World Leaders to Make Their Debut at This Year’s UNGA

1st Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly 69th session
Sept. 17, 2014 – At least ten newly elected presidents and prime ministers will address this year’s General Assembly including three new female leaders.

As is tradition, Brazil will open the high-level segment and President Dilma Rousseff will address delegates for the fourth consecutive year when the session opens on Wednesday.

Also speaking on opening day is Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, who is no stranger to the United Nations having headed UN Women when it was founded in 2010. She left that post in 2013 to campaign for her country’s presidency and was elected in March this year. This is her second stint as Chile’s president. She previously served from 2006-10.

Bachelet is one of three women to take on the post of president or prime minister in the past year who will address the assembly. Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg is slated to speak on Friday while Central African Republic’s interim President Catherine Samba-Panza is up on Saturday.

Egypt’s President Adel Fattah el-Sisi will make his debut on Thursday as will Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko and Iraq’s Fuad Masum.

India’ nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks on Saturday and will deliver his speech in Hindi.

Other newly elected leaders making their bow are El Salvador’s President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, Costa Rica’s Luis Guillermo Solis, Guinea-Bissau’s Jose Mario Vaz and Lebanon’s Prime Minister Tammam Salman.

The most recent list of speakers provided by the UN states that Afghanistan will be represented by its head of state but June’s runoff presidential election poll is still disputed and it’s not clear at this stage who will represent Kabul.

Besides Rousseff, Bachelet, Solberg and Samba-Panza, at least nine other female heads of state or government are set to address the assembly next week: Argentina’s President Christina Fernandez Kirchner, Liberia’s Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, Lithuania’s Dalia Grybauskaite, Malawi’s Joyce Banda, South Korea’s Park Geun-hye, as well as Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Denmark’s Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Jamaica’s Portia Simpson-Miller and Trinidad’s Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

UN Syria Investigators Release Gruesome Witness Testimony

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairman of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairman of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria

Sept. 16, 2014 – Grave violations by all sides to the conflict in Syria were detailed in witness testimony released in Geneva Tuesday by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

These include attacks by government forces using barrel bombs filled with chlorine, executions and amputations by ISIS, enforced disappearance, and depraved detention facilities.

The 12 witness statements, out of a total of some 3,200 that the inquiry has collected, “demonstrate that few Syrians have been spared,” the investigators wrote in their introduction to the report of testimonies.

They said that “many of the victims interviewed remained hopeful that their stories can prompt the action and dialogue needed to bring this conflict to an end.”

The full report is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Al Nusra Placed Explosives at UNDOF Site, Stole Vehicles, Uniforms

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Sept. 15, 2014 – Al Qaeda linked militants have taken over UN positions in Golan, are wearing United Nations blue berets and after taking Fijian troops hostage they surrounded another UN base with explosives to prevent troops from evacuating, detonating one of the explosives.

These are among the details in Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on the beleaguered UNDOF mission in Golan where on Monday the UN evacuated all its troops to the Israeli side of the ceasefire line after the security situation deteriorated even further.

Some 300 militants were involved in the incident where the 45 Fijian troops were taken captive, Ban’s report says. The troops were released on Thursday. The Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported that Qatar paid a $20 million ransom to release the peacekeepers.

Ban’s report presents the peacekeepers as essentially operating in an active war zone, caught up in a conflict between armed opposition groups and Syrian armed forces. The IDF have also fired numerous artillery rounds and launched air strikes as a result of firing from the Syrian side into Israel, including dropping several bombs near Camp Faouar, the headquarters for the UN mission in Golan. A number of Syrian government soldiers were killed as a result of Israeli fire.

The report, released on Monday, also says cluster munitions have been used near UN facilities.

Syrian armed forces are operating inside the ceasefire line in breach of the disengagement agreement. There are at least ten tanks belonging to Syrian forces operating inside the zone while armed groups also possess tanks. Both sides are operating checkpoints inside the area, the report, which covers May 29 to Sept. 3, states.

The armed groups are “in control of numerous United Nations armoured vehicles,” and have looted and taken command of facilities that UN troops have vacated.

“The activities of several armed elements, including the al-Nusra Front, in the UNDOF area of operation since late August, and the direct confrontations with United Nations personnel, forced UNDOF to vacate all but one of its positions in the southern area of separation,” the report states [see map]. “Armed opposition groups and other armed groups have gained control of a large part of the area of separation, including a section of the main road connecting  the two UNDOF camps and the crossing between the Alpha [Israeli] and the Bravo [Syrian] sides.”

The report adds that the UN peacekeepers have witnessed several interactions between the Israeli Defense Forces and armed groups.

“Throughout the reporting period, UNDOF frequently observed armed members of the opposition interacting with IDF across the ceasefire line in the vicinity of United Nations position 85. UNDOF observed armed members of the opposition transferring 47 wounded persons from the Bravo side across the ceasefire line to IDF, and IDF on the Alpha side handing over 43 treated individuals to the armed members of the opposition on the Bravo side,” it says.

UNDOF, which costs $64 million per year to run as of 2014, was created in 1974 to observe the disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel. It currently has 1,271 troops, including 48 women, from Fiji, Ireland, the Philippines, Nepal, India and the Netherlands.

In his conclusion, Ban writes that “UNDOF will continue to use its best efforts to monitor the ceasefire between Syrian and Israeli forces and see that it is observed, albeit in increasingly challenging and difficult circumstances.” He also calls for greater support from the Security Council who are scheduled to discuss Ban’s report on Sept. 18.

But it appears that the fate of the mission is sealed for now after Monday’s decision to relocate all troops to the Israeli side, essentially ending UNDOF’s mission to operate in the separation zone observing the ceasefire agreement.

The full report is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

US Nominates Climate Skeptic as Representative to UNGA

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Sept. 12, 2014 – A Wisconsin senator who argues the evidence that human behavior causes climate change is not convincing and who has likened climate activism to “environmental jihad” has been nominated as a US representative to the 69th UN General Assembly.

The announcement comes days before President Obama participates in Ban Ki-moon’s Sept. 23rd Climate Summit.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in 2013 sent a fundraising email to supporters attacking the League of Conservation voters, calling the group “one of the many attack dog groups used by President Obama, the Democrats and the extreme left to weaken, defeat and silence conservatives.”

“They are an extreme left group on an environmental jihad,” he wrote, according to a Huffington Post report.

Earlier this year, he sparred with climatologist James Hansen at a Senate Foreign Relations Hearing over the Keystone Pipeline. “The science is far from settled,” he said about climate change at the hearing.

The General Assembly is the United Nations’ main deliberative, policy-making and representative organ, with five representatives and five alternates from each of the 193 member nations. It meets in regular session from September to December each year, and periodically thereafter.

Johnson will continue to represent Wisconsin in the Senate and will assume his new duties next week when the 69th General Assembly opens, pending his confirmation.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Fijian UNDOF Troops Released

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UNDOF Force Commander Singha Welcomes Back Fijian Troops

Sept. 11, 2014 – Forty-five Fijian troops serving with the UN’s Golan observer mission were released on Thursday after two weeks in captivity.

“Today at 1430hrs local time, the 45 Fijian peacekeepers who had been detained were handed to UNDOF at Position 80,” [see map] the UN spokesperson’s office in New York said in an email to reporters. “All the 45 peacekeepers are in good condition and will proceed back to Camp Foar for medical assessment.”

Ban Ki-moon welcomed the release of the troops who were taken by Al Nusra from Position 27 on August 28th.

“The Secretary-General emphasizes to all parties the impartiality of United Nations peacekeepers. UNDOF is on the ground to monitor the Disengagement of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria,” his office said in a statement. “The Secretary-General demands that all parties respect UNDOF’s mandate, freedom of movement and the safety and security of its personnel.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo: Courtesy of UN Press Office

As Obama Heads to UN, US Yet to Pay 2014 Dues

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Sept. 10, 2014 – The United States owes the United Nations almost $1 billion in dues for 2013 and 2014 and is one of only two current Security Council members not to have paid in full this year.

The US is the biggest contributor to the UN’s regular budget and was assessed dues of $621 million for 2014, or 22 percent of the overall regular budget. The UN maintains a separate peacekeeping budget.

So far this year, the US has paid $83.8 million and its overall outstanding contributions (prior year and current year) for the regular budget is $921.3 million, according to information provided to UN Tribune by the United Nations Committee on Contributions.

While 115 of the 193 UN member states have paid their dues in full for 2014, the US is the only permanent member of the Council not to have done so and among all current 15 Council members, Chad is the only other member not to have paid in full, according to the Committee on Contributions Roll of Honor.

The United States government’s fiscal year begins on Oct. 1st and the US typically makes substantial payments to the UN in the fourth-quarter, though not nearly enough to clear its debt, but enough to prevent its inclusion on the Article 19 list which would result in losing its General Assembly vote.

Among the top five contributors to the UN budget, the US is also the only one not yet to have paid in full with Japan ($276 mln), Germany ($182 mln), France ($142 mln), and the UK ($132 mln) all paid up-to-date.

The US currently holds the rotating monthly presidency of the Security Council and President Obama has called a high-level Security Council meeting for Sept. 24th on threats to international peace and security from foreign terrorist fighters. So far, 13 heads of state or government from the 15 Security Council member states are slated to participate with China and Russia yet to confirm who will represent them at the meeting.

The last time Obama chaired a Security Council meeting was in Sept. 2009, then the meeting was on nuclear non-proliferation. China was represented by then president Hu Jintao while Russia’s PM Dimitry Medvedev represented Moscow. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was the only leader of a then Council member not to attend.

Obama is also participating in Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit on Sept. 23rd.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Scottish Independence Could Trigger Security Council Reform


Sept. 7, 2013 – A Yes vote in the Sept. 18th Scottish independence referendum could lead to the UK losing its permanent Security Council seat and trigger wider reform of the 15-nation body.

There is precedent in favor of such a scenario not happening. Following the breakup of the USSR in 1991, Russia notified the UN that it would assume the USSR permanent seat in the Council and the 11 former Soviet republics also wrote in favor of Russia taking the USSR seat. That was before calls for Security Council reform began in earnest, in the mid-1990s.

And since the end of the Cold War, clamor for reform has grown - most recently because of the failure of the 15-nation body to act on the situation in Syria.

Privately, non-permanent members of the Council have complained they are locked out of decision making by the P5, and in the wider UN membership there is a push for more transparency and accountability from the Council.

By what current logic should Europe possess two of the five permanent veto-wielding seats on the Security Council is also increasingly asked while Africa and Latin America have none.

An independent Scotland and EU member states may support a downsized UK – which would presumably have a new name – holding on to the old UK seat, but countries that aspire to a permanent seat – such as Argentina, Brazil, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey and South Africa – could see a Scottish Yes vote as an opportunity to change the status quo in an outdated UN.

This year’s high-level segment of the General Assembly opens on Sept. 22nd, four days after the Scottish poll, and if speeches from recent years are an indication there will be more calls for reform of the Security Council, and the result of the Sept. 18 referendum may give those calls more legs.

Moreover, the UN charter is in dire need of reform. It still refers to Germany, Japan and Italy as enemy states and despite the succession of Russia to the USSR seat the charter still refers to the USSR, as well as the Republic of China, as holders of two of the permanent five seats.

But any change to the charter requires the consent of the P5 and they are united in upholding the status quo to hold on to their veto power and not open up the can of worms that could lead to the much needed reform the UN requires to reflect the world as it is today.

An independent Scotland would have to apply for membership of the UN, which should be an uncomplicated process.

 - Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Council to Meet on UNDOF Sept. 18

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Sept. 3 – The Security Council will receive Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on the UNDOF mission in the Golan Heights on Sept. 12 and is set to meet with peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous over the future of the mission six days later.

Forty-five Fijian UNDOF peacekeepers taken hostage last week by Al Nusra remain in captivity.

Ladsous spoke to reporters at UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday and backed UNDOF force commander Iqbal Singh Singha amid reports that he ordered a Filipino contingent to hand over their weapons to the Al Nusra militants holding the Fijian troops.

He said the Filipino troops were told to “keep their weapons quiet” but not to surrender them.

He added that the Dept. of Peacekeeping Operations is looking at “the way the force is configured.”

The Philippines announced in August that it is withdrawing its troops from UNDOF at the end of September citing security concerns (it is also withdrawing its troops from UNMIL in Liberia over the Ebola outbreak).

Ireland’s Defence Minister Simon Coveney told Morning Ireland on Monday that the Irish government would seek a review of the mission before deciding whether to send new troops when the current contingent end their tour of duty at the end of September.

Ban Ki-moon recommended over a year ago that the force’s self-defense capabilities be enhanced. While the force has received more robust armor, it is understood that both the UN Secretariat and troop contributing countries believe the Security Council has not done enough to ensure UNDOF has the defensive equipment it needs.

Irish troops, along with the Fijian contingent, were deployed after Japanese, Croatian and Austrian troops withdrew last year because of the security situation. Austria had been the longest serving contributor to the mission, having joined UNDOF when it was formed in 1974 to observe the ceasefire agreement between Syria and Israel following the end of the 1973 war.

The Council also increased the size of the force in June last year by about 300 troops. It’s current configuation has over 1,200 troops from six countries.

Ladsous said on Wednesday that in addition to Al Nusrah there are about six or seven other armed opposition groups operating in the area of separation.

In Ban Ki-moon’s report to the Council in June this year, he outlined a number of incidents in which the security of UNDOF troops was threatened. As a result of the security situation, Ban is required to report on UNDOF every three months instead of the usual six.

In his June 2014 report, Ban wrote that armed opposition groups were tailing UNDOF patrols, presumably as protection from Syrian government forces, that two peacekeepers were injured by a tank round on July 7, and that another patrol witnessed members of an armed group walking past its post with a severed head.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Al Nusrah Issue Demands for Release of Fijian Golan Peacekeepers

UNDOF troops in June during a visit of undersecretary-general for peacekeeping ops, Herve Ladsous. source: UNDOF

UNDOF troops in June during a visit of undersecretary-general for peacekeeping ops, Herve Ladsous. credit: UNDOF

Sept. 1, 2014 – The Al Nusrah Front is demanding that it be removed from the UN’s sanctions list, wants compensation for three of its fighters killed, and that they be provided with humanitarian aid in return for releasing the Fijian peacekeepers the group abducted last week in the Golan Heights.

Fijian Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitoga revealed the three demands at a press conference in Fiji earlier where he also said that he was assured that the abducted peacekeepers, whose number was put at 45 by the Fiji Times, are in good health.

Al Nusrah were added to the Security Council’s sanctions list last month.

Meanwhile, Philipines Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang has said his troops defied an order from an UNDOF commander to hand over their weapons in exchange for the release of the Fijian troops.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Al Nusra Confirms Holding UN Peacekeepers

 

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A photo posted on Twitter by the Al Nusral front showing the UN Fijian peacekeepers abducted from their position in the Golan Heights.

Aug 31, 2014 – The Al Nusra Front have confirmed they have taken hostage UN peacekeepers from Fiji abducted from the UN’s Golan Heights observer mission.

The group said it is holding the peacekeepers hostage “in reply to all crimes committed by the UN against al-Sham since 1974 in protecting the zionist Israeli border, we took 43 UNDOF hostages.”

The UN have said that 44 Fijian troops have been detained. It has not yet said who is holding them hostage.

“Al Nusra is on terrorist list and on sanction list. All we do is offer support for our brothers in Syris. In exchange, we face the UN article 7,” the group said. Article 7 of the UN charter authorizes the use of force to maintain international peace and security.

“We confirm all 43 UNDOF are in a secure place, in good health and receive medical attention,” Al Nusra said.

The UN observer force in Golan was established in 1974 in response to a ceasefire agreement agreement between Israel and Syria following the end of the 1973 war. It patrols a demiltarized zone agreed on both sides.

UN troops were mandated to observe the ceasefire, in the absence of a peace agreement between the countries, and occupy a zone which both sides declared should be demilitarized, according to their disengagement agreement.

Meanwhile, the UN says the 40 Filipino troops pinned down in their position have been vacated following a ceasefire agreed with armed groups.

Some 70 Filipino troops had come under fire in their positions following the abduction of the Fijian troops. Irish troops rescued some 30 of those peacekeepers on Friday. The remaining Filipino were troops engaged in a standoff with armed groups, including Al Nusra, until a ceasefire was arranged.

Fijian Commander Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitogan told the Fiji Times that he has been informed that his troops are safe and have been removed from the Golan by their captives but is unsure of their location. “I am sure sooner or later they will provide a demand to the UN but at this stage we can wait and see what happens in the next few days.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz