Sept. 25, 2014 – Pope Francis on Friday told the nine nuclear weapon-wielding states, including the permanent five Security Council members, that their logic for possessing weapons of mass destruction is an affront to the mission of the United Nations.
Francis made the remarks during a wide ranging address to the General Assembly where he also called for a restructuring of the global financial system, responsible stewardship of the planet, and respect for the sacredness of human life.
The Holy See, which is party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has long held that the logic of nuclear deterrence is contrary to the progress of civilization and, more recently, expressed frustration during the NPT review conference that nuclear weapons states were not living up to their disarmament commitments.
In his remarks Friday, Francis noted that the preamble of the UN Charter and its first articles stress the peaceful resolution of disputes and friendly relations among nations.
“Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass distraction, such as nuclear weapons,” he said. “An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations.”
He said that if states use deterrence as a reason to posess nuclear weapons then the United Nations would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust.”
“There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons,” Pope Francis told the packed assembly, which included dozens of heads of state.
In addition to the five permanent members of the Council, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel all possess nuclear weapons.
There are some 18,000 nuclear weapons in the world, the vast majority held by Russia and the US.
The weapons are located in more than 100 sites in 14 countries, with US nuclear weapons based in Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Turkey and Italy. Some $100 billion is spent annually on maintaining these weapons.
While the Holy See has always called for nuclear disarmament, there was a time during the height of the Cold War that Pope John Paul II said “deterrence based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step along the way towards a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable.”
Pope Francis’s clear denunciation of the policy of deterrence in his speech on Friday is indicative, not just of the Vatican’s position, but that of the majority of UN member states. There’s wide agreement among non-nuclear states that the permanent five members of the Council view the NPT as a treaty that allows them to hold onto their weapons, even though disarmament is one of the three pillars of the treaty, along with non-proliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
During the recent five-year review NPT conference, campaigners secured the signatures of 107 UN member states for a pledge that called for filling the legal gap prohibiting nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not banned by international treaty.
Absent from the list of 107 countries that signed the pledge were the nuclear weapons states and the 29 members of NATO.
In his closing remarks, Pope Francis said states can fulfill the promise of the United Nations, that future generations will not face the scourge of war, if they “set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good.”
- Denis Fitzgerald
Sept. 21, 2015 – The United Nations will raise the flag of the Holy See on Sept. 25th ahead of Pope Francis’s address to the UN General Assembly that morning.
The decision to raise the flag of a non-member observer state comes after a resolution passed by the General Assembly on Sept. 10th to allow the flags of Palestine and the Holy See to fly alongside the flags of the 193 UN member states.
Francis will be the fourth pope to address the assembly and it will be the fifth papal UN visit. Paul VI was the first pope to address the UN in 1965, one year after the Holy See became a non-member observer state. John Paul II visited twice, in 1979 and 1995. Benedict XVI addressed the assembly in 2008.
Just over 40 of the UN’s 193 member states have a Catholic-majority population while the overall global Catholic population is about 1.2 billion. Latin America and Europe have the largest share of the global Catholic population with 39 percent and 24 percent of all Catholics respectively living in these regions.
The United States has the fifth biggest share of Catholics among countries with about 75 million followers or 25 percent of its population.
Palestine has said it will raise its flag on Sept. 30 ahead of President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech following a ceremony on UN grounds. The Holy See has said there will be no ceremony for its flag raising. UN personnel will raise the flag the same time as they raise the other flags on Sept. 25.
Francis, aged 78, is the first Latin American pontiff and the Argentine is also the first Jesuit pope and the first non-European pope since Syria’s Gregory III in 741.
Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he chose the name Francis following his election by papal conclave in 2013 in honor of Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscans whose mission is to serve the poor.
In his UN address, he is expected to speak about climate change, poverty, nuclear disarmament and the global refugee crisis as well as the conflicts that underlie the refugee crisis.
In addition, he is also expected to address the plight of Christians in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, but a region where the number of Christians who’ve had to flee war and persecution has risen dramatically in the past decade, particularly in Iraq and Syria.
The Holy See has diplomatic relations with 180 sovereign states including the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the State of Palestine. It also has formal contacts, but not diplomatic relations, with Afghanistan, Brunei, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Somalia and has unofficial delegates in regions where there are Catholic communities including the Arabian peninsula and Western Sahara.
The Holy See has no diplomatic relations of any kind with the Maldives, North Korea, China and Bhutan.
Prior to his address to the assembly, Francis will attend a town hall meeting with UN staff.
- Denis Fitzgerald
Sept. 14, 1015 – US President Barack Obama will make his penultimate appearance at the United Nations later this month where he will address the annual General Debate and speak at a high-level summit where the sustainable development goals will be adopted.
Obama will also host a summit on increasing international involvement in UN peacekeeping. The United States is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, assessed at 28 percent of the annual $8.25 billion budget – but DC hasn’t yet paid its contribution for 2015 and still has arrears from 2014.
In total, the US owes peacekeeping dues for 2014 and 2015 totaling more than $2 billion, according to information provided to UN Tribune from the United Nations budget office.
Washington also has yet to pay its 2015 dues to the UN’s regular budget. The United States is assessed at 22 percent of the regular budget for a total of $655 million for 2015. According to UN figures, the US owes a combined total of $926 million to the regular budget, which includes an outstanding $270 million from last year.
The United States is the only permanent member of the Security Council to not yet pay its 2015 dues, according to information from the UN Committee on Contributions website.
The US government’s fiscal year begins in October and large payments are typically made at the beginning of the fiscal cycle, though not nearly enough to cover the total back debt.
While many US lawmakers say that the United Nations is a bloated bureaucracy that offers little to no value for US citizens, this is far from the case from a strictly economic point of view. In fact, it is a boon to the New York City economy and to US companies.
Of the 43,000 staff working for the UN Secretariat, some 2,700 are US citizens, or 6.2% of the total staff. Japan, the second highest financial contributor, assessed at some $300 million to the annual budget, has a mere 167 staff members or 0.59%, according to the latest available Composition of the Secretariat report.
In addition, a 2010 report from UN Foundation showed that the UN Secretariat procured more than $832 million from US companies in 2010. The report also said that the economic benefit to New York City by having UN Headquarters located in the city is about $3.3bln annually.
While the US is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, there are only 78 UN peacekeepers from the United States deployed in current peacekeeping operations.
- Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz
The new set of goals go beyond the poverty reduction, hunger and infectious diseases focus of the MDGs and include goals on climate, peace and non-communicable diseases. They are also universal – unlike the MDGs, which focused only on developing countries.
UN Tribune asked three experts to respond to five key questions about the future goals.
Martin Edwards is an associate professor and director of the Center for United Nations and Global Governance Studies at Seton Hall University @MartinSEdwards
Shannon Kindornay is an adjunct research professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University @SKindornay
Angel Hsu is an assistant professor and director of the Data-driven Environmental Group at Yale University @ecoangelhsu
1) What are the main positives in the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals?
Martin Edwards: One of the strengths of the goals is their comprehensiveness. They’re no longer just about the developing world – as many of the concerns in them – education, health, conservation, and rule of law, are shared across the globe. The authors of the SDGs realized that we can’t combat poverty globally without making states stronger and reducing the likelihood of civil wars, and thus a new focus in goal 16 on building effective and accountable institutions.
Shannon Kindornay: The goals represent an integrated vision for sustainable development taking into consideration the three pillars (economy, society and environment) as well as peace and partnership. Given the historic separation of the development and environment communities, this is an important gain – not just in terms of the types of goals included for each are, but the integration of elements of the three pillars within goal areas.
The goals are also the product of inter-governmental negotiations with inputs from citizens, civil society, academia, private sector, local and regional govt, etc. They form an important consensus going forward, even if detractors argue they are not ‘neat enough’ and there are ‘too many.’ Sustainable development is complex. The world we live in is complex. The goals go a long way towards reflecting this reality.
Angel Hsu: The SDGs will set the development agenda for the next few decades, so there is a real opportunity to shape global political agendas. Although there are critics that may gripe that some issues were left out of the goals, it was a Herculean task to narrow the list of SDGs from thousands of proposals to the eventual 17 goals. The UNCSD can be lauded for attempting to make the process of determining the SDGs inclusive, through multiple campaigns (ie myWorld) to allow for people to register which issues are most important to them. In terms of environment, which is the area I study most closely in relation to the SDGs, I was happy to see cross-cutting indicators and goals (ie, a goal for cities, which are becoming increasingly important units of environmental policy) included.
2) What are the main omissions in the 17 proposed SDGs?
ME: With this many goals, targets, and indicators, it’s really hard to make the claim that we’ve missed something important. Some issues, like the status of the global LGBT community, are important, but sadly politically tricky, and this never became a goal in its own right.
The bigger challenges that we’re going to face are dealing with trade-offs between the goals. I worry about promising action on climate while promising sustained economic growth and full employment while increasing access to energy all at the same time. We might not be able to get everything here, so our attempts to advance some goals might come at the expense of others. This might be a difficult concept for the public to grasp.
SK: Certainly one of the critiques of Transforming our World is around the use of rights language and international human rights frameworks. The SDGs (and their follow-up and review) could have been strengthened by explicit reference to international human rights law though this was likely impossible from the outset given the preferences of any number of states.
AH: What I along with others have been saying is that 17 goals, 169 proposed indicators are too many. The same process that aimed to be inclusive may ultimately thwart their success. 17 goals and 169 indicators are too many issues for policymakers to track. It is also unclear how many governments will be able to sufficiently monitor and track progress towards the SDGs. Even though the UN called for a “data revolution” to aid in future SDG monitoring, so far the proposals put forth are not revolutionary. They speak to the need to build statistical capacity in national governments instead of looking to the potential for big data, the private sector, and citizens to help source needed data (see my Nature commentary).
3) Are the goals and targets specific enough? Are they universal enough?
ME: We learned one thing from the MDG experience: measurement matters. So the conversations about moving to specific indicators is still underway (and will be until next year) and this is not necessarily a bad thing. But, this having been said: universality is a problem. A review of the proposed indicators in March of this year found that only 16% of them met the “gold standard” of being feasible, suitable, and relevant. The barrier here is not finding measures. The barrier is about capacity to ensure that national statistical offices survey what we need. With the advent of the goals requires many developing countries to put new efforts into improving their statistical offices so that they can actually measure at a disaggregated level what we need to know.
SK: The goals are likely fine. The targets would have benefitted greatly from technical proofing (to make them SMART so to speak) and this is a missed opportunity – though again, I understand the politics of why they were not opened up (states did not want to risk agreement from the OWG, particularly that a target they support might be removed for technical reasons).
On the universality side, in my opinion the goals are certainly universal. As a vision for the world we want to see and an framework for measuring global progress, the targets are again fine (notwithstanding comments above). But, do all targets make sense in all countries and should we worry about monitoring them in all countries? I am not convinced of this. As I argued in a paper with Sarah Twigg, I believe we need a differentiated approach to how the targets are applied, and correspondingly, who measures them to support global monitoring.
The big question still out there, in my opinion, is how all of this will be adapted to country context. We know states will be encouraged to identify national level targets. How this is done, whether room exists to go beyond identifying the level of national ambition on global targets to include more specialized targets at the country level – that remains to be seen.
AH: I’ve spoken a lot about the goals and targets – I think they are meant as a starting point but they obviously represent political compromise. Same goes for the universality question – the SDGs are meant to be universal in the way MDGs were primarily aimed at developing countries. But developing countries say that they need financing to implement them, so I think there could be a real challenge in implementation because the previous model of having developed countries finance the MDG implementation and measurement may not work for the SDGs. In looking at the UNFCCC negotiations, the issue of finance and payment for loss and damages is one of the most intractable issues.
4) How should the implementation of the SDGs be measured?
ME: It’s going to be measured at the national, regional, and global levels, which is certainly fine. While we might have issues with the specifics, this is a strong improvement over the MDGs. The global level will be led by the soon to be formed High Level Political Forum, and the regional level will incorporate peer review.
It’s the national level that we need to pay the most attention to, though. If countries don’t publicly assess their progress in meeting the goals, civil society will have a hard time pressuring governments. Civil society is the glue between the goals and their successful implementation.
SK: Implementation will need to be measured in a number of ways – global and national progress understood in terms of broad macro level trends (will use official statistics in all likelihood with few exceptions) but also making use of real-time information and unofficial data sources to inform day-to-day decision making, interventions, etc. Citizen generated data for example, has the potential to improve accountabilities at local to national levels, as well as feed into global follow-up processes. The devil will be figuring out how to best use these different sources of information and for what purpose, particularly at country level.
5) How should the SDGs be financed?
ME: This is a challenge. The Addis Summit was to be all about financing the SDGs, but the Eurozone economic crisis coupled with political dysfunction in the US has reduced the generosity of the OECD countries. In its place, there was a greater impetus on domestic revenue generation – meaning tax increases. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – some developing countries are at a stage where moving from excise taxes to income taxes makes sense, but there is a danger that developing countries might find it harder to spend the money they need to make the SDGs work.
The SDGs will be financed differently across countries. HICs and many MICs will use domestic public finance. LDCs and other states with limited capacity will rely more greatly on external public finance. Obviously private investment is also important, however I think we need to be smart about our expectations and our approach. We need to worry about the quality of private finance as much as the quantity, and where it goes to whose benefit.
SK: Perhaps more importantly than above, is how we address systemic issues that limit resources available to finance the SDGs and how we support the capacity of developing countries to raise their own domestic resources. Advancements on trade, taxation and illicit capital flight would greatly expand resources available for development. Concrete commitments and support to domestic resource mobilization and institutional strengthening in developing countries would help increase capacities to raise and use domestic resources – which should be our end game as far as the financing discussion is concerned.
- Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz
Aug 28, 2015 – With Russia presiding over the Security Council in September, its president Vladimir Putin is also coming to New York later next month for the high-level segment of the opening of the 70th General Assembly.
Putin last addressed the UN in 2005 for the organization’s 60th anniversary.
With Moscow chairing the Council next month, Putin will likely preside over a meeting of the 15-nation body during his visit.
If he does, it will be interesting to watch for which world leaders attend the meeting – and which ones will decide to boycott.
US President Barack Obama chaired a meeting of the Council last September and in September 2009.
A record number of world leaders are expected for this year’s opening of the General Assembly, which will also mark the UN’s 70th anniversary, including Pope Francis who will be the first pontiff since Benedict XVI in 2005 to address the gathering.
A high-level summit is taking place on Sept 25-27 where world leaders will adopt a set of goals to replace the MDGs, which expire at the end of the year.
Update: Russia has announced it will hold a high-level Security Council meeting at the Foreign Minister level on Sept. 30 to be chaired by FM Lavrov on “Maintenance of international peace and security: settlement of conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa and countering the terrorist threat in the region.” The concept note for the meeting is here
July 28, 2015 – A special session of the General Assembly was held Monday to pay tribute to Djibouti’s former UN ambassador, Roble Olhaye, who passed away last week in New York. He was 71.
Olhaye took up his UN post in 1988 and was also his country’s ambassador to DC and non-resident ambassador to Canada. He served as president of the Security Council in February 1994.
“At this time of mourning, we may take some measure of comfort from knowing that he left a lasting legacy based on nearly 30 years of engagement with the United Nations,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at Monday’s General Assembly tribute. “He was fondly referred to as the ‘eternal representative’ among permanent representatives. He had great wisdom. We considered him a leading ‘dictionary’ since he knew so much.”
Also speaking at Monday’s tribute was US Ambassador Samantha Power. She recalled asking her predecessor, Susan Rice, for advice on who to call on when she arrived at the UN.
“Go see the Djiboutian Ambassador,” Rice told her. “He knows everyone, and he knows everything.”
“There was no geopolitical conversation with Roble that didn’t begin with a discussion of our families, and our love of our kids,” Power told delegates. “That is one quality that made him such a tireless diplomat: he never lost sight of the individuals and families who were – and still are – affected by all of the debates we have here.”
At the time of his death Olhaye was the longest serving ambassador to the United States and held the honorary title Dean of the Diplomatic Corps.
He is survived by his wife and five children.
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|
Top Ten Countries Where Prison Population Exceeds 100 Percent of Prison Capacity
- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz
A Russian-sponsored draft resolution was defeated by a vote of 80 against, 43 for and 37 abstentions.
Among those supporting Moscow’s resolution were China, India, Nigeria, Syria and Bahrain.
EU countries voted against the text and were supported by the US, South Korea, Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Liberia and Venezuela, among others.
Abstaining countries included many Caribbean states as well as Kenya, Monaco and Bhutan.
A number of countries did not vote, including Turkey, Cuba and Afghanistan.
The full recorded vote is below.
Permanent members Britain, China, Russia and the United States have still to pay along with nine of the ten non-permanent countries on the Council.
Neither France nor New Zealand made their payments by the end of January, the UN’s official dues deadline, with Paris paying its $151 million share and Auckland, $6 million, earlier this month, according to information from the UN Committee on Contributions.
The Dominican Republic was the first country to pay up – it’s assessed at $1.2 million annually, while 43 other countries have also made their payment, including Canada ($80 million), Bhutan ($27,000), and Algeria ($3.7 million).
The United States is the largest contributor to the UN’s regular budget (there is a separate peacekeeping budget). Washington is assessed at 22 percent of the $2.7 billion annual regular budget, or $654 million. It typically makes a large payment in the fourth quarter – the United States government’s fiscal year begins on Oct. 1st – but that payment is not nearly enough to clear its back debt which was some $1 billion as of late last year.
The next biggest contributors, Japan ($293 million), and Germany ($193 million), have also not yet paid their 2015 dues.
Some countries, such as Somalia, Guinea-Bissau and Comoros, are exempt from paying this year as the General Assembly decided that inability to pay is beyond their control.
Other countries, such as Yemen and Grenada, have lost their vote in the General Assembly because of a violation of Article 19 which states that a country will lose its vote if “the amount of its arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years.”
The 13 Security Council Members Still to Pay and Their Assessed Dues for 2015:
Britain: $140 Million
China: $139 Million
Russia: $66 Million
United States: $654 Million
Chile: $9 Million
Lithuania: $1.9 Million
Malaysia: $7.6 Million
Nigeria: $2.4 Million
Spain: $80 Million
Venezuela: $17 Million