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

Gaza Report Adds to Pressure on Ban to Put IDF on Child Violators List

UNRWA school being used as a shelter, July 2014 source: wikimedia

UNRWA school in northern Gaza being used as a shelter, July 2014. source: wikimedia

April 28, 2015 - Ban Ki-moon will face further calls to include the IDF in his annual list of groups that commit grave violations against children after the release of his public summary of the report of the Board of Inquiry established to investigate death and damage at UN premises during the summer war in Gaza.

Ban’s public summary stated that the board found the Israeli Defence Forces responsible for the deaths of 44 Palestinians as a result of attacks on seven schools sheltering civilians during the July-August 2014 conflict.

Attacks on schools are one of the six grave violations that result in listing in Ban’s annual report on children and armed conflict and such attacks are also a violation of Security Council resolution 1998 adopted unanimously in 2011.

Ban’s summary also stated that Hamas had stored weapons in UN schools, though not in any of the schools that were attacked. The use of schools for military purposes also triggers listing the annual report of grave violators.

Ban’s cover letter to the Security Council and the accompanying public summary of the Board of Inquiry report are below.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related Story: UN Stonewalling on Listing IDF as Child Violators

Board of Inquiry Gaza

UN Stonewalling on Decision to List IDF as Child Violators

"Palestinian man with child during Operation Protective Edge" by Basel Yazouri -  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Palestinian_man_with_child_during_Operation_Protective_Edge.jpg#/media/File:Palestinian_man_with_child_during_Operation_Protective_Edge.jpg

“Palestinian man with child during Operation Protective Edge” by Basel Yazouri – License: Creative Commons

April 7, 2015 – Ban Ki-moon’s office says he is still preparing his annual report on children and armed conflict but is so far unwilling to say whether the secretary-general will name the Israeli Defence Forces in his list of groups that have committed grave violations against children.

Ban has been urged to include the IDF in the annex of the annual report, which lists state and non-state forces that have committed grave violations against children, over its conduct during the six-week summer conflict in Gaza that the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says resulted in the deaths of 551 Palestinian children.

A source told UN Tribune that a meeting was scheduled for April 6 in New York involving Ban and the UN’s special representative for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, during which a decision on listing the IDF would be made. A spokesperson for Zerrougui’s office said the meeting did not take place.

The source said UN staff working on the ground in Gaza have urged the inclusion of Israel in the annual report but have been subject to intimidation from inside the Israeli government.

At stake, the source added, is Ban’s Human Rights Up Front initiative which was launched after the UN’s systematic failure during the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka. The initiative aims to support United Nations staff who warn of human rights abuses and tasks the UN system “with using all the resources at its disposal, including its moral authority” to promote and encourage human rights especially with regard to protecting civilians.

While the United States has steadfastly lobbied the UN on Israel’s behalf in the past, which included the US mission to the United Nations overseeing Ban’s release of details of a 2009 UN inquiry into Israel’s 2008 invasion of Gaza, recent statements from the White House indicate that Washington’s appetite to shield Israel from rebuke at the United Nations is waning.

Ban would also be expected to list Hamas in his annual report for its indiscriminate rocket fire into civilian areas of southern Israel endangering the lives of Israeli children as well as for using schools and hospitals to store and launch rockets.

Last year’s annual report on children and armed conflict listed 59 parties in 15 countries including eight state armed forces and 51 other armed groups that have committed any of the six categories of grave violations identified by the United Nations.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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

Ban Ki-Moon Launches Internal Probe on Gaza Conflict

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Nov. 10, 2014 – The findings of Ban Ki-moon’s board of inquiry on incidents involving UN personnel and premises during this summer’s Gaza conflict will likely never be made public.

Ban announced a five-member team on Monday to “investigate a number of specific incidents in which death or injuries occurred at, and/or damage was done to United Nations premises.  The Board will also review and investigate incidents in which weapons were found to be present on United Nations premises.”

A similar investigation was launched after Israel’s 2008 invasion of Gaza but the findings were never made public. Ban released a summary of the findings which was prepared with the assistance of an Israeli delegation.

UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told UN Tribune in an email that the board announced on Monday “will report to the Secretary-General and he will then consider what to do with the findings. As he did in 2009. the Secretary-General intends to make public a summary of the Board’s report.”

The internal board of inquiry announced on Monday, as with all such internal UN probes, will not make legal findings or consider questions of legal liability. Ban said in August that he expects accountability for innocent lives lost during the conflict. 

More than 500 Palestinian children were killed in this summer’s conflict and hundreds of others sustained life-altering injuries such as loss of limbs, blindness and severe scarring.

A total of more than 1,500 Palestinian civilians, including 306 women, as well as five Israelis were killed in the 50-day conflict.

Eleven staff members of the UN Relief and Works agency were killed while UN-operated schools came under attack on seven occasions resulting in 42 deaths. Rockets were also placed in UN schools by militants and these rockets later went missing.

Ban said he “expects that the Board will enjoy the full cooperation of all parties concerned.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

 

Pillay Pitches Stronger Security Council Role for Successor

Special Session Human Rights Council
Aug. 21, 2014, Outgoing UN human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, on Thursday suggested her successor provide informal monthly briefings to the Security Council to avert future crises.

Pillay’s pitch came after she scolded the 15-nation body over its inaction on crises during her tenure such as Syria, Gaza, Sri Lanka and Iraq. “I firmly believe that greater responsiveness by this Council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” she said in her final address to the Council.

The South African jurist was appointed in 2008 for a four-year term but fell foul of the US over her criticism of Israel and was only given a two-year second term.

The Council tends to act when a humanitarian situation arises out of conflict but Pillay stressed that human rights abuses are evident for years, even decades, before a major crisis erupts and the Council must must do more to prevent, rather than react to, conflicts.

Pillay also said Ban Ki-moon can do more in providing early warning to the Council on emerging crises. Ban launched the Rights Up Front plan last year in response to the UN’s “systematic failure” in responding to the final months of the 2009 war in Sri Lanka.  The plan’s aim is to prevent human rights abuses by acting on early warnings of human rights abuses.

“Within Rights Up Front, the Secretary-General can be even more proactive in alerting to potential crises, including situations that are not formally on the Council’s agenda,” she said.

Article 99 of the UN Charter empowers the secretary-general to “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

The human rights chief, who will be succeeded by Jordan’s outgoing UN envoy, Prince Zeid, also suggested the Council build on the new Arms Trade Treaty, “which requires arms exporters and importers to confirm that weapons will not be used to commit violations.”

“Where there are concerns about human rights in States that purchase arms, one condition of sale would be that they accept a small human rights monitoring team, with deployment funded by the Treaty’s Trust Fund,” she said.

The five permanent members of the Security Council are among the six biggest arms sellers in the world.

Prince Zeid assumes the role of high commissioner for human rights on Sept. 1. He has been succeeded as UN envoy by Dina Kavar, who becomes the sixth female ambassador to currently serve on the Council.

- Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

 

Image/UN Photo

Secret Cables Reveal Intrigue and Inner Workings of UN

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Aug 13, 2014 – Ban Ki-moon was privately “sympathetic to Israel’s position” when it invaded Gaza in 2008 but knew that publicly he would be “forced to shore up his image in the Arab world” and on the diplomatic front he was “worried about the Europeans seizing the initiative at the expense of the US.”

Those revelations are in one of the diplomatic cables from the US mission to the United Nations released by Wikileaks. The tranche of cables begin just prior to Susan Rice becoming US envoy.

A number of the cables recount Rice’s introductory meetings with UN officials and fellow diplomats.

In her meeting with France’s then envoy, Maurice Ripert, she is told that Paris will always consult with the US before taking any initiative in the Security Council. He also tells her that reforming the Council has to be a priority and that the “U.S. calls for Security Council reform to be directly linked to the reform of other parts of the UN, had been perceived as a containment strategy.” On a separate matter, another cable reveals that France’s representative had “described as ‘almost harassment’ the frequency with which its Perm Rep’s chauffeur has been receiving tickets while picking up the Ambassador from his residence.” 

Returning to Security Council reform, in her meeting with Japan’s envoy, Yukio Takasu, Rice told him that the “Administration agrees the Council does not currently reflect global realities and needs to adapt for its own viability and legitimacy. She added that one change in this Administration is that there is no need to link Security Council reform directly to overall UN reform.”

Rice met with Israel’s then envoy, Gabriela Shalev, the same day, Jan, 30, 2009, and was told by Shalev, “speaking confidentially,” on the discussions leading up to the adoption of Resolution 1860 that called for a ceasefire and withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza “that the Israeli delegation’s experience was that the UK and France were not trustworthy and that the U.S. was a more helpful and honest friend of Israel.”

In other meetings, Rice reports that both the Austrian and Mexican delegations – both Council members in 2009 – lamented that Resolution 1860 failed to call for respect for International Humanitarian Law, which governs the conduct of war and grave breaches of its rules constitute war crimes that can be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. During a closed-door Council meeting with Ban Ki-moon, Austria’s representative “welcomed the Secretary-General’s statements on international humanitarian law but pressed the Secretary-General to be more explicit in his meetings on the need for its respect.”

Rice was told by then UN aid chief John Holmes that “the crossings into Gaza are a crucial matter…If dual-use goods like cement can’t get in (none has gotten in for the last 18 months), we’ll get nowhere, said Holmes. The United States needs to put pressure on Israel to open the crossings and especially to allow in building materials,” he told Rice.

Holmes later wrote a book about his time heading humanitarian operations for the UN in which he was critical of both the secretary-general and the Security Council.

In a Feb. ’09 meeting with then UNGA president Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, Rice was told by d’Escoto that he had been approached to act as a conduit for Hamas to key players and he said he had been provided with contact information by Ramsey Clark for Hamas sources in Jordan and Lebanon. D’Escoto “listened intently to the Ambassador’s arguments against that,” the cable states, with Rice “reminding d’Escoto that the UN is a member of the Quartet and has set pre-conditions for dealing with Hamas, and that the PGA is a representative of the UN.”

Libya’s UN ambassador Mohamed Shalgham, who defected in 2011, informed Rice in March ’09 that then leader Muammar Gaddafi would be attending that year’s UN General Debate and “also plans to visit Washington to meet with President Obama for one to two hours.” Rice responded “that, typically, the President would issue an invitation to a head of state, requesting a visit to Washington.”

A May 4, 2009 cable reveals US anxiety about a forthcoming UN Board of Inquiry report into death and damage to United Nations personnel and facilities in Gaza following Israel’s earlier bombardment. Rice spoke with Ban and she reported that “the Secretary-General said his staff was working with an Israeli delegation on the text of the cover letter” that would accompany Ban’s public summary of the 184-page report that has never been released. “Ambassador Rice asked the Secretary-General to be back in touch with her before the letter and summary are released to the Council.”

“Ambassador Rice spoke with the Secretary-General two additional times. In the second conversation, she underscored the importance of having a strong cover letter that made clear that no further action was needed and would close out this issue. Secretary-General Ban called her after the letter had been finalized to report that he believed they had arrived at a satisfactory cover letter.”

In a follow-up cable on possible outcomes from the Board of Inquiry, Rice stated that “we cannot be assured of blocking procedurally a Council discussion but can block any product (either by withholding consensus on a PRST or Press statement, or vetoing a resolution).” She said the US was unlikely to get the support it needed from six of the 15 Council members to block a discussion.

In a later cable, Rice reports that the Council had come to an agreement that Ban should maintain the lead on any follow-up action on the report which found the Israeli government responsible for the deaths, injuries, and physical damage that occurred in seven of the nine cases it examined.

Israel later paid compensation to the UN for damage to its property but there was no compensation for the victims. The UN said the the financial issues relating to the attacks examined by the investigation were “concluded” and there was no criminal investigation into the deaths of UN employees.

On Tuesday, Ban, speaking about Israel’s current invasion of Gaza, told reporters that “Israel’s duty to protect its citizens from rocket attacks by Hamas and other threats is beyond question.”

“At the same time, the fighting has raised serious questions about Israel’s respect for the principles of distinction and proportionality. Reports of militant activity does not justify jeopardizing the lives and safety of many thousands of innocent civilians.”

“I have called for an investigation into the repeated shelling of UN facilities harboring civilians,” Ban said, though an investigation has yet to be launched.

“I expect accountability for the innocent lives lost and the damage incurred,” he said.

The coming weeks and months will tell if Ban intends to follow through on his call for accountability.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UNSC Draft on Gaza Invokes International Humanitarian Law

Palestinian Amb. Riyad Mansour Addressing the Security Council on Friday - UN Photo

Palestinian Amb. Riyad Mansour Addressing the Security Council on Friday – UN Photo

July 18, 2014 – The draft resolution that Jordan plans to circulate to Security Council members on Gaza includes a clause that explicitly refers to International Humanitarian Law.

Operative paragraph 3 of the draft textCalls upon all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in a Time of War of August 12, 1949.”

This language was absent from Resolution 1860 that ended Operation Cast Lead in 2008/09, an omission that disappointed several Council members then.

The statement that the 15-nation body agreed on July 12 also called upon parties to observe International Humanitarian Law.

A Council diplomat speaking to UN Tribune said the inclusion of language on international humanitarian law and on the protection of civilians in Saturday’s statement was significant. Council statements, while not binding, have to be agreed on by all fifteen members.

The diplomat added that at present there is no disagreement among Council members and there was consensus at Friday’s meeting in support of the Egyptian proposal for an immediate ceasefire.

The Council will meet again on Tuesday to discuss the crisis and, unless there is an end to hostilities by then, the resolution could be put to vote. If so, the ministerial committee formed by the Arab League on July 14, which is chaired by Kuwait and includes Morocco, Egypt and Jordan, would likely head to New York, at the foreign minister level, to press for adoption of the resolution. Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El Araby is also a member of the ministerial committee.

International humanitarian law regulates the conduct of war and grave breaches of its rules constitute war crimes that can be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court, which Palestine said it will join if Israel’s Operation Protective Edge continues.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Friday reported that 268 Palestinians have been killed since July 7, including 193 civilians. Among those killed in the past eleven days are 59 children, representing 22 percent of all fatalities.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Israel’s Gaza Invasion Likely to Spur UN Security Council Action

Security Council Meeting on the situation in the Ukraine
July 17, 2014 – Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza will likely lead to a Security Council resolution calling for withdrawal and a ceasefire despite US wishes that a regional solution be found to the crisis.

Washington would rather see an Egyptian-mediated fix but the current military government in Cairo no longer has clout over militant groups in Gaza.

The Council issued a carefully worded non-binding statement on Saturday calling for de-escalation and a resumption of the Egyptian-brokered 2012 ceasefire agreement. The statement, whose wording was fought over by Jordan and the US, made no reference to either Israel or Hamas but specified the protection of civilians.

In the five days since the Council’s statement, the number of civilians killed has risen steadily with some 50 children now among the innocent victims.

US envoy Samantha Power, who in April solemnly vowed to defend Israeli interests at the United Nations, had been silent on Gaza up until Thursday but shortly after State Dept. spokesperson Jen Psaki said the US is “heartbroken” by the high civilian death toll in Gaza and called on Israel to do more to protect civilians, she tweeted that the civilian toll is “heartbreaking” and the US is “using all diplomatic resources to support a ceasefire.”

Less than an hour later, Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza for the first time since Operation Cast Lead in December 2008. That three-week offensive killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, including 412 children and 110 women, according to UN figures.

In response, the UNSC passed Resolution 1860 on Jan. 8, 2009 with 14 Council members supporting, none against, and the US abstaining. Fighting ended ten days after its adoption.

That lead to almost four years of relative calm until fighting erupted in late-2012, which was ended by the Egyptian-mediated ceasefire.

The Obama administration is keen to avoid a showdown at the UN where the US has used its veto 43 times, the majority of times in support of Israel – most recently in 2011 when it cast the sole no vote on a Security Council resolution condemning settlements that was co-sponsored by some 80 UN member states.

But as the body charged with the primary responsibility of maintaining international peace and security, and with a large UN presence on the ground in Gaza, expect the Council to take action in the coming days.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo/UN Photo

UN: 23 Civilians Killed in Gaza Since Start of Israeli Offensive

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July 9, 2014 – Seven children were among the 23 civilians killed since the July 7 start of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge offensive in Gaza, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported on Wednesday.

About 900 people have been displaced by the airstrikes that have destroyed or damaged some 150 homes, OCHA said in a situation report.

A total of 35 Palestinians have been killed since the operation began and approximately 300 people have been injured, including 71 children and 66 women, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.

Four Israelis, including two civilians, have been injured as a result of rocket fire from Gaza, and some property has been damaged, OCHA reported.

It also says that hospitals in Gaza are operating but are short on supplies and electricity outages are disrupting operations.

In addition, 13 schools have been damaged by the strikes.

The UN Security Council is holding an emergency meeting on Gaza at 10am ET on Thursday. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will brief the 15-nation body who are also expected to hear from the Israeli and Palestinian envoys to the UN.