Busy First Month For New UNSC Members

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The Knotted Gun sculpture outside the vistors entrance to the UN headquarters in New York City was a 1988 gift from Luxembourg, who join the Security Council for a two-year term on Jan 1 – the first time ever the country has served on the 15-nation body (photo: Denis Fitzgerald)

Dec. 30, 2012 – Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, Rwanda, and South Korea begin two-year terms on the Security Council Jan 1 with fighting still raging in Syria, nuclear negotiations with Iran deadlocked, and a settlement to the Israel – Palestine conflict more elusive than ever.

January’s shaping up to be a busy month for the council and the the five new members – who replace big powers Germany, India, and South Africa, as well as Colombia and Portugal – are likely to spend their first month occupied by the rebel takeover of parts of the Central African Republic, the recently authorized African force for Mali, and further efforts to find common ground on a solution for Syria.

Rwanda, serving for a second time on the council, will find itself in the spotlight over allegations that it is supporting the mutinous M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The M23 most recently stand accused of shooting at a helicopter belonging to the U.N. peacekeeping force in DRC. Rwanda denies it is supporting the rebels.

South Korea’s expected to immediately begin lobbying the 14 other council members to take strong action against North Korea over Pyongyang’s rocket launch earlier this month.

Australia’s election to the council will put the ‘other’ back in the Western European and Others category and it sees the EU contingent on the council reduced to three (Britain, France and Luxembourg) from four (Germany and Portugal end their terms).

Argentina join Guatemala as the Latin representatives on the council and after recent spats with Britain over the Falkland Islands it will be interesting to see how this dynamic plays out in the council. Colombia consistently sided with Western countries during its term but such cooperation from Buenos Aires is far from guaranteed.

Luxembourg, more noted for its influence in international finance, will find itself having big boots to fill as the sole non-permanent EU representative with Germany and Portugal ending their terms.

(In addition to the five new members, the composition of the council in 2013 will consist of permanent members Britain, China, France, US, and Russia, and non-permanent members Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan, and Togo – the latter five end their terms on Dec 31, 2013).

 – Denis Fitzgerald 

Competing Draft Statements Illustrate UNSC Division on Syria

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Syria’s UN envoy, Bashar Jaafari, speaks outside the Security Council chamber on Thurs Oct 4. He offered condolences for the shelling inside Turkey but no apology saying the incident is under investigation (photo credit: UN Photo)

Oct 8, 2012 – Illustrative of the Security Council’s division on Syria are the competing draft statements that were circulated last week when the 15-nation body endeavored to speak on Syrian shelling inside Turkey.

Here’s the original Western-backed draft proposed Wednesday (Oct 3) by non-permanent Council member Azerbaijan, on behalf of Turkey:

“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the shelling by the Syrian armed forces of the Turkish town of Akcakale which resulted in the deaths of five civilians, all of whom were women and children, as well as a number of injuries. The members of the Security Council expressed their sincere condolences to the Government and people of Turkey, and to the families of the victims.

This represents a demonstration of the spilling over of the crisis in Syria into neighboring states to an alarming degree.

Such violations of international law constitute a serious threat to international peace and security. The members of the Council demanded that such violations stop immediately.

The members of the Security Council call on the Syria Government to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours.”

Here’s the draft as amended by Russia:

“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the shelling from the Syrian territory of the Turkish town of Akcakale which resulted in the deaths of five civilians, all of whom were women and children, as well as a number of injuries. The members of the Security Council expressed their sincere condolences to the Government and people of Turkey, and to the families of the victims.

This represents a demonstration of the spilling over of the crisis in Syria into neighboring states to an alarming degree. The members of the Council demanded that such violations stop immediately. The members of the Security Council requested the Government of Syria to carry out a speedy and full investigation of the shelling. The members of the Security Council called on the Syrian Government to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours.

The members of the Security Council called on the parties to exercise restraint and avoid military clashes which could lead to a further escalation of the situation in the border area between Syria and Turkey, as well as to reduce tensions and forge a path toward a peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis.” 

Syrian Armed Forces becomes Syrian territory, violations of international law that threatened international peace and security simply become violations and the Syrian government is asked to conduct a speedy investigation. 

Here’s the final statement as agreed by all 15 Council members on Thursday evening (Oct 4):

“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the shelling by the Syrian armed forces of the Turkish town of Akcakale, which resulted in the deaths of five civilians, all of whom were women and children, as well as a number of injuries. The members of the Security Council expressed their sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Turkey. 

The members of the Security Council underscored that this incident highlighted the grave impact the crisis in Syria has on the security of its neighbours and on regional peace and stability. The members of the Council demanded that such violations of international law stop immediately and are not repeated. The members of the Security Council called on the Syrian Government to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours. 

The members of the Security Council called for restraint.”

Both sides got some of what they wanted in the final version. Key for Russia is deletion of the phrase “a serious threat to international peace and security,” which speaks directly to the Council’s mandate, – maintaing international peace and security – and instead the shelling is a threat to “regional peace and stability.”

For the West, Syrian armed forces are squarely blamed and the statement demands an end to “such violations of international law.” 

– Denis Fitzgerald
 

Iceland Takes on Israel and Iran at UNGA

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Sept 29, 2012 – Saturday morning is far from top billing at the UNGA but Iceland’s Foreign Minister Össur Skarphÿinsson delivered one of the more creative speeches of the 67th General Assembly in his 9.30am slot. (photo by UN Photo)

In Skarphÿinsson’s own words:

“[T]he first letters of the themes I have broached here today – Palestine, Energy, the Arctic, Climate Change and the Economy, form the word we should all hold dearest here in this hall and towards each other, whatever our differences – P-E-A-C-E, Peace.”

Nice, though if he makes headlines it will likely be for the ‘I” part of his speech when he delivered tough messages to the Israeli and Iranian leaders.

“I listened to Mr. Netanyahu’s speech on Thursday, and I have a comment to make on behalf of the Icelandic people: Don’t bomb Iran. Don’t start another war in the Middle East. At the same time I say to President Ahmadinejad and the Iranian leadership: Don’t build a bomb. Let diplomacy work, not rabblerousing or fearmongering. Let’s work for peace together.”

When he spoke last year, he told the Assembly that the Icelandic parliament would vote to recognize Palestine as a sovereign, independent state: “I’m happy to tell you today, that we have fulfilled that promise. What’s more, not a single member of the Icelandic Parliament voted against the recognition of Palestine,” Skarphÿinsson said Saturday.

He had strong words too on the Gaza blockade saying, “I have visited Gaza and I met with fishermen who are not allowed to go fishing in the waters off Gaza – and it hurts my heart, being an old fisherman myself. I met the children of Gaza whose lives are made impossible by poverty, violence and a blockade that by others than myself has been described as an open door prison.”

And on the West Bank barrier, invoking a politician of times past, Skarphÿinsson said: “I have seen for myself how the human rights of the people of the West Bank are violated every day by a man-made barrier cutting through their roads, their lands, their lives. When I was in Qalqilya the words of a former statesman we all know rung in my head. Mr. Netanyahu – tear down this wall!”

As for the U.N. Security Council: “We must reform it, so as to make it a tool, not a hindrance, for progress in situations such as in Syria this year, or – as we saw last year – concerning the Palestinian application.”

He finished by addressing the sparsely filled GA hall: “Thank you for your beautiful silence.”

– Denis Fitzgerald 

Full text (as prepared) and video of Skarphÿinsson address.

(His strong support of Palestinians was evident too in January 2009 when he refused to meet with Israel’s Minister for Education Yael Tamir who was touring Europe to explain Tel Aviv’s version of its invasion of Gaza, according to a classified U.S. cable released by Wikileaks).

Taliban On The Take For More Than $1 Million Every Day

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Sept. 11, 2012 – The Taliban are raking in more than $1 million every day through extortion, the drugs trade, and skimming from international aid projects.

A report from the U.N. Security Council’s Sanctions Monitoring Team estimates that the group had income of about $400 million from March 21, 2011 to March 20, 2012 (the Afghan calendar year).

About one-third of that money is used to finance attacks, which are increasing in intensity and frequency.

There were 3,021 civilians killed in Afghanistan last year (double the number recorded in 2007) and more than 75 percent of the deaths were attributed to anti-government forces, namely the Taliban and its associated networks.

The report says the Taliban raised about $100 million from the drugs trade by taxing poppy farmers, providing protection for drug convoys, and from taxing heroin laboratories. 

Shopkeepers and other small businesses are taxed between 2.5 – 10 percent by the Taliban, despite the group providing no government services.

One of the most fruitful sources of income for the Taliban is the international aid sector.

In one instance recorded in the report, the Taliban took $360 million from a $2.16 billion contract awarded to an Afghan trucking company by the United States military over a period of three years.

“Organizations involved in providing development assistance regard these overheads as a cost of doing business,” the report says. 

Fifteen individuals associated with Taliban finances are on the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions list and subject to an assets freeze and travel ban.

“However, the sanctions themselves do not appear yet to have disrupted the financial arrangements of the Taliban,” the report states.

Average weekly income in Afghanistan is about $18 and only seven percent of Afghans have a bank account, according to U.N. and World Bank figures.

Full UNSC Sanctions Monitoring Team report here.

– Denis Fitzgerald

Brahimi Begins Work Telling Ban He’s Humbled and Scared

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Ban Ki-moon and Lakhdar Brahimi meet in Ban’s office in New York on Friday Aug. 24. (credit: UN photo)

Aug. 24, 2012 – Lakhdar Brahimi met with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday telling him that he was “was honored, flattered, humbled and scared” when asked to take on the role of U.N. – Arab League joint special representative for Syria and that he is “still in that frame of mind.”

In a brief press encounter following a photo-opportunity, Ban told him that “you have the full respect and full support of the international community” and that “it is crucially important that the Security Council, the whole United Nations System is supporting your work.”

Whether the Security Council can unite around any proposals that Brahimi puts forward remains to be seen. China and Russia have vetoed three previous efforts to put pressure on Bashar Al-Assad.

Brahimi gave little away in terms of specifics, only saying that the needs of the Syrian people will be put above all others.

“They will be our first masters. We will consider their interests above and before everything else. We will try to help as much as we can. We will not spare any effort,” he said.

Brahimi, who will spend the next week in New York, also met Friday morning with U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos and Jeffrey Feltman, head of political affairs, whose department now has control of the Syria mission, taking over from the department of peacekeeping since the withdrawal of the unarmed observer force from Syria.

Brahimi is meeting with France’s U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, later in the afternoon, his spokesman said. France currently preside over the Security Council and have called a ministerial meeting for Aug. 30 to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he had asked the foreign ministers from neighboring countries (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey) to attend.

– Denis Fitzgerald

The Nuclear Armed UN Security Council

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The UN Security Council discuss nuclear disarmament at this April 19, 2012 meeting (UN Photo)

May 3, 2012 – The current composition of the U.N. Security Council includes seven states who together possess 18,900 of the 19,000 nuclear weapons in existence today.

The vast majority of those weapons belong to two of the five permanent UNSC members, Russia (10,000) and the U.S. (8,000), according to a new report from Ploughshares.

The three other permanent members of the council – Britain, China and France – possess 775 nuclear weapons between them. (One of the arguments in support of the P5 veto power is that it prevented those states with a nuclear arsenal from attacking each other, though this is increasingly obsolete in a post-Cold War context.)

The two remaining countries on the council with nuclear stockpiles are non-permanent members India, (elected to UNSC for 2011-12) said to have 60-80 nuclear weapons, and neighbor Pakistan (2012-13), estimated to have a slightly higher number. 

North Korea, less than ten, and Israel, around 70, round out the countries that hold nuclear weapons. Neither is likely in the near future to garner enough support in the UN General Assembly to get elected to temporary membership of the council. 

While the P5 are among the 190 countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan have not (Pyongyang withdrew from the treaty in 2003).

South Africa, also a non-permanent member of the council, in 1989 became the first and only state to voluntarily give up its nuclear arms program – which at the time consisted of six weapons.

– Denis Fitzgerald

The Eight Security Council Members That Haven’t Joined the ICC

Although it is charged with primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security – and can refer cases to the International Criminal Court – eight of the current 15 members of the U.N. Security Council have not joined the ICC, among them three of the five permanent members – China, Russia and the United States.

Of the ten non-permanent members, five – Azerbaijan, India, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo – have not joined.

In the broader UN membership, 121 of the 193 U.N. states have ratified the Rome Statute, the legal instrument that created the court  – with African, European and Latin American countries overwhelmingly supporting the court (exceptions include Sudan, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Nicaragua, Belarus and Ukraine).

From the Middle East and North Africa, only Jordan and Tunisia have ratified the Rome Statute.

Asia’s another region with poor representation. Afghanistan, Japan and South Korea have joined but several others, including North Korea, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Nepal, Vietnam and Singapore have not joined.