Russia to Run DPA, US Seeks to Rule Management Department Under Guterres

First Phase Digital
November 17, 2016 – Russia will run the Dept. of Political Affairs under incoming secretary-general Antonio Guterres while the United States is said to seek control of the Dept. of Management where it will attempt to rein in a bloated bureaucracy and cut waste, knowledgeable insiders have told UN Tribune.

While peacekeeping is seen as the face of the United Nations to the outside world, inside the UN, the Dept. of Political Affairs has quietly gained influence and in the future is viewed as the most important division in the United Nations system. Going forward, the thinking is that the greater impact DPA has in its preventive diplomacy and mediation, conflict prevention, electoral assistance, and peacebuilding mandates then the less need there will be for peacekeeping.

This fits with the overarching emphasis the United Nations has placed on resilience, with the aim to build stronger systems and societies and to prevent fragile states from falling back into conflict.

Control over the Dept. of Political Affairs will also give Russia much greater leverage inside the Security Council as the Council’s agenda is increasingly set by DPA. “It’s DPA that pitches up to the Security Council,” is how one insider put it to UN Tribune.

The US currently controls DPA where former State. Dept. official Jeffrey Feltman is the current undersecretary-general. What has not been said is whether Russia will be getting DPA because of its decision to support Guterres. The permanent five members of the Council divvy up the top UN positions among themselves and it is not unlikely that if Russia does get to run DPA, it will part of a secret P5 deal to get Moscow’s support for Guterres.

That the United States is seeking the Dept. of Management, currently run by Japanese diplomat Yuki Takasu, makes perfect sense, even more so in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the recent US presidential election. The US Congress has long griped that US taxpayers money going to support UN programs and agencies is wasted. Staff costs account for some two-thirds of the budget of UN agencies and these same agencies often have overlapping mandates.

The US provides 22 percent to the UN’s regular budget, a contribution of about $600 million, while it provides 28 percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget, some $2.4 billion of the almost $9 billion budget for blue helmet operations. In addition, Washington contributes to the budgets of about 20 other UN agencies and programs including WHO, IAEA, UNDP, UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNHCR. It is also the top contributor to UN aid appeals.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

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Obama at the UN: Unfulfilled Promise

U.S. President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toast at a leaders lunch on Sept. 20, 2016 (UN Photo).

U.S. President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toast at a leaders lunch on Sept. 20, 2016 (UN Photo).

Sept. 20, 2016 –  U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday for the eight and final time, delivering a lackluster speech, noticeable mostly for the sparsity of applause lines – in stark contrast to his 2009 maiden speech.

That speech seven years ago was constantly interrupted by applause and cheers for the newly-elected U.S. president who promised to herald in a new era of U.S. engagement with the world, music to the ears of UN diplomats and secretariat officials after eight years of George W. Bush and five years after his disastrous decision to invade Iraq without a Security Council resolution.

Obama told delegates in 2009 that he would close Guantanamo, responsibly end the Iraq war, work on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and take action on climate change.

One the latter two, he has shown commitment and desire. The Iran deal, while far from perfect, appears to have, at least temporarily, halted Tehran’s quest for an atomic weapon. The U.S still remains a non-signatory to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, one of nine countries preventing it from going into force.

On climate change, Obama’s rhetoric has been strong but his actions less so. Much is made of the Paris Agreement, but it is just that, a non-binding agreement that lacks the force of a treaty.

The Guantanamo Bay detention facility remains open, albeit with less that 100 detainees. Nevertheless, it remains open and some detainees have spent more than a dozen years there without charge or trial – in fact, Guantanamo has been open for longer under Obama than under Bush.

The U.S. officially withdrew from Iraq in 2011 but has been re-involved there since 2014 supporting the Iraqi government’s fight against ISIS. Despite the different nature of the operation, many aspects of the 2003-11 Iraq war remain, including an insurgency and armed sectarian conflict. The decision to hastily withdraw from Iraq in 2011 has drawn criticism that it left a security void that was exploited by ISIS.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Obama called for a Palestinian state during his 2010 UN address but a year later vowed to veto a statehood bid by the Palestinians at the UN.

Where Obama has taken decisive action, such as in Libya, the outcome has been mayhem. Mandated to protect Libyan civilians using all means necessary, the US along with Arab and European allies ousted Gaddafi but failed to plan for the aftermath. The country now has two competing parliaments while another group controls the ports from where Libya exports its oil. The chaos also allowed ISIS gain a foothold in the country and it has become a major transit route for migrants seeking to make the dangerous crossing into Europe.

From the beginning of the Syria conflict in 2011, Obama insisted that Assad must step down and in 2012 he said that if Syria used chemical weapons that would cross a “red line.” Five years later Assad remains in power and continues to use chemical weapons against Syrian citizens.

While there were no easy options for resolving the Syria conflict, some countries at the UN, friendly to the US, suggest that the insistence by the US, along with France and the UK, that Assad step down prevented a solution, albeit an imperfect one, given Russia’s stance that Assad’s fate should be decided by a national poll. The more cynical inside the UN, say that the US, along with France and the UK, always knew that insisting Assad step down was never going to be viable and the status quo would continue – while giving the appearance that the Western powers were on the side of the Syrian people.

The U.S. also championed the cause of South Sudan independence, which was achieved in 2011. Yet, the breakup of Sudan has seen the misery continue for the South Sudanese people, with an estimated more than 50,000 killed in the past five years. Despite that many of the killings can be attributed to government forces, the U.S. remains opposed to an arms embargo on the country.

On the global refugee crisis, the U.S. president has been strong on rhetoric but short on action. A mere 10,000 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the U.S., which is less than the 13,000 admitted by Singapore and far less than the 600,000 admitted to Germany.

The partisanship and gridlock that characterize U.S. domestic politics are responsible for some of Obama’s failures, particularly on closing Guantanamo, ratifying the CTBT, the Disabilities Convention, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. But that aside, despite his charisma and likability, Obama has lacked leadership and decisiveness in confronting global challenges in what is still a U.S.-led world order.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Double Standards, Politics Blight UN’s Children in Conflict Report

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August 2, 2016 – On Tuesday the Security Council discussed Ban Ki-moon’s report on children and armed conflict amid uproar that the Saudi-led coalition were removed from the list despite violations in Yemen.

The coalition were named in the annex of the report when it was released in June (first reported by UN Tribune in May) but after complaints from Riyadh, Ban removed the coalition pending review.

The reaction from NGO’s was fast and furious with Human Rights Watch going so far as releasing a crude cartoon of Ban getting his mouth stuffed with dollars, implying that the Saudis had bought their way off the list.

While the reaction was understandable, Ban was left stranded by both member states and, in particular, the permanent five members of the Security Council –  had he received backing from member states and especially the P5 he could have withstood the Saudi pressure and stuck by his initial report, but none was forthcoming.

The report is now in danger of losing all credibility, and not just over the removal of the Saudi-led coalition. Last year, Ban refused to name Israel in the annex of the report despite the recommendation of his special envoy for children in armed conflict.

And this year, Ban left Ukraine off the report, which covers Jan to Dec 2015. UNICEF has documented the killing and maiming of children in the Ukraine conflict throughout 2015, as well as the recruitment of children by both sides to the conflict, the bombing of schools and hospitals and the use of schools by military forces.

The situation in Ukraine clearly belonged in the report but no mention was made of it because both sides have the support of powerful members of the Security Council, i.e. Russia and the US. And despite the outcry by NGO’s over the Saudi removal from the list, only Watchlist 1612 has specifically highlighted the absence in the report of the situation in Ukraine and called for an end to the report’s double standards.

Absent too from the report are international forces supporting the Syrian government. Russian bombing of hospitals and schools and maiming and killing of children in Syria has been documented by Human Rights Watch but Moscow is not not named in the report.

The US bombing of an MSF hospital in Kunduz is mentioned in the report but it is attributed to nondescript “international forces” despite it being very clearly carried out by US forces.

If the report is to have an impact then UN member states, especially the most powerful, must support the inclusion of all parties that commit any one of the six grave violations even if it means that they themselves – that’s you Russia and the United States – are named as violators.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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

Natalia Gherman – Could Moldova’s Foreign Minister be the Next UN Secretary-General?

Moldova's Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman addressing the General Assembly, Sept. 2014 (UN Photo)

Moldova’s Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman addressing the UN General Assembly, Sept. 2014 (UN Photo)

April 30, 2015 – The buzz surrounding the election of Ban Ki-moon’s successor continues to gather pace and this week in New York, 32 member states plus the EU spoke at a General Assembly debate on transforming the way the UN appoints its secretary-general.

Twenty-one of the speakers said it was high-time the UN seriously considered appointing its first female secretary-general. Eight men have held the post since the organization’s founding in 1946 and the UN as a whole – the secretariat, member states and the Security Council – has a less than stellar record on promoting gender equality.

There’s also wide agreement inside the United Nations that the next UN chief should come from Eastern Europe, the only UN regional group that has not occupied the position, whereas three secretaries-general have come from the Western group, two each from Asia and Africa, and one from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Among the female candidates mentioned for the post are current UNESCO chief Irina Bokova and fellow Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva, the EU’s budget commissioner, as well as Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite – who is unlikely to get a pass from veto-wielding Russia.

But there are others.

Of the five female foreign ministers among countries that are members of the Council of Europe, four of them are from Eastern Europe: Croatia’s Vesna Pusic, Georgia’s Maia Pandjikidze, Estonia’s Keit Pentus-Rosimannus and Moldova’s Natalia Gherman.

Pusic has been mentioned as a possible candidate while Pandjikidze and Pentus-Rosimannusis appear to be out of the running as long as Russia holds a veto over the process and, while there are mounting calls for the UN to change the way it elects the secretary-general, at Monday’s debate China, Russia and the US all voiced support for maintaining the status quo.

But Gherman may well fit the bill. Moldova lies at the crossroads of Slavic and Latin Europe. The tiny republic is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States and also has aspirations of joining the European Union, signing an association agreement with Brussels last year.

Moldova’s ties to Russia are long and complicated. There are Russian troops in the breakaway region of Transnistria, ostensibly they are there as peacekeepers. Russia is also Moldova’s second biggest individual trading partner – behind Romania – and a major destination for Moldovan migrant labor. Their remittances are vital for Europe’s poorest country.

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Gherman met with Russia’s FM Sergei Lavrov when she was in New York last September. (photo/Moldova MFA)

Russia banned the import of Moldovan wine after it signed the EU association agreement and has threatened to cut off the country’s energy supply. Gherman’s party is decidedly pro-EU and she is at the forefront of pushing for the country’s membership in the bloc but it will likely be years before Chișinău fully meets the accession criteria

Its relations with Moscow are far more important currently and while a pro-EU party rules, support inside the country for joining the EU is lukewarm. More importantly, unlike most of its Eastern Europe neighbors, Moldova is not a member of NATO nor an aspiring member. Its constitution enshrines permanent neutrality.

While Gherman, whose father Mircea Snegur was the first president of Moldova, is far from an ideal candidate from Russia’s point of view, given her strong pro-EU orientation, if she puts her hat into the ring for the secretary-general race, she may well find that Russia is far more sympathetic to a Moldovan candidate than one from a neighboring NATO member state.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Russia Defeated on Same-Sex Benefits at UN

60th plenary meeting of the General Assembly 66th session:
March 24, 2015 Russia’s gambit on revoking Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s ruling that expanded employment benefits to same-sex married couples failed when put to a vote on Tuesday.

A Russian-sponsored draft resolution was defeated by a vote of 80 against, 43 for and 37 abstentions.

Among those supporting Moscow’s resolution were China, India, Nigeria, Syria and Bahrain.

EU countries voted against the text and were supported by the US, South Korea, Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Liberia and Venezuela, among others.

Abstaining countries included many Caribbean states as well as Kenya, Monaco and Bhutan.

A number of countries did not vote, including Turkey, Cuba and Afghanistan.

The full recorded vote is below.

Voting Record on L.9

Only Two of 15 Security Council Members Have Paid 2015 Dues

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Feb. 25, 2015 – New Zealand and France are the only two members of the Security Council to have paid their 2015 United Nations dues so far this year.

Permanent members Britain, China, Russia and the United States have still to pay along with nine of the ten non-permanent countries on the Council.

Neither France nor New Zealand made their payments by the end of January, the UN’s official dues deadline, with Paris paying its $151 million share and Auckland, $6 million, earlier this month, according to information from the UN Committee on Contributions.

The Dominican Republic was the first country to pay up – it’s assessed at $1.2 million annually, while 43 other countries have also made their payment, including Canada ($80 million), Bhutan ($27,000), and Algeria ($3.7 million).

The United States is the largest contributor to the UN’s regular budget (there is a separate peacekeeping budget). Washington is assessed at 22 percent of the $2.7 billion annual regular budget, or $654 million. It typically makes a large payment in the fourth quarter – the United States government’s fiscal year begins on Oct. 1st – but that payment is not nearly enough to clear its back debt which was some $1 billion as of late last year.

The next biggest contributors, Japan ($293 million), and Germany ($193 million), have also not yet paid their 2015 dues.

Some countries, such as Somalia, Guinea-Bissau and Comoros, are exempt from paying this year as the General Assembly decided that inability to pay is beyond their control.

Other countries, such as Yemen and Grenada, have lost their vote in the General Assembly because of a violation of Article 19 which states that a country will lose its vote if “the amount of its arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years.”

The 13 Security Council Members Still to Pay and Their Assessed Dues for 2015:

Permanent Members:
Britain: $140 Million
China: $139 Million
Russia: $66 Million
United States: $654 Million

Non-Permanent Members:
Angola: $271,357
Chad: $54,271
Chile: $9 Million
Jordan: $596,984
Lithuania: $1.9 Million
Malaysia: $7.6 Million
Nigeria: $2.4 Million
Spain: $80 Million
Venezuela: $17 Million

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Campaign Against ISIS Exposes Major Gap in Arms Trade Treaty

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Oct. 2, 2014 – The Arms Trade Treaty will go into force on Dec. 24th following its fiftieth ratification last week but the recent campaign launched against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, by Western and Gulf countries exposes a major loophole in the Treaty.

The pact prohibits supplying arms to countries that would use the eight types of conventional weapons covered under the Treaty to violate international human rights law but there are no prohibitions on the transfer of these arms to non-state actors.

The US, UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have all either supplied or said they will supply weapons to groups fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and to other groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria.

In the negotiations leading up to the agreement on the text of the Arms Trade Treaty, a number of countries – including Brazil, India, Nigeria and Turkey – called for a clear prohibition on transferring arms to non-state actors and that the entry of arms to any state must be based on the permit given by the government of such state.

But the lack of a clear and agreed definition of a non-state actor and because of a desire to avoid a subject that would stalemate the negotiations the subject was avoided.

While no country outright said it opposed a provision on arms transfers to non-state actors, the United States included the following in its red lines: “provisions inconsistent with existing US law or that would unduly interfere with our ability to import, export or transfer arms in support of our national security and foreign policy interests.”

The US is one of the 121 signatories to the Treaty but is unlikely to get the support of two-thirds of the Senate to support its ratification.

Other arms producers such as China, Canada, Israel and Russia have not signed the Treaty while major arms importers India, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have also not signed.

France, Germany, Netherlands and the UK have all ratified the Treaty.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

China, Russia Double Veto UNSC Draft on Syria ICC Referral

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin addresses the Council, May 22, 2014. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin addresses the Council, May 22, 2014. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

May 22, 2014 – The draft resolution that would have referred the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court was defeated after vetoes from China and Russia.

It was the fourth time Beijing and Moscow cast vetoes on a resolution concerning Syria, having previously voted against resolutions in October 2011, February 2012 and July 2012.

The French-drafted text had over 60 co-sponsors including permanent Council members Britain and the US as well as non-permanent members Australia, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania, Luxembourg and South Korea.

The Council’s African members – Chad, Nigeria and Rwanda – all voted for the text but did not co-sponsor the resolution. Nor did Argentina, who also voted for the resolution, but declined to co-sponsor because of what the country’s ambassador called the “selectivity” of the draft.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Aid Chief Chides Security Council Over Syria Inaction

OCHA Head speaks to the press following Security Council Consultations on the situation in Syria
April, 30 – 2014- Valerie Amos on Wednesday told members of the Security Council behind closed doors that they were failing to uphold the founding values of the UN in their approach to Syria.

Amos, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said that only ten percent of the some 250,000 people living in besieged areas received aid in the past month despite a February 19 resolution demanding unimpeded access for humanitarian relief.

“I told the Council that in my reports I have demonstrated time and time again the minimal impact of the approach being taken so far, and that public pressure and private diplomacy has yielded very little,” she said to reporters after briefing the 15-nation body.

“I also told the Council that the UN is a multilateral organization. Its founding values set the framework for the way in which we work. In Syria, those founding values and the responsibility of a state to look after its own people are being violated every day, and I think the onus rests on the Council to not only recognize that reality, but to act on it,” she added.

She spoke a day after a group of legal experts published a letter criticizing Amos and the heads of other UN agencies for “an overly cautious interpretation of international humanitarian law.” They argue that relief agencies do not need permission, which is not forthcoming, from the government in Damascus to deliver life-saving aid to trapped civilians.

February’s resolution on unimpeded aid delivery also states that the Council intends to take further steps in the event of non-compliance which puts pressure on China and Russia, who voted for it, to agree to a tougher follow-up resolution.

However, Russia’s state news agency on Wednesday reported that Moscow’s UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said a Chapter 7 resolution being prepared by his Western colleagues was “untimely.”

In his report to to the Council, Ban Ki-moon wrote that “none of the parties to the conflict have adhered to the demands of the Council.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine