made it is still not enough. No more than two besieged locations have been reached in any month since the adoption of resolution 2165 and only one location has been reached in each of the past two months,” Amos said.

Addressing the Council on the International day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the UN’s top humanitarian official said, “we particularly remember Syria’s women and children.  Sexual violence has been used as a form of torture, to injure, to degrade, intimidate and as punishment.”

She also praised the bravery of aid workers, noting that 69 of them have been killed since the beginning of the conflict.

In his report to the Council on the implementation of Resolutions 2139 and 2165, Ban Ki-moon wrote that “at least 239 civilians have reportedly been killed by government airstrikes, including barrel bomb attacks” in the past month.

According to the UN Human Rights Office, 42 barrel bombs were dropped between Oct. 18 and Nov. 6. On Nov. 5 the government air force bombed a Damascus neighborhood, hitting a primary school and killing at least 17 children and injuring a dozen others.

Internal displacement continues unabated with some 50,000 people displaced in the last two weeks of October, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Ban wrote that “foreign fighters continued to be involved on all sides of the fighting” and a reported number “of foreign, mostly Shiite, militias joined the pro-government forces in Aleppo.” He added that the Nusra Front and ISIL continue to recruit foreign and domestic fighters. “On Nov. 4, the leader of the Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed al-Julani, stated that foreign fighters constituted ’30 to 35 per cent’ of his group’s total force,” the report said.

In her address to the Council, Amos said she hopes the Council will renew Resolution 2165 when its six-month mandate expires in January.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Turkey’s Erdogan on Women Contradicts UN Charter and UDHR

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Nov. 24, 2014 – Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s remarks on Monday that women are not equal to men contradict both the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“You cannot put women and men on an equal footing,” he told a women’s conference in Istanbul. “It is against nature.”

The preamble of the UN Charter states that, “We the peoples of the United Nations determined… to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.”

Meanwhile, Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed by Turkey in 1949, declares that, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Turkey ranks 69th in the UNDP Gender Equality Index with particular gaps in women’s participation in the workforce, politics, and education. Fourteen percent of Turkish Parliament members are women, or 79 MPs out of 548. with Turkey ranking 96th out of 188 countries for participation in politics according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

As for employment, only 24 percent of Turkish women are employed outside the home, typically in low-paying jobs such as in the textile industry or farming.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

The 42 Countries That Have Banned Corporal Punishment

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Nov. 20, 2014 - As the world celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Child Rights Convention, less than 10 percent of children around the globe are protected by laws banning corporal punishment.

But that’s almost double the amount of children protected from last year with Argentina and Brazil among four of the countries enacting laws in 2014 to protect minors from violence in the home and school.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however slight,” and it calls physical punishment “invariably degrading.”

Sweden was the world’s first country to ban corporal punishment in 1979 while San Marino became the most recent when its parliament passed a bill in June this year.

A full list of countries that have enacted laws prohibiting violence against children in the home and school is below, courtesy of the Global Initiative to End Corporal Punishment. Most recent first:

San Marino (2014)

Argentina (2014)

Bolivia (2014)

Brazil (2014)

Malta (2014)

Cabo Verde (2013)

Honduras (2013)

TFYR Macedonia (2013)

South Sudan (2011)

Albania (2010)

Congo, Republic of (2010)

Kenya (2010)

Tunisia (2010)

Poland (2010)

Liechtenstein (2008)

Luxembourg (2008)

Republic of Moldova (2008)

Costa Rica (2008)

Togo (2007)

Spain (2007)

Venezuela (2007)

Uruguay (2007)

Portugal (2007)

New Zealand (2007)

Netherlands (2007)

Greece (2006)

Hungary (2005)

Romania (2004)

Ukraine (2004)

Iceland (2003)

Turkmenistan (2002)

Germany (2000)

Israel (2000)

Bulgaria (2000)

Croatia (1999)

Latvia (1998)

Denmark (1997)

Cyprus (1994)

Austria (1989)

Norway (1987)

Finland (1983)

Sweden (1979)

Book Review: UN-Tied Nations: The United Nations, Peacekeeping & Global Governance


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Nov. 18, 2014 – Kate Seaman’s UN-Tied Nations: The United Nations, Peacekeeping and Global Governance examines the role of peacekeeping in the development of global security governance. It is a timely book in light of Ban Ki-moon’s recent announcement of a high-level panel to review UN peacekeeping operations.

Seaman begins with a discussion of the various theories and definitions of what constitutes global governance. “The reality is that global governance is not a form of world government… [it] is a highly contested and politicized concept. It does not view the international system as a state centric one, instead it tries to incorporate the many new and varied actors that now have a role to play in global governance.” These include non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups and regional organizations.

At the center of all this is the United Nations which plays a “coordinating” role in the global governance agenda, promoting “key norms such as human rights, democratization and good governance.” The hope after the end of the Cold War was that a reinvigorated UN would live up to its charter ideals of promoting peace and human rights, even though United Nations membership is – or at least according to the UN Charter – open only to “peace-loving states.”

There was a burst of Security Council activity in the early to mid-1990s with a record number of decisions, but the organization soon became “overwhelmed” and failed to respond in Rwanda and Somalia. It became readily apparent that “traditional peacekeeping” was inadequate to cope with new challenges and “coupled with ‘the desire by UN officials and member states to pick winners and avoid failures meant that the UN was as interested in its own security as it was in human security’.”

Moreover, ambitious Security Council mandates tasked peacekeepers with a range of duties such as from early economic recovery to election monitoring, but the mandates were not matched with the resources to fulfill them and there was a disconnect between the demands placed on peacekeepers and their ability to perform these tasks.

The past decade has seen a resurgence in UN peacekeeping operations but the same problems and challenges remain: legitimacy and resources, coupled with new challenges in tackling the changing nature of conflicts with non-state actors increasingly involved.

The book examines a number of case studies and thoroughly reviews the existing literature on global governance and peacekeeping. There are useful insights from the author’s interviews with UN officials and diplomats – their anonymity allows more candidness than one is used to from diplomats and secretariat officials in their public remarks.

Perennial problems such as reform of the Council is also discussed with observations ranging from an expanded Council would only lead to an even more crippling decision making process to ensuring major troop contributing countries have a say in decisions. There’s something of a consensus, however, on that improving the Council’s working methods should be as much, if not more, of a priority than reforming the Council’s existing structure.

In concluding, Seaman writes that, “The UN has simply become another political tool of governments, used to validate their actions and policies… if the UN is ever to achieve the ideals on which it was established, member states will have to be much more willing to provide resources and to politically support the organization and the Secretariat in what they are trying to achieve.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Ban Ki-Moon Launches Internal Probe on Gaza Conflict

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Nov. 10, 2014 – The findings of Ban Ki-moon’s board of inquiry on incidents involving UN personnel and premises during this summer’s Gaza conflict will likely never be made public.

Ban announced a five-member team on Monday to “investigate a number of specific incidents in which death or injuries occurred at, and/or damage was done to United Nations premises.  The Board will also review and investigate incidents in which weapons were found to be present on United Nations premises.”

A similar investigation was launched after Israel’s 2008 invasion of Gaza but the findings were never made public. Ban released a summary of the findings which was prepared with the assistance of an Israeli delegation.

UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told UN Tribune in an email that the board announced on Monday “will report to the Secretary-General and he will then consider what to do with the findings. As he did in 2009. the Secretary-General intends to make public a summary of the Board’s report.”

The internal board of inquiry announced on Monday, as with all such internal UN probes, will not make legal findings or consider questions of legal liability. Ban said in August that he expects accountability for innocent lives lost during the conflict. 

More than 500 Palestinian children were killed in this summer’s conflict and hundreds of others sustained life-altering injuries such as loss of limbs, blindness and severe scarring.

A total of more than 1,500 Palestinian civilians, including 306 women, as well as five Israelis were killed in the 50-day conflict.

Eleven staff members of the UN Relief and Works agency were killed while UN-operated schools came under attack on seven occasions resulting in 42 deaths. Rockets were also placed in UN schools by militants and these rockets later went missing.

Ban said he “expects that the Board will enjoy the full cooperation of all parties concerned.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

 

Slowdown in Ebola Cases as Funding Increases

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Nov. 5, 2014 – The World Health Organization on Wednesday said that incidences of the Ebola virus appear to be on the decline in Liberia, stabilizing in Guinea but increasing in Sierra Leone, particularly in the capital Freetown.

The latest WHO situation report shows 398 new cases in Liberia in the past 21 days out of a total of 6,525 cases that have resulted in 2,697 deaths so far.  In Guinea, 256 new cases have been recorded in the past three weeks bringing the total to 1,731 cases with 1,041 deaths.

However, Sierra Leone has reported 435 cases in the past week alone. “Much of this was driven by intense transmission in the capital of Freetown, which reported 115 new confirmed cases and remains one of the worst affected cities in this outbreak.”

Sierra Leone has the second highest incidence of Ebola, after Liberia, with 4759 cases resulting in 1,070 deaths. More than a quarter of the country’s Ebola cases have been recorded in the past three weeks.

The WHO also said that the number of beds in Ebola Treatment Centers (ETCs) has increased from 284 at the beginning of August to 1,047 at the end of October with 593 in Liberia, 294 in Sierra Leone and 160 in Guinea.

“The establishment of more beds is in part held back by challenges in finding sufficient numbers of foreign medical teams to operate ETCs,” the WHO said.

The outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is separate and unrelated to the outbreak in West Africa, is almost under control. There have been no new cases in the past 24 days, WHO said, and if no other cases are reported in the next 18 days the country can be declared Ebola-free.

Meanwhile, funding to combat Ebola is increasing with more than $1 billion committed so far according to UN figures. The top five contributors are the United States, which has given $313 million; the UK, $95 million; Canada, $51 million; China, $41 million; and Sweden $34 million.

Russia is the only permanent member of the Security Council that has not yet donated funds to combat Ebola.

A list of all contributions and pledges made so far is here and includes funds given directly to the UN appeal as well as money donated bi-laterally to an affected country.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Republicans Likely to Nix Funding for UN Climate Agencies After Midterms

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Nov. 4, 2014 – The $12 million that the United States Senate has allocated to UN climate agencies is expected to be among the first casualties if Republican take control of the chamber following Tuesday’s midterm elections.

The current Senate bill on funding for state and foreign operations includes $11,700,000 for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control (IPCC) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The bill was approved by a current Democrat-controlled sub-committee in June but has yet to be put to a full vote.

However, the House version of the bill passed by a Republican-controlled sub-committee, also in June, states that “none of the funds in this Act may be made available for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change/United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

While the sum involved is miniscule compared to the overall $48 billion budget approved by both sub-committees, it represents a combined one-third of the $7 million IPCC and $26 million UNFCC budgets.

The pulling of this funding will be a big blow to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ahead of next year’s climate talks in Paris. Ban has made climate change his signature issue and is hoping that a global pact can be agreed before he steps down in 2016.

A Republican-controlled Senate will also scupper what slim chances there already were that the US would ratify the Arms Trade Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Funding for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) will also likely get nixed by a Republican-controlled Senate. The House bill denies any funding to the agency while the Senate version allocates $37.5 million to the UNFPA – the agency which promotes family planning and reproductive health. Under President George W. Bush, all funding for the agency was withheld. President Obama restored this funding after his election.

UNRWA, the agency that supports Palestinian refugees, could also see its funds cut under a Republican Senate. The US is the largest single donor to the agency.

In a further blow to the US relationship with the UN, under a Republican-controlled Senate, Rand Paul, who last year proposed an amendment calling for the US to stop providing funds to the United Nations, would take over as chair of the subcommittee responsible for oversight of the United States participation in the United Nations system.

Among the new batch of Republican senators is Joni Ernst from Iowa who has stated that the UN wants to take Iowan farmers off their land and move them into cities.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Book Review: The Procedure of the UN Security Council

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Oct. 29, 2014 – The fourth edition of this comprehensive text, first published in 1975, continues in the tradition of its previous versions by combining an exhaustive account of the practice of the Security Council with examples and anecdotes to illustrate how the Council works, and how it doesn’t.

This new edition of The Procedure of the the UN Security Council, by Loraine Sievers and Sam Daws, is the first update since 1998 and retains, for the sake of continuity, much of the historical material of previous editions but has several new sections including on the Council’s relationship with regional bodies and other organs such as the International Criminal Court.

The book also surveys various proposals to reform the Security Council, which invariably involve increasing the number of members from the current arrangement of five permanent and ten non-permanent. The authors note that under the current two-year term for non-permanent members, some countries elected on an enlarged Council may not get the opportunity to serve as president – by virtue of its alphabetical assignment – depriving them of a full Council experience and the educative and leadership functions associated with holding the Council’s presidency, a role which is thoroughly discussed in Chapter 3.

On a more “poignant” note, Sievers and Daws remark that an outcome of an enlarged Council “would be the probable retirement of the Council’s present horseshoe table, which has so much history.”

In their concluding reflections, the authors examine the current debate and tension between Council members and non-Council members over improving working methods and increasing transparency and accountability of the Council. As a note of caution, they write that “it is vitally important that the debate on the necessity for reforming the Security Council to make it more representative, accountable and transparent does not cast a pall over the legitimacy of the actual decisions taken by the Council which could be exploited by recalcitrant states or parties.”

They add, however, that “to secure its own effectiveness, it is in the best interests of the Security Council to enhance the Council’s interactivity with Member States and to engage proactively with them in discussing improvements to the Council’s working methods.”

For a 744-page book that deals with procedure, it is a highly readable tome written in a non-scholarly fashion that combines the rigor of an academic text with the prose of a journalist. The material in the book is current as of Jan. 1, 2014 and a corresponding website, maintained by Sievers, who worked for the UN for over thirty years, incorporates recent relevant developments on the Council’s procedures and working methods.

-Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Spotlight on Venezuela as it Gains Security Council Seat

Venezuela's delegation celebrates election to the Security Council for 2015-16. (credit/UN Photo).

Venezuela’s delegation celebrates election to the Security Council for 2015-16. (credit/UN Photo).

Oct. 21 – Venezuela’s UN delegation gloated last week over its election to a non-permanent Security Council seat calling it “recognition of the international policies of the Bolivarian Revolution” but since then it has come in for criticism from both the Human Rights Commissioner and the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

That its election to the Council is a victory for the country’s Bolivarian policies is off the mark as it ran uncontested for the available Latin American seat – it was simply their turn to run – and in principle, a country’s national policies should have no impact on the collective responsibility of the Council to maintain international peace and security (in reality, however, the Council consists of governments whose national interests often usurp its international obligations).

The criticism from newly appointed UN human rights chief, Zeid Hussein, came on Monday when he called on Venezuela to release opposition leaders and others arbitrarily detained during student-led anti-government protests earlier this year. He also “deplored” threats and intimidation directed at human rights defenders and journalists. “My office is extremely concerned about the current situation, and we will continue to monitor it very closely,” Zeid said.

And on Tuesday, Venezuela’s record on ending discrimination against women was up for review by CEDAW. Among the areas of concern, committee member Olinda Bareiro-Bobadilla said, were “dozens” of discriminatory laws. This includes “the acquittal of a rapist if he marries his victim. Allowing that violence against women persists throughout life.”

When it joins the Council on Jan. 1, 2015, Venezuela will have the unenviable distinction of having the highest murder rate of any of the 15 nations on the Council. According to the latest report of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, more than 16,000 Venezuelans are killed annually by armed violence, a rate of more than 50 people for every 100,000 citizens, the second highest murder rate globally, behind Honduras, according to the UNODC report whose most recent figures were for 2012.

As a comparison, that’s 40 percent more than the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined last year – almost 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed in 2013, according to the UN mission there, and in Iraq, more than 7,000 civilians were killed last year, according to UNAMI.

Next year the UN will decide on its post-2015 development agenda and whether peace and stability should be one of the goals.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

How Much is a UN Security Council Seat Worth and Which Countries Get Elected?

Security Council Meeting on the situation in the Central African Republic.
Oct. 15, 2014 – Five of the ten non-permanent Security Council seats are up for grabs on Thursday though only one race is contested with New Zealand, Spain and Turkey battling in the Western group to replace Australia and Luxembourg for a two-year term beginning January 1, 2015.

Angola will replace Rwanda for the available African seat, Malaysia will take over from South Korea in the Asia group while Venezuela also has no competition in the race for the Latin American seat being vacated by Argentina.

Why do countries run for a non-permanent seat knowing that the Council is essentially ruled by the Permanent Five members, not to mention the extra expenses associated with increasing diplomatic staff to attend to the UNSC’s expanding workload.

One study has shown that developing countries serving on the Council see their aid from the United States increase by 59 percent and aid from the UN increase by 8 percent, mostly coming from UNICEF, an agency long controlled by the US.

Another paper found that developing countries serving on the Council receive greater support from the World Bank and IMF and receive softer loan conditions from the IMF – but only if they side with the US. For example, as related in yet another study, on vote-buying, Yemen voted against the 1990 resolution authorizing force in Iraq and the US subsequently cut its 70 million dollars in aid entirely and Yemen was not granted an IMF arrangement for six years.

As for which countries get elected, there is a pattern of not electing countries in conflict in Asia and Africa and of favoring democratic states in the Western group. All WEOG countries are now considered democratic but during the dictatorships in Greece, Spain and Portugal – only Spain, in 1961, was ever elected. Since transitioning to democracy, these three countries have served at least twice on the Council. It helps to get elected to the Council if a country in Asia or Latin America is a former former British colony but not so much in Africa, according to this study.

The votes of at least four non-permanent members are needed for a resolution to pass the 15-nation Council, and, as evidenced by this 2010 diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks, the US mission to the UN will be busy categorizing the five countries to be elected tomorrow as reliable or not so reliable partners.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz