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

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. Spain’s King Felipe is also speaking on the opening day. He assumed the throne in June.

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