World Leaders to Make Their Debut at This Year’s UNGA

1st Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly 69th session
Sept. 17, 2014 – At least ten newly elected presidents and prime ministers will address this year’s General Assembly including three new female leaders.

As is tradition, Brazil will open the high-level segment and President Dilma Rousseff will address delegates for the fourth consecutive year when the session opens on Wednesday.

Also speaking on opening day is Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, who is no stranger to the United Nations having headed UN Women when it was founded in 2010. She left that post in 2013 to campaign for her country’s presidency and was elected in March this year. This is her second stint as Chile’s president. She previously served from 2006-10.

Bachelet is one of three women to take on the post of president or prime minister in the past year who will address the assembly. Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg is slated to speak on Friday while Central African Republic’s interim President Catherine Samba-Panza is up on Saturday.

Egypt’s President Adel Fattah el-Sisi will make his debut on Thursday as will Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko and Iraq’s Fuad Masum.

India’ nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks on Saturday and will deliver his speech in Hindi.

Other newly elected leaders making their bow are El Salvador’s President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, Costa Rica’s Luis Guillermo Solis, Guinea-Bissau’s Jose Mario Vaz and Lebanon’s Prime Minister Tammam Salman. Spain’s King Felipe is also speaking on the opening day. He assumed the throne in June.

The most recent list of speakers provided by the UN states that Afghanistan will be represented by its head of state but June’s runoff presidential election poll is still disputed and it’s not clear at this stage who will represent Kabul.

Besides Rousseff, Bachelet, Solberg and Samba-Panza, at least nine other female heads of state or government are set to address the assembly next week: Argentina’s President Christina Fernandez Kirchner, Liberia’s Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, Lithuania’s Dalia Grybauskaite, Malawi’s Joyce Banda, South Korea’s Park Geun-hye, as well as Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Denmark’s Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Jamaica’s Portia Simpson-Miller and Trinidad’s Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

Al Nusra Placed Explosives at UNDOF Site, Stole Vehicles, Uniforms

UNDOF
Sept. 15, 2014 – Al Qaeda linked militants have taken over UN positions in Golan, are wearing United Nations blue berets and after taking Fijian troops hostage they surrounded another UN base with explosives to prevent troops from evacuating, detonating one of the explosives.

These are among the details in Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on the beleaguered UNDOF mission in Golan where on Monday the UN evacuated all its troops to the Israeli side of the ceasefire line after the security situation deteriorated even further.

Some 300 militants were involved in the incident where the 45 Fijian troops were taken captive, Ban’s report says. The troops were released on Thursday. The Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported that Qatar paid a $20 million ransom to release the peacekeepers.

Ban’s report presents the peacekeepers as essentially operating in an active war zone, caught up in a conflict between armed opposition groups and Syrian armed forces. The IDF have also fired numerous artillery rounds and launched air strikes as a result of firing from the Syrian side into Israel, including dropping several bombs near Camp Faouar, the headquarters for the UN mission in Golan. A number of Syrian government soldiers were killed as a result of Israeli fire.

The report, released on Monday, also says cluster munitions have been used near UN facilities.

Syrian armed forces are operating inside the ceasefire line in breach of the disengagement agreement. There are at least ten tanks belonging to Syrian forces operating inside the zone while armed groups also possess tanks. Both sides are operating checkpoints inside the area, the report, which covers May 29 to Sept. 3, states.

The armed groups are “in control of numerous United Nations armoured vehicles,” and have looted and taken command of facilities that UN troops have vacated.

“The activities of several armed elements, including the al-Nusra Front, in the UNDOF area of operation since late August, and the direct confrontations with United Nations personnel, forced UNDOF to vacate all but one of its positions in the southern area of separation,” the report states [see map]. “Armed opposition groups and other armed groups have gained control of a large part of the area of separation, including a section of the main road connecting  the two UNDOF camps and the crossing between the Alpha [Israeli] and the Bravo [Syrian] sides.”

The report adds that the UN peacekeepers have witnessed several interactions between the Israeli Defense Forces and armed groups.

“Throughout the reporting period, UNDOF frequently observed armed members of the opposition interacting with IDF across the ceasefire line in the vicinity of United Nations position 85. UNDOF observed armed members of the opposition transferring 47 wounded persons from the Bravo side across the ceasefire line to IDF, and IDF on the Alpha side handing over 43 treated individuals to the armed members of the opposition on the Bravo side,” it says.

UNDOF, which costs $64 million per year to run as of 2014, was created in 1974 to observe the disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel. It currently has 1,271 troops, including 48 women, from Fiji, Ireland, the Philippines, Nepal, India and the Netherlands.

In his conclusion, Ban writes that “UNDOF will continue to use its best efforts to monitor the ceasefire between Syrian and Israeli forces and see that it is observed, albeit in increasingly challenging and difficult circumstances.” He also calls for greater support from the Security Council who are scheduled to discuss Ban’s report on Sept. 18.

But it appears that the fate of the mission is sealed for now after Monday’s decision to relocate all troops to the Israeli side, essentially ending UNDOF’s mission to operate in the separation zone observing the ceasefire agreement.

The full report is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

US Nominates Climate Skeptic as Representative to UNGA

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Sept. 12, 2014 – A Wisconsin senator who argues the evidence that human behavior causes climate change is not convincing and who has likened climate activism to “environmental jihad” has been nominated as a US representative to the 69th UN General Assembly.

The announcement comes days before President Obama participates in Ban Ki-moon’s Sept. 23rd Climate Summit.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in 2013 sent a fundraising email to supporters attacking the League of Conservation voters, calling the group “one of the many attack dog groups used by President Obama, the Democrats and the extreme left to weaken, defeat and silence conservatives.”

“They are an extreme left group on an environmental jihad,” he wrote, according to a Huffington Post report.

Earlier this year, he sparred with climatologist James Hansen at a Senate Foreign Relations Hearing over the Keystone Pipeline. “The science is far from settled,” he said about climate change at the hearing.

The General Assembly is the United Nations’ main deliberative, policy-making and representative organ, with five representatives and five alternates from each of the 193 member nations. It meets in regular session from September to December each year, and periodically thereafter.

Johnson will continue to represent Wisconsin in the Senate and will assume his new duties next week when the 69th General Assembly opens, pending his confirmation.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

As Obama Heads to UN, US Yet to Pay 2014 Dues

Usdollar100front
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

Al Nusrah Issue Demands for Release of Fijian Golan Peacekeepers

UNDOF troops in June during a visit of undersecretary-general for peacekeeping ops, Herve Ladsous. source: UNDOF

UNDOF troops in June during a visit of undersecretary-general for peacekeeping ops, Herve Ladsous. credit: UNDOF

Sept. 1, 2014 – The Al Nusrah Front is demanding that it be removed from the UN’s sanctions list, wants compensation for three of its fighters killed, and that they be provided with humanitarian aid in return for releasing the Fijian peacekeepers the group abducted last week in the Golan Heights.

Fijian Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitoga revealed the three demands at a press conference in Fiji earlier where he also said that he was assured that the abducted peacekeepers, whose number was put at 45 by the Fiji Times, are in good health.

Al Nusrah were added to the Security Council’s sanctions list last month.

Meanwhile, Philipines Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang has said his troops defied an order from an UNDOF commander to hand over their weapons in exchange for the release of the Fijian troops.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Al Nusra Confirms Holding UN Peacekeepers

 

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A photo posted on Twitter by the Al Nusral front showing the UN Fijian peacekeepers abducted from their position in the Golan Heights.

Aug 31, 2014 – The Al Nusra Front have confirmed they have taken hostage UN peacekeepers from Fiji abducted from the UN’s Golan Heights observer mission.

The group said it is holding the peacekeepers hostage “in reply to all crimes committed by the UN against al-Sham since 1974 in protecting the zionist Israeli border, we took 43 UNDOF hostages.”

The UN have said that 44 Fijian troops have been detained. It has not yet said who is holding them hostage.

“Al Nusra is on terrorist list and on sanction list. All we do is offer support for our brothers in Syris. In exchange, we face the UN article 7,” the group said. Article 7 of the UN charter authorizes the use of force to maintain international peace and security.

“We confirm all 43 UNDOF are in a secure place, in good health and receive medical attention,” Al Nusra said.

The UN observer force in Golan was established in 1974 in response to a ceasefire agreement agreement between Israel and Syria following the end of the 1973 war. It patrols a demiltarized zone agreed on both sides.

UN troops were mandated to observe the ceasefire, in the absence of a peace agreement between the countries, and occupy a zone which both sides declared should be demilitarized, according to their disengagement agreement.

Meanwhile, the UN says the 40 Filipino troops pinned down in their position have been vacated following a ceasefire agreed with armed groups.

Some 70 Filipino troops had come under fire in their positions following the abduction of the Fijian troops. Irish troops rescued some 30 of those peacekeepers on Friday. The remaining Filipino were troops engaged in a standoff with armed groups, including Al Nusra, until a ceasefire was arranged.

Fijian Commander Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitogan told the Fiji Times that he has been informed that his troops are safe and have been removed from the Golan by their captives but is unsure of their location. “I am sure sooner or later they will provide a demand to the UN but at this stage we can wait and see what happens in the next few days.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Golan Peacekeepers in Firefight With Al Nusra Front

The town of Quneitra where Al Nusra on Wednesday took control of the crossing into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights

The town of Quneitra where Al Nusra on Wednesday took control of the crossing into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights

Aug. 30, 2014 – UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights have been engaged in ongoing battles with armed groups including the Al Nusra Front.

Thirty-two Filipino troops were rescued by UNDOF’s Quick Reaction Force when they came under attack at Position 69 [see map] while the UN said there is an ongoing battle at position 68 which has pinned down another Filipino contingent. The UN has pulled its troops from Observation Posts 52 and 56 after firing in the vicinity.

There are no reported casualties among UN forces, the United Nations spokesperson’s office said in an email to reporters.

“UNDOF reports that armed elements also attacked UN Position 68 with mortar and heavy machine gun fire. The UN peacekeepers returned fire and prevented the attackers from entering the position. Position 68 is currently under fire, preventing the personnel from moving out,” the email from the UN spokesperson’s office said.

Forty-four Fijian peacekeepers abducted on Thursday are still being held captive by Al Nusra while some 40 more are surrounded and unable to leave their position.

“The Secretary General strongly condemns the attack today on positions of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and the continuing detention and restrictions of movement on 84 UNDOF peacekeepers from the Fijian and Philippine Battalions by armed non-state actors, including the Al Nusra Front,” the UN said in a statement.

The attacks and detention of peacekeepers comes after months of fighting in the separation zone between armed groups and Syrian government forces as well as firing from Syria into Israel. Israel has returned fire to Syrian Army positions as it holds the government responsible for any firing from their side of the of the zone, though it is not clear if Syrian government forces are in control of their positions.

The Al Nusra Front which has teamed up with other armed groups in the area took control of the Syrian crossing with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Wednesday.

The 1,200 UN troops are deployed to observe a 1973 ceasefire between Israel and Syria and are stationed along an 80km long and between 0.5 and 10km wide separation zone which both countries agreed should be free of any military activity.

In Ban Ki-moon’s latest report to the Security Council on the UN’s Golan observer force, he wrote that several different armed groups are operating in the area and these groups possess heavy weapons and at least three tanks. A source told UN Tribune that United Nations vehicles have also been captured by the armed groups in the past few days.

The June report to the Council told of an increasingly dangerous environment for the UN peacekeepers who it said have observed black flags associated with the Islamic State in the separation zone and that in April “two members of the armed opposition displayed the severed head of a presumed Syrian armed forces officer as they passed United Nations Position 80.”

Ban’s next report to the Security Council on UNDOF is due in two weeks. The 1,200-troop mission is considered crucial because of the lack of a peace agreement between Syria and Israel but the recent escalation in attacks on peacekeepers and the abduction of the 44 Fijian troops have put its future in jeopardy with the Filipino government announcing last week that it will pull its 330 contingent at the end of September.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image Credit: “Qunaitra” by Christian Koehn. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

Fijian Peacekeepers Still Detained, Filipino Troops in Armed Standoff are Rescued

UNDOF
Aug. 29, 2014 – The UN continues to seek the release of the the Fijian peacekeepers detained in the Golan Heights and on Friday updated the number held hostage to 44.

Meanwhile, Filipino troops who were surrounded by armed elements have been evacuated to the peacekeeping mission’s headquarters in Golan in an operation aided by Irish peacekeepers.

The UN of Friday put the number of Filipino troops trapped at 72.

“Irish personnel secured a route, provided security as UNDOF troops withdrew from a UN position and escorted them to the Force Headquarters in Camp Faouar,” said a statement posted on the Irish Defence Forces website.

It is not yet known if all 72 troops have been evacuated.

The 44 Fijian troops detained by an armed group, believed to be Al Nusra, were first taken to a UN post staffed by Filipino troops, a source who had been briefed on the situation told UN Tribune. There the Filipino troops were threatened and ordered to hand over their weapons. The Filipino contingent managed to escape to another UN position and it is there they were surrounded by the armed elements who had also captured UN vehicles.

The UN is not aware of where the captive Fijian troops are being held or if all 44 are being held at the same location, a source said.

A spokesperson for the UN’s Dept. of Peacekeeping Operations declined to comment citing the sensitive nature of the ongoing situation.

Update: The UN spokesperson’s office late Friday sent the following statement to reporters:

The United Nations has received assurances from credible sources that the 44 peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) who were taken from their position on the morning of Thursday, 28 August, are safe and in good health.  UNDOF has not yet had direct contact with these peacekeepers.

“UNDOF has been informed that the intention behind those holding the peacekeepers was to remove them from an active battlefield to a safe area for their own protection.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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