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

Pope Francis addresses the seventieth session of the General Assembly.
Sept. 25, 2014 – Pope Francis on Friday told the nine nuclear weapon-wielding states, including the permanent five Security Council members, that their logic for possessing weapons of mass destruction is an affront to the mission of the United Nations.

Francis made the remarks during a wide ranging address to the General Assembly where he also called for a restructuring of the global financial system, responsible stewardship of the planet, and respect for the sacredness of human life.

The Holy See, which is party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has long held that the logic of nuclear deterrence is contrary to the progress of civilization and, more recently, expressed frustration during the NPT review conference that nuclear weapons states were not living up to their disarmament commitments.

In his remarks Friday, Francis noted that the preamble of the UN Charter and its first articles stress the peaceful resolution of disputes and friendly relations among nations.

“Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass distraction, such as nuclear weapons,” he said. “An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations.”

He said that if states use deterrence as a reason to posess nuclear weapons then the United Nations would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust.”

“There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons,” Pope Francis told the packed assembly, which included dozens of heads of state.

In addition to the five permanent members of the Council, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel all possess nuclear weapons.

There are some 18,000 nuclear weapons in the world, the vast majority held by Russia and the US.

The weapons are located in more than 100 sites in 14 countries, with US nuclear weapons based in Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Turkey and Italy. Some $100 billion is spent annually on maintaining these weapons.

While the Holy See has always called for nuclear disarmament, there was a time during the height of the Cold War that Pope John Paul II said “deterrence based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step along the way towards a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable.”

Pope Francis’s clear denunciation of the policy of deterrence in his speech on Friday is indicative, not just of the Vatican’s position, but that of the majority of UN member states. There’s wide agreement among non-nuclear states that the permanent five members of the Council view the NPT as a treaty that allows them to hold onto their weapons, even though disarmament is one of the three pillars of the treaty, along with non-proliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

During the recent five-year review NPT conference, campaigners secured the signatures of 107 UN member states for a pledge that called for filling the legal gap prohibiting nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not banned by international treaty.

Absent from the list of 107 countries that signed the pledge were the nuclear weapons states and the 29 members of NATO.

In his closing remarks, Pope Francis said states can fulfill the promise of the United Nations, that future generations will not face the scourge of war, if they “set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

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

Ukraine Rebels Expel UN Aid Agencies

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Sept. 24, 2015 –  The top UN humanitarian official on Thursday called on pro-Russia rebels to immediately allow the resumption of United Nations and international NGO aid activities in eastern Ukraine.

All UN agencies operating in Luhansk have been ordered to leave by Sept. 25 and a decision by the rebels on expelling aid agencies from Donetsk remains on hold.

I am alarmed by news that the de facto authorities in eastern Ukraine have ordered UN agencies in Luhansk to end operations and to leave the area by tomorrow,” UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien said in a statement. “Their continued failure in this regard constitutes a blatant violation of International Humanitarian Law.”

He added that agencies are unable to deliver 16,000 tons of aid including anesthesia, insulin and tubercolosis vaccine.

“Patients lives are at risk,” O’Brien said. “Some 150,000 people are not receiving monthly food distributions, 1.3 million people’s access to water is at risk, and more than 30,000 people have not received shelter materials and household items they urgently need.”

Ukraine is currently trying to control a cholera outbreak that paralyzed two children earlier this month.

“I call on the de facto authorities in both Luhansk and Donetsk to ensure the immediate resumption of UN and international NGO activities,” O’Brien’s statement added. “Furthermore, I call on everyone with influence over the de facto authorities to use that influence to ensure the immediate resumption of humanitarian aid by UN agencies and international NGOs, and to win a commitment by the authorities to end interference in the provision of lifesaving assistance.

In addition to UN aid agencies, the rebels have also banned MSF and People in Need, among others, from operating in Luhansk, a city with a population of some 425,000.

The United Nations estimates that the 17-month conflict in Ukraine has killed almost 8,000 people, most of them civilians.

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

  

 

Deputy UN Chief Eliasson to Head Search for Next Refugee Commissioner

Jan Eliasson: the former Swedish FM is heading the search for a new high-commissioner for refugees

Jan Eliasson: the Swedish diplomat is heading the search for a new high-commissioner for refugees

Sept. 24, 2015 – A panel headed by UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson will present a short-list of three names to Ban Ki-moon in the coming weeks as he seeks to find a replacement for Antonio Gutteres as high commissioner for refugees.

Gutteres is stepping down after ten years in the post and his successor will take over at a crucial time in the agency’s 65 year history. There are currently 60 million refugees around the world, a figure which includes 40 million displaced inside their own borders and five million Palestinian refugees, whose welfare is handled by a separate agency, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

Among those vying for the post is the former head of UNRWA, Italian Filippo Grandi. He stepped down last year as commissioner-general of the agency that he joined in 2005 as deputy commissioner-general. He assumed the top post in 2010. During his time with UNRWA, he oversaw major refugee crises including the 2006 Lebanon war, the destruction of the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon in 2007, the 2009-09 Gaza conflict and the conflict in Syria, which is home to some 550,000 Palestinian refugees under UNRWA’s care.

Former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and the head of the UN Environemntal Program Achim Steimer are also among the candidates. The short-list is expected to include at least one female candidate. Once Ban makes his selection, he then sends it to the General Assembly for rubber stamping, which will likely happen in November.

The new refugees high-commissioner will head a 10,000 person agency working in some 123 countries. UNHCR has won two Nobel Peace Prizes, in 1954 and 1981.

Eight of the ten previous high commissioners for refugees have been Europeans. The only non-Europeans were Japan’s Sadako Ogata, who served from 1990-2000 – and who is also the only woman to have headed the agency – and Iran’s Sadruddin Aga Khan, who was high-commissioner from 1965-1977.

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Related Story: Former Danish PM Nominated to Head UN Refugee Agency

Were the MDGs Successful?

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September 23, 2015 - The Millennium Development Goals expire at the end of this year and will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals that will be adopted by UN member states on Friday.

But as advocates have pointed out, particularly those from the least developed countries, the MDG agenda is still unfinished business and will be incorporated into the new, and expanded, global goals that will run until 2030.

Here we take stock of what has been achieved since 2000 when the eight Millennium Development Goals were adopted, and the gaps that remain.

Goal 1 – Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

The number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 1.75 billion in 1999 to 836 million in 2015 but about 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and suffer from hunger. Over 160 million children under the age of five have inadequate height for their age due to malnutrition.

Goal 2 – Achieve universal primary education

The number of out-of-school children of primary school age worldwide fell by almost half, to an estimated 57 million in 2015, down from 100 million in 2000. Primary school net enrollment rate in the developing regions has reached 91 percent in 2015 from 83 percent in 2000. Further efforts needed to achieve universal primary education.

Goal 3 – Promote gender equality and empower women

The average proportion of women in parliament has increased from 14 percent to 22 percent since 2000, but remains low in absolute terms. Globally, about three-quarters of working-age men participate in the labor force, compared to only half of working-age women. Women earn 24 percent less than men globally.

Goal 4 – Reduce child mortality

The global under-five mortality rate has declined by more than half, dropping from 90 to 43 deaths per 1,000 live births between 1990 and 2015. More work is needed to improve child survival rates. Every minute around the world, 11 children die before their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable causes.

Goal 5 – Improve maternal health

The global maternal mortality ratio has fallen from 330 to 210 deaths per 100,000 live births between 2000 and 2013. Only half of pregnant women receive the recommended amount of antenatal care.

Goal 6 – Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

New HIV infections fell by 40 percent between 2000 and 2013, from an estimated 3.5 million cases to 2.1 million. In sub-Saharan Africa, still less than 40 percent of youth aged 15 to 24 years had correct knowledge of HIV transmission in 2014. Over 6.2 million malaria deaths have been averted between 2000 and 2015

Goal 7 – Ensure environmental sustainability

Between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of the global population using an improved sanitation facility has risen from 54 percent to 68 percent, and those using an improved drinking water source increased from 76 percent to 91 percent. Globally, 147 countries have met the MDG drinking water target, 95 countries have met the MDG sanitation target and 77 countries have met both. Emissions of carbon dioxide rose from 23.8 to 33.0 billion metric tons from 2000 to 2012.

Goal 8 –  Develop a global partnership for development

Official development assistance from developed countries rose 66 percent in real terms between 2000 and 2014, to USD 135.2bn. Funding will remain a critical factor for the post-2015 development agenda.

Related Story: Understanding the Sustainable Development Goals – Five Key Questions

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

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Sept. 21, 2015 – The United Nations will raise the flag of the Holy See on Sept. 25th ahead of Pope Francis’s address to the UN General Assembly that morning.

The decision to raise the flag of a non-member observer state comes after a resolution passed by the General Assembly on Sept. 10th to allow the flags of Palestine and the Holy See to fly alongside the flags of the 193 UN member states.

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Francis will be the fourth pope to address the assembly and it will be the fifth papal UN visit. Paul VI was the first pope to address the UN in 1965, one year after the Holy See became a non-member observer state. John Paul II visited twice, in 1979 and 1995. Benedict XVI addressed the assembly in 2008.

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

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

Just over 40 of the UN’s 193 member states have a Catholic-majority population while the overall global Catholic population is about 1.2 billion. Latin America and Europe have the largest share of the global Catholic population with 39 percent and 24 percent of all Catholics respectively living in these regions.

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

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

The United States has the fifth biggest share of Catholics among countries with about 75 million followers or 25 percent of its population.

Palestine has said it will raise its flag on Sept. 30 ahead of President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech following a ceremony on UN grounds. The Holy See has said there will be no ceremony for its flag raising. UN personnel will raise the flag the same time as they raise the other flags on Sept. 25.

Statement from Holy See mission to the UN

Statement from Holy See mission to the UN click to enlarge

Francis, aged 78, is the first Latin American pontiff and the Argentine is also the first Jesuit pope and the first non-European pope since Syria’s Gregory III in 741.

Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he chose the name Francis following his election by papal conclave in 2013 in honor of Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscans whose mission is to serve the poor.

In his UN address, he is expected to speak about climate change, poverty, nuclear disarmament and the global refugee crisis as well as the conflicts that underlie the refugee crisis.

In addition, he is also expected to address the plight of Christians in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, but a region where the number of Christians who’ve had to flee war and persecution has risen dramatically in the past decade, particularly in Iraq and Syria.

The Holy See has diplomatic relations with 180 sovereign states including the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the State of Palestine. It also has formal contacts, but not diplomatic relations, with Afghanistan, Brunei, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Somalia and has unofficial delegates in regions where there are Catholic communities including the Arabian peninsula and Western Sahara.

The Holy See has no diplomatic relations of any kind with the Maldives, North Korea, China and Bhutan.

Prior to his address to the assembly, Francis will attend a town hall meeting with UN staff.

- Denis Fitzgerald 
@denisfitz

 

Ukraine, Egypt Among Five Seeking Security Council Seats in 2016/17

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Sept. 16, 2015 – Heads of states seeking Security Council seats would normally devote considerable time during this month’s high-level segment of the General Assembly to lobbying for votes but the candidates vying for seats for 2016-17 in October’s elections are all running unopposed.

Among those seeking seats next month are Ukraine, which will replace Lithuania in the Eastern European group.

A report last week from the UN human rights office said more than 8,000 people have been killed since April 2014 due to the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In July this year, Russia vetoed a draft Council resolution that would have established an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine.

Ukraine President Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will both be in New York at the end of the month to address the General Assembly.

Also running unopposed for a seat in 2016/17 is Egypt which will occupy one of the two seats being vacated by Chad and Nigeria – Senegal will take over the other. Egypt last served in 1996/97 while Senegal served a two-year term in 1988/89.

Uruguay will take over the Latin American seat currently held by Chile. This will be just its second time ever serving on the Council, having last served a two-year term in 1965/66. Uruguay is the top Latin America troop contributing country to UN peacekeeping operations with some 3,000 blue helmets deployed.

Japan will return to the Council for the eleventh time in 2016/17, having last served in 2009/10. Bangladesh announced earlier this month that it was withdrawing from the race for the Asian seat currently held by Jordan. Japan is the second biggest contributor to the UN budget.

Elections for 2017-18 will take place in June 2016, in order to give elected countries more time to prepare. Among those running are Netherlands, Italy and Sweden for two seats in the Western Europe and Others group currently held by New Zealand and Spain.

The current elected members of the Council, with end of term date, are as follows:

- Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

 

Related Story: How much is a Security Council seat worth and which countries get elected?

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

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

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

Sept. 14, 1015 – US President Barack Obama will make his penultimate appearance at the United Nations later this month where he will address the annual General Debate and speak at a high-level summit where the sustainable development goals will be adopted.

Obama will also host a summit on increasing international involvement in UN peacekeeping. The United States is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, assessed at 28 percent of the annual $8.25 billion budget – but DC hasn’t yet paid its contribution for 2015 and still has arrears from 2014.

In total, the US owes peacekeeping dues for 2014 and 2015 totaling more than $2 billion, according to information provided to UN Tribune from the United Nations budget office.

Washington also has yet to pay its 2015 dues to the UN’s regular budget. The United States is assessed at 22 percent of the regular budget for a total of $655 million for 2015. According to UN figures, the US owes a combined total of $926 million to the regular budget, which includes an outstanding $270 million from last year.

The United States is the only permanent member of the Security Council to not yet pay its 2015 dues, according to information from the UN Committee on Contributions website.

The US government’s fiscal year begins in October and large payments are typically made at the beginning of the fiscal cycle, though not nearly enough to cover the total back debt.

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

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

While many US lawmakers say that the United Nations is a bloated bureaucracy that offers little to no value for US citizens, this is far from the case from a strictly economic point of view. In fact, it is a boon to the New York City economy and to US companies.

Of the 43,000 staff working for the UN Secretariat, some 2,700 are US citizens, or 6.2% of the total staff. Japan, the second highest financial contributor, assessed at some $300 million to the annual budget, has a mere 167 staff members or 0.59%, according to the latest available Composition of the Secretariat report.

In addition, a 2010 report from UN Foundation showed that the UN Secretariat procured more than $832 million from US companies in 2010. The report also said that the economic benefit to New York City by having UN Headquarters located in the city is about $3.3bln annually.

While the US is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, there are only 78 UN peacekeepers from the United States deployed in current peacekeeping operations.

- Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

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

UNSC Approves Panel to Investigate and Assign Blame for Syria Chemical Weapons Attacks

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Sept. 10, 2015 – A new UN panel will be established to investigate chemical weapons attacks in Syria and to determine who is behind such attacks.

The three-person panel was proposed by Ban Ki-moon late last month and approved by the Security Council on Thursday.

Its mandate is “to identify to the greatest extent feasible, individuals, entities, groups or Governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical.”

The panel which will coordinate with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is a result of Resolution 2235 - adopted early last month – that called on Ban to submit to the Council a proposal for a Joint Investigative Mechanism involving the United Nations and the OPCW.

In February this year the OPCW fact-finding mission, established in 2013 after the use of Sarin gas in Syria, said that it had found  “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine had been used as a weapon in Syria in the villages of Talmenes, Al Tamanah, and Kafr Zita from April to August 2014.

The OPCW fact-finding mission does not have a mandate to determine responsibility for chemical weapons attacks.

The new panel will consist of an assistant secretary-general and two deputies with a political office in New York, an investigative office in the Hague, and a planning office also in New York.

There have been almost 60 reported incidents of the use of chemical weapons in Syria since 2012, according to information compiled from UN reports. A majority of attacks involve the use of chlorine gas and have been directed at areas not under the control of the Assad regime. There have been other allegations that ISIS have used mustard gas in attacks against Kurdish areas of Syria and that other forces have also used chemical weapons.

Besides chlorine, mustard and sarin, there have also been reports that the chemical Agent 15 was used in attacks.

The letter from Ban Ki-moon on forming the panel to investigate and assign blame for chemical weapons attacks is published in full below.

Res 2235 Mechanism

Risk of Polio Spread in Europe After Ukraine Cases

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Sept. 8, 2015 - While the UN has set 2018 as its target for the global eradication of polio the confirmation last week of cases in Ukraine – which left two children aged four years and ten months paralyzed for life – is worrying proof that if vaccination rates slip then the virus will reemerge.

Ukraine had only a 50 percent polio vaccination coverage rate in 2014 but that had reportedly slipped to 14 percent this year due to low or no availability of vaccine doses and strong anti-vaccine sentiment.

The Global Polio Eradication’s International Monitoring Board (IMB) issued a warning less than a year ago that “the risk in Ukraine is of deep concern.”

The Oct. 2014 warning added that, “The last thing the global polio eradication program now needs is the re-emergence of polio in a place distant from its two epicentres and threatening to reverse the certified polio-free status of a whole region (in this case Europe).”

Polio incidence has been reduced by 99.9 percent since 1988 when there was an estimated 350,000 cases to just 37 cases in 2015 as of Sept. 2.

The two Ukraine cases occurred in the southwest of the country which shares borders with Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. To contain the spread, the World Health Organization says two million children in Ukraine under the age of five must begin to get vaccinated within two weeks of the confirmed cases.

Children typically get four doses of the polio vaccine, at ages two months, four months, 6-18 months and a booster does at 4-6 years.

The children in Ukraine were infected with a vaccine-derived type of polio. Such cases are rare – there have only been only 500 cases of paralysis from circulating vaccine-derived polio virus type 1 (cVDPV1) from 2001-2011 while the oral polio vaccine has prevented some 3.5 million cases of paralysis – but the most important risk factor for emergence and spread of cVDPV1 is immunity gaps resulting from low immunization coverage.

The European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) in a bulletin last week said, “It is likely that the cVDPV1 strain has been circulating for many months in Ukraine and that the virus could be found in other parts of the country.”

“Based on experiences from other similar events in the past, we can assume that the risk of more children presenting with paralytic poliomyelitis in Ukraine is high and that it will remain high until large-scale supplementary immunisations have been implemented, in accordance with WHO recommendations for the control of polio outbreaks,” the bulletin added.

It said there is risk of the virus being imported into EU countries from border areas but the risk of it resulting in paralysis is low given widespread vaccine coverage. However, the ECDC warned that there are pockets of under-immunized or unimmunized people in the European region, and said Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania and Ukraine are at high risk for further polio spread.

- Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz