Natalia Gherman – Could Moldova’s Foreign Minister be the Next UN Secretary-General?

Moldova's Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman addressing the General Assembly, Sept. 2014 (UN Photo)

Moldova’s Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman addressing the UN General Assembly, Sept. 2014 (UN Photo)

April 30, 2015 – The buzz surrounding the election of Ban Ki-moon’s successor continues to gather pace and this week in New York, 32 member states plus the EU spoke at a General Assembly debate on transforming the way the UN appoints its secretary-general.

Twenty-one of the speakers said it was high-time the UN seriously considered appointing its first female secretary-general. Eight men have held the post since the organization’s founding in 1946 and the UN as a whole – the secretariat, member states and the Security Council - has a less than stellar record on promoting gender equality.

There’s also wide agreement inside the United Nations that the next UN chief should come from Eastern Europe, the only UN regional group that has not occupied the position, whereas three secretaries-general have come from the Western group, two each from Asia and Africa, and one from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Among the female candidates mentioned for the post are current UNESCO chief Irina Bokova and fellow Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva, the EU’s budget commissioner, as well as Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite - who is unlikely to get a pass from veto-wielding Russia.

But there are others.

Of the five female foreign ministers among countries that are members of the Council of Europe, four of them are from Eastern Europe: Croatia’s Vesna Pusic, Georgia’s Maia Pandjikidze, Estonia’s Keit Pentus-Rosimannus and Moldova’s Natalia Gherman.

Pusic has been mentioned as a possible candidate while Pandjikidze and Pentus-Rosimannusis appear to be out of the running as long as Russia holds a veto over the process and, while there are mounting calls for the UN to change the way it elects the secretary-general, at Monday’s debate China, Russia and the US all voiced support for maintaining the status quo.

But Gherman may well fit the bill. Moldova lies at the crossroads of Slavic and Latin Europe. The tiny republic is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States and also has aspirations of joining the European Union, signing an association agreement with Brussels last year.

Moldova’s ties to Russia are long and complicated. There are Russian troops in the breakaway region of Transnistria, ostensibly they are there as peacekeepers. Russia is also Moldova’s second biggest individual trading partner – behind Romania – and a major destination for Moldovan migrant labor. Their remittances are vital for Europe’s poorest country.

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Gherman met with Russia’s FM Sergei Lavrov when she was in New York last September. (photo/Moldova MFA)

Russia banned the import of Moldovan wine after it signed the EU association agreement and has threatened to cut off the country’s energy supply. Gherman’s party is decidedly pro-EU and she is at the forefront of pushing for the country’s membership in the bloc but it will likely be years before Chișinău fully meets the accession criteria

Its relations with Moscow are far more important currently and while a pro-EU party rules, support inside the country for joining the EU is lukewarm. More importantly, unlike most of its Eastern Europe neighbors, Moldova is not a member of NATO nor an aspiring member. Its constitution enshrines permanent neutrality.

While Gherman, whose father Mircea Snegur was the first president of Moldova, is far from an ideal candidate from Russia’s point of view, given her strong pro-EU orientation, if she puts her hat into the ring for the secretary-general race, she may well find that Russia is far more sympathetic to a Moldovan candidate than one from a neighboring NATO member state.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Gaza Report Adds to Pressure on Ban to Put IDF on Child Violators List

UNRWA school being used as a shelter, July 2014 source: wikimedia

UNRWA school in northern Gaza being used as a shelter, July 2014. source: wikimedia

April 28, 2015 - Ban Ki-moon will face further calls to include the IDF in his annual list of groups that commit grave violations against children after the release of his public summary of the report of the Board of Inquiry established to investigate death and damage at UN premises during the summer war in Gaza.

Ban’s public summary stated that the board found the Israeli Defence Forces responsible for the deaths of 44 Palestinians as a result of attacks on seven schools sheltering civilians during the July-August 2014 conflict.

Attacks on schools are one of the six grave violations that result in listing in Ban’s annual report on children and armed conflict and such attacks are also a violation of Security Council resolution 1998 adopted unanimously in 2011.

Ban’s summary also stated that Hamas had stored weapons in UN schools, though not in any of the schools that were attacked. The use of schools for military purposes also triggers listing the annual report of grave violators.

Ban’s cover letter to the Security Council and the accompanying public summary of the Board of Inquiry report are below.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related Story: UN Stonewalling on Listing IDF as Child Violators

Board of Inquiry Gaza

NPT Conference to Open With Little Progress Made Since Last Review

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April 24, 2015 – The five-year review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) opens in New York on Monday but little has been accomplished in advancing the objectives of the treaty since the 2010 conference.

That review ended with agreement on a 64-point action plan on disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy as well as agreement to hold a conference in 2012 on the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

A new research publication from Reaching Critical Will states that of the 22 actions related to disarmament in the 2010 Action Plan, only five have seen definite progress as compared to 12 of 23 non-proliferation commitments and 11 of 18 related to nuclear energy.

“It has become clearer than ever during the course of this review cycle that the nuclear-armed states are not willing to fulfill their disarmament obligations or to take on any concrete, time-bound commitments that might assist with meeting their obligations,” the report states.

Meanwhile, the conference on creating a WMD weapons-free-zone in the Middle East, slated to be be held in Finland, never took place due to gaps in the positions of Arab states along with Iran and that of Israel.

Israel remains one of only four countries, along with Pakistan, India and South Sudan, not to have signed the NPT. North Korea was a signatory but has since withdrawn from the treaty. South Africa is the only country to have ever built nuclear weapons and then voluntarily destroyed them, which it did in the early 1990s. Libya abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

As a result of the intransigence of nuclear-weapons states with regard to fulfilling their obligations under the NPT, there is now support for negotiating a legally binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons.

“The 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—to be marked in August 2015—is widely seen as an ‘appropriate milestone’ by which to launch the diplomatic process to negotiate such a treaty,” Reaching Critical Will say in their report.

As it stands, nuclear-weapons states – Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States – possess approximately a combined 15,650 nuclear weapons and are in the process of modernizing their nuclear arsenal, a sure sign that disarmament is a long way off.

The NPT was opened for signatory in 1968 and came into force in 1970. A review conference is held every five years to assess progress. This year’s review conference will run from April 27 – May 22.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Urges Action on Prison Overcrowding

San Quentin prison in California. source: creative commons/California Dept. of Corrections

San Quentin prison in California. source: creative commons/California Dept. of Corrections

April 22, 2015 - The prisoner population exceeds prison capacity in 77 countries by at least twenty percent and the United Nations is asking member states to examine sentencing laws as a means to reducing the number of inmates.

Some 10 million people are behind bars globally, ranging from a high of 2.2 million in the United States to just two in San Marino, according to the International Center for Prison Studies.

The declaration adopted last week at the UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice calls on states to examine “penal policies” and “to enhance the use of non-custodial sanctions” to reduce prison overcrowding, which leads to increased violence, suicide and the spread of infectious disease.

The highest rates of overcrowding regionally are in Benin (363%), El Salvador (320%), Philippines (316%) and Serbia (158%).

By far, the single biggest cause of prison overcrowding are custodial sentences for people convicted of low-level drug offenses. About 25 percent of all prisoners worldwide have been convicted of the sale or possession of drugs, says a new study from the Penal Reform Institute. In US federal prisons, that rate rises to 49 percent.

The call from the UN crime congress is timely as delegates will gather next month at UN headquarters to discuss plans for the 2016 UN General Assembly special session on the World Drug Problem.

The meeting was called for by the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico in 2012, countries at the forefront of the drugs problem that has lead to spiraling rates of violence.

Advocacy groups are hoping that the meeting will lead to a re-examination of policies that are causing overcrowding of prisons and a rethink on the criminalization of drugs. The facts support such calls. For example, while women globally represent about ten percent of all prisoners, most are imprisoned for minor drug offences and many of these have existing addiction issues, which are not treated in prisons.

The General Assembly session in preparation of the 2016 high-level meeting will take place on May 7th.

Top Ten Prison Populations Globally

1 United States of America 2 217 000
2 China 1 657 812
3 Russian Federation 673 818
4 Brazil 581 507
5 India 411 992
6 Thailand 330 923
7 Mexico 255 638
8 Iran 225 624
9 Indonesia 167 163
10 Turkey 165 033

Top Ten Countries Where Prison Population Exceeds 100 Percent of Prison Capacity

1 Benin 363.6
2 Comoros 343.3
3 El Salvador 325.3
4 Philippines 316.0
5 Zambia 279.3
6 Guatemala 270.6
7 Venezuela 269.8
8 Bolivia 256.9
9 Sudan 255.3
10 Uganda 254.6

Source: International Center for Prison Studies

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Unable to Reach 420,000 Besieged in Syria

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OCHA map of besieged areas in Syria. Click for larger image.

April 22, 2015 - United Nations aid agencies delivered food to only 18,200 people in besieged areas of Syria last month while health assistance reached a mere 1,198, according to new report from Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council.

Ban wrote that 440,000 people remain besieged in Syria including 167,500 by government forces in eastern Ghouta and Darayya, a further 26,500 by unnamed non-State armed groups in Nubul and Zahra while 228,000 are besieged by ISIS in Deir ez-Zor city as well as 18,000 in Yarmouk.

“The parties to the conflict continued to restrict access to besieged areas during March,” Ban wrote. “United Nations agencies reached a total of 18,000 people (4 per cent) with food assistance and 1,198 people (0.3 per cent) with health assistance. No core relief items were dispatched during the reporting period.”

The UN defines a besieged area as “an area surrounded by armed actors with the sustained effect that humanitarian assistance cannot regularly enter, and civilians, the sick and wounded cannot regularly exit.”

The secretary-general’s report stated that with the exception of a supply of water for 300 people last month, no aid has been delivered to eastern Ghouta since March. In the government-controlled western neighborhoods of Deir ez-Zor city, 228,000 people are besieged by ISIL and no United Nations aid has reached them since May 2014, the report said. ISIL has also deactivated a power plant in Deir-az-Zor, severely restricting the water supply for besieged residents.

The report also details continuing summary execution and torture by government forces and ISIS.

The full report is below.

Secretary-General Report on Syria, April 2015

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Podcast, Episode 1, Humanitarian Crisis in Syria

April 20, 2015 – Interviews with UN officials on the sidelines of the recent Kuwait III pledging conference, including WHO director-general Margaret Chan who provides an overview of the health crisis inside Syria; WHO Syria coordinator Elizabeth Hoff on specific health challenges, including prostheses and mental health; and the World Food Program’s Dina El Kassaby, recently returned from Syria, on what she saw and the challenges of delivering food aid.

ODA from Major Economies Stable at $135 Billion

oda figures 2014
April 8, 2015 – Aid from the 29 members of the OECD’s Development Assistant Committee totaled $135 billion in 2014, on par with the previous year which set a record for overseas development assistance.

The members of DAC, which consist of most EU countries as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland and the United States, gave the bulk of the assistance to sub-Saharan African countries ($39 billion) followed by South and Central Asia ($23 billion), and Far and East Asia ($12 billion).

Aid to the Middle East, where the conflict in Syria has left 12 million people in need, totaled $11.7 billion in 2014.

The top DAC donors last year were the United States, $32 billion, United Kingdom, $19 billion, Germany, $16 billion, France, $10 billion, and Japan, $9 billion.

Five of the countries exceeded the 0.7 percent of GDP UN target for ODA: Sweden, 1.1 percent; Luxembourg, 1.07 percent; Norway, 0.99 percent, Denmark, 0.85 percent and the UK, 0.71 percent. (see charts)

G7 countries contributed a total of 0.27 percent of their GDP with Japan and the United States both contributing 0.19 percent of their GDP to ODA. Non-G7 countries contributed 0.37 percent of their GDP to ODA.

The OECD report showed that aid to the world’s least developed countries dropped 16 percent this year to $25 billion.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Stonewalling on Decision to List IDF as Child Violators

"Palestinian man with child during Operation Protective Edge" by Basel Yazouri -  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Palestinian_man_with_child_during_Operation_Protective_Edge.jpg#/media/File:Palestinian_man_with_child_during_Operation_Protective_Edge.jpg

“Palestinian man with child during Operation Protective Edge” by Basel Yazouri – License: Creative Commons

April 7, 2015 – Ban Ki-moon’s office says he is still preparing his annual report on children and armed conflict but is so far unwilling to say whether the secretary-general will name the Israeli Defence Forces in his list of groups that have committed grave violations against children.

Ban has been urged to include the IDF in the annex of the annual report, which lists state and non-state forces that have committed grave violations against children, over its conduct during the six-week summer conflict in Gaza that the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says resulted in the deaths of 551 Palestinian children.

A source told UN Tribune that a meeting was scheduled for April 6 in New York involving Ban and the UN’s special representative for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, during which a decision on listing the IDF would be made. A spokesperson for Zerrougui’s office said the meeting did not take place.

The source said UN staff working on the ground in Gaza have urged the inclusion of Israel in the annual report but have been subject to intimidation from inside the Israeli government.

At stake, the source added, is Ban’s Human Rights Up Front initiative which was launched after the UN’s systematic failure during the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka. The initiative aims to support United Nations staff who warn of human rights abuses and tasks the UN system “with using all the resources at its disposal, including its moral authority” to promote and encourage human rights especially with regard to protecting civilians.

While the United States has steadfastly lobbied the UN on Israel’s behalf in the past, which included the US mission to the United Nations overseeing Ban’s release of details of a 2009 UN inquiry into Israel’s 2008 invasion of Gaza, recent statements from the White House indicate that Washington’s appetite to shield Israel from rebuke at the United Nations is waning.

Ban would also be expected to list Hamas in his annual report for its indiscriminate rocket fire into civilian areas of southern Israel endangering the lives of Israeli children as well as for using schools and hospitals to store and launch rockets.

Last year’s annual report on children and armed conflict listed 59 parties in 15 countries including eight state armed forces and 51 other armed groups that have committed any of the six categories of grave violations identified by the United Nations.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz