UN Unable to Reach 420,000 Besieged in Syria

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OCHA map of besieged areas in Syria. Click for larger image.

April 22, 2015 – United Nations aid agencies delivered food to only 18,200 people in besieged areas of Syria last month while health assistance reached a mere 1,198, according to new report from Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council.

Ban wrote that 440,000 people remain besieged in Syria including 167,500 by government forces in eastern Ghouta and Darayya, a further 26,500 by unnamed non-State armed groups in Nubul and Zahra while 228,000 are besieged by ISIS in Deir ez-Zor city as well as 18,000 in Yarmouk.

“The parties to the conflict continued to restrict access to besieged areas during March,” Ban wrote. “United Nations agencies reached a total of 18,000 people (4 per cent) with food assistance and 1,198 people (0.3 per cent) with health assistance. No core relief items were dispatched during the reporting period.”

The UN defines a besieged area as “an area surrounded by armed actors with the sustained effect that humanitarian assistance cannot regularly enter, and civilians, the sick and wounded cannot regularly exit.”

The secretary-general’s report stated that with the exception of a supply of water for 300 people last month, no aid has been delivered to eastern Ghouta since March. In the government-controlled western neighborhoods of Deir ez-Zor city, 228,000 people are besieged by ISIL and no United Nations aid has reached them since May 2014, the report said. ISIL has also deactivated a power plant in Deir-az-Zor, severely restricting the water supply for besieged residents.

The report also details continuing summary execution and torture by government forces and ISIS.

The full report is below.

Secretary-General Report on Syria, April 2015

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

The Report on Sexual Abuse by UN Troops and Staff That Ban Ki-moon Quashed Now Made Public

Special Event:  United Nations Official Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Ban Ki-moon speaks at event commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Nov. 2014 (UN Photo)


March 17, 2015 – When Ban Ki-moon sent his report on “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse” in UN missions to the Security Council on March 13, he wrote that “the total number of allegations received (51) is the lowest recorded since special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse were first put in place.”

As part of the UN’s efforts to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse in UN missions, Ban wrote that “an independent team of experts was appointed to assess how four peacekeeping missions were addressing the challenge.” The independent experts submitted their report to Ban in Nov. 2013 but the UN chief has never made it public.

Contrary to Ban’s statement that allegations are at an all-time low, the independent experts report that, “The UN does not know how serious the problem of SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] is because the official numbers mask what appears to be significant amounts of underreporting of SEA.”

The independent report was highly critical of how the UN secretariat and troop contributing countries (TCCs) handle SEA allegations against United Nations peacekeepers and civilian staff. It says that the United Nations does not know how serious the problem is; there is extreme caution with regard to the rights of the accused but far less for the accuser; that victims are often paid off for their silence; that a number of allegations that are later classified as “unsubstantiated” by the UN are in fact never fully investigated because the UN lacks the expertise and the will to fully investigate; and that the UN pass the buck to troop contributing countries to investigate even though most allegations are against UN civilian staff.

But Ban’s attempt to quash the report have been undercut by the Aids-Free World NGO who were sent a copy of the independent report by a UN staffer who rightly feared that it would be shelved because of the poor reflection it casts on UN headquarters, TCC’s, and civilian personnel working for UN missions.

A copy of the independent experts report has been sent to UN Tribune along with a public letter from Aids-Free World who declare that the report from the independent experts “should be seen by all the Member States of the United Nations.”

The experts were tasked to investigate sexual exploitation and abuse allegations at UN missions in the DRC, Haiti, South Sudan and Liberia.

The full report is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

2013 Expert Team Report

Report: Afghan National Army Numbers Inflated

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Newly trained Afghan army recruits (Wikimedia Commons)

March 3, 2015 – When Ban Ki-moon last reported Afghan national troop numbers to the Security Council in June last year, he stated that Afghanistan’s army stood at over 185,000 personnel.

But a report released on Tuesday says that the Afghan ministry of defense was reporting incorrect numbers and the actual number of military troops is almost 20,000 less, at a strength of 169,000.

The report, from the U.S. Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, paints a grim picture of the state of the Afghanistan’s security forces who are expected to take the lead security role in the country with the wind down of ISAF.

The United States has spent more than $50 billion in building up, training and paying the salaries of Afghanistan’s military and police forces.

“The military’s inconsistent reporting on ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] strength numbers indicates long-standing and ongoing problems with accountability and personnel tracking. Accurate information is necessary to assess Afghanistan’s ability to maintain security and to determine the pace of U.S. troops withdrawals from the country,” the Inspector General’s report states. “It is also key to ensuring the United States is paying to train, equip, and sustain the ANSF based on accurate troop strength numbers.”

As well as inflated troop numbers, attrition remains an ongoing concern with 40,000 personnel dropped from the rolls of the Afghan army and police from Sept. 2013 to Sept. 2014, according to the report.

It also says that only about 35 percent of Afghan security force members are functionally literate and it further cannot determine how many recruits that received literacy training are still members of the security forces.

The report adds that only 860 women are enlisted in the Afghan National Army, or less than half a percent of the overall total.

The precarious security situation is also taking its toll on the Afghan army with more than 1,300 personnel killed in action last year, and another 6,200 injured.

– Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

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

Yemen’s Saleh Worth $60 Billion Says UN Sanctions Panel



Feb. 24, 2015 – The corrupt practices of Yemen’s former autocratic leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, have netted the strongman up to $60 billion, a UN sanctions panel will report to the Security Council on Tuesday.

The panel’s report says Saleh amassed up to $2 billion a year from 1978 until he was forced to step down in 2012 and that the assets are hidden in at least twenty countries with the help of business associates and front companies.

“The origin of the funds used to generate Ali Abdullah Saleh’s wealth is believed to be partly from his corrupt practices as President of Yemen, particularly relating to gas and oil contracts where he reportedly asked for money in exchange for granting companies exclusive rights to prospect for gas and oil in Yemen,” the report says.

“It is also alleged that Ali Abdullah Saleh, his friends, his family and his associates stole money from the fuel subsidy program, which uses up to 10 per cent of Yemen’s gross domestic product, as well as other ventures involving abuse of power, extortion and embezzlement,” the report adds.

“The result of these illegal activities for private gain is estimated to have amounted to nearly $2 billion a year over the last three decades,” it states.

The report was prepared by a panel of experts appointed by the Council to monitor the asset freezes and travel bans placed on Saleh and other spoilers of Yemen’s political transition last February. The Council is expected to renew those sanctions on Tuesday for another year.

So far, Saleh has evaded the measures with the help “of at least five prominent Yemeni businessmen… assisting the Saleh family to remove funds from banks in Yemen and deposit them overseas.”

“The panel is also conducting investigations into a number of private and publicly listed companies inside and outside Yemen, where it is believed that former President Saleh may be the beneficial owner of investments,” the report says.

It adds that the panel “has received information from a confidential source that Ali Abdullah Saleh has a number of alternative identity passports that have been provided to him by another State” which would further enable him to hide assets under false identities.

The panel’s estimated wealth of Saleh at $60 billion would place him fifth in Forbe’s list of the world’s richest people. Yemen’s GDP for 2014 was estimated at $35 billion by the World Bank.

Saleh stepped down in 2012 in a deal that granted him immunity from prosecution and allowed him stay in the country. The transitional government that succeeded him, headed by Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, was toppled last month with Saleh accused by some of using his wealth and connections to play a part in this.

The 54-page report from the panel also says that Houthi rebels, who are now in control in Sanaa, are using child soldiers and that hospitals and schools have been used by warring factions.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked 154th out of 187 in the UN’s Human Development Index and ranked worst in the world for gender equality. More than half the population are living below the poverty line, according to World Bank figures.

Yemen lost its vote in the UN General Assembly last month because of the country’s inability to pay its dues.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Wikimedia

UN Panel Of Experts Report on Security Council Sanctions Yemen

Foreign Min of New UNSC Member Spain is Visiting Gaza

SPAINPAL
Jan. 13, 2015 – Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel Garcia-Margallo has arrived in Gaza as part of a Middle East tour that also saw him visit Jordan, a fellow non-permanent Security Council member.

Garcia-Margallo arrived in Gaza from the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing after visits to Amman and Ramallah. He was to be accompanied by the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, according to the Spanish foreign ministry.

Spain began a two-year term on the Security Council on Jan. 1, winning one of the two available seats in the Western Europe & Others Group vacated by Australia and Luxembourg.

The Spanish parliament on Nov. 18, in a non-binding vote, called for recognizing Palestine as a state.

A Security Council resolution that calls for Israel’s withdrawal from territory it occupied since 1967 is expected to put to a vote sometime early this year, after the same measure was defeated in a 8-2-5 vote on Dec. 30 last year.

Garcia-Margallo is expected to visit areas devastated by this past summer’s war during his visit to Gaza. In Ramallah, he signed a cooperation agreement with his Palestinian counterpart, Riyad Al-Malaki, which sees Spain donate $33 million to the Palestinian Authority for 2015-17.

He will hold meetings with Israeli officials on Wednesday.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Claims by Powell to UN Justifying Iraq War Based on Info from Tortured Person

Security Council Hears United States Briefing on Evidence of Iraq's Failure to Disarm
Dec. 9, 2014 – Claims made by Colin Powell to the UN Security Council in 2003 that Saddam Hussein was providing support for Al Qaeda came from a person who had been tortured and who later recanted what he told interrogators.

On Feb. 5, 2003, Powell told the Security Council: “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.”

He went on to describe how a detainee had detailed Saddam Hussein’s support for Al Qaeda including training in the use of chemical and biological weapons.

“Al-Qaida continues to have a deep interest in acquiring weapons of mass destruction. As with the story of Zarqawi and his network, I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al-Qaida. Fortunately, this operative is now detained and he has told his story. I will relate it to you now as he, himself, described it.

“This senior al-Qaida terrorist was responsible for one of al-Qaida’s training camps in Afghanistan. His information comes firsthand from his personal involvement at senior levels of al-Qaida. He says bin Laden and his top deputy in Afghanistan, deceased al-Qaida leader Muhammad Atif, did not believe that al-Qaida labs in Afghanistan were capable enough to manufacture these chemical or biological agents. They needed to go somewhere else. They had to look outside of Afghanistan for help.

“Where did they go? Where did they look? They went to Iraq. The support that this detainee describes included Iraq offering chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaida associates beginning in December 2000. He says that a militant known as Abdallah al-Iraqi had been sent to Iraq several times between 1997 and 2000 for help in acquiring poisons and gasses. Abdallah al-Iraqi characterized the relationship he forged with Iraqi officials as successful.”

But the Senate Select Committee report released on Tuesday states in a footnote that the information was given by a Libyan national who had been subjected to torture. He later recanted the claims, saying he had been tortured, adding that he told his interrogators “what he assessed they wanted to hear.”

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Although Powell’s presentation failed to convince Security Council members to support the use of force against Saddam Hussein, with permanent members China, France and Russia opposed, the US invaded Iraq the following month.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Spotlight on Venezuela as it Gains Security Council Seat

Venezuela's delegation celebrates election to the Security Council for 2015-16. (credit/UN Photo).

Venezuela’s delegation celebrates election to the Security Council for 2015-16. (credit/UN Photo).

Oct. 21 – Venezuela’s UN delegation gloated last week over its election to a non-permanent Security Council seat calling it “recognition of the international policies of the Bolivarian Revolution” but since then it has come in for criticism from both the Human Rights Commissioner and the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

That its election to the Council is a victory for the country’s Bolivarian policies is off the mark as it ran uncontested for the available Latin American seat – it was simply their turn to run – and in principle, a country’s national policies should have no impact on the collective responsibility of the Council to maintain international peace and security (in reality, however, the Council consists of governments whose national interests often usurp its international obligations).

The criticism from newly appointed UN human rights chief, Zeid Hussein, came on Monday when he called on Venezuela to release opposition leaders and others arbitrarily detained during student-led anti-government protests earlier this year. He also “deplored” threats and intimidation directed at human rights defenders and journalists. “My office is extremely concerned about the current situation, and we will continue to monitor it very closely,” Zeid said.

And on Tuesday, Venezuela’s record on ending discrimination against women was up for review by CEDAW. Among the areas of concern, committee member Olinda Bareiro-Bobadilla said, were “dozens” of discriminatory laws. This includes “the acquittal of a rapist if he marries his victim. Allowing that violence against women persists throughout life.”

When it joins the Council on Jan. 1, 2015, Venezuela will have the unenviable distinction of having the highest murder rate of any of the 15 nations on the Council. According to the latest report of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, more than 16,000 Venezuelans are killed annually by armed violence, a rate of more than 50 people for every 100,000 citizens, the second highest murder rate globally, behind Honduras, according to the UNODC report whose most recent figures were for 2012.

As a comparison, that’s 40 percent more than the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined last year – almost 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed in 2013, according to the UN mission there, and in Iraq, more than 7,000 civilians were killed last year, according to UNAMI.

Next year the UN will decide on its post-2015 development agenda and whether peace and stability should be one of the goals.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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

Security Council Meeting on the situation in the Central African Republic.
Oct. 15, 2014 – Five of the ten non-permanent Security Council seats are up for grabs on Thursday though only one race is contested with New Zealand, Spain and Turkey battling in the Western group to replace Australia and Luxembourg for a two-year term beginning January 1, 2015.

Angola will replace Rwanda for the available African seat, Malaysia will take over from South Korea in the Asia group while Venezuela also has no competition in the race for the Latin American seat being vacated by Argentina.

Why do countries run for a non-permanent seat knowing that the Council is essentially ruled by the Permanent Five members, not to mention the extra expenses associated with increasing diplomatic staff to attend to the UNSC’s expanding workload.

One study has shown that developing countries serving on the Council see their aid from the United States increase by 59 percent and aid from the UN increase by 8 percent, mostly coming from UNICEF, an agency long controlled by the US.

Another paper found that developing countries serving on the Council receive greater support from the World Bank and IMF and receive softer loan conditions from the IMF – but only if they side with the US. For example, as related in yet another study, on vote-buying, Yemen voted against the 1990 resolution authorizing force in Iraq and the US subsequently cut its 70 million dollars in aid entirely and Yemen was not granted an IMF arrangement for six years.

As for which countries get elected, there is a pattern of not electing countries in conflict in Asia and Africa and of favoring democratic states in the Western group. All WEOG countries are now considered democratic but during the dictatorships in Greece, Spain and Portugal – only Spain, in 1961, was ever elected. Since transitioning to democracy, these three countries have served at least twice on the Council. It helps to get elected to the Council if a country in Asia or Latin America is a former former British colony but not so much in Africa, according to this study.

The votes of at least four non-permanent members are needed for a resolution to pass the 15-nation Council, and, as evidenced by this 2010 diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks, the US mission to the UN will be busy categorizing the five countries to be elected tomorrow as reliable or not so reliable partners.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Did Obama Rebuke Kirchner for not Co-Sponsoring Resolution?

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Sept. 25, 2014 – President Obama’s rebuke yesterday to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez-Kirchner during a summit meeting of the Security Council to adopt a US-drafted resolution on combatting foreign terrorist fighters took UN watchers by surprise.

After Kirchner delivered her 14 minute statement, Obama – who spoke for 40 minutes in his address to the General Assembly the day before – said that “we have to make sure we’re respectful of the time constraints.” He added that the meeting had to end by 5pm, which was also baffling. As one journalist put it, the lights would stay on in the Security Council chamber if the meeting went past 5pm – which it did: the meeting, which Obama was chairing, adjourned near 7pm.

Kirchner had rushed to the Council chamber immediately after delivering her address to the General Assembly. She appeared to be speaking without notes, but nevertheless her points were clear: that respecting human rights in the course of combatting terrorism was crucial, otherwise you’re just “feeding this monster.” Kirchner also noted that some of the “freedom fighters” who had been armed in the past are now deemed terrorists. She pointedly said terrorists should be “brought to justice,” inferring that killing terrorists is not justice.

“The way in which we’ve been fighting terrorism has not been up to the job,” Kirchner said. “Something is not working.” She also referenced the provision of military aid by the United States to Sadaam Hussein and the Afghan mujheddin in the 1980s.

Argentina was not among the 104 co-sponsors of the resolution and was one of only three Security Council members not to sign on. The others were China and Russia. All three voted for the resolution.

A source told UN Tribune that Argentina had raised concerns during Council consultations on the draft text. Specifically on due process, and that the combatting of terrorism should be respectful of human rights and the resolution should emphasize the importance of better integration in societies.

The 89 states that didn’t co-sponsor the resolution also include Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, India, Mexico, Peru, Tunisia and South Africa.

Human Rights Watch was also critical the resolution. “There is no question that states should address the threat of terrorism, but the resolution risks repeating many of the mistakes of the post-September 11 era,” Andrea Prasow, HRW’s Washington director said. “The resolution says nothing about due process protections.”

See Obama’s rebuke here, courtesy of C-Span:

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz