Stories written by Thalif Deen
Thalif Deen, Senior Editor & Director, UN Bureau, Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency has been covering the United Nations since the late 1970s. Beginning with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, he has covered virtually every major U.N. conference: on population, human rights, the environment, sustainable development, food security, humanitarian aid, arms control and nuclear disarmament.   As the former UN Bureau Chief for IPS, he was cited twice for excellence in U.N. reporting at the annual awards presentation of the U.N. Correspondents' Association (UNCA). In November 2012, he was on the IPS team which won the prestigious gold medal for reporting on the global environment-- and in 2013, he shared the gold, this time with the UN Bureau Chief of Reuters news agency, for his reporting on the humanitarian and development work of the United Nations.   A former information officer at the U.N. Secretariat, he served twice as a member of the Sri Lanka delegation to the UN General Assembly sessions. His track record includes a stint as deputy news editor of the Sri Lanka Daily News and senior editorial writer on the Hong Kong Standard. As military analyst, he was also Director, Foreign Military Markets at Defense Marketing Services; Senior Defense Analyst at Forecast International; and military editor Middle East/Africa at Jane’s Information Group. He was a longstanding columnist for the Sri Lanka Sunday Times, U.N. correspondent for Asiaweek, Hong Kong and Jane's Defence Weekly, London. A Fulbright scholar with a Master’s Degree (MSc) in Journalism from Columbia University, New York, he is co-author of the 1981 book on “How to Survive a Nuclear Disaster” and author of the 2021 book on the United Nations titled “No Comment – and Don’t Quote me on That”— and subtitled ‘from the Sublime to the Hilarious’, both of which are available on Amazon

Poverty & Hunger Eradication Targeted to Miss UN’s 2030 Deadline by Wide Margins

When the UN’s 193 member states reviewed the current status of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger by 2030, the verdict was mostly failures—and with little or no successes. The hunger/poverty nexus was best characterized by Alvaro Lario, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), who warned last week that under current trends, 575 million people will still be living in extreme poverty in 2030—and as many people suffering from hunger by 2030 as in 2015 (600 million people).

UN, Still Living in the 1940s, Urgently in Need of Reforms

Politically, the United Nations has largely been described as a monumental failure ---with little or no progress in resolving some of the world’s past and ongoing military conflicts and civil wars, including Palestine, Western Sahara, Kashmir, and more recently, Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan and Myanmar, among others.

A Global Survey of Democracy Finds Both Sobering and Alarming Results

The recent epidemic of coups in Africa -- including military take-overs in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Gabon-- have triggered the inevitable question: Is multi-party democracy on the retreat? The Open Society Barometer, an annual global survey from Open Society Foundations, launched September 12, reflects the positive and negative aspects of the state democracy worldwide.

World Leaders Offered “15 Minutes of Fame” at UN’s High-Level Meeting

Everyone in this world is entitled to 15 minutes of fame-- is a legendary quote mis-attributed to the American pop icon Andy Warhol. Over the years, the United Nations has laid down its own 15-minute rule for world leaders addressing the UN General Assembly.

When the UN Came Under Attack— from a Mis-Guided Rocket Launcher

When 150+ world leaders, including Presidents and Prime Ministers, arrive in New York to address the high-level segment of the General Assembly beginning September 19, the UN neighborhood will be turned into a veritable war zone. The streets will be littered with scores of police officers, US secret service personnel, UN security officers, bomb-sniffing dogs, road closures-- and a stand-by ambulance in the UN campus ready to cope with any medical emergencies.

UN Summits & High-Level Meetings: More Promises, Less Deliveries

The United Nations will host six “high-level” meetings, including two summits of world leaders-- over a short span of five consecutive days, beginning September 18. The back-to-back meetings, described as unprecedented, includes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit on September 18-19; a high-level dialogue on Financing for Development (FfD) on September 20; and a ministerial meeting of the Summit of the Future on September 21 (with the summit itself scheduled to take place September 2024).

A Plea for a UN Summit on the Global Food Crisis

A coalition of civil society organizations, (CSOs), including climate activists, anti-poverty campaigners and celebrity chefs, are among those calling for an emergency meeting of world leaders on the global food crisis during the UN General Assembly (UNGA) sessions in New York next month.

Artificial Intelligence Faces Charges of Left-Wing Political Bias

The artificial intelligence (AI) platform ChatGPT, whose negative consequences include misinformation, is facing new charges of political bias. According to a study by the University of East Anglia (UEA), released August 17, AI ChatGPT shows “a significant and systemic left-wing bias”.

Russia Upstages Neo-Colonialist France in West Africa

Going back to the 16th century and continuing through the late 1960s, France was described as the world’s second largest colonial power—just behind the British Empire. As the old saying goes: The sun would never set over the British Empire because God wouldn’t trust an Englishman in the dark. But would that also apply to the French colonial empire?

Should Military Leaders be Barred from Addressing the UN?

A rash of military coups in African countries -- including Burkina Faso, Sudan, Guinea, Mali, and most recently Niger-- has raised a legitimate question: What should be the response of the United Nations, a world body that swears by multi-party democracy, on army take-overs? Condemnation? Yes.

UN Chief vs Russia: A Second Battlefront in the Ukraine War

The Secretary-General of the United Nations is the creature of—and subservient to -- the 193 member states who largely reign supreme in the world body. But, in reality, Antonio Guterres has been defiant and openly challenged one of the five permanent members of the Security Council lambasting Russia for its 17-month-old invasion of Ukraine.

Guns for Hire? A Season for Mercenaries

Just after a band of mercenaries tried to oust the government in the Maldives back in 1988, I asked a Maldivian diplomat, using a familiar military catch phrase, about the strength of his country's “standing army.” "Standing army?", the diplomat asked with mock surprise, and remarked perhaps half-jokingly, "We don't even have a sitting army."

Is the Philippines a Beneficiary of US-Chinese Confrontation?

When President Ferdinand Marcos was running an authoritarian regime in the Philippines (1965-1986), he was once asked about rumors of rigged elections in his country. “I promised I will give you the right to vote,” he said, according to a joke circulating at that time, “But I did not say anything about counting those votes”

When the President of the General Assembly Was Given a Seat at a Summit— a Back Row Seat

When the United Nations commemorated ‘International Day of Women in Diplomacy’ last week, the President of the General Assembly (PGA) Csaba Kőrösi rightly pointed out the woeful absence of women to hold that position in the UN hierarchy. “Women have played a central role in the history of the United Nations ever since the signing of the UN Charter,” he said, “but out of the 78 people elected to my role, President of the General Assembly, only four have been women.”

If Current Trends Continue, World’s Poor may not Achieve a Single Development Goal by 2030

When the 193-member General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development back in September 2015., it was aimed at transforming the world into an idealistic state of peace and economic prosperity. But eight years later, most of the world’s low-income countries (LICs) have been struggling to achieve even a single goal, including the two key targets: the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger by 2030.

AI ChatGPT Responds to UN’s Proposed Code of Conduct to Monitor Artificial Intelligence

As artificial intelligence (AI) turns into a global phenomenon, it has triggered widespread speculation on both its positive and negative consequences. Is AI technology threatening to go wild? the sceptics question. Will AI be a curse or a divine gift to humanity? ask others.

When the President of the General Assembly was Elected on the Toss of a Coin…

When the General Assembly elected its President for 2023-2024 last week, it continued a longstanding tradition of male dominance in the UN’s highest policy making body. The new President for the 78th session, Ambassador Dennis Francis of Trinidad and Tobago, a longstanding career diplomat and a former Permanent Representative, was elected June 1 “by acclamation”.

Does Artificial Intelligence Need a Regulatory UN Watchdog?

The frighteningly rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have triggered the question: is there a UN role for monitoring and regulating it? Citing a report from the Center for AI Safety, the New York Times reported last week that a group of over 350 AI industry leaders warned that artificial intelligence poses a growing new danger to humanity –and should be considered a “societal risk on a par with pandemics and nuclear wars”.

US Ban on Smoking Undermined by Tobacco Industry

The US has some of the strictest laws against smoking in public, including a 1997 executive order which bans smoking in all government federal buildings. But still, the tobacco industry and its allies do not rest, says Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, Director of the Washington-based Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Is There a UN Role in Artificial Intelligence Chatbot?

When the UN displayed a female robot back in February 2019, it was a peek into the future: a fast-paced, cutting-edge digital technology where humans may one day be replaced with machines and robots. However, a joke circulating in the UN delegate’s lounge at that time was the possibility, perhaps in a distant future, of a robot-- a female robot-- as the UN Secretary-General in a world body which has been dominated by nine secretaries-general, all male, over the last 78 years.

State-Sponsored Killings Rise to Record Highs

When the Taliban captured power back in 1996, one of its first political acts was to hang the ousted Afghan President Mohammed Najibullah in Ariana Square Kabul. Fast forward to 15 August 2021, when the Taliban, in its second coming, assumed power ousting the US-supported government of Ashraf Ghani, a former official of the World Bank, armed with a doctorate in anthropology from one of the most prestigious Ivy League educational institutions: Columbia University.

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