Jordan will boycott a controversial U.N. session on international criminal justice and reconciliation, because of concerns that the Serbian president of the General Assembly will use the event to marshal unfair criticism of the U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Jordan's ambassador to the U.N., Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, outlined his intention in a meeting with Arab ambassadors last week and will raise it on Friday with representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. He also blocked a move by the Non-Aligned movement, a bloc of 120 developing countries, to issue a statement in support of the April 10 meeting.
The one-man protest is somewhat quixotic -- as few other countries have expressed an interest in following his example. But it provided a rare case of a senior U.N. diplomat -- one who served as a U.N. political officer in Bosnia when Bosnian Serb forces massacred thousands of Bosnian Muslim men in Srebrenica -- throwing a wrench into the diplomatic niceties at the U.N.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which has indicted more than 90 Serbian nationals, including former President Slobodan Milosevic, has been unpopular among many Serbs, who feel it has gone too soft on Croatian and Bosnian Muslim war criminals. Vuk Jeremic, the former Serbian foreign minister who is serving as president of the U.N. General Assembly, has been a sharp critic of the court. He scheduled the April 10 meeting after the court's appeal chamber acquitted two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladic Markac, convicted by a lower court of carrying out mass atrocities against ethnic Serbs during Operation Storm in the Kraijina region of Croatia.
The timing of the U.N. event -- the meeting coincides with the 71st anniversary of the founding of the pro-Nazi Croatian state -- has fueled concerns among many delegates that the event will be used to bash the tribunal, and that Jeremic is stacking the attendees of a pair of panels with critics of the court.
In a recent interview, Jeremic said that while he had selected the date to honor the victims of the Croatian fascists during World War II he saw the event as an opportunity to ponder the lessons learned from a broad range of international U.N. courts established since the end of the Cold War. He also said that his own efforts to include a balanced slate of speakers has been confounded by unnamed states who have pressured them not to participate.
In recent weeks, several prominent attendees -- including the president of the International Criminal Court, Song Sang-Hyun -- who had previously planned to attend the conference have pulled out of the event, Jeremic confirmed. Others include the president of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court, Tina Intelmann; the U.N. secretary general's special advisor on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng; the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth; and the U.N. secretary general's lawyer, Patricia O'Brien, according to Jeremic.
The Jordanian diplomat's action is motivated by his own personal experience in Bosnia in the 1990s, where he served as a U.N. peacekeeper. In 1998, Zeid helped spearhead a General Assembly resolution calling on the Secretary General Kofi Annan to conduct a review of the U.N.'s response to the massacre in Srebrenica.
Zeid has also been a chief proponent of international justice. He served from 2002 to 2005 as the first president of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court.
"The president of the General Assembly has done little to conceal his motives regarding the thematic debate on the 10th of April, which has prompted many of the more notable early participants to withdraw," Zeid told Turtle Bay. "They are not fooled. I was in the former Yugoslavia from 1994-1996 and, in view of what I know to be true, will also, together with my delegation, be nowhere near the event. We will encourage other delegations in the coming days to do likewise."
The United States and European governments have also raised concerns with Jeremic in private about the timing of the event and his handling of the conference, which will begin with a public meeting of the full General Assembly, including a speech by Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, and then break off into two separate afternoon panel discussions. But they have stopped short of boycotting, and intend to send lower-ranking diplomats to the event to register their displeasure, according to diplomats. The U.S. mission to the United Nations declined to comment on the event. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's office said recently that Ban would attend the session, unless he was out of town.
Christian Wenewaser, Liechtenstein's U.N. ambassador, who also served as the president of the ICC's Assembly of States Parties, shared many of Zeid's concern about Jeremic's handling of the event. He said that while he welcomed a debate on international criminal justice, Jeremic had focused the too narrowly on the Yugoslav tribunal and that he has ignored expressions of concern from other member states. But he is not prepared to join Zeid's boycott. "Unfortunately, this is a lost opportunity that could have been a good thing, which is now not going to be a good thing," he said.
"We haven't decided that boycotting the event is the most effective way of dealing with this," he added. "There is also an argument in favor of saying the right thing and if no one is there will be no one to say the right thing."
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A U.N. disputes tribunal has awarded $65,000 in compensation to an American whistleblower in a landmark case that exposed failings in the U.N.'s Ethics Office and challenged the privileges of the U.N. secretary general to withhold sensitive internal documents from the U.N. administrative court.
The award was a fraction of the more than $3.8 million sought by James Wasserstrom, who was forced from his U.N. job in Kosovo after cooperating in an internal investigation of corruption by U.N. officials. He was subsequently stripped of his U.N. passport and treated like a criminal by his U.N. bosses.
Wasserstrom dismissed the award as paltry -- enough to purchase "half a dozen first class plane tickets for the secretary general and his senior staff" -- but too little to compensate for the "five years of legal battles and expenses" and the "degrading treatment" he endured.
"I put them, the U.N. Ethics Office, the whistleblower protection machinery, and the internal justice system of the U.N. to the integrity test and they all failed," he told Turtle Bay. The "message to U.N. staff who might one day want to come forward and do the right thing: do so at your own risk. You have absolutely no protection. And those who retaliate against you suffer no consequences."
The U.N. did not respond to a request for comment this afternoon. (*See note below for U.N. response)
In February 2007, the American diplomat began cooperating with a U.N. inquiry into reports of kickbacks given to U.N. officials responsible for Kosovo's energy sector. Two months later, Wasserstrom was informed that the United Nations was shutting down his department, the Office for Coordination of Oversight of Publicly Owned Enterprises, and that his contract would expire by June 30. In May, Wasserstrom signed a consultancy contract to advise executives of Kosovo's main airport, triggering a conflict-of-interest investigation.
On June 1, 2007, Wasserstrom was detained by U.N. police. His home was searched: his office was cordoned off with police tape. A poster with his picture instructed officials not to permit him onto U.N. premises, effectively ending a 27 year career at the United Nations. The episode, he said, made it impossible for him to secure a new job within the U.N. system, killing off his prospects to gain full retirement benefits two years before he was scheduled to retire.
Wasserstrom -- who now works as a senior anti-corruption advisor at the U.S. embassy in Kabul -- filed a retaliation complaint in June 2007, with the U.N. Ethics Office. The office subsequently ruled that his treatment "appeared to be excessive" but that an investigation "did not find any evidence that their activities were retaliatory."
The case cast a troubling light on the U.N.'s internal safeguards for protecting whistleblowers. The presiding judge, Goolam Meeran, wrote in his ruling that the U.N. Ethics Office, which bears responsibility for determining whether whistleblower retaliation has occurred, had failed to recognize "the significance of documentary evidence" showing he had suffered retaliation.
"There was clear and uncontested evidence, supported by the findings ... that the applicant's contractual rights were breached, which included clear evidence of severe human rights abuses," the judge wrote.
The breaches, however, were never addressed by the ethics committee, nor were the reasons for subjecting him to "such insensitive and degrading treatment," Meeran wrote. "In the absence of a cogent and satisfactory explanation, the inescapable inference must be that the underlying motive was retaliatory."
"The tribunal finds it difficult to envisage a worse case of insensitive, high handed and arbitrary treatment in breach of fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Meeran added. "The failure of the ethics office to recognize such gross violations calls seriously into question its suitability and effectiveness as a body charged with" helping the U.N. secretary general ensure the "highest standards of integrity" among staff and fostering "a culture of ethics, transparency and accountability."
The judge also battered the U.N.'s lawyers for having delayed the disclosure of key documents, including a critical internal investigative report on the case. "The tribunal has unquestionable power to 'require any person to disclose any document or provide any information that appears to it to be necessary for a fair and expeditious disposal of the proceedings'," Meeran wrote. "The tribunal finds that the [UN's] conduct of the proceedings in deliberately and persistently refusing, without good cause, to abide by the Orders of the Tribunal and not granting access to the full ID/OIOS's investigation report constituted manifest abuse of proceedings.
Meeran awarded Wasserstrom $50,000 in compensation for the mistreatment he endured in Kosovo and $15,000 in legal fees. But the judge did not compensate him for the loss of his job in Kosovo, citing insufficient evidence that his firing was the result of retaliation.
The low award reflected the fact that judges on the U.N. disputes tribunal have "no power to award exemplary or punitive damages" against the organization. But Judge Meeran also denied Wasserstrom's prospect of a larger award on the basis of a technicality.
Wasserstrom had argued that he was entitled to future compensation, including salary and benefits, because he would have expected to return to a job with his longstanding employer, the U.N. Development Program, after he concluded his stint in Kosovo. But he said the stain of the episode had made him unemployable.
The judge, however, ruled that irrespective of the merits of such a claim the U.N. Development Program was not a party to the dispute, and that Wasserstrom had no basis for raising a claim so late in the proceedings. "It is now too late to raise this matter," Meeran wrote. "Consequently, the tribunal dismisses all [Wasserstrom's] claims regarding compensation for lost earnings and associated benefits."
*The U.N. issued this response after the story was posted. Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the U.N. secretary general: "Judgements of the U.N. Dispute Tribunal are not final until they have been confirmed by the U.N. Appeals Tribunal. The organization is examining this judgment to determine whether an appeal is warranted. Consistent with established policy regarding ongoing cases, which includes cases under appeal and cases that may be appealed, the organization is not in a position to provide any further comments at this time."
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Last week, Joseph Torsella, the U.S. ambassador for U.N. Management and Reform, took a stand for sobriety at Turtle Bay, publically scolding unnamed diplomatic colleagues for negotiating U.N. budgetary matters under the influence of alcohol.
This week, he's confronting the diplomatic hangover.
Insulted by the slight -- and sensing it was directed at African delegates -- the U.N.'s African countries coalesced behind a plan to limit budget negotiations to the U.N.'s working hours, refusing to entertain marathon negotiations late into the night and weekends to close contentious deals. On Thursday, Russia -- which traditionally cracks open a celebratory bottle of vodka at the close of budget negotiations -- lent its support to the Africans.
At this stage of the negotiations, the African move is likely to have limited effect on the talks -- though it will likely reinforce the bloc's public image as obstructionist on matters of budgetary reform. But the strategy is likely to slow the pace of budget talks in its final stages, meaning that less important business may get done before the session adjourns on the eve of Good Friday.
The tensions over spending are symptomatic of a deeper divide between the U.N.'s richest and poorest countries. Developing countries resent the fact that the United States and other major powers dominate the U.N. Security Council and exercise outsize influence over the U.N. Secretary General and the bureaucracy. For them, the U.N. Fifth Committee -- which controls the budget -- provides their most important source of power and influence and they often suspect Western-backed reforms initiatives are aimed at undercutting that influence.
The United States has been struggling to push through a range of reforms aimed at controlling U.N. spending and opening the body's books to greater scrutiny. But they have confronted a wall of diplomatic resistance, played out in frequent procedural maneuvers aimed at delaying and deferring key business. During crucial December budget negotiations, America's negotiating partners, primarily from the developing world, failed to show up to meetings to discuss key U.S. priorities -- including an initiative to impose a pay freeze on U.N. staffers -- and in some cases arrived a bit tipsy, according to U.N. diplomats.
In response, Torsella delivered a March 4 statement to the U.N. Fifth Committee expressing concern about the conduct of diplomats during the final stage of the marathon December budget talks.
"Mr. Chairman, we make the modest proposal that the negotiating rooms should in the future be an inebriation-free zone," he told delegates at the meeting. "Let's save the champagne for toasting the successful end of the session, and do some credit to the Fifth Committee's reputation in the process."
The intent of the speech seemed to be to shock, or at least embarrass, the U.N. delegates into taking ongoing budget talks more seriously and to wrap up the current round of business -- which includes 16 items dealing with everything from air travel costs to the publication of internal U.N. audits -- before the Easter holiday. Torsella said the United States would "take all appropriate steps to achieve this, including working outside of normal working hours and making the necessary arrangements to facilitate parallel meetings as required."
Some diplomats now fear the appeal may have backfired.
Torsella's statement has infuriated U.N. delegates, not only among developing countries, but among some of Washington's wealthy allies, who are eager to rein in spending. "The whole negotiating atmosphere was really poisoned by this," said one Western diplomat. "People are very angry. They won't openly confront Torsella, but they will react."
The danger, said one diplomat, is that offended delegations will seek to "gum up" the negotiating proceedings and undermine Torsella's efforts to secure a handful of deals aimed at cutting travel spending, reining in peacekeeping costs, and instructing the U.N. procurement office to deliver more cost-effective services.
The United States sought to assure the membership that it appreciated the hard work of the majority of budget negotiators, but that it saw a need for improvement.
"We respect the work of the Secretariat and the majority of Fifth Committee delegates who are, across all regional groups, hard-working and serious," said Kurtis Cooper, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. "At the same time, we welcome all efforts to improve the working practices and professionalism of the Fifth Committee, which was the intent and focus of our statement."
Few diplomats deny their colleagues have had a few shots of whisky and vodka during the U.N.'s marathon budget sessions. And Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin, made it clear he was not amused. "There should be no drinking during business sessions. And I'm going to give very clear instructions to that effect to my delegations."
But they say Torsella's statement and subsequent press leaks exaggerated the excesses, unfairly tarnishing the reputation of the entire U.N. diplomatic community and prompting Foreign Ministries to ask their missions: "What the hell is going on there?"
Torsella, they complained, never approached governments privately to raise concerns about diplomatic misconduct, raising suspicions that the former Philadelphia politician was seeking to raise his own profile.
In the process, said one senior diplomat, Torsella had contributed to creating a perception that was out of touch with reality: grueling weeks of arduous negotiations culminated in a 30-hour diplomatic marathon on Christmas Eve last year. With U.N. shops closed, delegates ordered in pizza, cakes, and whisky. "I have not seen one negotiator that was drunk. I haven't seen a bottle of alcohol on the negotiation table," the diplomat said. "I know my American colleagues are frustrated about the way it works, and the lack of results. But in my view, alcohol is not the problem."
In an effort to calm diplomats, Fifth Committee Chairman Miguel Berger of Germany, sought to assure delegates that he appreciated their hard work and professionalism. "We have seen a broad public coverage on how budget negotiations are supposedly conducted in the Fifth Committee," he said. "As chair I would like to state that the public perception created does in my view not reflect the professional and dedicated work that is done by this committee."
"Many colleagues are sacrificing their family life," he added. "It is for this reason that I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to you, the delegates of the Fifth Committee, for the work you have done and the long hours invested in the negotiations, and for the results achieved."
In the meantime, delegates, have been sharing a recent New York Times letter to the editor which cited a 2007 review of a book by Barbara Holland called the Joy of Drinking that extolled the role of drinking in American political life. Two days before the U.S. Constitution was written, the 55 delegates to the U.S. Constitutional Convention "adjourned to a tavern for some rest, and according to the bill they drank 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 of whisky, 22 of port, 8 of hard cider and 7 bowls of punch so large, it was said, ducks could swim around in them. Then they went back to work and finished founding the new Republic."
The tavern, one diplomat gleefully recalled, was located in Philadelphia, Torsella's home town.
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French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius today announced that France would support the Palestinian bid for recognition as a state at the United Nations, frustrating efforts by President Barack Obama to persuade the Palestinian leader to stand down. "For several years, France's official position has been to recognize the Palestinian state.... When the question will be asked, France will answer "Yes" for consistency's sake," Fabius told the French Parliament.
The remarks come two days before Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to preside over a U.N. General Assembly vote on a resolution recognizing Palestine as a "non-member state" at the United Nations. Fabius's comment also appeared calculated to deliver a political boost to the Palestinian leader, who has been eclipsed by its more militant rival, Hamas, whose influence has risen with the fortunes of the region's Islamist governments, principally Egypt.
The new status would not confer on the Palestinian the status of a full U.N. member state, but could pave the way for admission in other international organizations, including the International Criminal Court, that do not require states parties to be full-fledged members of the United Nations.
A previous bid by the Palestinians to become a U.N. member state faltered more than a year ago in the face of firm American opposition within the U.N. Security Council.
The United States maintains that the Palestinian route to statehood should proceed through a negotiated peace settlement with the Israeli government. But such talks have been stalled.
European governments have been generally sympathetic to the Palestinian quest for statehood, but several capitals, including London and Berlin, have urged the Palestinians to back down, saying the move could undercut prospects for a resumption of future peace talks, and could damage its relations with President Obama, who has appealed with Abbas not to move forward.
"We have made consistently clear that we think that it is wrong for the Palestinians to bring this resolution to a vote at this time and that it isn't likely to be a helpful contribution to the peace process in the Middle East," Britain's U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall-Grant told reporters today. "But we have not made a decision yet that if it does come to a vote, how we will vote."
The Guardian reported that Britain has privately pledged to back Abbas if he pledges not to pursue Israel for war crimes through the International Criminal Court and agrees to return to the peace table with Israel without preconditions.
Germany is expected to vote against the measure or abstain on the grounds that the initiative provides little hope of advancing the prospects for peace in the region.
"Little can be achieved by it. If the Palestinians believe it will push the Israelis into negotiations we don't believe that. If they might have in mind to take the issue to the International Criminal Court it will not help, of course, from the perspective of a return to the negotiation table," said one senior U.N. based diplomat. "We fear Abbas is heading for a dangerous Phyrric victory ... the danger is the Palestinians will even more drastically and dramatically turn to Hamas when they see that Abbas has not brought anything tangible for them. It might backfire for Abbas."
But others say American and Israeli opposition to Abbas' statehood bid will backfire. "If the world wants to express support for the Palestinian party that recognizes Israel, seeks to avoid violence, and genuinely wishes to reach a peace agreement in which a Palestinian state exists alongside -- not instead of -- Israel, it will have its chance later this week when Mr. Abbas makes his bid for recognition of Palestinian statehood before the United Nations," Yossi Beilin, an architect of the Oslo Accords wrote in the New York Times. "If American and Israeli opposition to a Palestinian bid continues, it could serve as a mortal blow to Mr. Abbas, and end up being a prize that enhances the power and legitimacy of Hamas."
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As the late Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces prepared to crush the Libyan uprising last summer in Benghazi, Britain, France, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and other allies moved quickly to reinforce the beleaguered rebel forces.
With military supplies, training, advice -- and of course the backing of NATO war planes -- this coalition of governments provided critical support to change the course of the conflict, ultimately leading to Qaddafi's downfall.
The U.N. Security Council's arms embargo was primarily intended to constrain Qaddafi's capacity to use its massive oil wealth to import new stocks of weapons and foreign mercenaries to help put down the rebellion. But it also placed restraints on the supply of weapons to the rebels, prompting the Security Council to later introduce an exemption -- providing significant cover for governments seeking to arm the rebels.
A new report by a U.N. panel of experts responsible for monitoring the arms embargo in Libya sought to itemize a list of military supplies -- everything from sandbags to shouldered propelled rockets -- that flowed into Libya after the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Libya in February 2011. The list, however, is incomplete because NATO and some of the insurgents' chief military backers, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have refused to provide a full account of their contributions.
The report identified numerous attempts by the Qaddafi regime "to secure arms deals and use mercenaries from neighboring countries," citing reports in the Globe and Mail about a July 2011 visit to Beijing by Libyan officials seeking to purchase military supplies from three Chinese arms manufacturers. (China denied that the talks led to any deals.) The panel also cited reports that much of Libya's military capacity had been reconstituted after 2004, following years of Western and U.N. sanctions, with the aid of Western European countries and ex-Soviet states (The panel also noted that is conducting an ongoing investigation into Qaddafi's use of mercenaries, adding that so far it had found "no conclusive evidence.")
But the 78-page report provides insights into how the international community combined diplomatic pressure, military airpower, and clandestine arms deliveries, to topple a regime. It would not be surprising if some of those countries considering backing the Syrian campaign to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad in Syria are drawing from the same playbook.
The United States
Though U.S. airpower proved decisive in crippling Qaddafi's defenses, the United States maintains that it provided only non-lethal military support to the rebels. The report notes that on February 6, the United States provided the panel with a list of its contributions, including 8,000 uniforms, 8,000 boots, 5,825 load-bearing vests, 2,850 bullet proof vests, 1,975 military helmets, and "items for defensive positions (sandbags, Hescos...)."
The Italian government notified the panel on February 14 that it supplied 10 military trainers, 10,000 uniforms, 5,400 helmets and 2,800 leather boots.
On February 9, the United Kingdom informed the panel that it supplies the rebels with 6,000 sets of body armor and no more than 20 military personnel. The British action, according to the report, was intended to "provide a military assistance team to the Libyan authorities for the purpose of providing operational assistance, training and mentoring on security issues, including reform of the armed services, counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency."
In April 2011, the French government notified the United Nations that it had sent a small team of military advisors to Libya to provide the National Transitional Council with "support and advice on ways to organize its internal structure, manage its resources and improve its communications." In June, it went further, notifying the UN that it had "airdropped self-defence weapons for the civilian populations that had been victims of attacks by Libyan armed forces." The panel's report contains no detailed list of these contributions as the French asked it to keep the details confidential.
The panel said that it has obtained information that several flights operating from Tirana, Albania, transported military materiel to Benghazi over a three day period in September, 2011. The case remains under investigation.
One of the more tantalizing revelations in the panel report is the suggestion that Darfuri rebel groups, including members of the Zaghawa tribe and fighters from the Justice and Equality Movement, may have backed Qaddafi's counterinsurgency campaign. The panel said that while it was not able to "definitely corroborate" numerous reports of the military role in the conflict, ‘the accumulative strength of intelligence gives substantial credibility to these findings." No to be outdone, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, extended overflight rights over Sudanese territory to NATO, according to senior U.N. diplomats, and allegedly supplied arms to the insurgents, according to the panel. The panel cited claims by the Benghazi rebel defense ministry that Sudan provided "small arms and light weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades," and transported other supplies to Bengazhi on two Ilyushin-76 aircraft. "According to media reports, on 26 October, the President of the Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, gave a speech in Kasala in which he acknowledged weapons deliveries from the Sudan to Libya and that the weapons had reached revolutionaries in Misratah, Al-Jabal Al-Gharabi and Zawiya." The Sudanese government did not reply to the panel's request for information.
In March 2011, Qatar notified the United Nations that it would participate in NATO enforcement of the U.N.-authorized no-fly zone over Libya, contributing "a number of military aircraft, military transport aircraft and helicopters." Qatar categorically denied media reports that "it had supplied the revolutionaries with arms and ammunition," saying only that it had "sent a limited number of military personnel to provide military consultations to the revolutionaries, defend Libyan civilians and protect aid convoys." The only weapons and ammunition it had furnished was for the use of Qatari military advisors in self-defense.
But the Qatari contention had one big hole in it. In July, 2011, a Swiss television station discovered spent Swiss ammunition used by the Libyan revolutionaries. The Swiss ammo had been exported to the Qatar armed forces in 2009 by a Swiss arms company, FGS Frex, and made its way to Libya. Confronted by Swiss authorities, who noted that Qatar was prohibited from re-exporting the ammunition, the Qatari ambassador appeared to have confirmed its role in the supply of ammunition. "The ambassador of Qatar explained to the Swiss representatives that the ‘transfer of the aforementioned ammunition to the Libyan opposition was a misadventure in the course of his country's support of the NATO operation in Libya.' He reassured the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs that ‘Qatar took the appropriate measures to prevent similar errors in the future.'"
The United Arab Emirates
The panel provided few details about alleged arms transfers by the United Arab Emirates, partly because it is conducting an ongoing investigation into the matter, and partly because the Gulf state refused to provide the panel with a list of its contributions. On March 25, "the United Arab Emirates notified the [UN] Secretary General that it would participate, within the framework of the international coalition, by providing military aircraft. No notification was given regarding transfers of weapons or ammunition or provision of military personnel." The panel visited the UAE to inquire about its role in arming and advising the Libyan insurgents. The government insisted that it had acted in conformity with UN resolutions and under the umbrella of the NATO operation" to protect civilians. "They did not provide more precise information and said that NATO would be in a better position to answer those questions."
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's role in Libya was decisive in crippling Qaddafi's military defenses and providing support for insurgent offensive operations. While its air campaign is not the subject of the panel's inquiry, the report notes that it wrote to NATO "asking it to provide a detailed list of military materiel, including weapons and ammunition, sent by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates or any other country that participated in the NATO operation and information regarding the number and roles of military personnel sent by those countries to Libya since the imposition of the embargo. While NATO acknowledged the receipt of the panel's request for information on 25 January 2012, no answer has been provided to date."
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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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By Colum Lynch
Last week, I reviewed the diplomatic memoir of Kai Eide, a veteran Norwegian diplomat who served as the U.N.'s top envoy in Afghanistan from February 2008 to March 2010.
The book is chock full of dramatic nuggets: near escapes from suicide attackers, secret talks with the Taliban, and private battles with Richard Holbrooke, who opened his first meeting with the newly minted Norwegian envoy with the question, "When does your contract expire?"
But its title, Power Struggle Over Afghanistan, is enough to put off even the most ardent followers of Afghanistan's recent political history.
Books with riveting titles, like Steve Coll's Ghost Wars, Peter Bergen's The Longest War or Ahmed Rashid's Pakistan on the Brink, have fed a market for insights from a region that has bedeviled foreign powers for centuries.
But how can the U.N. be heard in a crowd of such dramatic titles?
Not with a title like this: Afghanistan's Troubled Transition: Politics, Peacekeeping, and the 2004 Presidential Election.
Now here's a book title that screams "don't read me," unless, that is, you work in the U.N. "lessons learned" department or you're pursuing a Ph.D in international elections. The price tag, $69, is also a sign that this volume is destined for libraries and classrooms.
Which is a shame, really.
Because it is likely one of the best book you can find that explains why Afghanistan -- after receiving billions of dollars of Western aid -- has been wholly incapable of establishing durable local institutions that could keep the country together after the U.S. and its military allies leave. The book, written by Scott Steward Smith, a former American aide to Eide, details the real-world compromises that U.N. officials, under pressure from the Afghan president and the United States, make that undermine long-term efforts toward development. It names names, offering a sober critique of decisions by U.S., U.N., and Afghan players, from Karzai to American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to a host of U.N. envoys, including Lakhdar Brahimi.
But both books are something of an exception.
In fact, U.N. officials rarely write books, and certainly not books that are worth reading, because candid revelation of bureaucratic bungling or big power cock-ups can harm a career.
Some of the most readable accounts of life in the field by U.N. envoys -- including Alvaro De Soto, a Peruvian national who wrote a withering critique of the U.N.'s Middle East policy, or Charles Petrie, the French U.N. resident coordinator in Burma from 2002 to 2007 -- were buried in classified end-of-mission reports, written for the benefit of the secretary general and a handful of other U.N. insiders. "From Burma‘s remote jungle capital of Naypyidaw, the image of life that emerges in official reports for the government‘s military rulers appears sunny," I wrote in a piece for the Washington Post describing Petrie's report. "Economic growth in Burma has reached about 13 percent annually over the past five years, they say. Literacy is also soaring, with more than 96 percent of citizens able to read and write."
Petrie was ultimately kicked out of Burma by the regime he had mocked, but he survived in the U.N. system by restricting his thoughts to private reports, although they didn't remain public for long.
Eide, who just turned 63 and is headed toward retirement, has little to fear from bureaucratic retaliation.
Smith, a promising electoral expert, resigned his post at the U.N. around the time his book was published.
If history has anything to teach, he was probably wise to do so.
One of the catchiest titles to emerge from the U.N.'s rank and file, Emergency Sex and other Desperate Measures, told the story of three young U.N. humanitarian relief workers struggling to do good in the world, while sometimes misbehaving.
One of the authors had already left the organization, placing them beyond the reach of the censors. But another, Andrew Thomson, a doctor from New Zealand, was pretty much driven out of the organization -- though he was later reinstated and promoted after the intervention of a whistleblower organization. But the U.N. brass viewed the effort as an act of disloyalty and the book as excessively sensational.
The threat of going against the firm has led to a dearth of memorable U.N. diplomatic memoirs in the years since Brian Urquhart wrote, a Life At Peace and War, a classic autobiography of the former World War II veteran's life as a paratrooper, intelligence officer, and later as a Nazi hunter, before his storied career that placed him at the center of the U.N.'s invention of peacekeeping.
But the books with good titles are generally written by U.N. officials who have left the organization: Backstabbing for Beginners, a memoir by Michael Soussan, of his life working on the Oil for Food program, and Shake Hands with the Devil, an account of Gen. Romeo Dallaire's failure to secure official approval to confront Rwanda's mass killers during the country's 1994 genocide.
Still, U.N. officials quietly continue to pen books, mostly for think tanks and university imprints, including The Procedure of the UN Security Council, by Sydney D. Bailey and Sam Daws, a 689-page reference guide to anything you want to know about the security council's activities, Global Governance and the UN: An Unifinished Journey, by Thomas Weis and Ramesh Thakur.
But some of the most readable books are hidden behind bland titles.
The UN Secretariat: A Brief History (1945-2006), a slim volume published in 2006 by the International Peace Academy, now known as the International Peace Institute, was written by Thant Myint-U and Amy Scott. The book provides a serviceable history of the U.N. Secretariat with lots of juicy tidbits, like Kurt Waldheim's costly renovation of his headquarters -- out with Dag Hammarskjold's stylish Scandinavian furniture and in with the seventies wood-paneling and leather couches -- and efforts to secure a posh residence for himself overlooking Central Park. (He eventually had to settle for a posh Georgian-style townhouse on the East River, leased for free from the United Nations Association).
Than Myint-U, a former U.N. official and grandson of U-Thant, has gone on to write well received books about Burma, including one with this poetic title: The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma.
But of course you shouldn't judge a book by its title.
A few years back, I received a review copy of Edward C. Luck's Mixed Messages: American Politics and International Organization, 1919-1999.
Dismissing it as another dull think-tank production I dumped it in the wastepaper basket to make room on my bookshelf.
A few years later, reporting a story on the rise of the Tea Party and U.N. bashing throughout American history, I ran across some excerpts of the book online.
I immediately ordered a copy of the book from Amazon. It remains, by far, the best book on the subject.
Luckily, with a title like that, there were plenty of copies available.
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She called him duplicitous.
He said she needed to watch her "expletives" and behave a bit more Victorian.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and her Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, have been slinging insults at each other as their governments have sharply diverged over crises from Libya to Syria.
So what does Rice really think of her big power sparring partner?
"Look, we've had a little fun," she said, recalling how she once projected an image of Churkin's face inside the head of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas character on the wall of the Security Council. "On a personal level, I think I am not ashamed to say [we] have a lot of fun together. We fight, we laugh and sometime we're in agreement and sometimes we're not."
In recent weeks, the American and Russian envoys have mostly been fighting over their sharply diverging approaches to Syria, where the U.S. is supporting an Arab plan to nudge President Bashar al-Assad from power, and Russia is backing its own competing initiative that would preserve a role for the Syrian leader in any political settlement.
On Monday night, Foreign Policy's editor in chief, Susan Glasser, AfPak channel editor Peter Bergen and I sat down with Ambassador Rice at an event organized by the New America Foundation to discuss her views on her Russian counterpart, Russia and China's double veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria this past weekend, and her prospects for becoming the countries next U.S. secretary of state -- if President Barack Obama wins reelection.
Here we've compiled a few highlights from the event, starting with a replay of some of the diplomatic wrangling that proceeded Russia and China's historic double veto, which killed off a Western- and Arab-backed resolution condemning Syria's repression of demonstrators and endorsing an Arab League plan for a political transition in Syria.
Rice maintained that the there was a moment when it looked like the council had secured agreement during "roller-coaster" negotiations, only to see China and Russia backtrack. "I thought at a few points it was doomed to fail but "we ultimately…hammered out what we thought was a compromise that could be sold in everybody's capitals. We were careful in how we framed that with the press. It was something literally all of us needed to send back for guidance…we all hoped we might be in a position to get a yes after that."
That was not to happen.
Russia's foreign ministry declared the draft unacceptable on Friday morning, privately informing their counterparts that they would propose some amendments. But Moscow only formally presented the amendments to the council as it prepared to hold a scheduled vote on its resolution. A last minute meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Munich on the sidelines of a security conference failed to close the gap. "The amendments that were tabled were widely viewed as not only too late but wrecking amendments, amendments that would have gutted the heart of the resolution," said Rice. "It was clear at that stage that we were at an impasse and it I was equally clear that with the killing intensifying on the ground and reaching the horrific levels that it did on Saturday that there was no way the council was going to do as the Russians had sought which was too delay this vote."
But even in the minutes leading up to the vote, representatives from key Arab and Islamic governments, including Egypt and Pakistan, made their final effort to lessen the blow, pressing China to break ranks with the Russians, according to Rice."Just before the vote, a throng of Arab ambassadors encircled the Chinese ambassador, [Li Baodong], and were pleading with him not to stand with the Russians in vetoing the resolution."
Ambassador Churkin recently told me that as a Russian diplomat it is not easy to ditch close allies, and that Moscow was more loyal to its friends than others. Many in the international community, he said, appreciated Russia's stance. But Rice contended that Russia and China will pay a steep political price for its decision to block the Arab League initiative. "I think you've heard the prime minister of Qatar [Hamad bin Jassim and [Arab League Secretary General Nabil] Elaraby both speak of the damage that they believe Russia has done in vetoing the resolution potentially perhaps, probably giving Assad a license to kill," said Rice. "I do think that when the dust settles and when there's a democratic government in Syria they will not forget recent history anymore than the Libyans have forgotten recent history. It will be a very different landscape that the Russians and Chinese are looking at and they may look back on this…as something they wish they could take back."
"This was the Arab members all together coming to the Security Council for something quite specific, it wasn't the use of force it wasn't sanctions, it was blessing a political transition and I think we certainly thought that was an initiative that was worthy of strong international support and U.S. support in the council," said Rice. "The fact that it was blocked by an ever more isolated Russia and China may in the short term serve to embolden Assad but I think over the…middle to long term will in fact weaken him and embolden the region to stand ever stronger in favor of their goal which is a democratic transition."
In defending its decision to cast a veto, Russia has maintained that it had acted to halt the West from using the Security Council, as it had in Libya, to bring about regime change in Syria. Churkin contends that the West abuses the Security Council in Libya by using a resolution crafted to protect civilians to overthrow an internationally recognized government. Rice disputed that claim.
"First of all, using Libya as an excuse to do the wrong thing on Syria is completely disingenuous. We made very, very clear -- I made very, very clear -- in laying out to the Security Council what this authority would entail. The protection of civilians, as mandated and drafted, in what became Resolution 1973, was going to involve air strikes against [Muammar] Qaddafi's command and control centers, air strikes against moving columns, air strikes against any asset of the regime that would threaten civilians. We discussed this at great detail and we, in fact, debated language that laid all of that out in great specificity so that countries could not claim that they didn't know exactly what they were granting when passing that resolution," said Rice. "We wanted the council to make a clear eyed decision. If they hadn't supported this it wouldn't have happened…But in voting for it, or not opposing it, the council gave a clear-cut green light. Now there may be some cynical folks who say that perhaps the Russians and the Chinese were trying to give the coalition -- NATO, and Western and Arab powers -- enough room to hang themselves and they're frustrated that that wasn't exactly the outcome. I don't know. But I do know it was very clear what they were voting for and the outcome was one that was potentially foreseen ... although I understand that you have to be somewhat nuanced to see it. But the resolution and the actions of NATO really were genuinely to protect civilians, they were not designed for regime change…What transpired was that, in addition to the NATO air campaign to protect civilians, [there was] growth and transformation of the opposition. They cohered ultimately into a sufficiently capable multi-front force to ultimately topple Qaddafi."
The U.S.-Russian rift over Syria has drawn some comparisons in Washington to the diplomatic paralysis that plagued U.N. diplomacy at the height of the Cold War. Rice challenged that comparison, saying that while the two powers different sharply over important issues, they have worked closely on a range of others. "I don't think…the difficulties we have had in the wake of the Libya vote are necessarily indicative of a return to the Cold War. In so many ways we're past that. In my three years, the council has passed very important and broad-reaching sanctions against Iran [and North Korea]. We have together supported the emergence of an independent South Sudan. We have without rancor or difficulty backed important U.N. missions in Afghanistan and Iraq [among many other issues]. There are going to be issues that are difficult. We've had our share of those of late and they…divide us and even get rancorous. But I don't think is a fair characterization of the body of work that we've been doing over the last several years and I expect will be doing going forward."
Speaking of issues that divide, I asked Rice about the prospects that the Security Council could be used to rally greater economic pressure on Iran. I told Rice that I'd recently asked Churkin if he would consider new sanctions against Tehran and he said: "No chance, no chance, no chance…ever." Asked if Churkin is right, Rice said that it may be difficult to reach agreement. She explained that Russia and China, frustrated that they had imposed U.N. sanctions, were infuriated that the United States and Europe followed up with their own sanctions that in some case harmed their own commercial interests.
"There is a certain logic to their point of view," Rice said."We don't agree with it. But there saying ‘why should we adopt strong sanctions in the council, agree to adhere to them, only to be hit upside the head with a bunch of national measures that we didn't subscribe to? How many times are we going to play this game?'"
So have U.N. sanctions against Iran run their course?
"Never say never," Rice said. "But I would say, barring something unforeseen, I think it will be a little while before there is an appetite for further action" at the United Nations.
Finally, Rice was asked if Obama wins reelection, should we expect to see her serving as his new secretary of state? She said: "I love my job and I think the only person who can answer that question is President Obama. I will do what I am asked to do or what I'm not asked to do. So, we'll see. But it has been an enormous privilege and a whole lot of fun to serve again and to serve at the United Nations, which is never dull and I feel very fortunate to be doing what I'm doing."
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The U.N. Security Council's European powers, backed by a group of like-minded Arab states, today drafted a resolution condemning Syria's brutal repression of protesters and endorsing an Arab League plan calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.
The four-page draft, which was obtained by Turtle Bay, instructs U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to "to take all necessary measures," including through appoint a special envoy, to support the Arabs effort to promote a peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria.
The development comes after the Arab League secretary general, Nabil Elaraby, and the Qatari prime minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, wrote to the U.N. secretary general to request the Security Council convene a ministerial meeting on Syria, where they could brief the council on the league's latest diplomatic initiative.
The move set the stage for a potential conflict with Russia, which has criticized the Arab League for trying to foist a political settlement on the Syrian leadership. Russia's U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin told Turtle Bay that the Arab League was seeking to impose a "pre-cooked," political settlement on the Syrian government, and insisted that any acceptable plan would needed to be agreed to by both the government and the opposition.
The council's four European powers, led by Britain, and supported by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco, are hoping to put their resolution to a vote next week. They are hoping that a broad show of support for the plan by the Arab leadership will persuade Russia to back down.
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Josette Sheeran, the executive director of the World Food Program (WFP), today pulled out of the race to run the world's leading food agency for another five years, announcing she would accept a job in April at the World Economic Forum, which organizes the annual diplomatic retreat in Davos, Switzerland.
Sheeran's campaign to keep her job at the Rome-based food agency for a second term collapsed last month, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton notified U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that the Obama administration preferred another candidate for the job, Ertharin Cousin.
The World Food Program receives most of its funding from the United States and the top job has gone to an American candidate since 1992, when Catherine Bertini was appointed at the request of George H.W. Bush. Cousin, a former public relations and food industry executive and anti-hunger crusader who currently serves as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. food agencies in Rome, is expected to be named WFP chief in the coming days or weeks.
Before taking up her diplomatic post, she served as the president of the Polk Street Group, a Chicago-based public relations firm. Turtle Bay first reported the Obama administration had recommended her for the top WFP job in November.
The Obama administration was infuriated that Sheeran, who was appointed for the top food job at the request of President George W. Bush, had launched her own campaign to serve out a second term, despite U.S. opposition. But today, in a press release posted on the World Food Program's website, Sheeran said she would take on a job as vice chairman of the World Economic Forum.
"There are no words to describe the respect, admiration and love I have for WFP, its people and mission," Sheeran said in a statement. "It has been a deep honor to serve the world in this role and to help not only save lives but to transform the face of food aid, to empower lasting hunger solutions."
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The Arab League's decision to suspend Syria's membership in the group and to threaten possible sanctions against one of its own has not only altered the political landscape in the Middle East.
It has shaken up the Security Council and placed Syria's most important ally, Russia, under increasing pressure to reconsider its implacable opposition to pressure in the U.N. Security Council.
Early last month, a European resolution condemning Syria for a bloody crackdown on protesters that has led to the killing of more than 3,500 people was quickly quashed.
China and Russia vetoed the resolution, citing concern that the West was using the Security Council to press for regime change in Syria.
Brazil, India, South Africa, and Lebanon also abstained, expressing bitterness over the West's use of a resolution mandating the use of force to protect civilians to topple the government of Muammar al-Qaddafi.
But it's one thing to stand up to the world's big Western power, whose periodic resort to the use of military force to solve problems is resented by the broader U.N. membership, and quite another to go up against a regional political group like the Arab League.
The Arab League took the unusual step of suspending Syria from the organization over the weekend as punishment for its repression of anti-government protesters, and said that it would take the matter up with the United Nations if Syria fails to restrain its security forces. Political and economic sanctions, the League threatened, could be imposed.
China -- which has traditionally been reluctant to clash with regional groups -- called on Syria to take heed of the Arab's League statement.
"What is pressing now is to implement the Arab League's initiative appropriately and earnestly," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said, according to AFP. "China once again urges the Syrian government and all relevant parties to cease violence, launch an inclusive and balanced political process and make unremitting efforts to realize the Arab League's initiative."
The chief obstacle to a Security Council condemnation of Syria is Russia, which maintains close military ties with Bashar al-Assad's government. Indeed, Russia still maintains a naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today sharply criticized the Arab League decision, and blamed the West for seeking to incite government opposition groups to press for the overthrow of President Bashar Al Assad.
"We believe it is wrong to suspend Syria's membership of the Arab League," Reuters quoted Lavrov telling the state-run RIA news agency while en route to the Pacific Rim Summit in Hawaii. "Those who made this decision have lost a very important opportunity to shift the situation into a more transparent channel."
"There continues to be incitement of radical opponents [of Assad's government] to take a firm course for regime change and rejected any invitations to dialogue," Interfax news agency reported Lavrov saying, according to Reuters.
Until now, Russia's U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin has insisted that Moscow is not "siding with the Assad regime" but that it fears the confrontational approach being pursued by the United States and its European partners will drive the country into civil war.
"To claim ... that our veto was against the Arab Spring -- well, that's a cute phrase -- but not a very serious one because ... we do not see the Arab Spring as something that should lead to civil war and this is in our view where this is going," Churkin said last month.
U.S. and Europeans diplomats have dismissed Russia's claim that they intend to use the Security Council to pursue the overthrow of the Assad regime. They say that no one is calling for a resolution that would authorize the use of force against Damascus.
But they believe that the Arab League's tough stance now raises new prospects of passing a resolution that would condemn Syria and possibly impose sanctions on the regime if it fails to halt its crackdown.
A Western diplomat whose government supported the U.N. resolution condemning Syria] said that Arab League action "exceeded" anyone's expectation but that it was not very clear on specifics.
"It's not quite clear what they meant yet," the diplomat said.
European members of the Security Council are awaiting a second meeting by the Arab League on Wednesday in hopes that it will provide a clear call for action by the U.N. Security Council.
The Arab League, diplomats said, must take the lead in the council if it is to have any chance of overcoming Russian opposition.
"This has to come from the Arabs," said a Western diplomat. "The last thing we want to do is to contaminate this with Western hands."
"But the Arabs will have to be nimble," the official added, "This must be making the Russians feel uncomfortable, but they are pretty thick skinned and un-embarrassable."
Another potential obstacle is that the Security Council's lone Arab government, Lebanon, includes a faction in the government, Hezbollah, that is a close political and military ally of Syria. And Damascus wields enormous influence in Beirut, making it highly unlikely that Lebanon will press a tough line in the council.
But Lebanon loses its seat on the Security Council on Dec. 31, to be replaced by Morocco, a North African government which maintains close ties with France and the United States. While diplomats believe Morocco will be far more amenable to a tougher approach, they are keen to begin pressing sooner for action, possibly later this week. "Nobody is in the mood for waiting around for the Moroccans to get here."
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When Ratko Mladic -- a leading Bosnian-Serb general during the Balkan wars of the 1990s -- was arrested and extradicted this week to the international tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, where he will stand trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, Richard J. Goldstone was quick to applaud.
"Mladic and Karazdic could and should have been picked up in the mid and second half of the 1990s, by the U.N. and later NATO forces," said Goldstone, who from 1994 to 1996 served as the first chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Goldstone's remarks reflect broad frustration among supporters of war crimes prosecutions over what they see as the lack of political will by the United States, the United Nations, and other key powers to detain political and military leaders responsible for the worst crimes.
Even today, alleged war criminals in Uganda, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to go about their business with little risk of being nabbed by U.N. peacekeepers or other national or international forces. In Sudan, the United Nations has even played a role in transporting one indicted war criminal, Ahmed Haroun, to peace talks in the disputed region of Abyei.
In the months following the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the Bosnian war, the U.S. and Europe deployed more than 60,000 NATO troops in Bosnia to replace a beleaguered U.N. peacekeeping force and guarantee the cessation of hostilities.
But one thing the troops wouldn't do is capture Mladic or his political ally Radovan Karadzic. (Karadzic was finally arrested by Serb forces in Belgrade on July 21, 2008, and extradited to The Hague, where he is currently on trial for war crimes and genocide.)
Goldstone recalled traveling to Washington and key European capitals in 1996 to try to persuade NATO leaders to capture two of the world's most-wanted alleged war criminals. The response was cool.
"Our request was met with the answer that this is not our job, we're not police officers, and we don't want mission creep," Goldstone said. "That was the attitude of the United States and the Europeans hid behind the United States."
In a meeting with then Secretary of Defense William Perry, Goldstone said he had made his "strongest request" for U.S. support in capturing the two Bosnian Serb leaders. "The answer was they were not prepared to give the order for their troops to go and make arrests, to be proactive. I recall them saying if they fall into our hands we will take them."
The Western approach changed in 1997, after the Britain's Labor Party came to power, and the new foreign secretary, Robin Cook, pressed British forces to play a more assertive role in capturing alleged war criminals, although it would be more than a decade before Karadzic and Mladic would be captured. Today, the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has indicted 161 Serb, Croats, and Muslims, and convicted more than 60. Only one individual, Goran Hadzic, a Croatian Serb, remains at large. Serbia's pro-Western President Boris Tadic has vowed to capture him.
Britain pursued an even more assertive approach in Sierra Leone, where British Special Forces intervened to halt the country's civil war, and arrested Foday Sankoh, the leader of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front, a brutal rebel movement known for cutting off the hands and feet of its victims. Sankoh died in detention while awaiting trial before a U.N.-tribunal.
But, for the most part, the big powers are still reticent in pursuing high-profile suspected war criminals. U.N. peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in Sudan, have refused requests to detain alleged war criminals, including Joseph Kony, the leader of the brutal Lord's Resistance Army, which is accused of killing thousands of civilians in Congo, Sudan, and Uganda, and Bosco Ntangda, a Congolese militia leader accused of committing atrocities while serving in the national army, in an arrangement allegedly backed by the U.N. peacekeeping mission.
"If the major powers wanted to provide the necessary assistance to local governments, or to act themselves, Kony could be gotten," said James A. Goldston, a former senior trial attorney for the International Criminal Court who now serves as executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative. "It's not a question of resources or technical capacity; it's really a question of political will." As for Ntangda, Goldston says he is "at large and well known. But nobody is going to arrest him."
But both Goldston and Goldstone say the lesson of the Mladic capture is that, with persistence, the world's most powerful war criminals can be captured. Richard Goldstone recalled that the late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic -- once considered as immune to political prosecution as Sudanese leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir is today -- was arrested on corruption charges in 2001 by the government he once led, and subsequently went to The Hague to face charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
"People didn't think that he would be surrendered by his own people, but governments change and their interests change," Goldstone said. The arrest of Mladic, said he continued, indicates that justice has "a long memory. It should be a message to other war criminals all over the world that eventually many of them are going to get caught."
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On Wednesday evening, Ban Ki-moon's office abruptly released a long-awaited report by an independent medical panel the U.N. chief had commissioned to "investigate and seek to determine the source of the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti." The four-member team, headed by Dr. Alejandro Cravioto, head of the International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Dhaka, Bangladesh, never really fulfills that mandate.
Instead it concluded that the forces contributing to the spread of a disease-poor sanitation and a dysfunctional health care system -- were so varied as to make it impossible to identify a specific culprit. "The independent panel concludes that the Haiti cholera outbreak was caused by the confluence of circumstances as described above, and was not the fault of, or deliberate action of, a group or individual," according to the panel's report.
But the reports' underlying findings appear unlikely to do much to allay Haitian suspicions that the deadly epidemic that killed 4,500 Haitians and sickened more than 300,000 was delivered to Haiti's doorstep by a contingent of U.N. blue helmets from Nepal. On the contrary, the report adds to the existing evidence suggesting that U.N. peacekeepers are among the most likely sources.
Cholera made its first appearance in nearly a century in Haiti last October, and even today, it continues to kill and sicken Haitians. The panel concluded that the disease was introduced into the Haitian population by human activity in the Meye Tributary, a branch of the Artibonite River, and quickly spread throughout the river delta, infecting thousands of Haitians along the way. At the time, Nepalese peacekeepers were stationed at a camp in Mierbalais, along the banks of the Meye, fueling suspicion that the waste of an infected peacekeeper had flowed into the river.
The panel dismissed an earlier study by a French epidemiologist, Renaud Piarroux, who concluded that the cholera outbreak was introduced into Haiti by an infected U.N. soldier, saying he had not provided sufficient evidence to support his case. The panel also noted that U.N. medical records show no evidence that Nepalese peacekeepers had shown signs of illness before or during the outbreak.
But the panel compiled circumstantial evidence pointing at the Nepalese peacekeepers as a possible cause. Genetic analysis reviewed by the panel indicated that the Haitian cholera strain all but certainly originated in South Asia, and possibly came from Nepal. One set of genetic tests examining mutations in cholera gene samples indicated that "the strains isolated in Haiti and Nepal during 2009 were a perfect match."
The panel also found that the "sanitation conditions" at the U.N. camp in Mierbalais "were not sufficient to prevent contamination of the Meye Tributary System with human fecal waste." The timeline of the cholera's spread, which struck communities throughout the delta in a matter of days, "is consistent with the epidemiological evidence indicating that the outbreak began in Mirebalais and within two to three days cases were being seen throughout the Artibonite River Delta." In sum, "the evidence overwhelming supports the conclusion that the source of the Haiti cholera outbreak was due to contamination of the Meye Tributary of the Artibonite River with a pathogenic strain of current South Asian type Vibrio cholarae as a result of human activity."
Suspicion first fell on the Nepalese contingent, which arrived at Mierbalais between Oct. 8 and Oct. 24, the same period the first cholera deaths were recorded in the region. The troops had just completed three months of training in Kathmandu, Nepal, and a medical exam, though the panel does not say whether they were screened for cholera. The soldiers were then allowed to return to their homes for 10 days before traveling to Haiti. Peacekeepers from other countries, including a contingent of 60 Bangladeshi policemen posted at Mierbalais, were also deployed in the area. "The precise country from where the Haiti isolate of Vibrio cholerae arrived is debatable," the panel stated. But the "initial genetic analysis" indicates similarities with strains found in South Asia, including Nepal.
The panel acknowledges that the outbreak highlights the inherent risk of spreading cholera through the deployment of foreign aid workers and peacekeepers in a crisis zone. And it prescribes a series of measures the U.N. should undertake -- including improve sewage treatment in UN camps, cholera screening and the distribution of antibiotics -- to prevent the introduction of cholera into a vulnerable trouble spot. But the report provides no discussion of whether the U.N. or the team sought to conduct their own tests of the Nepalese peacekeepers after the outbreak to determine whether any had been infected.
The panel nonetheless decided to give the United Nations, and the Nepalese, the benefit of the doubt. "The introduction of this cholera strain as a result of environmental contamination with feces could not have been the source of such an outbreak without simultaneous water and sanitation and health care deficiencies. These deficiencies, coupled with conducive environmental and epidemiological conditions, allowed the spread of the Vibrio cholerae organism in the environment, from which a large number of people became infected."
In the end, the panel echoed the U.N.'s talking points throughout the cholera crisis: that the battle to end the scourge should take priority over determining how it got there. "The source of cholera in Haiti is no longer relevant to controlling the outbreak," he said. "What are needed at this time are measures to prevent the disease from becoming endemic," the report concluded.
Surely, no one would quibble with that sentiment. But wasn't the panel's primary mission to do just that?
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Germany joins a short list of middle powers -- including Brazil, India, Nigeria, and South Africa -- hoping to leverage their temporary stints on the 15-nation Security Council into permanent membership in the world's premier security club. Germany touts its status as one of the world's economic powerhouses, a top contributor to the United Nations budget, and a key leader in the European Union.
But Germany faces special hurdles. The council's P-5, as the five veto-wielding council members are known, already includes two European powers. The United States, which openly supported German candidacy for a permanent seat during the Clinton administration, has stopped promoting the German bid, favoring a seat for India and Japan.
In an interview with Turtle Bay, Germany's U.N. ambassador, Peter Wittig, made his case for his country's role as a player on the Security Council, citing its economic prowess, its tradition of supplying overseas assistance, and its far-flung diplomatic corps that can supply the council with independent analysis and intelligence on events around the world.
Germany approaches conflict resolution in Africa with "less of a power angle" than other key council powers, Wittig said. "We are a European country, and we would certainly see common ground with other European countries," he continued. "But we want to be playing a constructive balancing role … [to] prevent rather than promote antagonisms on the council."
Part of Wittig's job is to show that Germany can play a relatively independent role on a range of issues, from the Middle East to African conflict resolution, while at the same time assuring key powers, principally the United States, that it can work productively on the big issues. "We have, like the United States and others, a universal network of missions and embassies abroad," he said, noting that Germany has a presence in most of the trouble spots being addressed by the Security Council. "We don't have to rely … on other countries [for information], nor on secondary sources. This is a tremendous asset."
The last time Germany served on the council in 2003 and 2004, Germany's then-ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, played a vigorous role in organizing the 10 elected nonpermanent members of the council, the so-called E-10, against American efforts to secure a resolution authorizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In fact, Pleuger allowed the council's lesser powers to meet in his country's secure room at the German mission to the U.N. so they could be assured that their consultations on Iraq strategy were not being listened to by the United States or anyone else. In the end, the United States and Britain withdrew their war resolution and proceeded with the invasion without it.
In the end, Germany's refusal to support the U.S.-led invasion was vindicated by revelations that Washington's key pretext for toppling Saddam Hussein -- the need to dismantle Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program -- was unfounded. But the Bush administration resented Germany's position and withheld any support for its bid to secure a permanent seat on the Security Council. The Obama administration -- which maintains cordial relations with Germany -- has likewise not offered any support for Germany's bid, though it has not explained why.
Wittig recalled that the U.N. Security Council was "very polarized" during the run-up to the Iraq war. "The E-10 really ganged up together under the able leadership of my predecessor." Wittig said he expected that this time around the E-10 "will probably consult each other on a regular basis, but I don't expect any ganging up."
Germany will be responsible for managing the council's schedule and leading the Security Council's 1267 committee, which enforces sanctions on members of al Qaeda and the Taliban. Wittig said Germany will use its position to promote reconciliation between Hamid Karzai's government and Taliban insurgents who put down their arms. Germany is hoping to make headway this year in restoring greater responsibility to Afghans and to begin withdrawing German troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2011. "Germany will live up to its international responsibilities," Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a recent statement. "But it also stands for a culture of military restraint."
Germany is also planning to promote Security Council debate on peace building and climate change. Former British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett introduced council discussion of global warming as a threat to international security in April 1987, but the council has never issued a formal statement on the matter. "We are very sympathetic with [the British climate initiative]," Wittig said. "Whether it can be turned into a project, we will see. But it has to be handled with care."
Wittig said the struggle to contain the spread of nuclear weapons, particularly in Iran and North Korea, remains "one of the huge challenges of our time" and underscored the increasing importance of cooperation between the United States and China. He said that the council's imposition of sanctions on Iran succeeded "against some odds" and despite "some skeptics who said we will never get it done. I think the bilateral relationship between the United States and China plays a very important role."
North Korea, he said, "is a different story," citing the council's failure to confront North Korea following its military attack on the South Korean warship Cheonan and a subsequent artillery attack on a South Korea island. "Some of the actors made clear right from the start of this new crisis that the council should not have a role. And then it did not happen."
Looking ahead, Wittig said he is eager to ensure that the U.N. Security Council remains "the supreme legitimate body" responsible for addressing the world's security challenges. He noted that other emerging groups, including the Group of 20, may seek to encroach on the council's turf. "Will there be competing configurations that take away some of the relevance of the Security Council? Those are some of the questions on the horizon," he said. The G-20, he said, "has been evolving very rapidly … and we could well imagine it would not stop issue-wise where it is, but would rather be expanding in the scope of the issues that it touches on."
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WikiLeaks has released its first confidential cable written by diplomats from the U.S. mission to the United Nations. While the December 2009 cable -- which discusses U.S. efforts on a range of issues before the U.N. General Assembly -- provides no major news revelations, it contains some valuable insights into the way America conducts its business here.
The confidential U.S. diplomatic communication -- which was approved by U.S. ambassador Susan E. Rice -- shows how reliant the U.S. is on its allies, particularly in Europe, to take the lead on politically sensitive issues like the promotion of human rights, where the U.S. often faces criticism for its military and detention policies. The cable credits the European Union with "collaborating pragmatically" with the Obama administration on its top priorities, including efforts to require emerging economic powers to pay a larger share of the U.N.'s administrative and peacekeeping costs, and to adopt U.N. resolutions criticizing the human rights record of Burma, Iran, and North Korea.
The EU, led by Sweden, also helped Washington fend off efforts by an influential alliance of developing countries -- known as the Group of 77 -- to adopt resolutions that would increase American financial burdens, including a draft resolution affirming a right to economic development.
The EU "responded with alacrity to new U.S. flexibility, particularly on arms control and economic/social issues," according to the cable. "The Swedish ambassador himself repeatedly engaged with G-77 colleagues to sway votes."
The cable, however, also singled out areas where key European powers refused to budge, including its annual support for a General Assembly resolution condemning the U.S. embargo against Cuba: "Spain was a particularly tenacious critic of our Cuba policy." It also expressed frustration with the failure of the EU, despite strong support from Britain, France, and the Netherlands, to significantly weaken a raft of nine pro-Palestinian resolutions that criticize Israel each year. "The EU's annual negotiation of these nine drafts... improved marginally.... The vote outcomes remained lopsided."
On the whole, this U.N. cable was certainly more businesslike than many of the most dramatic reports flowing out of U.S. embassies around the world. But I anticipate that future releases may provide sharper insights into many of the U.N.'s more colorful personalities. Perhaps they will even show us what Rice really thinks about U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
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A senior U.N. official suggests looking to the sex lives of pachyderms for an answer.
On Monday, Turtle Bay revealed that Inga-Britt Ahlenius, the U.N.'s outgoing anticorruption chief, had leveled a withering attack on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's stewardship of the United Nations, saying that he had failed to successfully resolving crises in places like Congo, Chad, Sudan and Burma.
"We can regrettably see this decline over a broad scale," she wrote in an explosive end-of-assignment report. "Is there any improvement in general of our capacity to protect civilians in conflict and distress? What relevance do we have in disarmament, in Myanmar, Darfur, Afghanistan, Cyprus, G20...?"
U.N. officials said that Ahlenius' criticism was off target and unfair. One of Ban's top advisors suggested that it may take years to determine whether a certain issue is a success or failure. Sudan, where an alleged war criminal, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, was recently elected president in a U.N.-backed election, may look like a dismal U.N. failure today. But if the U.N. succeeds in overseeing a referendum for independence next year in southern Sudan without a resumption of civil war, it will have achieved perhaps its greatest success in years.
"It takes a long time to know the results," a senior U.N. official told reporters in a briefing highlighting Ban's achievements as U.N. secretary-general.
"I shouldn't be saying [this, but] there is a definition of bureaucratic action. It's apparently like elephants mating: It all takes place a very high level, there is a lot of noise, etc, and it takes years to know the result."
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On Monday, Turtle Bay published a three-page summary of an explosive "end-of assignment" memo by Inga-Britt Ahlenius, the U.N.'s outgoing anti-corruption chief, accusing Ban Ki-moon of undercutting her independence and exercising poor leadership. Thalif Deen, the U.N. Correspondent for Inter Press Service, has now posted the entire 50-page memo. Read Thalif's article here. To see video from July 22 of U.N. spokesperson Catherie Pollard responding to the memo click here.
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Buried in Britain's Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war is testimony from a former British diplomat, posted to the United Nations, that admits leaking a story to me in order to embarrass the Bush administration into tightening U.N. sanctions on Iraq. Apparently, it worked.
Carne Ross, the first secretary at Britain's U.N. mission to the United Nations, testified this week that he and others at Britain's mission to the United Nations had tried to devise a scheme to thwart Saddam Hussein's efforts to manipulate U.N.-monitored oil exports. Hussein was trying to drive down the price enough to force foreign oil traders to make up the difference through secret payments that would circumvent U.N. sanctions.
The strategy was designed to deprive the late Iraqi leader of hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal bribes. But the approach faced resistance, not only from Iraq's chief ally on the council, Russia, but from the Bush administration. The State Department worried that the move might provoke Saddam into halting Iraq's oil exports, roiling the international oil markets. But the United States reversed course two days after an August 2001 story I wrote in the Washington Post exposed their position.
"We achieved this result with little support from ministers or senior officials in London, or from our allies," Ross said in his testimony. "Indeed, for some time the U.S. failed to support our initiative in New York, and were only brought on board after we deliberately leaked this failure to the Washington Post, which wrote up the story. This public embarrassment had more effect than the low-lever remonstrations of British officials in Washington."
Ross's broader message was that the sanctions had succeeded in severely constraining Iraq's ability to re-arm in the years leading up to the 2003 invasion. For me, the case represented another example of how willing the United States was to circumvent the U.N. sanctions to accommodate competing interests. The United States allowed Syria to illegally import oil from Iraq, for instance, a flagrant violation of the sanctions.
Few recall that perhaps the single largest violation of the U.N. oil sanctions was carried out with the support of the United States. In the weeks leading up to the invasion, U.S. war ships monitoring Iraq's coast allowed fuel tankers to go to Khor Al-Amaya, an unauthorized oil export facility, to collect more than $50 million worth of crude from Saddam's government. The scheme, which was abetted by the State Department, was designed to allow an American ally, Jordan, to build up its strategic oil reserves in advance of the conflict.
Ross's testimony is part of a wide-ranging inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq invasion set up by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown in June 2009. Ross, who currently runs Independent Diplomat, a firm that provides diplomatic advice to non-state political movements, outlined Britain's role in the run up to the March, 2003 war. He had responsibility for managing Britain's Middle East policy from 1997-2002, where his main priority was shoring up support for Britain's containment policy against Iraq.
"New York was in effect the front lines of the UK's work to sustain international support for controls on Iraq," he said. "While there were serious sanctions breaches, it was not the UK judgment that these permitted significant rearmament which was our major concern ... It is therefore inaccurate to claim, as some earlier witnesses have done, that containment was failing and that sanctions were collapsing." That assessment -- which was shared by U.S. ambassador John D. Negroponte and other officials at the U.S. mission to the United Nations -- was subsequently manipulated by policymakers in London and Washington to bolster the case for a military invasion.
Ross maintains that Washington and London failed to act on several proposals to tighten Iraqi sanction breaches, which provided the Iraqi government with up to $2 billion a year in revenues. "I and my colleagues at the mission (backed by some but not all responsible officials in London) attempted to get the UK and U.S. to act more vigorously on the breaches," he said. "I held talks with a U.S. Treasury expert on financial sanctions, an official who had helped trace and seize [Serbian leader Slobodon] Milosevic's illegal financial assets. He assured me that, given the green light, he could quickly set up a team to target Saddam's illegal accounts. This was never done."
"We could, for instance, have seized the illegal bank accounts held by Saddam in Amman, Jordan," Ross added. "Instead this egregious breach of sanctions was ignored." Ross said that the leaked story about Washington's failure to tighten the U.N. procedure for pricing Iraqi oil was a rare victory. "Such occasions, he said, "were the exception, not the rule."
Read the full testimony here.
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For decades, Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gaddafi has railed against the colonial order that subjected his country to Italian rule, bankrolling liberation movements that struggled to drive Africa's colonial masters back to their homelands. In his recent visit to the U.N. General Assembly in September, Gaddafi even demanded trillions of dollars in reparations from Britain and other colonial powers that deprived Africans of their independence.
But to hear the Libyan president of the U.N. General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, tell it, it was the Queen of England that brought about an end to colonialism. In a little noticed, and extremely effusive introduction to Queen Elizabeth II, who on Tuesday delivered her first address to the U.N. General Assembly since 1957, Treki gushed: "You presided over a remarkable global transformation which saw the birth of a multitude of independent nation states based on the principles of equal rights and the self-determination of all peoples as enshrined in the U.N. Charter."
"We are delighted to have you here with us on this momentous occasion and we are honored to have you address the General Assembly today," he added. "As Queen of the United Kingdom and 15 other countries and as head of the Commonwealth of Nations with its 54 member countries, you represent over two billion people from Asia and the Pacific to Africa, and from the Americas and the Caribbean to the British Isles. Your Majesty embodies the globalized world and shared humanity which also defines the United Nations and gives it purpose."
It didn't stop there. Treki credited Queen Elizabeth with having "lifted the spirits" of victims of natural disasters and crushing poverty. "And in times of horror from acts of terrorism, your words of comfort and your steadfast presence in the face of uncertainty have brought solace and uncertainty."
Britain's officials were pleased, and a bit surprised, at the warm reception, particularly since it came from an official from a country that carried out one of the deadliest terrorist attacks on British soil: the 1988 bombing of the Pan Am Flight 103, over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, mostly American citizens." I guess he was delighted to be part of this historical moment," said Harriet Cross, spokeswoman for the British Mission to the United Nations. "A very high profile guest came to speak at his general assembly."
But perhaps Libya was indirectly expressing its gratitude to one of the Queen's recent prime ministers. In March, 2004, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was one of the first western leaders to travel to Libya, where he met with Gaddafi. It was one of Libya's first steps towards political rehabilitation, a development that restored massive foreign investment in Libya's oil industry and permitted the former pariah state to gain membership to the world's most exclusive clubs, including the U.N. Security Counciland the presidency of the U.N. General Assembly.
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Queen Elizabeth II, making her first speech to the U.N. General Assembly in 53 years, praised the foreign dignitaries for converting the United Nations from a "high-minded aspiration" in 1945 into "a real force for common good." But she prodded its membership to make progress in the fight against poverty and to take "careful account" of the "risks facing smaller, more vulnerable nations" from global warming.
Her address to the 192-nation assembly represented something of a valedictory speech for one of the world's longest-serving heads of state, an 84-year-old monarch whose life has paralleled the history of the United Nations. It also provided a rare opportunity for her to weigh in on a contemporary political issue championed by Britain: the rising temperatures brought on by climate change.
Read the rest of my story at the Washington Post.
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The U.N. pledging
conference on Haiti raised more than $5.3 billion to rebuild the quake-ravaged
island nation over the next two years, well beyond the $3.9 billion sought by
the Haitian government. Even some of the world's poorest countries, including
Georgia, Gambia, Sudan, and Montenegro made pledges ranging from more than
$10,000 to a $1 million.
But not everyone dug into their treasury to help pay for the rebuilding of Haiti. Traditional donors, including Britain and Austria, pledged nothing for reconstruction, according to a donor list produced by the European Union, which provided a total of $1.6 billion to the effort.
Greece, still reeling from its own financial crisis, also gave nothing. Poorer European governments, Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, and Romania, followed the example of their wealthier peers. "Everybody has budget constraints that make it difficult to give as much as we would like to," said one European diplomat whose country made no commitment today.
The Haiti conference, which was co-hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, saw huge pledges from regional powers like the United States, which promised $1.15 billion, Canada, which pledged $400 million, and Brazil, which committed $172 million.
"Today, the international community has come together dramatically in solidarity with Haiti and its people," Ban said after the meeting. "Member states of the United Nations, and international partners, have pledged $5.3 billion for the next two years and $9.9 billion, in total, for the next three years and beyond."
The pledges came from 50 countries, including Venezuela, and several African states, citing Haiti's role as the world first black nation to achieve independence, contributed to its reconstruction. "Haiti, the first black republic in the world, played a most significant role in the fight to end slavery," said Sue Van Der Merwe, the deputy minister for international relations for South Africa, which contributed a few hundred thousand dollars. "The people of South Africa and her leadership have drawn considerable inspiration from the people of Haiti during our own struggle against racial discrimination."
The frugal policy of Britain and other governments proved embarrassing for the country's diplomats, who were not allowed to speak at the pledging conference. Britain's deputy ambassador, Philip Parnham, who was expected to address the conference on Britain's behalf, had to post his government's speech on a U.N. website set up to track pledges. Delegates from Algeria, Cuba, Sudan, Benin, Mali and scores of other poor countries were able to speak.
Britain's development minister, Mike Foster, had to counter a report in the London Times that his government has snubbed the organizers of the Haiti Conference.. Here's a copy of the letter Foster sent to the Times. It was given to Turtle Bay by the British government.
The UK has been at the forefront of the aid effort in Haiti following the terrible earthquake in January and remains committed to supporting the reconstruction effort (Britain turns off aid and delivers a snub to donor conference, The Times, 31 March).
Despite having no historic development links with Haiti, we are the sixth largest country donor to the effort with £33 million going through the EC, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank.
This does not include the £20 million in UKaid pledged for the emergency relief phase, nor our £29 million given this year to the UN mission in Haiti - without which reconstruction could not happen.
We believe it is vital that the reconstruction effort is led by the international organisations, which is why we are now channelling our money through these bodies.
Alongside the pledges by the British public, the life-saving work of UK search and rescue teams, the secondment of a key adviser to the Haitian Prime Minister to help coordination and our longer term project to rebuild the country's prisons, the UK has shown itself to be a true friend to the Haitian people. We will not turn our back on them now."
Other European diplomats said that it was not a sign of stinginess. An Austrian official said that the country spent 5.9 million euros on emergency relief in the initial weeks following the country's quake. "We are not such a big country: We have to prioritize our long-term aid, and therefore we weren't able to pledge something for Haiti."
The Dutch prime minister, Peter Balkenende, today upbraided a retired U.S. Marine general "as beneath contempt" for partially blaming the integration of gays into the Dutch military for the 1995 mass killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men by Bosnian Serbs near Srebrenica.
Ret. Gen. John J. Sheehan, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, told a Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that the Netherlands' policy of allowing gays in the military had contributed to the lack of discipline and combat readiness that contributed to the worst mass killing in Europe since the Second World War.
The remarks have set off a major international dispute with the Dutch, whose lightly armed peacekeepers were overrun by Bosnian Serb forces during a 1995 offensive that led to the deaths of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men.
In response to questioning by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich), Sheehan said European militaries, including Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium, have established militaries that reflect their countries' more liberal social policies, including acceptance of homosexuality in the ranks, and a preference for engaging in peacekeeping instead of war-fighting.
Sheehan said that the Netherlands' former military chief of staff told him that this "liberalization of the military, a net effect of basically social engineering," had combined to create a force that was unfit to respond to Serbian aggression.
"It is astonishing that a man of his stature can utter such complete nonsense," said Roger van de Wettering, spokesman for the Dutch defense ministry. Balkenende said Sheehan's remarks were "outrageous, wrong and beneath contempt."
"I take pride in the fact that lesbians and gays have served openly and with distinction in the Dutch military forces for decades, such as in Afghanistan at the moment," the Netherlands' ambassador to the United States, Renée Jones-Bos, said in a statement after the meeting. "The military mission of Dutch U.N. soldiers at Srebrenica has been exhaustively studied and evaluated, nationally and internationally. There is nothing in these reports that suggests any relationship between gays serving in the military and the mass murder of Bosnian Muslims."
Here's the back-and-forth between Senator Levin and ret. General Sheehan in Thursday's Senate hearing:
General John Sheehan: "That led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war. The case in point that I'm referring to is when the Dutch were required to defend Srebrenica against the Serbs. The battalion was under- strength, poorly led, and the Serbs came into town, handcuffed the soldiers to the telephone polls, marched the Muslims off and executed them. That was the largest massacre in Europe since World War II.
Senator Carl Levin: Did the Dutch leaders tell you it was because there were gay soldiers there?
General Sheehan: It was a combination.
Senator Levin: But did they tell you that? That's my question.
General Sheehan: Yes.
Senator Levin: They did.
General Sheehan: They included that as part of the problem.
Senator Levin: That there were gay soldiers among the Dutch.
General Sheehan: That the combination was the liberalization of the military, a net effect of basically social engineering....
Senator Levin: And can you tell us what Dutch officers you talked to who said that Srebrenica was in part caused because there were gay soldiers in the Dutch army?
General Sheehan: Chief of staff of the army, who was fired by the parliament because they couldn't find anybody else to blame.
Ezio Testa, an Italian executive, built a lucrative business in the late 1990s helping to supply U.N. peacekeepers with the food rations, body armor, and other essentials they need to sustain themselves in the world's nastiest conflict zones. But Testa held an improper edge over his competitors, according to an internal U.N. investigation: He was paying for inside information about upcoming contracts.
The details of Testa's murky empire are brought to light in a previously unreported December 2008 letter, marked "strictly confidential" and sent by an internal U.N. watchdog, the U.N. Procurement Task Force, to the lawyers of U.S. security contractor Armor Holdings. The letter, obtained by Turtle Bay, spells out how Testa paid for illegal information from a U.N. procurement officer, Alexander Yakovlev, on behalf of a former executive at Armor Holdings. Testa and Yakovlev then "entered into a corrupt agreement to steer a valuable United Nations contract to Armor Holdings in exchange for promises of sums of money to be paid to the individual participants," the letter concludes. Such confidential information subsequently helped Armor Holdings win a contract for bullet-proof vests for a U.N. peacekeeping mission.
What emerges is a picture of a man whose career flourished in the shadows of the U.N. system as he acted as a fixer for multinational corporations seeking access to contracts for servicing the U.N.'s expanding peacekeeping empire. U.N. investigators from the task force had previously linked Testa to Eurest Support Services International (ESS), a subsidiary of the world's largest food caterer, Compass Group, which improperly secured contracts for more than $100 million for food and other supplies. His allegedly illicit activities were first reported in a 2005 series by Fox News. And Testa's company was later blacklisted by the United Nations.
Neither Testa, IHC, or ESS were prosecuted for their alleged role in the food-ration scheme. But ESS's parent company, Compass Group, settled a lawsuit from two competitors who claimed they'd lost their bids because of fraudulent behavior. Compass paid more than $70 million to the two companies, but did not accept liability.
The U.N. letter, however, discloses new details, most importantly by connecting Testa and Yakovlev directly to a wide-ranging criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into bid-rigging by former officials at Armor Holdings and other security contractors. Testa's contact at Armor Holdings was Richard Bistrong, a former senior official who was charged in January with paying bribes to officials in the Netherlands and in the United Nations to secure insider information on contracts for bullet-proof vests.
Yakovlev pleaded guilty in 2005 to unrelated federal charges that he received about $1 million in bribes for insider information from companies seeking U.N. contracts. Both men's cases have been reported previously, Bistrong's by the New York Times last month. But this is the first time that Bistrong, Testa, and Yakovlev have all been linked.
Testa declined to comment on
the case, saying he had no idea that he was tied to the Bistrong case through
his alleged links to Armor Holdings. "I am unaware of what you are telling me,"
he said before hanging up. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department, Laura Sweeney, declined to say whether
Testa himself was the target of a federal criminal investigation.
Becoming a player
Testa first came on the scene in 1996, heading the firm IHC Services Inc., which offered consulting services to large multinationals looking to tap into the billions of dollars the United Nations spends each year to service its 18 peacekeeping missions. On his personal website, Testa, who obtained U.S. citizenship in 2004, describes himself as an expert in "cost control." A longer online profile recounts his career as a senior executive at Torno Construction, one of Europe's largest construction firms. He has built oil pipelines between Turkey and Iraq, assisted U.N. peacekeeping missions in Africa, and helped with preparations for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2002. "We put 18,000 troops in the middle of the Kuwaiti desert where there was nothing but sand … and in 96 days they had everything."
Testa established himself as a player into the late 1990s, appointing one of the U.N.'s best-known diplomats, Giandomenico Picco, as chairman of the IHC board of directors, a position he held even as he continued to serve as a top U.N. official. Testa also cultivated personal relationships with members of an obscure community of U.N. procurement officers. Prizing secrecy, Testa required companies he represented to sign confidentiality agreements that prohibited them from acknowledging they had ever hired him, according to the U.N. task force's 2006 report.
In 1998, Testa met Yakovlev, a U.N. procurement officer from Russia, and offered to help him start up his own business in Moscow. Yakovlev hoped his company would market a product called Oilgater, which uses germs to erode grease and oil. Before long, Yakovlev, still a U.N. procurement officer despite his private business activities on the side, furnished Testa and his clients with internal documents that helped them secure U.N. business, according to the letter and the 2006 report. Testa gave Yakovlev a mobile telephone and paid the bill. In May 2000, Testa hired Yakovlev's son Dmitry at IHC as a low-level administrative assistant.
How Testa and Yakovlev first got involved with Bistrong is unclear, but the letter accuses Testa of providing confidential information to representatives of Supercraft (Europe) Ltd., a London-based subsidiary of Armor Holdings, in exchange for about $200,000 in cash payments. According to the letter, the firm's managing director sent Testa an email in May 2001 seeking "confidential and proprietary" information from a source inside the U.N. procurement department. Four months later, Testa sent the managing director's boss, Bistrong, a copy of an internal U.N. memo with technical evaluation for an ongoing bid for bulletproof vests. "This confidential information was furnished to Bistrong by Testa in an email instructing him to '[p]lease destroy after reading,'" according to the letter.
A 2007 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission by Armor Holdings confirms that one of its subsidiaries hired Testa's company, IHC, to help prepare a bid proposal for the purchase of body armor for U.N. peacekeepers.
Yakovlev first became a target of a U.N. investigation into corruption in the oil for food program in Iraq. In 2006, the United Nation task force produced a report that spelled out how "Mr. Yakovlev and Mr. Testa engaged in corrupt practices involving important United Nations business and procurement exercises." Yakovlev resigned from the United Nations in June 2005 and was subsequently arrested and pleaded guilty for fraud and money laundering in the southern district court in Manhattan (though he was never sentenced and remains free). Also as a result of that investigation, Testa's company was suspended from the U.N. list of approved contractors. John Suttle, a spokesman for BAE Systems, which bought Armor Holdings in July 2007, said that Armor severed relations with IHC at that time.
Suttle said the company dismissed officials implicated in the alleged scheme after it conducted its own investigation into the U.N.'s findings. He said his company has cooperated fully with U.N. and federal investigators and that the U.N. ultimately withdrew the letter to reflect that cooperation.
As part of his plea agreement, Yakovlev agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, according to his lawyer Arkady Bukh. Bukh said he did not believe Yakovlev was a target of the ongoing federal investigation into Bistrong, but he said he could neither admit nor deny that his client was cooperating with federal investigators in that case. Bistrong's lawyer, Brady Toensing, declined to comment.
Another compounding detail of the case comes from Bistrong's personal entanglements. He was married to a former U.S. ambassador at the United Nations, Nancy Soderberg, who oversaw U.N. peacekeeping operations for the United States. But the alleged crimes occurred after Soderberg, who served under the Clinton administration, had left the United Nations. And she has not been linked to the case. They have since divorced.
Investigation issues at the U.N.
In addition to flagging serious
concerns about the transparency of the U.N. procurement system in recent years,
the case also raises questions about how the United Nations investigates
incidents of internal corruption. The investigation into Armor Holdings is one
of corruption probes conducted by the now-defunct U.N. procurement task
force from 2006 until 2009, when its mandate expired. That task force
specialized in white-collar criminal investigations, some of which have led to
criminal investigation in U.S. courts.
While its mandate lasted, the task force faced intense criticism from the governments of Singapore and Russia, whose nationals were targeted by its investigations. In December 2008, Russia pressed for the barring of any task force members from being hired by the United Nations. The U.N. leadership, meanwhile, blocked the hiring of the task force's chairman, Robert Appleton, last year on the grounds that there were no women or non-American candidates on the shortlist.
The expertise amassed from the task force was supposed to be incorporated into the investigations division in the U.N.'s internal oversight office. But the task force and most of its staff have left the United Nations, and the U.N. has been slow to hire new investigators, undercutting its capacity to police itself.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said that "all hiring of personnel has to comply with the guidelines that include steps to ensure that all hiring processes are fair and take into account a wide range of candidates."
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.