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

Respecting the Dignity of People Suffering from Mental Illness

Philippe Pinel, often refferred to as "father of modern psychiatry" releasing people from their chains at the Salpêtrière Asylum, Paris, 1795 by Tony Robert-Fleury

Philippe Pinel, often referred to as “father of modern psychiatry” releasing people from their chains at the Salpêtrière Asylum, Paris, 1795, by Tony Robert-Fleury, (Brigdeman Art Library)

Oct. 10, 2015 – Research from post-conflict South Sudan reported that up to half the population met the symptoms for depression while another study found that 15 percent of ex-combatants wished they were dead.

Yet there are only twelve beds for treatment of mental illness in South Sudan and many of those with serious mental illness or disability are instead sent to prison where they are shackled and locked away for years on end.

World Mental Health Day is commemorated on Oct. 10th and the World Health Organization has declared dignity as the this year’s theme, noting that many people suffering from mental health are sent to institutions, deprived of their liberty and subject to inhuman and degrading conditions.

Yet, it is not only post-conflict developing countries where people suffering from mental illness are denied their inherent dignity. In the United States, prisons often serve as the functioning mental health system especially for the homeless, more than a third of whom suffer from a mental illness.

In China, there’s barely one psychiatrist for every 100,000 people, even though more than 17 percent of the adult population have a mental disorder at some stage of their lives.

For countries currently experiencing conflict, the treatment of mental illness is often neglected as over-burdened aid agencies focus on delivering food and trauma care. In Syria, for example, the World Health Organization said there’s a shortage of medication for those suffering from depression – and the number is growing – and other mental illnesses.

On this year’s Mental Health Day, WHO is calling for governments, communities and donors to invest in a holistic approach that respects the rights of those suffering from mental illness, and for treatment to not just focus on managing symptoms but on recovery so that people can achieve their full life’s potential.

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Only Two of 15 Security Council Members Have Paid 2015 Dues

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Feb. 25, 2015 – New Zealand and France are the only two members of the Security Council to have paid their 2015 United Nations dues so far this year.

Permanent members Britain, China, Russia and the United States have still to pay along with nine of the ten non-permanent countries on the Council.

Neither France nor New Zealand made their payments by the end of January, the UN’s official dues deadline, with Paris paying its $151 million share and Auckland, $6 million, earlier this month, according to information from the UN Committee on Contributions.

The Dominican Republic was the first country to pay up – it’s assessed at $1.2 million annually, while 43 other countries have also made their payment, including Canada ($80 million), Bhutan ($27,000), and Algeria ($3.7 million).

The United States is the largest contributor to the UN’s regular budget (there is a separate peacekeeping budget). Washington is assessed at 22 percent of the $2.7 billion annual regular budget, or $654 million. It typically makes a large payment in the fourth quarter – the United States government’s fiscal year begins on Oct. 1st – but that payment is not nearly enough to clear its back debt which was some $1 billion as of late last year.

The next biggest contributors, Japan ($293 million), and Germany ($193 million), have also not yet paid their 2015 dues.

Some countries, such as Somalia, Guinea-Bissau and Comoros, are exempt from paying this year as the General Assembly decided that inability to pay is beyond their control.

Other countries, such as Yemen and Grenada, have lost their vote in the General Assembly because of a violation of Article 19 which states that a country will lose its vote if “the amount of its arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years.”

The 13 Security Council Members Still to Pay and Their Assessed Dues for 2015:

Permanent Members:
Britain: $140 Million
China: $139 Million
Russia: $66 Million
United States: $654 Million

Non-Permanent Members:
Angola: $271,357
Chad: $54,271
Chile: $9 Million
Jordan: $596,984
Lithuania: $1.9 Million
Malaysia: $7.6 Million
Nigeria: $2.4 Million
Spain: $80 Million
Venezuela: $17 Million

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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

Latin America Only UN Region Not Involved in US Torture Program

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Dec. 14, 2014 – The 53 countries involved in the CIA torture program hail from four of the five UN regional groups and eight of those countries hosted CIA torture prisons.

Overall, more than one-quarter of the UN’s 193 member states were involved in the torture program, which was detailed in a US Senate select committee report released last week.

Four countries belonging to the Eastern European group – Bosnia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania; three countries in the Asian group – Afghanistan, Iraq and Thailand; and Morocco in the African group were home to secret CIA detention facilities, or “black sites,” where torture took place, in addition to Guantanamo Bay, according to the Open Society’s Globalizing Torture report.

Forty-five other countries, as well as Hong Kong, facilitated US torture, from providing information to US authorities, to allowing CIA rendition flights stopover and refuel, as well as detaining and handing over individuals to CIA custody.

Almost half are European with thirteen of the countries named belonging to the Western European and Others Group, including permanent Security Council member the UK, as well as Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Spain, in addition to Australia and Canada, while six Eastern European countries were involved including Croatia, Georgia and Macedonia.

Twelve countries from the African group are named including South Africa, Egypt and Zimbabwe as well as twelve from the Asian group including Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Syria.

None of the 33 countries in the Latin American and Caribbean group were named in the report.

List of UN member states implicated in US torture program:

Afghanistan
Austria
Australia
Albania
Algeria
Azerbaijan
Belgium
Bosnia-Herzegovina
Canada
Croatia
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Djibouti
Egypt
Ethiopia
Finland
Gambia
Georgia
Germany
Greece
Iceland
Indonesia
Iran
Ireland
Italy
Jordan
Kenya
Libya
Lithuania
Macedonia
Malawi
Malaysia
Mauritania
Morocco
Pakistan
Poland
Portugal
Romania
Saudi Arabia
Somalia
South Africa
Spain
Sri Lanka
Sweden
Syria
Thailand
Turkey
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom
Uzbekistan
Yemen
Zimbabwe

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Claims by Powell to UN Justifying Iraq War Based on Info from Tortured Person

Security Council Hears United States Briefing on Evidence of Iraq's Failure to Disarm
Dec. 9, 2014 – Claims made by Colin Powell to the UN Security Council in 2003 that Saddam Hussein was providing support for Al Qaeda came from a person who had been tortured and who later recanted what he told interrogators.

On Feb. 5, 2003, Powell told the Security Council: “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.”

He went on to describe how a detainee had detailed Saddam Hussein’s support for Al Qaeda including training in the use of chemical and biological weapons.

“Al-Qaida continues to have a deep interest in acquiring weapons of mass destruction. As with the story of Zarqawi and his network, I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al-Qaida. Fortunately, this operative is now detained and he has told his story. I will relate it to you now as he, himself, described it.

“This senior al-Qaida terrorist was responsible for one of al-Qaida’s training camps in Afghanistan. His information comes firsthand from his personal involvement at senior levels of al-Qaida. He says bin Laden and his top deputy in Afghanistan, deceased al-Qaida leader Muhammad Atif, did not believe that al-Qaida labs in Afghanistan were capable enough to manufacture these chemical or biological agents. They needed to go somewhere else. They had to look outside of Afghanistan for help.

“Where did they go? Where did they look? They went to Iraq. The support that this detainee describes included Iraq offering chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaida associates beginning in December 2000. He says that a militant known as Abdallah al-Iraqi had been sent to Iraq several times between 1997 and 2000 for help in acquiring poisons and gasses. Abdallah al-Iraqi characterized the relationship he forged with Iraqi officials as successful.”

But the Senate Select Committee report released on Tuesday states in a footnote that the information was given by a Libyan national who had been subjected to torture. He later recanted the claims, saying he had been tortured, adding that he told his interrogators “what he assessed they wanted to hear.”

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Although Powell’s presentation failed to convince Security Council members to support the use of force against Saddam Hussein, with permanent members China, France and Russia opposed, the US invaded Iraq the following month.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Republicans Likely to Nix Funding for UN Climate Agencies After Midterms

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Nov. 4, 2014 – The $12 million that the United States Senate has allocated to UN climate agencies is expected to be among the first casualties if Republican take control of the chamber following Tuesday’s midterm elections.

The current Senate bill on funding for state and foreign operations includes $11,700,000 for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control (IPCC) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The bill was approved by a current Democrat-controlled sub-committee in June but has yet to be put to a full vote.

However, the House version of the bill passed by a Republican-controlled sub-committee, also in June, states that “none of the funds in this Act may be made available for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change/United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

While the sum involved is miniscule compared to the overall $48 billion budget approved by both sub-committees, it represents a combined one-third of the $7 million IPCC and $26 million UNFCC budgets.

The pulling of this funding will be a big blow to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ahead of next year’s climate talks in Paris. Ban has made climate change his signature issue and is hoping that a global pact can be agreed before he steps down in 2016.

A Republican-controlled Senate will also scupper what slim chances there already were that the US would ratify the Arms Trade Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Funding for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) will also likely get nixed by a Republican-controlled Senate. The House bill denies any funding to the agency while the Senate version allocates $37.5 million to the UNFPA – the agency which promotes family planning and reproductive health. Under President George W. Bush, all funding for the agency was withheld. President Obama restored this funding after his election.

UNRWA, the agency that supports Palestinian refugees, could also see its funds cut under a Republican Senate. The US is the largest single donor to the agency.

In a further blow to the US relationship with the UN, under a Republican-controlled Senate, Rand Paul, who last year proposed an amendment calling for the US to stop providing funds to the United Nations, would take over as chair of the subcommittee responsible for oversight of the United States participation in the United Nations system.

Among the new batch of Republican senators is Joni Ernst from Iowa who has stated that the UN wants to take Iowan farmers off their land and move them into cities.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

How Much is a UN Security Council Seat Worth and Which Countries Get Elected?

Security Council Meeting on the situation in the Central African Republic.
Oct. 15, 2014 – Five of the ten non-permanent Security Council seats are up for grabs on Thursday though only one race is contested with New Zealand, Spain and Turkey battling in the Western group to replace Australia and Luxembourg for a two-year term beginning January 1, 2015.

Angola will replace Rwanda for the available African seat, Malaysia will take over from South Korea in the Asia group while Venezuela also has no competition in the race for the Latin American seat being vacated by Argentina.

Why do countries run for a non-permanent seat knowing that the Council is essentially ruled by the Permanent Five members, not to mention the extra expenses associated with increasing diplomatic staff to attend to the UNSC’s expanding workload.

One study has shown that developing countries serving on the Council see their aid from the United States increase by 59 percent and aid from the UN increase by 8 percent, mostly coming from UNICEF, an agency long controlled by the US.

Another paper found that developing countries serving on the Council receive greater support from the World Bank and IMF and receive softer loan conditions from the IMF – but only if they side with the US. For example, as related in yet another study, on vote-buying, Yemen voted against the 1990 resolution authorizing force in Iraq and the US subsequently cut its 70 million dollars in aid entirely and Yemen was not granted an IMF arrangement for six years.

As for which countries get elected, there is a pattern of not electing countries in conflict in Asia and Africa and of favoring democratic states in the Western group. All WEOG countries are now considered democratic but during the dictatorships in Greece, Spain and Portugal – only Spain, in 1961, was ever elected. Since transitioning to democracy, these three countries have served at least twice on the Council. It helps to get elected to the Council if a country in Asia or Latin America is a former former British colony but not so much in Africa, according to this study.

The votes of at least four non-permanent members are needed for a resolution to pass the 15-nation Council, and, as evidenced by this 2010 diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks, the US mission to the UN will be busy categorizing the five countries to be elected tomorrow as reliable or not so reliable partners.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Campaign Against ISIS Exposes Major Gap in Arms Trade Treaty

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Oct. 2, 2014 – The Arms Trade Treaty will go into force on Dec. 24th following its fiftieth ratification last week but the recent campaign launched against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, by Western and Gulf countries exposes a major loophole in the Treaty.

The pact prohibits supplying arms to countries that would use the eight types of conventional weapons covered under the Treaty to violate international human rights law but there are no prohibitions on the transfer of these arms to non-state actors.

The US, UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have all either supplied or said they will supply weapons to groups fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and to other groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria.

In the negotiations leading up to the agreement on the text of the Arms Trade Treaty, a number of countries – including Brazil, India, Nigeria and Turkey – called for a clear prohibition on transferring arms to non-state actors and that the entry of arms to any state must be based on the permit given by the government of such state.

But the lack of a clear and agreed definition of a non-state actor and because of a desire to avoid a subject that would stalemate the negotiations the subject was avoided.

While no country outright said it opposed a provision on arms transfers to non-state actors, the United States included the following in its red lines: “provisions inconsistent with existing US law or that would unduly interfere with our ability to import, export or transfer arms in support of our national security and foreign policy interests.”

The US is one of the 121 signatories to the Treaty but is unlikely to get the support of two-thirds of the Senate to support its ratification.

Other arms producers such as China, Canada, Israel and Russia have not signed the Treaty while major arms importers India, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have also not signed.

France, Germany, Netherlands and the UK have all ratified the Treaty.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Did Obama Rebuke Kirchner for not Co-Sponsoring Resolution?

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Sept. 25, 2014 – President Obama’s rebuke yesterday to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez-Kirchner during a summit meeting of the Security Council to adopt a US-drafted resolution on combatting foreign terrorist fighters took UN watchers by surprise.

After Kirchner delivered her 14 minute statement, Obama – who spoke for 40 minutes in his address to the General Assembly the day before – said that “we have to make sure we’re respectful of the time constraints.” He added that the meeting had to end by 5pm, which was also baffling. As one journalist put it, the lights would stay on in the Security Council chamber if the meeting went past 5pm – which it did: the meeting, which Obama was chairing, adjourned near 7pm.

Kirchner had rushed to the Council chamber immediately after delivering her address to the General Assembly. She appeared to be speaking without notes, but nevertheless her points were clear: that respecting human rights in the course of combatting terrorism was crucial, otherwise you’re just “feeding this monster.” Kirchner also noted that some of the “freedom fighters” who had been armed in the past are now deemed terrorists. She pointedly said terrorists should be “brought to justice,” inferring that killing terrorists is not justice.

“The way in which we’ve been fighting terrorism has not been up to the job,” Kirchner said. “Something is not working.” She also referenced the provision of military aid by the United States to Sadaam Hussein and the Afghan mujheddin in the 1980s.

Argentina was not among the 104 co-sponsors of the resolution and was one of only three Security Council members not to sign on. The others were China and Russia. All three voted for the resolution.

A source told UN Tribune that Argentina had raised concerns during Council consultations on the draft text. Specifically on due process, and that the combatting of terrorism should be respectful of human rights and the resolution should emphasize the importance of better integration in societies.

The 89 states that didn’t co-sponsor the resolution also include Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, India, Mexico, Peru, Tunisia and South Africa.

Human Rights Watch was also critical the resolution. “There is no question that states should address the threat of terrorism, but the resolution risks repeating many of the mistakes of the post-September 11 era,” Andrea Prasow, HRW’s Washington director said. “The resolution says nothing about due process protections.”

See Obama’s rebuke here, courtesy of C-Span:

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

US Invokes Article 51: Does the UN Charter Cover Attacks by Non-State Actors?

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Sept. 23, 2014 – US envoy Samantha Power has cited Article 51 of the UN Charter as cover for the airstrikes the United States carried out inside Syria overnight Monday against ISIS and the Khorasan unit of the Nusra Front.

Power wrote to Ban Ki-moon Tuesday saying, “States must be able to defend themselves … when, as is the case here, the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks.”

Power’s letter also cites Iraq’s letter to the Security Council of Sept. 20 warning that the country “is facing a serious threat of continuous attacks coming out of ISIL safe havens in Syria.” It adds that the Iraqi government has requested the US lead “international efforts to strike ISIL sites and military strongholds in Syria.”

The UN Charter prohibits the use of force by a state against another state unless authorized by a Security Council resolution. But Article 51 provides an exception: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.”

The UN Charter is concerned with inter-state conflict as only states can become members of the UN so the applicability of Article 51 for use of force inside a sovereign country against a non-state actor is a question that international law scholars have grappled with.

Marko Milanovic argues that Article 51 does not require the attribution of the armed attack by a non-state actor to a state. “Rather, for the attacked state to respond against the non-state actor which is operating in another state, the conduct of this latter state must be such to justify the ensuing violation of its sovereignty.”

He proposes three scenarios that would justify an attack inside a sovereign state against a non-state actor:

“(a) the territorial state was complicit or was actively supporting the non-state actor in its armed attack; (b) the territorial state failed to exercise due diligence, i.e. it did not do all that it could reasonably have done to prevent the non-state actor from using its territory to mount an armed attack against another state, or is not doing all it can to prevent further attacks; (c) the territorial state may have exercised due diligence, but it was nonetheless unable to prevent the attack, or to prevent further attacks.”

And the due diligence case would appear to be the US argument when Power writes that “the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks.”

Ban Ki-moon earlier on Tuesday spoke of the US airstrikes, saying that “today’s strikes were not carried out at the direct request of the Syrian Government, but I note that the Government was informed beforehand.”

“I also note that the strikes took place in areas no longer under the effective control of that Government.   I think it is undeniable – and the subject of broad international consensus – that these extremist groups pose an immediate threat to international peace and security,” Ban said.

For more discussion on Article 51 and non-state actors see here and here.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Wikimedia