A U.N. panel set up last year to enforce an arms embargo in Libya has opened an inquiry into allegations that France and Qatar armed Libyan rebels involved in the overthrow of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's government, according to confidential report by the panel.
The eight-member panel has made no ruling on whether the allies of the rebel Libyan government violated sanctions -- and it remains unclear whether the panel will in the future -- given that France and other allies in the Security Council can exercise considerable authority over the panel.
Still, the report sheds new light on how the anti-Qaddafi opposition was able to transform a collection of militias and tribal leaders into a fighting force capable of defeating the government's superior military forces. And it includes acknowledgments by France and Qatar that they supplied military advisers to the insurgents to help prevent government attacks on civilians.
The report, which has not been made public, was distributed to the 15 governments that sit on the U.N. Security Council, and includes a stamp of the recipient country on each page, a practice that is used to limit leaks. But Turtle Bay obtained excerpts of the report from sources with access to it.
The panels' s findings come as Libya is trying to rebuild its military capability. Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. envoy, appealed to the Security Council earlier this month to lift the arms embargo, saying his government needs to buy new weapons to maintain security in the country and reinforce its borders.
The U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo, travel ban, and asset freeze on Libya on Feb. 26, 2011, in an effort to prevent Qaddafi from importing weapons to help him crush the popular uprising that ultimately led to his fall from power. They established a panel to enforce the sanctions.
On March 17, the Security Council, acting at the request of the United States, amended the embargo to permit some unspecified military support, providing flexibility to NATO forces enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya.
The role of foreign militaries in supporting the insurgents on the ground was an open secret during the conflict, but the legal basis for arming them was hotly debated.
At the time, the Security Council was sharply divided over whether the exemption applied to shipments of arms to the rebels. The United States and France argued that such shipments were permitted, particularly in instances where the weapons could be used to defend civilians from a government attack. But several other council members, including Brazil, China, India, South Africa, and Portugal -- which chairs the committee -- believed that it was not. Even Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, a strong supporter of the Libyan intervention, questioned the legality of arming the rebels.
The panel has relied on a combination of news reports and interviews with Libyan insurgents and officials from the former regime.
It cites a July 2011 interview in Benghazi, in which Qaddafi's defense minister, and an arms expert in the Libyan Ministry of Defense, accused Qatar of channeling massive amounts of weapons into Libya. "The panel was clearly informed that several countries were supporting the opposition through deliveries of arms and ammunition including Qatar," reads the report. "According to the same sources, between the beginning of the uprising and the day of the interview, approximately 20 flights had delivered materiel from Qatar to the revolutionaries in Libya, including French anti-tank weapons launchers, MILANS."
"A number of media reports indicate that Qatar supported the armed opposition to [Qaddafi] from early on in the conflict by participating in the NATO air operations, as well as through the direct provision of a range of military materiel and military personnel," the report added.
The panel honed in on a July 2011 report in a Swiss television program that stocks of Swiss-made M-80 rifle ammunition was used by anti-Qaddafi forces in Libya. The ammunition had been sold to Qatar in 2009, but Swiss authorities told the sanctions committee that the ammunition had been exported to Qatar under the condition that it not be re-exported to another buyer.
"Swiss authorities have thoroughly looked into this case and have been in contact with the authorities of Qatar," Johann Aeschlimann, a spokesman for the Swiss mission to the United Nations, told Turtle Bay. "For Switzerland, the case is settled. Switzerland has informed the panel of experts of the Libya sanctions committee of the UN Security Council in detail about this case."
The Qatari government denied supplying any weapons or ammunition to the insurgents, saying it did not know how the Swiss ammunition found its way into Libya. In a Feb. 12, 2012, letter Qatar informed the panel that it "sent a limited number of military personnel to provide military consultations to the revolutionaries, defend Libyan civilians and protect aid convoys and that it supplied those Qatari military personnel with limited army and ammunition for the purpose of self defense," according to the panel report. But Qatar "categorically denies the information reported by some media that it supplied the revolutionaries with arms and ammunition."
"If some of the afore-mentioned ammunition found its way to some Libyan revolutionaries, the Qatari government has no explanation other than the conditions of fierce fighting taking place in most of the Libyan territory, which could have lead to exceptional consequences that are difficult to assess."
On June 30, 2011, France informed the U.N. secretary general that it had "airdropped self-defense weapons for the civilian population that had been victims of attacks by Libyan armed forces," according to the panel. "In the absence of any other operational means of protecting these populations under threat."
On July 20, the panel asked France to provide them with "detailed information" on the arms drops, including "the exact types and quantities of weapons, serial/lot numbers, marking details of the different items and the dates and location(s) of the deliveries." According to the report, France provided some details, including the period and location of the airdrops, as well as "a list of humanitarian and military materiel." They asked the panel to keep the information confidential.
"France notified its actions as requested by the resolution and actively cooperates with the panel," Brieuc Pont, a spokesman for the French mission to the United Nations told Turtle Bay.Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
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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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Diplomats, by trade, are not naturally funny people.
And the lofty "permanent representatives," as the most senior U.N.-based ambassadors are called, are often among the least funny.
They can come across as a bit too earnest, overly confident, even pompous, and they are usually pitching a cause that doesn't translate well into snappy one-liners. While they may possess masterful negotiating skills they're rarely quick enough on their feet to parry a lethal jab from a hardened comic. And frankly, how does one offer up a riposte when the national honor has been mocked?
But every season, there they are, lining up for appearances on Comedy Central's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, confident that they can take advantage of a massive audience that could never be reached through a U.N. press conference.
But they commit comedy at their own peril.
Ask Switzerland's U.N. ambassador Peter Maurer, who got skewered by the Daily Show's faux news reporter John Oliver over his country's neutrality during World War II. ("Mr. Ambassador, is that neutral anger, or real anger?") Or Nassir al-Nasser, Qatar's then U.N. ambassador, who got visibly tense when Oliver challenged his pronunciation of "Qatar" and asked him what his country was doing to de-stabilize the Middle East. ("I'll just pause now to gauge the tension. Yep, that's tense; that is very tense indeed.")
Then there's the big screen, where the South Park creators have made a habit of lampooning U.N. officials or diplomats, including Hans Blix, the former U.N. weapons inspectors, who was thrown into a shark tank by Kim Jong Il in Team America: World Police and torn to pieces for a laugh.
But you get the point.
No one is a choicer prey for a comic than a diplomat, particularly one that speaks with a foreign accent, represents a country with a funny name, and can't take a joke.
But not everyone falls victim.
Remember how the British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, playing Ali G coaxed the former Egyptian U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali -- "the geezer" he called him -- to say, and spell out, the French word for human excrement -- "merde." But Boutros Ghali prevailed by playing along, offering his opinion on the funniest language -- "maybe Arabic" -- and patiently explaining why Disneyland can't become a U.N. member: "it's not an independent state."
Susan Rice emerged relatively unscathed in her bout with Stephen Colbert, but not before he got in a zinger about the effort to contain Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs. "Excuse me for interrupting you, but I enjoy it," Colbert said. "Iran is still working toward a nuclear weapon. [North] Korea got their nuclear weapon. I'm just as scared of both of these people. How are we stopping them? I mean, I know sternly worded letters are the bread and butter of the U.N. But maybe we should start typing them in all caps to let them know that we are really angry."
Last week, the Palestinian U.N. envoy, Riyad Mansour, tried his hand at sitting with Oliver, in a skit entitled "Who wants to be a member of the U.N.?" Mansourplayed along with the jokeas Oliver set some "preconditions" for the interview. "First this entire interview must be conducted with the 1967 vocabulary. Is that groovy with you?"
"Groovy? It is agreeable with me. Yes," Responded Mansour.
It moved onto a negotiation over who would control the studio's thermostat. (Thanks to Mondoweiss for the transcript.)
John Oliver: "...is it hot in here?"
Riyad Mansour: "It's fine."
John: "So you're not hot? Because I'm definitely hot."
Riyad: "I am not."
John: "OK, look, Ambassador, I think before we do anything, we are gonna have to come to a provisional status agreement on the temperature in this room."
Riyad: "If you want to lower the temperature, it's fine with me."
John: "But who's going to control the thermostat?"
Riyad: "The thermostat ... should be shared by all of us."
John: "Don't even think about dividing this thermostat."
Riyad: "We will not divide the thermostat, but it should be accessed by all those who cherish it and think that it is a holy place that should be accessed to everyone."
John Oliver [voiceover]: "After three and a half hours of laborious negotiations, we finally came to an agreement."
John: "We agree that at an unspecified time in the future, we will announce a summit to discuss the possibility of discussing a negotiation towards an agreement on temperature. Yes?"
John: "Shake hands for the camera. Thank you, Ambassador, this is a historic day."
Riyad: "Yes indeed."
So, how did Mansour fair for the first half of the program? He remained on message, keeping the focus on Palestine's bid for U.N. membership. And he didn't lose his temper. It helped that Oliver went a little easy on him, avoiding any awkward questions about suicide bombers or rockets from Gaza. So, let's see how he did in the game show portion of the interview.
John: "Hi Riyad where are you from, Riyad?
Riyad: "I'm from Palestine."
John: "Palestine? I've never heard of that. Ok, so question number one: What does U.N. stand for?
Riyad: [Long pause] "United Nations."
John: "That's correct. That's correct, Ryad, Congratulations. That's great. So, how do you think it's going so far?
Riyad: "We're doing good."
John: "Ok... It's the bonus round. You've come all this way. Now do you take what you've won so far ... or do you take what's inside the mystery box"
Riyad: "I take what's inside the mystery box."
John: "He's going to go for the mystery box. Ok good luck. [Opens box and removes a card with the verdict.]
John: "Riyad, oh I'm sorry it's a veto from the U.S."
Riyad: "If we're vetoed once well come back again."
John: "That's the spirit. He'll come back again, next time."
Indeed, if there's a comic willing to poke fun at him, he probably will.
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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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The International Criminal Court's 120 member states backed a General Assembly proposal this week that would restrict the U.N.'s ability to engage with Sudanese political leaders wanted by the Hague-based tribunal.
The initiative, which was tabled by Switzerland, faced initial resistance from troop contributors and traditional critics of the ICC, including the United States, China, Russia, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, and Thailand. The United States is in talks with the Swiss about a possible compromise.
It is also unpopular among U.N. peacekeeping officials and envoys, who feel they need flexibility to deal with the leadership in a country where the president, Omar al-Bashir, and a key official have been served arrest warrant by the ICC.
The initiative reflects mounting frustration by European governments and other ICC supporters that U.N. peacekeepers in Sudan have periodically provided support to alleged war criminals, including Ahmad Haroun, who was flown in U.N. aircraft last year to participate in peace talks in the disputed region of Abyei.
The U.N. defended the decision on the grounds that Haroun was the only government official capable of convincing members of the pro-government Miseriya tribe to pursue peace talks with the rival Ngok Dinka tribe. But the talks never resulted in a durable peace -- and last May, Sudanese government forces overran the town, driving the Ngok Dinka residents from their homes.
The U.N. "policies provide for sufficient flexibility by allowing contacts which are essential to the mission," said one U.N. diplomat, who has been critical of the United Nations. "But why did the U.N. transport Haroun to meet with tribal leaders? They claim only he had the authority to talk to tribal leaders and prevent them from resorting to violence. That's at best naïve, at worst a lie.... This meeting didn't prevent anything."
The latest move comes several weeks after the U.N. secretary general publicly instructed Ibrahim Gambari, the joint U.N. African Union representative in Darfur, Sudan, to limit his personal contacts with Bashir, who has been charged by the ICC with orchestrating genocide in Darfur.
On Jan. 20, Gambari, a former Nigerian diplomat who once served as the U.N. undersecretary general for political affairs, was photographed socializing with Sudan's Bashir at a wedding ceremony for the Chadian President Idriss Deby.
The Swiss are seeking to include the amendment in an annual General Assembly resolution that welcomes the establishment of the Hague-based court and calls on all U.N. members to support it. On Monday, Switzerland introduced a draft amendment before the U.N. General Assembly that encouraged the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take steps to ensure that his U.N. special envoys and mediators "refrain from any action" that could undercut the authority of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The draft amendment is directed at U.N. personnel serving in peacekeeping operations, and calls on U.N. officials not to use any official "resources" that could undercut the ICC.
Here's the text of the amendment:
5bis. Requests the Secretary-General to ensure, consistent with the existing UN policies and pursuant to the Relationship Agreement, that United Nations field presences and representatives, especially peacekeeping operations, special political missions, special envoys, special representatives and mediators, refrain from any action, including the use of resources, that could undermine the efforts of the International Criminal Court, and requests the Secretary-General to submit a report on the application of such policies for the consideration of the General Assembly at its sixty-seventh session;
The U.N. currently has rules allowing its officials to engage in dealing with accused war criminals. In an internal memo, Patricia O'Brien, the U.N.'s lawyer, instructed officials to limit their conduct with accused war criminals to "what is strictly required for carrying out U.N. mandated activities." The memo, according to Human Rights Watch, which obtained a copy, states that "the presence of UN representatives in any ceremonial or similar occasion with [persons indicted by international criminal courts] should be avoided."
In the past year, Bashir has hosted a number of visits by top U.N. officials, including Hervé Ladsous, the U.N. chief peacekeeping official. Earlier this week, the U.N.'s top envoy to South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, held a meeting with Bashir to discuss Khartoum's troubled relationship with South Sudan. Johnson's meeting was aimed at encouraging the Sudanese government to help facilitate the return of more than 300,000 southerners seeking to return from the north to the south.
"The U.N. policy as it stands is already flexible and allows for unavoidable contacts with ICC indictees," Philippe Bolopion, the rights' group U.N. representative, told Turtle Bay. "It does not allow conducting business as usual with people who are the targets of ICC warrants."
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Periodically, we at Turtle Bay (actually, just me) offer unsolicited public relations advice to high-ranking U.N. officials who have demonstrated an obvious need for it.
In this instance, we would like recommend that Ibrahim Gambari, the joint U.N.-African special representative in Darfur reconsider the wisdom of launching public attacks against his critics, particularly when it involves conduct that would leave most ordinary folks scratching their heads.
On January 20, Gambari, a former Nigerian diplomat who once served as the U.N. undersecretary general for political affairs, was photographed socializing with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir at a wedding ceremony for the Chadian President Idriss Deby.
As readers of this blog well know, Bashir is the subject of International Criminal Court arrest warrants, charged with orchestrating war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Darfur.
Now, it's only fair to note that as the chief of a U.N. peacekeeping mission on Sudanese territory it's pretty much impossible to avoid doing business with top Sudanese officials, including Bashir. And Bashir, after all, did win a U.N.-backed election.
But the U.N.'s lawyer, Patricia O'Brien, has offered some guidance to help the U.N. traverse this moral minefield without doing excessive damage to the body's reputation. In an internal memo, O'Brien instructed U.N. officials to limit their conduct with the accused war criminal to "what is strictly required for carrying out U.N. mandated activities." The memo, which was obtained and cited by Human Rights Watch, states that "the presence of UN representatives in any ceremonial or similar occasion with [persons indicted by international criminal courts] should be avoided."
So, the photograph, which was taken by a Reuters photographer and posted on the U.N.-based Inner City Press blog, naturally triggered some criticism. Human Rights Watch's executive director, Kenneth Roth, wrote last month in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that Gambari's photo-op "brings the UN's credibility in disrepute and sends a terrible message to victims of heinous crimes in Darfur. Indeed, images of Mr. Gambari embracing President al-Bashir have been widely circulated, showing Darfuri victims that the head of UNAMID socializes with suspected war criminals."
To make matters even more awkward, Deby's Sudanese bride is the daughter of Musa Hilal, a Sudanese tribal leader and alleged commander of the Sudanese-backed Janjaweed militia, which gained a notorious reputation for raiding Darfurian villages on horse-back and carrying out a reign of terror that drove millions from their homes. Reuters also reported that it snapped a photograph of Gambari shaking hands with Hilal, who was targeted with U.N. sanctions in 2006.
The wedding appeared to represent the strengthening of a political alliance between the Sudanese government, its local Janjaweed proxy, and neighboring Chad. Sudan and Chad were bitter allies until the two sides reached an accord that ended years of support for anti government insurgents on one another's borders.
Initially, the United Nations defended Gambari, telling Human Rights Watch in a letter "Gambari attended the wedding at the invitation of President Deby of Chad, who is an important regional partner in the peace process…Gambari has no control over the guest list and it is contrary to basic diplomatic courtesy and African traditions to ignore greeting other invited guests."
But they have since changed their tune.
Earlier this month, Martin Nesirky, the U.N. secretary general's chief spokesman, issued this statement: "I can confirm that the Secretary General received a letter from HRW last week. M Gambari's attention has been drawn to the letter and to the need to avoid such encounters in the future, however unintentional this particular encounter may have been"
At this point, any self-respecting press aide would council his boss to keep his head down and pray that the whole matter would eventually blow over. And indeed, the press coverage had pretty much tapered off this week when Gambari gave it renewed life, denouncing his critics as "people who are specialized in character assassination," according to a report on Thursday by Bloomberg.
It wasn't long before his critics fired back.
"This was not character assassination," said Philippe Bolopion, the rights groups U.N. representative, "it was character suicide."
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UPDATE: A senior U.N. official subsequently called Turtle Bay to insist that Gambari was not referring to Human Rights Watch when he referred to people who specialize in character assassination.
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The United Nations, African governments, foreign aid donors, and relief agencies responded too slowly to the early warning signs that preceded the century's worst famine in East Africa last year, leading to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of civilians, according to a review by the aid agencies Oxfam International and Save the Children.
In a joint briefing paper, entitled A Dangerous Delay, the two aid agencies claimed that early warning systems in place in east Africa accurately predicted the possibility of a major food crisis as early as the summer of 2010, but that a full-scale humanitarian response was not mounted until after the U.N. declared famine in July, 2011.
"The emergency in the Horn of Africa in 2011 was no sudden onset crisis… There were indications that a crisis was coming from as early as August 2010," reads the report. "The scale of death and suffering, and the financial cost, could have been reduced if early warning systems had triggered an earlier, more substantial response."
The reports' authors say it is impossible to know how many people died during the 2011 famine, which struck communities in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. But it cited estimates suggesting that somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 may have perished.
The failure to respond more swiftly to the unfolding humanitarian crisis is part of "systemic failure of the international system" to construct a safety net to protect vulnerable communities from drought, notes the report. It called for a more active role in preparing for a developing food crisis underway in the Sahel, with millions of people at risk of hunger in at least five countries. "Tragically, the 2011 crisis is not an isolated case," the report states. "The response to drought is invariably too little too late."
The U.S. Agency for International Aid (USAID) first published a paper in August 2010, warning that the weather phenomenon known as La Niña was likely to lead to a decline in rainfall during the subsequent two rainy seasons.
Faced with a total failure of the October-December rainy season, the Food Security and Nutrition Working Group for East Africa (FSNWG) set up a La Niña task force. In December 2010, it stated that "preemptive action is needed to protect livelihoods and avoid later costly lifesaving emergency interventions."
USAID's Famine Early Warning System Network, meanwhile, predicted on March 15, 2010, that there would be "localized famine conditions [in southern Somalia], including significantly increased child mortality… if the worst case scenario assumptions are realized." A "failure of the March or May rains is likely to result in a major crisis," USAID warned. "Yet this call was not adequately heeded," the report stated.
The report notes that responsibility for the slow response to the crisis in East Africa was shared by a range of local governments, foreign donors, policy makers, and humanitarian aid agencies. But it singled out the United Nations for moving too slowly to scale up their relief operations and failing to anticipate the impact that La Niña would have on rainfall. The World Food Program, it added, had major problems in meeting its food commitments in Kenya and in south central Somalia, where the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab denied foreign relief agencies access to famine-stricken areas.
"The UN humanitarian appeal in November 2010 seriously underestimated the number of people in need of emergency aid," reads the report. One of the reasons, the report states, is that the U.N. carried out its needs assessment in September 2010 -- a month before the rainy season was to begin, and didn't take into account weather forecasts of abnormally low rainfall that occurred over subsequent months.
Also, U.N. appeals for funding for Somalia were based on the number of people the U.N. believed it could reach, not the number of people in need, "potentially giving a misleading picture of needs within the country…This was clearly a factor in the failure to scale up the response early on."
A spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Amanda Pitt, said that many of the reports findings "echoed our own concerns," citing the U.N. appeals to governments to provide funding earlier and to be more flexible about how the funding is used. But she also said that the report failed to provide a more balanced account of constraints on U.N. relief experts, especially the challenges of delivering aid in a conflict zone in Somalia, where they faced the threat of violence from al-Shabab. "If we had better access we would have had a better early warning system," she said.
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Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, warned the U.N. Security Council that Sudan's restive South Kordofan region faces the prospects of famine if Khartoum does not allow international aid workers into the region to provide relief to more than 500,000 needy civilians.
"It is the United States' firm belief that, if the government of Sudan does not allow immediate meaningful humanitarian access to the conflict zones in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile so life saving humanitarian assistance can be provided to civilians in need, we will likely see famine conditions in parts of Sudan," Rice wrote in a letter to the president of the U.N. Security Council.
The U.S. warning comes nearly two weeks after the U.N.'s chief relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, traveled to Sudan to press the government to allow U.N. aid workers into Southern Kordofan to assess the extent of humanitarian suffering there. It comes on the eve of a briefing today by Amos on the crisis to the Security Council.
During her visit, Amos said that Sudanese refugees entering Ethiopia have reported increasing levels of food shortages and "rising levels of malnutrition" in parts of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. She said that reports of a humanitarian crisis in territory controlled by the anti-government Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (North) were "particularly alarming."
Amos said that she had reached agreement with Khartoum to share information about the plight of civilians in the conflict zones, and that they would continue to discuss ways to reach civilians affected by the crisis.
The Sudanese armed forces launched a counterinsurgency campaign against the SPLM forces in June, triggering an outbreak of fighting that has forced 300,000 people from their homes, according to U.N. figures. The United Nations, which previously maintained a presence in the region, was asked to leave Sudan after South Sudan seceded from Sudan.
Reports of extreme hardship have filtered out from church groups based in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and from Sudanese refugees who have made it across the border into neighboring Ethiopia or South Sudan.
But Sudan has restricted U.N. aid agencies from gaining access to the region, citing security concerns. "We are in no position to verify the actual needs on the ground or the fulfillment of those needs as we are simply not there," Peter de Clercq, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, said in a recent statement.
Susan Rice wrote that the two Sudanese states will be placed on a Phase 4 Emergency level by March without a major inflow of humanitarian assistance. A Phase 4 Emergency -- a designation that has only been applied to Somalia and Ethiopia -- is one step short of a full-fledged famine.
"It is clear that the Government of Sudan has instituted a deliberate policy to prevent humanitarian agencies from reaching vulnerable civilians impacted by the conflict," Rice wrote. "The conflicts disruption of trade and livelihoods, large scale displacement of people, and severe restrictions on the operations of aid agencies has pushed the people of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile to the brink of a major humanitarian crisis."
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The age of fiscal austerity has clearly bypassed Equatorial Guinea, an oil rich African country with a reputation for world-class corruption, crushing poverty for its people, and a multibillion dollar building spree for presidential palaces, guesthouses, and airports.
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea's president and Africa's longest lasting ruler, has now signed off on a $77 million contract to build a sparkling new presidential guesthouse, according to the Korean firm, SsangYong Engineering and Construction Co., Ltd, that won the bid to build it.
A rendering of the project, which will be called Mongomo Leader's Club, shows a contemporary glass building, with neatly landscaped grounds and palm trees in the background. It boasts 5-star amenities, including a private room for the president, a casino, and a beauty parlor. It was first reported by the Korea Times.
"Despite the small population of Equatorial Guinea, approximately 630 thousand people, more orders for high quality buildings from Equatorial Guinea will be expected in the near future considering the nation's abundant natural resources including natural gas and oil and its high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, 27 thousand dollars," the SsangYong press release reads.
The new building plan comes to light several months after Equatorial Guinea inaugurated the $830 million luxury Sipopo resort, which served as the venue for the African Union's 47th Summit in June. Obiang, who is serving as the A.U. president this year, presided over the gathering.
The resort includes an artificial beach that stretches a mile long, a heliport, an 18-hole golf course and the country's first spa, according to EGJustice, an anti-corruption and human rights group. There are also more than half a dozen other presidential palaces under construction or recently built, according to the group. Efforts to reach a spokesperson for Equatorial Guinea at the nation's U.N. mission were unsuccessful.
Although Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in Africa and boasts per capita income equal to that of many wealthy European countries, Obiang rules a population of more than 650,000 that endures some of the worst quality of life indicators in the world.
Transparency International placed Equatorial Guinea 172 out of 182 countries on its government corruption index. The U.S. Justice Department, meanwhile, announced in October that it was attempting to seize more than $70 million in assets from Obiang's son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, also known as Teodorin, including a $30 million residence in Malibu, California.
"Although Equatorial Guinea has one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa, nearly 70 percent of the population live in deep poverty. Most of this per capita income goes to the president and his family and cronies," Britain's International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell told Parliament this week, according to Reuters. "It is quite simply a disgrace that the high level of oil wealth is stolen for the corrupt and personal use of an unaccountable and self-serving elite."
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The Sudanese government on Saturday, Dec. 3, blocked the U.N's relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, from visiting Khartoum, where she planned to press Sudanese officials to grant greater access to U.N. relief workers in conflict zones in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
The visit, which was planned well advance, was cancelled after Sudanese authorities said that the top official responsible for addressing humanitarian issues was not available to meet with her because the cabinet had been dissolved.
The cancellation comes amid concern that Sudan is heading towards a worsening civil war, with hardliners pressing for a military crackdown on resistance elements in the country, and a coalition of rebel groups forming an alliance to try to overthrow the government of President Omar al-Bashir.
"Civil war is spreading in Sudan," the International Crisis Group warned in a recent report on Sudan. "With hundreds of thousands of people displaced...the growing war on multiple fronts poses serious dangers for the country, for its future relationship with the Republic of South Sudan and for the stability of the region as a whole."
The region has been in a state of turmoil since neighboring South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan. After relinquishing control over the south last summer, Khartoum's forces moved quickly to restore control over the disputed region of Abyei that straddles the north and south, and launched offensives against the restive South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions.
The United Nations, which was required to leave the region after the referendum, has not been allowed to monitor what's happening in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Amos's visit was part of an ongoing effort to ensure that relief can be delivered to those displaced by rising violence.
A spokeswoman for Amos, Amanda Pitt, told Turtle Bay that Amos is "extremely concerned" about the plight of displaced civilians in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and planned to press the government to ensure relief agencies could "reach the people" affected by the violence.
Pitt said that Amos was at the international airport in Istanbul, Turkey, en route to Sudan when she was informed that there was no appropriate official available to meet her and that she should not come. "I know that she definitely wants to go and is working" with the Sudanese government and the U.N. team in Sudan to "sort out another date," said Pitt.
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Earlier this month, I reported a story about the U.N. removing three Somali regions from its list of famine-wracked areas. The news was not all good. More than 250,000 Somalis are still at risk of starvation and famine is expected to persist in other parts of the country until the end of the summer.
But the loosening of the grip of the famine -- caused by fresh rains and increased levels of humanitarian assistance in stricken areas -- is a good starting point to consider the region's vulnerability to future famines.
I reached out to Joseph Chamie, director of research at the Center for Migration Studies and the former director of the U.N. Population Division, to ask what degree population growth may have played a role in East Africa's famine.
A lot, he says, noting that the Horn of Africa has seen a rapid spurt in population growth in recent decades that has correspondingly increased stress on local resources.
Somalia, for instance, has seen its population grow from 2 million in 1950 to 9 million in 2010; Ethiopia has seen its population increase from 18 million to 83 million during the same period.
"First, this is not the last famine in Africa. More famines should be expected in Africa in the coming years," says Chamie. "And some will be far worse than the current one in East Africa, bringing with it increased starvation and higher mortality rates, especially among children and the elderly."
The prospects for future famines are not limited to demographics.
Despite the uncertainty of predicting local or regional weather patterns, climate experts have raised concerns about the impact of global warming in the Horn of Africa, which potentially might bring about longer and more frequent droughts.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon once attributed the political unrest in Darfur, Sudan, in part to the struggle among communities for natural resources stretched by a warming climate. And competition for resources is likely to grow, according to U.N. projections, which show rapid population growth in the Horn of Africa over the next 40 years, including a tripling of population in Somalia.
Population for Selected African Countries
For Chamie, the projections forecast a greater human toll. "There are many reasons for this, including simply many more people, poverty, lack of social-economic development, no safety net for the starving, weak and often unresponsive government, [and] political/ethnic conflicts."
He says that "the provision of food and related aid is needed on an emergency basis, this is clearly not a solution. These countries will need to progress socially, economically and politically. However, this will be a Herculean task for many of these failing states, which are experiencing rapid population growth and slow economic growth."
Climate scientists are concerned that a key expression of global warming -- extreme weather -- may inflict greater environmental pressure on the Horn of Africa. But they cannot link global warming directly to the ongoing famine.
The current drought has been caused by two successive seasons of extremely low rainfall, making 2010-2011 the driest or second-driest period since 1950, depending on various analysis.
Mean annual temperatures have increased by as much as 1.3 degree Celsius in Ethiopia, one of the worst-affected countries. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, the world's leading authority on global warming, has not established evidence of statistically significant trends in rain patterns in East Africa. But reports from the Kenya Food Security Group and pastoralist communities "show that drought related shocks used to occur every ten years, and they are now occurring every five years or less," notes an Oxfam briefing paper. "Borana communities in Ethiopia report that whereas droughts recorded every 6-8 years in the past, they now occur every 1-2 years."
But perhaps the key challenge for addressing the next major drought, notes Chamie, is money. "With the current global economic crisis, donor countries will find it increasingly difficult to continue to provide food, water, medicine, aid, etc. to the millions of people who will be in need," Chamie said. "As the famines become more frequent and commonly reported in the media, the willingness of the general public and elected officials in donor nations to contribute monies and aid will decrease, especially as they are likely to see no end to the assistance and dependency."
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Somalia received a rare bit of good news, recently. After struggling for months to endure the deadliest famine in 60 years, the U.N. Food Security Nutrition Analysis Unit today lifted its "famine" designation for three Somali regions -- Bakool, Bay, and Lower Shabelle -- downgrading them to the "lesser emergency" phase.
The improvement follows a break in the region's deadly drought and progress in the U.N.'s ability to deliver food to the country's poorest people. In recent months, the U.N. has increased assistance to more than 2.4 million people.
But why is no one declaring victory?
The gains comes amid fears that Somalia is set to descend into a wider regional conflict zone, as Ethiopian forces weigh joining Kenya in its military offensive against Islamic militants, known as al Shabaab, in Somalia. There is little hope, meanwhile, that the broader humanitarian crisis will end before next summer.
By any measure, the situation remains grim in Somalia, where 2 million people are still in need of foreign assistance, and where a quarter of the population requires international handouts -- even in the best of times. Famine is expected to continue to stalk the lives of people in the capital Mogadishu, and other parts of the country, through the end of the year. Indeed, life is so rough that desperate Somalis are fleeing to Yemen, which is facing its own political and humanitarian crisis.
The Deyr seasonal rains that marked an end to the country's stifling drought, allowing farmers to store water and to plant crops, have brought a new set of troubles: fear of water-borne diseases like cholera that may prove particularly lethal for a population emerging from the strains of prolonged bouts of malnutrition. And just because they're some rain doesn't mean there's food. A lack of grain and staple goods is expected to persist well into next summer.
"It is welcome news that scaled up humanitarian assistance has had an impact in Somalia and that areas of Bay, Bakool, and Lower Shabelle are no longer in famine," Valerie Amos, the U.N. Humanitarian Relief Coordinator said today. "However, the situation remains critical for millions of people, as these areas continue to face a severe humanitarian emergency. The progress is fragile and needs to be sustained.... I remain extremely concerned by the critical situation in Mogadishu and other parts of south and central Somalia," she added.
Amos and other U.N. officials, meanwhile, are growing increasingly alarmed about a widening military conflict in Somalia.
Ethiopia is considering launching a military offensive against al-Shabaab as part of a broader African Union push to prop up a weak, internationally backed transitional government, according to a report in the New York Times. It follows a Kenyan military offensive against al-Shabaab that is now entering its fifth week and which is threatening to jeopardize some of the U.N.'s humanitarian gains.
"We are deeply concerned by the impact of the intensification of the conflict in Somalia, which threatens to increase internal displacement and may also reduce the ability of aid organizations to provide life-saving assistance to people coping with famine," Amos said. "All parties should refrain from actions that disrupt access and respect international humanitarian law."
The Kenyan military sent nearly 2,000 troops into Somalia on Oct. 16, following a series of brazen cross-border kidnappings of Western tourists that threatened to damage the country's vital tourism industry. In recent weeks, Kenyan troops and fighter jets have launched attacks on al Shabaab strongholds in an effort to carve out a buffer zone that will prevent further attacks.
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A relative of Libya's former U.N. ambassador and intelligence chief Abuzed Omar Dorda appealed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. Security Council president today to intercede with Libyan authorities to protect the detained former Libyan diplomat, saying he had been the target of an assassination attempt by his jailers.
Dorda had been a high-ranking official in Qaddafi's government, playing a role during his years at the United Nations in negotiating the deal that ended U.N. sanctions on Libya imposed after the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and paving the way to a financial payout to relatives of the victims.
Dorda went on to become the director of Libya's external security organization. Earlier this year, the United States and the U.N. Security Council imposed a freeze on Dorda's financial assets and those of several other members of Qaddafi's inner circle.
Libyan authorities arrested Dorda about two months ago, Adel Khalifa Dorda, who is Dorda's son in law, wrote in a pair of letters to Ban and Security Council's Nigerian president, U. Joy Ogwu. Adel sent a copy of the letters to Turtle Bay after receiving my email through a mutual source.
"Most of you may have known and dealt with Mr. Dorda during his tenure as PR of Libya," the email read. "We kindly request your help in dealing with this issue so that we can spare his life and guarantee his safety. This is a humanitarian issue. On behalf of myself and his family, we appreciate any effort you put and thank you in advance."
A spokesman for Ban and Security Council diplomats could not confirm tonight whether the letter had actually been delivered to the U.N. chief or the Security Council president.
"Mr. Dorda survived a murder attempt last night, 25 October, 2011, at the hands of his guards in the building where he was arrested," he wrote on behalf of the Dorda family. "He was thrown off the second floor leading to several broken bones and other serious injuries."
Adel said "authorities were forced to move Dorda to Maitiga hospital in Tripoli where as of now he is being held under extremely poor conditions. Dorda is not receiving the proper treatment duly and legally accorded a political prisoner, let alone that required under the terms of human rights and other international treaties."
Adel insisted that his father in law had never played any role in committing atrocities, saying he "had arranged his own surrender" in Libya because "he was confident he had not participated in any murders or arbitrary arrests. He was only serving his country in different positions and [was] very active in international diplomacy."
The request for help came hours after U.N. Special Representative for Libya Ian Martin expressed concern to the Security Council that Qaddafi and his son, Muatassim, had been mistreated and killed in a troubling circumstances that required investigation and cited other reports that forces on both sides engaged in war crimes during the final battle in Sirte. Martin privately told Security Council members that he was seriously concerned about the treatment of detainees.
Full text of the letter below.
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His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki Moon
United Nations, NY
I am writing to bring to your attention an issue we deem important not only because it relates to a member of our family but as a human rights issue that concerns a former Permanent Representative to the United Nations who contributed to solving many human rights issues and guaranteeing these rights to many in his country and the world.
The case in question concerns Mr. Abuzed Omar Dorda, the former PR of Libya to the UN during the nineties. As you may know, Mr. Dorda has been arrested by the new Libyan Authorities for two months. He had arranged his own surrender as he was confident he had not participated in any murders or arbitrary arrests. He was only serving his country in different positions and very active in international diplomacy. He had a major role in solving many of the problems between the international community and Libya, most important of which was the Lockerbie issue. Many Permanent Representatives and UN officials who worked and dealt with him would attest to his responsible and genuine personality and efforts.
Mr. Dorda survived a murder attempt last night, 25October, 2011, at the hands of his guards in the building where he was arrested. He was thrown off the second floor leading to several broken bones and other serious injuries. Authorities were forced to move Dorda to Maitiga hospital in Tripoli where as of now he is being held under extremely poor conditions. Dorda is not receiving the proper treatment duly and legally accorded a political prisoner, let alone that required under the terms of human rights and other international treaties.
On behalf of his family I kindly ask you to interfere directly as the Secretary General of the United Nations which he has long served, or through other humanitarian organizations, to guarantee his safety, security and freedom so he can get the proper treatment.
Adel Khalifa Dorda
26 October 2011
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Libya's victorious new rulers for their "steadfastedness and courage" during a prolonged NATO-backed military campaign that culminated in today's killing of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, but he encouraged Libyans to show mercy on those who supported the Libyan dictator's rule.
"At this historic moment I call upon the people of Libya to come together, as they can only realize the promise of the future through national unity and reconciliation," Ban said in a statement. "I pay tribute to the Libyan people for their steadfastness and courage through all the pain they endured. I convey the condolences of the United Nations to the families of those who gave their lives in a struggle for freedom. This is the time for healing and rebuilding, and not for revenge.
The remarks follow reports that anti-Qaddafi fighters have abused and killed captured Qaddafi loyalists as well as foreign migrants they suspect of serving as mercenaries for Gaddafi. The U.N.'s special representative in Libya, Ian Martin, confirmed that "there have been significant abuses" committed by anti-Qaddafi forces in the final assault on Sirte, but that he was confident that the leadership of the National Transitional Council (NTC) was committed to halting such conduct.
Last month, Amnesty International accused anti-Qaddafi's forces of killing loyalists of the former Libyan rulers as well as foreign migrants suspected of serving as mercenaries. "Dozens of suspected al-Gaddafi loyalists have been killed. Hundreds, especially foreign migrants accused of being mercenaries, are being held prisoner by forces loyal to the NTC," Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said in a Sept. 13 statement. "Those responsible for the dreadful repression of the past under Colonel al-Gaddafi must face justice. But the NTC has to be held to the same standards and must do more to avoid a vicious cycle of revenge attacks."
Speaking by teleconference to U.N. reporters, Martin said that while Qaddafi's death would remove a key source of insecurity from the country, he cautioned that the transition to a more democratic government would not be easy.
Martin expressed concern about the proliferation of weapons in Libya during the conflict, and the prospects of public disorder following Qaddafi's downfall. "Although the chemical weapons and nuclear material appear to be secured, there's very serious concern that other weaponry has gone missing."
Martin said the U.N. would play a "significant role" in helping the new government prepare for the political transition, which will include support for elections, the promotion of human rights and law and order, the drafting new constitution, and establishment of a judicial system.
But he said that the Libyans would take the lead in determining their own political future.
"It's the people of Libya who have made their revolution -- it's the Libyan people, with youth and women very much to the fore, who will lead," Martin said. No one should underestimate, in this moment of celebration in Libya, how great are the challenges that lie ahead."
Martin said the United Nations and the NTC would resist any calls for political amnesty for individuals responsible for mass atrocities in Libya. And he ruled out the prospect that his mission would play any role in establishing the facts surrounding Col. Qaddafi's death.
"The United Nations has a very clear position that excludes consideration for amnesty for those who committed war crimes, or the most serious human rights violations, and that's in line with the approach the NTC has announced."
Martin also said that despite public concerns about the humanitarian impact of the conflict in Libya, an initial assessment by U.N. humanitarian workers has shown evidence that Libyans have done a better job of addressing their basic needs.
"What they have found is a very considerable coping mechanism on the part of the Libyans themselves and we don't believe that the need for international assistance will be a major or prolonged" endeavor.
The U.N. Security Council, which authorized the use of military force in Libya to constrain Qaddafi's forces and protect civilians, had no immediate plans to meet to reconsider the necessity of NATO continuing its military role. One council diplomat said the coalition partners need to first consult with the NTC to see whether it sees a continued need for NATO's war planes.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, did not address the future of the NATO effort. But she, too, echoed the note of caution: "the death of Col. Muammar Qadhafi after forty-two years of iron rule does not alone guarantee a safer, more democratic and prosperous Libya. The Libyan people will face great challenges in the days ahead. As they do, the United States will stand with them."
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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.
The Oscar-winning Spanish film star Javier Bardem visited Turtle Bay today to deliver a speech about Western Sahara before an obscure U.N. committee -- the 4th committee -- responsible for dealing with entities that seek to cast off the shackles of colonialism.
The committee's workload has largely been exhausted, however, as dozens of countries, particularly in Africa, were recognized decades ago as independent U.N. member states.
But Western Sahara -- which was invaded by Morocco and Mauritania almost immediately after Spain hastily ended its dominion over the territory in 1975 -- has largely fallen through the cracks. Spain, Bardem said, "left from the backdoor when Morocco was coming" through the front door.
But with the Arab Spring spreading democratic change across the region, Western Sahara's hope for self-determination seems as "thoroughly stuck" as ever, Bardem told reporters at a press conference at the Millennium Hotel, across the street from U.N. headquarters.
For decades, the Sahrawi people have been trapped in a kind of legal limbo, offered the prospect of an independence referendum by the U.N. General Assembly, but blocked from actually pursuing their own state by Morocco and its powerful patrons, including France. A resolution of the dispute has been complicated by an ongoing dispute between Morocco and Algeria, which has provided financial and political backing for the Sahrawi independence movement, the Polisario, which is based in Algeria.
The former Spanish colony's fate has gone largely unnoticed in the United States, but it has long attracted intense interest from Spanish human rights activists, who feel their country owes a historical debt to Western Sahara for abandoning them to Moroccan rule. (The Mauritanians ultimately left.)
Bardem said he was moved by a visit he had taken to a series of Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria. He has spent the last two and a half years working on documentary film on the Sahrawis and helping to collect more than 230,000 Spanish signatures for a petition urging Madrid to help resolve the situation.
In his address, Bardem urged the United Nations to monitor the human rights situation in Western Sahara, pressed for the convening of an independence referendum that was promised to the Sahrawis decades ago, and sought to ensure that they don't get entirely bypassed by Arab Spring.
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
At about this time last year, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, of Equatorial Guinea, saw his ambition of sponsoring a UNESCO award for life sciences in his own name thwarted, a casualty of a well-organized international campaign by human rights advocates that embarrassed U.N. officials and member states into putting the plan into deep freeze.
But Obiang, who ascended this year to the presidency of the African Union, has thawed the bid, securing a statement from the African body backing the plan to set up the UNESCO-Obiang International Prize for Life Sciences, which would award $300,000 prizes to scientists who develop innovations that improve living standards in Africa.
A UNESCO committee was scheduled to deliberate on the plan this afternoon, but has deferred consideration until Tuesday.
The deliberations at UNESCO couldn't have come at a worse time for Obiang. On Wednesday night, French police seized at least 11 luxury supercars, including a Bugatti Veyron and Maserati MC12, from a Parisian residence owned by the Obiang family near the Arc de Triomphe, according to reports in the French press. The seizure grew out of a French criminal investigation that was opened as a result of a complaint by two anti-corruption groups, Association Sherpa and Transparency International France, that three African heads of state, including Obiang, had engaged in "unjust enrichment," according to the Open Society Justice Initiative, which has been tracking Obiang's financial holdings.
A French court, meanwhile, dismissed a liable suit by Obiang against another French non-profit organization, Terre Solidaire, which had accused the leaders of three African countries, including Obiang, of engaging in corruption.
The renewed effort to secure the UNESCO prize has been met with a strong response from a coalition of EquatoGuinean exiles, international human rights activists, including Human Rights Watch, and American lawmakers, who have accused Africa's longest ruling leader of corruption and human rights abuses. They have taken aim at UNESCO and the African Union.
"It will be a sad day for two vital global organizations -- UNESCO and the African Union -- if the little noted African Union courtesy resolution passed at last summer's AU summit saddles UNESCO's cultural and human rights mission to President Obiang's shameful record," said Ken Hurwitz, a senior legal officer for the Open Society's Justice Initiative.
Earlier this week, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-NJ) both wrote to the UNESCO executive director, Irina Bokova, to ask her to reject the prize. "I am writing to urge UNESCO to not award the Obiang Prize," Leahy wrote, noting that a $3 million contribution to the award fund is "likely...the product of corruption or theft from the public treasury."
"I join those who believe it would be a serious mistake for UNESCO to associate itself with a prize named for the leader of an authoritarian government widely criticized for corruption and human rights abuses," he added. "It would be very unfortunate if UNESCO were to compromise its reputation and leadership."
Equatorial Guinea's U.N. ambassador, Lino Sima Ekua Avomo, did not respond to a request for comment today, but the country has vigorously defended its record in the past, saying that it has not engaged in corruption or systematic human rights. Some EquatoGuinean officials told Turtle Bay that the allegations of corruption and repression by Obiang were "distortions" that would easily be corrected by traveling to his country to witness large-scale investment on behalf of the people.
"This president has invested enormously in improving infrastructure, the social services, the education system, the health system. It is this president that has moved the country from having a totally destroyed school system to now having a university that are graduating students," presidential advisor Agapito Mba Mokuy told me last year. Mokuy said that this is the first time an African government has funded a prize in the research sciences in UNESCO. "Some people may not be used to having African countries donating funds in science," he said. But he said the prize "is a very important gesture for the member states" at UNESCO, which overwhelmingly backed the award. "This is a humanitarian action on behalf of the president."
Critics say, however, that Obiang has used the vast wealth of Equatorial Guinea, one of Africa's largest oil-producing countries, to finance an extravagant lifestyle, including estates in the United States and Europe, for his relatives and closest allies.
"The small nation has one of the highest per capita income levels, however this wealth primarily goes to serve Obiang, his family and the ruling elites, and not to help the nearly 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line," Payne wrote on Thursday. "Instead of fighting infant mortality, Obiang's son, currently the agriculture minister in his father's government, commissioned a super yacht costing almost three times what the country spends annually on health and education."
UNESCO had initially agreed to establish the UNESCO-Obiang award in 2008 with the goal of "improving the quality of life." UNESCO's judges had actually even selected an award winner in a closed door meeting in May 2010, but a decision to award the prize was suspended in October, following a massive pressure campaign by anti-corruption and human rights groups.
The African Union summit, hosted by Obiang in the capital of Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, last May, issued a statement urging UNESCO to implement the decision to award the prize, noting that it is "the first African program prize in the history of UNESCO." Earlier this month, UNESCO's African member-states unanimously approved a statement calling for the implementation of the award.
UNESCO Executive Director Irina Bokova for the first time openly appealed to the EquatoGuinean leader to abandon his effort to establish the prize, the Associated Press reported from Paris. "As generous as he was in offering this prize, I think he should make the same proof of generosity" by withdrawing it, Bokova told foreign delegates at an executive board meeting.
We'll soon find out whether Obiang finally gets his prize. Stay tuned.
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Over the past week, Muammar al-Qaddafi's African friends have cut the former Libyan ruler loose, and grudgingly recognized his NATO-backed rebel movement, the National Transitional Council, as Libya's legitimate rulers.
But Africa's latest fallen leader is not without his defenders -- particularly among a generation of aging rulers who came of age in the same era of national liberation.
Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's long-ruling leader, today launched a bitter attack against the NATO-backed war against Qaddafi, denouncing the Western military alliance and the "blatant, illegal, brutal, and callous NATO's murderous bombings."
"Here we see NATO bombing places, seeking, hunting, and hounding the children of Qaddafi," he said. "Have the alleged sins of father now been visited on the sons? Have the children lost their right to life?"
Mugabe joined others like Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who is serving as the president of the African Union, in charging the military coalition with overstepping its U.N. mandate to protect civilians, and taking sides in a civil war. And South African leader Jacob Zuma faulted NATO for ignoring his own efforts to mediate a peace deal between Qaddafi and the opposition.
"Our African Union would never have presumed to impose a leadership on the fraternal people of Libya as NATO countries have illegally sought to do," Mugabe said. "At the very least, the African Union would have wished to join those principled members of this august body who preferred an immediate cease fire and peaceful dialogue in Libya."
Mugabe alleged that the West was motivated by a quest for oil deals in Libya. The new government may indeed look favorable on its new allies, but the United States, Britain, and other Western businesses had already secured access to Libya's oil industry under Qaddafi's rule.
"The real motive for their aggression against Libya was to control and own its abundant fuel resources. What a shame!" Mugabe said. "Yesterday, it was Iraq and Bush and were the liars and aggressors as they made unfounded allegations of possessions of weapons of mass destructions. This time it is the NATO countries that are the liars and aggressors as they make similarly unfounded allegations of destruction of civilians' lives by Qaddafi."
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, provided a spirited defense of the U.N. role in Libya, saying the international community bore a responsibility in helping Libyan's risking their lives to shake Qaddafi's repressive regime.
"Libyans liberated themselves," he said. "Ordinary Libyans came together and showed incredible resilience and bravery as they rose up" and drove Qaddafi from power. They prevented Benghazi and other besieged cities from "joining Srebrenica and Rwanda in history's painful roll call of massacre the world failed to prevent."
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On Tuesday, President Barack Obama and his coalition partners celebrated the down-fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi in a U.N. ceremony convened to bless the victory of the National Transitional Council (NTC), which raised its flag for the first time at U.N. headquarters.
Several countries which had opposed a military solution in Libya, principally China and South Africa, put the past behind them and announced they would now recognize the new government, congratulating their new leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who attended the event.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, of Equatorial Guinea, who replaced Qaddafi as Africa's longest-ruling leader, was also on hand. Obiang, who is serving as the African Union president, announced that the group had formally decided to recognize the new government of the NTC as Libya's lawful government.
But in a speech today before the U.N. General Assembly, Obiang launched a bitter attack against the West's invocation of human rights to intervene in African crises.
Obiang appeared to be referring to the U.N.-authorized military operation against Qaddafi's government and the French-backed U.N. operation that brought down Ivory Coast's longtime ruler Laurent Gbagbo.
"Africa, a continent whose nations and people have been exploited for centuries by foreign powers, is confronting a new version of neocolonialism of military intervention based on the principles of human rights and democratic liberty," he said. "Unfortunately, we see the United Nations being fraudulently used, under the pretext of humanitarian intervention, when such intervention has only served to violate more human rights of the people affected.'
Obiang also weighed in on the financial crisis, attributing it to the "irrationality of the current political, economic, and social order," which he claimed has become "disconnected from the social and humanitarian principles of equality, justice, and fairness."
Talk about irony: Critics, human rights groups, and journalists have long accused Obiang's government of becoming disconnected from the principles of equality, justice, and fairness at home. And yet Obiang reportedly has been seeking to re-launch his campaign to establish a UNESCO award in his own name.
Readers of Turtle Bay will recall the controversy surrounding Obiang's earlier attempt to fund a UNESCO life sciences award. The effort was blocked after human rights organizations and Equatoguinean exile groups protested the move, saying the Obiang family had engaged in serious human rights abuses and -- despite its standing as the Africa's third-largest oil producer -- invested scant amounts of money into programs for the poor. The government denied the charges.
Since, Obiang has hired a load of PR consultants to repair his image, and has taken to portraying Equatorial Guinea as a pillar of security in the region.
"There are signs that Equatorial Guinea is also laying the groundwork for a new bid to persuade a new slate of UNESCO board members that its president is indeed a man worth honoring," Kenneth Hurwitz, a senior legal officer at the Soros Foundation's Justice Initiative, wrote in a recent blog post. The campaign so far has included taking advantage of the country's current position holding the presidency of the African Union. Obiang secured a courtesy resolution of support from African Union heads of state when they met in Equatorial Guinea in July: the resolution urged UNESCO to implement its earlier decision to set up the prize, which would "contribute to research in the life sciences."
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The Obama administration moved today to shore up the finances of a post-Qaddafi government, proposing that the U.N. Security Council free up $1.5 billion in frozen assets in the United States to help stabilize Libya and pay the salaries of those in a new transitional government. The move is likely to be followed by Britain, Qatar, and other governments backing the anti-Qaddafi opposition.
But they are discovering that the unraveling of Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime has not made doing business in the council any easier.
While China and Russia have agreed to permit the United States to release the money, the South African delegation stepped in to put on the brakes.
South Africa supported the Security Council decision earlier this year to authorize a military operation in Libya to protect civilians, but since then, it has become one of the coalition's sharpest critics, arguing that the United States and European powers went beyond the U.N. mandate and took sides in the country's civil war. It has put a hold on the funds in the U.N.'s Libya sanctions committee, which works by consensus, expressing concern that the funds will grant legitimacy to the anti-Qaddafi rebels.
"We are all agreed to the direness of the humanitarian situation in Libya, and we all want to help," South Africa's U.N. ambassador, Baso Sangqu, told reporters after the council met to consider the U.S. proposal. But he voiced concern that "when you release this money to entities that are aligned to one party of the conflict, you could be in one way or the other recognizing that entity" as the legal authority in Libya.
Sangqu indicated that South Africa might reconsider its position if the U.N. resolution explicitly made it clear that the council was not granting any recognition to the rebels. But he said it was important for the African Union to form an agreed position before he could move forward.
The United States, which first made its request to the Libya sanctions committee to unfreeze the funds on Aug. 8, maintains that it has given South Africa ample time to make up its mind. In an effort to overcome South African objections, the United States has called for a meeting tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. to vote on a resolution, which would require only nine votes to pass.
The U.S. proposal is broken into three parts, according to the U.S. draft resolution. About $500 million would cover some of the costs of a U.N. humanitarian appeal and would be used to fund humanitarian agencies operating in Libya.
Another $500 million would go to opposition-selected contractors that supply fuel, which is in short supply, for electrical plants, desalinization plants, and hospitals.
And the remaining $500 million would be placed in the so-called Temporary Financing Mechanism, which was established by members of the Libya Contact Group, to pay for salaries of social workers, teachers, and health-care workers by a future Libyan government. Of that, $100 million would be used to subsidize the purchase of food, electricity, and other humanitarian goods.
Hours before the meeting, South Africa agreed to partially lift its hold on the U.S. proposal, freeing up about $500 million to fund humanitarian relief efforts in Libya. It continued to object to the release of an additional $1 billion for fuel and salaries.
But the United States rejected the compromise, saying that the proposal was part of a nonnegotiable package that is needed to meet the Libyans' humanitarian needs.
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With human rights groups now reporting that more than 150,000 people have been displaced in Sudan's South Kordofan as a result of government incursions, Thursday's Security Council briefing on the situation by Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. assistant secretary general for human rights, will be expected to address questions about how best to protect civilians there, and whether the international presence needs to be bolstered.
"Tens of thousands of civilians in Southern Kordofan are in grave danger, and no one is on the ground to report on what is happening, much less do anything about it," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
But, in making his briefing, it's not yet clear to what extent Simonovic will rely on the detailed reports about the attacks that have been drafted, though not yet officially endorsed, by U.N agencies -- reports that partly cast the peacekeeping presence in South Kordofan in an unflattering light. According to the reports, which have been obtained by Turtle Bay, Sudanese forces not only targeted U.N. peacekeepers -- those peacekeepers, in some cases, also enabled the attacks against the very civilians they were charged with protecting.
It was in June, as the world's attention was riveted to the birth of the independent nation of South Sudan, that Khartoum opened its new military front in northern Sudan, in the country's Nuba Mountains region.
On June 5, the Sudanese armed forces, and pro-government militias surrounded Kadugli, the capital of Southern Kordofan, triggering a resumption of fighting between government troops and Nuban members of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army. The Sudanese action was intended to force the thousands of local Nuban troops who once fought alongside Khartoum's domestic rivals to disarm or to depart for the south.
The chief obstacle to Sudan's military push was a force of nearly two-thousand Egyptian and Bangladeshi U.N. peacekeepers with a mandate to protect civilians. But internal U.N. documents illustrate how the Sudanese military quickly neutralized the U.N. blue helmets, seizing control of the U.N.-operated airport, cutting off humanitarian supplies and preventing U.N. staff from carrying out their work. Armed and uniformed Sudanese security personnel entered a U.N. safe area at will, checking the identities of frightened civilians who sought refuge there and intimidated them into leaving the area, despite the ostensible U.N. protection.
Even more alarmingly, Sudanese army troops and allied militias targeted Sudanese nationals working for the United Nations, summarily executing one and detaining others in the presence of peacekeepers, according to the internal U.N. accounts. In one incident, two days after the fighting began, government-backed militia members shot a national U.N. staff member in the legs as he sought sanctuary in a U.N. compound in Kadugli.
One internal report by the U.N.'s human rights office in Sudan "revealed that the SAF [Sudan Armed Forces], paramilitary forces and government security apparatus have engaged in violent and unlawful acts against UNMIS." They included "verified incidents of shelling in close proximity to UN property...summary execution of a U.N. national staff member; assaults on physical integrity of U.N. staff; arbitrary arrest and detention of U.N. Staff and associated human rights violations, including ill-treatment amounting to torture."
The report cited a June 16 episode in which U.N. military observers, seeking to verify the existence of alleged mass graves, "were arrested, stripped of their clothes, and believed that they were about to be executed when a senior SAF [Sudan Armed Forces] officer intervened." According to the account, a Sudanese army captain instructed four U.N. military observers "to line up and be killed. He removed the safety of his AK-47, and just as he was about to point the weapon towards the U.N. [military observers], a SAF Major entered the room and ordered him not to shoot." The captain obeyed his superior but warned the U.N. officials to leave Southern Kordofan. "If not we will kill you," he said.
The leaked report, which was made available to Turtle Bay through the Washington Post, has already received extensive coverage in the press in recent weeks because it claimed that Sudan and pro-government militias may have committed war crimes and cited witness testimony suggesting the possibility of mass graves.
But there has been little focus on Sudan'sviolent crackdown on U.N. peacekeepers. So far, the mistreatment of U.N. blue helmets has provoked a relatively restrained response from top U.N. officials,who downplayed the report's finding as preliminary, or by the U.N. Security Council, which adopted a mild statement calling for a U.N. investigation, according to human rights advocates.
"For the Security Council to remain timid in the face of credible allegations of war crimes, mass graves, and torture of U.N. personnel is simply inexcusable," Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch told Turtle Bay.
Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, meanwhile, told Turtle Bay that the United Nations takes the allegations of abuses seriously, and has called for further investigation to determine what crimes have been committed. But he stopped short of endorsing key recommendations in the draft human rights report, including a call for referring the crimes to the International Criminal Court prosecutor.
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Friday that the United States is "deeply concerned about alarming and credible allegations of violence committed by Sudan Armed Forces and aligned groups in Southern Kordofan," including "acts of extreme cruelty and abuse against civilians" that "may" constitute crimes against humanity.
Rice condemned what she described as the deliberate targeting of civilians, including U.N. humanitarian personnel, and expressed support for an investigation into the allegations by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. "The United States will not tolerate impunity for such acts of violence," she said in a statement.
The situation in South Kordofan bears some similarities with Darfur, where Sudanese forces, backed by Arab militias, have 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 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 the Sudan's Nubans has become a growing source of concern among human rights observers.
A landmark 2005 peace deal ending Sudan's bloody civil war between the North and South Sudan paved the way for the south's independence last month, but it never resolved the fate of their Nuban allies, who will remain subject to northern rule. A provision in the 2005 called for the troops from Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States to serve alongside Sudanese armed forces as part of a Joint Integrated Unit.
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. A recent election consolidated Khartoum's political dominance over Southern Kordofan. In May, Khartoum moved to dissolve the joint unit and ordered the Nuban forces to either turn over their weapons and submit to northern rule or move to the south.
As fighting erupted between the two sides in Kadugli, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sudan (UNMIS), established a safe area, known as the "protective perimeter," around the U.N. base, providing a refuge for thousands of displaced civilians, relief workers and U.N. personnel.
The Egyptian contingent that headed the effort has come under criticism for allowing armed Sudanese forces to breach the perimeter in an attempt to identify and arrest suspected sympathizers with the south.
The most serious incident documented by U.N. human rights monitors occurred on June 8, when Sudanese army troops dragged a UN contractor, reportedly an active SPLM member, from a vehicle in front of a U.N. compound in Kadugli, "while U.N. peacekeepers could not intervene. He was taken around the corner of the compound and gunshots were heard. Later he was discovered dead by UNMIS personnel and [displaced civilians]."
The U.N.'s top peacekeeping official, Alain Le Roy, challenged the veracity of those accounts. "I have read that some people were extracted from this area were killed in front of the peacekeepers," Le Roy told reporters on July 13. "That is completely wrong; that is completely wrong."
"It is clear that some civilians have been killed but not of course in our site and not in the vicinity, not in the safe area close to our camp. Our peacekeepers, our Egyptian peacekeepers, our Bangladeshi peacekeepers have been protecting them from the beginning until today."
Le Roy confirmed that Nuban civilians were being targeted in the region but that the U.N. mission was powerless to respond. "It is clear that civilians are being killed," he said. But "we don't have freedom of movement because there is heavy fighting in South Kordofan." The situation has only worsened since July 9, South Sudan's independence day, when the U.N.'s mandate in the north expired.
But the internal U.N. reporting paints a different picture.
On June 8, U.N. human rights observers witnessed four armed men, including two from the Central Reserve police, entering the U.N. safe area "without any intervention from the [UN] peacekeepers guarding the premises," according to the U.N. rights report. "Eyewitnesses interviewed reported that the armed men abducted three IDPs [internally displaced persons] from the vicinity of UNMIS Protective Perimeter on suspicion that they were supporters of the SPLM [Sudanese People's Liberation Movement]."
A second internal situation report, obtained by Turtle Bay, also cited concerns about "the uncontrolled movement of armed civilians and uniformed personnel" within the U.N. safe area."There is concern about the entering of SAF [Sudan Armed Forces] and [pro-government militia] into the UNMIS Protective Perimeter asking for what appeared to have been ‘identity checks."
U.N. human rights monitors "interviewed a boy who had narrowly escaped abduction himself and learned of the abduction of a 17-year-old girl from just outside [Protective Perimeter] on the morning 19 June by two Arab militia members, who came upon them while washing clothes and fetching water," according to one incident in the report.
In another incident, Sudanese military personnel stopped a U.N. truck near a U.N. compound in Kadugli and pulled off three displaced civilians who had helped load supplies on to the truck. The three men were beaten in front of U.N. staff and then abducted . One U.N. staff member who sought to stop them was threatened by gunpoint to back down. The three individuals were never seen again.
Sudanese security forces, disguised as Sudanese Red Crescent workers, also breached the safe area. "On 20 June UNMIS Human Rights in Kadugli verified that National Security Service (NSS) donning Sudan Red Crescent (SRC) aprons were posing as Sudanese Red Crescent workers ordering [internally displaced people] to evacuate the U.N. Protective Permiter (PP)." The security agents insisted that "they congregate at Kadugli Stadium with promises of an address from the governor and humanitarian aid and threats of forceful removal if they failed to comply."
The strategy appeared to work. By late that afternoon, "approximately 75 percent of the more than 11,000 IDPS had vacated the [Protective Perimeter], mostly women, children and the elderly.... [U.N. human rights monitors are] concerned that coercing IDPs to leave UNMIS PP and have them sent to the stadium or school compounds may pose [a] security danger to them."
Egypt's U.N. ambassador, Maged Abdelaziz, defended the Egyptian troops' conduct, saying they had faithfully fulfilled their obligation to protect civilians in Kadugli. Abdelaziz said that while it was impossible for the peacekeepers to interrogate civilians entering the safe area to determine whether it had been infiltrated by Sudanese agents or anti-government partisans he insisted that armed personnel were barred from entry."We checked with our forces on the ground and they said this never happened," he told Turtle Bay.
"The Egyptian forces have been implementing all commitments with regard to the protection of civilians. Any civilian that went to the Egyptian forces and asked for shelter received it," Abdelaziz said. "We drew some criticism from NGOs [non-governmental-organizations] who discovered people being protected were part of the military forces. But how do you distinguish between [unarmed] combatants and non-combatants. It's a peacekeeping mission not an interrogation mission."
Judges from the International Criminal Court on Monday issued a warrant for the arrest of Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi, his son and a top military intelligence chief, calling for them to to stand trial for crimes against humanity in connection with a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters earlier this year.
The three-judge pre-trial chamber ruled that ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had established "reasonable grounds" to charge Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and Abdullah Al-Senussi, the chief of military intelligence, with the murder and persecution of hundreds of Libyan civilians since the government began suppressing public protests on Feb. 15.
In issuing the ruling, Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng said there was sufficient evidence to believe that the three Libyans "have committed the crimes alleged by the prosecutor" and that "their arrest appears necessary" to ensure they appear before the Hague-based court and to prevent them from continuing further crimes against the Libyan population.
She said the court's registrar would seek the cooperation of Libya and other governments in securing the three men's surrender.
Gaddafi has made it clear he does not recognize the authority of the International Criminal Court, and it remains highly unlikely that his own government would surrender him or members of his inner circle. Please read the entire story here at the Washington Post.
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U.N. peacekeepers have come under mounting pressure to protect civilians from imminent threat of violence in its most complex missions.
But what about looting, plundering and burning of civilian property, acts which sometimes serve as a symbols and facilitators of ethnic cleansing. U.N. officials say not necessarily; that responsibility rests principally in the hands of the local authorities.
Last month, Sudanese forces and local Arab militia seized control of the town of Abyei, Sudan, driving tens of thousands civilians out of town. Thousands of nomadic herdsman from the Arab Misseriya tribe followed suit, stealing every moveable possession they could get their hands on and burning what they couldn't take. U.N. human rights officials in Sudan expressed concerns that their action may constitute ethnic cleansing.
The dispute in Abyei has been at the center of a political struggle over rights to resources and the delineation of borders between northern Sudan and southern Sudan, as the south prepares to declare independence on July 9. But it has a volatile ethnic dimension, pitting the areas black Ngok Dinka residents, allied with the south, against pro-government nomadic Misseriya. The two sides are bitterly divided over everything from voting rights, access to grazing areas and water.
Internal U.N. accounts of what happened last month in Abyei show that Sudan's armed forces stood by as its comrades in arms began the looting. For its part, a United Nations peacekeeping contingent in Abyei, which retreated to its barracks in the first days of the assault, subsequently limited its role to monitoring the mayhem on the streets of Abyei, but not intervening to stop it.
A source provided Turtle Bay with copies of two confidential U.N. reports after I posted a photograph of a U.N. peacekeeping contingent patrolling the streets of Abyei, Sudan, last month while several men carted off household items on the side of the road. At the time, I said it was unclear from the picture whether the men were fleeing violence or looting belongings of local residents in plain site of the Zambian blue helmets. The source said the reports demonstrate that the UN passively allowed the looting to occur.
According to the internal account, the Sudanese army attacked Abyei on the night of May 21, quickly seizing control of the town, though most of the population had already fled south by the time they arrived. By nightfall, the Sudanese military had deployed 15 tanks in a town that had been abandoned by fleeing residents. Sudanese aircraft bombarded the Bantom bridge, south of Abyei, in an attempt to bar civilians from returning or to prevent rival troops from south Sudan from mounting a counterattack.
Over the following days, as the Sudanese army looked on, elements of Sudan's Popular Defense Force(PDF) and the Misseriya systematically plundered the town.
"There are reports of PDF(popular defense forces) and Misseriya elements looting the shops and burning down the tukuls(and smoke could be seen from the UNMIS compound)," according to a May 22 report from the office of the UN resident coordinator. "These were allegedly fighting along side SAF. The Misseriya/PDF elements could also be seen carrying away the loot, both on foot and using vehicles. SAF did not intervene to stop the looting."
The U.N. has acknowledged that the Zambian peacekeeping contingent had not responded adequately to the attacks on civilians and property. They have sent a contingent of Indian peacekeepers to Abyei to reinforce the Zambians. The United States, meanwhile, is pressing for the adoption of a U.N. Security Council resolution that would approve the deployment of several thousands Ethiopian troops in Abyei to help restore calm.
The Sudanese government, which signed a peace deal last week allowing Ethiopian blue helmets to replace its troops, opened a new military front in neighboring South Kordofan, where church leaders and human rights organization have accused the government of displacing more than 70,000 Nubans in a military campaign.
But U.N. officials say the Zambian's failure to act was mitigated by the fact that they were confronted with a force with overwhelming military superiority and that their compound had been hit during the attack. Some officials dispute claims saying that the looting and burning in Abyei were hallmarks of ethnic cleansing, saying they were more consistent with a history of reprisals and countereprisals between competing African tribes in the region.
"The [U.N.] Force commander advised that they saw SAF[the Sudanese Armed Forces] build up and attack coming but they were unable to stop it. There had however been assurance by SAF that the UN would not be targeted," according to the May 22 report by the U.N.'s resident coordinator's office. "Although UN was not being targeted by SAF there were 5 shells that landed in the UNMIS compound, one of them burning a WFP[World Food Program] vehicle. Two (2) Egyptians were also injured but are out of danger."
When the U.N. resumed its patrols of Abyei in the days following the initial assault, they encountered a scene of chaos, with 2,000 to 5,000 Misseriya men roaming the streets of Abyei, carting away chairs, bed frames, mattresses and anything else they could find. They also threatened to seize the Zambians armored personnel vehicles unless the UN agreed to pay three years rent for the base.
"The remainder of the looted items that have not yet been taken away from Abyei town are by the roadside awaiting transportation to the northern areas," according to a May 26 update by the resident coordinators office. "One of the UNMO[UN Military Observers] road patrols that went out this morning(26 May) observed at least 14 big trucks that were loading looted items. Sporadic and aimless shooting also continues but to a relatively lesser scale and...burning of tukuls(dwellings) still continues."
By that point, according to the May 26 report, the UN's mission in Abyei had become decreasingly relevant: "It can now be confirmed that there will not be any need for humanitarian assistance within Abyei town(for now) as there are currently no civilians."
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Last month, the U.N. released the above photograph as a way to underscore its commitment to protecting Abyei, Sudan, in the wake of a brutal May 20 attack on the town by Sudanese army forces and pro-government militia -- an attack which locally-stationed U.N. peacekeepers waited out in their barracks, under orders from their officers to avoid confronting the looters and arsonists destroying the town. The photo shows the Zambians on May 24, again patrolling the streets under the U.N. flag, presumably protecting the populace.
But a closer look at the photo reveals a more ambiguous and disturbing reality. In the background, a couple of men are seen walking off with household furniture, including bed frames, mattresses, plastic chairs and other items. They could be local residents taking flight despite the renewed U.N. presence; or looters, plundering the local inhabitants' possessions right under the U.N.'s nose. In any case, the photo seems to subtly subvert the U.N. diplomatic intentions.
Bec Hamilton, a journalist who viewed Abyei three weeks ago, noted on Twitter that she watched people "systematically looting goods like these from dwellings 3 [weeks] ago." But she said that in the absence of more context, it is hard to tell what is happening in the photo.
The U.N. meanwhile, has brought in a contingent of Indian reinforcements to shore up the Zambian peacekeepers until a better equipped and trained Ethiopian peacekeeping force arrives in Abyei. They will then keep whatever peace there is left to keep, and hopefully encourage the thousands of locals who fled the town during the attack to return home.
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First the good news: U.S. President Barack Obama is more than twice as popular in Egypt as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad.
Now, the bad news: the American president's standing has never been worse in Egypt, plummeting since 2008, when he received a 25 percent favorability rating, to 12 percent in 2011. Even Osama Bin Laden, the late al Qaeda leader, was more popular this year, with a 21 percent favorability ranking. The Iranian leader fared worse, dropping from 21 percent favorability rating in 2008 to a miserable 5 percent.
The findings are drawn from a public poll of Egyptian views in the aftermath of the public uprising that brought about the resignation of Egypt's fallen leader Hosni Mubarak. The poll was commissioned by the International Peace Institute, a New York-based think tank with close ties to the United Nations and Arab governments.
The poll seeks to capture the mood of the country in the lead up to the Egypt's first post-Mubarak election, and to handicap the presidential campaign. It shows that Egyptians currently fret over issues like the economy, stability, and government corruption more than they worry about the course of the country's democratic transition.
According to the poll, conducted by Charney Research and based on interviews with 800 Egyptians, Amr Moussa, the outgoing Arab League chief, has emerged as an early frontrunner. Thirty-two percent of respondents say they would vote for Moussa, who once served as Mubarak's foreign minister.
Essam Sharraf, an engineering professor who is serving as the country's interim prime minister, finished second with 16 percent of votes ( though his favorability ranking is higher than Moussa's). And Mohammed Tantawi, the army chief, finished third with 8 percent of those questioned saying they would vote for him. Mohammed El Baradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who emerged from retirement to serve as Egypt's best known pro-democracy advocate, finished seventh, with only 2 percent of respondents pledging to vote for him.
The poll shows that the Egyptian army, which refused orders to fire on public demonstrators during the country's popular uprising, remains "extremely popular" with 90 percent of Egyptian respondents expressing a favorable view. Egypt's various secular parties also did well, garning 25 precent of respondents' votes, while Islamist parties gained 19 percent. The best-known political parties, the New Wafd Party and the Muslim Brotherhood, received respectively 40 percent and 31 percent favorability ratings. The Brotherhood's unfavorability rating, at 29 percent, was 10 points higher.
"The military right now is riding a wave of popularity because it is seen as playing two key roles [in Egypt's popular revolution]," Craig Charney, the pollster, told Turtle Bay. "It delivered the coup de grace to Mubarak and did it in a way that maintained a substantial degree of stability."
Charney said that the findings also demonstrated that fears of a religious take over by Islamists are overblown. "The much feared green-tide just isn't there, with the Muslim Brotherhood receiving 12 percent while the Salafists for all their sound and fury came away with only 4 percent," Charney said.
While an exiled Egyptian national, Ayman al Zawahiri, has been selected as the new leader of Al Qaeda, the poll suggested that the terror organization would have been better at influencing events in Egypt under the leadership of their late Saudi leader, Osama Bin laden, who was killed by elite U.S. commandos in Pakistan.
According to the poll, bin Laden's favorability ratings rose from 18 percent of those questioned in 2008 to 21 percent in 2011. In contrast, Zawahiri scored a favorability rating of only 11 percent this year.
Charney said that while other polls have found somewhat higher support for President Obama's response to the Egyptian uprising, he has suffered from a generally dim view of American policy throughout the region.
"Despite President Obama's words and measures in support of Egypt's revolution, he only narrowly edges out the leaders of al Qaeda and Iran in popular regard there," Charney said in a statement. "But our findings do clearly show that Egyptians have little regard for the likes of al-Zawahiri and Ahmadinejad."
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In a rare declaration of good news, Khartoum and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement reached agreement Monday on a plan to deploy an armored brigade of several thousand Ethiopian peacekeepers to the disputed area of Abyei, Sudan, where they will replace troops from the rival camps and keep the peace.
Last month, Khartoum's army, backed by pro-government militia, seized control of Abyei, driving more than 100,00 residents from the area and looting and destroying their property. The Sudanese assault exposed the weakness of the U.N.'s peacekeeping mission, whose commander ordered Zambian blue helmets to wait out the attack in their bunker, and drew warnings from the White House that any prospects of improved relations with the United States were in jeopardy.
But today's accord, struck with the help of U.N. and African mediation, relieved international pressure on Khartoum, even as its forces continued on the offensive in a series of highly charged flashpoints of Blue Nile State and South Kordofan, where more than 75,000 civilians were forced from their homes. It also made it clear that Sudan's leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who stands charged by an international prosecutor of committing genocide in Darfur, would again be central to any resolution of the crisis.
The latest surge in violence poses the greatest challenge to date to a landmark U.S.-brokered 2005 peace deal, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, that ended Africa's deadliest and longest running civil wars and set the path to the south drive for independence. It threatens to plunge the country into a renewed civil war just weeks before the south scheduled its declaration its independence on July 9. In a sign of the deeping tensions, the U.N.'s special representative in Sudan, Haile Menkerios, warned the U.N. council that fighting was now spreading to Jau in Unity state southern Sudan.
This morning, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, welcomed the pact on Abyei and vowed to introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the deployment of the Ethiopian force. At the same time, Rice highlighted reports that Khartoum's forces may be committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"Unfortunately, the situation in Abyei is by no means the only crisis facing the people of Sudan," Rice told the council in a public meeting on the crisis. "On June 5, violence broke out in multiple areas of Southern Kordofan, including its capital, Kadugli. The reports my government has been receiving on the ongoing fighting are horrifying...Security services and military forces have reportedly detained and summarily executed local authorities, political rivals, medical personnel, and others."
Rice also scolded The Sudanese People's Liberation Army, which has been accused of triggering the violence in Abyei by opening fire in May on a U.N. convoy escorting Khartoum's troops through Abyei. Rice voiced concern that southern forces have also breached the border of Southern Kordofan, in violation of the CPA. She said the U.S. is "deeply concerned" by reports that the SPLM "Have threatened the safety of person of Arab origin in Southern Kordofan, including U.N. staff."
But she claimed that Khartoum bore the greatest responsibility for the latest crisis, citing its decision early this month to break up SPLA units in South Kordofan without having reached a negotiated settlement on their fate. She cited Khartoum's use of aerial bombardment of civilian targets, its cut off of supplies of food, water, medicine and other basic humanitarian supplies into Kadugli, denying U.N. access to needy locals, and even threatening to shoot U.N. aircraft out of the sky.
"The government of Sudan can prevent this crisis from escalating further by immediately stopping its military efforts to disarm the Sudan People's Liberation Army in Southern Kordofan and by focusing on diplomatic efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict," she said.
Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, the south's representative to the United States and the United Nations, told the council that his government regretted the shooting incident against the U.N. convoy in Abyei, but said Khartoum's response was "wholly disproportionate." He pressed the U.N. to share its "more detailed reporting" on Sudanese rights violations in Abyei. He also warned that the "situation in South Kordofan risks degenerating into ethnic cleansing and possible genocide."
For his part, Sudan's U.N. envoy Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman said the north acted in Abyei and South Kordofan to halt "horrendous violations' by southern forces and that his government was prepared to discuss arrangements for humanitarian aid workers to gain access to the displaced.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the chief negotiator for the Abyei deal, said the accord would result in the "demilitarization of Abyei and create the condition for the return of tens of thousands of civilians to return to their homes. He urged the council to act swiftly to authorize the new force, which would serve under U.N. command, and be funded by the United Nations.
Mbkei said he would now turn his attention in the coming days to negotiating a cessation of hostilities in Southern Kordofan. He also expressed optimism wide-ranging talks over the relationship between Khartoum and the south could be sewn up by the end of the month. Those talks are grappling with range of vexing matters - including accords on the sharing of oil revenues, demarcation of the border between the north and south, and security in a demilitarized zone along the border.
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During a visit to Washington last week, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé sounded determined to force a divided U.N. Security Council to vote on a resolution condemning Syria's crackdown on anti-government protesters, saying the need to show resolve in the face of Syrian repression was worth the risk of provoking a likely Russian veto.
Following a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, Juppé told reporters in Washington that he believed that Russia might back down if the allies could muster a significant majority -- say, 11 yes votes in the 15-nation council -- raising the political costs of obstruction.
On Tuesday morning, Juppé offered his strongest hint that France and its Western allies, including the United States, may be preparing to back down and withdraw the text. In response to questions from the French National Assembly, Juppé acknowledged that Western powers have been unable to overcome misgivings about a resolution on Syria from key council members, including the BRICS members Brazil, Russia, India and China, and South Africa. Lebanon, the council's lone Arab country, is expected to vote against the resolution.
The United States had initially cautioned its European partners against forcing a showdown in the council that would simply highly its deep divisions over Syria, providing a political boost to President Bashar al-Assad's government. But Britain, France, and other European governments argued it would be unconscionable for the council to remain silent in the face of mounting atrocities in Syria.
The BRICS have countered that the United States and its European allies overstepped the Security Council's mandate, contained in resolution 1973, authorizing the use of force to protect civilians in Libya. They say that the Western coalition has effectively entered a civil war on behalf of the rebels and that their true aim is the overthrow of Moammar al-Qaddafi's regime.
"We strongly believe that the resolution is being abused for regime change, political assassinations and foreign military occupation," South African President Jacob Zuma told the South African parliament this week.
The Europeans believe they have secured nine votes, the bare minimum required for adoptioin of the Syria resolution in the Security Council. But they have held out hope that they could convince the Russians to back down if they could only secure another couple of votes, thereby isolating Moscow and Beijing, which is expected to back the Russian position. But a week of diplomatic outreach has failed to turn a single vote.
"At the Security Council -- despite all the efforts that we're making, in particular with the British and the Americans -- we still haven't achieved our goal," Juppé said. "Indeed, China and Russia are threatening -- on the grounds of principle -- to exercise their right of veto. We will take the risk of putting a draft resolution condemning the Syrian regime to a vote if we reach a sufficient majority. Currently, we probably have nine votes at the Security Council. We still need to persuade South Africa, India and Brazil; we're working on this every day. I think that if we were able to achieve 11 votes, we would put this draft resolution to a vote and everyone would have to assume their responsibilities; we'd then see if China and Russia would go so far as to veto the resolution."
European governments have directed their lobbying efforts at Brazil and South Africa in the hopes that they could somehow peel them away from the Russian camp. French ambassador Gerard Araud pressed Brazil this week to reconsider its stance in a newspaper interview in the Brazilian paper O Estado De Sao Paolo. "The Security Council's credibility and that of its members is at stake, as it is their mandate is to protect international peace and security," Araud said. "We've been discsuing this text for two weeks. In that time 400 people, including women and children, have died, sometimes under torture. Let's be clear: Inaction on the part of the Security Council is not an option. We must all rally together and we're counting on Brazil."
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Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba -- son of one of Africa's longest-ruling strongmen, the late Omar Bongo, and leader of a country that often receives attention for allegations of corruption and human rights abuses -- was given the red-carpet treatment by the White House on Thursday, including a face-to-face meeting with President Barack Obama.
So why was Bongo treated likely foreign royalty? It probably didn't hurt that Gabon has become the third-largest producer of oil in sub-Saharan Africa. Or that Gabon, which is serving as this month's president of the U.N. Security Council, has agreed to vote in favor of a U.S.-backed European draft resolution condemning Syria's bloody crackdown.
"Gabon is holding the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council; it's an important position," Jay Carney, the White House spokesman told reporters. "Gabon has voted in ways that we consider very helpful on issues like Côte d'Ivoire, Libya, and Iran. It's been an important ally in our efforts in those countries through the United Nations.… So, yes, we do think it's appropriate for the president to meet with the leader of Gabon."
Following his father's death in 2009, Ali Bongo was elected president in a vote deemed "generally free and fair" despite some "irregularities and post-election violence," according to the State Department's 2010 Human Rights Report.
But the rest of what the State Department had to say about Gabon isn't very heartwarming. The report details "ritualistic killings; use of excessive force by police; harsh prison conditions and lengthy pretrial detention; an inefficient judiciary subject to government influence; restrictions on privacy and press; harassment and extortion of African immigrants and refugees; widespread government corruption; violence against women; societal discrimination against women, noncitizen Africans, Pygmies, and persons with HIV/AIDS; and trafficking in persons, particularly children."
Is this the sort of ally you want when you are seeking to excoriate Syria for cracking down on peaceful demonstrators?
Council diplomats say that on the Security Council, where countries with woeful rights records like China and Russia hold the power to kill off any pronouncement on Syria, you have no choice but to take whatever votes you can get. And besides, there have been some improvements in Gabon.
"Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings" and "no reports of politically motivated disappearances," the State Department report stated. And though there are credible reports that the police continue to "beat" detainees to "extract confessions," there were no reports in 2010, as there was the previous year, "that security forces were responsible for injuring civilians while dispersing crowds."
Well, that's a start.
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Last week, the U.N.'s human rights office in Sudan produced an internal memo concluding that last month's Sudanese military "attack and occupation" of the disputed town of Abyei "is tantamount to ethnic cleansing," according to a copy of the confidential memo obtained by Turtle Bay.
The memo said that the nature of the attack and forced displacement of tens of thousands of black ethnic Ngok Dinka, including the destruction of their homes and the seizure of their property by ethnic Arab Misseriya tribes, made the prospects for their return dim. The action, it said, would also complicate international efforts to resolve an ongoing dispute over Abyei's chances for independence.
"By destroying their homes, looting their properties and inspiring fear and terror, over 30,000 Ngok Dinkas have been forcefully displaced from their ancestral homes, leaving the Abyei area now more or less homogenously occupied by the Misseriya," the report stated. "The likelihood of all the Ngok Dinkas returning to Abyei is limited.… The Government of Sudan must be held accountable."
But the U.N. has since backed off the claim that ethnic cleansing had occurred. A revised, softened version of the memo, according to a report in the Associated Press, only claimed that the Sudanese Armed Forces' "occupation" of Abyei might result in ethnic cleansing. "The SAF attack and occupation of Abyei and the resultant displacement of over 30,000 Ngok Dinkas from Abyei could lead to ethnic cleansing, if conditions for the return of the displaced Ngok Dinka residents are not created," according to the report.
The watered-down language followed assurances by Sudan that it would help pave the way for the return of nearly 80,000 Ngok Dinka residents, including 30,000 inside the town of Abyei, according to U.N. officials. There was also a question about whether thousands of nomadic ethnic Arab Misseriya who joined Sudanese forces in looting and burning homes in Abyei really intended to stay in Abyei. Traditionally, the Misseriya have only entered the region temporarily to graze their cattle during the dry season.
Speaking at a press conference at U.N. headquarters today, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon said that Khartoum pledged to pave the way for thousands of residents to ultimately return to their homes in Abyei. He endorsdd the U.N.'s softer line on characterizing the Sudanese attack, saying it is “far too early to claim that ethnic cleansing is taking place."
The five-page memo, which was written by the human rights section of the U.N. Mission in Sudan, said the latest flare-up of violence in Abyei started on May 19 in the town of Dokura, when forces of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) allegedly opened fire on a U.N.-escorted convoy composed of troops from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), killing two Sudanese soldiers and blowing up a U.N. truck.
Fearing reprisals, most of the areas' civilians, primarily Ngok Dinkas, fled en masse toward the southern town of Agok, leaving behind an unknown number of civilians and groups of armed youth seeking to defend their towns. U.N. ground patrols and aerial surveillance showed that Abyei was "virtually empty and deserted" by the time Sudanese forces seized the town but that "a number of the Abyei residents were killed during the attack as evidenced by dead bodies that were seen lying around in Abyei." In the end, Sudanese forces and their allies burned as many as 20 percent of the homes in Abyei to the ground.
Two days later, the Sudanese army responded with a massive military assault, bombing and shelling SPLA positions in the Abyei region, including the villages of Todach, Tajalei, Noong, Leu, Makir Abior, Awolnom, and Marial Achack. Days later, the Sudanese army blew up the Banton Bridge on the River Kiir, south of Abyei, undermining the ability of most locals who fled south from the violence to return.
"On the night of 21 May 2011, SAF attacked and took control of Abyei, amidst artillery shelling, armored tank firing, mortar shelling, and machine gun fire," according to the memo. "There was heavy fighting, especially around UNMIS compound, presumably between the SAF and South Sudan Police Services (SSPS) and possibly armed Ngok youths. UNMIS was accidentally shelled five times. Four of the shells exploded resulting in minor injuries to 2 Egyptian TCC soldiers and the destruction of one UNWFP vehicle. It took a direct hit and burned."
The following day, pro-Khartoum militia from the Misseriya tribe and forces of the People's Defense Forces moved into Abyei. "They began moving from tukul [dwelling] to tukul, and allegedly killed residents trapped therein, mostly Ngok Dinkas. An elderly woman who took refuge in the UN camp, in an interview, stated that her 37 year [old] son … was murdered.… Another woman also sheltered at UNMIS claimed that she was raped."
The Sudanese Armed Forces commander, Brig. Gen. Azdeen Osman, prevented U.N. peacekeepers from entering the town of Abyei until nearly four days after the attack began, citing security concerns.
"The Abyei attack, from all indications is not a retaliatory and offensive action occasioned" by the SPLA's May 19 attack, according to the memo. "Rather, the attack and occupation of Abyei by SAF was part of a deliberate plan by the north conceived long before the Dokura incident."
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Nearly two months ago the U.N.'s chief peacekeeping official, Alain Le Roy, convened a press conference to talk up a string of U.N. successes around the world.
In Haiti, the United Nations helped usher through a relatively peaceful political transition; in Ivory Coast, U.N. attack helicopters backed a French assault that brought down Ivoirian strongman Laurent Gbagbo; and in Sudan, the United Nations oversaw a landmark independence referendum in Southern Sudan that is likely to set the stage for the south's recognition this summer as the U.N.'s newest member. "In the three cases, the peacekeepers made a huge difference," Le Roy said.
Le Roy contrasted the U.N.'s achievements with the darkest days of U.N. peacekeeping in the 1990s when U.N. blue helmets stood by in the face of mass atrocities in places like Srebrenica and Rwanda, and paid tribute to the sacrifices of U.N. personnel who had died in the cause of peace, including 44 U.N. civilian and uniformed peacekeepers who were killed in a 10-day stretch in Afghanistan, Congo, Haiti, and Ivory Coast.
But in recent weeks the U.N. has suffered some heavy body blows to its reputation: In Haiti, a medical panel published circumstantial evidence suggesting U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal may have been responsible for introducing cholera into Haiti, killing more than 4,000 people. And in the contested town of Abyei, Sudan, a battalion of 850 U.N. peacekeepers from Zambia hid in their barracks as Sudanese forces looted and burned homes, prompting sharp criticism from local officials and U.N. Security Council diplomats who described their conduct as disgraceful.
Violence flared up last month in Abyei, Sudan's most dangerous flashpoint, in the run-up of Southern Sudan's plan to declare independence next month from the north, splitting Africa's largest country into two nations. Abyei was supposed to join Southern Sudan in holding a referendum on independence, but the move stalled over differences involving oil revenues, water, and voting rights. The dispute pits the farming tribes of the Ngok Dinka, who are aligned with the south, against the Khartoum-backed nomadic herding tribes of the Misseriya, who graze their cattle in Abyei during the dry season. U.N. officials have long feared that a fight over Abyei could trigger a resumption of civil war between north and south, which claimed more than 2 million lives before a 2005 peace accord halted the fighting.
Troops from the southern Sudanese People's Liberation Army opened fire on a contingent of U.N. peacekeepers escorting a Sudanese military convoy. The Sudanese military's reaction appeared premeditated and disproportionate, according to U.N. diplomats. Sudanese aircraft, tanks, and troops riding motorcycles attacked the town, burning homes and looting property. Nearly 80,000 people, mostly members of the Ngok Dinka tribe, fled their homes, and thousands of pro-government Arab Misseriya tribesmen have since flowed into to take up residence. An internal U.N. report, obtained by the Associated Press, said the Sudanese Armed Forces' "occupation" of Abyei might result in ethnic cleansing. "The SAF attack and occupation of Abyei and the resultant displacement of over 30,000 Ngok Dinkas from Abyei could lead to ethnic cleansing, if conditions for the return of the displaced Ngok Dinka residents are not created," according to the report.
Responsibility for the current upsurge in violence in Abyei rests primarily with Khartoum and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement. But the episode provided another depressing example of U.N. timidity that recalled some of the worst moments in U.N. history. A battalion of Zambian blue helmets based in Abyei remained in their barracks for two days as Sudan's army attacked the town, ignoring pleas from the U.N. special representative, Haile Menkerios, to take action. "When the Sudanese army invaded, they retreated to their bunkers," Asha Abbas Akuei, who represents Abyei in the South Sudan Legislative Assembly, told Rebecca Hamilton in an article published on Slate.
The Abyei episode points to a deeper problem that has plagued many of the U.N.'s most complex peacekeeping missions. The United Nations has been forced to rely primarily on infantry troops from developing countries without the more advanced military hardware -- including attack helicopters, advanced logistics, and intelligence -- that is required to succeed, according to peacekeeping experts. "Large-scale heavy infantry frankly don't do much to reinforce the political process unless they have mobility that can deliver military punch," said Bruce Jones, director of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University.
In Ivory Coast, where the U.N. certified the presidential election of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara last November, the U.N. peacekeeping mission failed to compel the loser, Laurent Gbagbo, to step down or to protect civilians targeted by his forces. It was not until France, backed by U.N. peacekeepers and forces loyal to Ouattara, intervened that the course of the conflict changed and Gbagbo was deposed.
"So here we were in Cote d'Ivoire in a total stalemate, going nowhere against a second-tier army," Jones said. "It took a combination of Ouattara's forces and the French to turn the day. It shows a very small contribution of high-order [military] capability can transform a peacekeeping force from being irrelevant to being very productive. It shows that peacekeeping can work, but it took a while to get there."
Abyei, Jones added, provides a painful illustration of the limits of U.N. peacekeeping without the advanced military resources that the French were able to bring to bear in Ivory Coast, but which no major outside power has been willing to commit to Sudan. The few countries that possess those capabilities, including the United States, Britain, France, and other advanced military powers, have been unwilling to supply them, citing other obligations from Afghanistan to Iraq and now Libya. Khartoum, meanwhile, has sought to block Western powers with the military wherewithal to confront his troops from serving in the country.
"It's very far from clear that large-scale infantry can do much in Abyei," Jones said. "So, we're spending a billion dollars a year" to field a peacekeeping mission "without the vital ingredient that can actually make it work. If we can't stop major violations … then what are we doing there?"
A U.N. peacekeeping spokesman, Michel Bonnardeaux, said a review of the Zambians' conduct concluded that "our troops could have and should have had more visibility to deter any violence against civilians and the destruction against property." But "it must be recognized that most civilians left the area before the peak of the crisis and that UNMIS [the U.N. Mission in Sudan] troops and civilians were themselves in imminent danger as the UNMIS compound was hit," he said.
Bonnardeaux said the U.N.'s top military advisor, who traveled to Sudan to interview the Zambians, has instructed the contingent "to be more proactive and visible" in the future.
The U.N. Security Council, however, is exploring the possibility of authorizing the deployment of Ethiopian troops into Abyei to help restore order and prevent a resumption of a civil war. Under the proposal, the northern army would withdraw from the Abyei area to make way for thousands of Ethiopian soldiers, who would help monitor a cease-fire along the border.
On Friday, the U.N. Security Council, meanwhile, issued a statement demanding that Sudan withdraw its forces from Abyei and "ensure an immediate halt to all looting, burning and illegal resettlement." The council also voiced "grave concern following the reports about the unusual, sudden influx of thousands of Misseriya into Abyei town and its environs that could force significant changes in the ethnic composition of the area."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.