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

Veto-Wielding China Says Supports Malcorra for Next SG

Screenshot 2016-09-06 at 3.54.44 PM

Sept. 6, 2016 – Susana Malcorra’s campaign to become the next UN secretary-general received a boost over the weekend with Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly endorsing the Argentine foreign minister’s bid in a meeting with his Buenos Aires counterpart Mauricio Macri.

Jinping told Macri that Beijing would “support” her candidacy when the pair met on the sidelines of the G20 summit, according to a report in the Argentine daily La Nacion.

Malcorra came in fifth in the recent Security Council straw poll with seven encourage, seven discourage and 1 no opinion.

Screenshot 2016-09-06 at 3.34.02 PM
Malcorra’s bid is still seen as having an outside chance given the high number of discourage votes but with Russia said to be refusing to budge in its opposition to front-runner Antonio Guterres, China may be trying to galvanize support for Ban Ki-moon’s former chief-of-staff.

That she hails from the Global South, one of only two candidates – the other fellow Latin American Christina Figueres – will put her in good stead with China, and indeed with the majority of UN member states.

Malcorra is also seen as the favorite of the United States, who are said to view her as a steady pair of hands. Opposition comes from the UK, who went to war with Argentina in 1982 over the disputed Falkland islands.

Guterres, the former high commissioner for refugees, has seen his number of discourage votes rise to three since the first straw poll on July 21. While widely admired inside the UN for his capable leadership of UNHCR during the biggest refugee crisis in the agency’s history, it looks increasingly likely that Russia will veto the former Portuguese prime minister’s bid.

During his reign as PM, he was a strong advocate of NATO expansion and EU expansion. There has never been a secretary-general from a NATO country with former secretaries-general from Europe, Dag Hammarskjold and Kurt Waldheim, hailing from neutral Sweden and Austria respectively.

The UN’s first secretary-general Norway’s Trygve Lie was appointed prior to the founding of NATO. Lie, in fact, saw both NATO and the Soviet Union’s network of alliances as a threat to the United Nations.

Another straw poll is set for Sept. 9 and none of the ten remaining candidates look like vacating the race, with each calculating that Russia’s apparent unwillingness to support Guterres will see a change of dynamic in the race.

Whether that means mobilizing behind a candidate that has the support of both the US and China, or the late entry of a compromise candidate, is anyone’s guess, but Malcorra’s odds have shortened.

If elected, Malcorra would be the first woman to hold the post of UN secretary-general and the second Latin-American.

Prior to her appointment as chef-de-cabinet to Ban, Malcorra was under-secretary for field operations for UN peacekeeping. She was appointed Argentina’s foreign minister in Nov. 2015.

- Denis Fitzgeald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related Stories: Helen Clark to Announce Candidacy for UN Secretary-General Race

Still Seven Candidates for Next UN Secretary-General Three Weeks Before Interviews Begin

Race for Next UN Secretary-General Taking Shape

 Natalia Gherman: Could Moldova’s Foreign Minister be the Next UN Secretary-General

Respecting the Dignity of People Suffering from Mental Illness

Philippe Pinel, often refferred to as "father of modern psychiatry" releasing people from their chains at the Salpêtrière Asylum, Paris, 1795 by Tony Robert-Fleury

Philippe Pinel, often referred to as “father of modern psychiatry” releasing people from their chains at the Salpêtrière Asylum, Paris, 1795, by Tony Robert-Fleury, (Brigdeman Art Library)

Oct. 10, 2015 – Research from post-conflict South Sudan reported that up to half the population met the symptoms for depression while another study found that 15 percent of ex-combatants wished they were dead.

Yet there are only twelve beds for treatment of mental illness in South Sudan and many of those with serious mental illness or disability are instead sent to prison where they are shackled and locked away for years on end.

World Mental Health Day is commemorated on Oct. 10th and the World Health Organization has declared dignity as the this year’s theme, noting that many people suffering from mental health are sent to institutions, deprived of their liberty and subject to inhuman and degrading conditions.

Yet, it is not only post-conflict developing countries where people suffering from mental illness are denied their inherent dignity. In the United States, prisons often serve as the functioning mental health system especially for the homeless, more than a third of whom suffer from a mental illness.

In China, there’s barely one psychiatrist for every 100,000 people, even though more than 17 percent of the adult population have a mental disorder at some stage of their lives.

For countries currently experiencing conflict, the treatment of mental illness is often neglected as over-burdened aid agencies focus on delivering food and trauma care. In Syria, for example, the World Health Organization said there’s a shortage of medication for those suffering from depression – and the number is growing – and other mental illnesses.

On this year’s Mental Health Day, WHO is calling for governments, communities and donors to invest in a holistic approach that respects the rights of those suffering from mental illness, and for treatment to not just focus on managing symptoms but on recovery so that people can achieve their full life’s potential.

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Only Two of 15 Security Council Members Have Paid 2015 Dues

Usdollar100front
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

Campaign Against ISIS Exposes Major Gap in Arms Trade Treaty

ammo
Oct. 2, 2014 – The Arms Trade Treaty will go into force on Dec. 24th following its fiftieth ratification last week but the recent campaign launched against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, by Western and Gulf countries exposes a major loophole in the Treaty.

The pact prohibits supplying arms to countries that would use the eight types of conventional weapons covered under the Treaty to violate international human rights law but there are no prohibitions on the transfer of these arms to non-state actors.

The US, UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have all either supplied or said they will supply weapons to groups fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and to other groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria.

In the negotiations leading up to the agreement on the text of the Arms Trade Treaty, a number of countries – including Brazil, India, Nigeria and Turkey – called for a clear prohibition on transferring arms to non-state actors and that the entry of arms to any state must be based on the permit given by the government of such state.

But the lack of a clear and agreed definition of a non-state actor and because of a desire to avoid a subject that would stalemate the negotiations the subject was avoided.

While no country outright said it opposed a provision on arms transfers to non-state actors, the United States included the following in its red lines: “provisions inconsistent with existing US law or that would unduly interfere with our ability to import, export or transfer arms in support of our national security and foreign policy interests.”

The US is one of the 121 signatories to the Treaty but is unlikely to get the support of two-thirds of the Senate to support its ratification.

Other arms producers such as China, Canada, Israel and Russia have not signed the Treaty while major arms importers India, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have also not signed.

France, Germany, Netherlands and the UK have all ratified the Treaty.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

China, Russia Double Veto UNSC Draft on Syria ICC Referral

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin addresses the Council, May 22, 2014. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin addresses the Council, May 22, 2014. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

May 22, 2014 – The draft resolution that would have referred the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court was defeated after vetoes from China and Russia.

It was the fourth time Beijing and Moscow cast vetoes on a resolution concerning Syria, having previously voted against resolutions in October 2011, February 2012 and July 2012.

The French-drafted text had over 60 co-sponsors including permanent Council members Britain and the US as well as non-permanent members Australia, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania, Luxembourg and South Korea.

The Council’s African members – Chad, Nigeria and Rwanda – all voted for the text but did not co-sponsor the resolution. Nor did Argentina, who also voted for the resolution, but declined to co-sponsor because of what the country’s ambassador called the “selectivity” of the draft.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Aid Chief Chides Security Council Over Syria Inaction

OCHA Head speaks to the press following Security Council Consultations on the situation in Syria
April, 30 – 2014- Valerie Amos on Wednesday told members of the Security Council behind closed doors that they were failing to uphold the founding values of the UN in their approach to Syria.

Amos, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said that only ten percent of the some 250,000 people living in besieged areas received aid in the past month despite a February 19 resolution demanding unimpeded access for humanitarian relief.

“I told the Council that in my reports I have demonstrated time and time again the minimal impact of the approach being taken so far, and that public pressure and private diplomacy has yielded very little,” she said to reporters after briefing the 15-nation body.

“I also told the Council that the UN is a multilateral organization. Its founding values set the framework for the way in which we work. In Syria, those founding values and the responsibility of a state to look after its own people are being violated every day, and I think the onus rests on the Council to not only recognize that reality, but to act on it,” she added.

She spoke a day after a group of legal experts published a letter criticizing Amos and the heads of other UN agencies for “an overly cautious interpretation of international humanitarian law.” They argue that relief agencies do not need permission, which is not forthcoming, from the government in Damascus to deliver life-saving aid to trapped civilians.

February’s resolution on unimpeded aid delivery also states that the Council intends to take further steps in the event of non-compliance which puts pressure on China and Russia, who voted for it, to agree to a tougher follow-up resolution.

However, Russia’s state news agency on Wednesday reported that Moscow’s UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said a Chapter 7 resolution being prepared by his Western colleagues was “untimely.”

In his report to to the Council, Ban Ki-moon wrote that “none of the parties to the conflict have adhered to the demands of the Council.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

China Says Abe’s War Shrine Visit Challenges Outcome of World War II

image

Jan. 2, 2014 – China has accused Japan of seeking to clear the name of war criminals after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to a shrine that honors the country’s war dead including senior officials convicted of the gravest war crimes.

Beijing’s UN mission in New York sent an email to reporters on Thursday stating China’s position on Abe’s visit, describing it as “a brazen challenge to all the victimized people in the Japanese militarist war of aggression and to the outcome of World War II and the post-war order.”

“Abe’s action is leading Japan down an extremely dangerous path and has gravely undermined regional peace and security,” the statement said.

It adds that the visit to the Yasukuni shrine “honors 14 Class-A war criminals of World War II as ‘heroes.’” Class A war criminals were those convicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East of the planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of wars of aggression.

China, as one of the victors in World War II, was awarded one of the five permanent seats on the UN Security Council. Articles 53 and 107 of the UN Charter still refer to Japan and the other axis powers, Germany and Italy, as ‘enemy states.’

The full statement sent by China’s UN mission is below.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

(image/wikimedia)

China’s position on Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine.

Amnesty: 21 Countries Used the Death Penalty Last Year

April 9, 2013 - China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States were the world’s top executioners last year, according to Amnesty International’s annual review of the use of the death penalty.

The organization recorded 682 executions in 21 countries in 2012, virtually unchanged from 2011, when it recorded 680 executions in 21 countries. The figures do not include the estimated thousands of executions carried out in China, which does not publicly release information on its use of the death penalty.

A U.N. push to end the death penalty seems to be gaining traction with no executions recorded in 174 of the U.N.’s 193 member states (the two U.N. non-member states that carried out executions last year were Palestine and Taiwan). 

A General Assembly vote in November 2012 on putting a moratorium on the death penalty passed by a vote of 110 in favor, 39 against and 36 abstentions, a slight improvement from the same vote in 2010 and six more in favor than in a 2007 vote. A diplomat involved with the text said the aim is now to encourage states that have declared a moratorium to abolish executions, citing strong progress in Africa on ending the death penalty.

The U.S. is the only country in the Americas to still use the death penalty, carrying out 43 executions last year, the same as in 2011, but in only nine states, compared to 13 in 2011. There are 3,170 people still on death row in the U.S., according to Amnesty.

Belarus is the only country in Europe to still use the death penalty, carrying out at least three executions last year.

At least 557 executions were carried out in Middle East countries last year. Iran put 314 people to death in 2012; Iraq, 129; and Saudi Arabia, 79. Yemen, where a minimum of 28 people were executed last year, was the sixth biggest executioner in 2012. Those four countries accounted for 99 percent of all executions in the region last year.

Japan, seven executions last year, and the U.S. are the only G8 countries to still apply the death penalty. In Japan, as well as Belarus, prisoners were not informed of their forthcoming execution, nor were their families or lawyers, according to the Amnesty report.

Hanging remains the most commonly used method of execution followed by shooting. The U.S. and China both use lethal injection while Saudi Arabia still practices beheading, often in public.

The Amnesty report is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald

Why Syria’s Opposition Won’t Get UN Seat Anytime Soon

March 26, 2013 – Arab League members at their Doha summit on Tuesday agreed to give Syria’s seat to the opposition coalition. The Syrian government has been suspended from the 22-nation group since Nov. 2011.

The New York Times reported that opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib said after the meeting that the opposition now wanted “the seat of Syria at the United Nations and at other international organizations.”

A recent precedent would be the Sept. 2011 decision to grant Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) the country’s seat at the United Nations after a recommendation from the credentials committee and after a vote in the General Assembly to block the move was roundly defeated.

But by that stage, Libya’s UN delegation, along with several other of Tripoli’s diplomatic missions, had long defected to the NTC, and NATO-backed rebels were on their way to victory. Not so with Syria, whose UN envoy, Bashar Jaafari, continues in his post and continues to defend the regime, and the fall of Assad still not imminent.

That aside, the unanimity that existed among the nine credentials committee members with regard to Libya does not exist for Syria. While a new committee is appointed each year, there are three de-facto permanent members – the United States, along with China and Russia. The latter two have vetoed three draft Security Council resolutions on Syria in the past 18 months.

The list of credentials committee members for the current General Assembly session is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald