An independent U.N. human rights researcher this morning announced the opening of an investigation into the use of drone attacks and other targeted assassinations by the United States and other governments.
Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, told reporters in London this morning that the "exponential" rise in American drones strikes posed a "real challenge to the framework of international law," according to a statement issued by his office. Emmerson said there was a need to develop a legal framework to regulate the use of drones, and ensure "accountability" for their misuse.
"The plain fact is that this technology is here to stay," he said. "It is therefore imperative that appropriate legal and operational structures are urgently put in place to regulate its use in a manner that complies with the requirement of international law.
The decision to open a drone investigation drew praise from critics of America's drone policies. "We welcome this investigation in the hopes that global pressure will bring the U.S. back into line with international law requirements that strictly limit the use of lethal force," said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project. "To date, there has been an abysmal lack of transparency and no accountability for the U.S. government's ever-expanding targeted killing program."
The Obama administration has defended its use of drones as a more humane alternative to military combat. John Brennan, the White House advisor on counterterrorism and the president's new nominee to lead the CIA, defended the U.S. program as "ethical and just," saying that the targeted nature of the strikes was more humane than traditional military strikes, lessening the prospects that civilians are killed.
Emmerson challenged what he characterized as Brennan's contention that the United States and its allies are engaged in a global war against a stateless enemy which requires the prosecution of war across international borders. Emmerson said that "central objective" of his inquiry is to "look at evidence that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killings have caused disproportionate civilian casualties in some instances, and to make recommendations concerning the duty of states to conduct throughout independent and impartial investigations into such allegations, with a view to securing accountability..."
Emmerson said that he has assembled a team of international lawyers and experts, including British lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice and New York University professor Sarah Knuckey, to help identify cases in which targeted killings may have resulted in civilian casualties. He said they would focus on 25 case studies in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, to see whether there is a case worthy of prosecution. He said he would present his findings in October.
Emmerson is an independent U.N. rights expert, and his investigation is not sanctioned by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon or the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay. But his association with the United Nations is likely to carry greater political weight than those of independent administration critics.
Emmerson first announced plans to look into the American drone program in October, on the eve of U.S. presidential elections, citing frustration with both candidates' positions on drones."The Obama administration continues to formally adopt the position that it will neither confirm nor deny the existence of the drone program," he said at the time. "In reality, the administration is holding its finger in the dam of public accountability," he said according to a prepared copy of the speech.
Emmerson said today that the investigation emerged as the result of a request last June from China, Pakistan, and Russia, to investigate the use of drones in counterterrorism operations.
"The inquiry that I am launching today is a direct response to the requests made to me by states at the human rights council last June, as well as to the increasing international concern surrounding the issue of remote targeted killing through the use of UAV's [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles]," he said. "The exponential rise in the use of drone technology in a variety of military and non-military contexts represents a real challenge to the framework of established international law."
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More than one year after President Barack Obama sent roughly 100 elite U.S. military advisors into Central Africa to help African armies bring an end to a reign of terror by the messianic guerilla leader Joseph Kony, the mission remains stalled.
The African Union Regional Task force -- envisioned as a 5,000-strong regional expeditionary force tasked with hunting down Kony's Lord's Resistance Army over a 115,000 square mile area -- has never mustered all the troops needed for the mission, nor formed into a real mobile force capable of mounting a cross border chase.
"The [task force] is not close to realizing the vision of a multinational force conducting effective offensive operations against the LRA and protecting civilians," reads a paper entitled "Getting Back on Track," released today by a coalition of human rights groups, including the Enough Project and Resolve. "It exists only on paper and cannot be considered operational."
The paper presents a harsh critique of the broader United Nations and African Union strategy for confronting Kony's forces and restoring stability in their area of operation. The report does credit the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with designing an ambitious framework for ending the 26-year conflict, and promoting a diplomatic, military, and economic strategy for undermining Kony's power base. But it faulted the U.N. for sluggish progress in implementing it, noting that more than five months after the strategy was introduced virtually "no projects are sufficiently developed to be funded."
"As a whole, U.N. departments, agencies, and offices, have shown a lack of urgency," the report states. "As a result of this dynamic, the [U.N.] strategy has thus far failed to achieve any of its objectives. Without urgent action, it will fail permanently."
Four African countries participating in the military operation -- Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda, and South Sudan -- have not reached agreement on a basic military strategy, or even struck a deal that would permit members of the task force to cross one anothers borders, according to the report.
Washington's most powerful ally in the cause, Uganda, has threatened to pull out of the mission altogether over an unrelated dispute with the United Nations: the government in Kampala claims that a U.N. Group of Experts panel has unfairly accused its military of sponsoring and aiding another murderous insurgency in the DRC.
"The government of the Republic of Uganda is totally disappointed at the manner in which the United Nations system has treated her contribution to conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peace-building in the region," Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi wrote Ban in a confidential October 23 letter, which was obtained by Turtle Bay."We have now decided, after due consultations with our African brothers...to completely withdraw from the regional peace efforts."
U.N. officials and Security Council diplomats suspect that Uganda may be bluffing, and that it will remain committed to regional peace efforts that confer international prestige and serve their own security interests.
But the regional squabbling has dealt a blow to one of the Obama administration's signature campaigns to confront mass atrocities. It has also shown the limits of American military technology in tracking down a low-tech military movement which uses runners to deliver command instructions, and whose favored terrain consists of forest canopy that blocks out the prying eyes of drones and satellite cameras.
Kony, a Ugandan national, established an armed resistance movement, later named the Lords Resistance Army, more than 25 years ago. The movement -- which relies heavily on forced recruitment of child soldiers -- has committed massive atrocities across a wide swathe of Central Africa, including Uganda, the DRC, Central African Republic, and Sudan. Kony and his top lieutenants are wanted by the International Criminal Court.
The United States has supported regional efforts to pursue Kony's army, but those efforts had produced little success. In October 2011, President Obama stepped up the campaign, deploying approximately 100 "combat equipped" troops to provide advise, assist, and provide intelligence to African governments.
"For more than two decades, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women, and children in central Africa," President Obama wrote last year. "I have authorized a small number of combat equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield."
But most of the regional forces they're supposed to be working with lack the capacity or willingness to track Kony's fighters. The DRC has not committed a single troop to the effort, and has barred regional rival Uganda, which stands accused of arming anti-Congolese rebels, from entering its territory in pursuit of Kony. For its part, Uganda accuses the DRC of providing safe haven to anti-Ugandan rebels.
"Troops provided by South Sudan and Central African Republic lack the capacity to conduct effective operations against the LRA and protect civilians," according to the human rights coalition's report. "The SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army] battalion in Nzara, South Sudan, reportedly lacks elemental supplies like rations and fuel for their vehicles, making it impossible for them to conduct the most basic operations."
The Central African Republic forces are even worse off. "Even the available troops are hamstrung by three interrelated problems that are at their root, political: no clear command and control structure, inadequate troops capacity, and a lack of access to key LRA safe havens," the report states.
In recent months, the mission has seen a surge of MI8 transport helicopters provided by American contractors. Ugandan military units, supported by U.S. equipment, intelligence and logistics, have been pursuing the Lord Resistance Army in Central Africa Republic. But the rebels have found several safe havens, including Congo, Sudan, which has reportedly provided protection to the LRA, and large swaths of Western Central African Republic, which is beyond the reach of Ugandan forces.
The U.S. contingent deployment in the region was recently extended through April, raising concerns among anti-LRA activists about what happens after that.
"My concern is that if there have not been significant progress in capturing senior LRA commanders and encouraging defections there will be pressure in both Kampala and Washington" to phase out the mission, said Paul Ronan, policy director for Resolve. "Without solid U.S. and Ugandan military support, there is no possibility for viable military action against the LRA."
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Rwandan Defense Minister James Kabarebe and other top Rwandan military officers played a central role in organizing, funding, and arming mutineers in the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to a report by the U.N. Group of Experts.
The U.N. panel also charged that Kabarebe's personal assistant, Celestin Senkoko, and other Rwandan officers mounted a "wide-ranging" effort to convince Congolese businessmen, politicians, and former rebels that had joined the ranks of the Congolese army to join the so-called M23 mutiny with the aim prosecuting "a new war to obtain a secession of both Kivus," the eastern Congolese provinces that share ethnic and historical ties to Rwanda.
The Rwandan government issued a statement denying the allegations contained in the report, which was obtained by Turtle Bay, but which has not yet been made public. "This is a one-sided preliminary document based on partial findings and is still subject to verification," it stated.
"The UN Group of Experts has accepted our invitation to Kigali to do what should have been done before; carry out relevant consultations and obtain the facts. We intend to provide factual evidence that the charges against Rwanda are false. These, as well as Rwanda's own allegations, will hopefully be reflected in the final UN report due in November."
The U.N. report -- technically an annex to a separate U.N. report on enforcement of the U.N. embargo in eastern Congo -- focuses on the former Congolese rebel movement, known as the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), that was integrated into the Congolese military in 2009, and which formed the core of a Rwandan-backed mutiny within the ranks of the Congolese army.
Laurent Nkunda, the founder of the movement; Bosco Ntaganda, an accused war criminal who led defectors; and Col. Sultani Makenga, another former rebel who defected from the army, form the core leadership of the M23 mutiny. But the U.N. report -- excerpts of which were published by Turtle Bay last night -- claims that the Congolese mutineers coordinated their mutiny with top Rwandan leaders. Here's a new selection of previously unpublished excerpts that name Rwanda's alleged plotters.
Rwandan officials have also been directly involved in the mobilization of political leaders and financial backers for M23. Based on interviews conducted with M23 members, ex-CNDP officers and politicians, intelligence officers, FARDC [Congolese Army] senior commanders, the Group [of Experts] has established that Rwandan officials have made extensive telephone calls and organized a series of meeting with Congolese politicians and businessman to promote and rally support for M23.
Throughout the Group's investigations, it has systematically gathered testimonies from former M23 combatants, M23 collaborators, ex-RDF [Rwandan Defense Forces] officers, Congolese intelligence, FARDC commanders, and politicians which affirm the direct involvement in the support to M23 from senior levels of the Rwandan government.
a) General Jacques Nziza, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defense, supervises all military, financial, and logistic support as well as mobilization activities related to M23. He has recently been deployed to Ruhengeri and Gisenyi to coordinate M23 assistance and recruitment.
b) General James Kabarebe, the Rwandan Minister of Defense, with the support of his personal secretary Captain Celestin Senkoko, also is a central figure in recruitment and mobilizing political and military support to M23. Kabarebe has often been in direct contact with M23 members on the ground to coordinate military activities.
c) General Charles Kayonga, the RDF Chief of Staff manages the overall military support to M23. Kayonga is frequently in communications with Makenga and oversaw the transfer of Makenga's troops and weapons through Rwanda.
d) The military support on the ground has been channeled by General Emmanuel Ruvusha, RDF Division commander based in Gisenyi, as well as General Alexi Kagame, RDF Division commander based at Ruhengeru, Both facilitate recruitment of civilians and demobilized soldiers to M23 as well as coordinating RDF reinforcements in Runyoni with M23 commanders.
e) Colonel Jomba Gakumba, a native of North Kivu, who used to be an RDF instructor at the Rwandan Military Academy at Gako, was redeployed to Ruhengeri since the creation of M23, where he has been in charge of commanding locally military operations in support of M23.
Ex-RDF officers, politicians, M23 collaborators also informed the Group that Ntaganda and Makenga have been regularly crossing the border into Rwanda to carrying meetings with any of the above mentioned senior RDF officers at Kinigi, on several occasions. Those same sources also stated that former CNDP chairman General Laurent Nkunda, officially under house arrest by the Rwandan government since January 2009, often comes from Kigali to participate in these meetings.
Rwanda's ambassador the African Union, Joseph Nsengimana, vigorously denied the allegations in a June 21 statement to the African Union Peace and Security Committee. "I want to state categorically that Rwandan is neither a cause nor an enabler of the ongoing crisis in the DRC. To the contrary, a pattern of undisputable facts indicate that Rwanda cannot be an obstacle but a strong partner for peace in the DRC," he said in the statement, which was attached to the report.
"Direct high-level engagement between Rwanda and the DRC diplomatic and defense officials have been at the forefront of Rwanda's efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the worrying situation in the DRC since the beginning of the current rebellion in DRC in April 2012."
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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."
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Mukesh Kapila, a former U.N. envoy to Sudan who was among the first to raise the alarm over atrocities in Darfur, recently returned to Sudan, sneaking into the Nuba Mountains to assess humanitarian conditions in a province that has seen violence and been cut off from international assistance.
The Nuba Mountains have been the center of fighting between Sudanese forces and rebels allied with newly independent South Sudan. Sudan's government in Khartoum, which launched a major offensive aimed at crushing the rebellion, has refused to allow U.N. humanitarian aid workers into the region to witness what is happening and assist hundreds of thousands facing looming famine.
Kapila and other Sudan peace activists, including film star George Clooney, have traveled to the Nuba mountains in recent weeks to raise awareness about the plight of the Nubans, and pressed government officials to take dramatic steps to avert hunger.
"People are living on rats, wild flowers, and fruits," Kapila said in a telephone interview with Turtle Bay. Kapila, who was representing the advocacy group Aegis Trust, made the case that the situation has grown so desire that foreign donors need to bypass the United Nations delivery system and provide direct assistance to local groups, some of which have links to the rebels, to stave off a massive humanitarian calamity. If some aid is diverted to armed fighters challenging the government so be it.
"In my view, cross-border operations are necessary," Kapila said. "Those who don't want to do it don't have the moral high ground to stand in the way.
The United States has warned that the country this month will reach a phase four-level food emergency, one stage short of full-out famine, without a major relief effort. And American officials have been quietly building up food stocks in the area and are considering the prospects of supporting cross-border aid distribution operations that are opposed by the Sudanese government, according to senior U.N. officials and private aid groups.The move follows an increasing push by a group of seven human rights advocacy groups, including the Enough Project and United to End Genocide, which appealed to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, last month to support cross-border aid. "Counter-intuitively, sending aid into Sudan by any means necessary -- backed by heavy press for humanitarian corridors -- might be the best way to compel the regime to lift its aid embargo," Enough Project founder John Prendergast and Clooney wrote in December.
Officials say that Rice is sympathetic to the argument for cross-border operations, which were used to stave off hunger in the Nuba Mountains during the 1990s. The relief assistance then was channeled through several Norwegian and American relief organizations with operations in the area.
Princeton Lyman, the U.S.'s special envoy for Sudan, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today that while the United States would prefer the U.N. secure Khartoum's consent for aid deliveries it is considering doing it without it. "Should Khartoum agree to allow access to international humanitarian organizations across the lines of fighting, there must be swift progress on implementation. If necessary, we will examine ways to provide indirect support to Sudanese humanitarian actors to reach the most vulnerable. We have monitoring and accountability tools to make sure that civilians would be the beneficiaries of these activities. Nevertheless, an international program, as proposed by the U.N. and its partners, is the best means to reach the most people and we continue to urge the government to approve it."
But the proposal has faced stiff resistance from the U.N.'s chief humanitarian relief agencies, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and several humanitarian relief groups with operations in Sudan. They fear that the effort would provoke the government into moving against relief agencies, and would undermine the chief principle of humanitarian neutrality.
"I've made it clear on many occasions that I do not support cross-border operations unless they are agreed by both governments, the governments of Sudan and South Sudan," said Valerie Amos, the U.N. humanitarian relief coordinator. "And indeed the government of Sudan have said that they would see any kind of cross-border operation as a hostile act."
Amos said that she has proposed that the Sudanese government allow international relief workers to have "cross line" access to displaced civilians in rebel-controlled areas of South Kordofan by crossing through government-controlled territory, not through the border. The anti-government rebels, known as the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (North), have agreed to the plan, but Khartoum has not provided a response.
The Sudanese government kicked the United Nations out of the Nuba Mountains last summer, arguing that their services were no longer needed following the end of the countries' decades-long civil war.
A landmark 2005 peace deal ending Sudan's bloody civil war between north and south paved the way for the latter's independence, but it never resolved the fate of their Nuban allies, who remain subject to northern rule.
The local forces were supposes to disarm following a "popular consultation" that was intended to determine the regions relationship with Khartoum. But the rival forces were never integrated, and the popular consultation never took place.
In May, Khartoum ordered the Nuban forces to either turn over their weapons and submit to northern rule or move to the south. A month later, as the world's attention was focused on South Sudan's independence, Khartoum opened its new military front in the Sudanese territory of South Kordofan, in the country's Nuba Mountains region.
The situation in South Kordofan bears some similarities with Darfur, where Sudanese forces, backed by Arab militias, mounted a brutal counterinsurgency campaign -- including large-scale killings and massive displacement of civilians -- against the region's restive tribes. In one ominous twist, South Kordofan's new governor, Ahmed Haroun, a member of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party, is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of committing war crimes against Darfurians.
However, the local forces in South Kordofan are far more heavily armed than their Darfurian counterparts and have exercised control over a large swath of the territory. Sudanese officials charge the Nubans with precipitating the latest round of violence by reinforcing their military presence in recent months and refusing to meet their obligation under previous agreements to disarm and attacking local security outposts.
The fate of Sudan's Nubans has become a growing source of concern among human rights observers. Kapila, who traveled to the Nuban Mountains with a rebel escort, said he witnessed a veritable wasteland.
"What did I see?" he asked. "Basically, as you drive in, you see totally deserted countryside, burnt village after burnt village after burnt village."
The few remaining locals, he said, are terrorized by daily bombings from government Antonov airplanes. In the town of Taroji, he saw two churches hit by overhead bombs, while a local mosque was left untouched. He saw boxes of Mark 4 anti-personnel mines (bearing Farsi writing, and thus apparently of Iranian origin), that had been seized by anti-government forces when they captured the town last month. Spent munitions of Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian, and even U.S. origin were found in towns that faced attacks by government forces.
In the town of Dar, in the Nuba Mountains, he encountered a group of woman collecting water at a pump when an Antonov began its approach, forcing the women to flee to a nearby hill where they sought refugee in hidden nooks, crannies, and caves.
"I was totally paralyzed because I'm not used to Antonovs flying over my head," he said. "These Antonov bombers go around terrorizing the population almost every day."
Kapila said that anti-government forces of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (North), also known as the ninth division, have gradually expanded their control of territory, providing an opening for the delivery of aid from South Sudan.
"These people are being cleared away," Kapila said. If we don't act fast, he added, "we will end up with a situation where Khartoum will delay assistance until it has cleansed the area. The same thing happened in Darfur."
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Syria has failed to act on a request by the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, to visit the country to meet with top government officials and assess humanitarian conditions in the country.
Amos, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, has been pleading for several months to be allowed into the country to determine the extent of the country's humanitarian crisis. She renewed the request on Friday, after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, asked her to travel to Syria to assess the situation.
The move come as the Syrian government has stepped up its violent crackdown against demonstrators and opposition groups, shelling restive towns, in particular Homs, in a brutal campaign aimed at crushing resistance.
"I am deeply disappointed that I have not been able to visit Syria, despite my repeated requests to meet Syrian officials at the highest level to discuss the humanitarian situation and the need for unhindered access to the people affected by the violence," said Amos, who is traveling in the region.
Last week, a U.N. commission of inquiry ruled that top Syrian officials committed "widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity," and need to be held accountable for their actions.
Amos said that the government's refusal to approve humanitarian assistance "prolongs" the suffering of Syrians and that the U.N. stands ready to help get assistance to those in need -- once the governments permits it.
The violence has driven up to 200,000 people from their homes, and forced another 25,000 to seek refuge in neighboring countries, according to U.N. estimates. "Given the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, with an increasing need for medical assistance, food and basic supplies, improving access, so that assistance can reach those in urgent need, is a matter of the highest priority."
The effort to get relief into Syria comes as the death toll has been steadily rising, with the U.N. announcing Tuesday that more than 7,500 people have died since the government launched a violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrators back in March 2011.
"The Syrian government has manifestly failed to carry out its responsibility to protect its people," B. Lynn Pascoe, the U.N. undersecretary for political affairs told the Security Council on Tuesday. "On the contrary, it has subjected residents in several cities to indiscriminate bombardment by tank and rocket fire, killing its own people in ways reminiscent of the Hama massacre perpetrated by the Syrian government in 1982."
"Unfortunately," Pascoe added, "the international community has also failed in its duty to stop the carnage, and actions and inactions to date have seemed to encourage the regime in its belief that it has impunity to carry on wanton destruction of its own civilians."
Pascoe said that Syrian security forces "launched a merciless bombardment of residential areas in Homs" on Feb. 26. "We are now into the fourth week of the terrible attacks on major neighborhoods in this city. The situation for the people trapped inside them is increasingly dire. According to human rights organizations, more than 5,000 civilians have been prevented from fleeing by government forces."
Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary general who was named as the U.N. and Arab League special envoy for Syria, is scheduled to arrive in New York today for several days of talks. He will address reporters along with Ban this evening.
Diplomats say that Annan will try to secure a commitment to travel to Damascus to meet with President Bashar al-Assad and to persuade him to accept an Arab League proposal for a political transition.
The United States, meanwhile, has "drafted an outline for a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would demand access for humanitarian aid workers in besieged towns," Reuters reported.
Security Council diplomats, however, said that it is unlikely the 15-nation council will begin serious discussions on the resolution until after the Russian presidential election on March 4. Russia has already vetoed two resolutions condemning Syria's crackdown, and has refused to permit any outside role that doesn't come with the backing of the Syrian government. As yet, there has been no discussion in New York about a controversial plan, initially raised by France, to establish humanitarian corridors in Syria along its borders with Turkey and Jordan.
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The U.N. has placed as many as half a dozen security guards on administrative duty pending an investigation into their involvement in a violent brawl on Friday with the security detail for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, U.N. sources told Turtle Bay.
The melee began after the Turkish prime minister was blocked by U.N. security guards as he sought to walk from a meeting room outside the General Assembly hall to the General Assembly chamber, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was preparing to deliver his historic speech announcing plans to declare its bid for membership in the United Nations as a state.
The brawl, which landed at least one U.N. official in the hospital with badly bruised ribs, involved a misunderstanding over the route Erdogan and his entourage took to reach the General Assembly, officials said. The exit they were trying to proceed through, according to U.N. officials and sources close to the Turkish delegation, didn't actually lead to the General Assembly. But Erdogan and his security staff insisted on pressing ahead.
It remains unclear exactly what happened next, but a Turkish journalist, Kahraman Haliscelik, of Turkish Radio Television (TRT), said two of his colleagues, who were traveling with the Prime Minister, claimed that U.N. guards threatened "to stop them with force," and that the two sides began pushing. "There was some physical contact with the prime minister and so that set off the Turkish security" agents, Haliscelik said.
Haliscelik also said that later that afternoon, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon walked across the street of the U.N. headquarters to the Turkish mission, where Erdogan was holding a meeting with former U.S President Bill Clinton. "The secretary general went over to apologize for the incident," he said.
U.N. officials, however, provided few details on the incident and did not even identify Turkey as the country that was involved in the fight. Martin Nesirky, Ban's top spokesman, said that Ban had indeed met with Erdogan but declined to say whether Ban had apologized or not.
Nesirky said there had been "some unfortunate misunderstanding" between U.N. security and members of an unnamed delegation on Friday, but that these differences have "been satisfactorily resolved. Necessary action has been taken, including looking at what happened and trying to establish precisely what happened to help avoid such misunderstandings in the future."
There remained considerable confusion over the extent of the fighting, including whether a second round of fighting erupted later in the day, when Erdogan and his entourage met with Abbas. It remains unclear how many officers were injured and whether they were hurt in the initial incident or during Erdogan's meeting with Abbas.
But the U.N.'s response to the incident has infuriated U.N. rank and file security guards, according to several U.N. sources, who claim that the Turkish security agents have bullied their way around the Turtle Bay headquarters during the General Assembly session.
Shortly after the incident, the U.N.'s security chief, Gregory Starr, who formerly served as the U.S. State Department's security chief, suspended several police officers involved in the fight until an investigation has been carried out.
The officers' staff union objected to the decision, and pressed Starr to place them on "administrative duties (plain clothes, no weapons...) in keeping with due process," according to an email the U.N. staff sent to Starr. Starr agreed.
The email, which was written by the second vice president of the U.N. Staff Union, Timothy J. Kennedy, and obtained by Turtle Bay, said the "entire Security and Safety Service has been dealing with the aggressive nature of the security apparatus of this particular detail all week long. It has shoved many officers, fraudulently utilized ministerial ID's for access, and assaulted at least one of our officers (previously, as well as today). I have advised our officers who've been injured and/or assaulted to make police reports to the 17th [precinct], and have themselves checked at the hospital; as well as take picture of their injuries."
After the first altercation, Erdogan, after being spirited back to his mission by his security guards, finally made for the second half of Abbas's speech with his delegation. This time, U.N. security let him pass. "They looked very stressed," said a diplomat who saw the Turks take their seats in the General Assembly hall.
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With U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon attributing the ongoing conflict in Darfur to the loss of arable land brought on by global warming and scholars and American military planners warning that our hotter planet may see more conflict, the link between climate change and global security -- especially on the African continent -- seemed secure.
But a study published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argues that the majority of internecine conflicts are still driven by old-fashioned causes: grinding poverty, an entrenched elite depriving the local majority or minority basic needs, and adjustments to the global realignment of power brought on by the end of the Cold War. "The primary causes of civil war are political, not environmental," writes Halvard Buhuag, a political scientist with the Peace Research Institute, Oslo, Norway, who wrote the study.
"Countries with a larger share of the population excluded from influence over national power are more at risk of civil war," Buhaug reports. "Similarly, civil war risk is found to be inversely related to GDP per capita. Finally, we see that the baseline risk of civil war in Sub-Saharan Africa increased with the systemic change imposed by the collapse of the Cold War system."
The study challenges previous findings reported in the same journal last year. In October, a group of scholars, including U.C. Berkeley professor Marshall B. Burke, concluded that climate change was fueling conflicts, arguing that "warmer years [lead] to significant increases in the likelihood of war." The study suggested there would be a 54 percent increase in armed conflicts by 2003, leading to an additional 393,000 battle deaths.
But Buhuag challenges Burke's methodology, arguing that climate has a minimal impact on climate. "Scientific claims about a systemic, correlational link between climate variability and civil war do not hold up to closer inspection," he writes. "The simple fact is this: climate characteristics and variability are unrelated to variations in civil war risk in Sub-Saharan Africa."
In interviews with the science magazine Nature, Buhuag and Burke quarreled over methodology. Buhuag maintains Burke's study may have been "skewed by the choice of climate data sets, and by their narrow definition of ‘civil war' as any year that saw more than 1,000 fatalities from intra-national conflict. The definition is at odds with conventional measures of civil war in the academic literature," says Buhaug: "If a conflict lasts for 10 years, but in only 3 of them the death toll exceeds 1,000, [Burke et. al] may code it as three different wars."
"You'd really like to apply as many complementary definitions as possible before proclaiming a robust correlation with climate change," Buhaug adds.
Burke maintains that his findings are robust, and counters that Buhaug has cherry-picked his data sets to support his own hypothesis.
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After more than two months of investigation and diplomatic outreach, the South Korean government formally blamed North Korea at the United Nations for torpedoing the naval ship, Cheonan. In its official letter to the U.N. Security Council, South Korea asked the council to take "appropriate" but unspecified action.
Seoul stopped short of introducing a resolution condemning North Korea's alleged attack or calling for the imposition of sanctions against its northern neighbor. That cautious approach reflects concern that China, North Korea's closest backer on the council, will not approve any tough measures against Pyongyang.
The letter, written by South Korea's U.N. ambassador Park In-kook and addressed to the Security Council's president, Claude Heller of Mexico, takes note of the March 26 attack on the 1,200 ton Korean ship, which killed more than 40 South Korean seamen. It says that an investigation, conducted with the participation of experts from the Australia, Britain, South Korea, Sweden and the United States, determined the Cheonan was sunken by a North Korean-made torpedo. It also cites addition evidence that "overwhelmingly" demonstrates the attack was carried out by a North Korean submarine.
"The armed attack by North Korea against the ROK [The Republic of Korea] Navy ship is a flagrant violation of the Charter of the United Nations," the letter states. "My government requests that the Security Council duly consider this matter and respond in a manner appropriate to the gravity of North Korea's military provocation in order to deter recurrence of a further provocation by North Korea."
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United States President Barack Obama presented his 52-page long National Security Strategy expressing the need to reassert U.S. leadership in shaping a new "international order." So where does the United Nations fit in this new world order? There's no mention of it in the president's preface. But if you keep reading all the way through to page 46 you'll find the sole paragraph devoted exclusively to the United Nations. The section - entitled Enhance Cooperation and Strengthen the United Nations and containing calls for improving - is concise enough to include here in full without disrupting the flow of this blog post.
We are enhancing our coordination with the U.N. and its agencies. We need a U.N. capable of fulfilling its founding purpose-maintaining international peace and security, promoting global cooperation, and advancing human rights. To this end, we are paying our bills. We are intensifying efforts with partners on and outside the U.N. Security
Council to ensure timely, robust, and credible Council action to address threats to peace and security. We favor Security Council reform that enhances the U.N.'s overall performance, credibility, and legitimacy. Across the broader U.N. system we support reforms that promote effective and efficient leadership and management of the U.N.'s international civil service, and we are working with U.N. personnel and member
states to strengthen the U.N.'s leadership and operational capacity in peacekeeping, humanitarian relief, post-disaster recovery, development assistance, and the promotion of human rights. And we are supporting new U.N. frameworks and capacities for combating transnational threats like proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, infectious disease, drug-trafficking, and counterterrorism.
The U.S. mission to the United Nations challenged the notion that the U.N. got short shrift in the strategy paper. "The United Nations, and multilateralism more broadly, is fundamental to our ability to deal with the complex and shared threats that we face, " said Mark Kornblau, the United States' top spokesman at the mission. "This national security strategy recognizes that and includes the important notion that we need to work to improve those institutions so they can more capably deal with those threats."
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, assured representatives of the U.N. community today that the U.S. does appreciate the U.N.'s contributions to world security, and recognizes that "no nations can meet global challenges alone."
"We will strengthen old alliances, build up mutually beneficial relationships with emerging powers in every region, and support institutions, such as the United Nations and its peacekeeping forces, that can help meet the complex challenges of our times, " she told a gathering of U.N. peacekeeping officials, and military and policy attachés from foreign governments at a reception on the USS Iwo Jima. "It is important to pause and remind ourselves that U.N. peacekeeping saves lives-and the better it works, the more lives we can save."
In fairness, the strategy paper does highlight the importance of numerous U.N. activities, including peacekeeping and a passing reference to the impact of U.N. war crimes on Yugoslavia and Liberia, whose former President Charles Taylor, is defending himself before a war crimes tribunal in The Hague. And it makes the standard references to reinvigorating the international institutions that have helped define international institutions since the 1940s.
But the United Nations isn't even mentioned in sections dealing with global issues like climate change or the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. And it sometimes refers to the United Nations in the way one might talk about a wonderful old relative who has passed his prime but doesn't deserve to be thrown out into the cold, and may even still have some useful contributions to make. To wit:
Today, we need to be clear eyed about the strengths and shortcomings of international institutions that were developed to deal with the challenges of an earlier times and the shortage of political well that has at times stymied the enforcement of international norms. Yet it would be destructive to both American national security and global security if the United States used the emergence of new challenges and the shortcomings of the international system as a reason to walk away from it.
This is precisely the sort of tone that may have uneasy U.N. officials wondering, ‘who mentioned walking away from the international system?'
As the world's attention turns to whether yet another U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution will convince Iran to stop enriching uranium, Turtle Bay thought it would be useful to look at previous resolutions that have strained to meet expectations. Here's a list of 10 of the most ill-conceived, pointless, or just plain bad resolutions that have been adopted by the 15-nation security club. Some of these resolutions are perfectly fine, but contain flaws that have come back to haunt their authors. Others are good for some countries, but disastrous for others. And still others have simply outlived their expiration dates. In any case, they all highlight the fallibility of what dignitaries here like to call "this august body."
The Somalia Swan Song Resolution: 1863
Four days before Barack Obama was inaugurated as president of the United States, George W. Bush's administration pressed through a Security Council resolution calling for the establishment of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Somalia, which was on the verge of losing its Ethiopian occupiers and being overrun by Islamist militants. The move had been strenuously opposed by the U.N. secretariat, which argued that there was no peace to keep in Somalia and no countries willing to send troops.
"Some view U.N. Security Council resolution 1863 as simply an empty gesture -- a call for a U.N. peace enforcement operation in Somalia by an outgoing Bush administration which knew the force would never be deployed," said Kenneth Menkhaus, a scholar at Davidson College. "But others argue this resolution was actively harmful. It handed the jihadist group al-Shabab a perfect mobilization tool against the U.S. and the U.N. precisely at the moment when an Ethiopian troop withdrawal from Somalia and a change of government in Somalia had put the Shabab on the defensive. The resolution only served to stir up a hornet's nest in Somalia."
Susan Rice, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was also cool to the idea. "I am skeptical, too, about the wisdom of a United Nations peacekeeping force in Somalia at this time," Rice said at her confirmation hearing.
The Condi & Sergei Do-Nothing Iran Resolution: 1835
Relations between the United States and Russia deteriorated dramatically after the United States sided with Georgia in its conflict with Russian troops over the breakaway republics Abkhazia and Ossetia. In the midst of the standoff, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report concluding that Iran had not complied with U.N. demands to cease its enrichment of uranium and that it could not verify whether Iran's nuclear program was peaceful. Such reports typically serve as a trigger for sanctions. Moscow made it clear it was not prepared to support a U.S. push for imposing new measures against Iran. But in an effort to demonstrate that relations between the two powers were not irreparable, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed to put forward a resolution reiterating each country's support for existing U.N. agreements on Iran's nuclear program, but including no new measures.
The "We Command You to Stop Killing Your People ... Please" Resolution: 1706
In August, 2006, the U.N. Security Council passed this little-remembered resolution authorizing the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan, to use "all necessary means" to protect Darfuri civilians. But the resolution, which was championed by the Bush administration, required the consent of the Sudanese government to be implemented.
"Well, I think there's a chicken and egg situation here," then-U.S. ambassador John Bolton said after the vote. "I think once the resolution is passed, the consent may be forthcoming more rapidly than people think."
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For years, the U.N.'s top peacekeepers have been among the world's staunchest critics of private security contractors, often portraying them as unaccountable mercenaries.
Now they are clients.
As the U.N. prepares to expand its operations in Afghanistan, it is in talks with a British security firm to send in scores of additional Nepalese Gurkhas to the country to protect them.
The U.N.'s top security official, Gregory Starr, the former head of U.S. State Department Security, has also been advocating an increase in the use of private security firms in Pakistan, where U.N. relief workers have been the target of kidnappings and killings, according to U.N. officials.
The embrace of a private security contractor marks a shift for the United Nations, which has relied on governments to supply peacekeepers to protect U.N. staff. In Iraq, the U.N. used a contingent of Fijian peacekeepers for protection. But it has accelerated its move toward hired guns in Pakistan since the Taliban launched an October attack against a U.N. residence, killing five U.N. employees, including two Afghan security guards, and triggered the withdrawal of U.N. personnel from the country.
Those officials will return along with an additional 800 U.N. staff that have been budgeted for the Afghan mission. The latest drive has been led by Starr, who relied heavily on private security contractors to protect American diplomats in Iraq and Afghanistan. Starr who joined the U.N. last May, once defended the security company Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater USA, following allegations that it killed Iraqi civilians. "Essentially, I think they do a very good job," he told Reuters in 2008.
Starr declined to discuss the U.N.'s policy. But a U.N. spokesman, Farhan Haq, responded on behalf of Starr. "He wanted you to know that our understanding of the current usage of the term ‘Private Security Contractors' typically refers to contractors doing close protection work for movement security, such as Blackwater/Xe, Triple Canopy, Dyncorps, Aegis, and many other companies providing this type of service. However, the U.N. doesn't avail itself of this type of service. We do use some private companies to provide static security guards at some sites in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but primarily rely on host countries to provide our security."
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.