UN General Assembly Debate – Day 1 Wrap

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin at the leaders lunch hosted by Ban Ki-moon (UN Photo)

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin at a leaders lunch hosted by Ban Ki-moon on Monday (UN Photo)

Sept. 28, 2015 – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the 70th General Debate with a speech in which he called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court and said that five countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkey and the United States – are key to finding a solution to the conflict, now in its fifth year, and which has claimed more than 250,000 lives.

Three of those countries – the United States, Russia and Iran – spoke in the morning session with U.S. President Barack Obama telling delegates that the US is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to find a solution but there is ultimately no place for Bashar Al Assad in a future Syrian government. He called for a “managed transition away” from Assad who he held responsible for killing tens of thousands of his own citizens and creating the conditions that led to the emergence of ISIS, who he called “an apocalyptic cult.” Obama said military power alone is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria. Preempting criticism from Putin, he said the U.S. learned a “hard lesson” in Iraq and that after the 2011 intervention in Libya, U.S. and other NATO members did not do enough for the country after the killing of Muammar Gaddafi and this had contributed to the collapse of institutions there.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, making his first appearance at the UN in ten years, told the General Assembly that foreign interference in the Middle East and North Africa had lead to the “flagrant destruction of national institutions” and that “nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.” He said arming opposition forces in Syria only leads to more arms going to, and people joining, ISIS. Putin said it should “be acknowledged” that Assad forces and Kurdish militia are the only ones “truly fighting ISIS.” Russia has been supplying arms to Assad forces and recently moved military logistics equipment into Syria. Putin called for a coalition to fight terrorism “similar to the anti-Hitler coalition” and that the Sept. 30 ministerial Security Council meeting under the Russian presidency is aimed at agreeing on a resolution on coordinating actions on fighting ISIS and other terrorist groups.

Neither Obama nor Putin made any mention of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in their addresses. Nor did either mention the deteriorating situation in Yemen.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, began his speech by saying mismanagement by Saudi Arabia had led to last week’s Haj tragedy that left more than 800 pilgrims dead, including more than 200 Iranians. He called for an independent investigation and immediate consular access to help identify the bodies. Rouhani said the agreement reached with the E3+3 on Iran’s disputed nuclear program had opened up a “new chapter in Iran’s relations with the world.” He said his country is “prepared to assist in the eradication of terrorism and … are prepared to help bring about democracy in Syria and Yemen.” He blamed U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and its support for Israel, which he called the “Zionist regime,” for the current situation in the Middle East. He closed by declaring “ultimate victory will be won by those with good-natured piety.” Iran provides arms and financing for Hezbollah, which is currently fighting in Syria in support of Assad forces. Members of Iran’s Republican Guards are also fighting on Assad’s behalf in Syria. A recent UN Security Council report stated that an Iranian vessel had delivered 180 tons of arms to a Yemen port under Houthi control.

In the afternoon, Obama held a leaders summit on peacekeeping and said some 50 countries had pledged to contribute an additional 30,000 troops to current and future peace operations. He added that the US would double the number of military advisers serving in UN peacekeeping operations. In a separate memo, Obama said he would not relinquish command over any troops deployed to UN peace operations. The US currently has 78 personnel deployed in UN missions. The total number of current peacekeepers deployed in 16 missions is more than 106,000. The U.S. is the biggest financial contributor to peacekeeping operations – assessed at 28 percent of the more than $8 billion annual budget.

China’s President Xi Jingpin said his country would provide 8,000 troops to a UN peacekeeping standby force as well as providing $100 million to the African Union for peacekeeping operations. Beijing, which is the largest troop contributor among the permanent five members of the Security Council, will also take the lead in establishing a standing UN police force.

Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said his country – currently the fourth largest troop contributor with more than 7,500 Pakistanis deployed in blue-helmet operations – vowed continuing support for peacekeeping, including pledging additional utility helicopters, an infantry battalion, and a canine unit. He said UN peacekeeping should not be used for counter-terrorism operations.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the summit that troop contributing countries do not have a role in the decision-making process to form a peacekeeping operation. He also said troop contributing countries lack representation in senior management posts and as force commanders. India, which UN insiders say covets the top peacekeeping job currently held by France, is the third biggest troop contributor, and has served in 48 of 69 peacekeeping mission and lost 161 troops. Modi pledged an additional 850 troops for new operations as well as three police units. In closing, he called for reform of the Security Council to keep the UN relevant.

Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi spoke of his country’s contributions to peacekeeping, which includes heading the UN mission in Lebanon, a 10,000-strong force. He proposed establishing a peacekeeping unit that would be tasked with preserving cultural heritage.

Among the some 50 countries also speaking was the Netherlands. The country’s prime minister, Mark Rutte, announced that the current deployment of 450 Dutch troops with MINUSMA in Mali would be extended by one year. He also said the Netherlands, in conjunction with the U.S., is devising a training program for peacekeepers on protection of civilians. The country is still grappling with shame over the decision by its troops to handover Bosnian Muslims to Serb forces in 1995 when they were sheltering in a UN compound. A court in the Hague last year found the Netherlands liable for the deaths of 300 Bosnian Muslim men killed in the Srebrenica massacre.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz 

As Obama Heads to General Assembly, US Debt to UN Balloons to $3 Billion

US President Barack Obama Addresses the General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2014

US President Barack Obama Addresses the General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2014

 

Sept. 14, 2015 – US President Barack Obama will make his penultimate appearance at the United Nations later this month where he will address the annual General Debate and speak at a high-level summit where the sustainable development goals will be adopted.

Obama will also host a summit on increasing international involvement in UN peacekeeping. The United States is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, assessed at 28 percent of the annual $8.25 billion budget – but DC hasn’t yet paid its contribution for 2015 and still has arrears from 2014.

In total, the US owes peacekeeping dues for 2014 and 2015 totaling more than $2 billion, according to information provided to UN Tribune from the United Nations budget office.

Washington also has yet to pay its 2015 dues to the UN’s regular budget. The United States is assessed at 22 percent of the regular budget for a total of $655 million for 2015. According to UN figures, the US owes a combined total of $926 million to the regular budget, which includes an outstanding $270 million from last year.

The United States is the only permanent member of the Security Council to not yet pay its 2015 dues, according to information from the UN Committee on Contributions website.

The US government’s fiscal year begins in October and large payments are typically made at the beginning of the fiscal cycle, though not nearly enough to cover the total back debt.

Information from the UN Budget Office on US debt to the United Nations

Information from the UN Budget Office on US debt to the United Nations (click to enlarge)

While many US lawmakers say that the United Nations is a bloated bureaucracy that offers little to no value for US citizens, this is far from the case from a strictly economic point of view. In fact, it is a boon to the New York City economy and to US companies.

Of the 43,000 staff working for the UN Secretariat, some 2,700 are US citizens, or 6.2% of the total staff. Japan, the second highest financial contributor, assessed at some $300 million to the annual budget, has a mere 167 staff members or 0.59%, according to the latest available Composition of the Secretariat report.

In addition, a 2010 report from UN Foundation showed that the UN Secretariat procured more than $832 million from US companies in 2010. The report also said that the economic benefit to New York City by having UN Headquarters located in the city is about $3.3bln annually.

While the US is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, there are only 78 UN peacekeepers from the United States deployed in current peacekeeping operations.

– Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

Related Story: US, UK, France Tops for UN Secretariat Staff

Republicans Likely to Nix Funding for UN Climate Agencies After Midterms

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Nov. 4, 2014 – The $12 million that the United States Senate has allocated to UN climate agencies is expected to be among the first casualties if Republican take control of the chamber following Tuesday’s midterm elections.

The current Senate bill on funding for state and foreign operations includes $11,700,000 for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control (IPCC) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The bill was approved by a current Democrat-controlled sub-committee in June but has yet to be put to a full vote.

However, the House version of the bill passed by a Republican-controlled sub-committee, also in June, states that “none of the funds in this Act may be made available for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change/United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

While the sum involved is miniscule compared to the overall $48 billion budget approved by both sub-committees, it represents a combined one-third of the $7 million IPCC and $26 million UNFCC budgets.

The pulling of this funding will be a big blow to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ahead of next year’s climate talks in Paris. Ban has made climate change his signature issue and is hoping that a global pact can be agreed before he steps down in 2016.

A Republican-controlled Senate will also scupper what slim chances there already were that the US would ratify the Arms Trade Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Funding for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) will also likely get nixed by a Republican-controlled Senate. The House bill denies any funding to the agency while the Senate version allocates $37.5 million to the UNFPA – the agency which promotes family planning and reproductive health. Under President George W. Bush, all funding for the agency was withheld. President Obama restored this funding after his election.

UNRWA, the agency that supports Palestinian refugees, could also see its funds cut under a Republican Senate. The US is the largest single donor to the agency.

In a further blow to the US relationship with the UN, under a Republican-controlled Senate, Rand Paul, who last year proposed an amendment calling for the US to stop providing funds to the United Nations, would take over as chair of the subcommittee responsible for oversight of the United States participation in the United Nations system.

Among the new batch of Republican senators is Joni Ernst from Iowa who has stated that the UN wants to take Iowan farmers off their land and move them into cities.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Did Obama Rebuke Kirchner for not Co-Sponsoring Resolution?

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Sept. 25, 2014 – President Obama’s rebuke yesterday to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez-Kirchner during a summit meeting of the Security Council to adopt a US-drafted resolution on combatting foreign terrorist fighters took UN watchers by surprise.

After Kirchner delivered her 14 minute statement, Obama – who spoke for 40 minutes in his address to the General Assembly the day before – said that “we have to make sure we’re respectful of the time constraints.” He added that the meeting had to end by 5pm, which was also baffling. As one journalist put it, the lights would stay on in the Security Council chamber if the meeting went past 5pm – which it did: the meeting, which Obama was chairing, adjourned near 7pm.

Kirchner had rushed to the Council chamber immediately after delivering her address to the General Assembly. She appeared to be speaking without notes, but nevertheless her points were clear: that respecting human rights in the course of combatting terrorism was crucial, otherwise you’re just “feeding this monster.” Kirchner also noted that some of the “freedom fighters” who had been armed in the past are now deemed terrorists. She pointedly said terrorists should be “brought to justice,” inferring that killing terrorists is not justice.

“The way in which we’ve been fighting terrorism has not been up to the job,” Kirchner said. “Something is not working.” She also referenced the provision of military aid by the United States to Sadaam Hussein and the Afghan mujheddin in the 1980s.

Argentina was not among the 104 co-sponsors of the resolution and was one of only three Security Council members not to sign on. The others were China and Russia. All three voted for the resolution.

A source told UN Tribune that Argentina had raised concerns during Council consultations on the draft text. Specifically on due process, and that the combatting of terrorism should be respectful of human rights and the resolution should emphasize the importance of better integration in societies.

The 89 states that didn’t co-sponsor the resolution also include Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, India, Mexico, Peru, Tunisia and South Africa.

Human Rights Watch was also critical the resolution. “There is no question that states should address the threat of terrorism, but the resolution risks repeating many of the mistakes of the post-September 11 era,” Andrea Prasow, HRW’s Washington director said. “The resolution says nothing about due process protections.”

See Obama’s rebuke here, courtesy of C-Span:

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Kenyatta Becomes First ICC Indictee to Address the UN Security Council

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Sept. 24, 2013 – Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta became the first International Criminal Court indictee to address the Security Council when on Wednesday he spoke at US President Barack Obama’s summit meeting on foreign terrorist fighters.

In one sense, his presence was fitting. Kenya has suffered more than most countries as a result of foreign terrorist fighters. Kenyatta cancelled his visit to last year’s high-level segment of the General Assembly because of the Westgate Mall terrorist attack which killed 67 people. The anniversary of the attack was on Sunday.

Al-Shabab militants claimed responsibility for the assault on the mall saying it was retribution for Kenya’s troop presence in Somalia, where the group has its home base.

But Kenyatta’s presence in the chamber where decisions on upholding international peace and security are made is also troubling. He was indicted on five counts of crimes against humanity over the post-election violence in 2007-08 that killed more than 1,100 people.

In November last year, the Council rejected a resolution that would have delayed the start of his trial when a draft text pressed by the African Union failed to garner enough votes. Seven Security Council members voted for the draft resolution while the eight others abstained.

After the November 2013 Security Council vote, US Ambassador Samantha Power, explaining her abstention, said: “The families of the victims of the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya have already waited more than five years for a judicial weighing of the evidence to commence. We believe that justice for the victims of that violence is critical to the country’s long-term peace and security. It is incumbent on us all to support accountability for those responsible for crimes against humanity.”

As it stands, the trial is in danger of collapsing. On Sept. 5, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC filed a notice to the court stating that it will “not be in a position to proceed” with the trial against Kenyatta which was scheduled to start on Oct. 7.

The prosecution said an adjournment is required because it does not have the evidence available to prove Kenyatta’s alleged criminal conduct beyond a reasonable doubt but added that it would be “inappropriate” to withdraw the charges completely as the Government of Kenya has not complied with the Court’s requests.

On Friday Sept. 19, he was ordered to appear before the tribunal on Oct. 8 where judges want to question him over claims that his government has withheld documents.

Kenyatta repeatedly argues that he needs to remain in Kenya to fight al-Shabab and attend to state business.

He denies organizing the ethnic massacres after the 2007 election.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: ICC website.

US Nominates Climate Skeptic as Representative to UNGA

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Sept. 12, 2014 – A Wisconsin senator who argues the evidence that human behavior causes climate change is not convincing and who has likened climate activism to “environmental jihad” has been nominated as a US representative to the 69th UN General Assembly.

The announcement comes days before President Obama participates in Ban Ki-moon’s Sept. 23rd Climate Summit.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in 2013 sent a fundraising email to supporters attacking the League of Conservation voters, calling the group “one of the many attack dog groups used by President Obama, the Democrats and the extreme left to weaken, defeat and silence conservatives.”

“They are an extreme left group on an environmental jihad,” he wrote, according to a Huffington Post report.

Earlier this year, he sparred with climatologist James Hansen at a Senate Foreign Relations Hearing over the Keystone Pipeline. “The science is far from settled,” he said about climate change at the hearing.

The General Assembly is the United Nations’ main deliberative, policy-making and representative organ, with five representatives and five alternates from each of the 193 member nations. It meets in regular session from September to December each year, and periodically thereafter.

Johnson will continue to represent Wisconsin in the Senate and will assume his new duties next week when the 69th General Assembly opens, pending his confirmation.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

As Obama Heads to UN, US Yet to Pay 2014 Dues

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Sept. 10, 2014 – The United States owes the United Nations almost $1 billion in dues for 2013 and 2014 and is one of only two current Security Council members not to have paid in full this year.

The US is the biggest contributor to the UN’s regular budget and was assessed dues of $621 million for 2014, or 22 percent of the overall regular budget. The UN maintains a separate peacekeeping budget.

So far this year, the US has paid $83.8 million and its overall outstanding contributions (prior year and current year) for the regular budget is $921.3 million, according to information provided to UN Tribune by the United Nations Committee on Contributions.

While 115 of the 193 UN member states have paid their dues in full for 2014, the US is the only permanent member of the Council not to have done so and among all current 15 Council members, Chad is the only other member not to have paid in full, according to the Committee on Contributions Roll of Honor.

The United States government’s fiscal year begins on Oct. 1st and the US typically makes substantial payments to the UN in the fourth-quarter, though not nearly enough to clear its debt, but enough to prevent its inclusion on the Article 19 list which would result in losing its General Assembly vote.

Among the top five contributors to the UN budget, the US is also the only one not yet to have paid in full with Japan ($276 mln), Germany ($182 mln), France ($142 mln), and the UK ($132 mln) all paid up-to-date.

The US currently holds the rotating monthly presidency of the Security Council and President Obama has called a high-level Security Council meeting for Sept. 24th on threats to international peace and security from foreign terrorist fighters. So far, 13 heads of state or government from the 15 Security Council member states are slated to participate with China and Russia yet to confirm who will represent them at the meeting.

The last time Obama chaired a Security Council meeting was in Sept. 2009, then the meeting was on nuclear non-proliferation. China was represented by then president Hu Jintao while Russia’s PM Dimitry Medvedev represented Moscow. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was the only leader of a then Council member not to attend.

Obama is also participating in Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit on Sept. 23rd.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Obama’s Next Bid for Re-Election – the UN Human Rights Council

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Ban Ki-Moon addresses the opening of the Human Rights Council’s current session in Geneva on Sept. 10 (photo credit: UN photo)

Nov. 7, 2012 – Among those running for 18 available seats on the UN Human Rights Council in Monday’s election is the United States, whose newly re-elected president, Barack Obama, decided to embrace the controversial body after his 2008 victory, arguing that Washington could better change and influence from inside than from outside.

Former US president George W. Bush boycotted the Council and its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, but Obama reversed course and the US was elected to a three-year term in 2009.

The 47-nation Council has seen its influence grow in the past two years. With the Security Council deadlocked on taking action on Syria, the Human Rights Council appointed a commission of inquiry that’s investigating and documenting allegations of human rights abuses and possible war crimes in the country over the past 19 months. It also suspended Libya’s membership during Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal crackdown and prevented Damascus from vying for a seat in 2012, as well as blocking Sudan’s bid.

The Council has won praise too from pro-Israel groups – who’ve criticized the body for its disproportionate focus on the Jewish state – for appointing a human rights investigator on Iran in March 2011 and it has also won plaudits from Human Rights Watch for addressing human rights situations in Guinea, Myanmar and North Korea.

The US is one of five countries vying for three seats available in the Western European and Other States category. The other four candidate countries in the group are Germany, Greece, Ireland and Sweden.

The Western group is the only one with a competitive election as the other categories (Asia, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and Eastern Europe) are running on a pre-arranged clean slate.

Countries ending their terms this year include China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Each country is elected to a maximum of two consecutive three-year terms.

Among the US allies who will join the Council in 2013 are Japan, South Korea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Estonia.

A list of all candidate countries and the current composition of the Council is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald 

UPDATE Nov 12: US reelected to Council with 131 votes along with Germany, 127, and Ireland, 124 – both serving for first time. Greece, 77, and Sweden, 75, defeated.