There was a time when a visit to New York by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the subject of extraordinary curiosity, leading to appearances on the nations' top news shows, including Charlie Rose, and providing fodder for Saturday Night Live skits.
Who can forget the image of the comedian Andy Samberg serenading the faux Iranian leader, dressed in a shoulder-less red dress, on a romantic stroll through Manhattan streets? "I know you say there are no gays in Iran, but you're in New York baby," crooned Samberg.
The controversial Iranian leader still attracts the media elite, with lunches for top editors, broadcast anchors, and TV appearances. And the timing of the release of the two imprisoned American hikers on the eve of his visit has given a boost to his newsworthiness.
But his appearances before the U.N. General Assembly are beginning to have a routine feel to them. The Iranian provocateur mounts an attack on American and European world domination, mixing some awkward truths with patent distortions.
He takes jabs at the Zionists, and then throws out a conspiracy theory for the world to chew on. As if on schedule, the United States and its Western allies, usually represented by junior diplomats, walk out in protest.
Today was hardly different. Ahmadinejad delivered a lengthy speech that revisited a litany of Western offenses, beginning with slavery and U.S. intervention in Korea and Vietnam, and culminating with recent Western-led wars in Afghanistan, Iran, and Libya. "Do these arrogant powers really have the competence and ability to run or govern the world?" he said. "Can the flower of democracy blossom from NATO's missiles, bombs, and guns?"
Ahmadinejad then played the Holocaust card, saying the West has used "their imperialistic media network" to "threaten anyone who questions the Holocaust and the Sept. 11 event with sanctions and military actions."
"If some European countries still use the Holocaust, after six decades, as the excuse to pay fine or ransom to the Zionists, should it not be an obligation upon slave masters or colonial powers to pay reparations to the affected nations?" he asked?
He also rehashed a previous conspiracy theory suggesting that the United States had engaged in a cover-up to shield the true perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. "Who used the mysterious Sept. 11 incident as a pretext to attack Afghanistan and Iraq, killing, injuring, and displacing millions in two countries with the ultimate goal of bringing into its domination the Middle East and its oil resources."
The Iranian leader sharply criticized the U.S. assassination of Osama bin Laden, suggesting that it might be a cover-up. "Why should it not have been allowed to bring him to trial to help recognize those who launched terrorist groups and brought wars and other miseries into the region?" he asked. "Is there any classified information that must be kept secret?"
After the speech, the United States quickly issued a statement denouncing Ahmadinejad. "Mr. Ahmadinejad had a chance to address his own people's aspirations for freedom and dignity, but instead he again turned to abhorrent anti-Semitic slurs and despicable conspiracy theories," said Mark Kornblau, the spokesman for Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Human rights groups also weighed in. "While President Ahmadinejad is lecturing the world from the U.N. podium, dissent is still being crushed ruthlessly in Iran and basic rights demanded by millions in the Arab world are brutally denied to Iranians who are demanding the same," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "The world assembly should take with a grain of salt the remarks of a leader who said nothing about the public hanging yesterday of a 17-year-old in his own country."
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You wouldn't have noticed it if you weren't a trained student of U.N. press statements.
But Ban Ki moon's statement Thursday on the human rights situation in Libya included a slight shift in phrasing that appeared to mark a new willingness to challenge NATO's conduct in the campaign against Muammar al-Qaddafi's government.
In the past, the U.N. has routinely responded to reports of civilian casualties by urging "both sides" in the conflict -- meaning Qaddafi's forces and the Benghazi-based opposition -- to show restraint in order to avoid the killing of innocent civilians.
But on Thursday, Ban's office issued a statement for the first time urging "all sides" to show restraint. That raised the possibility that Ban was shifting his stance on Libya, reflecting mounting concern about the human cost of NATO's six-month long air campaign.
The change comes at a sensitive time for NATO. The Libyan government accused allied coalition striking a series of farm buildings with precision-guided missiles near the town of Zlitan, killing more than 80 civilians. NATO insists the farm buildings were being used as staging areas for Qaddafi's forces. A preliminary investigation by Human Rights Watch, which visited the site and interviewed relatives of the alleged victims, suggested that some civilians had probably killed by the strike. But they have not yet been able to determine the number of dead or establish whether the site was a legitimate military target.
"Establishing what happened in a case like this is challenging given the controlled environment in government-held areas in Libya," said Tom Malinowski, the director of the rights group's Washington, D.C. office. "But we will be bringing our findings to NATO in the coming days, hear their side of the story, and if possible draw some conclusions."[*See note below]
More generally, "there is a broad sense that NATO has been very careful in Libya, and that NATO and the alliance have steadily improved its performance in avoiding civilian casualties from the 1990s on," Malinowski told Turtle Bay. "That isn't to say they haven't done anything that we would take issue with, once we have all the facts, but we don't have all the facts now."
For months, Ban has lent firm support to the coalition operation in Libya.
When Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO, "deplored" NATO's recent decision to bomb Al-Jamahiriya, the state television station - saying "media outlets should not be targeted in military actions" -- Ban stood up for the coalition.
Asked if the U.N. chief supported Bokova stance, a U.N. spokesman, Farhan Haq, said Ban believes Resolution 1973, which authorized the use of force in Libya, has been used properly in order to protect civilians in Libya. The U.N. coalition members also defended the strike, saying that the broadcast facility had been used to incite violence against civilians.
To seasoned U.N. watchers, Thursday's statement seemed a shift in stance, perhaps calculated to give Ban's special envoy, Abdel-Elah Al-Khatib, greater credibility with Tripoli as he pursues a mediation role in Libya, according to U.N. diplomats.
Whatever the intent, coalition diplomats took note of the wording and raised objections with Ban's office. They were assured that there was no shift in policy. In response, Ban's office today climbed down, issuing another statement saying that while Ban "has consistently called for restraint and caution to avoid" harming civilians "he of course recognizes and appreciates NATO's efforts to avoid civilian casualties."
One council diplomat said that Ban has "been clear that he appreciates NATO's role in protecting civilians. We don't believe the intent [of the statement] was to criticize NATO." The diplomat also noted that Ban's office said the phrasing was a "miscommunication" due to the fact that the secretary general is traveling overseas. However, despite the U.N.'s climb down this morning they did not retract the phrase.
And another U.N. source suggested the change in language was not accidental, saying each word and comma of the secretary general's statement are carefully considered.
Guess we'll have to wait and see what he says next.
[*Note: an earlier version quoted Malinowski saying "nothing screamed out military installations"]. The Human Rights Watch team investigating the case believes it was premature to make definitive claims about the site.
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After months of inaction, the U.N. Security Council issued its first formal condemnation of Syria for its use of force against protesters that has resulted in the deaths of as many as 2,000 civilians this year.
The council statement came as Syria stepped up its military campaign in what appeared to be a final move to crush the protest movement in the town of Hama. It calls for "an immediate end to all violence and urges all sides to act with utmost restraint, and to refrain from reprisals, including attacks against state institutions."
The statement also calls on Syria to cooperate with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which is seeking to investigate abuses in Syria, and to permit "expeditious and unhindered access for international humanitarian agencies and workers."
After the vote, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters that the statement sent a powerful message that the international community is united in its condemnation of Syria. She said that she hoped the Syrian government is "chastened by the strength and unity of the condemnation" and that it would allow "the people of Syria to chart their course and have a democratic future."
The Security Council has failed for months to reach agreement on a response to the violence in Syria. The council's European members -- Britain, France, Germany, and Portugal -- backed by the United States, have led diplomatic efforts to adopt a legally binding resolution condemning the violence in Syria and compelling the government to stop it.
But Western governments have faced stiff resistance from other council members, including China, Russia, Lebanon, Brazil, India, and South Africa. Diplomats from those countries have cited concern that a resolution would be used as a pretext to impose sanctions or military force on Syria in the future.
In a press briefing Tuesday, India's U.N. ambassador, Hardeep Singh Puri, suggested that many council diplomats believe that the Western military coalition operating in Libya has exceeded its Security Council mandate to protect civilians there and has effectively sided with one party in a civil war.
Rice dismissed such reasoning as a "canard" deployed to avoid discussing how best to confront Syria.
In the end, the council reached agreement on a presidential statement, which carries less political and legal weight than a resolution, but which still marks a setback for Syria.
To secure the deal, the council's Western members were required to include a provision, requested by Brazil, expressing concern about violent reprisals against the Syrian government and attacks against Syrian institutions. While Lebanon, which is run by a pro-Syrian government, agreed not to block agreement on the statement, it issued a statement distancing itself from the council's decision.
The Security Council statement stopped short of including a request by European governments to launch an international investigation into serious crimes by the Syrian authorities. But it scolded Damascus for failing to meet its commitment to institute political reforms.
"The only solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process, with the aim of effectively addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the population," the statement says.
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Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged more than $2 billion in debt relief and investment assistance to Egypt.
But what does that money actually buy?
Washington's extension of largesse was offered in recognition of Cairo's long-standing peace agreement with Israel and as a symbol of support for the broad trend of democratization in the Arab world that began in Egypt earlier this year.
But since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian government has launched two diplomatic initiatives that have rankled American policy makers, including making an overture to Iran, and mediating negotiations on a new Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas. At the United Nations, the new Egyptian government has shown every sign that it intends to maintain a strategic distance on the world stage from its primary financial backer.
In recent weeks, Egypt has sought to weaken American and European efforts to condemn Syria in the U.N. Human Rights Council. And Egypt, which was among the first countries to back the Palestine's upcoming bid for diplomatic recognition in the U.N. General Assembly, has every intention of using its influence in the U.N. to maintain pressure on Israel on everything from its settlement policies to its undeclared nuclear weapons program.
Egypt's U.N. ambassador, Maged Abdelaziz, denies that Cairo is opposed to U.S. interests in the region, telling Turtle Bay that his government intends to urge Hamas to ultimately recognize Israel and to restrain its use of violence. He also cited Washington and Cairo's co-sponsorship of a resolution in the Human Rights Council promoting freedom of opinion and expression.
But he also conceded that on a wide range of issues, the two countries simply don't agree.
"We have a very strategic and good relationship with the United States...and that's not something we hide; we see eye to eye on many issues but on many other issues we don't see eye to eye," Abdelaziz said recently at a lunch at the Egyptian mission with a small group of reporters. But he said Egypt shouldn't be expected to be America's "fifty-first state... Our differences are part of the strength of our relationship."
The close diplomatic relationship between Washington and Cairo has long contrasted with the two capitals highly contentious interaction at the U.N., where Egypt has clashed with American diplomats on a range of issues, including human rights and the nuclear threat posed by nuclear programs in Iran and Israel. "They see only Iran and we see Iran and Israel," Abdelaziz said.
Previously unpublished U.S. diplomatic cables, obtained through WikiLeaks, highlight the intensely strained nature of Washington's relations with Mubarak's diplomatic corps.
U.S. diplomats bristled when they learned that Ban Ki Moon had decided to hire Mubarak's pick, Mohamed Shaaban, to serve as a top member of the U.N. chief cabinet, and the top Egyptian in the U.N. system. They said he had actively foiled a U.S.-backed Broader Middle East and North Africa[BMENA] initiative to promote democracy and economic reform in the region.
In a 2007 U.S. cable from the U.S. embassy in Cairo, an American diplomat reported that the United States had "generally found Ambassador Shaaban unhelpful and dogmatic, with a mandate to stymie U.S., European and G-8 efforts in the Broader Middle East and North Africa context. ...Shaaban's performance at BMENA conferences is characterized by his negativity, his opposition to meaningful NGO participation, and by his lawyerly effort to gut the BMENA."
Shaabaan told Turtle Bay by email "that I was not Mubarak's pick...My selection by the Secretary-General was on merit; the Foreign Minister of Egypt presented the two [Egyptian] names and it was the Secretary-General, after interviewing some 7 senior officials from the Middle East, who selected me."
Shaaban challenged the U.S. characterization of his diplomatic role in opposing the U.S. backed regional initiative, saying that he was largely acting on instructions from Cairo. "No senior official in Egypt at that time could decide how to negotiate; even the Foreign Minister had to receive directives from the President," Shaaban wrote. " So, I did not stymie U.S., European and G-8s effort in the Broader Middle East and North Africa context. I acted upon direct instructions from the Foreign Minister of Egypt."
Shaaban said charges that he personally opposed NGO participation in the Broader Middle East and North Africa initiative and tried to gut its pro-democracy aims are also "unsubstantiated since I was acting on
clear and unambiguous instructions from the Foreign Minister of Egypt."
The American view of Egypt's former envoy to the U.N. in Geneva, Sameh Shoukry, was even more negative. In a July, 2008, cable entitled "Egypt's Ambassador Shoukry and his aggressive delegation in Geneva," the U.S. mission there cited Egypt's obstructionist policies:
Led by Ambasasdor Sameh Shoukry, Egypts delegation in Geneva has stood out for its activist and at times aggressive approach to Geneva multilateral diplomacy, in pursuit of goals the United States does not support.This has been most noticeable in the Human Rights Council, where Egypt has been arguably the most difficult delegation from the U.S. perspective, pushing hard -- and often effectively -- for many troubling Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) resolutions and amendments, such as one that subverted the mandate on freedom of expression."
Abdelaziz admitted that American diplomats have also expressed irritation about his own work at the U.N.
The reason that Egypt remains largely sanguine about these criticisms is that its ability to wield influence on the international stage often depends less on its relationship with the United States than on its ability to leverage the U.N.'s large voting blocs, including the OIC (57 states), the Arab League, the Group of 77 (130 states) and the Non-aligned Movement (118 states).
Abdelaziz says that Egypt's membership in these groups helps it gain broad support for its initiatives on Palestinian, and Egypt's other regional priorities at the U.N. But it also imposes on Egypt "conditions and positions that are not necessarily in agreement with the positions that are taken by the United States," he said.
Abdelaziz said that Egypt's tougher approach to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has strengthened its standing at the United Nations. "This new approach is putting us more on the map of the international scene and the regional scene," he said. He noted that Obama's commitment to provide additional funding reflected the "will and wish on the part of the United States to maintain and support such an Egyptian role."
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For weeks, Syria has used live fire against peaceful demonstrators challenging the rule of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. But the bloody crackdown, which has killed at least 400 Syrian civilians, has not been enough to undermine the country's diplomatic standing at the United Nations.
A U.S.-backed European initiative to issue a U.N. Security Council statement condemning Syria's use of force against civilians ran aground today in the face of opposition from China, Lebanon, and Russia. Last week, ambassadors from the Arab League issued a letter supporting Damascus's bid for a seat on the Human Rights Council (HRC). The U.N.'s Asia Group had already announced in January its endorsement of Syria's candidacy for the rights council, and the group plans to push for a vote in the General Assembly next month.
But the bid is already running into fierce criticism.
"Syria's campaign for a seat on the Human Rights Council is a slap in the face to the victims of the current crackdown, and an embarrassment to those who have supported its candidacy," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. director for Human Rights Watch. "By supporting Syria's candidacy, the Asian Group and the Arab League risk emboldening Syria's bloody crackdown and making a mockery of the Human Rights Council."
A coalition of human rights groups and Western states, including the United States, have mounted a campaign to foil Syria's efforts to join the rights council, and remain hopeful that Damascus will abandon its candidacy before the U.N. General Assembly votes next month on new members for the council. Earlier today, the Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, the U.S. envoy to the HRC, announced that a special session had been scheduled Friday at the Geneva-based rights agency to "address egregious human right violations currently being perpetrated by the Syrian government."
Though the U.N.'s Asia Group has the prerogative to fill the four open seats on the rights council, the United States is hoping to convince other Asian countries to compete against Syria for the group's endorsement. Currently, the group has put forward a slate of four candidates, comprising India, Indonesia, and the Philipines, in addition to Syria. If a fifth Asian country were nominated, the group would need to hold a vote for the four open seats. The United States and other countries successfully thwarted Iran's candidacy for the Human Rights Council in this fashion in January.
While the reports of government killings of protesters in Syria echoes the bloody crackdown in Libya by forces loyal to Muammar al-Qaddafi, Syria has so far maintained substantial support in the Arab world. One reason is that Lebanon, which has led efforts in the Security Council and Human Rights Council to condemn Libya, has resisted tough action against Syria, which exercises enormous influence over Lebanese politics.
The council's four European governments, Britain, France, Germany, and Portugal, abandoned an effort today to press for a Security Council statement condemning Syria's crackdown after Lebanon, China, India, and Russia raised objections.
Instead, the council held a public debate on the matter, in which China, India, and Russia raised concerns about the violence but underscored the importance of letting Syrians resolve their own problems without outside interference. "It is for states to decide on the best course of action" in restoring law and order inside their borders, said India's U.N. ambassador, Hardeep Singh Puri.
"The security of Lebanon is part and parcel of Syria's security. What takes place in Lebanon has an impact on Syria and what take place in Syria has and impact on Lebanon," said Lebanon's U.N. ambassador, Nawaf Salam. "Lebanon backs stability in Syria and the wider Arab world."
For its part, Syria has denied that it has ordered live-fire attacks against civilians, saying that armed elements have infiltrated the demonstrations and opened fire on Syrian security forces. "More than six weeks have passed since the onset of acts of violence perpetrated by extremist groups whose fundamental objective is clearly the fall of the Syrian government," Syrian envoy Bashar Ja'afari told the council today. He said Syrian security forces have "exercised the utmost restraint in order to avoid the killing of innocent civilians."
"We too we want the unrest to end. We too regret that there have been some causalities among the civilians," Ja'afari said Tuesday. "Unlike other leaders, President Assad is a reformer himself, and he should be given the chance to fulfill his mission in reforming the political life in the country."
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In the rush to curtail Muammar al-Qaddafi's military capacity to attack civilians in Libya, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on February 26 to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Libya. But the measure also unwittingly impeded the effort of the Western-backed rebels to fight Qaddafi's forces.
Paragraph 9 of Resolution 1970 required all U.N. members to "immediately take the necessary measures" to bar the sale, supply or transfer of weapons, mercenaries, or other supplies to Libya. The arms embargo, which was adopted before the rebels had emerged as a potential threat to the regime, included no exemptions for Qaddafi's foes.
Ever since the passage of that first resolution, government lawyers from the United States, Britain and France have been looking to see if they can find a way around it, according to U.N.-based diplomats. The United States may have now found one.
The legal debate centers on a little noticed clause in Resolution 1973 -- adopted by a divided council on March 17 -- which authorized the use of force against Libya to protect civilians. It may also have circumvented the arms embargo.
Paragraph 4 of that resolution provides sweeping authority to U.N. member states "to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970, to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya." The notwithstanding clause, which was proposed by the United States, provides for an unspecified exemption from the embargo, according to diplomats.
During the final negotiations on Resolution 1973, Portugal's U.N. ambassador, José Filipe Moraes Cabral, the chairman of the newly established Libya sanctions committee, asked Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a series of questions about the scope of the military force provision in the resolution.
Rice sought maximum flexibility to allow allied forces to enforce their mandate. For instance, she opposed a proposal to preclude the deployment of ground troops in Libya. Rice argued that while the U.S. and its allies had no plans to launch a ground invasion in Libya, they might need to send search-and-rescue teams into the country if one of their warplanes were shot down.
But Rice provided a non-committal response to a question about the notwithstanding paragraph 9 clause, saying simply "the language is not specific," according to a council diplomat. Council diplomats say Rice gave no hint that the clause would be used as a pretext to arm the rebels. "The clear perception of the large majority of the council is that it would not open the door to arming the rebels," the council diplomat said.
U.S. officials disputed the claim that the US was not forthcoming with the council about the possible arming of rebels. "Resolutions 1970 and 1973, read together, neither specify nor preclude such an action," said Rice's spokesman, Mark Kornblau.
The issue was first broached in public on Monday, when a British MP, William Cash, asked the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, whether his government believed the resolution opened the door to arms supplies. "Does not that provide an avenue, through a committee of sanctions of the United Nations, to allow arms to be supplied, as sub-paragraph (c) of paragraph 9 appears to suggest, to those resisting Gaddafi in Benghazi and thereabouts?" he asked.
Cameron sought to downplay that prospect. "I think I am right in saying that the resolution is clear: there is an arms embargo, and that arms embargo has to be enforced across Libya," Cameron said. "The legal advice that others have mentioned, and that we believe some other countries were interested in, suggesting that perhaps this applied only to the regime, is not in fact correct." Cameron didn't say which other countries. But diplomats say it was the United States and France.
U.N. diplomats say the exemption would technically provide a legal basis for limited supplies of weapons to rebels, as long as they could make the case that they were needed to forestall a government attack against civilian targets. But they warned that it could poison the U.S. relationship with other council members, who may feel they have been misled about the intent of the language.
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Lost in the debate over the U.N.-backed air war against Muammar Qaddafi is the little-noticed fact that the Security Council resolution that authorized the use of force also imposed the most far-reaching economic sanctions on any country since those applied to Iraq before the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
In addition to giving legal backing to the military intervention, Resolution 1973 placed an asset freeze on the Libyan Central Bank, the Libyan Investment Authority, Libya's sovereign wealth fund, and the Libyan National Oil Corporation. The resolution also grounded all Libyan commercial air carriers.
Like similar sanctions imposed on Iran, the move to cut off Qaddafi's chief sources of revenue has the potential to inflict collateral economic harm on ordinary people. It marks a shift from the U.N. Security Council's efforts over the past decade to develop highly targeted sanctions that punish a rogue government's elite while shielding ordinary people from harsh economic pain.
"If a stalemate continues and there is no regime change, these measures will starve the economy," David Cortright, a scholar at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame University and one of the country's leading experts on U.N. sanctions, told Turtle Bay. "Sooner or later, and probably sooner, Libya will begin to face internal economic difficulties, and therefore, humanitarian difficulties."
The imposition of sanctions are not a rare occurrence at the U.N. The Security Council has imposed stringent sanctions on many countries' key industries, targeting diamonds, timber and other commodities in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ivory Coast. But "in Libya, they have used more of a ‘blunderbuss' approach to curtailing the countries economy," Colin Keating, the executive director of the Security Council Report, told Turtle Bay.
"I must say it seems to me that this is more than anything I've seen before," said Keating. "It gave scope for broader constraints that we normally see with targeted sanctions. In a way it doesn't purport to be a total ban on all trade, but it does give cover for anybody who does want individually to have wider sanctions."
The U.N. Security Council imposed comprehensive oil and trade embargos on Saddam Hussein's government in 1990 and 1991 in an effort to compel him to reverse his military invasion of Kuwait and to destroy programs for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
The sanctions largely succeeded in those goals but they also inflicted enormous hardship on individuals -- with some estimates that hundreds of thousands of children may have died from malnutrition because of a lack of food imports. In response, the U.N. Security Council established a massive humanitarian aid program in 1996, which allowed Iraq to sell oil, under U.N. control, to purchase food, humanitarian goods, and other supplies. The program was disbanded in 2003 after the invasion of Iraq, and subsequent investigations have shown that its management was riddled with corruption.
The political backlash against the Iraq sanctions prompted the council to develop a more surgical approach to sanctions, targeting individual elites with travel bans and asset freezes while allowing broader international trade to continue. The recent round of sanctions, which includes Resolutions 1970 and 1973, against Libya does not constitute a formal trade embargo, targeting a small number of companies and individuals linked to Col. Qaddafi. But in a state-controlled economy like Libya, targeting the regime's inner-circle is enough to bring the entire economy to a halt.
"In effect, we are looking at an oil embargo," Carne Ross, a former British diplomat who oversaw British policy on the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq, wrote in an analysis of the resolution. "This seems to me to make any purchases of oil from Libya highly problematic, to say the least."
Libya normally produces 1.6 million barrels a day of oil, making it the 12th largest oil exporter in the world. But exports have crashed to a halt since sanctions were imposed. The U.S., British and French led military coalition is exploring ways to meet the humanitarian needs of the Libyan people, including the prospect of seizing control of key ports, including one in the rebel-held city of Benghazi, to ensure the delivery of food medicines and other supplies.
If history is a guide, the international community will likely tap Libya's own oil wealth to cover the costs. Resolution 1973 already provides the U.N. Security Council with the legal authority to redirect Libya's frozen assets and oil wealth to ensure it is used "for the benefit of the people of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya." Can it be long before the U.N. Security Council sets up a new bureaucracy and escrow account to determine how Libya's money is spent?
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On the occasion of the Persian New Year - the traditional Iranian holiday that coincides with the beginning of spring -- the Iranian mission to the United Nations today helped organize a panel discussion to highlight the importance of nature. Entitled "Nowruz and the Earth: Harmony Between Culture and Nature," the panel discussion drew together U.N. officials, scholars and environmentalists. A delegation from Iran's government also attended the event, which was held at the Millennium U.N. Plaza Hotel. A separate observance of Nowruz was scheduled at the U.N. General Assembly Hall for Monday evening.
"Norwuz apparently is one of the oldest celebrations on the Earth," according to a press statement issued by Iran's, Afghanistan's and Tajikistan's U.N. envoys. "To commemorate Nowruz also means to promote life in harmony with nature, natural cycles and sources of life." The main task of the panel, according to the statement, is to "elaborate on the orphic interrelation between" (in other words, discuss the links between) Nowruz and "International Mother Earth Day," which is also officially recognized by the U.N.
But a group of leading environmentalists and scholars, including Steven Cohen, executive director of Columbia University's Earth Institute and Bill McKibben, the author, issued an appeal to Tehran to release two American hikers, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who were detained nearly 20 months ago while crossing the border from Iraqi Kurdistan into Iran. The group said the two men have devoted their lives to promoting environmental causes. Iranians authorities detained the two men in 2008, alleging they had hiked illegally into Iran, and accused them of espionage. Baeur's fiancé, Sarah Shroud, who was arrested with the two men, was released last year.
"Josh and Shane have done nothing wrong. They had no intention of approaching the unmarked border with Iran...while they were hiking beyond a beautiful waterfall in Iraqi Kurdistan," the letter stated. "This week a delegation of Iranian environmentalists is visiting the United Nations. We welcome this delegation to the United States as we believe the greatest challenge to our planet must be confronted as one world. At the same time, we do not understand why Iran is holding these two individuals, who have both made protecting the environment a priority in their lives."
Fattal, 28, a 2004 UC Berkeley graduate with a degree in Environmental Economics and Policy, taught courses on sustainable agriculture and other topics at the Aprovecho Sustainability Education Center in Oregon. He has led workshops in Guatemalan indigenous communities on how to build fuel-efficient, non-polluting wood-burning stoves. Tao Orion, a colleague of Fattal's at Aprovecho, said he was a standout teacher who later went on to lead environmental teaching programs abroad, including in India, China and South Africa. She said the government of the Iranian delegation promoting environmental causes at the United Nations "definitely has one person in prison who could speak very eloquently about those topics."
The families and friends of the two captives say that during their nearly 600 days of detention Bauer and Fattal have met only once with their mothers, and had two brief telephone calls with family members. They contend that the two men were not spies, that they have professed their innocence in an Iranian court, and they have meant no harm to the Iranian government.
"We understand that Nowruz is a time for families to come together, reflect on the year that has passed and look with hope to the future," Bauer's and Fattal's families wrote in a separate appeal to the Iranian government today. "We extend our best wishes to everyone in the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the United States and around the world who celebrates this important occasion and, from the depths of our despair, appeal to the political and religious leaders of Iran to show compassion and make this a time when we too can at last be together again as families...We beseech the Iranian authorities to show compassion and end our heartbreak."
Bauer, 28, a freelance journalist who grew up in rural Minnesota has published stories in The Nation, Mother Jones, and the San Francisco Chronicle on politics and the environment. He once chronicled the environmental impact of war in the Darfur region of Sudan in a piece entitled "The Ecology of Genocide" that ran in The Environmental Magazine. He rides a bike, rather than a car, has been a vegetarian for more than a decade, and "practices conservation" at all times.
"We voice our support for Josh and Shane, who have demonstrated nothing but respect for the earth and their fellow human beings, and appeal to Iran for their immediate release from near total isolation, with almost no access to their families or their lawyer," according to the environmentalists statement. "If Iran is sincere in its commitment to environmental stewardship, it should release Josh and Shane and allow them to rejoin our common cause."
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As the Western-led air campaign entered its third day, Muammar al-Qaddafi struggled to mount a diplomatic campaign to halt the allied assault.
On Saturday, Qaddafi's foreign minister, Musa Kousa, appealed to the U.N. Security Council to convene an emergency session to "halt this aggression, which is not aimed at protecting civilians, as is purported, but rather to strike civilians sites, economic facilities and sites[s] belonging to the Armed Peoples on Duty."
Typically, a request for an emergency meeting by a U.N. member state is addressed within hours. But the 15-nation council, which approved the military strikes last week, has not been in a rush to address the Libyan request. The council will meet this afternoon at 3 pm, two days after the initial request, to discuss whether to grant the Libyan appeal.
Complicating matters for Qaddafi is the fact that the Libyan mission to the United Nations has been controlled by a renegade diplomatic delegation, headed by Abdelrahman Shalgam and Ibrahim Dabbashi, that has thrown its support behind the rebels and the allied military campaign. Qaddafi has written to the U.N. to withdraw Shalgam's and Dabasshi's accreditation.
But the two diplomats continued to make appearances at the Security Council, and have been pressing for the overthrow of Qaddafi's rule. Qaddafi's efforts to replace the diplomats with a loyal envoy, Ali Treki, have been unsuccessful.
Here's a copy of the full letter:
The Great Socialist Libyan People's Arab Jamahiriyan
The General People's Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation
19 March 2011
In my previous letters to you, I emphasized that an external conspiracy was targeting the Jamahiriya and its unity and territorial integrity. I also pointed out that the Security Council had been drawn into implementing this conspiracy by its adoption of resolutions 1970 (2011) and 1973 (2011), under which a ban was imposed on all aviation in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
By taking this decision, the Security Council has paved the way for military aggression against Libyan territory. France and the United States have bombarded several civilian sites, thereby violating all international norms and instruments, most notably the Charter of the United Nations, which provides for non-intervention in the affairs of Member States.
The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya calls on the Security Council to hold an emergency meeting in order to halt this aggression, which is not aimed at protecting civilians, as is purported, but rather to strike civilian sites, economic facilities and site belonging to the Armed Peoples on Duty.
Accept, Sir, the assurance of my highest consideration.
(Signed) Mr. Musa M. Abdussalam Kousa
Secretary of the General People's Committee for
Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation
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Update: The U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing military force in Libya passed on Thursday evening, as expected. Ten countries voted in favor, while five countries (Russia, Germany, China, India, Brazil) abstained. According to a report by the BBC, British forces could begin making air raids as soon as Friday.
The U.N. Security Council was poised on Thursday evening to pass a U.N. resolution authorizing U.S., European, and Arab states to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and to use force to prevent Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces from capturing the rebel stronghold of Bengazhi and attacking civilians. It remained unclear whether the resolution will set the stage for immediate military intervention in Libya, but if passed, it would provide wide authority to Western and Arab powers to confront Qaddafi's forces.
The resolution demands the "immediate establishment of a cease-fire and a complete end to violence and all attacks, and abuses, of civilians." It authorizes member states -- after they have provided notification to the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon and the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa -- "to take all necessary measures...to protect civilians and civilian populated areas, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory."
Council diplomats said that the measures were expected to be pass by a vote of 10 to 0 in the 15-nation council, with five council members -- Brazil, India, China, Germany and Russia -- expected to abstain. Here is a copy of the entire draft text.
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The Israeli government and the American Jewish Committee clashed this week with Hollywood filmmakers and the United Nations over Monday evening's premier of a new film, Miral, at the U.N. General Assembly hall. The movie provides a sympathetic portrayal of a young Palestinian girl coming of age in the era of the first Palestinian Intifida (1987-1993).
Israel's deputy U.N. ambassador, Haim Waxman, wrote a formal protest on Friday to the U.N. General Assembly president, Joseph Deiss of Switzerland, for agreeing to host what he characterized as a "politicized" film, directed by the artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel and distributed by Harvey Weinstein. But Deiss rejected the Israeli request to cancel the event, according to U.N. officials, who said he defended the film as a "love story." He sent invitations to all the U.N.'s 192 member states, including Israel.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declined the invitation to attend the viewing, according to a U.N. official.
"We find it very troubling that the U.N. has chosen to feature this film in the GA Hall," Waxman wrote. The U.N., he said, has a "clear duty to carefully select all programs that are hosted on its premises in order to maintain a spirit of impartiality. The screening of Miral constitutes an inappropriate use of the hall of the GA, which already deals with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict excessively and obsessively."
The U.N. General Assembly was established to provide a forum for the world's government to debate and adopt resolutions on the most pressing issues of the day. But it occasionally lends its space out for special events, including concerts and observances. The GA hall recently hosted a memorial for the United States' former U.N. ambassador, Richard C. Holbrooke.
But for Israel, the U.N. General Assembly has been a symbol of its marginalization on the world stage, a forum that manufactures numerous resolutions criticizing Israel, including the notorious 1975 resolution that "determines that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." The resolution was rescinded in 1991.
Starring Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire, Miral is based loosely on the life story of the Palestinian-born Italian journalist, Rula Jebreal, who wrote the film's screenplay. It is based on Jebreal's 2004 novel of the same name.
Miral tracks the history of the Dar Al-Tifel orphanage, which was established in 1948, the year of the partition of Palestine and the birth of Israel, to educate Palestinian orphans. It portrays the struggle of Miral, a 7-year-old girl who is sent to the orphanage in 1978, between the values of the orphanage's founder, Hind Husseini, who sees education as the key to a better life, and those of the young Palestinians who battled Israeli forces on the streets. She also falls in love with a young Palestinian militant who ultimately becomes a peace proponent. The book received cool reviews at the time of its publication.
Schnabel, the Brooklyn-born director of the film, has directed several acclaimed films, including Basquiat, about the late painter Jean-Michel Basquiat; Before Night Falls, an account of a gay Cuban novelist suffering discrimination under Castro's reign; and the Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the story of a French magazine editor paralyzed by a stroke. But none have generated the degree of controversy as this film.
"Miral is a story about human beings, Palestinian, Israeli, Muslim, Jewish and Christian, and it explores how we all react differently to the violence around us, whether physical, emotional, political or otherwise," Jebreal said in a statement. "It is a film about love, education, understanding and peace. That seems like a good thing to show at the United Nations."
In a letter to Deiss, David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said the movie was political propaganda. "The film has a clear political message, which portrays Israel in a highly negative light," Harris. Showing the film in the U.N. General Assembly hall "will only serve to reinforce the already widespread view that Israel simply cannot expect fair treatment in the U.N."
In response to Harris on the controversy, Schnabel said in a statement that he had made the film as a friend of Israel. Schnabel, an American Jew, has noted that his mother, Esther Greenberg, was the president of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization in America. "I love the state of Israel," he said in the statement.
"I believe in it, and my film is about preserving it, not hurting it," Schnabel said. "Understanding is part of the Jewish way and Jewish people are supposed to be good listeners. But, if we don't listen to the other side, we can never have peace. Instead of saying 'no,' I ask the AJC to say, 'yes,' see Miral and join the discussion."
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Shortly after the U.N. Security Council authorized an international criminal probe into Moammar Qaddafi's bloody crackdown on civilians in Libya on February 26, France's U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud proclaimed that the forces of change sweeping across North Africa had reached the U.N. council's chamber and shaken it at its foundation.
the first time, the 15-nation council's major powers had overcome
their historic reservations about the Hague-based International
Criminal Court (ICC) and joined in a unanimous vote to invite the
tribunal's Argentine prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, to
investigate possible crimes against humanity perpetrated by Qaddafi's
"A wind of liberty and change is blowing through the Arab world," Araud told reporters. "We feel it, we felt it in the Security Council chamber, we feel it in the corridors of this organization." The council's vote, he said, should send "a warning to all the leaders who could be tempted to use repression against this wind of change, this wind of liberty."
But did the vote really mark a turning point, a beginning of a new era in which the U.N.'s despotic champions of stability will no longer be countenanced? Or had the diplomatic stars simply aligned momentarily at the United Nations, influenced by the genocidal ravings of a tyrant, and facilitated by a diplomatic coup at the Libyan mission to the U.N., where renegade envoys worked feverishly to protect their people from a brutal despot?
Resolution 1970 was a rare instance in the council's history, a moment when hardened ideological positions melted away as diplomats struggled to grapple with a bloody crisis in North Africa. It happened before in 2001, when the council adopted a series of sweeping resolutions requiring foreign governments to rewrite their anti-terror laws to rein in Al Qaeda; prior to that in 1990, when Arab governments from Syria to Saudi Arabia rallied behind U.S. war plans against Iraq.
This time around, stalwart critics of the court, China, India and Russia, as well as court's erstwhile foe, the United States, checked their misgivings about the ICC at the door and granted the prosecutor a free hand, a development that would have been unthinkable only two weeks ago. Arab and African leaders turned on one of their own, supporting the council's decision to investigate crimes and impose a raft of sanctions on Qaddafi's family. Even the Lebanese government, over which the Islamist movement Hezbollah has significant say, piled on, co-sponsoring a resolution in the U.N. General Assembly that suspended Libya's membership in the Human Rights Council.
"Impunity isn't what it used to be," said Edward Luck, a historian of the United Nations who serves as the U.N.'s special advisor for the Responsibility to Protect, a six-year old human rights doctrine that obliges states to protect their civilians from mass atrocities. Resolution 1970 marked the first time since 2006 that the council has reaffirmed its commitment to the Responsibility To Protect. The council's action constituted one of those rare "moments of clarity," according to Luck, when the council advances, or reinforces, a set of new moral standards.
There were a number of developments that made the vote possible, Luck said. Key regional groups -- the African Union, the Arab League, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference -- had issued a set of extremely condemnatory statement prior to the council vote. Qaddafi delivered a highly provocative public statement instructing his Libyan supports to hunt down and kill protesters. Libya's permanent representative Abdurrahim Mohamed Shalgam issued an extraordinary call for council to protect his people and hold his leader accountable for crimes against humanity.
"Contrast that with Rwanda in 1994, when the Rwandan government's U.N. ambassador was busying denying" atrocities had been committed in his country, Luck said. The forceful response to Libya "is quite remarkable in that sense, but not easily replicated in the future," he said
Indeed, the old forces of the status quo have begun to push back as expectations of a swift overthrow of Qaddafi's regime have given way to the harsh realization that he may survive the wave of popular unrest that has toppled leaders in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia. Qaddafi, who had momentarily lost control of his country's U.N. mission, has moved to install a loyal envoy, Ali Abdusallam Treki, a former U.N. General Assembly president who is well known at the United Nations.
The U.N.'s old guard, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela have denounced what it is has described as a U.S. led plot to occupy Libya. "We urge peace-loving countries in all regions of the world to put a stop to the invasion plans against Libya," Jorge Valero, Venezuela's U.N. ambassador, said at the General Assembly. "Its purpose is clear: to appropriate the vast potential of natural and energy resources that are stored in the mother land of Libya." Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, opposed foreign intervention in Libya, saying Libyans should sort out their own problems. China's U.N. ambassador Li Baodong made it clear that his government has no intention of embracing the international criminal court. "Our position," he said tersely, "remains unchanged."
More importantly, Arab and African governments that had been vital in swinging world opinion against Qaddafi appear unready to accept a key provision of the Responsibility to Protect: That if a state is unwilling or unable to prevent the large scale killing of its population the outside world has an obligation to step in and do so. Mauritius, speaking on behalf of the African Union, cautioned that the move to isolate Qaddafi's government should not be seen as a precedent.
Indeed, the Obama administration's calls for regime change in Libya have fueled suspicions about American, British and French military intentions, including the establishment of a no fly zone over Libya. "What is the purpose of a no-fly zone?" one African diplomat told Turtle Bay. "Is it to occupy Libya?"
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The democratic fervor spreading across North Africa and the Middle East has reached the U.N.'s New York headquarters, judging from the Facebook and Twitter accounts of some staffers at Turtle Bay. Several U.N. officials have turned to social media in recent weeks to express their enthusiasm for the collapse of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.
The activity, in fact, prompted the U.N. ethics office to issue on Wednesday an internal directive -- titled "Note from the Ethics Office: political activity on the part of U.N. staff" -- instructing U.N. officials to refrain from overt politicking.
"In recent days, with breaking news coverage of political developments, we have noted an increase in enquiries about the scope of permissible political activity on the part of UN staff," according to the memo, posted by Joan Elise Dubinsky, the director of the U.N.'s ethics office. "We have received many questions on whether staff members may become involved in political activities. This message is intended to help you understand the scope of permitted political activity by staff members as international civil servants."
So here's a list of basic issues you would need to familiarize yourself with before you unfurl your national flag, head out into the town square, and express your hope for revolutionary change. The quotes are Dubinsky's; the snarky editorial comment is Turtle Bay's.
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In the past week, Tripoli has been sanctioned in the U.N. Security Council, suspended as a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council, and its ruling family is subject to an investigation by the International Criminal Court. Even the country's own diplomats don't want to have anything to do with the regime.
But it hasn't always been like that.
Until Muammar al-Qaddafi initiated an ongoing bloody crackdown against a nationwide series of protests, putting his own 41-year rule into jeopardy, Libya had been enjoying its status as a sort of United Nations all-star.
Less than six months ago, Libya held the presidency of the 192-member U.N. General Assembly, the world's most representative institution. Until the end of 2009, Libya served as a temporary member of the U.N. Security Council, a position that gave Qaddafi an influential role in negotiating disputes from Darfur to the Middle East. Until Tuesday, Libya was also a member in good standing at the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Once called an "evil man" by the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Qaddafi's government largely played to type through the 1970s and 1980s. Libya was an international rogue regime whose agents allegedly shot a British national near the Libyan Embassy in London, killed 2 U.S. Marines at a nightclub in Berlin, and orchestrated the destruction of French and American passenger planes.
The U.N. Security Council responded by imposing an air, arms, and partial oil equipment embargo on Libya in 1992 and 1993. In so doing, the U.N. hoped to compel Qaddafi's government to surrender two Libyan agents, including Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, to stand trial for their alleged role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, including 11 on the ground. The United States, meanwhile, successfully derailed Libya's attempts to secure leadership posts at the United Nations, effectively blocking its bids for a Security Council seat in 1995 and 2000.
But Qaddafi's relationship with the West thawed in the 1990s as the Libyan leader pursued international legitimacy by halting terrorist threats against the United States, expelling the Abu Nidal terrorist organization from Libya, and agreeing to cooperate with the pending Pan Am bombing trial. The Libyan leader also smoothed the way by agreeing to write a $2.7 billion check to cover the costs of a legal settlement that awarded $10 million to each relative of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing.
Qaddafi's rehabilitation started shortly thereafter, with diplomatic entreaties by Britain, which restored diplomatic relations in 1999. That same year, the Clinton administration agreed to allow the Security Council to suspend U.N. sanctions against Tripoli.
But it was the Bush administration that brought about the full restoration of diplomatic relations with Libya, removing it from a list of state sponsors of its terrorism and lifting a ban on American investments in Libya's oil fields. Secretary of State Colin Powell as well as his successor, Condoleezza Rice, held meetings in New York with high-level Libyan officials, including Qaddafi's son, Mutassim-Billah, and Musa Kusa, the Libyan intelligence chief who was once barred from the United States because of his suspected links to terrorist activities. Condoleezza Rice traveled to Libya in September 2008, meeting with Qaddafi in a building compound that was bombed by U.S. jets in 1986, killing one of Qaddafi's daughters.
For the Bush administration, Libya, which agreed to abandon a nascent nuclear weapons program, offered an example of America's willingness to make peace with its former adversaries.
Qaddafi intently leveraged his newfound relationship with the United States and other Western countries to secure a larger role on the diplomatic stage, culminating with his 2009 speech before the U.N. General Assembly.
Kathleen Flynn, whose son, J.P., died in the Pan Am attack, sat in the General Assembly visitors gallery as Libya received the support of 178 of 192 U.N. members in a secret ballot for its seat on the U.N. Security Council. "I thought it was a very sad day at the United Nations for us and for Americans in general," Flynn told me at the time. "We have now let a terrorist nation that blew up an American plane and killed 270 innocent people from 21 countries … have a seat on the U.N. Security Council."
Qaddafi's brutal crackdown in recent weeks has quickly sparked a consensus in Washington that Libya requires immediate regime change. "When the only way a leader can cling to power is by grossly and systematically violating his own people's human rights, he has lost any legitimacy to rule," Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in the General Assembly after Libya's membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council was suspended. "He must go, and he must go now."
Here are some recent highlights of the Qaddafi regime's tenure at the United Nations:
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While the U.N. Security Council spent last week debating sanctions and the pursuit of an investigation into crimes against humanity in Libya, the U.S. delegation had another idea on its mind. U.S. diplomats sought to insert language into the U.N. resolution on Libya that would have raised the possibility of an international military intervention, two Security Council members familiar with the discussions told Turtle Bay.
The U.S. amendment called for authorizing member states, working with the cooperation of the United Nations, to use "all means necessary to protect civilians and key installations." In the diplomatic terminology of U.N. resolutions, the phrase "all means necessary" has traditionally served as a code for military action.
The debate over the use of force unfolded behind closed doors last week as the Obama administration began exploring options for ensuring the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Libya. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will arrive in Washington on Monday to discuss international plans to address the worsening violence in Libya. Over the weekend, the U.S. held talks with Europe and other countries to explore the possibility of establishing a no-fly zone over Libya, according to a report in the New York Times.
One U.S. official, while declining to comment on confidential negotiations over the Security Council resolution, cautioned that the U.S. diplomatic effort in New York was purely humanitarian. "Our intention on any of the language that had to deal with this particular issue was humanitarian in nature. None of this has to do with putting U.S. boots on the ground."
The United States had hoped its amendment would be included in the resolution that was eventually unanimously adopted on Saturday by the U.N. Security Council resolution, which imposed a range of financial and military sanctions on the Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi and his closest associates, and authorized an investigation into crimes against humanity. The U.S. had conditioned its support for the sanctions resolution on the inclusion of another provision that ensured that no foreign nationals inside Libya would be subject to prosecution by the International Criminal Court, according to France's U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud.
The resolution's primarily goal is immunize non-Libyan nationals whose governments, like the United States, are not members of the criminal court in the event that they participate in a U.N. authorized operation in Libya. No such operation has been established, but the resolution suggests that the Western drafters of the resolution are considering it
The decisive provision was included in the final resolution at the insistence of "one country," Araud said Saturday night. "It was absolutely necessary for one country to have that, considering its parliamentary constrains. It was a red line for the United States, it was a deal breaker. This is the reason why we accepted this unanimously."
The U.S. provision allowing for the use of force, however, was shelved. Instead, Britain, which led the negotiations, proposed somewhat more cautious language, but still sweeping enough to allow Western powers to enter Libya with force. It proposed a provision authorizing states to "adopt all measures necessary" to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Western diplomats said the language was not intended to provide a legal basis for a military invasion in Libya, and that the U.S. and its European partners have no intention of entering the fighting in Libya. But they said they hoped it would provide their forces with some flexibility in the event that they had to go into Libya to secure a humanitarian relief operation or to ensure the delivery of medical supplies.
The dilemma is not entirely theoretical. Britain has docked the HMS Cumberland vessel at the port in renegade city Benghazi to evacuate British and other foreign nationals. The British RAF has also used Hercules aircraft in Libya to collect foreign oil workers. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, said on Saturday that the U.S. and its allies are exploring ways to support humanitarian assistance operations in Libya. They have not and are not likely in the future to secure approval from Qaddafi's government.
But the effort to secure legal cover for action inside Libya encountered implacable opposition from Russia. Russia's reservation over the Western approach dates back to the 2003 U.S. and British invasion of Iraq. In that case, the United States invoked the breach of a resolution twelve years after the fact - namely, the 1991 ceasefire resolution that ended the first Persian Gulf War by imposing a set of cumbersome disarmament obligations on Iraq.
"Resolution 687 imposed a series of obligations on Iraq, including, most importantly, extensive disarmament obligations, that were conditions of the cease-fire established under it," John Negroponte wrote in a letter to the U.N. Security Council after the U.S launched its military invasion. "Iraq continues to be in material breach of its disarmament obligations under resolution 687." (h/t to @lailaokabbaj for locating the Negroponte letter.)
Russia's U.N. ambassador at the time, Sergei Lavrov, who now serves as Russia's foreign minister, never forget the Anglo-American maneuver. He has insisted that all subsequent sanctions resolution -- all of which are adopted under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, the article that authorizes both sanctions and military force -- include a provision that expressly prohibits the use of military force.
The latest negotiations on the Libyan resolution were no different. In order to ensure Russian support for the resolution, Britain agreed to include a provision that explicitly prohibits the use of force to enforce the council's demands. "The legal trick that the allies tried to pull before the Iraq invasion is now tying their hand to intervene in Libyan," said Carne Ross, a former British diplomat who oversaw negotiations on Iraq before the war.
Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly claimed that Resolution 1970 would shield large numbers of foreign mercenaries operating on behalf of Qaddafi from possible prosecution by the International Criminal Court. However, it does not require countries that have not joined the ICC to surrender suspected criminals to the court if they flee Libya.
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Europeans powers introduced a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would impose a range of military and financial sanctions against President Muammar al-Qaddafi, his sons Saif and Mutassim, and his inner circle, and authorize the International Criminal Court to launch an investigation into possible war crimes during a bloody government crackdown on protesters demanding end to Qaddafi's 41 year rule.
The British led-initiative came as Libya's U.N. envoy, Abdurraham Mohamed Shalgam, broke ranks with the regime in an emotional address before the 15-nation council. Shalgam accused his longtime friend and mentor of giving the Libyan people the grim choice: "Either I rule you or I kill you."
Shalgam appealed to the council to intervene urgently to stop the continuing bloodshed, saying "I hope that within hours, not days, they can do something effective and tangible to stop" the killing. Shalgam said he believed Gaddafi's downfall was imminent and that his passage would mark a major turning point in the Middle East, ending an era of dictatorial rule."I tell my brother Gaddafi leave the Libyan people alone," said before breaking into tears and embracing other Arab ambassadors and the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
Ban provided a chilling briefing to the council on events on the ground in Libya, citing "credible and consistent" reports that Qaddafi's supporters were opening fire on civilians as they left their homes, conducting door to door searches for protesters, and entering hospitals to kill wounded civilians. He said that more than 1,000 Libyans have already been killed.
"The violence must stop," Ban told the council. "Those responsible for so brutally shedding the blood of innocents must be punished. It is time for the Security Council to consider concrete actions. The hours and the days ahead will be decisive for Libyans and their country.
After his speech, the council went into closed-door meetings to consider a Security Council resolution drafted by Britain after discussion with the United States, France, Germany and Portugal. The draft statement calls for the imposition of a comprehensive arms embargo on Libya, and proposes a set of targeted sanctions, including a travel ban and asset freeze, against Qaddafi, and about 20 relatives and members of his inner circle. The draft would also invite the International Criminal Court to carry out an investigation into war crimes in Libya during the latest turmoil.
It remained unclear whether Russia and China would block an international investigation. The draft resolution "calls for an immediate end to the violence and for steps to address the legitimate demands of the populations." It also calls upon the Libyan government to "act with restraint," provide "safe passage" to aid workers and medical supplies, lift "restrictions" on the media, and "ensure the safety of all foreign nationals and facilitate the departure of those wishing to leave the country."
France's U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, said that there is broad support in the council for the imposition of military, financial and travel sanctions. But he said the council has not achieved agreement on the proposal to authorize the ICC to investigate crimes. The council's experts will meet again at 9 am on Saturday to resume negotiations, and hold a more formal session of the Security Council at 11. Araud said he hope the council could adopt the resolution by tomorrow afternoon.
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The U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a European-drafted resolution condemning Muammar Qaddafi's government for its bloody crackdown on demonstrators and establishing a U.N. commission of inquiry to probe possible war crimes by Libyan authorities.
The meeting Friday marked the Geneva-based council's first emergency session to address serious human rights violations by one of its own members. It also provided the first clear sign that the popular uprisings in the Middle East are forcing governments to rethink their traditional alliances with autocratic governments such as Libya's that are facing existential threats to their rule.
In a sign of the changing times, the Libyan mission to the United Nations in Geneva broke ranks with the government in Tripoli. In an emotional speech before the council, a Libyan diplomat, Adel Shaltut, made it clear that his mission supported the demonstrators.
With other members standing at attention, the Libyan envoy called for a minute of silence "in honor of the revolution of February 17."
"The will of people is invincible. Our ancestors fought against the Italian fascist invaders. We are the grandchildren of these heroes. A new chapter is being written in blood," Shaltut said to applause. "Victory to the heroic people of Libya!"
"I wish to emphasize that we at the Libyan mission serve at the will of the Libyan people," he added. "We are their representatives."
The European-drafted resolution was adopted by consensus in the 47-member rights council, a reflection of the growing international isolation of Qaddafi's regime. African, Arab and European governments meanwhile are nearing agreement on a plan to convene a U.N. General Assembly session next week to suspend Libya's membership in the Human Rights Council.
"This is a unique example of unity of purpose, cutting across regional and political boundaries," Suzanne Nossel, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations, said in an e-mail from Geneva. "The Libyans' comments added a human dimension, reminding delegates that real lives are at stake."
Before the vote, Eileen Donahoe, the U.S. ambassador to U.N. Human Rights Council, said in a statement that Libya has a "responsibility to protect its population."
"It is failing to do so," she said. "In fact, it is attacking its population. By convening this session on an urgent basis this week, the international community is sending a strong, unified and clear message that the Libyan government's violations of human rights are clearly contrary to international norms and must end."
The statement -- which was adopted by consensus -- "strongly condemns the recent gross and systematic human rights violations committed in Libya . . . some of which may also amount to crimes against humanity." It also "strongly calls upon the government of Libya to meet its responsibility to protect its population" and "immediately put an end to all human rights violations."
The statement also demands "an independent, international commission of inquiry . . . to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya" and "calls upon the Libyan authorities to fully cooperate with the commission.:
The commission would be instructed to identify, where possible, "those responsible" for the crimes and "make recommendations, in particular, on accountability measures, all with a view to ensuring that those individuals responsible are held accountable."
While the draft statement does not identify a chief investigator, it calls on the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, and the U.N. secretariat to provide administrative support to the team.
The draft statement reflects the international anxiety over the plight of foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, urging the Libyan authorities to "ensure the safety of all civilians, including citizens of third countries" and to "facilitate the departure of those foreign nationals wishing to leave the country."
The Geneva debate comes just days after the U.N. Security Council issued a nonbinding statement condemning Libya's violent crackdown on Libyan protesters. The United States, Britain, France, Germany and other governments are now in negotiations over a binding Chapter 7 resolution that would condemn Libya's conduct and consider imposing unspecified sanctions on the regime.
In a Security Council session Thursday morning, Britain's U.N. ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, appealed to his council partners to consider applying greater pressure on Gaddafi's government, a council diplomat said. China and Russia said they wanted to first hear more credible information on events on the ground from the U.N. secretariat before considering next steps. But they did not block further action on the matter.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was expected to brief the council Friday on developments in the Libyan conflict.
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As Libya's leader Muammar al-Qaddafi vowed today to escalate his campaign to crush the popular uprising that threatens his rule, the country's cadre of once loyal foreign envoys began offering up resignations and challenging the strongman's decision to crack down violently on civilians. In the past 24 hours, Libyan diplomats posted in the United States, the United Nations, the Arab League, Australia, Bangladesh, and Indonesia have either stepped down or broken ranks with what one Libyan envoy called the "dictatorship regime."
But one prominent Libyan diplomat, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgam, Libya's U.N. envoy, stood up for Libya's self-styled Leader and Guide of the Revolution even as he acknowledged his government's role in killing civilians. "I am still with Qaddafi. He is my friend," Shalgam, an old schoolmate of Qaddafi and member of his inner circle, told reporters. "I am not one of those who would kiss his hands and his feet in the daytime and denounce him at night."
Only yesterday, Shalgam appeared to have surrendered control of Libya's diplomatic mission at the United Nations to his deputy, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who turned against Qaddafi on Monday. In a hastily arranged press conference at the Libyan mission, Dabbashi, acting as Libya's chargé d'affaires, accused Qaddafi of planning genocide and mounted a diplomatic campaign for foreign intervention in Libya to halt the bloodshed. It was in response to Dabbashi's request for action that the U.N. Security Council met today to condemn the violent crackdown on protesters.
This morning, Dabbashi showed up at an informal session of the U.N. Security Council, where he lobbied members of the world's premier security body to intervene to stop Qaddafi's forces from killing Libyan protesters. The council agreed to his request to hold an urgent emergency session of the Security Council later in the afternoon. "I have already asked a no-fly zone, a safe passage for the medical supplies, and also the lifting of restriction on the media, and also to investigate the crimes," he told reporters.
Dabbashi's challenge to the Libyan regime provided the strongest evidence yet that Qaddafi's loyalists are breaking ranks. It also raised questions about the fate of Shalgam, Qaddafi's former foreign minister, who had been missing in action for days. Asked early yesterday about his whereabouts, Dabbashi told reporters: "I think he is in New York and he is not working."
But shortly after Dabbashi spoke, Shalgam unexpectedly showed up at U.N. headquarters, where he defended Qaddafi's historical role in overthrowing the Libyan monarchy and upholding the country's independence, saying that his leader had ended Libyans' "slavery" from foreign occupiers. He also made it clear that he, not Dabbashi, would address the council in the afternoon session.
Diplomats said that Shalgam was highly emotional, breaking down into tears in a private room outside the Security Council and struggling to maintain his composure as he briefed U.N.-based reporters. "He was ashen faced," said one observer. "He looked like the collapse of the regime was weighing heavily on him."
The reappearance of Shalgam came as the U.N. Security Council -- convening its first emergency meeting since a series of uprisings toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt -- condemned the "use of force against civilians" in Libya and "deplored the repressions against peaceful demonstrators." The council also called for Libyan authorities to act with restraint, respect human rights, allow press freedom, and provide access to international human rights investigators and aid workers. The council, however, stopped short of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya or authorizing an international investigation into war crimes by Libyan authorities, measures that had been backed by Dabbashi, but opposed by Shalgam.
In sometimes contradictory remarks, Shalgam told reporters that he believed his government was responsible for killing civilians, yet also insisted that Qaddafi's government was prepared to end the violence within 24 hours. He also denied reports that foreign mercenaries and the Libyan Air Force had fired on protesters. "That's not true. I ask my brother. He is in Tripoli. He told me there is no air bombing. There are no mercenaries. There are people from the south of Libya who are brown like me."
Asked who was responsible for killing protesters, he said: "All the regime is responsible. I am one from the regime. All of us are responsible." Shalgam said that he had personally appealed to his colleagues in Tripoli to end the government crackdown on civilians. "I am speaking every hour with Libya on the ground, the prime minister, with the leadership in Libya, the foreign minister; I am asking them to stop this escalation, this bloodshed, and they are listening to me." Shalgam said he had not spoken directly to Qaddafi, but that he was attempting to appeal directly to the Libyan leader to show restraint. "I [would] ask him to stop the crackdown. I [would] ask him to change. I [would] ask him for a constitution, for freedom. I am trying to reach him."
Shalgam's staff at Libya's mission to the United Nations was clearly not listening to his appeal. For more than 24 hours, Dabbashi, who served as the Libyan chargé d'affaires until Shalgam's return today, had been lobbying the U.N. membership to come to Libya's rescue.
"Tripoli is in control of the mercenaries, and they are shooting anybody who goes to the streets in Tripoli," Dabbashi told reporters today. "The whole area of the main square of Tripoli is controlled by the mercenaries. Now they are trying to have a propaganda campaign against the facts. I am sure they will not succeed. They will try their best to show that Tripoli is under control and that Qaddafi is safe and he is in full control of the country. Don't believe him. They are shooting everybody in the streets of Tripoli."
U.N. Undersecretary for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe told reporters that a group of about 30 U.N. employees in Tripoli were unable to confirm reports that aircraft were used to kill civilians. But he said U.N. staff did see Libyan aircraft and helicopters flying over the capital. Pascoe said that the U.N. couldn't confirm the presence of foreign mercenaries. But he said there was widespread belief among many Libyans that Qaddafi had recruited foreign mercenaries. Pascoe also said the U.N. was very concerned about Qaddafi's public address today, saying, "I think anyone that is inciting the population against themselves, asking some people to attack other people, is a very dangerous thing.… [We are] quite concerned about threats of various kinds of retaliation that was in that speech. Frankly, I found it a huge concern."
Despite their differences, Shalgam and Dabbashi stopped short of criticizing one another, saying they both simply held different opinions on tragic events unfolding in their homeland. After reporters informed him that Shalgam had returned to the U.N. and planned to address the Security Council in a special session, Dabbashi -- who said initially that he had planned to address the council -- deferred to Shalgam.
"He's not with Qaddafi to kill the people. For moral reasons, he has worked with Qaddafi for a long time," Dabbashi said in defense of his senior colleague. "For us as Muslims, when you have a friend, it is very bad … to come [to] a certain moment and say that you are against them. So for moral reasons he doesn't want to mention Col. Qaddafi, but he's completely against what he's doing now. I'm sure when he speaks in the Security Council this afternoon, he will speak much stronger in defense of the Libyan people."
But Dabbashi made sure he had the last word. After the council issued its statements, Dabbashi returned to the press stakeout, claiming he had received fresh evidence that Qaddafi had launched a new campaign of killing today in western Libya. "I think the genocide started now in Libya," Dabbashi told reporters. "The Qaddafi statement was just a code for his collaborators to start the genocide against the Libyan people.… I hope the information I get is not accurate. If is it right it will be a real genocide."
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The Obama administration on Friday cast its first ever veto in the U.N. Security Council, blocking a Palestinian backed draft resolution that denounced Israel's settlement policy as an illegal obstacle to peace efforts in the Middle East.
The U.S. vote killed off a resolution that enjoyed overwhelming backing at the United Nations, securing 14 votes in favor in the 15-nation council, and isolated the United States on a crucial Middle East matter at a time of political upheaval in the region.
U.S. ambassador Susan E. Rice said that the U.S. veto should not be seen as an endorsement of Israeli's settlement policies, which the Obama administration has repeatedly denounced. But she said the adoption of the resolution "risks hardening the positions of both sides" and undermining U.S. led efforts to pursue a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
"We reject in the strongest term the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity," Rice said after the vote. "For more than four decades, Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 has undermined Israel's security and corroded hopes for peace and security in the region. Continued settlement activity violates Israel international commitments, devastates trust between the parties, and threatens the prospects of peace."
The U.S. action brought an end to an urgent last minute diplomatic campaign, involving conversations between President Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to convince the Palestinians to drop their resolution in favor of a milder statement rebuking Israel for constructing new settlements in seized Arab lands.
It was the first time that the U.S. government has cast its veto in the Security since 2006, when the Bush Administration vetoed a resolution calling for a halt to Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip.
The diplomatic dispute played out against a backdrop of deepening political crisis in the Arab world, as governments in Algeria, Bahrain and Libya have used force to put down protesters. The United States, which has sought to identify itself with the demonstrations aspirations for freedom, may see its standing bruised by the veto.
The defeated resolution reaffirmed that all Israeli settlements established since 1967 "are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace." It also demands that Israel "cease all settlement activities.
On Tuesday, the U.S. offered to support a presidential statement saying that Israel's ongoing settlement activities lacked legitimacy. The U.S. also pledged to consider undertaking the first visit by the U.N. Security Council to the Middle East since 1979, and including a strong language in a future Middle Quarter statement asserting that peace talks need to proceed on the basis of the 1967 borders.
The Palestinians rejected the compromise as inadequate. Efforts by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to convince the Palestinian leader to abandon the resolution and support a compromise failed.
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Conservative Republicans today lined up together to denounce the Obama administration's offer to support a U.N. statement criticizing Israel's settlement policies.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the Chair of the House Foreign Affair's Committee, issued a statement that read:"Support for this anti-Israel statement is a major concession to enemies of the Jewish State and other free democracies. It telegraphs that the U.S. can be bullied into abandoning critical democratic allies and core U.S. principles."
But the Bush administration has also joined with its U.N. colleagues in urging Israel to stop its construction of new buildings. None other than John R. Bolton, one of Israel's most enthusiastic champions, urged an end to Israel's settlements policies while serving as president of the Security Council in February 2006, just days after an electoral victory by Hamas fueled concerns of instability in the region.
"The Security Council underlines the need for the Palestinian Authority to prevent terrorist attacks and dismantle the infrastructure of terror," Bolton said in a statement on behalf of the 15-nation council. "It reiterates its view that settlement expansion must stop and its concern regarding the route of the barrier."
So what does Bolton think now about the latest U.S. move? Earlier today, Bolton tweeted: "Obama's reported offer to rebuke Israel in UN Security Council will embolden Israel's enemies at time of dangerous instability in region."
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The Obama administration continued today to search for a way out of a diplomatic impasse that could prompt it to cast its first ever veto in the U.N. Security Council to kill a Palestinian-backed resolution that would declare Israel's settlement activities illegal. On Thursday, President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, to discuss the possibility of brokering a compromise before a vote on Friday.
Last night, the Palestinian envoy, Ryad Mansour, rejected a U.S. offer to support a weaker U.N. statement that criticized ongoing Israeli settlements as lacking "legitimacy" and to discuss the prospects of a Security Council visit to the Middle East for the first time since 1979.
The U.S. overture -- which I detailed in a post last night -- has set off a political firestorm in Washington, where conservatives have accused the administration of betraying America's closest Middle East ally. "The Obama administration has shown an astonishing unwillingness to stand by Israel at the United Nations, an organization with a long history of blaming Israel for just about every problem in the Middle East," said Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who is currently exploring a bid to become the Republican presidential nominee for 2012. "It's time for our U.N. ambassador to finally show some leadership, draw a line in the sand, and defend out historic ally."
Liberals have countered that the U.S. initiative was actually good for the Israelis and bad for the Palestinians. One advocate of the Palestinians, Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the Palestine Center, a think tank in Washington, explained that the U.S. statement would have undermined the Palestinian diplomatic strategy of basing its negotiations on international law and dealt considerable political harm to the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.
Manayyer said the Palestinian push for a Security Council resolution is part of a broader "alternative strategy" -- which includes a parallel effort to encourage countries to recognize Palestine as an independent state. That strategy, he said, has grown out of frustration with the failure to achieve the goal of statehood through U.S.-brokered talks with Israel. "This was a way for the United States to duck once again the Palestinians' demand to base negotiations on international law," he said. "So watering this down to a presidential statement that repeats vague language that avoids definitive language on the legality of settlements completely derails the Palestinians' alternative strategy...this is just another nail in the coffin."
In some ways, however, the public debate over the U.S. negotiations in New York have centered more on the stark headlines and less on the more nuanced substance of the actual story. In that spirit, I thought it would be worth reiterating what my story said and what it didn't:
For several weeks, the U.S. had refused to engage the Palestinians or any other Security Council member on the Palestinian draft resolution declaring the Israeli settlements illegal, making it clear it would veto the resolution if it were put to a vote. The U.S. argued forcefully that the question of Israel's settlement activities, which it had publicly criticized, had no business being discussed inside the Security Council, because they claim it would involve too many players in a necessarily delicate peace process.
It had also reacted coolly to an earlier proposal by Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin to organize a rare U.N. Security Council visit to the region, what would have been the first since 1979. Other council members saw the Russian initiative as a challenge to American leadership in the Middle East, an acknowledgement that the latest U.S.-led peace process, begun in the early days of the Obama administration, was at a dead end.
Last evening, I reported that the U.S. had for the first time offered the Palestinians and its Arab supporters a compromise proposal. It would support a weaker "presidential statement" -- Security Council statements carry less political and legal weight than resolutions -- that criticized Israel's settlement policies, noting that the U.N. "does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity." It also offered to begin discussions about a possible Security Council visit (the Russian proposal), and to include tough language on the settlements in the next statement from the Mideast Quartet.
Our first headline of the evening took an aggressive view of this news: "In major reversal, U.S. to rebuke Israel," setting off pushback from some interested readers, who complained that it might be misinterpreted as a major policy shift from the U.S. toward Israeli settlement (which it isn't), or that it might lead readers to think that Washington was, after all changing its mind, and backing a resolution (which it didn't).
The headline implied the possibility of a stronger shift than what I reported in my story. I suggested a little softening, replacing the word "major" with "sharp" and adding the word "agrees" to reflect the fact that there was no conclusive deal at the time of publication. The headline now reads: "In sharp reversal, U.S. agrees to rebuke Israel."
As it stands, the title is a bit flashy, but accurate. It's true that the U.S. statement on settlements was no more harsh than what the U.S. has said repeatedly in public. But the U.S. had abruptly reversed its opposition to taking action in the Security Council on Israel's settlement activities. And a U.N. statement portraying Israel's settlement activities as illegitimate, if not illegal, can hardly be seen as not criticizing Israel.
Then I got Drudged. Diplomatic developments in New York were moving fast when we posted the story last evening. A couple of hours later, the Palestinians emerged from a meeting of the Arab Group claiming that they had rejected the U.S. offer for being too weak, and pressed for a vote on the original resolution on Friday. We duly updated the story and the headlines to reflect the developments. In the meantime, Politico and the Drudge Report linked to my story -- with headlines of their own that were more sensational that what we had settled on at FP -- sending an avalanche of readers to my blog. Despite efforts by my editors to get Drudge to update the headline -- "USA to Rebuke Israel" -- it remained up on the website earlier this afternoon, more than 12 hours after the U.S. plan was rejected.
Washington is still hoping to broker a deal, in hopes of avoiding having to veto a Palestine-initiated resolution, but it's unclear whether the gap between the U.S. and Arab bloc negotiating positions can be bridged before Friday's vote.
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The U.S. informed Arab governments Tuesday that it will support a U.N. Security Council statement reaffirming that the 15-nation body "does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity," a move aimed at avoiding the prospect of having to veto a stronger Palestinian resolution calling the settlements illegal.
But the Palestinians rejected the American offer following a meeting late Wednesday of Arab representatives and said it is planning to press for a vote on its resolution on Friday, according to officials familar with the issue. The decision to reject the American offer raised the prospect that the Obama adminstration will cast its first ever veto in the U.N. Security Council.
Still, the U.S. offer signaled a renewed willingness to seek a way out of the current impasse, even if it requires breaking with Israel and joining others in the council in sending a strong message to its key ally to stop its construction of new settlements. U.S. officials were not available for comment, but two Security Council diplomats confirmed the proposal.
The Palestinian delegation, along with Lebanon, the Security Council's only Arab member state, asked the council's president late Wednesday to schedule a meeting for Friday. But it remained unclear whether the Palestinian move today to reject the U.S. offer is simply a negotiating tactic aimed at extracting a better deal from Washington.
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, outlined the new U.S. offer in a closed door meeting on Tuesday with the Arab Group, a bloc of Arab countries from North Africa and the Middle East. In exchange for scuttling the Palestinian resolution, the United States would support the council statement, consider supporting a U.N. Security Council visit to the Middle East, the first since 1979, and commit to supporting strong language criticizing Israel's settlement policies in a future statement by the Middle East Quartet.
The U.S.-backed draft statement -- which was first reported by Al Hurra -- was obtained by Turtle Bay. In it, the Security Council "expresses its strong opposition to any unilateral actions by any party, which cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community, and reaffirms that it does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is a serious obstacle to the peace process." The statement also condemns "all forms of violence, including rocket fire from Gaza, and stresses the need for calm and security for both peoples."
U.S. officials argue that the only way to resolve the Middle East conflict is through direct negotiations involving Israel and the Palestinians. For weeks, the Obama administration has refused to negotiate with the Palestinians on a resolution condemning the settlements as illegal, signaling that they would likely veto it if it were put to a vote. The Palestinians were planning to put the resolution to a vote later this week. But Security Council statements of the sort currently under consideration are voted on the bases of consensus in the 15-nation council.
The United States has, however, been isolated in the 15-nation council. Virtually all 14 other member states are prepared to support the Palestinian resolution, according to council diplomats. A U.N. Security Council resolution generally carries greater political and legal force than a statement from the council's president.
The U.S. concession comes as the Middle East is facing a massive wave of popular demonstrations that have brought down the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and are posing a challenge to governments in Algeria, Bahrain, and Iran.
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One year ago, at the suggestion of my editors at Foreign Policy, I established a Twitter account associated with my blog, Turtle Bay. I obliged the request, but as a longtime newspaper reporter, I was skeptical that having access to a series of 140 character missives would change the way I report the news. Simply put, I was wrong. I've been covering the United Nations for over a decade, but joining Twitter gradually changed the way I cover my beat. Following the latest events in Egypt, I'm reminded that those changes are for the better and worse.
For news junkies, Twitter's speedy and efficient dissemination of information is hard to match. I used to keep an eye on the news wires, but they can't keep up with the mix of content -- news stories from the mainstream press, analytical articles from out-of-the-way places, and specialty blog posts that I'd never have known to look for -- that my Twitter feed curates for me. And I've learned that my followers -- a modest, but sophisticated, group of nearly 2,000 -- are themselves an able source for my reporting. They've directed me to important public documents, challenged my reporting, and answered oddball questions that Google couldn't. Where else can you put out a request for the correct name of Burma's traditional pink turban and get an answer within five minutes? (It's called a khaung paung.)
Read the rest of my article on the FP homepage, or click here.
Egypt's influential U.N. ambassador, Maged Abdelaziz, rebuked U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for repeatedly scolding Hosni Mubarak's government for its handling of the country's mass protests, an Egyptian official told Turtle Bay.
"The secretary general has basically raised the bar in his comments about events in Egypt, well above the remarks made by other member states, including those critics of Egypt," Nihal Saad, spokeswoman for the Egyptian mission to the U.N. said in an interview. "He doesn't miss a chance to criticize what has been going on in Egypt."
Adelaziz conveyed the official complaint in a phone call this week to Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, a former Indian diplomat. Abdelaziz is expected to meet with Ban after the secretary general returns from a weeklong trip on Monday. Egypt's complaint, which was first reported by Reuters, came on a day when Ban reiterated his public criticism of the Egyptian government, urging an end to attacks on reporters and calling for an acceleration of the country's political transition.
"We have seen too much violence [over] the last few days and also bloodshed," Ban said at a press conference in Berlin with German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle. "Now is the time for Egyptians to begin a process of peaceful and orderly transition leading to free and fair elections respecting the genuine will of the Egyptian people expressed so far through their demonstrations."
The U.N.'s human rights advocate, Navi Pillay, also took as swipe at Mubarak on Friday, challenging the Egyptian president's claim that he needs to remain in power to prevent his his country from descending into chaos. "In the last two days we have seen chaos in central Cairo, and one of the prime drivers of this chaos seems to have been the actions of Egypt's security and intelligence services," Pillay said. "Stability depends on the development of human rights and democracy."
Pillay called for an investigation to determine who was behind the attacks on protesters in Tahrir Square earlier this week, and called for the immediate release of journalists and human rights activists. "We now see there is an intense hunger for human rights in the Middle East and North Africa -- and of course in other countries in other regions," she said. "Governments who ignore these extremely loud and clear warning signals, are doing so at their own peril."
Saad, spokeswoman for the Egyptian U.N. Delegation, said it was particularly galling than Ban has been hammering away at the Egyptian government every day in his public comments. She said that although she wouldn't characterize Abdelaziz's criticism of the U.N. chief as a formal protest, she said her boss "complained about the language that the secretary general has used, especially the fact that it was repetitive. He was repeating it over and over."
The Egyptian may have also been dismayed to hear that the U.N. has newly resumed broadcasting Al Jazeera English, which has provided extensive coverage of the protests, on its internal television circuit. The feed had been cut last year when the U.N. press corps moved their bureaus to make way for a major renovation of the U.N.'s landmark headquarters. Al Jazeera's engineers restored the connection Friday.
The sharp public rebukes contrasted sharply with the inaction of the U.N. Security Council. Council diplomats said there was virtually no appetite for any discussion of Egypt in the council, and that the United States, which is intimately involved in helping to fashion a transitional government in Egypt, has no interest in involving the council. Washington's European allies have concurred, noting that China and Russia view the turmoil in Egypt as a purely domestic dispute and would almost certainly block any effort by the U.N. to force Mubarak from power.
Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin, told reporters Friday that the U.N.'s mandate "does not include advice to political leaders." "There are some extremely delicate domestic political matters, and I think that should be left for the sovereign states to deal with," Churkin added.
Critics said the council's failure to condemn the apparent government-sponsored violence made it complicit in the abuses. "There is no preordained rule that says the Council cannot discuss internal issues," said Carne Ross, a former British diplomat who serves as Executive Director of Independent Diplomat, a New York based organization that provides diplomatic advice to independence movements. "It has discussed other 'domestic' issues before -- in Burma for instance. It has frequently proclaimed its intent that civilians be protected."
But others wondered whether it made sense to address the Egyptian crisis. "In an ideal world, we would want the Security Council to unequivocally warn Egyptian authorities that violence against peaceful demonstrators will not be tolerated, but we are painfully aware that it's not the way it would play out," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. " Veto powers like Russia and China have time and again opposed taking up massive abuses in the Council like those in Sri Lanka or Zimbabwe, in part because they want to avoid scrutiny of their own abusive records."
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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned today's attacks by pro-government mobs on peaceful Egyptian protesters as "unacceptable," called on security forces and demonstrators to show restraint and warned that the world should "not underestimate the danger of instability across the Middle East."
Ban's remarks, made to reporters following a meeting in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron, came one day after the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, urged the Egyptians authorities to "avoid excessive use of force" against "peaceful" demonstrators. The Geneva-based rights advocate also called for investigations into the police's handling of the crisis, and criticized Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's government for demonstrating through 30 years of iron-fisted rule that "human rights have not been one of its prime concerns."
The combined remarks of the top U.N. officials marked an escalation in the organization's criticism of President Mubarak's handling of the current crisis, and offered moral support for the protesters who came under attack by Mubarak's loyalists. While Ban and Pillay stopped short of calling on Mubarak to step down, their remarks constituted an extraordinary public rebuke of the leader of a country that wields enormous political influence and power in the United Nations.
But the tough talk masked an essentially tentative substantive approach by the U.N. leadership to the popular uprisings sweeping across Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and the broader Arab world. After six weeks of near-daily protests in the region, Ban has still not yet convened his top advisors for a major strategy session on the crisis.
U.N. policy advisors, unlike their counterparts in Washington, have not met with Middle East experts to discuss the crisis. Only on Tuesday did the U.N.'s top communications officials meet with the organization's senior political advisors for the first time.
In the meantime, Ban's chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, and other top U.N. political advisors have counseled a cautious approach to the crisis, arguing in closed door meetings that it would not be appropriate for the United Nations to initiate bold ideas or proposals in an effort to shape the outcome of events or to be seen taking sides in a fluid political crisis whose outcome remains unclear. These officials maintain that the U.N. can only maintain its relevance over the medium- and long-term if it scrupulously avoids taking sides in the region. The most that Ban and other select officials should be doing, according to these officials, is offer broad public statements that endorse basic human rights.
Nambiar's approach has frustrated other U.N. officials, particularly within the communications division, who have been pressing for a tougher response to Mubarak's rule, and counseling the U.N. leadership to more closely align itself with the protesters. The U.N., they argue, needs to be positioned on what they see as the right side of history if or when Mubarak and other Arab autocrats fall.
Critics within the organization say that the U.N. leadership's caution is fueled by a fear of undertaking a politically risky initiative in a year when Ban is seeking reelection for a second term. They also note that the U.N. is concerned about upsetting other Middle East governments, including Saudi Arabia, which staunchly support Mubarak.
A deeper problem, they note, is that the U.N. lacks the intellectual expertise. None of the senior advisors in Ban's office are Arabic speaking, and none of the five top key policy makers in the Department of Political Affairs, which is taking the lead in fashioning the U.N. response, speak Arabic.
"These guys want to wait and see how this shakes out. They are not willing to stick their necks out because they don't know where this will end up, and they don't want to piss anybody off, particularly in an election year," one U.N. official said of Ban's top advisors. "If we were serious we would at least be briefing senior staff members on the crisis, hosting a panel of wise men, or bringing in experts from DC or from New York's foreign policy community. We're not doing that."
Ban's defenders say that the perception of U.N. inaction has been driven more by the fact that Ban has been traveling abroad, where he has been closely monitoring events in the Middle East and consulting with top regional representatives and advisors accompanying him on the trip. They say many of his critics in New York are not privy to those discussions.
U.N. officials also say that, even in the absence of a broadly coordinated strategy, there have been a number of individual initiatives from the organization in response to the crisis, including an offer to provide electoral assistance to Tunisia.
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The life of Mohamed ElBaradei was upended dramatically this past week: where the Nobel-Prize winning former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief was recently living the life of a retired bureaucrat, he is now a potential power broker in Egypt's most volatile political crisis in a generation.
Egypt's disparate opposition leaders and protesters, including Ayman Nour, a prominent human rights lawyer who was imprisoned after running for president in 2005, and the Muslim Brotherhood -- Egypt's Islamist opposition group -- have rallied behind ElBaradei, 68, as a common representative in possible talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's embattled government. That type of high-stakes national diplomacy would be unfamiliar territory for ElBaradei, the one-time legal scholar.
ElBaradei's sudden emergence as a national consensus figure has caught many international observers by surprise. It has also prompted American policy makers to go silent, fearing that any public U.S. support for ElBaradei or any other potential Egyptian leader could undermine prospects for unifying the country.
"They are really, really trying hard not to personalize and not to focus on individuals," said Marc Lynch, an associate professor at George Washington University and Foreign Policy blogger who was briefed today by White House officials on the administration's Egypt policy. "They are bending over backwards not to be seen as appointing the next president of Egypt." But ElBaradei, he notes, is "extremely well placed to reassure all constituencies which need reassuring that he is not likely to stick around for ever and be the next Mubarak."
During his 12 years as the U.N.'s top nuclear watchdog, ElBaradei has tangled with some of the world's toughest rogue regimes, including Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran and Kim Jong il's North Korea -- and butted heads with the Bush administration over its approach to Iraq and Iran. Throughout, ElBaradei has demonstrated a commitment to some basic principles that may inform his current role. Foremost among them are a belief in the power of diplomacy to persuade one's adversaries (as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, he eschewed coercion in his dealings with the Iranian nuclear program), and the importance of standing up to powerful interests (principally the United States, which wanted to take a more concertedly hard-line against alleged proliferators during his tenure at the U.N).
But ElBaradei is a virtual political unknown inside Egypt. His foreign pedigree adds to suspicions that the U.S.-educated official is a tool of the United States and other Western powers. Since he departed his Vienna home and arrived in Egypt last week, ElBaradei has sought to burnish his national standing, joining the protesters in Tahrir Square and sharply criticizing the Obama administration's handling of the crisis in Egypt, striking a tone that is likely to garner support among the protesters. "It is better for President Obama not to appear that he is the last one to say to President Mubarak, it's time for you to go," ElBaradei said recently.
ElBaradei, who served as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from Dec. 2007 to Nov. 2009, is best known in the West for challenging the Bush administration's claim that Saddam Hussein was actively pursuing a secret nuclear weapons program on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But he also infuriated American conservatives, most notably former U.N. ambassador John R. Bolton, for using his personal prestige at the nuclear agency to pursue a diplomatic settlement of the nuclear crisis with Tehran.
That stance prompted the Bush administration, led by Bolton, to oppose his bid in 2005 for a second term at IAEA and, paradoxically, likely secured his legacy as a Nobel laureate. "Mr. Bolton overstepped his bounds in his moves and gyrations to try to keep ElBaradei from being reappointed as [IAEA] head," says Lawrence Wilkerson, an advisor at the time to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Bolton was "going out of his way to badmouth him, to make sure that everybody knew that the maximum power of the United States would be brought to bear against them if he were brought back in," Wilkerson recalls. In awarding the prize, which ElBaradei shared with the IAEA, the Nobel committee said he "stood as an unafraid advocate" for the use of diplomacy, rather than force, in the effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
ElBaradei entered Eygptian politics only after retiring from the United Nations. In Dec. 2009, ElBaradei, then 67, announced plans to consider a presidential run in 2011, but only if Mubarak's government provided "guarantees of fairness," including a role for U.N. observers. In Feb. 2009, ElBaradei arrived in Cairo for a visit and received a jubilant reception.
"I would like to be, at this time, an agent to push Egypt toward a more democratic and transparent regime, with all of its implications for the rest of the Arab world," ElBaradei said in an interview in Jan. 2010, with Foreign Policy's David Kenner. "If I am able to do that, I will be very happy because we need to achieve democracy in the Arab world as fast as we can."
Observers say that Elbaradei's political performance in recent weeks, while generating widespread attention from international media who have followed his tweets and interviews in prominent Western publications, did little to secure a grass roots following, though his standing was boosted when the regime briefly placed him under house arrest last week. "There was not a lot of excitement when he showed up," says Michael Wahid Hanna, an expert on Egypt at the Century Foundation. "He's not a populist leader; he's not charismatic -- he's stiff out there."
ElBaradei's lack of charisma notwithstanding, many of Egypt's time pro-democracy activists resent that he has spent so much time outside the country, while they were doing the hard work of pressing for democracy at home. "It's a legitimate complaint," Hanna says. "But a constellation of opposition figures glommed onto him as a tactical way to influence the United States and to dampen down the concerns about all hell breaking loose after Mubarak."
Hanna and other observers say that ElBaradei will have limited scope to pursue his own personal vision, noting that other leaders of the protest movement hold the power to block any deal not to their liking. "A lot of people in the West are rushing to this story, but we run the risk of inflating him more than is warranted," Hanna says. "He doesn't have any moral authority to dictate to the protesters what sort of deal may be acceptable."
Still, ElBaradei could play a vital role as a unifying figure for many of same reasons he never emerged as a credible national leader. "He's the perfect person," says Marc Lynch. "He's not affiliated with any political trends, he's kind of old and he is well known in Western capitals -- he can reassure," says Lynch. "The only other alternative seems to be someone like Omar Suleiman, which would be a disaster." Mubarak appointed Suleiman, his former intelligence chief, vice-president this week. But the appointment of a Mubarak loyalist has done little to quell the protests.
The sudden political rise of ElBaradei has divided American conservatives, who had traditionally vilified him for advocating a soft diplomatic approach toward Iraq and Iran. Bolton remains unconverted. "This is not the solution to Egypt's problems," Bolton told Turtle Bay. "In Egyptian terms he's a political dilettante, he's been overseas much of his career, and he has as much of a political following in Egypt as I do.... I think he has already demonstrated that through his time at the IAEA his anti-Americanism. And I think we should see that reflected in any ElBaradei involvement in Egypt."
Danielle Pletka, a foreign and defense policy scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, suggested that ElBaradei's commitment to democratic reform in Egypt be taken into account. "ElBaradei has many weaknesses, including an ego the size of all outdoors, but he has done nothing to prove he is against democracy, and his job is to work for the Egyptian people, not for us," she told Turtle Bay.
Benny Avni, a conservative Israeli-American commentator, wrote in the New York Post that ElBaradei may be the "least bad option to ensure that Egypt doesn't fall into the hands of fanatical Islamists forces the way Iran did 30 years ago."
"President Obama may want to use his considerable influence over the army to facilitate the rise of a long-time American foe, Mohamed ElBaradei," Avni wrote. "Why not set up a meeting: Mohamed, say hello to Generals Tantawi and Enan. Generals, this is ElBaradei, Now play nice, be friends and we'll continue our support of Egypt."
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Richard Falk, the U.N. rights researcher who provoked fury from the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon for saying the U.S. government and media had apparently covered up evidence challenging the official U.S. claim that the terrorist group Al Qaeda carried out the 911 terror attacks, says he was misunderstood.
"I wish to be absolutely clear," Falk said in a statement. "I do not endorse the theory that the U.S. government orchestrated the 9/11 attacks. What I did do, in my personal blog, in which I was discussing the differing perceptions that develop after political assassinations and deeply tragic events, including the murder of Olaf Palme, the 9/11 attacks and the recent killing in Arizona, was argue that investigations must be seen to be, transparent, exhaustive and honest.
The dispute arose over Falk's blog post on 911 on government's propensity for secrecy in the face of awkward truths. Here's the passage that got Falk into hot water:
The arguments swirling around the 9/11 attacks are emblematic of these issues. What fuels suspicions of conspiracy is the reluctance to address the sort of awkward gaps and contradictions in the official explanations that David Ray Griffin(and other devoted scholars of high integrity) have been documenting in book after book ever since his authoritative The New Pearl Harbor in 2004 (updated in 2008). What may be more distressing than the apparent cover up is the eerie silence of the mainstream media, unwilling to acknowledge the well-evidenced doubts about the official version of the events: an al Qaeda operation with no foreknowledge by government officials. Is this silence a manifestation of fear or cooption, or part of an equally disturbing filter of self-censorship? Whatever it is, the result is the withering away of a participatory citizenry and the erosion of legitimate constitutional government. The forms persist, but the content is missing.
After the post, Hillel C. Neuer, the executive director of U.N. Wacth, sent a letter to Ban Ki moon condemning the remarks, and calling for Falk's removal. "As he did again this month, Mr. Falk has repeatedly called into question the fact that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were indeed terrorist attacks," Neuer said in prepared testimony before the House Foreign Relations Committee Monday. "Instead he calls for exploring the possibility that 9/11 was an "inside job"carried out by the U.S. government."
Ban quickly condemned Falk's blog posting. Addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva Monday, Ban said: " I condemn this sort of inflammatory rhetoric. It is preposterous -- an affront to the memory of the more than 3,000 people who died in that tragic attack."
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called for Falk's removal. "Mr. Falk endorses the slurs of conspiracy theorists who allege that the September, 2001, terrorists attack were perpetrated and then covered up by the U.S. government and media," she said."In my view, Mr. Falk's latest commentary is so noxious that it should finally be plain to all that he should no longer continue in his position on behalf of the UN."
Falk, who serves as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestininian Territories Occupied Since 1967, claimed "the pro-Israel group, UN Watch..deliberately distorted comment I made my personal capacity, on my blog," to have him fired from his unpaid job. In a blog post Thursday, he accused Neuer of "publicly attacking me in consistently irresponsible and untruthful ways, presumably with the intention of diverting attention from my criticisms of Israel's occupation policies in the Palestinian territories."
In response, U.N. Watch issued a statement saying "Mr. Falk's ad hominem attacks on UN Watch are a pathetic attempt to divert attention from his own action...By attempting to justify his despicable denial of Al Qaeda's carrying-out of the 9/11 attacks as a mere call for “investigations,” Mr. Falk resorts to the same transparent tactics used by Iran's Ahmadinejad and other hate-mongers who seek to deny other great atrocities of history, each with their own hateful political agenda."
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Though the political unrest sweeping across Egypt, and other parts of the Arab world, threatens to topple the region's long-standing political order, the U.N. Security Council, the world's premier guardian of international peace and security, has chosen to watch events unfold from the sidelines. The council's presidency, led this month by Bosnia, has scheduled no meetings to address the crisis. None of the key powers, including the United States, has promoted any role for the 15-nation council in discussing the situation.
"As far as I know there is no discussion whatsoever as to what the Security Council can do in the coming days over Tunisia or Egypt or Yemen. It's just not an issue," one council member told Turtle Bay. "We wouldn't know where to start and what would be the purpose."
The lack of the U.N. Security Council engagement reflects the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the events unfolding in the region, and the fact that there are no identified representatives of the protesters that can serve as mediators.
However, Egypt's decision to place Mohamed ElBaradei -- the former U.N. nuclear watchdog, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Egyptian opposition leader -- under house arrest may boost his political standing by identifying him in the popular imagination with the street protesters cause. Until now, ElBaradei, who has spent much of his career outside Egypt, has not been able to secure a broad popular following.
There are political hurdles that would make U.N. involvement unlikely, including certain opposition from Egypt, one of the U.N.'s most influential third world members, and Yemen, which has already strenuously opposed any U.N. involvement in addressing the country's precarious security situation for years.
Though the Egyptian government seems to have escalated the confrontation by sending tanks into the streets to confront protesters, powerful Security Council members like China and Russia reflexively recoil at the prospect of U.N. intervention in any domestic security crises. Last year, China made it clear it would block any efforts to confront or condemn North Korea for its attacks on South Korea.
For the United States, meanwhile, the fate of Egypt, a vital ally in the Middle East, is too important a matter to be left to the U.N. Security Council, which generally manages the world's second-tier crises.
The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, has emerged as the most prominent U.N. voice on the crisis. In a press conference today in Davos, Switzerland, Ban sought to strike a careful balance between backing the demonstrators' right to protest, hinting at the failure of the region's leaders to meet public needs, while encouraging both sides to engage in talks aimed at defusing the political standoff.
Ban said the region's leaders have a responsibility to "care for their own people" and that the popular unrest provides them with "an opportunity to engage in addressing the legitimate concerns and wishes of their peoples." But he also blasted the region's governments for forcibly cracking down on the public protests and cutting off Internet access. "The leaders of any country have a broad responsibility, and at the same time a mandate, to listen attentively to the wishes of [their] people: what are their challenges, their difficulties," he added. "Freedom of expression and association should be fully respected."
At the same time, Ban sought to make it clear that he does not favor an overthrow of the Egyptian government. When a reporter mistakenly suggested that Ban had spoken out in favor of revolution in Egypt, Ban quickly corrected the journalist, saying he had been talking about the need for revolutionary action to combat global warming.
"What I said...was we need to take some revolutionary thinking, revolutionary action in addressing climate change...So please do not make a misunderstanding of that particular word," Ban cautioned.
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The popular overthrow of Tunisia’s former leader, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, has served as an inspiration for protesters in Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, and other Arab countries. But the Tunisian regime also emerged this week as a symbol of the excesses of the U.S.-led war on terrorism. A U.N. report revealed that the Tunisian government was practitioner of the poulet rôti (or rotisserie), the notorious torture technique which involves tying a detainee's wrists together under the knees and passing a pole between the arms and thighs.
Martin Scheinin, the U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, released a damning report this week on Tunisia’s use of secret detention centers in order to coerce confessions through torture and mistreatment. The 20-page report -- which is based on a field visit to Tunisia in January 2010 -- provides a chilling, if unsurprising, look at the repressive practices that prevail in the Middle East and played no small part in stoking Tunisia’s public uprising. It also provides further evidence of how Tunisia, like other authoritarian governments in the region, has used the war on terror to pass a set of vague and sweeping anti-terrorism laws that often target nonviolent dissidents and opposition figures.
"[I]t appears that the scope of application of the terrorism provisions in the law has grown too wide and should be reduced," the report states. "Any anti-terrorism law that is not properly confined to the countering of terrorism within the limits of human rights law is problematic … because it may unjustifiably restrict the enjoyment of human rights pertaining to the exercise of peaceful activities, including dissent and political opposition through legitimate associations."
The report documents alleged crimes committed before the country’s ruler was deposed following several weeks of public demonstrations. It provides another awkward example of a trusted American ally in the war on terror using the global campaign against extremists to justify bad behavior and consolidate power at home. Indeed, the same security apparatus that collaborated with the Central Intelligence Agency, which transported suspected terrorists through Tunis, was also responsible for using intimidation and violence to stifle domestic challenges to Ben Ali's rule, according to the report.
"Human rights abuses were at the heart of the problems faced by the people of Tunisia," Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said Wednesday. She announced that she has ordered a team of human rights investigators to begin an investigation today into Tunisia's legacy of human rights. "Therefore, human rights must be at the forefront of the solutions to those problems."
Scheinin's report claims that Tunisian authorities routinely deny detainees basic due-process rights, interrogate suspect in secret detention centers, routinely postdate arrest records to circumvent rules requiring detainees be presented before a judge in a timely fashion. It also noted that custody records during the month of his visit showed that authorities at one police detention center detained at least one person each day, "support[ing] the conclusion that counter-terrorism legislation does not only apply to a small group of very dangerous individuals."
The team was allowed to visit the Bouchoucha police detention facility and the Mornaguia Prison, where they interviewed several prisoners convicted of terrorist offenses. But Scheinin was not permitted to visit the interrogation facility at the Sub-directorate for Criminal Affairs of the Police Judiciare, where the "overwhelming majority of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment [were] received by the Special Rapporteur." Here's Scheinin's account of abuse in Tunisian detention.
"The evidence brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur indicated that suspected terrorists are routinely held in secret in a building of the Ministry of Interior in Tunis," the report claimed. "According to consistent allegations, suspects are regularly subjected to severe beatings on different parts of the body, including genitals, with fists, cables and batons, kicking, slapping, often combined with stripping of their clothes and suspensions (including in the so-called poulet rôti ("roast chicken") position), even in ordinary offices of the [Interior] Ministry. Some reports also described electroshocks and mock-drowning taking place in one particular room in the basement, especially in cases, where suspects resisted to making confessions. Other methods used included extended periods of sleep deprivation, burning with cigarettes, threats with rape, threats to family members and anal rape.… The main purpose of the torture was to extract confessions, and sometimes testimonies about third persons. It normally stopped with the signing of papers that most suspects had not been allowed to read."
Tunisia has been spared some of the worst terrorist violence that has hit other Arab countries; it was the site of two major terrorist attacks in April 2002 and December 2006, which killed a total of 35 people, including foreigners. In 1992, Tunisia tried 265 alleged members of the Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) movement following a couple of violent incidents that were blamed on the group. Human rights organizations, according to the report, "described the 1992 trials as unfair." The Tunisian rebel group, which is allegedly linked to al Qaeda and listed on the U.N. terrorist black list, is "suspected of plotting, but not carrying out, attacks on the embassies of Algeria, Tunisia and the United States of America in Rome in December 2001."
The report says that a number of countries, including Libya, Italy, Pakistan, and Syria, have forcibly returned Tunisian terrorism suspects to Tunisia despite the prospects that they will face torture. "Several of the returnees reported having been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment during that period, but none of their allegations are known to have been investigated by the Tunisian authorities." Scheinin said he has also encountered evidence that Tunisian authorities held an Algerian national for 75 days after he was sent to Tunisia by the Central Intelligence Agency. The detainee was eventually repatriated to Algeria.
Since 2003, Tunisia imposed sweeping anti-terrorism laws that have criminalized many nonviolent activities, but provided no clear definition of what constitutes a terrorist act. For instance, it is a crime -- even for medical personnel, clergy, and defense lawyers -- to fail to immediately notify authorities "of any acts, information or instructions which may have emerged concerning a terrorist offence." Individuals can also face up to 12 years in prison for "to an organization or entity, whichever their form and the number of its members, which has, even if coincidentally or incidentally, used terrorism as a means of action in the realization for its objectives." The measure, according to Scheinin, "does not include any requirement that the person must be aware of the terrorist nature of the group."
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Just as the Palestinians U.N. ambassador, Ryad Mansour, has begun pressing his colleagues at the U.N. to adopt a resolution criticizing Israel’s construction of settlements, Israel’s U.N. diplomats have decided to go on strike.
The Israeli mission to the U.N. announced this morning that they would not attend a scheduled Security Council meeting today on the Middle East. “Due to an on going labor dispute of Israeli Foreign service employees, The Israeli Permanent Mission to the UN will unfortunately not be able to participate in today’s UN Security Council meeting,” Israel’s spokeswoman, Karean Peretz said in a statement this morning.
It remained unclear what impact the strike would have on Israel’s diplomatic efforts to prevent the U.N. from taking up the Palestinian cause. Today’s council boycott appears partly symbolic. Despite today’s public act of defiance, Israel’s U.N.-based diplomats continue their diplomatic work behind closed doors, according to officials.
The Israeli foreign ministry has been locked in a bitter dispute for years with the government over unmet demands for better pay and working conditions. The union wants pay and benefits for Israeli diplomats to be brought in line with higher pay for employees of the Israeli Defense forces.
The standoff has created some embarrassing moments in the conduct of Israeli foreign policy. Last summer, the staff of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was forced to enlist the help of the country’s intelligence agency, Mossad, to book hotel reservations in Washington so he could attend a peace summit with his Palestinian counterpart.
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.