Kosovo Next for UN Recognition?

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Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian delegation celebrate Thursday’s historic UNGA vote recognizing Palestine as a state. (photo credit: UN photo)

Nov. 30, 2012 – Yesterday’s victory for Palestine at the UN will give hope to Kosovo that it too can soon join the United Nations as a non-member state.

To date, some 96 countries have recognized Kosovo as an independent state including 22 of the 27 EU member states. Pristina needs 97 votes in the General Assembly (simple majority) for admission as a non-member observer state.

Like the Palestinians, Kosovo’s road to full UN membership is blocked in the Security Council, with Russia sure to use its veto to prevent Pristina’s full-member state status 

Among the countries that have yet to recognize Kosovo are several member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, including Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan and Tunisia.

Morocco and Pakistan have expressed support for an independent Kosovo state but are concerned about the implications for their own territorial integrity due to the situations in Western Sahara and Kashmir.

Similarly, EU member states, Cyprus and Spain – who both voted in favor recognizing Palestine – have not recognized Kosovo. Both are also wary of the implications for their own territorial issues regarding Catalonia and Northern Cyprus.

It may well be the fledging governments in Libya and Tunisia who will bring Kosovo over the threshold with Tunis and Tripoli in the past year indicating support for recognizing an independent Kosovo, though neither has yet made a formal declaration.  

Should Kosovo seek a General Assembly vote before Sept 2013 then former Serb foreign minister Vuk Jeremic would preside over the session in his capacity as president of the 193-member assembly.

Denis Fitzgerald

(UN recognition of Kosovo as a state would also pave the way for its acceptance into football’s international governing body, FIFA. The country could then participate in international qualifying competitions for the quadrennial Euro and World Cup tournaments, a move that would be very welcome in football-mad Kosovo)

UN Warns of HIV Epidemic in Arab World

Nov. 27, 2012 – The U.N. Aids agency is warning of an HIV epidemic in the Arab World, one of only two regions globally where there’s an increase in the number of new infections.

The latest report from UNAIDS shows a 35 percent increase in new infections from 2001 to 2011 in the Middle East and North Africa compared with a 20 percent decline globally over the same period.

The number of people living with HIV in the Arab World is estimated at about 500,000, with an increasing number of children newly infected, again bucking the global trend.

The situation in Arab countries is compounded by social stigma, discriminatory laws, and a lack of funding for HIV treatment and prevention.

Some 56 percent of pregnant women living with HIV globally received antiretroviral treatment in 2011 to prevent mother-to-child transmission but that figure is less than 10 percent for the Middle East and North Africa region.

Similarly, 54 percent of all people living with HIV and eligible for antiretroviral therapy globally received treatment but that figure drops to 15 percent in Arab countries.

The consequences are borne out in the mortality rates for the Arab world – a 17 percent increase in the number of people dying from Aids-related illnesses from 2005 to 2011. The only other region to witness an increase in mortality in the same period is Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which is also the only other region to experience an increase in new infections from 2001-2011.

Among the groups most heavily affected are men who have sex with men and their situation is made worse by laws criminalizing same-sex sexual activity imposed by states in the region – in some instances punishable by death. (Jordan and Iraq are the only countries, and the West Bank is the only territory, where same-sex sexual activity is legal.)

“The persistence of stigma, discrimination and punitive laws underscores the need for greatly expanded action to ground AIDS responses in human rights,” the UNAIDS report states. “Countries should take steps to better understand and address the factors that contribute to vulnerability to HIV and impede service access; take steps to measure and reduce stigma and discrimination; initiate legal reform as well as pragmatic steps to enforce protective laws.”

– Denis Fitzgerald 

UN to (Again) Call on U.S. to End Cuban Embargo

Nov. 12, 2012 – The United Nations General Assembly will vote Tuesday on a resolution calling on the United States to end its 52-year embargo against Cuba, but there’s little reason to believe the outcome will alter the Obama administration’s Havana policy.

The U.S. bans its citizens from travelling to or doing business in Cuba.

Ending the embargo is seen as a move that could strengthen Obama’s relationship with his Latin American neighbors who are unanimously against “el bloqeo.”

The resolution has been approved every year since first introduced in 1990.

Brazil’s representative said after the vote last year that the embargo “went against international law and inhibited regional relations” while Argentina’s said “it went against the principles of international law and the UN charter.”

After Monday’s success in the General Assembly vote for election to the Human Rights Council, which the U.S. topped with 131 votes in the Western Group, Tuesday’s vote is likely to see the U.S in the tiniest minority when the votes are tallied.

Last year, 186 countries voted for the text while only Israel joined the U.S. in voting against it. Even Canada, normally a staunch ally of the U.S. and Israel, voted for lifting the embargo.

While President Obama has laxed some of the travel restrictions – making it easier for students and religious groups to visit and allowing Cuban-Americans to visit Cuba as much as they want – he has renewed the trade ban each year of his presidency.

Cuba is the only country placed on the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 after the removal of North Korea in 2008.

There’s speculation that Obama’s strong showing among Cuban-Americans in last week’s election will harbor a change in policy but that’s unlikely to include a lifting of the trade embargo.

The continuing detention of Alan Gross is currently the main source of tension between Havana and Washington with the State department contractor reported to have lost 105 pounds since his arrest in December 2009 for crimes against the state.

Arguably, more important factors are that Havana-born Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R), who will continue as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez (D), set to take over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – should John Kerry get a cabinet post, – are both firmly opposed to any easing of the embargo.

The Senate’s two other Hispanic senators, recently elected Texas tea party candidate, Ted Cruz, and Florida’s Marco Rubio, both Cuban-American like Menendez, are also firmly opposed to lifting the embargo.

Cuba says as a result of the embargo the U.S. Treasury department has frozen $245 million in funds destined for Havana as of December 2011.

It also says the embargo is preventing Cuban medical facilities from importing artificial skin for burn patients and faces challenges importing replacement stent valves for heart patients, among other medical restrictions, that all result in delayed treatment and higher patient costs.

Havana made these claims in a report prepared by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon which is available here.

– Denis Fitzgerald 

Nov 13 Update: The resolution was adopted by a vote of 188 in favor and 3 opposed – the U.S., Israel and Palau.

Obama’s Next Bid for Re-Election – the UN Human Rights Council

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Ban Ki-Moon addresses the opening of the Human Rights Council’s current session in Geneva on Sept. 10 (photo credit: UN photo)

Nov. 7, 2012 – Among those running for 18 available seats on the UN Human Rights Council in Monday’s election is the United States, whose newly re-elected president, Barack Obama, decided to embrace the controversial body after his 2008 victory, arguing that Washington could better change and influence from inside than from outside.

Former US president George W. Bush boycotted the Council and its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, but Obama reversed course and the US was elected to a three-year term in 2009.

The 47-nation Council has seen its influence grow in the past two years. With the Security Council deadlocked on taking action on Syria, the Human Rights Council appointed a commission of inquiry that’s investigating and documenting allegations of human rights abuses and possible war crimes in the country over the past 19 months. It also suspended Libya’s membership during Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal crackdown and prevented Damascus from vying for a seat in 2012, as well as blocking Sudan’s bid.

The Council has won praise too from pro-Israel groups – who’ve criticized the body for its disproportionate focus on the Jewish state – for appointing a human rights investigator on Iran in March 2011 and it has also won plaudits from Human Rights Watch for addressing human rights situations in Guinea, Myanmar and North Korea.

The US is one of five countries vying for three seats available in the Western European and Other States category. The other four candidate countries in the group are Germany, Greece, Ireland and Sweden.

The Western group is the only one with a competitive election as the other categories (Asia, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and Eastern Europe) are running on a pre-arranged clean slate.

Countries ending their terms this year include China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Each country is elected to a maximum of two consecutive three-year terms.

Among the US allies who will join the Council in 2013 are Japan, South Korea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Estonia.

A list of all candidate countries and the current composition of the Council is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald 

UPDATE Nov 12: US reelected to Council with 131 votes along with Germany, 127, and Ireland, 124 – both serving for first time. Greece, 77, and Sweden, 75, defeated.