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

UN Reports Continuing Interactions Between IDF and Armed Groups in Golan

Israeli Forces in the Golan Heights (Feb. 2015) photo: Creative Commons/IDF

Israeli Forces in the Golan Heights (Feb. 2015) photo: Creative Commons/IDF

March 26, 2015 – UN peacekeepers continue to observe interactions between armed groups in the Golan Heights and members of the Israeli Defence Forces.

The information was in the latest report to the Security Council from Ban Ki-moon on the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force monitoring the 1974 ceasefire agreement between Israel and Syria.

“UNDOF observed one occasion in November [2014] and several in January and February when armed individuals crossed the ceasefire line, approached the technical fence [that runs along the length of the Israeli side of the buffer zone] and at times interacted with IDF across the ceasefire line in the vicinity of United Nations observation posts 51 and 54 [see map,]” Ban wrote in the report released this week.

The Al Nusra Front and allied groups control most of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights but are engaged in an ongoing battle with Iran-backed Hezbollah for control of the strategic plateau.

Ban’s report also said that trucks, some mounted with anti-aircraft guns, crossed over to the Israeli side and that packages were loaded onto a number of trucks before returning to the Syrian side. The report added that injured individuals were also transported to the Israeli side.

“In some instances, wounded individuals were handed over from the Bravo [Syrian] side to the Alpha [Israeli] side. During the evening of 20 January, in the area north of observation post 54, UNDOF observed two trucks crossing from the Bravo side to the Alpha side, where they were received by IDF personnel. The trucks were loaded with sacks before returning to the Bravo side,” Ban wrote.

“On at least four occasions in February, United Nations personnel at observation post 54 saw vehicles, including small trucks, crossing the ceasefire line from the Bravo side and approaching the technical fence,” the UN chief added. “On one such occasion, several vehicles, including some with anti-aircraft guns mounted on the back, were seen parked next to the technical fence.”

The UNDOF force has seen its size and scope reduced in recent months due to the deteriorating security situation and most of the troops are located on the Israeli side while also manning some key observation posts including on Mount Hermon.

Late last year, Ban recommended reducing the force from its mandated strength of about 900 personnel to less than 750 because of limited capacity and the reluctance of countries to offer troops for the mission. In the past year or so, Austria, the Philippines, Japan and Croatia have all withdrawn their contingents. Currently, troops from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands make up the force.

Recently, a spokesperson for the Czech president’s office said the country has offered troops to replace those departing.

“By sending Czech soldiers to the mission in the Golan Heights and possibly also to the mission in Lebanon, the president (Zeman) wants to not only confront the threat of Islamism, but also reinforce the defense of Israel,” Hynek Kmoníček, head of the foreign affairs section of the Presidential Office, told the daily Mladá fronta Dnes.

However, the spokesperson was corrected by the Czech military’s chief-of staff who said UNDOF’s mission “is not to defend Israel against possible attacks by Islamic militants, given the mission’s mandate and the capabilities of the Israeli forces.”

The report from Ban also said that UN vehicles stolen by Al Nusra are being used by the group and some have been outfitted with anti-aircraft guns.

The full report is below.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Report on UNDOF

Book Review: Failing to Protect – The UN and the Politicization of Human Rights

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 15.29.17
Feb. 23, 2015 - Peace and security, development, and human rights comprise the three pillars of the work of the United Nations but anyone who follows the world body will know that when it comes to the latter a significant majority of human rights abusing states escape UN scrutiny.

While it’s no secret that political power, political economy and voting blocs composed of autocratic states and weak democracies shield rights abusers in the UN system, Rosa Freedman’s “Failing to Protect: The UN and the Politicization of Human Rights” (Hurst:2014) is a welcome guide to what’s wrong with the UN’s human rights mechanism and it offers up some suggestions on putting it right.

The book is designed for the general reader and the opening chapters offer concise yet detailed accounts of international law and the UN human rights machinery. A later chapter makes crucial linkages between UN treaties and the codifying in national law of human rights protections.

In between, Freedman gives clear examples of the chicanery at work in protecting rights abusers as well as efforts to keep issues such as LGBT rights off the UN’s agenda, while also looking at some instances where the UN has put intense scrutiny on rights abusing states.

In a chapter titled “Look! We Did Something,” she focuses on Israel and South Africa and the scrutiny the latter receives at the UN (in 65 percent of UNGA resolutions from 1990 to 2013 that criticize a country, Israel is the country) as well as the ultimately successful pressure put on South Africa at the UN to end apartheid.

“No one would suggest that attention ought not to have been devoted to the ending of apartheid or to the occupation of Palestinian land,” she writes, but the real reason for the focus on these two countries is because South Africa during apartheid lacked political allies as is the case with Israel currently (with the notable exception of the United States in the Security Council and a handful of UNGA member states).

On the upside, the cases of Israel and South Africa show that “the UN can do something… [B]ut there is no clear link between the gravity of the situation and the decision to focus attention on that country.” Occupations in Tibet, Kashmir and Northern Cyprus and rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Belarus and Equatorial Guinea, to name just some, are routinely ignored by the UN.

In conclusion, Freedman states that the purpose of her book was to start a conversation “to detail some of the things that are not working with a view to finding a way in which they can be fixed.” More importantly, the conversation is not just for diplomats and governments, she writes: “It is our money; it is our world; it is our problem.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related:

Book Review: Un-Tied Nations – The United Nations, Peacekeeping and Global Governance

Book Review: The Procedure of the UN Security Council

Reviews: New Books on the ICC, Agenda Setting, and Irish Peacekeepers

UN Peacekeeper Killed Amid Israel – Hezbollah Tension

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 15.06.34

Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo, 36, was mortally wounded on Wednesday while serving with UNIFIL in southern Lebanon. (photo: UN/Spain)

Jan 28, 2015 –  A Spanish peacekeeper serving with the UN force in Lebanon was killed on Wednesday after Israel responded to an attack by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

“Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo died this morning during incidents between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the area of ​​responsibility of the Spanish contingent,” Spain’s UN mission said in a statement. “Corporal Cordoba was serving in the 4-28 position in the vicinity of Al Ghajar village.” [see map of UNIFIL deployment]

The Security Council was meeting behind closed doors at 4pm ET to discuss the incident. Spain is currently a non-permanent member of the Council, beginning its two-year term on Jan 1 this year.

There are some 10,000 troops from 36 countries serving with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. Corporal Toledo, who was married, was serving his second tour of duty with UNIFIL, having deployed in November. He is the 308th peacekeeping fatality for the mission since its formation in 1978.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed earlier when Hezbollah fired on an Israel army convoy in the Shebba farms area along Israel, Syria and Lebanese borders.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Palestine Accession to ICC Effective April 1

150px-International_Criminal_Court_logo.svg

Jan 7, 2015, Palestine will become the 123rd member of the International Criminal Court on April 1st, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Ban, in his capacity as the UN depository of treaties, said in a statement on Tuesday that the State of Palestine had acceded to the Rome Statute, which governs the Court, and this would become effective in April. Palestine handed over the required documentation on Jan 1 and the court’s jurisdiction becomes effective 60 days the first day of the following month.

In a submission on Jan 2, Palestine granted the Court jurisdiction over crimes committed in their territory since June 2014. That would include the war in Gaza this past summer.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 03.21.40

2014 Ends with Security Council Defeat of Palestinian Resolution

SC vote on Palistine
Jan 5, 2015 – The last act of the 2014 Security Council was to defeat a draft resolution calling on Israel to withdraw from territory it occupied since 1967.

Eight countries supported the text which was put to a vote on Dec. 30 – Argentina, Chad, China, Chile, France, Jordan, Luxembourg and Russia – while five abstained – Britain, Lithuania, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Korea. The United States and Australia voted against the text.

That the draft did not secure the requisite nine votes needed for adoption meant the United States was not forced to use its veto for the 43rd time in defense of Israel. But it was Samantha Power’s first no vote in the Council since assuming the post of US envoy to the UN in August 2013.

It was also Australia’s fist no vote in the Council in its two-year term which ended on Dec. 31st.

The vote exposed the lack of unity among EU countries on the Palestinian question with France and Luxembourg voting for the draft while Britain and Lithuania abstained. There was also disunity among UN regional groups, with the exception of Latin America where both Council members from the region – Argentina and Chile – supported the text.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday said he plans to re-submit the resolution. Two of the countries who ended their non-permanent term on the Security Council on Dec. 31 supported the resolution – Argentina and Luxembourg, two more abstained, Rwanda and South Korea, while Australia voted against it.

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 15.42.17

Security Council membership in 2015

Of the five new countries joining the Council for 2015/16, Angola, Malaysia and Venezuela are almost certainties to support the draft resolution and while the positions of New Zealand and Spain are unclear, neither is thought to oppose the resolution.

Although the chances of the draft securing the nine votes needed for adoption increase with the composition of the new Council, the United States will more than likely use its veto to defeat the text.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo/UN Photo

UN Peacekeepers Observe IDF Interacting With Al Nusra in Golan

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 9.09.26 PM
Dec. 4, 2014 – UN troops monitoring the 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria have witnessed interactions between members of the Israeli Defence Forces and the Al Nusra Front who have taken over a large part of the Golan Heights.

The information is included in a report by Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council issued on Thursday on the activities of the UN Disengagement Observer Force. The peacekeeping mission was forced to relocate its troops from the Golan because of a deteriorating security situation which included 45 Fijian troops kidnapped by the rebels in August.

In the report Ban writes, “Following the evacuation of UNDOF personnel from position 85 on 28 August, UNDOF sporadically observed armed members of the opposition interacting with IDF across the ceasefire line in the vicinity of United Nations position 85.” [see map]

The bulk of the 930-strong UNDOF force have relocated to the Israeli (Alpha) side of the ceasefire line while the mission maintains some positions in southern and northern (Mount Hermon) parts of the Golan Heights. Because of the limited capacity to perform its mandate, Ban has recommended reducing the force by some 200 troops.

In their hasty withdrawal from positions in the Golan in mid-September, the troops were unable to secure all of their assets. “Unfortunately some assets and equipment were left behind,” Ban writes. UN Tribune reported in September that Al Nusra had previously seized several UN armored vehicles as well as taken command of facilities the UN had vacated.

Ban identifies Al Nusra as the group behind the kidnapping of the UN troops. “It should be noted here that from information posted on social media as well as in the course of its efforts to secure the release of the peacekeepers, the United Nations learned that its personnel had been taken and held by members of the Nusra Front. There were indications that the Nusra Front intended to detain additional UNDOF personnel and take from UNDOF more weapons and vehicles as opportunities arose.”

In the report, Ban writes that the Syrian government had threatened to bomb camps hosting IDPs in the Golan Heights.

“During the reporting period, UNDOF observed two tented camps housing internally displaced persons in the vicinity of United Nations position 80…UNDOF estimates that from 60 to 70 families live in the camps…Late in September, the Senior Syrian Arab Delegate sent a letter to the UNDOF Force Commander stating that the camps for internally displaced persons were not used for humanitarian reasons but as a base for “armed terrorist” groups who also crossed to the Alpha side. The Delegate
requested that UNDOF remove the camps within a period of 15 days, after which the camps would be considered a legitimate target for the Syrian armed forces.”

UNDOF informed the Syrian delegate that it was not in its mandate to relocate civilians displaced by conflict and urged that no attack be carried out. In addition, the ICRC were informed of the Syrian request, the report states.

It also says that Syrian forces have withdrawn from a number of locations in the ceasefire area. “Over the course of the reporting period, the Syrian armed forces withdrew from additional positions and checkpoints in the areas of separation and limitation, leaving armed groups in control of more territory in the UNDOF area of operations.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Ban Ki-Moon Launches Internal Probe on Gaza Conflict

Gaza_conflict_map2
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

 

Al Nusra Placed Explosives at UNDOF Site, Stole Vehicles, Uniforms

UNDOF
Sept. 15, 2014 – Al Qaeda linked militants have taken over UN positions in Golan, are wearing United Nations blue berets and after taking Fijian troops hostage they surrounded another UN base with explosives to prevent troops from evacuating, detonating one of the explosives.

These are among the details in Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on the beleaguered UNDOF mission in Golan where on Monday the UN evacuated all its troops to the Israeli side of the ceasefire line after the security situation deteriorated even further.

Some 300 militants were involved in the incident where the 45 Fijian troops were taken captive, Ban’s report says. The troops were released on Thursday. The Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported that Qatar paid a $20 million ransom to release the peacekeepers.

Ban’s report presents the peacekeepers as essentially operating in an active war zone, caught up in a conflict between armed opposition groups and Syrian armed forces. The IDF have also fired numerous artillery rounds and launched air strikes as a result of firing from the Syrian side into Israel, including dropping several bombs near Camp Faouar, the headquarters for the UN mission in Golan. A number of Syrian government soldiers were killed as a result of Israeli fire.

The report, released on Monday, also says cluster munitions have been used near UN facilities.

Syrian armed forces are operating inside the ceasefire line in breach of the disengagement agreement. There are at least ten tanks belonging to Syrian forces operating inside the zone while armed groups also possess tanks. Both sides are operating checkpoints inside the area, the report, which covers May 29 to Sept. 3, states.

The armed groups are “in control of numerous United Nations armoured vehicles,” and have looted and taken command of facilities that UN troops have vacated.

“The activities of several armed elements, including the al-Nusra Front, in the UNDOF area of operation since late August, and the direct confrontations with United Nations personnel, forced UNDOF to vacate all but one of its positions in the southern area of separation,” the report states [see map]. “Armed opposition groups and other armed groups have gained control of a large part of the area of separation, including a section of the main road connecting  the two UNDOF camps and the crossing between the Alpha [Israeli] and the Bravo [Syrian] sides.”

The report adds that the UN peacekeepers have witnessed several interactions between the Israeli Defense Forces and armed groups.

“Throughout the reporting period, UNDOF frequently observed armed members of the opposition interacting with IDF across the ceasefire line in the vicinity of United Nations position 85. UNDOF observed armed members of the opposition transferring 47 wounded persons from the Bravo side across the ceasefire line to IDF, and IDF on the Alpha side handing over 43 treated individuals to the armed members of the opposition on the Bravo side,” it says.

UNDOF, which costs $64 million per year to run as of 2014, was created in 1974 to observe the disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel. It currently has 1,271 troops, including 48 women, from Fiji, Ireland, the Philippines, Nepal, India and the Netherlands.

In his conclusion, Ban writes that “UNDOF will continue to use its best efforts to monitor the ceasefire between Syrian and Israeli forces and see that it is observed, albeit in increasingly challenging and difficult circumstances.” He also calls for greater support from the Security Council who are scheduled to discuss Ban’s report on Sept. 18.

But it appears that the fate of the mission is sealed for now after Monday’s decision to relocate all troops to the Israeli side, essentially ending UNDOF’s mission to operate in the separation zone observing the ceasefire agreement.

The full report is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Al Nusra Confirms Holding UN Peacekeepers

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 5.23.56 AM

A photo posted on Twitter by the Al Nusral front showing the UN Fijian peacekeepers abducted from their position in the Golan Heights.

Aug 31, 2014 – The Al Nusra Front have confirmed they have taken hostage UN peacekeepers from Fiji abducted from the UN’s Golan Heights observer mission.

The group said it is holding the peacekeepers hostage “in reply to all crimes committed by the UN against al-Sham since 1974 in protecting the zionist Israeli border, we took 43 UNDOF hostages.”

The UN have said that 44 Fijian troops have been detained. It has not yet said who is holding them hostage.

“Al Nusra is on terrorist list and on sanction list. All we do is offer support for our brothers in Syris. In exchange, we face the UN article 7,” the group said. Article 7 of the UN charter authorizes the use of force to maintain international peace and security.

“We confirm all 43 UNDOF are in a secure place, in good health and receive medical attention,” Al Nusra said.

The UN observer force in Golan was established in 1974 in response to a ceasefire agreement agreement between Israel and Syria following the end of the 1973 war. It patrols a demiltarized zone agreed on both sides.

UN troops were mandated to observe the ceasefire, in the absence of a peace agreement between the countries, and occupy a zone which both sides declared should be demilitarized, according to their disengagement agreement.

Meanwhile, the UN says the 40 Filipino troops pinned down in their position have been vacated following a ceasefire agreed with armed groups.

Some 70 Filipino troops had come under fire in their positions following the abduction of the Fijian troops. Irish troops rescued some 30 of those peacekeepers on Friday. The remaining Filipino were troops engaged in a standoff with armed groups, including Al Nusra, until a ceasefire was arranged.

Fijian Commander Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitogan told the Fiji Times that he has been informed that his troops are safe and have been removed from the Golan by their captives but is unsure of their location. “I am sure sooner or later they will provide a demand to the UN but at this stage we can wait and see what happens in the next few days.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz