For a rare afternoon at U.N. headquarters, the U.S. and Iranian governments took a break from bashing one another. Instead, they were getting ready to go to the mat.
The U.N. cafeteria provided the stage for a bout of international sports diplomacy, as American, Iranian, and Russian wrestlers gathered for lunch as well as an opportunity to rally behind a common cause: appealing to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to keep wrestling in the Olympics.
Today's U.N. event -- sponsored by USA wrestling, FILA, and the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling, and hosted by the U.N. Correspondent's Association -- comes one day before the Rumble on the Rails at Grand Central Station, a wrestling contest that will match up the world's best Greco Roman wrestlers from Iran, the world's top wrestling team, with the United States and Russia, two other national powerhouses.
It provided a forum for scripted diplomatic pronouncements about the importance of preserving the sport from senior Iranian and Russian diplomats, who recalled wrestling's long, revered place in their country's history. State Department officials were present at the event, but the U.S. government played a low-key role, absent from the list of speakers. Instead, a group of American wrestling advocates, including the actor Billy Baldwin, a former wrestler himself, took the podium to speak up for the sport on America's behalf.
Not surprisingly it wasn't Baldwin, but a young Olympian that best captured the spirit of the event, arguing that Greco Roman wrestling had something to teach international diplomats and politicians.
"We can get together, me and the Iranians and the Russians, and we can go out on the mat and physically do everything possible to beat the crap out of one another," explained Jake Herbert, 28, an American silver medalist in the 2012 Olympics. "No one is going to get killed; no one is going to get injured; you're going to leave it out on the mat and then be friends. We're united -- Iran, Russia, and the USA -- all through sports, something they have never been able to do through politics before and something they should be able to look at and learn."
In fact, the event provided a rare respite from the diplomatic clashes over a range of issues -- from Iran's nuclear ambitions to the international response to the Syria crisis -- that more typically define U.S. relations with Tehran. On Monday, Erin Pelton, spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, sounded off on Iran's upcoming assumption, through rotation, of the presidency of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament (CD), calling it "unfortunate and highly inappropriate."
"The United States continues to believe that countries that are under Chapter VII sanctions for weapons proliferation or massive human-rights abuses should be barred from any formal or ceremonial positions in U.N. bodies," she said. "While the presidency of the CD is largely ceremonial and involves no substantive responsibilities, allowing Iran -- a country that is in flagrant violation of its obligations under multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and to the IAEA Board of Governors -- to hold such a position runs counter to the goals and objectives of the Conference on Disarmament itself. As a result, the United States will not be represented at the ambassadorial level during any meeting presided over by Iran."
Despite the administration's diplomatic campaign to isolate Iran, the United States has largely embraced the effort to improve relations with Iran through wrestling. American wrestlers have competed against the Iranians 11 times since 1998, when USA Wrestling sponsored its first match in Iran in decades -- a 1998 competition at the Iranian Takhti Club in Tehran. In February of this year, the U.S. wrestling team competed in Tehran.
Just days before, on Feb. 12, the International Olympic Committee executive board recommended that wrestling no long be considered a core sport at the Olympics. A final decision will be made in September.
Mike Novogratz, an investor who helped organize the Grand Central wrestling matches through his organization Beat the Streets Wrestling, said it was an "absurd decision" by the IOC board to propose remove wrestling from the Olympics in 2020, describing it was one of the most popular sports in the Muslim world.
Wrestling advocates, he said, are seeking to use the New York event, as well as an upcoming match in Los Angeles, to raise international awareness about the sport and convince the IOC to reverse its decision. As a fall back, he said, wrestling organizers, have been considering asking the Olympic governing body to readmit wrestling as a new sport. In order to do that, they are considering improving the sports marketing component and implementing some changes in the rules to make it more accessible to younger audiences who have had trouble understanding the sport's sometime arcane rules.
It wouldn't hurt to see the Obama administration embracing the sport of wrestling with the same passion as Russian President Vladimir Putin and outgoing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Dan Gable, a 1972 Olympic gold medal winner who, as a coach, led the University of Iowa to 16 NCCA championships. "I really feel both in Russia and Iran wrestling comes right out of their government offices," he said. "Our president, Obama, he's not involved as much."
He said Obama had good reason to take an interest, noting that another American president from Illinois had a keen interest in the sport, one that he hoped Obama might be compelled to emulate. "Lincoln was a wrestler; he held matches on the White House lawn."
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The United States has abandoned an initiative to authorize a U.N. peacekeeping mission to monitor and report on human rights abuses in Western Sahara in the face of intensive resistance from Morocco, which exercises military control over the former Spanish colony.
Last week, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, pushed for a broader mandate for the U.N. peacekeeping mission to monitor and report on rights abuses in Western Sahara and in Tindouf, Algeria, where more than 100,000 Sahrawi refugees live in a cluster of desert encampments.
The initial move -- which was applauded by human rights advocates -- encountered intense resistance from Morocco. Last week, Rabat protested the U.S. action by cancelling joint U.S.-Moroccan military exercises. The Moroccan king, Mohammed VI, also objected to the U.S. move in a letter to the White House. Morocco made clear that they would not allow the human rights monitors into Western Sahara.
The former Spanish possession is Africa's only remaining non-self-governing territory, with some 500,000 people in a sparsely populated desert expanse the size of Britain. Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco and Mauritania in 1975, when the Spanish withdrew. Mauritania ultimately abandoned its claim, and Morocco claimed their share of the territory in 1979. Morocco -- aided by France's diplomacy -- has fiercely and successfully resisted efforts by the Polisario Front, which enjoys diplomatic support from Algeria, to claim independence.
The Algerian-backed Polisario rebels fought Moroccan troops until 1991, when a U.N. brokered ceasefire called for a referendum that would allow Saharans the ability to vote on an independence referendum. But Morocco has never allowed such a vote to occur, and now insists that Western Sahara remain as an autonomous part of Morocco. Morocco, however, has been unable to convince any other government to recognize its claim to Western Sahara.
For years, the government in Rabay has successfully blocked a raft of initiative by states, including Britain, to grant the U.N. mission a role in monitoring human rights abuses.
Last week, Rice surprised her counterparts in the so-called Friends of Western Sahara group -- which includes the governments of the United States, France, Britain, Spain and Russia -- by indicating that Washington would press for authorization of U.N. human rights monitors in a Security Council resolution renewing the U.N. peacekeeping mission's mandate for another year. But the proposal faced resistance in the U.N. Security Council from Morocco, the council's lone Arab government, and other key powers like France, China, and Russia.
Earlier this week, the United States dropped the proposal. The council is now set to vote tomorrow on a resolution that would renew the peacekeeping mandate, but without human rights monitors. Instead, the resolution offers far softer language stressing the importance of human rights, and encouraging key players to promote human rights and develop "independent and credible measures" to ensure those rights are respected.
Senior Security Council diplomats said that the United States had underestimated the depth of Moroccan opposition. They also complained that the U.S. delegation had failed to adequately consult with its key partners, including Britain, France, and Spain, before pressing ahead with the initiative.
However, one U.N. diplomat defending the U.S. position countered: "Not only did the U.S. coordinate with its allies and partners in the same timeframe as they typically do, but the positions of some important members of the Friends Groups had softened considerably on human rights."
Ahmad Boukhari, the U.N. representative of the Polisario Front, said that a stronger U.S. push could have resulted in a tougher resolution, but that he considered it a "moral victory" that the United States even put the matter on the table. Asked why the initiative was dropped, he said, "There were some difficulties whose nature is unknown to me."
The Moroccan mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
Human rights advocates, meanwhile, expressed disappointment at the U.S. reversal. "The U.S. starting position was right on target, and had it prevailed would likely have contributed to an improvement of human rights conditions both in Western Sahara and in the refugee camps around Tindouf, in Algeria," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "Sadly the U.S. neither stuck to its guns or secured a compromise allowing enhanced human rights monitoring. Moroccan intransigence and the lack of vocal support by allies such as the UK did not help."
Britain, he noted, had previously supported the U.N. human rights mission in the past "and should have done so vocally again this year."
A spokeswoman for the British mission to the United Nations, Iona Thomas, said: "The United Kingdom strongly supports the upholding of human rights in Western Sahara. We welcome that the resolution, if adopted, will emphasize the importance of improving the human rights situation in Western Sahara and Tindouf camps."
The United States move followed a report earlier this month by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who urged "further international engagement" with the human rights situation in Western Sahara and Tindouf. "Given ongoing reports of human rights violations the need for independent, impartial, comprehensive and sustained monitoring of the human right situations in both Western Sahara and the camps becomes ever more pressing."
The U.N. Security Council has been pressing Morocco to accept greater scrutiny of its human rights record. Last year, Rabat agreed to allow periodic visits by independent U.N. human rights experts, and experts from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
"From the outset, our aim has been a renewal of MINURSO's mandate that is consistent with our goal of bringing about a peaceful, sustainable, and mutually agreed solution to the conflict whereby the human rights of all individuals are respected," said Payton Knopf, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. "As the secretary general underscored in his recent report on Western Sahara, human rights remains a serious issue that deserves the council's attention."
"The draft resolution contains additional language this year encouraging enhanced efforts and further progress on human rights," he added. "Human rights in Western Sahara and the Tindouf camps will continue to have the full attention of the U.N. Security Council and the United States, and we will be monitoring progress closely over the coming year."
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Vuk Jeremic, the hyper-kinetic Serbian president of the U.N. General Assembly, is on a mission to restore Serbia's prestige on the world stage.
The former Serbian foreign minister has used his position at the head of the world's parliament to recast Serbia -- tarnished by its role in mass killings during the 1990s Balkan Wars, including the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims males in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces -- as a victim of history.
In a series of speeches and events, Jeremic has highlighted the plight of Serbs in World War I and World War II, denouncing more recent abuses of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo while glossing over Serbian aggression in places like Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s.
"Like many other nations, mine has travelled through periods of tragedy and periods of glory sacrificing men and treasure far beyond its means whenever its freedom was in need of defense," Jeremic told a gathering of small states in October, 2012, shortly after starting his one-year term. "One quarter of our population perished in the First World War, at enormous cost to our development. In the Second World War, close to a million Serbs fell to defeat the scourge of fascism."
But as Jemeric prepares to convene a high-profile conference next month on international justice -- an event that critics suspect he will use to denounce a U.N. court that indicted more than 90 Serbs, including the former Serb President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 in a jail cell in the Hague -- he is facing a backlash from governments and international jurists who feel he has abused his position to advance his narrow national interests.
In recent days, several international legal experts -- including Song Sang-Hyun, the president of the International Criminal Court -- who had confirmed their attendance at the conference have pulled out of the event. Many governments, including the United States and members of the European Union, are now considering sending low-level diplomats to the conference in order to register their displeasure with Jeremic's words.
International anxiety over the event stems from Jeremic's response to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugsolavia's November acquittal of two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladic Markac, who had been convicted by a lower court of carrying out mass killings against Croatian Serbs during Operation Storm, a Croatian campaign of ethnic cleansing against ethnic Serbs in the Kraijina, Croatia.
The controversial decision drew criticism from court experts who felt the appeals court had erred. But Jeremic has decided to go a step further, convening a major U.N. conference on international justice and reconciliation on April 10 that, he suggested in a series of tweets, would serve as a venue for denouncing the Croatian acquittal.
"The Hague appeals chamber has sent a signal that the ethnic cleansing has value, and is not a crime," Jeremic wrote in a November 25 tweet on his personal account, which he writes in Serbian. "These are the days of evil," he added four days later. "We must not be despondent. Wait for April, 10, 2013, the day of truth."
The timing of the event coincides with the 72nd anniversary of the April 10, 1941, founding of Croatia's pro-Nazi fascist state, a scheduling decision that has fueled suspicions among U.N. diplomats that Jeremic intends to turn the world's parliament into a forum for denouncing the failings of the court.
It has also raised concerns among U.N. delegates that he intends to convert the United Nations into a venue for nursing Serbia's past grievances and for pave the ground for a return to Serbian politics when he returns home. "The common assessment is that Jeremic, once again, [is trying] to abuse the U.N. for his domestic political purposes," said one European diplomat. " He is not serious about a profound and balanced debate about international justice and reconciliation. Given this highly polarizing setting...one can only hope that the secretary general will be very, very careful in pondering his participation."
Jeremic served as foreign minister under the former Serbian President Boris Tadic, a pro-Western politician, who vigorously opposed Kosovo's independence but who had publically apologized to the Bosnians and Croatians for crimes committed during the 1990s. Jeremic's election to the presidency of the U.N. General Assembly was a sign of Serbia's diplomatic normalization with the world body.
But in recent weeks, Jeremic -- who still retains a seat in the Serbian senate -- has sounded like a man preparing for a return to national politics. "When I complete my mandate as president of the U.N. General Assembly, I intend to go back to Belgrade, because I believe we can make Serbia into a country where citizens can achieve their full potential," he told members of the Serb-American community in a March 16 speech before a fundraising dinner in Chicago for ethnic Serb orphans in Kosovo. "I am asking you to join us in crafting a new vision for Serbia."
In the meantime, Jeremic is facing the greatest challenge to his stewardship of the General Assembly. In an interview with Turtle Bay, Jeremic said that the conference he scheduled to learn lessons from the U.N.'s 20-year long experiment in international criminal courts has come under attack by unnamed influential states, who have pressured key attendees, including the ICC president, to pull out of the event.
Among those who has have cancelled or declined invitations include the president of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court, Tina Intelmann; the U.N. secretary general's special advisor on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng; the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth; and the U.N. secretary general lawyer Patricia O'Brien.
"She can't make it; she's enormously busy," Jeremic said of O'Brien. "We note that very soon as a person confirms their attendance and we make it public it takes not more than a few days that he writes back saying regrettably we can't make it."
"There are some people who feel very uncomfortable about the date," he added. The date, he explained, "symbolizes in many ways evil and an undelivered justice from the Second World War. Imagine if someone said we feel uncomfortable on Holocaust Memorial day because people feel uncomfortable."
The event will begin with a public session in which all 193 members of the United Nations will be given an opportunity to speak. In the afternoon, Jeremic has scheduled two panel sessions to provide more focused panel discussion. Delegates say the list is unbalanced, providing critics of the tribunal with greater scope to denounce it.
Jeremic countered that he has offered several of the courts' supporters a seat at the table. But they have sought to distance themselves.
Their suspicions stem from an earlier episode.
In January, Jeremic organized a concert by a Serb youth choir in the General Assembly, which was attended by the U.N. secretary general. As an encore, the group performed a rendition of a World War I martial song, "The March on the River Drina," which Bosnian victims groups claimed had been used by Serb forces during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon -- unaware of the song's history -- clapped and swayed along with the beat, prompting complaints from Bosnian groups. "The genocide that occurred in Srebrenica and Zepa, and other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was conducted by Serbian aggressors while blasting this song as they raped, murdered, and ethnically cleansed the non-Serb population," read a statement by an American Bosniak organization.
The episode proved embarrassing to Ban, whose spokesman subsequently issued a statement expressing regret for any offense, and noting that he had not been aware of the history of the song -- which was not listed in the official program. But Ban's deputy spokesman, Eduardo Del Buey, said Ban had no intention to boycott the event. "If the SG is in New York, he will attend." Asked if Ban intended to be in town, del Buey recommended that this reporter ask Jeremic's office.
Jeremic defended the performance, saying nobody complained about it until "some diaspora organization here in America launched this controversy. Basically the song, which is almost sacred in our culture, is about sacrifice in the First World War. The question at stake is whether -- after everything that has taken place in the 1990s in the Balkans -- we as Serbs have the right to be proud of our First and Second World War history. If the answer to this is yes, then the song is ok."
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Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and reportedly the favorite to succeed Hillary Clinton, asked to have her name withdrawn for consideration as the America's new secretary of state, the culmination of months of political attacks by Republican lawmakers, and intense scrutiny of her wealth, blunt diplomatic style, and relationship with African leaders.
Rice, 48, appeared destined this fall to serve as America's next top diplomat as President Barack Obama's second-term leader of Foggy Bottom. But her prospects plummeted after a trio of Republican senators -- John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) -- mounted a sustained attack on Rice.
They suggested that Rice may have willfully misled the public in a series of Sunday morning talk show interviews in which she characterized the September 11 attack on Benghazi, which led to the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. nationals, as likely a spontaneous reaction to the broadcast of an anti-Islamic web video.
The account later proved untrue, and evidence soon emerged pointing to a more targeted strike on the U.S. consulate by Libyan Islamists linked to al Qaeda. But the GOP charges against her never stuck, because Rice's account was largely consistent with internal talking notes she had received from the Central Intelligence Agency and because she had left open the possibility that al Qaeda or one of its affiliates may have been involved in the attacks.
In November, Obama rallied to her defense, telling reporters at a White House press conference that Rice had "done exemplary work" at the United Nations. "If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me," Obama said with gusto. "For them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi...to besmirch her reputation is outrageous."
But McCain never relented as opposition in the Republican camp widened, drawing in Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), which made it clear that Rice was headed for a contentious Senate nomination process. Rice, meanwhile, faced a flood of more critical coverage of her tenure as a young U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the 1990s, and her role in shielding a close African ally, Paul Kagame, from scrutiny at the U.N. for his government's alleged role in backing a brutal mutiny in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
"I am highly honored to be considered by you for appointment as Secretary of State," Rice wrote in a letter to the president. "I am fully confident that I could serve our country ably and effectively in that role. However, if nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly -- to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities. That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country."
Rice said in the letter that she looks forward to continuing to serve the president and the country as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., though rumor has it that she might be going back to the White House or National Security Council.
President Obama issued a statement from the White House praising Rice as "an extraordinary capable, patriotic and passionate public servant" who has played an "indispensable role in advancing American interests" at the United Nations.
"While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks," said the statement, "her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admiral commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first."
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Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has a reputation for diplomatic sparring. Her battles with the Russian envoy, Vitaly Churkin, and the French ambassador, Gerard Araud, have been epic.
But Rice has generally held her punches in negotiations with Li Baodong, China's reserved, formal, U.N. envoy -- a man who has shown little taste for the diplomatic joust.
That is, until now. Early today, the big power envoys squared off in a closed-door Security Council session over competing views about how the 15-nation body should react to North Korea's missile launch.
Rice urged the Security Council to swiftly respond to North Korea's surprise launch of a satellite (via a ballistic missile) with a statement condemning Pyongyang's action as a violation of U.N. resolutions and characterizing it as a provocative act that "undermines regional stability."
Li pushed back, saying that there was no need to condemn North Korea, and that its test constituted no threat to regional stability.
"That's ridiculous," Rice shot back, according to one of three council diplomats who described the encounter.
"Ridiculous?" a visibly angered Li responded through an interpreter. "You better watch your language."
"Well, it's in the Oxford dictionary, and Churkin -- if he were in the room -- he would know how to take it," retorted Rice.
The reference to Oxford dictionary refers to Churkin's riposte, in December 2011, to a public broadside by Rice, who charged him with making "bogus claims" about alleged NATO war crimes in Libya to divert attention from charges of war crimes against its Syrian ally.
"This is not an issue that can be drowned out by expletives. You might recall the words one could hear: bombast and bogus claims, cheap stunt, duplicitous, redundant, superfluous, stunt," said Churkin to Rice. "Oh, you know, you cannot beat a Stanford education, can you?" said Churkin, mocking Rice's alma mater. Rice, a former Rhodes scholar, later noted that she also went to Oxford.
Today, however, Li countered that Rice's remarks were consistent with an American foreign policy approach that seeks to impose its will on other states.
In the end, however, Rice and her council allies were able to secure a clear condemnation of Pyongyang, though they dropped the provision suggesting the test has undermined regional stability. A Security Council statement condemned the missile launch, calling it a "clear violation" of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning ballistic missile tests. The council took note that it threatened last April to take action against North Korea if it launched further tests, and it vowed to "continue consultations on an appropriate response."
The United States, working with Japan and South Korea, is expected to lead efforts in the coming weeks to forge a tougher council reaction, preferably a resolution imposing sanctions. But they are expected to encounter tough resistance from China, which indicated it was not prepared to support a confrontational resolution penalizing Pyongyang, according to council diplomats.
And the man Rice will have to persuade to impose the council's will on North Korea is her new sparring partner, Li Baodong.
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On October 1, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador and the president's presumptive nominee to be the next U.S. secretary of state, met at the French mission here in New York with top diplomats from Britain and France, where they discussed the crisis in eastern Congo, a sliver of territory along the Rwandan border, where mutineers were preparing a final offensive to seize the regional capital of Goma.
France's U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, pressed Rice and Britain's U.N. envoy, Mark Lyall Grant, to apply greater political pressure on the mutineers' chief sponsor, Rwanda, a close American ally, that stands accused by a U.N. panel of sponsoring, arming, and commanding the insurgent M23 forces. The French argued that threats of sanctions were needed urgently to pressure Kigali to halt its support for the M23 and prevent them from gobbling up more Congolese territory.
But Rice pushed back, reasoning that any move to sanction Rwandan leader Paul Kagame would backfire, and it would be better to work with him to find a long-term solution to the region's troubles than punish him. "Gerard, it's eastern Congo. If it were not the M23 killing people it would be some other armed groups," she said, according to one of three U.N.-based sources who detailed the exchange. The U.S. mission declined to comment on the meeting, which was confidential.
The tense exchange reflected the role the United States has played in minimizing Rwanda's exposure to a more punitive approach by the Security Council. Since last summer, the United States has used its influence at the United Nations to delay the publication of a report denouncing Rwanda's support for the M23, to buy time for a Security Council resolution condemning foreign support for the rebellion, and opposing any direct references to Rwanda in U.N statements and resolutions on the crisis.
U.S. officials say they have delivered stern messages to top Rwandan officials in private to halt their support for the M23, and last summer they have frozen some military aid to the Rwandan army, citing the government's support for the mutineers. Rice, they say, is deeply conscious of the horrors wrought by the M23, but that she and other top American officials are pursuing a strategy in New York aimed at minimizing the chances of undercutting regional efforts, involving President Kagame, Uganda President Yoweri Musevini, and Congolese President Joseph Kabila, to bring about a durable peace.
"We want to see an end to the current military offensive. We want to see an end to the occupation of Goma," U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Johnnie Carson told reporters in Washington last week, before the rebels began a partial retreat from Goma. "We want to see the three presidents working together to deal with the most immediate crisis and to develop and put in place architecture that will deal ... with the long term issues that affect the region."
Carson also challenged suggestions that Rice, a long time friend of President Kagame, was freelancing on Rwanda. "I too have known President Kagame for many years," he said. "There is not a shadow of a distance between myself and Ambassador Rice on the issues related to the Great Lakes crisis. We are all engaged in delicate diplomacy to get this done, but that diplomacy is carried out in close harmony and in unison."
In the end, American diplomacy did little to stop the M23's war aims. On November 17, the M23 mutineers, allegedly backed by Rwanda and Uganda, launched a major offensive against the Congolese army in eastern Congo. Within three days, the M23 had vanquished the ragged Congolese army, whose forces fled, and marched on the regional capital of Goma, triggering limited resistance from the U.N. peacekeeping forces, which initially clashed with the rebels before announcing it had no mandate to continue the fight if the Congolese army refused to resist the rebellion.
With M23 in control of Goma, the 15-nation Security Council on November 20 adopted a resolution that "strongly" condemned the M23's conduct -- including summary executions, sexual- and gender-based violence, and large-scale recruitment of child soldiers -- and voiced "deep concern" at reports of external support for the mutineers. But at the insistence of the United States, the resolution stopped short of naming Rwanda.
Rwanda has been a close ally of the United States since 1994, when extremist forces linked to the country's then French-backed, ethnic Hutu-dominated government carried out the genocide of more than 800,000 moderate Hutu and ethnic Tutsi Rwandans.
A Tutsi-dominated insurgency, led by then-General Paul Kagame, restored stability to the country, making it a model of economic prosperity and forging a reputation for the rebuilt country as a regional peacekeeper, sending Rwandan blue helmets to Sudan to protect civilians. But his government has also been the subject of U.N. investigations charging it with carrying out large-scale reprisal killings in eastern Congo and Rwanda in the 1990s, and backing a succession of armed groups in eastern Congo.
Both Republican and Democratic administrations have vigorously backed the government in Kigali. In September 2007, the Bush administration supported the appointment of an alleged Rwandan war criminal as the deputy commander of the U.N. mission in Darfur, even though the appointment may have violated a U.S. law prohibiting funding for peacekeeping operations that employee rights abusers.
The latest conflict in eastern Congo began in April 2012, when Bosco Ntaganda, a former Congolese militia leader who stands accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court, began an armed mutiny against government forces in eastern Congo. Ntaganda, once fought along the Rwanda Patriotic Front -- which toppled a pro-French government in Kigali and drove government forces responsible for genocide into eastern Congo, then known as Zaire.
An independent U.N. Security Council panel, known as the Group of Experts, claims that Rwanda military leadership, including Defense Minister James Kaberebe, have armed, trained and commanded the mutineers under Ntaganda, who goes by the grim nickname, The Terminator. In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, the Group of Experts coordinator, Steve Hege, accused Rwanda of leading the overthrow of Goma.
"The Group has repeatedly concluded that the government of Rwanda (GoR), with the support of allies within the government of Uganda, has created, equipped, trained, advised, reinforced and directly commanded the M23 rebellion," Hege wrote in a November 26 letter, posted by the New York Times, to the U.N. committee overseeing sanctions in Congo. "The information initially gathered by the group regarding the recent offensive and seizure of the North Kivu Provincial town of Goma strongly upholds this conclusion."
Rwandan officials have repeatedly denied allegations that the government is supporting the M23, saying the experts are politically biased against Rwanda and that they have furnished sufficient documentary evidence to prove their case. But the Security Council's key Western governments, including the United States, Britain, and France have largely backed the Group of Experts panel in the face of Rwandan criticism.
Philippe Bolopion, Human Rights Watch's U.N. representative said that Washington should publicly acknowledge Rwanda's support for the M23 and ratchet up pressure on the government to rein them in. "The U.S. premise that private engagement is the best way to restrain Rwanda has been shown to be false, with tragic consequences," he said.
"It's puzzling that the United States continues to remain silent while Rwanda is putting weapons in the hand of notorious M23 abusers, who are using them to kill civilians, rape and recruit children. It's even more inexplicable since the M23 is attacking U.N. peacekeepers that the United States has supported and financed to protect civilians."
The United States, however, maintains that that is exactly what it is trying to do.
In Rice's public remarks, she has singled out the M23, for instance, posting a tweet condemning the actions of the M23 and "those who support them."
"Working with colleagues on the Security Council, the United States helped craft the resolution to reinforce the delicate diplomatic effort underway at the moment in Kampala to end the rebellion in eastern Congo," said Payton Knopf, a spokesman for Rice.
"The Security Council's strong resolution, which the U.S. cosponsored, condemned the M23's military campaign, demanded that the M23 withdraw immediately from Goma and permanently disband and lay down its arms, and threatened swift sanctions against M23 leaders as well as their external supporters."
But while some of Washington's counterparts in the council feel the United States is protecting Kigali, Rwandan officials say they are not convinced, citing American support for last month's resolution denouncing foreign support to the M23, a thinly veiled swipe at Rwanda.
"It's impossible to say Rwanda will be in safe hands with the United States on the DRC issue," said Olivier Nduhungirehe, a U.N.-based Rwandan diplomat. "Rwanda will be on our own.
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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon may have defied the wishes of Israel and the United States by traveling to Tehran to attend a Summit of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), the largest international conference in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which included a side meeting with Iran's president and supreme leader.
But they could hardly have wished for a more sympathetic message to be delivered directly to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In a tough speech, that was not broadcast on Iranian state television, the U.N. chief singled out Iran for censure -- not Israel -- and on its own home court.
Ban dispensed with the carefully balanced language that secretaries general traditionally use in addressing the tough issues in the Middle East.
He made no mention of the struggle of the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, a perennial topic of NAM debates. There was no talk of Israeli settlements. A reference to the Middle East Nuclear Free Zone -- which has often been cited as a cause for Israeli nuclear disarmament -- was used to prod Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.
"There is no threat to global peace and harmony more serious than nuclear proliferation," he told the gathering, which included Ahmadinejad, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy. "Assuming the leadership of the NAM provides Iran with the opportunity to demonstrate that it can play a moderate and constructive role internationally. That includes responsible action on the nuclear program."
Ban urged Iran to fully comply with Security Council resolutions demanding it suspend its enrichment of uranium, step up cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and resume "constructive engagement" with the United States and other big powers seeking to negotiate a deal on Iran's nuclear program.
"From this platform -- as I have repeatedly stated around the world -- I strongly reject threats by any member state to destroy another or outrageous attempts to deny historical facts, such as the Holocaust," Ban added. "Claiming that another U.N. Member State, Israel, does not have the right to exist, or describing it in racist terms, is not only utterly wrong but undermines the very principles we have all pledged to uphold."
Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pleaded with Ban not to attend the NAM summit, saying it would be used by the group's host, Iran, which replaced Egypt in the body's three-year chairmanship, to garner international legitimacy for its policies.
The main purpose of Ban's visit to Tehran was to search for a diplomatic opening to head off a possible confrontation between Israel and Iran. He urged both sides to dial down the rhetoric.
"I urge all parties to stop provocative and inflammatory threats," he said. "A war of words can quickly spiral into a war of violence. Bluster can so easily become bloodshed. Now is the time for all leaders to use their voices to lower, not raise tensions."
But the two sides were hardly in the mood to cool their heels.
Iran's most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, blasted U.S. dominance at the United Nations as a "flagrant form of dictatorship" and accused the West of arming the "usurper Zionist regime with nuclear weapons, which now pose a great threat to all of us."
In a statement today, Netanyahu replied that the "representatives of 120 countries heard a blood libel against the State of Israel and were silent. This silence must stop. Therefore, I will go to the UN General Assembly and, in a clear voice, tell the nations of the world the truth about Iran's terrorist regime, which constitutes the greatest threat to world peace."
Meanwhile, today's event was hardly turning into the diplomatic triumph that Tehran had hoped for -- and that the United States and Israel had feared. Both Ban and Morsy criticized the Syrian government, Tehran's closest regional ally, for its violent repression of pro-democracy forces in Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world.
"The Syrian people are fighting with courage, looking for freedom and human dignity," Morsy said, prompting the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem to walk out in protest, according to a report in the New York Times. "I am here to announce our full and just support for a free, independent Syria that supports a transition into a democratic system and that respects the will of the Syrian people for freedom and equality," said Morsy.
As for Ban, he answered Syrian claims that foreign meddlers are behind the calls for democracy sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa, saying "the Arab Spring was not imposed or exported. It did not arise from an external conflict or dispute between states. It came from within -- from people, who stood up for a better future."
But while Ban faulted Syria for starting the crisis by meeting "peaceful demonstrations" with "ruthless force" he said that any solution to the crisis will require restraint by all. "Those who provide arms to either side in Syria are contributing to its misery."
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It's a story all too familiar.
A government responsible for mass murder, crushing democratic dissent, or engaging in nuclear, chemical, or biological shenanigans gets elected to the U.N. institution responsible for policing just that -- whether upholding human rights, democracy, or disarmament.
Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir stands charged by the International Criminal Court with orchestrating a campaign of genocide in Darfur. So what better place to defend oneself than with a seat on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council?
A couple of months back, Sudan was quietly included on a slate of five African countries -- the others are Ethiopia, Gabon, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone -- due to run unchallenged for seats on the 47-member council this November.
The selection of Sudan as a candidate has provided U.N. critics with another example of the U.N.'s abject moral state. In Washington, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs committee issued a statement Monday, saying Sudan's candidacy shows the U.N. is broken. "As Sudan appears poised to win a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, the UN has hit a new low," she said. "The UN has surrendered to despots and rogue regimes as it allows the likes of Iran's Ahmadinejad, Venezuela's Chavez, and now Sudan's Omar al-Bashir to corrupt the system and use it to further their own oppressive and despotic schemes."
Human Rights groups agree that Sudan's election would be disastrous but they have focused their efforts on persuading African government to drop Sudan. Previous campaigns by Western governments and human rights advocates have succeeded in preventing Azerbaijan, Belarus, Iran, and Syria from getting seats on the council.
"Sudan is as unfit candidate as they get, with a horrendous record of mass abuses against civilians in Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "Its election would be a blow to both the victims of the Sudanese regime and the credibility of the Human Rights Council."
The real culprit in this unfolding spectacle is the U.N. system of regional voting blocs, which generally pre-select a list of candidates based on which country is next in line. The practice ensures that everyone gets their chance -- whether they deserve it or not -- and there are no messy elections. Sudan, which has previously been blocked from serving on the U.N. Security Council, has been waiting in line a long time for a choice committee appointment. And African states appear unwilling to deny them their chance, even if it may prove embarrassing.
Asked how the Africans could put forward a country so clearly unsuited for the job, one African ambassador told Turtle Bay, "Even if we believe deep down that Sudan, whose president has been indicted, shouldn't be elected, nobody wants to jeopardize their relations by telling Sudan you don't qualify because you have a human rights problem. We will be sitting at the table with them in future."
The United States -- which has often benefited itself from the system of regional slates -- has for the moment joined an informal coalition of governments and human rights organizations that are seeking to upend Sudan's candidacy. They have urged Kenya to break ranks with the African group and run a campaign against Sudan's inclusion.
"Sudan, a consistent human rights violator, does not meet the Council's own standards for membership," said Kurtis A. Cooper, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. "It would be inappropriate for Sudan to have a seat on the Council while the Sudanese head of State is under International Criminal Court indictment for war crimes in Darfur and the government of Sudan continues to use violence to inflame tensions along its border with South Sudan."
Diplomats and other observers say Sudan's mission in Geneva has signaled that it may be willing to pull out of the competition, but it is not prepared to do so publicly at this stage. In exchange, they expect that Sudan will seek assurances from other African states to oppose a U.S. and European effort to strengthen the Human Rights Council's scrutiny of its human rights conduct.
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The United States and its European allies are heading for another dust up in the Security Council over the strategy for reinforcing a shaky U.N.-brokered cease-fire, according to U.N. diplomats.
The council's European powers, Britain and France, tabled a draft resolution that would require Syria meet its commitment to provide U.N. monitors with freedom of movement and unimpeded access to any sources in the country or face the threat of U.N. sanctions. Russia, meanwhile, is now pushing a competing resolution that would not threaten Syria with any fresh penalties if fails to comply with its requirements. (See note below)
The competing drafts both support a proposal by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to establish a full-fledged U.N. monitoring mission of at least 300 blue berets, and likely more down the road, with freedom of movement and unimpeded access to individuals within Syria.
But the Western draft, which was distributed to the council by France, goes much further, condemning Syria's violent repression of civilians during the past year, and places sharper demands on Damascus to order their forces back to the barracks.
The Western draft also included a provision, which is being hotly contested by Moscow, threatening to adopt measures under article 41 of the U.N. charter -- a reference to sanctions -- if Syria fails to meet its "commitments in their entirety" to "withdraw its troops and heavy weapons from population centers to their barracks to facilitate a sustained cessation of violence."
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that governments need to "start moving very vigorously in the Security Council" towards the adoption of a sanctions resolution including travel, financial sanctions, and an arms embargo to pressure the regime to comply with special emissary Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan. But she acknowledged that Russia is still likely to veto any U.N. resolution imposing sanctions on Syria. She also voiced concern about the viability of the new observer mission, raising the prospects, however unlikely, that the council may pull the plug on a U.N. mission before it gets fully going.
"We're in a dilemma," she said. "We think it's important to get independent sources of observation and reporting on the ground, but we do not want to create a situation where those who are sent in to do this mission themselves are subjected to violence."
The latest diplomatic scuffle comes one day after the U.N. and Syria reached agreement this week on a so-called "preliminary agreement" that sets the operating terms for a small team of U.N. monitors that have struggled in recent days to test the will of the Syrian government to let them document abuses in a conflict that may have left more than 11,000 dead.
The new 8-page pact -- which was obtained by Turtle Bay from a U.N. diplomat -- furnishes the monitors with some vital powers, including the authority to import communications equipment and conduct unobstructed communications with U.N. headquarters, that a failed Arab League monitoring mission earlier this year lacked.
But there remain unresolved matters: for instance, Syria has not yet agreed to permit the U.N. to bring in its own planes or helicopters to transport the monitors to a hot spot at a moment's notice. The U.N.'s assistant secretary general for peacekeeping, Edmond Mulet, told the Security Council behind closed doors on Thursday that a pact on U.N. air assets is vital to the monitors' success and that the U.N. would try to strike a deal with the Syrians by the time an expanded U.N. monitoring mission could be deployed.
So far, Ban and other top U.N. officials say that while Syria has yet to fully meet its obligations to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from Syrian towns, and though it initially blocked the observer team from traveling to the city of Homs, they still believe there is value in expanding the size of the U.N. monitoring mission over the coming weeks, and reinforcing its technical capacity.
After three days of frustrating patrols aimed at testing their freedom of movement, the monitors took a break from their patrols today. Ahmed Fawzi, the chief spokesman for Annan, told Turtle Bay the monitors were "regrouping, reassessing" and planning for a new round of patrols on Saturday.
U.N. officials said that the monitors are straining to find a way to do their work under conditions that are complicated by the intensive interest of media, who have been tracking their every step, the large crowds that have poured into the streets to greet them during patrols, a loosely organized armed opposition, and a government that has not yet fully resigned itself to its commitment to submit to outside scrutiny.
A routine patrol to the town of Arbeen underscored the risks of monitoring in a country that remains in a state of conflict. A U.N. convoy was approached by a crowd of protesters that "forced UN vehicles to a checkpoint," according to a report by Ban to the UNSC. "Subsequently, the crowd was dispersed by firing projectiles. Those responsible for the firing could not be ascertained by the United Nations Military Observers."
Ban wrote that that "it remains a challenge to assess accurately unconfirmed and conflicting reports of developments in Syria. He said that while "levels of violence dropped markedly" in the days following a April 12 U.N.-brokered cease-fire, "violent incidents and reports of casualties have escalated again in recent days, with reports of shelling of civilian areas and abuses by government forces. The Government reports violent actions by armed groups. The cessation of armed violence in all its forms is therefore clearly incomplete."
(note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the U.S. joined Britain and France in tabling a draft resolution on U.N. monitors. However, the U.S. was closely involved in the drafts preparation, according to a council source. The council is currently negotiating on the basis of the Russian text.)
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JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has proposed the U.N. Security Council establish a full-fledged U.N. monitoring mission for Syria with an initial 300 unarmed blue berets, backed by air transport, and with the authority to carry out unimpeded investigations into possible cease-fire violations by the Syrian government or armed opposition.
The new mission would be deployed within weeks after the 15-nation council adopts a resolution creating the new mission, which would be called the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNMIS). Ban suggested that the mission might need to be enlarged and that he would come back to the council within 90 days with a new plan to "further develop and define the mission's mandate, scope and methods of work."
"It would be a nimble presence that would constantly and rapidly observe, establish and assess the facts and conditions on the ground in an objective manner, and engage all relevant parties," Ban wrote of the new mission. His 8-page report was distributed to the Security Council tonight and will be made public shortly. Security Council diplomats say they hope a resolution can be voted on by early next week.
The report provides a mixed account of the security conditions on the ground since the U.N. deployed its first monitors three days ago in Syria, noting that "it remains a challenge to assess accurately unconfirmed and conflicting reports of developments in Syria."
Ban wrote that "levels of violence dropped markedly" in Syria since April 12, when a U.N.-brokered cease fire went into effect, "however, the Syrian Government has yet to fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops and heavy weapons, or to return them to barracks. Violent incidents and reports of casualties have escalated again in recent days, with reports of shelling of civilian areas and abuses by government forces. The Government reports violent actions by armed groups. The cessation of armed violence in all its forms is therefore clearly incomplete."
The reports say that the U.N. monitors had been initially blocked from visiting the town of Homs, but that they were granted "freedom of movement" during a visit to Deraa on Tuesday, where they found no evidence of armed violence or heavy weapons. Visits to three other towns, including Jobar, Zamalka, and Arbeen in Rif Damascus revealed continuing military presence at multiple checkpoints, as well as an armored personnel carried hidden under a plastic sheet.
The report also documented an incident in Arbeen that ended in violence.
"The situation in Arbeen became tense when a crowd that was part of an opposition demonstration forced United Nations vehicles to a checkpoint. Subsequently, the crowd was dispersed by firing projectiles. Those responsible for the firing could not be ascertained by the United Nations Military Observers. No injuries were observed by the United Nations advance team. One United Nations vehicle was damaged slightly during the incident."
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Full text of Ban Ki-moon's letter to the U.N. Security Council:
18 April 2012
Her Excellency/Ms. Susan Rice/President of the Security Council/New York
1. Further to operative paragraph 5 of Security Council resolution 2042 (2012), and to the briefing of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Kofi Annan, to the Security Council on 12 April 2012, I wish to outline a proposal for a United Nations supervision mission in Syria (UNSMIS) for an initial period of three months. I recommend that the Council authorize such a mission, with the understanding that I will consider relevant developments on the ground, including the consolidation of the cessation of the violence, to decide on deployments.
2. The protracted crisis in Syria over the past 13 months has seen many thousands killed, injured, detained or displaced. The violence has been characterized by use of heavy weapons in civilian areas and widespread violations of human rights, while aspirations for political change in the country have not been met. I remain deeply concerned about the gravity of the situation in the country. However, without under-estimating the serious challenges ahead, an opportunity for progress may now exist, on which we need to build.
3. On 25 March 2012, the Syrian Government committed to an initial six-point plan proposed by the Joint Special Envoy, which has the full support of the Security Council. This plan includes provisions for immediate steps by the Syrian Government, and a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilize the country. To this end, it requires the Syrian government immediately to cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres and to begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres.
It also requires a range of other steps by the Syrian Government to alleviate the crisis, including humanitarian access, access to and release of detainees, access and freedom of movement for journalists, and freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully. The plan embodies the need for an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people.
4. On 11 April 2012, the Syrian Government stated it would cease all military operations throughout the entire country, and similar commitments were obtained from the armed opposition. Accordingly, for the first time in over one year, a cessation of violence was declared and went into effect across Syria at 0600 hours on 12 April 2012. This was an important step by all parties in de-escalating the situation. It now must be effectively sustained.
5. The engagement of many states with influence on the parties was and remains critical to furthering this process. The Security Council has spoken with one voice through its presidential statements of 3 August, 21 March and 5 April and resolution 2042 of 14 April. The Council's continued unity is also of critical importance in seeking a pacific settlement of the crisis.
Developments since 12 April
6. Given the lack of presence on the ground other than the first members of the Advance Team who arrived three days ago, it remains a challenge to assess accurately unconfirmed and conflicting reports of developments in Syria. Nevertheless, it appears that levels of violence dropped markedly on 12 April and the following days, with a concomitant decrease in reports of casualties. However, the Syrian Government has yet to fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops and heavy weapons, or to return them to barracks. Violent incidents and reports of casualties have escalated again in recent days, with reports of shelling of civilian areas and abuses by government forces. The Government reports violent actions by armed groups. The cessation of armed violence in all its forms is therefore clearly incomplete. At the same time, in accordance with their acceptance of the six-point plan, the parties have continued to express their commitment to a cessation of armed violence in all its forms and have agreed to cooperate with a United Nations supervision mechanism to observe and strengthen both sides commitment to a cessation.
7. The advance team of up to 30 unarmed military observers authorized by the Security Council in paragraph 7 of resolution 2042 (2012) began to deploy on 16 April 2012. It has commenced liaison with the parties and is beginning to report on the cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties. This team is led by a Colonel and will be swiftly augmented by the necessary mission support personnel, including ordnance experts and United Nations security officers.
8. The team visited Deraa on 17 April 2012. During its two to three hour presence in the city, it enjoyed freedom of movement. It observed no armed violence or heavy weapons in the city. It observed no major military concentrations, but several points were occupied at section level, and buses and trucks with soldiers were dispersed throughout the city. The team visited Jobar, Zamalka and Arbeen in Rif Damascus today. It reported military presence at checkpoints and around some public squares and buildings in all three locations. In Arbeen, one armoured personnel carrier was hidden, covered by a plastic sheet. The situation in Arbeen became tense when a crowd that was part of an opposition demonstration forced United Nations vehicles to a checkpoint. Subsequently, the crowd was dispersed by firing projectiles. Those responsible for the firing could not be ascertained by the United Nations Military Observers. No injuries were observed by the United Nations advance team. One United Nations vehicle was damaged slightly during the incident. The team expects to visit Rif Daraa tomorrow. The team's initial request to visit Homs was not granted, with officials claiming security concerns.
9. Action on other aspects of the six-point plan remains partial, and, while difficult to assess, it does not amount yet to the clear signal expected from the Syrian authorities. Regarding the right to protest peacefully, numerous demonstrations were organized on 13 April after Friday prayers, one day after the date of the cessation of violence. Reports issued by local opposition groups suggest that these were met with a more restrained response than in previous incidents of protest, but there were nevertheless attempts to intimidate protesters, including reports of incidents of rifle fire by government troops. On detainees, on 5 April the International Committee for the Red Cross announced that it had agreed with the Syrian Government on procedures for visits to places of detention and that this would be put into practice with a visit to Aleppo prison. However, the status and circumstances of thousands of detainees across the country remains unclear and there continue to be concerning reports of significant abuses. There has been no significant release of detainees. On 12 April the Syrian Government said entry visas were granted to "53 Arab and foreign journalists" between 25 March and 12 April. We have no further information on this. All journalists must have full freedom of movement throughout the country.
10. Meanwhile, on the issue of humanitarian access, while the United Nations and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) needs assessment report identified one million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria, no substantive progress has been achieved over the last weeks of negotiations on access to those in need, or in increasing the capacity of organizations on the ground.
11. Developments since 12 April underline the importance of sending a clear message to the authorities that a cessation of armed violence must be respected in full, and that action is needed on all aspects of the six-point plan. Actions on the ground must be consistent with stated commitments to carry out the six-point plan. At the same time, the very fragility of the situation underscores the importance of putting in place arrangements that can allow impartial supervision and monitoring. A United Nations monitoring mission deployed quickly when the conditions are conducive with a clear mandate, the requisite capacities, and the appropriate conditions of operation would greatly contribute to observing and upholding the commitment of the parties to a cessation of armed violence in all its forms and to supporting the implementation of the six-point plan.
12. An expanded mission, UNSMIS, would comprise an initial deployment of up to 300 United Nations Military Observers. They would be deployed incrementally over a period of weeks, in approximately ten locations throughout Syria. It would be a nimble presence that would constantly and rapidly observe, establish and assess the facts and conditions on the ground in an objective manner, and engage all relevant parties. It would be headed by a Chief Military Observer at the rank of Major-General. UNSMIS would additionally comprise substantive and mission support personnel with a range of skills, including advisors with political, human rights, civil affairs, public information, public security, gender and other expertise. These elements would be essential to ensure comprehensive monitoring of and support to the parties for the full implementation of the six-point plan. Given the size of the country and the challenges on the ground, the mission would need to maximize the effectiveness of its supervision and observation responsibilities with effective informational awareness and information management so that it uses its resources effectively. UNSMIS would be funded through the peacekeeping account.
13. Consistent with paragraph 5 of resolution 2042, UNSMIS should monitor a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties and relevant aspects of the Joint Special Envoy's six-point proposal. Regarding a cessation of armed violence, it should be noted that the Syrian Government's full implementation and adherence to its obligations to cease troop movements towards population centres, cease all use of heavy weapons in population centres, and begin the pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres are critical, and that the withdrawal of all troops and heavy weapons from population centres to their barracks is important to facilitate a sustained cessation of violence. Equally, all parties, including both the Government and the opposition, must sustain a cessation of armed violence in all its forms. These will be the areas of monitoring by the military observers who, in the course of their duties to supervise the cessation of violence, will pay due regard to other aspects of the six-point-plan.
14. In this regard, it should also be noted that human rights abuses have characterized much of the fighting over the past thirteen months, and that any cessation of armed violence must necessarily encompass a cessation of such abuses, including torture, arbitrary detentions, abductions, sexual violence and other abuses against women, children and minorities. The free movement of journalists throughout the country and the respect of freedom of association and the right of Syrians to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed will also be critical. The release of persons arbitrarily detained is a key commitment of the Government under the six point plan that would provide a significant signal of the serious intent of the Government effectively to implement the plan in its entirety and create the conditions for a political solution through peaceful dialogue.
15. UNSMIS would not be involved in the delivery, coordination, and monitoring of humanitarian assistance. The coordination of humanitarian assistance is the responsibility of the Emergency Relief Coordinator. It should be noted in this regard that all parties, particularly the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, must allow immediate, full and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to all people in need and to cooperate fully with the United Nations and relevant humanitarian organizations to facilitate the swift provision of humanitarian assistance.
16. A supervision mission that has the capacity, through military observers and civilian personnel, to monitor and support a cessation of violence in all its forms and the implementation of the remaining aspects of the six-point plan could help create the conditions for a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition. Such a supervision mission would be important to sustain peace and a meaningful political process in the country. This would provide important support for the Joint Special Envoy's efforts to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and brings about a political solution to the crisis in Syria.
17. In committing to the six-point plan, the Government of Syria has indicated its consent to an effective UN supervision mechanism. As of 18 April, discussions with the Government of Syria on preliminary understandings to provide the basis for a protocol governing the deployment of the Advance Team and of a UN supervision mission made progress and are continuing. Other parties to the conflict have indicated their readiness to work with a mission. It is essential in this regard that the actions of the Government in particular are in full conformity with its commitment and with the fundamental principles necessary to enable an effective mission as embodied in resolution 2042. As called for by resolution 2042, it is incumbent upon the Government of Syria to facilitate the expeditious and unhindered deployment of personnel and capabilities of the mission as required to fulfil its mandate; to ensure its full, unimpeded, and immediate freedom of movement and access as necessary to fulfil its mandate; allow its unobstructed communications; and allow it to freely and privately communicate with individuals throughout Syria without retaliation against any person as a result of interaction with the mission. The Syrian authorities have the primary responsibility for the safety of the mission, which should be guaranteed by all parties without prejudice to its freedom of movement and access. This freedom of movement will need to be supported by appropriate air transport assets to ensure mobility and capacity to react quickly to reported incidents. Consultations have taken place to explain these principles to the Government of Syria, including fundamental principles of UN peacekeeping regarding selection of personnel.
18. I will seek to conclude with the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic an agreement concerning the status of UNSMIS within 30 days of the adoption of the resolution establishing UNSMIS, taking into consideration General Assembly resolution 58/82 on the scope of legal protection under the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel. In accordance with the customary practice of the United Nations, pending the conclusion of such an agreement, the model status-of-forces agreement dated 9 October 1990 (A/45/594) shall apply provisionally.
19. Member States, in particular the neighboring States, should assist the Advance Team and UNSMIS by ensuring the free, unhindered and expeditious movement to and from the Syrian Arab Republic of all personnel, as well as equipment, provisions, supplies and other goods, including vehicles and spare parts.
20. The mandate and operational posture of the mission proposed herein, including its deployment and structure, would establish an effective observer mission, with the configuration and functions described above. I would intend to further develop and define the mission's mandate, scope and methods of work based on the initial deployment, the evolution of conditions on the ground, and engagements with all relevant parties. Proposals in this regard would be contained in a report to the Security Council as soon as practicable but not more than 90 days after the establishment of UNSMIS.
21. I should be grateful if you could bring this letter urgently to the attention of the members of the Security Council.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
Dear Asma, remember those heady times before the Arab Spring, when we pinned our hopes on the "rose of the desert," your ability to work your liberalizing magic, and the dream that you could turn your autocratic husband into a democrat?
Those days are over.
Europe's elites have completed the total ostracism of Syria's stylish British-born first lady, Asma al-Assad, banning her from stepping foot in most European capitals or shopping in Europe's finest department stores.
Last month, the European Union added her name to a list of President Bashar al-Assad cronies subjected to a travel ban and asset freeze.
And now, the wives of Britain's and Germany's U.N. ambassadors have produced a new YouTube video letter scolding Asma for her obsession with fashion and image at a time when her husband's government is launching a bloody crackdown on protesters. (See the online petition here.)
The video draws from the image of Asma that emerged from a series of leaked emails she sent to her husband, describing extravagant purchases at posh European retail establishments. Interspersing glamour shots of Asma from a Vogue magazine shoot with images of mortally wounded Syrian children and common women protesting her husband's rule, the video serves as an online letter and petition from the world's women to Asma to stop the violence in Syria.
The text reads:
Some women care for style
And some women care for their people.
Some women struggle for their image
And some women struggle for survival.
Some women have forgotten what they preached about peace
[Asma, at lectern: "We all deserve the same thing: We should all be able to live in peace, stability and with our dignities."]
And some women can only pray for their dead.
Some women pretend that they have no choice
And some women just act.
What happened to you, Asma?
Hundreds of Syrian children have already been killed and injured
One day, our children will ask us
What we have done to stop this bloodshed
What will your answer be, Asma?"
That you, Asma, had no choice?
What about this boy, where was his choice?
Each single child had a name and a family.
Their lives will never the same again.
Asma, when you kiss your own children goodnight,
Another mother will find the place next to her empty.
These children could all be your children.
They are your children.
Stand up for peace, Asma.
Speak out now, for the sake of your people.
Stop your husband and his supporters.
Stop being a bystander.
No one cares about your image.
We care about your action.
The project is the brain-child of Huberta von Voss-Wittig, a journalist married Germany's U.N. ambassador Peter Wittig, and Sheila Lyall Grant, the wife of Britain's U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall Grant. Other prominent diplomatic spouses, including Muna Ghassan Tamim Rihani, the wife of the Qatari president of the U.N. General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, have signed the petition. By Wednesday morning, the online campaign had registered more than 4,500 signatures, including the wives of the U.N. ambassadors from Japan, Lithuania, and Finland.
The point of the project is to try to harness the power of YouTube to draw attention to the crisis in Syria and to rally women from across the globe to register their disgust with the Syrian first lady's conduct during one of the bloodiest chapters in the Arab Spring.
"We came up with this idea really to make Asma speak out; her voice is desperately needed in stopping the bloodshed," said Huberta Wittig, who traveled frequently to Syria when her husband was Germany's ambassador to Lebanon. "She can't hide behind her husband any more."
Wittig told Turtle Bay that the initiative is personal, and that it has nothing to do with the U.N.'s diplomatic or her husband's government's efforts to resolve the crisis. The video was produced with the unpaid help of a team of two producers, and a young British actress, Clemency Burton-Hill, who provided the narration voiceover. Wittig said the project was partly inspired by the Kony2012 YouTube campaign, but that they strove to produce a film that didn't look like a Hollywood picture.
The campaign caps a dramatic reversal of fortune for the Syrian first lady. Indeed, the 36-year-old former British investment banker from Acton, West London, was viewed as a force for modernity and liberalization in Syria when she married the young Bashar in 2000, the same year the ophthalmology student replaced his father, Hazef al-Assad, as Syria's ruler.
Before the current upheaval, she was lauded as a force for modernization in Syria, a whip-smart beauty whose liberal views might one day trickle through the repressive ranks of the Assad regime. Vogue magazine dubbed her the "Rose of the Desert" in a controversial and highly flattering profile that was published at the start of the Syrian uprising and subsequently removed from its online website.
But her standing has taken a sharp fall since the Guardian published a trove of highly personal emails with her husband, revealing her taste for online luxury shopping, which included thousands of dollars of purchases, including French chandeliers, candlesticks, and other items -- which seemed not only excessive but incongruous with the mounting bloodshed and crackdown on ordinary Syrian civilians.
"Here she is an educated woman who came in as a young moderate and she hasn't lived up to that reputation," Lyall Grant told Turtle Bay. "She has spoken about dignity and all these important aspects of life but she has not taken action" to reaffirm them.
Despite her pariah status and an EU travel ban, Asma is still allowed to travel to Britain, where she retains British citizenship. But senior British officials have made it clear that she is not really welcome, and she could also face possible arrest on charges of violating EU sanctions during her online shopping sprees.
"British nationals, British passport holders do obviously have a right of entry to the United Kingdom," Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said last month, according to the BBC. "But given that we are imposing an asset freeze on all of these individuals, and a travel ban on other members of the same family and the regime, we're not expecting Mrs Assad to try to travel to the United Kingdom at the moment."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
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Diplomats, by trade, are not naturally funny people.
And the lofty "permanent representatives," as the most senior U.N.-based ambassadors are called, are often among the least funny.
They can come across as a bit too earnest, overly confident, even pompous, and they are usually pitching a cause that doesn't translate well into snappy one-liners. While they may possess masterful negotiating skills they're rarely quick enough on their feet to parry a lethal jab from a hardened comic. And frankly, how does one offer up a riposte when the national honor has been mocked?
But every season, there they are, lining up for appearances on Comedy Central's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, confident that they can take advantage of a massive audience that could never be reached through a U.N. press conference.
But they commit comedy at their own peril.
Ask Switzerland's U.N. ambassador Peter Maurer, who got skewered by the Daily Show's faux news reporter John Oliver over his country's neutrality during World War II. ("Mr. Ambassador, is that neutral anger, or real anger?") Or Nassir al-Nasser, Qatar's then U.N. ambassador, who got visibly tense when Oliver challenged his pronunciation of "Qatar" and asked him what his country was doing to de-stabilize the Middle East. ("I'll just pause now to gauge the tension. Yep, that's tense; that is very tense indeed.")
Then there's the big screen, where the South Park creators have made a habit of lampooning U.N. officials or diplomats, including Hans Blix, the former U.N. weapons inspectors, who was thrown into a shark tank by Kim Jong Il in Team America: World Police and torn to pieces for a laugh.
But you get the point.
No one is a choicer prey for a comic than a diplomat, particularly one that speaks with a foreign accent, represents a country with a funny name, and can't take a joke.
But not everyone falls victim.
Remember how the British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, playing Ali G coaxed the former Egyptian U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali -- "the geezer" he called him -- to say, and spell out, the French word for human excrement -- "merde." But Boutros Ghali prevailed by playing along, offering his opinion on the funniest language -- "maybe Arabic" -- and patiently explaining why Disneyland can't become a U.N. member: "it's not an independent state."
Susan Rice emerged relatively unscathed in her bout with Stephen Colbert, but not before he got in a zinger about the effort to contain Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs. "Excuse me for interrupting you, but I enjoy it," Colbert said. "Iran is still working toward a nuclear weapon. [North] Korea got their nuclear weapon. I'm just as scared of both of these people. How are we stopping them? I mean, I know sternly worded letters are the bread and butter of the U.N. But maybe we should start typing them in all caps to let them know that we are really angry."
Last week, the Palestinian U.N. envoy, Riyad Mansour, tried his hand at sitting with Oliver, in a skit entitled "Who wants to be a member of the U.N.?" Mansourplayed along with the jokeas Oliver set some "preconditions" for the interview. "First this entire interview must be conducted with the 1967 vocabulary. Is that groovy with you?"
"Groovy? It is agreeable with me. Yes," Responded Mansour.
It moved onto a negotiation over who would control the studio's thermostat. (Thanks to Mondoweiss for the transcript.)
John Oliver: "...is it hot in here?"
Riyad Mansour: "It's fine."
John: "So you're not hot? Because I'm definitely hot."
Riyad: "I am not."
John: "OK, look, Ambassador, I think before we do anything, we are gonna have to come to a provisional status agreement on the temperature in this room."
Riyad: "If you want to lower the temperature, it's fine with me."
John: "But who's going to control the thermostat?"
Riyad: "The thermostat ... should be shared by all of us."
John: "Don't even think about dividing this thermostat."
Riyad: "We will not divide the thermostat, but it should be accessed by all those who cherish it and think that it is a holy place that should be accessed to everyone."
John Oliver [voiceover]: "After three and a half hours of laborious negotiations, we finally came to an agreement."
John: "We agree that at an unspecified time in the future, we will announce a summit to discuss the possibility of discussing a negotiation towards an agreement on temperature. Yes?"
John: "Shake hands for the camera. Thank you, Ambassador, this is a historic day."
Riyad: "Yes indeed."
So, how did Mansour fair for the first half of the program? He remained on message, keeping the focus on Palestine's bid for U.N. membership. And he didn't lose his temper. It helped that Oliver went a little easy on him, avoiding any awkward questions about suicide bombers or rockets from Gaza. So, let's see how he did in the game show portion of the interview.
John: "Hi Riyad where are you from, Riyad?
Riyad: "I'm from Palestine."
John: "Palestine? I've never heard of that. Ok, so question number one: What does U.N. stand for?
Riyad: [Long pause] "United Nations."
John: "That's correct. That's correct, Ryad, Congratulations. That's great. So, how do you think it's going so far?
Riyad: "We're doing good."
John: "Ok... It's the bonus round. You've come all this way. Now do you take what you've won so far ... or do you take what's inside the mystery box"
Riyad: "I take what's inside the mystery box."
John: "He's going to go for the mystery box. Ok good luck. [Opens box and removes a card with the verdict.]
John: "Riyad, oh I'm sorry it's a veto from the U.S."
Riyad: "If we're vetoed once well come back again."
John: "That's the spirit. He'll come back again, next time."
Indeed, if there's a comic willing to poke fun at him, he probably will.
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In his first extensive remarks on the Syria crisis, Kofi Annan, the former U.N. chief and current U.N.-Arab League envoy, made no mention of what has become the centerpiece of the Arab League's diplomatic strategy: a political transition to a government of national unity.
The omission may be a bit of diplomatic wizardry by the U.N. veteran, a shrewd effort to downplay a provision that Damascus finds objectionable, easing the path to face-to-face talks with Bashar al-Assad, and ultimately a deal that would compel the Syrian president to yield power.
But Annan's remarks have also served to reframe the debate over the Arab and Western approach by placing Assad at the center of any potential diplomatic settlement, and defining the immediate goals as relief and stability. He also chided governments who are seeking to use the current crisis to topple the regime by military means.
"The first thing we need to do, as the secretary-general has said, is to do everything we can to stop the violence and the killing, to facilitate humanitarian access and ensure that the needy are looked after, and work with the Syrians in coming up with a peaceful solution which respects their aspirations and eventually stabilizes the country," Annan said late Wednesday, at a press conference with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
"I know there are people who have other ideas, that dialogue may not be the way to go and one should use other means," he added. "But, I think, for the sake of the people -- for the sake of the Syrian people who are caught in the middle -- a peaceful solution, through dialogue and a speedy one is a way to go."
Radwan Zaideh, a member of the Syrian National Council (SNC), told Turtle Bay that the group is concerned that the focus of the international community has shifted since a high-level meeting of Western and Arab governments in Tunisia, from the need for a speedy political transition to the need to step up humanitarian assistance to Syrians displaced or injured by the violence. "We should not only focus on the security aspects of the Arab League plan but political aspects," he said. "Assad has to step down."
But Zaideh said that the SNC thought Annan was a perfect candidate for the job because of his stature as a leading international diplomat and because he has the credibility to bring China, Russia, and Iran on board for a political settlement.
Indeed, Annan tried to draw together all the competing diplomatic strands, including a high-level Russian initiative to prod the opposition into engaging in talks with Assad's government. "If we are going to succeed, it is extremely important that we all accept there should be one process of mediation -- the one both the U.N. and the Arab League has asked me to lead," Annan said. "When you have more than one and people take their own initiatives, the parties play with the mediators. If one mediator says something they do not want they got to the other. So, one single unitary process, and it is when the international community speaks with one voice, that voice is powerful."
For now, the problem is how to get to Damascus.
Annan maintained cordial ties with Assad when he served as U.N. secretary general. President George W. Bush, seeking Syrian backing for a 2006 ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, looked to Kofi Annan to persuade Assad.
"I feel like telling Kofi to get on the phone with Assad and make something happen," Bush said in a conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair that was inadvertently picked up by a live microphone. In her memoirs, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would credit Annan with persuading Assad not to stand in the way of a final ceasefire deal ending the war.
Asked about his relationship with Assad, Annan said, "We haven't been in touch for a couple of years and so I will not presume anything. We will make the demarches and time will tell. But I would plead with him that he should engage, not only with me, but with the process that we are launching today."
Richard Gowan, a specialist on the United Nations at New York University's Center for Global Cooperation, said Annan's most important assets is his relationship with Assad, and that it is only natural that he would tread cautiously in his first days to preserve prospects for exploiting it.
"In Syria, it's not a situation like Kenya, where he can claim legitimacy as a great African statesman," Gowan said. "He has a personal history of talking with Assad and he may be able to have conversation that no else can have. The biggest challenge is what happens when he talks to the SNC or the rebels. He's not dealing with two coherent political parties, and he has no personal links to any of the rebels."
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The U.N.'s chief human rights official, Navi Pillay, advised U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon earlier this month to seek the removal of a former Sri Lankan officer from a top peacekeeping advisory committee because soldiers under his command may have committed abuses during the bloody, final months of the country's 28-year-long civil war, according to a confidential account obtained by Turtle Bay.
Major Gen. Shavendra Silva, who currently serves as Sri Lanka's deputy U.N. envoy, was selected last month by the U.N.'s Asia Group, which consists of all the U.N.'s Asian member states, to serve on the U.N. secretary general's senior advisory panel. The 20-member panel was established to examine the prospect of awarding pay increases to U.N. peacekeepers.
But his appointment has drawn intense criticism from Pillay and human rights advocates, who claim that his role as a military commander of Sri Lanka's 58th division, which faced allegations of rights abuses, should make him ineligible.
In a confidential letter to Ban, excerpts of which were reviewed by Turtle Bay, Pillay wrote that Silva's appointment threatens to harm the reputation of the U.N.'s peacekeeping division. She appealed to Ban and other top U.N. officials to ask the Asian Group to reconsider its decision, and select a replacement.
"I am seriously concerned that were Mr. Silva to assume this senior position related to U.N. peacekeeping the damage to the reputation and integrity of the organization will be serious and sustained," Pillay wrote. "His appointment runs directly counter to long-standing efforts ... to move peacekeeping operations away from previous incidents of serious mismanagement and abusive conduct on a stronger, more professional and more respected footing."
In response to Pillay's criticism of the appointment, Sri Lanka's mission to the United Nations issued a statement this week saying Pillay's demands are "unfair and unethical."
"Nowhere in the world, certainly not in this country, do you convict a person on the basis of allegations; nor do you besmirch a person's reputation by repeating allegations," Sri Lanka's U.N. ambassador Palitha Kohona, told Turtle Bay. "I think it is not only improper but unfair and unjust.
Kohona said his government has formed a committee to investigate allegations of human rights abuses detailed by a Sri Lankan lessons learned panel. "They will investigate every single allegation highlighted in the lessons learned report," said Kohona.
The U.N.'s secretary general's office declined to comment on Pillay's letter. But Martin Nesirky, Ban's chief spokesman, told reporters in a recent press briefing that Ban had no authority to reverse the appointment. "The selection of the members of the group is beyond the secretary general's purview," Nesirky said. "It's a matter for member states."
Human Rights Watch countered that, while the U.N.'s Asian governments are to blame for the appointment, the U.N. chief bears responsibility for fixing it.
"The responsibility for this puzzling appointment lays squarely with the Asia Group, but ultimately Ban Ki-moon established the panel and has to safeguard the reputation and credibility of the United Nations," Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch, told Turtle Bay. "He was not part of the problem, but he need to be part of the solution."
The U.N. General Assembly asked Ban to assemble a senior advisory group to "consider rates of reimbursements" for U.N. peacekeepers. The rate of peacekeeping pay has been a source of mounting resentment among troop-contributing countries because the standard rate has not changed in many years.
The General Assembly mandated that the advisory group be comprised of "five eminent persons of relevant experience" appointed by the secretary general, five representatives from major troop-contributing countries, five representatives from major financial contributors to peacekeeping missions, and one representative for each of the U.N. regional groups.
The panel includes several prominent former U.N. officials, including Louise Frechette of Canada, a former U.N. deputy secretary general, and Jean Marie Guehenno of France, who previously served as the U.N.'s top peacekeeping official. Silva was selected by the Asia group.
In 2008-2009, the Sri Lankan government launched an all-out offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), one of the world's most violent and ruthless insurgencies.
The operation, which centered on a Tamil stronghold in the Vanni region of Sri Lanka, succeeded in wiping out the armed movement in May 2009.
But the operation took a devastating toll on ethnic Tamil civilians, who were largely trapped between the rival forces. As many as 40,000 civilians died, most of them victims of indiscriminate shelling by Sri Lankan government forces, according to a U.N. panel established by the secretary general.
Silva commanded Sri Lanka's 58th division, which was directly involved in the final push to crush the LTTE. The panel does not specifically accuse Silva of engaging in atrocities, but it raises concern about the conduct of his troops.
"It is thus a reasonable conclusion that there is, at the very least, the appearance of a case of international crimes to answer by Mr. Silva," Pillay wrote. "I would this strongly encourage you and senior colleagues to convey as a matter of urgency the organization's request to the Asian Group that this nomination be reviewed.... Should diplomatic engagement fail to bear fruit, further steps may need to be considered."
"Peacekeeping service is a privilege attracting a heavy protection responsibility, rather than amounting to any form of entitlement or political reward, and credibly alleged human rights violations are sufficient basis to justify denial or termination of mission appointment of peacekeeping persons," she added. "The integrity of this principled position would be substantially undercut by the appointment of Mr. Silva."
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U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice and Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin have exchanged a series of highly personalized attacks against one another in the past 24 hours, signaling a sharp deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations at the United Nations over the response to the Arab Spring.
But the exchange reached a new level today when Rice's spokesman, Mark Kornblau, while watching Churkin insult his boss, Tweeted an edited picture of Churkin inside the face of the "Grinch Who Stole Christmas." The U.S. delegation had previously shared the photo with the Security Council, including Churkin, last year when the Russian envoy resisted Rice's efforts to convene a Security Council meeting with the world's youth. He apparently laughed then. Not clear if he thought it was funny this time around.
The latest diplomatic row has sharpened since the Russian envoy has begun pressing for a U.N.-backed investigation into allegations that NATO killed civilians during its air campaign against forces loyal to Muammar al-Qaddafi.
It comes as Russia has frustrated U.S. and European efforts to use the Security Council to ratchet up political pressure, through the threat of sanctions, on Syria to compel President Bashar al-Assad to halt a violent crackdown on protesters.
Rice suggested that the real intent of the Russian initiative was to divert attention from Syria's conduct. "Oh, the bombast and bogus claims," Rice said on Wednesday, after listening to Churkin speak outside the council. "Welcome to December. Is everybody sufficiently distracted from Syria now and the killing that is happening before our very eyes?"
Regarding Libya, Rice added: "Now, obviously, the United States and NATO partners regret any loss of civilian lives, but we also know that these are being already investigated, including by the Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry...we welcome that. We note that neither the Libyan government nor the majority of members of the Security Council expressed any interest in any additional investigations. And, frankly, I think it's not an exaggeration to say that this is something of a cheap stunt to divert attention from other issues and to obscure the success of NATO and its partners -- and indeed the Security Council -- in protecting the people of Libya.... So...let us see this for what it is: it is duplicitous, it's redundant, it's superfluous and it's a stunt."
Churkin organized its own press briefing today to respond to Rice's comments, maintaining that the United States and its European partners are seeking to use the council to bring about regime change in Syria, and that their refusal to support a negotiated settlement of the Syrian conflict has exacerbated tensions, driving the country into an increasingly violent civil war.
But the briefing quickly got personal, as Churkin recalled what he described as a "rather unusual outburst" by Rice.
"This is not an issue that can be drowned out by expletives. You might recall the words one could hear: bombast and bogus claims, cheap stunt, duplicitous, redundant, superfluous, stunt," he said. "Oh, you know, you cannot beat a Stanford education, can you," said Churkin mocking Rice's alma mater.
"We here that the Obama administration wants to establish a dialogue with the international community in the United Nations, and in the Security Council," he added. "If that is to be the case, if this is the intention, really this Stanford dictionary of expletives must be replaced by something more Victorian, because certainly this is not the language in which we intend to discuss matters with our partners in the Security Council."
What did Rice have to say about that?
"Happy Holidays to my good friend Amb Churkin, who's clearly had a long month as Sec Council president," Rice wrote in a Tweet after the briefing. "Hope he gets some well deserved rest."
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Add another name to Syria's growing enemies list: Barbara Walters.
Syria's U.N. envoy, Bashar Jaafari, denounced the ABC broadcaster's handling of a prime time interview she conducted with President Bashar al-Assad, the first by an American television journalist since public protests began threatening the Syrian leader's rule.
"She distorted the truth," he told reporters outside the Security Council late on Monday. "We gave her the opportunity to interview the president for 59 minutes and she aired only 20 minutes." Walters, he protested, edited out "all the positive answers."
The blast against Walters came on a day when Syria faced mounting international pressure to halt its crackdown on protesters. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay accused the Syrian government of deliberately killing and torturing thousands of civilians during the anti government protests.
The confidential briefing, which was obtained by Turtle Bay, alleged that Syrian authorities have killed more than 5,000 civilians, military defectors, and security agents that have refused orders to kill civilians.
"The situation is intolerable," she said. "The nature and scale of abuses committed by Syrian forces since March indicate that crimes against humanity are likely to have been committed."
In response, Jaafari lashed out at Pillay, saying the high commissioner for human rights had violated "the honor of her office" by meddling in the internal affairs of a U.N. member state, and relying on accounts of military defectors. "Mrs. Pillay ... is not objective, she is not fair ... she has trespassed her mandate, she allowed herself to be misused."
The exchange capped a day of recriminations and finger pointing in the Security Council. Jaafari said his country was a victim of a "huge conspiracy" concocted by the United States, Europe's former colonial powers, Israel, and the armed Syrian opposition forces fighting the government.
Russia's U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin partly agreed, saying that the Western powers are seeking to topple Assad's government.
"We think this is very dangerous," Churkin said. "They make no secret of the fact that they want regime change." Churkin also accused his Western partners of trying to bully him into rejecting a proposal by China to have Pillay expand the briefing to cover human rights abuses in Palestinian territories. "I saw every trick in the book thrown at me short of trying to strangulate the president of the council," Churkin said.
U.S. and European diplomats denied that they tried to block a discussion of Palestinian rights, which they characterized as a cynical attempt by Syria's defenders to detract attention from Damascus's conduct -- which one U.N. diplomat characterized as "the most horrifying briefing that we've had in the Security Council over the last two years."
"We find it unconscionable that the Security Council has not spoken out on this issue in recent months given everything that has happened," said Rosemary DiCarlo, the U.S. deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. "We really need to see the Security Council on the right side of history here, to stand with the Syrian people."
Privately, council diplomats noted that China and Russia, which have traditionally resisted discussions of human rights in the Security Council, have never before asked for a briefing by the human rights chief on Palestine, or on any other human rights crisis.
"This is a complete red herring," said Britain's U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.
"This was a very transparent ploy by those countries that did not want to hear Ms. Pillay's briefing on Syria. There has never been a request for her to come and brief on Palestine before," he added. "Indeed, the newfound enthusiasm on the part of some of our colleagues who have traditionally opposed any briefing by the high commissioner for human rights in the Security Council seems now to have ended, and I would certainly anticipate that Ms. Pillay will be invited a number of times back to the Security Council to brief on human rights in a number of places across the world in the future."
While the heated diplomatic rhetoric in the Security Council probably served to keep the public conversation on Syria alive, it did little to break the diplomatic logjam in the council on a way forward.
While the U.N. Security Council in August adopted a non-binding statement condemning Syria's repression, it has not been able to apply further pressure on Syria. China and Russia vetoed a U.S.- and European-backed resolution that would have threatened possible sanctions against Syria.
The prospects for a breakthrough now rest in the hands of the Arab League, which has imposed its own set of sanctions on Syria, and which will be holding a series of meetings with European governments to determine if it will back a Security Council resolution on Syria -- a move that would raise the political costs of another veto. "We are in regular consultations with the Arab ambassadors here in New York, as are our capitals with Arab capitals in the region and in the light of those decisions that they take over the next few days we shall certainly consider when, and how, and in what terms to come back to the Security Council," said Lyall Grant.
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Iran denounced the United States at the United Nations on Thursday night for engaging in a pattern of "provocative and covert operations," including the use of an RQ-170 unmanned spy drone that was captured by Iranian authorities, and warned that Tehran "reserves its legitimate rights to take all necessary measures to protect its national sovereignty."
Iran's U.N. ambassador Mohammad Khazaee wrote in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that the United States has stepped up covert operations against Iran in recent months, perhaps referring to the assassination of three Iranian nuclear scientists. He called on the United Nations to condemn what he described as "acts of aggression" and to take "clear and effective measures" to "put an end to these dangerous and unlawful acts."
The diplomatic protest comes as the Iranian government has itself come under intensive criticism at the United Nations over its nuclear program, its human rights conduct, and its alleged role in an assassination plot against Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United Nations.
Earlier this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report expressing serious "concern" that Iran has been seeking to master the technology to develop nuclear weapons capability. The U.N. General Assembly's Human Rights Council, meanwhile, adopted a resolution deploring the alleged assassination attempt.
A copy of the latest Iranian letter, which will also be presented to the presidents of the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly, was emailed to Turtle Bay by the Iranian government.
It says the American drone "violated Iran's air space" by flying "250 Kilometers deep into Iranian territory up to the northern region of the city of Tabas, where it faced prompt and forceful action by the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
"This is not the only act of aggression and covert operation by the United States against the Islamic Republic of Iran," Khazee wrote. "My Government emphasizes that this blatant and unprovoked air violation by the United States Government is tantamount to an act of hostility against the Islamic Republic of Iran in clear contravention of international law, in particular, the basic tenets of the United Nations Charter."
(Full text below.)
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* * *
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
No. 1396 8 December 2011
Upon instructions from my Government, I have the honor to draw your kind attention to the provocative and covert operations against the Islamic Republic of Iran by the United States Government, which have increased and intensified in recent months.
In the continuation of such trend, recently, an American RQ-170 unmanned spy plane, bearing a specific serial number, violated Iran 's air space. This plane flied 250 Kilometers deep into Iranian territory up to the northern region of the city of Tabas , where it faced prompt and forceful action by the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In the past, the Iranian Government lodged its strong protests against similar acts by submitting several Notes including Notes No. 164440 dated 29 October 2008 and No. 268483 dated 11 February 2009 to the Government of the United States.
My Government emphasizes that this blatant and unprovoked air violation by the United States Government is tantamount to an act of hostility against the Islamic Republic of Iran in clear contravention of international law, in particular, the basic tenets of the United Nations Charter. The Iranian Government expresses its strong protest over these violations and acts of aggression and warns against the destructive consequences of the recurrence of such acts. The Islamic Republic of Iran reserves its legitimate rights to take all necessary measures to protect its national sovereignty.
My Government, hereby, calls for the condemnation of such acts of aggression and requests for clear and effective measures to be taken to put an end to these dangerous and unlawful acts in line with the United Nations' responsibilities to maintain international and regional peace and security, in accordance with the letter and spirit of the United Nations Charter.
I am sending identical letters to the President of the General Assembly and the President of the Security Council. It would be appreciated if this letter could be circulated as a document of the General Assembly under the agenda item 83 and of the Security Council.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon
Secretary-General of the United Nations
cc: H.E. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin
President of Security Council
United Nations, New York
cc: H.E. Mr. Nasser A. Al-Nasser
President of General Assembly
United Nations, New York
On Monday, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters in New York that a U.N. report detailing atrocities by Syrian security forces underscored the need for the U.N. Security Council to take action to stop a campaign of repression that has left more than 4,000 dead, most of them peaceful protesters.
But over the following days, U.S. diplomats in Geneva worked behind the scenes to eliminate a European Union proposal to have the U.N. Human Rights Council recommend that the Security Council consider the U.N. report on Syrian abuses and to "take appropriate action" to stop it, according to senior Western diplomats and human rights advocates.
Western diplomats said that U.S. officials had informed them this week that they are reluctant to see the Human Rights Council resolution refer the matter to the Security Council -- because it would reinforce a precedent that could be used in the future against Israel.
In Oct. 2009, the rights council called on the U.N. Security Council to consider the Goldstone Report, which sharply criticized Israel's conduct during the 2008-2009 Gaza offensive, called Operation Cast Lead. The resolution was adopted over the objections of the United States, but the Security Council's membership showed little interest in taking up the matter.
European diplomats were hoping to use the rights council this week as a political lever to ratchet up pressure on President Bashar Al-Assad with the one threat they believe he fears: a deeper Security Council role in addressing the crisis. "It would be disappointing but not surprising if United States policy on Israel was skewing their policy towards the strongest possible action on Syria," said a Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But U.S. officials challenged that account, saying that while they don't believe it's appropriate for the Human Rights Council to tell the Security Council what to do, Washington does favor the toughest possible action against Syria. They also maintain that the United States has lead international efforts at the United Nations to ensure that Syrian officials are ultimately held accountable for their crimes.
They cited U.S. support for a Security Council statement in August demanding that Syrian perpetrators of violence face justice for their crimes, the move to rally support to prevent Syria from getting elected to the Human Rights Council, and the convening of a series of three special sessions there to condemn and investigate Syria's crimes.
"For months now, the United States has been at the forefront pressing for Security Council action against the Syrian regime, as well as action and condemnation through other U.N. bodies like the Human Rights Council," Mark Kornblau, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, told Turtle Bay. "However, the Human Rights Council simply cannot refer matters to the Security Council because it's a subsidiary of the General Assembly ... the Security Council decides which issues of international peace and security it will take up."
The debate follows the publication on Monday of a damning account by a U.N. commission of inquiry into Syria's conduct. It is playing out as the U.N. Human Rights Council prepares to vote on a resolution condemning Syria's action.
A confidential draft, which was obtained by Turtle Bay, "strongly condemns the continued widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities." It accuses the government of committing "arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters, human rights defenders and journalists."
The draft also calls on Syria to immediately halt its security crackdown, investigate rights abusers in the police and army, allow U.N. human rights monitors into Syria, and urges the Arab League and other U.N. members to support international efforts to "protect the population of the Syrian Arab Republic."
An earlier draft statement included a reference to the International Criminal Court. ( A preambular paragraph reiterated "the importance of accountability and the need to end impunity and hold to account those responsible for human rights, violations, including those that may amount to crimes against humanity [that may warrant the attention of the ICC]."
While the call for accountability remains in the latest draft, the bracketed reference to the ICC has been dropped at the insistence of the United States, which is not a member of the Hague-based court. The U.S. spokesman, Mark Kornblau, did not confirm the United States had blocked the language, but he said that "we continue to press for accountability -- and again this is not the in the purview of the Human Rights Council, it's the responsibility of the Security Council."
Human Rights advocates criticized the U.S. approach to the negotiations. "The U.S. should be leading the charge to include this kind of language rather than trying to block it," said Peggy Hicks, who is monitoring the negotiations in Geneva for Human Rights Watch.
"We think it's very important that the current draft resolution recommends that the General Assembly and the Security Council consider the report of the Commission of Inquiry, which found that crimes against humanity have been committed in Syria," said Jose Luis Diaz, Amnesty International's U.N. representative. "The members of the [Human Rights Council] that believe in international justice should stick up for this."
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JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images
Russia and China today cast a rare double veto to block a U.S. and European-backed draft resolution condemning Syria for its brutal crackdown on protesters, exposing the first major rift in the U.N. Security Council over its response to the wave of popular uprisings that has spread across North Africa and the Middle East.
The draft garnered a paltry 9 votes in the 15-member council, the bare minimum required for adoption of a resolution, as Brazil, India, Lebanon, and South Africa expressed their unease with the Western press for sanctions by abstaining on the vote.
The Russian and Chinese actions marked the defeat of months of European-led diplomatic efforts to impose sanctions on Damascus for unleashing a violent response to the demonstrations. Syria's U.N. ambassador, Bashar Al Jafaari, reacted to the veto with a smile, and later thanked the "voices of the wise" on the council who confronted what he characterized as the colonial and military aspirations of a bloc of Western powers that is "doomed to failure."
Speaking after the vote, Russia's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, and China's U.N. ambassador, Li Boadong, expressed concern that the resolution would serve to exacerbate tensions in Syria and could serve as a pretext for possible regime change.
Churkin blasted the Western initiative as reflecting a "philosophy of confrontation" with Syria that would undermine any efforts to pursue a political settlement between the government and the opposition.
The vote triggered an angry reaction from Susan Rice, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, and France's U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, who vowed that this "veto will not stop us" from continuing to press for the Bashar al-Assad government to end a crackdown that has killed nearly 3,000 people.
"The United States is outraged that this council has utterly failed to address an urgent moral challenge and a growing threat to regional peace and security," said Rice, expressing unusual emotion. "Several members have sought for weeks to weaken and strip bare any text that would have defended the lives of innocent civilians from Assad's brutality."
Rice said that the council's split provided a stark illustration of which countries supported the aspirations of pro-democracy demonstrators in Syria and the rest of the Arab world. "During this season of change, the people of the Middle East can now see clearly which nations have chosen to ignore their calls for democracy and instead prop up desperate, cruel dictators," she said. "Let there be no doubt: this is not about military intervention. This is not about Libya. That is a cheap ruse by those who would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime than stand with the Syrian people."
The clash comes weeks after the U.N. Security Council reached agreement on a statement, generally considered less forceful than a resolution, condemning Syria's conduct.
The council's European members had initially pressed for a resolution that would have imposed an arms embargo on Syria, and targeted President Assad and more than 20 of his closest associates with a series of sanctions, including a travel ban and a freeze on financial assets.
The watered-down draft resolution blocked by Russia and China today "strongly condemned the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities." It accused the regime of carrying out "arbitrary executions," torture, and enforced disappearances to end the protests.
The resolution demanded that the Syrian government immediately "cease the use of force against civilians," release political prisoners and detained protesters, and grant a range of other "fundamental freedoms" to its people. Had the resolution passed, it would have stipulated that had Syria failed to comply with the demands, within 30 days the council would have met to consider "other options" against Syria, a veiled reference to sanctions.
But the compromise was not enough to thwart the Russian veto, according to diplomats.
It was the first time one of the council's five veto-wielding powers has cast a no vote since February, when the Obama administration blocked a Palestinian-backed draft resolution denouncing Israel's settlement policy as an illegal obstacle to the Middle East peace process. It was also the first time China and Russia have cast a joint veto since July 2008, when they both vetoed a U.S.-drafted resolution condemning Zimbabwe's human rights record.
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Remember the back channel sniping about Ban Ki moon's lack of charisma, his hopelessly bland personality. Or the attacks from within the U.N.'s own ranks that Ban's weak leadership was destroying the institution. Remember the impassioned pleas to Obama Administration officials to dump Ban in order to save the United Nations from irrelevance.
Ah, they seem so distant now.
I think Jeffrey Sachs probably best captured the mood at Turtle Bay this week as U.N. bigs and diplomatic heavyweights vied for the most over-the-top superlatives to burnish the former South Korean diplomats much maligned first term.
"The world can breath easier with the reelection this month of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki moon to a second term in office," wrote Sachs, the head of Columbia University's Earth Institute and a UN special advisor on the Millennium Development Goals. "During a recent trip with Ban to Egypt and Tunisia, I watched in awe as he deftly backed the democratic changes underway in those two countries while simultaneously dealing with many other upheavals in the region."
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, gushed about the record of the top U.N. diplomat, citing his support for democratic change in the Middle East, his role in the ousting of Ivory Coast's strongman Laurent Gbagbo, and seeking to wash away any of the doubts about Washington's attitude towards Ban.
"This is an important day in the life of this institution," Rice said at Ban's reelection ceremony. "For the past four and a half years, the Secretary General has navigated turbulent waters with a steady hand."
"We have all benefited from the wisdom and experience he has amassed over the course of a long, distinguished, and selfless career of public service," Rice continued. "Secretary General Ban is a leader who listens to the voice of the voiceless-of the refugees sheltered beneath UN tents, of the children vaccinated through UN programs, of the innocent civilians whose lives have been saved by effective U.N. action."
Even outside analysts got into the act, penning a series of articles that highlighted Ban's contribution to global peace and tranquility. In a blog post entitled "Why Ban Ki-moon is Good for the United States," Daniel F. Runde, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, played up Ban's contributions to U.S. initiatives from Afghanistan to Iraq.
Notably, the South Koreans showed a bit more restraint in characterizing the tenure of their most famous foreign sons. South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan described Ban as a "legendary diplomat" in the Korean foreign-service and the pride of the Korean nation. "Secretary-General Ban is widely acknowledged and respected in Korea and beyond for his virtues of integrity, diligence, and a strong work ethic."
The glowing plaudits perhaps didn't reflect the more skeptical views of Ban's tenure that emerge from within the U.N. quarters, where many rank and file diplomats and civil servants still remain unenthusiastic about his leadership. Human rights groups say that while they appreciate his support for pro-democracy demonstrators in North Africa and the Middle East in recent months they are withholding judgment until they see whether he can exercise the independence necessary to challenge powerful interests, including China, on their human rights records. "Free at last from reelection concerns, the Secretary General needs to work on his legacy," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "While we welcome his new tone over the Arab spring or the Ivorian crisis, his willingness to stand up to big powers remains a question mark."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
U.N. peacekeepers have come under mounting pressure to protect civilians from imminent threat of violence in its most complex missions.
But what about looting, plundering and burning of civilian property, acts which sometimes serve as a symbols and facilitators of ethnic cleansing. U.N. officials say not necessarily; that responsibility rests principally in the hands of the local authorities.
Last month, Sudanese forces and local Arab militia seized control of the town of Abyei, Sudan, driving tens of thousands civilians out of town. Thousands of nomadic herdsman from the Arab Misseriya tribe followed suit, stealing every moveable possession they could get their hands on and burning what they couldn't take. U.N. human rights officials in Sudan expressed concerns that their action may constitute ethnic cleansing.
The dispute in Abyei has been at the center of a political struggle over rights to resources and the delineation of borders between northern Sudan and southern Sudan, as the south prepares to declare independence on July 9. But it has a volatile ethnic dimension, pitting the areas black Ngok Dinka residents, allied with the south, against pro-government nomadic Misseriya. The two sides are bitterly divided over everything from voting rights, access to grazing areas and water.
Internal U.N. accounts of what happened last month in Abyei show that Sudan's armed forces stood by as its comrades in arms began the looting. For its part, a United Nations peacekeeping contingent in Abyei, which retreated to its barracks in the first days of the assault, subsequently limited its role to monitoring the mayhem on the streets of Abyei, but not intervening to stop it.
A source provided Turtle Bay with copies of two confidential U.N. reports after I posted a photograph of a U.N. peacekeeping contingent patrolling the streets of Abyei, Sudan, last month while several men carted off household items on the side of the road. At the time, I said it was unclear from the picture whether the men were fleeing violence or looting belongings of local residents in plain site of the Zambian blue helmets. The source said the reports demonstrate that the UN passively allowed the looting to occur.
According to the internal account, the Sudanese army attacked Abyei on the night of May 21, quickly seizing control of the town, though most of the population had already fled south by the time they arrived. By nightfall, the Sudanese military had deployed 15 tanks in a town that had been abandoned by fleeing residents. Sudanese aircraft bombarded the Bantom bridge, south of Abyei, in an attempt to bar civilians from returning or to prevent rival troops from south Sudan from mounting a counterattack.
Over the following days, as the Sudanese army looked on, elements of Sudan's Popular Defense Force(PDF) and the Misseriya systematically plundered the town.
"There are reports of PDF(popular defense forces) and Misseriya elements looting the shops and burning down the tukuls(and smoke could be seen from the UNMIS compound)," according to a May 22 report from the office of the UN resident coordinator. "These were allegedly fighting along side SAF. The Misseriya/PDF elements could also be seen carrying away the loot, both on foot and using vehicles. SAF did not intervene to stop the looting."
The U.N. has acknowledged that the Zambian peacekeeping contingent had not responded adequately to the attacks on civilians and property. They have sent a contingent of Indian peacekeepers to Abyei to reinforce the Zambians. The United States, meanwhile, is pressing for the adoption of a U.N. Security Council resolution that would approve the deployment of several thousands Ethiopian troops in Abyei to help restore calm.
The Sudanese government, which signed a peace deal last week allowing Ethiopian blue helmets to replace its troops, opened a new military front in neighboring South Kordofan, where church leaders and human rights organization have accused the government of displacing more than 70,000 Nubans in a military campaign.
But U.N. officials say the Zambian's failure to act was mitigated by the fact that they were confronted with a force with overwhelming military superiority and that their compound had been hit during the attack. Some officials dispute claims saying that the looting and burning in Abyei were hallmarks of ethnic cleansing, saying they were more consistent with a history of reprisals and countereprisals between competing African tribes in the region.
"The [U.N.] Force commander advised that they saw SAF[the Sudanese Armed Forces] build up and attack coming but they were unable to stop it. There had however been assurance by SAF that the UN would not be targeted," according to the May 22 report by the U.N.'s resident coordinator's office. "Although UN was not being targeted by SAF there were 5 shells that landed in the UNMIS compound, one of them burning a WFP[World Food Program] vehicle. Two (2) Egyptians were also injured but are out of danger."
When the U.N. resumed its patrols of Abyei in the days following the initial assault, they encountered a scene of chaos, with 2,000 to 5,000 Misseriya men roaming the streets of Abyei, carting away chairs, bed frames, mattresses and anything else they could find. They also threatened to seize the Zambians armored personnel vehicles unless the UN agreed to pay three years rent for the base.
"The remainder of the looted items that have not yet been taken away from Abyei town are by the roadside awaiting transportation to the northern areas," according to a May 26 update by the resident coordinators office. "One of the UNMO[UN Military Observers] road patrols that went out this morning(26 May) observed at least 14 big trucks that were loading looted items. Sporadic and aimless shooting also continues but to a relatively lesser scale and...burning of tukuls(dwellings) still continues."
By that point, according to the May 26 report, the UN's mission in Abyei had become decreasingly relevant: "It can now be confirmed that there will not be any need for humanitarian assistance within Abyei town(for now) as there are currently no civilians."
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During a visit to Washington last week, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé sounded determined to force a divided U.N. Security Council to vote on a resolution condemning Syria's crackdown on anti-government protesters, saying the need to show resolve in the face of Syrian repression was worth the risk of provoking a likely Russian veto.
Following a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, Juppé told reporters in Washington that he believed that Russia might back down if the allies could muster a significant majority -- say, 11 yes votes in the 15-nation council -- raising the political costs of obstruction.
On Tuesday morning, Juppé offered his strongest hint that France and its Western allies, including the United States, may be preparing to back down and withdraw the text. In response to questions from the French National Assembly, Juppé acknowledged that Western powers have been unable to overcome misgivings about a resolution on Syria from key council members, including the BRICS members Brazil, Russia, India and China, and South Africa. Lebanon, the council's lone Arab country, is expected to vote against the resolution.
The United States had initially cautioned its European partners against forcing a showdown in the council that would simply highly its deep divisions over Syria, providing a political boost to President Bashar al-Assad's government. But Britain, France, and other European governments argued it would be unconscionable for the council to remain silent in the face of mounting atrocities in Syria.
The BRICS have countered that the United States and its European allies overstepped the Security Council's mandate, contained in resolution 1973, authorizing the use of force to protect civilians in Libya. They say that the Western coalition has effectively entered a civil war on behalf of the rebels and that their true aim is the overthrow of Moammar al-Qaddafi's regime.
"We strongly believe that the resolution is being abused for regime change, political assassinations and foreign military occupation," South African President Jacob Zuma told the South African parliament this week.
The Europeans believe they have secured nine votes, the bare minimum required for adoptioin of the Syria resolution in the Security Council. But they have held out hope that they could convince the Russians to back down if they could only secure another couple of votes, thereby isolating Moscow and Beijing, which is expected to back the Russian position. But a week of diplomatic outreach has failed to turn a single vote.
"At the Security Council -- despite all the efforts that we're making, in particular with the British and the Americans -- we still haven't achieved our goal," Juppé said. "Indeed, China and Russia are threatening -- on the grounds of principle -- to exercise their right of veto. We will take the risk of putting a draft resolution condemning the Syrian regime to a vote if we reach a sufficient majority. Currently, we probably have nine votes at the Security Council. We still need to persuade South Africa, India and Brazil; we're working on this every day. I think that if we were able to achieve 11 votes, we would put this draft resolution to a vote and everyone would have to assume their responsibilities; we'd then see if China and Russia would go so far as to veto the resolution."
European governments have directed their lobbying efforts at Brazil and South Africa in the hopes that they could somehow peel them away from the Russian camp. French ambassador Gerard Araud pressed Brazil this week to reconsider its stance in a newspaper interview in the Brazilian paper O Estado De Sao Paolo. "The Security Council's credibility and that of its members is at stake, as it is their mandate is to protect international peace and security," Araud said. "We've been discsuing this text for two weeks. In that time 400 people, including women and children, have died, sometimes under torture. Let's be clear: Inaction on the part of the Security Council is not an option. We must all rally together and we're counting on Brazil."
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Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today dismissed a U.S.-backed European effort to adopt a U.N. resolution condemning Syria's bloody crackdown on protesters as a meaningless gesture, saying "it is not enough to pass non-binding measures wagging a finger at Damascus."
The Florida Republican said the United Nations must "impose strong sanctions on Damascus" in response to its "nuclear intransigence, its gross human rights abuses, its longstanding development of unconventional and ballistic missile capabilities, and its support for violent extremists."
"A non-binding measure will fail to compel the regime to change its behavior," she added. "Responsible nations must develop, implement, and enforce stronger sanctions, in the Security Council and beyond, in order to meet this goal."
It is true that a European draft Security Council resolution, backed by the United States, contains no specific threat to punish Syria with sanctions or military force, though it does call on states to prevent Syria from trading in weapons. But is it the toothless initiative she claims it is?
U.S. officials say that they have focused on imposing unilateral sanctions on Syria because the prospects for concerted U.N. action on that front is dim, given resistance from several council members: China, Russia, Lebanon, India, South Africa, and Brazil.
These governments see the European initiative to condemn Syria less as a feckless exercise than a potentially sinister first step in process that may exacerbate political tensions in the Middle East or lead to possible foreign intervention in Syria. Russia and China may be prepared to exercise their veto power to stop it.
"It could be misunderstood by destructive opposition forces in Syria who, as you know, declare they want regime change in Damascus," Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin told Russian state television this week.
The reason that Moscow and Beijing are so alarmed about the draft is that experience at the United Nations demonstrates that once the Security Council makes a demand of a country, it frequently comes back to demand more if it is ignored.
On February 22, a week after Muammar al-Qaddafi ordered a bloody crackdown on Libyan demonstrators, the council adopted a "non-binding" presidential statement condemning Tripoli's action and demanding that it stop. Qaddafi ignored it.
Within a month, the Security Council had issued two legally binding, Chapter 7 enforcement resolutions imposing sanctions on Libya, launching an International Criminal Court prosecution, and authorizing military action against Qaddafi's forces. Clearly, the threshold for action is considerably higher in Syria, which still can count on support at the United Nations from Arab governments. But events on the ground, including fresh reports of government repression and the flight of Syrians into Turkey, could change governments' calculations.
Wide-ranging Security Council sanctions against Iran and North Korea also began with relatively mild non-binding statements demanding that Tehran and Pyongyang halt the development of their ballistic missile and nuclear programs. For the moment, the Security Council has yet to act on the International Atomic Energy Agency's determination that Syria was secretly developing a clandestine nuclear reactor before Israeli destroyed it in a September 2007 airstrike.
But U.S. and European governments will likely address Syria's nuclear ambitions after they finish the current push to censor their alleged political repression of civilians.
The draft resolution currently under consideration condemns Syria's "systematic violation" of human rights, "demands" an immediate end to the violence, and "unfettered" access to U.N. rights monitors and aid workers. It also calls on Syria to lift the siege on anti-government towns, implement democratic reforms, and cooperate with the U.N.
In some sense, the most important are a pair of provisions at the end of the draft that require the U.N. secretary-general to report on Syria's compliance with the council's demands within two weeks, and then again every month after, ensuring that the Security Council will have frequent opportunities to ratchet up the pressure. The council will, as they say in U.N. parlance, "remain actively seized of the matter."
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Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba -- son of one of Africa's longest-ruling strongmen, the late Omar Bongo, and leader of a country that often receives attention for allegations of corruption and human rights abuses -- was given the red-carpet treatment by the White House on Thursday, including a face-to-face meeting with President Barack Obama.
So why was Bongo treated likely foreign royalty? It probably didn't hurt that Gabon has become the third-largest producer of oil in sub-Saharan Africa. Or that Gabon, which is serving as this month's president of the U.N. Security Council, has agreed to vote in favor of a U.S.-backed European draft resolution condemning Syria's bloody crackdown.
"Gabon is holding the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council; it's an important position," Jay Carney, the White House spokesman told reporters. "Gabon has voted in ways that we consider very helpful on issues like Côte d'Ivoire, Libya, and Iran. It's been an important ally in our efforts in those countries through the United Nations.… So, yes, we do think it's appropriate for the president to meet with the leader of Gabon."
Following his father's death in 2009, Ali Bongo was elected president in a vote deemed "generally free and fair" despite some "irregularities and post-election violence," according to the State Department's 2010 Human Rights Report.
But the rest of what the State Department had to say about Gabon isn't very heartwarming. The report details "ritualistic killings; use of excessive force by police; harsh prison conditions and lengthy pretrial detention; an inefficient judiciary subject to government influence; restrictions on privacy and press; harassment and extortion of African immigrants and refugees; widespread government corruption; violence against women; societal discrimination against women, noncitizen Africans, Pygmies, and persons with HIV/AIDS; and trafficking in persons, particularly children."
Is this the sort of ally you want when you are seeking to excoriate Syria for cracking down on peaceful demonstrators?
Council diplomats say that on the Security Council, where countries with woeful rights records like China and Russia hold the power to kill off any pronouncement on Syria, you have no choice but to take whatever votes you can get. And besides, there have been some improvements in Gabon.
"Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings" and "no reports of politically motivated disappearances," the State Department report stated. And though there are credible reports that the police continue to "beat" detainees to "extract confessions," there were no reports in 2010, as there was the previous year, "that security forces were responsible for injuring civilians while dispersing crowds."
Well, that's a start.
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Nearly two months ago the U.N.'s chief peacekeeping official, Alain Le Roy, convened a press conference to talk up a string of U.N. successes around the world.
In Haiti, the United Nations helped usher through a relatively peaceful political transition; in Ivory Coast, U.N. attack helicopters backed a French assault that brought down Ivoirian strongman Laurent Gbagbo; and in Sudan, the United Nations oversaw a landmark independence referendum in Southern Sudan that is likely to set the stage for the south's recognition this summer as the U.N.'s newest member. "In the three cases, the peacekeepers made a huge difference," Le Roy said.
Le Roy contrasted the U.N.'s achievements with the darkest days of U.N. peacekeeping in the 1990s when U.N. blue helmets stood by in the face of mass atrocities in places like Srebrenica and Rwanda, and paid tribute to the sacrifices of U.N. personnel who had died in the cause of peace, including 44 U.N. civilian and uniformed peacekeepers who were killed in a 10-day stretch in Afghanistan, Congo, Haiti, and Ivory Coast.
But in recent weeks the U.N. has suffered some heavy body blows to its reputation: In Haiti, a medical panel published circumstantial evidence suggesting U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal may have been responsible for introducing cholera into Haiti, killing more than 4,000 people. And in the contested town of Abyei, Sudan, a battalion of 850 U.N. peacekeepers from Zambia hid in their barracks as Sudanese forces looted and burned homes, prompting sharp criticism from local officials and U.N. Security Council diplomats who described their conduct as disgraceful.
Violence flared up last month in Abyei, Sudan's most dangerous flashpoint, in the run-up of Southern Sudan's plan to declare independence next month from the north, splitting Africa's largest country into two nations. Abyei was supposed to join Southern Sudan in holding a referendum on independence, but the move stalled over differences involving oil revenues, water, and voting rights. The dispute pits the farming tribes of the Ngok Dinka, who are aligned with the south, against the Khartoum-backed nomadic herding tribes of the Misseriya, who graze their cattle in Abyei during the dry season. U.N. officials have long feared that a fight over Abyei could trigger a resumption of civil war between north and south, which claimed more than 2 million lives before a 2005 peace accord halted the fighting.
Troops from the southern Sudanese People's Liberation Army opened fire on a contingent of U.N. peacekeepers escorting a Sudanese military convoy. The Sudanese military's reaction appeared premeditated and disproportionate, according to U.N. diplomats. Sudanese aircraft, tanks, and troops riding motorcycles attacked the town, burning homes and looting property. Nearly 80,000 people, mostly members of the Ngok Dinka tribe, fled their homes, and thousands of pro-government Arab Misseriya tribesmen have since flowed into to take up residence. An internal U.N. report, obtained by the Associated Press, said the Sudanese Armed Forces' "occupation" of Abyei might result in ethnic cleansing. "The SAF attack and occupation of Abyei and the resultant displacement of over 30,000 Ngok Dinkas from Abyei could lead to ethnic cleansing, if conditions for the return of the displaced Ngok Dinka residents are not created," according to the report.
Responsibility for the current upsurge in violence in Abyei rests primarily with Khartoum and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement. But the episode provided another depressing example of U.N. timidity that recalled some of the worst moments in U.N. history. A battalion of Zambian blue helmets based in Abyei remained in their barracks for two days as Sudan's army attacked the town, ignoring pleas from the U.N. special representative, Haile Menkerios, to take action. "When the Sudanese army invaded, they retreated to their bunkers," Asha Abbas Akuei, who represents Abyei in the South Sudan Legislative Assembly, told Rebecca Hamilton in an article published on Slate.
The Abyei episode points to a deeper problem that has plagued many of the U.N.'s most complex peacekeeping missions. The United Nations has been forced to rely primarily on infantry troops from developing countries without the more advanced military hardware -- including attack helicopters, advanced logistics, and intelligence -- that is required to succeed, according to peacekeeping experts. "Large-scale heavy infantry frankly don't do much to reinforce the political process unless they have mobility that can deliver military punch," said Bruce Jones, director of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University.
In Ivory Coast, where the U.N. certified the presidential election of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara last November, the U.N. peacekeeping mission failed to compel the loser, Laurent Gbagbo, to step down or to protect civilians targeted by his forces. It was not until France, backed by U.N. peacekeepers and forces loyal to Ouattara, intervened that the course of the conflict changed and Gbagbo was deposed.
"So here we were in Cote d'Ivoire in a total stalemate, going nowhere against a second-tier army," Jones said. "It took a combination of Ouattara's forces and the French to turn the day. It shows a very small contribution of high-order [military] capability can transform a peacekeeping force from being irrelevant to being very productive. It shows that peacekeeping can work, but it took a while to get there."
Abyei, Jones added, provides a painful illustration of the limits of U.N. peacekeeping without the advanced military resources that the French were able to bring to bear in Ivory Coast, but which no major outside power has been willing to commit to Sudan. The few countries that possess those capabilities, including the United States, Britain, France, and other advanced military powers, have been unwilling to supply them, citing other obligations from Afghanistan to Iraq and now Libya. Khartoum, meanwhile, has sought to block Western powers with the military wherewithal to confront his troops from serving in the country.
"It's very far from clear that large-scale infantry can do much in Abyei," Jones said. "So, we're spending a billion dollars a year" to field a peacekeeping mission "without the vital ingredient that can actually make it work. If we can't stop major violations … then what are we doing there?"
A U.N. peacekeeping spokesman, Michel Bonnardeaux, said a review of the Zambians' conduct concluded that "our troops could have and should have had more visibility to deter any violence against civilians and the destruction against property." But "it must be recognized that most civilians left the area before the peak of the crisis and that UNMIS [the U.N. Mission in Sudan] troops and civilians were themselves in imminent danger as the UNMIS compound was hit," he said.
Bonnardeaux said the U.N.'s top military advisor, who traveled to Sudan to interview the Zambians, has instructed the contingent "to be more proactive and visible" in the future.
The U.N. Security Council, however, is exploring the possibility of authorizing the deployment of Ethiopian troops into Abyei to help restore order and prevent a resumption of a civil war. Under the proposal, the northern army would withdraw from the Abyei area to make way for thousands of Ethiopian soldiers, who would help monitor a cease-fire along the border.
On Friday, the U.N. Security Council, meanwhile, issued a statement demanding that Sudan withdraw its forces from Abyei and "ensure an immediate halt to all looting, burning and illegal resettlement." The council also voiced "grave concern following the reports about the unusual, sudden influx of thousands of Misseriya into Abyei town and its environs that could force significant changes in the ethnic composition of the area."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
Last month, British Prime Minister David Cameron put down his marker: London would intervene to prevent the re-election of Sepp Blatter as the head of FIFA, soccer's international governing body. The British government had reason to believe that bribery lay behind FIFA's decision to grant Russia and Qatar the rights to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup competitions -- only the latest in a series of corruption allegations against Blatter's organization during his tenure there (including allegations that Blatter himself bribed officials to ensure his re-election).
In the end, Blatt was easily re-elected, winning 186 of the 203 votes cast by international football federations. (The English initiative to delay the proceedings was killed off by a vote of 172 to 17.) Cameron, meanwhile, has been forced to lick the wounds from his diplomatic defeat.
But it didn't have to end this way for the British prime minister. If he had been paying attention to the work of the West's savvy multilateral diplomats, he would have realized there's a standard procedure to derailing nominations for prominent international posts.
Over the past several months, Britain and its American and European allies have prevented a number of top international positions from finding their way into the hands of unsavory governments, including those of Iran, Libya, Venezuela and Sudan. Most recently, they have succeeded in suspending Libya's membership on the Human Rights Council, and blocking Syria from joining the Geneva-based rights body.
The rules in the diplomatic arena, where governments hold sway, are admittedly different than those in the corridors of FIFA, where local football associations are expected to remain independent from their governments. Still, Blatter's enemies may want to take notes before his next bid for re-election.
Find a plausible rival.
Every major diplomatic campaign to kill off an unwanted candidate for high office begins with a discrete search for an alternative. Syria's bloody crackdown on unarmed demonstrators prompted the West to launch a search for another Arab country that would be prepared to challenge Damascus for a seat on the Human Rights Council. It was no simple feat. Syria had already wrapped up endorsements from the key regional blocs, the Asia Group and the Arab Group, that were due to select a candidate for the post. (The U.N.'s informal system of geographic rotation for top job ensures that every country gets a fair shot.) The West ultimately convinced Kuwait to make a bid -- a country that's hardly a paragon of human rights protections, but one that wasn't actively assaulting its own population. Similarly, the West had previously convinced East Timor to make a bid for a seat on the Human Rights Counil, and thus to break ranks with the Asian Group, which had endorsed Iran for the post: East Timor then handily won the job.
At FIFA, Sepp Blatter's only rival, Mohamed bin Hamman of Qatar, was forced to resign last week amid allegations that he had previously offered to bribe officials from international soccer federations in order to secure his country's bid for the World Cup. The collapse of his candidacy left the field open to Blatter.
Demarche, demarche demarche.
Britain, France, the United States and other big powers have foreign embassies in pretty much every capital in the world: Make use of them! Craft a diplomatic message -- known as a demarche -- explaining why it's in everybody's business to prevent the election of the corrupt or sadistic representative in question. "We have demarches in capitals, and in New York," said one U.N. diplomat, describing his government's effort to block Syria's drive for a seat on the human rights council. "We say, support for Syria will reflect very poorly on your country's reputation. Obviously, there is no need to belabor the point in this instance. They realized it was becoming a huge embarrassment." While governments are prohibited from interfering in FIFA's affairs, there is no reason that local soccer federations can't do outreach to other members.
Seek out partners who share your disdain for a particular candidate. For instance, no campaign against Iran would be complete without some backing from the Arab world and Asian countries. In fact, Iran's bid for a Security Council seat in 2008 was foiled only after Japan broke ranks with the Asia group and campaigned against Tehran for the seat. (Granted, in FIFA's case, this may prove easier said than done, given that the umbrella soccer organization often has power of the purse over local soccer federations.)
Find a Proxy.
The easiest way to win a campaign for high office is to convince your rival to step aside. In addition to lobbying friendly governments, U.S. and European diplomats also usually find a proxy to make case to the targeted country that it is pointless to keep running a campaign doomed to failure. In the case of Syria's Human Rights Council bid, that role fell to Egypt, which worked behind the scenes to convince Syria to pull out of the race. "It's much better for the Egyptians or the Saudis to tell the Syrians that it's time to face the inevitable," said a U.N. diplomat involved in that effort.
While Kuwait was keen to seek Syria's Human Rights Council (HRC) seat, it was not willing to enter a contentious campaign against another Arab country, particularly one whose candidacy had the backing of Asian and Arab governments. Kuwait brokered a face-saving deal that allowed Syria to take Kuwait's slot on the Asian slate for the 2013 election of HRC members. Similar deals have allowed Iran to withdraw from a race for the HRC with as little public humiliation as possible. The hope for countries like Syria is that they may face less opposition to their candidacy later on if their current domestic turmoil cools down. "It's very important to do some face saving, and the swap is a pretty clever way to achieve that," said a U.N. diplomat involved in the effort to block Syria. "That way Syria doesn't have to say it's been knocked out of the running."
Rally public opinion.
No candidate for high office can be totally oblivious to public opinion. And no one is better at channeling public opinion like private non-governmental organizations. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other private organizations lobbied hard to block Syria, Iran and Belarus from gaining seats on the Human Rights Council.
In FIFA's case corporate sponsors may have more influence on pressing for change. Coca-Cola, Adidas, and Visa have already raised concerns about the reports of scandal and corruption within the organization. "The current allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport," a spokesman for Coca Cola said recently. "We have every expectation that FIFA will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner."
But for the next four years, at least, they will have to rely on Sepp Blatter to pull it off.
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France and Britain will press for the passage of a U.N. Security Council vote on a mild, but legally-binding, resolution condemning Syria for its bloody repression of anti-government protesters, and demanding Damascus show restraint and provide access to U.N. humanitarian aid workers, according to U.N. diplomats.
The decision sets the council's Western powers on possible collision course with China and especially Russia. Moscow has signaled it may be prepared to veto a Security Council resolution on Syria, diplomats say. The standoff is coming to a head as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on demonstrators entered its ninth week with little sign of an end to the violence. The Syrian uprising represents the greatest threat to the Assad dynasty's control over the country since it came to power in a 1963 military coup.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron will make one last effort at a G-8 Summit in Deauville, France, Thursday and Friday, to persuade Russian President Dmitry Medvedev not to veto the resolution, according to council diplomats. Diplomats are confident that China will not veto the resolution if Russia doesn't.
After weeks of behind the scenes lobbying, Britain and France say they are confident that they have secured the minimum nine votes required for passage of the resolution in the 15-nation council. They are hoping to increase that number. But they said they intend to press for a vote later this week even if Russia threatens to block the vote.
On Twitter, Britain's Foreign Minister William Hague wrote today that the "rising death toll in Syria is worrying and unacceptable." He said Britain "is calling for more international pressure on Syrian authorities, including at [the] UN."
France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said recently that the "threat of a Russian veto" looms over the council deliberations on Syria but that prospects for a majority of supporters for council action is improving.
The United States had been initially reluctant to support the European initiative on the grounds that a blocked resolution would strengthen the Syrian government's hand by showing the council is politically divided.
But American diplomats have assured their European counterparts that they will support the push for a resolution. Bosnia, Colombia, Gabon, Germany, Nigeria, and Portugal have also assured the Europeans they will vote in favor of the resolution.
The Security Council's Western powers have already encountered stiff resistance from China, Russia and Lebanon to criticizing Syria in the Security Council. Last month, the three countries helped block a French and British initiative to adopt a non-binding council statement condemning Syria's conduct.
Russia is concerned that once the council weighs in on the Syrian crisis it will be only a matter of time before the council's Western powers begin to demand tougher action, including sanctions and possibly even the use of force. Moscow has already expressed concern that the West exceeded its mandate to protect civilians in Libya by taking sides in the country's civil war. The United States and its coalition allies maintain that they are faithfully implementing their mandate to protection civilians. And none of the Western powers have threatened the use of force against Damascus.
Brazil, India, and South Africa have also voiced concern about a new resolution, though New Dehli has indicated to some colleagues that it would be prepared to support a modest resolution that criticizes Syria's conduct. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, appealed to South Africa to rally behind the resolution.
"South Africa has said behind closed doors in the Security Council that they would not support Security Council action on Syria because they feel NATO abused the mandate the council gave it on libya," said Philippe Bolopion, Human Rights Watch's U.N. representative, who is visiting South Africa. "Wwhat we are teling them is do not punish Syrian civialins for what NATO is doing in Libya."
He also challenged the U.S. rationale for not pressing more aggressively for action on Syria. "The argument that a Russian veto would somehow expose the divisions of the Security Council cuts both ways," he said. "You could also argue that the complete silence is emboldening the Syrian regime."
As the Europeans sought to build greater support for the resolution the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a statement today saying that it was "very likely" that a Syrian facility bombed by Israeli war planes in 2007 was "very likely" a nuclear reactor.
U.N. diplomats said the Europeans were unlikely to immediately raise concerns about the development in the Security Council, saying they fear it might complicate ongoing efforts to secure adoption of its resolution condemning Syria for its bloody crackdown.
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The White House today announced it would impose unilateral sanctions against Syria, signaling its desire to ratchet up pressure on President Bashar al Assad to halt his crackdown on protesters.
The U.S. action drew rare praise from foreign policy conservatives, including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, who said the move "should mark the end of the failed policy of engagement and accommodation with Damascus."
But at the United Nations, the American delegation has been hesitant to press for an equally hard-line approach, fearing an aggressive push to penalize Syria in the U.N. Security Council might provoke a Russian or Chinese veto.
In late April, Chinese, Russian, Lebanese and other diplomats effectively blocked an effort by the Europeans to push through a mild, non-binding, Security Council statement condemning Syria's violent crackdown on mostly unarmed protesters.
The United States is concerned that another failed push for Security Council action on Syria would give comfort to President Assad, exposing the deep international rift over the right approach to restraining Syria.
In the absence of an American push, Britain and France have taken the lead in seeking a tougher approach. In recent days, the two European powers have sounded out other Security Council members about the prospects for the adoption of a resolution that would condemn Syria and urge it to halt further violence.
Britain and France are confident that they can muster the minimum nine votes required to adopt a modest resolution that would condemn Syria, ask it to show restraint, and encourage political reform. Britain and France also believe it may be worth risking a Russian or Chinese veto, and exposing them as defenders of a brutal Middle East regime that is resistant to democratic change sweeping the region. "There is a real risk that the council, by failing to act, is sending the signal that what Assad is doing is within the bounds of international tolerance," said one council diplomat. "We need to change that."
The United Nations maintains that more than 850 people have been killed in Syria in recent months, most of them civilian targets of a bloody government crackdown. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has charged Assad with ignoring a recent call for restraint by the U.N. Human Rights Council, which condemned Syria's conduct
While the U.S. worries that forcing a losing vote may play to Assad's advantage, they are likely to support Britain and France if they decide to move ahead with a vote on a resolution, according to diplomats.
The deadlock over Syria contrasts starkly with the council's response to a Libyan crackdown on protesters in February. In a remarkable show of unity, the 15-nation council voted unanimously on February 26 to impose sanctions on President Moammar Qadaffi's regime, and authorize an investigation by the International Criminal Court prosecutor into allegations that the regime committed crimes against humanity. On Monday, the court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, requested arrest warrants for President Qaddafi, his son Saif, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah Senoussi.
But the unity has frayed since the council passed a subsequent resolution authorizing military action to protect civilians by a vote of only 10-0, with five abstentions. Since, then China, India, Russia, and other council members have accused the United States, Britain and France of exceeding the authority granted by the council to protect civilians by taking sides in a civil war.
The effort to squeeze Syria has also been complicated by the role of the council's lone Arab state Lebanon, which lead previous efforts at the United Nations to condemn Libya and to address allegations of government repression in Yemen. But Lebanon is unwilling to back any measures against Syria, which exerts enormous influence over Lebanese affairs. And there is no sign that other Arab governments will challenge Lebanon's approach.
The current dispute over Syria "is the hang over from Libya," one council diplomat told Turtle Bay. "China and Russia feel a bit betrayed because the coalition went further than what was in the resolution. It diminished the possibility of replicating the Libya model in Yemen and Syria," where Russia and China have blocked action.
"There is a negative vibe post-Libya in the council," the diplomat said. "you did this in Libya and now you're going to pay for it. It's a pity. There is this political game of power in the council while people are being hurt on the ground."
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Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was never a fan of John Bolton, the controversial U.S. ambassador to the UN who once suggested the organization would be know worse off if you blew up the top ten floors of its headquarters. But he kept his feelings to himself...until now.
In an interview with the Financial Times' Alec Russell, Annan said that Bolton was a lousy negotiator. "It was remarkable that for someone who has spent that much time at the State Department, and as smart as he was, he wasn't a very effective diplomat or even negotiator," Annan told the interviewer.
Annan recalled one moment when he confronted the combative U.S. envoy for bullying people. Annan said he was at a luncheon with Bolton and other U.N. Security Council when Bolton sought to kill off a discussion of some disagreeable matter. "'Uncle Sam is not going to like this.'" Annan recalled Bolton saying, according to the FT interview. " So I said, ‘Look, stop going around trying to intimidate people. Let them speak their mind, and you can put your views across, but don't try to intimidate them with Washington and Uncle Sam.' And of course, the Council members were all relieved to hear that."
The antipathy towards Bolton appeared more personal than ideological. Annan recalled George W. Bush and his wife Laura as "wonderful human beings," and said he held not grudge against another hardliner in the Bush Administration, including Donald Rumsfeld. "He made mistakes, some serious mistakes, but we all make mistakes. That doesn't make him worthless as a human being."
The remarks are hardly surprising, given Bolton's frequent criticism of Annan's stewardship of the United Nations. In his memoir, Surrender is Not an Option, Bolton mocked Annan's staff for having "floated the notion that he was a "secular pope."
"Being a Lutheran, I didn't even believe in religious popes, and I was absolutely determined there weren't going to be any more "secular popes" on the 38th floor," Bolton wrote. The U.N. Secretary General's office is located on the U.N.'s 38th floor, though the office is vacant until the renovation of the U.N. headquarters is completed. Bolton did not respond to phone and email requests for comment on Annan's remarks.
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Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was never a fan of John Bolton, the controversial U.S. ambassador to the U.N. who once suggested the organization would be no worse off if you blew up the top 10 floors of its headquarters. But he kept his feelings to himself … until now.
In an interview with the Financial Times' Alec Russell, Annan said that Bolton was a lousy negotiator. "It was remarkable that for someone who has spent that much time at the State Department, as smart as he was, he wasn't a very effective diplomat, or even a negotiator," Annan told the interviewer.
Annan recalled one moment when he confronted the combative U.S. envoy for bullying people. Annan said he was at a luncheon with Bolton and other U.N. Security Council when Bolton sought to kill off a discussion of some disagreeable matter. "'Uncle Sam is not going to like this,'" Annan recalled Bolton saying, according to the FT interview. "So I said, 'Look, stop going around trying to intimidate people. Let them speak their mind … and you can put your views across, but don't try to intimidate them with Washington and Uncle Sam.' And of course, the Council members were all relieved to hear it."
The antipathy toward Bolton appeared more personal than ideological. Annan recalled George W. Bush and his wife Laura as "wonderful human beings" and said he held no grudge against another hard-liner in the Bush administration, including Donald Rumsfeld. "He made mistakes … some serious mistakes, but we all make mistakes. That doesn't make him worthless as a human being."
The remarks are hardly surprising, given Bolton's frequent criticism of Annan's stewardship of the United Nations. In his memoir, Surrender Is Not an Option, Bolton mocked Annan's staff for having "floated the notion that he was a "secular pope.'"
"Being a Lutheran, I didn't even believe in religious popes, and I was absolutely determined there weren't going to be any more 'secular popes' on the 38th floor," Bolton wrote. The U.N. secretary-general's office is located on the U.N.'s 38th floor, though the office is vacant until the renovation of the U.N. headquarters is completed. Bolton did not respond to phone and email requests for comment on Annan's remarks.
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.