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

Djibouti – The UN’s Forgotten Crisis

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Oct 6, 2013 – Despite hosting a US military base and a French naval base, Djibouti’s humanitarian crisis is largely ignored by the international community.

The UN appealed for $70 million at the beginning of the year to address widespread malnutrition in the drought-stricken country but so far has only received $18 million, making it the most underfunded humanitarian appeal, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The US, which operates its surveillance and armed drone programs for nearby Yemen and neighboring Somalia out of Djibouti, has contributed a mere $152,000 to the UN appeal, while France, which lost its rule over the country in 1977, has not made any contribution, UN figures show.

Djibouti ranks near the bottom of the Human Development Index and about one-third of the country’s children are malnourished while the practice of female genital mutilation is commonly carried out on girls between the ages of 2 and 5, according to UNICEF

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo: A US Predator drone flying at sunset – Charles McCain/Flickr.

Will Ban Ki-moon’s words be used to bolster US case for strike against Assad?

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For many months, it has been evident that President Assad and his Government have lost all legitimacy.” – Ban Ki-moon, June 7, 2012

Sept. 5, 2013 – These words from the UN secretary-general could be used in arguments to justify a US strike against targets inside Syria by the United States in the coming weeks.

The UN charter prohibits military action against another member state unless authorized by the Security Council or in self-defense. 

But the US has argued that the Assad government has lost legitimacy, and they have the words of Ban Ki-moon to back them up.

The secretary-general is appointed by the General Assembly at the recommendation of the Security Council and the question of whether he is a secretary or a general is open to interpretation, that’s to say how much weight do his words carry. Here is the UN charter’s vague description of the role of the secretary-general.

As this ASIL article by Kenneth Anderson points out, saying a government has lost legitimacy is a political statement not a legal statement but the US “might go a step further and say that the Assad government is no longer the legitimate, lawful government of Syria, and argue that it uses force not against UN member state ‘Syria,’ but rather against the illegitimate Assad regime and in collective self-defense of the Syrian people.”

While such a claim will be contested, not least by Russia, who could argue that “the Assad government meets essentially all the formal requirements of international law to be the legal government,” a number of countries including the six countries comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council have recognized the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) and the 22-nation Arab League has given Syria’s seat to the SOC, against the objections of Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon. Britain, France, Italy and Spain have also recognized the group as a legitimate representative.

One way around the legitimacy question would be a General Assembly vote on who should represent Syria at the UN, though the US is thought to be unwilling to establish such a precedent should countries unfriendly to Israel consider a similar move in the future with regard to Palestinian representation.

Ban said today in Russia that he has taken “note of the ongoing debate over what course of action should be taken by the international community” regarding the allegations of chemical weapons use and that “all those actions should be taken within the framework of the UN Charter, as a matter of principle.”

– Denis Fitzgerald

photo: UN photo/Eskinder Debebe

‘Flying Cameras’ for DRC not Armed Drones says Peacekeeping Chief

Feb. 6, 2013 – The head of U.N. peacekeeping operations on Wednesday said the planned deployment of unmanned aircraft vehicles for surveillance in the Democratic Republic of Congo should not be conflated with the use of drone aircraft by the United States to launch missiles.

“Maybe the word should not be drones because these days, you know, people associate the word drones with the image of missiles being launched,” Herve Ladsous said at a press conference when asked about the recent authorization by the Security Council to allow MONUSCO deploy surveillance drones in the DRC. “No, no, no,” he said. “This clearly is UAVs for surveillance purposes only, basically a flying camera.”

Or, to put it another way, drones that take pictures, not lives.

The U.N. says it will use the drones to monitor the movements of militia groups and to help it better respond to humanitarian situations.

– Denis Fitzgerald

Breakdown of $1.5 Billion Raised at Syria Aid Conference

Feb. 4, 2013 – Thirty-eight countries plus the European Commission pledged more than $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid for Syria at a donors conference in Kuwait last week.

The amounts ranged from $20,000, from Cyprus, to $300 million, by three countries – Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and UAE. 

Japan, $65 million; Finland, $4.5 million; Poland, $500,000; and Botswana $50,000 were among the donors.

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About one-third of the funds raised are targeted for the UN humanitarian response plan for delivering aid inside Syria. That plan requires $519 million from January to June 2013 to assist 2.5 million Syrians. More than 50 percent of hospitals inside Syria have been damaged and about one-third are out of service. The National Hospital in Damascus has been completely destroyed, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. There are also shortages of food, fuel and medicines. The disbursement of aid is contingent on donor countries following through on their pledges.

The remaining funds are targeted to assist the ever growing number of refugees in neighboring countries. The number of Syrians who have fled to neighboring countries currently exceeds 750,000, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

At least 60,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011 when the government started using lethal force to suppress anti-government protests.

Denis Fitzgerald

57 Countries Urge UN Security Council to Refer Syria to ICC

Jan. 14, 2013 – Switzerland, on behalf of 57 countries, on Monday sent a letter to the president of the Security Council urging the 15-nation body to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Among the signers of the letter were permanent Council members Britain and France as well as non-permanent members Australia, Luxembourg and South Korea. 

Libya and Tunisia were the only Arab countries to sign the letter.

China and Russia, not surprisingly, did not sign on to the letter but neither did Sweden, the United States and current non-permanent Council member Argentina. 

The letter was sent the same day the International Rescue Committee released a report detailing “horrific levels” of sexual violence recounted by refugees who’ve fled Syria in the past 22 months. 

-Denis Fitzgerald 

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Record One Billion Tourists in 2012: UN

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A record 1 billion people visited other countries in 2012, a more than 50% increase from the amount of people who traveled abroad in 2000. (The figures in the chart above also show numbers for 1970 (166 million), and 1950, (25 million) source: UNWTO.

Jan. 10, 2013 – There were more than one billion tourists in 2012, according to figures from the UN World Tourism Organization, more than double the amount of tourists in 2000 when 435 million people traveled abroad.

Europe was the destination for more than half the tourists last year and was also where more than half the world’s tourists came from. Asia accounted for about 225 million tourist arrivals, the Americas next at some 160 million, followed by Africa and the Middle East which each received more than 50 million tourists last year, according to projected data.

France had the highest number of tourists in the world in 2012 with about 85 million visitors, followed by the US with some 65 million, China, 60 million, Spain, 58 million, and Italy, about 48 million. Smaller European countries showed strong growth too with Ireland receiving close to 8 million tourists and Finland, 4.5 million.

Outside of the US, Mexico had the highest number of tourists in the Americas with close to 24 million visitors, followed by Argentina, about 6 million, Brazil, 5.5 million and Chile, more than 3 million.

South Africa was the top destination for the African continent, receiving almost 10 million visitors last year followed by Morocco with about 9.5 million.

In the Middle East, Egypt witnessed an estimated 32% increase in tourists from 2011, with some 10 million people visiting last year. Saudi Arabia had the highest number of visitors in the region in 2021, with about 18 million arrivals. Syria, not surprisingly, is projected to record a 40% reduction in tourists in 2012 with about 5 million people estimated to have visited the country last year.

The WTO says tourism accounts for one of 12 jobs globally and for about 9 percent of global GDP.

Denis Fitzgerald

$11.8bln Donated to UN Aid Appeals in 2012 – EU, US Top Givers

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The UN’s top aid official, Valerie Amos, meets child refugees in Kabul, May 2012 (photo: UN Photo/Fardin Waezi)

Jan. 6, 2013 – Almost $12bln was donated to UN aid appeals last year with the European Union and the United States contributing more than half that amount.

The European Union (European Commission + 27 Member States) was the largest donor providing $4.9bln while the U.S. was the largest individual donor providing $3.1bln to humanitarian aid appeals in 2012.

A breakdown of the EU number shows that the European Commission – the legislative arm of the EU – donated $1.8bln to UN aid appeals last year while member states provided just over $3bln. The biggest member state donors were Britain ($809mln) and Sweden ($684mln).

Non-EU members Norway and Switzerland donated $493mln and $324mln respectively.

Outside of Europe and the US, Japan was the largest provider of aid to the UN, donating $658mln last year, followed by Canada who gave $496mln, and Australia, $296mln.

Among emerging donors, Brazil provided $54mln to UN humanitarian relief in 2012 while the UAE gave $43mln, Russia, $39mln, China $27mln, and Saudi Arabia $27mln. BRICS countries combined contributed $126mln last year with South Africa giving 3.5mln and India $2.7mln..

The Republic of South Sudan ($792mln), Somalia ($676mln), and Sudan ($588mln) were the biggest recipients of UN aid in 2012.

A tally of the top donors is here.

Denis Fitzgerald

50 Member States Still to Pay 2012 UN Dues, Including US

Jan. 2, 2013 – Fifty UN member states have yet to pay their dues to the organization’s Regular Budget for 2012, including the United States – the largest contributor by some distance, assessed to pay 22 percent of the $2.5bln budgeted for last year.

A tally, or “honour roll” as it’s called by the UN, shows that 143 countries have paid their dues to the Regular Budget – which pays staff wages and related costs in eight headquarter locations in the US, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The Regular Budget also covers international conferences, public information work, human rights promotion, and special UN missions to conflict areas.

Nine countries contribute about 70 percent of the total budget: US – $568mln; Japan – $296mln; Germany – $189mln; UK – $156mln; France – $144mln; Italy – $118mln; Canada – $75mln; Spain – $75mln; and China – $75mln. The US is the only one of the nine not to have paid its dues by Dec 31, 2012.

Among the countries that also have not yet paid are Comoros, Jamaica, Lebanon, Mali, Sudan, *South Sudan, and Venezuela.

The two countries with the lowest assessments – Central African Republic and the Solomon Islands – have both paid their $23,000 share.

Republican lawmakers are quick to pour scorn on the UN but a closer look at what the US gains from the organization – strictly in economic terms – paints a different picture.

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, 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.

– Denis Fitzgerald 

(Separate to economic benefits, the US – as well as holding a veto in the Security Council – is also allocated the key top political post in the UN – Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs, currently Jeffrey Feltman. It also gets to nominate the head of the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, currently Anthony Lake; and the World Food Program, currently, Ertharin Cousin.)

* South Sudan was admitted to the UN in July 2011, after the Budget Committee met in June and thus was not assessed.

UN to (Again) Call on U.S. to End Cuban Embargo

Nov. 12, 2012 – The United Nations General Assembly will vote Tuesday on a resolution calling on the United States to end its 52-year embargo against Cuba, but there’s little reason to believe the outcome will alter the Obama administration’s Havana policy.

The U.S. bans its citizens from travelling to or doing business in Cuba.

Ending the embargo is seen as a move that could strengthen Obama’s relationship with his Latin American neighbors who are unanimously against “el bloqeo.”

The resolution has been approved every year since first introduced in 1990.

Brazil’s representative said after the vote last year that the embargo “went against international law and inhibited regional relations” while Argentina’s said “it went against the principles of international law and the UN charter.”

After Monday’s success in the General Assembly vote for election to the Human Rights Council, which the U.S. topped with 131 votes in the Western Group, Tuesday’s vote is likely to see the U.S in the tiniest minority when the votes are tallied.

Last year, 186 countries voted for the text while only Israel joined the U.S. in voting against it. Even Canada, normally a staunch ally of the U.S. and Israel, voted for lifting the embargo.

While President Obama has laxed some of the travel restrictions – making it easier for students and religious groups to visit and allowing Cuban-Americans to visit Cuba as much as they want – he has renewed the trade ban each year of his presidency.

Cuba is the only country placed on the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 after the removal of North Korea in 2008.

There’s speculation that Obama’s strong showing among Cuban-Americans in last week’s election will harbor a change in policy but that’s unlikely to include a lifting of the trade embargo.

The continuing detention of Alan Gross is currently the main source of tension between Havana and Washington with the State department contractor reported to have lost 105 pounds since his arrest in December 2009 for crimes against the state.

Arguably, more important factors are that Havana-born Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R), who will continue as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez (D), set to take over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – should John Kerry get a cabinet post, – are both firmly opposed to any easing of the embargo.

The Senate’s two other Hispanic senators, recently elected Texas tea party candidate, Ted Cruz, and Florida’s Marco Rubio, both Cuban-American like Menendez, are also firmly opposed to lifting the embargo.

Cuba says as a result of the embargo the U.S. Treasury department has frozen $245 million in funds destined for Havana as of December 2011.

It also says the embargo is preventing Cuban medical facilities from importing artificial skin for burn patients and faces challenges importing replacement stent valves for heart patients, among other medical restrictions, that all result in delayed treatment and higher patient costs.

Havana made these claims in a report prepared by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon which is available here.

– Denis Fitzgerald 

Nov 13 Update: The resolution was adopted by a vote of 188 in favor and 3 opposed – the U.S., Israel and Palau.