Late Djiboutian Envoy Roble Olhaye Remembered at General Assembly Tribute

Late Djiboutian Ambassador Roble Olhaye had served as his country's UN envoy since 1988.

Roble Olhaye had served as Djibouti’s UN envoy since 1988. (UN Photo)

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.”

Olhaye presents his credentials to then secretary-general avier Pérez de Cuéllar in 1988.

Olhaye presents his credentials to then secretary-general Javier Pérez de Cuéllar in 1988. (UN Photo)

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.

UN Urges Action on Prison Overcrowding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Ten Prison Populations Globally

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

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

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

Source: International Center for Prison Studies

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Russia Defeated on Same-Sex Benefits at UN

60th plenary meeting of the General Assembly 66th session:
March 24, 2015 Russia’s gambit on revoking Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s ruling that expanded employment benefits to same-sex married couples failed when put to a vote on Tuesday.

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.

Voting Record on L.9

Only Two of 15 Security Council Members Have Paid 2015 Dues

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Feb. 25, 2015 – New Zealand and France are the only two members of the Security Council to have paid their 2015 United Nations dues so far this year.

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:

Permanent Members:
Britain: $140 Million
China: $139 Million
Russia: $66 Million
United States: $654 Million

Non-Permanent Members:
Angola: $271,357
Chad: $54,271
Chile: $9 Million
Jordan: $596,984
Lithuania: $1.9 Million
Malaysia: $7.6 Million
Nigeria: $2.4 Million
Spain: $80 Million
Venezuela: $17 Million

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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

Rwanda and Yemen Among Eight Countries to Lose UNGA Voting Rights

60th plenary meeting of the General Assembly 66th session:
Jan. 26, 2015 – Rwanda and Yemen are among eight countries to have their General Assembly voting rights suspended over non-payment of dues.

These countries have fallen foul of Article 19 of the UN Charter, which states that countries will lose their UNGA vote if their “arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years.”

Rwanda completed a two-year stint on the Security Council on Dec. 31, 2014. It is the fifth biggest troop contributor to UN peacekeeping operations.

Minimum payments of $69,948 from Yemen and $7,636 from Rwanda are required to get their voting privileges back, according to a letter from Ban Ki-moon to the president of the General Assembly. Liberia is also listed in Ban’s letter but he has since informed the GA that Monrovia has made the necessary payment.

Macedonia is also among the countries currently without a General Assembly vote. It will have to make a minimum payment of $24,606.

In total, 12 countries are not in compliance with Article 19, but four of those, including Guinea-Bissau and Somalia, can still vote as the GA decided that inability to pay is beyond their control.

The eight countries currently without a vote in the General Assembly:

1. Yemen
2. Grenada
3. Kyrgyzstan
4. Marshall Islands
5. Rwanda
6. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
7. Tonga
8. Vanuatu

Rwanda has been assessed dues of $54, 271 for 2015 while Yemen’s dues are $271,357 for the year.

UPDATE Jan. 28: Following publication of this story, Rwanda has since made the necessary payment to restore its UNGA vote, a representative of the committee on contributions has informed UN Tribune.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Pope Francis’s Sept. UN Visit Will be Fourth by a Pontiff

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Jan. 21, 2015  – Pope Francis’s visit to the United Nations in September will be the fourth by a pontiff and comes fifty years after Paul VI became the first pope to address the UN General Assembly.

The Catholic News Agency reported on Sunday that Francis will visit the UN on September 25 and address the assembly.

Sept. 25 is also the opening day of the high-level summit on the post-2015 development agenda when world leaders will agree on goals to replace the MDGs.

The pope is likely to address poverty, the plight of refugees, the persecution of Christians, climate change and religious freedom in his speech before the 193-member assembly. It is not yet clear if he will address the post-2015 summit.

The Vatican, or Holy See as it is know diplomatically, is a non-member observer state of the United Nations, joining the organization in 1964.

The following year, Paul VI became the first pontiff to address the assembly where he called for an end to war. John Paul II visited the UN twice, in 1979 and 1995. In the latter visit he spoke of the growth of unhealthy forms of nationalism. Benedict XVI’s speech in 2008 praised the UN as a defender of human rights but said those rights come from God and no government or religion has a right to limit human rights.

The Vatican’s cachet in diplomatic circles has increased in recent weeks after the White House said that it was instrumental in bringing to a close the 40-year US embargo of Cuba. Pope Francis was the only world leader mentioned by US President Barack Obama in his state of the union address on Tuesday.

Francis will come to New York from DC where he will address a joint session of Congress. From New York, he will travel to Philadelphia.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

World Leaders to Make Their Debut at This Year’s UNGA

1st Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly 69th session
Sept. 17, 2014 – At least ten newly elected presidents and prime ministers will address this year’s General Assembly including three new female leaders.

As is tradition, Brazil will open the high-level segment and President Dilma Rousseff will address delegates for the fourth consecutive year when the session opens on Wednesday.

Also speaking on opening day is Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, who is no stranger to the United Nations having headed UN Women when it was founded in 2010. She left that post in 2013 to campaign for her country’s presidency and was elected in March this year. This is her second stint as Chile’s president. She previously served from 2006-10.

Bachelet is one of three women to take on the post of president or prime minister in the past year who will address the assembly. Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg is slated to speak on Friday while Central African Republic’s interim President Catherine Samba-Panza is up on Saturday.

Egypt’s President Adel Fattah el-Sisi will make his debut on Thursday as will Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko and Iraq’s Fuad Masum.

India’ nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks on Saturday and will deliver his speech in Hindi.

Other newly elected leaders making their bow are El Salvador’s President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, Costa Rica’s Luis Guillermo Solis, Guinea-Bissau’s Jose Mario Vaz and Lebanon’s Prime Minister Tammam Salman. Spain’s King Felipe is also speaking on the opening day. He assumed the throne in June.

The most recent list of speakers provided by the UN states that Afghanistan will be represented by its head of state but June’s runoff presidential election poll is still disputed and it’s not clear at this stage who will represent Kabul.

Besides Rousseff, Bachelet, Solberg and Samba-Panza, at least nine other female heads of state or government are set to address the assembly next week: Argentina’s President Christina Fernandez Kirchner, Liberia’s Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, Lithuania’s Dalia Grybauskaite, Malawi’s Joyce Banda, South Korea’s Park Geun-hye, as well as Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Denmark’s Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Jamaica’s Portia Simpson-Miller and Trinidad’s Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

US Nominates Climate Skeptic as Representative to UNGA

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Sept. 12, 2014 – A Wisconsin senator who argues the evidence that human behavior causes climate change is not convincing and who has likened climate activism to “environmental jihad” has been nominated as a US representative to the 69th UN General Assembly.

The announcement comes days before President Obama participates in Ban Ki-moon’s Sept. 23rd Climate Summit.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in 2013 sent a fundraising email to supporters attacking the League of Conservation voters, calling the group “one of the many attack dog groups used by President Obama, the Democrats and the extreme left to weaken, defeat and silence conservatives.”

“They are an extreme left group on an environmental jihad,” he wrote, according to a Huffington Post report.

Earlier this year, he sparred with climatologist James Hansen at a Senate Foreign Relations Hearing over the Keystone Pipeline. “The science is far from settled,” he said about climate change at the hearing.

The General Assembly is the United Nations’ main deliberative, policy-making and representative organ, with five representatives and five alternates from each of the 193 member nations. It meets in regular session from September to December each year, and periodically thereafter.

Johnson will continue to represent Wisconsin in the Senate and will assume his new duties next week when the 69th General Assembly opens, pending his confirmation.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

As Obama Heads to UN, US Yet to Pay 2014 Dues

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Sept. 10, 2014 – The United States owes the United Nations almost $1 billion in dues for 2013 and 2014 and is one of only two current Security Council members not to have paid in full this year.

The US is the biggest contributor to the UN’s regular budget and was assessed dues of $621 million for 2014, or 22 percent of the overall regular budget. The UN maintains a separate peacekeeping budget.

So far this year, the US has paid $83.8 million and its overall outstanding contributions (prior year and current year) for the regular budget is $921.3 million, according to information provided to UN Tribune by the United Nations Committee on Contributions.

While 115 of the 193 UN member states have paid their dues in full for 2014, the US is the only permanent member of the Council not to have done so and among all current 15 Council members, Chad is the only other member not to have paid in full, according to the Committee on Contributions Roll of Honor.

The United States government’s fiscal year begins on Oct. 1st and the US typically makes substantial payments to the UN in the fourth-quarter, though not nearly enough to clear its debt, but enough to prevent its inclusion on the Article 19 list which would result in losing its General Assembly vote.

Among the top five contributors to the UN budget, the US is also the only one not yet to have paid in full with Japan ($276 mln), Germany ($182 mln), France ($142 mln), and the UK ($132 mln) all paid up-to-date.

The US currently holds the rotating monthly presidency of the Security Council and President Obama has called a high-level Security Council meeting for Sept. 24th on threats to international peace and security from foreign terrorist fighters. So far, 13 heads of state or government from the 15 Security Council member states are slated to participate with China and Russia yet to confirm who will represent them at the meeting.

The last time Obama chaired a Security Council meeting was in Sept. 2009, then the meeting was on nuclear non-proliferation. China was represented by then president Hu Jintao while Russia’s PM Dimitry Medvedev represented Moscow. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was the only leader of a then Council member not to attend.

Obama is also participating in Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit on Sept. 23rd.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Wikimedia Commons

An Independent Scotland Not Likely to Face Difficulties Joining UN

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Feb. 11, 2013 – British Prime Minister David Cameron was correct when he said earlier on Monday that an independent Scotland will have to renegotiate its relationship with international bodies but secessionists need not worry about Edinburgh encountering problems joining the UN.

While Kosovo and Palestine see their path to full UN membership blocked in the Security Council by Russia and the United States respectively, there are several examples of newly-independent states getting admitted hassle-free as full United Nations member states.

South Sudan was admitted to the UN on July 9, 2012, a year after it broke from Khartoum. The Czech Republic and Slovakia were both admitted to the UN on Jan 19, 1993, nineteen days after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.

Several former Soviet states were also admitted in the early nineties including Central Asian countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan and Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The former Yugoslav states Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia all joined the UN in 1992 or 1993. Before then, Bangladesh was admitted shortly after its separation from Pakistan. An earlier example is the readmission of Syria after it broke from the then United Arab Republic.

Full membership of the United Nations requires a recommendation from the Security Council and a simple majority vote in the General Assembly.

Barring an unlikely veto from the UK, Edinburgh should not have a problem getting the Security Council’s recommendation and would be expected to easily secure General Assembly approval.

A more troubling scenario for Scotland is whether it would have to renegotiate the 14,000 international treaties the UK has signed.

Denis Fitzgerald