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 Obama administration, Canada, and possibly other governments will boycott a U.N. General Assembly session being convened tomorrow on international justice because of concern that the Serbian president of the U.N. body will use the event to bash the U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, according to senior U.N. diplomats.
The U.S. snub comes one week after Jordan's U.N. ambassador, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, a former U.N. political officer in Bosnia in the 1990s, announced plans in this blog to boycott the event. It comes as Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic , is scheduled to arrive in New York city tomorrow to open the day-long thematic debate, entitled "The Role of International Justice in Reconciliation."
The United States declined to comment on its plans. But Zeid confirmed that the United States and Canada intend to forgo the event. "I am very pleased the United States, Canada, and possibly others are boycotting," the event, Zeid told Turtle Bay tonight.
Vuk Jeremic, a former Serbian foreign minister who is serving as president of the 193-member General Assembly, decided to organize the conference late last year, following the acquittal by an appeals chamber of the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac. The two men had been convicted lower court of carrying out mass atrocities against ethnic Serbs during Operation Storm in the Kraijina region of Croatia.
The timing of the U.N. event -- the meeting coincides with the 71st anniversary of the founding of the pro-Nazi Croatian state -- has fueled concerns among many delegates that the event will be used to bash the tribunal.
Jeremic, an outspoken critic of the ICTY, said that the debate would not be restricted to a debate on the Balkans, and that governments could debate any aspect of international justice they chose.
In an interview tonight, Jeremic said that the United States had not informed him of its plans for tomorrow's event. "If it is true it would be highly regrettable," he said. "Eighty countries have signed up to speak, either directly or as a group, and we expect many more to be present."
"I think this topic is worth debating," he said. "Therefore I find it highly regrettable if some countries chose to boycott."
The Yugoslav court, which has indicted more than 90 Serbian nationals, including former President Slobodan Milosevic, has been unpopular among many Serbs, who feel it has gone too soft on Croatian and Bosnian Muslim war criminals. Jeremic has been a staunch critic.
Last week, Zeid voiced concern that Jeremic would manipulate the debate to minimize the crimes of Serbs in the Balkans during the 1990s. "I was in the former Yugoslavia from 1994-1996 and, in view of what I know to be true, will also, together with my delegation, be nowhere near the event," Zeid told Turtle Bay last week. " We will encourage other delegations in the coming days to do likewise."
Zeid said that Jeremic had denied a request by the Mothers of Srebrenica, a Bosnian human rights group that represents victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, to address the U.N. General Assembly, though he did invite them to attend. Instead, the group will hold a press conference at U.N. headquarters sponsored by the governments of Jordan and Liechtenstein.
Tomorrow's session will include two parts, public debate by governments in the U.N. General Assembly, and a pair of afternoon panel discussions. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is planning to deliver a speech at the opening of the General Assembly Session. The European Union is also scheduled to deliver a speech. But many governments, including Britain, are expected to send relatively junior officials to the event.
In recent weeks, several prominent attendees -- including the president of the International Criminal Court, Song Sang-Hyun -- who had previously planned to attend the conference have pulled out of the event. Others include the president of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court, Tina Intelmann; the U.N. secretary general's special advisor on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng; the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth; and the U.N. secretary general's lawyer, Patricia O'Brien.
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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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It's not exactly the Cold War.
But U.S.-Russia relations have been getting pretty chilly in the U.N. Security Council lately.
On Tuesday, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and her Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, traded verbal blows over a stalled U.S. initiative to endorse a recent peace deal between Sudan and South Sudan.
The big power quarrel played out in a procedural skirmish over how the 15-nation council should be used to promote political reconciliation between the two Sudans, which have been locked in their own highly contentious squabbles over the nature of their relationship in the wake of South Sudan's independence in 2011.
Rice accused Churkin of trying to thwart the council's efforts to adopt a U.S.-drafted statement pressuring both Sudans to implement of set of obligations they have undertaken on everything from security arrangements to oil exports and trade, and condemning clashes between Sudanese and South Sudanese forces, including Khartoum’s aerial bombardment of towns in the south. Churkin fired back that Rice was "not reasonable" and her decision to divulge the contents of confidential negotiations was "rather bizarre."
The dispute reflected the deepening strains between the United States and Russia on a range of issues, including Syria, where the two powers have been stalemated, and Sudan, where Moscow has repeatedly stymied American efforts to press Khartoum. But it also highlighted the testy tenor of relations between Churkin and Rice, which some colleagues have likened to emotional exchanges between high-school kids.
For weeks, Rice had been struggling to secure agreement on a U.N. Security Council presidential statement that would recognize recent progress between the former civil war rivals in negotiations touching on everything from the demarcation of the border to control of Sudanese oil, which is mostly pumped in landlocked South Sudan, but transported, refined, and exported through Sudan.
Rice had crafted the draft in a way that could maximize pressure on Khartoum to withdraw its security forces from the disputed territory of Abyei, to provide access for U.N. humanitarian workers seeking to distribute humanitarian assistance in the conflict zones of South Kordofan and Blue Nile state. But it also deplored the presence of South Sudanese national police in Abyei, and urged both sides to refrain from hostilities.
Moscow had initially blocked the U.S. initiative on the grounds that it was too tough on Khartoum, but not tough enough on South Sudan. But on Friday of last week, Russia had reached agreement in principle with Rice to support the American measure.
The deal, however, was never concluded. Over the weekend, Sudan and South Sudan reached agreement on a deal setting the stage for the establishment of a demilitarized zone between the two countries and an oil pact that will allow for the resumption of oil exports for the first time since January 2012, when South Sudan halted production to protest what they believed were excessive transport fees charged by the Sudanese government.
Rice told reporters that she had intended to update the statement to reflect the latest agreement, but that Churkin abruptly introduced his own press statement welcoming the latest agreement and stripping out any language criticizing Khartoum's shortcomings on other fronts. Rice suggested that Russia, which has more limited interests in the Sudans than the United States, is performing the role of diplomatic spoiler in the council.
"We were close to agreement on that, and we were ready to update it to take account of recent events," Rice told reporters. "Unfortunately, perhaps in the interest of derailing such a PRST [Presidential statement], the Russian federation, which does not typically utilize the pen on South Sudan or Sudan, tabled a draft press statement, which only discussed a very narrow aspect of the substance of the larger ... statement and excluded language on the two areas, excluded mention of the cross border incidents, including aerial bombardment."
Churkin insisted that his intentions were pure, and that he was merely seeking to send a swift message of support to the Sudanese parties.
"Ambassador Rice chose to spill out to the media some confidential conversations we had today and actually did it in a rather bizarre way, from what I hear,' he told reporters. "I think the reaction of the U.S. delegation was not reasonable. And as a result of that we were not able to have any agreed reaction from the council today."
"This was not a constructive way to deal with the work in the Security Council," he added. "Trying to find all sorts of ulterior motives and come up with various outlandish accusations is not the best way to deal with your partners in the Security Council. I know it's not a good way to deal with the Russian delegation."
Some U.N. diplomats believe that Churkin is actually trying to provoke his American counterpart and that his tough line reflects an increasingly combative foreign policy approach being pursued by Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Russia is taking on an increasingly nationalistic foreign policy and Churkin's instructions reflect that," said one council diplomat.
But others fault the Americans for refusing to compromise with Russia in order to maintain pressure on Sudan and South Sudan to comply with their commitments. They say Rice's insistence on tough denunciations of Khartoum, while merited, have resulted in the council's inability to weigh in on many key aspects of the crisis since May 2012, when the council last threatened sanctions against the two sides if they failed to live up to their commitments. The United States "has been using a bazooka when they should stick with a pistol," said one U.N. insider. "Everyone knows how bad [Sudanese President Omar] Bashir is, but does it need to be put in every statement?"
A U.S. official countered that the U.S. has been even handed. "The United States is focused on resolving critical issues that risk another war between Sudan and South Sudan and have a huge human cost," said Payton Knopf, a spokesman for Rice, noting that hundreds of thousands of displaced Sudanese civilians are "enduring a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions. We believe the Security Council should hold the parties accountable, as appropriate for fulfilling their obligations. When Khartoum or Juba is cuplable, we think the council needs to apply pressure, as needed."
Russia, meanwhile, has been nursing its own grievances toward the government in Juba since 2011, when the South Sudanese authorities detained a Russian helicopter crew. Moscow unsuccessfully sought U.S. support for a statement criticizing the South's action. Then, to make matters worse, last year, South Sudanese army forces shot down a U.N. helicopter piloted by a 4-man Russian crew, who were all killed in the incident. In that instance, the U.S. supported a council statement deploring the shooting, and demanding that those responsible for the shooting be held accountable.
More recently, Russia accused the United States of blocking a Security Council statement condemning a terror bombing near the Russian embassy in Damascus.
"We believe these are double standards," Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said last month. "And we see in it a very dangerous tendency by our American colleagues to depart from the fundamental principle of unconditional condemnation of any terrorist act, a principle which secures the unity of the international community in the fight against terrorism," he said.
A spokeswoman for Rice, Erin Pelton, countered that assessment, saying that the United States was willing to support the Russian initiative if it included a reference to President Bashar al-Assad's government's "brutal attacks against the Syrian people. If predictably, Russia rejected the U.S. suggested language as "totally unacceptable" and withdrew its draft statement."
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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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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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Today's big Syria headline from Beijing: China unveils new 4-point peace initiative to end country's civil war.
The Chinese plan is, in a nutshell, a few bits and pieces borrowed from pre-existing Arab League and U.N. peace initiatives -- i.e, a phased region-by-region ceasefire, a political transition, and stepped up humanitarian relief. There's not a lot new here. And the irony is that these initiatives have, in the past, failed to gain momentum, in part, because China joined Russia in vetoing three resolutions promoting similar plans.
"A political settlement is the only viable solution in Syria," Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said, according to Xinhua, which outlined Beijing's big idea:
First, relevant parties in Syria should make every effort to stop fighting and violence, and cooperate actively with the mediation efforts of Brahimi. Relevant parties should implement effective steps toward a cease-fire, for example region by region or phase by phase, expand the areas of cease-fire, realize disengagement, and eventually bring an end to all armed conflict and violence.
Second, relevant parties in Syria should appoint empowered interlocutors as soon as possible so that, assisted by Brahimi and the international community, they can formulate through consultations a roadmap of political transition, establish a transitional governing body of broad representation, and implement political transition so as to end the Syrian crisis at an early date. To ensure a safe, stable and calm transition, the continuity and effectiveness of Syria's governmental institutions must be maintained.
Third, the international community should work with greater urgency and responsibility to fully cooperate with and support Brahimi's mediation efforts and make real progress in implementing the communique of the Geneva foreign ministers' meeting of the Action Group for Syria, Mr. Annan's six-point plan and relevant Security Council resolutions. The positive efforts of the Arab League and countries in the region in search of a political settlement should be valued.
Fourth, relevant parties should take concrete steps to ease the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The international community should increase humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and ensure proper resettlement of refugees beyond the Syrian border and timely aid for those in need within Syria. The Syrian government and various parties should render full cooperation to the work of the United Nations and relevant neutral institutions to provide humanitarian assistance in all conflict-affected regions and ensure the safety of their personnel. At the same time, humanitarian issues should not be politicized and humanitarian assistance should not be militarized.
So, what are we to make of China's peace initiative?
Does it mark a turning point in its commitment to see the 18-month civil war brought to an end? Or an admission, perhaps, that Beijing is growing weary of its Syrian ally's refusal to halt a ruthlessly disproportionate response to its armed opponents, at the cost of thousands of civilian lives?
Or is this what a government does when a prominent international envoy -- in this case U.N.-Arab League Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, shows up at your door to press you to knuckle down on a recalcitrant friend? So is this just what Beijing scrapped together to appear that it's seriously invested in making peace?
Through most of the Syrian conflict, China has largely sought to avoid drawing much attention to itself, offering few ideas to resolve the crisis in closed-door Security Council consultations, while sticking to stock government talking points in public statements about the need to resolve the crisis peacefully while respecting Syria's sovereignty.
It's worth noting that while China is a major power, it's a bit player on Syria, taking its cue from Russia, which has been reluctant to ratchet up pressure on Bashar al-Assad to yield power to Syria's opposition forces. But Beijing has occasionally raised its profile -- it previously sent a high-level delegation to Middle East capitols to explain and defend its decision to veto Arab-backed U.N. Security Council resolutions on Syria - to avoid a political backlash against Chinese interests in the region.
It's probably useful that Beijing be seen backing Brahimi's mediation effort. And there is a curiously specific, though vague, call for a phased ceasefire in the proposal. But a close look at China's plan reveals that Beijing is largely restating positions previously agreed to by the international community -- including Kofi Annan's six-point plan and the Geneva Communiqué -- backed by the U.N.'s five big powers.
The Chinese plan also sidesteps controversial matters, like the fate of Assad at the end of a political transition. And there was little in China's statement that echoed Brahimi's call in Moscow earlier this week for "a real transition, not cosmetic reforms" in Syria. One Security Council diplomat dismissed the Chinese initiative as containing the same fatal flaw as its long-standing stance on Syria -- it's unwilling to apply pressure on Damascus to halt the killing.
Meanwhile, the Syrians haven't been able to get through Eid al-Adha, the Muslim religious holiday, without killing one another. "The government made the announcement that they were going to stop firing during the Eid period," Brahimi said in Moscow on Monday. Quite a few of the opposition groups did the same. Now each side is accusing the other side of having broken this ceasefire. The result is that there was no pause and the people of Syria haven't spent quiet days during the Eid."
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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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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
Kofi Annan, casting around for fresh ideas to stem the violence in Syria, last week proposed inviting Iran to join the United States, Russia, and other world and regional powers seeking to craft a plan for the country's political transition.
The initiative was quickly embraced by Moscow, which proposed hosting this "contact group" for an international conference, and was just as quickly dismissed by the Obama administration, which claimed that Tehran is part of the problem in Syria, not a reliable peace partner.
But why did Annan want Iran inside the peace tent while it is purportedly supporting the Syrian government crackdown, and what impact might Tehran's involvement have on the outcome of the Syrian crisis?
Annan's negotiating team has argued that it would be best to have Iran on its side, rather than seeking to undermine it. "Iran is a key player in this crisis and if you're going to have a group that talks about what can be done to pressure the parties in Syria then you can't neglect the fact that Iran has influence on the Syrian government," Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told Turtle Bay.
The decision to try to include Iran was driven by an old-fashioned diplomatic dictum: you need to make peace with your enemy, not your friend. For Annan, that means inviting anyone with the power and influence to spoil the negotiating process into the peace camp, according to U.N. officials.
The United States -- under both Democratic and Republican administrations -- has accepted the need to sit down at the table with the Iranians to address regional conflicts in Afghanistan and, to a lesser degree, Iraq. And U.S. policy makers have entertained talks with the Taliban to pave the way for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But the prospects for talks in the lead up to the U.S. presidential election may prove awkward, particularly at a time when high-stakes negotiations over Iran's nuclear program appear stalled again. On Monday, the United States expressed its frustration by announcing yet another round of sanctions against Tehran. While the administration has not ruled out the possibility of an Iranian role in the Syrian peace process it has reacted coolly too it.
"There is no question that [Iran] is actively engaged in supporting the government in perpetrating the violence on the ground," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations told reporters at U.N. headquarters on Thursday. "So we think Iran has not demonstrated to date a readiness to contribute constructively to a peaceful political solution."
The United States and other critics say that Iran's interests run contrary to the U.N.'s goals and that Iran will not support a peace effort that threatens to jeopardize its own interests. "No country in the world stands to lose more from an Assad collapse than Iran. They would lose their only regional ally and their key thoroughfare to Hezbollah," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Iran's position on Syria is to publicly call for reform and conciliation, while privately financing and arming the Assads to the teeth."
"This is an exercise that is designed to avoid confrontation on everybody's part," Brett Schaefer, who tracks the U.N. for the Heritage Foundation, told Turtle Bay. "I think the Russians, the Chinese, and Iran are going to use every opportunity they can to extend this process out, and that a number of Western countries, including the United States, are willing to go along with this because they are unwilling to step outside the U.N.-centric approach."
For China and Russia, the fate of Syria is inextricably linked to that of Iran, according to Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. They fear that the collapse of President Bashar al-Assad will embolden the West to step up pressure to topple the mullahs in Tehran.
"This is about the strategic position of China and Russia writ large," said Landis. "Syria is the canary in the mineshaft. If Syria is taken down, all eyes will turn to Iran."
By bringing Iran to the peace table, however, Russia would be reassuring Iran that its interests will be taken on board in any peace process. Richard Gowan, a scholar at New York University Center for International Cooperation, said that Annan is right to keep channels open to the Iranians, but that Annan has been too deferential to Syria's foreign backers.
"Annan had already made it known that he was talking to Iran on Syria: emphasizing Tehran's importance at this stage was a tactical public relations error,' he said. "It reinforced the impression that Annan is too reliant on Assad's friends in Moscow and Tehran," he told Turtle Bay. "Annan has arguably not been bold enough in challenging the regime's remaining friends."
For months, U.S. and European officials have accused Iran and Russia of supplying Damascus with weapons. Meanwhile, U.S. allies such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have reportedly funneled arms to opposition fighters.
An April 12 ceasefire negotiated by Annan, and backed up by a team of about 300 U.N. monitors, is now in tatters. Syrian government forces continue to shell residential neighborhoods, while government-backed militia are suspected of carrying out mass killings in opposition towns. The Free Syrian Army, emboldened by fresh supplies of weapons, has vowed to fight on, saying the U.N.-brokered cease fire has been routinely violated by the government.
"Part of the problem with Syria is that both the Saudis and the Iranians see this as a proxy war for their relative regional ambitions and you can't have one in [the peace process] and the other out without creating a party motivated to subvert the concerted international action," said Jeffrey Laurenti, a U.N. expert at the Century Foundation.
For the United States, sitting down with the Iranians on an election year "is politically awkward, but a wider war around Syria is also a problem. It's not very palatable to Washington but sometimes you swallow hard in order to get a job done."
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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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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has proposed the U.N. Security Council establish a full-fledged U.N. monitoring mission for Syria with an initial 300 unarmed blue berets, backed by air transport, and with the authority to carry out unimpeded investigations into possible cease-fire violations by the Syrian government or armed opposition.
The new mission would be deployed within weeks after the 15-nation council adopts a resolution creating the new mission, which would be called the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNMIS). Ban suggested that the mission might need to be enlarged and that he would come back to the council within 90 days with a new plan to "further develop and define the mission's mandate, scope and methods of work."
"It would be a nimble presence that would constantly and rapidly observe, establish and assess the facts and conditions on the ground in an objective manner, and engage all relevant parties," Ban wrote of the new mission. His 8-page report was distributed to the Security Council tonight and will be made public shortly. Security Council diplomats say they hope a resolution can be voted on by early next week.
The report provides a mixed account of the security conditions on the ground since the U.N. deployed its first monitors three days ago in Syria, noting that "it remains a challenge to assess accurately unconfirmed and conflicting reports of developments in Syria."
Ban wrote that "levels of violence dropped markedly" in Syria since April 12, when a U.N.-brokered cease fire went into effect, "however, the Syrian Government has yet to fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops and heavy weapons, or to return them to barracks. Violent incidents and reports of casualties have escalated again in recent days, with reports of shelling of civilian areas and abuses by government forces. The Government reports violent actions by armed groups. The cessation of armed violence in all its forms is therefore clearly incomplete."
The reports say that the U.N. monitors had been initially blocked from visiting the town of Homs, but that they were granted "freedom of movement" during a visit to Deraa on Tuesday, where they found no evidence of armed violence or heavy weapons. Visits to three other towns, including Jobar, Zamalka, and Arbeen in Rif Damascus revealed continuing military presence at multiple checkpoints, as well as an armored personnel carried hidden under a plastic sheet.
The report also documented an incident in Arbeen that ended in violence.
"The situation in Arbeen became tense when a crowd that was part of an opposition demonstration forced United Nations vehicles to a checkpoint. Subsequently, the crowd was dispersed by firing projectiles. Those responsible for the firing could not be ascertained by the United Nations Military Observers. No injuries were observed by the United Nations advance team. One United Nations vehicle was damaged slightly during the incident."
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Full text of Ban Ki-moon's letter to the U.N. Security Council:
18 April 2012
Her Excellency/Ms. Susan Rice/President of the Security Council/New York
1. Further to operative paragraph 5 of Security Council resolution 2042 (2012), and to the briefing of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Kofi Annan, to the Security Council on 12 April 2012, I wish to outline a proposal for a United Nations supervision mission in Syria (UNSMIS) for an initial period of three months. I recommend that the Council authorize such a mission, with the understanding that I will consider relevant developments on the ground, including the consolidation of the cessation of the violence, to decide on deployments.
2. The protracted crisis in Syria over the past 13 months has seen many thousands killed, injured, detained or displaced. The violence has been characterized by use of heavy weapons in civilian areas and widespread violations of human rights, while aspirations for political change in the country have not been met. I remain deeply concerned about the gravity of the situation in the country. However, without under-estimating the serious challenges ahead, an opportunity for progress may now exist, on which we need to build.
3. On 25 March 2012, the Syrian Government committed to an initial six-point plan proposed by the Joint Special Envoy, which has the full support of the Security Council. This plan includes provisions for immediate steps by the Syrian Government, and a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilize the country. To this end, it requires the Syrian government immediately to cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres and to begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres.
It also requires a range of other steps by the Syrian Government to alleviate the crisis, including humanitarian access, access to and release of detainees, access and freedom of movement for journalists, and freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully. The plan embodies the need for an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people.
4. On 11 April 2012, the Syrian Government stated it would cease all military operations throughout the entire country, and similar commitments were obtained from the armed opposition. Accordingly, for the first time in over one year, a cessation of violence was declared and went into effect across Syria at 0600 hours on 12 April 2012. This was an important step by all parties in de-escalating the situation. It now must be effectively sustained.
5. The engagement of many states with influence on the parties was and remains critical to furthering this process. The Security Council has spoken with one voice through its presidential statements of 3 August, 21 March and 5 April and resolution 2042 of 14 April. The Council's continued unity is also of critical importance in seeking a pacific settlement of the crisis.
Developments since 12 April
6. Given the lack of presence on the ground other than the first members of the Advance Team who arrived three days ago, it remains a challenge to assess accurately unconfirmed and conflicting reports of developments in Syria. Nevertheless, it appears that levels of violence dropped markedly on 12 April and the following days, with a concomitant decrease in reports of casualties. However, the Syrian Government has yet to fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops and heavy weapons, or to return them to barracks. Violent incidents and reports of casualties have escalated again in recent days, with reports of shelling of civilian areas and abuses by government forces. The Government reports violent actions by armed groups. The cessation of armed violence in all its forms is therefore clearly incomplete. At the same time, in accordance with their acceptance of the six-point plan, the parties have continued to express their commitment to a cessation of armed violence in all its forms and have agreed to cooperate with a United Nations supervision mechanism to observe and strengthen both sides commitment to a cessation.
7. The advance team of up to 30 unarmed military observers authorized by the Security Council in paragraph 7 of resolution 2042 (2012) began to deploy on 16 April 2012. It has commenced liaison with the parties and is beginning to report on the cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties. This team is led by a Colonel and will be swiftly augmented by the necessary mission support personnel, including ordnance experts and United Nations security officers.
8. The team visited Deraa on 17 April 2012. During its two to three hour presence in the city, it enjoyed freedom of movement. It observed no armed violence or heavy weapons in the city. It observed no major military concentrations, but several points were occupied at section level, and buses and trucks with soldiers were dispersed throughout the city. The team visited Jobar, Zamalka and Arbeen in Rif Damascus today. It reported military presence at checkpoints and around some public squares and buildings in all three locations. In Arbeen, one armoured personnel carrier was hidden, covered by a plastic sheet. The situation in Arbeen became tense when a crowd that was part of an opposition demonstration forced United Nations vehicles to a checkpoint. Subsequently, the crowd was dispersed by firing projectiles. Those responsible for the firing could not be ascertained by the United Nations Military Observers. No injuries were observed by the United Nations advance team. One United Nations vehicle was damaged slightly during the incident. The team expects to visit Rif Daraa tomorrow. The team's initial request to visit Homs was not granted, with officials claiming security concerns.
9. Action on other aspects of the six-point plan remains partial, and, while difficult to assess, it does not amount yet to the clear signal expected from the Syrian authorities. Regarding the right to protest peacefully, numerous demonstrations were organized on 13 April after Friday prayers, one day after the date of the cessation of violence. Reports issued by local opposition groups suggest that these were met with a more restrained response than in previous incidents of protest, but there were nevertheless attempts to intimidate protesters, including reports of incidents of rifle fire by government troops. On detainees, on 5 April the International Committee for the Red Cross announced that it had agreed with the Syrian Government on procedures for visits to places of detention and that this would be put into practice with a visit to Aleppo prison. However, the status and circumstances of thousands of detainees across the country remains unclear and there continue to be concerning reports of significant abuses. There has been no significant release of detainees. On 12 April the Syrian Government said entry visas were granted to "53 Arab and foreign journalists" between 25 March and 12 April. We have no further information on this. All journalists must have full freedom of movement throughout the country.
10. Meanwhile, on the issue of humanitarian access, while the United Nations and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) needs assessment report identified one million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria, no substantive progress has been achieved over the last weeks of negotiations on access to those in need, or in increasing the capacity of organizations on the ground.
11. Developments since 12 April underline the importance of sending a clear message to the authorities that a cessation of armed violence must be respected in full, and that action is needed on all aspects of the six-point plan. Actions on the ground must be consistent with stated commitments to carry out the six-point plan. At the same time, the very fragility of the situation underscores the importance of putting in place arrangements that can allow impartial supervision and monitoring. A United Nations monitoring mission deployed quickly when the conditions are conducive with a clear mandate, the requisite capacities, and the appropriate conditions of operation would greatly contribute to observing and upholding the commitment of the parties to a cessation of armed violence in all its forms and to supporting the implementation of the six-point plan.
12. An expanded mission, UNSMIS, would comprise an initial deployment of up to 300 United Nations Military Observers. They would be deployed incrementally over a period of weeks, in approximately ten locations throughout Syria. It would be a nimble presence that would constantly and rapidly observe, establish and assess the facts and conditions on the ground in an objective manner, and engage all relevant parties. It would be headed by a Chief Military Observer at the rank of Major-General. UNSMIS would additionally comprise substantive and mission support personnel with a range of skills, including advisors with political, human rights, civil affairs, public information, public security, gender and other expertise. These elements would be essential to ensure comprehensive monitoring of and support to the parties for the full implementation of the six-point plan. Given the size of the country and the challenges on the ground, the mission would need to maximize the effectiveness of its supervision and observation responsibilities with effective informational awareness and information management so that it uses its resources effectively. UNSMIS would be funded through the peacekeeping account.
13. Consistent with paragraph 5 of resolution 2042, UNSMIS should monitor a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties and relevant aspects of the Joint Special Envoy's six-point proposal. Regarding a cessation of armed violence, it should be noted that the Syrian Government's full implementation and adherence to its obligations to cease troop movements towards population centres, cease all use of heavy weapons in population centres, and begin the pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres are critical, and that the withdrawal of all troops and heavy weapons from population centres to their barracks is important to facilitate a sustained cessation of violence. Equally, all parties, including both the Government and the opposition, must sustain a cessation of armed violence in all its forms. These will be the areas of monitoring by the military observers who, in the course of their duties to supervise the cessation of violence, will pay due regard to other aspects of the six-point-plan.
14. In this regard, it should also be noted that human rights abuses have characterized much of the fighting over the past thirteen months, and that any cessation of armed violence must necessarily encompass a cessation of such abuses, including torture, arbitrary detentions, abductions, sexual violence and other abuses against women, children and minorities. The free movement of journalists throughout the country and the respect of freedom of association and the right of Syrians to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed will also be critical. The release of persons arbitrarily detained is a key commitment of the Government under the six point plan that would provide a significant signal of the serious intent of the Government effectively to implement the plan in its entirety and create the conditions for a political solution through peaceful dialogue.
15. UNSMIS would not be involved in the delivery, coordination, and monitoring of humanitarian assistance. The coordination of humanitarian assistance is the responsibility of the Emergency Relief Coordinator. It should be noted in this regard that all parties, particularly the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, must allow immediate, full and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to all people in need and to cooperate fully with the United Nations and relevant humanitarian organizations to facilitate the swift provision of humanitarian assistance.
16. A supervision mission that has the capacity, through military observers and civilian personnel, to monitor and support a cessation of violence in all its forms and the implementation of the remaining aspects of the six-point plan could help create the conditions for a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition. Such a supervision mission would be important to sustain peace and a meaningful political process in the country. This would provide important support for the Joint Special Envoy's efforts to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and brings about a political solution to the crisis in Syria.
17. In committing to the six-point plan, the Government of Syria has indicated its consent to an effective UN supervision mechanism. As of 18 April, discussions with the Government of Syria on preliminary understandings to provide the basis for a protocol governing the deployment of the Advance Team and of a UN supervision mission made progress and are continuing. Other parties to the conflict have indicated their readiness to work with a mission. It is essential in this regard that the actions of the Government in particular are in full conformity with its commitment and with the fundamental principles necessary to enable an effective mission as embodied in resolution 2042. As called for by resolution 2042, it is incumbent upon the Government of Syria to facilitate the expeditious and unhindered deployment of personnel and capabilities of the mission as required to fulfil its mandate; to ensure its full, unimpeded, and immediate freedom of movement and access as necessary to fulfil its mandate; allow its unobstructed communications; and allow it to freely and privately communicate with individuals throughout Syria without retaliation against any person as a result of interaction with the mission. The Syrian authorities have the primary responsibility for the safety of the mission, which should be guaranteed by all parties without prejudice to its freedom of movement and access. This freedom of movement will need to be supported by appropriate air transport assets to ensure mobility and capacity to react quickly to reported incidents. Consultations have taken place to explain these principles to the Government of Syria, including fundamental principles of UN peacekeeping regarding selection of personnel.
18. I will seek to conclude with the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic an agreement concerning the status of UNSMIS within 30 days of the adoption of the resolution establishing UNSMIS, taking into consideration General Assembly resolution 58/82 on the scope of legal protection under the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel. In accordance with the customary practice of the United Nations, pending the conclusion of such an agreement, the model status-of-forces agreement dated 9 October 1990 (A/45/594) shall apply provisionally.
19. Member States, in particular the neighboring States, should assist the Advance Team and UNSMIS by ensuring the free, unhindered and expeditious movement to and from the Syrian Arab Republic of all personnel, as well as equipment, provisions, supplies and other goods, including vehicles and spare parts.
20. The mandate and operational posture of the mission proposed herein, including its deployment and structure, would establish an effective observer mission, with the configuration and functions described above. I would intend to further develop and define the mission's mandate, scope and methods of work based on the initial deployment, the evolution of conditions on the ground, and engagements with all relevant parties. Proposals in this regard would be contained in a report to the Security Council as soon as practicable but not more than 90 days after the establishment of UNSMIS.
21. I should be grateful if you could bring this letter urgently to the attention of the members of the Security Council.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
Dear Asma, remember those heady times before the Arab Spring, when we pinned our hopes on the "rose of the desert," your ability to work your liberalizing magic, and the dream that you could turn your autocratic husband into a democrat?
Those days are over.
Europe's elites have completed the total ostracism of Syria's stylish British-born first lady, Asma al-Assad, banning her from stepping foot in most European capitals or shopping in Europe's finest department stores.
Last month, the European Union added her name to a list of President Bashar al-Assad cronies subjected to a travel ban and asset freeze.
And now, the wives of Britain's and Germany's U.N. ambassadors have produced a new YouTube video letter scolding Asma for her obsession with fashion and image at a time when her husband's government is launching a bloody crackdown on protesters. (See the online petition here.)
The video draws from the image of Asma that emerged from a series of leaked emails she sent to her husband, describing extravagant purchases at posh European retail establishments. Interspersing glamour shots of Asma from a Vogue magazine shoot with images of mortally wounded Syrian children and common women protesting her husband's rule, the video serves as an online letter and petition from the world's women to Asma to stop the violence in Syria.
The text reads:
Some women care for style
And some women care for their people.
Some women struggle for their image
And some women struggle for survival.
Some women have forgotten what they preached about peace
[Asma, at lectern: "We all deserve the same thing: We should all be able to live in peace, stability and with our dignities."]
And some women can only pray for their dead.
Some women pretend that they have no choice
And some women just act.
What happened to you, Asma?
Hundreds of Syrian children have already been killed and injured
One day, our children will ask us
What we have done to stop this bloodshed
What will your answer be, Asma?"
That you, Asma, had no choice?
What about this boy, where was his choice?
Each single child had a name and a family.
Their lives will never the same again.
Asma, when you kiss your own children goodnight,
Another mother will find the place next to her empty.
These children could all be your children.
They are your children.
Stand up for peace, Asma.
Speak out now, for the sake of your people.
Stop your husband and his supporters.
Stop being a bystander.
No one cares about your image.
We care about your action.
The project is the brain-child of Huberta von Voss-Wittig, a journalist married Germany's U.N. ambassador Peter Wittig, and Sheila Lyall Grant, the wife of Britain's U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall Grant. Other prominent diplomatic spouses, including Muna Ghassan Tamim Rihani, the wife of the Qatari president of the U.N. General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, have signed the petition. By Wednesday morning, the online campaign had registered more than 4,500 signatures, including the wives of the U.N. ambassadors from Japan, Lithuania, and Finland.
The point of the project is to try to harness the power of YouTube to draw attention to the crisis in Syria and to rally women from across the globe to register their disgust with the Syrian first lady's conduct during one of the bloodiest chapters in the Arab Spring.
"We came up with this idea really to make Asma speak out; her voice is desperately needed in stopping the bloodshed," said Huberta Wittig, who traveled frequently to Syria when her husband was Germany's ambassador to Lebanon. "She can't hide behind her husband any more."
Wittig told Turtle Bay that the initiative is personal, and that it has nothing to do with the U.N.'s diplomatic or her husband's government's efforts to resolve the crisis. The video was produced with the unpaid help of a team of two producers, and a young British actress, Clemency Burton-Hill, who provided the narration voiceover. Wittig said the project was partly inspired by the Kony2012 YouTube campaign, but that they strove to produce a film that didn't look like a Hollywood picture.
The campaign caps a dramatic reversal of fortune for the Syrian first lady. Indeed, the 36-year-old former British investment banker from Acton, West London, was viewed as a force for modernity and liberalization in Syria when she married the young Bashar in 2000, the same year the ophthalmology student replaced his father, Hazef al-Assad, as Syria's ruler.
Before the current upheaval, she was lauded as a force for modernization in Syria, a whip-smart beauty whose liberal views might one day trickle through the repressive ranks of the Assad regime. Vogue magazine dubbed her the "Rose of the Desert" in a controversial and highly flattering profile that was published at the start of the Syrian uprising and subsequently removed from its online website.
But her standing has taken a sharp fall since the Guardian published a trove of highly personal emails with her husband, revealing her taste for online luxury shopping, which included thousands of dollars of purchases, including French chandeliers, candlesticks, and other items -- which seemed not only excessive but incongruous with the mounting bloodshed and crackdown on ordinary Syrian civilians.
"Here she is an educated woman who came in as a young moderate and she hasn't lived up to that reputation," Lyall Grant told Turtle Bay. "She has spoken about dignity and all these important aspects of life but she has not taken action" to reaffirm them.
Despite her pariah status and an EU travel ban, Asma is still allowed to travel to Britain, where she retains British citizenship. But senior British officials have made it clear that she is not really welcome, and she could also face possible arrest on charges of violating EU sanctions during her online shopping sprees.
"British nationals, British passport holders do obviously have a right of entry to the United Kingdom," Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said last month, according to the BBC. "But given that we are imposing an asset freeze on all of these individuals, and a travel ban on other members of the same family and the regime, we're not expecting Mrs Assad to try to travel to the United Kingdom at the moment."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will appeal to the Security Council to authorize "as soon as possible" the deployment of a U.N. monitoring mission in Syria as the country witnessed a rare pause in violence, according to a statement by special emissary Kofi Annan. But Ban cautioned that the cease-fire remained extremely "fragile" and could unravel in the face of a single gunshot.
"I am encouraged by reports that the situation in Syria is relatively quiet and that the cessation of hostilities appears to be holding," Annan said in a statement. "Syria is apparently experiencing a rare moment of calm on the ground. This is bringing much-needed relief and hope to the Syrian people who have suffered so much for so long in this brutal conflict. This must now be sustained."
Annan, a former U.N. secretary general who serves as the joint representative for the United Nations and the Arab League, said that he hoped the swift deployment of a U.N. mission would "allow us to move quickly to launch a serious political dialogue that will address the concerns and aspirations of the Syrian people."
Today's developments elicited a rare expression of optimism among U.N. diplomats who have been frustrated by a pattern of unfulfilled promises by President Bashar al-Assad. They remained skeptical about the Syrian government's commitment to abide by the cease-fire. "The world is watching, however, with skeptical eyes, since many promises previously made by the government of Syria have not been kept," Ban told reporters in Geneva.
The Syrian government agreed on April 1 to endorse Annan's six-point peace plan, which called on the Syrian government to halt its use of heavy weapons by April 10, and to begin withdrawing its heavy weapons from urban centers. But Syria intensified its armed assault against several restive cities during the past week, raising concern that the Annan peace plan was on life support.
Bassma Kodmani, spokeswoman for the opposition Syrian National Council, meanwhile, said that the Syria had only "partially observed" the ceasefire, according to Reuters. "There is no evidence of significant withdrawal." But the vague language of Annan's cease-fire deal, which has no deadline for Syria to complete the withdrawal of government forces, appeared to grant Syria considerable leeway to maintain a military presence in towns linked to the opposition.
Still, Annan believes today's pause in fighting provides an opportunity to get a U.N. mission into the country to help reinforce the cease-fire, and potentially lead to the implementation of the other elements of the peace plan, including political talks, the release of political prisoners, access for humanitarian aid workers and journalists, and the right to hold peaceful demonstrations. Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood has been in Damascus for the past week planning the terms of a monitoring mission consisting of about 250 international monitors, mostly recruited from existing U.N. missions in neighboring countries.
Mood told Norway's NTB news agency, according to Reuters, that he is "cautiously optimistic" about the prospects for a successful mission. But he cautioned that "Both sides are plagued by a very high degree of mutual suspicion. It's terribly difficult to cross that abyss."
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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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Of the 60 people who have died in 14 reported drone attacks in Pakistan tribal areas since September, the names of all but one of the victims, an alleged leader of the Haqqani terror network named Janbaz Zadran, remain classified.
Since 9/11, the United States has dramatically expanded its covert drone program, killing between several hundred to more than 2,000 people, mostly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, according to human rights groups. Carried out it in near total secrecy (even the existence of the drone program is classified), it's impossible for outsiders to assess whether U.S. kill operations meet the standards of international law.
The drone program has proven highly controversial in Yemen -- where a U.S. strike, prompted by bad intelligence, in May, resulted in the killing of a Yemeni official -- and in Pakistan, where it has strained U.S. relations with a key ally in the war on terror. Last month, the Central Intelligence Agency temporarily suspended drone operations in Pakistan in an effort to repair the two countries' relationship. But the U.N. leadership has shown little interest in registering concern about a practice considered highly controversial -- even before the United States launched its war on terrorism after 9/11. While some of Washington allies' are reportedly troubled by the scope of the U.S. killing campaign they have registered little public concern about it at the United Nations, leaving Iran as a relatively lone voice of protest against the program following their capture of an American surveillance drone in December.
Last month, Turtle Bay asked U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at his year-end press conference about his views on the use of drones, and whether he worries about countries like Iran or Russia taking up the practice. "I don't have much to say about all this, what kind of means the member states use," Ban answered. "This is something which national governments, military authorities, they may decide."
Ban said that while he hoped these nations act within the bounds of "international regulations and understandings" he realizes that "with the rapid development of technology, many countries develop their own military means of getting, collecting information. Other than that, I do not have comments on this matter."
Ban's reluctance to address the drone policy stands in contrast to his predecessor Kofi Annan's criticism of other controversial aspects of the U.S. led war on terror, particularly its detention and rendition policies.
Ban's human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has also kept relatively silent about the U.S. drone program, though she has expressed concern about President Barack Obama's decision to order a targeted killing of Osama Bin Laden..
Pillay's aides said that international law does allow for the use of targeted killings in the course of an armed conflict. "The issue of drones is a very complex one, and depends on the circumstances in which they are used," Pillay's spokesman, Rupert Colville, told Turtle Bay in an email. "When used in the course of an armed conflict the use of armed drones must respect all norms of International Humanitarian Law -- in other words the same norms applicable to any other weapon.... When used outside the context of an armed conflict, a number of rules and principles of general international human rights law would become relevant, and each situation would have to be assessed on the basis of its own particular set of facts -- which makes it a bit difficult to generalize."
The Obama administration sees the drones as an important asset in the U.S. effort to confront al Qaeda at a time when U.S. forces have withdrawn from Iraq and are prepared to scale back in Afghanistan. They say that they inflict far fewer casualties on civilians than cruder weapons.
S.S. MIRZA/AFP/Getty Images
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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It's not only that Iran refuses to recognize Israel.
The Islamic Republic's official representatives are generally barred from speaking with Israeli diplomats or even uttering the word Israel, preferring to describe their regional enemy as "that Zionist entity."
But sometimes you just really need a place to sit.
Iran's permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Ali Asghar Soltanieh, is pictured here at an IAEA meeting last month, seated at the Israeli delegation's desk while conducting his official business.
Soltanieh is engaged in a discussion with a member of the delegation of Ireland, which presides over the IAEA's nuclear safeguards committee, and a Cuban diplomat. He is accompanied by two other Iranian officials, according to a source who furnished Turtle Bay with this photograph.
It's hard to imagine how the top Iranian diplomat, after serving more than six years as Tehran's envoy to the atomic agency, wound up in the Israeli seat without an alarm bell going off in his head. You'd think there was a protocol office within the Iranian foreign mission responsible for avoiding such a diplomatic faux pas.
If not, maybe there will be from now on.
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The Middle East Quartet statement calling for a resumption of political talks between the Palestinians and Israelis fell silent on a critical provision in previous statements -- that is, a comment on Israeli settlements.
Glenn Kessler, a colleague at the Washington Post, who has covered Middle
East peace efforts for years, drew my attention to the omission, saying he
couldn't "recall a major Quartet statement that was so silent on settlements." Kessler, who now
writes the Post's Fact Checker
column, recalled that the Obama administration "ramped up the language" after
it came into power, marking a shift from the milder criticism in statements
adopted during Bush administration. "But now to have nothing on settlements,
well, that's a big switch," he said.
The Quartet noted that the commendable Israeli settlement moratorium instituted last November has had a positive impact and urged its continuation. The Quartet recalled that unilateral actions by either party, including settlement activity, cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community.
Or the year before:
The Quartet urges the Government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, and to refrain from provocative actions in East Jerusalem,
or when Barack Obama first became president:
The Quartet urged the Government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth; to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001; and to refrain from provocative actions in East Jerusalem, including home demolition and evictions.
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The U.N. Security Council on Friday will impose sanctions on the Pakistani Taliban, an extremist Islamic organization that American officials blame for masterminding the botched May 2010 Times Square bombing plot.
The group, which is formally named Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), will be added Friday to a U.N. blacklist of terrorist organizations linked to al Qaeda. It was already placed on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list last September, some four months after the United States accused the group of attempting to set off a car bomb in the packed New York City tourism center.
The United States proposed in recent weeks that the organization be added to the U.N. list, citing the widening reach of the organization's terrorism targets. Australia, Canada, Britain, France, and Pakistan co-sponsored the U.S. measure. Tomorrow's action reflects that the United States has now secured unanimous support from the 15-nation council, including from China and Russia, for imposing U.N. sanctions on the group.
The Obama administration claims that Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen who planted the Times Square car bomb, acknowledged that he was trained in Waziristan, a stronghold for al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.
The Pakistani Taliban, a relatively new militant group that was formally established in 2007 and is headed by Hakimullah Mehsud, who has engaged in increasingly audacious terrorist attacks against Pakistani and U.S. targets. The group launched a December 2009 attack against a U.S. military base in Afghanistan and carried out the April 2010 bombing of the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan.
The decision to target the Pakistani Taliban comes at a time when the United Nations is seeking to encourage the Afghan Taliban to pursue peace talks with the Afghan government, a necessary prelude to a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The U.N. anti-terrorism blacklist -- known officially as the 1267 list, a reference to the U.N. Security Council resolution that established the measures -- imposes a set of financial and travel bans that are aimed at restraining extremist capacity to strike.
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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon traveled to Hollywood last year to cajole filmmakers and movie stars into making pictures that portray the U.N.'s good works. The Whistleblower, a scathing full-length account of the U.N. peacekeeping effort in Bosnia during the late 1990s, is not what he had in mind.
The Samuel Goldwyn Films movie, which is due out in theaters in Los Angeles and New York on Aug. 5, stars British actress Rachel Weisz as a U.N. policewoman who stumbles into the sordid world of Balkan sex trafficking and finds her fellow U.N. peacekeepers implicated in the trade.
It constitutes perhaps the darkest cinematic portrayal of a U.N. operation ever on the big screen, finding particular fault with top U.N. brass, the U.S. State Department, and a major U.S. contractor that supplies American policemen for U.N. missions.
The subject matter is familiar territory for Turtle Bay. A decade ago, I wrote a series of stories on U.N. police misconduct in Bosnia for the Washington Post, including a detailed account of U.S. police abuses and this piece documenting U.N. efforts to quash an investigation by a former Philadelphia cop, David Lamb, into allegations that Romanian peacekeepers participated in sex trafficking.
I would later contact Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop (played by Weisz) who serves as the film's hero, and report on her lawsuit for wrongful dismissal against the subsidiary of an American contractor, DynCorp International, which hired her in Bosnia. (DynCorp countered that it had fired Bolkovac in part because she had falsified work documents, claiming hundreds of dollars in unwarranted per diem expenses.) Bolkovac's fictional employer in the film, Democra Services, appears to be based on DynCorp.
The actual abuses in Bosnia were so shocking that the film's director, Larysa Kondracki, told Turtle Bay that she had to tone it down to make it believable and to ensure that viewers didn't "tune it out." The movie, she said, in some ways resembles a "70s paranoid thriller" in which it can be hard to tell the difference between the heroes and the villains. Kondracki declined to name DynCorp as the model for the company portrayed in the movie, citing unspecified legal concerns.
A spokeswoman for DynCorp International, Ashley Burke, told Turtle Bay: "I haven't seen the movie so I can't comment on its content, but I can tell you that, when we contacted the film's distributor to learn more about the movie, we were informed that the film 'is a fictionalized dramatic presentation' that while inspired by Ms. Bolkovac's experiences, is not based on her book. There was no threatened legal action taken to ensure they did not use the company's name in the film."
The film opens with two Ukrainian 15-year-olds, Raya and Luba, partying in Kiev before heading off to the home of a devious in-law of one of the girls. He promises them high-paying jobs in a Swiss Hotel, but instead sells them off into sexual slavery in post-civil war Bosnia.
On the other side of the world, in Lincoln, Nebraska, Bolkovac has hit a dead end in her own police career when a friendly captain shows her a brochure from Democra Services. "They need good people to get the country up and running," he says. "Kathy, I think you'd be great at this."
Bolkovac jumps at the opportunity of a tax-free $100,000 salary, the prospect of adventure, and a rare chance to help a war-wracked, ethnically divided country return to the rule of law.
What she gradually discovers is a community of U.S. cops and other international peacekeepers corrupted by the moral compromises they make in Bosnia. What's worse, she learns, is that the U.N. diplomatic and peacekeeping corps are the brothels' primary customers, and in some cases they are actually trafficking Eastern European women into Bosnia.
Madeleine Rees (played by Vanessa Redgrave), a former U.N. human rights official who served in Bosnia, is the inspiration for one of the film's few heroic characters. As the U.N.'s top human rights officer in Bosnia, she recruits Bolkovac and encourages her to launch an investigation into sex trafficking. She puts her in touch with an internal affairs investigator, played by David Strathairn, who helps her navigate the U.N.'s treacherous bureaucracy.
Her investigation ultimately brings her into contact with Luba and Raya, whom she convinces to cooperate but whose lives she is ultimately unable to protect from their brutal Balkan pimps. The characters are essentially composites of the women who were enslaved in Bosnian brothels at the time. But Kondracki said that everything bad that happens in the film to the two girls -- one is tortured and the other murdered -- actually happened to women in Bosnia.
Indeed many of the most disturbing practices depicted in the film -- including the U.N. peacekeepers purchase of trafficked women -- have emerged in internal U.N. investigations. Some of the most disturbing practices by DynCorp employees came to light in court when Ben D. Johnston, an aircraft mechanic who worked for DynCorp in Bosnia in the late 1990s, sued the company in Fort Worth, Texas, charging he was punished for uncovering wrongdoing by DynCorp employees, including involvement in sexual slavery and the purchase of illegal weapons.
In the film, Bolkovac encounters violent resistance from Balkan organized-crimes elements as she tries to free the Ukrainian women and break up the sex-trafficking ring. But she also finds her efforts undermined by U.N. bureaucrats. Monica Bellucci, the cultured and stylish official from the International Migration Organization, callously returns the girls to the local police, who are on the payroll of their pimps, because they can't produce legal ID photos. The U.N. leadership, meanwhile, at the request of the U.S. State Department and Democra, has shut down her investigation and fires her.
The film's real-life heroes, Bolkovac and Rees, have long since left the United Nations. But DynCorp has prospered, securing billions of dollars in security contracts for the State Department in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has continued to be dogged by allegations of drug abuse and other misconduct problems.
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Judges from the International Criminal Court on Monday issued a warrant for the arrest of Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi, his son and a top military intelligence chief, calling for them to to stand trial for crimes against humanity in connection with a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters earlier this year.
The three-judge pre-trial chamber ruled that ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had established "reasonable grounds" to charge Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and Abdullah Al-Senussi, the chief of military intelligence, with the murder and persecution of hundreds of Libyan civilians since the government began suppressing public protests on Feb. 15.
In issuing the ruling, Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng said there was sufficient evidence to believe that the three Libyans "have committed the crimes alleged by the prosecutor" and that "their arrest appears necessary" to ensure they appear before the Hague-based court and to prevent them from continuing further crimes against the Libyan population.
She said the court's registrar would seek the cooperation of Libya and other governments in securing the three men's surrender.
Gaddafi has made it clear he does not recognize the authority of the International Criminal Court, and it remains highly unlikely that his own government would surrender him or members of his inner circle. Please read the entire story here at the Washington Post.
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Remember the back channel sniping about Ban Ki moon's lack of charisma, his hopelessly bland personality. Or the attacks from within the U.N.'s own ranks that Ban's weak leadership was destroying the institution. Remember the impassioned pleas to Obama Administration officials to dump Ban in order to save the United Nations from irrelevance.
Ah, they seem so distant now.
I think Jeffrey Sachs probably best captured the mood at Turtle Bay this week as U.N. bigs and diplomatic heavyweights vied for the most over-the-top superlatives to burnish the former South Korean diplomats much maligned first term.
"The world can breath easier with the reelection this month of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki moon to a second term in office," wrote Sachs, the head of Columbia University's Earth Institute and a UN special advisor on the Millennium Development Goals. "During a recent trip with Ban to Egypt and Tunisia, I watched in awe as he deftly backed the democratic changes underway in those two countries while simultaneously dealing with many other upheavals in the region."
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, gushed about the record of the top U.N. diplomat, citing his support for democratic change in the Middle East, his role in the ousting of Ivory Coast's strongman Laurent Gbagbo, and seeking to wash away any of the doubts about Washington's attitude towards Ban.
"This is an important day in the life of this institution," Rice said at Ban's reelection ceremony. "For the past four and a half years, the Secretary General has navigated turbulent waters with a steady hand."
"We have all benefited from the wisdom and experience he has amassed over the course of a long, distinguished, and selfless career of public service," Rice continued. "Secretary General Ban is a leader who listens to the voice of the voiceless-of the refugees sheltered beneath UN tents, of the children vaccinated through UN programs, of the innocent civilians whose lives have been saved by effective U.N. action."
Even outside analysts got into the act, penning a series of articles that highlighted Ban's contribution to global peace and tranquility. In a blog post entitled "Why Ban Ki-moon is Good for the United States," Daniel F. Runde, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, played up Ban's contributions to U.S. initiatives from Afghanistan to Iraq.
Notably, the South Koreans showed a bit more restraint in characterizing the tenure of their most famous foreign sons. South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan described Ban as a "legendary diplomat" in the Korean foreign-service and the pride of the Korean nation. "Secretary-General Ban is widely acknowledged and respected in Korea and beyond for his virtues of integrity, diligence, and a strong work ethic."
The glowing plaudits perhaps didn't reflect the more skeptical views of Ban's tenure that emerge from within the U.N. quarters, where many rank and file diplomats and civil servants still remain unenthusiastic about his leadership. Human rights groups say that while they appreciate his support for pro-democracy demonstrators in North Africa and the Middle East in recent months they are withholding judgment until they see whether he can exercise the independence necessary to challenge powerful interests, including China, on their human rights records. "Free at last from reelection concerns, the Secretary General needs to work on his legacy," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "While we welcome his new tone over the Arab spring or the Ivorian crisis, his willingness to stand up to big powers remains a question mark."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
U.N. peacekeepers have come under mounting pressure to protect civilians from imminent threat of violence in its most complex missions.
But what about looting, plundering and burning of civilian property, acts which sometimes serve as a symbols and facilitators of ethnic cleansing. U.N. officials say not necessarily; that responsibility rests principally in the hands of the local authorities.
Last month, Sudanese forces and local Arab militia seized control of the town of Abyei, Sudan, driving tens of thousands civilians out of town. Thousands of nomadic herdsman from the Arab Misseriya tribe followed suit, stealing every moveable possession they could get their hands on and burning what they couldn't take. U.N. human rights officials in Sudan expressed concerns that their action may constitute ethnic cleansing.
The dispute in Abyei has been at the center of a political struggle over rights to resources and the delineation of borders between northern Sudan and southern Sudan, as the south prepares to declare independence on July 9. But it has a volatile ethnic dimension, pitting the areas black Ngok Dinka residents, allied with the south, against pro-government nomadic Misseriya. The two sides are bitterly divided over everything from voting rights, access to grazing areas and water.
Internal U.N. accounts of what happened last month in Abyei show that Sudan's armed forces stood by as its comrades in arms began the looting. For its part, a United Nations peacekeeping contingent in Abyei, which retreated to its barracks in the first days of the assault, subsequently limited its role to monitoring the mayhem on the streets of Abyei, but not intervening to stop it.
A source provided Turtle Bay with copies of two confidential U.N. reports after I posted a photograph of a U.N. peacekeeping contingent patrolling the streets of Abyei, Sudan, last month while several men carted off household items on the side of the road. At the time, I said it was unclear from the picture whether the men were fleeing violence or looting belongings of local residents in plain site of the Zambian blue helmets. The source said the reports demonstrate that the UN passively allowed the looting to occur.
According to the internal account, the Sudanese army attacked Abyei on the night of May 21, quickly seizing control of the town, though most of the population had already fled south by the time they arrived. By nightfall, the Sudanese military had deployed 15 tanks in a town that had been abandoned by fleeing residents. Sudanese aircraft bombarded the Bantom bridge, south of Abyei, in an attempt to bar civilians from returning or to prevent rival troops from south Sudan from mounting a counterattack.
Over the following days, as the Sudanese army looked on, elements of Sudan's Popular Defense Force(PDF) and the Misseriya systematically plundered the town.
"There are reports of PDF(popular defense forces) and Misseriya elements looting the shops and burning down the tukuls(and smoke could be seen from the UNMIS compound)," according to a May 22 report from the office of the UN resident coordinator. "These were allegedly fighting along side SAF. The Misseriya/PDF elements could also be seen carrying away the loot, both on foot and using vehicles. SAF did not intervene to stop the looting."
The U.N. has acknowledged that the Zambian peacekeeping contingent had not responded adequately to the attacks on civilians and property. They have sent a contingent of Indian peacekeepers to Abyei to reinforce the Zambians. The United States, meanwhile, is pressing for the adoption of a U.N. Security Council resolution that would approve the deployment of several thousands Ethiopian troops in Abyei to help restore calm.
The Sudanese government, which signed a peace deal last week allowing Ethiopian blue helmets to replace its troops, opened a new military front in neighboring South Kordofan, where church leaders and human rights organization have accused the government of displacing more than 70,000 Nubans in a military campaign.
But U.N. officials say the Zambian's failure to act was mitigated by the fact that they were confronted with a force with overwhelming military superiority and that their compound had been hit during the attack. Some officials dispute claims saying that the looting and burning in Abyei were hallmarks of ethnic cleansing, saying they were more consistent with a history of reprisals and countereprisals between competing African tribes in the region.
"The [U.N.] Force commander advised that they saw SAF[the Sudanese Armed Forces] build up and attack coming but they were unable to stop it. There had however been assurance by SAF that the UN would not be targeted," according to the May 22 report by the U.N.'s resident coordinator's office. "Although UN was not being targeted by SAF there were 5 shells that landed in the UNMIS compound, one of them burning a WFP[World Food Program] vehicle. Two (2) Egyptians were also injured but are out of danger."
When the U.N. resumed its patrols of Abyei in the days following the initial assault, they encountered a scene of chaos, with 2,000 to 5,000 Misseriya men roaming the streets of Abyei, carting away chairs, bed frames, mattresses and anything else they could find. They also threatened to seize the Zambians armored personnel vehicles unless the UN agreed to pay three years rent for the base.
"The remainder of the looted items that have not yet been taken away from Abyei town are by the roadside awaiting transportation to the northern areas," according to a May 26 update by the resident coordinators office. "One of the UNMO[UN Military Observers] road patrols that went out this morning(26 May) observed at least 14 big trucks that were loading looted items. Sporadic and aimless shooting also continues but to a relatively lesser scale and...burning of tukuls(dwellings) still continues."
By that point, according to the May 26 report, the UN's mission in Abyei had become decreasingly relevant: "It can now be confirmed that there will not be any need for humanitarian assistance within Abyei town(for now) as there are currently no civilians."
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In a rare declaration of good news, Khartoum and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement reached agreement Monday on a plan to deploy an armored brigade of several thousand Ethiopian peacekeepers to the disputed area of Abyei, Sudan, where they will replace troops from the rival camps and keep the peace.
Last month, Khartoum's army, backed by pro-government militia, seized control of Abyei, driving more than 100,00 residents from the area and looting and destroying their property. The Sudanese assault exposed the weakness of the U.N.'s peacekeeping mission, whose commander ordered Zambian blue helmets to wait out the attack in their bunker, and drew warnings from the White House that any prospects of improved relations with the United States were in jeopardy.
But today's accord, struck with the help of U.N. and African mediation, relieved international pressure on Khartoum, even as its forces continued on the offensive in a series of highly charged flashpoints of Blue Nile State and South Kordofan, where more than 75,000 civilians were forced from their homes. It also made it clear that Sudan's leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who stands charged by an international prosecutor of committing genocide in Darfur, would again be central to any resolution of the crisis.
The latest surge in violence poses the greatest challenge to date to a landmark U.S.-brokered 2005 peace deal, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, that ended Africa's deadliest and longest running civil wars and set the path to the south drive for independence. It threatens to plunge the country into a renewed civil war just weeks before the south scheduled its declaration its independence on July 9. In a sign of the deeping tensions, the U.N.'s special representative in Sudan, Haile Menkerios, warned the U.N. council that fighting was now spreading to Jau in Unity state southern Sudan.
This morning, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, welcomed the pact on Abyei and vowed to introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the deployment of the Ethiopian force. At the same time, Rice highlighted reports that Khartoum's forces may be committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"Unfortunately, the situation in Abyei is by no means the only crisis facing the people of Sudan," Rice told the council in a public meeting on the crisis. "On June 5, violence broke out in multiple areas of Southern Kordofan, including its capital, Kadugli. The reports my government has been receiving on the ongoing fighting are horrifying...Security services and military forces have reportedly detained and summarily executed local authorities, political rivals, medical personnel, and others."
Rice also scolded The Sudanese People's Liberation Army, which has been accused of triggering the violence in Abyei by opening fire in May on a U.N. convoy escorting Khartoum's troops through Abyei. Rice voiced concern that southern forces have also breached the border of Southern Kordofan, in violation of the CPA. She said the U.S. is "deeply concerned" by reports that the SPLM "Have threatened the safety of person of Arab origin in Southern Kordofan, including U.N. staff."
But she claimed that Khartoum bore the greatest responsibility for the latest crisis, citing its decision early this month to break up SPLA units in South Kordofan without having reached a negotiated settlement on their fate. She cited Khartoum's use of aerial bombardment of civilian targets, its cut off of supplies of food, water, medicine and other basic humanitarian supplies into Kadugli, denying U.N. access to needy locals, and even threatening to shoot U.N. aircraft out of the sky.
"The government of Sudan can prevent this crisis from escalating further by immediately stopping its military efforts to disarm the Sudan People's Liberation Army in Southern Kordofan and by focusing on diplomatic efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict," she said.
Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, the south's representative to the United States and the United Nations, told the council that his government regretted the shooting incident against the U.N. convoy in Abyei, but said Khartoum's response was "wholly disproportionate." He pressed the U.N. to share its "more detailed reporting" on Sudanese rights violations in Abyei. He also warned that the "situation in South Kordofan risks degenerating into ethnic cleansing and possible genocide."
For his part, Sudan's U.N. envoy Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman said the north acted in Abyei and South Kordofan to halt "horrendous violations' by southern forces and that his government was prepared to discuss arrangements for humanitarian aid workers to gain access to the displaced.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the chief negotiator for the Abyei deal, said the accord would result in the "demilitarization of Abyei and create the condition for the return of tens of thousands of civilians to return to their homes. He urged the council to act swiftly to authorize the new force, which would serve under U.N. command, and be funded by the United Nations.
Mbkei said he would now turn his attention in the coming days to negotiating a cessation of hostilities in Southern Kordofan. He also expressed optimism wide-ranging talks over the relationship between Khartoum and the south could be sewn up by the end of the month. Those talks are grappling with range of vexing matters - including accords on the sharing of oil revenues, demarcation of the border between the north and south, and security in a demilitarized zone along the border.
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Sri Lanka has offered to supply the U.N. with three Mi-24 attack helicopters and a pair of fix wing aircraft, a pledge that would help the U.N. meet a severe a shortfall in lethal combat equipment in places like Congo and Sudan and help protect civilians, U.N. based officials told Turtle Bay.
But the U.N. may not be able to accept them.
The Sri Lankan armed forces have come under scrutiny for allegedly committing mass atrocities during the final 2009 offensive against the country's separatists Tamil Tigers. A decision to accept the Sri Lankan offer would not only generate controversy but potentially trigger a U.S. review of Sri Lanka's human rights conduct.
Under the so-called Leahy law, written by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont)the State Department is required to vet the human rights records of foreign military contingents serving in U.N. peacekeeping missions, if there is reason to believe they may have been engaged in atrocities.
An independent panel, set up by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon, concluded in April that there are "credible allegations" that Sri Lanka troops, as well as the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. More than 40,000 civilians may have died in the war, most of them victims of indiscriminate government shelling, according to the U.N. panel.
The Sri Lanka pledge appears calculated to improve Sri Lanka's relationship with the United Nations at a time when it is facing mounting U.N. pressure to hold alleged war criminals within the army's ranks accountable for crimes, according to U.N. officials. It would certainly be harder, they say, to criticize Colombo if the organization was dependent on its air force for vital assets in combat.
Peacekeepers from other countries, including Rwanda, have faced scrutiny over alleged rights abuses. The Rwanda government threatened to withdraw its peacekeeping force from Darfur, Sudan, after the U.N. moved to force out a Rwandan commander, General Karake Karenzi, who was allegedly involved in rights abuses in Rwanda and eastern Congo during the mid to late 1990s. The United States backed Karenzi, despite internal U.S. government concerns about his rights record.
Sri Lanka has participated in U.N. peacekeeping operations for more than 50 years, and it currently has more than 1,200 blue helmets serving in U.N. missions. In his September 2010 address to the U.N. General Assembly, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaska, defended Sri Lanka's conduct during the war while affirming Sri Lanka's "willingness to further enhance our support to the U.N. Peacekeeping Operations."
"Our armed forces and the police are today combat tested, with a capacity to carry out their duties in the most challenging conditions."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.