Dalia Grybauskaite: The Next UN Secretary-General?

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Lithuania President Dalia Grybauskaite addressing the UN General Assembly on Sept. 26, 2013 (UN Photo/Ryan Brown)

Sept. 27, 2013 – It’s still a few years away but already there’s speculation about who will succeed Ban Ki-moon when his second and final term as secretary-general ends in 2016.

Eastern Europe is the only one of the five United Nations regional groups that has never had a secretary-general and there’s a view inside the UN that Eastern Europe’s turn will come at last.

Last year’s General Assembly president, Vuk Jeremic of Serbia, and current UN envoy to Afghanistan, Slovakia’s Jan Kubis, are among the names that have been mooted.

But the UN has also never had a female secretary-general and for an organization that spends a lot of time and resources promoting gender equality, there’s also a lot of talk that it’s past time a woman was at the helm after eight successive male secretaries-general.

Enter Lithuania President Dalia Grybauskaite. A former EU budget commissioner, she was elected as an independent candidate in 2009. Dubbed the Steel Magnolia, she cites Margaret Thatcher and Mahatma Gandhi as her political role models. Lithuania currently holds the presidency of the European Union and is expected to secure a two-year term on the Security Council for 2014-16, during which time the next UN chief will be selected.

In her address to the General Assembly on Thursday, Grybauskaite spoke about how her country, once a recipient of international aid, is now a donor country, and that the 21st century “must be the age of solidarity, equality and sustainable development.” And she began and ended her address speaking about the post-2015 development process, which will be guided by the next secretary-general.

But she also spoke about “those who want to enforce a specific course of development on others, by economic pressure, energy levers or cyber tools, by distorted information, or threats.” No doubt a reference to Russia. And therein lies the major obstacle to her possible selection as the next UN secretary-general: avoiding a Russian veto.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Day One of UNGA Highlights Global Gender Gap in Politics

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Brazil’s President Dilma Rouseff Addresses 2012 General Assembly (UN Photo/Marco Castro)

Sept. 23, 2013 –  Only six of the 34 presidents, prime ministers and monarchs that will address the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday are women.

Argentina (Cristina Kirchner), Bangladesh (Sheikh Hasina), Brazil (Dilma Rouseff), Costa Rica (Laura Chinchila), Liberia (Ellen Sirleaf) and Malawi (Joyce Banda) are the countries with female leaders taking the podium on the opening day of the high-level segment.

The less than 20 percent ratio of women to men is pretty much average across the board for female participation in politics with women occupying about 18 percent of parliamentary seats worldwide.

While some European governments, particularly Nordic ones, have up to 40 percent of women members, the continent lags when it comes to female leaders with only Denmark, Germany, Lithuania and Slovenia led by a woman.

Globally, less than 20 governments are headed by a woman. Besides the above, others include Jamaica, South Korea, Thailand and Trinidad & Tobago.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Bashir Not The Only President Facing ICC Charges Planning UNGA Visit

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Sept. 18, 2013  - Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is facing charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, is expected in New York next week to speak at the United Nations General Assembly.

The latest UN list of speakers for the annual General Debate notes that the head of state will speak on behalf of Kenya’s delegation next Wednesday.

Kenyatta was indicted by the Hague court in March 2011 charged with crimes including murder, rape and persecution that occurred in 2007-08 following a disputed election. He denies the charges.

Kenyatta was elected as Kenya’s president in March. President Obama did not visit the country, his ancestral homeland, during his June visit to Africa, traveling instead to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. Obama’s decision not to visit was reportedly due to Kenyatta’s election.

Unlike Sudan’s President Omar Al Bashir who has refused to appear at the court and is subject to an arrest warrant, Kenyatta has travelled to the Hague to defend himself.

Calls to Kenya’s UN mission to confirm his attendance were not answered.

- Denis Fitzgerald

photo: creative commons

UN Chemical Weapons Report Will Confirm Sarin Gas Used in Aug. 21 Attack

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EXCLUSIVE: Sept. 16, 2013 – The report of the UN chemical weapons investigators due to be released Monday morning in New York will confirm that sarin gas was used in the August 21st attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

The report will say that that there is “clear and convincing evidence” that the nerve agent sarin was fired from rockets into the area.


On Sunday evening in New York, the UN photo Twitter feed released an
image that showed the first page of the report that was handed to Ban Ki-moon by the head of the UN investigation team, Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom.

A close-up of the photo reveals that the inspectors’ report that “the environmental and medical samples we have collected, provide clear and convincing evidence that…rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used.”

The report will be presented to the UN Security Council as well as the UN General Assembly on Monday. While the US and Russia has agreed on a deal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, the admission by Syria that it possesses these weapons and the report of their use is bound to further calls for the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. 

A 1988 resolution following confirmation that chemical weapons were used by Iraq in its war against Iran compels the Security Council to act if there was any future confirmation of the use of these weapons ‘wherever and by whomever committed.’

Denis Fitzgerald

Photo: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

UN: Devastating Effect of Assault on Medical Care in Syria

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Sept. 13, 2013 –  Almost 40 percent of public hospitals in Syria have been forced to close and up to up to 15 percent of the country’s doctors have left the country, according to a report released Friday from the UN Commission of Inquiry investigating human rights abuses in the country.

The report states that “since the beginning of Syria’s unrest, Government forces have strategically assaulted hospitals and medical units to deprive persons perceived to be affiliated with the opposition of medical care.”

It also says that opposition forces have attacked medical facilities, including the National Hospital in Dara’a.

The report says that anti-terrorism laws enacted by the Assad government in July 2012 have “effectively criminalized medical aid to the opposition.”

“Ambulance drivers, nurses, doctors and medical volunteers have been attacked, arrested, unlawfully detained, and disappeared,” in contravention of international humanitarian law, the report states.

The full report is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald

photo/msf

Getting Rid of Syria’s Chemical Weapons Stockpile Could Take Years

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A UN inspector takes a sample of a nerve agent in Iraq, 1991 (photo/UN photo)

Sept. 9, 2013 – Verifying, inspecting and destroying Syria’s chemicals weapons stockpile could take years if the past is any indication.

Of the seven countries that have declared they possess these weapons, only Albania, India and a third country said to be South Koreahave completed destruction of their stockpile of prohibited chemical agents and chemical munitions.

The OPCW, which oversees compliance with the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention - which Syria has neither signed nor ratified – reported in July that 81 percent of the  71,196 metric tons of declared prohibited chemical agents and 57 percent of the 8.6 million declared chemical munitions have been destroyed.

It would also seem that inspecting and verifying Syria’s stockpile would require a ceasefire to come into effect so investigators can safely visit Damascus or other locations where chemical weapons are produced and stored.

Four other countries besides Syria have not signed the CWC – Angola, Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan – while two, Israel and Myanmar, have signed but not ratified.

The four other countries that have yet to complete destruction of their declared chemical weapons stockpiles are Iraq, Libya, Russia and the US.

- Denis Fitzgerald

Will Ban Ki-moon’s words be used to bolster US case for strike against Assad?

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For many months, it has been evident that President Assad and his Government have lost all legitimacy.” – Ban Ki-moon, June 7, 2012

Sept. 5, 2013 – These words from the UN secretary-general could be used in arguments to justify a US strike against targets inside Syria by the United States in the coming weeks.

The UN charter prohibits military action against another member state unless authorized by the Security Council or in self-defense. 

But the US has argued that the Assad government has lost legitimacy, and they have the words of Ban Ki-moon to back them up.

The secretary-general is appointed by the General Assembly at the recommendation of the Security Council and the question of whether he is a secretary or a general is open to interpretation, that’s to say how much weight do his words carry. Here is the UN charter’s vague description of the role of the secretary-general.

As this ASIL article by Kenneth Anderson points out, saying a government has lost legitimacy is a political statement not a legal statement but the US “might go a step further and say that the Assad government is no longer the legitimate, lawful government of Syria, and argue that it uses force not against UN member state ‘Syria,’ but rather against the illegitimate Assad regime and in collective self-defense of the Syrian people.”

While such a claim will be contested, not least by Russia, who could argue that “the Assad government meets essentially all the formal requirements of international law to be the legal government,” a number of countries including the six countries comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council have recognized the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) and the 22-nation Arab League has given Syria’s seat to the SOC, against the objections of Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon. Britain, France, Italy and Spain have also recognized the group as a legitimate representative.

One way around the legitimacy question would be a General Assembly vote on who should represent Syria at the UN, though the US is thought to be unwilling to establish such a precedent should countries unfriendly to Israel consider a similar move in the future with regard to Palestinian representation.

Ban said today in Russia that he has taken “note of the ongoing debate over what course of action should be taken by the international community” regarding the allegations of chemical weapons use and that “all those actions should be taken within the framework of the UN Charter, as a matter of principle.”

- Denis Fitzgerald

photo: UN photo/Eskinder Debebe

Energy Rich Qatar Lags in UN Aid Appeal for Syria

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Syrian children inside a classroom at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan (photo: UN photo/Mark Garten)

Sept. 4, 2013 – Qatar, the richest country in the world, has given less than $3 million to the UN aid appeal for Syria, according to figures from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Of the more than $2.9 billion donated to the UN’s emergency relief fund for Syrians, energy-rich Qatar has contributed $2.7 million – less than 0.1 percent of the overall total. Countries such as Belgium, Finland, Iraq and Ireland have all given more.

The United States is the top donor, at $818 million, followed by the European Commission – the EU’s legislative arm – which has provided $619 million. Of the 28 EU member states, Britain, $196 million, and Germany $73 million are among the top ten donors.

Kuwait, $324 million, is the top Gulf donor, coming in third overall, according to OCHA’s figures as of Sept 4th, 2013, while Saudi Arabia, at $51 million, is the tenth biggest contributor.

Outside of the EU, US and Gulf, Japan, $82 million, and Australia, $64 million, are also among the top ten donors.

Of the remaining permanent five Security Council members, Russia has given $17 million, France, $15 million and China, $1 million.

The UN has requested a total of $4.4 billion to assist Syrians, with $1.4 billion designated to assist those inside the country – more than 4 million of whom are displaced – and $3 billion to assist neighboring countries that are now home to more than 2 million Syrian refugees.

- Denis Fitzgerald