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?

Former Danish PM Nominated to Head UN Refugee Agency

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Sept. 4, 2015 –  Former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was nominated by her government on Friday as a candidate to succeed Portugal’s Antonio Guterres as head of the UN refugee agency. Guterres, also a former prime minister, has headed the agency since 2005 and was nominated unopposed by Ban Ki-moon for a second term in 2010.

His successor will be elected by the General Assembly in the fall.

Thorning-Schmidt would be the eleventh high commissioner for refugees and the second woman to head the world refugee agency since its inception in 1950. The agency, with almost 10,000 staff members, works in 123 countries responding to a growing global refugee crisis. Japan’s Sadako Ogata was the first female high commissioner for refugees. She served from 1991-2001.

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). Syria overtook Afghanistan this year as the world’s biggest source country for refugees with more than four million having fled the country – 3.7 million of whom are hosted in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan – in addition to almost eight million displaced inside their own borders. Afghanistan, for long the world’s biggest source country, has the second highest number of refugees residing outside its borders at 2.6 million – mostly hosted in Iran and Pakistan, followed by Somalia, with 1.1 million refugees who are mostly residing in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Thorning-Schmidt served as her country’s prime minister from October 2011 until June this year and was Denmark’s first female premier. She was a member of the European parliament from 1999-2004 and in 2005 succeeded Mogens Lykketoft as leader of Denmark’s Social Democrats party. Lykketoft has since been elected as president of the 70th UN General Assembly and will assume his post this month. Thorning-Schmidt is daughter-in-law of the former leader of the British Labour party, Neil Kinnock.

During her time as prime minister, she rolled back anti-immigration policies put in place by her predecessor including eliminating the immigration and integration ministry although she was criticized during her 2015 campaign for prime minister – which her party lost to an anti-immigration coalition – for taking a tough stance on immigration saying immigrants and refugees must learn Danish and must work. During Thorning-Schmidt’s tenure time in office the number of asylum seekers and refugees in Denmark more than doubled and she proposed sending people back to their home countries if the situation permitted.

She made global headlines in 2013 when she posed for a selfie with US President Barack Obama during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

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Eight of the 10 previous high commissioners for refugees have been Europeans including Thorning-Schmidt’s fellow Dane, Poul Hartling, who served from 1978-1985 and collected a Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the agency in 1981. While senior UN positions are ostensibly open to nominations from all member states, the top posts tend to be divided among the permanent members of the Security Council and major donor countries.

Having missed out on the top humanitarian job, which a Norwegian and Swede held in the past, there’s a view among Danish diplomats that the refugee chief job should go to a Scandinavian.

- Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

Updated to reflect Thorning-Schmidt would be only second ever female high-commissioner in 65 years.

Ethiopia Among Countries to Meet MDG Hunger Target

A fruit and vegetable market in Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. (credit: wikimedia)

Dec. 1, 2014 – Fifteen developing countries in 2014 have met the MDG 1 hunger goal of reducing by half the number of undernourished people from 1990 levels.

Ethiopia, the 13th most populous nation in the world and Africa’s second most populous behind Nigeria, is among the 15 to reach the target this year. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization said on Sunday that the prevalence of undernourishment in the country has decreased from 74.8 percent in 1990-92, to 35 percent in 2012-14.

But there are still some 33 million Ethiopians without enough food each day, almost one-third of the country’s 96 million people.

Brazil, Cameroon, Iran and Mexico were also among the fifteen countries this year to meet the hunger goal. The prevalence of undernourishment in these countries was much lower than in Ethiopia with Brazil reducing hunger from 14.8 percent of its population in 1990-92, to 1.7 percent in 2012-14, while the number of hungry in Cameroon declined to 2.3 million people compared with 4.7 million in 1990.

Globally, there are some 805 million people who do not have enough food to eat each day. In China, which met the hunger goal in June this year, 10.6 percent of the population are undernourished while in India, which has not yet met the target, 15.2 percent of people are undernourished. Combined, these two countries account for 340 million of the world’s undernourished people, 40 percent of the overall total.

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Hunger is the biggest public health threat globally, according to the World Health Organization and is a contributory factor in the death of 3.1 million children under five every year.

While progress is being made in the fight against hunger, conflict is driving food insecurity in a number of places including Yemen, Sudan, South Sudan, Iraq, Gaza and Syria. On Monday, the World Food Program announced it was suspending a food aid scheme for 1.7 million Syrian refugees due to a lack of funding. The agency said it needs $64 million in December to resume its voucher scheme in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

The Millennium Development Goals are set to expire in December 2015 and will be replaced by a new set of post-2015 goals.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Ten Countries Infected by Polio Virus as WHO Declare Emergency

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May 5, 2014 –  Cameroon, Pakistan and Syria pose the greatest risk for exporting the polio virus that was on the verge of eradication a couple of years ago.

The vaccine-preventable disease has already spread across the borders of these three countries with neighboring Equatorial Guinea, Afghanistan and Iraq also infected.

Declaring the situation a public health emergency of international concern, the World Health Organization on Monday said “the consequences of further international spread are particularly acute today given the large number of polio-free but conflict-torn and fragile States” where vaccination programs have been interrupted because of fighting.

Ethiopia, Israel, Somalia as well as Nigeria have also recorded cases of polio in the past year whereas prior to 2013 only three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – were considered endemic countries. The number of cases had decreased from some 350,000 in 1988 to 223 in 2012 as it seemed that the virus would join smallpox and rinderpest as the only diseases ever eradicated.

There were 417 polio cases last year, according to the Global Eradication Initiative.

Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Lebanon are at high risk of becoming infected countries due to their proximity to currently infected countries and the risk of conflict interrupting vaccination campaigns there.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz