As President Obama struggles to secure congressional approval for air strikes in Syria, America's principal Persian Gulf ally, Saudi Arabia, has been quietly exploring the possibility of seeking a U.N. General Assembly vote that would provide some cover for military action.
The diplomatic initiative is part of a wider effort by Saudi Arabia to stake out a role as a central Middle East powerbroker as the forces of political turmoil sweep across the region. With the U.N. Security Council blocked by Russia from taking action to confront Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Saudi Arabia is sounding out key U.N. powers about the prospect of seeking General Assembly approval of a resolution that would condemn the use of chemical weapons and open the door to possible military action to ensure those responsible are held accountable.
The Saudis have grown increasingly assertive on the regional stage, recently organizing a $12 billion financial aid package, including commitments from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, for Egypt's military rulers, a move that undercut U.S. efforts to start political talks between Egypt's new government and the Muslim Brotherhood.
In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the Arab states have also offered to underwrite the full costs of a U.S.-led military operation against Syria. "With respect to Arab countries offering to bear costs and to assess, the answer is profoundly yes." Kerry didn't name Saudi Arabia as the country making the offer, but there are few other states outside the Persian Gulf with the money or the political interest in seeing the Americans unseating Syria's leader. "In fact, some of them have said that if the United States is prepared to go do the whole thing the way we've done it previously in other places, they'll carry that cost," he added. "That's how dedicated they are at this."
But Kerry made it clear that the initiative was "not in the cards, and nobody's talking about it." Despite U.S. plans to strike Syria, Kerry made it clear that the United States believes that the crisis in Syria can only be resolved through a political settlement.
In New York, Saudi diplomats last week circulated a draft General Assembly resolution that would authorize states to "take all necessary measures" -- diplomatic short hand for military force -- to end impunity and hold perpetrators of massive human rights abuses accountable for their crimes. On Friday, representatives from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Morocco briefed Britain, France and the United States on the draft.
The three Western powers urged Saudi Arabia to delay its plan to press for a vote. One diplomat familiar with the discussion said that the United States and its European allies were concerned that a contentious U.N. debate over the use of force could complicate military plans. But others cited concern that it made no sense to push for a resolution dealing with chemical weapons before the U.N. had even completed its assessment of its field visit. The U.N. secretary general is expected to present the U.N. Security Council with a report on the team's findings within the next 10 days.
For the moment, the Saudis are holding the draft in a "drawer" to see whether President Obama presses ahead with plans to strike Syria in response to its use of chemical weapons, according to one diplomat briefed on the plans. But they expect the Saudis to resume their push whether the Americans go ahead with the strike or not. "The Saudis must be very concerned that the United States is going to blink and avoid using force," said Richard Gowan, a U.N. specialist at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, citing Washington and Moscow's ongoing push to initiate political talks between the warring factions in Geneva. "The Saudis are trying to signal they are trying to push for the United States to go all the way."
While London recently sought support for a Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Syria, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters that Russia has made it clear it will block any action by the Security Council on Syria. "Even in the wake of the flagrant shattering of the international norm against chemical weapons use, Russia continues to hold the Council hostage and shirk its international responsibilities," Power said. "Our considered view, after months of efforts on chemical weapons and after two and a half years on Geneva, on the humanitarian situation, is that there is no viable path forward in this Security Council."
There are precedents for the U.N. General Assembly in authorizing the use of force in the face of Security Council paralysis. In November 1950, the United States, fearing Russian diplomatic obstruction during the Korean War, obtained a mandate from the U.N. General Assembly that granted the U.N. body a role in bypassing the U.N. Security Council. That measure, known at the Uniting for Peace resolution, states that "if the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately with a view to making appropriate recommendations to members for collective measures, including in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression the use of armed force when necessary, to maintain or restore international peace and security." The General Assembly would later invoke the Uniting for Peace resolution to send a U.N. peacekeeping mission to the Sinai.
More recently, the United States, Britain, and France have grown reluctant to support a similar role for the U.N. General Assembly, preferring that all decisions on the use of force remain subject to Security Council approval.
Edward Luck, the dean of the University of San Diego's School of Peace Studies, said he wouldn't rule out eventual U.S. support for a General Assembly resolution. "My assumption would be that the United States at this point would welcome any strong show of international support for its position," he said. But the risk is that a low vote count would expose deep international misgiving about military action. "The United States doesn't want the same thing to happen in the General Assembly as happened in the British Parliament," where British Prime Minister David Cameron's push for military action in Syria met a devastating defeat, said Luck.
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A British-led effort to lift a European Union arms embargo on Syria succeeded by default on Monday, as a political split between European leaders over the fate of the ban killed off any hopes of extending the embargo's life. The British government, backed by France, is hoping that the prospect of new arms flows to the Syrian rebels could strengthen the opposition's negotiating hand on the eve of a major peace conference in Geneva planned for later this month.
But the decision to end the embargo in two months hasn't resulted in any immediate calls or plans for arming the opposition. Instead, Russia cited the decision today in defending its own move to deliver S-300 air defense missiles, claiming it would deter foreign intervention. "We consider that such steps will restrain some hotheads from the possibility of giving this conflict, or from considering a scenario that would give this conflict, an international character with the participation of external forces," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters, according to Interfax news agency.
Jean Marie Guéhenno, a former French official and under secretary-general for peacekeeping who served as a top advisor to former U.N.-Arab League Syria envoy Kofi Annan, said that the decision to block the maintenance of the European arms embargo has merely provided political cover to Russia and other regime supporters to continue its arms sales. Meanwhile, there's little fresh hope that Western powers will enter the conflict on behalf of the rebels.
"I think it backfired and exposed the weakness of the West, in general," Guéhenno told Turtle Bay. "This issue of arming or not arming is more a bluff than anything else. It's more about doing something to show you're doing something than actually doing something. It will be seen by the Russians, who are not fools, as a sign of weakness rather than strength."
Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague hailed the decision to ease the barrier to arms shipments to the rebels, however. "We have brought an end to the EU arms embargo on the opposition," he said. "This decision gives us the flexibility in future to respond to a worsening situation or the refusal of the regime to negotiate."
But the decision placed new strains on the European alliance. Austria, the Czech Republic, and Sweden vehemently opposed lifting the arms embargo, fearing it would undermine a U.S. and Russian diplomatic initiative aimed at starting political talks between Damascus and the rebels. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger warned that they likely would pull 300 Austrian peacekeepers out of the Golan Heights, which separates Syrian and Israel forces, if Britain decides to arm the rebels, according to the Guardian.
The move to lift the embargo comes at a time when military support for President Bashar Al-Assad is on the rise, not only from Moscow but from Tehran and Lebanese Shiite militants. On Saturday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah announced that his fighters were committed to wage Assad's battle to the end. "We will continue to the end of the road," he said, according to Reuters."We accept this responsibility and will accept all sacrifices and expected consequences of this position," he said in a televised speech on Saturday evening. "We will be the ones who bring victory."
In comparison, warnings from the West of possible military action in the future seem to be doing little to deter Assad's backers. Emile Hokayem, a Middle East-based analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that the U.S. decision to co-sponsor, along with Russia, a diplomatic peace conference on Syria later this month, has lessened calls for military action to halt the killing. "Basically, this process kills the whole discussion on intervention, chemical weapons, and R2P [the Responsibility to Protect doctrine]," Hokayem told Turtle Bay.
"Yesterday's focus on the arms embargo issue at the European Foreign Minister's meeting was something of a red herring," Daniel Levy and Julien Barnes-Dacey wrote in a blog post at the European Council on Foreign Relations. "The West is, quite simply, ill-equipped to win a proxy arming race if its support for rebels prompts Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia to increase their military backing of the regime. And that is exactly what has happened. Russia's announcement today that it will supply anti-aircraft missiles was entirely predictable."
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The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly this morning to create the first international treaty regulating the global arms trade, a landmark decision that imposes new constraints on the sale of conventional arms to governments and armed groups that commit war crimes, genocide, and other mass atrocities.
The U.N. vote was hailed by arms control advocates and scores of governments, including the United States, as a major step in the international effort to enforce basic controls on the $70 billion international arms trade. But it was denounced by Iran, North Korea, and Syria, for imposing new restrictions that prevent smaller states from buying and selling arms to ensure their self-defense.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the General Assembly for approving "a strong, effective and implementable arms trade treaty that can strengthen global security while protecting the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade."
Kerry said that the treaty "applies only to international trade and reaffirms the sovereign right of any state to regulate arms within its territory. As the U.S. has required from the outset of these negotiations, nothing in this treaty could ever infringe on the rights of American citizens under our domestic law or the Constitution, including the Second Amendment."
Kerry said the treaty would establish "a common national standard" -- similar to that already in place in the United States -- for regulating global trade in conventional arms. It would also reduce the risk that arms sales would be used to "carry out the world's worst crimes, including terrorism, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes."
The 193 member assembly voted 154 to 3 to adopt the treaty. There were 23 abstentions, including major arms traders like China, India, and Russia, as well as countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, that have been supplying weapons to armed opposition groups in Syria, The treaty, which will open for signatures on June 3, will go into force 90 days after it is ratified by 50 states.
The vote came four days after Iran, North Korea, and Syria -- three governments who would likely be targeted by the new measures -- blocked the adoption of the treaty by consensus, arguing that it failed to bar sales to armed groups or foreign occupiers, and that it would strengthen the ability of big powers to restrict small states' ability to buy weapons.
But the vote revealed broader misgivings about the treaty by dozens of countries -- including Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan -- that the treaty would grant an unfair advantage to the world's largest arms exporters. India's chief negotiator, Sujata Mehta, explained her government's decision to abstain, saying today that the treaty "is weak on terrorism and non-state actors." She previously objected that the "weight of obligations is tilted against importing states."
The United States, which co-sponsored the treaty, said that several U.S. agencies will conduct a review of the treaty before it is presented to President Barack Obama for signature. The treaty would also require ratification by the United States Senate.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) -- which has contended the treaty would weaken Second Amendment gun rights in the United States -- has pledged to fight the treaty's ratification in the Senate.
But U.S. officials and several non-governmental organizations, including the American Bar Association, an attorneys' lobbying group, have challenged the NRA's position, saying the treaty would have no impact on Americans' gun rights. The treaty language recognizes the "legitimate trade and lawful ownership, and use of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical and sporting activities."
Iran, meanwhile, protested last week that the treaty had provided specific protections for U.S. gun owners, while failing to provide protections for people living under foreign occupation.
Under the treaty, states are banned from transferring arms to countries, including Iran and North Korea, that are subject to U.N. arms embargoes, or to countries believed to be preparing to use them to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.
The treaty would require governments to establish a national record-keeping system that would allow them to track the trade in conventional arms, and to ensure that weapons are not illegally diverted to terrorist organizations or other armed groups. It would also require that governments conduct a risk assessment to determine the likelihood that arms exports are being used to violate or abuse human rights, particularly against women or children.
The arms treaty would apply to several categories of conventional arms, including battle tanks, combat aircraft, warships, attack helicopters, missiles, and small arms. The treaty includes exemptions that would allow the consideration of defense cooperation agreements between governments and allow states to transfer weapons across international borders, so long as the weapons remain under that state's control.
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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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Last week, Joseph Torsella, the U.S. ambassador for U.N. Management and Reform, took a stand for sobriety at Turtle Bay, publically scolding unnamed diplomatic colleagues for negotiating U.N. budgetary matters under the influence of alcohol.
This week, he's confronting the diplomatic hangover.
Insulted by the slight -- and sensing it was directed at African delegates -- the U.N.'s African countries coalesced behind a plan to limit budget negotiations to the U.N.'s working hours, refusing to entertain marathon negotiations late into the night and weekends to close contentious deals. On Thursday, Russia -- which traditionally cracks open a celebratory bottle of vodka at the close of budget negotiations -- lent its support to the Africans.
At this stage of the negotiations, the African move is likely to have limited effect on the talks -- though it will likely reinforce the bloc's public image as obstructionist on matters of budgetary reform. But the strategy is likely to slow the pace of budget talks in its final stages, meaning that less important business may get done before the session adjourns on the eve of Good Friday.
The tensions over spending are symptomatic of a deeper divide between the U.N.'s richest and poorest countries. Developing countries resent the fact that the United States and other major powers dominate the U.N. Security Council and exercise outsize influence over the U.N. Secretary General and the bureaucracy. For them, the U.N. Fifth Committee -- which controls the budget -- provides their most important source of power and influence and they often suspect Western-backed reforms initiatives are aimed at undercutting that influence.
The United States has been struggling to push through a range of reforms aimed at controlling U.N. spending and opening the body's books to greater scrutiny. But they have confronted a wall of diplomatic resistance, played out in frequent procedural maneuvers aimed at delaying and deferring key business. During crucial December budget negotiations, America's negotiating partners, primarily from the developing world, failed to show up to meetings to discuss key U.S. priorities -- including an initiative to impose a pay freeze on U.N. staffers -- and in some cases arrived a bit tipsy, according to U.N. diplomats.
In response, Torsella delivered a March 4 statement to the U.N. Fifth Committee expressing concern about the conduct of diplomats during the final stage of the marathon December budget talks.
"Mr. Chairman, we make the modest proposal that the negotiating rooms should in the future be an inebriation-free zone," he told delegates at the meeting. "Let's save the champagne for toasting the successful end of the session, and do some credit to the Fifth Committee's reputation in the process."
The intent of the speech seemed to be to shock, or at least embarrass, the U.N. delegates into taking ongoing budget talks more seriously and to wrap up the current round of business -- which includes 16 items dealing with everything from air travel costs to the publication of internal U.N. audits -- before the Easter holiday. Torsella said the United States would "take all appropriate steps to achieve this, including working outside of normal working hours and making the necessary arrangements to facilitate parallel meetings as required."
Some diplomats now fear the appeal may have backfired.
Torsella's statement has infuriated U.N. delegates, not only among developing countries, but among some of Washington's wealthy allies, who are eager to rein in spending. "The whole negotiating atmosphere was really poisoned by this," said one Western diplomat. "People are very angry. They won't openly confront Torsella, but they will react."
The danger, said one diplomat, is that offended delegations will seek to "gum up" the negotiating proceedings and undermine Torsella's efforts to secure a handful of deals aimed at cutting travel spending, reining in peacekeeping costs, and instructing the U.N. procurement office to deliver more cost-effective services.
The United States sought to assure the membership that it appreciated the hard work of the majority of budget negotiators, but that it saw a need for improvement.
"We respect the work of the Secretariat and the majority of Fifth Committee delegates who are, across all regional groups, hard-working and serious," said Kurtis Cooper, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. "At the same time, we welcome all efforts to improve the working practices and professionalism of the Fifth Committee, which was the intent and focus of our statement."
Few diplomats deny their colleagues have had a few shots of whisky and vodka during the U.N.'s marathon budget sessions. And Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin, made it clear he was not amused. "There should be no drinking during business sessions. And I'm going to give very clear instructions to that effect to my delegations."
But they say Torsella's statement and subsequent press leaks exaggerated the excesses, unfairly tarnishing the reputation of the entire U.N. diplomatic community and prompting Foreign Ministries to ask their missions: "What the hell is going on there?"
Torsella, they complained, never approached governments privately to raise concerns about diplomatic misconduct, raising suspicions that the former Philadelphia politician was seeking to raise his own profile.
In the process, said one senior diplomat, Torsella had contributed to creating a perception that was out of touch with reality: grueling weeks of arduous negotiations culminated in a 30-hour diplomatic marathon on Christmas Eve last year. With U.N. shops closed, delegates ordered in pizza, cakes, and whisky. "I have not seen one negotiator that was drunk. I haven't seen a bottle of alcohol on the negotiation table," the diplomat said. "I know my American colleagues are frustrated about the way it works, and the lack of results. But in my view, alcohol is not the problem."
In an effort to calm diplomats, Fifth Committee Chairman Miguel Berger of Germany, sought to assure delegates that he appreciated their hard work and professionalism. "We have seen a broad public coverage on how budget negotiations are supposedly conducted in the Fifth Committee," he said. "As chair I would like to state that the public perception created does in my view not reflect the professional and dedicated work that is done by this committee."
"Many colleagues are sacrificing their family life," he added. "It is for this reason that I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to you, the delegates of the Fifth Committee, for the work you have done and the long hours invested in the negotiations, and for the results achieved."
In the meantime, delegates, have been sharing a recent New York Times letter to the editor which cited a 2007 review of a book by Barbara Holland called the Joy of Drinking that extolled the role of drinking in American political life. Two days before the U.S. Constitution was written, the 55 delegates to the U.S. Constitutional Convention "adjourned to a tavern for some rest, and according to the bill they drank 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 of whisky, 22 of port, 8 of hard cider and 7 bowls of punch so large, it was said, ducks could swim around in them. Then they went back to work and finished founding the new Republic."
The tavern, one diplomat gleefully recalled, was located in Philadelphia, Torsella's home town.
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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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The U.N. Security Council today voted unanimously to establish a U.S. and European-backed African military force to rebuild Mali's troubled military, and to begin preparing it for a possible military offensive to retake control of northern Mali from a coalition of Malian separatists and Islamic extremists.
The European Union plans to send military trainers to Bamako in the coming months to begin training the Malian army, which -- disgruntled by the government's inability to counter insurgent forces -- staged a military coup in March and forced the removal of the interim leader this December.
A reconstituted and reequipped Malian army is intended to lead a campaign to conquer the north. But the supporting African force -- which is expected to be made up of several thousand troops from West Africa and the Sahel -- is unlikely to be sent to Mali before September or October, 2013.
The Security Council resolution does not specify what role the United States would play in the military campaign against al Qaeda and its allies. But it provides wide legal scope for foreign governments, including the United States, to "take all necessary measures" -- including the use of lethal force -- and provide "any necessary assistance, " including military training, equipment, intelligence and logistics, in support of the Malian fight against Islamic extremists.
The Obama administration has harbored deep misgivings about the ability of a Malian-led force to prevail in combat with al Qaeda and its allies. But today's vote ended weeks of tense negotiations between France, which was determined to authorize a new intervention force before the year's end, and the United States, which wanted to wait until the country had elected a new civilian president.
Washington agreed to co-sponsor today's resolution after securing a commitment from Paris to ensure that the United States and other Security Council members would be give another shot at reviewing the military plan before the force receives a green light for offensive operations.
Following the vote, France's U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud said a military attack on Islamic forces in northern Mali was not inevitable, however, and that his government still held out hope that the crisis could be resolved through political dialogue with Mali's moderate northern insurgents. The resolution, he said, "is not a declaration of war."
Long a model of African stability and democracy, Mali's civilian government has faced a series of existential threats to its rule this year, including a rebellion in northern Mali by an alliance of Malian Touareg's and al Qaeda linked groups, primarily Ansar Dine, followed by a military coup by soldiers embittered by the failure of President Amadou Toumani Toure to adequately supply troops seeking to put down the rebellion.
In recent months, Islamic militants -- including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement of United and Jihad in West Africa -- have seized control the uprising, driving out their erstwhile Touareg allies from key northern cities, including Timbuktu and Gao, imposing sharia law, and committing widespread human rights abuses. Their presence has raised concern in Washington, which is expected to help train, equip, and provide transport for the new force, known as the African-led International Support Mission, or AFISMA.
But the political turmoil in Mali has complicated Washington's role. U.S. law restricts financial assistance or military aid to Mali, because its democratic government was ousted in a coup in March, led by Capt. Amadou Sanogo, who remains the power behind a fragile transitional government. Earlier this month, the military again showed its strength and displeasure, ordering the arrest of the interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, and forcing his resignation. Django Sissoko was later named to replace him.
The United States has insisted that Mali conduct new presidential elections, preferably in April, before any final decision is made to send a Malian-led African force into the north.
The new force, which will be made up primarily of troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Sahel, including Nigeria and Senegal, is intended to put military muscle behind a broader plan to restore stability and democracy in Mali.
Today's resolution urges Malian authorities to commit to a "transitional roadmap," including inclusive political talks with northern groups -- including the Touaregs -- that "cut off all ties to terrorist organizations" linked to al Qaeda. It also calls for holding elections "by April 2013 or as soon as technically possible."
The resolution aims to place a wedge between ethnic Malian rebel groups and the more hardline Islamists, threatening to impose sanctions on individuals who maintain links with al Qaeda and its associates. It also expresses its "readiness to consider appropriate measures" against Malian officers to who stand in the way of the country's transition to civilian rule.
Today's vote, said Ivory Coast's U.N. ambassador, Youssoufou Bamba, speaking on behalf of ECOWAS, "is a great message of hope and solidarity" for Malians "who can now begin to believe [there will be an] end of their nightmares."
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Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has a reputation for diplomatic sparring. Her battles with the Russian envoy, Vitaly Churkin, and the French ambassador, Gerard Araud, have been epic.
But Rice has generally held her punches in negotiations with Li Baodong, China's reserved, formal, U.N. envoy -- a man who has shown little taste for the diplomatic joust.
That is, until now. Early today, the big power envoys squared off in a closed-door Security Council session over competing views about how the 15-nation body should react to North Korea's missile launch.
Rice urged the Security Council to swiftly respond to North Korea's surprise launch of a satellite (via a ballistic missile) with a statement condemning Pyongyang's action as a violation of U.N. resolutions and characterizing it as a provocative act that "undermines regional stability."
Li pushed back, saying that there was no need to condemn North Korea, and that its test constituted no threat to regional stability.
"That's ridiculous," Rice shot back, according to one of three council diplomats who described the encounter.
"Ridiculous?" a visibly angered Li responded through an interpreter. "You better watch your language."
"Well, it's in the Oxford dictionary, and Churkin -- if he were in the room -- he would know how to take it," retorted Rice.
The reference to Oxford dictionary refers to Churkin's riposte, in December 2011, to a public broadside by Rice, who charged him with making "bogus claims" about alleged NATO war crimes in Libya to divert attention from charges of war crimes against its Syrian ally.
"This is not an issue that can be drowned out by expletives. You might recall the words one could hear: bombast and bogus claims, cheap stunt, duplicitous, redundant, superfluous, stunt," said Churkin to Rice. "Oh, you know, you cannot beat a Stanford education, can you?" said Churkin, mocking Rice's alma mater. Rice, a former Rhodes scholar, later noted that she also went to Oxford.
Today, however, Li countered that Rice's remarks were consistent with an American foreign policy approach that seeks to impose its will on other states.
In the end, however, Rice and her council allies were able to secure a clear condemnation of Pyongyang, though they dropped the provision suggesting the test has undermined regional stability. A Security Council statement condemned the missile launch, calling it a "clear violation" of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning ballistic missile tests. The council took note that it threatened last April to take action against North Korea if it launched further tests, and it vowed to "continue consultations on an appropriate response."
The United States, working with Japan and South Korea, is expected to lead efforts in the coming weeks to forge a tougher council reaction, preferably a resolution imposing sanctions. But they are expected to encounter tough resistance from China, which indicated it was not prepared to support a confrontational resolution penalizing Pyongyang, according to council diplomats.
And the man Rice will have to persuade to impose the council's will on North Korea is her new sparring partner, Li Baodong.
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More than one year after President Barack Obama sent roughly 100 elite U.S. military advisors into Central Africa to help African armies bring an end to a reign of terror by the messianic guerilla leader Joseph Kony, the mission remains stalled.
The African Union Regional Task force -- envisioned as a 5,000-strong regional expeditionary force tasked with hunting down Kony's Lord's Resistance Army over a 115,000 square mile area -- has never mustered all the troops needed for the mission, nor formed into a real mobile force capable of mounting a cross border chase.
"The [task force] is not close to realizing the vision of a multinational force conducting effective offensive operations against the LRA and protecting civilians," reads a paper entitled "Getting Back on Track," released today by a coalition of human rights groups, including the Enough Project and Resolve. "It exists only on paper and cannot be considered operational."
The paper presents a harsh critique of the broader United Nations and African Union strategy for confronting Kony's forces and restoring stability in their area of operation. The report does credit the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with designing an ambitious framework for ending the 26-year conflict, and promoting a diplomatic, military, and economic strategy for undermining Kony's power base. But it faulted the U.N. for sluggish progress in implementing it, noting that more than five months after the strategy was introduced virtually "no projects are sufficiently developed to be funded."
"As a whole, U.N. departments, agencies, and offices, have shown a lack of urgency," the report states. "As a result of this dynamic, the [U.N.] strategy has thus far failed to achieve any of its objectives. Without urgent action, it will fail permanently."
Four African countries participating in the military operation -- Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda, and South Sudan -- have not reached agreement on a basic military strategy, or even struck a deal that would permit members of the task force to cross one anothers borders, according to the report.
Washington's most powerful ally in the cause, Uganda, has threatened to pull out of the mission altogether over an unrelated dispute with the United Nations: the government in Kampala claims that a U.N. Group of Experts panel has unfairly accused its military of sponsoring and aiding another murderous insurgency in the DRC.
"The government of the Republic of Uganda is totally disappointed at the manner in which the United Nations system has treated her contribution to conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peace-building in the region," Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi wrote Ban in a confidential October 23 letter, which was obtained by Turtle Bay."We have now decided, after due consultations with our African brothers...to completely withdraw from the regional peace efforts."
U.N. officials and Security Council diplomats suspect that Uganda may be bluffing, and that it will remain committed to regional peace efforts that confer international prestige and serve their own security interests.
But the regional squabbling has dealt a blow to one of the Obama administration's signature campaigns to confront mass atrocities. It has also shown the limits of American military technology in tracking down a low-tech military movement which uses runners to deliver command instructions, and whose favored terrain consists of forest canopy that blocks out the prying eyes of drones and satellite cameras.
Kony, a Ugandan national, established an armed resistance movement, later named the Lords Resistance Army, more than 25 years ago. The movement -- which relies heavily on forced recruitment of child soldiers -- has committed massive atrocities across a wide swathe of Central Africa, including Uganda, the DRC, Central African Republic, and Sudan. Kony and his top lieutenants are wanted by the International Criminal Court.
The United States has supported regional efforts to pursue Kony's army, but those efforts had produced little success. In October 2011, President Obama stepped up the campaign, deploying approximately 100 "combat equipped" troops to provide advise, assist, and provide intelligence to African governments.
"For more than two decades, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women, and children in central Africa," President Obama wrote last year. "I have authorized a small number of combat equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield."
But most of the regional forces they're supposed to be working with lack the capacity or willingness to track Kony's fighters. The DRC has not committed a single troop to the effort, and has barred regional rival Uganda, which stands accused of arming anti-Congolese rebels, from entering its territory in pursuit of Kony. For its part, Uganda accuses the DRC of providing safe haven to anti-Ugandan rebels.
"Troops provided by South Sudan and Central African Republic lack the capacity to conduct effective operations against the LRA and protect civilians," according to the human rights coalition's report. "The SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army] battalion in Nzara, South Sudan, reportedly lacks elemental supplies like rations and fuel for their vehicles, making it impossible for them to conduct the most basic operations."
The Central African Republic forces are even worse off. "Even the available troops are hamstrung by three interrelated problems that are at their root, political: no clear command and control structure, inadequate troops capacity, and a lack of access to key LRA safe havens," the report states.
In recent months, the mission has seen a surge of MI8 transport helicopters provided by American contractors. Ugandan military units, supported by U.S. equipment, intelligence and logistics, have been pursuing the Lord Resistance Army in Central Africa Republic. But the rebels have found several safe havens, including Congo, Sudan, which has reportedly provided protection to the LRA, and large swaths of Western Central African Republic, which is beyond the reach of Ugandan forces.
The U.S. contingent deployment in the region was recently extended through April, raising concerns among anti-LRA activists about what happens after that.
"My concern is that if there have not been significant progress in capturing senior LRA commanders and encouraging defections there will be pressure in both Kampala and Washington" to phase out the mission, said Paul Ronan, policy director for Resolve. "Without solid U.S. and Ugandan military support, there is no possibility for viable military action against the LRA."
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On October 1, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador and the president's presumptive nominee to be the next U.S. secretary of state, met at the French mission here in New York with top diplomats from Britain and France, where they discussed the crisis in eastern Congo, a sliver of territory along the Rwandan border, where mutineers were preparing a final offensive to seize the regional capital of Goma.
France's U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, pressed Rice and Britain's U.N. envoy, Mark Lyall Grant, to apply greater political pressure on the mutineers' chief sponsor, Rwanda, a close American ally, that stands accused by a U.N. panel of sponsoring, arming, and commanding the insurgent M23 forces. The French argued that threats of sanctions were needed urgently to pressure Kigali to halt its support for the M23 and prevent them from gobbling up more Congolese territory.
But Rice pushed back, reasoning that any move to sanction Rwandan leader Paul Kagame would backfire, and it would be better to work with him to find a long-term solution to the region's troubles than punish him. "Gerard, it's eastern Congo. If it were not the M23 killing people it would be some other armed groups," she said, according to one of three U.N.-based sources who detailed the exchange. The U.S. mission declined to comment on the meeting, which was confidential.
The tense exchange reflected the role the United States has played in minimizing Rwanda's exposure to a more punitive approach by the Security Council. Since last summer, the United States has used its influence at the United Nations to delay the publication of a report denouncing Rwanda's support for the M23, to buy time for a Security Council resolution condemning foreign support for the rebellion, and opposing any direct references to Rwanda in U.N statements and resolutions on the crisis.
U.S. officials say they have delivered stern messages to top Rwandan officials in private to halt their support for the M23, and last summer they have frozen some military aid to the Rwandan army, citing the government's support for the mutineers. Rice, they say, is deeply conscious of the horrors wrought by the M23, but that she and other top American officials are pursuing a strategy in New York aimed at minimizing the chances of undercutting regional efforts, involving President Kagame, Uganda President Yoweri Musevini, and Congolese President Joseph Kabila, to bring about a durable peace.
"We want to see an end to the current military offensive. We want to see an end to the occupation of Goma," U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Johnnie Carson told reporters in Washington last week, before the rebels began a partial retreat from Goma. "We want to see the three presidents working together to deal with the most immediate crisis and to develop and put in place architecture that will deal ... with the long term issues that affect the region."
Carson also challenged suggestions that Rice, a long time friend of President Kagame, was freelancing on Rwanda. "I too have known President Kagame for many years," he said. "There is not a shadow of a distance between myself and Ambassador Rice on the issues related to the Great Lakes crisis. We are all engaged in delicate diplomacy to get this done, but that diplomacy is carried out in close harmony and in unison."
In the end, American diplomacy did little to stop the M23's war aims. On November 17, the M23 mutineers, allegedly backed by Rwanda and Uganda, launched a major offensive against the Congolese army in eastern Congo. Within three days, the M23 had vanquished the ragged Congolese army, whose forces fled, and marched on the regional capital of Goma, triggering limited resistance from the U.N. peacekeeping forces, which initially clashed with the rebels before announcing it had no mandate to continue the fight if the Congolese army refused to resist the rebellion.
With M23 in control of Goma, the 15-nation Security Council on November 20 adopted a resolution that "strongly" condemned the M23's conduct -- including summary executions, sexual- and gender-based violence, and large-scale recruitment of child soldiers -- and voiced "deep concern" at reports of external support for the mutineers. But at the insistence of the United States, the resolution stopped short of naming Rwanda.
Rwanda has been a close ally of the United States since 1994, when extremist forces linked to the country's then French-backed, ethnic Hutu-dominated government carried out the genocide of more than 800,000 moderate Hutu and ethnic Tutsi Rwandans.
A Tutsi-dominated insurgency, led by then-General Paul Kagame, restored stability to the country, making it a model of economic prosperity and forging a reputation for the rebuilt country as a regional peacekeeper, sending Rwandan blue helmets to Sudan to protect civilians. But his government has also been the subject of U.N. investigations charging it with carrying out large-scale reprisal killings in eastern Congo and Rwanda in the 1990s, and backing a succession of armed groups in eastern Congo.
Both Republican and Democratic administrations have vigorously backed the government in Kigali. In September 2007, the Bush administration supported the appointment of an alleged Rwandan war criminal as the deputy commander of the U.N. mission in Darfur, even though the appointment may have violated a U.S. law prohibiting funding for peacekeeping operations that employee rights abusers.
The latest conflict in eastern Congo began in April 2012, when Bosco Ntaganda, a former Congolese militia leader who stands accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court, began an armed mutiny against government forces in eastern Congo. Ntaganda, once fought along the Rwanda Patriotic Front -- which toppled a pro-French government in Kigali and drove government forces responsible for genocide into eastern Congo, then known as Zaire.
An independent U.N. Security Council panel, known as the Group of Experts, claims that Rwanda military leadership, including Defense Minister James Kaberebe, have armed, trained and commanded the mutineers under Ntaganda, who goes by the grim nickname, The Terminator. In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, the Group of Experts coordinator, Steve Hege, accused Rwanda of leading the overthrow of Goma.
"The Group has repeatedly concluded that the government of Rwanda (GoR), with the support of allies within the government of Uganda, has created, equipped, trained, advised, reinforced and directly commanded the M23 rebellion," Hege wrote in a November 26 letter, posted by the New York Times, to the U.N. committee overseeing sanctions in Congo. "The information initially gathered by the group regarding the recent offensive and seizure of the North Kivu Provincial town of Goma strongly upholds this conclusion."
Rwandan officials have repeatedly denied allegations that the government is supporting the M23, saying the experts are politically biased against Rwanda and that they have furnished sufficient documentary evidence to prove their case. But the Security Council's key Western governments, including the United States, Britain, and France have largely backed the Group of Experts panel in the face of Rwandan criticism.
Philippe Bolopion, Human Rights Watch's U.N. representative said that Washington should publicly acknowledge Rwanda's support for the M23 and ratchet up pressure on the government to rein them in. "The U.S. premise that private engagement is the best way to restrain Rwanda has been shown to be false, with tragic consequences," he said.
"It's puzzling that the United States continues to remain silent while Rwanda is putting weapons in the hand of notorious M23 abusers, who are using them to kill civilians, rape and recruit children. It's even more inexplicable since the M23 is attacking U.N. peacekeepers that the United States has supported and financed to protect civilians."
The United States, however, maintains that that is exactly what it is trying to do.
In Rice's public remarks, she has singled out the M23, for instance, posting a tweet condemning the actions of the M23 and "those who support them."
"Working with colleagues on the Security Council, the United States helped craft the resolution to reinforce the delicate diplomatic effort underway at the moment in Kampala to end the rebellion in eastern Congo," said Payton Knopf, a spokesman for Rice.
"The Security Council's strong resolution, which the U.S. cosponsored, condemned the M23's military campaign, demanded that the M23 withdraw immediately from Goma and permanently disband and lay down its arms, and threatened swift sanctions against M23 leaders as well as their external supporters."
But while some of Washington's counterparts in the council feel the United States is protecting Kigali, Rwandan officials say they are not convinced, citing American support for last month's resolution denouncing foreign support to the M23, a thinly veiled swipe at Rwanda.
"It's impossible to say Rwanda will be in safe hands with the United States on the DRC issue," said Olivier Nduhungirehe, a U.N.-based Rwandan diplomat. "Rwanda will be on our own.
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The U.N. Security Council is about to get a little more friendly to the United States -- or at least easier to deal with.
Five new rotating council members elected on Wednesday by the U.N. General Assembly include four close American allies -- Australia, Luxembourg, Rwanda, and South Korea -- that are expected to vote alongside Washington on most of the council's key security matters, from Syria to Iran to North Korea. Completing the line up is Argentina, which may prove to be most resistant to American aims. Each nation will serve a two-year term beginning in January 2013.
The council's new composition marks a departure from recent years, when emerging powers like Brazil, India, Turkey, and South Africa -- eager to prove they had the stuff to become permanent members of the Security Council -- had sought to assert their influence as a counterweight to U.S. power at the United Nations. India and South Africa are set to step down from the council at the end of the year; Turkey left the council at the end of 2010, and Brazil departed at the end of 2011.
"This means the council will be more accommodating," said Jeffrey Laurenti, a U.N. specialist at the Century Foundation. "This is a major plus for American diplomacy. They won't have the headache of having to court big players, like the IBSA [India, Brazil, and South Africa] who are not always in your pocket."
The big power divisions between the council's Western powers -- the United States, Britain, and France -- and China and Russia will remain in place, however, limiting the prospects of movement on Syria or Iran. But the pro-Western tilt of the new slate, including middle powers like Australia and South Korea, is likely to lead to a more collaborative approach with the United States.
"This is a very different dynamic; these are both G-20 members, and they are both core U.S. allies," said Bruce Jones, director of New York University Center on International Cooperation. "This is an important opportunity for that older mode of Western middle powers to make the case that their form of engagement is still relevant."
Jones said that the departing crop of aspirants to global leadership, including Brazil, India, and Turkey, have been unable to drive the policy agenda on the U.N. Security Council, where they have been routinely outmaneuvered or overruled by the council's five permanent members, Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States.
For instance, Brazil, India, and South Africa joined forces last year to dilute efforts by the United States and its European partners to apply tough sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. And Brazil and Turkey had sought to carve out a mediation role for themselves between the U.N. Security Council and Iran over its nuclear program.
But the permanent five, viewing a challenge to the primacy of their diplomatic role in Iran, shot down the initiative. Brazil, India, and South Africa, meanwhile, eventually acquiesced to Western pressure to back a tougher line against Syria.
Some of the new members have already begun to identify projects they are likely to pursue in the council during their two-year tenure. For instance, Australia is weighing whether to focus its attention on modernizing the U.N. approach to peacekeeping. Luxembourg is planning to promote U.N. peace-building efforts and Argentina has its eye on raising attention to the plight of children in armed conflict.
But there is another trend that could prove more vexing: The current crop of rotating council members are likely to be more entangled in conflicts of interest than was the previous slate. Argentina signaled this week that it may use its position to press its case for a dialogue with Britain on the future of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. South Korea will participate in addressing the nuclear standoff with its northern neighbor, North Korea. (And Korean diplomats' relations with their former boss, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, will attract scrutiny). And other hold-over members have issues of their own. Azerbaijan has interests in the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabagh; Morocco in Western Sahara; and Pakistan in Afghanistan.
Rwanda is proving to be the most interesting -- and controversial -- of the new members. Rwanda, which ran unopposed for the African seat, last served in the Security Council from 1993 to 1994, at the height of the Rwandan genocide. But its seat was held by a representative of a government responsible for carrying out the mass slaughter in Rwanda.
Today, Rwanda is currently led by President Paul Kagame, a former rebel commander who drove the former regime from power, and has since led the country through a remarkable economic growth that has placed Rwandan in line. But the government has faced criticism for suppressing political freedom at home and committing human rights abuses as part of a campaign to stem the return of Rwanda's former rulers.
"The contrast could not be sharper between that previous tenure -- when a genocidal government occupied a prized Security Council seat as its agents waged genocide back home -- and the Rwanda of today: a nation of peace, unity, progress and optimism," said Rwanda's Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo.
"Working with fellow members, Rwanda will draw on its experience to fight for the robust implementation of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine that demands that the world takes notice -- and action -- when innocent civilians face the threat of atrocities at the hands of their governments, with the understanding that situations have specificities that need to be taken into account."
But while Mushikiwabo celebrated the country's achievement in the Security Council race, her government has come under criticism for alleged military misconduct in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Earlier this week, the U.N. Group of Experts released a report accusing Rwanda, along with help from Uganda, of sponsoring and commanding a military mutiny, known as M23, in eastern Congo, violating a U.N. arms embargo. Just yesterday, France circulated a draft Security Council statement that called for condemning the M23 and its foreign backers, a veiled reference to Rwanda and Uganda.
"After blatantly violating the Security Council's arms embargo and undermining the work of the U.N. by propping up the abusive M23 rebels, Rwanda is rewarded with a seat at the table," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch.
"Kigali is now in a position to try to shield its own officials implicated in abuses from U.N. sanctions, which is a flagrant conflict of interest."
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The United Nations was a Twitter wasteland when I first started tweeting back in January 2010. Virtually no governments were on Twitter and only a handful of journalists. The main Twitter handle promoting U.N. activities was run by some guy in England who ran an automatic feed of the U.N. Secretary General's daily schedule. Today, confidential briefings of the U.N. Security Council routinely travel through the Twittersphere well before the diplomats emerge from their meetings to address the press. One American diplomat tweets the occasional closed-door budget meetings, while big-power press aides sometimes vie with one another to fire off a 140-character announcement of an important diplomatic development. And dozens of U.N.-based reporters tweet all manner of news -- highlights of Ban Ki-moon's briefings (and amusements). How else would I know that Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai visited the United Nations on Monday?
Twitter, of course, has also become the go-to destination for the wider community of academics, advocates, diplomats and, I suspect, spooks eager to scour reporters' posts of confidential documents. Once upon a time, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., declared to a press aide that urged her to join Twitter: "I don't believe in foreign policy by Haiku." Now, she does. So, as the U.N. General Assembly kicks off today, we decided to assemble a list of the best U.N. tweeters to help you track the week's news.
The big Western powers -- the United States, Britain, France, and Germany -- have held a lock on Twitter diplomacy, using the medium far more ambitiously than their peers. Diplomats at other U.N. missions, including Iran and Russia, have a few key Twitter accounts, but they don't say much. Russia, for instance, leaves most of its tweeting to the Foreign Ministry -- @MFA_Russia -- or a handful of senior officials, including Vice Premier Dimitri Rogozin -- @DRogozin -- and Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov -- @Ggatilov -- a former U.N. official himself.
@ambassadorrice: In terms of sheer numbers, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is the reigning queen of Turtle Bay's Twitter community. Lots of newsy tweets on Security Council business, and the occasional holiday tweet from the Taj Mahal or some other far-off destination.
@USJoe_UN: Joe Torsella, the
U.S. ambassador for management and reform, grouses about U.N. inefficiencies
and occasionally discloses the contents of budget discussions. (He should have more
followers.) A typical tweet:
#UN supply chain makes uphill
battle for these go-getters. Inventory here still entered BY HAND. Party like
@franceonu: I used to taunt the French diplomats in the days they had fewer followers than me. They blew past me over the past year and haven't looked back. This is among the most ambitious of the official government Twitter feeds, using quizzes and videos of French diplomats explaining the inner working of U.N. committees to lure followers.
@UKUN_NewYork: The official British Twitter handle is a solid source of statements from New York and London, particularly on Africa and Middle East matters before the United Nations.
@GermanyUN: Germany has it's Twitter feed shrewdly, pushing quotes from the German ambassador, Peter Wittig. It also provides useful links to Germany Foreign Ministry statements on a wide range of issues, including Syria and Iran.
@israelinUN: The Israeli mission to the U.N. came a bit late to the game, but they provide a useful stream of breaking Israeli news. (I believe this is the first place I noticed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement criticizing Ban Ki-moon for visiting Tehran.)
THE UNITED NATIONS:
The United Nations may have been a bit slow to get up and running. But it has produced a number of useful Twitter handles, offering photos from the U.N. stable of high-quality photographers @unphotos, documents from the @unlibrary and videos and press conference from @UNWebcast or @UN_TV
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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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
THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
The Rwandan government played a pivotal role in the creation of an armed anti-government mutiny in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and then supplied the so-called M23 mutineers with weapons, ammunitions, and young Rwandan recruits, according to a confidential report by a U.N. Group of Experts.
The U.N. panel claimed in a 44-page report, which has been distributed to Security Council members but not made public, that Rwanda's role in the mutiny constituted a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning the supply of weapons to armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In anticipation of the report's release, Rwanda's Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo denied at a press conference at U.N. headquarters Monday that top Rwandan officials have backed the mutineers, insisting that top Rwandan military officials had in fact urged the mutineers to put down their arms and resolve their difference with the Congolese army through talks. "Of course, Rwanda's top army leadership in no way would be involved in destroying the peace they have been working very hard to build," she said.
The report's release has been delayed for weeks amid allegations by the Congolese government that the United States had sought to block publication of report that could prove damaging to a close ally. But the United States and other council member ultimately agreed to the release of the report after the experts had a chance to brief the Rwandan government on its findings. The final report is expected to be made public later this week. But Turtle Bay, which obtained a leaked copy, is posting excerpts from the report:
Since the outset of its current mandate, the Group [of Experts] has gathered evidence of arms embargo and sanctions regime violations committed by the Rwandan Government. These violations consist of the provision of material and financial support to armed groups operation in the eastern DRC, including the recently established M23, in contravention of paragraph 1 of Security Council resolution 1807. The arms embargo and sanctions regimes violations include the following:
*Direct assistance in the creation of M23 through the transport of weapons and soldiers through Rwandan territory;
*Recruitment of Rwandan youth and demobilized ex-combatants as well as Congolese refugees for M23;
*Provision of weapons and ammunition to M23;
*Mobilization and lobbying of Congolese political and financial leaders for the benefit of M23;
*Direct Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF) interventions into Congolese territory to reinforce M23;
*Support to several other armed groups as well as FARDC mutinies in the eastern Congo;
*Violation of the assets freeze and travel ban through supporting sanctioned individuals.
Over the course of its investigation since late 2011, the Group has found substantial evidence attesting to support from Rwandan officials to armed groups operating in the eastern DRC. Initially the RDF [Rwandan Defense Forces] appeared to establish these alliances to facilitate a wave of targeted assassinations against key FDLR [The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the armed remnants of Rwanda's former genocidal government] officers, thus significantly weakening the rebel movement (see paragraphs 37 & 38 of interim report). However, these activities quickly extended to support for a series of post electoral mutinies within the FARDC [The Congolese Armed Forces] and eventually included the direct facilitation, through the use of Rwandan territory, of the creation of the M23 rebellion. The latter is comprised of ex-CNDP officers integrated into the Congolese army (FARDC) in January 2009. Since M23 established itself in strategic positions along the Rwandan border in May 2012, the Group has gathered overwhelming evidence demonstrating that senior RDF officers, in their official capacities, have been backstopping the rebels through providing weapons, military supplies, and new recruits.
In turn, M23 continues to solidify alliances with many other armed groups and mutineer movements, including those previously benefiting from RDF support. This has created enormous security challenges, extending from Ituri district in the north to Fizi territory in the south, for the already overstretched Congolese Army(FARDC). Through such arms embargo violations, Rwandan officials have also been in contravention of the sanctions regime's travel ban and assets freeze measures, by including three designated individuals amongst their direct allies.
In an attempt to solve the crisis which this Rwandan support to armed groups had exacerbated, the governments of the DRC and Rwanda have held a series of high-level bilateral meetings since early April 2012. During these discussions, Rwandan officials have insisted on impunity for their armed group and mutineer allies, including ex-CNDP General Bosco Ntaganda, and the deployment of additional RDF units to the Kivus to conduct large-scale operations against the FDLR. The latter request has been repeatedly made despite the fact that: a) the RDF halted its unilateral initiatives to weaken the FDLR in late February; b) RDF Special Forces have already been deployed officially in Rutshuru territory for over a year; c) RDF operational units are periodically reinforcing the M23 on the battlefield against the Congolese army; d) M23 is directly and indirectly allied with several FDLR splinter groups; and e) the RDF is remobilizing previously repatriated FDLR to boost the ranks of M23.
* * *
Elevated Standards of Evidence:
In light of the serious nature of these findings, the group has adopted elevated methodological standards. Since early April 2012, the Group has interviewed over 80 deserters of FARDC mutinies and Congolese armed groups, including from M23. Amongst the latter, the Group has interviewed 31 Rwandan nationals. Furthermore, the group has also photographed weapons and military equipment found in arms caches and on the battlefield, as well as obtained official documents and intercepts of radio communication. The Group has also consulted dozens of senior Congolese military commanders and intelligence officials as well as political and community leaders with intricate knowledge of development between DRC and Rwanda. Moreover, the Group has communicated regularly with several active participants of the ex-CNDP mutiny, the M23 rebellion, and other armed groups. Finally, while the Group's standard methodology requires a minimum of three sources, assessed to be credible and independent of one another, it has raised this to five sources when naming specific individuals involved in these case of arms embargo and sanctions violations.
* * *
Rwandan Support to M23:
Since the earliest stage of its inception, the Group documented a systematic pattern of military and political support provided to the M23 rebellion by Rwandan authorities. Upon taking control over the strategic position of Runyoni, along the Rwandan border with DRC, M23 officers opened two supply routes going from Runyoni to Kinigi or Njerima in Rwanda, which RDF officers used to deliver such support as troops, recruits, and weapons. The Group also found evidence that Rwandan officials mobilized ex-CNDP cadres and officers, North Kivu politicians, business leaders and youth in support of M23.
* * *
Direct Rwandan assistance in creation of M23 through Rwandan territory:
Colonel Sultani Makenga deserted the FARDC in order to create the M23 rebellion using Rwandan territory and benefiting directly from RDF facilitation (See paragraph 104 of interim report). On 4 May, Makenga crossed the border from Goma into Gisenyi, Rwanda, and waited for his soldiers to join him from Goma and Bukavu. Intelligence sources, M23 collaborators and local politicians confirmed for the Group that RDF Western Division commander, General Emmanuel Ruvusha, welcomed Makenga upon his arrival to Gisenyi. The same source indicated that Ruvusha subsequently held a series of coordination meetings with other RDF officers in Gisenyi and Ruhengeri over the following days with Makenga.
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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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Since his first days in office, Ban Ki-moon has lived under the shadow of his predecessor, Kofi Annan, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was dubbed the "secular pope" and viewed by many U.N. boosters as the organization's moral compass.
Ban, by contrast, was the guy engaging in secret talks with unsavory dictators and autocrats in places like Burma, or holding his tongue in the face of atrocities in Sri Lanka and Sudan. But in Syria, Ban has abandoned his traditional preference for quiet diplomacy, berating the Syrian leadership in a series of scathing statements.
Ban recently told reporters at a luncheon that he had essentially stopped trying to speak directly to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying that he had effectively broken every promise he had made to the U.N. chief. Throughout the crisis, Ban has made it clear again and again that the Syria regime is to blame for stoking the country's popular unrest.
The U.N.'s diplomatic role in Syria has so far failed to bring an end to the Syrian crisis, and Ban's public criticism of Assad has likely limited to own ability to play a role in mediating the crisis. But it has nevertheless had the effect of elevating Ban's profile as a champion of popular rights while exposing Annan to criticism that he has placed unreasonable hopes in his ability to bring the Syrian leader into line.
Human Rights advocacy groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have recognized and applauded Ban for his public diplomacy on Syria, saying that he has finally come around to recognizing the value of using his position on the world stage as a bully pulpit, at least in the case of Syria.
"Many rights advocates despaired when they saw the statements he made defending states rights to the death penalty on his first day in office," Jose Luis Diaz, Amnesty International's U.N. representative told Turtle Bay. "But his statements on Syria, for example, or his position on the rights of LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender] persons, are good examples of the leadership we all expect from the U.N. secretary general. We'd like to see him use his moral and legal bully pulpit across the board. I hope that now that he's been given a second term he'll feel freer to speak out on all kinds of abuses, whoever commits or backs them"
Stephen Schlesinger, who has written extensively about the United Nations, last year described Ban's first term as "lackluster and ineffectual." But he said that Ban's public support for popular uprisings during the Arab Spring have "changed my mind about Ban. I think he has been far more outspoken and assertive in his role. He has started to sound like the old Kofi Annan."
Schlesinger and other U.N. experts, however, have defended Annan as exhibiting courage in accepting a meditation role carried little hope of success and posed threat to his reputation. And they say it is only natural that the role of diplomatic mediator requires making politically unpalatable comprises.
"It is the job of secretary general to be the bad cop and the mediator to be the good cop," said Bruce Jones, director of the Center for International Cooperation at New York University, and a former aide to Annan. "Kofi has put himself into a position that has some reputational risks. But I would find if unfortunate if Kofi gets blamed because every other solution is horrible one and this is a situation where you want to overturn every last pebble" to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
By most accounts, Annan has been dealt a pretty weak diplomatic hand.
U.S. and European-led diplomatic efforts to impose U.N. sanctions on Damascus to pressure the government to reform have been blocked by Russia and China. The United States, Britain, France, and Turkey appear unprepared to use force to drive Assad from power. Security Council diplomats, meanwhile appear increasingly concerned that Assad may weather the crisis, ensuring a central role in the country's future.
Still, Annan could hardly have been blind to the risks of deploying a small group of unarmed U.N. monitors in a conflict zone to enforce a cease-fire that few outsiders believe will stick. As the head of the U.N. peacekeeping department through much of the 1990s, Annan played a key role in running failed U.N. operations in Rwanda and Bosnia.
In November 1999, Annan published a review of the U.N. role in failing to stop mass killings outside the Bosnian village of Srebrenica, the worst atrocity in Europe since the Holocaust, that concluded that the U.N. leadership had to learn to resist the political pressure to send U.N. blue helmets into harms way when there was no peace to keep.
"Peacekeepers must never again be deployed into an environment in which there is no ceasefire or peace agreement," Annan wrote, criticizing the U.N. Security Council for not authorizing "more decisive and forceful action to prevent the unfolding horror."
"Many of the errors the United Nations made flowed from a single and no doubt well-intentioned effort: we tried to keep the peace and apply the rules of peacekeeping when there was no peace to keep," he added. "The cardinal lesson of Srebrenica is that a deliberate and systematic attempt to terrorize, expel or murder an entire people must be met decisively with all necessary means, and with the political will to carry the policy through to its logical conclusion."
The experience resulted in the U.N. turning to major world or regional powers to enforce peace in trouble spots like East Timor, where Australian soldiers imposed a cease-fire, and Sierra Leone, where British forces intervened to put down a rebellion. At the same time, the U.N. developed its own peacekeeping strategy -- known as "robust peacekeeping" -- which involved the limited use of lethal force in places like Congo and Haiti to put down challenges to its authority by armed groups.
Those lessons have not been applied in Syria, however, where the U.N.'s big powers have been unable to reach agreement on a plan to compel Assad to end a bloody crackdown that has left as many as 10,000 people dead. Annan, meanwhile, has openly opposed calls by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and a number of American lawmakers to arm Syria's divided opposition.
"The U.N. supervision mission is possibly the only remaining chance to stabilize the country," Annan told reporters in Geneva earlier this month. "And I'm sure I'm not telling you any secret when I tell you that there is a profound concern that the country could otherwise descend into full civil war and the implications of that are quite frightening. We cannot allow that to happen."
Indeed, if he succeeds in stopping that from happening, Ban may wind up back in Annan's shadow.
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The U.N. secretary general's top lawyer today effectively killed off an initiative by five small U.N. member states to press the U.N. Security Council to allow greater outside scrutiny of its actions, and to agree not to cast a veto to halt efforts to stop mass killing.
The so-called S-5 (or Small-Five) -- Costa Rice, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore, and Switzerland -- had called for a vote today on a resolution aimed at urging the council to reform its working methods. But the initiative failed after the U.N.'s lawyer, Patricia O'Brien, recommended that the resolution require the support of two-thirds of the U.N. membership, rather than the simple majority required for most U.N. General Assembly votes.
The legal recommendation marked a dramatic setback for efforts to press the Security Council's five most powerful members to grant the rest of the U.N. membership a greater say in its deliberations. It also appeared likely to diminish the U.N. General Assembly's authority, already limited, to make even non-binding recommendations to the Security Council.
In recent weeks, the council's five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- launched an active campaign to press the resolution's sponsors to drop the initiative, arguing that the U.N. Charter empowered the Security Council to determine its own working methods. They were backed by another coalition of countries -- including Argentina, Italy, and Pakistan -- that feared the initiative might accelerate a Security Council reform process that could potential end with their regional rivals, Brazil, India, and Germany -- securing permanent seats in the Security Council.
Under the U.N. Charter, a General Assembly resolution requires the support of a simple majority, unless it involves particularly "important questions," like an amendment of the U.N. Charter, in which case it would require a vote by two-thirds of the General Assembly. But in 1998, the General Assembly passed a resolution declaring that the assembly would not adopt any resolution "on the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and related matters" without a two-thirds majority.
O'Brien ruled that the S-5 resolution fell into that category of "related matters" and recommended it would be "appropriate" for the U.N. General Assembly to adopt the resolution only with a two-thirds vote. Switzerland's U.N. ambassador, Paul Seger, acknowledging the sponsors lacked the two-thirds majority, withdrew the draft at the last moment in the face of "procedural and legalistic maneuvers" that threatened to "engulf" the entire U.N. membership.
Speaking on behalf of the S-5, Seger told the General Assembly membership today that the U.N. legal reasoning was "with all due respect, utterly wrong and biased."
"The decisions of the Security Council affect us all. We are obliged by the Charter to implement them. Is it too much to ask to be better informed about and more involved in the council's decision shaping and decision-making?" Seger said. "From what we have heard during the last days and hours it seems that the membership as a whole is not ready to follow us on this course of action, not yet at least."
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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 announced a rare breakthrough in his efforts to halt the bloodshed in Syria, saying that President Bashar al-Assad had endorsed his six-point diplomatic plan calling for an immediate cease-fire, access for international aid workers, and the start of political talks leading to a multiparty democracy.
But there was a sense among observers that we've been here before.
Last November, the Syrian government signed a deal with the Arab League to withdraw its military forces from besieged towns and to accept a "road map" for political reform. But Assad never implemented the pact. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, has become so weary of Assad's promises to rein in his security forces that he hasn't even bothered to call him in several months. "He made all these promises," Ban told reporters last September, "but these promises have become now broken promises."
Indeed, many Syria observers believe Assad is seeking to bog down Annan and his team of mediators in a fruitless diplomatic process that will provide him with political cover to continue his military campaign to crush the opposition. Even today, the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group that monitors the violence, said 20 people had died by mid afternoon, according to a report in the New York Times, and fighting was reported along the Lebanese border.
"Assad has everything to gain from accepting the Annan initiative," said Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. "The president is looking for a way to end the uprising without stepping down, or turning power over to the revolutions. The new U.N. peace plan does not insist on having Assad handing over power, which is why Assad finds it acceptable.... He can play along with this because ultimately he needs to slow down the stampede towards greater and greater sanctions and [secure international] pressure on the opposition not to send weapons inside Syria."
Despite the grim assessment, many observers say that the diplomatic campaign to rein in President Assad has been gaining strength, driven in part by waning interest in the West for military intervention in Syria.
Russia and China, Syria's strongest defenders at the United Nations, have thrown their political weight behind Annan's peace initiative, prompting Assad to commit to a deal he had rejected two weeks ago.
The fragmented Syrian opposition attracted hundreds of anti-Assad representatives, including the exiled Muslim Brotherhood, to a meeting in Istanbul. Turkey and Norway, meanwhile, have shuttered their embassies in Damascus, furthering the country's diplomatic isolation.
"I do think conditions for diplomacy at the international level are better than last time," said Marc Lynch, a fellow Foreign Policy blogger and Middle East scholar at George Washington University. "Am I optimistic? No. My best guess is that Assad will try to play this the same way he played the Arab League plan," he said. But he "may find himself with less room for maneuver."
Lynch and other observers say that President Assad's standing -- which has been boosted by a series of military victories against the opposition -- risks the prospect of being weakened through a political process. "Assad is clearly winning at the military level," Lynch said. But his military gains, he added are "empty tactical victories. At a broader level, all signs say to me he is losing control, losing legitimacy."
Richard Gowan, a U.N. specialist at New York University's Center for International Cooperation, writes today in World Politics Review that the renewed push for a diplomatic outcome reflects a realization by "all the main players in the debate, that their disputes, which had been poisonous since mid-2011, were spiraling out of control." But Gowan also voiced concern that it may be too late for Annan's plan to succeed.
Russia and China, which have seen their standing in the region suffer from repeated vetoes in the Security Council, saw Annan's diplomatic overture as a way out of their isolation. And Western powers, reluctant to intervene militarily in Syria if diplomacy fails, are showing renewed interest in promoting a U.N. diplomatic effort to end the crisis.
But Western diplomats also struck a cautious note. "The Assad regime's acceptance of joint United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy Kofi Annan's six point plan would represent a significant first step towards bringing an end to the violence and the bloodshed, but only if it is genuinely and seriously meant," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said after the announcement. "This has not been the case with previous commitments the regime has made. The key will be concrete implementation that brings a cessation of all hostilities and leads to a genuine political transition accompanied by freedom of access for humanitarian assistance and the media, and the release of political prisoners. We will continue to judge the Syrian regime by its practical actions not by its often empty words."
Landis remained even more doubtful about the prospects for a peaceful outcome, saying the opposition has failed to present a viable alternative to the regime while the ongoing crisis is bringing greater economic hardship to ordinary Syrians.
"I see Syrians starving to death and Assad remaining in power for a long time," he said. "Even if he can destroy the opposition, he can't put Syria back together again. But the country will ultimately collapse in disorder."
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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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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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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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The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has admitted the Palestinians as a full member, prompting the Obama administration to impose millions of dollars in congressionally mandated cuts. Meanwhile, the Palestinian U.N. envoy in Geneva, Ibrahim Khraishi, said the Palestinians were now studying the prospects of joining 16 other U.N. agencies, raising the possibility of further U.S. funding cuts.
Turtle Bay thought it would be a good time to look at which U.S. programs are safe and which are vulnerable to additional cuts as the Palestinians eye membership in other specialized U.N. agencies, including the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Last year, the U.S spent $7.6 billion on U.N. related activities. Most of that money -- more than $6 billion -- went to pay the U.N. secretariat's administrative costs, and to fund peacekeeping, humanitarian relief work, health care, and refugee services. None of those funds will be threatened by U.S. legislation, passed in the early 1990s, that prohibits the United States from funding U.N. agencies that admit Palestine as a member state. The reason is that these big-ticket items fall under the purview of the U.N. General Assembly or the U.N. Secretariat -- and the United States has the power to block any Palestinian quest for membership in those bodies.
Ironically, the $238 million contribution to the U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) -- which provides assistance to millions of Palestinians refuges settled throughout the Middle East, is likely to be untouched by the congressionally mandated cuts, because UNRWA is not a membership-based organization, and the Palestinians can't join it.
But nearly $2 billion in U.S. contributions could be held up. Indeed, if the Palestinians follow through on the plan to apply for membership in specialized U.N. agencies and other U.N. affiliates, the mandated U.S. funding cuts could do some serious damage to America's priorities abroad: programs designed to monitor Iran's and North Korea's nuclear programs, feed millions of poor people from Afghanistan to Somalia, set global air travel safety standards, and prevent the spread of avian flu and other infectious diseases.
Let's start with some of the programs that face potential U.S. spending cuts if the Palestinians make good on their commitment to expand their membership campaign. (The figures are based on a White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) report detailing U.S. contributions to all U.N. agencies.)
- The United States contributed more than $84 million dollars to UNESCO in 2010. Best known for its World Heritage program, which designates vital international sites from the Statue of Liberty to the Egyptian pyramids, UNESCO also supports a tsunami early warning system in the Caribbean and Pacific, literacy programs in Afghanistan, media training in Tunisia and Egypt, according to Irina Bokova, UNESCO's director general. Say goodbye to this -- U.S. officials have already said the forthcoming checks won't be mailed.
- The United States last year contributed a whopping $1.5 billion in cash and food to the World Food Program (WFP), the second largest outlay after U.N. peacekeeping. The program, which has always been administered by a U.S. official and has long enjoyed broad bipartisan support in Congress, is vulnerable to potential U.S. cuts. WFP's membership is split between U.N. member states and members of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). While the Palestinians can't overcome U.S. opposition to full membership at the United Nations, they can join FAO if they can secure a favorable vote by 2/3 of the membership. The Palestinians, however, will have to wait until June 2013, the next scheduled meeting of the FAO membership, to press their bid. But the Palestinian admission into UNESCO qualifies them to participate as an observer at FAO and WFP functions. If the Palestinians were accepted into FAO, they would then have to run again for a seat on the executive board of the World Food Program.
A cut-off of U.S. funding, which amounts to more than 36 percent of WFP's budget, would deal a severe blow to an agency that has helped to feed desperately poor communities from Haiti to Somalia, and provided the U.S. with extra leverage in its negotiations with countries like North Korea.
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So, what does Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, really think of the so-called doctrine "leading from behind."
"That's just a whacked out phrase," Rice told Turtle Bay after the Security Council voted on Oct. 27 to end the U.N.-sanctioned military mission in Libya.
In a lengthy exclusive interview, Rice joined a chorus of U.S. officials, from President Barack Obama on down, who have sought to distance the administration from the slogan, which has been used by supporters and critics alike to credit or discredit the U.S. role in toppling Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's government. White House officials and Rice's own aides have recoiled at its very utterance.
Seven months after the U.N. Security Council voted to authorize the use of military force, a decision that in hindsight appears to have been decisive in toppling Qaddafi, Rice is making the case that the former Libyan's leader downfall was the product of U.S. diplomatic leadership, Libyan resistance, and United Nations legitimacy. "We led this thing," she said. "We put teeth in this mandate."
But it didn't always seem that way.
Back in March, as pro-Qaddafi forces advanced on Benghazi, preparing to deliver a decisive blow that could have crushed the nascent armed resistance, Britain and France, with the backing of Lebanon, labored in solitude behind the scenes in New York to rally support for a resolution that would have imposed a no-fly zone over Libya.
"The Americans haven't yet defined their position on Libya," the frustrated French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, told a French parliamentary foreign affairs committee days before the council acted. "Never mind that there's European impotence, but what about American power? What about Russian power? What's China's power over Libya?"
In Washington, the United States appeared divided over the wisdom of committing American military assets to the anti-Qaddafi campaign.
Rice, who lacked instructions from Washington to rally support for a military response, was not prepared to support her European allies, according to council diplomats.
But the winds shifted after the Arab League threw its support behind the no-fly zone and the prospects of a mass killing in eastern Libya grew, placing the United States in the position of having to chose whether to back a military response, or step aside.
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.