Libya’s UN Envoy Says Illegally Fired and Banned From UNHQ by Jeffery Feltman

screenshot-2016-12-01-at-3-46-39-pm Dec. 1, 2016 – In a letter to Ban Ki-moon, Libya’s former representative to the United Nations says he has been illegally fired and banned from United Nations headquarters. Ibrahim Dabbashi wrote that the decision by the UN-backed Government of National Accord to remove him from his post is illegal because the GNA has not been approved by the Libyan House of Representatives.

He adds that Undersecretary-general for Political Affairs, Jeffery Feltman, instructed the UN’s protocol department to strip him of his credentials, preventing him from gaining entry to United Nations headquarters in New York.

He also says the UN bears much of the responsibility for the chaos in Libya, where three different groups claim to be the legitimate representatives of the people.

His full letter is below. img_0394 img_0395

UNSC Approves Panel to Investigate and Assign Blame for Syria Chemical Weapons Attacks

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Sept. 10, 2015 – A new UN panel will be established to investigate chemical weapons attacks in Syria and to determine who is behind such attacks.

The three-person panel was proposed by Ban Ki-moon late last month and approved by the Security Council on Thursday.

Its mandate is “to identify to the greatest extent feasible, individuals, entities, groups or Governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical.”

The panel which will coordinate with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is a result of Resolution 2235 – adopted early last month – that called on Ban to submit to the Council a proposal for a Joint Investigative Mechanism involving the United Nations and the OPCW.

In February this year the OPCW fact-finding mission, established in 2013 after the use of Sarin gas in Syria, said that it had found  “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine had been used as a weapon in Syria in the villages of Talmenes, Al Tamanah, and Kafr Zita from April to August 2014.

The OPCW fact-finding mission does not have a mandate to determine responsibility for chemical weapons attacks.

The new panel will consist of an assistant secretary-general and two deputies with a political office in New York, an investigative office in the Hague, and a planning office also in New York.

There have been almost 60 reported incidents of the use of chemical weapons in Syria since 2012, according to information compiled from UN reports. A majority of attacks involve the use of chlorine gas and have been directed at areas not under the control of the Assad regime. There have been other allegations that ISIS have used mustard gas in attacks against Kurdish areas of Syria and that other forces have also used chemical weapons.

Besides chlorine, mustard and sarin, there have also been reports that the chemical Agent 15 was used in attacks.

The letter from Ban Ki-moon on forming the panel to investigate and assign blame for chemical weapons attacks is published in full below.

Res 2235 Mechanism

Book Review: Failing to Protect – The UN and the Politicization of Human Rights

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Feb. 23, 2015 – Peace and security, development, and human rights comprise the three pillars of the work of the United Nations but anyone who follows the world body will know that when it comes to the latter a significant majority of human rights abusing states escape UN scrutiny.

While it’s no secret that political power, political economy and voting blocs composed of autocratic states and weak democracies shield rights abusers in the UN system, Rosa Freedman’s “Failing to Protect: The UN and the Politicization of Human Rights” (Hurst:2014) is a welcome guide to what’s wrong with the UN’s human rights mechanism and it offers up some suggestions on putting it right.

The book is designed for the general reader and the opening chapters offer concise yet detailed accounts of international law and the UN human rights machinery. A later chapter makes crucial linkages between UN treaties and the codifying in national law of human rights protections.

In between, Freedman gives clear examples of the chicanery at work in protecting rights abusers as well as efforts to keep issues such as LGBT rights off the UN’s agenda, while also looking at some instances where the UN has put intense scrutiny on rights abusing states.

In a chapter titled “Look! We Did Something,” she focuses on Israel and South Africa and the scrutiny the latter receives at the UN (in 65 percent of UNGA resolutions from 1990 to 2013 that criticize a country, Israel is the country) as well as the ultimately successful pressure put on South Africa at the UN to end apartheid.

“No one would suggest that attention ought not to have been devoted to the ending of apartheid or to the occupation of Palestinian land,” she writes, but the real reason for the focus on these two countries is because South Africa during apartheid lacked political allies as is the case with Israel currently (with the notable exception of the United States in the Security Council and a handful of UNGA member states).

On the upside, the cases of Israel and South Africa show that “the UN can do something… [B]ut there is no clear link between the gravity of the situation and the decision to focus attention on that country.” Occupations in Tibet, Kashmir and Northern Cyprus and rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Belarus and Equatorial Guinea, to name just some, are routinely ignored by the UN.

In conclusion, Freedman states that the purpose of her book was to start a conversation “to detail some of the things that are not working with a view to finding a way in which they can be fixed.” More importantly, the conversation is not just for diplomats and governments, she writes: “It is our money; it is our world; it is our problem.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related:

Book Review: Un-Tied Nations – The United Nations, Peacekeeping and Global Governance

Book Review: The Procedure of the UN Security Council

Reviews: New Books on the ICC, Agenda Setting, and Irish Peacekeepers

Book Review: UN-Tied Nations: The United Nations, Peacekeeping & Global Governance


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Nov. 18, 2014 – Kate Seaman’s UN-Tied Nations: The United Nations, Peacekeeping and Global Governance examines the role of peacekeeping in the development of global security governance. It is a timely book in light of Ban Ki-moon’s recent announcement of a high-level panel to review UN peacekeeping operations.

Seaman begins with a discussion of the various theories and definitions of what constitutes global governance. “The reality is that global governance is not a form of world government… [it] is a highly contested and politicized concept. It does not view the international system as a state centric one, instead it tries to incorporate the many new and varied actors that now have a role to play in global governance.” These include non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups and regional organizations.

At the center of all this is the United Nations which plays a “coordinating” role in the global governance agenda, promoting “key norms such as human rights, democratization and good governance.” The hope after the end of the Cold War was that a reinvigorated UN would live up to its charter ideals of promoting peace and human rights, even though United Nations membership is – or at least according to the UN Charter – open only to “peace-loving states.”

There was a burst of Security Council activity in the early to mid-1990s with a record number of decisions, but the organization soon became “overwhelmed” and failed to respond in Rwanda and Somalia. It became readily apparent that “traditional peacekeeping” was inadequate to cope with new challenges and “coupled with ‘the desire by UN officials and member states to pick winners and avoid failures meant that the UN was as interested in its own security as it was in human security’.”

Moreover, ambitious Security Council mandates tasked peacekeepers with a range of duties such as from early economic recovery to election monitoring, but the mandates were not matched with the resources to fulfill them and there was a disconnect between the demands placed on peacekeepers and their ability to perform these tasks.

The past decade has seen a resurgence in UN peacekeeping operations but the same problems and challenges remain: legitimacy and resources, coupled with new challenges in tackling the changing nature of conflicts with non-state actors increasingly involved.

The book examines a number of case studies and thoroughly reviews the existing literature on global governance and peacekeeping. There are useful insights from the author’s interviews with UN officials and diplomats – their anonymity allows more candidness than one is used to from diplomats and secretariat officials in their public remarks.

Perennial problems such as reform of the Council is also discussed with observations ranging from an expanded Council would only lead to an even more crippling decision making process to ensuring major troop contributing countries have a say in decisions. There’s something of a consensus, however, on that improving the Council’s working methods should be as much, if not more, of a priority than reforming the Council’s existing structure.

In concluding, Seaman writes that, “The UN has simply become another political tool of governments, used to validate their actions and policies… if the UN is ever to achieve the ideals on which it was established, member states will have to be much more willing to provide resources and to politically support the organization and the Secretariat in what they are trying to achieve.”

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Book Review: The Procedure of the UN Security Council

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Oct. 29, 2014 – The fourth edition of this comprehensive text, first published in 1975, continues in the tradition of its previous versions by combining an exhaustive account of the practice of the Security Council with examples and anecdotes to illustrate how the Council works, and how it doesn’t.

This new edition of The Procedure of the the UN Security Council, by Loraine Sievers and Sam Daws, is the first update since 1998 and retains, for the sake of continuity, much of the historical material of previous editions but has several new sections including on the Council’s relationship with regional bodies and other organs such as the International Criminal Court.

The book also surveys various proposals to reform the Security Council, which invariably involve increasing the number of members from the current arrangement of five permanent and ten non-permanent. The authors note that under the current two-year term for non-permanent members, some countries elected on an enlarged Council may not get the opportunity to serve as president – by virtue of its alphabetical assignment – depriving them of a full Council experience and the educative and leadership functions associated with holding the Council’s presidency, a role which is thoroughly discussed in Chapter 3.

On a more “poignant” note, Sievers and Daws remark that an outcome of an enlarged Council “would be the probable retirement of the Council’s present horseshoe table, which has so much history.”

In their concluding reflections, the authors examine the current debate and tension between Council members and non-Council members over improving working methods and increasing transparency and accountability of the Council. As a note of caution, they write that “it is vitally important that the debate on the necessity for reforming the Security Council to make it more representative, accountable and transparent does not cast a pall over the legitimacy of the actual decisions taken by the Council which could be exploited by recalcitrant states or parties.”

They add, however, that “to secure its own effectiveness, it is in the best interests of the Security Council to enhance the Council’s interactivity with Member States and to engage proactively with them in discussing improvements to the Council’s working methods.”

For a 744-page book that deals with procedure, it is a highly readable tome written in a non-scholarly fashion that combines the rigor of an academic text with the prose of a journalist. The material in the book is current as of Jan. 1, 2014 and a corresponding website, maintained by Sievers, who worked for the UN for over thirty years, incorporates recent relevant developments on the Council’s procedures and working methods.

-Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

New Books on the ICC, Agenda Setting, and Irish Peacekeepers

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Aug. 18, 2014 – Three new books look at the power politics at play in the UN with respect to the International Criminal Court, the global advocacy movement, and UN peacekeeping.

In David Bosco’s rigorous account of the first ten years of the ICC, Rough Justice, the evolution of the Court is examined alongside the evolving role played by major powers, primarily the United States, but also including China, India and Russia – who were, and who mostly still are, distrustful of the Court, along with other powers who are mostly supporters of the Court – Brazil, Britain, France, Germany and South Africa.

Bosco notes that the US actively petitioned other countries to not ratify the Rome Statute but later abstained in a 2005 UN Security Council vote referring the situation in Sudan to the ICC (He also writes that later all permanent members of the Council were against the ICC indicting Sudanese Pres. Bashir). In 2011, the US voted for Resolution 1970 referring the situation in Libya to the Court, but the Council have not, as Bosco reminds us, included an enforcement mechanism or allocated funds for the investigations in both these cases.

While the Council has referred situations to the ICC, when the authors of the Goldstone Report on Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2008 concluded that the violations “fall within the subject-matter jurisdictions of the International Criminal Court,” Bosco writes that then US envoy to the UN Susan Rice “privately emphasized to Israeli President Shimon Peres the US ‘commitment not to allow the issue to move from the Security Council to the International Criminal Court.'”

He adds that there is mounting evidence that the Court prefers to avoid situations involving big powers, citing Afghanistan as another example.

Among his conclusions on the first ten years of the ICC, Bosco writes that “the court has, for the most part, become a toolkit of major powers responding to instability and violence in weaker states” but so far there is little evidence that is has altered “political power realities.”

However, “the failure of the US-led marginalization campaign and other efforts to delay or defer court processes on political grounds signal that even major powers are limited in their ability to challenge frontally justice processes that have begun… however, that inability may have opened space for less obvious mechanisms for control.”

Charil Carpenter’s Lost Causes is concerned with what issues get promoted by “global advocacy elites.” As just one instance, she notes that “internal wars are an important concern for conflict prevention analysts but gangs and urban violence are on the margins of the global security agenda” (yet most armed violence occurs in countries not in armed conflict).

Carpenter’s book is sub-titled ‘Agenda Vetting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security’ and her theory, which she expounds on with several examples, is that advocacy elites choose issues not based “on their merits, or mandate, or the wider political context, but partly on calculations about the structure of their institutional relationships – to other actors, to other issues.”

The material is at times dense but the book is well organized and the topics the author chooses to illuminate her theory are well chosen, and it provides good insight into how the UN, particularly the Security Council and the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, adopt positions. Carpenter writes that one advocate campaigning for compensation to families of civilians killed in conflict was advised not to contact the human rights officers at UN missions, who are mostly delegated to the UN’s third, or human rights, committee at the General Assembly, but instead to contact the person responsible for protection of civilians as these individuals are engaged with the Security Council which holds regular thematic debates on protection of civilians.

Michael Kennedy and Art Magennis’s Ireland, the United Nations and the Congo is a thoroughly researched account of the UN’s early peacekeeping forays using the experience of Ireland’s 6,200 troops contribution to the 1960 peacekeeping deployment to the Congo, ONUC.

Some of the insights are familiar to those who follow UN peacekeeping. That the government deploying the troops was more concerned about elevating its position and rank in the UN system than the welfare of the troops or the potential for success of the mission.

The book also examines the role of then secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold, the iconic Swede who later lost his life in a plane crash over Zambia which is still being investigated. “He had maintained strict overall command of ONUC and emerges from UN records on Congo and from his personal papers not as the neutral international servant with a ‘halo’ which is visible for a considerable distance,’ but as a calculating pro-Western and at times Machiavellian operator.”

The book is meticulously researched and while it examines events fifty years ago, there are many parallels to current debates on peacekeeping such as peace-enforcement, cover-ups of atrocities committed by blue helmets and the political calculations of troop contributing countries.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

New Books

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Charlotte Mires’ Capital of the World is an entertaining account of the race to host the UN’s headquarters in the mid-1940s. New York City won the privilege in the end but Mires takes us through the twists and turns of the origins of the ‘world capital’ including plans from South Dakota, Michigan, St. Louis and Westchester County and she tells us the story of Prescott Bush’s opposition to building the headquarters in Greenwich, Connecticut which was the UN’s first choice.

Anne Hammerstad’s The Rise and Decline of a Global Security Actor tracks the UN Refugee Agency’s rise in the 1990s as a major actor in the global security arena and its post-9/11 return to a more independent role as its major donors fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with both these countries soon becoming the top source countries for refugees.

Providing Peacekeepers examines the challenges and demands of generating some 120,000 troops to serve in UN peacekeeping missions. The book has sections on the permanent five members of the Security Council, traditional troop contributor countries and emerging troop contributor countries.

We The Peoples: A UN for the 21st Century is a collection of Kofi Annan’s speeches arranged thematically and regionally covering such topics as human rights, peace and security, the Middle East, Africa, and development. The book is edited by Annan’s former speechwriter, Edward Mortimer.

The Politics of Humanitarian Intervention Detailed in New Book by Former UN Aid Chief

Security Council Meeting: The question concerning Haiti.
John Holmes addressing a UN Security Council
meeting on Haiti in 2010 (UN Photo)

March 11, 2013 – A new book from John Holmes, former UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, discusses the politics involved in humanitarian aid and also provides some insights into Ban Ki-moon.

Holmes, who was the UK ambassador to Paris before coming to the UN, served as the top international aid official from 2007-2010, a period that covered the politically charged humanitarian crises resulting from Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and the brutal end to Sri Lanka’s civil war.

In ”The Politics of Humanity,” Holmes writes of Ban, that, “In my experience, he was hardworking to a fault, totally honest, absolutely committed to the UN and its role and determined to make a difference where he could. His political instincts were usually sound and his readiness to tell his frequent senior visitors what they did not want to hear much greater than often supposed from the outside.”

“He has his weaker points, of which he is well aware, himself,” Holmes adds in the 400-page book released earlier this month. “He is not charismatic or a great strategic thinker. Like his predecessors he is not in a position to tell the big powers what to do nor to fix their disagreements (of course, they themselves do not really want a strong secretary-general whatever they claim in public.)”

The book’s title reflects the central theme of the often conflicting interaction between politics and humanitarian work Holmes experienced during during his stint, including the Security Council’s unwillingness to put Sri Lanka on its agenda and Ban Ki-moon barring him from speaking to Hamas officials about humanitarian aid delivery.

He calls it “absurd” that Sri Lanka was not on the Security Council’s agenda. “The Russians, Chinese, and others, no doubt with an eye to their freedom to attack their home-grown terrorists, were not prepared to agree that the situation went beyond an internal dispute,” Holmes writes.

He also says he advised Ban not to visit Sri Lanka immediately after the government’s military victory over the Tamil Tigers lest it be seen as tacit support for the government and their tactics, but to no avail. Ban, he writes, “liked being the first international leader on the scene after dramatic events.”

On Gaza, Holmes says he was “unable to talk directly to senior members of Hamas myself since the UN had decided, most unwisely in my view, to adhere to the 2006 ban on such contacts, agreed by the so-called Quartet of the US, EU, Russia and the UN, until Hamas met certain political conditions.”

“The ban should not have excluded humanitarian dialogue, but the sensitivities were considered too great even for that,” he states.

On his final visit to Gaza in 2010, the former British diplomat writes, “I tried again to persuade Ban Ki-moon that during this visit I should meet senior representatives of Hamas, to discuss humanitarian issues with them. This would have been entirely in line with the usual humanitarian policy of talking to anyone about getting aid through, and about their responsibilities under international law.”

Ban wouldn’t budge. “He continued to believe, contrary to the views of many UN officials, that the Quartet had some influence on the peace process … The American under secretary-general for political affairs, Lynn Pascoe, also believed strongly in the boycott of Hamas.”

Gaza and Sri Lanka are just two of the crises discussed in Holmes’ minutely detailed account of his time as the UN’s top humanitarian. Most of the 14 chapters are situation specific and there are sections on Afghanistan, Sudan, Haiti, Mynamar, Darfur, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The “Politics of Humanity” is published by Head of Zeus and is available on Amazon, Kindle edition, $5.99.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz