Libya Still Without Vote in UN General Assembly

August 1, 2017 – Libya remains in arrears to the United Nations and will not be allowed vote for the remainder of the General Assembly’s 71st session, which ends next month.

Sudan and Venezuela also had their voting rights suspended this year for non-payment of dues but have since made the necessary payment to put them back in good standing.

Article 19 of the UN Charter states that countries will lose their UNGA vote if their “arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years.”

In all, a total of 116 countries have paid their 2017 dues, according to the Committee on Contributions, but noticeably, permanent members France and the United States have yet to pay.

The US typically makes a payment in October when its financial year begins.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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

France Absent From Donors to UN Fund for Combatting Ebola

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Oct. 8, 2014 – France has yet to contribute to the UN fund to combat the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.

The most recent list of contributions to the fund, which is seeking $988 million, shows that the US has contributed $113 million of the $391 million so far committed, making it, by some distance, the biggest country donor.

The UK is next with $7.8 million contributed, then Australia at $7 million, followed by Kuwait, $5 million, Canada, $4.2 million, and Germany $3.2 million.

Twenty-two countries in total have contributed to the fund. Besides the six above, the others are:

Switzerland $3 million
Japan $3 million
Norway $2.2 million
China $2.2 million
Denmark $2.2 million
Italy $2.1 million
Ireland $1.2 million
Netherlands $1.2 million
Finland $1 million
South Korea $600,000
Spain $540,468
India $500,000
Luxembourg $269,054
Austria $263,505
Estonia $80,600
Andorra $20,053

Russia is the only other permanent member of the Security Council besides France to not yet contribute.

A list of all contributions and pledges to the United Nations Ebola Response Fund, as compiled by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is here.

France is the former ruler of Guinea, which is the epicenter of the Ebola virus outbreak. The first case in the current outbreak, the biggest ever, was diagnosed there in March 2014. The country has registered 1,298 cases, resulting in 587 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Twenty-five percent of the cases in Guinea have been diagnosed in the past three weeks.

The total number of cases for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has topped 8,000 resulting in 3,800 deaths.

The US, Spain, Senegal and Nigeria have also recored cases while a recent study suggests there is a 75 percent probability of the virus spreading to France in the next twenty days. The UK and Belgium are also at high risk of the virus spreading there at 50 percent and 40 percent respectively, according to the study.

The study, by researchers from Boston University, also found that a travel ban on flights from affected countries would delay international spread of Ebola by three weeks and concluded that the best intervention is on the ground assistance in the affected countries.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: US CDC

Campaign Against ISIS Exposes Major Gap in Arms Trade Treaty

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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

Djibouti – The UN’s Forgotten Crisis

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Oct 6, 2013 – Despite hosting a US military base and a French naval base, Djibouti’s humanitarian crisis is largely ignored by the international community.

The UN appealed for $70 million at the beginning of the year to address widespread malnutrition in the drought-stricken country but so far has only received $18 million, making it the most underfunded humanitarian appeal, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The US, which operates its surveillance and armed drone programs for nearby Yemen and neighboring Somalia out of Djibouti, has contributed a mere $152,000 to the UN appeal, while France, which lost its rule over the country in 1977, has not made any contribution, UN figures show.

Djibouti ranks near the bottom of the Human Development Index and about one-third of the country’s children are malnourished while the practice of female genital mutilation is commonly carried out on girls between the ages of 2 and 5, according to UNICEF

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo: A US Predator drone flying at sunset – Charles McCain/Flickr.

Record One Billion Tourists in 2012: UN

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A record 1 billion people visited other countries in 2012, a more than 50% increase from the amount of people who traveled abroad in 2000. (The figures in the chart above also show numbers for 1970 (166 million), and 1950, (25 million) source: UNWTO.

Jan. 10, 2013 – There were more than one billion tourists in 2012, according to figures from the UN World Tourism Organization, more than double the amount of tourists in 2000 when 435 million people traveled abroad.

Europe was the destination for more than half the tourists last year and was also where more than half the world’s tourists came from. Asia accounted for about 225 million tourist arrivals, the Americas next at some 160 million, followed by Africa and the Middle East which each received more than 50 million tourists last year, according to projected data.

France had the highest number of tourists in the world in 2012 with about 85 million visitors, followed by the US with some 65 million, China, 60 million, Spain, 58 million, and Italy, about 48 million. Smaller European countries showed strong growth too with Ireland receiving close to 8 million tourists and Finland, 4.5 million.

Outside of the US, Mexico had the highest number of tourists in the Americas with close to 24 million visitors, followed by Argentina, about 6 million, Brazil, 5.5 million and Chile, more than 3 million.

South Africa was the top destination for the African continent, receiving almost 10 million visitors last year followed by Morocco with about 9.5 million.

In the Middle East, Egypt witnessed an estimated 32% increase in tourists from 2011, with some 10 million people visiting last year. Saudi Arabia had the highest number of visitors in the region in 2021, with about 18 million arrivals. Syria, not surprisingly, is projected to record a 40% reduction in tourists in 2012 with about 5 million people estimated to have visited the country last year.

The WTO says tourism accounts for one of 12 jobs globally and for about 9 percent of global GDP.

Denis Fitzgerald