On March 9, a Russian Mi-8 helicopter flying under the U.N. flag lost its way in heavy rains and crashed into a densely wooded mountainside in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), killing all 4 Russian crew members on board and prompting a review of U.N. safety regulations.
The helicopter -- contracted by the Russian airliner UTair -- was traveling without an Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS), a digital mapping system which warns a pilot when the aircraft is about to hit the ground, a building, or the side of mountain. The device, which is more commonly used in Western planes and helicopters, is not required in U.N. aircraft.(*See note below)
In response to the air tragedy, the United Nations quickly issued an internal email indicating that it would require the device be installed in all U.N. aircraft. But the decision was rescinded following complaints by Russia, whose suppliers don’t use the security devices in their own aircraft, according to diplomatic sources familiar with the matter. The fatal crash near the town of Bukavu was the worst U.N. air accident in the DRC since April 4, 2011, when a U.N.-contracted Georgian Airways Bombadier CRJ-100 jet crash-landed at the Kinshasa airport in stormy weather, killing 32 of the 33 passengers and crew aboard. Following that accident, a top U.N. official advised Ukraine to urge its helicopter suppliers to upgrade their own safety features, installing the more advanced ground warning systems in their helicopters, according to Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyez. But they never required it, and they refused to compensate companies that voluntarily installed the systems, which can add up to $150,00.00 to the price of a helicopter, Sergeyev said. Ukrainian firms, he added, installed the devices in some of their helicopters. Their Russian counterparts held off, according to U.N.-based diplomats.
The latest incident highlights a risk for U.N. pilots that has been reduced for their counterparts who fly commercial aircraft or who pilot helicopters in the United States and Europe. A review of internal, confidential U.N. communications also underscores the U.N.’s sluggish effort to address a pressing safety issue that potentially threatens the lives of U.N. crews and passengers.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which sets international flight standards, recommends that U.N. aircraft carry the enhanced ground warning system. But the U.N. has determined that it is not mandatory. The post-crash debate is playing out against a wider U.N. competition over the lucrative air supply market. The U.N. peacekeeping department’s air fleet -- at least 190 aircraft and 140 helicopters, in 17 U.N. missions around the world -- relies largely on low-cost planes and helicopters leased by private contractors or supplied by air forces from the developing world. The market has long been dominated by countries from the former Soviet Union -- including Russia and Ukraine -- that inherited a massive inventory of inexpensive aircraft after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and continues to produce variants of these rugged designs.
A number of European powers, including France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, have been seeking to break into the U.N. aircraft leasing market (estimated at $1 billion a year, according to U.N. figures, , offering more advanced aircraft with state-of-the-art safety features. They have encountered little success at the United Nations, where contracts are required to go to the lowest bidder, and where, some have privately complained, U.N. bidding specifications favor former Soviet aircraft.
Some U.N. diplomats believe that internal debate is driven as much by safety concerns as by competition for costly contracts, particularly between two top suppliers, Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian firms are currently bidding on a major new contract for helicopters for the DRC, and they have sought to secure a competitive edge by highlighting the fact that they are moving faster than their Russian competitors to equip all of their helicopters with enhanced ground warning systems.
“It is a purely commercial thing,” said one diplomat. “The Ukrainians were led to believe that the [safety] specifications for helicopters would be changed soon -- and they added the special safety equipment on their own initiative. The Russians found out the specs were going to be changed and started complaining. So now, the Russians are pissed off that they risk losing contracts. And the Ukrainians are pissed off that the specs will not change.”
Sergeyev, Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, said that as far back as 2011 the U.N.’s then chief of the Department of Field Services, which manages logistics for U.N. peacekeeping missions, Susanna Malcorra, had urged him to instruct the country’s contractors to begin installing the warning systems on their aircraft. Sergeyev said Ukrainian contractors have begun to comply with the request but that the additional costs associated with the safety upgrades have made their helicopters less competitive. The U.N., meanwhile, has sent mixed signals about its commitment to safety, according to U.N. documents.
Shortly after the Russian crash, Christian Gregoire, an official from the U.N.’s Aviation Quality Assurance unit, sent out an email to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the DRC announcing that the U.N. would now require contractors upgrade their early warning systems. “In the light of the recent tragic UTAIR mi-8 accident in MONUSCO [the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the DRC],” Gregoire wrote, according to a copy of the emailobtained by Turtle Bay, the U.N. peacekeeping department’s Air Transport Section “will shortly amend all contracts Terms and Conditions to make the EGPWS mandatory equipment on board all UN operated aircraft.”
Gregoire also warned that failure to install the warning systems could lead to the grounding of some helicopters, or restrictions on their use in peacekeeping operations.
In a separate March 12 memo, three days after the latest Russian air crash, an official from the U.N. aviation unit in the DRC, Andrei Anochkine, sent a memo to UTair charging that its aircraft were not in compliance with its contractual obligation to ensure greater ability to detect potential flight obstacles in low-visibility situations. “Safety is being compromised” by UTair’s failure to use the EGPWS in its aircraft, wrote Anochkine.
“Traditional GPWS can only monitor the ground directly beneath it,” he wrote. “This can be a problem if there is a very sudden change in the terrain and the GPWS cannot provide a prompt enough warning for the pilot to react. With Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS), the system can track the course of the aircraft and see if it is heading towards a mountain or other similar threat.”
Together, the two memos appeared to mark a shift in the U.N. peacekeeping department’s air fleet safety policy, But a subsequent department memo, drafted on April 12 by a U.N. procurement official, Sean Purcell, made clear that the policy had not in fact changed. While the installation of the new early warning systems would constitute an “advantage” to vendors offering helicopters to the U.N. “it is not mandatory at this juncture,” Purcell’s memo stated.
At U.N. headquarters, officials downplayed the contradictory communications, insisting that the U.N. had never officially committed to requiring the installation of the new safety systems. “There was no reversal of decision, as in fact there has been no decision,” she said.
“Our first priority is to ensure that our air operations are safe and reliable,” Ameerah Haq, the undersecretary general for the department of field support, which oversees logistics for U.N. peacekeeping missions, wrote in an April 30 letter to the Ukrainian ambassador. The U.N., she added, is “undertaking a review of technical and contractual arrangements in order to further reduce the safety risks associated with United Nations flights…This review may possibly conclude that EGPWS, or other similar systems, should be installed in all aircraft contracted” for U.N peacekeeping missions.
Still, the U.N. assurances did little to mollify the Ukrainian government. In a statement to troop-contributing countries earlier this month, Sergeyev denounced what he views as the U.N.’s reversal, accusing the global body of “dangerously decreasing its attention to safety and security in the area of the helicopters procurement.”
“The overwhelming majority of the U.N.-contracted helicopters will operate without vitally important equipment,” that could imperil U.N. peacekeepers and others who travel on U.N. helicopters, Sergeyev added. “How many new tragedies” are required, he asked, before the U.N. will change its “position on safety and security in the aviation procurement practice?”
U.N. officials and UTair say that there is no evidence yet that the helicopter crash could have been prevented by an early warning system, and that the Russian government and the DRC are still investigating the cause of the crash. Therefore, Guerrero said, “we cannot speculate on the cause of the accident.”
U.N. officials also cite technical problems, noting that they are reluctant to early warning technology until they are confident that the digital maps of the terrain in many of the trouble spots where the U.N. operates, including the DRC and Sudan, are accurate. “The U.N. needs to verify that EGPWS will firstly deliver the expected, anticipated benefits,” and whether it can do so “without endangering the crew and passengers,” Guerrero said. “Aviation avionics and safety systems are highly technical and complex matters.”
Ilya Kimish, a spokesperson for UTair, wrote in an email message that the helicopters it supplies to the United Nations are equipped with “meteorological location” and “radio altimeter” devices that can determine how far their aircraft are from the ground, and can detect other “artificial and natural obstacles” in the flight path. But he said there is a good reason why the U.N. doesn’t require aircraft to use enhanced proximity warning systems. They rely on detailed digital topographical maps and there “is a total absence of topographical maps of Africa.”
Another official said that it is likely that the U.N. will ultimately decide to require the enhanced ground-proximity early-warning systems, or another weather radar system that helps pilots navigate through stormy weather. But the official also said that the more advanced equipment would pose a fresh risk for U.N. pilots, giving them the additional confidence to fly in dangerous weather. The current U.N. policy, the official said, is “if you head into difficult weather you need to land and wait till the weather improves. If you are in doubt don’t fly.” The concern now, the official added, is that U.N. pilots will try to “push the envelope. In the end, it may actually add to the risk.”
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(*Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the EGPWS is standard in the west. After I published this story, Elan Head, the special projects editor for Vertical Magazine, which cover the helicopter industry, contacted me to point out that Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning Systems (EGPWS) for helicopters –more commonly known in the United States as Helicopter Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems (HTAWS) – are not standard in the United States. In 2006, and again in 2009( following a spike in crashes by helicopter ambulances),” the National Transportation Safety Board, recommended that the Federal Aviation Authority require the installation of the devices on all helicopter ambulance operators. THE FAA has issued a proposed rule to this effect, but yet to adopt it. There is “widespread agreement that this [equipment] is a nice thing to have,” she said. “But the equipment is not standard in the United States.” Turtle Bay regrets the error.)
Courtesty of the United Nations
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)
Last week, Syrian envoy Bashar Jaafari was re-elected rapporteur of the U.N. Special Committee on Decolonization, joining representatives of Ecuador (chair), Cuba (vice chair), and Sierra Leone (vice chair) in the committee's top leadership ranks.(h/t UN Watch)
To be fair, a senior title on the U.N.'s decolonization committee -- which is charged with addressing the fate of 16 non self-governing territories, including Western Sahara and the Falkland Islands -- is hardly one of the most prestigious postings at the United Nations. (The United States withdrew from the committee on the grounds that it was anti-Western, and the 29 member committee includes no Western members.)
But still, for a country facing widespread international condemnation, it's probably not a terrible thing to have on your resume. And it provides Syria with a case to argue that it's not as isolated from the international community as the United States and its European and Arab allies insist.
Sudan, meanwhile, is expected to be granted responsibility for chairing a special session on the coordination of U.N. programs and agencies at a July conference in Geneva convened by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
Sudan -- a country whose leader stands accused of committing genocide by the International Criminal Court and which faced intense criticism from the U.N. for refusing to permit humanitarian relief assistance into conflict zones in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile State -- was initially in line for the chairmanship of a session dealing with humanitarian assistance. It agreed to swap the post with Pakistan following an outcry from the United States and other Western governments. A formal decision is supposed to be announced on Friday.
The reason that controversial governments routinely come under consideration for U.N. assignments that promote causes, like human rights, that they suppress at home, is due to the influence of regional blocs that assign plum jobs.
The principal U.N. regional groups -- the Arab Group, the Asia Group, the Africa Group, the Latin American Group, and the Western European and Others Group (which includes the United States) -- have traditionally each put forth a slate of candidates for key U.N. posts, thereby forgoing the demands of an open election. The groups seek to ensure each country in their group gets a shot at serving on key U.N. committees and panels.
"This is a problem that has plagued the United Nations for decades," said one Western official. "Clearly, regional groups have fallen down on the job when they put forward embarrassingly inappropriate candidates to represent them."
The United States and other Western powers have sought to block particularly egregious candidates for sensitive posts by persuading blocs to select another government from their region to jump the queue and enter the race, forcing an election. For instance, Western powers have previously derailed campaigns by Iran, Syria, and Sudan to important positions on a range of U.N. bodies, from the Security Council to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
But those countries simply remain at the front of the line for the next opening. Over time, a persistent ambassador, no matter his country's record, can generally find his or her way on to a senior U.N. committee posting.
In some cases, the big powers have stepped aside to permit a U.N. outlier a clear path to a post. For instance, after Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi agreed to renounce his nuclear weapon program and permit U.S. inspections of its weapons sites, the Bush administration stood aside, allowing Tripoli to secure a Security Council seat and the presidency of the U.N. General Assembly.
So might the United States have allowed Iran, its nuclear negotiating partner and the current chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, a pass when it secured a vice presidency on UNICEF executive board earlier this month?
Absolutely not, said U.S. officials. "We disapprove of the selection of Iran as the Asia Group VP on UNICEF's bureau," Erin Pelton, the spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, wrote on Twitter earlier this month. "We will register our objection."
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When France eventually ends its military operations in Mali, the French military intends to position a rapid reaction force somewhere in West Africa to support African peacekeepers facing serious challenges to their authority by Islamist insurgents, according to U.N.-based diplomats familiar with the plans.
French diplomats have begun detailing plans with the United Nations, the United States, and other key powers for a so-called "beyond the horizon" force that would be ready to carry out combat operations within Mali in the event that the Islamic fundamentalist rebels threaten to return en masse.
Paris has not informed its allies where this new force would be deployed, but diplomats said it would most likely be in Senegal, Niger, or Chad, where France maintains military bases.
France's U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud, meanwhile, has sought to assure his counterparts that Paris will not abruptly pull out of Mali in the coming weeks, saying that the French military presence will be phased out gradually to allow time for a new U.N. peacekeeping mission to get its bearings.
The French military intervened in Mali on Jan. 11, after a coalition of local and foreign insurgents, including members of al Qaeda's North African franchise, launched a military offensive in a series of strategic towns in central Mali, raising fears of a dash to the capital, Bamako, where thousands of French nationals reside. The French force, which has grown to more than 4,000 soldiers, has reclaimed control of several cities that had fallen under control of the insurgents, but sparks of fighting have continued, particularly in the strategic northern city of Gao.
The discussions over the new force mark the first step in an intensive French effort to craft a diplomatic and security strategy that will allow France to reduce its presence in Mali, while ensuring that U.N. blue helmets will be in a position to maintain security.
Paris is hoping to begin work as quickly as possible on a resolution that would formally establish a new African-led peacekeeping mission, responsible for maintaining security in several northern Malian towns and support political talks between the country's government in Bamako and insurgents, thus paving the ground for national elections. French officials are hoping to convene a Security Council meeting as early as Wednesday to begin the push for a new resolution.
But the French are facing a major hurdle from Mali's rulers, who came to power as a result of a military coup and who fear that a U.N. force would not only be too weak to confront their northern enemies, but prod them into yielded power to a newly elected government. Diplomats say work on a peacekeeping mission cannot proceed until the Malian leadership makes a formal, and unequivocal, request to the United Nations for troops.
U.N.-based sources said that they expect France, and possibly other Western governments, to contribute a small number of staff officers in the eventual U.N. mission's headquarters. But the vast majority of troops will come from the region. There are currently more than 5,000 African troops from Chad, Niger, and other West African countries in Mali. The African troops, which are currently supporting the French and Malian military campaign against the country's insurgency, are expected to serve in the new U.N. peacekeeping mission.
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For nearly two and a half years, the United Nations has sought to skirt responsibility for a ravenous Haitian cholera epidemic that killed at least 8,000 Haitians -- and sickened several hundred thousand more -- since the first outbreak was detected in October 2010, downriver from a sewage outlet used by a contingent of Nepalese blue helmets.
Today, Ban Ki-moon phoned Haitian president Michel Martelly to inform him that the United Nations has no intention, or legal obligation, to pay compensation to the families of Haiti's cholera victims.
"In November 2011, a claim for compensation was brought against the United Nations on behalf of the victims of the cholera outbreak in Haiti," Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters on Thursday. "Today, the United Nations advised the claimants representatives that the claims are no receivable pursuant to section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations."
Nesirky highlighted the U.N.'s role in trying to contain the spread of cholera, saying it has worked closely with Haitians "to provide treatment, improve water and sanitation facilities and strengthen prevention and early warning."
"The secretary general expresses his profound sympathy for the terrible suffering caused by the cholera epidemic, and calls on all partners in Haiti and the international community to work together to ensure better health and a better future for the people of Haiti," Nesirky said.
The Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti filed the claim on behalf of the families of 5,000 victims, and is preparing claims on behalf of thousands more. Brian Concannon, the director of the organization, told Turtle Bay that the U.N. should be held liable for "negligent failure" to screen peacekeepers from a country known to have cholera and for the "reckless disposal of waste into Haiti's largest water system."
Concannon said that while the United Nations has signed a status of forces agreement with Haiti that shields it from suits brought by Haitian courts, the global body has an obligation to provide "an alternative mechanism" for victims to seek redress. His group is now preparing to pursue a case in a national court -- either within Haiti, the United States, the Netherlands, or Belgium -- to persuade a judge not to enforce the immunity agreement on the grounds that the United Nations has not lived up to "its side of the bargain."
"It's round two," he said.
The United Nations peacekeeping department has long maintained that a series of studies failed to present irrefutable evidence that U.N. peacekeepers were responsible for the outbreak. They argued that it would be more productive to invest the U.N.'s resources into trying to contain the spread of the disease rather than determining who was responsible for introducing cholera into Haiti for the first time in more than 100 years.
Following protests from Haitians, Ban commissioned a panel of independent medical experts to "investigate and seek to determine the source of the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti." The four-member team, headed by Dr. Alejandro Cravioto, head of the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research in Dhaka, Bangladesh, provided strong circumstantial evidence hinting at a U.N. role but stopped just short of pinning the blame on the Nepalese peacekeepers.
The panel concluded, as Turtle Bay reported at the time, "that the disease was introduced into the Haitian population by human activity in the Meye Tributary, a branch of the Artibonite River, and quickly spread throughout the river delta, infecting thousands of Haitians along the way. At the time, Nepalese peacekeepers were stationed at a camp in Mierbalais, along the banks of the Meye, fueling suspicion that the waste of an infected peacekeeper had flowed into the river."
But the panel argued that the other forces contributing to the spread of the disease -- poor sanitation and a dysfunctional health care system -- were so varied as to make it impossible to identify a specific culprit. "The independent panel concludes that the Haiti cholera outbreak was caused by the confluence of circumstances as described above, and was not the fault of, or deliberate action of, a group or individual," read the report.
A U.S. cholera expert at Tufts Univeristy, Daniele Lantagne, who was a member of the U.N. panel, told the BBC last October that further scientific evidence pointed more conclusively towards the Nepalese peacekeepers. She said it is "most likely" that they were the source of the outbreak.
Jonathan Katz, a former Associated Press reporter who covered the cholera outbreak, said the U.N. has "spent the last year and change saying" they can't talk about the cholera epidemic because the claims case was pending. But now, he said, the U.N. maintains that it won't even consider the claim.
Katz, who authored the recent book on the Haiti relief effort, The Big Truck that Went By, said U.N.'s refusal to confront responsibility reflects a deeper concern that establishing precedent could open the door to a slew of lawsuits against the United Nations around the world.
"The United Nations is concerned about the precedent this would set for U.N. peacekeeping and the other work they do around the world," he said. "I can imagine a long line of people going around the world that would love to go after the United Nations."
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The U.N. Security Council first called on North Korea to rein in its nuclear ambitions in 1993; more than a decade later, in 2006, it imposed its first round of sanctions to compel Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
The U.N. pressure campaign -- punctuated by perennial bouts of nuclear diplomacy with Pyongyang -- has left Democratic and Republican administrations with little to show for their efforts. During the Obama administration, the Security Council has expanded the sanctions and threatened four times to impose additional penalties on North Korea if it continues to flout international demands to halt its nuclear program.
Pyongyang demonstrated once again this week it has no intention to heed those threats. In a press statement issued shortly after North Korea set off its third nuclear test on Monday, Pyongyang responded to the chorus of international condemnation with the usual bluster: North Korea, the statement asserted, has been forced to develop a nuclear deterrent to counter what it calls a "hostile" U.S. campaign to threaten its existence, and deprive it of what it sees as its legitimate right to launch satellites into space.
"If the United States makes the situation complicated by remaining hostile through the end we will have no choice but to take serial measures with more intense second and third response," the statement warned. It added that the interdiction of North Korean vessels "will be instantly regarded as an act of war and will lead to our relentless retaliatory strikes on their bases."
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, hit back, pledging a "swift, credible, and strong response by way of a Security Council resolution that further impedes the growth of DPRK's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and its abilities to engage in proliferation actions."
But Rice encountered immediate resistance from China during the council's closed door session on Tuesday. China's deputy U.N. envoy, Wang Min, said that Beijing was firmly opposed to North Korea's action and underscored the importance of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. But he also sought to water down the council's response, initially arguing that the nuclear test posed no threat to international peace and security and needed to be addressed through dialogue with the government.
Wang ultimately yielded on that point after Rice read out North Korea's statement to the council, in which she posed a simple question: How can North Korea's nuclear test, coupled with a threat to strike out at the United States, not constitute a threat to international peace and security?
But Wang secured a concession -- the removal of a provision underlining the council's intent to begin negotiation of a Security Council resolution under Chapter Seven -- that signaled China's ongoing reluctance to impose further sanctions on North Korea. (Chapter Seven is the provision in the U.N. Charter that it invokes for the imposition of sanctions). In its place, the council issued a statement pledging to consider "appropriate measures" in response to Pyongyang's action. Western diplomats noted that previous North Korean nuclear tests have resulted in Chapter Seven resolutions, and it would be unthinkable that a resolution adopted in response to the latest test would not be under Chapter Seven.
So what measures could the U.N. Security Council take, short of military action (which virtually no country advocates), to convince North Korea to halt its nuclear program?
North Korea is already perhaps the most isolated country in the world. Its trade is scrutinized at foreign ports. Ships carrying North Korean supplies are routinely boarded and searched. Its banks largely shy away from doing business in the world's main financial markets.
Rice provided few details, saying simply that the United States would seek to "tighten" and "augment" a set of existing sanctions aimed at limiting North Korea's capacity to develop its weapons programs. The U.S. envoy recalled that the Security Council had just warned Pyongyang last month that it would face "significant action" from the council if it launched a ballistic missile or tested a nuclear weapon. "And indeed, we will do so," she assured reporters.
Turtle Bay has compiled a list of possible sanctions targets:
The 800-pound gorilla in the debate about the effectiveness of any sanctions is China. By the end of 2010, the last date for which there are records, China's trade with North Korea had boomed, surpassing $3.06 billion, up nearly 10 percent over 2008, according to figures cited by a U.N. panel monitoring enforcement of the North Korea sanctions.
A major share of North Korea's imports arrive via the Chinese port of Dalian, or across the border by land. George Lopez, a professor of peace studies at Notre Dame University and former member of a Security Council panel monitoring North Korea sanctions, said China could have a major impact on the sanctions if it enforced them more aggressively.
For instance, he said, they could conduct random inspections of goods entering the country, and they apply pressure on Chinese companies that trade with the north not to supply prohibited goods. Chinese banks, he added, could choose to clamp down on financial transactions by firms suspected of violating sanctions. But he said the United States may have to convince Beijing that it recognizes its interest in forestalling a collapse of the North Korean economy, and provide greater assurances that it has no intention to back the downfall of the regime in Pyongyang.
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A major policy rift between the White House and President Obama's national security team broke into the open Thursday when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that they had backed a plan, crafted by former CIA director David H. Petraeus, and supported by then-Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, to arm Syria's rebels. But there was one prominent national security advisor who was not part of the intervention faction: Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
On matters of war, Rice, one of Obama's longest-serving foreign policy advisors, has positioned herself close to the president. When it came to Syria, Rice made clear to me during an interview I conducted with her in September for the Washington Post, she was not in the intervention camp. "I'm not of the view that this is a circumstance in which external military intervention is wise for the United States or others," she said.
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The first phase of France's military offensive against Islamist insurgents in Mali will likely come to an end in the coming weeks or months, giving way to a more open-ended, nation-building exercise. It remains unclear what such a mission would look like, what it would do, and who would formally lead it. Though one thing appears all but certain: France is likely to be at the center.
In Paris and New York, peacekeeping and military planners have been seeking to fashion a plan that could ensure long-term stability in northern towns recently captured from militant Islamists by French and Malian forces, prod Bamako to negotiate a political settlement with the country's restive Tuaregs, and ultimately lay the groundwork for national elections.
So far, the United States, France, and Britain appear to be coalescing around a proposal to send U.N. peacekeepers to Mali to secure newly captured towns and to serve as a facilitator for future political talks. The proposal is likely to face some resistance from African powers, who will provide most of the troops for a peacekeeping mission, and who have demonstrated an increasing appetite for managing regional military and peacekeeping operations.
But the more immediate question is about France's intention. Paris has not decided what military and peacekeeping role it will play in the future, if any. Here's a series of options reportedly under consideration:
1. No French force remains in Mali. On the outer range of French planning, this contingency is probably the easiest option to eliminate. There are some 6,000 French nationals living in and around the capital of Bamako, and it was their fate that prodded French special forces into action in the first place. They're not likely to allow a repeat.
2. France could leave behind a battalion of up to 800 troops or so, kit them out with blue helmets, and have them provide the backbone of a future U.N. peacekeeping mission. The benefit of this strategy is that it would encourage other European powers -- who have advanced military capability and are comfortable serving under U.N. command -- to serve alongside the French and its African partners. France has played a similar role in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.
3. France could leave behind an independent contingent of forces under French military command. They would serve as a guarantor for a separate U.N. peacekeeping mission, which would be comprised primarily of African peacekeepers. This is similar to the role it played in Ivory Coast, where French troops played a lead role in the military campaign to force former Ivoirian leader Laurent Gbagbo from power following his election defeat.
4. France could maintain a larger military force in Mali through a bilateral agreement with Bamako along the lines of its military presence in Chad, where French forces intervened in 1986 to protect then President Hissene Habre, who had come under attack from Libya. The French operation -- dubbed Sparrowhawk -- has never formally ended, and a small force of French troops still maintains a presence. This scenario, however, seems unlikely. French President Francois Hollande has voiced reluctance to keep boots on the ground and his U.N. envoy, Gerard Araud, has insisted that France is keen to end the military operation as soon as possible, though not sooner than necessary. At the moment, France has begun discussion with other key international and African powers about the prospects of presenting a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing a new force.
The U.N. has had mixed feelings about France's approach to Mali. In December, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed serious misgivings about the wisdom of France's initial plan to have African and European officers, and supported by the United Nations, back a campaign by the Malian army to retake the north by force from Islamist insurgents, saying that military force should only be used as a "last resort." Ban's hesitance reflected anxiety about the consequences of direct U.N. participation in a military operation against al Qaeda. While Ban has applauded the French military intervention as a necessary response to a sudden Islamist military advance towards the capital, Ban has resisted appeals for greater direct support for the mission.
"I am obliged to bring to the attention of the Security Council the assessment of the Secretariat that, if the United Nations were to provide logistics support to military forces engaged in an offensive operation, it would place civilian United Nations personnel at grave risk, and undermine their ability to carry out their current tasks," Ban wrote in a January 20 letter to the Security Council.
But the view inside the U.N. has not been monolithic. The U.N.'s chief peacekeeper, Herve Ladsous, a former French diplomat, has pushed for greater involvement in the French-led military operation, primarily through the provision of logistical support for poorly equipped African troops. In the end, the Security Council will decide what role the U.N. will play in Mali. So far, that remains unclear.
Will, for instance, U.N. peacekeepers play any role in confronting the ongoing threat posed by terrorists? Will they be mandated to crack down on the illicit weapons and narcotics trade that fuels the insurgency in northern Mali? Will they be required to maintain law and order?
In the meantime, the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping has already begun its own contingency planning, focusing on three key options:
1. A full-fledged U.N. peacekeeping mission led by a U.N. special representative. This is the preferred option for French, American, and British officials, as well as U.N. peacekeeping officials. It provides the U.N. political leadership with full control over the mission and gives key Western powers, particularly in Europe, greater confidence to participate. But the vast majority of peacekeepers in the mission will come from Africa and leaders there will not want to cede decision-making to the United Nations.
2. A hybrid force. Facing demands by African leaders for a greater say in regional matters, the U.N. established a joint U.N.-African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan. This hybrid force established the notion of joint AU leadership in the mission. The force has been viewed as a model for the future within Africa, but it has been criticized as cumbersome and ineffectual by U.N. peacekeeping officials. France and Britain strongly oppose it.
3. A compromise option would involve splitting the mission into two. The United Nations would command a stabilization force in northern Mali, where most of the fighting has occurred. A second political mission in Bamako would be managed jointly by the AU and the U.N. It would help facilitate political talks between the Malian government and the country's ethnic minorities, particularly the northern Tuaregs, and pave the way for national elections.
As the key players consider the various options, a more strategic question will have to be addressed. What kind of Mali do the French and its African and U.N. partners want to leave behind? And do they have the capacity to make that happen?
"What we are looking for is a strategy that will not return Mali to the status quo ante," said one senior U.N. official. "We need to support the rule of law and transform the institutions so that this will be the last time blue helmets are needed in Mali."
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Syria's suffering now has an official number: 59,648.
That's the death toll that Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, assigned to the Syrian government's bloody political crackdown and the resulting civil war, over a period ranging from March 15, 2011, to November 30, 2012.
The precise number is, of course, an educated guess, but that figure has almost certainly passed the 60,000 mark in the new year, Pillay said.
The real number, according to Pillay, is probably even higher than that, given the fact that much of the Syrian carnage has played out in dark places, beyond the prying eyes of witnesses. "The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking," she said Wednesday.
In fact, the number -- which is significantly higher than previous, informal U.N. estimates of about 40,000 dead -- has caught many top U.N. officials by surprise.
So, how then, did the U.N. human rights office, which has virtually no presence on the ground in Syria, come up with that figure?
They commissioned a team of statistical wizards at Benetech, a West Coast non-profit that runs a human rights program that crunches data to unlock hidden patterns of mass killing around the world.
The team was headed by the group's lead statistician, Megan Price, and included Patrick Ball -- chief scientist and vice president of the firm's human rights data analysis group -- whose computer models have been used to identify patterns of human rights violations from Guatemala to South Africa, and whose numbers aided in the prosecution of the alleged Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic. (Read the excellent profile of Ball by Tina Rosenberg here.)
Applying a data mining technique called an alternating decision tree, Price, Ball and Jeff Klinger compiled basic fatality figures -- such as victims' ages, time and place of death -- from seven separate data sets, including those maintained by the Syrian government and opposition groups, including the oft-cited Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The names and vital details of 147,349 reported killings were then run through a computer program that is designed to detect duplicate references to individuals. The model was refined by a native Syrian Arab speaker who went through a sample of about 8,200 pairs of killings.
The figure was then whittled down to 59,648 "unique" deaths, though Benetech notes that it "was not able to differentiate clearly between combatants and non-combatants." The seven data sets used ranged from the Syrian government's record of 2,539 dead to more than 38,120 counted by the Violations Documentation Center, an opposition group. The larger number included in Pillay's estimate reflected the fact that the analysis was drawn from seven separate data sets.
Price, the lead statistician, said that counting the dead in a war zone is a “really hard problem,” particularly given the fact that there are many other “things that feel more pressing than figuring out mortality figures in an active conflict.”
Price objected to the characterization of her group’s numbers as estimates, saying she and her colleagues simply enumerated “documented, verifiable deaths.”
“We in fact don’t know how many people have been killed in Syria,” she told Turtle Bay. “What we know is how many deaths have been documented by these seven groups.”
Price said she recognizes that the fog of war leaves open the possibility of errors creeping into her team’s count; for instance, an automobile accident victim counted as conflict related death. Or a single victims name is spelled differently on different data sets, leading to a single death counted as two.
But she said her team sought to anticipate some of these mistakes through a variety of computer procedures with names like “fuzzy matching” and “rejection rules.” An example of fuzzy matching could involve the identification of variations on a single name –like Bob, Bobby, Rob and Robert – that would be read by the computer as the same name. Rejections rules are designed to prevent the computer from eliminating a potential fatality because they share a similar attribute—say a name – with another victim, but are not likely the same person. “Rejections rules are hard boundaries you are going to define to say those records cannot match,” Price said. “A common rejection rule is gender: any two records that have different genders are not likely the same individual.”
The decision by U.N. officials to assign a death toll for a given conflict can be highly controversial, and invariably provokes challenges by governments and sometimes other U.N. officials. In 2009, Pillay encountered intense pushback from top U.N. officials before publishing an account of the number of civilians who were slaughtered during the final months of Sri Lanka's civil war.
This time around, Pillay's deputy, Ivan Simonovic, faced little opposition when he informed U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other top U.N. officials before Christmas that Pillay's figure was going to be high-- though he didn't cite a number. One U.N. official said the figure turned out to be significantly higher than most of Ban's aides had anticipated.
Rupert Colville, Pillay's spokesman, told Turtle Bay that while this is the first time that the high commissioner has commissioned Benetech to estimate a conflict death toll, she has previously offered guesstimates of death tolls in Egypt and Tunisia.
Pillay released a Syrian death toll estimate in 2011, but resisted subsequent pressure to release an update because of uncertainty about the numbers. She was persuaded by Benetech's analysis, according to Colville.
Colville acknowledged that there "is a bit of a risk" in basing the high commissioner's estimate on raw data collected by independent groups. "It's not a perfect number," he said. "But given the level of research that went into this, it's far better than what we had before."
Benetech's analysis showed a steady increase in the rate of killing -- from 1,000 per month in the summer of 2011 to more than 5,000 per month since July 2012. The vast majority of those killed were male -- over 76 percent. Just 7.5 percent were female. (The gender was unclear for 16.4 percent of cases.)
As for the geography of this grim toll, the largest numbers of killings were in Homs (12,560), rural Damascus (10,862), and Idlib (7,686), followed by Aleppo (6,188), Daraa (6,034) and Hama (5,080).
"While many details remain unclear, there can be no justification for the massive scale of the killing highlighted by this analysis," Pillay said. "The failure of the international community, in particular the Security Council, shames us all."
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For starters, the new year will see diplomatic life return to the U.N.’s glistening, landmark headquarters, as the first phase of a $2 billion renovation comes to an end. Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon moved back into his old 38th floor office, and the U.N. Security Council chamber is set to reopen for business early this year. The U.N. press corps, meanwhile, is set to follow.
But the old, sloppy business of managing the world’s crises will remain. Long-festering diplomatic and military standoffs, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Iran, will be at the top of the agenda for U.N. officials and foreign diplomats. A looming showdown with Islamic extremists, drought, and transnational crime will also tax U.N. military planners in Mali, where a U.N.-backed African peacekeeping mission is preparing for a long slog to restore stability.
In Syria, the potential collapse of President Bashar al-Assad’s government has fueled fears that U.N. blue helmets will be deployed to mitigate a conflict that they cannot contain and which threatens to wreak havoc across the Middle East.
So much for good news, then. With 2012 winding down, Turtle Bay looks at the people and the crises that will define the coming year at the United Nations.
The end of 2012 has not been a particularly high point in the skyrocketing career of Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Republican opposition blocked her quest to ascend to the position of secretary of state, and the U.S. envoy ended the year at the U.N. Correspondent’s Association awards dinner by saying there was no place she was happier to be than Turtle Bay. Behind her, all in good fun, an image of the U.S. State Department appeared on a giant screen.
But while Foggy Bottom is not in Rice’s immediate future, don’t count her out in 2013. Rice’s stoic withdrawal from consideration for the job -- she said a partisan battle over her nomination would distract from the country’s national security priorities -- has likely solidified her standing in the White House.
For the time being, Rice has said she will stay on at her U.N. job and her staff has told colleagues that they intend to remain in New York for several more months. If, as many anticipate, Rice winds up as President Barack Obama’s national security advisor, she may become one of the most powerful officials in that job since Henry Kissinger.
Syria has been on the backburner since last July, when Russia and China cast their third veto at the U.N. Security Council on a Western-backed resolution pressing Assad to yield power to a transitional government.
Earlier this month, rebel gains and high-level talks between the United States and Russia had raised the prospects that diplomatic efforts may return to the U.N. Security Council. Speaking from Damascus on Thursday, U.N.-Arab League Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi pressed the warring parties to agree to a national unity government. "If that is not possible, the other solution could be to go to the Security Council to issue a binding resolution to all," Brahimi added. But Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov provided a downbeat account of the diplomacy, telling reporters that there was "no possibility" of convincing President Assad to stand down.
Plans for a U.N. peacekeeping operation for Syria are in the works. The U.N. peacekeeping department has been developing plans for a mission of several thousand blue helmets to enforce a possible peace deal between Assad's government and the opposition. However, many U.N. officials fear that the time for such a peace accord may have passed and that such a mission will be utterly incapable of containing the sectarian violence that may spread across the country if peace efforts collapse. "People are talking about a divided Syria being split into a number of small states like Yugoslavia," Brahimi said Sunday. "This is not what is going to happen. What will happen is Somalization -- warlords."
RED LINES AND IRAN
The West’s nuclear standoff with Iran moved to the center of the foreign policy debate in the run up to the U.S. presidential election, but it has since fallen off the radar. That may not last long.
There are renewed prospects for continued U.S.-backed talks with Iran over its nuclear program, but no clear indications that a deal is in the making. In the absence of a peace deal, Obama will face growing pressure to draw a clear line in the sand. In his address to the U.N. General Assembly in September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew his own crude red line on a cartoon drawing of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Netanyahu predicted that line would be crossed some time in spring or summer 2013 -- if Obama doesn’t solve the problem by then, the Israelis may decide their only option is to launch a unilateral strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
THE DRONE WARS
The battle between America’s drone warriors and U.N. human rights advocates is primed to flare up in 2013. In October, Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur for counterterrorism and human rights, announced plans to establish a new office in Geneva early next year to investigate alleged killing of civilians in drone attacks.
Emmerson’s effort could hardly be more timely. In addition to well-known drone operations in Pakistan and Yemen, the United States has expanded its drone operations in Africa: Through its airbase in Djibouti, drones are now helping combat warlords and Islamic extremists from Somalia to Mali -- and even in the Central African Republic, the chief operations center for Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army. Emmerson has been a sharp critic of the Obama administration, denouncing efforts by U.S. officials to "provide a legal justification for the drone program of targeted killings in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia."
In response to North Korea’s Dec. 12 launch of a ballistic missile into space, the U.N. Security Council passed a statement condemning Pyongyang’s action as a "clear violation" of past U.N. resolutions.
But a stronger response is on the horizon. In April, after North Korea conducted a failed ballistic missile test, the council threatened to take unspecified action against Pyongyang if the regime conducted another missile launch or nuclear test. It did. So now what? The council put off action until the new year, leaving it to the United States, which favors additional sanctions, and China, which opposes them, to try to reach an agreement. "I don’t know if the United States will manage to turn around Beijing on this one," one council diplomat told me, adding that Chinese U.N. envoy Li Baodong made it "pretty clear a resolution wouldn’t fly."
But some diplomats remain hopeful that the United States can still persuade China to back a tougher response. "To be honest, we don’t have a clear indication how this will play out. But I’m not so pessimistic," said another diplomat. "We need to send the correct message to the new leader of DPRK."
Just before Christmas, the U.N. Security Council authorized the creation of a new African peacekeeping force to help restore democratic rule in Mali, rebuild the nation's military, and help the Malians retake a huge swath of northern territory that is now under the control of a collection of Islamic extremist groups. While it is unlikely that the force will be deployed before next September or October of next year, 2013 will mark a major turning point in U.S. and U.N. involvement in the Sahel, where a dangerous mix of drought, hunger, international crime, and terrorism threatens the stability of the region.
Last month, the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to recognize Palestine as a "non-member observer state," setting the stage for a confrontation with Israel and Washington -- and providing the backdrop for renewed Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.
Fearful that the deepening dispute will deal a mortal blow to the prospects for a viable Palestinian state, European governments have been pleading with the Obama administration to announce a major new peace initiative following Israeli elections next month. At the United Nations, meanwhile, pressure is building on Israel to halt its latest settlement plans. Earlier this month, representatives from 14 of the council's 15 members, including four European powers, issued statements denouncing Israel's settlements as a threat to a two-state solution.
THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Congolese mutineers, known as the M23 movement, routed the national army in eastern Congo in November, seizing the regional capital of Goma. That forced the Congolese government to enter into peace talks with the group's leaders, which includes Bosco Ntaganda, a man wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
But this isn’t just a domestic conflict: A U.N. panel known as the Group of Experts has issued numerous reports contending that Rwanda, and to a lesser degree Uganda, have sponsored, equipped, trained, and commanded the mutineers. Efforts to criticize Rwanda -- which will join the Security Council in January for a two-year term – have been stymied by the United States, and further attempts to pressure it to rein in its alleged Congolese proxies appear unlikely as long as Kigali holds a seat in the council. For the time being, African governments operating from the Ugandan capital of Kampala will take the lead in negotiating a peace deal between the M23 and the Congolese government.
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The United Nations was a Twitter wasteland when I first started tweeting back in January 2010. Virtually no governments were on Twitter and only a handful of journalists. The main Twitter handle promoting U.N. activities was run by some guy in England who ran an automatic feed of the U.N. Secretary General's daily schedule. Today, confidential briefings of the U.N. Security Council routinely travel through the Twittersphere well before the diplomats emerge from their meetings to address the press. One American diplomat tweets the occasional closed-door budget meetings, while big-power press aides sometimes vie with one another to fire off a 140-character announcement of an important diplomatic development. And dozens of U.N.-based reporters tweet all manner of news -- highlights of Ban Ki-moon's briefings (and amusements). How else would I know that Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai visited the United Nations on Monday?
Twitter, of course, has also become the go-to destination for the wider community of academics, advocates, diplomats and, I suspect, spooks eager to scour reporters' posts of confidential documents. Once upon a time, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., declared to a press aide that urged her to join Twitter: "I don't believe in foreign policy by Haiku." Now, she does. So, as the U.N. General Assembly kicks off today, we decided to assemble a list of the best U.N. tweeters to help you track the week's news.
The big Western powers -- the United States, Britain, France, and Germany -- have held a lock on Twitter diplomacy, using the medium far more ambitiously than their peers. Diplomats at other U.N. missions, including Iran and Russia, have a few key Twitter accounts, but they don't say much. Russia, for instance, leaves most of its tweeting to the Foreign Ministry -- @MFA_Russia -- or a handful of senior officials, including Vice Premier Dimitri Rogozin -- @DRogozin -- and Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov -- @Ggatilov -- a former U.N. official himself.
@ambassadorrice: In terms of sheer numbers, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is the reigning queen of Turtle Bay's Twitter community. Lots of newsy tweets on Security Council business, and the occasional holiday tweet from the Taj Mahal or some other far-off destination.
@USJoe_UN: Joe Torsella, the
U.S. ambassador for management and reform, grouses about U.N. inefficiencies
and occasionally discloses the contents of budget discussions. (He should have more
followers.) A typical tweet:
#UN supply chain makes uphill
battle for these go-getters. Inventory here still entered BY HAND. Party like
@franceonu: I used to taunt the French diplomats in the days they had fewer followers than me. They blew past me over the past year and haven't looked back. This is among the most ambitious of the official government Twitter feeds, using quizzes and videos of French diplomats explaining the inner working of U.N. committees to lure followers.
@UKUN_NewYork: The official British Twitter handle is a solid source of statements from New York and London, particularly on Africa and Middle East matters before the United Nations.
@GermanyUN: Germany has it's Twitter feed shrewdly, pushing quotes from the German ambassador, Peter Wittig. It also provides useful links to Germany Foreign Ministry statements on a wide range of issues, including Syria and Iran.
@israelinUN: The Israeli mission to the U.N. came a bit late to the game, but they provide a useful stream of breaking Israeli news. (I believe this is the first place I noticed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement criticizing Ban Ki-moon for visiting Tehran.)
THE UNITED NATIONS:
The United Nations may have been a bit slow to get up and running. But it has produced a number of useful Twitter handles, offering photos from the U.N. stable of high-quality photographers @unphotos, documents from the @unlibrary and videos and press conference from @UNWebcast or @UN_TV
The U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and his predecessor, Kofi Annan, have toiled in the cause of peace in Syria this year. So it's perhaps not a surprise that they would be nominated for an international peace prize. But this is one award they will not likely be bragging about if they win.
"It's not like you would campaign for this," quipped one U.N. official. "At least I hope no one is campaigning for this."
The organizers of the Confucius Peace Prize this weekend announced the nomination of the U.N. luminaries, along with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and several others for a prize that awarded last year to Russian President Vladimir Putin -- in recognition of his opposition to the NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya, and which praised his military campaigns in Chechnya and Georgia.
"These were righteous wars," the Confucius Peace Prize committee co-founder and president, Qiao Damo, told the New York Times last year. Human rights advocates have differed, accusing Putin's forces and proxies of engaging in large-scale rights abuses.
The Chinese prize was established as Beijing's answer to the decision to honor Liu Xiaobo, the jailed pro-democracy dissident, in 2010 with the Nobel Peace Prize.
The selection of Liu infuriated the Chinese government, and prompted a Chinese banker, Liu Zhiqin, to propose that China establish the Confucius Peace Prize to counteract what he characterized as the West's anti-Chinese bias and to highlight China's "views on peace and human rights."
"The Nobel Peace prize won Liu Xiaobo while losing the trust of 1.3 billion Chinese people," Liu Zhiqin wrote in a November 2010 opinion piece. "They support a criminal while creating 1.3 billion 'dissidents' that are dissatisfied with the Nobel Committee, which is definitely a bad decision."
The effort to establish the prize's legitimacy has been rocky.
The committee's first award recipient, Lien Chan, a Taiwanese politician who promoted improved ties between China and Taiwan, did not show up at the awards ceremony, saying he'd never heard of the award, and even Putin's press office told reporters they didn't know much about the report, according to the New York Times.
The Chinese government meanwhile criticized the committee organizers for suggesting they were linked to the Chinese Ministry of Culture. But the prize lives on.
This year' s other nominees include Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Chinese social activist Wang Dingguo, Peking University Prof. Tang Yijie, Chinese rice researcher Yuan Longping.
A spokesman for Ban, Farhan Haq, said that any decision on whether Ban or Annan would accept the prize, if awarded, is hypothetical since the winner has not been announced. But he says that secretaries general frequently do accept awards on the behalf of the United Nations, donating cash awards to humanitarian causes.
But Ban and Annan still face stiff competition from another nominee -- China's choice to inherit the title of Tibet's spiritual leader, known as the 11th Panchen Lama, when the current Dalai Lama dies. The Dalai Lama anointed another heir back in 1995, a six-year old boy who was subsequently taken into "protective custody" by the Chinese government and never seen in public again.
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Some high-ranking U.N. officials hired in the wake of Ban Ki-moon's re-election have been receiving something of a hero's welcome at Turtle Bay, marked by the solicitousness one would associate with, say, a visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to a rural hemp factory.
The U.N. Department of Management (DM) and the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), issued internal memos last month detailing the debuts of their new bosses, undersecretary generals Yukio Takasu, a former veteran Japanese diplomat who once served on the U.N. Security Council, and Wu Hongbo, a former top official in China's foreign ministry, in their first three months of office, while taking note of the incredible pride their staff take in serving the United Nations.
The two memos -- which have the ring of 1950s corporate press releases or state propaganda -- contrast starkly with the scathing portrayals of dysfunction and leadership failures that dominate international media coverage of the United Nations. As readers of this blog may recall, Wu's predecessor, Sha Zukang, drew attention for his outrageous antics, including a drunken toast he delivered to the U.N. secretary general, capped by the line: "I know you never liked me Mr. Secretary-General -- well, I never liked you, either."
Instead, these latest memos paint of picture of an attentive U.N. executive class, driven by a hardy work ethic, and basking in the gratitude and admiration of their U.N. inferiors, who are touched that they have taken the time to talk to them.
"It's been 100 days since Mr. Yukio Takasu took office as undersecretary-general for management," reads the memo from his office. "With many big-ticket items on DM's to do list, Mr Takasu's tenure has been off to a labor-intensive start."
Indeed, as memo notes, Takasu has been juggling numerous priority projects, implementing new accounting standards, overseeing the return of U.N. staff to the renovated U.N. headquarters building, and managing the roll-out of the U.N.'s new automated management system, known as UMOJA, the Swahili word for unity, which has been plagued for years by administrative failures. (That last bit isn't mentioned in the memo).
But the memo does mention that Takasu toiled late into the night during marathon negotiations in Arusha, Tanzania, during his first month on the job over the terms of a new policy encouraging U.N. civil servants to change jobs more frequently. Within a week of his return to U.N. headquarters, he invited staff representatives to a luncheon to discuss the new agreement.
In his office's own telling, Takasu's underlings are clearly impressed by his debut.
"DM staff has come to know him as a knowledgeable and approachable boss who prepares thoroughly, draws on his detailed technical expertise, and makes ample time for extensive and frank strategy discussions with the projects teams," according to the memo. "He is known to listen carefully, as colleagues brief on their proposals, before raising tough questions to understand the risks and challenges that a project may face."
The reaction to Wu's first three weeks in office was no less effusive, according to a memo produced by his own staff.
Touring his new digs in the renovated U.N. headquarters built, Wu apparently took a break from his important responsibilities to talk to staffers, inquiring about their families, their job assignments, and solicited their opinions on the department's priorities, according to the DESA memo. He sought their views "about the move, the new floor plan, the lighting, the functionality of work stations and the overall environment," it noted.
The meet and greet was clearly a success.
"What began as a planned forty-five minute walk through turned into a three hour chat."
But of course, it wasn't all small talk, and Wu quickly turned his attention to weightier matters of building safety, examining plans of everything from the fire alarms to the placement of evacuation routes. He pressed his aide, Ivan Koulov, about forthcoming plans for emergency drills. "As it happened, a drill was organized on Thursday morning."
How's that for efficiency!
For their part, the U.N.'s unidentified staff members were impressed, praising the renovated Secretariat building, and "noting in particular how the floor plan allows for abundant daylight" as well as the ‘state-of-the-art energy saving controls, such as adjustable window blinds and temperature controls for air conditioning."
"As one staff member put it," the memo continues, "‘[w]orking in this new environment, I am even more proud to come to the office every day and make my contributions to the mission of the United Nations.'"
As for the future, Takasu vowed to pursue greater transparency in the U.N. financial report, and to meet the U.N. secretary general's vision of a "modern, global, unified and dynamic secretariat."
"It will be a challenge but I am confident that together, we can and will make it a success."
Well, if you believe your own memo it already is a success.
Last week, the foreign policy punditry, myself included, had declared the U.N. role in Syria all but dead.
But of course no U.N. diplomatic initiative ever truly dies.
Ban Ki-moon has vowed to conduct a global search for a new envoy to replace the joint U.N.- Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who announced he would step down later this month, saying it was impossible to compel the combatants in Syria to put down their guns while the Security Council's big powers squabbled over competing strategies.
France's top diplomat Laurent Fabius today announced he is organizing a Security Council meeting for foreign ministers on August 30 on the grounds that the 15-nation body "cannot remain silent in the face of the tragedy playing out in Syria," according to a statement released today by the French Foreign Ministry.
So, it should come as no shock to learn that the United Nations leadership is scrambling to convince the United States, Britain, and France, to allow the U.N. to maintain a presence in Syria after the mandate for the monitoring mission expires on August 19. The United States has argued that it's unconscionable for the U.N. monitors to remain in Syria to enforce a non-existent cease-fire agreement. They are like "sitting ducks," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently told the council.
But the United Nations is reluctant to be seen abandoning the Syrians in their hour of need. The U.N. chief is expected to present the Security Council on August 16 with a plan to maintain a presence in Damascus beyond the end of the month.
Russia and China have called for keeping the U.N. mission in Syria as it is, saying it has kept the council informed about events on the ground and maintained an open line of communications with the warring factions. "Some useful work is being done by this mission," Vitaly Churkin, Russia's U.N. ambassador told reporters last week. "It's is not obvious at all what the strategy might be behind the call to terminate the mission.
Iran, meanwhile, appeared to be looking to the U.N. mission for help in securing the release of more than 40 Iranian hostages, though U.N. officials said the monitors were playing no such role.
Any new U.N. mission, which may or may not require a new Security Council mandate, would help coordinate the U.N.'s ongoing humanitarian activities in Syria, but more importantly, it would devote its attention to maintaining contact with combatants on both sides.
Responsibility for managing the mission may be transferred from the U.N. peacekeeping to the department of political affairs, which is headed by a former U.S. State Department official, Jeffrey Feltman.
The current chief of peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, signaled the U.N.'s intention to remain in Syria in a closed-door briefing to the Security Council last week. He said that the U.N. was still playing a role in aiding the efforts of U.N. relief organizations and that it was maintaining contacts with the key warring factions.
For the moment, the discussions about the fate of the mission have naturally been overtaken by events on the ground in Aleppo, where the Syrian government has launched a ground offensive aimed at rooting out rebel forces.
Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations, wrote in the Washington Post today that the U.N. would be needed in Syria once the fighting ends.
"Washington should remain open to an active U.N. role in finalizing a transitional road map once the conditions for a new order are in place," Khalilzad wrote in a piece that urged the United States to arm the rebels while encouraging a military coup. "The United Nations has played such a role in post-Taliban Afghanistan, among other places, where U.N. special representatives catalyzed a process to establish an interim regime, draft a constitution and hold elections."
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A week after Russia and China vetoed a Western-backed resolution threatening sanctions against Syria, U.N. diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis are taking on air of unreality against a background of deepening violence inside Syria.
Earlier this week, France's new foreign minister tried to organize a high-level meeting of foreign ministers at the Security Council to revive the stalled diplomacy at the United Nations. But none of the key players would come ... so they've cancelled it.
The Arab League, meanwhile, launched its own initiative at the United Nations, where it is preparing to introduce a resolution that calls on the world to support Annan's piece initiative and welcomes its own previous calls for President Bashar al-Assad step down.
The resolution has virtually no chance of forcing Assad to step down and risks undercutting the 193-member assembly's record of adopting resolutions denouncing Assad's government by an overwhelming majority, according to diplomats.
Is it "meaningful?" one diplomat said of the Arab League text. "That wouldn't be the adjective I would use. Interesting, maybe. If they keep to this text they'll be lucky to see it squeak through."
Kofi Annan, the U.N. Arab League envoy, is continuing to explore new ways to resuscitate his moribund peace plan, one of his advisors tells Turtle Bay.
"I have to say that Annan now seems to be stuck in a diplomatic twilight zone," said Richard Gowan, an expert on the U.N. at New York University Center for International Cooperation. "Annan's diplomatic process is dead. Everyone including Annan knows that but nobody dares kill it off once and for all, and so Annan struggles on, pretending the dead process is alive!"
In a profile on Annan I wrote for the Washington Post I take a more in depth look at how the failure his peace plan is taking a toll on the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's reputation.
Here's the first few lines:
Kofi Annan's plan to curb the violence in Syria hit a dead end this month, another casualty of an escalating conflict that shows no signs of abating.
But Annan's failure may have taken another toll: on the reputation of a career peacemaker and, by extension, on confidence in the power of diplomacy to resolve what is turning out to be one of the most intractable crises to grow out of the Arab Spring.
Read the whole story here.
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On March 6, one week after Kofi Annan was appointed U.N.-Arab League special envoy for Syria, columnist Benny Avni wrote an item in the New York Sun suggesting that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had been forced to "swallow" his predecessor's appointment.
The assertion seemed plausible enough. And the buzz around U.N. diplomatic circles was that Ban had been instructed to hire Annan.
Ban had long lived in the shadow of his predecessor, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who had traditionally received much better press than Ban. In fact, Ban often seemed reluctant to tap the services of top officials closely identified with Annan, including the man who is now one of Annan's top Syria deputies, Jean-Marie Guehenno, who was passed over for the top peacekeeping job in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But Ban's top aides categorically and energetically denied the story, insisting that it was Ban himself who had decided to choose Annan. "Benny got it wrong!" one top Ban aide told me.
Challenged by the U.N. brass, Avni agreed to add a sentence reflecting the U.N.'s claim that appointment was Ban's idea, and a clarification: "This article was corrected from an earlier edition to more accurately describe the origin of Mr. Annan's mission."
Perhaps Avni was being a bit too accommodating.
This is what Annan himself had to say about his selection in his upcoming memoir, Interventions: A Life in War and Peace.
"In February 2012, while I was reviewing the final drafts of this book at home in Geneva, I received a call from my successor Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. He wanted to know if I would accept a request, conveyed to him by a group of foreign ministers, to take on the role of the international community's envoy for the crisis in Syria."
Sounds like Benny may not have got it so wrong after all.
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At Turtle Bay, three times is not the charm. Today, Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-backed resolution threatening the Syrian government with sanctions, upending four months of U.N. diplomacy aimed at stemming a crisis that has left more than 15,000 dead and brought the country to the brink of a full-fledged civil war.
The action dealt a potential blow to U.N. Arab League emissary Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan and cast doubts that Moscow and Beijing are prepared to apply pressure on Damascus to meet its commitments to constrain its troops. The resolution failed to pass by a vote of 11 for and 2 against, with two countries, Pakistan and South Africa, abstaining.
After the vote, the council's Western powers lambasted Russia and China for casting their third veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution seeking to pressure the government of President Bashar al-Assad to curtail its violent crackdown, initially on civilians and more recently on armed opposition groups.
"The Security Council has failed utterly in its most important task on its agenda this year. This is another dark day in Turtle Bay," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the 15-nation council after the vote. "This is the third time in 10 months that two members have prevented the Security Council from responding with credibility to the Syrian conflict. The first two vetoes were very destructive. This veto is even more dangerous and deplorable."
Rice said she was troubled by fate of Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons, saying the possibility that Syria might use "chemical weapons against its own people should be a concern for us all." These weapons, she said, "must remain secure and the regime held accountable for their use."
said the United States would no longer "pin its policy" on unarmed U.N.
observers lacking even "minimal support" from the Security Council, but would
work with a diverse coalition of countries outside the council to "bring
pressure to bear" on the Syrian regime.
But there were indications that the West was unprepared to abruptly withdraw the monitors from Syria. Britain circulated a short resolution that would extend the mandate of the mission for 30 days. Rice said that the United States "might be prepared" to support the British draft to allow a "safe and orderly withdrawal of U.N. monitors from Syria over the next month."
Still, the standoff in the Security Council raised doubts about the long term future of the U.N. mission in Syria, whose mandate expires at Friday midnight, and which has been severely restricted in its efforts to enforce a broken cease-fire agreement. In a press conference, Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), said that "it pains me to say, but we are not on the track for peace in Syria and the escalations we have witnessed in Damascus over the past few days is a testimony to that."
Russia's U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin, defended his country's decision to veto the U.S.-backed resolution, saying it was "biased" in that it threatened only the Syrian government with U.N. sanctions, while doing nothing to constrained an armed opposition movement that has carried out a series of ever more violent attacks against government targets, including a devastating strike on Tuesday that reached into the heart of Assad's national security leadership.
Churkin claimed that the Western approach is designed to "fan the flames" of violence in Syria, pursuing their own "geopolitical ambitions in the region and paving the way for the military push to remove Assad from power. He said Russia "simply cannot accept" a resolution threatening sanctions and foreign military involvement. Rice and other Western diplomats denied categorically that the resolution would pave the way to military action.
China's U.N. envoy, Li Baodong, reacted angrily to assertion by the United States and its European allies that it was shielding the Syrian regime and undercutting prospects for peace. "They are completely wrong," he said. He accused the Westerns sponsors of the resolution of pursuing "a rigid and arrogant approach" to the negotiations on the approach to Syria, refusing repeated efforts by China and other countries to negotiate amendments into the Western draft.
Kofi Annan's spokesman issued a statement saying that he was "disappointed that at this critical stage the U.N. Security Council could not unite and take the strong and concerted action he had urged and hoped force."
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With the violence in Syria returning to levels that have surpassed the rate of killing that preceded the U.N-Arab League brokered cease-fire on April 12, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has proposed a series of options for remaking the U.N. Supervisory Mission in Syria (UNSMIS).
The options -- contained in a report to the U.N. Security Council -- range from withdrawing the mission of 300 unarmed observers to reinforcing it with an armed protection force. But the option clearly favored by U.N. planners calls for a shift from a monitoring mission to a "mediation operation" after the mission's current mandate expires on July 20.
The report reflected deep pessimism in U.N. circles about the prospects for the Syrian government, which is blamed for starting the violence, and the armed opposition putting down their weapons and pursuing a negotiated settlement to the crisis.
"I am deeply troubled by the dangerous trajectory of the conflict and the destructive dynamics at play on the ground. The peaceful popular uprising that started sixteen months ago has transformed into a violent confrontation between the Government and armed opposition groups," Ban wrote. "Syria is now engulfed by violence and at risk of becoming a theater for full-blown civil war, with grave implications for the people of Syria and for people in the region."
According to the proposal, the U.N. would relocate its operation to Damascus, scale back its monitoring patrols, and reinforce its stable of political affairs officers and human rights experts who would intensify their contacts with government and opposition leaders in an effort to start political talks between the warring parties. The report also notes that U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan will travel to Damascus and key capital from the "action group" to prod concerned states into backing political negotiations.
If progress is made, and an enforceable cease-fire is achieved, then the U.N. would quickly restart its patrols with the aim of monitoring enforcement of the cease-fire. Here is the key passage of options outlined in Ban's 25 page report:
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Rwandan Defense Minister James Kabarebe and other top Rwandan military officers played a central role in organizing, funding, and arming mutineers in the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to a report by the U.N. Group of Experts.
The U.N. panel also charged that Kabarebe's personal assistant, Celestin Senkoko, and other Rwandan officers mounted a "wide-ranging" effort to convince Congolese businessmen, politicians, and former rebels that had joined the ranks of the Congolese army to join the so-called M23 mutiny with the aim prosecuting "a new war to obtain a secession of both Kivus," the eastern Congolese provinces that share ethnic and historical ties to Rwanda.
The Rwandan government issued a statement denying the allegations contained in the report, which was obtained by Turtle Bay, but which has not yet been made public. "This is a one-sided preliminary document based on partial findings and is still subject to verification," it stated.
"The UN Group of Experts has accepted our invitation to Kigali to do what should have been done before; carry out relevant consultations and obtain the facts. We intend to provide factual evidence that the charges against Rwanda are false. These, as well as Rwanda's own allegations, will hopefully be reflected in the final UN report due in November."
The U.N. report -- technically an annex to a separate U.N. report on enforcement of the U.N. embargo in eastern Congo -- focuses on the former Congolese rebel movement, known as the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), that was integrated into the Congolese military in 2009, and which formed the core of a Rwandan-backed mutiny within the ranks of the Congolese army.
Laurent Nkunda, the founder of the movement; Bosco Ntaganda, an accused war criminal who led defectors; and Col. Sultani Makenga, another former rebel who defected from the army, form the core leadership of the M23 mutiny. But the U.N. report -- excerpts of which were published by Turtle Bay last night -- claims that the Congolese mutineers coordinated their mutiny with top Rwandan leaders. Here's a new selection of previously unpublished excerpts that name Rwanda's alleged plotters.
Rwandan officials have also been directly involved in the mobilization of political leaders and financial backers for M23. Based on interviews conducted with M23 members, ex-CNDP officers and politicians, intelligence officers, FARDC [Congolese Army] senior commanders, the Group [of Experts] has established that Rwandan officials have made extensive telephone calls and organized a series of meeting with Congolese politicians and businessman to promote and rally support for M23.
Throughout the Group's investigations, it has systematically gathered testimonies from former M23 combatants, M23 collaborators, ex-RDF [Rwandan Defense Forces] officers, Congolese intelligence, FARDC commanders, and politicians which affirm the direct involvement in the support to M23 from senior levels of the Rwandan government.
a) General Jacques Nziza, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defense, supervises all military, financial, and logistic support as well as mobilization activities related to M23. He has recently been deployed to Ruhengeri and Gisenyi to coordinate M23 assistance and recruitment.
b) General James Kabarebe, the Rwandan Minister of Defense, with the support of his personal secretary Captain Celestin Senkoko, also is a central figure in recruitment and mobilizing political and military support to M23. Kabarebe has often been in direct contact with M23 members on the ground to coordinate military activities.
c) General Charles Kayonga, the RDF Chief of Staff manages the overall military support to M23. Kayonga is frequently in communications with Makenga and oversaw the transfer of Makenga's troops and weapons through Rwanda.
d) The military support on the ground has been channeled by General Emmanuel Ruvusha, RDF Division commander based in Gisenyi, as well as General Alexi Kagame, RDF Division commander based at Ruhengeru, Both facilitate recruitment of civilians and demobilized soldiers to M23 as well as coordinating RDF reinforcements in Runyoni with M23 commanders.
e) Colonel Jomba Gakumba, a native of North Kivu, who used to be an RDF instructor at the Rwandan Military Academy at Gako, was redeployed to Ruhengeri since the creation of M23, where he has been in charge of commanding locally military operations in support of M23.
Ex-RDF officers, politicians, M23 collaborators also informed the Group that Ntaganda and Makenga have been regularly crossing the border into Rwanda to carrying meetings with any of the above mentioned senior RDF officers at Kinigi, on several occasions. Those same sources also stated that former CNDP chairman General Laurent Nkunda, officially under house arrest by the Rwandan government since January 2009, often comes from Kigali to participate in these meetings.
Rwanda's ambassador the African Union, Joseph Nsengimana, vigorously denied the allegations in a June 21 statement to the African Union Peace and Security Committee. "I want to state categorically that Rwandan is neither a cause nor an enabler of the ongoing crisis in the DRC. To the contrary, a pattern of undisputable facts indicate that Rwanda cannot be an obstacle but a strong partner for peace in the DRC," he said in the statement, which was attached to the report.
"Direct high-level engagement between Rwanda and the DRC diplomatic and defense officials have been at the forefront of Rwanda's efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the worrying situation in the DRC since the beginning of the current rebellion in DRC in April 2012."
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Since his first days in office, Ban Ki-moon has lived under the shadow of his predecessor, Kofi Annan, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was dubbed the "secular pope" and viewed by many U.N. boosters as the organization's moral compass.
Ban, by contrast, was the guy engaging in secret talks with unsavory dictators and autocrats in places like Burma, or holding his tongue in the face of atrocities in Sri Lanka and Sudan. But in Syria, Ban has abandoned his traditional preference for quiet diplomacy, berating the Syrian leadership in a series of scathing statements.
Ban recently told reporters at a luncheon that he had essentially stopped trying to speak directly to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying that he had effectively broken every promise he had made to the U.N. chief. Throughout the crisis, Ban has made it clear again and again that the Syria regime is to blame for stoking the country's popular unrest.
The U.N.'s diplomatic role in Syria has so far failed to bring an end to the Syrian crisis, and Ban's public criticism of Assad has likely limited to own ability to play a role in mediating the crisis. But it has nevertheless had the effect of elevating Ban's profile as a champion of popular rights while exposing Annan to criticism that he has placed unreasonable hopes in his ability to bring the Syrian leader into line.
Human Rights advocacy groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have recognized and applauded Ban for his public diplomacy on Syria, saying that he has finally come around to recognizing the value of using his position on the world stage as a bully pulpit, at least in the case of Syria.
"Many rights advocates despaired when they saw the statements he made defending states rights to the death penalty on his first day in office," Jose Luis Diaz, Amnesty International's U.N. representative told Turtle Bay. "But his statements on Syria, for example, or his position on the rights of LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender] persons, are good examples of the leadership we all expect from the U.N. secretary general. We'd like to see him use his moral and legal bully pulpit across the board. I hope that now that he's been given a second term he'll feel freer to speak out on all kinds of abuses, whoever commits or backs them"
Stephen Schlesinger, who has written extensively about the United Nations, last year described Ban's first term as "lackluster and ineffectual." But he said that Ban's public support for popular uprisings during the Arab Spring have "changed my mind about Ban. I think he has been far more outspoken and assertive in his role. He has started to sound like the old Kofi Annan."
Schlesinger and other U.N. experts, however, have defended Annan as exhibiting courage in accepting a meditation role carried little hope of success and posed threat to his reputation. And they say it is only natural that the role of diplomatic mediator requires making politically unpalatable comprises.
"It is the job of secretary general to be the bad cop and the mediator to be the good cop," said Bruce Jones, director of the Center for International Cooperation at New York University, and a former aide to Annan. "Kofi has put himself into a position that has some reputational risks. But I would find if unfortunate if Kofi gets blamed because every other solution is horrible one and this is a situation where you want to overturn every last pebble" to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
By most accounts, Annan has been dealt a pretty weak diplomatic hand.
U.S. and European-led diplomatic efforts to impose U.N. sanctions on Damascus to pressure the government to reform have been blocked by Russia and China. The United States, Britain, France, and Turkey appear unprepared to use force to drive Assad from power. Security Council diplomats, meanwhile appear increasingly concerned that Assad may weather the crisis, ensuring a central role in the country's future.
Still, Annan could hardly have been blind to the risks of deploying a small group of unarmed U.N. monitors in a conflict zone to enforce a cease-fire that few outsiders believe will stick. As the head of the U.N. peacekeeping department through much of the 1990s, Annan played a key role in running failed U.N. operations in Rwanda and Bosnia.
In November 1999, Annan published a review of the U.N. role in failing to stop mass killings outside the Bosnian village of Srebrenica, the worst atrocity in Europe since the Holocaust, that concluded that the U.N. leadership had to learn to resist the political pressure to send U.N. blue helmets into harms way when there was no peace to keep.
"Peacekeepers must never again be deployed into an environment in which there is no ceasefire or peace agreement," Annan wrote, criticizing the U.N. Security Council for not authorizing "more decisive and forceful action to prevent the unfolding horror."
"Many of the errors the United Nations made flowed from a single and no doubt well-intentioned effort: we tried to keep the peace and apply the rules of peacekeeping when there was no peace to keep," he added. "The cardinal lesson of Srebrenica is that a deliberate and systematic attempt to terrorize, expel or murder an entire people must be met decisively with all necessary means, and with the political will to carry the policy through to its logical conclusion."
The experience resulted in the U.N. turning to major world or regional powers to enforce peace in trouble spots like East Timor, where Australian soldiers imposed a cease-fire, and Sierra Leone, where British forces intervened to put down a rebellion. At the same time, the U.N. developed its own peacekeeping strategy -- known as "robust peacekeeping" -- which involved the limited use of lethal force in places like Congo and Haiti to put down challenges to its authority by armed groups.
Those lessons have not been applied in Syria, however, where the U.N.'s big powers have been unable to reach agreement on a plan to compel Assad to end a bloody crackdown that has left as many as 10,000 people dead. Annan, meanwhile, has openly opposed calls by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and a number of American lawmakers to arm Syria's divided opposition.
"The U.N. supervision mission is possibly the only remaining chance to stabilize the country," Annan told reporters in Geneva earlier this month. "And I'm sure I'm not telling you any secret when I tell you that there is a profound concern that the country could otherwise descend into full civil war and the implications of that are quite frightening. We cannot allow that to happen."
Indeed, if he succeeds in stopping that from happening, Ban may wind up back in Annan's shadow.
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In December 2011, Sudanese Gen. Mohamed Ahmed al-Dabi led an Arab League mission into Syria to monitor abuses during the country's popular uprising. But the mission quickly failed, hobbled by government impediments and its own monitors' inexperience.
But Gen. Dabi, it turned out, had plenty of experience hobbling international missions.
As a senior aide to president Omar al-Bashir, Dabi was assigned the task last year of shepherding a panel of U.N. experts charged with monitoring the enforcement of U.N. sanctions in Darfur, according to a leaked report by the panel.
The report, which was first published by Africa Confidential last month, provides a detailed account of how Dabi and his associates thwarted the U.N. Security Council panel's efforts to investigate abuses of a U.N. travel ban and arms embargo.
The panel arrived in Khartoum on November 23, 2011, and were immediately confronted by Dabi -- who served as the government's "focal point." Dabi criticized the panel and told them that they would be well advised to be "objective and transparent" in their work; meanwhile, assured the panel he would provide them all the support they needed.
It didn't turn out that way.
The experts requested multiple entry visas to facilitate their travels in the region. They were denied. In fact, Sudan introduced a new system in which the panel members' travel had to be approved by agents from Sudan's military intelligence bureau, impeding the "free movement of the panel and its ability to discharge its duties," according to the leaked report.
When the panel settled on a travel destination they were routinely told no.
They were denied permission to visit camps for the internally displaced at Kalma and Abu Shok, and prevented from traveling to other zones, including the areas around the towns of Shangil Tobaya, Golo, Rockero Thabit, Magarin, and Nortit.
"The panel wanted to visit some places, namely the Libya-Sudan border in Darfur, South Kordofan, and to observe Joint Sudan/Chad/CAR(Central African Republic) patrols along the western borders of Darfur, but the first two were refused and the third not arranged," according to the report. "As a result the panel was not able to carry out its mandate effectively."
The panel's requests to interview key officials were also met with refusals. They were barred from meeting with any commanders in the Sudan Armed Forces in Darfur, police officials, or the governor of South Kordofan.
"Similarly, the panel was refused permission to inspect military aircraft and other military assets kept in Darfur and to access flight logs maintained by the Sudanese Aviation Authority," the report added. "This affected the panel's ability to effectively monitor the arms embargo in relation to Darfur."
It remains unclear whether Dabi was involved in rejecting all the panel members' requests, and he apparently moved on to Syria shortly after taking on the role of government liaison to the U.N. panel. But it is clear that Dabi didn't always say no.
At one point, Dabi "had proposed to show to the panel weapons and vehicles" Sudan seized from an anti-government rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement. The materiel, according to Dabi, had been supplied by Libya.
But while the panel tried to take Dabi up on his offer, he never produced the goods.
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As the late Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces prepared to crush the Libyan uprising last summer in Benghazi, Britain, France, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and other allies moved quickly to reinforce the beleaguered rebel forces.
With military supplies, training, advice -- and of course the backing of NATO war planes -- this coalition of governments provided critical support to change the course of the conflict, ultimately leading to Qaddafi's downfall.
The U.N. Security Council's arms embargo was primarily intended to constrain Qaddafi's capacity to use its massive oil wealth to import new stocks of weapons and foreign mercenaries to help put down the rebellion. But it also placed restraints on the supply of weapons to the rebels, prompting the Security Council to later introduce an exemption -- providing significant cover for governments seeking to arm the rebels.
A new report by a U.N. panel of experts responsible for monitoring the arms embargo in Libya sought to itemize a list of military supplies -- everything from sandbags to shouldered propelled rockets -- that flowed into Libya after the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Libya in February 2011. The list, however, is incomplete because NATO and some of the insurgents' chief military backers, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have refused to provide a full account of their contributions.
The report identified numerous attempts by the Qaddafi regime "to secure arms deals and use mercenaries from neighboring countries," citing reports in the Globe and Mail about a July 2011 visit to Beijing by Libyan officials seeking to purchase military supplies from three Chinese arms manufacturers. (China denied that the talks led to any deals.) The panel also cited reports that much of Libya's military capacity had been reconstituted after 2004, following years of Western and U.N. sanctions, with the aid of Western European countries and ex-Soviet states (The panel also noted that is conducting an ongoing investigation into Qaddafi's use of mercenaries, adding that so far it had found "no conclusive evidence.")
But the 78-page report provides insights into how the international community combined diplomatic pressure, military airpower, and clandestine arms deliveries, to topple a regime. It would not be surprising if some of those countries considering backing the Syrian campaign to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad in Syria are drawing from the same playbook.
The United States
Though U.S. airpower proved decisive in crippling Qaddafi's defenses, the United States maintains that it provided only non-lethal military support to the rebels. The report notes that on February 6, the United States provided the panel with a list of its contributions, including 8,000 uniforms, 8,000 boots, 5,825 load-bearing vests, 2,850 bullet proof vests, 1,975 military helmets, and "items for defensive positions (sandbags, Hescos...)."
The Italian government notified the panel on February 14 that it supplied 10 military trainers, 10,000 uniforms, 5,400 helmets and 2,800 leather boots.
On February 9, the United Kingdom informed the panel that it supplies the rebels with 6,000 sets of body armor and no more than 20 military personnel. The British action, according to the report, was intended to "provide a military assistance team to the Libyan authorities for the purpose of providing operational assistance, training and mentoring on security issues, including reform of the armed services, counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency."
In April 2011, the French government notified the United Nations that it had sent a small team of military advisors to Libya to provide the National Transitional Council with "support and advice on ways to organize its internal structure, manage its resources and improve its communications." In June, it went further, notifying the UN that it had "airdropped self-defence weapons for the civilian populations that had been victims of attacks by Libyan armed forces." The panel's report contains no detailed list of these contributions as the French asked it to keep the details confidential.
The panel said that it has obtained information that several flights operating from Tirana, Albania, transported military materiel to Benghazi over a three day period in September, 2011. The case remains under investigation.
One of the more tantalizing revelations in the panel report is the suggestion that Darfuri rebel groups, including members of the Zaghawa tribe and fighters from the Justice and Equality Movement, may have backed Qaddafi's counterinsurgency campaign. The panel said that while it was not able to "definitely corroborate" numerous reports of the military role in the conflict, ‘the accumulative strength of intelligence gives substantial credibility to these findings." No to be outdone, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, extended overflight rights over Sudanese territory to NATO, according to senior U.N. diplomats, and allegedly supplied arms to the insurgents, according to the panel. The panel cited claims by the Benghazi rebel defense ministry that Sudan provided "small arms and light weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades," and transported other supplies to Bengazhi on two Ilyushin-76 aircraft. "According to media reports, on 26 October, the President of the Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, gave a speech in Kasala in which he acknowledged weapons deliveries from the Sudan to Libya and that the weapons had reached revolutionaries in Misratah, Al-Jabal Al-Gharabi and Zawiya." The Sudanese government did not reply to the panel's request for information.
In March 2011, Qatar notified the United Nations that it would participate in NATO enforcement of the U.N.-authorized no-fly zone over Libya, contributing "a number of military aircraft, military transport aircraft and helicopters." Qatar categorically denied media reports that "it had supplied the revolutionaries with arms and ammunition," saying only that it had "sent a limited number of military personnel to provide military consultations to the revolutionaries, defend Libyan civilians and protect aid convoys." The only weapons and ammunition it had furnished was for the use of Qatari military advisors in self-defense.
But the Qatari contention had one big hole in it. In July, 2011, a Swiss television station discovered spent Swiss ammunition used by the Libyan revolutionaries. The Swiss ammo had been exported to the Qatar armed forces in 2009 by a Swiss arms company, FGS Frex, and made its way to Libya. Confronted by Swiss authorities, who noted that Qatar was prohibited from re-exporting the ammunition, the Qatari ambassador appeared to have confirmed its role in the supply of ammunition. "The ambassador of Qatar explained to the Swiss representatives that the ‘transfer of the aforementioned ammunition to the Libyan opposition was a misadventure in the course of his country's support of the NATO operation in Libya.' He reassured the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs that ‘Qatar took the appropriate measures to prevent similar errors in the future.'"
The United Arab Emirates
The panel provided few details about alleged arms transfers by the United Arab Emirates, partly because it is conducting an ongoing investigation into the matter, and partly because the Gulf state refused to provide the panel with a list of its contributions. On March 25, "the United Arab Emirates notified the [UN] Secretary General that it would participate, within the framework of the international coalition, by providing military aircraft. No notification was given regarding transfers of weapons or ammunition or provision of military personnel." The panel visited the UAE to inquire about its role in arming and advising the Libyan insurgents. The government insisted that it had acted in conformity with UN resolutions and under the umbrella of the NATO operation" to protect civilians. "They did not provide more precise information and said that NATO would be in a better position to answer those questions."
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's role in Libya was decisive in crippling Qaddafi's military defenses and providing support for insurgent offensive operations. While its air campaign is not the subject of the panel's inquiry, the report notes that it wrote to NATO "asking it to provide a detailed list of military materiel, including weapons and ammunition, sent by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates or any other country that participated in the NATO operation and information regarding the number and roles of military personnel sent by those countries to Libya since the imposition of the embargo. While NATO acknowledged the receipt of the panel's request for information on 25 January 2012, no answer has been provided to date."
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As Kofi Annan pursues a cease-fire to end the violence in Syria, the U.N.'s peacekeeping department has been developing plans for a mission of about 250 unarmed, international observers to monitor the peace and hopefully to buy some time for political talks to forge a lasting settlement.
But what can U.N. monitors achieve in a country like Syria, where a recent experiment involving roughly 150 poorly equipped, ill-trained Arab League monitors ended in failure? Observers say there are few precedents for the deployment of U.N. observers in the middle of an internal conflict, particularly one like Syria where the armed opposition does not operate under a single chain of command.
The experience of the Arab League monitors, who withdrew in January, provides some clues as to the challenges. In the initial stages of that observation mission, Syria erected a series of bureaucratic hurdles, preventing the outside observers from importing their own communications equipment and limiting their travel within the country.
Even if U.N. observers are able to overcome these hurdles, how would a small group of unarmed foreign observers ensure their independence from government security forces and its own protection from spoilers, including a resurgent al Qaeda?
The British government has begun exploring a series of ideas with the U.N. peacekeeping department about the shape of the new mission, which would likely draw staff from existing U.N. missions in the Middle East, including the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, the U.N. Truce Supervision Force, and the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon.
A small team of U.N. peacekeeping planners are headed to Damascus in the coming days to begin preliminary discussions with the government, although a date has not been set.
U.N. officials and outside observers say they expect a long protracted negotiation with the Syrian government over the mission's terms. Both Annan, a former U.N. peacekeeping chief, and one of his principle deputies, Jean-Marie Guehenno, who succeeded Annan as the U.N.'s top peacekeeping official, know better than most the perils of deploying U.N. missions that lack resources or a firm enough mandate to succeed.
In Geneva, Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, meanwhile, expressed concern that there has been no halt to the fighting in Syria, and called on Assad to take the first step. "We expect him to implement this plan immediately," Fawzi told reporters, according to the Associated Press. "Clearly, we have not seen a cessation of hostilities and this is of great concern."
"The government must stop first and then discuss a cessation of hostilities with the other side," Fawzi added. "We are appealing to the stronger party to make a gesture of good faith.... The deadline is now."
Richard Gowan, an expert on U.N. peacekeeping at New York University's Center for International Cooperation, said that there will be an "unstoppable pressure" from key powers to deploy foreign monitors in order to show that the world is responding to the violence.
"It will be really tempting to get some observers into the country and say this is a sign of progress. I would urge caution because you could be setting yourself up for another failure," Gowan said. "The Syrians are well placed to manipulate the monitors as they come in."
The U.N. has a long history of deploying observer missions, but they have traditionally been used to monitor cease-fire agreements, or border disputes between states, not internal conflicts. However, there are some precedents.
In 1998, Richard Holbrooke, President Bill Clinton's chief Balkans envoy, negotiated an agreement with the Serbs to deploy the Kosovo Verification Mission in Kosovo, a team of 1,400 observers that enjoyed considerable freedom to monitor violence in the former Serb territory. But the mission, which was established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, was unable to stem the violence, and was withdrawn the following year when NATO decided to bomb Serbia into compliance. In 2007, the U.N. sent about 180 unarmed U.N. monitors to Nepal, to ensure that Maoist insurgents remained in a set of military cantonments through the country's election. And last year, the U.N. planned to send a couple of hundred monitors to Libya, to support efforts to broker a cease-fire between the government of Muammar al-Qaddafi and the insurgents. The plan was ditched after Qaddafi's government collapsed last fall.
Annan is scheduled to brief the U.N. Security Council on Monday, April 2, by video conference from Geneva on the latest diplomatic development on Syria, and may broach discussions of a monitoring mission. Security Council members say that a new monitoring mission will require the adoption of a new Security Council resolution, but that no one is expected to table one until receiving a request from Annan.
In the meantime, council diplomats have been putting a series of questions on the mandate of a new mission before Annan and the U.N. peacekeeping department. Most importantly, European officials are seeking assurance that U.N. monitors are used to bolster a political transition, not simply to enforce a stand off that favors the Syrian government.
Gowan offers his own recommendations. For a new monitoring mission in Syria to be a success, six basic operational criteria must be fulfilled:
1. Freedom of movement: The Arab League observer mission was under constant supervision by Syrian security personnel, and could not travel to trouble-spots without their minders. To have even minimal credibility, the U.N. mission would need to be able to make monitoring visits on their own initiative. The team would need their own vehicles (probably armored 4x4s) and independent close-protection officers. The Syrian authorities will argue that the observers should notify them in advance of trips for safety's sake. Nonetheless, the U.N, should insist on the right on to make spot-checks with 2-3 hours notice at most.
2. A secure HQ and communications: The Arab observers were headquartered in a hotel, and had use Syrian communications systems to contact the Arab League in Cairo, inevitably compromising their reporting. A credible U.N. mission would need an independent base -- off-limits to Syrian authorities -- and the ability to send encrypted communications to New York. A neutral government such as Switzerland could provide military communications experts to support the mission. It might not take long for the Syrians (with Russian and Iranian help) to crack the codes, but this would at least signal the observers' autonomy.
3. Access to Syrian artillery and armor: The use of big guns and tanks against civilians has been a defining dimension of the conflict. While the Arab observers were meant to oversee the removal of heavy weapons from urban areas, the Syrian Army only made cosmetic withdrawals. Annan and the Security Council have now called for the "end the use of heavy weapons in population centers, and [to] begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centers." U.N. monitors would need to prioritize tracking artillery and armored units, possibly even embedding personnel in their bases away from cities.
4. Satellites and drones: Heavy weapons can also be tracked by drones and satellites -- which the United States has done already -- and the observer mission should make use of these sources. Damascus will object to the U.N. turning to the United States for aerial or satellite intelligence, but the U.N. can get imagery from other sources and has its own satellite imagery analysts. The EU also has a satellite center that could be put at the U.N.'s disposal, and Belgium has a small fleet of drones that it has previously deployed in European peace operations.
5. Special investigators: While "observing" and "monitoring" sound like passive activities, the U.N. could also deploy investigative teams to gain more detailed information on specific incidents -- including bombings and raids by rebel forces. While it's very hard to gather reliable evidence in war zones, small teams of forensic and ballistics specialists may be able to piece together basic facts on new massacres. Although not much of a deterrent in the short term, the presence of these teams may make it possible to hold killers from both sides accountable later, as drawn-out prosecutions in the Balkans have shown.
6. An emergency exit strategy: However effectively the U.N. monitors might perform, there will still be a risk that the situation in Syria will deteriorate again -- and either the government or opposition could try to seize some observers as hostages. There will need to be a military plan to get the monitors out at short notice. Russia, with its base at Tartus, is best-placed to arrange such a plan and could offer to do so as a sign of goodwill towards Kofi Annan. The U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon and the Turkish armed forces -- and possibly Britain, which has forces stationed nearby in Cyprus -- could lend a helping hand.
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Mukesh Kapila, a former U.N. envoy to Sudan who was among the first to raise the alarm over atrocities in Darfur, recently returned to Sudan, sneaking into the Nuba Mountains to assess humanitarian conditions in a province that has seen violence and been cut off from international assistance.
The Nuba Mountains have been the center of fighting between Sudanese forces and rebels allied with newly independent South Sudan. Sudan's government in Khartoum, which launched a major offensive aimed at crushing the rebellion, has refused to allow U.N. humanitarian aid workers into the region to witness what is happening and assist hundreds of thousands facing looming famine.
Kapila and other Sudan peace activists, including film star George Clooney, have traveled to the Nuba mountains in recent weeks to raise awareness about the plight of the Nubans, and pressed government officials to take dramatic steps to avert hunger.
"People are living on rats, wild flowers, and fruits," Kapila said in a telephone interview with Turtle Bay. Kapila, who was representing the advocacy group Aegis Trust, made the case that the situation has grown so desire that foreign donors need to bypass the United Nations delivery system and provide direct assistance to local groups, some of which have links to the rebels, to stave off a massive humanitarian calamity. If some aid is diverted to armed fighters challenging the government so be it.
"In my view, cross-border operations are necessary," Kapila said. "Those who don't want to do it don't have the moral high ground to stand in the way.
The United States has warned that the country this month will reach a phase four-level food emergency, one stage short of full-out famine, without a major relief effort. And American officials have been quietly building up food stocks in the area and are considering the prospects of supporting cross-border aid distribution operations that are opposed by the Sudanese government, according to senior U.N. officials and private aid groups.The move follows an increasing push by a group of seven human rights advocacy groups, including the Enough Project and United to End Genocide, which appealed to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, last month to support cross-border aid. "Counter-intuitively, sending aid into Sudan by any means necessary -- backed by heavy press for humanitarian corridors -- might be the best way to compel the regime to lift its aid embargo," Enough Project founder John Prendergast and Clooney wrote in December.
Officials say that Rice is sympathetic to the argument for cross-border operations, which were used to stave off hunger in the Nuba Mountains during the 1990s. The relief assistance then was channeled through several Norwegian and American relief organizations with operations in the area.
Princeton Lyman, the U.S.'s special envoy for Sudan, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today that while the United States would prefer the U.N. secure Khartoum's consent for aid deliveries it is considering doing it without it. "Should Khartoum agree to allow access to international humanitarian organizations across the lines of fighting, there must be swift progress on implementation. If necessary, we will examine ways to provide indirect support to Sudanese humanitarian actors to reach the most vulnerable. We have monitoring and accountability tools to make sure that civilians would be the beneficiaries of these activities. Nevertheless, an international program, as proposed by the U.N. and its partners, is the best means to reach the most people and we continue to urge the government to approve it."
But the proposal has faced stiff resistance from the U.N.'s chief humanitarian relief agencies, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and several humanitarian relief groups with operations in Sudan. They fear that the effort would provoke the government into moving against relief agencies, and would undermine the chief principle of humanitarian neutrality.
"I've made it clear on many occasions that I do not support cross-border operations unless they are agreed by both governments, the governments of Sudan and South Sudan," said Valerie Amos, the U.N. humanitarian relief coordinator. "And indeed the government of Sudan have said that they would see any kind of cross-border operation as a hostile act."
Amos said that she has proposed that the Sudanese government allow international relief workers to have "cross line" access to displaced civilians in rebel-controlled areas of South Kordofan by crossing through government-controlled territory, not through the border. The anti-government rebels, known as the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (North), have agreed to the plan, but Khartoum has not provided a response.
The Sudanese government kicked the United Nations out of the Nuba Mountains last summer, arguing that their services were no longer needed following the end of the countries' decades-long civil war.
A landmark 2005 peace deal ending Sudan's bloody civil war between north and south paved the way for the latter's independence, but it never resolved the fate of their Nuban allies, who remain subject to northern rule.
The local forces were supposes to disarm following a "popular consultation" that was intended to determine the regions relationship with Khartoum. But the rival forces were never integrated, and the popular consultation never took place.
In May, Khartoum ordered the Nuban forces to either turn over their weapons and submit to northern rule or move to the south. A month later, as the world's attention was focused on South Sudan's independence, Khartoum opened its new military front in the Sudanese territory of South Kordofan, in the country's Nuba Mountains region.
The situation in South Kordofan bears some similarities with Darfur, where Sudanese forces, backed by Arab militias, mounted a brutal counterinsurgency campaign -- including large-scale killings and massive displacement of civilians -- against the region's restive tribes. In one ominous twist, South Kordofan's new governor, Ahmed Haroun, a member of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party, is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of committing war crimes against Darfurians.
However, the local forces in South Kordofan are far more heavily armed than their Darfurian counterparts and have exercised control over a large swath of the territory. Sudanese officials charge the Nubans with precipitating the latest round of violence by reinforcing their military presence in recent months and refusing to meet their obligation under previous agreements to disarm and attacking local security outposts.
The fate of Sudan's Nubans has become a growing source of concern among human rights observers. Kapila, who traveled to the Nuban Mountains with a rebel escort, said he witnessed a veritable wasteland.
"What did I see?" he asked. "Basically, as you drive in, you see totally deserted countryside, burnt village after burnt village after burnt village."
The few remaining locals, he said, are terrorized by daily bombings from government Antonov airplanes. In the town of Taroji, he saw two churches hit by overhead bombs, while a local mosque was left untouched. He saw boxes of Mark 4 anti-personnel mines (bearing Farsi writing, and thus apparently of Iranian origin), that had been seized by anti-government forces when they captured the town last month. Spent munitions of Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian, and even U.S. origin were found in towns that faced attacks by government forces.
In the town of Dar, in the Nuba Mountains, he encountered a group of woman collecting water at a pump when an Antonov began its approach, forcing the women to flee to a nearby hill where they sought refugee in hidden nooks, crannies, and caves.
"I was totally paralyzed because I'm not used to Antonovs flying over my head," he said. "These Antonov bombers go around terrorizing the population almost every day."
Kapila said that anti-government forces of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (North), also known as the ninth division, have gradually expanded their control of territory, providing an opening for the delivery of aid from South Sudan.
"These people are being cleared away," Kapila said. If we don't act fast, he added, "we will end up with a situation where Khartoum will delay assistance until it has cleansed the area. The same thing happened in Darfur."
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It's never been so hard to give money away.
For more than three years, Equatorial Guinea's oil-rich dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, has been struggling to convince the U.N. Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to accept $3 million to administer a life-sciences prize in his name.
The effort, which has set off a storm of criticism from critics of that government, ran into trouble again this week as UNESCO's lawyer counseled the Paris-based U.N. agency not to touch the money, according to a copy of the internal advisory obtained by Turtle Bay, without further review of the source of the funding.
In 2008, UNESCO established the UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, and wrote a $3 million check to fund awards for individuals who have achieved advances in the field that have improved the well-being of Africans.
But the money has never been spent and the prize has been mired in controversy ever since.
Critics of the regime -- including a coalition of human rights groups, anti-corruption advocates, and EquatoGuinean exiles -- maintain that the Obiang is dipping into public funds to underwrite a costly prize to burnish his personal image on the world stage.
They say the money would be put to better use improving the standard of living within Equatorial Guinea, a country with a per capita GDP on par with many European countries but where the vast majority of citizens live in abject poverty.
Last November, Obiang sought to overcome opposition to the prize by removing his name and change the prize to the UNESCO-Equatorial Guinea International Prize. But that clearly wasn't' enough. A UNESCO working group established last year to determine whether to approve the award failed to reach consensus last week, leaving it to the UNESCO's board of governors, who are meeting through Friday of this week, to make a decision. They will take up the matter on Wednesday, but it may have to be delayed even further.
In an internal advisory, obtained by Turtle Bay, UNESCO's lawyer Maria Vicien-Miburn, said that Equatorial Guinea had initially proposed that the prize be funded through a non-profit organization, called the Obiang Nguema Mbasogo Foundation for the Preservation of Life.
But last month, Equatorial Guinea's Minister for Education and Science Joaquin Mbana Nchama informed UNESCO that the funds for the prize actually came from the state treasury. Ten days later, on Feb. 22, the government's U.N. delegation sent a note to UNESCO stating that "the donor of the prize is from now on the government of Equatorial Guinea."
"In light of these two recent communications from the government it is clear that the Obiang Foundation is not -- or is no longer -- the donor of the prize funds, as required by the Statutes adopted by the Executive Board. Accordingly, there is a material discrepancy between the Prize Statutes and the Government's explanations in its recent communications with respect to the source of the funding of the prize. Under these circumstances, the Legal Office could not advise the Director General to use the funds currently in UNESCO accounts for implementation of the prize."
In the meantime, Obiang's government has been seeking credit for other awards.
In December, the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation hosted President Obiang as its guest of honor at its Beacon of Africa Award. President Obiang, who was then serving as the rotating president of the African Union, received the award on behalf of the African organization.
But Equatorial Guinea's embassy announced, erroneously, that the award had been given to President Obiang.
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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is planning to ask his predecessor, Kofi Annan, to serve as his new U.N. envoy to Syria, turning to a high-profile diplomat with extensive experience in the region, and a history of dealings with President Bashar al-Assad, to help halt the spiraling violence in Syria.
If he accepts, it would be Annan's first major diplomatic troubleshooting effort since 2008, when he led an African Union mediation effort aimed at ending a post-election civil war in Kenya. Annan received international plaudits for his success in persuading the Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga to form a coalition government.
A Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Annan earned a reputation as a forceful proponent of human rights, promoting the doctrine that states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens, and building up the U.N.'s institutional capacity to monitor rights violations in peacekeeping missions. But he is also associated with some of the U.N.'s greatest human rights failures, including leading the U.N. peacekeeper department at a time when the U.N. failed to intervene to halt mass atrocities in Srebrenica and Rwanda.
The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution last week condemning Syria's violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrators and asking the United Nations chief to appoint a special envoy to support an Arab League initiative for a political transition in Syria to a government of national unity.
Ban will be in London tomorrow, but is expected to announce the new appointment as a high-level diplomatic meeting takes place in Tunis, where top Western and Arab diplomats, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are set to discuss Syria's future. The selection of Annan sends "a clear message that this is at the top of the international communities agenda," said one council diplomat. "He's clearly a politica heavyweight."
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The United Nations expelled a Nepalese peacekeeper from its mission in Liberia several weeks ago, after being informed by local and international human rights groups that he was facing charges of torture back home in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The case places another blot on the reputation of Nepalese peacekeepers, who are suspected of having introduced a cholera epidemic in Haiti, killing more than 6,000 people. But it has also drawn criticism of the U.N. for moving too slowly to vet an accused rights abusers from participating in their ranks.
It comes as the Nepalese government has come under criticism from the United Nations for promoting several top military officers who have been charged with abuses. On Tuesday, Nepal's Council of Ministers appointed Suryaman Dong as minister of state for energy despite an ongoing arrest warrant for his alleged role in the 2005 abduction and murder of Arjun Lama.
"Such decisions will establish a trend to entrench impunity," said Jyoti Sanghera, head of the U.N. human rights office in Nepal. "The government should respect Nepal's judiciary and the rule of law."
The fate of rights abusers in Nepal's security forces has been a deeply divisive issue as the country continues a fragile transition to democratic rule, coming to terms with abuses committed during a bloody civil war that led to the killing of 13,000 people between 1996 and 2006.
The former U.N. peacekeeper, Basanta Bahadur Kunmar, faced charges of savagely beating a suspected thief while in police custody in Sept. 2009, according to a local rights group. But the Nepalese authorities placed him on a list of police to serve in the U.N. Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), according to Tej Thapa, a South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Nepalese human rights groups approached the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping in New York and the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal to raise concerns about the deployment of Kunmar in the mission, she said. But he was sent anyway.
Thapa said she believes the Nepalese military was seeking to "protect" Kunmar from prosecution by deploying him overseas. What was most surprising, she said, is that the U.N. did not act immediately to block his deployment.
The United Nations, she said, only took action after it was approached by Human Rights Watch. U.N. officials in New York maintain that the United Nations was already in the process of arranging for Kunmar's return to Nepal when they were approached by Human Rights Watch.
In response to a query by Turtle Bay, the spokesman for the U.N. department of peacekeeping, Kieran Dwyer, said in an email statement that: "A Nepalese police officer was repatriated following information that he had a case to answer to in his national courts for alleged torture in his home country. The United Nations acted as soon as it received informal information about this police officer. After satisfying ourselves about the facts raised, we worked with the government of Nepal and the officer was withdrawn within weeks."
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The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously yesterday to end the NATO-led no-fly zone over Libya, marking the conclusion of a controversial military conflict that deeply divided the 15-nation security body, but ended with the collapse of one of the world's most reviled dictatorships.
Yesterday's action came one week after Africa's longest ruling leader, Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, was killed in the custody of militia fighting under the banner of the National Transitional Council. The Security Council decided to terminate by Oct. 31 a U.N. mandate which has permitted foreign forces to enforce a no-fly zone and to use military force to protect civilians during the past seven months.
Following the vote, U.S. ambassador Susan Rice hailed the council's role in halting Qaddafi's crackdown on civilians and unmitigated success.
"For the United Nations Security Council, this closes what I think history will judge to be a proud chapter in the Security Council's history," she told reporters. The council, she added, "acted promptly and effectively to prevent mass slaughter in Benghazi and other parts of the east, and to effectively protect civilians over the course of the last many months."
The council's decision ended months of acrimonious debate. China, Brazil, Russia, and India -- who joined Germany in abstaining on the vote authorizing the use of force -- had sharply criticized the NATO-led military coalition, saying its role in aiding the rebel campaign exceeded the Security Council mandate to use force only for the protection of civilians.
In the end, however, those governments gave their approval to a resolution that welcomed the "positive developments in Libya which will improve the prospects for a democratic, peaceful and prosperous future" for the North African country.
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Nine months after the Yemeni government launched its armed crackdown on peaceful protesters, the U.N. Security Council is poised to adopt a resolution later this afternoon condemning the government for its repressive practices and endorsing a regional political settlement that would lead to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's departure from office.
The resolution would mark the first time the 15-nation council has weighed in on Yemen's political crisis, and will place the U.N. security body squarely behind a regional deal that would grant immunity to President Saleh and his inner circle from prosecution for crimes.
The amnesty provision, which was included in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative, is highly controversial. Yemen's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Tawakkul Karman, denounced the amnesty provision at a demonstration Tuesday outside U.N. headquarters, and the Geneva-based U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) office also opposed an amnesty for serious crimes.
Rupert Colville, the spokesman for UNHCR, told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday that, while the U.N. cannot comment on the GCC deal, "international law prohibits the use of amnesties that prevent the prosecution of individuals for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity or gross violations of human rights -- so that would apply in this situation as in any other."
But Gulf leaders believe that it would be impossible to convince Saleh to yield power without a guarantee that he and his closest aides won't be prosecuted. And the Security Council has thrown its weight behind them.
Still, there are few signs that Saleh had any real intention of stepping down.
In recent weeks, Saleh's government has intensified its military crackdown on protesters, while armed groups, including al Qaeda, have targeted government buildings and officials.
In April, the Gulf Cooperation Council produced a political accord that would commit Saleh to transfer powers to his vice president, followed by elections and the drafting of a new constitution. In return, Saleh and his advisers would be granted immunity from prosecution for crimes committed during the crackdown. Yemen's main opposition alliance, the Joint Meeting Parties, signed the accord. But Saleh has stubbornly refused to do so.
A report by UNHCR last month concluded that "many Yemenis, peacefully calling for greater freedoms, and end to corruption and respect for the rule of law, have been met with an excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force by the state. Hundreds have been killed and thousands have suffered injuries, including loss of limbs."
The demonstrators have provided a backdrop to an increasingly violent power struggle between Saleh and his supporters, on one side, and armed opponents, including al Qaeda elements, on the other, according to the report. Today's U.N. resolution, which presses for restraint on all sides, reflected on the complexity of the crisis.
The resolution "strongly condemns the continued human rights violation by the Yemeni authorities" and "expresses profound regret at the deaths of hundreds of civilians, including women and children." It also demands that all opposition movements refrain from violence and provocation "for perpetrating human rights abuses and "stresses that all those responsible for violence, human rights violations and abuses should be held accountable."
It also calls on President Saleh to sign and implement the agreement "as soon as possible "stresses that all those responsible for violence, human rights violations and abuses should be held accountable."
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Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo lost his latest bid to establish a UNESCO life science prize in his own name, following protests by human rights advocates and anti-corruption groups that the government had squandered the country's oil-riches to fund the lavish lifestyle of his relatives.
Today, the EquatoGuinean leader offered his response, appointing his son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, who has become an international symbol of the regimes excesses, as his country's envoy to UNESCO.
The younger Obiang, who goes by Teodorin and currently serves as Equatorial Guinea's minister for agriculture and forestry, has been the target of criminal investigations in France and Spain. Earlier this month, French authorities in Paris seized a fleet of luxury cars -- including Ferraris, Bugattis, and a Maserati -- belonging to the younger Obiang.
This morning, the U.S. Justice Department filed a notice in connection with a "claim for the forfeiture of more than $70 million in assets, including a mansion, jet and Michael Jackson memorabilia" belonging to Teodorin, according to a press release issued by the New York-based Human Rights Watch. The forfeiture was first reported by Foreign Policy earlier this month.
According to the rights group and most analysts, Teodorin, who also serves as vice president of Equatorial Guinea's ruling party, is his fathers' presumed choice to succeed him as the country's leader. "He is known for his lavish, jet-setting lifestyle and love of luxury vehicles, which contrast sharply with the low living standards of the majority of the inhabitants of Equatorial Guinea," the report stated.
The Equatorial Guinean government has repeatedly denied the charges of corruption, saying the Obiang family is the target of an unfair smear campaign by foreign groups.
Kenneth Hurwitz, a senior legal officer for the Open Society's Justice Initiative, said he believes that the move to accredit the young Obiang at UNESCO is aimed at immunizing him from prosecution in a French court. "My take is this is an attempt to make a creditable claim of diplomatic immunity," Hurwitz told Turtle Bay.
As to the precedent, Hurwitz said that a French businessman, Pierre Falcone, had been assigned to UNESCO on behalf of the Angolan government while he faced charges of arms trafficking in violation of French law. Falcone was convicted in Oct. 2009 by a criminal court in Paris on charges relating to "illegal arms deals, tax fraud, money laundering, embezzlement and other crimes," but later acquitted on all charges relating to arms trading by the Paris Court of Appeals on April 29, 2011.
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Correction: This post has been edited to reflect inaccuracies relating to Pierre Falcone.
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.