The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly this morning to create the first international treaty regulating the global arms trade, a landmark decision that imposes new constraints on the sale of conventional arms to governments and armed groups that commit war crimes, genocide, and other mass atrocities.
The U.N. vote was hailed by arms control advocates and scores of governments, including the United States, as a major step in the international effort to enforce basic controls on the $70 billion international arms trade. But it was denounced by Iran, North Korea, and Syria, for imposing new restrictions that prevent smaller states from buying and selling arms to ensure their self-defense.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the General Assembly for approving "a strong, effective and implementable arms trade treaty that can strengthen global security while protecting the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade."
Kerry said that the treaty "applies only to international trade and reaffirms the sovereign right of any state to regulate arms within its territory. As the U.S. has required from the outset of these negotiations, nothing in this treaty could ever infringe on the rights of American citizens under our domestic law or the Constitution, including the Second Amendment."
Kerry said the treaty would establish "a common national standard" -- similar to that already in place in the United States -- for regulating global trade in conventional arms. It would also reduce the risk that arms sales would be used to "carry out the world's worst crimes, including terrorism, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes."
The 193 member assembly voted 154 to 3 to adopt the treaty. There were 23 abstentions, including major arms traders like China, India, and Russia, as well as countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, that have been supplying weapons to armed opposition groups in Syria, The treaty, which will open for signatures on June 3, will go into force 90 days after it is ratified by 50 states.
The vote came four days after Iran, North Korea, and Syria -- three governments who would likely be targeted by the new measures -- blocked the adoption of the treaty by consensus, arguing that it failed to bar sales to armed groups or foreign occupiers, and that it would strengthen the ability of big powers to restrict small states' ability to buy weapons.
But the vote revealed broader misgivings about the treaty by dozens of countries -- including Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan -- that the treaty would grant an unfair advantage to the world's largest arms exporters. India's chief negotiator, Sujata Mehta, explained her government's decision to abstain, saying today that the treaty "is weak on terrorism and non-state actors." She previously objected that the "weight of obligations is tilted against importing states."
The United States, which co-sponsored the treaty, said that several U.S. agencies will conduct a review of the treaty before it is presented to President Barack Obama for signature. The treaty would also require ratification by the United States Senate.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) -- which has contended the treaty would weaken Second Amendment gun rights in the United States -- has pledged to fight the treaty's ratification in the Senate.
But U.S. officials and several non-governmental organizations, including the American Bar Association, an attorneys' lobbying group, have challenged the NRA's position, saying the treaty would have no impact on Americans' gun rights. The treaty language recognizes the "legitimate trade and lawful ownership, and use of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical and sporting activities."
Iran, meanwhile, protested last week that the treaty had provided specific protections for U.S. gun owners, while failing to provide protections for people living under foreign occupation.
Under the treaty, states are banned from transferring arms to countries, including Iran and North Korea, that are subject to U.N. arms embargoes, or to countries believed to be preparing to use them to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.
The treaty would require governments to establish a national record-keeping system that would allow them to track the trade in conventional arms, and to ensure that weapons are not illegally diverted to terrorist organizations or other armed groups. It would also require that governments conduct a risk assessment to determine the likelihood that arms exports are being used to violate or abuse human rights, particularly against women or children.
The arms treaty would apply to several categories of conventional arms, including battle tanks, combat aircraft, warships, attack helicopters, missiles, and small arms. The treaty includes exemptions that would allow the consideration of defense cooperation agreements between governments and allow states to transfer weapons across international borders, so long as the weapons remain under that state's control.
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When I started this blog about three years ago I was hoping to contribute some insights into the inner workings of the United Nations, and maybe have a few laughs. I never thought I would help inspire a cocktail.
Allow me to introduce The Diplomatic Hangover:
1 ½ oz Russian vodka
1 ¼ oz lemon grapefruit cordial
To make the cordial: 2 cups grapefruit juice; 2 cups lemon juice; 3 cups sugar in a container with zest from the lemons and grapefruits, rested for two days in a fridge. Will last about 1 week refrigerated.
(See full recipe, including French rosé and Kenya's Tusker Beer topping, here.)
Earlier this month, I wrote a story describing how the U.S. Ambassador for United Nations Management and Reform Joseph Torsella had scolded his diplomatic counterparts for excessive drinking during marathon budget negotiations in December.
The reaction -- which I detailed in a follow-up piece entitled "America's Diplomatic Hangover" -- was fierce.
The U.N.'s African diplomats -- who suspected Torsella was talking about them -- refused to participate in budget negotiations after normal working hours. (Though they have apparently relented, agreeing to hold weekend meetings).
Dominic Girard, a radio journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, called me to say he was producing a pilot radio program, Sociable, which explores "how alcohol shapes society for bad, for good, for fun and for nought." He wanted to do a spot on the drinking habits of U.N. diplomats, so Girard invited Sociable's bartender in residence, Oliver Stern, to develop a drink to go with the program. (Yes, apparently such a job does exist, though I suspect he is unpaid. He is a managing partner at the Toronto Temperance Society, where he also tends bar.)
"I thought of diplomats coming from all corners of the world sharing their traditional celebratory drinks: vodka, wine and beer," Stern writes of his new drink. "When I mix hard spirits with beer and wine I normally end up having a hangover, hence the name and the cocktail."
Now that we have established the backstory, I think we need to look ahead.
Later this year, the U.N. will be reopening its famed delegate's lounge, and bar, following a major renovation by a Dutch design team, including the architect Rem Koolhaas* and designer Hella Jongerius. It would only be fitting if Mr. Stern's concoction could find its way onto the drink menu.
For those who wanted to keep a clear head, he has come up with an alcohol free alternative: "The Diplomatic Immunity."
So, Amb. Torsella, what will it be?
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(an earlier version misspelled Koolhaas. Turtle Bay regrets the error)
Vuk Jeremic, the hyper-kinetic Serbian president of the U.N. General Assembly, is on a mission to restore Serbia's prestige on the world stage.
The former Serbian foreign minister has used his position at the head of the world's parliament to recast Serbia -- tarnished by its role in mass killings during the 1990s Balkan Wars, including the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims males in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces -- as a victim of history.
In a series of speeches and events, Jeremic has highlighted the plight of Serbs in World War I and World War II, denouncing more recent abuses of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo while glossing over Serbian aggression in places like Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s.
"Like many other nations, mine has travelled through periods of tragedy and periods of glory sacrificing men and treasure far beyond its means whenever its freedom was in need of defense," Jeremic told a gathering of small states in October, 2012, shortly after starting his one-year term. "One quarter of our population perished in the First World War, at enormous cost to our development. In the Second World War, close to a million Serbs fell to defeat the scourge of fascism."
But as Jemeric prepares to convene a high-profile conference next month on international justice -- an event that critics suspect he will use to denounce a U.N. court that indicted more than 90 Serbs, including the former Serb President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 in a jail cell in the Hague -- he is facing a backlash from governments and international jurists who feel he has abused his position to advance his narrow national interests.
In recent days, several international legal experts -- including Song Sang-Hyun, the president of the International Criminal Court -- who had confirmed their attendance at the conference have pulled out of the event. Many governments, including the United States and members of the European Union, are now considering sending low-level diplomats to the conference in order to register their displeasure with Jeremic's words.
International anxiety over the event stems from Jeremic's response to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugsolavia's November acquittal of two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladic Markac, who had been convicted by a lower court of carrying out mass killings against Croatian Serbs during Operation Storm, a Croatian campaign of ethnic cleansing against ethnic Serbs in the Kraijina, Croatia.
The controversial decision drew criticism from court experts who felt the appeals court had erred. But Jeremic has decided to go a step further, convening a major U.N. conference on international justice and reconciliation on April 10 that, he suggested in a series of tweets, would serve as a venue for denouncing the Croatian acquittal.
"The Hague appeals chamber has sent a signal that the ethnic cleansing has value, and is not a crime," Jeremic wrote in a November 25 tweet on his personal account, which he writes in Serbian. "These are the days of evil," he added four days later. "We must not be despondent. Wait for April, 10, 2013, the day of truth."
The timing of the event coincides with the 72nd anniversary of the April 10, 1941, founding of Croatia's pro-Nazi fascist state, a scheduling decision that has fueled suspicions among U.N. diplomats that Jeremic intends to turn the world's parliament into a forum for denouncing the failings of the court.
It has also raised concerns among U.N. delegates that he intends to convert the United Nations into a venue for nursing Serbia's past grievances and for pave the ground for a return to Serbian politics when he returns home. "The common assessment is that Jeremic, once again, [is trying] to abuse the U.N. for his domestic political purposes," said one European diplomat. " He is not serious about a profound and balanced debate about international justice and reconciliation. Given this highly polarizing setting...one can only hope that the secretary general will be very, very careful in pondering his participation."
Jeremic served as foreign minister under the former Serbian President Boris Tadic, a pro-Western politician, who vigorously opposed Kosovo's independence but who had publically apologized to the Bosnians and Croatians for crimes committed during the 1990s. Jeremic's election to the presidency of the U.N. General Assembly was a sign of Serbia's diplomatic normalization with the world body.
But in recent weeks, Jeremic -- who still retains a seat in the Serbian senate -- has sounded like a man preparing for a return to national politics. "When I complete my mandate as president of the U.N. General Assembly, I intend to go back to Belgrade, because I believe we can make Serbia into a country where citizens can achieve their full potential," he told members of the Serb-American community in a March 16 speech before a fundraising dinner in Chicago for ethnic Serb orphans in Kosovo. "I am asking you to join us in crafting a new vision for Serbia."
In the meantime, Jeremic is facing the greatest challenge to his stewardship of the General Assembly. In an interview with Turtle Bay, Jeremic said that the conference he scheduled to learn lessons from the U.N.'s 20-year long experiment in international criminal courts has come under attack by unnamed influential states, who have pressured key attendees, including the ICC president, to pull out of the event.
Among those who has have cancelled or declined invitations include the president of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court, Tina Intelmann; the U.N. secretary general's special advisor on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng; the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth; and the U.N. secretary general lawyer Patricia O'Brien.
"She can't make it; she's enormously busy," Jeremic said of O'Brien. "We note that very soon as a person confirms their attendance and we make it public it takes not more than a few days that he writes back saying regrettably we can't make it."
"There are some people who feel very uncomfortable about the date," he added. The date, he explained, "symbolizes in many ways evil and an undelivered justice from the Second World War. Imagine if someone said we feel uncomfortable on Holocaust Memorial day because people feel uncomfortable."
The event will begin with a public session in which all 193 members of the United Nations will be given an opportunity to speak. In the afternoon, Jeremic has scheduled two panel sessions to provide more focused panel discussion. Delegates say the list is unbalanced, providing critics of the tribunal with greater scope to denounce it.
Jeremic countered that he has offered several of the courts' supporters a seat at the table. But they have sought to distance themselves.
Their suspicions stem from an earlier episode.
In January, Jeremic organized a concert by a Serb youth choir in the General Assembly, which was attended by the U.N. secretary general. As an encore, the group performed a rendition of a World War I martial song, "The March on the River Drina," which Bosnian victims groups claimed had been used by Serb forces during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon -- unaware of the song's history -- clapped and swayed along with the beat, prompting complaints from Bosnian groups. "The genocide that occurred in Srebrenica and Zepa, and other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was conducted by Serbian aggressors while blasting this song as they raped, murdered, and ethnically cleansed the non-Serb population," read a statement by an American Bosniak organization.
The episode proved embarrassing to Ban, whose spokesman subsequently issued a statement expressing regret for any offense, and noting that he had not been aware of the history of the song -- which was not listed in the official program. But Ban's deputy spokesman, Eduardo Del Buey, said Ban had no intention to boycott the event. "If the SG is in New York, he will attend." Asked if Ban intended to be in town, del Buey recommended that this reporter ask Jeremic's office.
Jeremic defended the performance, saying nobody complained about it until "some diaspora organization here in America launched this controversy. Basically the song, which is almost sacred in our culture, is about sacrifice in the First World War. The question at stake is whether -- after everything that has taken place in the 1990s in the Balkans -- we as Serbs have the right to be proud of our First and Second World War history. If the answer to this is yes, then the song is ok."
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Speaking to reporters at U.N. headquarters, Ban said that his top advisors are still trying to determine the scope of the mission, the composition of the team, and the steps required to guarantee their safety.
The announcement comes one day after Syria's foreign minister, Walid Moallem, asked the U.N. to undertake an "impartial, independent" investigation into its claim that on March 19 "terrorists used chemical weapons in their attack in Khan al-Assal in Aleppo province." France and Britain, citing opposition claims that the Syrian government used chemical agents in an attack in Damascus, said they would urge Ban to expand the mission beyond the Aleppo case.
Russia's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, denounced the European initiative, which is backed by the United States and many other council members, as a delaying tactic and insisted that Ban limit its immediate investigation into the single case in Aleppo. "There is just one allegation of the use of chemical weapons," he said. "This is really a way to delay the need for immediate urgent investigation of allegations pertaining to March 19 by raising all sorts of issues."
Churkin made it clear that the 15-nation Security Council would not be in a position to agree on a plan for a wider probe into possible use of chemical weapons in Syria.
But Ban said that he has authority to act on his own. The secretary general hinted that his mandate would go beyond the specific Syrian request, saying that he hoped the mission "would contribute to ensuring the safety and security of chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria. The investigation mission is to look into the specific incident brought to my attention by the Syrian government. I am, of course, aware that there are other allegations of similar cases involving the reported use of chemical weapons."
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The influential International Peace Institute (IPI) has caught the attention of the non-profit news organization, ProPublica, which earlier this week published a report on the think tank's decision to open up an office in the capital Manama, at the expense of the Bahraini government. The think tank, the headquarters of which are housed in a 1st Ave. building, across the street from U.N. headquarters in New York, has long been linked to the United Nations. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon serves as an honorary chair of the organization.
At its heart, the ProPublica piece raises two key questions: Is it right for a think tank to lend its name to a country that is politically repressive and bars foreign human rights advocates and journalists from bearing witness? Is it a potential conflict of interest to have a senior U.N. official solicit money from a government whose fate he or she may be influencing at the United Nations?
The official in question is IPI's chief officer, Terje Roed Larsen, a former Norwegian diplomat who negotiated the Oslo Accords, serves as a $1 a-year advisor to Ban, and accompanies the secretary general on his most important Middle East travels, including recent trips to Tehran and Gaza.
The Security Council has also enlisted Larsen's services (according him the rank of undersecretary general) in implementing the 2004 Resolution 1559, which required Syrian forces withdrawal from Lebanon and the disarming of all armed groups in that country, including Hezbollah. In that job, Larsen produces biannual reports detailing violations by Syria and Hezbollah of the resolution.
But Larsen also has another day job which pays the bills. In 2005, Larsen was appointed executive director of IPI, which now pays him a $495,000 salary. That role placed Larsen in the position of simultaneously serving the United Nations in its impartial mission -- while soliciting funds for his non-profit from many governments, including the United States, Norway, and the European Union, that pursue their own more narrow national interests at the United Nations.
Under Larsen's leadership, the organization has done well, tapping into a stream of new funding from oil-rich Gulf states, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two bitter rivals of Syria with ambitions for a larger political role in the Middle East and at the United Nations in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Prince Turki Al-Faisal -- a former Saudi intelligence chief and one-time Saudi ambassador to the United States -- is the chair of the IPI's international advisory council, whose members include a host of royals, including Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, as well as senior officials from Russia, the European Union, and other Western capitals.
By most accounts, IPI has become the go-to non-profit for the U.N. international diplomatic community, offering a regular menu of public events featuring top U.N. officials, foreign dignitaries, academics, and journalists. (Full disclosure: I once participated as an unpaid panelist in a discussion on reporting of U.N. peacekeeping.)
But its outreach to governments has also grown more ambitious, and it has played a kind of fixer role for some of its wealthier donors.
For instance, Larsen helped arrange for a Saudi Arabian initiative to underwrite a U.N. counterterrorism center. IPI also helped the government of Qatar develop a plan for the establishment of a program -- called HOPEFOR -- "to improve the use of military assets in disaster relief" and "help build a "global network of civilian and military practitioners."
In Bahrain, Larsen's dual-role as U.N. official and non-profit impresario has contributed to some confusion.
While the U.N. has played a rather timid role in pressing Bahrain to respect free expression, Ban has issued statements scolding the monarchy for cracking down violently on dissent and urging the government to lift protest restrictions. ProPublica cited a Bahrain press account from 2011 indicating that Larsen had extolled the climate of "freedom, democracy and institutional development."
In a telephone interview with Turtle Bay from Jakarta, Indonesia, Larsen said that his views had been mischaracterized by the Bahraini press and that he intentionally avoided interviews with reporters on his trips there. He said the articles do not cite actual quotes of his remarks.
Larsen said that Bahrain will serve as the institution's regional hub, and that its main initial focus will be the humanitarian crisis in Syria. His initial intention, he said, was to base the office in Damascus but that conditions were too violent to allow it. "We are an institute which is studying regional conflicts and we are in countries where there are conflicts," he said. "We don't go to Switzerland or Sweden because there are no violent conflicts."
Larsen dismissed the possibility that his dual roles might pose a conflict of interest, noting that his work for the U.N. Security Council was focused on "narrow events in Lebanon," and that he plays no mediation role for the U.N. secretary general that could potentially give rise to a conflict.
"This is not an issue," he said. "It has nothing to do with Bahrain. IPI is focusing on the humanitarian situation in Syria, the displaced and the refugees in neighboring countries."
Larsen's likened his venture into Bahrain as part of wider migration by Western think tanks and universities into the Persian Gulf. Blue-chip outfits like the Brookings Institution and Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, have set up satellite operations in nearby Qatar.
The intellectual capital of the Middle East, it seems, is being erected with funding from oil rich sheikdoms in the heart of the Persian Gulf. Bahrain now will become a member of that club, while burnishing its reputation as host to international humanitarians.
That, according to human rights advocates, should give outside institutions like IPI grounds for pause. "Bahraini authorities can't cover up their terrible human rights record by paying for brand name institutions to set up shop there," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch . "Any independent think tank choosing Bahrain as a home should be aware that free exchange of ideas is almost impossible when many journalists or human rights advocates are barred from even entering the country."
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A U.N. disputes tribunal has awarded $65,000 in compensation to an American whistleblower in a landmark case that exposed failings in the U.N.'s Ethics Office and challenged the privileges of the U.N. secretary general to withhold sensitive internal documents from the U.N. administrative court.
The award was a fraction of the more than $3.8 million sought by James Wasserstrom, who was forced from his U.N. job in Kosovo after cooperating in an internal investigation of corruption by U.N. officials. He was subsequently stripped of his U.N. passport and treated like a criminal by his U.N. bosses.
Wasserstrom dismissed the award as paltry -- enough to purchase "half a dozen first class plane tickets for the secretary general and his senior staff" -- but too little to compensate for the "five years of legal battles and expenses" and the "degrading treatment" he endured.
"I put them, the U.N. Ethics Office, the whistleblower protection machinery, and the internal justice system of the U.N. to the integrity test and they all failed," he told Turtle Bay. The "message to U.N. staff who might one day want to come forward and do the right thing: do so at your own risk. You have absolutely no protection. And those who retaliate against you suffer no consequences."
The U.N. did not respond to a request for comment this afternoon. (*See note below for U.N. response)
In February 2007, the American diplomat began cooperating with a U.N. inquiry into reports of kickbacks given to U.N. officials responsible for Kosovo's energy sector. Two months later, Wasserstrom was informed that the United Nations was shutting down his department, the Office for Coordination of Oversight of Publicly Owned Enterprises, and that his contract would expire by June 30. In May, Wasserstrom signed a consultancy contract to advise executives of Kosovo's main airport, triggering a conflict-of-interest investigation.
On June 1, 2007, Wasserstrom was detained by U.N. police. His home was searched: his office was cordoned off with police tape. A poster with his picture instructed officials not to permit him onto U.N. premises, effectively ending a 27 year career at the United Nations. The episode, he said, made it impossible for him to secure a new job within the U.N. system, killing off his prospects to gain full retirement benefits two years before he was scheduled to retire.
Wasserstrom -- who now works as a senior anti-corruption advisor at the U.S. embassy in Kabul -- filed a retaliation complaint in June 2007, with the U.N. Ethics Office. The office subsequently ruled that his treatment "appeared to be excessive" but that an investigation "did not find any evidence that their activities were retaliatory."
The case cast a troubling light on the U.N.'s internal safeguards for protecting whistleblowers. The presiding judge, Goolam Meeran, wrote in his ruling that the U.N. Ethics Office, which bears responsibility for determining whether whistleblower retaliation has occurred, had failed to recognize "the significance of documentary evidence" showing he had suffered retaliation.
"There was clear and uncontested evidence, supported by the findings ... that the applicant's contractual rights were breached, which included clear evidence of severe human rights abuses," the judge wrote.
The breaches, however, were never addressed by the ethics committee, nor were the reasons for subjecting him to "such insensitive and degrading treatment," Meeran wrote. "In the absence of a cogent and satisfactory explanation, the inescapable inference must be that the underlying motive was retaliatory."
"The tribunal finds it difficult to envisage a worse case of insensitive, high handed and arbitrary treatment in breach of fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Meeran added. "The failure of the ethics office to recognize such gross violations calls seriously into question its suitability and effectiveness as a body charged with" helping the U.N. secretary general ensure the "highest standards of integrity" among staff and fostering "a culture of ethics, transparency and accountability."
The judge also battered the U.N.'s lawyers for having delayed the disclosure of key documents, including a critical internal investigative report on the case. "The tribunal has unquestionable power to 'require any person to disclose any document or provide any information that appears to it to be necessary for a fair and expeditious disposal of the proceedings'," Meeran wrote. "The tribunal finds that the [UN's] conduct of the proceedings in deliberately and persistently refusing, without good cause, to abide by the Orders of the Tribunal and not granting access to the full ID/OIOS's investigation report constituted manifest abuse of proceedings.
Meeran awarded Wasserstrom $50,000 in compensation for the mistreatment he endured in Kosovo and $15,000 in legal fees. But the judge did not compensate him for the loss of his job in Kosovo, citing insufficient evidence that his firing was the result of retaliation.
The low award reflected the fact that judges on the U.N. disputes tribunal have "no power to award exemplary or punitive damages" against the organization. But Judge Meeran also denied Wasserstrom's prospect of a larger award on the basis of a technicality.
Wasserstrom had argued that he was entitled to future compensation, including salary and benefits, because he would have expected to return to a job with his longstanding employer, the U.N. Development Program, after he concluded his stint in Kosovo. But he said the stain of the episode had made him unemployable.
The judge, however, ruled that irrespective of the merits of such a claim the U.N. Development Program was not a party to the dispute, and that Wasserstrom had no basis for raising a claim so late in the proceedings. "It is now too late to raise this matter," Meeran wrote. "Consequently, the tribunal dismisses all [Wasserstrom's] claims regarding compensation for lost earnings and associated benefits."
*The U.N. issued this response after the story was posted. Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the U.N. secretary general: "Judgements of the U.N. Dispute Tribunal are not final until they have been confirmed by the U.N. Appeals Tribunal. The organization is examining this judgment to determine whether an appeal is warranted. Consistent with established policy regarding ongoing cases, which includes cases under appeal and cases that may be appealed, the organization is not in a position to provide any further comments at this time."
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Michelle Bachelet, the executive director of U.N. Women, announced today that she would step down from her U.N. post and return to her Chilean homeland, fueling speculation that she plans to run for president in Chile’s November election.
At the close of the U.N. Conference on the Status of Women(CSW), Bachelet announced: "This will be my last CSW. I'm going back to my country."
A medical doctor who served as Chile’s former defense and health minister, Bachelet in 2006 became the first woman elected president in Chile.
Bachelet retained enormous popularity when she stepped down in 2010. But under Chile’s constitution the president is barred from serving consecutive presidential terms, and so Bachelet accepted a request by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to head up a newly established U.N. agency that focused on the promotion of women’s rights. While Bachelet has not declared her intentions to run for office, her return to political office in Chile has been long anticipated.
Following the announcement, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted that Bachelet's departure from the U.N. was a “major bummer.” She credited her with preventing the collapse of the women’s rights conference, which tonight adopted a consensus statement condemning violence against women and underscoring women's sexual reproductive health rights. The consensus almost unraveled after Egypt insisted the final document include a waiver that would allow states, based on their own customs and religious practices, to ignore their obligations under the agreement. "She is awesome and helped save #CSW 2013," Rice tweeted.
Ban also offered up praise for Bachelet, saying “her record of achievement includes new steps to protect women and girls from violence, new advances on health, and a new understanding that women’s empowerment must be at the core of all we do at the United Nations. This is a stellar legacy, and I am determined to build on it. I thank Ms. Bachelet for her contributions and wish her every success as she embarks on the next chapter in her extraordinary life. She will always have a home at the United Nations.”
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Last week, Joseph Torsella, the U.S. ambassador for U.N. Management and Reform, took a stand for sobriety at Turtle Bay, publically scolding unnamed diplomatic colleagues for negotiating U.N. budgetary matters under the influence of alcohol.
This week, he's confronting the diplomatic hangover.
Insulted by the slight -- and sensing it was directed at African delegates -- the U.N.'s African countries coalesced behind a plan to limit budget negotiations to the U.N.'s working hours, refusing to entertain marathon negotiations late into the night and weekends to close contentious deals. On Thursday, Russia -- which traditionally cracks open a celebratory bottle of vodka at the close of budget negotiations -- lent its support to the Africans.
At this stage of the negotiations, the African move is likely to have limited effect on the talks -- though it will likely reinforce the bloc's public image as obstructionist on matters of budgetary reform. But the strategy is likely to slow the pace of budget talks in its final stages, meaning that less important business may get done before the session adjourns on the eve of Good Friday.
The tensions over spending are symptomatic of a deeper divide between the U.N.'s richest and poorest countries. Developing countries resent the fact that the United States and other major powers dominate the U.N. Security Council and exercise outsize influence over the U.N. Secretary General and the bureaucracy. For them, the U.N. Fifth Committee -- which controls the budget -- provides their most important source of power and influence and they often suspect Western-backed reforms initiatives are aimed at undercutting that influence.
The United States has been struggling to push through a range of reforms aimed at controlling U.N. spending and opening the body's books to greater scrutiny. But they have confronted a wall of diplomatic resistance, played out in frequent procedural maneuvers aimed at delaying and deferring key business. During crucial December budget negotiations, America's negotiating partners, primarily from the developing world, failed to show up to meetings to discuss key U.S. priorities -- including an initiative to impose a pay freeze on U.N. staffers -- and in some cases arrived a bit tipsy, according to U.N. diplomats.
In response, Torsella delivered a March 4 statement to the U.N. Fifth Committee expressing concern about the conduct of diplomats during the final stage of the marathon December budget talks.
"Mr. Chairman, we make the modest proposal that the negotiating rooms should in the future be an inebriation-free zone," he told delegates at the meeting. "Let's save the champagne for toasting the successful end of the session, and do some credit to the Fifth Committee's reputation in the process."
The intent of the speech seemed to be to shock, or at least embarrass, the U.N. delegates into taking ongoing budget talks more seriously and to wrap up the current round of business -- which includes 16 items dealing with everything from air travel costs to the publication of internal U.N. audits -- before the Easter holiday. Torsella said the United States would "take all appropriate steps to achieve this, including working outside of normal working hours and making the necessary arrangements to facilitate parallel meetings as required."
Some diplomats now fear the appeal may have backfired.
Torsella's statement has infuriated U.N. delegates, not only among developing countries, but among some of Washington's wealthy allies, who are eager to rein in spending. "The whole negotiating atmosphere was really poisoned by this," said one Western diplomat. "People are very angry. They won't openly confront Torsella, but they will react."
The danger, said one diplomat, is that offended delegations will seek to "gum up" the negotiating proceedings and undermine Torsella's efforts to secure a handful of deals aimed at cutting travel spending, reining in peacekeeping costs, and instructing the U.N. procurement office to deliver more cost-effective services.
The United States sought to assure the membership that it appreciated the hard work of the majority of budget negotiators, but that it saw a need for improvement.
"We respect the work of the Secretariat and the majority of Fifth Committee delegates who are, across all regional groups, hard-working and serious," said Kurtis Cooper, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. "At the same time, we welcome all efforts to improve the working practices and professionalism of the Fifth Committee, which was the intent and focus of our statement."
Few diplomats deny their colleagues have had a few shots of whisky and vodka during the U.N.'s marathon budget sessions. And Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin, made it clear he was not amused. "There should be no drinking during business sessions. And I'm going to give very clear instructions to that effect to my delegations."
But they say Torsella's statement and subsequent press leaks exaggerated the excesses, unfairly tarnishing the reputation of the entire U.N. diplomatic community and prompting Foreign Ministries to ask their missions: "What the hell is going on there?"
Torsella, they complained, never approached governments privately to raise concerns about diplomatic misconduct, raising suspicions that the former Philadelphia politician was seeking to raise his own profile.
In the process, said one senior diplomat, Torsella had contributed to creating a perception that was out of touch with reality: grueling weeks of arduous negotiations culminated in a 30-hour diplomatic marathon on Christmas Eve last year. With U.N. shops closed, delegates ordered in pizza, cakes, and whisky. "I have not seen one negotiator that was drunk. I haven't seen a bottle of alcohol on the negotiation table," the diplomat said. "I know my American colleagues are frustrated about the way it works, and the lack of results. But in my view, alcohol is not the problem."
In an effort to calm diplomats, Fifth Committee Chairman Miguel Berger of Germany, sought to assure delegates that he appreciated their hard work and professionalism. "We have seen a broad public coverage on how budget negotiations are supposedly conducted in the Fifth Committee," he said. "As chair I would like to state that the public perception created does in my view not reflect the professional and dedicated work that is done by this committee."
"Many colleagues are sacrificing their family life," he added. "It is for this reason that I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to you, the delegates of the Fifth Committee, for the work you have done and the long hours invested in the negotiations, and for the results achieved."
In the meantime, delegates, have been sharing a recent New York Times letter to the editor which cited a 2007 review of a book by Barbara Holland called the Joy of Drinking that extolled the role of drinking in American political life. Two days before the U.S. Constitution was written, the 55 delegates to the U.S. Constitutional Convention "adjourned to a tavern for some rest, and according to the bill they drank 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 of whisky, 22 of port, 8 of hard cider and 7 bowls of punch so large, it was said, ducks could swim around in them. Then they went back to work and finished founding the new Republic."
The tavern, one diplomat gleefully recalled, was located in Philadelphia, Torsella's home town.
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.