Ban Ki-Moon Launches Internal Probe on Gaza Conflict

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Nov. 10, 2014 – The findings of Ban Ki-moon’s board of inquiry on incidents involving UN personnel and premises during this summer’s Gaza conflict will likely never be made public.

Ban announced a five-member team on Monday to “investigate a number of specific incidents in which death or injuries occurred at, and/or damage was done to United Nations premises.  The Board will also review and investigate incidents in which weapons were found to be present on United Nations premises.”

A similar investigation was launched after Israel’s 2008 invasion of Gaza but the findings were never made public. Ban released a summary of the findings which was prepared with the assistance of an Israeli delegation.

UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told UN Tribune in an email that the board announced on Monday “will report to the Secretary-General and he will then consider what to do with the findings. As he did in 2009. the Secretary-General intends to make public a summary of the Board’s report.”

The internal board of inquiry announced on Monday, as with all such internal UN probes, will not make legal findings or consider questions of legal liability. Ban said in August that he expects accountability for innocent lives lost during the conflict. 

More than 500 Palestinian children were killed in this summer’s conflict and hundreds of others sustained life-altering injuries such as loss of limbs, blindness and severe scarring.

A total of more than 1,500 Palestinian civilians, including 306 women, as well as five Israelis were killed in the 50-day conflict.

Eleven staff members of the UN Relief and Works agency were killed while UN-operated schools came under attack on seven occasions resulting in 42 deaths. Rockets were also placed in UN schools by militants and these rockets later went missing.

Ban said he “expects that the Board will enjoy the full cooperation of all parties concerned.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

 

Secret Cables Reveal Intrigue and Inner Workings of UN

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Aug 13, 2014 – Ban Ki-moon was privately “sympathetic to Israel’s position” when it invaded Gaza in 2008 but knew that publicly he would be “forced to shore up his image in the Arab world” and on the diplomatic front he was “worried about the Europeans seizing the initiative at the expense of the US.”

Those revelations are in one of the diplomatic cables from the US mission to the United Nations released by Wikileaks. The tranche of cables begin just prior to Susan Rice becoming US envoy.

A number of the cables recount Rice’s introductory meetings with UN officials and fellow diplomats.

In her meeting with France’s then envoy, Maurice Ripert, she is told that Paris will always consult with the US before taking any initiative in the Security Council. He also tells her that reforming the Council has to be a priority and that the “U.S. calls for Security Council reform to be directly linked to the reform of other parts of the UN, had been perceived as a containment strategy.” On a separate matter, another cable reveals that France’s representative had “described as ‘almost harassment’ the frequency with which its Perm Rep’s chauffeur has been receiving tickets while picking up the Ambassador from his residence.” 

Returning to Security Council reform, in her meeting with Japan’s envoy, Yukio Takasu, Rice told him that the “Administration agrees the Council does not currently reflect global realities and needs to adapt for its own viability and legitimacy. She added that one change in this Administration is that there is no need to link Security Council reform directly to overall UN reform.”

Rice met with Israel’s then envoy, Gabriela Shalev, the same day, Jan, 30, 2009, and was told by Shalev, “speaking confidentially,” on the discussions leading up to the adoption of Resolution 1860 that called for a ceasefire and withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza “that the Israeli delegation’s experience was that the UK and France were not trustworthy and that the U.S. was a more helpful and honest friend of Israel.”

In other meetings, Rice reports that both the Austrian and Mexican delegations – both Council members in 2009 – lamented that Resolution 1860 failed to call for respect for International Humanitarian Law, which governs the conduct of war and grave breaches of its rules constitute war crimes that can be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. During a closed-door Council meeting with Ban Ki-moon, Austria’s representative “welcomed the Secretary-General’s statements on international humanitarian law but pressed the Secretary-General to be more explicit in his meetings on the need for its respect.”

Rice was told by then UN aid chief John Holmes that “the crossings into Gaza are a crucial matter…If dual-use goods like cement can’t get in (none has gotten in for the last 18 months), we’ll get nowhere, said Holmes. The United States needs to put pressure on Israel to open the crossings and especially to allow in building materials,” he told Rice.

Holmes later wrote a book about his time heading humanitarian operations for the UN in which he was critical of both the secretary-general and the Security Council.

In a Feb. ’09 meeting with then UNGA president Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, Rice was told by d’Escoto that he had been approached to act as a conduit for Hamas to key players and he said he had been provided with contact information by Ramsey Clark for Hamas sources in Jordan and Lebanon. D’Escoto “listened intently to the Ambassador’s arguments against that,” the cable states, with Rice “reminding d’Escoto that the UN is a member of the Quartet and has set pre-conditions for dealing with Hamas, and that the PGA is a representative of the UN.”

Libya’s UN ambassador Mohamed Shalgham, who defected in 2011, informed Rice in March ’09 that then leader Muammar Gaddafi would be attending that year’s UN General Debate and “also plans to visit Washington to meet with President Obama for one to two hours.” Rice responded “that, typically, the President would issue an invitation to a head of state, requesting a visit to Washington.”

A May 4, 2009 cable reveals US anxiety about a forthcoming UN Board of Inquiry report into death and damage to United Nations personnel and facilities in Gaza following Israel’s earlier bombardment. Rice spoke with Ban and she reported that “the Secretary-General said his staff was working with an Israeli delegation on the text of the cover letter” that would accompany Ban’s public summary of the 184-page report that has never been released. “Ambassador Rice asked the Secretary-General to be back in touch with her before the letter and summary are released to the Council.”

“Ambassador Rice spoke with the Secretary-General two additional times. In the second conversation, she underscored the importance of having a strong cover letter that made clear that no further action was needed and would close out this issue. Secretary-General Ban called her after the letter had been finalized to report that he believed they had arrived at a satisfactory cover letter.”

In a follow-up cable on possible outcomes from the Board of Inquiry, Rice stated that “we cannot be assured of blocking procedurally a Council discussion but can block any product (either by withholding consensus on a PRST or Press statement, or vetoing a resolution).” She said the US was unlikely to get the support it needed from six of the 15 Council members to block a discussion.

In a later cable, Rice reports that the Council had come to an agreement that Ban should maintain the lead on any follow-up action on the report which found the Israeli government responsible for the deaths, injuries, and physical damage that occurred in seven of the nine cases it examined.

Israel later paid compensation to the UN for damage to its property but there was no compensation for the victims. The UN said the the financial issues relating to the attacks examined by the investigation were “concluded” and there was no criminal investigation into the deaths of UN employees.

On Tuesday, Ban, speaking about Israel’s current invasion of Gaza, told reporters that “Israel’s duty to protect its citizens from rocket attacks by Hamas and other threats is beyond question.”

“At the same time, the fighting has raised serious questions about Israel’s respect for the principles of distinction and proportionality. Reports of militant activity does not justify jeopardizing the lives and safety of many thousands of innocent civilians.”

“I have called for an investigation into the repeated shelling of UN facilities harboring civilians,” Ban said, though an investigation has yet to be launched.

“I expect accountability for the innocent lives lost and the damage incurred,” he said.

The coming weeks and months will tell if Ban intends to follow through on his call for accountability.

- 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