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

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

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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

Israel’s Gaza Invasion Likely to Spur UN Security Council Action

Security Council Meeting on the situation in the Ukraine
July 17, 2014 – Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza will likely lead to a Security Council resolution calling for withdrawal and a ceasefire despite US wishes that a regional solution be found to the crisis.

Washington would rather see an Egyptian-mediated fix but the current military government in Cairo no longer has clout over militant groups in Gaza.

The Council issued a carefully worded non-binding statement on Saturday calling for de-escalation and a resumption of the Egyptian-brokered 2012 ceasefire agreement. The statement, whose wording was fought over by Jordan and the US, made no reference to either Israel or Hamas but specified the protection of civilians.

In the five days since the Council’s statement, the number of civilians killed has risen steadily with some 50 children now among the innocent victims.

US envoy Samantha Power, who in April solemnly vowed to defend Israeli interests at the United Nations, had been silent on Gaza up until Thursday but shortly after State Dept. spokesperson Jen Psaki said the US is “heartbroken” by the high civilian death toll in Gaza and called on Israel to do more to protect civilians, she tweeted that the civilian toll is “heartbreaking” and the US is “using all diplomatic resources to support a ceasefire.”

Less than an hour later, Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza for the first time since Operation Cast Lead in December 2008. That three-week offensive killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, including 412 children and 110 women, according to UN figures.

In response, the UNSC passed Resolution 1860 on Jan. 8, 2009 with 14 Council members supporting, none against, and the US abstaining. Fighting ended ten days after its adoption.

That lead to almost four years of relative calm until fighting erupted in late-2012, which was ended by the Egyptian-mediated ceasefire.

The Obama administration is keen to avoid a showdown at the UN where the US has used its veto 43 times, the majority of times in support of Israel – most recently in 2011 when it cast the sole no vote on a Security Council resolution condemning settlements that was co-sponsored by some 80 UN member states.

But as the body charged with the primary responsibility of maintaining international peace and security, and with a large UN presence on the ground in Gaza, expect the Council to take action in the coming days.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo/UN Photo

UN Human Rights Office Welcomes Supreme Court Decision on Death Penalty

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May 30, 2014 – The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday called on US authorities to put a moratorium on executions following a Supreme Court ruling on the death penalty and people with intellectual disabilities.

The Court on Tuesday struck down Florida’s requirement that defendants facing execution show an IQ test score of 70 or below before being permitted to submit additional evidence regarding their intellectual disability.

In a 5-4 ruling the majority stated in the case of Freddie Lee Hall, a man with an IQ of 71 who killed a pregnant newlywed in 1978, that “intellectual disability is a condition, not a number.”

“The ruling will affect not only Florida, which is the state with the second-largest number of people on death row after California, but also other states that still use the death penalty in the US,” Navi Pillay’s office said on Friday. ” Judges will now be required to take a less mechanical approach to mental disability in capital cases.”

There are currently 32 US states where the death penalty is on the books. So far in 2014, there have been 20 executions in five states.

Worldwide, some 93 countries still retain the death penalty but 49 of these countries have not applied it in the past ten years.

A UN General Assembly resolution in December 2012 calling on Member States to establish moratoria on executions “with a view to abolishing the death penalty” passed with 111 states in favor, 41 against and 39 abstentions.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/Wikimedia

US Declares 4,804 Active Nuclear Weapons

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April 29, 2014 –  The United States has reduced its active nuclear arsenal by six percent under President Barack Obama with the number of warheads for delivery now less than 5,000.

At its height in 1967, the US had 31,255 nuclear weapons. The reduction under Obama is still far less than under his predecessor, President George W Bush, who reduced the active arsenal by 25 percent in the first six years of his presidency.

The US had 5,113 active nuclear weapons in 2009.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that as of September 2013, the number of nuclear weapons in the active U.S. arsenal has fallen to 4,804,” US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller said at an NPT preparatory committee meeting held at UN headquarters on Tuesday. “This newly declassified number represents an 85 percent reduction in the U.S. nuclear stockpile since 1967.”

Gottemoeller hinted that recent divisions with Russia over Syria and Ukraine is hindering further cuts in the nuclear arsenal.

“Recent actions have significantly undermined mutual trust and that trust will take time to rebuild,” she said. “Still, no one should forget that even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union found it in our mutual interest to work together on reducing the nuclear threat.

Gottemoeller also said the US remains committed to ratifying the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty. The treaty cannot go into force until it has been ratified by the eight remaining countries of the 44 that initially negotiated it – China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the US, which have signed the treaty, and North Korea, India, and Pakistan, which have not signed.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Wikimedia

Russia Isolated in UNSC Over Ukraine Incursion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Ukraine Envoy to UNSC: Russia Violating Budapest Memorandum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

US Envoy Power Skeptical of Reported Homs Deal

Perm rep of the USA speaking to the press regarding the situation in Syria
Feb. 6, 2014 – Samantha Power on Thursday cast doubt on whether the reported deal to allow aid into, and civilians out of, Homs would result in an easing of the humanitarian situation in the besieged old part of the central Syrian city.

Earlier on Thursday, the UN issued a statement welcoming reports that a humanitarian pause had been agreed in Homs by parties to the conflict.

“Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, welcomed the news of the humanitarian pause agreed in Homs, which will allow civilians to leave and the delivery of essential, life-saving supplies for about 2,500 people,” the UN statement said. “She will continue to follow developments closely.”

Speaking to reporters outside the Security Council, US envoy Power said: ” I note regime statements this morning describing a willingness to evacuate ‘innocents.’ Given that the regime, up to this point, has described just about anybody living in opposition territory as a terrorist – and has attacked them as such – you know, we have reason on the basis of history to be very skeptical and, frankly, very concerned about anybody who falls into regime hands who comes from a part of the country that has been under opposition control.”

A similar deal was announced during the first round of Geneva II talks last month but failed to come to fruition.

There is further skepticism that Thursday’s announcement of a humanitarian pause in Homs is aimed at creating an appearance of progress ahead of the second round of Geneva II talks next week as well as responding to a draft UN Security Council resolution circulated among council members today that calls for unhindered humanitarian access in Syria.

Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin on Tuesday said Moscow would not support a humanitarian resolution.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

photo/UN Photo

Thirty Countries to Get Invites for Geneva Conference on Syria But Not Yet Iran

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UPDATED: Jan 19, 2013: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited Iran to the Geneva II talks, saying on Sunday that Tehran must be part of the solution and indicating that it supports the Geneva 1 communique which called for a transitional government with full executive powers. “They (Iran) said that they are committed to play a very constructive and important positive role. And they said that they welcome the Geneva Communique,” Ban said. “So based on my conversations, several times with Iranian delegations, then I am convinced that they will be in support of this Geneva Communique and they will play a very important and positive constructive role”  

In addition to Iran, Ban has invited nine more countries to the talks bringing the total number of countries participating to 40. The new invitees, in addition to Iran, are Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, the Holy See, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Mexico and South Korea.

Jan. 6, 2013 – The UN is inviting thirty countries to participate in the Geneva II conference on Syria but opposition from the US is holding up a decision on Iran’s participation.

Spokesperson Farhan Haq announced on Monday that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was sending invitations to the list of countries agreed on Dec. 20 at a meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry, his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Besides representatives of the Syrian government and opposition, the invitees include the permanent members of the Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the US – as well as Algeria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and United Arab Emirates.

High Representative of the EU, Cathy Ashton, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Nabil ElAraby, and Organization for Islamic Cooperation Secretary-General Iyad bin Amin Madani are also invited to the conference to be convened by Ban Ki-moon on Jan. 22 in Montreux.

At a Dec. 20, 2013 press conference in Geneva, Brahimi told reporters that the UN favored Iran’s participation “but our partners in the United States are still not convinced that Iran’s participation would be the right thing to do.”

John Kerry said on Sunday in Jerusalem that Iran needs to accept the Geneva I communiqué, which called for a transitional government with full executive powers, before it gets an invite.

The first Geneva conference was held in June 2012. An estimated 15,000 people had died in the Syrian conflict at that point. At least 100,000 more have been killed since.

The text of the Geneva I communiqué is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

photo: UN photo/JC McIlwaine