Staff at News Org Linked to UN Corruption Scandal Shocked Over Allegations

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Francis Lorenzo (left) pictured with Ban Ki-moon and Antigua’s prime minister Baldwin Spencer in 2011.

Oct. 7, 2015 – Staff at a UN-accredited news organization that received more than $12 million since its inception in 2009 from the Chinese billionaire at the center of a corruption scandal said they are “disappointed and shocked” over allegations against their president.

South-South News is headed by Francis Lorenzo, the deputy ambassador of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations. Lorenzo was charged in New York on Tuesday for facilitating bribes to the former president of the General Assembly, John Ashe, to get Ashe to use his influence to support the building of a UN conference center in Macau by Chinese billionaire David Ng.

“The South-South News staff is disappointed and shocked to learn about these allegations. If they ultimately prove true, it will be a serious blow to our mission, what we believe as staff members, and what we work for every day,” the staff said in a statement issued Tuesday evening.

“Had knowledge of Lorenzo’s alleged activities been made aware to us, we would have strongly objected and refused to comply where relevant,” the statement added. “It is therefore upsetting to us that our hard work could be associated with the allegations against Lorenzo.”

The charges against Lorenzo state that in 2009 he was made honorary president of a New York-based NGO, understood to be South-South News, that was founded by Ng and that he has received a regular $20,000 monthly salary ever since. Ng has wired more than $12 million to the South-South News bank account in New York, the charge sheet states.

The charges allege that payments were made from the South-South News bank account to John Ashe beginning in 2011 when he was Antigua’s ambassador to the United Nations and that, from January 2011 to December 2014, Ashe’s wife was paid a $2,500 monthly salary to work as a “climate consultant” for South-South News though the charge sheet says there is no evidence that she ever actually did any work for the organization.

The criminal complaint also alleges that Ashe got South-South News to pay for Antigua’s then prime minister, Baldwin Spencer, and six others to fly first-class to New York to attend the South-South News annual gala which was taking place during the same week as the UN’s annual General Debate in September 2011.

Ban Ki-moon greeting John Ashe

Ban Ki-moon greeting John Ashe

The charge sheet adds that in February 2012, after Ashe and his wife had received some $38,000 in payments from South-South News, in addition to other gifts including travel and the construction of a basketball court at Ashe’s Westchester County home, that Ashe sent a letter to Ban Ki-moon, as an official UN document, stating that Antigua’s prime minister and other heads of state had decided to launch a “Global Business Incubator, Permanent Expo and Meeting Center” hosted in Macau and to be built by the Sun Kian Ip group, whose chairman is David Ng.

The charges state that Lorenzo then used this official UN document to imply that the conference center that Ng was seeking to develop was in some fashion supported by the United Nations.

Payments to Ashe from the South-South News bank account continued, and got bigger, with some $100,000 paid to Ashe between January and June 2013, in addition to his wife’s monthly salary as well as a separate $25,000 payment to Ashe in February 2013.

Beginning in 2014, Ashe solicited funds from Ng for his General Assembly presidency, including a $200,000 payment from the South-South News bank account that was deposited to Ashe’s account on June 3, 2014. He was elected unopposed in Sept. 2013 to the rotating regional post as the candidate for the Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries at the UN.

A judge on Tuesday set bail at $1 million for Ashe and he was also ordered to wear an electronic bracelet. In total, he is accused of accepting $1.3 million in bribes and failing to pay adequate taxes.

Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

UN General Assembly Debate – Day 3 Wrap

Agila Saleh Essa Gwaider, Acting Head of State of Libya

Agila Saleh Essa Gwaider, Acting Head of State of Libya (UN Photo)

Sept. 30, 2015 –  The president of Libya’s House of Representatives told the General Assembly on Wednesday that the proliferation of weapons and spread of armed groups, resulting in criminality and terrorism – and exploitation of this chaos by those with personal interests – has severely undermined the central authority.

Agila Saleh Essa Gwaider said the Islamic State terrorist group wants to take over the country and exploit its resources as it seeks to spread its “law of the jungle” from Mauritania to Bangladesh. He said the terrorists and militias who have taken over the capital Tripoli and are fighting to take over Benghazi, are tools of foreign governments. Gwaider also said the Security Council is taking a contradictory stance by refusing to ease an arms embargo on Libya, a move which he said would enable the internationally-recognized Libyan authorities to fight terrorism, and stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters into the country.

Also speaking on Wednesday was the prime minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, who noted that his country is located “at the crossroads between the Middle East, Europe and Africa.”

He spoke of Malta’s role in the current Mediterranean refugee crisis, saying, “We are the only country in Europe, and probably in the world, that dedicates 100 percent of its limited military resources to saving people at sea.” Muscat said this year has broken all records for people attempting to flee persecution and that the scale of the situation demanded a global response. “The first priority must remain the saving of lives,” he said. “This is our moral duty as human beings.”

He added that solving the conflict in Syria will not solve the refugee crisis, mentioning the high number of people fleeing Somalia and Eritrea and those that will be forced to flee because of climate change.

Speaking at a Security Council meeting on Thursday convened by Russia on solving conflicts in the Middle East, Brazil’s minister for External Affairs, Mauro Vieira, said, “It should be noted that the common trait to all those situations is the international community’s failure in dealing with the underlying causes of conflicts.”

“As long as we disregard poverty and the fragility of national institutions as drivers of armed conflict, there will no lasting solution in sight,” he said.

Vieira added that military interventions have also undermined state institutions leading to their ultimate collapse. “We have seen time and again the harmful effects of bending the rules and invoking exceptional rights in order to justify military interventions.”

“Military interventions led only to weak national institutions, increased sectarianism, power vacuums and arms proliferation, paving the way for the rise of radical groups such as the Islamic State,” Vieria told the Council. “Those groups thrive in the absence of the State and benefit from the flow of weapons to non-State actors,” he said, and called on the Security Council to “learn from past mistakes.”

On the refugee crisis, he said that Brazil had given 7,700 visas to Syrians affected by the crisis, and that it will continue to host more, noting that Brazil is home to the largest Syrian diaspora in the world, estimated at some 4 million.

UN Guards Raise the Palestinian Flag at UNHQ on Sept. 30 (UN Photo)

UN Guards Raise the Palestinian Flag at UNHQ on Sept. 30 (UN Photo)

Also on Thursday the Palestinian flag was raised for the first time on UN grounds as a result of a Sept. 10th General Assembly resolution allowing the flags of non-member observer states to be flown at UN headquarters and other United Nations offices around the world.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the ceremony that, “The symbolism of raising your flag at the United Nations reflects the commitment of the Palestinian Authority to pursue the long-held dream of the Palestinian people for their own state.”

Ban added that, “We can be under no illusion that this ceremony represents the end goal.”

“Achieving Palestinian statehood requires decisive action to advance national unity,” he said, not least having a central governing authority for the West Bank and Gaza and peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The UN chief also noted the central role of the United Nations in resolving the Palestinian question, with Security Council and General Assembly resolutions on the issue dating back to 1947.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

UN General Assembly Debate – Day 2 Wrap

Petro Poroshenko addressing the UN General Assembly, Spet. 29, 2015 UN Photo)

Petro Poroshenko addressing the UN General Assembly, Sept. 29, 2015 UN Photo)

Sept. 29, 2015 – Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday responded to Vladimir Putin’s speech on Monday by telling delegates that, “Over the last few days we have heard conciliatory statements from the Russian side in which, in particular, it called for the establishment of anti-terrorist coalition, or warned of danger to flirt with terrorists.”

“Cool story, but really hard to believe,” Poroshenko continued. “How can you urge an anti-terrorist coalition – if you inspire terrorism right in front of your door? How can you talk about peace and legitimacy – if your policy is war via puppet governments? How can you speak of freedom for nations – if you punish your neighbor for his choice? How can you demand respect for all – if you don’t have respect for anyone?”

He added that Russia “shamefully” used its veto twice to block Security Council resolutions related to Ukraine, the first in March 2014 that would have condemned the Crimea referendum and, more recently, a resolution that called for establishing an international criminal investigation into the downing of Flight MH17.

Ukraine is set to join the Council as a non-permanent member for a two year term beginning in Jan. 1, 2016.

Speaking later on Tuesday, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his country, one of the top humanitarian donors to the UN system, would step up its funding for refugees and internally displaced people from Syria and Iraq. The funding would not only go to neighboring countries hosting the vast majority of refugees, but also to countries on Europe’s borders, particularly Serbia and Macedonia.

He also expressed frustration at the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament, noting that this year marked the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Abe called for continuing reductions in Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals, as well as all other countries that possess these weapons.

Also speaking on Tuesday was Liberia’s President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson who said progress towards gender equality was well behind schedule. She noted that only a few of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representatives were women, that only one woman had ever served as president of the General Assembly, and that there had never been a female secretary-general.

Johnson said the response to the Ebola crisis in her country, as well as in neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea, which she called the “greatest modern threat to global public health” showed that the promise of the United Nations works when we “find it within our humanity to respond even to unknown enemies to our collective progress” and she thanked Ban Ki-moon as well as other international organizations for mobilizing their response to fight Ebola.

At a side event on Tuesday, foreign ministers from Argentina, Benin, Fiji, Italy and Rwanda spoke for the need to work towards global abolition of the death penalty.

Also speaking was human rights high commissioner Zeid Hussein and US campaigner Sister Helen Prejean. Zeid noted that 82 percent of UN member states have either introduced a moratorium or have abolished the death penalty. In the past twelve months, Fiji, Madagascar, Suriname and the U.S. state of Nebraska have abolished the practice.

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Sister Helen, who had to leave the event early as she is actively campaigning for a stay on the execution in Oklahoma of Richard Glossip, who the U.S. state is set to execute tomorrow. She said after witnessing her first execution in Alabama, she vomited. She then decided that she needed to educate the American public about the cruelty of the death penalty. In the course of her campaigning she met many victims families – those whose killer was executed – and discovered that, for many, they are hidden victims of the death penalty. “Don’t kill for us,” she quoted victims families as saying. She called it revictimization.

Sister Helen noted the racial disparities among those on death row, saying that in the U.S. when a person of color is put to death it is negligible and that while there’s a perception that the US has the best justice system in the world, 150 people on death row have been exonerated, while others who have been innocent have been put to death.

At least 11 countries have applied the death penalty in 2015: Afghanistan, Chad, China, Indonesia, India, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and the United States.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

UN General Assembly Debate – Day 1 Wrap

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin at the leaders lunch hosted by Ban Ki-moon (UN Photo)

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin at a leaders lunch hosted by Ban Ki-moon on Monday (UN Photo)

Sept. 28, 2015 – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the 70th General Debate with a speech in which he called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court and said that five countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkey and the United States – are key to finding a solution to the conflict, now in its fifth year, and which has claimed more than 250,000 lives.

Three of those countries – the United States, Russia and Iran – spoke in the morning session with U.S. President Barack Obama telling delegates that the US is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to find a solution but there is ultimately no place for Bashar Al Assad in a future Syrian government. He called for a “managed transition away” from Assad who he held responsible for killing tens of thousands of his own citizens and creating the conditions that led to the emergence of ISIS, who he called “an apocalyptic cult.” Obama said military power alone is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria. Preempting criticism from Putin, he said the U.S. learned a “hard lesson” in Iraq and that after the 2011 intervention in Libya, U.S. and other NATO members did not do enough for the country after the killing of Muammar Gaddafi and this had contributed to the collapse of institutions there.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, making his first appearance at the UN in ten years, told the General Assembly that foreign interference in the Middle East and North Africa had lead to the “flagrant destruction of national institutions” and that “nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.” He said arming opposition forces in Syria only leads to more arms going to, and people joining, ISIS. Putin said it should “be acknowledged” that Assad forces and Kurdish militia are the only ones “truly fighting ISIS.” Russia has been supplying arms to Assad forces and recently moved military logistics equipment into Syria. Putin called for a coalition to fight terrorism “similar to the anti-Hitler coalition” and that the Sept. 30 ministerial Security Council meeting under the Russian presidency is aimed at agreeing on a resolution on coordinating actions on fighting ISIS and other terrorist groups.

Neither Obama nor Putin made any mention of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in their addresses. Nor did either mention the deteriorating situation in Yemen.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, began his speech by saying mismanagement by Saudi Arabia had led to last week’s Haj tragedy that left more than 800 pilgrims dead, including more than 200 Iranians. He called for an independent investigation and immediate consular access to help identify the bodies. Rouhani said the agreement reached with the E3+3 on Iran’s disputed nuclear program had opened up a “new chapter in Iran’s relations with the world.” He said his country is “prepared to assist in the eradication of terrorism and … are prepared to help bring about democracy in Syria and Yemen.” He blamed U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and its support for Israel, which he called the “Zionist regime,” for the current situation in the Middle East. He closed by declaring “ultimate victory will be won by those with good-natured piety.” Iran provides arms and financing for Hezbollah, which is currently fighting in Syria in support of Assad forces. Members of Iran’s Republican Guards are also fighting on Assad’s behalf in Syria. A recent UN Security Council report stated that an Iranian vessel had delivered 180 tons of arms to a Yemen port under Houthi control.

In the afternoon, Obama held a leaders summit on peacekeeping and said some 50 countries had pledged to contribute an additional 30,000 troops to current and future peace operations. He added that the US would double the number of military advisers serving in UN peacekeeping operations. In a separate memo, Obama said he would not relinquish command over any troops deployed to UN peace operations. The US currently has 78 personnel deployed in UN missions. The total number of current peacekeepers deployed in 16 missions is more than 106,000. The U.S. is the biggest financial contributor to peacekeeping operations – assessed at 28 percent of the more than $8 billion annual budget.

China’s President Xi Jingpin said his country would provide 8,000 troops to a UN peacekeeping standby force as well as providing $100 million to the African Union for peacekeeping operations. Beijing, which is the largest troop contributor among the permanent five members of the Security Council, will also take the lead in establishing a standing UN police force.

Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said his country – currently the fourth largest troop contributor with more than 7,500 Pakistanis deployed in blue-helmet operations – vowed continuing support for peacekeeping, including pledging additional utility helicopters, an infantry battalion, and a canine unit. He said UN peacekeeping should not be used for counter-terrorism operations.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the summit that troop contributing countries do not have a role in the decision-making process to form a peacekeeping operation. He also said troop contributing countries lack representation in senior management posts and as force commanders. India, which UN insiders say covets the top peacekeeping job currently held by France, is the third biggest troop contributor, and has served in 48 of 69 peacekeeping mission and lost 161 troops. Modi pledged an additional 850 troops for new operations as well as three police units. In closing, he called for reform of the Security Council to keep the UN relevant.

Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi spoke of his country’s contributions to peacekeeping, which includes heading the UN mission in Lebanon, a 10,000-strong force. He proposed establishing a peacekeeping unit that would be tasked with preserving cultural heritage.

Among the some 50 countries also speaking was the Netherlands. The country’s prime minister, Mark Rutte, announced that the current deployment of 450 Dutch troops with MINUSMA in Mali would be extended by one year. He also said the Netherlands, in conjunction with the U.S., is devising a training program for peacekeepers on protection of civilians. The country is still grappling with shame over the decision by its troops to handover Bosnian Muslims to Serb forces in 1995 when they were sheltering in a UN compound. A court in the Hague last year found the Netherlands liable for the deaths of 300 Bosnian Muslim men killed in the Srebrenica massacre.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz 

Pope Francis Calls for Ban on Nuclear Weapons, Says Deterrence an Affront to UN

Pope Francis addresses the seventieth session of the General Assembly.
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
@denisfitz

Related: NPT Conference Sparks Calls for New Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons

UN to Raise Holy See Flag on Morning of Pope Francis Visit

Pope_Francis_with_Cristina_Fernandez_de_Kirchner_7

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.

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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.

Flag poles in place for raising of Holy See and Palestine flags in front of UNHQ in New York.

Flag poles in place for raising of Holy See and Palestine flags in front of UNHQ in New York.

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.

Pope Paul Vi addressed the General  Assembly on Oct. 4, 1965

Pope Paul Vi addressed the General Assembly on Oct. 4, 1965

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.

Statement from Holy See mission to the UN

Statement from Holy See mission to the UN click to enlarge

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 
@denisfitz

 

As Obama Heads to General Assembly, US Debt to UN Balloons to $3 Billion

US President Barack Obama Addresses the General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2014

US President Barack Obama Addresses the General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2014

 

Sept. 14, 2015 – 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.

Information from the UN Budget Office on US debt to the United Nations

Information from the UN Budget Office on US debt to the United Nations (click to enlarge)

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

Related Story: US, UK, France Tops for UN Secretariat Staff

Understanding the Sustainable Development Goals: Five Key Questions

SDGs
Aug. 31, 2015 – Heads of state will gather at the United Nations from Sept. 25-27 to adopt a new set of development goals to replace the MDGs which expire at the end of the year.

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).

Many also criticize SDG goal 13 on climate for lacking specificity and clear indicators, instead pegging the SDG goal to the UNFCCC and upcoming Paris talks. But it’s a larger reflection of the global community and countries’ inability to agree on specific targets and indicators. Returning to the measurement question, on which I work most closely, there are serious concerns about the ability of governments to actually measure many of the goals concerning social equity, inclusivity, etc.

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.

AHI’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.

AH: I’ve written about the measurement question before, see here and here.

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

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Putin Coming to New York for UN General Assembly as Russia Presides Over UNSC

Screenshot 2015-08-30 at 4.11.25 AM
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