Pillay Pitches Stronger Security Council Role for Successor

Special Session Human Rights Council
Aug. 21, 2014, Outgoing UN human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, on Thursday suggested her successor provide informal monthly briefings to the Security Council to avert future crises.

Pillay’s pitch came after she scolded the 15-nation body over its inaction on crises during her tenure such as Syria, Gaza, Sri Lanka and Iraq. “I firmly believe that greater responsiveness by this Council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” she said in her final address to the Council.

The South African jurist was appointed in 2008 for a four-year term but fell foul of the US over her criticism of Israel and was only given a two-year second term.

The Council tends to act when a humanitarian situation arises out of conflict but Pillay stressed that human rights abuses are evident for years, even decades, before a major crisis erupts and the Council must must do more to prevent, rather than react to, conflicts.

Pillay also said Ban Ki-moon can do more in providing early warning to the Council on emerging crises. Ban launched the Rights Up Front plan last year in response to the UN’s “systematic failure” in responding to the final months of the 2009 war in Sri Lanka.  The plan’s aim is to prevent human rights abuses by acting on early warnings of human rights abuses.

“Within Rights Up Front, the Secretary-General can be even more proactive in alerting to potential crises, including situations that are not formally on the Council’s agenda,” she said.

Article 99 of the UN Charter empowers the secretary-general to “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

The human rights chief, who will be succeeded by Jordan’s outgoing UN envoy, Prince Zeid, also suggested the Council build on the new Arms Trade Treaty, “which requires arms exporters and importers to confirm that weapons will not be used to commit violations.”

“Where there are concerns about human rights in States that purchase arms, one condition of sale would be that they accept a small human rights monitoring team, with deployment funded by the Treaty’s Trust Fund,” she said.

The five permanent members of the Security Council are among the six biggest arms sellers in the world.

Prince Zeid assumes the role of high commissioner for human rights on Sept. 1. He has been succeeded as UN envoy by Dina Kavar, who becomes the sixth female ambassador to currently serve on the Council.

– Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

 

Image/UN Photo

UN: Drought An Underlooked Catalyst for Syria Revolt

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July 26, 2014 – A five-year drought that impoverished large parts of rural Syria led to anger and a growing sense of inequality that were catalysts for the March 2011 uprising, according to the recently released 2014 Human Development Report.

The ensuing civil-war has claimed more than 150,000 lives, including at least 1,700 in the past ten days. The UNDP report, released on Thursday, says the drought devastated millions of livelihoods in the agricultural sector, which was already suffering because of government neglect.

“The role of drought in contributing to the  Syrian crisis is less well known. From 2006 to 2010 the Syrian Arab Republic suffered an unprecedented drought, devastating much of its rural society. Impoverished farmers flooded into the slums of the cities,” the report states. “Observers estimate that 2–3  million of the country’s 10 million rural inhabitants were reduced to extreme poverty. These deprivations, combined with a lack of jobs and an inadequate state and international response, contributed to a rapid buildup of resentment and an acute awareness of group inequality, fertile ground for the civil war that started in 2011.”

The theme of this year’s Human Development Report is resilience and looks at the effects on human security caused by climate change and economic crisis with a particular focus on groups that are vulnerable because of their history and unequal treatment by the rest of society – in Syria’s case, its rural population.

The report also says that humanitarian appeals, while providing necessary immediate aid, do not address climate change as an underlying driver in crises such as in the Sahel and in Syria.

It adds that the current system of global security governance, designed post-WWII to prevent conflict between the great powers, is inadequate in dealing with today’s crises.

“The turn from interstate conflict to internal conflict has changed the focus of conflict prevention and recovery,” the report says. “The resulting governance gap limits international capacity to address pressing security issues, passing the burden to the population in conflict settings.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/WFP

De Mistura New UN Envoy for Syria

Mr. Steffan de Mistura the Secretary-General's Special Representative (SRSG) for Afghanistan and head of United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), speaks to the press following a Security Council meeting on Afghanistan.
July 10, 2014 – Ban Ki-moon has appointed Swedish-Italian diplomat Staffan de Mistura as the UN special envoy for Syria.

De Mistura, who was previously UN representative to Iraq and Afghanistan, takes up the post vacated by Lakhdar Brahimi but unlike Brahimi or his predecessor, Kofi Annan, his is not a joint appointment with the Arab League.

While Annan was the joint UN-Arab League special envoy for Syria and Brahimi, the joint UN-Arab League special representative, De Mistura’s title is UN special envoy.

His deputy has been named as Egyptian Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, who previously served as the Arab League’s envoy to the IAEA in Vienna. Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday that Ramzy’s appointment was made at the recommendation of the Arab League.

“I make it clear that Ambassador Ramzy was recommended by the League of Arab States, but he is going to be appointed by me, by the Secretary-General, and he is going to be the Deputy Special Envoy and he will work together with Mr. De Mistura,” Ban said. “But it is also important that we need to have closer coordination, consultation with the League of Arab States. That is a basic hallmark of our work until now, and it will continue to be so.”

Syria was suspended from membership of the Arab League in November 2011 and the decision by the UN to not appoint a joint envoy is viewed as a result of pressure from Damascus as well as a calculation that Damascus may work more cooperatively with an envoy not jointly appointed with the Arab League.

Annan served as joint special envoy from Feb. 2012 to Aug. 2012 and resigned after the failure of his six-point plan while Brahimi served from Aug. 2012 to May 2014 and resigned when it became clear that the Geneva Communique would not be implemented.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

The 22 Countries That Have Agreed to Resettle Syrian Refugees

Two Syrian sisters prepare to board their first flight in Beirut to start a new life in Hannover. © IOM

Two Syrian sisters prepare to board their first flight in Beirut to start a new life in Hannover. © IOM/Remi Itani

July 1, 2014 – Germany leads among countries that have agreed to resettle Syrian refugees with the country pledging to admit 25,500 Syrians that have fled to a neighboring country, including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency called for states to provide 30,000 resettlement places for Syrian refugees in 2013-14 and an additional 100,000 in 2015-16 with a focus on the most vulnerable, especially women and girls, people with medical needs, refugees at risk due to their sexual orientation, those facing persecution because of religious or ethnic identity and vulnerable older adults.

European countries dominate the list of 22 countries that have agreed to provide resettlement for 34,722 Syrians with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Uruguay the only non-European countries to make firm pledges on resettlement. The US has also agreed to take an open-ended number of refugees.

The United Kingdom is not among the countries that have signed up with the UN Refugee Agency’s resettlement program but it has resettled Syrian refugees as part of its vulnerable persons relocation scheme.

These are the 22 countries that have agreed to admit 34,722 Syrian refugees from a second country in 2014.

Australia – 500
Austria – 1,500
Belarus – 20
Belgium – 150
Canada – 1,300
Denmark – 140
Finland – 500
France – 500
Germany – 25,500
Hungary – 30
Ireland – 310
Liechtenstein – 4
Luxembourg – 60
Netherlands – 250
New Zealand – 250
Norway – 1,000
Portugal – 23
Spain – 130
Sweden – 1,200
Switzerland – 500
USA – open-ended number
Uruguay – 120

Data provided by UNHCR.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Inquiry: Syrians Live in World Where Everyday Decisions are Life and Death

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairman of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria

Paulo Pinheiro, Chairman of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria

June 17, 2014 – The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has conducted 3,000 interviews that collectively indicate “a massive number of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the chair of the inquiry told the Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

Brazilian Sergio Pinheiro told the Council in his latest update that crimes are being committed daily against Syrian civilians and because of the Security Council’s failure to demand accountability “a space has been created for the worst of humanity to express itself.”

“Syrians live in a world where decisions about whether to go to the mosque for prayers, to the market for food and to send their children to school have become decisions about life and death.”

Pinheiro said the government continues to use barrel bombs causing widespread civilian casualties and, in particular, the city of Aleppo and towns in Dara’a countryside have come under “relentless assault.”

Armed groups have also shelled government-controlled areas of Aleppo and Damascus cities as well as towns in Latakia, he said, and in Homs city, more than a dozen car bombs have exploded in Shia and Armenian neighbourhoods since March.

“In many instances, these bombings appear to target civilians, an act designed to spread terror.”

While the Security Council passed Resolution 2139 in February demanding unhindered access for humanitarian supplies, it has not been complied with by government or anti-government forces.

“Food is confiscated at checkpoints, as women are harassed and arrested for attempting to bring bread into besieged areas,” the Brazilian diplomat said. “At one checkpoint on the only road from Zabadani to Damascus, a large banner reads ‘Kneel or Starve.'”

He said the war has had a devastating impact on Syria’s economy “inflicting harm on livelihoods and habitat from which few Syrian families have escaped unscathed” adding that this hardship has been compounded by economic sanctions.

Pinheiro said military supplies provided by states  to warring parties are “used in the perpetration of war crimes and violations of human rights.”

“States cannot claim to prioritize a political settlement, while their actions demonstrate that their priorities lie in military escalation.”

He concluded his presentation to the Council by reiterating his demand for accountability. “In Syria, the majority of the population are victims of the current conflict. They are entitled to expect, in spite of all they have suffered, that justice will not be denied to them.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

Top 25 Donors to UN Syria Appeals in 2014

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June 4, 2014 – A total of $2.1bln has been contributed in 2014 to the two United Nations appeals for Syria – one to address the humanitarian situation inside the country and the other to assist the 2.5M refugees in neighboring countries.

The amount received so far this year is still much less that the $6.5bln the UN says it needs to respond to the crisis. Last year, a total of $3.1bln was contributed to UN appeals while in 2012, the figure was $1.2bln.

The US is the top donor by some distance in 2014 contributing a total of $407M, followed by Kuwait, $300M, and the European Commission, which has contributed $294m.

These are the top 25 donors to the Syria appeals so far this year.

1. US $407M
2. Kuwait 300M
3. EC $294M
4. UK $238M
5. Canada $143M
6. Japan $119M
7. Germany $95M
8. UAE $71M
9. Norway $64M
10. Australia $30M
11. Denmark $25M
12. Saudi Arabia $22M
13. Switzerland $18M
14. Netherlands $17M
15. Finland $11.5M
16. France $11.2M
17. Belgium $11.1M
18. Qatar $11M
19. Sweden $8.9M
20. Italy $8.2M
21. Ireland $5.2M
22. Morocco $4M
23. China $3.9M
24. Luxembourg $3M
25. New Zealand $2M

Data from UN OCHA Financial Tracking Service.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/Wikimedia

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

In Key Shift, UNSC Draft on Syria ICC Referral Expresses Commitment to Follow Up

ICC-PHOTO
May 21, 2014 – In the two situations that the Security Council has referred to the International Criminal Court – Darfur and Libya – not a single person wanted by the Court has ended up in The Hague.

Current prosecutor Fatima Bensouda expressed her frustration at the Council’s lack of support for her office when she presented her 18th report on Darfur in December last year: “Inaction and paralysis within the Council has not only prolonged the suffering of Darfur’s victims, but has bolstered Mr Al-Bashir’s resolve to ignore this Council.”

The Council appears to have taken note and unlike resolutions 1593 on Darfur (2005) and 1970 on Libya (2011), the draft text that would refer the situation in Syria to the ICC includes a support clause with operative paragraph 5 stating that the Council “expresses its commitment to an effective follow up of the present resolution.”

The follow up that the prosecutor’s office wants most is concrete action to enforce its arrest warrants. Sudan’s Bashir has travelled to more than a dozen countries since his warrant for arrest was issued including most recently to the Democratic Republic of Congo which is a state party to the Rome Statute.

While the draft Syria resolution looks set to fail by way of a Russian veto, the shift in language will be taken note of in The Hague.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Uruguay Not Co-Sponsoring UNSC Resolution on Syria ICC Referral

Security Council Meeting on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The High Representative for BiH, Valentin Inzko
May 20, 2014 –  Uruguay’s mission to the UN on Tuesday said it will not co-sponsor the draft Security Council resolution referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

The country, a strong supporter of the ICC and the first Latin American country to implement the Rome Statute into law, was among the states listed in a letter circulated on Monday by the Swiss Mission to the UN calling for other countries to co-sponsor the draft text which is expected to be voted on later this week.

“While Uruguay strongly supports such a referral, it will be unable to co-sponsor the resolution and therefore prefers not to associate itself with the call for co-sponsorship,” its mission said in a statement.

No other details were provided and calls to its mission for more information have not yet been returned.

Uruguay was one of 18 countries worldwide that lost aid for refusing to sign a Bilateral Immunity Agreement with the United States because they said it would breach their obligations under international law.

The draft resolution referring Syria to the ICC includes a clause that exempts nationals from countries outside of Syria that are not party to the Rome Statute.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UNSC Draft Resolution on Syria ICC Referral Exempts Saudis, Iranians and Lebanese

Security Council meeting The situation in Libya

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda Briefing the Security Council on Libya, May 13, 2014 (UN Photo)

May 13, 2014 – The draft Security Council resolution circulated by France that calls for referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court would exempt the bulk of foreign forces on both sides from investigation and prosecution.

An operative paragraph in the draft Syria text states that the resolution “decides that nationals, current or former officials, or personnel from a state outside the Syrian Arab Republic which is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of that state for all alleged acts or omissions arising out of or related to operations in the Syrian Arab Republic, established or authorized by the Council unless such jurisdiction has been expressly waived by the state.”

The paragraph uses the exact wording as in the two previous resolutions where the Council referred situations to the ICC – Resolution 1593 on Darfur (2005) and Resolution 1970 on Libya (2011).

In both cases, and also with the current draft Syria text, it is understood that the exemption paragraph is included at the insistence of the US.

But the paragraph exempts all non-Syrians from countries that are not party to the Rome Statute. That includes Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well as the US, China and Russia.

When former US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, was asked about the exemption clause in 2011 as it related to non-Libyans fighting for Gaddafi, she said the ICC would focus on the “big fish” and not the “foot soldiers.”

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who refused to take questions on Syria during a press conference at UN headquarters on Tuesday, could assert her independence if – and it seems unlikely at this stage – the French-drafted resolution is adopted, she accepts the referral but rejects the limitations imposed on her investigation.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz