Iceland Takes on Israel and Iran at UNGA


Sept 29, 2012 – Saturday morning is far from top billing at the UNGA but Iceland’s Foreign Minister Össur Skarphÿinsson delivered one of the more creative speeches of the 67th General Assembly in his 9.30am slot. (photo by UN Photo)

In Skarphÿinsson’s own words:

“[T]he first letters of the themes I have broached here today – Palestine, Energy, the Arctic, Climate Change and the Economy, form the word we should all hold dearest here in this hall and towards each other, whatever our differences – P-E-A-C-E, Peace.”

Nice, though if he makes headlines it will likely be for the ‘I” part of his speech when he delivered tough messages to the Israeli and Iranian leaders.

“I listened to Mr. Netanyahu’s speech on Thursday, and I have a comment to make on behalf of the Icelandic people: Don’t bomb Iran. Don’t start another war in the Middle East. At the same time I say to President Ahmadinejad and the Iranian leadership: Don’t build a bomb. Let diplomacy work, not rabblerousing or fearmongering. Let’s work for peace together.”

When he spoke last year, he told the Assembly that the Icelandic parliament would vote to recognize Palestine as a sovereign, independent state: “I’m happy to tell you today, that we have fulfilled that promise. What’s more, not a single member of the Icelandic Parliament voted against the recognition of Palestine,” Skarphÿinsson said Saturday.

He had strong words too on the Gaza blockade saying, “I have visited Gaza and I met with fishermen who are not allowed to go fishing in the waters off Gaza – and it hurts my heart, being an old fisherman myself. I met the children of Gaza whose lives are made impossible by poverty, violence and a blockade that by others than myself has been described as an open door prison.”

And on the West Bank barrier, invoking a politician of times past, Skarphÿinsson said: “I have seen for myself how the human rights of the people of the West Bank are violated every day by a man-made barrier cutting through their roads, their lands, their lives. When I was in Qalqilya the words of a former statesman we all know rung in my head. Mr. Netanyahu – tear down this wall!”

As for the U.N. Security Council: “We must reform it, so as to make it a tool, not a hindrance, for progress in situations such as in Syria this year, or – as we saw last year – concerning the Palestinian application.”

He finished by addressing the sparsely filled GA hall: “Thank you for your beautiful silence.”

– Denis Fitzgerald 

Full text (as prepared) and video of Skarphÿinsson address.

(His strong support of Palestinians was evident too in January 2009 when he refused to meet with Israel’s Minister for Education Yael Tamir who was touring Europe to explain Tel Aviv’s version of its invasion of Gaza, according to a classified U.S. cable released by Wikileaks).

Ahmadinejad’s Swan Song But UNGA Debut For Others


Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pictured above at Monday’s General Assembly high-level meeting on the rule of law, is attending his final UNGA as Iranian president (credit: UN Photo)

Sept 24, 2012 – Much focus at this year’s UNGA will be on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who’s attending his eight and last General Assembly as Iranian president (notwithstanding a future run) but some other presidents will make their debut at this year’s gathering.

Among those are Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi, Yemen’s Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Tunisia’s Moncef Marzouki, Libya’s Mohamed Magariaf, Senegal’s Macky Sall and Malawi’s Joyce Banda, who in April became Southern Africa’s first female president and only the second female head of state ever for the African continent.

While U.N. detractors complain about corrupt leaders of cash-strapped countries coming to New York for the UNGA on private jets with large delegations, including family, friends and companions, who will use scarce state coffers on fancy dinners and fine clothes while getting chauffeured around in limousines, Banda’s first few months in office are worth looking at for an alternative view.

In early June, just weeks after coming to power, Banda announced that a $13.5 million jet bought by her predecessor was up for sale and so were 60 limousines used by cabinet ministers.

That same month she said Sudan’s President Omar Al Bashir, wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, was not welcome in Malawi for an African Union summit, forcing the regional bloc to move the summit to Addis Ababa. Her predecessor had allowed Bashir visit Malawi in October 2011.

She also announced in her first national address that she wants to decriminalize homosexuality. Two Malawian men were sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2010 for stating they wanted to get married. (The sentence was commuted after international outcry).


Malawian President Joyce Banda (photo: Lindsay Mgbor/DFID)

Banda will address the UNGA on Wednesday afternoon (Sept 26), while Ahmadinejad will take to the podium in the morning session that same day.

– Denis Fitzgerald  

On This Day, 1959 – Khrushchev Becomes First Soviet Premier to Address U.N. General Assembly

Final Phase Digital

Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev greeted by United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld* (left) at UNHQ in New York City, Sept 18, 1959 (photo: UN Photo)

Sept 18, 2012 – On this day 53 years ago, Nikita Khrushchev became the first Soviet premier to address the U.N. General Assembly, where he presented a solution to the Berlin crisis, called for the admission of the People’s Republic of China, and pleaded for universal disarmament.

Khrushchev told the then 82-nation member General Assembly that tensions in Berlin could be ameliorated if the U.S. signed a peace treaty with East Germany and Allied troops were withdrawn from West Berlin, though he made no such reference to a similar withdrawal of Soviet troops from East Berlin, according to the book Khrushchev in America.

On PR China, he told delegates that Beijing’s exclusion from the U.N. directly contributed to the Cold War and its admission would reduce East – West tensions (PRC was admitted to the United Nations in 1971 and recognition of the Republic of China (Taiwan) was withdrawn).

He concluded with a vigorous call for global disarmament.

“The new proposal of the Soviet Government is prompted by the sole desire to ensure truly lasting peace among nations,” he said.

“We say sincerely to all countries: In contrast to the ‘Let us arm!’ slogan, still current in some quarters, we put forward the slogan ‘Let us completely disarm!’ Let us rather compete in who builds more homes, schools and hospitals for the people; produces more grain, milk, meat, clothing and other consumer goods; and not in who has more hydrogen bombs and rockets. This will be welcomed by all the peoples of the world,” Khrushchev implored.

That was three years before the Cuban missile crisis.

Russia currently has an estimated stockpile of 10,000 nuclear warheads while the U.S. has about 8,000.

– Denis Fitzgerald 

*Exactly two years later, on Sept 18, 1961, Hammarskjöld would lose his life in a plane crash along with 15 others in then Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia)

Taliban On The Take For More Than $1 Million Every Day


Sept. 11, 2012 – The Taliban are raking in more than $1 million every day through extortion, the drugs trade, and skimming from international aid projects.

A report from the U.N. Security Council’s Sanctions Monitoring Team estimates that the group had income of about $400 million from March 21, 2011 to March 20, 2012 (the Afghan calendar year).

About one-third of that money is used to finance attacks, which are increasing in intensity and frequency.

There were 3,021 civilians killed in Afghanistan last year (double the number recorded in 2007) and more than 75 percent of the deaths were attributed to anti-government forces, namely the Taliban and its associated networks.

The report says the Taliban raised about $100 million from the drugs trade by taxing poppy farmers, providing protection for drug convoys, and from taxing heroin laboratories. 

Shopkeepers and other small businesses are taxed between 2.5 – 10 percent by the Taliban, despite the group providing no government services.

One of the most fruitful sources of income for the Taliban is the international aid sector.

In one instance recorded in the report, the Taliban took $360 million from a $2.16 billion contract awarded to an Afghan trucking company by the United States military over a period of three years.

“Organizations involved in providing development assistance regard these overheads as a cost of doing business,” the report says. 

Fifteen individuals associated with Taliban finances are on the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions list and subject to an assets freeze and travel ban.

“However, the sanctions themselves do not appear yet to have disrupted the financial arrangements of the Taliban,” the report states.

Average weekly income in Afghanistan is about $18 and only seven percent of Afghans have a bank account, according to U.N. and World Bank figures.

Full UNSC Sanctions Monitoring Team report here.

– Denis Fitzgerald

Only 14 Countries Have Contributed to U.N. Humanitarian Appeal for Syria

Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos speaks with a young Syrian refugee living in a school in Zahera, Damascus in this Aug. 14 photo (credit: UN)

Sept. 4, 2013 – Less than 10 percent of U.N. members states have stumped up funds to assist the 2.5 million Syrians that the United Nations says are in need of assistance.

An appeal launched on June 5 called for $180 million to assist what was then 1.5 million Syrians inside the country needing aid (the corresponding figure for Syrians in neighboring countries needing assistance was 83,000 – it’s now 225,000).

Donations to the humanitarian action plan for Syria currently stand at $95 million.

Figures released by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Tuesday show that only 14 of the 193 U.N. member states have contributed to the $180 million appeal.

The largest tranche has come from the U.N.’s own emergency relief fund, CERF, which has released almost US$26 million to the Syria appeal.

The top donor country is the United States, $24 million, followed by the U.K, $8.6 million, and Canada, $5.5 million, (the European Commission has donated $9.3 million).

Kuwait is the only one of the wealthy Arab Gulf countries to contribute to the June appeal, donating $250,000.

A full donor list is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald

(Note: The U.N. has received funds from some 30 countries totaling $200 million for all of its various appeals for Syria since the beginning of 2012)