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

UN General Assembly Debate – Day 2 Wrap

Petro Poroshenko addressing the UN General Assembly, Spet. 29, 2015 UN Photo)

Petro Poroshenko addressing the UN General Assembly, Sept. 29, 2015 UN Photo)

Sept. 29, 2015 – Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday responded to Vladimir Putin’s speech on Monday by telling delegates that, “Over the last few days we have heard conciliatory statements from the Russian side in which, in particular, it called for the establishment of anti-terrorist coalition, or warned of danger to flirt with terrorists.”

“Cool story, but really hard to believe,” Poroshenko continued. “How can you urge an anti-terrorist coalition – if you inspire terrorism right in front of your door? How can you talk about peace and legitimacy – if your policy is war via puppet governments? How can you speak of freedom for nations – if you punish your neighbor for his choice? How can you demand respect for all – if you don’t have respect for anyone?”

He added that Russia “shamefully” used its veto twice to block Security Council resolutions related to Ukraine, the first in March 2014 that would have condemned the Crimea referendum and, more recently, a resolution that called for establishing an international criminal investigation into the downing of Flight MH17.

Ukraine is set to join the Council as a non-permanent member for a two year term beginning in Jan. 1, 2016.

Speaking later on Tuesday, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his country, one of the top humanitarian donors to the UN system, would step up its funding for refugees and internally displaced people from Syria and Iraq. The funding would not only go to neighboring countries hosting the vast majority of refugees, but also to countries on Europe’s borders, particularly Serbia and Macedonia.

He also expressed frustration at the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament, noting that this year marked the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Abe called for continuing reductions in Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals, as well as all other countries that possess these weapons.

Also speaking on Tuesday was Liberia’s President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson who said progress towards gender equality was well behind schedule. She noted that only a few of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representatives were women, that only one woman had ever served as president of the General Assembly, and that there had never been a female secretary-general.

Johnson said the response to the Ebola crisis in her country, as well as in neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea, which she called the “greatest modern threat to global public health” showed that the promise of the United Nations works when we “find it within our humanity to respond even to unknown enemies to our collective progress” and she thanked Ban Ki-moon as well as other international organizations for mobilizing their response to fight Ebola.

At a side event on Tuesday, foreign ministers from Argentina, Benin, Fiji, Italy and Rwanda spoke for the need to work towards global abolition of the death penalty.

Also speaking was human rights high commissioner Zeid Hussein and US campaigner Sister Helen Prejean. Zeid noted that 82 percent of UN member states have either introduced a moratorium or have abolished the death penalty. In the past twelve months, Fiji, Madagascar, Suriname and the U.S. state of Nebraska have abolished the practice.

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Sister Helen, who had to leave the event early as she is actively campaigning for a stay on the execution in Oklahoma of Richard Glossip, who the U.S. state is set to execute tomorrow. She said after witnessing her first execution in Alabama, she vomited. She then decided that she needed to educate the American public about the cruelty of the death penalty. In the course of her campaigning she met many victims families – those whose killer was executed – and discovered that, for many, they are hidden victims of the death penalty. “Don’t kill for us,” she quoted victims families as saying. She called it revictimization.

Sister Helen noted the racial disparities among those on death row, saying that in the U.S. when a person of color is put to death it is negligible and that while there’s a perception that the US has the best justice system in the world, 150 people on death row have been exonerated, while others who have been innocent have been put to death.

At least 11 countries have applied the death penalty in 2015: Afghanistan, Chad, China, Indonesia, India, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and the United States.

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Ukraine Rebels Expel UN Aid Agencies

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Sept. 24, 2015 –  The top UN humanitarian official on Thursday called on pro-Russia rebels to immediately allow the resumption of United Nations and international NGO aid activities in eastern Ukraine.

All UN agencies operating in Luhansk have been ordered to leave by Sept. 25 and a decision by the rebels on expelling aid agencies from Donetsk remains on hold.

I am alarmed by news that the de facto authorities in eastern Ukraine have ordered UN agencies in Luhansk to end operations and to leave the area by tomorrow,” UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien said in a statement. “Their continued failure in this regard constitutes a blatant violation of International Humanitarian Law.”

He added that agencies are unable to deliver 16,000 tons of aid including anesthesia, insulin and tubercolosis vaccine.

“Patients lives are at risk,” O’Brien said. “Some 150,000 people are not receiving monthly food distributions, 1.3 million people’s access to water is at risk, and more than 30,000 people have not received shelter materials and household items they urgently need.”

Ukraine is currently trying to control a cholera outbreak that paralyzed two children earlier this month.

“I call on the de facto authorities in both Luhansk and Donetsk to ensure the immediate resumption of UN and international NGO activities,” O’Brien’s statement added. “Furthermore, I call on everyone with influence over the de facto authorities to use that influence to ensure the immediate resumption of humanitarian aid by UN agencies and international NGOs, and to win a commitment by the authorities to end interference in the provision of lifesaving assistance.

In addition to UN aid agencies, the rebels have also banned MSF and People in Need, among others, from operating in Luhansk, a city with a population of some 425,000.

The United Nations estimates that the 17-month conflict in Ukraine has killed almost 8,000 people, most of them civilians.

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

  

 

Ukraine, Egypt Among Five Seeking Security Council Seats in 2016/17

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Sept. 16, 2015 – Heads of states seeking Security Council seats would normally devote considerable time during this month’s high-level segment of the General Assembly to lobbying for votes but the candidates vying for seats for 2016-17 in October’s elections are all running unopposed.

Among those seeking seats next month are Ukraine, which will replace Lithuania in the Eastern European group.

A report last week from the UN human rights office said more than 8,000 people have been killed since April 2014 due to the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In July this year, Russia vetoed a draft Council resolution that would have established an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine.

Ukraine President Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will both be in New York at the end of the month to address the General Assembly.

Also running unopposed for a seat in 2016/17 is Egypt which will occupy one of the two seats being vacated by Chad and Nigeria – Senegal will take over the other. Egypt last served in 1996/97 while Senegal served a two-year term in 1988/89.

Uruguay will take over the Latin American seat currently held by Chile. This will be just its second time ever serving on the Council, having last served a two-year term in 1965/66. Uruguay is the top Latin America troop contributing country to UN peacekeeping operations with some 3,000 blue helmets deployed.

Japan will return to the Council for the eleventh time in 2016/17, having last served in 2009/10. Bangladesh announced earlier this month that it was withdrawing from the race for the Asian seat currently held by Jordan. Japan is the second biggest contributor to the UN budget.

Elections for 2017-18 will take place in June 2016, in order to give elected countries more time to prepare. Among those running are Netherlands, Italy and Sweden for two seats in the Western Europe and Others group currently held by New Zealand and Spain.

The current elected members of the Council, with end of term date, are as follows:

- Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

 

Related Story: How much is a Security Council seat worth and which countries get elected?

Risk of Polio Spread in Europe After Ukraine Cases

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Sept. 8, 2015 - While the UN has set 2018 as its target for the global eradication of polio the confirmation last week of cases in Ukraine – which left two children aged four years and ten months paralyzed for life – is worrying proof that if vaccination rates slip then the virus will reemerge.

Ukraine had only a 50 percent polio vaccination coverage rate in 2014 but that had reportedly slipped to 14 percent this year due to low or no availability of vaccine doses and strong anti-vaccine sentiment.

The Global Polio Eradication’s International Monitoring Board (IMB) issued a warning less than a year ago that “the risk in Ukraine is of deep concern.”

The Oct. 2014 warning added that, “The last thing the global polio eradication program now needs is the re-emergence of polio in a place distant from its two epicentres and threatening to reverse the certified polio-free status of a whole region (in this case Europe).”

Polio incidence has been reduced by 99.9 percent since 1988 when there was an estimated 350,000 cases to just 37 cases in 2015 as of Sept. 2.

The two Ukraine cases occurred in the southwest of the country which shares borders with Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. To contain the spread, the World Health Organization says two million children in Ukraine under the age of five must begin to get vaccinated within two weeks of the confirmed cases.

Children typically get four doses of the polio vaccine, at ages two months, four months, 6-18 months and a booster does at 4-6 years.

The children in Ukraine were infected with a vaccine-derived type of polio. Such cases are rare – there have only been only 500 cases of paralysis from circulating vaccine-derived polio virus type 1 (cVDPV1) from 2001-2011 while the oral polio vaccine has prevented some 3.5 million cases of paralysis – but the most important risk factor for emergence and spread of cVDPV1 is immunity gaps resulting from low immunization coverage.

The European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) in a bulletin last week said, “It is likely that the cVDPV1 strain has been circulating for many months in Ukraine and that the virus could be found in other parts of the country.”

“Based on experiences from other similar events in the past, we can assume that the risk of more children presenting with paralytic poliomyelitis in Ukraine is high and that it will remain high until large-scale supplementary immunisations have been implemented, in accordance with WHO recommendations for the control of polio outbreaks,” the bulletin added.

It said there is risk of the virus being imported into EU countries from border areas but the risk of it resulting in paralysis is low given widespread vaccine coverage. However, the ECDC warned that there are pockets of under-immunized or unimmunized people in the European region, and said Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania and Ukraine are at high risk for further polio spread.

- Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

Syria Overtakes Afghanistan as Top Source Country for Refugees

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June 18, 2015 - Before the conflict in Syria started, the country was among the top five refugee hosting states. It is now the number one source country for refugees, having overtaken Afghanistan which had been the number one source country since 1981.

There are now a record 59.5 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, mostly as a result of war and persecution, according to figures released Thursday by the UN Refugee Agency in its annual Global Trends report. In addition to the 3.9 million Syrian refugees in 107 countries, there are another 7.6 million internally displaced Syrians. The vast majority of Syrian refugees are hosted in neighboring countries Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq.

The number of Afghan refugees stands at 2.6 million, making them the second largest refugee group. The majority of Afghan refugees are hosted in Pakistan and Iran.

The next highest group of refugees are Somalis with 1.1 million, mostly residing in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Sudan and South Sudan are the third and fourth largest countries of origin for refugees with the latter experiencing a massive outflow of people fleeing war and hunger in the past twelve months – some 616,200 South Sudanese are now refugees compared with 114,400 last year. Ethiopia and Kenya were the top destination countries for South Sudanese.

Armed conflicts in the Central African Republic and Ukraine saw the number of refugees from these countries grow with Cameroon hosting the majority of CAR’s 412,000 refugees while more than 270,000 Ukrainians applied for asylum or refugee status in Russia. There are also more than 800,000 displaced inside Ukraine.

Developing countries continue to bear the primary burden of hosting refugees while the Americas hosts the lowest number and Europe – excluding Russian and Turkey, which is now the world’s biggest host country – the next lowest.

UNHCR said in its report that at least 3,500 people died crossing the Mediterranean last year seeking shelter in Europe.

More than half of the world’s refugees are children, the agency said.

The full report is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Wikimedia

Russia Isolated in UNSC Over Ukraine Incursion

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin at UN Security Council Meeting, Marc 3, 2014 (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin Addresses Security Council Meeting, March 3, 2014 (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

March 3, 2014 – Russia received no support for its takeover of the Crimea region in Ukraine at an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Monday.

On his way to the Council chamber, Moscow’s UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters that he requested the meeting “to explain in considerably more detail” his country’s actions in Ukraine.

He told the 15-nation body that troops were there to protect Russian citizens and compatriots and the that the actions of Russia were “fully appropriate and legitimate.”

Churkin also read a letter from ousted president Viktor Yanukovych requesting Moscow’s help in restoring law and order. He added that Russia was “defending the most important right, the right to life.”

When her turn came to speak, US envoy Samantha Power said listening to her Russian colleague, “you would think Russia was the rapid response arm of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.”

“Russia has every right to wish that events in Ukraine had turned out differently, but it does not have the right to express that unhappiness by using military force or by trying to convince the world community that up is down and black is white,” she said.

In response to the letter from Yanukovych, Britain’s UN envoy, Mark Lyall-Grant, said Yanukovych had “abandoned his office, his capital and his country” and his pronouncements carried no legitimacy.

Nigeria UN ambassador, Joy Ugwu, reminded parties to the Budapest Convention -Ukraine, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States – that they are required to meet in a time of crisis. No such meeting has yet taken place.

Even Russia’s ally China offered no support for Moscow’s incursion into Crimea with Amb. Liu Jieyi telling the Council that Beijing “believes in non-interference in the internal affairs of a country.” He added that China is closely following events in Ukraine.

Kiev’s envoy, Yuryi Sergeyev, told the Council that there are now an estimated 16,000 Russian troops in Crimea. He earlier sent a letter to all UN missions outlining Russia’s actions in his country.

This was the third emergency meeting of the Council on Ukraine in the past four days but other than offering up a heated debate, there is little it can do to address a crisis involving one of its permanent members other than to convince Russia to agree to a joint UN-OSCE mediation mission.

Churkin said he supported the visit of Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson to Ukraine – Eliasson travelled to Kiev yesterday – but he could not speak about “my country’s position on the OSCE because I am ambassador to the UN.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Ukraine Envoy to UNSC: Russia Violating Budapest Memorandum

Ukraine's UN Ambassadir, Yuriy Sergeyev, speaking at an emergency meeting of the Security Council, March 1, 2014.

Ukraine’s UN Ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, speaking at an emergency meeting of the Security Council, March 1, 2014.

March 1, 2014 – Russia is violating the 1994 agreement it made with Ukraine when the former Soviet state abolished its nuclear weapons program, Kiev’s UN ambassador told an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Saturday.

“The Russian Federation doesn’t comply with its obligations as state guarantor of Ukraine under Budapest Memorandum which obliges Russia as well as other permanent members of the Security Council to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of Ukraine.” Amb. Yuriy Sergeyev said.

In recognition of Ukraine joining the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Russia, Britain and the United States agreed under the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and not launch aggressive actions against the country.

US President Barack Obama also told his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, that Moscow’s takeover of the Crimea region violates the agreement while William Hague invoked the agreement earlier on Saturday when he tweeted that the UK supported Ukraine’s request for an urgent meeting of the Council.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, made no mention of the text in his remarks to the Council, instead saying Russian troops were invited to the pro-Moscow region and he blamed EU officials for meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs.

Speaking to reporters later, this month’s president, Luxembourg’s Amb. Sylvie Lucas, said the Council will continue discussions on a US proposal to send a mediation team consisting of UN and OSCE officials to Crimea.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s envoy to Ukraine, Robert Serry, had planned to visit Crimea on Saturday but after speaking with officials there, he said the visit was “not possible.” Serry is scheduled to brief Ban in Geneva on Sunday.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz