How UN Negotiations on Yemen Exclude the South and Why That Must Change

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, briefs the Security Council

 

May 31, 2017 – The article below begins with an introduction from Nadwa al-Dawsari, an independent consultant and researcher, who contextualizes the Southern Question in Yemen’s current crisis. It is followed by an article from Ahmed Omer Ben Fareed, a prominent voice in the Southern movement, explaining the importance of addressing the Southern Question in UN negotiations aimed at resolving the Yemen conflict, which began in 2014:


In mid-March 2015, when former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Houthi forces pushed into Aden and wreaked havoc on its infrastructure and homes, it wasn’t the first time the city, once the capital of South Yemen, was invaded by Northern forces. Aden, which became the temporary capital of Yemen after President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi was forced out of Sanaa’ by Houthi forces in 2015, was first invaded in 1994 when Saleh, then president, and his Northern allies mobilized forces under the banner “unity or death” to prevent a secession attempt by Southern leaders. 

Four years earlier, in 1990, South Yemen had voluntarily unified with North Yemen. The unification was done hastily and the countries’ two militaries were never integrated. With only 20% of the population, South Yemen soon lost much of its political power to the Northern elite. Tensions built up and civil war broke out in April 1994. By July of that year, Saleh’s force had invaded and wrested full control of Aden, defeating the Southern resistance.

In 2007, the Southern Movement, known as Hirak, started organizing peaceful protests demanding reforms. As protests were met with excessive force and Southerners lost hope in being treated equally, their demands escalated to calls for secession. 

As Saleh entered Aden under vastly different circumstances in 2015, many civilians picked up arms and fought back, pushing Houthi forces out of the South and creating a new reality — one that the international community has chosen to overlook.

The entire South is currently controlled by Southerners and they plan to determine their own fate this time around. In the article below, Ahmed Omer Ben Fareed, a prominent Southern Hirak leader, who was jailed, tortured, and forced into exile by the Saleh regime in 2009, explains why it is imperative the South’s demands are addressed in any future plans for Yemen. The text has been translated from the original Arabic.

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Through its two special envoys to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, who served between 2011 and 2015, and Ismail Ould Chiekh Ahmed, who took over for Benomar, the United Nations, which has been leading efforts to resolve the current Yemeni crisis, continues to completely ignore one very critical element of the conflict: the Southern issue. The UN’s failure to effectively recognize the genuine grievances and fair demands of the Southern Movement (Hirak) will hamper its efforts to resolve the civil war, which recently marked its second year.

Ever since unification with the North, Southerners have felt marginalized and disadvantaged by the central government. The Southern issue, as it stands today, represents the rights and legitimate political, economic, and social demands of Southerners to reclaim their State.

Southern factions have expressed their belief in dialogue as a means to resolve political differences, no matter how difficult or complex these divergences may be. We have made clear our willingness to enter negotiations with Northerners under the auspices of regional and international bodies, in order to find a permanent solution to the Southern issue, provided these negotiations occur without pre-imposed conditions.

But UN-supported processes, including the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), a transitional dialogue held in Sana’a from March 2013 to January 2014 following Saleh’s forced resignation as president, have all been designed to marginalize Southerners, or at least to refrain from recognizing them as equal to Northerners.

The NDC’s decision-making mechanism was, for example, developed in a way that would leave Southerners at a disadvantage. As a result, during the NDC process, protests in the South only increased, as millions of Southerners rallied in Aden to demand secession. The vast majority of Southern political forces determined that these conditions made negotiations unworkable, and, so, most Southern factions officially refused to participate in the NDC.

The one faction that did participate, eventually withdrew. Trying to prevent a total Southern withdrawal, Benomar and the NDC approached a few members of this faction and convinced them to participate; these few individuals were, then, treated as representatives of the entire South, a move that contradicted the basic principles of dialogue and disrespected the will of the people of the South.

After the Saudi-led coalition pushed the Houthis and Saleh out of the South in July 2015, UN peace talks were mainly held between two parties, President Hadi’s government and the Saleh/Houthis coalition. Southerners remained excluded from the negotiations, even though they controlled the area of the former state of South Yemen. An important fact many do not understand is that when Southerners fought during the current war against pro-Saleh forces and the Houthi rebels, they fought under the South Yemen flag and not to support Hadi’s government.

The parties currently represented in UN talks have no control or influence over any part of the South. In his speech at the opening ceremony for the recent round of peace negotiations in Kuwait, UN envoy Ould Chiekh Ahmed mentioned the Southern issue as one that had to be resolved with participation from Southern leaders. Yet, the talks continued without any Southern leaders invited to participate.

Most recently, on May 4, 2017, a exiled President Hadi dismissed the governor of Aden, popular Hirak leader Aidarous al-Zubaidi, from his post, creating backlash and leading to mass demonstrations protesting his removal and calling for secession. A week later, on May 11, al-Zubaidi announced the formation of a transitional political council to govern South Yemen.

Even before this incident, various Southern parties had repeatedly made clear they would not accept any negotiated agreement they did not participate in and will not allow any other party to control their land. Southerners are keen to engage in the current negotiations, but, in order for that to happen, the UN must provide conditions for their participation.

This article was originally published in Muftah and has been republished here with permission. Copyright Muftah.org 

Interview with Malaysia’s Ambassador to the United Nations

Dato’ Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob presents his credentials to Antonio Guterres

 

May 23, 2017 – Javier Delgado Rivera sat down in New York with Malaysia´s Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Dato’ Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob. Among other issues, they talked about Kuala Lumpur’s role in the United Nations Security Council during its 2015-16 membership as well as the Council’s controversial resolution on Palestine last December; Malaysia’s sizable involvement in peacekeeping operations around the word; and the country’s coordination with the U.N. in the aftermath of the assassination of the North Korean leader’s half-brother in Kuala Lumpur.

During 2015-2016 Malaysia served a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) – the world’s top diplomatic body. What was Malaysia’s top achievement?

There were several accomplishments that I could highlight, but if I have to single out one I would pick the historic UNSC Resolution 2334 (2016) of last December, where we played a leading role towards its adoption. The resolution called for Israel to stop the illegal construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. It was the first time in 36 years that the Council issued such a warning on Israeli settlements and we were behind this significant success. The last attempt by the Council to adopt such a resolution was vetoed by the U.S. back in 2011.   

Just before the adoption of that resolution, your predecessor, Ambassador Ramlan Ibrahim, stated thatfor far too long, the Council has been in a state of inaction when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” What should the UNSC be doing to help settle the situation in Palestine after more than half a century of clashes and tensions? Is there any scope for that to happen now with a Trump’s administration in the U.S. much more supportive of Israel than the Obama’s ever was?  

A political deal should be reached based on the two-state solution where Israel and Palestine live side by side, along the lines of the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is not only our focus but the one of the majority of U.N. member states. Together with them, we will continue to assess current and future actions taken by the new U.S. administration in our collective efforts to find amicable solutions to the conflicts of the Middle East.

Currently Malaysia contributes 891 personnel to U.N. peacekeeping operations across 7 missions – with 825 alone stationed in the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Since Malaysia began sending blue helmets in 1960, the country has suffered 29 fatalities in 13 missions. What do Malaysians gain from getting involved in U.N. peacekeeping missions?

Supporting the U.N.’s goal of maintaining international peace and security is a fundamental responsibility of all its member states. As a small country, Malaysia believes that one of the areas where we can make a substantive contribution to conflict resolution and nation building in the world’s most trouble spots is through peacekeeping initiatives. As you point out, we have suffered 29 fatalities, although actually only one of our soldiers was killed in action, specifically during the 1993 Bakara market incident in Somalia [an incident which had been made into a Hollywood film, the Black Hawk Down]. The remaining 28 died in unfortunate circumstances, like road accidents. The sacrifices made by our soldiers and police personnel will not be forgotten. In fact, they further strengthen Malaysia’s resolve to support future U.N. peacekeeping efforts around the world.

Tan Sri Dr. Ramon Navaratnam, a prominent Malaysian economist, recently wrote that Malaysia could be the first country in the world to fully implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – or Global Goals, a UN-spearheaded initiative launched in 2016 to end poverty and hunger and lift the living standards of the world’s most vulnerable people by 2030. Yet according to UNESCO, 4 out of 10 Malaysians are in the lowest income bracket. Are you as optimistic as Dr. Navaratnam?

I am very optimistic about Malaysia’s ability to achieve the 17 Global Goals. Remember that in the framework of the Millennium Development Goals (the SDGs precursor), our government did a remarkable job in raising the living standards of millions of Malaysians by breaking the circle of exclusion and destitution in which they were trapped for generations.

As the U.N. highlighted in its 2015 Malaysia’s Millennium Development Goals Report, poverty incidence has already been halved in all Malaysian states and their poverty rate (population living with less than US$ 1 per day) is today less than 1% – except for the state of Sabah and Labuan Federal Territory.

The Malaysian government, through its Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), is decidedly committed to ensuring equitable opportunities for all with a focus on the bottom 40% of the country’s households. For this to happen, the government will launch initiatives centered on productivity assistance, entrepreneurship and skills training, as well as technology adoption and investment in connectivity, to name just a few targets.

Representatives of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have warned that without effective collaboration among ASEAN partners, terrorism in Southeast Asia will thrive, noting that as the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) continues to lose territorial control in the Middle East, its fighters will disperse and move back to their countries of origin – it is reckoned that they are more than 1,000 IS militants from Southeast Asia fighting in the Middle East. Do these U.N. officials have a point?

They do, although this problem does not affect every ASEAN state in the same way. In fact, ASEAN has the mechanisms in place to address the question of IS returnees and its members are already addressing security issues and concerns linked to this phenomenon, such as human trafficking, counter-terrorism and drugs. This also includes cooperation and arrangements in information sharing among the organization’s ten member states.

In Malaysia we have foiled several terrorist attempts carried out by IS sympathizers. In only one instance extremists were able to inflict some damage, when in June 2016 a hand grenade was thrown at a night club at the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur injuring eight people. This highlights that the threat is real and therefore, we must remain vigilant.

A few weeks ago, Malaysian Foreign Minister said that Kuala Lumpur does not acknowledge Beijing’s “nine-dash line” expansive claim over territories in the South China Sea. Have you actually talked about this with your Chinese counterpart?

I have not discussed this issue with my Chinese colleague here in New York. We focus our work around issues on the U.N. agenda.

In late February, the UK Ambassador to the U.N. urged Malaysia to share evidence with the U.N.’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Security Council about the gas used in the attack that killed a half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un in Kuala Lumpur’s international airport on February 13. Has this already happened?

At that point of time it was too early for us to share the information as investigations were still ongoing. We have now identified the gas used in this assassination as VX, a powerful nerve agent classified by the U.N. as a weapon of mass destruction. We are now working closely with the OPCW to address a host of questions around this incident, such as how the gas was brought in or whether there could be any stockpiles in the country or the region.

Last month Malaysia decided to ask the U.N.’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) to review a 2008 ruling on Singapore’s ownership of the small island of Pedra Banca (Pulau Batu Puteh by Malaysia). Why this is happening now?

We have the right to do so. Article 61 of the ICJ Statute allows for the resumption of a claim if it is brought within six months of the discovery of the new evidence or facts, and within 10 years of the date of the judgment. We have recently found new evidence to strengthen our arguments, so we are requesting the ICJ to review this case.

Javier Delgado Rivera is a freelance journalist covering the United Nations and is the editor of The UN Times @TheUNTimes. He is on Twitter @JavichuDR

Trump Could Chair UN Security Council Meeting in April

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January 4, 2017 –  Donald Trump will have the opportunity to chair a UN Security Council meeting as early as April this year when Washington takes the reins of the 15-nation body.

The Council’s presidency rotates alphabetically among its 15 members and the U.S. did not preside over the Council at all during 2016, having last held the gavel in Dec. 2015.

During each country’s presidency, a high-level meeting is held which is typically chaired by the country’s foreign minister or president.

Barack Obama twice presided over the Security Council, in Sept. 2009 when he chaired a meeting on nuclear disarmament, becoming the first U.S. president to chair a Council meeting, and in Sept. 2014, when the Council passed a resolution on foreign terrorist fighters.

Trump berated the UN last week, calling it “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

“There is such tremendous potential, but it is not living up,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. “When do you see the United Nations solving problems? They don’t. They cause problems.”

“So, if it lives up to the potential, it’s a great thing,” Trump added. “And if it doesn’t, it’s a waste of time and money.”

Of course, Trump may decide to send a signal to the UN by either not attending the high-level meeting in April or by not sending his secretary of state – Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson is the nominee.

During George W. Bush’s presidency, Bush himself never presided over a Council meeting when the US was chair, nor did he ever send his secretary of state. The only time a secretary of state attended during Bush’s presidency was when Colin Powell addressed the 15-nation body in Feb. 2003 to deliver what turned out to be faulty evidence to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Trump’s nominee for UN ambassador, NIkki Haley, is expected to be confirmed in the next few weeks and will assume duties after Jan. 20.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Russia to Run DPA, US Seeks to Rule Management Department Under Guterres

First Phase Digital
November 17, 2016 – Russia will run the Dept. of Political Affairs under incoming secretary-general Antonio Guterres while the United States is said to seek control of the Dept. of Management where it will attempt to rein in a bloated bureaucracy and cut waste, knowledgeable insiders have told UN Tribune.

While peacekeeping is seen as the face of the United Nations to the outside world, inside the UN, the Dept. of Political Affairs has quietly gained influence and in the future is viewed as the most important division in the United Nations system. Going forward, the thinking is that the greater impact DPA has in its preventive diplomacy and mediation, conflict prevention, electoral assistance, and peacebuilding mandates then the less need there will be for peacekeeping.

This fits with the overarching emphasis the United Nations has placed on resilience, with the aim to build stronger systems and societies and to prevent fragile states from falling back into conflict.

Control over the Dept. of Political Affairs will also give Russia much greater leverage inside the Security Council as the Council’s agenda is increasingly set by DPA. “It’s DPA that pitches up to the Security Council,” is how one insider put it to UN Tribune.

The US currently controls DPA where former State. Dept. official Jeffrey Feltman is the current undersecretary-general. What has not been said is whether Russia will be getting DPA because of its decision to support Guterres. The permanent five members of the Council divvy up the top UN positions among themselves and it is not unlikely that if Russia does get to run DPA, it will part of a secret P5 deal to get Moscow’s support for Guterres.

That the United States is seeking the Dept. of Management, currently run by Japanese diplomat Yuki Takasu, makes perfect sense, even more so in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the recent US presidential election. The US Congress has long griped that US taxpayers money going to support UN programs and agencies is wasted. Staff costs account for some two-thirds of the budget of UN agencies and these same agencies often have overlapping mandates.

The US provides 22 percent to the UN’s regular budget, a contribution of about $600 million, while it provides 28 percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget, some $2.4 billion of the almost $9 billion budget for blue helmet operations. In addition, Washington contributes to the budgets of about 20 other UN agencies and programs including WHO, IAEA, UNDP, UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNHCR. It is also the top contributor to UN aid appeals.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

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Antonio Guterres Recommended as Next UN Secretary-General

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Oct. 6, 2016 – The Security Council on Thursday made a recommendation to the General Assembly to appoint Antonio Manuel de Oliveira Guterres as the next and ninth UN secretary-general.

The move came after Wednesday’s sixth straw ballot which saw Guterres, 67, emerge as the clear winner with no opposition among the 15 Council members. He will take office on January 1 after a formal vote by the General Assembly.

Guterres will be the first former prime minister to take the helm at the United Nations having headed Portugal’s government from 1995-2002 as leader of the Socialist party. From 2005-2015 he was head of the UN refugee agency, winning wide praise for his stewardship during the agency’s biggest refugee crisis.

Guterres will also be the first UN secretary-general from a NATO-member country. Portugal was a founding member of the alliance.

Although he led all straw ballots, his victory will be regarded by many as a surprise given the widely held view that it was time for a woman to lead the organization after eight successive male secretaries-general. It was also expected that the next UN chief should hail from Eastern Europe, the only region never to have held the post.

Guterres qualified as an electrical engineer in 1971 but soon became involved in politics and was involved in Catholic youth movements. A committed Catholic to this day, he recently cited the Biblical “parable of the talents” [Matthew:25] as the reason why he entered the race for the UN’s top job. He cited the same parable in a 2005 interview with the Migration Policy Institute.

During interviews with the General Assembly in April, Guterres mooted introducing a Global Tax to fund humanitarian efforts, telling delegates that the UN and international financial organizations need to find ways for humanitarian efforts to be “funded by global funding sources,” such as fees on plane tickets and financial transactions.

In his lengthy vision statement submitted to the UN General Assembly back in April, Guterres called for a surge in diplomacy as a preventive tool, greater accountability in the UN system, and gender parity in senior posts.

While there is little doubt that he has the experience and leadership qualities needed to guide the UN as it confronts multiple crises, some views he held as prime minister will cause unease at Turtle Bay and beyond.

In a 1995 interview with Portuguese television, he said that “homosexuality is not an aspect I particularly like.” He was not questioned about his current views on sexual orientation during the General Assembly hearings and his views may have evolved in the twenty years since. Ban Ki-moon has been widely hailed for consistently speaking out against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Guterres too was opposed to legalizing abortion during his term as prime minister, campaigning actively in a referendum that successfully overturned a parliamentary vote that legalized the procedure. He was also reportedly in favor of a law that sent women who had an abortion to prison.

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon on Thursday, Guterres expressed his ‘gratitude and humility.’

“To describe what I’m feeling at this moment, I just need two words: humility and gratitude,” he said. “Gratitude firstly towards the members of the Security Council for the confidence in me, but also gratitude towards the General Assembly of the United Nations and all its member states for having decided in an exemplary process of transparency and openness.”

– Denis Fitzgeald
On Twitter @denisfitz

 

Race for Next SG Enters Crucial Week

Kristalina Georgieva is the latest entrant into the race for next secretary-general

Kristalina Georgieva is the latest entrant into the race for next secretary-general

Oct. 3, 2016 – Wednesday’s Security Council straw poll for selecting the next secretary-general will be the first to use color-coded ballots, showing whether a candidate has received a discourage vote from a veto-wielding member.

All of the candidates have at least two discourage votes in the previous ballots with front-runner Antonio Guterres receiving two in the Sept. 29 poll – Russia is suspected to be behind one of the discourage votes though Moscow has predictably been coy on its preference, only stating in the past that an Eastern European woman should get the nod, and Guterres satisfies nether of these criteria.

Kristalina Georgieva is the latest entrant into the race and appeared before the General Assembly Monday to take questions. While she satisfies both of Russia’s criteria, that she is an official of the European Commission that has imposed sanctions on Russia makes it unlikely she will get Moscow’s support. That is unless a secret deal is struck which would involve the lifting of EU sanctions on Russia and guaranteeing it a top post in the UN Secretariat, with Foreign Policy reporting Sunday that Moscow wants to head up the dept. of political affairs, currently a U.S.-held post.

The Council remains deeply divided with regards to Syria and last week’s interventions by the U.S. and the UK when they accused Russia of war crimes and barbarism over its actions in Aleppo will have repercussions, and this could impact the selection of the next secretary-general. Russia holds the rotating presidency for October and it appears an increasing likelihood that the Council will not settle on a candidate this month, and that may well mean Ban Ki-moon extending his term until into 2017. There is noting in the UN Charter preventing this happening.

The failure of the Security Council to act on Syria has damaged not just the Council but the United Nations as a whole and the Syrian people have paid dearly for this. Russia and the U.S., along with Germany and the other permanent members of the Security Council, have worked together over the past decade in negotiating a deal with Iran to halt Tehran’s quest for an atomic weapon. That deal was finalized in June last year but it appears that, among other calculations, the Obama administration was not willing to risk the deal falling through by taking action on Syria.

At this stage there’s still a slim chance that the Council’s permanent members will settle on a candidate to replace Ban but Wednesday’s straw poll is really the determiner and the ball is in Moscow’s court.

– Denis FItzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Obama at the UN: Unfulfilled Promise

U.S. President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toast at a leaders lunch on Sept. 20, 2016 (UN Photo).

U.S. President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toast at a leaders lunch on Sept. 20, 2016 (UN Photo).

Sept. 20, 2016 –  U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday for the eight and final time, delivering a lackluster speech, noticeable mostly for the sparsity of applause lines – in stark contrast to his 2009 maiden speech.

That speech seven years ago was constantly interrupted by applause and cheers for the newly-elected U.S. president who promised to herald in a new era of U.S. engagement with the world, music to the ears of UN diplomats and secretariat officials after eight years of George W. Bush and five years after his disastrous decision to invade Iraq without a Security Council resolution.

Obama told delegates in 2009 that he would close Guantanamo, responsibly end the Iraq war, work on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and take action on climate change.

One the latter two, he has shown commitment and desire. The Iran deal, while far from perfect, appears to have, at least temporarily, halted Tehran’s quest for an atomic weapon. The U.S still remains a non-signatory to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, one of nine countries preventing it from going into force.

On climate change, Obama’s rhetoric has been strong but his actions less so. Much is made of the Paris Agreement, but it is just that, a non-binding agreement that lacks the force of a treaty.

The Guantanamo Bay detention facility remains open, albeit with less that 100 detainees. Nevertheless, it remains open and some detainees have spent more than a dozen years there without charge or trial – in fact, Guantanamo has been open for longer under Obama than under Bush.

The U.S. officially withdrew from Iraq in 2011 but has been re-involved there since 2014 supporting the Iraqi government’s fight against ISIS. Despite the different nature of the operation, many aspects of the 2003-11 Iraq war remain, including an insurgency and armed sectarian conflict. The decision to hastily withdraw from Iraq in 2011 has drawn criticism that it left a security void that was exploited by ISIS.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Obama called for a Palestinian state during his 2010 UN address but a year later vowed to veto a statehood bid by the Palestinians at the UN.

Where Obama has taken decisive action, such as in Libya, the outcome has been mayhem. Mandated to protect Libyan civilians using all means necessary, the US along with Arab and European allies ousted Gaddafi but failed to plan for the aftermath. The country now has two competing parliaments while another group controls the ports from where Libya exports its oil. The chaos also allowed ISIS gain a foothold in the country and it has become a major transit route for migrants seeking to make the dangerous crossing into Europe.

From the beginning of the Syria conflict in 2011, Obama insisted that Assad must step down and in 2012 he said that if Syria used chemical weapons that would cross a “red line.” Five years later Assad remains in power and continues to use chemical weapons against Syrian citizens.

While there were no easy options for resolving the Syria conflict, some countries at the UN, friendly to the US, suggest that the insistence by the US, along with France and the UK, that Assad step down prevented a solution, albeit an imperfect one, given Russia’s stance that Assad’s fate should be decided by a national poll. The more cynical inside the UN, say that the US, along with France and the UK, always knew that insisting Assad step down was never going to be viable and the status quo would continue – while giving the appearance that the Western powers were on the side of the Syrian people.

The U.S. also championed the cause of South Sudan independence, which was achieved in 2011. Yet, the breakup of Sudan has seen the misery continue for the South Sudanese people, with an estimated more than 50,000 killed in the past five years. Despite that many of the killings can be attributed to government forces, the U.S. remains opposed to an arms embargo on the country.

On the global refugee crisis, the U.S. president has been strong on rhetoric but short on action. A mere 10,000 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the U.S., which is less than the 13,000 admitted by Singapore and far less than the 600,000 admitted to Germany.

The partisanship and gridlock that characterize U.S. domestic politics are responsible for some of Obama’s failures, particularly on closing Guantanamo, ratifying the CTBT, the Disabilities Convention, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. But that aside, despite his charisma and likability, Obama has lacked leadership and decisiveness in confronting global challenges in what is still a U.S.-led world order.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Doubts Raised Over Georgieva’s Qualifications for Secretary-General

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Sept. 15, 2016 – Speculation continues to mount that Kristalina Georgieva, a Bulgarian who is the current EU budget commissioner, will be nominated for the post of UN secretary-general by a grouping of countries including Croatia and Hungary.

Her compatriot, Irina Bokova, the current UNESCO director-general, was Sofia’s choice, but Bokova’s results, in the four straw polls to date, show her with an average of five discourage votes, and that she is regarded as Russia’s preferred candidate is not likely to see her curry favor with veto-wielding Britain, France and the U.S.

Before the race for next SG got started in earnest, the widely-held view inside the UN was that Ban Ki-moon’s successor should be a woman – the first in the UN’s history, and that she should hail from Eastern Europe, the only UN regional group not to have held the post.

Results from fourth straw poll

Despite her laudable background, including a career with the World Bank and two EU commissioner posts – prior to her current assignment she was the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, Georgieva is seen as lacking both UN and diplomatic experience.

Of the ten current candidates, all have either held, or currently hold, positions inside the UN or have served as their country’s foreign minister – with a few having done both, while Helen Clark and Antonio Guterres both served as their country’s prime minister before their senior UN appointments.

Next week’s high-level segment of the General Assembly is expected to include high-level talks on the margins about charting a way forward in finding a successor to Ban, and if Georgieva is to be nominated then it seems that would have to happen next week at the latest. Some Security Council members have indicated that it is already to late for a new entry to the race.

Whatever the outcome from talks next week, one thing is for sure – the race is far from over.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Italy, Sweden and Netherlands Vie for Two Available Security Council Seats

UN-Sicherheitsrat_-_UN_Security_Council_-_New_York_City_-_2014_01_06 May 23, 2016 – Elections for five non-permanent members of the Security Council take place next month with contested races in three of the five UN regional groups. Bolivia is running uncontested to replace Venezuela for the one available seat for Latin America.

The elections are taking place four months earlier than normal to give new members additional time to prepare for the ever increasing Security Council workload. The five new members will join the Council on Jan. 1 2017 for a two-year term. The Eastern Europe seat, currently held by Ukraine, is not up for election this year.

The most talked about race inside the UN is for the Western Europe and Others Group where EU members Italy, Netherlands and Sweden will battle it out for two available seats.

Candidate countries must secure the votes of 129 member states to secure a seat on the Council and it looks, at this stage, that Sweden will take one of the two seats being made vacant by New Zealand and Spain, with guaranteed support from fellow Nordic as well as Baltic states.

Sweden has served on the Council three times previously, most recently in 2000 and is one of the top aid donors to the UN, contributing $356 million so far this year, far more than either the Netherlands ($94M) and Italy ($16M).

The battle would then seem to be between Italy and the Netherlands. Rome is the biggest EU troop contributor to UN peacekeeping with more than 1,000 troops currently deployed and it is also at the fore of dealing with the migrant crisis with the country often the first intended destination for migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean. It last served on the Council in 2008.

The Dutch angered permanent Security Council member the United States back in September when they refused a request to resettle two Guantanamo Bay inmates and this may hinder their bid for a seat. While the US only has one vote out of 193, its influence is much bigger than that particularly among states that are beneficiaries of US aid.

The Netherlands are well served by their foreign minister, Bert Koenders, who until his appointment with the Dutch government was head of the UN mission in Mali, where Dutch troops are also serving.

For their part, the Dutch are keen to stress that the Kingdom of the Netherlands constitutes four distinct countries, including the Caribbean islands of Saint Marten, Curacao and Aruba. Their hope is that the 40 or so small island states will lend their support to Amsterdam with the promise that their voices will be heard on the Security Council.

In the Asia-Pacific group, Thailand and Kazakhstan are in a race for the seat being made vacant by Malaysia. No former Soviet country from Central Asia has served on the Council. Kazakhstan voluntarily renounced its nuclear arsenal, then the world’s fourth largest, when it became independent in 1991 and it was a key driver of Central Asia becoming a nuclear-weapons-free-zone. It would appear to have the edge on Thailand in the race for a seat.

Thailand is currently ruled by a military junta after a 2014 coup and scheduled elections since have been repeatedly postponed.

Kenya and Ethiopia are both seeking the African seat currently held by Angola. Both countries are home to a large UN presence with the UN Environmental Program and UN Habitat headquartered in Nairobi. Kenya is also home to the Dadaab refugee camp complex, where almost 350,000 refugees live. The Kenyan government announced earlier this month its intention to shut down the camp, a move Ban Ki-moon said could have “potentially devastating consequences.”

Ethiopia is host to one of the largest UN country teams in the world – 27 UN programs and agencies have resident offices there.

That Kenya’s president and deputy president were both subject to indictments from the International Criminal Court and given Nairobi’s vocal campaign against the ICC, there’s speculation that it would use its seat on the UNSC to rail against the ICC. Advantage Ethiopia in this race.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Related: How Much is a UN Security Council Seat Worth and Which Countries Get Elected?

Still Seven Candidates for Next UN Secretary-General Three Weeks Before Selection Process Begins

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From top (l to r) Antonio Guterres (Portugal) Danilo Turk (Slovenia) Natalia Gherman (Moldova) Irinia Bokova (Bulgaria) Srgian Kerim (Macedonia) Igor Luksic (Montenegro) Vesna Pusic (Croatia)


March 21, 2016 – The month of March has so far seen no new candidate announcements in the race to succeed Ban Ki-moon and become ninth secretary-general of the United Nations.

Portugal’s Antonio Guterres, most recently UN high commissioner for refugees, was put forward by his government on February 29, becoming the seventh candidate and the only one from outside the Eastern Europe regional group, which remains the only group to never hold the post.

While Guterres is well-regarded, it surprised many UN watchers that the Western Group put forward a candidate as it has had three previous secretaries-general, albeit the most recent, Kurt Waldheim, finished his second term in 1981. Nevertheless, promoting a fourth Western UN chief, when no other group has had more than two, looked insensitive to the overall UN composition.

Of the seven declared, three are women and in what may be another first, there is a strong desire among the general UN membership that after eight men at the helm, it’s past time for a woman to hold the post.

Only three of the declared candidates, Macedonia’s Srgian Kerim, Montenegro’s Igor Luksic and Moldova’s Natalia Gherman are from a non-NATO country, and, if the past is any indication, this could augur well for their bids – but worth noting that Macedonia and Montenegro are both aspiring NATO members, with Podgorica already in accession talks.

Of the three previous European secretaries-general, only one – the first ever secretary-general, Trygve Lie, was from a NATO member state – Norway was a founding member of the alliance in 1949, but this was three years after Lie assumed his post. In the case of Dag Hammarskjold and Kurt Waldheim, neither Sweden nor Austria have ever been NATO members.

Promoting a NATO-member candidate may well force a Russian and, perhaps, a Chinese veto, while Russia may also balk at supporting an EU candidate – and the four NATO member states with candidates are also EU members (Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal and Slovenia).

The first set of interviews with candidates are set for April 12-14 when UN member states will have the opportunity to meet and question each of the seven.

To the credit of civil society and UN General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft, the process to select the next secretary-general, at this stage, appears to be approaching a broader basis, and less like a backroom deal among the P5.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Related:

Race For Next UN Secretary-General Taking Shape

Natalia Gherman: Could Moldova’s Foreign Minister Be The Next UN Secretary-General?

Women Still a Minority in Ban Ki-moon’s Cabinet