Israel’s Gaza Invasion Likely to Spur UN Security Council Action

Security Council Meeting on the situation in the Ukraine
July 17, 2014 – Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza will likely lead to a Security Council resolution calling for withdrawal and a ceasefire despite US wishes that a regional solution be found to the crisis.

Washington would rather see an Egyptian-mediated fix but the current military government in Cairo no longer has clout over militant groups in Gaza.

The Council issued a carefully worded non-binding statement on Saturday calling for de-escalation and a resumption of the Egyptian-brokered 2012 ceasefire agreement. The statement, whose wording was fought over by Jordan and the US, made no reference to either Israel or Hamas but specified the protection of civilians.

In the five days since the Council’s statement, the number of civilians killed has risen steadily with some 50 children now among the innocent victims.

US envoy Samantha Power, who in April solemnly vowed to defend Israeli interests at the United Nations, had been silent on Gaza up until Thursday but shortly after State Dept. spokesperson Jen Psaki said the US is “heartbroken” by the high civilian death toll in Gaza and called on Israel to do more to protect civilians, she tweeted that the civilian toll is “heartbreaking” and the US is “using all diplomatic resources to support a ceasefire.”

Less than an hour later, Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza for the first time since Operation Cast Lead in December 2008. That three-week offensive killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, including 412 children and 110 women, according to UN figures.

In response, the UNSC passed Resolution 1860 on Jan. 8, 2009 with 14 Council members supporting, none against, and the US abstaining. Fighting ended ten days after its adoption.

That lead to almost four years of relative calm until fighting erupted in late-2012, which was ended by the Egyptian-mediated ceasefire.

The Obama administration is keen to avoid a showdown at the UN where the US has used its veto 43 times, the majority of times in support of Israel – most recently in 2011 when it cast the sole no vote on a Security Council resolution condemning settlements that was co-sponsored by some 80 UN member states.

But as the body charged with the primary responsibility of maintaining international peace and security, and with a large UN presence on the ground in Gaza, expect the Council to take action in the coming days.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo/UN Photo

Released Taliban Detainees are on UN Sanctions List

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May 31, 2014 – Four of the five Guantanamo Bay detainees released by the United States on Saturday in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Berghdahl are subject to an assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo by the Security Council.

The four are Fazl Mohammad Mazloom, Khirullah Khairkhwa, Nurullah Nuri and Abdul Haq Wassiq while a fifth detainee released, Mohammad Nabi Omari, is not on the sanctions list. *

They were listed for the following reasons, according to the 1988 Sanctions Committee:

Fazl Mohammad Mazloom

Fazl Mohammad Mazloom was a close associate of Mohammed Omar (TI.O.4.01) and helped him to establish the Taliban government. Mazloom was at the Al-Farouq training camp established by Al-Qaida. He had knowledge that the Taliban provided assistance to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the form of financial, weapons and logistical support in exchange for providing the Taliban with soldiers. He was a commander of approximately 3,000 Taliban front-line troops in the Takhar Province in October 2001.

Abdul Haq Wassiq 

Abdul-Haq Wassiq is allied with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Under the Taliban regime, he held successive positions as local commander in Nimroz and Kandahar provinces. He then became Deputy Director General of Intelligence, reporting to Qari Ahmadullah (TI.A.81.01). In this function, he was in charge of handling relations with Al-Qaida-related foreign fighters and their training camps in Afghanistan. He was also known for his repressive methods against Taliban opponents in the South of Afghanistan.

Khairullah Khairkhwa

Khairullah Khairkhwah was listed on 25 January 2001 as Governor of the Herat Province of the Taliban regime so falling within the provisions of resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1333 (2000) of the United Nations Security Council regarding acts and activities of the Taliban authorities. Khairullah Khairkhwah also served as Spokesperson of the Taliban regime, Governor of the Kabul Province of the Taliban regime, and Minister of Internal Affairs of the Taliban regime.

Nurullah Nuri 

Nurullah Nuri was listed on 25 January 2001 concurrently as Governor of the Balkh Province as well as Head of the Northern Zone of the Taliban regime so falling within the provisions of resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1333 (2000) of the United Nations Security Council regarding acts and activities of the Taliban authorities.

The Council passed a revised sanctions resolution in 2012 at the request of the Afghanistan Government “to support national reconciliation, including by removing names from the United Nations sanctions lists for those who reconcile, and, therefore, have ceased to engage in or support activities that threaten the peace, stability and security of  Afghanistan.” While some names have been removed, the four released on Saturday remain on the list.

In terms of the travel ban, the resolution stipulates that all countries must: “Prevent the entry into or transit through their territories of these individuals, provided that nothing in this paragraph shall oblige any State to deny entry or require the departure from its territories of its own nationals and this paragraph shall not apply where entry or transit is necessary for the fulfillment of a judicial process or the Committee determines on a case-by-case basis only that entry or transit is justified, including where this directly relates to supporting efforts by the Government of Afghanistan to promote reconciliation.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/ US DOD

*A Mohammed Omar Ghulam Nabi is on the Taliban sanctions list but unlike the other four whose location is listed as Guantanamo, the location entry for Nabi says he is belived to be in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region.

Early UNSC Challenge for Newcomers Jordan and Lithuania, a Female Presidency Three-Peat and World Cup Draw Produces Council Battles

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Jordan’s FM Nasser Judeh congratulated following his country’s election to a two-year term on the Security Council. (UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)

Dec. 6, 2013 – Jordan’s election to a two-year term on the Security Council on Friday sees them with less than a month to get ready to assume the council’s presidency on January 1 when the Hashemite Kingdom, filling the spot vacated by Saudi Arabia in October, takes over the alphabetically rotating mantle from current holders France.

Jordan’s UN ambassador, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, served with the United Nations Protection Force in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s and was also a candidate for secretary-general in 2006.

Lithuania, the first Baltic country to be elected to a non-permanent seat on the 15-nation body, take over the reins on February 1.

The country’s UN ambassador, Raimonda Murmokaite, will preside over the beginning of an unprecedented three-month span when the council will be headed by female ambassadors. Her presidency will be followed by that of Luxembourg’s Sylvie Lucas in March who will be succeeded by Nigeria’s Joy Ugwu in April. Two other current council members are represented by female ambassadors, permanent member United States, represented by Samantha Power, and non-permanent member Argentina, represented by Maria Perceval.

Meanwhile, the 2014 World Cup draw on Friday saw eight current council members, along with the UK’s England, discover their fate in the group stages of the Brazil-hosted finals which begins in June. Non-permanent members Australia and Chile will battle in out in Group B alongside powerhouses Spain and the Netherlands, who contested the 2010 final.

Group F sees fellow non-permanent council members Argentina and Nigeria up against Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the latter are also both on the Security Council’s agenda.

Russia finds itself pitted against another non-permanent member, South Korea in Group H, along with Algeria and Belgium. England face Costa Rica, Italy and Uruguay in Group D, while France are up against Ecuador, Honduras and Switzerland in Group E and Group G sees the US face Germany, Ghana and Portugal.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Dalia Grybauskaite: The Next UN Secretary-General?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Chemical Weapons Report Will Confirm Sarin Gas Used in Aug. 21 Attack

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EXCLUSIVE: Sept. 16, 2013 – The report of the UN chemical weapons investigators due to be released Monday morning in New York will confirm that sarin gas was used in the August 21st attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

The report will say that that there is “clear and convincing evidence” that the nerve agent sarin was fired from rockets into the area.


On Sunday evening in New York, the UN photo Twitter feed released an
image that showed the first page of the report that was handed to Ban Ki-moon by the head of the UN investigation team, Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom.

A close-up of the photo reveals that the inspectors’ report that “the environmental and medical samples we have collected, provide clear and convincing evidence that…rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used.”

The report will be presented to the UN Security Council as well as the UN General Assembly on Monday. While the US and Russia has agreed on a deal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, the admission by Syria that it possesses these weapons and the report of their use is bound to further calls for the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. 

A 1988 resolution following confirmation that chemical weapons were used by Iraq in its war against Iran compels the Security Council to act if there was any future confirmation of the use of these weapons ‘wherever and by whomever committed.’

– Denis Fitzgerald

Photo: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Denis Fitzgerald

photo: UN photo/Eskinder Debebe

Energy Rich Qatar Lags in UN Aid Appeal for Syria

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Syrian children inside a classroom at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan (photo: UN photo/Mark Garten)

Sept. 4, 2013 – Qatar, the richest country in the world, has given less than $3 million to the UN aid appeal for Syria, according to figures from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Of the more than $2.9 billion donated to the UN’s emergency relief fund for Syrians, energy-rich Qatar has contributed $2.7 million – less than 0.1 percent of the overall total. Countries such as Belgium, Finland, Iraq and Ireland have all given more.

The United States is the top donor, at $818 million, followed by the European Commission – the EU’s legislative arm – which has provided $619 million. Of the 28 EU member states, Britain, $196 million, and Germany $73 million are among the top ten donors.

Kuwait, $324 million, is the top Gulf donor, coming in third overall, according to OCHA’s figures as of Sept 4th, 2013, while Saudi Arabia, at $51 million, is the tenth biggest contributor.

Outside of the EU, US and Gulf, Japan, $82 million, and Australia, $64 million, are also among the top ten donors.

Of the remaining permanent five Security Council members, Russia has given $17 million, France, $15 million and China, $1 million.

The UN has requested a total of $4.4 billion to assist Syrians, with $1.4 billion designated to assist those inside the country – more than 4 million of whom are displaced – and $3 billion to assist neighboring countries that are now home to more than 2 million Syrian refugees.

– Denis Fitzgerald

First Timers Chad, Georgia, Lithuania and Saudi Arabia Among Those Vying for UNSC Seats in 2014-15

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The new Security Council members will deliberate in the newly renovated council chamber which re-opened this month. (photo: courtesy of Norway/UN)

April 10, 2013 – Six countries have declared their candidacy for the five vacancies up for grabs in October’s election for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council.

So far, Chad, Chile, Georgia, Lithuania, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia are running for election to the Council for 2014-15, though it’s looking more like an election process than race at this stage. 

Among the six, Georgia and Lithuania are the only two running in a competitive race. One of them will replace Azerbaijan who currently occupy the Eastern Europe seat, but whose term ends Dec. 31, 2013. Neither Tbilisi nor Vilnius has served on the Council, and Lithuania, if successful, would be the first Baltic country elected to the 15-nation body.

Chile, whose likely next president, Michele Bachelet, recently stepped down as head of U.N. Women, last served on the Council in 2003-04 and was one of the the so-called ‘Middle Six’ delegations whose vote was fought over by those for and against the invasion of Iraq. 

The Latin America group at the UN typically presents a “clean slate” for candidates meaning each candidate runs unopposed so Santiago is virtually guaranteed to replace Guatemala.

Nigeria and Chad are running for the two African seats to replace Morocco and Togo. Nigeria has served four times on the Council, most recently in 2010-11 while Chad has never. Unless other candidates are announced in the interim both are assured of a two-year term.

Saudi Arabia, one of the 51 founding members of the U.N. in 1945, has also never served on the Council. It looks set to replace Pakistan for the Asia-Pacific group Arab swing seat – the African and Asian groups take turns every two years to nominate an Arab country: Morocco was elected from the African group for 2011-13 so it is now Asia’s turn to nominate an Arab state.

– Denis Fitzgerald

An Independent Scotland Not Likely to Face Difficulties Joining UN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denis Fitzgerald

‘Flying Cameras’ for DRC not Armed Drones says Peacekeeping Chief

Feb. 6, 2013 – The head of U.N. peacekeeping operations on Wednesday said the planned deployment of unmanned aircraft vehicles for surveillance in the Democratic Republic of Congo should not be conflated with the use of drone aircraft by the United States to launch missiles.

“Maybe the word should not be drones because these days, you know, people associate the word drones with the image of missiles being launched,” Herve Ladsous said at a press conference when asked about the recent authorization by the Security Council to allow MONUSCO deploy surveillance drones in the DRC. “No, no, no,” he said. “This clearly is UAVs for surveillance purposes only, basically a flying camera.”

Or, to put it another way, drones that take pictures, not lives.

The U.N. says it will use the drones to monitor the movements of militia groups and to help it better respond to humanitarian situations.

– Denis Fitzgerald