Putin Coming to New York for UN General Assembly as Russia Presides Over UNSC

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Aug 28, 2015 – With Russia presiding over the Security Council in September, its president Vladimir Putin is also coming to New York later next month for the high-level segment of the opening of the 70th General Assembly.

Putin last addressed the UN in 2005 for the organization’s 60th anniversary.

With Moscow chairing the Council next month, Putin will likely preside over a meeting of the 15-nation body during his visit.

If he does, it will be interesting to watch for which world leaders attend the meeting – and which ones will decide to boycott.

US President Barack Obama chaired a meeting of the Council last September and in September 2009.

A record number of world leaders are expected for this year’s opening of the General Assembly, which will also mark the UN’s 70th anniversary, including Pope Francis who will be the first pontiff since Benedict XVI in 2005 to address the gathering.

A high-level summit is taking place on Sept 25-27 where world leaders will adopt a set of goals to replace the MDGs, which expire at the end of the year.

Update: Russia has announced it will hold a high-level Security Council meeting at the Foreign Minister level on Sept. 30 to be chaired by FM Lavrov on “Maintenance of international peace and security: settlement of conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa and countering the terrorist threat in the region.” The concept note for the meeting is here

UN to Re-Examine Death of Dag Hammarskjold

First Phase Digital
Feb. 9, 2014 - Ban Ki-moon has asked the General Assembly to look into new evidence concerning the 1961 death of Dag Hammarskjold.

Ban’s request came in a Feb. 4 letter to the 193-member Assembly and may result in a re-opening of the UN investigation into the circumstances surrounding the former Swedish secretary-general’s death when the plane he was traveling in crashed over Zambia.

A 1962 investigation proved inconclusive.

The new evidence was presented to the UN secretariat in September last year. A statement at the time from Ban’s office said Hammarskjold had given “unparalleled service to the UN and paid the ultimate price” and that “the United Nations is among those most concerned in arriving at the whole truth.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Letter from Ban Ki-moon asking UN General Assembly to look Into new evidence concerning death of Dag Hammar…

 

photo/UN photo

Dalia Grybauskaite: The Next UN Secretary-General?

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Lithuania President Dalia Grybauskaite addressing the UN General Assembly on Sept. 26, 2013 (UN Photo/Ryan Brown)

Sept. 27, 2013 – It’s still a few years away but already there’s speculation about who will succeed Ban Ki-moon when his second and final term as secretary-general ends in 2016.

Eastern Europe is the only one of the five United Nations regional groups that has never had a secretary-general and there’s a view inside the UN that Eastern Europe’s turn will come at last.

Last year’s General Assembly president, Vuk Jeremic of Serbia, and current UN envoy to Afghanistan, Slovakia’s Jan Kubis, are among the names that have been mooted.

But the UN has also never had a female secretary-general and for an organization that spends a lot of time and resources promoting gender equality, there’s also a lot of talk that it’s past time a woman was at the helm after eight successive male secretaries-general.

Enter Lithuania President Dalia Grybauskaite. A former EU budget commissioner, she was elected as an independent candidate in 2009. Dubbed the Steel Magnolia, she cites Margaret Thatcher and Mahatma Gandhi as her political role models. Lithuania currently holds the presidency of the European Union and is expected to secure a two-year term on the Security Council for 2014-16, during which time the next UN chief will be selected.

In her address to the General Assembly on Thursday, Grybauskaite spoke about how her country, once a recipient of international aid, is now a donor country, and that the 21st century “must be the age of solidarity, equality and sustainable development.” And she began and ended her address speaking about the post-2015 development process, which will be guided by the next secretary-general.

But she also spoke about “those who want to enforce a specific course of development on others, by economic pressure, energy levers or cyber tools, by distorted information, or threats.” No doubt a reference to Russia. And therein lies the major obstacle to her possible selection as the next UN secretary-general: avoiding a Russian veto.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Will Ban Ki-moon’s words be used to bolster US case for strike against Assad?

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For many months, it has been evident that President Assad and his Government have lost all legitimacy.” – Ban Ki-moon, June 7, 2012

Sept. 5, 2013 – These words from the UN secretary-general could be used in arguments to justify a US strike against targets inside Syria by the United States in the coming weeks.

The UN charter prohibits military action against another member state unless authorized by the Security Council or in self-defense. 

But the US has argued that the Assad government has lost legitimacy, and they have the words of Ban Ki-moon to back them up.

The secretary-general is appointed by the General Assembly at the recommendation of the Security Council and the question of whether he is a secretary or a general is open to interpretation, that’s to say how much weight do his words carry. Here is the UN charter’s vague description of the role of the secretary-general.

As this ASIL article by Kenneth Anderson points out, saying a government has lost legitimacy is a political statement not a legal statement but the US “might go a step further and say that the Assad government is no longer the legitimate, lawful government of Syria, and argue that it uses force not against UN member state ‘Syria,’ but rather against the illegitimate Assad regime and in collective self-defense of the Syrian people.”

While such a claim will be contested, not least by Russia, who could argue that “the Assad government meets essentially all the formal requirements of international law to be the legal government,” a number of countries including the six countries comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council have recognized the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) and the 22-nation Arab League has given Syria’s seat to the SOC, against the objections of Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon. Britain, France, Italy and Spain have also recognized the group as a legitimate representative.

One way around the legitimacy question would be a General Assembly vote on who should represent Syria at the UN, though the US is thought to be unwilling to establish such a precedent should countries unfriendly to Israel consider a similar move in the future with regard to Palestinian representation.

Ban said today in Russia that he has taken “note of the ongoing debate over what course of action should be taken by the international community” regarding the allegations of chemical weapons use and that “all those actions should be taken within the framework of the UN Charter, as a matter of principle.”

- Denis Fitzgerald

photo: UN photo/Eskinder Debebe

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

An Independent Scotland Not Likely to Face Difficulties Joining UN

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Feb. 11, 2013 – British Prime Minister David Cameron was correct when he said earlier on Monday that an independent Scotland will have to renegotiate its relationship with international bodies but secessionists need not worry about Edinburgh encountering problems joining the UN.

While Kosovo and Palestine see their path to full UN membership blocked in the Security Council by Russia and the United States respectively, there are several examples of newly-independent states getting admitted hassle-free as full United Nations member states.

South Sudan was admitted to the UN on July 9, 2012, a year after it broke from Khartoum. The Czech Republic and Slovakia were both admitted to the UN on Jan 19, 1993, nineteen days after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.

Several former Soviet states were also admitted in the early nineties including Central Asian countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan and Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The former Yugoslav states Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia all joined the UN in 1992 or 1993. Before then, Bangladesh was admitted shortly after its separation from Pakistan. An earlier example is the readmission of Syria after it broke from the then United Arab Republic.

Full membership of the United Nations requires a recommendation from the Security Council and a simple majority vote in the General Assembly.

Barring an unlikely veto from the UK, Edinburgh should not have a problem getting the Security Council’s recommendation and would be expected to easily secure General Assembly approval.

A more troubling scenario for Scotland is whether it would have to renegotiate the 14,000 international treaties the UK has signed.

Denis Fitzgerald

Sudan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe Among Thirteen to Lose UNGA Voting Rights

Jan. 30, 2012 – The UN General Assembly has suspended the voting rights of thirteen member states over non-payment of dues.

Among the thirteen who have fallen foul of Article 19 of the UN Charter are Sudan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. 

Article 19 declares that:

A Member of the United Nations which is in arrears in the payment of its financial contributions to the Organization shall have no vote in the General Assembly if the amount of its arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years. 

A minimum payment of $347,879 is required from Sudan to get its voting privileges back, according to the UN Committee on Contributions, while Venezuela will have to stump up $5,113,575 and Zimbabwe $38,815.

In all, 18 countries are not in compliance with Article 19, but five of those, including Central African Republic and Somalia, can still vote as the GA decided that inability to pay is beyond their control.

A list of the countries in arrears under Article 19 is here. This list was last updated on the UN’s website on Jan 21. Equatorial Guinea and Kyrgyzstan have paid up since then and have their voting rights restored, Allison Watson from the Committee on Contributions secretariat said Wednesday.

- Denis Fitzgerald

Susan Rice Irked at ‘State of Palestine’ Nameplate in Security Council

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Foreign Minister Riyad Al Maliki was the first Palestinian to address the Security Council since the Nov 29 Vote Recognizing the State of Palestine (photo credit: UN Photo) 

Jan. 23, 2013 – Palestinian Foreign Minister Riayd Al Maliki addressed the Security Council’s regular monthly Mideast meeting on Wednesday sitting behind a “State of Palestine” nameplate, provoking a stern response from US envoy Susan Rice

Since the Nov 29 General Assembly vote recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state, the UN Secretariat has changed the designation of ‘Palestine’ to ‘State of Palestine,’ in line with the GA resolution.

In her remarks to the Council, Rice had this to say:

The United States does not consider UNGA resolution 67/19 as bestowing Palestinian “statehood” or recognition. Only direct negotiations to settle final status issues will lead to this outcome. Therefore, in our view, any reference to the “State of Palestine” in the United Nations, including the use of the term “State of Palestine” on the placard in the Security Council or the use of the term “State of Palestine” in the invitation to this meeting or other arrangements for participation in this meeting, do not reflect acquiescence that “Palestine” is a state. This statement of our position shall apply to Palestinian participation in meetings of United Nations Security Council or in other UN meetings, regardless of whether the United States specifically intervenes on this matter in the future.  

She also had tough words for Israel, whose envoy, Ron Prosor, told the Council – in reference to Israeli settlement plans – that “Jews have been building homes in Jerusalem since the time of King David 3,000 years ago” and that “the presence of Jewish homes in Jerusalem” is not a threat to peace.

Rice, who spoke after both Maliki and Prosor, said Israel’s current settlement plans “run counter to peace” and “would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution.”

Meanwhile, the Holy See (Vatican) envoy, speaking at the same meeting, suggested that the solution to the Jerusalem issue is to have the city administered by a body similar to the UN Trusteeship Council (which suspended operations in 1994 following the independence of Palau).  

Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt said that the only way to guarantee freedom of religion and access to holy sites “might be to involve the United Nations in the Holy City’s safekeeping and administration in some relevant and effective capacity.”

Such a plan was originally envisioned in Resolution 181, which the General Assembly passed on Nov 29, 1947.

- Denis Fitzgerald

UN ‘Regret’ Over Serbian War Song Played at UNGA Concert

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Ban Ki-moon and Vuk Jeremic at Monday’s Concert (source: Blic)

Jan. 17, 2013 – The United Nations has expressed regret that a Serbian war song was sung at a concert held in the General Assembly hall on Monday.

The event, commemorating the Julian New Year and Serbia’s presidency of the General Assembly, was attended by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic, who is Serbia’s former foreign minister.

For the final performance, the Viva Vox choir sung “March on the River Drina,” a patriotic song that recalls a World War 1 battle between Serb and Austro-Hungarian forces on the river Drina, which runs through the Bosnia-Serbia border. The song later became an anthem for ultra-nationalist Serb forces.

A protest letter sent to Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday states that, ”The genocide that occurred in Srebrenica and Zepa, and other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was conducted by Serbian aggressors while blasting this song as they raped, murdered, and ethnically cleansed the non-Serb population.”*

On Thursday, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said: “We are aware that some people were offended by the encore song at the concert held at the General Assembly on Monday and we sincerely regret that people were offended by this song which was not listed in the official program. The Secretary-General was obviously not aware what this song was about or the use that was made of it in the past.”

At the closing of Monday’s performance, Jeremic dedicated the concert to all those who dream of world peace.

A war song seems an unusual tribute to world peace. 

- Denis Fitzgerald

* “The women knew the rapes would begin when ‘Mars na Drinu’ played over the loudspeaker of the main mosque… While ‘Mars na Drinu’ was playing, the women were ordered to strip and soldiers entered the homes, taking away the ones they wanted. The ages of women taken ranged from 12 to 60. Frequently the soldiers would seek out mother and daughter combinations.” source: “Seventh Report on War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia: Part II” US submission of information to the United Nations Security Council. 1993.