Trump Could Chair UN Security Council Meeting in April

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January 4, 2017 –  Donald Trump will have the opportunity to chair a UN Security Council meeting as early as April this year when Washington takes the reins of the 15-nation body.

The Council’s presidency rotates alphabetically among its 15 members and the U.S. did not preside over the Council at all during 2016, having last held the gavel in Dec. 2015.

During each country’s presidency, a high-level meeting is held which is typically chaired by the country’s foreign minister or president.

Barack Obama twice presided over the Security Council, in Sept. 2009 when he chaired a meeting on nuclear disarmament, becoming the first U.S. president to chair a Council meeting, and in Sept. 2014, when the Council passed a resolution on foreign terrorist fighters.

Trump berated the UN last week, calling it “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

“There is such tremendous potential, but it is not living up,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. “When do you see the United Nations solving problems? They don’t. They cause problems.”

“So, if it lives up to the potential, it’s a great thing,” Trump added. “And if it doesn’t, it’s a waste of time and money.”

Of course, Trump may decide to send a signal to the UN by either not attending the high-level meeting in April or by not sending his secretary of state – Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson is the nominee.

During George W. Bush’s presidency, Bush himself never presided over a Council meeting when the US was chair, nor did he ever send his secretary of state. The only time a secretary of state attended during Bush’s presidency was when Colin Powell addressed the 15-nation body in Feb. 2003 to deliver what turned out to be faulty evidence to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Trump’s nominee for UN ambassador, NIkki Haley, is expected to be confirmed in the next few weeks and will assume duties after Jan. 20.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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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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Security Council Inconsistent on Women, Peace and Security

Threats to International Peace and Security Caused by Terrorist Acts
Jan 6, 2015 – The Security Council, as well as UN officials and member states, lack commitment to the women, peace and security agenda.

A new policy brief from the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security notes while there has been improvement in some country situations and in thematic agenda items, overall there is “inconsistency in the Council’s discussion of gender…from the information provided by the UN system, to the discussion in the Council, to the action taken and to implementation on the ground.”

Security Council Resolution 1325, which will mark its 15th anniversary this year, recognized the different ways conflict affects men and women and the important roles both have to play in peace and security. In particular, it calls for the participation of women in peace processes, the protection of women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence, and the prevention of violence against women through gender equality, accountability and justice.

The policy brief, which examines the 2013/14 Council, states that the 15-nation body has not “truly internalized” the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda.

“When considering crisis situations in countries that have peacekeeping or political mandates, the Council rarely addressed WPS concerns… Similarly, briefings from senior UN officials included reference to WPS inconsistently, regardless of the inclusion of WPS in the mandate on which they were briefing,” the paper says.

It adds that while the Council has strengthened the language of several peacekeeping mandates with regard to WPS, this is not matched by financial and human resources. It also says that on-the-ground missions are failing to consult local civil society organizations “despite being well connected and established in their area.”

“Further, there is often a gender-blind approach to civil society engagement; engagement with women’s organizations is not referenced or identified as a priority. Despite some gains, civil society and women human rights defenders are
increasingly targeted, and their rights impinged upon with little official Council recognition of the need for better protective mechanisms,” it says.

While the protection of women in armed conflict is receiving greater attention from the Council, this is still a massive gulf in the number of men and women participating in peace negotiation teams.

Overall the UN system, the Security Council, and all Member States must more consistently address WPS issues across their work in order to meet their obligations, the paper concludes, and it outlines a number of recommendations, including stronger efforts to ensure accountability matched by greater leadership efforts by UN actors, and that Ban Ki-moon’s special envoys and representatives report explicitly on the implementation of the WPS components of their mandates.

Less than 20 percent of the more than 100 personal and special representatives, envoys and advisors appointed by Ban Ki-moon are women while about one-third of his senior cabinet are women.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Related Story: The UN’s Poor Record on Gender Equality

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.

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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

Book Review: The Procedure of the UN Security Council

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Oct. 29, 2014 – The fourth edition of this comprehensive text, first published in 1975, continues in the tradition of its previous versions by combining an exhaustive account of the practice of the Security Council with examples and anecdotes to illustrate how the Council works, and how it doesn’t.

This new edition of The Procedure of the the UN Security Council, by Loraine Sievers and Sam Daws, is the first update since 1998 and retains, for the sake of continuity, much of the historical material of previous editions but has several new sections including on the Council’s relationship with regional bodies and other organs such as the International Criminal Court.

The book also surveys various proposals to reform the Security Council, which invariably involve increasing the number of members from the current arrangement of five permanent and ten non-permanent. The authors note that under the current two-year term for non-permanent members, some countries elected on an enlarged Council may not get the opportunity to serve as president – by virtue of its alphabetical assignment – depriving them of a full Council experience and the educative and leadership functions associated with holding the Council’s presidency, a role which is thoroughly discussed in Chapter 3.

On a more “poignant” note, Sievers and Daws remark that an outcome of an enlarged Council “would be the probable retirement of the Council’s present horseshoe table, which has so much history.”

In their concluding reflections, the authors examine the current debate and tension between Council members and non-Council members over improving working methods and increasing transparency and accountability of the Council. As a note of caution, they write that “it is vitally important that the debate on the necessity for reforming the Security Council to make it more representative, accountable and transparent does not cast a pall over the legitimacy of the actual decisions taken by the Council which could be exploited by recalcitrant states or parties.”

They add, however, that “to secure its own effectiveness, it is in the best interests of the Security Council to enhance the Council’s interactivity with Member States and to engage proactively with them in discussing improvements to the Council’s working methods.”

For a 744-page book that deals with procedure, it is a highly readable tome written in a non-scholarly fashion that combines the rigor of an academic text with the prose of a journalist. The material in the book is current as of Jan. 1, 2014 and a corresponding website, maintained by Sievers, who worked for the UN for over thirty years, incorporates recent relevant developments on the Council’s procedures and working methods.

-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

Scottish Independence Could Trigger Security Council Reform


Sept. 7, 2013 – A Yes vote in the Sept. 18th Scottish independence referendum could lead to the UK losing its permanent Security Council seat and trigger wider reform of the 15-nation body.

There is precedent in favor of such a scenario not happening. Following the breakup of the USSR in 1991, Russia notified the UN that it would assume the USSR permanent seat in the Council and the 11 former Soviet republics also wrote in favor of Russia taking the USSR seat. That was before calls for Security Council reform began in earnest, in the mid-1990s.

And since the end of the Cold War, clamor for reform has grown – most recently because of the failure of the 15-nation body to act on the situation in Syria.

Privately, non-permanent members of the Council have complained they are locked out of decision making by the P5, and in the wider UN membership there is a push for more transparency and accountability from the Council.

By what current logic should Europe possess two of the five permanent veto-wielding seats on the Security Council is also increasingly asked while Africa and Latin America have none.

An independent Scotland and EU member states may support a downsized UK – which would presumably have a new name – holding on to the old UK seat, but countries that aspire to a permanent seat – such as Argentina, Brazil, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey and South Africa – could see a Scottish Yes vote as an opportunity to change the status quo in an outdated UN.

This year’s high-level segment of the General Assembly opens on Sept. 22nd, four days after the Scottish poll, and if speeches from recent years are an indication there will be more calls for reform of the Security Council, and the result of the Sept. 18 referendum may give those calls more legs.

Moreover, the UN charter is in dire need of reform. It still refers to Germany, Japan and Italy as enemy states and despite the succession of Russia to the USSR seat the charter still refers to the USSR, as well as the Republic of China, as holders of two of the permanent five seats.

But any change to the charter requires the consent of the P5 and they are united in upholding the status quo to hold on to their veto power and not open up the can of worms that could lead to the much needed reform the UN requires to reflect the world as it is today.

An independent Scotland would have to apply for membership of the UN, which should be an uncomplicated process.

 – Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Council to Meet on UNDOF Sept. 18

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Sept. 3 – The Security Council will receive Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on the UNDOF mission in the Golan Heights on Sept. 12 and is set to meet with peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous over the future of the mission six days later.

Forty-five Fijian UNDOF peacekeepers taken hostage last week by Al Nusra remain in captivity.

Ladsous spoke to reporters at UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday and backed UNDOF force commander Iqbal Singh Singha amid reports that he ordered a Filipino contingent to hand over their weapons to the Al Nusra militants holding the Fijian troops.

He said the Filipino troops were told to “keep their weapons quiet” but not to surrender them.

He added that the Dept. of Peacekeeping Operations is looking at “the way the force is configured.”

The Philippines announced in August that it is withdrawing its troops from UNDOF at the end of September citing security concerns (it is also withdrawing its troops from UNMIL in Liberia over the Ebola outbreak).

Ireland’s Defence Minister Simon Coveney told Morning Ireland on Monday that the Irish government would seek a review of the mission before deciding whether to send new troops when the current contingent end their tour of duty at the end of September.

Ban Ki-moon recommended over a year ago that the force’s self-defense capabilities be enhanced. While the force has received more robust armor, it is understood that both the UN Secretariat and troop contributing countries believe the Security Council has not done enough to ensure UNDOF has the defensive equipment it needs.

Irish troops, along with the Fijian contingent, were deployed after Japanese, Croatian and Austrian troops withdrew last year because of the security situation. Austria had been the longest serving contributor to the mission, having joined UNDOF when it was formed in 1974 to observe the ceasefire agreement between Syria and Israel following the end of the 1973 war.

The Council also increased the size of the force in June last year by about 300 troops. It’s current configuation has over 1,200 troops from six countries.

Ladsous said on Wednesday that in addition to Al Nusrah there are about six or seven other armed opposition groups operating in the area of separation.

In Ban Ki-moon’s report to the Council in June this year, he outlined a number of incidents in which the security of UNDOF troops was threatened. As a result of the security situation, Ban is required to report on UNDOF every three months instead of the usual six.

In his June 2014 report, Ban wrote that armed opposition groups were tailing UNDOF patrols, presumably as protection from Syrian government forces, that two peacekeepers were injured by a tank round on July 7, and that another patrol witnessed members of an armed group walking past its post with a severed head.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Afghan Aid Workers Exploited by UN, Other Aid Agencies

Myndir frá Afganistan
Aug. 19, 2014 – Afghan aid workers are put on the front lines by the UN and other aid organizations and are increasingly under attack while their international colleagues remain in secure compounds, the head of a local humanitarian organization told the Security Council on Tuesday.

Masood Karokhail, Director of The Liaison Office, also told the Council that humanitarian space is rapidly diminishing in the country and aid workers are seldom considered neutral from the international political and military presence in the country.

He was addressing the Council as they discussed the protection of aid workers to mark World Humanitarian Day.

Karokhail said since 2001, 895 aid workers have been attacked in Afghanistan, with 325 killed, 253 wounded and 319 kidnapped.

“Afghan aid workers account for 88 percent of those killed, 89 percent of those wounded and 89 percent of those kidnapped,” he said. “And this does not tell the whole story: many local organizations do not report attacks on their staff, the real numbers are likely to be much higher.

“Local humanitarian workers rarely receive the same security arrangements as their international colleagues,” Karokhail told the Council. “This inequality exploits the reliance of many Afghans on employment opportunities within the humanitarian sector: many have been forced to accept dangerous assignments simply to feed their families.”

“There is a need to remove the artificial hierarchy between international and local staff in protracted situations such as Afghanistan,” he said. “Rather than using funds to create a bunkerization of international aid agencies, the assistance community could increase their partnership with national organizations. This, however, should not mean transferring all the risk or responsibility to local organization, but to improving their protection.”

Karokhail said the distinction between aid workers and the political and military presence in the country is increasingly blurred. Over the past several years the UN has adopted a policy of integrating its presence in country missions. For example, for its assistance mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, the deputy special representative of the mission is also the resident humanitarian coordinator.

This dual role and the policy of integrating political, military and humanitarian functions has come in for heavy criticism from many in the aid community who say it threatens the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence. See here and here.

“Communities, and by association the insurgency, have great difficulty distinguishing between different organizations working on the ground,” Karokhail told the Council. “They associate aid organizations with the international presence of ISAF, UNAMA and view all of them as a legitimate target.”

“The fact that offices of many aid organizations, including the UN, increasingly resemble military bunkers with armed guards and usually Afghan Police are used for field travel, adversely impacts on the security of local staff and organizations working for them,” he added.

In his closing remarks, Karokhail said it was time to negotiate with all parties in Afghanistan.

“We all know that the future will hold more violence in Afghanistan,” he said. “The time has come to openly speak to all parties of the conflict and negotiate clear access principles.”

He said that “Afghans organizations understand that they will increasingly be asked to provide assistance where international organizations no longer can. Many stand ready to shoulder this burden. But the international community must do more to protect them, and enable them to protect themselves.

“We can no longer maintain the status quo, where local aid workers put their lives on the line in order to get the job done.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/ICRC

Secret Cables Reveal Intrigue and Inner Workings of UN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz