Some Republicans looked like they were set up for a new fight against President Barack Obama's nominee for to replace Susan Rice as U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, former journalist and Harvard scholar, who has written critically of what she viewed as America's moral failure in the face of modern genocides in Africa and the Balkans.
"Jeanne Kirkpatrick is turning in her grave right now," Keith Urbahn, a former chief of staff to former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, tweeted this morning. "I don't know about you, but it might be helpful to have someone rep'ing America at UN who doesn't think we are the source of world's ills."
But by the time President Barack Obama announced Power's and Rice's nominations at a White House ceremony things were beginning to look up. As the Cable reported, Republican conservatives were voicing report for the Power. And Senator John McCain, who had vigorously opposed Rice's nomination to become U.S. Secretary of State, issued a statement backing Power. "I support President Obama's nomination of Samantha Power to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nation," McCain said. "I believe she is well qualified for this important position and hope the Senate will move forward on her nomination as soon as possible."
Yet Urbahn cited a lengthy article by Power in the March 2003 issue of the New Republic, the same month the United States entered Iraq, a conflict which epitomized for her the Bush administration's "overreliance on power in the name of principle."
In that piece, Power faulted the United States for applying double standards -- what she termed "a la cartism" -- in the conduct of its foreign policy, griping about the "shortage of democracy in Palestine, but not in Pakistan," or bombing Serbs in defense of ethnic Albanians but saying nothing about Russian excesses in Chechnya.
Power argued that America's international standing and credibility required that Washington also confront the darker chapters of its foreign policy past -- CIA-backed coups in Guatemala, Chile, and Congo, and the doubling of U.S. assistance to Saddam Hussein the year he gassed the Kurds.
"We need a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, permitted by the United States," she wrote. "Willie Brandt [the former German Chancellor] went down on one knee in the Warsaw ghetto, his gesture was gratifying to World War II survivors, but it was also cathartic for Germany," she wrote. "Would such an approach be futile for the United States?"
The New Republic piece, as well as many other published writings, including her book, A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, will provide fertile ground for Republicans to pick through for signs of her political suitability.
Power has long had a deep interest in the United Nations, which she covered as a freelance reporter in the Balkans in the 1990s. She wrote a biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello of Brazil, the U.N. trouble-shooter who was killed in the Aug. 2003 terrorist attack against the U.N. compound in Baghdad.
But if Power survives the confirmation hearing, she may have some explaining to do here in New York. Before joining the Obama administration, where she served as the National Security Staff's expert on international organizations and U.N. peacekeeping, Power had provided a withering assessment of the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Here's my account of her remarks:
During then Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign, a top foreign-policy advisor, Samantha Power, spoke disparagingly of Ban, characterizing his handling of the Darfur crisis as "extremely disappointing," in a Frontline interview. Ban ‘looks to be adopting the persona of many of his predecessors in that job, which is to be more of a secretary than a general. Darfur needs a general. Not a military general, it needs a diplomatic general, a political general, a moral general. It doesn't need a secretary."
"Is that all there is?" she told the New Statesman, a British magazine, before Obama was elected. "Can we afford to do without a global figure, a global leader?" U.S. officials have insisted that Power's comments do not reflect the views of the current administration, in which Power serves as a White House advisor on multilateral issues.
Obama administration officials have previously noted that the remarks were not made while she was in government and that said that she has since patched up her relationship with Ban.
But Power has also directed sharp criticism of the human rights conduct of other key U.N. powers, including China and Russia. The U.N. Security Council, she noted in her New Republic piece, is "anachronistic, undemocratic, and consists of countries that lack the standing to be considered good faith arbiters of how to balance stability against democracy peace against justice and security against human rights."
Hmm, this is going to be interesting...
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Ed.: This post has been updated to reflect Sen. John McCain's statements in support of Power's nomination.
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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The Obama administration, Canada, and possibly other governments will boycott a U.N. General Assembly session being convened tomorrow on international justice because of concern that the Serbian president of the U.N. body will use the event to bash the U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, according to senior U.N. diplomats.
The U.S. snub comes one week after Jordan's U.N. ambassador, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, a former U.N. political officer in Bosnia in the 1990s, announced plans in this blog to boycott the event. It comes as Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic , is scheduled to arrive in New York city tomorrow to open the day-long thematic debate, entitled "The Role of International Justice in Reconciliation."
The United States declined to comment on its plans. But Zeid confirmed that the United States and Canada intend to forgo the event. "I am very pleased the United States, Canada, and possibly others are boycotting," the event, Zeid told Turtle Bay tonight.
Vuk Jeremic, a former Serbian foreign minister who is serving as president of the 193-member General Assembly, decided to organize the conference late last year, following the acquittal by an appeals chamber of the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac. The two men had been convicted lower court of carrying out mass atrocities against ethnic Serbs during Operation Storm in the Kraijina region of Croatia.
The timing of the U.N. event -- the meeting coincides with the 71st anniversary of the founding of the pro-Nazi Croatian state -- has fueled concerns among many delegates that the event will be used to bash the tribunal.
Jeremic, an outspoken critic of the ICTY, said that the debate would not be restricted to a debate on the Balkans, and that governments could debate any aspect of international justice they chose.
In an interview tonight, Jeremic said that the United States had not informed him of its plans for tomorrow's event. "If it is true it would be highly regrettable," he said. "Eighty countries have signed up to speak, either directly or as a group, and we expect many more to be present."
"I think this topic is worth debating," he said. "Therefore I find it highly regrettable if some countries chose to boycott."
The Yugoslav court, which has indicted more than 90 Serbian nationals, including former President Slobodan Milosevic, has been unpopular among many Serbs, who feel it has gone too soft on Croatian and Bosnian Muslim war criminals. Jeremic has been a staunch critic.
Last week, Zeid voiced concern that Jeremic would manipulate the debate to minimize the crimes of Serbs in the Balkans during the 1990s. "I was in the former Yugoslavia from 1994-1996 and, in view of what I know to be true, will also, together with my delegation, be nowhere near the event," Zeid told Turtle Bay last week. " We will encourage other delegations in the coming days to do likewise."
Zeid said that Jeremic had denied a request by the Mothers of Srebrenica, a Bosnian human rights group that represents victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, to address the U.N. General Assembly, though he did invite them to attend. Instead, the group will hold a press conference at U.N. headquarters sponsored by the governments of Jordan and Liechtenstein.
Tomorrow's session will include two parts, public debate by governments in the U.N. General Assembly, and a pair of afternoon panel discussions. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is planning to deliver a speech at the opening of the General Assembly Session. The European Union is also scheduled to deliver a speech. But many governments, including Britain, are expected to send relatively junior officials to the event.
In recent weeks, several prominent attendees -- including the president of the International Criminal Court, Song Sang-Hyun -- who had previously planned to attend the conference have pulled out of the event. Others include the president of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court, Tina Intelmann; the U.N. secretary general's special advisor on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng; the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth; and the U.N. secretary general's lawyer, Patricia O'Brien.
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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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The influential International Peace Institute (IPI) has caught the attention of the non-profit news organization, ProPublica, which earlier this week published a report on the think tank's decision to open up an office in the capital Manama, at the expense of the Bahraini government. The think tank, the headquarters of which are housed in a 1st Ave. building, across the street from U.N. headquarters in New York, has long been linked to the United Nations. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon serves as an honorary chair of the organization.
At its heart, the ProPublica piece raises two key questions: Is it right for a think tank to lend its name to a country that is politically repressive and bars foreign human rights advocates and journalists from bearing witness? Is it a potential conflict of interest to have a senior U.N. official solicit money from a government whose fate he or she may be influencing at the United Nations?
The official in question is IPI's chief officer, Terje Roed Larsen, a former Norwegian diplomat who negotiated the Oslo Accords, serves as a $1 a-year advisor to Ban, and accompanies the secretary general on his most important Middle East travels, including recent trips to Tehran and Gaza.
The Security Council has also enlisted Larsen's services (according him the rank of undersecretary general) in implementing the 2004 Resolution 1559, which required Syrian forces withdrawal from Lebanon and the disarming of all armed groups in that country, including Hezbollah. In that job, Larsen produces biannual reports detailing violations by Syria and Hezbollah of the resolution.
But Larsen also has another day job which pays the bills. In 2005, Larsen was appointed executive director of IPI, which now pays him a $495,000 salary. That role placed Larsen in the position of simultaneously serving the United Nations in its impartial mission -- while soliciting funds for his non-profit from many governments, including the United States, Norway, and the European Union, that pursue their own more narrow national interests at the United Nations.
Under Larsen's leadership, the organization has done well, tapping into a stream of new funding from oil-rich Gulf states, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two bitter rivals of Syria with ambitions for a larger political role in the Middle East and at the United Nations in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Prince Turki Al-Faisal -- a former Saudi intelligence chief and one-time Saudi ambassador to the United States -- is the chair of the IPI's international advisory council, whose members include a host of royals, including Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, as well as senior officials from Russia, the European Union, and other Western capitals.
By most accounts, IPI has become the go-to non-profit for the U.N. international diplomatic community, offering a regular menu of public events featuring top U.N. officials, foreign dignitaries, academics, and journalists. (Full disclosure: I once participated as an unpaid panelist in a discussion on reporting of U.N. peacekeeping.)
But its outreach to governments has also grown more ambitious, and it has played a kind of fixer role for some of its wealthier donors.
For instance, Larsen helped arrange for a Saudi Arabian initiative to underwrite a U.N. counterterrorism center. IPI also helped the government of Qatar develop a plan for the establishment of a program -- called HOPEFOR -- "to improve the use of military assets in disaster relief" and "help build a "global network of civilian and military practitioners."
In Bahrain, Larsen's dual-role as U.N. official and non-profit impresario has contributed to some confusion.
While the U.N. has played a rather timid role in pressing Bahrain to respect free expression, Ban has issued statements scolding the monarchy for cracking down violently on dissent and urging the government to lift protest restrictions. ProPublica cited a Bahrain press account from 2011 indicating that Larsen had extolled the climate of "freedom, democracy and institutional development."
In a telephone interview with Turtle Bay from Jakarta, Indonesia, Larsen said that his views had been mischaracterized by the Bahraini press and that he intentionally avoided interviews with reporters on his trips there. He said the articles do not cite actual quotes of his remarks.
Larsen said that Bahrain will serve as the institution's regional hub, and that its main initial focus will be the humanitarian crisis in Syria. His initial intention, he said, was to base the office in Damascus but that conditions were too violent to allow it. "We are an institute which is studying regional conflicts and we are in countries where there are conflicts," he said. "We don't go to Switzerland or Sweden because there are no violent conflicts."
Larsen dismissed the possibility that his dual roles might pose a conflict of interest, noting that his work for the U.N. Security Council was focused on "narrow events in Lebanon," and that he plays no mediation role for the U.N. secretary general that could potentially give rise to a conflict.
"This is not an issue," he said. "It has nothing to do with Bahrain. IPI is focusing on the humanitarian situation in Syria, the displaced and the refugees in neighboring countries."
Larsen's likened his venture into Bahrain as part of wider migration by Western think tanks and universities into the Persian Gulf. Blue-chip outfits like the Brookings Institution and Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, have set up satellite operations in nearby Qatar.
The intellectual capital of the Middle East, it seems, is being erected with funding from oil rich sheikdoms in the heart of the Persian Gulf. Bahrain now will become a member of that club, while burnishing its reputation as host to international humanitarians.
That, according to human rights advocates, should give outside institutions like IPI grounds for pause. "Bahraini authorities can't cover up their terrible human rights record by paying for brand name institutions to set up shop there," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch . "Any independent think tank choosing Bahrain as a home should be aware that free exchange of ideas is almost impossible when many journalists or human rights advocates are barred from even entering the country."
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A U.N. subcommittee dealing with economic and social matters selected Sudan to chair a special session in Geneva in July on the promotion of humanitarian assistance, prompting European and other Western governments to request the decision be reversed and that Sudan be given a less controversial assignment, diplomats told Turtle Bay.
Nestor Osorio, the president of the U.N. Economic and Social Council, was expected to announce Sudan's selection for the post tomorrow at a meeting at U.N. headquarters. But European governments requested that a decision be postponed as government scrambled to convince Sudan to abandon its quest for the job. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., spoke with Osorio this week to express Washington's concerns about the selection of Sudan.
Western powers are concerned that appointment of Sudan would set the stage for another embarrassing U.N. spectacle in which a country routinely denounced for denying access to humanitarian aid workers is given the job of advocating for their interests.
The move comes against a background of troubled relations between Khartoum and humanitarian aid workers. In March, 2009, one day after the International Criminal Court accused Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir of committing genocide, his government expelled 13 international relief agencies from Darfur. Sudan has also prevented international aid workers into the restive Sudanese regions of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where conflict has displaced nearly 700,000 people and forced more than 200,000 to flee to Ethiopia and South Sudan.
Earlier this week, Rice rebuked Sudan in a Security Council session for its "appalling and unacceptable" refusal to grant international aid workers access to needy Sudanese civilians, particularly in areas under the control of its armed rivals from the northern branch of Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM-N).
"The Government of Sudan has refused for now a year and a half to permit the safe and unhindered provision of international humanitarian assistance to address the acute humanitarian emergency in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, particularly the SPLM-North controlled areas, which is largely of Khartoum's making," Rice told the 15-nation council in the Tuesday debate on the protection of civilians.
It is not the first time that Sudan has competed for a controversial post at the United Nations. The United States and other Western powers successfully derailed a previous Sudanese campaign to join the U.N. Security Council as one of its 10 non-permanent members. Last August, Sudan dropped a bid to serve as a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, following criticism from human rights organization and governments who claimed that a government whose leader was wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges had no place in the U.N.'s chief human rights body.
But Sudan has not given up and the U.N.'s African bloc continues to put forward the Sudanese government as a candidate for choice U.N. posts, despite questions about fitness for the job. The real culprit 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 deserved or not -- and prevents 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 willing to grant them that chance, even if it may prove embarrassing.
In the latest episode, Albania, Austria, Pakistan, and Sudan were appointed vice presidents of an organizing committee responsible for presiding over the Economic and Social Council's annual session, which runs from July 1-26.
The ECOSOC meeting, which will take place in Geneva, will be broken up into five segments, including a high-level meeting hosted by Osorio, a meeting on how the U.N. coordinates its global activities, as well as a discussion on humanitarian aid. Sudan has aggressively pursued the humanitarian aid post. Diplomats say that Osorio and the other vice presidents are trying to convince Sudan to accept another, less controversial assignment.
"Clearly Sudan is trying to score points in the humanitarian field to try to show the world it cares about this when we know on the ground that their action runs contrary to that," said one U.N.-based diplomat. "Sudan is going to get something but we trust that there will be enough wisdom" to identify a less controversial assignment for Khartoum.
"Given all the criticisms of their humanitarian record why would they put such a visible target on their back?" asked another U.N. diplomat.
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Have U.S. conservatives really lost the war on the International Criminal Court?
A decade ago, President George W. Bush's U.N. envoy, John Negroponte, threatened to shut down U.N. peacekeeping missions from Bosnia to Guatemala if the U.N. Security Council failed to immunize American peacekeepers from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Bush administration threatened to cut aid to America's military allies if they failed to sign pacts -- known as Article 98 Agreements -- vowing never to surrender a U.S. citizen to the Hague-based court. John Bolton, the Republicans' fiercest foe of the court, declared the day he reversed the Clinton administration's decision to sign the treaty establishing the court his happiest. "I felt like a kid on Christmas day," he wrote in his memoir. The very future of the international tribunal appeared to be at risk.
Today, the Security Council routinely passes resolutions expanding the scope of the international court and few pay it any notice. Last year, the Security Council cited the ICC in resolutions nine times, including in a December resolution -- 2085 -- that requires peacekeepers in Mali to support "national and international efforts, including those of the International Criminal Court, to bring to justice perpetrators of serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law."
It's not that conservatives are ready to embrace the ICC. Fears that the court may one day turn its sites on America's allies in Jerusalem have been reawakened by the Palestinian Authority's warnings that it may file a complaint with the tribunal over Israel's settlement policies. But conservatives have shown considerably less interest in the court's other investigations, particularly in Africa.
Last month, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a formal investigation into alleged crimes in Mali, citing "deeds of brutality and destruction" by armed insurgents who seized control of several towns in northern Mali early last year. The prosecutor recently put Malian government troops on notice that they could potentially face prosecution for rights abuses too. The court has also been stepping up pressure on the Libyan government to surrender slain Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's former intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi.
France's U.N. envoy Gérard Araud told Turtle Bay that the "routine" references to the global court constitute "recognition of the ICC as a key actor" on the international stage, one that is helping to end "impunity for the perpetrators of the worst atrocities." Given the court's early struggles, the broad acceptance of the tribunal, even by its big-power critics, is nothing short of "amazing," he said.
Still, it may be premature to declare victory for the ICC.
The court has opened 18 cases and jailed six people, including the former president of Ivory Coast, but it has so far succeeded in convicting only one war criminal: Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, who was sentenced last summer to 14 years in prison for recruiting child soldiers. Three of the Security Council's veto-wielding members -- China, Russia, and the United States -- have never joined the tribunal, fearing that it could potentially subject their nationals or those of their allies to prosecution by a court beyond their control. The council's two most important initiatives in support of the court -- the authorization of prosecutions of Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir and of Qaddafi and his inner circle -- have gone nowhere. And the council has done little to use its influence and power to compel the Sudanese or the Libyans to cooperate with the court.
"We are seeing increasing evidence that the ICC is -- and is seen as -- a permanent fixture in the international firmament," said James Goldston, a former coordinator of ICC prosecutions who now serves as executive director of the Open Society's Justice Initiative. "Too often, however, states' support for the ICC has been uneven -- strong when Security Council referral to the ICC is a way for the council to show resolve, weak when the ICC needs political backing to do its work."
The council's embrace of the ICC as a political cudgel has evolved against a backdrop of mounting anxiety -- and, in some cases, outright hostility -- toward the court in Africa, where most of the tribunal's prosecutions have played out. In Kenya, the country's national assembly passed a motion in 2010 urging the government to withdraw from the treaty body establishing the ICC. The move followed the prosecutor's announcement that the court would pursue charges against six Kenyans, including a presidential candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta, for crimes against humanity. These sentiments have fueled charges that the court has become an instrument of big-power bullying, not a forum for justice. "The structural issues that lead many to suggest double standards are real," Goldston said. The fact that three powers are not parties to the ICC, and have the power to refer cases, is an "inherent problem." At the same time, he added, "I think the current moment is a period in which the court is getting more traction."
In Washington, the court faces far fewer of the fiery broadsides and political threats that marked the conservative campaign to gut it in its infancy. "It's clear that things have softened since" the early years of the Bush administration," said Kenneth Anderson, a professor at American University's College of Law, noting that many American conservatives have "lost interest" in the tribunal. As long as the ICC prosecutor does not try to prosecute U.S. and Israel officials -- the "last true red lines" -- it will likely remain that way, he said. "The United States has made its peace on both sides of the political aisle with the existence of the International Criminal Court and with the functioning of the ICC as long as it doesn't get too close to the United States," Anderson added.
In some ways, the the Security Council's routine references to the global court reflect the degree to which it has become an accepted institution. In the end, even President Bush made his peace with the court, standing aside in March 2005, when the Security Council adopted a resolution ordering an investigation into massive crimes by Sudanese authorities in Darfur, Sudan.
The Obama administration has shown even greater sympathy for the court, but its backing has been limited and discrete, primarily coming in the form of allowing references to the ICC in Security Council resolutions and voting in favor of the 2011 resolution opening the prosecution of Qaddafi and his associates. The White House's commitment has been selective, according to observers.
"I think the United States is interested in constant engagement with the ICC if it serves their purpose. It's very ad hoc," said Christian Wenaweser, Liechtenstein's U.N. ambassador and the former president of the ICC's assembly of states parties. "They supported a Libya referral [when Qaddafi was in power] but they did not support any statements that would require the Libyans to cooperate with the ICC. They went with the approach of letting the Libyans do it themselves."
Wenaweser said he agrees that the increased ICC-related activity at the Security Council indicates that the organization is becoming "part of the mainstream political discussion," but he added that it's harder to make the argument that it reflects "stronger political acceptance or support by the Security Council."
Brett Schaefer, a U.N. expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, agrees. He said that the Obama administration's cautious approach to the court has given conservatives little cause for alarm.
"There was a lot of concern when the Obama administration came into office that it would implement a significant shift in U.S. policy towards the court," Schaefer said. "But instead, the shift has been quite moderate." The United States, he said, has cooperated in limited circumstances with the ICC prosecutor, increased rhetorical backing for the court, and permitted Security Council references to the court that don't cross American red lines.
"For the most part the policy's settled. It's because of that that the concerns conservatives had in 2008 and 2009 have been lessened," Schaefer said. But if ICC investigations clash with American interests in places like Afghanistan or the Middle East, he added, it could lead to a revival of U.S. opposition -- not only from conservatives, but also from Democratic lawmakers and the wider public.
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French President Francois Hollande and his defense and foreign ministers will arrive in Bamako, Mali, tomorrow to mark the country's military victory over an Islamist-backed insurgency. But the French leader's victory lap is being marred by reports of brutal reprisal attacks by his Malian allies.
Senior French officials are voicing increasing alarm about reported abuses by Malian troops, saying they have made several formal requests to Malian authorities to rein in troops accused of summarily executing suspected insurgents.
"We are really, really worried about the situation and we are doing our utmost to avoid human rights violations," Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, told reporters. For many Malians, he said, "the sprit is not reconciliation but revenge."
The French government, he added, has instructed its troops to prevent violent reprisals by Malians soldiers against civilians, and appealed to the United Nations to deploy human rights monitors on the ground in Mali.
The French envoy's remarks follow the publication on Thursday of a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch, claiming that Malian troops summarily executed at least 13 men in Konna and Sevare, while insurgents killed at least seven Malian soldiers, including five who were injured. The rights group expects the scale of killing is even higher.
The episode highlighted the challenges for the French and other supporters in ensuring that its military intervention in Mali does not become marred by reports of abuses by its Malian allies. Hollande's visit is intended to highlight French military successes against the Islamists, who have fled key towns they had captured during the past year, including Gao, Kidal, and the tourist outpost of Timbuktu.
Philippe Bolopion, Human Rights Watch's U.N. representative, and his colleagues visited the towns of Konna and Sevare, where they found three recently murdered corpses in a water well, executed in broad daylight by Malian troops, according to local witnesses. The rights advocates also paid a visit to a nearby police station, Bolopion recalled today in an interview with Turtle Bay.
"Do you know there are bodies of dead people in the well?" Bolopion and his companions asked the local police chief, who refused to provide his name. "Yes," he answered. "I think I've seen something in the press."
Informed that he could see the crimes for himself if he simply walked 300 meters from his office, the official declined, saying he would need instructions from his superior. "I think the whole town knows what happened, the military knows what happened, and nobody is investigating," Bolopion said. "They killed over a dozen people, most of them in broad daylight in the middle of the town, a few hundred meters from the gendarmerie."
Bolopion also said that Human Rights Watch is investigating a claim that a woman and three children were killed by a helicopter strike at their home in Konna.
The French government has informed the rights group that it was not flying at the time the attack allegedly occurred. Bolopion said the group is currently trying to establish whether the Mali army has an operational attack helicopter.
Bolopion said that the French government has made some "good statements" underscoring the need to respect human rights, but he said he would like to see France and other outside powers apply greater pressure on Mali to investigate alleged abuses by their troops. "They hold much sway over Mali's military authority and so they should be able to get them to investigate in Sevare," he said. He also said he would like to see France, which has a presence in Sevare, help secure crime scenes and protect evidence for a possible investigation by the International Criminal Court.
In an interview with France Radio Inter last Thursday, Defense Minister Jean Yves Le Drian, said there are limits to what France can do. "It's not our responsibility to maintain order in the towns; there are mayors, the mayors have returned to Gao and Timbuktu; the Malian authorities, the institutions are returning. So it's important for the Malian army, the Malian gendarmerie to ensure there are no acts of violence or reprisals, which people may be very tempted to carry out. I know orders have been given, they must be obeyed. We're very vigilant about that, and we'd also like United Nations observers to be able to ensure things are going properly in the towns we and the Malian forces have recaptured."
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The U.N. today released a damning 128-page internal review of its conduct in Sri Lanka during the bloody, final several months of the country's 28 year-long civil war. The main takeaway -- as I reported yesterday -- is that the U.N. failed abjectly in its responsibility to protect the more than 40,000 civilians killed, mostly as a result of indiscriminate government shelling.
But the published report includes a series of redacted passages describing a key, high-level meeting in March 2009 with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in which several of Ban's top advisors argued against publishing the U.N. death toll, characterizing Sri Lankan atrocities at war crimes, or pressing for an international investigation into possible abuses by combatants.
The redacted content came to light because the document released by the U.N. secretariat contained an embedded reference to the blacked-out passage. Simply cutting and pasting the redacted sections from the original PDF on a Microsoft Word document revealed the portions that had been scrubbed from the report.
During that 2009 meeting, Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, had proposed that the U.N. publish a casualty estimates toll -- which, at the time, amounted to more than 2,800 dead and 7,500 injured -- from an internal U.N. assessment, and to warn the Sri Lankan government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that they could face war crimes charges.
But her request was fiercely resisted.
Several top U.N. advisors, including the U.N.'s top man in Sri Lanka, Neil Buhne, and the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, John Holmes, "did not stand by the casualty numbers, saying that the data were ‘not verified,'" noted a redacted part of the report.
"Several participants questioned whether it was the right time for such a statement, [and] asked to see the draft before release and suggested it be reviewed by OLA (The Office of Legal Affairs)," according to the report.
But Pillay dismissed the concerns, and proceeded to prepare a statement warning the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE that their actions "may constitute international crimes, entailing individual responsibility, including for war crimes and crimes against humanity."
"Credible sources have indicated that more than 2,800 civilians have been killed and 7,500 injured since 20 January, many of them inside the no-fire zone," the statement read. "There are legitimate fears that the loss of life may reach catastrophic levels if the fighting continues in this way.... More civilians have been killed in Sri Lanka in the past seven weeks than in Afghanistan during the whole of last year."
Ban's chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, appealed to Pillay at the time to reconsider.
"I perceive that the severity of the draft statement you propose to make is likely to have very serious political and legal repercussions for the rest of us and I hope you can consider carefully this fact while finalizing your statement," Nambiar wrote in an email to Pillay, according to an un-redacted portion of the report. Reminding her that Buhne and Holmes had "underlined the fact that the accuracy of the figures remains still quite questionable.... By getting on the record with these figures I feel we are getting into difficult terrain."
Holmes, meanwhile, made a similar case for holding back the number, citing the "difficulty of being able to defend them with confidence" and the "risk of a counterproductive reaction from the Sri Lankan government is high."
"The reference to possible war crimes will be controversial," he added. "I am not sure going into this dimension is helpful."
Members of the policy planning committee also expressed concerns that a proposal by U.N. Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide Frances Deng to travel to Sri Lanka "may add to overcrowding of U.N. actors" dealing with the crisis. They said that a proposal to appoint a special envoy for Sri Lanka to raise the profile of the conflict was a good idea but that it "did not seem politically feasible" given government opposition.
In the months following the war, according to the public section of the report, the U.N. brass was increasingly focused on exploring how perpetrators of rights abuses might be held accountable. But the U.N. redacted passages showing that there was "considerable disagreement" among senior U.N. officials on how to achieve that.
"Discussing whether or not the Secretary General should establish an international Commission of Experts, many participants [at a July 30 Policy Planning Committee meeting] were reticent to do so without the support of the [Sri Lankan] government and at a time when Member States were also not supportive. At the same, participants also acknowledged that a government mechanism was unlikely to seriously address past violations. The Secretary General said that ‘the government should be given the political space to develop a domestic mechanism' and that only if this did not occur within a limited time frame would the UN look at alternatives."
Nearly 2 and a half years later, and despite Sri Lanka's commitment to a credible investigation into war-time abuses, the U.N. has yet to issue a firm public call for an independent inquiry into the war.
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The election of the United States to the U.N. Human Rights Council by the General Assembly this morning drew sighs of relief from human rights advocates who feared that a U.S. defeat would undercut American support for the U.N.'s principal rights body.
The United States garnered the highest number of votes in a five-way race for three seats reserved for Western governments, besting Germany and Ireland, who also secured seats on the council, and leaving Greece and Sweden in defeat.
The vote represented a victory for Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Eileen Donahoe, the U.S. ambassador to the Human Rights Council, who ran the risk of possible defeat in an effort to promote open elections at the United Nations.
Rice said the United States is "proud" to have been elected in a "very spirited campaign" to a second three-year term.
But did the U.S. really win on its merits?
Does the United States -- with its death penalty, its controversial detention and shoot-to-kill drone policies -- really have a better human rights record than Sweden?
"No," tweeted Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's Human Rights Program. But the United States, he added, "has more political power to secure" U.N. General Assembly votes denouncing rights abuses. Dakwar said that the United States falls short of its European competitors for the seat, due to its excesses in the war on terrorism, discriminatory criminal justice system, and immigration policy. And yet, said Dakwar, "On balance, the United States deserves to be on the Human Rights Council because of its overall record on human rights issues over the years and its commitment to strengthening human rights."
Dakwar's remarks reflect a widely held view among human rights proponents, and European governments, that despite the Obama administration's failings, Washington's leadership remains vital to promoting broad human rights protections at the United Nations. It's probably better to have Washington than Sweden on your side when you're facing off with an emboldened new generation of Islamic leaders who are committed to adopting resolutions outlawing criticism of religions.
"It is not just about one's human rights record it's also about their ability to make an effective contribution to advancing the Human Rights Council," said Peggy Hicks, an expert at Human Rights Watch. "In that sense, the U.S. carries far more political weight."
Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said that America's election provides Washington with an opportunity not only to promote human rights values abroad, but to live up to them at home. "The most important contribution the United Nations can now make to the cause of human rights is a determined effort to regain its own credibility," Nossel said. "The continued indefinite detention without criminal charges of 166 men at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, the ongoing military commission proceedings that fail to meet fair trial standards, a drone program shrouded in secrecy, and the lack of accountability for torture and disappearances in the so-called ‘war on terror' undermine human rights and undercut the legitimacy of the U.S.'s voice at the council."
The U.N. 47-nation Human Rights Council was established in 2006. But the George W. Bush administration refused to join it, saying membership would lend legitimacy to a body that included many governments with appalling rights records. Obama reversed course, arguing that it would be better to improve the body from within than lecturing from the outside.
In recent years, the Obama administration has used its influence to prevent countries with poor rights records from joining the body, running campaigns to block countries like Belarus, Iran, and Syria from getting on the council. But today's vote -- which also resulted in election victories for Venezuela and Pakistan -- shows that it remains a struggle to ensure that members of the council are actually committed to promoting human rights. Critics of the Geneva-based council argued that the fact that countries like Pakistan and Venezuela won a greater number of votes than the United States highlights the council's moral bankruptcy.
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.
It is hard to offer a precise measurement of a country's human rights record because the major human rights advocatcy groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, don't rank nations by their record. The Freedom House Freedom Index, though, includes all five Western candidates in the ranks of the "free." Reporters Without Borders's Press Freedom Index ranks Sweden higher, at 12, than any of the 18 countries voted on the Human Rights Council, including the United States, which ranked 47.
But Sweden is by no means perfect, according to rights advocates.
Amnesty International has criticized Sweden for detaining and surrendering two Egyptian asylum seekers, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zari, via a CIA-leased plane to Egypt, where they allegedly were subject to torture. And Sweden also failed to meet international standards in considering asylum applications from Roma that fled Serbia.
But the Swedish candidacy had two liabilities.
For one, according to rights advocates, it had taken a tougher stance -- alongside the United States -- against the traditional practice of trading votes on other elections in order to win. And a loss for Sweden posed no threat to the U.N. rights institution itself. "There was a concern that if the United States was defeated it would give fodder to those who are skeptical about U.S. engagement at the council in the first place," said Peggy Hicks.
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U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay delivered a speech on Syria to the Human Rights Council that reiterated her persistent protests about the Syrian government's massive abuses during the country's 18-month upheaval.
But the latest message was perhaps more striking for the increasingly harsh tone she has taken in enumerating the crimes of the armed opposition, including summary executions.
Syria's opposition forces, she warned, "should be under no illusion that they will be immune from prosecution" for their alleged crimes. "I urge them to make a strenuous effort to halt the deterioration in their conduct, and adhere to fundamental norms of international law."
The warning comes weeks after a U.N. Commission of Inquiry concluded that both the Syrian government and opposition fighters have committed war crimes and other serious violations of the laws of war. Pillay reiterated her call for the U.N. Security Council to authorize an inquiry into Syrian crimes by the International Criminal Court.
"I would like to remind states that they unanimously agreed, at the 2005 World Summit, that each state is obliged to protect populations from crimes against humanity, war crimes and other international crimes," she said. "The international community must assume its responsibilities and act in unison to prevent violations."
Pillay said the greatest responsibility for the violence in Syria lies with the government, which continues to fire heavy weapons into densely populated residential neighborhoods and is increasingly mounting "indiscriminate attacks" attacks in urban areas by helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft. "In a further alarming development, last week, it was reported that houses in parts of Damascus were being bulldozed -- an act that may well amount to collective punishment and constitute a war crime or a crime against humanity," she said.
Pillay said that human rights abuses across the country "are rampant, and have reached the point where mass killings, summary executions and torture are the norm."
"As we speak," she added, "civilians, including children, are continuing to be injured and killed in Syria virtually every hour of every day."
Pillay said she was "deeply shocked" by reports of a mass killing last month in the town of Darya, on the outskirts of Damascus, where Syrian security forces are suspected of killing hundreds as part of a counterinsurgency operation aimed at rooting rebels from the capital.
While Pillay didn't directly accuse Syria of responsibility, she noted that government forces played a role in an earlier massacre in the town of Al Houla. "Information is also being gathered about other reported mass killings and summary executions, including some carried out by opposition forces," she said.
In her strongest criticism to date of the fragmented insurgency, Pillay said anti-government forces have also adopted a number of government tactics, including the posting of snipers who target civilians. She also faulted the combatants' unnamed military backers for exacerbating the conflict, and urged them to stop supplying the two sides with ammunition.
"As time has passed, opposition forces have also been increasingly implicated in kidnapping and abductions, including of foreigners perceived as being government supporters," she said. "The undoubted climb in the number of human rights violations attributed to the opposition forces, in addition to the ever increasing brutality by the authorities and their Shabbiha allies, is pat of the rapid downward spiral that is gripping Syria and on the international level, increasing the sense of deep foreboding, frustration, and impotence about where this conflict is heading."
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Sudan's bid for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council sputtered out today as Khartoum informed the African Union that it "is no longer interested in taking up one of the vacancies available...."
The Sudanese withdrawal follows a behind-the scenes campaign by the United States, Western governments, and human rights organizations that culminated with a recent decision by Kenya to contest the Sudanese nomination.
Sudan's decision came on the day that a coalition of human rights groups, organized by U.N. Watch, appointed actress and activist Mia Farrow to lead a campaign to block Sudan's candidacy. But officials said Sudan had already signaled to its African colleagues earlier in the week that it was considering pulling out of the race to avoid the prospect of an embarrassing loss.
Earlier today, Farrow appealed to people to sign a petition urging Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to "Stop Sudan's Election to the UN Human Rights Council." After the announcement, she tweeted: "Petition worked!" Farrow tweeted "TY[Thank You] all who signed."
The African Union had selected Ethiopia, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Sierra Leone, to run unchallenged for five African seats available on the 47-member rights council in November. The nomination of Sudan, which is led by President Omar al-Bashir, who has been charged by the International Criminal Court with orchestrating a campaign of genocide in Darfur, outraged human rights groups.
The United States and other critics of Sudan quietly encouraged Kenya to declare its intention to enter the race, forcing the Africans into a competitive race. Kenya agreed. After Sudan confirmed on Thursday its plan to withdraw its nomination, human rights group praised the decision.
"The worst human rights offenders are slowly recognizing they are not welcome on the Human Rights Council. Sudan joins notorious rights violators Syria, Iran, Belarus, Sri Lanka and Azerbaijan whose hypocritical aspirations to sit on the council have properly led to embarrassing retreat," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch, which furnished a copy of Sudan's withdrawal letter.
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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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A U.N. Commission of Inquiry this week laid out a case that the Syrian government, pro-government militia, and to a lesser degree, armed opposition forces, have engaged in massive rights abuses amounting to crimes against humanity and war crimes.
So what's the likelihood the President Bashar al-Assad and his military planners will ever have their day in court at The Hague?
For the time being, it looks pretty slim.
The Geneva-based commission, headed by Brazilian diplomat and lawyer Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, has issued no call for prosecution by the International Criminal Court, which investigated and issue warrants for other world leaders, including the late Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
Instead, Pinheiro has kicked the ball over to the U.N. Security Council to decide how to hold the Syrian perpetrators to account and will hand a list of suspected abusers to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, where they will lie in a sealed envelope awaiting a possible decision by some as yet undetermined court to prosecute.
Meanwhile, there remain serious hurdles to prosecution.
Syria has never ratified the treaty, known as the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC), placing the government beyond the court's reach.
The treaty includes a provision that allows the U.N. Security Council to initiate an ICC investigation. But it is almost unthinkable that the 15-nation council, where Syria's allies Russia and China wield veto power, would authorize an ICC investigation into Assad's alleged crimes, or those of the armed opposition for that matter.
There appears to be little appetite in the Security Council for establishing a temporary court, as it did in the past to prosecute crimes in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone.
Last April, Aryeh Neier, who recently stepped down as president of the Open Society Institute, proposed the establishment of an Arab war crimes court, authorized by the Arab League, to prosecute Syrian war criminals. But the idea has gained little traction.
European courts that assert universal jurisdiction over large-scale crimes, including genocide or war crimes, could prosecute Syrians responsible for murdering nationals from their countries, but they will be hard pressed to get them to surrender to a court in London, Paris, or Madrid.
Pinheiro, meanwhile, has claimed that his mandate does not give him the authority to recommend the U.N. Security Council authorize and investigation by the International Criminal Court, according to court advocates.
But ICC advocates contend that he not only has the authority but the obligation to do so. A call for a referral from the Security Council, they say, will add to the international pressure on Russia and China to ensure rights violators are held to account.
"Given the scale of the crimes it would seem incumbent upon the commission to make a recommendation to the council [for an ICC prosecution] regardless of its viability," said Richard Dicker, an advocate of the ICC at Human Rights Watch. "A referral to the ICC should be very high on the list of recommendations. It's an important statement of principle. There's a second more practical factor: what looks like a fixed situation today, in terms of obstacles at the council, could change in the future."
In August 2011, the U.N. Human Rights Council established a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in Syria dating back to March 2011 -- shortly after the government mounted a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters.
It has since produced three written reports detailing abuses by both government-backed forces and rebels. On Wednesday, the commission concluded that there are "reasonable grounds" to assert that the Syrian government, pro-government Shabbiha militia, and armed anti-government forces committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the country's 17-month long uprising.
But it found that the most egregious abuses were carried out by forces loyal Assad and acting "with the knowledge, or at the behest, of the highest level of the government."
The commission's findings confirm its previous claims that the warring parties committed crimes against humanity during a conflict that the U.N. says has led to the deaths of more than 14,000 people. But this week's reports marked the first time it accused the various groups with war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
The commission, which was established in August 2011 by the U.N. Human Rights Council, particularly blamed the Syrian government and the Shabbiha for carrying out the large-scale killing of Syrian civilians in the town of Al Houla, dismissing government claims that the killings were carried out by anti-government forces.
More than 100 civilians were killed on May 25 at Al Houla in a gruesome military-backed operation that marked a sharp escalation in the violence in Syria.
"The commission confirms its previous finding that violations were committed pursuant to State policy," reads the report. The commission also "found reasonable grounds" to believe anti-government opposition forces committed war crimes, including murder and extrajudicial executions and torture, but that the abuses "did not reach the gravity, frequency and scale of those committed by government forces and the Shabbiha."
But the commission provides no specific proposal for an independent international prosecution.
Instead, it calls on the Syrian government to conduct its own investigation into human rights violations that is has ordered, and to hold perpetrators accountable. It also recommends that Human Rights Council beef up its reporting presence in Syria, and transmit its findings "to the Secretary General for the attention of the Security Council so appropriate action may be taken."
Thus, the prospect for prosecution remains uncertain. Moreover, the commission is due to close in September.
"The options are not good," said James Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative at the Open Society. But Goldston said he was "puzzled" by Pinheiro's decision not to explicitly call for an ICC role in Syria, noting that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and more than 20 other countries in the Human Rights Council, have. "It can only help if the independent commission would add its voice."
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I've been busy over the past couple of days reporting out a story on the collapse of U.N. diplomacy in Syria, but I wanted to take out a few moments to weigh in on a report in the Guardian this morning on Rwanda.
The Guardian's Chris McGreal reported that the Obama administration's ambassador-at-large for war crimes, Stephen Rapp, warned Rwandan President Paul Kagame that he may face prosecution for war crimes if his government continues to support a Congolese mutiny, known as M23, led by Bosco Ntaganda, an accused war criminal wanted by the International Criminal Court.
"At this stage, I'm not sure if we are there in terms of criminal conduct," Rapp told the Guardian. "But if this kind of thing continued and groups that were being armed were committing crimes ... then I think you would have a situation where individuals who were aiding them from across the border could be held criminally liable."
The stark warning follows the release of a damning U.N. Group of Experts report that accused Rwandan military leaders, including Kagame's defense minister, James Kabarebe, of backing the mutineers. (See my previous posts on this here and here.) The report accused the Rwandan brass of recruiting, organizing, funding, and arming the rebellion.
On Saturday, the U.S. State Department announced a cut off $200,000 in military assistance to Rwanda, citing its alleged support for the mutiny. It is considering whether to pursue additional steps.
"The Department is deeply concerned about the evidence that Rwanda is implicated in the provision of support to Congolese rebel groups, including M23," read the State Department announcement. "As a result, we will not obligate $200,000 in Fiscal Year 2012 FMF [Foreign Military Assistance] funds that were intended to support a Rwandan academy for non commissioned officers."
For anybody that has followed Rwanda in recent years, the U.S. action amounts to a dramatic shift in its approach to Kagame's government.
The Clinton administration's top national security leadership -- including Susan Rice, the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who served as Clinton's assistant secretary of state for African affairs -- had long expressed regrets over having failed to act decisively to halt the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
But Washington has strongly supported the government since, and successive Democratic and Republican administrations have rallied behind President Kagame, even as he and his top advisors have faced allegations of war crimes in the years following the genocide in Rwanda and Eastern Congo. Only last month, Congolese officials and human rights advocates had accused the United States of blocking the release of the U.N. Group of Experts report, a claim that the Americans denied. The United States ultimately supported the report's publication.
Rwanda, meanwhile, has denied the U.N. charges of backing Congo's mutineers, saying that the Americans are acting on bad information. "We must make clear to our friends in Washington and elsewhere that this decision is based on bad information, and is wrong in facts," Rwanda's Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, said in a response to the U.S. decision to cut military aid. "As we have made clear from the outset, Rwanda is neither the cause nor the enabler of instability in DRC."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon informed the U.N. Security Council on Friday afternoon that the U.N. monitoring mission in Syria will be up to full strength next week, but that Syrian forces continue to shell Syrian towns and that "most elements" of the U.N. six-point peace plan have yet to be implemented.
In a 13-page report to the U.N. Security Council, Ban said that the U.N. initiative -- shepherded by former Secretary General Kofi Annan -- offers the best hope of avoiding a full scale civil war. But he also voiced "grave concern" about the risks of deepening violence that may require the Security Council to consider the viability of U.N.'s ongoing presence in Syria.
Ban said that Annan, who is serving as the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria is preparing to travel to Damascus again in an effort to press President Bashar al-Assad, opposition leaders, and others to fulfill their obligations under his peace plan. Here are some key takeaways from Ban's report:
- The deployment of the military component [of the U.N. Supervision] Mission in Syria [UNSMIS] is essentially completed...
- There has been some reduction in the intensity of fighting in areas where UNSMIS has established its presence. The engagement of observers at local level appears to be having a calming effect.... That said, the overall level of violence in the country remains quite high.
- There continues to be daily violent incidents across the country, leading to a large number of deaths and injuries, albeit at a lower scale than immediately before 12 April 2012. The Syrian army has not ceased the use of or pulled back their heavy weapons in many areas.
- The size and complexity of the country, the range of potential violations, the differing local contexts, and the precarious security situation make it difficult to gain a full and complete picture of the situation on the ground.
- On several occasions, UNSMIS has heard the sound or seen evidence of shelling in population centres.
- The Government reportedly continues to receive military equipment and ammunition from other countries, and there are also reports of weapons being sent to the opposition forces.
- UNSMIS has reported that opposition representative relate an on-going fear of reprisals for talking to UNSMIS, which is a matter of serious concern.
- The frustration of the local population has taken the form of threats against UNSMIS observers, damage to vehicles and restrictions of movements by the crowd.
- There has been an increase in the number of bombings, most notably in Damascus, Hama, Aleppo, Idlib and Deir-Ez-Zor.... The sophistication and size of the bombs point to a high level of expertise which may indicate the involvement of established terrorist groups.
- There are continuing reports of a stepped up security crackdown by the authorities that has led to massive violations of human rights by Government forces and pro-Government militias.... There are also reports of human rights violations by the opposition, on a lesser scale, but including instances of arbitrary detention and summary executions...
- There are continuing reports that thousands of Syrians are being detained in a network of government-run facilities.... The pace and scale of access to, and release of, detainees is unacceptable...
- The obligation of the Syrian government to respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully is clearly not being observed.
- There is growing impatience with the status quo but also a lack of confidence in the possibility of genuine transformation....While many fear the implications of a further militarization of the conflict, some have doubts that peaceful change is possible.
- Most elements of the six-point plan have not been implemented.
- [The deepening violence and insecurity] is a source of grave concern, and underscores the need to carefully consider the United Nations presence and next steps...
- Encouragement to any party in Syria to pursue objectives through the use of violence is inconsistent with our common effort. Those who may contemplate supporting any side with weapons, military training or other military assistance, must reconsider such option to enable a sustained cessation of all forms of violence.
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The U.N. General Assembly today formally extended Navi Pillay's term as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights for another two years.
But not before House Foreign Affairs Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) fired off an angry letter calling on the Obama administration to "publicly and strongly oppose" Pillay's extension, saying she has been too soft on China, Syria, and other rights violators and has "repeatedly demonstrated bias against the State of Israel."
The request, contained in a letter to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, came hours before the U.N. General Assembly decided to approve a recent recommendation by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to keep Pillay on the job for another two years.
The broadside by Pillay's congressional critics highlighted the displeasure with she's viewed by key backers of Israel in Washington.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, withheld any public statement on Pillay's extension. U.S. officials privately expressed disappointment with her handling of Israel, but noted that her performance has improved since the Arab Spring, particular with her harsh criticism of Syria. "Over the next two years we will continue to encourage High Commissioner Pillay to speak out on human rights violations wherever they may occur, and to address ongoing shortcomings in the Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights' works, " a U.S. official, who declined to speak on the record, told Turtle Bay.
In contrast, European governments offered a robust vote of confidence in Pillay. Britain's human rights minister, Jeremy Browne, welcomed Pillay's reappointment, saying the "United Kingdom strongly supports the role of the High Commissioner and her Office, who lead efforts to promote and protect human rights throughout the world. The struggle for human rights is continuous. The High Commissioner's role is critical and entails enormous responsibilities: helping prevent human rights violations wherever they occur, encouraging respect for human rights by all States, and strengthening the ability of the UN system as a whole to act.
Pillay also received the backing of Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. director of Human Rights Watch, who said, "Some of the attacks against Navi Pillay seem misguided and portray her record unfairly. While she could do more to raise the public profile of her office, she has been a key champion of human rights in the Arab spring, Ivory Coast and beyond."
A former judge in South Africa and on the International Criminal Court, Pillay was appointed the U.N.'s top human rights job in September 2008, serving out a four-year term that was scheduled to expire in the fall. Some U.N. officials said that Pillay had sought a second four-year term, but was rebuffed by Ban, while others said that she had asked Ban for only two, citing exhaustion with the job.
Pillay's office declined a request for comment.
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In December 2011, Sudanese Gen. Mohamed Ahmed al-Dabi led an Arab League mission into Syria to monitor abuses during the country's popular uprising. But the mission quickly failed, hobbled by government impediments and its own monitors' inexperience.
But Gen. Dabi, it turned out, had plenty of experience hobbling international missions.
As a senior aide to president Omar al-Bashir, Dabi was assigned the task last year of shepherding a panel of U.N. experts charged with monitoring the enforcement of U.N. sanctions in Darfur, according to a leaked report by the panel.
The report, which was first published by Africa Confidential last month, provides a detailed account of how Dabi and his associates thwarted the U.N. Security Council panel's efforts to investigate abuses of a U.N. travel ban and arms embargo.
The panel arrived in Khartoum on November 23, 2011, and were immediately confronted by Dabi -- who served as the government's "focal point." Dabi criticized the panel and told them that they would be well advised to be "objective and transparent" in their work; meanwhile, assured the panel he would provide them all the support they needed.
It didn't turn out that way.
The experts requested multiple entry visas to facilitate their travels in the region. They were denied. In fact, Sudan introduced a new system in which the panel members' travel had to be approved by agents from Sudan's military intelligence bureau, impeding the "free movement of the panel and its ability to discharge its duties," according to the leaked report.
When the panel settled on a travel destination they were routinely told no.
They were denied permission to visit camps for the internally displaced at Kalma and Abu Shok, and prevented from traveling to other zones, including the areas around the towns of Shangil Tobaya, Golo, Rockero Thabit, Magarin, and Nortit.
"The panel wanted to visit some places, namely the Libya-Sudan border in Darfur, South Kordofan, and to observe Joint Sudan/Chad/CAR(Central African Republic) patrols along the western borders of Darfur, but the first two were refused and the third not arranged," according to the report. "As a result the panel was not able to carry out its mandate effectively."
The panel's requests to interview key officials were also met with refusals. They were barred from meeting with any commanders in the Sudan Armed Forces in Darfur, police officials, or the governor of South Kordofan.
"Similarly, the panel was refused permission to inspect military aircraft and other military assets kept in Darfur and to access flight logs maintained by the Sudanese Aviation Authority," the report added. "This affected the panel's ability to effectively monitor the arms embargo in relation to Darfur."
It remains unclear whether Dabi was involved in rejecting all the panel members' requests, and he apparently moved on to Syria shortly after taking on the role of government liaison to the U.N. panel. But it is clear that Dabi didn't always say no.
At one point, Dabi "had proposed to show to the panel weapons and vehicles" Sudan seized from an anti-government rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement. The materiel, according to Dabi, had been supplied by Libya.
But while the panel tried to take Dabi up on his offer, he never produced the goods.
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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.
Kofi Annan today raised the prospect of President Bashar al-Assad's stepping down as part of a final peace deal, marking the first time the international envoy on Syria has hinted that his mediation efforts might lead to a change in leadership.
But there were no signs that Assad was prepared to yield to international pressure to step aside or to even halt a military campaign that drew fresh claims by opposition activists that government forces continue to shell parts of the city of Homs.
Asked by a reporter in Moscow whether Assad should resign, Annan, who is serving as the joint envoy on Syria for the Arab League and the United Nations, said: "That is one of the issues the Syrians will have to decide. Our effort is to help the Syrians come to the table and find a way out of all this. It may in the end come to that, but it's not up to me, it's up to the Syrians."
So far, Annan has not been able to secure agreements from either the Syrian government or the armed opposition to accept a U.N. supervised cease-fire agreement. But he held high-level meeting with top officials from Russia, including President Dmitry Medvedev over the weekend, and headed out today for a visit to Beijing for meetings with top Chinese officials tomorrow, part of a last ditch effort to persuade Assad to rein in his security forces and negotiate a political settlement with the opposition.
"Time is of the essence. This cannot be allowed to drag on indefinitely," he told reporters at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow. "The message I would also like to put out today is that the transitional winds blowing today cannot be easily resisted, or cannot be resisted for long. The only way to deal with this is through reform, through change that respects democratic principles, individual dignity, the rule of law and human rights."
Annan is seeking to enlist the support of top Russian and Chinese leaders in ratcheting pressure on the Syrian leader to halt a year-long crackdown on anti-government demonstrators that has left more than 8,000 people dead and delivered the country to the early phases of a civil war.
Annan said he was confident that Russia, which has been accused by the United States and other Western partners of abetting President Assad, is acting in good faith to achieve a peaceful outcome to the crisis. "They are prepared ... to work with me not only in supporting the approach and the plans I've put on the table but also in encouraging the parties to move in the same direction ... to settle this issue peacefully."
"I think they do have influence," he added, "and they have indicated they will use that influence to help me constructively."
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Mukesh Kapila, a former U.N. envoy to Sudan who was among the first to raise the alarm over atrocities in Darfur, recently returned to Sudan, sneaking into the Nuba Mountains to assess humanitarian conditions in a province that has seen violence and been cut off from international assistance.
The Nuba Mountains have been the center of fighting between Sudanese forces and rebels allied with newly independent South Sudan. Sudan's government in Khartoum, which launched a major offensive aimed at crushing the rebellion, has refused to allow U.N. humanitarian aid workers into the region to witness what is happening and assist hundreds of thousands facing looming famine.
Kapila and other Sudan peace activists, including film star George Clooney, have traveled to the Nuba mountains in recent weeks to raise awareness about the plight of the Nubans, and pressed government officials to take dramatic steps to avert hunger.
"People are living on rats, wild flowers, and fruits," Kapila said in a telephone interview with Turtle Bay. Kapila, who was representing the advocacy group Aegis Trust, made the case that the situation has grown so desire that foreign donors need to bypass the United Nations delivery system and provide direct assistance to local groups, some of which have links to the rebels, to stave off a massive humanitarian calamity. If some aid is diverted to armed fighters challenging the government so be it.
"In my view, cross-border operations are necessary," Kapila said. "Those who don't want to do it don't have the moral high ground to stand in the way.
The United States has warned that the country this month will reach a phase four-level food emergency, one stage short of full-out famine, without a major relief effort. And American officials have been quietly building up food stocks in the area and are considering the prospects of supporting cross-border aid distribution operations that are opposed by the Sudanese government, according to senior U.N. officials and private aid groups.The move follows an increasing push by a group of seven human rights advocacy groups, including the Enough Project and United to End Genocide, which appealed to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, last month to support cross-border aid. "Counter-intuitively, sending aid into Sudan by any means necessary -- backed by heavy press for humanitarian corridors -- might be the best way to compel the regime to lift its aid embargo," Enough Project founder John Prendergast and Clooney wrote in December.
Officials say that Rice is sympathetic to the argument for cross-border operations, which were used to stave off hunger in the Nuba Mountains during the 1990s. The relief assistance then was channeled through several Norwegian and American relief organizations with operations in the area.
Princeton Lyman, the U.S.'s special envoy for Sudan, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today that while the United States would prefer the U.N. secure Khartoum's consent for aid deliveries it is considering doing it without it. "Should Khartoum agree to allow access to international humanitarian organizations across the lines of fighting, there must be swift progress on implementation. If necessary, we will examine ways to provide indirect support to Sudanese humanitarian actors to reach the most vulnerable. We have monitoring and accountability tools to make sure that civilians would be the beneficiaries of these activities. Nevertheless, an international program, as proposed by the U.N. and its partners, is the best means to reach the most people and we continue to urge the government to approve it."
But the proposal has faced stiff resistance from the U.N.'s chief humanitarian relief agencies, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and several humanitarian relief groups with operations in Sudan. They fear that the effort would provoke the government into moving against relief agencies, and would undermine the chief principle of humanitarian neutrality.
"I've made it clear on many occasions that I do not support cross-border operations unless they are agreed by both governments, the governments of Sudan and South Sudan," said Valerie Amos, the U.N. humanitarian relief coordinator. "And indeed the government of Sudan have said that they would see any kind of cross-border operation as a hostile act."
Amos said that she has proposed that the Sudanese government allow international relief workers to have "cross line" access to displaced civilians in rebel-controlled areas of South Kordofan by crossing through government-controlled territory, not through the border. The anti-government rebels, known as the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (North), have agreed to the plan, but Khartoum has not provided a response.
The Sudanese government kicked the United Nations out of the Nuba Mountains last summer, arguing that their services were no longer needed following the end of the countries' decades-long civil war.
A landmark 2005 peace deal ending Sudan's bloody civil war between north and south paved the way for the latter's independence, but it never resolved the fate of their Nuban allies, who remain subject to northern rule.
The local forces were supposes to disarm following a "popular consultation" that was intended to determine the regions relationship with Khartoum. But the rival forces were never integrated, and the popular consultation never took place.
In May, Khartoum ordered the Nuban forces to either turn over their weapons and submit to northern rule or move to the south. A month later, as the world's attention was focused on South Sudan's independence, Khartoum opened its new military front in the Sudanese territory of South Kordofan, in the country's Nuba Mountains region.
The situation in South Kordofan bears some similarities with Darfur, where Sudanese forces, backed by Arab militias, mounted a brutal counterinsurgency campaign -- including large-scale killings and massive displacement of civilians -- against the region's restive tribes. In one ominous twist, South Kordofan's new governor, Ahmed Haroun, a member of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party, is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of committing war crimes against Darfurians.
However, the local forces in South Kordofan are far more heavily armed than their Darfurian counterparts and have exercised control over a large swath of the territory. Sudanese officials charge the Nubans with precipitating the latest round of violence by reinforcing their military presence in recent months and refusing to meet their obligation under previous agreements to disarm and attacking local security outposts.
The fate of Sudan's Nubans has become a growing source of concern among human rights observers. Kapila, who traveled to the Nuban Mountains with a rebel escort, said he witnessed a veritable wasteland.
"What did I see?" he asked. "Basically, as you drive in, you see totally deserted countryside, burnt village after burnt village after burnt village."
The few remaining locals, he said, are terrorized by daily bombings from government Antonov airplanes. In the town of Taroji, he saw two churches hit by overhead bombs, while a local mosque was left untouched. He saw boxes of Mark 4 anti-personnel mines (bearing Farsi writing, and thus apparently of Iranian origin), that had been seized by anti-government forces when they captured the town last month. Spent munitions of Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian, and even U.S. origin were found in towns that faced attacks by government forces.
In the town of Dar, in the Nuba Mountains, he encountered a group of woman collecting water at a pump when an Antonov began its approach, forcing the women to flee to a nearby hill where they sought refugee in hidden nooks, crannies, and caves.
"I was totally paralyzed because I'm not used to Antonovs flying over my head," he said. "These Antonov bombers go around terrorizing the population almost every day."
Kapila said that anti-government forces of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (North), also known as the ninth division, have gradually expanded their control of territory, providing an opening for the delivery of aid from South Sudan.
"These people are being cleared away," Kapila said. If we don't act fast, he added, "we will end up with a situation where Khartoum will delay assistance until it has cleansed the area. The same thing happened in Darfur."
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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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With an Arab League proposal for a U.N.-authorized peacekeeping mission failing to gain traction in the U.N. Security Council, France and Turkey today revived the moribund proposal for the establishment of a humanitarian aid corridor in Syria.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who first floated the idea in November, will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tomorrow to see if he can persuade Moscow to approve a U.N. Security Council mandate for such a mission. France will also press Arab and Western foreign ministers meeting in Tunisia next week as part of a gathering of so-called "Friends of Syria" to support the initiative.
The French plan, outlined by Juppe in November, called for the creation of safe zones, defended by armed international observers, along Syria's borders with Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. It would have allowed international aid workers direct access to tens of thousands of Syrian civilians affected by a violent government crackdown on the country's 11-month long popular uprising. "The idea of humanitarian corridors that I previously proposed, to allow NGOs to reach the zones where there are scandalous massacres, should be discussed at the Security Council."
But a French diplomat said there is currently no plan to have armed observers protecting civilians. And a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry in Paris subsequently made it clear that any decision on how such corridors could enforced would be up to the U.N. Security Council.
Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, meanwhile, told the Turkish newspaper, Milliyet, that Ankara is considering a plan to deliver humanitarian assistance through a humanitarian aid corridor to besieged Syrian towns. "We want to work with the United Nations on a mechanism to deliver humanitarian aid to Syrian cities, particularly Homs and Hama."
The initiative comes days after the United States, Russia, and Britain expressed reservations about an Arab League plan to establish a joint United Nations/Arab League peacekeeping mission for Syria. And some Security Council diplomats voiced skepticism about the plan's prospects for gaining traction in the U.N. Security Council, citing the unlikelihood of Syria granting its consent.
"This doesn't fit with what the Arabs are doing," said one council member, who said France has not begun discussions on the plan with diplomats at the United Nations yet. "Frankly, it's not something upon which serious discussions are taking place."
For the time being, the U.N.'s center of gravity has shifted to the General Assembly, which is scheduled to vote tomorrow on an Arab draft resolution that condemns Syria's violent crackdown on protesters and endorses an Arab League proposal for a political transition in Syria. The draft, which is almost identical to a U.N. Security Council resolution recently vetoed by China and Russia, calls on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a special envoy to help support Arab peace efforts in the region.
While the General Assembly resolution is not enforceable through the imposition of sanctions or other coercive means, it will enlarge the U.N.'s diplomatic role in resolving the crisis, and ensure that Syria remains in the spotlight.
Russia, meanwhile, has introduced a series of amendments requiring that Syria's opposition "dissociate themselves" from Syria's armed opposition, linking the government withdrawal of armed forces from cities and towns to an end of armed anti-government attacks, and eliminating a provision endorsing an Arab League timeline for the establishment of a transitional government of national unity -- according to a copy of the Russian text obtained by Turtle Bay. The sponsors of the U.N. General Assembly rejected a previous effort by Russia to incorporate similar amendments into a Security Council resolution.
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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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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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The Arab League, led by a former Egyptian diplomat, has been ramping up pressure on the Syrian government to halt its crackdown on protesters.
But Egypt's U.N. delegation has been providing diplomatic support to Syria as it faces a Western-backed move in the General Assembly U.N. committee to condemn Damascus. Diplomats say that the resolution is likely to secure the support of several Arab countries, particularly those in the Persian Gulf.
The European-drafted resolution on Syria has garned support from some Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan, with Morocco and Kuwaiti expected to follow suit, according to U.N.-based diplomats. But Egypt is not expected to back it, diplomat said.
"The Arab world has sent a very clear message: the massive human rights violations and the suffering of the Syrian people have to stop," said Peter Wittig, Germany's U.N. ambassador. "We appreciate that there is strong support for a resolution by the General Assembly: we hope it will show Assad just how isolated he is."
It is not the first time that Egypt has sought to soften the diplomatic blow to Syria's human rights record. In May, Egypt led an effort to water down a resolution condemning Syrian conduct before the U.N. Human Rights Council.
And last month, Egypt, which is acting as chair of the coordinating bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), circulated a copy of a letter from the Syrian ambassador, Bashar al Jaafari urging the organization's 119 members to vote against a draft U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Syria. The draft is likely to be tabled on Thursday.
Egypt doesn't formally endorse the Syrian letter and as chair of the NAM it is required to pass along any letters from the group's members.
But Egypt attached a detailed cover letter that suggests where its sympathies' lie. The Syrian letter, the Egyptians note, "reminds" NAM members that their leaders have "expressed deep concern with regard" to resolutions that target specific countries in the General Assembly's human rights committee.
Egypt also highlighted Syria's reminder to NAM members that the group's leaders had previously stressed that the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva "should not allow confrontation approaches, exploitation of human rights for political purposes, selective targeting of individual countries for extraneous considerations and double standards."
"In this context," Egypt continued, "the said letter kindly urges all NAM countries to continue to act upon their commitments and principled positions, and in this regard expects them to oppose and vote against the abovementioned draft resolution."
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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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Ban Ki-moon has prided himself on his willingness to engage some of the world's most unsavory leaders, including Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Burma's Than Shwe, in a bit of personal diplomacy in the hopes of persuading them to behave well.
But he has never warmed to the Iranian leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with whom he maintains a chilly relationship. Almost each year, at the U.N. General Assembly session, the U.N. chief delivers a stern rebuke to the Iranian leader for some provocative statement or refusal to submit to Security Council demands on his government's nuclear program.
This year, Ban scolded the Iranian leader for once against challenging the U.S. assertion that al Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks and for launching a fresh attack on "Zionists" (he never says Israel). "The United Nations should be respected as a forum for promoting tolerance, mutual respect and cross cultural understanding and that comments denying or questioning painful historical facts such as the Holocaust and 9/11 are unacceptable."
Ban did say a couple of nice things to the Iranian leader. He welcomed the assistance "the people of Iran" provided to famine-wracked Somalia and welcomed the "release from prison in Iran of the two U.S. nationals Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal on humanitarian grounds."
But he also prodded Ahmadinejad to comply with U.N. resolutions demanding Iran suspend its nuclear program until he can persuade the world that it being used for the generation of energy, not bombs. Ban expressed sadness over the execution earlier this month of a "juvenile offender" in Iran and prodded Ahmadinejad to respect the "fundamental civil and political rights" of his people.
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How times have changed. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his top lieutenants have applauded the fall of an aging generation of Middle East and African autocrats, swept from power by a wave of uprising spurred by popular discontent. In the months leading up to this year's U.N. General Assembly which kicks off on Wednesday, Sept. 21, Ban has openly encouraged NATO's military efforts to topple the likes of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, and accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of reneging on his promise to halt military operations against unarmed demonstrators.
But in previous General Assembly sessions -- indeed as recently as last year -- U.N. officials and foreign dignitaries treated these very same leaders like diplomatic royalty, perhaps seeing them, wrongly, as bastions of stability in an otherwise unstable part of the world.
How swiftly a leader can turn from being an honored guest at U.N. headquarters, to a defiled rogue. Still the absence of these players may portend a duller General Assembly session this year. While the attendance of the ever-controversial Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who once made headlines in New York for declaring his country free of homosexuals, can likely be counted on to liven the agenda, his own standing is diminished in Iran and the novelty of his provocations is wearing ever thinner. Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez who, in 2006, famously compared former President George W. Bush to the devil before the U.N. podium, is undergoing cancer treatment and will not attend.
Read the rest of the list here.
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.