States Slowly Making Good on Syria Appeal Pledges

April 23, 2013 – More than $1.2 billion has been committed to aid the humanitarian response inside Syria and in neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees, according to the lastest figures by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Some $2 billion had been pledged by donors in recent months, with $1.5 billion alone pledged at a donors conference in Kuwait City on Jan. 30.

It was just just last week that Kuwait made good on its $300 million pledge from Jan. 30, a contribution that U.N. Refugee Agency chief Antonio Gutteres said gave his and other humanitarian agencies “a breathing space” as they struggle to assist the more than 6 million people in need inside and outside of Syria.

The situation inside Syria is compounded by myriad bureaucratic hurdles placed on humanitarian actors. Valerie Amos, the head of OCHA, told the Security Council last week that aid convoys are stopped at 50 checkpoints on the 310 kilometer journey from Damascus to Aleppo. She also said that each aid truck requires a permit signed by two government ministers to pass through government checkpoints.

The top donors to the humanitarian appeal are Kuwait, $324 million; the United States, $214 million; the European Commission, $162 million; and the United Kingdom, $117 million.

A full list of the funds committed and outstanding pledges is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald

First Timers Chad, Georgia, Lithuania and Saudi Arabia Among Those Vying for UNSC Seats in 2014-15

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The new Security Council members will deliberate in the newly renovated council chamber which re-opened this month. (photo: courtesy of Norway/UN)

April 10, 2013 – Six countries have declared their candidacy for the five vacancies up for grabs in October’s election for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council.

So far, Chad, Chile, Georgia, Lithuania, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia are running for election to the Council for 2014-15, though it’s looking more like an election process than race at this stage. 

Among the six, Georgia and Lithuania are the only two running in a competitive race. One of them will replace Azerbaijan who currently occupy the Eastern Europe seat, but whose term ends Dec. 31, 2013. Neither Tbilisi nor Vilnius has served on the Council, and Lithuania, if successful, would be the first Baltic country elected to the 15-nation body.

Chile, whose likely next president, Michele Bachelet, recently stepped down as head of U.N. Women, last served on the Council in 2003-04 and was one of the the so-called ‘Middle Six’ delegations whose vote was fought over by those for and against the invasion of Iraq. 

The Latin America group at the UN typically presents a “clean slate” for candidates meaning each candidate runs unopposed so Santiago is virtually guaranteed to replace Guatemala.

Nigeria and Chad are running for the two African seats to replace Morocco and Togo. Nigeria has served four times on the Council, most recently in 2010-11 while Chad has never. Unless other candidates are announced in the interim both are assured of a two-year term.

Saudi Arabia, one of the 51 founding members of the U.N. in 1945, has also never served on the Council. It looks set to replace Pakistan for the Asia-Pacific group Arab swing seat – the African and Asian groups take turns every two years to nominate an Arab country: Morocco was elected from the African group for 2011-13 so it is now Asia’s turn to nominate an Arab state.

- Denis Fitzgerald

Amnesty: 21 Countries Used the Death Penalty Last Year

April 9, 2013 - China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States were the world’s top executioners last year, according to Amnesty International’s annual review of the use of the death penalty.

The organization recorded 682 executions in 21 countries in 2012, virtually unchanged from 2011, when it recorded 680 executions in 21 countries. The figures do not include the estimated thousands of executions carried out in China, which does not publicly release information on its use of the death penalty.

A U.N. push to end the death penalty seems to be gaining traction with no executions recorded in 174 of the U.N.’s 193 member states (the two U.N. non-member states that carried out executions last year were Palestine and Taiwan). 

A General Assembly vote in November 2012 on putting a moratorium on the death penalty passed by a vote of 110 in favor, 39 against and 36 abstentions, a slight improvement from the same vote in 2010 and six more in favor than in a 2007 vote. A diplomat involved with the text said the aim is now to encourage states that have declared a moratorium to abolish executions, citing strong progress in Africa on ending the death penalty.

The U.S. is the only country in the Americas to still use the death penalty, carrying out 43 executions last year, the same as in 2011, but in only nine states, compared to 13 in 2011. There are 3,170 people still on death row in the U.S., according to Amnesty.

Belarus is the only country in Europe to still use the death penalty, carrying out at least three executions last year.

At least 557 executions were carried out in Middle East countries last year. Iran put 314 people to death in 2012; Iraq, 129; and Saudi Arabia, 79. Yemen, where a minimum of 28 people were executed last year, was the sixth biggest executioner in 2012. Those four countries accounted for 99 percent of all executions in the region last year.

Japan, seven executions last year, and the U.S. are the only G8 countries to still apply the death penalty. In Japan, as well as Belarus, prisoners were not informed of their forthcoming execution, nor were their families or lawyers, according to the Amnesty report.

Hanging remains the most commonly used method of execution followed by shooting. The U.S. and China both use lethal injection while Saudi Arabia still practices beheading, often in public.

The Amnesty report is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald

Status of Recent Disarmament Accords Not Encouraging for Arms Trade Treaty

April 2, 2013 – Today’s adoption by the General Assembly of the Arms Trade Treaty text by a landslide vote is very much the beginning of the process for enacting a global binding accord on controlling weapons flows.

The treaty opens for signatories on June 3 and will come into force after 50 states have ratified it but will have limited impact unless ratified by the major arms producers and buyers.

The three most recent international treaties on arms control are not encouraging in this regard.

The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions has 80 states parties and 31 signatories but China, Russia and the United States – three of the world’s top five arms exporters – are neither states parties nor signatories, while on the buyer side none of the Gulf states are party to it, nor are India, Pakistan, Turkey, South Korea and Israel. Lebanon is the only Middle East country to have ratified the treaty.

Similarly, the Mine Ban Treaty, which opened for signatory in 1997, has been acceded to by 165 countries but China, Russia and the United States are not among them. Qatar and Kuwait are but Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are not. Egypt, India, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea and Israel have also not ratified the treaty.

The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty has been ratified by 156 countries but cannot come into force unless 44 specific countries deemed “nuclear technology holders” have done so. Of those 44, eight – China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the U.S. – have not ratified the accord. 

-Denis Fitzgerald