Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Senegal Says that Africa Deserves a "More Equitable Partnership" with the World

Only through more equitable partnerships with the global community can African nations achieve full development and consolidate democracy, Senegal’s President, Macky Sall, told the United Nations General Assembly’s high-level debate today, while also addressing the precarious state of peace and security in West Africa.  “We need to redefine our priorities, invest in the real economy and agree on a new fairer world order,” President Sall said in his address to the General Debate of the Assembly’s 67th session, taking place at UN Headquarters in New York. “We call for another vision of relations with Africa, a vision where it will not be about the treatment of Africa and the Africans, but dealing with Africa and the Africans in a concerted and more equitable partnership, taking into account the priorities and the interests of everyone,” he added. 

President Sall emphasized that the African Continent, which had already endured centuries of slavery and exploitation, could not afford “to act again as Trojan horse and give over its resources in a competition that would push it further to the margins of progress and well-being.” Echoing other leaders who had addressed the General Debate earlier on Tuesday, the Senegalese President called for greater representation by African nations in the Security Council, noting that the African continent counted the largest number of countries at the UN and that it was “a matter of justice and common sense.” 

Turning to regional peace and security issues, President Sall urged the Security Council to adopt a greater roll in resolving the vacuum of power in northern Mali where, he said, “organized and heavily armed terrorist groups, living off all sorts of trafficking, have been occupying in complete illegality two thirds of the country, sowing despair among the population and destroying symbols of World Cultural Heritage.” 

“Northern Mali has become a lawless area, used as a safe haven for recruitment and training by the international terrorist nebula,” President Sall warned, adding that the Security Council has “the obligation to act in order to bring an end to such a situation.” 

Fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in northern Mali in January. The instability and insecurity resulting from the renewed clashes, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region, drought and political instability in the wake of a military coup d’état in March, have led over 250,000 Malians to flee to neighbouring countries, with 174,000
Malians estimated to be internally displaced.

President Sall also reiterated Senegal’s “firm rejection” of any partition of Mali and his condemnation of the March 2012 military coup which saw rebel Malian soldiers take control of the country and announce the dissolution of the Government led by then-President Amadou Toumani Toure. 

Meanwhile, the Senegalese leader reserved praise for the work done by Guinea-Bissau’s Transitional Government as it works towards national reconciliation and the organization of credible elections following its unconstitutional change of government earlier this year. He noted, however, that the country deserved the continued support of the international community as it was also beset by “faithless and lawless foreign drug traffickers.”

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Honduras Says Countries Have a Shared Responsibility to Combat Organized Crime

United Nations Member States have a shared responsibility to combat organized crime, particularly illegal drug trade, the President of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, told the UN General Assembly today, calling on countries to work together to address this issue. Activities such as money laundering, bribery, drug trafficking, forgery, piracy, as well as arms and human trafficking are “dangerously polluting our societies and governments and constitute an international threat that must be analyzed, comprehended and fought against by every member of the United Nations,” Mr. Lobo de Sosa said in his statement to the 67th UN General Assembly’s General Debate, which began today. “The fight against illegal trafficking, particularly of drugs and its related activities, is a shared responsibility,” he added.

Scores of the world’s heads of State and government and other high-level officials are expected to present their views and comment on issues of individual national and international relevance at the Assembly’s General Debate, which ends on 1 October.

In his statement to the gathering, the Honduran President stressed that organized crime has sparked an increase in violence in his country, and underlined that measures need to be taken not just by countries that are being affected by this type of violence, but also by those who are creating demand for these illegal activities. “My country and our citizens are victims of the bottomless appetite for drugs in developed countries, and of the greed of producers and traffickers that enrich themselves with enormous profits stained with the blood of innocent people,” he said, adding that that even though Honduras is not a drug consumer or producer, it citizens continue to die because of organized crime. “But Honduras has not ignored this grave problem,” he continued. “In spite of our limited economic resources we are facing challenges with the necessary determination to provide integral solutions to this situation.”

President Lobo de Sosa also told the Assembly that Honduras has initiated a series of reforms in its education system to prevent further strikes by teachers which have caused children to lose some 600 school days in the last 10 years, according to the UN Children’s Fund. “This is without a doubt a step back for society in general,” he said. “We defend the right of teachers to strike and in some occasions manifest themselves, but the right of boys and girls and youth to education they receive in school cannot be subjected to any interruption.” The Honduran President underlined that his Government would continue its efforts to give access to education to the country’s poorest citizens to spur equal and sustainable growth and reduce extreme poverty.

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Switzerland Calls for More Efficiency in Crisis Control

Switzerland today called on the United Nations to update its processes to better tackle the host of problems besetting the world, from climate change, food security and water scarcity to migration, organised crime, terrorism and weapons proliferation. “We have to find solutions today for the challenges we will face tomorrow,” the Swiss President, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, told the 67th General Assembly at the start of this year’s General Debate. “In view of the growing interdependence between these challenges, we need the UN now more than ever. It must take its place at the heart of international governance.”

The Swiss President is one of scores of heads of State and government and other high-level officials who are presenting their views and comment on issues of individual national and international relevance at the General Debate, which ends on 1 October. In her statement, she called for more intensive exchanges within the UN, as well as with actors from the worlds of academia, civil society and the private sector to promote creativity and foster broad support for UN activities.

President Widmer-Schlumpf urged Security Council reform, warning that the UN is only capable of acting if it helps to find solutions to conflicts and does not block them. “The exercising of veto rights in the Security Council in cases of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity is difficult to justify,” she stressed, calling on Heads of State and Government at today’s session to support a Swiss-backed initiative to refer Syria to the Hague-based International Criminal Court, which tries those accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Negative votes by permanent Council members Russia and China blocked the 15-member body in July from imposing sanctions on Syria, where over 18,000 people have been killed since an uprising against the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad erupted 18 months ago. According to UN estimates, some 2.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid.

In his opening address to the General Debate earlier Tuesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that brutal human rights abuses continue to be committed in Syria, mainly by Mr. Assad’s Government, but also by opposition groups.

“There will be no security as long as human rights are being violated in the most serious manner, and as long as those responsible believe that they are safe from prosecution,” President Widmer-Schlumpf said.
She added, “Switzerland therefore demands that those responsible for serious human rights violations be called to account. Impunity is not only immoral. It also hinders the post-conflict reconciliation process in society and encourages history to repeat itself.”

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

South Africa Urges an Expanded Security Council

With the debate on United Nations reform still lagging after 18 years, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa today called for making the Security Council more democratic, with an expansion of seats and greater representation for Africa. “Given its mandate, the Council has to be legitimate, democratic and transparent. Its current composition has a propensity for deadlock and paralysis even in the face of crisis,” President Zuma said during the General Assembly’s high-level General Debate. “It remains unrepresentative and undemocratic in both its composition and decision-making.” 

The 15-member Council currently consists of five permanent members with veto power – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States – and 10 non-permanent members, with no veto, are elected for two-year terms. Some countries have argued that this structure does not represent the realities of today’s world, and other leaders addressing the General Debate on Tuesday made similar calls to President Zuma.

Key issues under discussion in the intergovernmental negotiations on Council reform are the category of membership, the question of veto, regional representation, the size of an enlarged Council, and the Council’s working methods and its relationship with the Assembly.

“The UN faces immense pressure when the world sees the unprecedented loss of lives as it is happening in Africa and the Middle East,” the South African President said. “It is of concern when it appears as if the United Nations is unable to act and assist, and when it comes across as paralyzed in certain instances, due to the actions of some Member States.”

“We have seen a divided Security Council unable to muster the collective courage to say ‘no more’ to warring parties in the interest of peace,” he added. “This brings to the fore the need to continue and deepen the reform of the United Nations and its organs to make it agile and nimble in addressing the contemporary challenges facing humanity.” 

The President called for “more meaningful” representation of Africa in the Council, noting that about 70 per cent of the 15-member body’s agenda consists of issues from the continent. “The Security Council has to be expanded in both categories, with at least two seats for Africa in the permanent category and five in the non-permanent category,” he stated.

In addition to seats for the continent in its composition, the UN should also recognize fully and appreciate the role of regional organizations working with the UN in conflict management and resolution, he noted, urging closer collaboration with the African Union. 

The South African leaders also said that, to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes, the Council should carry out its Charter mandate “within the confines of international law,” adding that any Member State or international body that implements the Council’s resolutions should be accountable to it. “This will ensure that we avoid the abuse of internationally agreed concepts like Responsibility to Protect and the Protection of Civilians. These principles must not be used to, amongst other things, justify the notion of regime change,” President Zuma said. He added, “These concepts exist to prevent mass atrocities, war crimes, genocide and ethnic cleansing. We should continue the debate on these principles in order to develop norms and standards for accountability when actions are taken.”

In his meeting with President Zuma today, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed appreciation for South Africa’s leadership role on some key African issues. Among other topics, the two men noted their deep concern about the situation in the West Africa’s Sahel region, especially northern Mali, and the need for the international community to play a bigger role in resolving the problems in the affected countries. 

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Indonesia Urges Nations to Lose the "Cold War Mentality"

Urging United Nations Member States to lose their “Cold War mentality,” Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono today told the 67th UN General Assembly that the world needs a new way of thinking in order to guarantee a long-term peace borne of trust and mutual confidence.  “There is no question that the world we live in today is in much better condition than the one in the 20th century. Freedom has spread. The threat of nuclear holocaust is receding significantly. There is no prospect of a world war, the kind of which twice wrecked the 20th century,” President Yudhoyono told the gathered delegates at UN Headquarters in New York during the first day of the Assembly’s General Debate.  “However, it is only relative peace. Not total peace as yet,” he warned, noting that the world had moved on from the Cold War to “an era of warm peace.” 

Underlining the concept of a “warm peace,” President Yudhoyono said that the global security architecture still reflected 20th century circumstances; that questions on how emerging powers would be accommodated by the existing world order continued to go unanswered; and, that old rivalries and long-standing conflicts – such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, disputes in the South China Sea, and tensions on the Korean Peninsula – still risked resurfacing.  “The first thing we have to do is to evolve a new strategic mindset,” he stated. “The remnants of Cold War mentality still persist in parts of the geopolitical landscape – not least our own UN, where rigid, dogmatic, zero-sum calculations sometimes still come into play.”

In order to usher in a new mental approach in dealing with the world’s most complex issues, President Yudhoyono stressed that Security Council reform must continue unabated until the Council reflected the 21st century strategic reality. He also urged the creation of “a universal culture of mutual tolerance and mutual appreciation” of religious differences and called for the establishment of an international body “to effectively prevent incitement to hostility or violence based on religions or beliefs.”  In addition, he encouraged the doctrine of strong regionalism and pointed to the successes of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – the regional body of which Indonesia is a part. 

Pointing to the growing need for preventive diplomacy, President Yudhoyono argued that robust regional entities helped resolve simmering disputes before they escalated into full blown conflict and said that ASEAN had done just that in the South China Sea. “The territorial and sovereignty disputes have been festering there for the better part of a century,” he said. “But we are managing them with restraint, confidence building and, at present, through earnest negotiations toward a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.” 

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Qatar Urges Support for the People of Syria

Given the United Nations Security Councils’ failure to agree on collective action in relation to Syria, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, today urged countries to contribute to the provision of support to the Middle Eastern country’s people until they gain their “legitimate rights.”

“We have used all available means to get Syria out of the cycle of killing but that was in vain. The Security Council failed to reach an effective position,” Sheik Al-Thani said in his statement to the 67th UN General Assembly’s General Debate, which began today. “In view of this, I think that it is better for the Arab countries themselves to interfere out of their national, humanitarian, political and military duties and do what is necessary to stop the bloodshed in Syria and the killing of innocent people and their displacement in order to guarantee a peaceful transition of power in Syria,” he added, pointing to the intervention of Arab forces in war-torn Lebanon in the mid-1970s as a precedent.  “We urge all countries that believe in the cause of the Syrian people to contribute to the provision of all sorts of support to this people until it gains its legitimate rights,” he said.

More than 18,000 people, mostly civilians, have died since the uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began 18 months ago. Amidst reports of an escalation in violence over recent weeks, UN agencies now estimate that some 2.5 million Syrians are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Addressing the broader changes that have affected the Arab world – as encompassed in the wave of democratic protests which engulfed the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring – Sheik Al-Thani said that “the Arab experience of transition is unique in its pace and process,” as well as “natural and historic.” He said that “Conditions in the Arab world, seen from afar, may show that there are disturbances and problems all over the place filling it with flames and smoke.  However, I would like from this rostrum to assure all those who are following the events in the region, and sometimes feel uncomfortable at what they see and hear, is that it is only the movement of a nation struggling to cope with this age and contribute to its march as it has done many times before it was interrupted by obstacles, both external and internal, regional and international.”

Also, compared to similar historical transitions in the US, Europe and Asia, the Emir noted, the changes in the Arab world have taken place “under spotlights, before the eyes of the whole world” given the intense media coverage of the developments.

The Qatari leader said that despite all the suffering in the Middle East, the region’s core problem remains the Palestinian question and the continued Israeli occupation of the Arab territories in the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Shaba’a Farms in southern Lebanon, in addition to Israel’s ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is now in its sixth year. It imposed the blockade for what it called security reasons after the Hamas group, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, ousted the Fatah movement from the Strip in 2007.

In his statement, Emir Al-Thani also called on the United Nations and “those of wisdom and reason and those who have the power of decisions at the international level” to produce internationally-agreed upon laws, procedures and controls to prevent religions from being insulted, while at the same time ensuring the right to freedom of expression. 

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Bulgaria Wants to be on the UN Human Rights Council

President Rosen Plevneliev of Bulgaria today announced his country’s intention to seek election to the United Nations Human Rights Council, celebrating the Council as the Organization’s “primary body” for the protection and promotion of human rights. Speaking at the UN General Assembly in the opening meeting of the General Debate, at UN Headquarters in New York, President Plevneliev underlined his country’s “difficult, dramatic and sometimes turbulent journey” from dictatorship to democratic rule.

“Bulgaria has gone through a successful transition from totalitarian rule to a functioning democracy with an open market economy and a vibrant civil society,” he told the gathered delegates. “We stand ready to share the experience from our road to democracy with other countries undergoing similar challenges,” he added, noting that Bulgaria was seeking election to the Council for the period 2019 to 2021. 

As an indication of Bulgaria’s appreciation of human rights-related issues, Mr. Plevneliev emphasized his country’s “long-standing tradition of tolerance and dialogue” between ethnic and religious communities. “This tradition can be aptly illustrated by a glimpse of the centre of our capital, where four temples of different religions – Islam, Judaism, Catholic and Orthodox Christianity – coexist peacefully surrounded by archaeological monuments of several ancient civilizations,” noted President Plevneliev. 

In addition, he pointed to Bulgaria’s ongoing fostering of dialogue through the Sofia Platform which promotes an exchange of views and best practices among government officials, experts, representatives of civil society and non-governmental organizations, focussing on the transition process in Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Middle East. “This forum has shown that though the historical, cultural and political realities vary in different countries and regions, conclusions and lessons learned can be relevant in the field of national reconciliation, rule of law, institution building and security sector reform,” he added. 

In his statement, the Bulgarian President also addressed a range of other issues, including terrorism, the situation in Syria, the Middle East peace process and disarmament.

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Georgia is Worried about Russian Military Build-Up on Its Border

Georgia’s President today called on the United Nations to send the “right signals” after Russia began an “illegal military build-up” on the eve of Georgian parliamentary elections by sending offensive weapons and troops into the region of South Ossetia, which had declared its independence.  “We appeal to you today because the very institution, the United Nations, was created to protect and defend the integrity of all nations against dangers like this one, to make sure that the world would never be again a lawless ocean where big sharks can eat smaller fish without the world to react,” Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili told the 67th General Assembly on the opening day of its General Debate, at UN Headquarters in New York.

Fighting broke out in August 2008 between Georgian forces and South Ossetian and Abkhaz separatists and their Russian allies. South Ossetia and Abkhazia each subsequently declared their independence from Georgia, and those declarations have been recognized by Russia and several other countries.

“The European Union monitoring mission has just announced that Russian forces are presently undertaking illegal military build-up in South Ossetia,” President Saakashvili said, referring to the Russian decision to hold large scale military exercises in the North and South Caucasus on the eve of the 1 October parliamentary elections. “As we speak, they are bringing offensive weapons and troops inside our internationally recognized borders… one cannot imagine a more provocative and irresponsible approach than to mobilize military forces during this crucial moment of any nations democratic life,” he added, calling on the international community to “speak in a unified voice against these threats and support our sovereign democratic institutions.”

In his statement, President Saakashvili also pledged to build a fully open society in his country, which was incorporated into the Russian empire in the early 19th century and regained its independence after the fall of the Soviet Union.

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Serbia Willing to Hold "Direct Negotiations" on Kosovo

While Serbia will never recognize the declared independence of the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo, the Balkan nation is willing to hold “direct negotiations” at the highest political level with its authorities in order to help resolve the matter, the President of Serbia, Tomislav Nicolic, today told the General Assembly.  “The Republic of Serbia and myself, as its democratically-elected President, are ready to participate constructively in the negotiating process, because Serbia cannot move forward without Kosovo and Metohija, and the inhabitants of Kosovo and Metohija cannot move forward without Serbia,” President Nicolic said in his statement to the Assembly’s General Debate.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, but Serbia does not recognize the declaration. The matter has seen tensions between ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians flare up over the years, particularly in the north of Kosovo – which has an ethnic Serbian majority, unlike the rest of Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians are the majority – sparking concerns from United Nations officials.

“I am not a prophet, but I must say that the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo constitutes a dangerous precedent and a long-standing threat to stability in the region of the Western Balkans and beyond it,” President Nicolic noted. 

Addressing the Security Council in August, the UN envoy for Kosovo said it was critical to resume the so-called Belgrade-Pristina dialogue between the parties, facilitated by the European Union, which was discussing practical matters and was credited with reducing tensions over border crossings and other issues. The dialogue was suspended due to May general elections in Serbia and the subsequent formation of a new Government.

In his remarks, President Nicolic said that Serbia seeks to have talks with Pristina continue “in good faith and with good intentions,” and noted the importance of Europe’s integration of Serbia, and of the Western Balkans as a whole, in order to ensure progress and stability of the entire region in the long term. “Serbia has committed itself and will fulfil all obligations undertaken by it as a State in the agreements reached thus far, though I look at them as meeting the wish list of the Albanian party and concessions made by our leadership at that time, under heavy pressure,” he said.

He added, “At the same time, may I be clear: Serbia is not ready and cannot nor will it ever under any circumstances recognize, either explicitly or implicitly, the unilaterally declared independence of its southern province Kosovo and Metohija.”

The Serbian President stated that as a member of the United Nations, Serbia is a “victim of the application of double standards,” noting that the principle of the respect of territorial integrity implies prevention of the promotion of secession, and prevention of efforts aimed at border change in other internationally recognized states.  “For the country I am representing, peace and respect of international law come before all other interests and objectives, whereas political, as well as armed violence, are not nor will they ever become an acceptable means for achieving interest in international affairs,” President Nicolic said. 

He continued, “Our battle against the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo and Metohija is at the same time struggle to preserve the principles of the respect of the territorial integrity. Today, the struggle for the territorial integrity of Serbia is also the struggle for peace in all countries of the world and for the rule of law in international relations.”

In his statement, President Nicolic also addressed a range of other matters of global concern, including poverty reduction, renewable energy and climate change.

(From a UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Benin Warns of Dangers from Islamist Militants in Mali

Benin’s President today called on the international community to help eliminate the grave threat posed by Islamist militants who have seized control of northern Mali, warning the United Nations that they endanger stability in the whole West African region. “These terrorist movements engage in all sorts of trafficking in drugs, people and all calibre of arms,” President Boni Yayi told the 67th United Nations General Assembly’s General Debate on its opening day. “They are committing massive violations of the fundamental rights of citizens by imposing practices from another age,” he added. “They are irreversibly mutilating people by amputating their upper and lower limbs as punishment.”

Fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in northern Mali in January. The instability and insecurity resulting from the renewed clashes, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region, drought and political instability in the wake of a military coup d’état in March, have led over 250,000 Malians to flee to neighbouring countries, with 174,000 Malians estimated to be internally displaced.

The world community must collaborate with the African Union to “eliminate this grave threat to the peace and security of the sub-region and prevent a large-scale humanitarian catastrophe,” President Yayi continued. “In the spirit of the strategic relationship between Africa and the United Nations in the field of peace and security it is crucial that the Security Council not lose interest in the fate of civilians exposed to violent abuses by extremist and terrorist movements,” he said.

Among other challenges confronting the continent, President Yayi cited piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and the Horn of Africa, malnutrition, unemployment, soil erosion, climate change and bad governance.

As he and other African leaders have at past General Assembly general debates, he also called for the enlargement of the 15-member Security Council, with Africa receiving permanent seats.

(From a UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Dominican Republic Urges New Measures for Human Development

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina Sanchez, today called on international financial institutions to approach developing country issues with greater understanding, in order to break the “vicious cycle” of poverty and social exclusion, as a basis for development. “We need to have them employ more enriched indicators that have a greater capacity to capture and measure the complex and dynamic nature of human development,” President Medina added in his statement to the Assembly’s General Debate. “And this means working together to overcome exclusion, and not to maintain poverty and extreme poverty in an indefinite manner.” 

In his remarks, the Dominican leader said that the majority of agencies in the international financial system prefer to continue using “one-dimensional measurements” centred on monetary income – through the use of various measures of profit or national production expressed in per capita figures, for example – to measure and catalogue the development of developing countries and to define policies regarding conditions of access to international financial cooperation. “Our country, the Dominican Republic, according to these kinds of measurements, has been classified in recent years as an upper-middle-income country,” he said. “However, more than a third of our citizenship continues to live in conditions of poverty.  So then, how is it that countries like our own are excluded from development assistance?”

He noted that the “optimism” of international poverty measures does not seem to agree with the perception of many people around the world, who feel that the growth in gross domestic product has done nothing to lessen their sense of despair, nor, in particular, discontent among youth, who are not finding decent jobs. “This discrepancy between the optimism of various international measurements and the discontent to be found on our streets, can be attributed to the use of inadequate indicators to measure poverty, development and well-being,” President Medina said.

The President noted that measuring the development of countries exclusively in terms of national per capita income leads to decisions that have a negative impact on their efforts toward development. As an example, he cited how when a country is classified according to these criteria, international cooperation contributions are reduced, making access to international bank loans more difficult or more expensive.

(Excerpts from a UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

US President Barack Obama at the United Nations

Warning that the world faces “a choice between the forces that would drive us apart and the hopes we hold in common,” United States President Barack Obama said today the deadly violence sparked by an anti-Islam video is an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded.  “The events of the last two weeks speak to the need for all of us to address honestly the tensions between the West and an Arab World moving to democracy,” he told scores of heads of State and Government attending the 67th General Assembly’s General Debate on its opening day, calling on world leaders to espouse the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Cities in North Africa and the Middle East recently experienced violent protests in response to an anti-Islamic video produced in the state of California by a US citizen. In the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, the US ambassador to the country, Christopher Stevens, and three other diplomats were killed, and others injured or killed, when suspected Libyan religious extremists stormed the US Consulate there. 

The film has drawn widespread condemnation around the world, including from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“On this we must agree: there is no speech that justifies mindless violence,” President Obama said, calling the video “crude and disgusting,” but explaining how such hateful comment is allowed by the freedom of speech clause in the US constitution. “There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There is no video that justifies an attack on an Embassy. There is no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan,” he added, referring to the attacks that killed Ambassador Stevens and caused deaths elsewhere. “Burning an American flag will do nothing to educate a child. Smashing apart a restaurant will not fill an empty stomach. Attacking an Embassy won’t create a single job,” he noted.

President Obama said the US has supported the forces of change that have toppled dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and he called for an end to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, where more than 18,000 people have been killed in an uprising against his rule over the past 18 months. “However, I do believe that it is the obligation of all leaders, in all countries, to speak out forcefully against violence and extremism,” he declared, stressing that the recent violence or hateful speech by some individuals does not represent the views of the overwhelming majority of Muslims any more than the views of the video producers behind the anti-Islam film represent those of Americans. “It is time to marginalize those who, even when not resorting to violence, use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel as a central principle of politics,” the US President said. “For that only gives cover, and sometimes makes excuses, for those who resort to violence.”

President Obama pledged that the US will never retreat from the world and will bring to justice those who harm its citizens and friends, while standing with its allies and partnering with countries to deepen ties of trade and investment, science and technology, energy and development. “It is time to leave the call of violence and the politics of division behind. On so many issues, we face a choice between the promise of the future, or the prisons of the past,” he declared.

“The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt – it must be claimed by those in Tahrir Square who chanted ‘Muslims, Christians, we are one.’ The future must not belong to those who bully women – it must be shaped by girls who go to school, and those who stand for a world where our daughters can live their dreams just like our sons . . . .  The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied. Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims and Shiite pilgrims.”

Turning to specific crises, President Obama said the future for Israelis and Palestinians must not belong to those who turn their backs on the prospect of peace and thrive on conflict, and those who reject Israel’s right to exist, but to those who pursue the hard but clear goal of a secure, Jewish state of Israel and an independent, prosperous Palestine.

On Iran, he said the US wants to resolve nuclear issue through diplomacy and believes there is still time and space to do so. “But that time is not unlimited,” he warned. “We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations is to see that we harness that power for peace. Make no mistake: a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. “It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unravelling of the non-proliferation treaty. That is why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that is why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

Scores of the world’s heads of State and government and other high-level officials are expected to present their views and comment on issues of individual national and international relevance at the Assembly’s General Debate, which ends on 1 October.

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Special Court for Sierra Leone: Guilty Verdicts for Witness Tampering

The United Nations-backed court set up to try suspects indicted for war crimes in Sierra Leone today found three senior members of the country’s former Armed Forces Revolutionary Council guilty of contempt for tampering with a former prosecution witness.

Santigie Borbor Kanu (aka Five-Five) and Hassan Papa Bangura (aka Bomblast) were each found guilty on two counts of interfering with the administration of justice by offering a bribe to a witness, and for otherwise attempting to induce a witness to recant (or to state that he testified falsely) testimony he gave before the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).

Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara was convicted for attempting to induce a witness to recant his testimony, the court stated in a news release. He was found not guilty on a second count, of offering a bribe to a witness. Mr. Kamara was also convicted on a third count of knowingly violating a court order protecting the identity of a witness who had testified against him in the AFRC trial.  Mr. Kamara and Mr. Kanu are currently serving sentences of 45 and 50 years, respectively, on convictions for war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

A fourth accused, Samuel Kargbo (aka Sammy Ragga), pleaded guilty at his initial appearance in July 2011 and was convicted on both counts. He subsequently testified for the prosecution. Mr. Kargbo remains free on bail on his own recognizance pending sentencing. 

Based in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, the court was set up in 2002 to try those most responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law in the civil wars that plagued the country, starting in 1996.

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Finland Urges World to Continue Work on Conventional Arms Trade Treaty

While expressing regret over the failure of recent negotiations for a treaty to regulate the conventional arms trade, the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, today told the United Nations General Assembly today that it is important that efforts towards this goal continue. “Conventional weapons trade clearly needs better global regulation. It is regrettable that the negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty ended without the desired outcome. The goal is in sight, however. It is important that the process continues within the UN context,” President Niinistö said in his statement at the Assembly’s General Debate, at UN Headquarters in New York. “As one of the co-sponsors, Finland continues to reach out for a substantive and as nearly universal treaty as possible,” he added. 

At the four-week long Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), held in New York in July, representatives of the 193 UN Member States failed to reach agreement on a treaty that would have set common standards to regulate the international trade in conventional arms. The treaty was seen as the most important initiative ever regarding conventional arms regulation within the United Nations. According to media reports, some countries had indicated they needed more time to consider the issues.

In his statement, President Niinistö also drew attention to other types of weapons – nuclear and chemical – noting that weapons of mass destruction remain an existential threat to international peace and security. “Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, disarmament and the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy are all necessary parts of the whole,” he said, adding that Finland is prepared to host a conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone free from nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction this year. 

“The task has been described as difficult but rest assured, we will do our utmost to fulfil it. Nuclear material cannot be allowed to fall into the wrong hands,” the President said. “National measures and international cooperation are both needed to stop nuclear terrorism. As a user of peaceful nuclear energy, Finland is strongly committed to continue the process.”

The Finnish President noted that while chemical weapons were banned some years ago, the relevant treaty is not yet universal. He offered the expertise of the Finnish Institute for Verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, or VERIFIN, to the international community should the need for it arise in the Middle East. At the same time, the Finnish leader recognized that poverty reduction is the “ultimate means to secure the peace in many parts of the world,” and that, above all, economic growth and a level playing field for all are required for this. “Development cooperation can assist, especially in the least developed countries. Those countries that already suffer the effects of climate change are particularly vulnerable and in need of our support,” President Niinistö said, adding that despite budgetary pressures within the Eurozone, Finland has increased its outlay for development assistance over the past years to an annual level of around $1.5 billion.

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New Electoral Commission in Iraq Forgets to Include a Woman

The United Nations envoy in Iraq today welcomed the appointment of eight of the nine members of the Board of Commissioners of the country’s electoral commission, while voicing regret at the absence of women on the panel. 
“I welcome this appointment. It now paves the way for the conduct of governorate council elections in early 2013,” said Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq. He added that the UN remains committed to supporting the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) and its new Board of Commissioners in the preparations and conduct of elections. “We now urge the Parliament to complete the process to select the last commissioner and the deputies as soon as possible,” said Mr. Kobler, who serves as the head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).  

While welcoming the appointment, the envoy voiced regret at the absence of women from the Board, and encouraged the Parliament to take proactive action to include women at all levels of public life.

The IHEC, established by the Council of Representatives in May 2007, is responsible for conducting all elections and referendums in Iraq.

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Journalists and Bloggers Convicted in Viet Nam

The United Nations human rights chief today voiced deep concern about the conviction and harsh sentencing of journalists and bloggers in Viet Nam, stressing that this reflects a trend of increasing restrictions on freedom of expression in the country, especially against those who use the Internet to voice criticisms of the State. “The harsh prison terms handed down to bloggers exemplify the severe restrictions on freedom of expression in Viet Nam,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

On Monday, three prominent journalists were sentenced to several years in prison for “conducting propaganda” against the State under article 88 of the penal code, for posting articles on the website of the Vietnamese Club of Free Journalists.  Nguyen Van Hai, also known as Dieu Cay, received 12 years’ imprisonment and five years’ probation; Ta Phong Tan received ten years’ imprisonment and three years’ probation; and Pan Thanh Hai four years’ imprisonment and three years’ probation. 

Ms. Pillay noted that the fact that the court’s decision came after only a few hours of deliberation raises questions about the defendants’ right to due process and a fair trial, and expressed concern about reports that several supporters were detained and prevented from attending the trial.
In 2009, during the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Viet Nam’s human rights record, the State accepted a number of recommendations on freedom of expression, including one to “fully guarantee the right to receive, seek and impart information and ideas in compliance with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Ms. Pillay stated that Monday’s verdicts are “an unfortunate development that undermines the commitments Viet Nam has made internationally, including during the UPR, to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression.”

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UNHCR Issues New Guidelines for Detention of Asylum Seekers

UNHCRThe United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued new guidelines yesterday concerning the detention of asylum seekers while they are waiting for their cases to be adjudicated.  The guidelines were issued in response to a growing number of applications from asylum seekers worldwide (over 440,000 in 2011) and increasing concerns that countries are frequently detaining asylum seekers as opposed to considering other alternatives to prevent fraud and to ensure that asylum seekers appear for their hearings.  The new Detention Guidelines are intended to "guide governments in their elaboration and implementation of asylum and migration policies which involve an element of detenion, and decision-makers, including judges, in making assessments about the necessity of detention in individual cases."

The UNHCR begins by stating that detention of asylum-seekers "should be avoided and be a measure of last resort. . . . Detention can only be applied where it pursues a legitimate purpose and has been determined to be both necessary and proportionate in each individual case."  

Among other things, the Detention Guidelines state that detention must not be arbitrary and that any decision to detain must take into account the following prinicples:  detention is an exceptional measure that must be justified for a legitimate purpose; detention can only be resorted to when it is determined to be necessary, reasonable and proportionate to a legitimate purpose; and that alternatives to detention need to be considered.

The new guidelines urge countries to consider alternatives to detenion such as deposit or surrender of documentation, periodic reporting to authorities, directed residence or residence at free-movement asylum centers, bail or bond requirements, and community supervision arrangements.

In the United States, asylum seekers are routinely detained pending their hearings.  They are usually detained in facilities along with detainees with criminal records and are subject to the same restrictions on their liberty as criminal defendants.  It is long past time for the United States to examine its detention policy with respect to asylum seekers and bring it into conformity with international law. 

The new guidelines may be found here.


September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 24, 2012

CAPMATCH: United Nations Invites Input from Governments and NGOs on Post-Conflict Transitions to Peace

The United Nations has launched an online platform that will allow countries to share their post-conflict transition experiences, and learn from policies and peacebuilding strategies put in place by nations who have undergone similar changes.  “Peacebuilding requires great flexibility, and approaches tailored to a given situation. Civilian capacities are crucially important, and we are taking steps to be able to deploy the right experts to the right place at the right time,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a news release on the platform, CAPMATCH.

Open to both government and non-government organizations, and part of the UN Civilian Capacities Initiative launched last year, CAPMATCH aims to capture diverse experiences, in particular from the global South, according to the Office of the UN Civilian Capacities Project.  The first participants include Indonesia, South Africa, Morocco, Brazil, Egypt, Benin, Kenya, Thailand and Nigeria – as well as organizations from Norway, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Switzerland, which maintain networks of skilled individuals from both North and South.  

The principle underlying the platform is one of equal partnership between countries, recognising that there is no single model for institution-building, and that countries may want to look at several different types of experience and adapt these to their own national contexts. Initial examples of how the platform is being used include Liberia requesting support in implementing its national capacity development strategy, Cote d’Ivoire offering to share its experience of its first post-conflict election process while also asking for further external exchanges to continue to build the functions of its independent electoral commission, and Timor- Leste offering its experience in public finances and oil revenue management, while also requesting expertise in vocational training and job creation.

“I believe CAPMATCH will make a real difference,” said the Special Adviser and Assistant Secretary-General for Civilian Capacities, Sarah Cliffe, in a news release. “I am delighted that such a broad range of Member States and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), two thirds of them from the global South, have already signed up. I encourage more government agencies and civil society organizations to take part – the broader the participation, the more useful CAPMATCH will be.” The UN is seeking to involve a wide range of partners, including government agencies with specialized sectoral experience, NGOs, and diaspora associations.

(UN Press Release)

September 24, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Lawyer Murdered in Honduras

Honduras: Murder of Antonio Trejo Cabrera

Press Statement
Victoria Nuland
Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
September 24, 2012

The United States is saddened and outraged by the murder of Honduran attorney and human rights defender Antonio Trejo Cabrera, and urges the Honduran government to conduct a full and transparent investigation of his death immediately.

To strengthen measures meant to protect human rights defenders such as Mr. Trejo Cabrera, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Maria Otero led a U.S. delegation to the first Bilateral Human Rights Working Group with the Government of Honduras on September 13, 2012. During the working group meetings, the United States and Honduras committed to work together to combat impunity, reform the Honduran security and justice sectors, and enhance the capacity of Honduran human rights institutions to operate effectively.

The United States is dedicated to working with the Government of Honduras to ensure that those responsible for this reprehensible act are brought to justice, and through the Special Victims Task Force, is assisting the Honduran investigation.

Mr. Trejo Cabrera worked tirelessly to resolve the tragic and complex land conflict in Honduras’s Bajo Aguan, relying on legal challenges and negotiations in a region where disputes are too often settled through violence. We urge all parties to continue his efforts to bring peace to the Bajo Aguan.

(US State Department Press Release) 

September 24, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Outcome Document from the UN High-Level Meeting on the Rule of Law

World leaders today called on all states to recommit to the rule of law as a fundamental factor in preventing war at a United Nations summit that stressed the universality of humanitarian law and the importance of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“We reaffirm that human rights, the rule of law and democracy are interlinked and mutually reinforcing and that they belong to the universal and indivisible core values and principles of the United Nations,” stated the Outcome Document, adopted at Monday’s High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law.  Heads of State and Government and ministers from nearly 80 nations are attending the meeting, which aims to highlight the essential link between the rule of law at the national and international levels and economic growth, sustainable development and the eradication of poverty and hunger.

“The wider body of international law developed at the United Nations gives the international community a basis to cooperate and peacefully resolve conflicts – and the means to ensure that there is no relapse of fighting,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared at the start of the meeting, held the day before the start of the 67th General Assembly’s General Debate session.  The UN chief called on Member States to commit to the equal application of the law at both the national and international levels without selectivity, uphold the highest standards of the rule of law in their decision-making, and accept the jurisdiction of the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal UN judicial organ set up in 1945 to settle legal disputes submitted by States.  States should also strengthen UN initiatives in the rule of law by training police and enhancing the judiciary in fragile and conflict-torn countries around the world, he said.

Addressing the meeting, the General Assembly’s President Vuk Jeremic warned against seeing international as a utopian aspiration with little relevance to the conduct of world affairs.  “By strictly adhering to the rule of law, we discourage the recourse to war,” he declared. “To be effective, the corpus of international law must be observed by all Member States – great and small, rich and poor alike.”

The Outcome Document called on all States that had not yet done so to accept the jurisdiction of the Hague-based ICC, an independent international organization that is not part of the UN and tries those accused of the most serious crimes of international concern, such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. So far 121 countries have adhered to the treaty that set up the ICC.

“We commit to ensuring that impunity is not tolerated for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as for violations of international humanitarian law and gross violations of human rights law,” the document declared.  It underscored the sovereign equality of all States, the right to self-determination of peoples under colonial dominion and foreign occupation, non-interference in the internal affairs of States, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.  It called on States to refrain from promulgating unilateral economic, financial and trade measures that impede full economic and social development, particularly in developing countries, and stressed that the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judicial system are crucial.  The document also emphasized the importance of ensuring that women enjoy the benefits of the rule of law in full equality with men, and that children are protected from discrimination, violence, abuse and exploitation.

“Today’s meeting is a milestone – but it is not an end in itself,” Mr. Ban said in concluding his opening remarks. “Our challenge now is to follow up, and continue to deepen and develop the rule of law, this essential foundation for a better future.”

The heads of various UN bodies also addressed the meeting. The ICJ President, Peter Tomka, welcomed Mr. Ban’s call for all Member States to accept the Court’s jurisdiction. Mr. Tomka noted that only 67 of the UN’s 193 States – or 34 per cent, including only one permanent member of the Security Council – currently accept the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction. That compares with 59 per cent in 1948, when 34 of the then 58 UN Member States, including four of the five permanent members of the Security Council, recognized its jurisdiction.

The Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Helen Clark, whose organization works on rule of law related programmes in over 100 countries by helping to train judges and lawyers and to strengthen national police forces, stressed the fundamental role the issue plays in national development by protecting women from discrimination and righting the wrongs inflicted on the poor and the marginalized.  “Thus rule of law is at the very heart of what is needed for development efforts to be effective,” she said. “Conversely, shortcomings in the rule of law underlie the exclusion, suffering, and poverty of many people.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Navi Pillay, warned that rule of law without human rights is only an empty shell, citing her own experience of growing up in South Africa under the Apartheid regime’s veneer of a ‘rule of law’ based on legislation that institutionalized injustice.  “National action as well as international support to strengthen the rule of law on the ground must be based on the body of international human rights law developed mainly under the auspices of the United Nations,” she said, highlighting the need to end impunity.

(Adapted from UN Press Release)

Click here to read the 6-page Outcome Document


September 24, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)