Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
from The Great Debate UK:
- François Grignon is Director of the Africa Program at the International Crisis Group. the opinions expressed are his own. -
Four years ago, the Sudanese people were promised a brighter future. A peace deal had finally ended the two-decades-long civil war between north and south, which killed more than two million people and devastated the south. But today, that bright future is looking decidedly tarnished, and Sudan is sliding towards violent breakup.
At the core of the current political crisis are delays in implementing key benchmarks laid out in the 2005 deal, known as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The referendum on independence for the South, a key pillar of the arrangement, is due in January 2011. Before that referendum takes place, Sudan must hold national elections. These are now set for April 2010.
But President Omar al Bashir’s government has failed to pass key democratic reforms promised by the Agreement, and without these reforms, there is no way the results of the elections will be accepted and offer a milestone for the peace process.
In the sound and fury following the U.N. nuclear governors’ censure of Iran last week for its cover-up of a second uranium enrichment site, and Tehran’s rejection of a nuclear cooperation deal with world powers, a broader, festering issue was obscured.
That is the question of “alleged military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear programme — that is, whether Tehran illicitly coordinated projects to process uranium, test high explosives and revamp the cone of a missile to fit a nuclear payload.
By Patrick Worsnip
It’s not uncommon for journalists at some point in their careers to cross the barricades and become the people who dish out the news as spokespersons for an organization or firm, rather than being on the receiving end. It requires a different set of skills that can make the transition tough, and a stern test confronts former Reuters correspondent Martin Nesirky, who has just been appointed spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. After a high-flying career at Reuters that saw him fill senior editorial positions in London, Berlin, Moscow and Seoul, Nesirky has had some time to acclimatize to his new role by working for more than three years as spokesman for the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), based in Vienna. But the move to New York brings much more formidable challenges.
Like any U.N. spokesperson, Nesirky, a Briton, will have to take into account the concerns of the 192 nations that belong to the world body. That’s 192 different governments that can get upset by something he might say. But his chief problem may be his boss Ban, whose public image, to put it mildly, could take a little burnishing. Aside from his awkward use of English, which has television producers tearing their hair, Ban has had a rough ride from hostile media that have accused him of failing to use his position to end the world’s conflicts and right its wrongs. (Defenders say he is more effective than he appears, works tirelessly behind closed doors, and has made at least some progress on such intractable issues as climate change, global poverty and the crisis in Darfur.)
Then there is the sprawling and ill-defined nature of the U.N. press and public relations operation, with different officials and factions competing for the secretary-general’s attention and waiting to pounce on any mis-step by one of the others. The outgoing spokeswoman, Michele Montas of Haiti, stuck to the job for less than three years. In trying to stay close to the South Korean secretary-general, Nesirky could benefit from his knowledge of the Korean language from his time in Seoul. He is also married to a South Korean. But these advantages too could be a double-edged sword. U.N. diplomats have long complained that Ban is happiest in a Korean comfort zone and relies too much on a compatriot who serves as his deputy chief-of-staff, Kim Won-soo.
Once a year, North Korea’s often vitriolic rhetoric machine fires up with special intensity to attack those who attack its human rights record. The exchanges usually come toward the end of the year when the U.N. General Assembly approves what has become an annual measure criticising North Korea for having one of the worst rights records in the world.
Reclusive North Korea is a member of only a few international organisations so the annual rebuke at the United Nations stings particularly hard for the state that bills itself as a workers’ paradise, or as it said in a state media report on Tuesday: “the best socialist state in the world as it is centred on the popular masses”.
For years Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and outgoing head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, has warned the United States and other Western powers against jumping to conclusions about Iran’s nuclear program. While Washington, Israel and their allies see increasing indications that Tehran’s secretive nuclear program is aimed at developing weapons, ElBaradei told an audience of academics, politicians and diplomats at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City that his agency has “no concrete evidence” that Tehran is pursuing an atom bomb.
So is Iran’s nuclear program intended solely for lighting light bulbs in the world’s fourth biggest oil producer as Tehran insists? According to ElBaradei, its purpose is something completely different.
At his penultimate meeting with governors of the U.N. nuclear watchdog before he steps down in November, Mohamed ElBaradei gave diplomats a reminder of the colourful prose and no-nonsense authority they may soon miss.
A veteran of the long-running dispute between the West and Iran over its contentious nuclear programme, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency urged the 35-nation governing body to “put (your) heads together to break the logjam,” on the same day that Tehran submitted a package of proposals to foreign powers.
By Patrick Worsnip
What’s more important — the right of a sovereign state to manage its affairs free of outside interference or the duty of the international community to intervene when massive human rights violations are being committed in a country?
The United Nations — nothing if not a talking shop — has been debating that question this week in the General Assembly. It goes to the heart of what the U.N. is all about.
At issue is a declaration issued four years ago by a summit of more than 150 world leaders asserting the “responsibility to protect” — R2P in U.N. jargon — populations threatened with genocide or other mass atrocities. It was a somewhat belated response to widespread criticism of the United Nations for failing to stop massacres in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s.
The carefully crafted declaration said the responsibility began with the government of the country concerned. If that failed, it foresaw a sliding scale of international action, ranging from advice through mediation to — in a last resort — intervention by force. And such a use of force could only be authorized by the Security Council, meaning the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China would all have to agree.
Cautious as it was, the summit document was seen by many advocacy groups as a step on the road to fulfilling their dream that if a government was committing atrocities against its people, the United Nations would march in and stop it.
In the real world, U.N. officials say, that is not going to happen, at least under the peacekeeping rules that have applied in recent decades. These do not authorize U.N. forces to go to war against the national army of a sovereign state — a move that would amount to invasion. Witness the six-year-old conflict in Sudan’s western region of Darfur — branded by some as genocide — where a U.N./African Union peacekeeping force is only now being slowly deployed with the consent of the Khartoum government. The only time that R2P has been invoked in practice — and even then retrospectively — was in former U.N. secretary-General Kofi Annan’s mission to mediate in post-election violence in Kenya last year, U.N. officials say.
This week’s debate was to take stock of R2P and discuss how to take it forward, although no immediate action is expected. It came against the background of a determined attempt by radicals led by General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto, a former Nicaraguan Sandinista government minister, to kick the issue into the long grass.
For D’Escoto and those who agree with him, R2P is code for an attempt by big Western powers to impose their will on the weak. In a contentious “concept note” issued to all U.N. members he declared that “colonialism and interventionism used ‘responsibility to protect’ arguments.” One member of a panel of experts D’Escoto convened to launch the debate, U.S. academic Noam Chomsky, said R2P-type arguments had been used to justify Japan’s 1931 invasion of Manchuria and Nazi Germany’s pre-World War Two move into Czechoslovakia.
While some radical states, such as Venezuela, echoed D’Escoto’s line in the assembly debate, human rights groups expressed relief that most cautiously supported a strictly defined interpretation of R2P and backed proposals by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for developing it. Ban has proposed periodic reviews of how countries have implemented R2P and regular reports by himself on the issue. “To those that argued this week that the U.N. was not ready to make a reality of the commitment to end mass atrocities, the majority of the General Assembly gave its answer: you are wrong,” said Monica Serrano of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. Despite that, there have been clear signs of concern among developing countries that unless tightly controlled, R2P could be used in support of future Iraq-style invasions of countries that have angered the big powers.
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Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, appear to have made little headway in the conundrum that has defied generations of international diplomats.
Small children dressed in dark blue pants and light blue shirts clutched U.N. and Sri Lankan flags as they sang a song in honor of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s arrival at the Manik Farm refugee camp. This is the temporary home to some 220,000 people who fled the final battle between Tamil Tiger rebels and government forces. The camp, Sri Lanka’s biggest, was plastered with posters of a smiling Ban and Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa that said, “Welcome Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to our motherland.”U.N. officials traveling with Ban had voiced concern that his visit could be exploited for propaganda purposes in a kind of victory dance for the Sri Lankan government. The secretary-general was the first major international figure to visit the island nation since the government won a 25-year-old war against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) earlier this month. The officials said Ban would stay on message, demanding full and immediate access to some 290,000 refugees in camps in northern Sri Lanka and urging President Rajapaksa to reach out to the country’s Tamil minority to prevent a renewal of violence.During his visit to Manik Farm, Ban went to a small field hospital, where he saw severely emaciated elderly people attached to saline drips and children with shrapnel wounds. The picture could have been uglier. U.N. officials said the most severely injured – amputees, victims of mine explosions or heavy artillery blasts – were at other hospitals the delegation was not shown.A group of refugees at the Manik Farm camp, the country’s biggest displaced persons camp with over 210,000 residents, said they were outside the conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka but were rounded up by the government in April and brought to the camp. Asked in New York about the refugees’ unverified comments, U.N. humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes said he had no details about any such round-ups. However, he said it was possible that some people outside what was once called the “no-fire” zone were moved by the government into the camps. He noted that all of northeastern Sri Lanka was a war zone in a sense since it had previously been controlled by the Tamil Tigers.Ban and his delegation also flew over the former conflict zone in a tiny strip of coast in northeastern Sri Lanka where U.N. officials have accused the LTTE of using hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians as human shields as they struggled to fight off government forces. During the low-altitude helicopter flight, U.N. officials and reporters saw thousands of empty tents, piles of bicycles and other personal items abandoned in a hurry when the masses of starving civilians were fled for their lives. The burnt-out buses and cars, uprooted and smashed trees and craters filled with water appeared to provide evidence that heavy weapons were despite denials from the government and Tamil Tigers.At the end of the trip, Ban met for an hour with the president to press his demands. Afterwards Ban and Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogllagama spoke to reporters. Ban was asked if he saw evidence of “massive bombing” during the flight over the former battle zone. His answer was that “the fighting must have been severe.” Bogllagama was more direct when asked if he was confident Sri Lanka had committed no war crimes as human rights groups have said. His answer: “Absolutely.”Was Ban’s trip a success? One senior U.N. official told Reuters that Bogllagama repeatedly said “yes, yes, yes” in response to Ban’s demand for immediate and unimpeded access to the camps, though it was not clear when the access would come. A ban on the use of motor vehicles by U.N. or other aid agency personnel, however, remained in place for several more days as the government tried to prevent the escape of any Tigers hiding in the camps. (A few days after Ban left Sri Lanka, the government agreed to allow aid agencies to use cars and trucks at Manik Farm, though without flags and not in convoys.) Aid officials continue to complain that restrictions are crippling aid distribution in the camps.
A United Nations conference on racism is being boycotted by the United States and many of its allies.
They fear the meeting in Geneva will single out Israel for criticism. A previous racism conference in 2001 in Durban, South Africa, was marred by anti-Semitic street protests and attempts to pass a resolution equating Zionism with racism, prompting the United States and Israel to walk out.