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.
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
Jordan will boycott a controversial U.N. session on international criminal justice and reconciliation, because of concerns that the Serbian president of the General Assembly will use the event to marshal unfair criticism of the U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Jordan's ambassador to the U.N., Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, outlined his intention in a meeting with Arab ambassadors last week and will raise it on Friday with representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. He also blocked a move by the Non-Aligned movement, a bloc of 120 developing countries, to issue a statement in support of the April 10 meeting.
The one-man protest is somewhat quixotic -- as few other countries have expressed an interest in following his example. But it provided a rare case of a senior U.N. diplomat -- one who served as a U.N. political officer in Bosnia when Bosnian Serb forces massacred thousands of Bosnian Muslim men in Srebrenica -- throwing a wrench into the diplomatic niceties at the U.N.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), 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. Vuk Jeremic, the former Serbian foreign minister who is serving as president of the U.N. General Assembly, has been a sharp critic of the court. He scheduled the April 10 meeting after the court's appeal chamber acquitted two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladic Markac, convicted by a 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, and that Jeremic is stacking the attendees of a pair of panels with critics of the court.
In a recent interview, Jeremic said that while he had selected the date to honor the victims of the Croatian fascists during World War II he saw the event as an opportunity to ponder the lessons learned from a broad range of international U.N. courts established since the end of the Cold War. He also said that his own efforts to include a balanced slate of speakers has been confounded by unnamed states who have pressured them not to participate.
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, Jeremic confirmed. 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, according to Jeremic.
The Jordanian diplomat's action is motivated by his own personal experience in Bosnia in the 1990s, where he served as a U.N. peacekeeper. In 1998, Zeid helped spearhead a General Assembly resolution calling on the Secretary General Kofi Annan to conduct a review of the U.N.'s response to the massacre in Srebrenica.
Zeid has also been a chief proponent of international justice. He served from 2002 to 2005 as the first president of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court.
"The president of the General Assembly has done little to conceal his motives regarding the thematic debate on the 10th of April, which has prompted many of the more notable early participants to withdraw," Zeid told Turtle Bay. "They are not fooled. 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. We will encourage other delegations in the coming days to do likewise."
The United States and European governments have also raised concerns with Jeremic in private about the timing of the event and his handling of the conference, which will begin with a public meeting of the full General Assembly, including a speech by Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, and then break off into two separate afternoon panel discussions. But they have stopped short of boycotting, and intend to send lower-ranking diplomats to the event to register their displeasure, according to diplomats. The U.S. mission to the United Nations declined to comment on the event. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's office said recently that Ban would attend the session, unless he was out of town.
Christian Wenewaser, Liechtenstein's U.N. ambassador, who also served as the president of the ICC's Assembly of States Parties, shared many of Zeid's concern about Jeremic's handling of the event. He said that while he welcomed a debate on international criminal justice, Jeremic had focused the too narrowly on the Yugoslav tribunal and that he has ignored expressions of concern from other member states. But he is not prepared to join Zeid's boycott. "Unfortunately, this is a lost opportunity that could have been a good thing, which is now not going to be a good thing," he said.
"We haven't decided that boycotting the event is the most effective way of dealing with this," he added. "There is also an argument in favor of saying the right thing and if no one is there will be no one to say the right thing."
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
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.
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
More than one year after President Barack Obama sent roughly 100 elite U.S. military advisors into Central Africa to help African armies bring an end to a reign of terror by the messianic guerilla leader Joseph Kony, the mission remains stalled.
The African Union Regional Task force -- envisioned as a 5,000-strong regional expeditionary force tasked with hunting down Kony's Lord's Resistance Army over a 115,000 square mile area -- has never mustered all the troops needed for the mission, nor formed into a real mobile force capable of mounting a cross border chase.
"The [task force] is not close to realizing the vision of a multinational force conducting effective offensive operations against the LRA and protecting civilians," reads a paper entitled "Getting Back on Track," released today by a coalition of human rights groups, including the Enough Project and Resolve. "It exists only on paper and cannot be considered operational."
The paper presents a harsh critique of the broader United Nations and African Union strategy for confronting Kony's forces and restoring stability in their area of operation. The report does credit the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with designing an ambitious framework for ending the 26-year conflict, and promoting a diplomatic, military, and economic strategy for undermining Kony's power base. But it faulted the U.N. for sluggish progress in implementing it, noting that more than five months after the strategy was introduced virtually "no projects are sufficiently developed to be funded."
"As a whole, U.N. departments, agencies, and offices, have shown a lack of urgency," the report states. "As a result of this dynamic, the [U.N.] strategy has thus far failed to achieve any of its objectives. Without urgent action, it will fail permanently."
Four African countries participating in the military operation -- Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda, and South Sudan -- have not reached agreement on a basic military strategy, or even struck a deal that would permit members of the task force to cross one anothers borders, according to the report.
Washington's most powerful ally in the cause, Uganda, has threatened to pull out of the mission altogether over an unrelated dispute with the United Nations: the government in Kampala claims that a U.N. Group of Experts panel has unfairly accused its military of sponsoring and aiding another murderous insurgency in the DRC.
"The government of the Republic of Uganda is totally disappointed at the manner in which the United Nations system has treated her contribution to conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peace-building in the region," Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi wrote Ban in a confidential October 23 letter, which was obtained by Turtle Bay."We have now decided, after due consultations with our African brothers...to completely withdraw from the regional peace efforts."
U.N. officials and Security Council diplomats suspect that Uganda may be bluffing, and that it will remain committed to regional peace efforts that confer international prestige and serve their own security interests.
But the regional squabbling has dealt a blow to one of the Obama administration's signature campaigns to confront mass atrocities. It has also shown the limits of American military technology in tracking down a low-tech military movement which uses runners to deliver command instructions, and whose favored terrain consists of forest canopy that blocks out the prying eyes of drones and satellite cameras.
Kony, a Ugandan national, established an armed resistance movement, later named the Lords Resistance Army, more than 25 years ago. The movement -- which relies heavily on forced recruitment of child soldiers -- has committed massive atrocities across a wide swathe of Central Africa, including Uganda, the DRC, Central African Republic, and Sudan. Kony and his top lieutenants are wanted by the International Criminal Court.
The United States has supported regional efforts to pursue Kony's army, but those efforts had produced little success. In October 2011, President Obama stepped up the campaign, deploying approximately 100 "combat equipped" troops to provide advise, assist, and provide intelligence to African governments.
"For more than two decades, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women, and children in central Africa," President Obama wrote last year. "I have authorized a small number of combat equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield."
But most of the regional forces they're supposed to be working with lack the capacity or willingness to track Kony's fighters. The DRC has not committed a single troop to the effort, and has barred regional rival Uganda, which stands accused of arming anti-Congolese rebels, from entering its territory in pursuit of Kony. For its part, Uganda accuses the DRC of providing safe haven to anti-Ugandan rebels.
"Troops provided by South Sudan and Central African Republic lack the capacity to conduct effective operations against the LRA and protect civilians," according to the human rights coalition's report. "The SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army] battalion in Nzara, South Sudan, reportedly lacks elemental supplies like rations and fuel for their vehicles, making it impossible for them to conduct the most basic operations."
The Central African Republic forces are even worse off. "Even the available troops are hamstrung by three interrelated problems that are at their root, political: no clear command and control structure, inadequate troops capacity, and a lack of access to key LRA safe havens," the report states.
In recent months, the mission has seen a surge of MI8 transport helicopters provided by American contractors. Ugandan military units, supported by U.S. equipment, intelligence and logistics, have been pursuing the Lord Resistance Army in Central Africa Republic. But the rebels have found several safe havens, including Congo, Sudan, which has reportedly provided protection to the LRA, and large swaths of Western Central African Republic, which is beyond the reach of Ugandan forces.
The U.S. contingent deployment in the region was recently extended through April, raising concerns among anti-LRA activists about what happens after that.
"My concern is that if there have not been significant progress in capturing senior LRA commanders and encouraging defections there will be pressure in both Kampala and Washington" to phase out the mission, said Paul Ronan, policy director for Resolve. "Without solid U.S. and Ugandan military support, there is no possibility for viable military action against the LRA."
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
STUART PRICE/AFP/Getty Images
Today's U.N. General Assembly vote elevating Palestine to a "non-member observer state" will do little to confer Palestinians the trappings of a truly independent state.
But what it will do is provide the Palestinians with a ticket to the International Criminal Court (ICC), where membership is available to all states, not just full-fledged members of the United Nations. It will also provide the Palestinians with a new lever to pressure Israel from continuing its expansion of Israeli settlements.
The prospects of Palestinian membership in the ICC, which could place Palestinian territories under the court's jurisdiction for the first time, has alarmed Israel and the United States, who fear it may lead to the prosecution of Israeli soldiers.
It has also rattled Europeans, who support the ICC but fret that Palestinian membership in the tribunal would complicate efforts to restart peace talks.
President Barack Obama has leaned heavily on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to put off his U.N. statehood bid. In a sign of the importance, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns promised Wednesday that if Abbas backed away, Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013, the Associated Press reported.
"This resolution is not going to take them closer to statehood," Victoria Nuland told reporters on Wednesday. "It does nothing to get them closer to statehood, and it may actually make the environment more difficult."
Britain has led diplomatic efforts to persuade Abbas to offer assurances that he will not join the Hague-based court until the Middle East Peace Process is concluded. Britain has also pressed Abbas to agree to resume negotiations with Israel after today's vote without preconditions."
The Palestinians' U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour, told reporters this week that his government had no intention of immediately joining the ICC but that it intended to keep the option on the table. He also hinted that the Palestinians would consider going to the court if Israel continues its settlement policy.
"I don't believe that we are going to be rushing the second day to join everything related to the United Nations, including the ICC," he told reporters this week. "But, at the same time, it is not fair for us to tie our own hands [against] all the possibilities that could be available to us." Characterizing Israeli's settlement policy as war crime, Mansour raised the possibility of going to the court if Israel continues to expand settlements.
There is a provision in the Rome Statue, the treaty establishing the international tribunal, that could apply to Israel's settlement policy. It defines, as a war crime, the "transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory."
Christian Wenewaser, Liechtenstein's U.N. ambassador and the former president of the ICC's assembly of states parties, said that the Palestinians cannot dictate which specific crimes the ICC's prosecutor might choose to examine, and that it could only invite the prosecutor to investigate a general situation where large-scale crimes have been committed.
That, he noted, raises the prospects that the prosecutor could turn her sights on Palestinian extremists who have been firing rockets into Israel. Wenewaser said he believes that the Palestinians will not immediately approach the court. "I think they will let this sit for a while," said "They will just use the threat of resubmitting [a claim] as leverage to stop the settlement policy."
In January 2009, the Palestinians appealed to the Hague-based criminal court to open an investigation into Israeli conduct during a three-week operation in the Gaza Strip that began in December 2008. Earlier this year, the court's then-prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said he lacked the authority to rule on the decision.
Today's votes leave the Palestinians two main options: they can either resubmit their request to the new prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, as a U.N.-recognized observer state, potentially providing the court with jurisdiction on past crimes. They can also become a member of the International Criminal Court, and pursue a prosecution there.
Jim Goldston, the executive director of Justice Initiative at the Open Society Foundations, said that there are a number legal hurdles that must be crossed before the court could decide whether to take on an investigation in Israel. For one, it remains unclear how the prosecutor could determine the territory under which it can exercise jurisdiction.
It also remains unclear whether the prosecutor will have jurisdiction over alleged crimes dating back to 2002, when the ICC treaty came into force, or only those committed after Palestine becomes a member of the court. Also, the International Criminal Court's treaty grants preference to national prosecutors to carry out prosecutions, if they can demonstrate the have the means and will to do it. Israel would likely to argue that its court's are capable and willing to conduct credible investigations into alleged war crimes in Palestinian lands.
Meanwhile, Goldston said that placing Israel within the court's possible jurisdiction would help address complaints, particularly within Africa, that the court only pursues war criminals that lack powerful patrons."The ICC has been plagued by question of selectivity and alleged double standard, the idea that certain states are subject to the law, and others have political protection, and are not subject to the law. This would open up the possibility of more equitable administration of justice. I think this would be a positive thing."
But that could come at the cost of the ICC's improving relationship with the United States.
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
It's a story all too familiar.
A government responsible for mass murder, crushing democratic dissent, or engaging in nuclear, chemical, or biological shenanigans gets elected to the U.N. institution responsible for policing just that -- whether upholding human rights, democracy, or disarmament.
Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir stands charged by the International Criminal Court with orchestrating a campaign of genocide in Darfur. So what better place to defend oneself than with a seat on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council?
A couple of months back, Sudan was quietly included on a slate of five African countries -- the others are Ethiopia, Gabon, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone -- due to run unchallenged for seats on the 47-member council this November.
The selection of Sudan as a candidate has provided U.N. critics with another example of the U.N.'s abject moral state. In Washington, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs committee issued a statement Monday, saying Sudan's candidacy shows the U.N. is broken. "As Sudan appears poised to win a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, the UN has hit a new low," she said. "The UN has surrendered to despots and rogue regimes as it allows the likes of Iran's Ahmadinejad, Venezuela's Chavez, and now Sudan's Omar al-Bashir to corrupt the system and use it to further their own oppressive and despotic schemes."
Human Rights groups agree that Sudan's election would be disastrous but they have focused their efforts on persuading African government to drop Sudan. Previous campaigns by Western governments and human rights advocates have succeeded in preventing Azerbaijan, Belarus, Iran, and Syria from getting seats on the council.
"Sudan is as unfit candidate as they get, with a horrendous record of mass abuses against civilians in Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "Its election would be a blow to both the victims of the Sudanese regime and the credibility of the Human Rights Council."
The real culprit in this unfolding spectacle is the U.N. system of regional voting blocs, which generally pre-select a list of candidates based on which country is next in line. The practice ensures that everyone gets their chance -- whether they deserve it or not -- and there are no messy elections. Sudan, which has previously been blocked from serving on the U.N. Security Council, has been waiting in line a long time for a choice committee appointment. And African states appear unwilling to deny them their chance, even if it may prove embarrassing.
Asked how the Africans could put forward a country so clearly unsuited for the job, one African ambassador told Turtle Bay, "Even if we believe deep down that Sudan, whose president has been indicted, shouldn't be elected, nobody wants to jeopardize their relations by telling Sudan you don't qualify because you have a human rights problem. We will be sitting at the table with them in future."
The United States -- which has often benefited itself from the system of regional slates -- has for the moment joined an informal coalition of governments and human rights organizations that are seeking to upend Sudan's candidacy. They have urged Kenya to break ranks with the African group and run a campaign against Sudan's inclusion.
"Sudan, a consistent human rights violator, does not meet the Council's own standards for membership," said Kurtis A. Cooper, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. "It would be inappropriate for Sudan to have a seat on the Council while the Sudanese head of State is under International Criminal Court indictment for war crimes in Darfur and the government of Sudan continues to use violence to inflame tensions along its border with South Sudan."
Diplomats and other observers say Sudan's mission in Geneva has signaled that it may be willing to pull out of the competition, but it is not prepared to do so publicly at this stage. In exchange, they expect that Sudan will seek assurances from other African states to oppose a U.S. and European effort to strengthen the Human Rights Council's scrutiny of its human rights conduct.
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
I've been reading Kofi Annan's upcoming memoir, Interventions: A Life in Peace and War, and just ran across a fascinating passage describing a friendly luncheon, well maybe not so friendly, the then-U.N. chief had with the Supreme Court justices during a visit to Washington, D.C.
Justice Stephen Breyer had invited Annan to sit for "salads and sandwiches" with the Supremes, apparently part of a local D.C. tradition for famous visitors.
The conversation turned to the establishment of an International Criminal Court, which was established in 2002 to prosecute individuals for massive crimes, including genocide and war crimes. And it quickly grew contentious.
"I'll be damned if I'm going to let my son be dragged before some foreign kangaroo court to face judgment," said one of the judges, who is not named, but is said to have a son who had served as a U.S. Army captain in Iraq. (Justice Antonin Scalia's son, Matthew, served as a U.S. Army captain in Iraq.)
Annan appeared to have been taken aback by the reaction, saying that while he knew that many American politicians and commentators were hostile to the court he was surprised to here it put so bluntly by a Supreme Court Justice.
"I tried to reassure the irate justice about the procedures that were in place to stop frivolous prosecutions; that the ICC would act only when there was a credible accusation and the state in questions was unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute the matter," Annan wrote. "He was unconvinced."
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
After months of discord, the U.N. Security Council last week coalesced around a diplomatic initiative led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, presenting a rare show of unity in the face of President Bashar al-Assad's bloody repression of anti-government protesters.
But has the deal brought the world any closer to a democratic future under a leader that enjoys popular support? A 6-point political settlement, authored by Annan and endorsed this week by the U.N. Security Council, is ambiguous about the fate of President Assad.
And it has done little to change the realities on the ground, where the Syrian government has continued to secure military gains against an armed opposition that is running desperately low on ammunition.
"All the evidence ... points to Assad thinking basically that there is a military solution to this crisis, that given time and space he can crush the dissent," said one council diplomat. "We don't buy that. We think they squash it in one place, as they did recently in Homs, it pops up somewhere else, as we saw in Damascus."
But the official said that Assad's continuing defiance could provide a "hook" to bring the matter back before the Security Council, where it can adopt tougher measures against the regime.
The U.N. Security Council members, including U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, have trumpeted the council's latest statement as a modest step that offers the best hope of ending the violence in Syria, opening the floodgates for humanitarian assistance and starting talks on a political transition, something that both sides have so far refused to do.
But for many outside observers the promise of sterner action remains uncertain, particularly given veto-wielding Russia's support for Assad, and it may too late to alter the course of development through diplomacy.
"This is a plan which, if it had been put on the table six weeks ago, would have offered Assad away out for the regime. But it has much less reason to bargain at a time where the regime is scoring successive military victories," said Richard Gowan, an expert on the United Nations at New York University's Center for International Cooperation. "The problem is that the Syrian military is continuing to create facts on the ground and Annan and the Security Council are inevitably struggling to keep up."
The Washington Post editorial page put it more bluntly on March 22: Annan's initiative, it reasoned, "will likely provide time and cover for the regime of Bashar al-Assad to continue using thanks and artillery to assault Syrian cities and indiscriminately kill civilians. That's exactly what the regime was doing Thursday -- pounding the city of Hama, where at least 20 people have been reported killed in army attacks in the past two days."
U.N. officials are convinced that Assad cannot end the uprising through military means, and that he will ultimately need to bargain the terms of his political future. "If he thinks he can weather this storm...he [has made] a serious misjudgment," Ban Ki-moon recently told a small group of reporters over lunch. "He cannot continue like this. He has gone too deep, too far."
In the meantime, Annan has urged the armed opposition's foreign sympathizers, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, not to supply anti-government forces with weapons and other military supplies. Annan urged Russian President Dmitry Medvedev over the weekend to press Assad to accept his peace proposal, and reportedly met with top Chinese officials in Beijing on Sunday to secure a similar commitment.
Annan told the Security Council earlier this month that Assad's initial response to his diplomatic entreaties have been "disappointing." But he placed hope that a united Security Council could turn the diplomatic tide.
"The stronger and clearer the message you can collectively send," he told the council in a closed door briefing on March 16, "the better the chance that we can begin to shift the worrying dynamics of the conflict."
Engineering such a change may be complicated by Assad's own calculation of the personal dangers of peace. "There are risks for him in that he may fear he will lose on the negotiating table what he through fighting," said Gowan. "He may have concluded it is simply best to create a military fait accompli."
"The argument one hears advanced is that the damage to his political base has been so great he cannot survive long in office even if he wins on the battlefield," Gowan added. "Where as long as the fighting continues he has the upper hand, and so will never back down."
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images
As the Israeli-Palestinian prisoner swap got under way this week, the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) appealed late last night to the Israel military to ensure the release of 164 Palestinian prisoners detained as minors, mostly on charges of throwing stones at Israeli authorities.
The minors were not included in a list of the first round 477 Palestinian prisoners who were released in exchange for one Israel soldier, Gilad Shalit, freed by Hamas after five years of captivity through a prison swap brokered by the Egyptian government. It remains unclear whether the minors will be included in a second round of an additional 550 Palestinian prisoners due to be released in the coming months, according to UNICEF officials.
"As stated in the convention on the rights of the child, the detention of children should be used only as a measure of last resort for the shortest appropriate period of time," said Jean Gough, UNICEF's Special Representative in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. "UNICEF calls on the Israeli government to release Palestinian child detainees so that they can be reunited with their families."
Israel's U.N. ambassador, Ron Prosor, reacted sharply to the U.N. agencies appeal, telling Turtle Bay in a statement that "this press release demonstrates UNICEF's clear bias and double-standards when it comes to Israel. Its timing is mind-boggling."
Prosor said that while Israel is willing to discuss the concerns of any humanitarian agency UNICEF "should use its time and resource to focus on real violators of children's rights in the Middle East."
‘Gilad Shalit just lost more than five years of his youth as a hostage. Why hasn't UNICEF condemned Hamas?" Prosor continued. "Where is its condemnation of the missiles that continue to rain down on Israeli kindergartens and school buses? Where is its outrage at Hamas' cynical use of children as suicide bombers and human shields? Where is its condemnation of the hate that continues to be spread in Palestinian classrooms and textbooks?"
Israel's detention of minors has been a sore point for the U.N. children's agencies and other children's rights groups, who maintain that children should not be tried by military courts and that governments should only jail minors under the most extreme circumstances. "Military tribunals are not required to treat children's best interests as their primary concern, and, therefore, are not an appropriate forum for hearing cases against children," according to a September report by the U.N. secretary general special representative for children and armed conflict, Radikha Coomaraswamy.
"Seven thousand Palestinian children have been detained, interrogated and prosecuted and imprisoned in the Israeli military system over the past ten years," Catherine Weibel, a spokeswoman for UNICEF said in a phone interview today.
Weibel said that 35 of the detained minors are between the ages of 12 and 15 but that most are 16 or 17 years of age. Under Israeli law, minors over the age of 14 can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for throwing a stone at an individual, and up to 20 years for hurling it at a moving vehicle. In practice, Israeli military courts rarely sentence minors to more than 2 months, and typically hold them for a period of a couple of weeks to about 3 months. Children under the age of 12 are released from custody without being charged.
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
The U.N. has appointed a World Bank investigator with experience probing war crimes and fraud abuses from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Balkans as head of the U.N.'s premier internal anti-fraud unit, filling a personnel vacuum that has dampened morale and severely hampered the U.N.'s ability to combat corruption within its own ranks, according to internal U.N. memos obtained by Turtle Bay.
Carmen La-Pointe, a Canadian auditor who heads the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight (OIOS), announced the hiring of Australian investigator, Michael Stefanovic, in an internal memo obtained by Turtle Bay. She also announced the hiring of an American national, Dr. Deborah L. Rugg, to head up another Inspection and Evaluation division. Stefanovic will start up the job in August.
U.N. and U.S. officials hope the arrival of new team will bring stability and purpose to a department that has been plagued leadership gaps and severe staff shortages that have hampered the U.N.'s ability to police a far flung empire of political, humanitarian, and peacekeeping missions. The breakdown in the U.N.'s investigations division has posed political risks for the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki moon, who has faced criticism for doing too little to rein in corruption and reform the global instution, and the United States, which had faced criticism for moving too slowly to appoint a high-level U.S. management official to oversee U.N. reform efforts.
"The United States had previously raised concerns about the performance of the investigations division in particular, and we had urged it to more vigorously pursue fraud and misconduct," Joseph Torsella, the recently appointed U.S. ambassador for U.N. Management and Reform, said in a statement that was provided to Turtle Bay. "OIOS is poised to become the strong and independent watchdog it was intended to be."
A former Australian policeman, Stefanovic has served since 2006 at the World Bank, where he is currently manager of the External Investigations Unit, which investigates cases of fraud and corruption in the organization's global operations.
He previously worked as OIOS's chief resident investigator in Ivory Coast, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Before that, between 1999 and 2003, Stefanovic was employed as a war-crimes investigator with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. He also participated in a 2004 U.S. State Department mission that traveled to Chad, near the Sudanese border, to document allegations of genocide arising from the conflict in Darfur.
The U.N. internal investigations division has been hobbled by leadership lapses almost since OIOS was established in 1994 as a kind of inspector general's office. In 2007, an outside consultant claimed that the management culture in the investigations division was so dysfunctional that it should be shut down. The investigations unit has not had a permanent director since 2006, when its American chief, Barbara Dixon, stepped down.
Inga-Brit Ahlenius, a Swedish auditor who previously headed OIOS, sought to hire a highly regarded former U.S. District Attorney, Robert Appleton, for the post. Appleton, who served as the temporary head of a U.N. procurement task force, carried out some of the most aggressive anti-corruption probes in the U.N.'s history. But he also provoked the ire of influential governments, including Singapore and Russia, whose nationals were targeted by the task force.
Appleton's appointment was blocked by Ban's office on the grounds that Ahlenius had violated recruitment procedures that required female candidates be included on a short list of prospective candidates. Ahlenius countered that Ban has interfered in the independence of her office by preventing her from selecting her top deputies. Appleton has since gone on to file a discrimination grievance against the U.N. for blocking his appointment.Follow me on Twitter @columlynch.
Ezio Testa, an Italian executive, built a lucrative business in the late 1990s helping to supply U.N. peacekeepers with the food rations, body armor, and other essentials they need to sustain themselves in the world's nastiest conflict zones. But Testa held an improper edge over his competitors, according to an internal U.N. investigation: He was paying for inside information about upcoming contracts.
The details of Testa's murky empire are brought to light in a previously unreported December 2008 letter, marked "strictly confidential" and sent by an internal U.N. watchdog, the U.N. Procurement Task Force, to the lawyers of U.S. security contractor Armor Holdings. The letter, obtained by Turtle Bay, spells out how Testa paid for illegal information from a U.N. procurement officer, Alexander Yakovlev, on behalf of a former executive at Armor Holdings. Testa and Yakovlev then "entered into a corrupt agreement to steer a valuable United Nations contract to Armor Holdings in exchange for promises of sums of money to be paid to the individual participants," the letter concludes. Such confidential information subsequently helped Armor Holdings win a contract for bullet-proof vests for a U.N. peacekeeping mission.
What emerges is a picture of a man whose career flourished in the shadows of the U.N. system as he acted as a fixer for multinational corporations seeking access to contracts for servicing the U.N.'s expanding peacekeeping empire. U.N. investigators from the task force had previously linked Testa to Eurest Support Services International (ESS), a subsidiary of the world's largest food caterer, Compass Group, which improperly secured contracts for more than $100 million for food and other supplies. His allegedly illicit activities were first reported in a 2005 series by Fox News. And Testa's company was later blacklisted by the United Nations.
Neither Testa, IHC, or ESS were prosecuted for their alleged role in the food-ration scheme. But ESS's parent company, Compass Group, settled a lawsuit from two competitors who claimed they'd lost their bids because of fraudulent behavior. Compass paid more than $70 million to the two companies, but did not accept liability.
The U.N. letter, however, discloses new details, most importantly by connecting Testa and Yakovlev directly to a wide-ranging criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into bid-rigging by former officials at Armor Holdings and other security contractors. Testa's contact at Armor Holdings was Richard Bistrong, a former senior official who was charged in January with paying bribes to officials in the Netherlands and in the United Nations to secure insider information on contracts for bullet-proof vests.
Yakovlev pleaded guilty in 2005 to unrelated federal charges that he received about $1 million in bribes for insider information from companies seeking U.N. contracts. Both men's cases have been reported previously, Bistrong's by the New York Times last month. But this is the first time that Bistrong, Testa, and Yakovlev have all been linked.
Testa declined to comment on
the case, saying he had no idea that he was tied to the Bistrong case through
his alleged links to Armor Holdings. "I am unaware of what you are telling me,"
he said before hanging up. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department, Laura Sweeney, declined to say whether
Testa himself was the target of a federal criminal investigation.
Becoming a player
Testa first came on the scene in 1996, heading the firm IHC Services Inc., which offered consulting services to large multinationals looking to tap into the billions of dollars the United Nations spends each year to service its 18 peacekeeping missions. On his personal website, Testa, who obtained U.S. citizenship in 2004, describes himself as an expert in "cost control." A longer online profile recounts his career as a senior executive at Torno Construction, one of Europe's largest construction firms. He has built oil pipelines between Turkey and Iraq, assisted U.N. peacekeeping missions in Africa, and helped with preparations for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2002. "We put 18,000 troops in the middle of the Kuwaiti desert where there was nothing but sand … and in 96 days they had everything."
Testa established himself as a player into the late 1990s, appointing one of the U.N.'s best-known diplomats, Giandomenico Picco, as chairman of the IHC board of directors, a position he held even as he continued to serve as a top U.N. official. Testa also cultivated personal relationships with members of an obscure community of U.N. procurement officers. Prizing secrecy, Testa required companies he represented to sign confidentiality agreements that prohibited them from acknowledging they had ever hired him, according to the U.N. task force's 2006 report.
In 1998, Testa met Yakovlev, a U.N. procurement officer from Russia, and offered to help him start up his own business in Moscow. Yakovlev hoped his company would market a product called Oilgater, which uses germs to erode grease and oil. Before long, Yakovlev, still a U.N. procurement officer despite his private business activities on the side, furnished Testa and his clients with internal documents that helped them secure U.N. business, according to the letter and the 2006 report. Testa gave Yakovlev a mobile telephone and paid the bill. In May 2000, Testa hired Yakovlev's son Dmitry at IHC as a low-level administrative assistant.
How Testa and Yakovlev first got involved with Bistrong is unclear, but the letter accuses Testa of providing confidential information to representatives of Supercraft (Europe) Ltd., a London-based subsidiary of Armor Holdings, in exchange for about $200,000 in cash payments. According to the letter, the firm's managing director sent Testa an email in May 2001 seeking "confidential and proprietary" information from a source inside the U.N. procurement department. Four months later, Testa sent the managing director's boss, Bistrong, a copy of an internal U.N. memo with technical evaluation for an ongoing bid for bulletproof vests. "This confidential information was furnished to Bistrong by Testa in an email instructing him to '[p]lease destroy after reading,'" according to the letter.
A 2007 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission by Armor Holdings confirms that one of its subsidiaries hired Testa's company, IHC, to help prepare a bid proposal for the purchase of body armor for U.N. peacekeepers.
Yakovlev first became a target of a U.N. investigation into corruption in the oil for food program in Iraq. In 2006, the United Nation task force produced a report that spelled out how "Mr. Yakovlev and Mr. Testa engaged in corrupt practices involving important United Nations business and procurement exercises." Yakovlev resigned from the United Nations in June 2005 and was subsequently arrested and pleaded guilty for fraud and money laundering in the southern district court in Manhattan (though he was never sentenced and remains free). Also as a result of that investigation, Testa's company was suspended from the U.N. list of approved contractors. John Suttle, a spokesman for BAE Systems, which bought Armor Holdings in July 2007, said that Armor severed relations with IHC at that time.
Suttle said the company dismissed officials implicated in the alleged scheme after it conducted its own investigation into the U.N.'s findings. He said his company has cooperated fully with U.N. and federal investigators and that the U.N. ultimately withdrew the letter to reflect that cooperation.
As part of his plea agreement, Yakovlev agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, according to his lawyer Arkady Bukh. Bukh said he did not believe Yakovlev was a target of the ongoing federal investigation into Bistrong, but he said he could neither admit nor deny that his client was cooperating with federal investigators in that case. Bistrong's lawyer, Brady Toensing, declined to comment.
Another compounding detail of the case comes from Bistrong's personal entanglements. He was married to a former U.S. ambassador at the United Nations, Nancy Soderberg, who oversaw U.N. peacekeeping operations for the United States. But the alleged crimes occurred after Soderberg, who served under the Clinton administration, had left the United Nations. And she has not been linked to the case. They have since divorced.
Investigation issues at the U.N.
In addition to flagging serious
concerns about the transparency of the U.N. procurement system in recent years,
the case also raises questions about how the United Nations investigates
incidents of internal corruption. The investigation into Armor Holdings is one
of corruption probes conducted by the now-defunct U.N. procurement task
force from 2006 until 2009, when its mandate expired. That task force
specialized in white-collar criminal investigations, some of which have led to
criminal investigation in U.S. courts.
While its mandate lasted, the task force faced intense criticism from the governments of Singapore and Russia, whose nationals were targeted by its investigations. In December 2008, Russia pressed for the barring of any task force members from being hired by the United Nations. The U.N. leadership, meanwhile, blocked the hiring of the task force's chairman, Robert Appleton, last year on the grounds that there were no women or non-American candidates on the shortlist.
The expertise amassed from the task force was supposed to be incorporated into the investigations division in the U.N.'s internal oversight office. But the task force and most of its staff have left the United Nations, and the U.N. has been slow to hire new investigators, undercutting its capacity to police itself.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said that "all hiring of personnel has to comply with the guidelines that include steps to ensure that all hiring processes are fair and take into account a wide range of candidates."
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.