Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
Suporters of rights for gays and lesbians worldwide secured a major victory at the United Nations this week. The 192-nation U.N. General Assembly voted to restore a reference to killings due to sexual orientation that had been deleted from a resolution condemning unjustified slayings. The shift came after the United States submitted an amendment to restore the reference, which the General Assembly’s human rights committee removed last month from a resolution on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions that is adopted every two years.
The U.S. amendment that restored the reference to sexual orientation was adopted with 93 votes in favor, 55 against and 27 abstentions. The amended resolution was then approved with 122 yes votes, one against and 62 abstentions. (Saudi Arabia cast the sole vote against the resolution, and the United States was among those who abstained.)
The committee’s deletion of the reference last month — at the proposal of African and Arab nations — had outraged Western countries and human rights activists. Similar resolutions adopted in previous years have explicitly mentioned killings due to sexual preference, along with slayings for racial, national, ethnic, religious or linguistic reasons and killings of refugees, indigenous people and other groups.
Cary Alan Johnson, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), was pleased with the outcome. “The outpouring of support from the international community sent the strong message to our representatives at the U.N. that it is unacceptable to make invisible the deadly violence LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people face because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.”
It happens every year. When the U.S. president arrives at the United Nations for the General Assembly’s annual gathering of world leaders, the east side of midtown Manhattan goes into lockdown mode. You can’t cross the streets before he arrives and until well after the most powerful man in the world has safely arrived inside the headquarters of world diplomacy.
President Barack Obama was a little late this year and unable to keep his prestigious spot as the second speaker in the annual marathon of speeches. When Obama failed to show, the Swiss president of the General Assembly Joseph Deiss announced that the president of his homeland, Doris Leuthard, would take Obama’s place and give Switzerland’s address.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a U.N. General Assembly session on poverty this week that capitalism is on the verge of death and that it’s time for a new economic system.
“The discriminatory order of capitalism and the hegemonic approaches are facing defeat and are getting close to their end,” Ahmadinejad said at a summit meeting assessing progress on achieving U.N. goals to drastically reduce poverty by 2015.
Ban Ki-moon isn’t having a good year for public relations. Halfway through a five-year term as U.N. secretary-general, he’s been hit with a wave of negative assessments by the Financial Times, The Economist, London Times, Foreign Policy and other media organizations. In a March 2009 editorial entitled “Whereabouts Unknown,” the Times said Ban was “virtually inaudible” on pressing issues of international security and “ineffectual” on climate change, the one issue that Ban claims he has made the biggest difference on. The Economist gave him a mixed report card, assigning him two out of 10 points for his management skills while praising him on climate change (eight out of 10 points).
This week, Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper made an unpleasant situation much worse. It published a confidential memo assessing Ban’s 2-1/2 years in office from Oslo’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Mona Juul, to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Juul’s report is scathing — and it comes from a representative of one of the world’s body’s top financial contributors. She says the former South Korean foreign minister suffers from a “lack of charisma” and has “constant temper tantrums” in his offices on the 38th floor of the United Nations building in midtown Manhattan.
She describes Ban as a “powerless observer” during the fighting in Sri Lanka earlier this year when thousands of civilians were killed as government forces ended a 25-year civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels, trapping them on a narrow strip of coast in the country’s northeast. In Darfur, Somalia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Congo, she wrote, Ban’s “passive and not very committed appeals seem to fall on deaf ears.” She says that his recent trip to Myanmar was a failure and that some people in Washington refer to Ban as a “one-term” secretary-general.
Juul’s letter could hardly have come at a more inopportune time. Ban is planning to visit Norway in the coming weeks, where he intends to meet with government officials and visit the Arctic circle to see for himself the effects of global warming and the melting polar ice. Now U.N. officials fear reporters will be more interested in what he says about Juul’s memo than climate change.
So far Ban has not reacted to the letter. However, a Norwegian diplomat told Reuters that Ban’s press office had been instructed to hold off on confirming his visit to Norway shortly after the news of Juul’s memo began to spread.
Ban’s PR difficulties didn’t start this year. In March 2008, his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar sent a memo to U.N. employees explaining how to say his boss’s name. “Many world leaders, some of whom are well acquainted with the Secretary-General, still use his first name mistakenly as his surname and address him wrongly as Mr. Ki-moon or Mr. Moon,” Nambiar complained.
Then came Ban’s own speech to senior U.N. officials in Turin, Italy last year, in which he described how difficult it was to improve the working culture inside the United Nations. The secretary-general seemed to acknowledge that his internal management style had failed. “I tried to lead by example,” Ban said. “Nobody followed.”
Ban’s aides vehemently defend him, saying he’s being treated unfairly by the press. One senior U.N. official suggested privately that Ban could very well turn out to be “the greatest secretary-general ever.” They complain that people continue to compare him to his predecessor Kofi Annan, who was a very different U.N. chief and relied less on “quiet diplomacy” than Ban. Annan became a hero to many people around the world for standing up to the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Annan called the March 2003 invasion illegal. U.N. officials also complain bitterly about the indefatigable blogger Matthew Lee, whose website Inner City Press regularly accuses Ban and other U.N. officials of hypocrisy and failing to keep their promises to reform the United Nations and root out corruption. (Some U.N. officials accuse Lee of not always getting his facts right, but his blog has become unofficial required reading for U.N. staffers around the world.)
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, diplomats in New York say, is among those supporting a campaign against a second term for Ban. Juul’s memo said Helen Clark, New Zealand’s former prime minister and current head of the U.N. Development Program, “could quickly become a competitor for Ban’s second term.” But diplomats say they expect the United States, Britain and other major powers to reluctantly back a second term for Ban, if only because there appears to be no viable alternative whom Russia and China would support.
A recent article in the Times of London said the best U.N. chief in the organization’s 64-year history was not Swedish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dag Hammarskjold but the Peruvian diplomat Javier Perez de Cuellar, who held the top U.N. post for 10 years until 1992. Nicknamed “mumbles” because he was so difficult to understand, Perez de Cuellar kept a low profile and, like Ban, preferred backroom diplomacy, not Annan’s bully pulpit. Among the Peruvian diplomat’s successes were managing the end of the Cold War, leading a long-delayed revival of U.N. peacekeeping and encouraging member states to back a U.S.-led military operation to drive Iraq’s invading forces out of Kuwait in 1991.
Will Ban’s preference for quiet diplomacy make him as good or better than Perez de Cuellar? That remains to be seen.
Representatives of the world’s poorest countries joined other U.N. member states in New York this week at a three-day meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on the global financial crisis and its impact on the developing world.
Many delegates from “the South” blasted capitalism and the wealthy Western powers for the crisis. For once they could say they did not cause it though they are the biggest victims. Cuban Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz told the delegations — roughly three quarters of the General Assembly’s 192 member states are participating — that retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro had foreseen the current crisis nearly three decades go.
There is a saying in English that people are judged by the company they keep. If this applied to countries, the United States would not fare well when it comes to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Although Washington signed the pact, which would ban all nuclear tests if it ever comes into force, in 1996, U.S. lawmakers have never ratified it. Eight other countries with nuclear activities must ratify the treaty before it can enter into force.
Those other hold-out countries are China, North Korea, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel and Pakistan. Two of those — Iran and North Korea — are members of a trio which U.S. President George W. Bush once referred to as the “axis of evil.”
Iraq, which was a member of Bush’s axis of evil until the U.S. invasion in 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein’s government, signed the treaty last month, though Iraqi parliament has yet to ratify it.
The treaty opened for signatures 12 years ago. Since then, 179 nations have signed and 144 ratified it. Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno Ugarte told a news conference on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York that “these nine countries must not hold the international community at bay.”
Ugarte was one of some 40 foreign ministers who issued a joint statement calling on the United States, Iran, North Korea and the rest to ratify the treaty.
Even veteran Hollywood Actor Michael Douglas, a U.N. messenger of peace, appeared at the United Nations in support of the CTBT alongside former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry and the Costa Rican, Australian and Austrian foreign ministers.
When the United States signed the treaty in 1996, President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was in charge, but the then-Republican-majority U.S. Senate rejected it in 1999. When Bush took office in 2001 his administration made clear it did not want its options limited by such a treaty and never resubmitted it. It has has, however, continued to observe the U.S. moratorium on nuclear testing that began in 1992.
Perry, who was in Clinton’s cabinet when Washington signed the CTBT in 1996, made it clear that he supports Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, who Perry expects will push the U.S. legislature to ratify the treaty if he becomes president. Even Republican candidate Sen. John McCain, Perry said, might make a U-turn from the Bush administration on this issue in an attempt to reingratiate Washington with allies overseas.
Some analysts have said that if the United States fails to ratifies the treaty, it will most likely die.
What do you think? Should the next U.S. president push for ratification of the treaty banning all nuclear tests or would it be better to keep the door open to research on new and improved atomic weapons in the interest of keeping the United States and its allies safe?
Today’s European edition of the International Herald Tribune is fronted by a photo montage of the presidents of Senegal, Afghanistan, Bolivia, Argentina, France and Brazil.
They have two things in common – all are attending this week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York and all see a global threat from the financial crisis that began on Wall Street and, in the words of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines, has moved “like a terrible tsunami around the globe”.