UN Climate Chief Urges Universities to Divest from Fossil Fuel Industry

Framework Convention on Climate Change.
April 22, 2014 – UN climate chief Christina Figueres wants universities to divest from fossil fuel companies.

In a statement delivered at Brown University last week, the Costa Rican diplomat warned that it was harmful to argue that one institution divesting from the fossil fuel industry won’t make a difference.

“The thought that removing investment from coal on the part of one small institution is inconsequential and therefore not to be pursued, is analogous to the dangerous sentiment that in the context of a democratic system one vote is irrelevant because it does not constitute the majority,” she said.

“Or, in the context of an academic institution such as this distinguished one, it is analogous to the unacceptable belief that the education of one student is unimportant because a single student does not effect change,” Figueres added.

There is a growing movement on university campuses demanding endowments divest from the fossil fuel industry including a petition from faculty at Harvard calling on the Ivy League school to re-allocate its almost $33 billion holdings in the the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies to socially-responsible funds.

The latest IPCC report says that the planet is warming even faster than predicted in its previous report and that sea-levels could rise three feet at current rate by century’s end.

The report says increasing emissions, 80 percent of them caused by fossil fuels, are already melting the Arctic, acidifying oceans and harming crops.

Global greenhouse gas emissions—mostly a result of burning coal, oil and natural gas—need to be cut 40 to 70 percent by 2050, the report says, for humankind to face better than 50-50 odds of avoiding the worst effects of global warming.

The World Health Organization predicts that the effects of climate change on health will cost $2-4 billion per year by 2030 with major killers such as diarrhoeal diseases, malnutrition, malaria and dengue expected to worsen as the climate changes.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/Sarah Fretwell

Syria’s UN Ambassador Issues Report on Puerto Rican Self-Determination

Montreux Conference in Geneva
April 21, 2014 – Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja’afari, has prepared a UN report on Puerto Rico’s political relationship with the United States and the various self-determination options available to the island’s citizens.

His report also discusses excessive use of force by Puerto Rican police against political activists, the harsh sentences handed down to members of pro-independence groups, the application of the death penalty against Puerto Ricans, despite its abolition in 1929, and the effect on the health and human rights of the island’s citizens as a result of US military activities in Vieques.

Ja’afari, whose government the UN human rights office last week said had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture and rape of its own citizens, was re-appointed as special rapporteur for the Committee on Decolonization last year.

The committee was formed in 1960 declaring that “the subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights.”

Puerto Rico was removed from the UN’s list of non-self-governing territories in 1953 but a number of countries, including Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, are pushing for the General Assembly to take up the issue of the island’s political status.

Positions in UN bodies are rotated on a regional basis, and regional groups often vote for colleagues in exchange for support later.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

Fiji, Turkey, Venezuela Among the Running for 2015/16 UNSC Seats

Security Council Meeting on the situation in the Central African Republic.
April 16, 2014 – Fiji and Malaysia are competing in the Asia-Pacific group for the non-permanent Security Council seat being vacated by South Korea at the end of the year while New Zealand, Spain and Turkey are vying for the two spots available for the Western Europe and Others Group when Australia and Luxembourg finish their two-year stint on Dec. 31.

To date, those are the only two competitive races for membership of the 15-nation body for 2015/16 with Venezuela set to replace Argentina for the Latin America seat and Angola slated to replace Rwanda for the one available African seat.

Fiji is the only one of the seven candidates to have never previously served on the Council.

The election is set to take place in October with candidates requiring a two-thirds majority vote in the 193-member General Assembly.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo/UN Photo

New UN Report Documents Widespread Use of Torture in Syria

April 14, 2014 –  Men, women and children are routinely tortured in Syria by government forces and more recently by armed opposition groups, according to a report released Monday by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The report is based on 38 interviews with victims of torture and says that torture is most common immediately upon arrest and in the first days and weeks of detention and interrogation.

“Upon arrival at a detention facility, detainees are routinely beaten and humiliated for several hours by guards in what has become known as the ‘reception party,’” the report states.

The interviews, which date from 2011 to 2013, detail gruesome acts of torture including beatings, shackling, suspension, removal of body parts including toe nails and teeth as well as rape of men and women.

One 26-year-old woman described how in 2013, she, along with several other detained women, were called prostitutes and were spat at. “I was hanged against a wall for three days, and frequently beaten with an electric cable. I used to pass out from the pain. They pulled out my teeth and threw water at me.”

“One morning, she and another woman were taken by a security officer to a room where their hands were tied behind their backs and they were raped,” the report says. It adds that on release she was forced to flee after her family rejected her when they learned she was raped.

Armed opposition groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria (ISIS) and Jabhat al Nusra, also run detention centers in areas they control and practice torture on detainees.

ISIS is using the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo as its headquarters and has detained and tortured human rights activists and medical personnel, according to the report.

The full report is here.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Torture by Francisco Goya


Little Progress in Prosecuting Rapists in DRC

UN envoy on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Bangura, briefing the Human RIghts Council in March on continuing challenges in combatting sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

UN envoy on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Bangura, briefing the Human Rights Council in March on continuing challenges in combatting sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

April 9, 2014 – The national army and police are the main perpetrators of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo and their crimes mostly go unpunished.

A total of 3,635 victims of sexual violence – mostly rape – were registered by the UN Human Rights Office in DRC between January 2010 and December 2013 and the national army, the FARDC, were responsible for 1,281 incidents, according to a joint report released on Wednesday. Members of the police force and other state agents were responsible for several more incidents.

“Most cases of sexual violence are never investigated or prosecuted, and very few are even reported,” the report states.

Of the incidents reported to the UN, 25 percent were committed against children and the age of victims ranged from 2 to 80.

“Despite increased efforts by Congolese authorities to arrest and try alleged perpetrators of crimes of sexual violence, many such cases never reach a court of law,” the report states. “Of particular concern is the impunity enjoyed by a number of high-ranking officers alleged to be responsible for crimes of sexual violence.”

From July 2011 to December 2013,  there were 187 convictions by military courts for sexual violence, mostly for rape. Seventy-three percent of those convicted were members of the army, 17 percent were from the police and 8 percent were other State agents, the report says.

In some cases, there are out-of-court settlements usually involving the head of the perpetrator’s family and the head of the victim’s family and in most cases the victim is left outside the process, the report says. In other cases, marriage is arranged between the perpetrator and victim, adding a further violation to the victim’s fundamental rights.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Samantha Power Says No to Any Palestinian Push to Join UN Agencies

United States Permanent Representative of Briefs Press on Ukraine
April 2, 2014 – Samantha Power on Wednesday told members of the US Congress that she will firmly oppose any Palestinian bid to join UN and other international agencies and treaties.

The US envoy was speaking before the House Subcommittee that authorizes funds for UN activities on the same day that Palestine’s UN envoy, Riyad Mansour, said his country may seek to join more multilateral organizations including possibly acceding to the International Criminal Court.

“We are fighting every day — on numerous fronts — to end the bias against Israel that has long pervaded the UN system,” Power said in her testimony before the House Subcommittee on Appropriations for State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. “This solemn commitment also extends to our firm opposition to any and all unilateral actions in the international arena, including on Palestinian statehood, that circumvent or prejudge the very outcomes that can only come about through a negotiated settlement.”

On Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced he was submitting applications to join 15 international organizations and treaties. He said the decision to do so was because Israel had not released the final batch of prisoners it agreed to release in a deal made nine months ago.

“When they violated that agreement, we were free to do whatever we feel that we need to do and what we did is legal,” Mansour said at UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday.

Palestine joined UNESCO in October 2011 in a move that was supported 107 of the organization’s member states including Security Council permanent members China, France and Russia. The United Kingdom abstained.

The US Congress immediately froze funds to the organization that supports literacy and free expression. As a result of not paying dues to UNESCO for two consecutive years, the US lost its voting rights in November last year.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

photo: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Syrian Government Not Complying With UNSC Humanitarian Resolution

ICRC Visit to Syrian displaced people in Sahnaya, Rural Damascus. (photo/ICRC)

March 26 – The Syrian government continues to impede the delivery of lifesaving medicines despite a Feb. 19 Security Council resolution demanding that it not hinder the delivery of humanitarian supplies.

Resolution 2139 demanded that the government and non-state armed groups respect the principle of medical neutrality but a report by Ban Ki-moon one month after the adoption of the resolution says that the regime continues to delay urgent medical supplies.

“On 24 February, a World Health Organization shipment of medicines and 
medical supplies destined for Ar-Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor governorates was held up at the government-controlled Sukhnah checkpoint in Palmyra,” the report states. “The shipment destined for Ar-Raqqa governorate was released on 5 March and reached its destination on 8 March.”

Ban’s report says that armed opposition groups are also violating the resolution.

“On 3 March, volunteers from the Aleppo branch of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were beaten and harassed by armed opposition groups.”

One bright spot in the report is that 2.8 million children under 5 years of age have received polio vaccines.

The Syrian government continues to impose restrictive administrative hurdles, such as demanding a 72-hour advance request for humanitarian convoys, and is delaying the issuing of visas for humanitarian workers.

“One month since the adoption of Security Council resolution 2139 (2014), humanitarian access in the Syrian Arab Republic remains extremely challenging for humanitarian organizations,” Ban’s report concludes. “Delivering lifesaving items, in particular medicines, remains difficult. The assistance reaching people continues to fall far short of what is required to cover even their basic needs.”

The report also says that in addition to the well more than 100,000 people who have been killed since March 2011, at least 600,000 more have been injured.

The full report is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Growing List of War Crimes in Syria

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

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

March 18, 2014 –  Summary executions, torture, starvation, sexual violence and the use of hospitals as headquarters are among the growing list of violations carried out by government and non-government forces in Syria, according to an update by the the Independent Commission of Inquiry (CoI) established by the UN Human Rights Council.

The update, presented to the Geneva-based Council on Tuesday, says that fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria (ISIS) carried out summary executions of detainees in January and that ISIS, one of hundreds of non-state armed groups operating in the country, is using the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo as headquarters.

The report says that torture continues in government prisons and that there is a lack of food, causing death by starvation in some instances.

In a Military Intelligence branch in Damascus, detainees were harshly beaten, hung from the ceiling and walls, beaten with electric cables and subjected to psychological torture,” the report says. “One female detainee was locked in a room with dead bodies for three days.”

“Women were forced to strip and male officers performed intimate body searches,” the report states. “In Adra Central Prison, Damascus, pregnant detainees are suffering miscarriages, premature births and deaths of new-borns as a result of insanitary conditions and denial of medical treatment.”

The chair of the COI, Brazilian Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said the Commission has a list of perpetrators responsible for the crimes but lack a mechanism to bring those responsible to justice.

“We do not lack information on crimes or on perpetrators. What we lack is a means by which to achieve justice and accountability,” he said. ”It is for the Security Council to make this pursuit of justice possible.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

North Korea Tells US via UN to ‘Drop the Bad Habit’ of Arguing With Others

A model of the "Unha-9" missile on display at a floral exhibition in Pyongyang, July 2013 (credit: wikimedia)

A model of the “Unha-9″ missile on display at a floral exhibition in Pyongyang, July 2013 (credit: wikimedia)

March 12, 2014 – North Korea has sent a letter to Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council to complain about the United States reaction to its recent missile tests.

The letter, transmitted  from Pyongyang’s UN ambassador, Ja Song Nam, said the missile tests from Feb. 21 to March 4 “were smoothly conducted with no slight impact not only on regional peace and security but on the international navigation order and ecological environment.”

The tests, which took place at the same time as joint US-South Korea military exercises, drew a complaint from the United States, who have asked the Security Council to “take appropriate action” as the launches “clearly used ballistic missile technology” which Pyongyang is banned from using under Security Council resolutions.

The United States and its followers should not dare make much fuss, terming the just rocket-launching drills of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ‘provocation’ and ‘ ‘threats,’” the letter says.

It adds that the only provocations were the joint US-South Korea military drills “and base remarks made by such a guy as United States Secretary of State Kerry, who labelled the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ‘closest closed country,’ ‘evil place’ and ‘country of evil.’”

The letter says its is “absurd” that the US says North-South relations can only be mended when Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program “is the self-defensive treasured sword to defend the whole Korean nation and preserve the regional peace and security from the increasing nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States,” the letter says.

“The United States had better coolly judge the situation and drop the bad habit 
of deliberately taking issue with others,” the letter concludes.

Full text of the letter is below.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

North Korea Letter to UN published by UN Tribune

The UN’s Poor Record on Gender Equality

The eight UN secretaries-general.

The eight UN secretaries-general.

March 7, 2014 – The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) convenes at the UN’s New York headquarters next week for its annual review of progress the world is making toward gender equality and it will do so in a building where few women are appointed to senior positions and among member states who are often indifferent to women’s rights.

Only 19 of the 108 personal and special representatives, envoys and advisors appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are women. There’s also never been a female secretary-general and the heads of peacekeeping and political affairs have always been men.

The Security Council’s adoption of Resolution 1325 in October 2000, the first to address the impact of armed violence on women, called for the participation of women in peace processes, the prevention of violence against women and the protection of women and children during armed conflict. But its application has been uneven, with a greater emphasis on the protection of women and children and far less on its other two pillars.

“Yes, we need to have women protected but just the protection aspect leaves women as victims. Women should be negotiators,” Carolyn Stephenson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawaii, told UN Tribune. “The emphasis of the resolution was equal but in terms of success, the success has been more on the protection. Women need to be protected. Then there’s the ‘women and children’ – one word – are to be protected. Well women and children are very different.”

“It is certainly easier to talk about protecting women than advocating for their participation, in peace negotiations, for example. It fits in well with the popular representation of women as a vulnerable group – women can be outsiders whose protection hinges upon the interest, will and resources of the powers-that-be,” said Soumita Basu, Professor of International Relations at the South Asian University in Delhi, India, in an interview with UN Tribune. “It is harder to open up spaces for greater participation of women within the system, or even more radically, talk about conflict prevention in ways that would challenge the status quo-ist nature of politics that sustains the UNSC.”

According to research conducted by UN Women, of 31 major peace processes between 1992 and 2011, only 4 per cent of signatories, 2.4 per cent of chief mediators, 3.7 percent of witnesses and nine percent of negotiators were women.

The theme of this year’s CSW is achievements and challenges of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. The challenges outweigh the achievements, according to a draft of the outcome document. One positive is that gender parity has been achieved in primary school education, but women are underrepresented in second and third-level education. It also says there are an unacceptably high number of maternal deaths, that the number of women living with HIV, malaria and other infectious diseases is increasing globally since 2001, and that the target for safe sanitation will not be met, with serious implications for women and girls.

Moreover, it says that “several critical gender equality issues were not covered by the MDGs such as violence against women and girls, women’s disproportionate share of unpaid care work, women’s equal access to assets and productive resources, the gender wage gap, women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and women’s equal participation at all levels of decision-making.”

These are the shortcomings that UN member states and Ban Ki-moon’s panel advising him on the post-2015 agenda will have to address in devising goals to succeed the MDGs in September 2015. Ultimately, it is the 193 member states that has to approve the post-2015 goals.

“Understandably, much of the UN’s work depends on the contributions of its member states and the lack of political will when it comes to women’s issues is widely recognized,” Soumita Basu says. “In spite of this, the women’s agenda has made many important advances since 1945,” she says, citing Resolution 1325 and the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

“To move forward with this, it is important that the UN takes more seriously the notion that people are central to its work and that women – in all their diversity – are an integral part of this constituency.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz