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

Iran to UN: Saudi Arabia Must Prosecute Drunk Driving Diplomat Who Killed Tehran Man

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Oct. 13, 2014 – Iran’s government has told Ban Ki-moon that it expects Saudi authorities to prosecute a diplomat who it says killed an Iranian civilian while driving drunk in Tehran last year.

The information was in a report released by the United Nations on Monday on measures taken by UN member states to protect diplomats and diplomatic premises.

In the report, Iran’s mission to the UN says the diplomat, Yasser bin Mohammed Al-Qarni, was involved in previous cases of driving while intoxicated and that the Saudi government was informed of these incidents but “had failed to properly address the serious offenses committed by its staff.”

With regard to the incident in which Iran says one of its citizens was killed, Iran’s submission states that: “Based on the report provided by the Tehran Traffic Police, at 5.30 a.m. on 14 March 2013, Mr. Al-Qarni exceeded the speed limit, considerably endangering the lives of other motorists and pedestrians and causing the car to swerve out of control, killing an Iranian civilian and seriously injuring two others, including a police officer.”

“The cause of the accident was proved to be high speed and reckless driving of the motorist while under the influence of alcohol, which constitutes a serious crime under Iranian national laws.”

Drinking alcohol is strictly prohibited in both Saudi Arabia, where its consumption is punishable by public flogging, and Iran, where two people were sentenced to death for their third alcohol offense in 2012.

In a July report, Saudi Arabia lodged a complaint with the UN that Al-Qarni had his diplomatic rights violated after a “motor vehicle accident.” The Saudi complaint said Al-Qarni was “subjected to medical tests,” had his passport confiscated and was banned from leaving the country. After “vigorous attempts” by the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, Al Qarni was allowed leave Iran two months after the incident.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly denied that Al-Qarni was driving drunk.

Ban Ki-moon is required to issue a report on measures taken by member states to protects diplomats and diplomatic premises following a December 2012 General Assembly resolution.

The resolution was passed in response to a 2011 plot which resulted in a Texas-based Iranian-American being found guilty of involvement in a plan to hire a Mexican drug cartel to bomb a Washington DC restaurant in order to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Why Malala Won the Nobel Prize: Remembering Her Speech to the United Nations

UN Tribune editor Denis Fitzgerald with Malala Yousafzai at Pakistan's Mission to the UN in New York, July 2013.

UN Tribune editor Denis Fitzgerald with Malala Yousafzai at a reception at Pakistan’s Mission to the UN in New York, July 2013.

Oct. 10, 2014 – Malala Yousafzai, who on Friday became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, which she shared with child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi, gave one of the most powerful addresses ever delivered to the United Nations when she spoke before youth delegates on July 12 last year.

The occasion was a Youth General Assembly, which was planned to coincide with Malala’s 16th birthday, and her words of wisdom, humility, forgiveness and kindness will long be remembered. Below are some excerpts as well as a link to the full address.

“Dear Friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.  I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.

“Dear sisters and brothers, I am not against anyone. Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorists group. I am here to speak up for the right of education of every child. I want education for the sons and the daughters of all the extremists especially the Taliban.

“I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me. I would not shoot him. This is the compassion that I have learnt from Muhammad-the prophet of mercy, Jesus christ and Lord Buddha. This is the legacy of change that I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of non-violence that I have learnt from Gandhi Jee, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learnt from my mother and father. This is what my soul is telling me, be peaceful and love everyone.”

France Absent From Donors to UN Fund for Combatting Ebola

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Oct. 8, 2014 – France has yet to contribute to the UN fund to combat the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.

The most recent list of contributions to the fund, which is seeking $988 million, shows that the US has contributed $113 million of the $391 million so far committed, making it, by some distance, the biggest country donor.

The UK is next with $7.8 million contributed, then Australia at $7 million, followed by Kuwait, $5 million, Canada, $4.2 million, and Germany $3.2 million.

Twenty-two countries in total have contributed to the fund. Besides the six above, the others are:

Switzerland $3 million
Japan $3 million
Norway $2.2 million
China $2.2 million
Denmark $2.2 million
Italy $2.1 million
Ireland $1.2 million
Netherlands $1.2 million
Finland $1 million
South Korea $600,000
Spain $540,468
India $500,000
Luxembourg $269,054
Austria $263,505
Estonia $80,600
Andorra $20,053

Russia is the only other permanent member of the Security Council besides France to not yet contribute.

A list of all contributions and pledges to the United Nations Ebola Response Fund, as compiled by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is here.

France is the former ruler of Guinea, which is the epicenter of the Ebola virus outbreak. The first case in the current outbreak, the biggest ever, was diagnosed there in March 2014. The country has registered 1,298 cases, resulting in 587 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Twenty-five percent of the cases in Guinea have been diagnosed in the past three weeks.

The total number of cases for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has topped 8,000 resulting in 3,800 deaths.

The US, Spain, Senegal and Nigeria have also recored cases while a recent study suggests there is a 75 percent probability of the virus spreading to France in the next twenty days. The UK and Belgium are also at high risk of the virus spreading there at 50 percent and 40 percent respectively, according to the study.

The study, by researchers from Boston University, also found that a travel ban on flights from affected countries would delay international spread of Ebola by three weeks and concluded that the best intervention is on the ground assistance in the affected countries.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: US CDC

Campaign Against ISIS Exposes Major Gap in Arms Trade Treaty

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Oct. 2, 2014 – The Arms Trade Treaty will go into force on Dec. 24th following its fiftieth ratification last week but the recent campaign launched against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, by Western and Gulf countries exposes a major loophole in the Treaty.

The pact prohibits supplying arms to countries that would use the eight types of conventional weapons covered under the Treaty to violate international human rights law but there are no prohibitions on the transfer of these arms to non-state actors.

The US, UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have all either supplied or said they will supply weapons to groups fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and to other groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria.

In the negotiations leading up to the agreement on the text of the Arms Trade Treaty, a number of countries – including Brazil, India, Nigeria and Turkey – called for a clear prohibition on transferring arms to non-state actors and that the entry of arms to any state must be based on the permit given by the government of such state.

But the lack of a clear and agreed definition of a non-state actor and because of a desire to avoid a subject that would stalemate the negotiations the subject was avoided.

While no country outright said it opposed a provision on arms transfers to non-state actors, the United States included the following in its red lines: “provisions inconsistent with existing US law or that would unduly interfere with our ability to import, export or transfer arms in support of our national security and foreign policy interests.”

The US is one of the 121 signatories to the Treaty but is unlikely to get the support of two-thirds of the Senate to support its ratification.

Other arms producers such as China, Canada, Israel and Russia have not signed the Treaty while major arms importers India, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have also not signed.

France, Germany, Netherlands and the UK have all ratified the Treaty.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Rights Council Adopts Resolution Supporting LGBT Rights

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Sept. 26, 2014 – More than half the members of the 47-nation Human Rights Council on Friday supported a resolution that affirms the dignity of all people irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity and condemns acts of violence and discrimination against people based on these grounds.

Twenty-five countries voted for the text while seven abstained and 14 voted against it. The resolution, sponsored by Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay, asks human rights commissioner Zeid Hussein to provide a report to the Council on best practices to overcome discrimination and violence against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

Of the 13 African countries on the Council, South Africa was the only one that voted for the resolution while Congo, Sierra Leone and Namibia abstained. Benin did not vote while the nine other countries including Botswana, Algeria, Morocco, Ivory Coast and Kenya voted no.

 

In the Asia group, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam voted for the resolution while India abstained and Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is punishable by death, voted against the text as did Pakistan, Maldives, Kazakhstan, UAE, and Indonesia.

 

All members of the Western Europe group supported the resolution. Russia voted against it while other members of the Eastern European group, including Estonia and Romania, supported the resolution.

“The resolution does not seek to create any new rights but simply affirms the application of existing international standards and law to those who face human rights abuses and violations simply because of who they are and who they love,” said Italy’s representative to the Council on behalf of EU states before the vote.

 

-Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Did Obama Rebuke Kirchner for not Co-Sponsoring Resolution?

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Sept. 25, 2014 – President Obama’s rebuke yesterday to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez-Kirchner during a summit meeting of the Security Council to adopt a US-drafted resolution on combatting foreign terrorist fighters took UN watchers by surprise.

After Kirchner delivered her 14 minute statement, Obama – who spoke for 40 minutes in his address to the General Assembly the day before – said that “we have to make sure we’re respectful of the time constraints.” He added that the meeting had to end by 5pm, which was also baffling. As one journalist put it, the lights would stay on in the Security Council chamber if the meeting went past 5pm – which it did: the meeting, which Obama was chairing, adjourned near 7pm.

Kirchner had rushed to the Council chamber immediately after delivering her address to the General Assembly. She appeared to be speaking without notes, but nevertheless her points were clear: that respecting human rights in the course of combatting terrorism was crucial, otherwise you’re just “feeding this monster.” Kirchner also noted that some of the “freedom fighters” who had been armed in the past are now deemed terrorists. She pointedly said terrorists should be “brought to justice,” inferring that killing terrorists is not justice.

“The way in which we’ve been fighting terrorism has not been up to the job,” Kirchner said. “Something is not working.” She also referenced the provision of military aid by the United States to Sadaam Hussein and the Afghan mujheddin in the 1980s.

Argentina was not among the 104 co-sponsors of the resolution and was one of only three Security Council members not to sign on. The others were China and Russia. All three voted for the resolution.

A source told UN Tribune that Argentina had raised concerns during Council consultations on the draft text. Specifically on due process, and that the combatting of terrorism should be respectful of human rights and the resolution should emphasize the importance of better integration in societies.

The 89 states that didn’t co-sponsor the resolution also include Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, India, Mexico, Peru, Tunisia and South Africa.

Human Rights Watch was also critical the resolution. “There is no question that states should address the threat of terrorism, but the resolution risks repeating many of the mistakes of the post-September 11 era,” Andrea Prasow, HRW’s Washington director said. “The resolution says nothing about due process protections.”

See Obama’s rebuke here, courtesy of C-Span:

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Kenyatta Becomes First ICC Indictee to Address the UN Security Council

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Sept. 24, 2013 – Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta became the first International Criminal Court indictee to address the Security Council when on Wednesday he spoke at US President Barack Obama’s summit meeting on foreign terrorist fighters.

In one sense, his presence was fitting. Kenya has suffered more than most countries as a result of foreign terrorist fighters. Kenyatta cancelled his visit to last year’s high-level segment of the General Assembly because of the Westgate Mall terrorist attack which killed 67 people. The anniversary of the attack was on Sunday.

Al-Shabab militants claimed responsibility for the assault on the mall saying it was retribution for Kenya’s troop presence in Somalia, where the group has its home base.

But Kenyatta’s presence in the chamber where decisions on upholding international peace and security are made is also troubling. He was indicted on five counts of crimes against humanity over the post-election violence in 2007-08 that killed more than 1,100 people.

In November last year, the Council rejected a resolution that would have delayed the start of his trial when a draft text pressed by the African Union failed to garner enough votes. Seven Security Council members voted for the draft resolution while the eight others abstained.

After the November 2013 Security Council vote, US Ambassador Samantha Power, explaining her abstention, said: “The families of the victims of the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya have already waited more than five years for a judicial weighing of the evidence to commence. We believe that justice for the victims of that violence is critical to the country’s long-term peace and security. It is incumbent on us all to support accountability for those responsible for crimes against humanity.”

As it stands, the trial is in danger of collapsing. On Sept. 5, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC filed a notice to the court stating that it will “not be in a position to proceed” with the trial against Kenyatta which was scheduled to start on Oct. 7.

The prosecution said an adjournment is required because it does not have the evidence available to prove Kenyatta’s alleged criminal conduct beyond a reasonable doubt but added that it would be “inappropriate” to withdraw the charges completely as the Government of Kenya has not complied with the Court’s requests.

On Friday Sept. 19, he was ordered to appear before the tribunal on Oct. 8 where judges want to question him over claims that his government has withheld documents.

Kenyatta repeatedly argues that he needs to remain in Kenya to fight al-Shabab and attend to state business.

He denies organizing the ethnic massacres after the 2007 election.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: ICC website.

US Invokes Article 51: Does the UN Charter Cover Attacks by Non-State Actors?

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Sept. 23, 2014 – US envoy Samantha Power has cited Article 51 of the UN Charter as cover for the airstrikes the United States carried out inside Syria overnight Monday against ISIS and the Khorasan unit of the Nusra Front.

Power wrote to Ban Ki-moon Tuesday saying, “States must be able to defend themselves … when, as is the case here, the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks.”

Power’s letter also cites Iraq’s letter to the Security Council of Sept. 20 warning that the country “is facing a serious threat of continuous attacks coming out of ISIL safe havens in Syria.” It adds that the Iraqi government has requested the US lead “international efforts to strike ISIL sites and military strongholds in Syria.”

The UN Charter prohibits the use of force by a state against another state unless authorized by a Security Council resolution. But Article 51 provides an exception: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.”

The UN Charter is concerned with inter-state conflict as only states can become members of the UN so the applicability of Article 51 for use of force inside a sovereign country against a non-state actor is a question that international law scholars have grappled with.

Marko Milanovic argues that Article 51 does not require the attribution of the armed attack by a non-state actor to a state. “Rather, for the attacked state to respond against the non-state actor which is operating in another state, the conduct of this latter state must be such to justify the ensuing violation of its sovereignty.”

He proposes three scenarios that would justify an attack inside a sovereign state against a non-state actor:

“(a) the territorial state was complicit or was actively supporting the non-state actor in its armed attack; (b) the territorial state failed to exercise due diligence, i.e. it did not do all that it could reasonably have done to prevent the non-state actor from using its territory to mount an armed attack against another state, or is not doing all it can to prevent further attacks; (c) the territorial state may have exercised due diligence, but it was nonetheless unable to prevent the attack, or to prevent further attacks.”

And the due diligence case would appear to be the US argument when Power writes that “the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks.”

Ban Ki-moon earlier on Tuesday spoke of the US airstrikes, saying that “today’s strikes were not carried out at the direct request of the Syrian Government, but I note that the Government was informed beforehand.”

“I also note that the strikes took place in areas no longer under the effective control of that Government.   I think it is undeniable – and the subject of broad international consensus – that these extremist groups pose an immediate threat to international peace and security,” Ban said.

For more discussion on Article 51 and non-state actors see here and here.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Wikimedia