Inter Press Service » IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 17 Jan 2017 18:31:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.14 Mário Soares, a Rebel with a Cause – Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 08:07:08 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148456 Photo: Mario Soares attending a rally to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, 25 April 2014 in Lisbon. Photo: FraLiss. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Photo: Mario Soares attending a rally to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, 25 April 2014 in Lisbon. Photo: FraLiss. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

By an IPS Correspondent
LISBON, Jan 10 2017 (IPS)

Hardly a leader could reap so much respect, even from most relentless political rivals, both throughout his life and after his death on Jan 7 at the age of 92, like Portuguese Mário Soares.

Characterised as “an indefatigable political animal,” by the New York Times, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres hailed the commitment to freedom and democracy that made Soares “one of those rare political leaders of true European and global stature.”

The UN chief, who is himself Portuguese, said Soares has left an “indelible mark” on political life in Portugal, the result of his “steadfast and courageous political commitment and the principles and values that he consistently pursued throughout his life. Liberty was always his foundational value.”

Soares Legacy Goes Far Beyond Portugal – UN Chief

To a great extent, Guterres said, we are indebted to him for the democracy, the freedom and the respect for fundamental rights that all Portuguese have been able to enjoy in recent decades, and that are today established values in our country.”

Paying tribute to Soares, “who will, I am certain, remain in our memory and in the history of our country as a man of freedom, who wanted all to live in liberty, and fought for his entire life to realize that hope,” the UN Secretary-General added that the late leader’s legacy goes far beyond Portugal.

Indeed, this is not only because Soares was responsible for Portugal’s full integration into the international community, “but also because his commitment to freedom and democracy make him one of those rare political leaders of true European and global stature,” concluded Guterres.

Mário Soares was Prime Minister of Portugal from 1976 to 1978 in the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution that ended decades of right-wing dictatorship. He returned as PM in the early 1980s, and served as Portugal’s president between 1986 and 1996.

After flirting briefly with communism at university and then embracing Portugal’s democratic movement as a Socialist, Soares was jailed 12 times and then exiled for his political activities during the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

The Carnation Revolution

Soares played a key role after the 1974 Carnation Revolution –a military-led coup that soon turned in a massive popular movement of civil protest characterised by carnations that were handed out and placed in the barrels of soldiers’ rifles and tanks—that put an end to 48 years of Salazar rule.

A fierce critic of the military Junta that ruled Portugal for the next two years, Soares in 1976 became the first post-war democratically elected prime minister.

Soares spearheaded the country’s entry into the European Union. But, in recent years, he became a vocal critic of the austerity policies associated with the massive euro-zone bailout Portugal sought in 2011.

He left the presidency in 1996 after the maximum tenure in the office permitted under the constitution, with his popularity at a peak. For years, he remained one of the country’s most influential politicians.

He ran again for president in 2006 at the age of 82, but finished in third.

“President Mário Soares was born and graduated to be a fighter, to have a cause to fight – freedom,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said. “Soares never gave up on a free Portugal, a free Europe, a free world and what was decisive… he was always victorious.”

IPS President and Member of International Board of Trustees

As part of his unflagging commitment to freedom –in this case freedom of expression—lawyer, historian and politician Mário Soares, chaired the International Board of Trustees of Inter Press Service (IPS).

He graduated in Historical-Philosophical Sciences in 1951 and in Law in 1957 at Lisbon University. He taught at a private secondary school and was director of the Colégio Moderno, in Lisbon.

Soares practised law for some years and during his exile in France he was “Chargé de Cours” at Vincennes University and at the Sorbonne. He was associate professor at the Faculty of Arts of Haute Bretagne (Rennes).

More recently, he was guest professor in International Relations at the School of Economics of the University of Coimbra.

Mário Soares was the fourth president of IPS International Board of Trustees, succeeding the agency’s founder, Roberto Savio; former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, and former Prime Minister of Japan, Toshiki Kaifu. UNESCO’s former director general, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, succeeded Mario Soares as president of IPS International Board of Trustees.

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Oceans, Tuberculosis and Killer Robots – the UN’s Diverse Agenda in 2017http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/oceans-tuberculosis-and-killer-robots-the-uns-diverse-agenda-in-2017/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oceans-tuberculosis-and-killer-robots-the-uns-diverse-agenda-in-2017 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/oceans-tuberculosis-and-killer-robots-the-uns-diverse-agenda-in-2017/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 02:12:25 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148445 200 million people worldwide rely on fishing and related industries for their livelihoods. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS.

200 million people worldwide rely on fishing and related industries for their livelihoods. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 10 2017 (IPS)

UN member states hope to reach agreement on a diverse range of global issues in 2017, from managing the world’s oceans to banning killer robots to stopping tuberculosis, one of the world’s deadliest diseases.

In recent years the UN has tackled big issues including ebola, the global migration crisis, financing for development and climate change, with varying degrees of success.

Many pressing environmental, humanitarian and development issues continue to fill the UN’s agenda – even as incoming President of the United States has argued that things will be different at the UN after his inauguration on 20 January.

Trump has suggested that the UN “is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.” However UN discussions have led the 71 year old organisation with 193 member states to create more than 560 international treaties.

Oceans and Life Below Water

One of the biggest meetings on the UN’s agenda this year is focused on the oceans or more specifically Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.

“The United Nations has the opportunity to drive profound change for the oceans in 2017,” Elizabeth Wilson, director, international ocean policy at the Pew Charitable Trusts told IPS.

In recent years the UN has tackled big issues including ebola, the global migration crisis, financing for development and climate change, with varying degrees of success.

“This event will provide UN member states an opportunity to assess progress on ocean conservation, make new commitments, and create meaningful partnerships,” she said.

The meeting – which will take place in New York from 5 to 9 June – is considered to be of global importance for many reasons. For example, according to a 2016 World Economic Forum report, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by the year 2050. Declining fish stocks will effect the more than two billion people worldwide who rely on fish as a source of protein. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation also estimates that 200 million people worldwide rely on fishing or related activities for their livelihoods, the vast majority of whom live in developing countries.

Another important related issue on the UN’s agenda in 2017 will be working towards creating a treaty to protect the high seas, the areas of the global oceans, which fall beyond any country’s sea borders, said Wilson.

Tuberculosis

The UN General Assembly has only ever convened special high-level meetings on two global health threats, HIV/AIDS and antimicrobial resistance. However in 2018, the General Assembly will meet to discuss Tuberculosis.

Although the decision to convene the special meeting has been welcomed, it will not come soon enough for the nearly two million people who will likely die of tuberculosis in 2017.

“The tuberculosis burden is much higher than we expected and the measures to be taken must be much more focused and serious than before,” Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership told IPS.

A series of global meetings will be held in 2017, in preparation for the 2018 meeting however, said Ditiu who also noted that these global meetings should not be seen as a silver bullet.

Although tuberculosis is treatable, the emergence of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in recent years is a major cause for concern. Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is just one example of antimicrobial resistance – a serious health problem which world leaders addressed at the UN General Assembly in 2016.

Banning Nuclear Weapons and Killer Robots

Possibly the most ambitious item on the UN’s agenda in 2017 will be an attempt to create an international treaty for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The first session of the UN conference to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination will take place in New York from 27 to 31 March.

The treaty will be a more ambitious iteration of the already existing Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

However proponents of total abolition of nuclear weapons will face an even more challenging political context in 2017, with US President-elect Donald Trump appearing to have unpredictable views on nuclear weapons potentially at odds with the existing non-proliferation treaty which bans new countries from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Another, more contemporary issue on the UN’s agenda in 2017 will be killer robots. UN member states have agreed to begin talks to ban killer robots this year. According to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots the talks will “(bring) the world another step closer towards a prohibition on the weapons.” A similar agreement back in 1995, led to government agreeing to pre-emptively ban lasers that would permanently blind, according to the campaign.

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Threat of Famine Looms in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/threat-of-famine-looms-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=threat-of-famine-looms-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/threat-of-famine-looms-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 20:27:44 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148420 On 6 May 2016 in Yemen, a baby is screened for malnutrition at the UNICEF- supported Al-Jomhouri Hospital in Sa’ada. Credit: UNICEF/UN026928/Al-Zekri

On 6 May 2016 in Yemen, a baby is screened for malnutrition at the UNICEF- supported Al-Jomhouri Hospital in Sa’ada. Credit: UNICEF/UN026928/Al-Zekri

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

Millions of Yemenis could soon face widespread famine if no action is taken to improve food access through humanitarian or trade means, an early warning system has said.

Up to eight million Yemenis are severely food insecure while another 2 million are facing food insecurity at emergency levels, just one phase below famine, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) has found. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that the food-insecure population in the Middle Eastern nation could be even higher at up to 14.4 million, representing half of the population.

This has contributed to rising acute malnutrition and risk of mortality. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), almost 4.5 million are in need of treatment for malnutrition, including over 2 million children.

The ongoing conflict between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis has largely driven the food crisis in Yemen, which FEWS Net describes as the “largest food security emergency in the world.” The two-year civil war has left thousands dead and 3 million displaced, limiting humanitarian access and food availability on the market.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded system highlighted the need to improve humanitarian access in order to continue and increase much needed food and nutrition assistance.

Prior to the conflict, Yemen imported approximately 90 percent of its food.

Though current food assistance from organisations such as the World Food Program (WFP) is helping mitigate the crisis, FEWS NET noted that such operations alone have been insufficient to meet the country’s needs.

Action is also needed to ensure sustained commercial food trade. Prior to the conflict, Yemen imported approximately 90 percent of its food. The unrest has since disrupted the government and private sector’s ability to import food. Most recently, wheat imports were suspended in December, a staple grain for Yemenis.

Without such imports, humanitarian actors will also be unable to ensure local food availability.

Though food is still available on local markets, increased prices and reduced income have limited access to goods. WFP found that prices of red bean, sugar and onion were respectively 48 percent, 24 percent and 17 percent higher in November than in the pre-crisis period.

A major reduction in food import levels will only serve to worsen food security in the country.

“In a worst-case scenario, where food imports drop substantially for a sustained period of time or where conflict persistently prevents the flow of food to local markets, famine is possible,” FEWS NET reported.

In 2016, the UN requested almost $1.7 billion towards Yemen’s Humanitarian Response Plan. Approximately 40 percent remains unfunded.

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January Brings Changes for UN Security Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/january-brings-changes-for-un-security-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=january-brings-changes-for-un-security-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/january-brings-changes-for-un-security-council/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 01:55:53 +0000 Andy Hazel and Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148419 UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres with Olof Skoog of Sweden, President of the UN Security Council for the month of January Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres with Olof Skoog of Sweden, President of the UN Security Council for the month of January Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Andy Hazel and Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

Five of the UN Security Council’s 15 seats were filled by new members this week, but a bigger shift in the council is expected later this month under the new US administration.

Sweden, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Italy replaced outgoing non-permanent members Spain, Malaysia, New Zealand, Angola and Venezuela.

They will join the other five non-permanent members – Japan, Egypt, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay – as well as the five permanent members of the council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The council’s five permanent members are considered to be the most powerful, since they hold the ability to veto any vote they disagree with.

This is why the change in the United States administration may signal a greater political shift in the council than the rotation of non-permanent members.

The possible change was foreshadowed by President-elect Trump in December following a controversial vote on Israeli settlements.

The United States took the surprise decision to abstain from the vote condemning Israeli settlements in the disputed territory of the West Bank, rather than using its veto power.

“As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” Trump tweeted shortly after the vote took place.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power – a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet – defended the abstention saying, “Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 undermines Israel’s security, harms the viability of a negotiated two-state outcome, and erodes prospects for peace and stability in the region.”

Power is expected to be replaced by Trump’s pick for the council, Nikki Haley, the current Governor of South Carolina, after Trump’s inauguration on January 20.

However Sweden’s Ambassador to the UN, Olof Skoog downplayed the political implications of the change in US administration for the Security Council.

“I haven’t spoken with anyone from the administration of the President-elect, but I expect that when they come to look at the work we’re doing they’ll see it is in the interests of the United States,” Skoog told journalists on Tuesday.

With January bringing a new US president, a changed Security Council and a new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Skoog said that he hoped to harness this “spirit of newness” to spur momentum into the Council’s work.

However Skoog said he was not expecting particular challenges to the Security Council’s work to come from the incoming US administration, with whom he said he looked forward to collaborating.

Skoog described Power as a strong voice with whom he shares many views. He said he also had a working relationship with Haley, but would not be drawn on possible changes regarding Israeli-Palestinian policy within the council.

Sweden has officially recognised the state of Palestine, putting it at odds with Trump’s pro-Israel stance.

Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that he hoped Italy could bring the Israel-Palestine conflict “to the forefront of the United Nations’ agenda,” during their month as president in November. Migration from the Middle East and Syria are also expected to be among the issues Italy will prioritise. Italy will be represented by Ambassador Sebastiano Card.

In a new and unusual step, Italy will share its security council seat with the Netherlands due to an impasse vote in the UN General Assembly for the final European seat. Italy will sit on the council in 2016 and the Netherlands in 2017. Gentiloni described the move as “a message of unity between European countries.”

2016 will be the first time that Kazakhstan will sit on the Security Council. The Central Asian country – which is keen to be seen as a major international power – will be represented by the ex-Ambassador to the United States Mr Kairat Umarov.

Kazakhstan – a part of the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone – may also bring a different perspective to Security Council discussions on nuclear non-proliferation. President-elect Trump’s comments on nuclear weapons have signalled that this may be an area high on the UN’s agenda in 2017.

Succeeding Venezuela as the Latin American representative, and holding a seat on the Council for the first time since 1979, is Bolivia. The plurinational state is represented by the Sacha Llorenti, a published author who spent two years at the President of Bolivia’s Permanent Assembly for Human Rights and was a minister in the government of Evo Morales.

Llorenti resigned from the ministry in 2011 following a violent police response to protesters marching against the building of a road through the Amazon rainforest. This was not the first time Llorenti was involved in clashes between indigenous populations and infrastructure.

Ethiopia replaces Angola and joins Senegal as an African representative on the Council. Ethiopia has become a major contributor of over 8,000 troops to UN peacekeeping operations. However in 2016, Ethiopia faced political instability within its own borders amid crackdowns on protestors.

In its first month on the council, Sweden has also taken up the rotating position of President. Skoog told press on Tuesday that the council’s priorities for January would include Syria, South Sudan and the Congo.

Skoog also highlighted massive population displacement, diminishing resources and rise of Boko Haram in Lake Chad region as detailed by Oxfam in a report entitled Lake Chad’s Unseen Crisis, which draws parallels between climate change, terrorism and national security.

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Poor Darwin – Robots, Not Nature, Now Make the Selectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/poor-darwin-robots-not-nature-now-make-the-selection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poor-darwin-robots-not-nature-now-make-the-selection http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/poor-darwin-robots-not-nature-now-make-the-selection/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2017 13:56:01 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148413 TOPIO ("TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot") is a bipedal humanoid robot designed to play table tennis against a human being. TOPIO version 3.0 at Tokyo International Robot Exhibition, Nov 2009. Photo: Humanrobo. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

TOPIO ("TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot") is a bipedal humanoid robot designed to play table tennis against a human being. TOPIO version 3.0 at Tokyo International Robot Exhibition, Nov 2009. Photo: Humanrobo. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 5 2017 (IPS)

When British naturalist Charles Darwin published in 1859 his theory of evolution in his work On the Origin of Species, he most likely did not expect that robots, not nature, would someday be in charge of the selection process.

In his On the Origin of Species, (more completely: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life), Darwin introduced the scientific theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection.

Now the so-called ”fourth industrial revolution” comes to turn Darwin’s theory upside down, as the manufacturing process has been witnessing such a fast process of automation that machines will more and more replace human workers.

So fast that it is estimated that by the year 2040, up to 40 per cent of the production process will be handled by robots.

Moreover, the robotising trend is now being perfected in a way that machines are gradually able to solve problems posed by other machines.

Oxford University predicts that machines and robots will perform nearly half of US jobs within the next 20 years.

And the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says in its report “Future of Work in figures” that some studies argue that 47 per cent of US employment is subject to substitution (39 per cent in Germany, 35 per cent in the UK). "By the year 2040, up to 40 per cent of the production process will be handled by robots"

“The assumptions of what tasks are replaceable are key, but the undisputed fact is that the occupational structure will change and the tasks required to carry out jobs will also change,” says the OECD while trying to inject some optimism: “Substitution may mean the destruction of certain jobs, but not the destruction of employment.”

This process of “substitution” could not come at a tougher time, as the so-called job market is already much too precarious.

Just an example: this organisation grouping nearly one fifth of all countries –those considered most developed—in a report titled “Employment and unemployment in figures,” says that there are now over 40 million unemployed in the OECD area — that’s around 8 million more than before the crisis, i.e., one million jobs lost yearly over the last 8 years.

Add to this, the fact that 1 in 3 jobs are considered precarious in the industrialised countries, and that workers now earn between 15 and 20 per cent less than in the year 2009.

These figures, however, are viewed in a positive light by the business sector as they imply a growing reduction of the costs of production.

What to Do With Humans Then?

Politicians, likely propelled by big business pundits, have just started to think now of how to face this challenge.

One of the trendiest formulae is now to give a basic income to citizens.

Such a basic income (also called unconditional basic income, citizen’s income, basic income guarantee, universal basic income or universal demo-grant) implies that all citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.

According to its defenders, this would be financed by the profits of publicly owned enterprises. But it will be a difficult exercise given that the private sector has been taking over the roles of the state, which has been gradually dismantled.

Many citizens’ first reaction to this formula would be –is– “… sounds great… getting money without even working is a dream!”

The realisation of such a dream poses, however, a number of questions and concerns.

For instance: where will governments find the resources needed for such basic incomes? From which national budget items will these amounts be deducted?

Will governments continue anyway to provide social services, such as public health care, education, unemployment subsidies, pension funds? Are such services sentenced to privatisation?

Will this mean the elimination of the 20 billion dollars that the OECD countries dedicate every year to the employment funds, which are aimed at promoting the creation of job opportunities?

And how can unemployed people contribute with their basic income to replenishing the retirement funds of the elderly, whose lives are already long and expected to get longer and longer?

Let alone infrastructure like public transport, roads and highways, subsidies to alternative sources of energy, and a long et cetera.

In other words, will such basic income without even working lead to the definite dismantlement of the already rapidly shrinking social welfare?

Most likely it will be so. After all, it would be about a step further in the very process of robotising the very lives of human beings.

This way, the citizens will be kept alive, will complain less about the evident failure of governments to create job opportunities, while doing what they are expected to do: that’s to consume what industries produce and, by the way, continue playing their role as voters (not electors, mind the difference).

The Rule of the Multimillionaires

This trend, which seems to be unavoidable, will likely receive a giant push pretty soon—as soon as the new United States administration, lead by Donald Trump, takes office in January 2017.

An administration, by the way, made of multi-millionaires who are highly unlikely to have the sensibility of average citizens and workers.

The effects on Europe will be immediate in view of the irresistible rise of the extreme right in countries like Germany, France and Italy — which will go through elections in 2017 – as well as the Netherlands, Austria, Hungry and even Greece, to mention a few.

Inequality, That Dangerous Gap

Add to all of the above the fact that growing unemployment will deepen the already considerable inequality.

Roberto Savio, Founder of IPS and of Other News, in a recent master lecture at the Diplomatic Academy of Chile, compiled the following shocking data: six years ago, 388 persons possessed the same wealth as 3.2 billion people; in 2014, their number was of just 80, and in 2015 only 62.

These figures, added to the fact that, according to the International Labour Organization, 600 million new jobs need to be created by 2030 just to keep pace with the growth of the working age population, will leave more millions behind, forcing massive displacements, especially from developing countries, as survival migrants.

“The factory of the future will have only two employees: a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”

This is how Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, a private company that “makes software for people who make things,” described the current, unstoppable process of automation.

Bass’ comment was quoted by Xavier Mesnard in an article titled “What happens when robots take our jobs?” which was published in the World Economic Forum.

Most probably Darwin would have never expected that the current artificial selection process –propelled by an irrepressible greed and subjected to the financial interests of big private corporations exercising full control without any regulation mechanism, amid short-sighted politics — would replace his great theory of evolution and natural selection.

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Ban Ki-moon’s Mixed Legacy as UN Secretary-Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ban-ki-moons-mixed-legacy-as-un-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ban-ki-moons-mixed-legacy-as-un-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ban-ki-moons-mixed-legacy-as-un-secretary-general/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2017 22:15:14 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148409 Ban Ki-moon with Korean pop singer Psy in 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

Ban Ki-moon with Korean pop singer Psy in 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 4 2017 (IPS)

Ban Ki-moon ended his ten years as UN Secretary-General at midnight on New Year’s Eve with his last official duty – dropping the ball at New York’s Times Square.

“I’ll be in Times Square for the ball drop. Millions of people will watch me lose my job.” Ban wrote beforehand on Twitter, hinting at possible relief that years of ribbon-cutting, handshaking and selfie-taking were finally over.

Ban – a former foreign minister of South Korea and career diplomat – seemed to embrace these ceremonial duties tirelessly during his two terms as Secretary-General.

However, when it came to some of the bigger responsibilities of the role, some critics argue he could have done more.

UN Secretaries-General have to tread a delicate path of diplomacy and bureaucracy. They are servants to the UN’s 193 member states, but they also have a responsibility to be a “true voice” of the UN Charter, Stephen Lewis, co-founder of international advocacy organisation AIDS-Free World, told IPS.

“Ban is a traditional diplomat to his bone marrow. He always felt that offending big powers was a taboo,” -- Richard Gowan.

“With the world in the state it now is in, we need a Secretary-General who speaks truth to power, who speaks his mind, who takes strong positions, and that has not been characteristic of the last several year of Ban Ki-Moon’s tenure,” said Lewis, who is also a former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF and a former Canadian Ambassador to the UN.

Lewis said that Ban could have done more to follow in the footsteps of former Secretaries-General such as Kofi Annan of Ghana or Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden, two Secretaries-General admired for their ability to stand up to UN member states when needed.

“It’s the difference between someone who’ll use the middle ground to try and satisfy everyone and someone who says, my job is to lead this world in a principled way, upholding the charter and telling the member states when they’re wrong and when their human rights are being violated,” said Lewis.

The charter is the founding document of the United Nations which was established in 1945 in the wake of the Second World War.

UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations Richard Gowan agreed that Ban chose to be diplomatic rather than disagree with UN member states.

“Ban is a traditional diplomat to his bone marrow.  He always felt that offending big powers was a taboo,” said Gowan.

However Gowan – who has followed Ban’s tenure closely – noted that over time Ban began to take stronger positions.

“I do think Ban got better over time. After the 2009 Sri Lanka crisis he felt compelled to highlight serious human rights abuses. He is a moral man.”

However overall, Gowan said that Ban was considered too cautious in the face of major crises facing the UN. These include ongoing conflicts in Syria and South Sudan.

“The constant refrain I have heard from UN officials over the last decade has been that Ban has been too cautious and too concerned about protecting his own position in the face of major crises,” said Gowan.

However while Ban may have only had limited influence over the UN member states’ responses to the world’s protracted disasters he did have responsibility for how the UN responded to them.

This includes oversight for UN peacekeepers – whose numbers swelled to over 100,000 during Ban’s tenure.

UN peacekeepers have faced scandals, including allegations of sexual abuse, however it is the UN’s tepid response under Ban’s leadership to problems within peacekeeping that has attracted the most criticism.

Gowan argues that the UN’s responses under Ban seemed in part to reflect his lack of understanding of the operational intricacies of the UN.

“Secretaries-General are not magicians.  The UN bureaucracy is hard to manage, and peace operations are especially difficult to control,” said Gowan. “But Ban never seemed to have a detailed operational sense of what the UN has been doing on the ground on his watch.”

“When a big crisis hit a UN mission, or a sexual abuse scandal blew up, he always seemed to be on the back foot. I credit him with trying to do the right thing over cholera in Haiti, but he was slow.”

UN peacekeepers from Nepal responding to the 2010 earthquake bought cholera to Haiti in part because untreated sewage from a UN base ran into local water sources.

At the beginning of December 2016, soon before ending his time as Secretary-General, Ban apologised for cholera outbreak, but stopped short of accepting the UN’s role in bringing cholera to Haiti.

“His apology was very much characteristic of the middle ground that satisfied only part of his role,” said Lewis. “He never accepted the responsibility for the UN bringing cholera to Haiti. He only ever apologised for the consequences of the cholera. In other words he stopped short of embracing an important matter of principle.”

This may have been because a full apology could potentially open the UN and its member states to paying reparations to the people of Haiti, thousands of whom have already died due to the cholera outbreak.

Nevertheless, many saw Ban’s apology as an attempt to make amends for one of the darkest aspects of his ten years as Secretary-General.

His tenure did see progress made in other areas, for example Ban was considered to have progressed LGBTI rights within the UN by openly showing his support.

Ban’s successor Antonio Guterres, the former Prime Minister of Portugal, took office on 1 January, beginning his five year term with a message of peace to the world.

“We’re hoping that Guterres will be a Hammarskjold,” said Lewis, referring to the Swedish Secretary-General who is admired by many UN aficionados for his dedication to the UN charter.

Ban is widely considered to be vying for the Presidency of South Korea.

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New UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Takes Officehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/new-un-secretary-general-antonio-guterres-takes-office/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-un-secretary-general-antonio-guterres-takes-office http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/new-un-secretary-general-antonio-guterres-takes-office/#comments Tue, 03 Jan 2017 20:38:52 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148392 UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres (centre) arrives at UN headquarters. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres (centre) arrives at UN headquarters. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 3 2017 (IPS)

Antonio Guterres of Portugal officially took up his position as ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations Tuesday morning, beginning his duties by addressing UN staff in New York.

Guterres emphasised the urgency of addressing the plight of refugees and displaced populations, calling out richer nations for their negligence in addressing their global responsibilities, an issue many expect him to target upon taking office.

“We live in a world in which conflicts multiply and are interlinked with this new phenomenon of global terrorism,” said Guterres. “Conflicts in which international humanitarian law is not respected, situations in which we see massive human rights violations, even refugee law is no longer as respected as it was few years ago. I remember the times when mostly borders would be open and now we see borders closed, now people do not even have the right to be a refugee in many parts of the world.”

“We live in a world where problems became global and there is no way they can be solved on a country by country basis" -- Antonio Guterres

In his speech Guterres also emphasised the importance of multilateralism to address global problems.

“When one looks at the global mega-trends of population growth, climate change, and other aspects that are interlinked, we see that we live in a world where problems became global and there is no way they can be solved on a country by country basis.”

Prior to becoming Secretary-General – a role he will initially hold for five years – Guterres was the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from 2005 to 2015.

He oversaw the UNHCR during a time when the number of displaced persons worldwide grew to its highest number since World War II, exceeding 65 million. He is recognised for having managed the UNHCR’s response to the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Africa while also cutting staff and administrative costs and instituting wide-ranging reform of the organisation. He has pledged to bring a similar approach to the UN.

A number of key positions appointed by Guterres embraces diverse representation in the upper echelons of the organisation, and address the lack of gender parity to which previous Secretaries General had pledged to reform.

Nigeria’s Minister for the Environment Amina J. Mohammed was appointed Deputy Secretary-General. Under-Secretary for Asia and the Pacific at the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti becomes Chef de Cabinet. Guterres created the role of Special Adviser on Policy, Kyunga-wha Kang of South Korea who has previously served as Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator. The role of Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination in the Executive Office will be filled by Fabrizio Hochschild, former Deputy Special Representative for the UN Mission in the Central African Republic.

Spokesman for the Secretary General Stéphane Dujarric told a press conference that Guterres’ biggest challenge was to work with member states on achieving peace. “Many people are suffering from war and man-made disasters. He will focus on trying to meet the expectations that people have of this organisation (the UN).”

Dujarric also hinted that Guterres would be an open Secretary General. “As you’ll have seen if you’ve observed his career for the last ten years, he does hold press conferences frequently.”

Guterres was also quick to recognise the scale of the problems and the need for unity among the UN’s 193 member states to address them.

“I think it is useful to say that there are no miracles, and I am sure I am not a miracle-maker. And the only way for us to be able to achieve our goals is to really work together as a team, and to be able to deserve to serve the noble values enshrined in the Charter, that are the values of the UN, that are the values that unite mankind.”

The outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon described Guterres as a “wonderful choice” to lead the United Nations. “He is perhaps best known where it counts most: on the frontlines of armed conflict and humanitarian suffering.” Guterres inherits a complicated Syrian peace process; the highest number of migrant populations since the 1940s; increased tension between Israel and Palestinian; and a renewed push to admonish countries projected to fail to reach agreed climate change targets.

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More Than 50 Internet Shutdowns in 2016http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/more-than-50-internet-shutdowns-in-2016/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=more-than-50-internet-shutdowns-in-2016 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/more-than-50-internet-shutdowns-in-2016/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2016 06:16:31 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148353 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/more-than-50-internet-shutdowns-in-2016/feed/ 0 Islamic Nations to Host Pledging Conference on Aid to Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen/#comments Thu, 29 Dec 2016 10:35:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148344 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 29 2016 (IPS)

While the international community remains intensely pre-occupied with the six-year-old civil war ravaging Syria, the ongoing military conflict in Yemen has triggered a relatively neglected humanitarian crises threatening to explode.

OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef

OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef

Since the conflict began in March 2015, an estimated 21 million people in Yemen are reported to be in need of assistance, including 10.3 million in desperate straits, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Responding to the crisis, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is taking the lead in organizing a pledging conference for humanitarian assistance and development aid to one of the poorest countries in the Middle East devastated by a 22-month conflict which has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and caused considerable damage to homes, schools and medical facilities.

Addressing a preparatory meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on December 18, Rashid Khalikov, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Partnerships with Middle East, said only $150 million had been received so far out of the total of about $1.6 billion pledged by international donors in 2016.

The proposed conference is being backed by the United Nations, the World Bank, the Yemeni government, member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and several international donors, including the US, Germany, Sweden, Japan and UK.

According to the OIC, UN findings in Yemen include: 21.2 million in need of humanitarian aid; 19.3 million with no access to safe drinking water; 14.1 million facing food shortages; and 2.2 million children suffering from acute malnutrition.

As of November, more than 7,000 people have been killed and over 43,000 injured, including more than 3,200 children killed or injured. Additionally, over 600 health facilities and 1,600 schools remain closed due to conflict-related damages, according to OCHA.

OIC Secretary General, General Yousuf Al-Othaimeen, said the aim of the conference “ is to find ways to support the Yemeni people” and the need to “bridge the huge gap in the required financing for humanitarian action in Yemen”.

The pledging conference is likely to take place in early 2017 but the venue is yet to be decided.

In an interview with IPS, OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef, said the primary objective of the conference is to “convene the international community to help in addressing the needs of the people of Yemen, boost the capacity for urgent humanitarian response and address the medium-term developmental needs in Yemen.”

“However, other aspects will also be considered and we are currently discussing other issues that can be considered in side events on the margins of the Conference. We will also work on finding ways to coordinate aid effort more effectively“.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Is it largely a pledging conference seeking funds? Or does the proposed agenda also include negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the ongoing conflict?

Hesham Youssef: Yes, it is largely a pledging Conference. But it will also involve widening the scope of consultations the OIC has already begun with member states, civil society and international organizations in order to exchange information, enhance follow-up mechanisms and unify visions among partners on how to address the humanitarian and developmental needs of the people of Yemen.

Supporting the people of Yemen also means trying to find a resolution to the current crisis – something the OIC will continue to urge – but this is not the objective of this Conference.

That means calling for a comprehensive national reconciliation through the resumption of the political process within the framework of the Gulf Initiative, the outcomes of the 2014 Comprehensive National Dialogue conference, the 2015 Riyadh Declaration and the United Nations Security Council resolution 2216 (2015).

Q: Do you have a proposed target in terms of funding? And how confident are you that the conference will meet that target?

Hesham Youssef: Any target for funding depends very much on a thorough needs assessment. A UN detailed report will be ready in early January that will identify the needs on-the-ground.

Q: The UN has already complained that only $150 million has been received although international donors had pledged as much as $1.6 billion as humanitarian assistance to Yemen. Do you think the wide gap between pledges and deliveries may be due to the global economic recession?

Hesham Youssef: While domestic economic obstacles may well contribute to delays in delivery of donor pledges, it is imperative international donors appreciate that the cost of crises like that in Yemen could prove far costlier in the medium term.

Just as the Syria conflict has led to millions of refugees and regional instability, so too could the spill-over from the Yemen conflict adversely affect the international community in ways that costs it far more in future then it would to prevent such fallout now.

We also do not see huge complaints about how the global recession is affecting the massive military spending that supports military action on a global level, so the global downturn must not be used an excuse to not help those in need.

Q: Are there any countries that have already made pledges in advance of the conference?

Hesham Youssef: This is an ongoing process. Many donors have already supported the humanitarian relief efforts in Yemen and indicated a willingness to provide financial support. For example, at a bilateral level, the UAE has already provided around $1.6 billion to Yemen, Saudi Arabia has provided $274 million, plus one billion Saudi riyals, Kuwait is providing $100 million, along with assistance from the US, the European Union and U.K.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Arms Trade Treaty Falling Down in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/arms-trade-treaty-falling-down-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arms-trade-treaty-falling-down-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/arms-trade-treaty-falling-down-in-yemen/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 21:06:42 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148319 A campaign in support of the Arms Trade Treaty argued that weapons were subject to fewer regulations than bananas. Credit: Coralie Tripier / IPS.

A campaign in support of the Arms Trade Treaty argued that weapons were subject to fewer regulations than bananas. Credit: Coralie Tripier / IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 27 2016 (IPS)

Two years after the UN Arms Trade Treaty entered into force many of the governments which championed the treaty are failing to uphold it, especially when it comes to the conflict in Yemen.

“In terms of implementation, the big disappointment is Yemen,” Anna Macdonald, Director of Control Arms, a civil society organisation dedicated to the treaty, told IPS.

“The big disappointment is the countries that were in the forefront of calling for the treaty – and indeed who still champion it as a great achievement in international disarmament and security – are now prepared to violate it by persisting in their arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” she added.

The Saudi-led international coalition has been responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia is known to have violated humanitarian law by bombing civilian targets, including hospitals.

The conflict in Yemen – the poorest country in the Middle East – has displaced over 3 million people since it began in March 2015 according to the UN.

However many countries, including the United Kingdom, United States and France, that have signed up to the Arms Trade Treaty continue to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, despite this violating their commitments under the treaty.

“The big disappointment is the countries that were in the forefront of calling for the treaty ... are now prepared to violate it by persisting in their arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” Anna Macdonald, Control Arms.

Currently 90 UN member states are parties to the treaty, which Macdonald says is a relatively high number for such a new and complex treaty, but the goal remains universalisation, she adds. The treaty entered into force on 24 December 2014. However while the U.K. and France have ratified the treaty, the U.S. has only signed the treaty.

Parties to the treaty are obligated to ensure that weapons they sell will not be used to violate international humanitarian law, commit genocide or commit crimes against humanity.

The U.K.’s sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia has been the subject of intense debate in British parliament.

Saudi authorities recently confirmed that they have used UK-made cluster munitions in Yemen.

“Evidence of cluster munition use has been available for almost a year, but the U.K. has ignored and disputed it, trusting instead in the Saudi-led coalition’s denials,” said Macdonald.

“The UK is continuing to ignore the vast amount of information of violations of human rights and the laws of war in Yemen, (recent developments) make even plainer how unfeasible such a position is.”

The UK which sold the weapons to Saudi Arabia in 1989 has since signed up to the Cluster Munitions Convention, which prohibits the sale of cluster munitions because of their indiscriminate nature, Macdonald added.

Meanwhile recent reports suggest the United States is curtailing at least some of its arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

“The U.S. has said it will halt the sale of precision-guided aerial bombs to Saudi Arabia because they have seen “systemic, endemic problems with Saudi Arabia’s targeting” that the U.S. says has led to high numbers of civilian casualties in Yemen,” said Macdonald.

However she noted that it is hard to know what effect this will have on policies under the incoming Trump Republican administration.

According to research published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) the world’s top three arms exporters are the United States, Russia and China.

India, Saudi Arabia and China are the world’s top three arms importers.

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US Heads for Political Showdown with UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/us-heads-for-political-showdown-with-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-heads-for-political-showdown-with-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/us-heads-for-political-showdown-with-un/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 16:16:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148317 United Nations Secretariat Building

United Nations Secretariat Building

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 27 2016 (IPS)

The United States has had a longstanding love-hate relationship with the United Nations ever since 1952 when the world body began operations in New York city on an 18-acre piece of land which housed an abattoir where cattle was being trucked daily for slaughter.

The late Republican Senator Jesse Helms, a fulltime chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a part-time UN basher, once said “providing funds to the UN was like pouring money into a rat hole.”

Former New York city Mayor Ed Koch used a five-letter word to describe the UN: a “sewer”. And one of his successors, Rudolph Giuliani, said he will not miss the UN if it decides to pack up and leave New York.

When the 193-member UN General Assembly voted some of the world’s “repressive regimes” as members of the Human Rights Commission (now the Human Rights Council), Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (Republican of California) hollered: “The inmates have taken over the asylum. And I don’t plan to give the lunatics any more American tax dollars to play with.”

And now, US President-elect Donald Trump, peeved over a Security Council resolution last week chastising Israel over its continued settlements in the occupied territories, has signaled an implicit warning he will review his relationship with the United Nations.

Having been rebuffed by outgoing President Barack Obama who refused to accede to Trump’s appeal to veto the resolution, the incoming President, who will take office on January 20, challenged the effectiveness of the world body and dismissed it as “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

Immediately after the resolution was adopted by a vote of 14–nil, with the US abstaining, he held out a warning: “As to the UN, things will be different after January 20.”

Currently, the US is the biggest single contributor accounting for 22 percent of the UN’s regular biennium budget, followed by Japan (9.7 percent), China (7.9 percent), Germany (6.7 percent) and France (4.8 percent) – all based on a country’s “capacity to pay”.

The UN’s 2016-2017 regular biennium budget amounts to about $5.4 billion, excluding its peacekeeping budget and voluntary contributions to UN Funds and Programmes.

Following the Security Council vote on Friday, Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) said he plans to form a bipartisan coalition to either suspend or reduce US funding for the UN.

And Senator Tom Cotton (Republican-Arkansas) warned that the UN and “nations supporting the resolution (against Israel) have now imperiled all forms of US assistance.”

While the US withheld its veto and abstained on the vote, the other four veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, namely, the UK, France, China and Russia, voted for the resolution, along with the 10 non-permanent members, namely, Angola, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, Spain, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela.

A defiant Israel was livid, and in retaliation, threatened to build another 5,600 settlements in occupied Jerusalem thereby isolating itself further from the international community.

Jim Paul, former Executive Director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, and who closely monitored the politics of the world body for over 19 years, told IPS the US threat of withholding its dues to the UN has been around for a long time – since the 1980s when it was first proposed by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

“This threat is effective only if it is believed and acted on by frightened UN officials or member states, who rush to adopt the latest requirements by the bully-state,” he noted.

“It actually might be healthy if the US dues were reduced and the UN were not so dependent on US financing, he added.

Paul pointed out that Swedish Prime Minister the late Olaf Palme once suggested that the UN’s dues structure should be changed so that no single country would pay more than 10 percent of the total budget(s).

“The cost to other states would not be very burdensome and the change might produce some real policy benefits,” said Paul, a well-known speaker and writer on the UN and global policy issues.

Over the years, successive US administrations have manipulated the UN to its own advantage as an extension of US foreign policy.

Paul pointed out that some delegates from governments who are out-of-favour in Washington are constrained to live within a specified distance from the city and some cannot travel beyond that distance in the US without special permission.

Every once in a while, he said, a head of state or other high official will be denied entry and thus an opportunity to speak at the UN.

“How important is this harassment and what does it tell us?”, he asked. It is short of horrendous and well past acceptable.

“We can conclude that Washington likes to remind the other states – and the UN as an institution – that it can do what it pleases and impose its will whether others like it or not.”

In Washington, they like to call this behavior “leadership” but “bully” might be the most appropriate term, said Paul, who frequently served as Chair or Vice Chair of the NGO Working Group on the Security Council.

Despite the 1947 Headquarters Agreement between the US and the UN, which calls on Washington to facilitate the functioning of the UN, the US has denied visas to several heads of governments planning to visit the UN to address the General Assembly or accredited as diplomats.

Palitha Kohona, a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section, told IPS the US was a key player in the creation of the UN and the organisation has served US interests well over the years.

“One might even say that the US has manipulated the UN to serve its global interests,” he argued.

Against this background, to return to the confrontational attitudes of the early 90s, when the US withheld its dues, would be self-defeating, said Kohona, a former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN.

He said the US is no longer the only country with overwhelming financial clout.

“To threaten the UN with financial sanctions would only result in the further waning of US influence in the UN and globally. All countries, especially countries like the US, must continue to work together to make the world a better place,” he declared.

Although complaints against the UN have been never ending – including unpaid parking tickets, and tax–free and duty-free privileges for high-ranking UN-based diplomats – US politicians have rarely admitted the political and economic advantages of the presence of the UN on American soil.

And a new report released recently by the Office of the New York city Mayor points out that the UN generates $3.69 billion in total economic output to New York city’s economy.

The 15,890 individuals directly employed by the UN Community took home household earnings of approximately $1.64 billion. These household earnings and the operating expenses of the UN Community helped create and sustain 7,940 jobs for New Yorkers.

Titled “The United Nations Impact Report 2016”, it was released by the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs Penny Abeywardena

In 1946, New York City competed with cities from London to San Francisco to host the official headquarters of the UN.

Unlike past Mayors, the current Mayor of New York city Bill de Blasio has been a strong supporter of the UN. “New York City is not only an economic and cultural capital, but a diplomatic one. We are proud to be the host city to the United Nations headquarters and the largest diplomatic community in the world,” he said following the release of the new report.

“The impact of the United Nations stretches far beyond New York City and this study reflects the city’s enduring commitment to supporting this critical institution,” he added

Still the political benefits of the UN to the United States have not been as clearly highlighted.

Kohona told IPS the US, with its vast economic and political influence, has without reluctance, manipulated the UN to justify its actions, including military interventions.

One recalls (former US Secretary of State) Colin Powell’s efforts, with videos and photographs, to convince the Security Council of the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq or the intense phone calls to diplomats whose countries were members of the Human Rights Council when a US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka was being taken up for vote at the Council.

He said evidence is also now emerging of the blatant US manipulation of the global media, including with manufactured news, with the objective of influencing diplomatic outcomes.

The current Secretary-General, whose interventions, have generally been on the side of the US, also tends to be influenced by the US and the New York media.

His home being in New York is a factor in this outcome. Perhaps the Secretary-General should rotate his residence around the capitals of the P-5, including in the UK, France, China and Russia.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Threats to Freedom of Expression in the Social Networkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/threats-to-freedom-of-expression-in-the-social-networks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=threats-to-freedom-of-expression-in-the-social-networks http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/threats-to-freedom-of-expression-in-the-social-networks/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 02:53:32 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148308 Experts and adolescents during a workshop about the risks of internet for children and young people, as part of the 2016 Internet Governance Forum (IGF2016), held in Zapopan, in eastern Mexico. Credit: Franz Chávez /IPS

Experts and adolescents during a workshop about the risks of internet for children and young people, as part of the 2016 Internet Governance Forum (IGF2016), held in Zapopan, in eastern Mexico. Credit: Franz Chávez /IPS

By Franz Chávez
ZAPOPAN, Mexico, Dec 27 2016 (IPS)

Email surveillance, blocking of websites with content that is awkward for governments, or the interruption of services such as WhatsApp are symptoms of the threat to freedom of expression online, according to Latin American activists.

Representatives of organisations in the region participated this month in Zapopan, on the outskirts of the Mexican city of Guadalajara, in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF 2016), an initiative formally established by the United Nations Organisation in 2006. They discussed the problems facing freedom of speech on the social networks.

A total of 12 Mexican civil society organisation highlighted the situation in their country, which is similar to that of other countries in the region.“There are no hegemonic standards or models of legislation for the information society. Every region, country, government and key actor makes decisions in accordance with their own financial and technical possibilities, political will and digital culture, which it is necessary to work on.” -- J. Eduardo Rojas

In a statement they denounced the interception of communications and the use of malware “to silence journalists and political opponents”.

“Mexican authorities intercept private communications” and 99 percent of the geolocalisation and obtaining of people’s digital identity (metadata) ”are done without a judicial order,” they stated in the document, issued by the Mexican branch of Article 19, a Paris-based international organisation for the defence of freedom of expression.

“Civil society actors are very worried” with regard to the surveillance that the new technologies allow “and the possibility of intercepting our computers and telephones, where we leave a digital fingerprint when we look for news or use our email,” Edison Lanza, special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, told IPS.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in force since 1948, states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

“Three years ago, someone hacked into my email account and made my list of contacts public,” Martha Roldos complained to IPS. She is executive director of the Ecuadorian Foundation 1000 Pages, which researches and promotes accountability of civil servants towards the community.

She described challenges faced by activists, including espionage or interception of email messages, and mentioned government actions such as employing facial and voice recognition equipment for people involved in journalism or environmental activism.

In Brazil, the mobile text messaging app WhatsApp was interrupted on four occasions over the last two years by judges who demanded that conversations be revealed as part of investigations – a measure that was condemned by Artigo 19, Articulo 19’s local branch.

“The court ruling is disproportionate and is a direct attack on freedom of expression. The measure represents a blatant violation of principles and of the proportionality that judicial rulings should have,” said Artigo 19 in defense of millions of Brazilian citizens who use the popular app.

Ana Ortega, the head of the Freedom of Expression Committee (C-Libre) in Honduras, told IPS that among the many incidents against freedom of expression was the arrest of and prosecution against Elvin Francisco Molina for allegedly spreading false information on his Facebook page about the country’s banking system.

Accused of causing “financial panic in the social networks,” Molina was investigated by order of the National Council of Defence and Security. C-Libre expressed concern over the “criminalisation” of the use of social networks in the draft of a new Criminal Code which is being debated by the National Congress.

In Honduras, “there is no law to protect internet users and we take refuge under the right to freedom of expression and the 2006 law on access to information,” explained Ortega.

The report “Surf Freely”, carried out by the Venezuelan Press and Society Institute in several of that country’s states before and after the December 2015 parliamentary elections, concluded that web pages that were blocked belonged to companies that had provided information about the exchange rate of the dollar.

It was also established that other blocked websites were media outlets and blogs critical of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the administration of President Nicolás Maduro.

Yvana Novoa, a lawyer for the Peruvian organisation Anti corruption and Freedom of Information (Liber), documented cases in which users were blocked from accessing the Facebook account of the city of Lima. Also, “some public officials such as ministers have blocked users who criticise them on Twitter,” she told IPS.

Article 2 of Peru’s constitution recognises the right to freedom of information, opinion, expression and dissemination of thought through written or oral means, or images, through any social means of communication, without previous authorisation or censure.

But “there is no criminal penalty when a user is blocked by official social networks accounts,” said Novoa.

The blocking of sites as a form of censorship on the Internet is not very effective because the message will just be multiplied over the social networks, said Javier Pallero, an Argentine analyst for the international digital rights defence organisation, Accessnow.

Beyond that, it represents an action that stifles the debate needed to strengthen democracy, he told IPS.

Censorship on the internet “is a deplorable act by people who fear the power of information,” said David Alonso Santivañez, a Peruvian expert on digital legislation.

In any case, in his opinion, the capacity of social networks to multiply a message some 60 million times in a minute calls into question the possibility of true censorship of people’s communication.

What is needed, the expert told IPS, is to create laws that guarantee the use of the service, offer security and are the result of teamwork between civil society, legal experts and governments.

“Judges and prosecutors are the ones that have to investigate these kinds of abuses and interference in the private lives of journalists, activists and political leaders. If they detect illegal interference with no judicial order, without any legitimate objective, they must sanction this kind of offence,” urged IACHR rapporteur Lanza.

In a world dominated by the information society, the paradigm of self-regulation makes it necessary for “multi sectoral stakeholders to establish an informed and intelligent dialogue in order to define approaches, methods and techniques to face the challenges of an increasingly digitalised society,” J. Eduardo Rojas, a Bolivian expert who heads the Networks Foundation, told IPS.

“There are no hegemonic standards or models of legislation for the information society. Every region, country, government and key actor makes decisions in accordance with their own financial and technical possibilities, political will and digital culture, which it is necessary to work on,” he said.

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A “Selective” Concern for Universal Human Rights?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/a-selective-concern-for-universal-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-selective-concern-for-universal-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/a-selective-concern-for-universal-human-rights/#comments Mon, 26 Dec 2016 12:04:17 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148306 Singers wearing hats advocating "No Torture" line up before performing at a Human Rights Day event outside of Mogadishu Central Prison in Somalia on Dec. 10, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Singers wearing hats advocating "No Torture" line up before performing at a Human Rights Day event outside of Mogadishu Central Prison in Somalia on Dec. 10, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Dec 26 2016 (IPS)

As Human Rights Day approached this Dec. 10, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) issued a statement urging all governments to join in the fight for universal equality and justice.

The OHCHR emphasised the fundamental importance of the adoption and construction of an international human rights system based upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 68 years ago. The statement described the progressive declaration as “the greatest achievement of the international community since World War II”.

Since its initial implementation, the universal human rights system has relentlessly provided aid and defense to vulnerable communities and individuals under threat the world over.

However, the OHCHR is aware that any significant progress made for universal human rights can be swiftly reversed. Today, the rise of manipulative populist movements has legitimized xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, and other forms of divisive discrimination. Intrusive governments have destabilized and weakened the power of civil society.

Hate speech is on the rise, inciting violence and hostility. “A chill wind is blowing through much of the world and the very notion of human rights is under increasing attack,” the OHCHR report warned.

However, three special procedures mandate holders critiqued the statement issued by the predominantly Western OHCHR “human rights experts,” stating that it was a “far cry from reality”. While mandate-holders acknowledge the importance of “experts” on the issues surrounding sexual minorities, hate speech and homophobia, they believe the statement excluded the views of many other minority groups.

Currently, there are 43 thematic mandates and 14 mandates related to countries and territories, with 80 mandate holders. Special procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

In response to what they considered to be a “selective and imbalanced” text, the dissatisfied mandate holders issued a “complementary opinion” with the sole objective of “putting the issue of human rights in the proper perspective”. The three mandate-holders call for a “full overhaul of the UN Human rights mechanism”.

On Dec. 21, the three special procedures mandate holders released a media statement urging the international community and universal human rights mechanisms to engage in a constructive debate. The mandate holders considered the most pressing concerns to be the right to development, food security, clean water and sanitation, education, and sovereign debt restructuring.

The media statement was signed by the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas; the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, Ikponwosa Ero; and the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Idriss Jazairy.

The authors of the complementary opinion consider it imperative to evaluate and assess the root causes of conflict and inequality, not merely skim the surface by placing the blame on the resultant outcomes of unrest and instability. The mandate-holders consider this essential in the prevention of further human rights violations.

“It is not helpful to condemn ‘populism’ if one is not willing to recognize that populists are merely filling the vacuum left by governments that for decades have been insensitive to the needs of the people, who have continued ‘business as usual’, and not listened,” the complimentary opinion said.

The complimentary statement further condemned the “selective” empathy for victims of social phobias.

“There is need also to reflect on the reasons for those multiple phobias, offering guidance as to how to defuse them in a manner consistent with human rights and human dignity,” the statement continued.

The mandate holders also believe that it is precarious to condemn the rise of “hate speech” and “incitement to violence” without clearly defining what they mean. “Interpretation of ‘hate speech’ cannot be left to the discretion of governments and prosecutors, as this would open the door to arbitrariness contrary to the rule of law and tantamount to censorship,” the media statement explained.

The mandate holders asked the international community to recommit to the upholding all human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of Dec. 10, 1948 and in all related Covenants and Treatises. On the occasion of New Year 2017, they urged the world to avoid “privileged selectivity” and consider all rights to be of equal importance.

“As proclaimed in the Vienna Declaration of 25 June 1993 on Human Rights: “The international community must treat human rights globally, in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis,” the statement concludes.

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Historic UN Security Council Vote Condemns Israeli Settlementshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/historic-un-security-council-vote-condemns-israeli-settlements/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=historic-un-security-council-vote-condemns-israeli-settlements http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/historic-un-security-council-vote-condemns-israeli-settlements/#comments Fri, 23 Dec 2016 21:26:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148295 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/historic-un-security-council-vote-condemns-israeli-settlements/feed/ 0 Security Council Vote on Israeli Settlements Postponed Indefinitelyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/security-council-vote-on-israeli-settlements-postponed-indefinitely/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-vote-on-israeli-settlements-postponed-indefinitely http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/security-council-vote-on-israeli-settlements-postponed-indefinitely/#comments Thu, 22 Dec 2016 21:53:44 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148285 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/security-council-vote-on-israeli-settlements-postponed-indefinitely/feed/ 0 Outgoing UN Chief Yearns for Majority Rule in World Bodyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/outgoing-un-chief-yearns-for-majority-rule-in-world-body/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=outgoing-un-chief-yearns-for-majority-rule-in-world-body http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/outgoing-un-chief-yearns-for-majority-rule-in-world-body/#comments Thu, 22 Dec 2016 13:19:25 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148276 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivers a keynote address on “The Future of Multilateral Disarmament” at an event hosted by the Centre for Global Affairs (CGA) of New York University (NYU). Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivers a keynote address on “The Future of Multilateral Disarmament” at an event hosted by the Centre for Global Affairs (CGA) of New York University (NYU). Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 22 2016 (IPS)

As he packs his bags to head home to South Korea, the outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been sharply critical of the decision-making process in the world body – specifically the veto powers in the Security Council and the increasing “consensus” rule in voting – where a single country can defy the rest of the 192 members, particularly on politically and financially sensitive issues.

Pointing out that member states had failed to agree on a formula for reforming the Security Council, he said he had initiated a major reform proposal to improve fairness and effectiveness in the United Nations.

But these proposals have been blocked in the name of “consensus”, sometimes by a single country, he told delegates in his farewell address during the opening session of the General Assembly in September.

Ban, who steps down on December 31 after a 10-year long tenure, regretted that “essential action and good ideas had been blocked” not only in the Security Council but also in the General Assembly and in the budget process (in the Administrative and Budgetary Committee) and elsewhere.

Is it fair, he asked, “for any one country to wield such disproportionate power and hold the world hostage over so many important issues?”

But he refused to identify any countries by name, although he has singled out Russia and China for using their veto powers to block resolutions on Syria.

Is it fair, asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “for any one country to wield such disproportionate power and hold the world hostage over so many important issues?”
“Consensus should not be confused with unanimity,” he said, urging the General Assembly President to explore the creation of a high-level panel to search for solutions.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, a former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN, told IPS: “I can empathize with the frustrations of S-G Ban as he leaves office later this month.”

But the convoluted process of decision-making has been a matter of major concern for a long time at the UN, he added.

“It does not take two terms for an S-G to comprehend that—and that too in the last months (of his second five year term). Also, he should have mentioned how the Secretary-General of the UN is chosen by a few every five years”.

“I have found that when it suits its purpose the leadership of the UN Secretariat does not have any qualms about the convoluted decision-making process.”

The Secretariat leadership should have taken up the issue long ago and repeatedly directly with the countries concerned on both sides.

The tyranny and irrationality of the majority has been a point of contention as the contentious decisions were taken by majority votes marginalizing the “big players”, he argued.

“The tyranny and unilateralism of a few big financial contributors to UN in the consensus process is also a major concern”, declared Chowdhury, a former Chairman of the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee in 1997-1998 which approved (former Secretary-General) Kofi Annan’s first reform budget.

Meanwhile, there has been longstanding speculation that the consensus rule was introduced in the 1970s when Western powers realized they were being outvoted by developing nations—even as the Group of 77 developing nations increased its membership to 132, ranking as the largest single coalition in the world body.

The United Nations was founded largely on the principle of one-country, one-vote – and where majority rules.

In his address to the Centre for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU) last month,  the outgoing Secretary-General also lambasted the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD) for its inability to adopt a programme of work or even an agenda for nearly two decades.

“Twenty years this has existed, and I have been warning them:  If you behave this way, we will have to bring the discussions in the Conference on Disarmament to some other venue, but they don’t listen… because of the consensus system, just one country can block the whole 193 Member States.  This is a totally unacceptable situation,” he declared.

Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, told IPS the two comments attributed to the SG understandably represent and reflect an element of anguished introspection by the outgoing SG on the vexed and stalemated decision-making processes of, and in, the UN.

To begin with, it needs to be emphasized that the responsibility for this has to be borne entirely by the member states of the UN. All multilateral arrangements are ultimately based on rules of procedure negotiated by the member states themselves.

“With the exception of the Security Council, which has a peculiar and sui generis negotiating history, other instruments are invariably based on the one country one vote formula,” said Puri, whose recently- released book titled “Perilous Interventions” focuses on the flawed role of the Security Council in crisis situations such as Libya and Syria.

In the case of the Security Council, he pointed out, delegations in San Francisco in 1945 were confronted with a ‘take it or leave it ‘choice.

Since the major preoccupation of delegations was to prevent the scourge of another World War, they chose to accept, perhaps for valid reasons, a system based on vetoes by the five Permanent Members, he noted.

“This system worked for several years but fell apart after Resolution 1973, in the case of Libya, was misused to effect regime change, which was not part of the negotiating history of the resolution and was, in fact, specifically sought to be precluded”, he argued.

Having armed themselves with authority for the ‘use of force’, three of the five Permanent Members proceeded to disregard the other provisions of the Resolution, said Puri.

“The mess in Libya and the unfolding tragedy in Syria,” he said, required Council unanimity for vetoes not to be employed where mass atrocities were likely. This was not to be the case. Syria constitutes the severest indictment of the Council’s ineffectiveness in mass atrocity prevention, after Rwanda and Sberenica in 1994 and 1995.

The functioning of the Security Council represents a naked display of power politics. The rest of the UN system has not been immune from this either, he added.

Puri said the consensus rule was never intended to be anything more than an attempt to take everyone along. It degenerated into a requirement of unanimity.

The weak invariably acquiesced to the wishes of the powerful States and went along with outcomes in the interests of consensus. The strong and dominant States invoked consensus when they feared being outvoted by the arithmetic of numbers, Puri declared.

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council, told IPS the Secretary General is certainly correct in his criticism and Russia and China for abusing their veto power to prevent effective action by the United Nations in trying to end the ongoing slaughter in Syria.

“However, it is important to remember that the United States has similarly abused its veto power (and threats thereof) to prevent effective UN action regarding Israel /Palestine, as has France in regard to Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara.”

Indeed, on a strictly legal basis, he pointed out, the case for UN action is even stronger in the latter cases, since they involve territories under foreign belligerent occupation, whereas the Syrian civil war—as tragic as it may be on a humanitarian level—is primarily an internal conflict, said Zunes, author of the highly-acclaimed “Tinderbox: US Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism”.

Chowdhury told IPS a balanced decision-making process should be discussed and agreed upon in the best interest of the United Nations.

This needs the immediate attention and pro-active leadership of incoming S-G Antonio Guterres, as he takes over the helms of UN in January.

One wonders: “Would be have the moral courage to do that because he, like his recent predecessors, is the beneficiary of the unilateral decision-making by the few?”

In his NYU address, Ban was talking about the decision-making in the Conference on Disarmament. That is altogether a different scenario compared to how the decisions are made by the UN GA (General Assembly). His GA statement has more relevance in the context of the reform of decision-making.

But to ask for “a high level panel to search for solutions” is naïve and an attempt to clean up his desk before departure.

“The new S-G should take the “bull,” as they say, by the horns and thereby prove that his choice as the new UN boss was a worthwhile decision,” said Chowdhury, Initiator of Security Council resolution 1325 underscoring women’s equality of participation and former Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to UN (1996-2001).

Puri told IPS each agency or instrument has a different context and history.

In the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the erstwhile General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), whenever the dominant players feared losing the numerical vote, they would go outside the system and negotiate plurilateral arrangements, constituting “a coalition of the willing.”

In the Fifth Committee and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), the lament of the outgoing SG must be seen in terms of the reluctance of developing countries willing to countenance priorities, which in their views often reflected the views of the developed countries.

The Conference on Disarmament is an altogether different story. The stalemate on major negotiating processes is anchored in serious policy differences. The fact that it continues to exist without any serious outcomes is more a reflection of the deep differences rather than the venue. It could be argued that the same negotiations conducted elsewhere might not fare any better, he added.

Puri said it might be a good idea for the outgoing SG to leave a handing over note for his successor so that some of these vexed and complicated issues could be flagged for attention by the incoming SG to the member states for priority attention.

“It is unlikely, however, that the reality could be altered in the foreseeable future,” Puri predicted.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

 

 

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Security Council Agrees to Send UN Monitors to Aleppohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/security-council-agrees-to-send-un-monitors-to-aleppo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-agrees-to-send-un-monitors-to-aleppo http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/security-council-agrees-to-send-un-monitors-to-aleppo/#comments Mon, 19 Dec 2016 17:34:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148239 The UN Security Council has agreed to send UN monitors to Aleppo. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

The UN Security Council has agreed to send UN monitors to Aleppo. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 19 2016 (IPS)

The UN Security Council – which has long struggled to find common ground on Syria – has unanimously approved a resolution allowing the UN to monitor the evacuation of civilians from Aleppo.

Proposed by France, the resolution calls for the immediate deployment of UN monitors and their “unimpeded access” to East Aleppo in order to ensure the safety of evacuees and those that remain in the besieged Syrian city. Monitors are needed to prevent “mass atrocities” by parties to the conflict, said France.

Russia, which has vetoed six Security Council resolutions on Syria since the conflict began in 2011, was initially ready to block the initiative, calling it a “disaster.”

“We have no problem whatsoever with any kind of monitoring, but the idea that they should be told to go to wander around the ruins of eastern Aleppo without proper preparation and without informing everybody about what is going to happen, this has disaster written all over it,” said Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.

After three hours of closed-door consultations on Sunday, a compromise was reached between the world powers to allow monitors to observe after consultations with “interested parties.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault noted that the resolution marks just the first step.

“France calls on each side, in particular the regime and its supporters, to be responsible so that this resolution is implemented without delay and a lasting ceasefire is put in place across the country,” he said.

Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari criticised the move, saying that the resolution was “just another part of the continued propaganda against Syria and its fight against terrorists.”

The resolution also demands unhindered humanitarian access for the UN and international organisations to deliver life-saving assistance.

In response to the vote, Human Rights Watch’s UN Director Louis Charbonneau said that such monitoring is “crucial” and that Syrian, Russian and Iranian militaries must comply with the resolution.

“Russia and Iran have abysmal records complying with their obligations to protect civilians in Syria and allow aid access,” he said.

Charbonneau also highlighted the need for the UN General Assembly to establish a mechanism to gather and preserve evidence of serious crimes and prepare cases for prosecution, noting it could “deter those contemplating further atrocities in Syria.”

Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office Sherine Tadros echoed similar sentiments, saying that UN monitors must be allowed to investigate war crimes and the Security Council must send monitors to all areas of evacuation in the country beyond Aleppo.

“The world is watching how the UN responds to the plight of Aleppo,” she said.

According to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, approximately 20,000 civilians have already been evacuated from east Aleppo.

The ongoing evacuation process got off to a shaky start with the breakdown of a ceasefire agreement between rebels and government forces, forcing all evacuations to be suspended. Evacuations have since been resumed as an estimated 15,000 civilians remain in the city.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described destruction caused by the 6-year civil war in Syria as a “gaping hole in the global conscience.”

“Aleppo is now a synonym for hell…peace will only prevail when it is accompanied by compassion, justice, and accountability for the abominable crimes we have seen,” he said.

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New Technologies in Debate in Biodiversity Conferencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/new-technologies-a-focus-of-debate-in-biodiversity-conference/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-technologies-a-focus-of-debate-in-biodiversity-conference http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/new-technologies-a-focus-of-debate-in-biodiversity-conference/#comments Wed, 14 Dec 2016 22:18:46 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148211 In the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity, government delegates, representatives of international organisations, and civil society activists came from every continent to Cancún in southeast Mexico, to make their proposals to protect biological resources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity, government delegates, representatives of international organisations, and civil society activists came from every continent to Cancún in southeast Mexico, to make their proposals to protect biological resources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
CANCUN, Mexico, Dec 14 2016 (IPS)

Synthetic biology, geoengineering and the recognition of ancestral knowledge are the issues that have generated the most heated debate in the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity, which ends in this Mexican resort city on Friday Dec. 17.

The outcome of the debates on these questions will be seen this week, in the final stretch of the Dec. 2-17 13th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), or COP 13, and other meetings and international forums focusing on the planet’s natural resources.

For developing countries these issues are vital, due to the biological and biocultural capital that they concentrate in their territories and that could be undermined if their exploitation is allowed within the framework of the CBD.

“On a scale of one to 10, I would say that we are at four. The negotiations are slow. We need to speed them up and they have to in favour of the people,” Venezuelan Santiago Obispo, leader of the non-governmental Amazon Cooperation Network, told IPS.

With respect to synthetic biology, governments and representatives of academia, civil society and indigenous communities are concerned about the possible devastating impacts on ecosystems and on the livelihood of local communities.

This discipline consists of computer-assisted biological engineering to design and build synthetic life forms, live parts, artifacts and systems which do not exist in nature.

Currently, research is being carried out on the creation of synthetic vanilla flavour, whose industrial production threatens the well-being of farmers in countries like Comoros, China, Madagascar, Mexico, Reunion and Uganda.

Similar research is also being conducted on vetiver, a fragrance used in cosmetic products and whose biosynthetic version will affect Brazil, China, Haiti, Indonesia, Japan, India and Reunion.

Laboratory studies are also focusing on genetic drivers, able to permanently alter species by driving one specific characteristic in the reproductive process.

Through this process, the altered genes are the ones inherited by the offspring. But opponents fear that species or ecosystems will be modified or eliminated, with unpredictable consequences.

In Cancún, where more than 6,500 official delegates and representatives of civil society are taking part in the conference, over 160 non-governmental, academic and indigenous organisations called for a moratorium on experiments involving synthetic biology, like gene drivers.

In the COP 13 debates, the African and Caribbean countries, seconded by El Salvador, Bolivia and Venezuela, pronounced themselves in favor of a moratorium, while Australia, Brazil and Canada led the group lobbying for the acceptance of synthetic biology within the CBD.

One issue which did gain unanimous support from the state parties is the rejection of digital genomic sequencing, molecular structures created with computer programmes.

In the text of the Cancun Declaration which is being negotiated, there is no reference to a “moratorium” on bioengineering and genetic drivers, but it does invite countries to postpone this kind of research.

In previous COPs, which are held every two years, the CBD recommended a precautionary approach with respect to the positive and negative effects of synthetic biology and called for further scientific research.

Delegates of the 196 states parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity step up the pace to achieve agreements on conservation and use of the planet’s biodiversity, in a summit that closes on Dec. 17 in Cancún, in Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Delegates of the 196 states parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity step up the pace to achieve agreements on conservation and use of the planet’s biodiversity, in a summit that closes on Dec. 17 in Cancún, in Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

For Barbara Unmüssig, one of the heads of Germany’s Heinrich Böll Foundation, linked to Germany’s Green Party, the Cancún summit will be a success if the CBD adopts a precautionary approach towards bio engineering and geo engineering.

“The COP should come up with a strong declaration to tell companies behind synthetic biology and geoengineering that they take steps towards evaluating them and establishing a moratorium. If it confirms moratoria, it will show that it’s a convention with teeth and that it’s not in favour of certain technologies,” the activist told IPS.

“We have to stop the main drivers behind the destruction of biodiversity. If we are really interested in maintaining ecosystems, we have to think about adequate measures against overexploitation of fisheries and cultivating GMOs. The agroindustry tries to landgrab for monoculture, it’s happening all around the world.”

Geoengineering represents the large-scale intentional manipulation of planetary systems to combat climate change through techniques referring to the management of solar radiation, greenhouse gas reduction and weather modification.

During COP 9, held in Bonn, Germany in 2008, the CBD adopted a moratorium on ocean fertilisation, a geoengineering technique.

Meanwhile, delegates of native communities have been very active in the Cancún summit defending their rights in their territories and as protectors of biodiversity.

Bolivia suggested the creation of an ad hoc body responsible for indigenous peoples issues, now that native communities have gained recognition from the CBD of the concept of “indigenous peoples and local communities” as subjects of rights, in response to a demand that gained the support of organisations worldwide.

But within this recognition, there is one issue that faces opposition: the demand that native peoples settled in the territories must give consent to policies of conservation and best use of biodiversity. The term “free” in the proposed prior, free and informed consent is blocking negotiations due to opposition led by Asian and African countries.

“We want a balance of perspectives, a serious and responsible balance to increase the participation of indigenous peoples,” Diego Pacheco, the head of Bolivia’s delegation at COP 13 and his country’s vice minister of planning and development, told IPS.

The Cancún conference coincides with the halfway mark of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020.

Studies published on the occasion of the summit show that ecosystems continue to be destroyed worldwide, despite conservationist efforts.

The world is living up to less than 60 per cent of the Aichi Targets, the 20 points of the Strategic Plan for Biological Diversity 2011-2020, adopted in 2010 by the states parties to the CBD, which refers to the protection of natural resources, participation of indigenous peoples and sustainable use, among others.

“These negotiations will affect biodiversity in the planet. We cannot allow the CBD to try to commercialise biodiversity, to put a price tag on it,” said Obispo, of Venezuela.

Unmüssig recommended addressing the causes of the loss of biological resources.

“We have to stop the main drivers behind the destruction of biodiversity. If we are really interested in sustaining ecosystems, we have to think of adequate measures against the overexploitation of fisheries and the cultivation of GMOs. Agroindustry tries to landgrab for monoculture, it’s happening all around the world.”

For Pacheco, the CBD must not impose “a hegemonic model. It has to listen to alternatives, but there is strong influence from developed countries.”

Topics such as the recognition of natural pollinisers and the designation of protected marine areas have progressed without any major setbacks.

In the first case, the importance of agroecology, of the maintenance of habitats, and of the need to avoid or reduce the use of toxic chemical substances in agriculture was discussed. In the second case, the significance of marine planification was debated.

In Cancún it was decided that Egypt would host COP 14 in 2018.

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War of Words in UN Security Council as Aleppo’s Civilians Sufferhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/war-of-words-in-un-security-council-as-aleppos-civilians-suffer/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-of-words-in-un-security-council-as-aleppos-civilians-suffer http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/war-of-words-in-un-security-council-as-aleppos-civilians-suffer/#comments Wed, 14 Dec 2016 06:51:15 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148203 Staffan de Mistura (left), UN Special Envoy for Syria, speaks with Vitaly Churkin, Permanent Representative of Russia. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard.

Staffan de Mistura (left), UN Special Envoy for Syria, speaks with Vitaly Churkin, Permanent Representative of Russia. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 14 2016 (IPS)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told UN Security Council members of credible reports of civilians in Aleppo being summarily executed during an emergency meeting held on Tuesday.

However despite Ban’s words of warning about the unfolding crisis, divisions within the Security Council were as evident as ever with Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin suggesting that the UN Secretariat – led by Ban – may be being used an instrument in a “cynical game.”

In his briefing Ban said that as the council met “civilian deaths and injuries continue(d) at a brutal pace”.

“The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has received reports of civilians, including women and children, in four neighbourhoods being rounded up and executed,” said Ban.

The meeting took place as Syrian government forces took the city of Aleppo. Churkin announced midway through the meeting that “the Syrian government has established control over eastern Aleppo.”

“History will not easily absolve us, but this failure compels us to do even more to offer the people of Aleppo our solidarity at this moment,” Ban Ki-moon.

Ban noted that while “Syrian authorities have systematically denied us the presence on the ground to directly verify reports… this does not mean that the reports that we are receiving are not credible.”

However Churkin took issue with Ban’s words as well as those of other Security Council members, accusing them of spreading “fake news.”

“Young kids are being covered with dust in order to be presented as victims of bombings,” Churkin told journalists after the meeting.

In August, video and photographs of five year-old Omran Daqneesh, covered in blood and dust after his home in Aleppo was bombed, spread around the world.

In October Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed that the photos were manipulated and forged. Assad’s comments seemingly contradicted his own wife Asma who had told Russian television that what had happened to Aylan Kurdi and Omran Daqneesh was “a tragedy”.

While Churkin began his statement by referring to “propaganda,” “disinformation” and “fake news” it appears that Syria’s Permanent Representative to the UN Bashar Ja’afari may also have engaged in this practice during the meeting itself.

During his address to the council Ja’afari held up images, including a photograph he claimed showed Syrian forces helping civilians, however according to Syrian journalist Hadi Alabdallah on Twitter one of the images was originally from Iraq.

Aside from Russia and Venezuela, the majority of UN member states addressing the meeting expressed support for Ban’s concerns for the civilians of Aleppo.

“I choose to believe the Secretary-General when he comes to this Council and tells us there are credible reports of atrocities being committed,” said Gerard van Bohemen, New Zealand’s permanent representative to the UN.

Van Bohemen turned claims from Ja’afari that the UN couldn’t independently verify reports back on the Syrian government which has refused access to independent UN observers.

“The UN is not on the ground, the UN is not able to verify, so it’s no good coming back and telling us you’ve done all these reports and investigations yourself because no one’s there to check on you,” said van Bohemen.

Looking to what happens next Ban called on pro-Assad forces “to ensure that those who have surrendered or been captured are treated humanely and in line with international law.”

Ban said that the Syrian government had chosen the path of a “total, uncompromising military victory,” a departure from UN efforts which have struggled to find a political solution to the conflict over many months of on-again, off-again talks.

“History will not easily absolve us, but this failure compels us to do even more to offer the people of Aleppo our solidarity at this moment,” said Ban.

Staffan de Mistura the UN’s Special Envoy for Syria told journalists after the meeting that the military acceleration was not likely to lead to peace, and that the conflict could “continue for many years.

“So this is actually the best moment to insist that a peace process needs to be restarted,” said de Mistura.

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Gender Equality “Clear Priority” for New UN Secretary-Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/gender-equality-clear-priority-for-new-un-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-equality-clear-priority-for-new-un-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/gender-equality-clear-priority-for-new-un-secretary-general/#comments Tue, 13 Dec 2016 06:40:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148195 António Guterres takes the oath of office for his five-year term as UN Secretary-General. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten.

António Guterres takes the oath of office for his five-year term as UN Secretary-General. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 13 2016 (IPS)

Achieving gender equality in UN staff appointments will be a “clear priority” for incoming UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, when he takes up the UN’s top administrative role in January 2017.

Guterres who was sworn in as Secretary-General at a ceremony at UN Headquarters on Monday, said that achieving gender parity among UN staff will will form an important part of his agenda for his first 100 days in office.

“In the appointments I’ll be making – and the first ones will be announced soon – you will see that gender parity will become a clear priority from top to bottom in the UN,” Guterres told journalists after the ceremony.

Guterres was selected as UN Secretary-General by the 15 members of the UN Security Council in October.

His selection upset campaigners, and many within the UN, who had hoped that the successor to Ban Ki-moon, the UN’s eighth Secretary General, would be the first woman to lead the international organisation in its more than 70 years.

However UN member states proved unready to seriously consider a woman for the role, with several highly qualified female candidates failing to perform well in successive UN Security Council votes.

Guterres, like many of his rivals, campaigned on a platform of gender equality, and is keen to show that despite his own gender he is committed to promoting women within the UN system.

He noted that the first target to achieve gender equality within the UN had been set as the year 2000 and that the new target year of 2030 was too far off.

“The UN set itself a goal of reaching gender parity by 2000,” Anne Marie Goetz, Professor in the Center for Global Affairs at New York University told IPS. “It set that goal in 1993. 23 years later and progress in reaching the goal has been pathetic, faltering, and sometimes flatlining.”

Despite commitments from current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, senior appointments in 2015 and 2016 have repeatedly gone to male candidates.

“While gender, geographic and other forms of diversity are incredibly important, merit should be the primary consideration for every appointment,” -- Natalie Samarasinghe

However while Guterres will bear the responsibility for making numerous high level UN appointments, Goetz noted that UN member states also bear responsibility for the lack of women in high-level positions at the UN.

“The Secretary-General relies on Member States to supply suggestions about qualified candidates for these high profile roles,” said Goetz, who is also a member of the Campaign to Elect a Woman Secretary-General.

According to various media reports, one of Guterres’ first appointments is expected to be Nigerian Minister of the Environment, Amina Mohammed as Deputy Secretary-General.

“Ms Mohammed’s appointment is an excellent choice but not a specific gain for gender equality at the UN as the Deputy position has been held by women before,” said Goetz.

Unlike the position of UN Secretary-General the position of Deputy Secretary-General has been previously held by two women.

However Goetz noted that this role has been more likely to be given to women, not only because it is not selected directly by UN member states, but also because “women are much more commonly found in the deputy or second rank position than they are at the very apex of power.”

Meanwhile, Guterres also noted that the same concerns with gender representation also applied to regional diversity in UN senior appointments.

However, pressures from powerful UN member states to appoint their own candidates to high level positions should not overcome the need for high calibre candidates, Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of the United Nations Association UK told IPS.

“While gender, geographic and other forms of diversity are incredibly important, merit should be the primary consideration for every appointment,” said Samarasinghe who also represents the 1 for 7 Billion campaign which has pushed for a more open and transparent process for the selection of the UN Secretary-General.

“Several General Assembly resolutions make clear that there should be no monopoly on senior posts by any state or group of states,” said Samarasinghe.

“States – especially those that feel entitled to certain jobs – should field high calibre candidates. They should not try to foist failed or inconvenient politicians onto the UN.”

However despite the General Assembly resolutions, certain top UN roles are usually taken up by nationals of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

For example, the current head of UN Peacekeeping, Hervé Ladsous is a national of France. Rumours are circulating, that China, which has recently increased its own involvement in UN peacekeeping, may have its eye on this role from 2017.

Meanwhile, recent media reports have suggested that the UK’s David Milliband may be being put forward for the role of Administrator of the UN Development Program, currently held by former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark.

Milliband, who is currently head of the International Rescue Committee, may have appropriate qualifications for the role, however this would mean that the UN’s top development body would again be led by an administrator from a developed country.

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