Despite Inefficiencies, United Nations is Big Contributor to US Economy

January 23, 2017 –  A bill before the US Congress aims to end United States membership in the United Nations and to remove UNHQ from US territory.

Such a move if successful, and the likelihood of that is far from clear, would leave the UN Security Council without one of its permanent members and would deprive the organization of about 25 percent of its funds.

While the motive behind the bill is ideological, its official title is American Sovereignty Restoration Act, its supporters argue that the more than $3 billion in dues paid by US taxpayers is money wasted.

But this is a shortsighted analysis. In fact, the United Nations is a big contributor to the US economy, in particular, to the economy of New York City.

In addition to the 6,700 UN staff working at the Secretariat in New York, there are some 2,000 diplomatic staff working for the 193 member states posted to the city as well as dozens of non-governmental organizations with offices in New York.

A report from the UN Foundation and the City of New York from 2010 estimated that the economic benefit to the city alone was in the region of $3.3 billion while, additionally, the UN procured over $800 million from US companies.

Furthermore, of the 41,000 people working for the UN Secretariat both in New York and in one of the other 24 duty stations, more than 6,500, or 16 percent, are US citizens.

The UN Secretariat is separate to other UN funds, programs and agencies and there are also several hundred US citizens working for UNICEF, UNDP, UN Women and other arms of the United Nations with headquarters in New York. In addition, the head of UNICEF is nominated by the United States – its current executive-director is Tony Lake.

It’s unlikely that Congress will pass the proposed bill – a similar piece of legislation was put forward in 2009 by Ron Paul and was never acted on.

Nevertheless, the election of Donald Trump has caused unease around the UN with his mantra of America First signaling a retreat from global institutions and multilateral diplomacy.

Undoubtedly, there is significant waste in the UN and it is often a place where member states find jobs for former foreign ministers and other politicians so they can be removed from the payroll at home – the top jobs at UN are given as political favors, not on merit.

But for all the waste, it is still good value for money for the US, in strictly economic terms.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related: Russia to Run DPA, US Seeks to Rule Management Dept. Under Guterres

Russia to Run DPA, US Seeks to Rule Management Department Under Guterres

First Phase Digital
November 17, 2016 – Russia will run the Dept. of Political Affairs under incoming secretary-general Antonio Guterres while the United States is said to seek control of the Dept. of Management where it will attempt to rein in a bloated bureaucracy and cut waste, knowledgeable insiders have told UN Tribune.

While peacekeeping is seen as the face of the United Nations to the outside world, inside the UN, the Dept. of Political Affairs has quietly gained influence and in the future is viewed as the most important division in the United Nations system. Going forward, the thinking is that the greater impact DPA has in its preventive diplomacy and mediation, conflict prevention, electoral assistance, and peacebuilding mandates then the less need there will be for peacekeeping.

This fits with the overarching emphasis the United Nations has placed on resilience, with the aim to build stronger systems and societies and to prevent fragile states from falling back into conflict.

Control over the Dept. of Political Affairs will also give Russia much greater leverage inside the Security Council as the Council’s agenda is increasingly set by DPA. “It’s DPA that pitches up to the Security Council,” is how one insider put it to UN Tribune.

The US currently controls DPA where former State. Dept. official Jeffrey Feltman is the current undersecretary-general. What has not been said is whether Russia will be getting DPA because of its decision to support Guterres. The permanent five members of the Council divvy up the top UN positions among themselves and it is not unlikely that if Russia does get to run DPA, it will part of a secret P5 deal to get Moscow’s support for Guterres.

That the United States is seeking the Dept. of Management, currently run by Japanese diplomat Yuki Takasu, makes perfect sense, even more so in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the recent US presidential election. The US Congress has long griped that US taxpayers money going to support UN programs and agencies is wasted. Staff costs account for some two-thirds of the budget of UN agencies and these same agencies often have overlapping mandates.

The US provides 22 percent to the UN’s regular budget, a contribution of about $600 million, while it provides 28 percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget, some $2.4 billion of the almost $9 billion budget for blue helmet operations. In addition, Washington contributes to the budgets of about 20 other UN agencies and programs including WHO, IAEA, UNDP, UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNHCR. It is also the top contributor to UN aid appeals.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Related: Where do the 41,000 People Working for the UN Secretariat Come From?

As Obama heads to UN, U.S. Debt to World Body Soars to $3 Billion

Replacing Valerie Amos: Political Appointment or Merit Based

Drought an Underlooked Catalyst for Syria Revolt

Somalia Ratifies Child Rights Convention, U.S. Sole Holdout

Oct. 1, 2015  – Somalia on Thursday became the 196th country to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child when it confirmed its commitment to the treaty at U.N. headquarters in New York on Thursday.

Mogadishu’s ratification leaves the United States as the sole U.N. member state not to have consented to the convention, which is the most ratified treaty in history.

The text was opened for signature on Nov. 20th 1989 and came into force on Sept. 2nd, 1990, after the required number of ratifications.

UN special representative for children in armed conflict, Leila Zerrougi (4th. fr. left) among invitees for deposit of Somali's ratification.

UN special representative for children in armed conflict, Leila Zerrougi (4th. fr. left), among invitees for deposit of Somali’s ratification.

Somalia announced its ratification in January this year but this was not formalized until it deposited what are known as the instruments of ratification with the United Nations treaty office, which it did on Thursday.

The child rights convention requires states to act in the best interests of children and forbids capital punishment for children. It acknowledges that every child has rights, including a right to life, to his or her own name, and to have a relationship with both parents, even if they are separated.

The United States was instrumental in drafting the convention and signed it in 1996, but has not yet ratified the text because it forbids capital punishment and life imprisonment for children.

The full text of the convention is here and the list of countries that have ratified the treaty is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

As Obama Heads to General Assembly, US Debt to UN Balloons to $3 Billion

US President Barack Obama Addresses the General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2014

US President Barack Obama Addresses the General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2014

Sept. 14, 1015 – US President Barack Obama will make his penultimate appearance at the United Nations later this month where he will address the annual General Debate and speak at a high-level summit where the sustainable development goals will be adopted.

Obama will also host a summit on increasing international involvement in UN peacekeeping. The United States is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, assessed at 28 percent of the annual $8.25 billion budget – but DC hasn’t yet paid its contribution for 2015 and still has arrears from 2014.

In total, the US owes peacekeeping dues for 2014 and 2015 totaling more than $2 billion, according to information provided to UN Tribune from the United Nations budget office.

Washington also has yet to pay its 2015 dues to the UN’s regular budget. The United States is assessed at 22 percent of the regular budget for a total of $655 million for 2015. According to UN figures, the US owes a combined total of $926 million to the regular budget, which includes an outstanding $270 million from last year.

The United States is the only permanent member of the Security Council to not yet pay its 2015 dues, according to information from the UN Committee on Contributions website.

The US government’s fiscal year begins in October and large payments are typically made at the beginning of the fiscal cycle, though not nearly enough to cover the total back debt.

Information from the UN Budget Office on US debt to the United Nations

Information from the UN Budget Office on US debt to the United Nations (click to enlarge)

While many US lawmakers say that the United Nations is a bloated bureaucracy that offers little to no value for US citizens, this is far from the case from a strictly economic point of view. In fact, it is a boon to the New York City economy and to US companies.

Of the 43,000 staff working for the UN Secretariat, some 2,700 are US citizens, or 6.2% of the total staff. Japan, the second highest financial contributor, assessed at some $300 million to the annual budget, has a mere 167 staff members or 0.59%, according to the latest available Composition of the Secretariat report.

In addition, a 2010 report from UN Foundation showed that the UN Secretariat procured more than $832 million from US companies in 2010. The report also said that the economic benefit to New York City by having UN Headquarters located in the city is about $3.3bln annually.

While the US is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, there are only 78 UN peacekeepers from the United States deployed in current peacekeeping operations.

– Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

Related Story: US, UK, France Tops for UN Secretariat Staff

New York City Expected to Adopt CEDAW Legislation in June

Wordle_Visualization_of_CEDAW

Feb. 17, 2015 – As the sixtieth session of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women opens in Geneva, the treaty is expected to get a boost in coming months when mayors from several US cities are expected to sign legislation to implement CEDAW at the municipal level.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was one of 100 mayors that signed on to a resolution at the US conference of mayors last year to enforce CEDAW at the municipal level and he is expected to implement the resolution in June.

The US is one of seven UN member states that have not ratified the 1979 convention, one of nine core human rights treaties, with both Republican and Democrat-majority senates rejecting the convention in part because of what they view as its pro-abortion agenda.

The convention makes no mention of abortion and countries that restrict or prohibit abortion, such as Chile, Ireland and Portugal, have ratified the treaty.

To circumvent the senate’s unwillingness to ratify CEDAW (the US signed the treaty in 1980), the Cites for CEDAW campaign was launched to push cities to pass laws to eliminate discrimination based on gender.

San Francisco and Los Angeles are currently the only two US cities to have passed ordinance to comply with CEDAW, which has been described as an international bill of rights for women.

During its sessions, the CEDAW committee, made up of 23 elected members, receive and review reports from states that have ratified the treaty and then issue recommendations. Some statements by the committee have caused controversy such as one in its 2000 review of Belarus when it said that, “The Committee is concerned by the continuing prevalence of sex-role stereotypes and by the reintroduction of such symbols as a Mothers’ Day and a Mothers’ Award, which it sees as encouraging women’s traditional roles.”

Besides the US, the other UN member states that have not ratified CEDAW are Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Tonga. The Holy See, a non-member observer state also has not ratified the treaty while Palestine, also a non-member observer state, became the last country to ratify the treaty in April 2014.

Of the nine core human rights treaties, the US has ratified three: the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

– Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

Secret Cables Reveal Intrigue and Inner Workings of UN

confidential
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

North Korea Tells US via UN to ‘Drop the Bad Habit’ of Arguing With Others

A model of the "Unha-9" missile on display at a floral exhibition in Pyongyang, July 2013 (credit: wikimedia)

A model of the “Unha-9” missile on display at a floral exhibition in Pyongyang, July 2013 (credit: wikimedia)

March 12, 2014 – North Korea has sent a letter to Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council to complain about the United States reaction to its recent missile tests.

The letter, transmitted  from Pyongyang’s UN ambassador, Ja Song Nam, said the missile tests from Feb. 21 to March 4 “were smoothly conducted with no slight impact not only on regional peace and security but on the international navigation order and ecological environment.”

The tests, which took place at the same time as joint US-South Korea military exercises, drew a complaint from the United States, who have asked the Security Council to “take appropriate action” as the launches “clearly used ballistic missile technology” which Pyongyang is banned from using under Security Council resolutions.

The United States and its followers should not dare make much fuss, terming the just rocket-launching drills of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ‘provocation’ and ‘ ‘threats,'” the letter says.

It adds that the only provocations were the joint US-South Korea military drills “and base remarks made by such a guy as United States Secretary of State Kerry, who labelled the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ‘closest closed country,’ ‘evil place’ and ‘country of evil.'”

The letter says its is “absurd” that the US says North-South relations can only be mended when Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program “is the self-defensive treasured sword to defend the whole Korean nation and preserve the regional peace and security from the increasing nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States,” the letter says.

“The United States had better coolly judge the situation and drop the bad habit 
of deliberately taking issue with others,” the letter concludes.

Full text of the letter is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

North Korea Letter to UN published by UN Tribune

Amnesty: 21 Countries Used the Death Penalty Last Year

April 9, 2013 – China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States were the world’s top executioners last year, according to Amnesty International’s annual review of the use of the death penalty.

The organization recorded 682 executions in 21 countries in 2012, virtually unchanged from 2011, when it recorded 680 executions in 21 countries. The figures do not include the estimated thousands of executions carried out in China, which does not publicly release information on its use of the death penalty.

A U.N. push to end the death penalty seems to be gaining traction with no executions recorded in 174 of the U.N.’s 193 member states (the two U.N. non-member states that carried out executions last year were Palestine and Taiwan). 

A General Assembly vote in November 2012 on putting a moratorium on the death penalty passed by a vote of 110 in favor, 39 against and 36 abstentions, a slight improvement from the same vote in 2010 and six more in favor than in a 2007 vote. A diplomat involved with the text said the aim is now to encourage states that have declared a moratorium to abolish executions, citing strong progress in Africa on ending the death penalty.

The U.S. is the only country in the Americas to still use the death penalty, carrying out 43 executions last year, the same as in 2011, but in only nine states, compared to 13 in 2011. There are 3,170 people still on death row in the U.S., according to Amnesty.

Belarus is the only country in Europe to still use the death penalty, carrying out at least three executions last year.

At least 557 executions were carried out in Middle East countries last year. Iran put 314 people to death in 2012; Iraq, 129; and Saudi Arabia, 79. Yemen, where a minimum of 28 people were executed last year, was the sixth biggest executioner in 2012. Those four countries accounted for 99 percent of all executions in the region last year.

Japan, seven executions last year, and the U.S. are the only G8 countries to still apply the death penalty. In Japan, as well as Belarus, prisoners were not informed of their forthcoming execution, nor were their families or lawyers, according to the Amnesty report.

Hanging remains the most commonly used method of execution followed by shooting. The U.S. and China both use lethal injection while Saudi Arabia still practices beheading, often in public.

The Amnesty report is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald

Why Syria’s Opposition Won’t Get UN Seat Anytime Soon

March 26, 2013 – Arab League members at their Doha summit on Tuesday agreed to give Syria’s seat to the opposition coalition. The Syrian government has been suspended from the 22-nation group since Nov. 2011.

The New York Times reported that opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib said after the meeting that the opposition now wanted “the seat of Syria at the United Nations and at other international organizations.”

A recent precedent would be the Sept. 2011 decision to grant Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) the country’s seat at the United Nations after a recommendation from the credentials committee and after a vote in the General Assembly to block the move was roundly defeated.

But by that stage, Libya’s UN delegation, along with several other of Tripoli’s diplomatic missions, had long defected to the NTC, and NATO-backed rebels were on their way to victory. Not so with Syria, whose UN envoy, Bashar Jaafari, continues in his post and continues to defend the regime, and the fall of Assad still not imminent.

That aside, the unanimity that existed among the nine credentials committee members with regard to Libya does not exist for Syria. While a new committee is appointed each year, there are three de-facto permanent members – the United States, along with China and Russia. The latter two have vetoed three draft Security Council resolutions on Syria in the past 18 months.

The list of credentials committee members for the current General Assembly session is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald