Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘United Nations’

UN chief appoints Briton as Yemen envoy

February 16, 2018

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed former British diplomat Martin Griffiths as his new envoy charged with trying to broker peace in Yemen, the UN announced on Friday.

Guterres notified the UN Security Council of his intention to appoint Griffiths earlier this week and the 15-member council approved his choice on Thursday evening.

“Mr Griffiths brings extensive experience in conflict resolution, negotiation, mediation and humanitarian affairs,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Friday.

Griffiths, currently executive director of the European Institute of Peace, replaces Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who the UN said would step down after three years in the job when his current contract finishes this month.

A Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015, backing government forces fighting Iran-allied Houthi rebels. Yemen, which relies heavily on imports for food, is on the brink of famine and nearly 1 million people have been infected with cholera.

Source: Middle East Monitor.



UN warns of rampant sexual violence in Greek refugee camps


ATHENS – Asylum seekers in Greece suffer widespread sexual violence and harassment in the country’s sub-standard, overcrowded reception centers, the UN said on Friday.

In 2017, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) received reports from 622 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence on the Greek islands, around one third of whom said they had been assaulted after arriving in Greece.

But UNHCR spokesman Cecile Pouilly said that there is a reluctance to report such violence out of fear, shame and concerns about discrimination, retaliation and stigma.

“The actual number of incidents is therefore likely to be much higher than reported,” she told reporters in Geneva, acknowledging that the UN has only a “very partial picture of what the reality is.”

Pouilly said the situation was most worrying in the reception and identification centers of Moira on Lesbos, and Vathy on Samos, “where thousands of refugees continue to stay in unsuitable shelter with inadequate security.”

These centers are currently holding around 5,500 people — double their capacity, she added.

– Afraid to shower –

“In these two centers, bathrooms and latrines are no-go zones after dark for women and children,” she said, adding that “even bathing during the daytime can be dangerous.

In Moira, one woman told UNHCR staff that she had not showered for two months for fear of being attacked.

Pouilly said an acceleration in recent weeks of transfers to the mainland had slightly reduced overcrowding.

But she warned that even now “crowded conditions hinder outreach and prevention activities.”

In Moira, 30 government medical staff, psychologists and social workers are squeezed together in three rooms where they conduct examinations and assessments with little to no privacy, she said.

UNHCR welcomed measures taken by Athens to reduce the violence, but said other steps were needed.

It said, for instance, that women should not be forced to live in close quarters with men they do not know.

The UN agency also called for more efforts to reduce overcrowding and improve lighting in toilet and shower areas, as well as an increased police presence.

The Aegean Sea had been a main point of entry for asylum seekers to Europe, which has been facing its worst migrant crisis since World War II.

But the flow of migrants to Greece has been sharply cut since the EU signed a controversial deal with Turkey in 2016 to send back migrants.

Greece said last month that it still shouldered a “disproportionate burden” of the EU’s asylum applications in 2017, taking 8.5 percent of the bloc’s total requests.

The country of 11 million people recorded 58,661 applications last year, making Greece the European country with the highest number of asylum seekers per capita, according to the Greek Asylum Service.

Source: Middle East Online.


UN court lays down Costa Rica, Nicaragua maritime borders

February 03, 2018

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Court of Justice laid down definitive maritime boundaries Friday between Costa Rica and Nicaragua in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean and a small land boundary in a remote, disputed wetland.

As part of the complex ruling, the United Nations’ highest judicial organ ruled that a Nicaraguan military base on part of the disputed coastline close to the mouth of the San Juan River is on Costa Rican territory and must be removed.

Ruling in two cases filed by Costa Rica, the 16-judge U.N. panel took into account the two countries’ coastlines and some islands in drawing what it called “equitable” maritime borders that carved up the continental shelf underneath the Caribbean and Pacific.

Such rulings can affect issues including fishing rights and exploration for resources like oil. Earlier, the court ordered Nicaragua to compensate Costa Rica for damage Nicaragua caused with unlawful construction work near the mouth of the San Juan River, the court’s first foray into assessing costs for environmental damage.

The order by the United Nations’ principal judicial organ followed a December 2015 ruling that Nicaragua violated Costa Rica’s sovereignty by establishing a military camp and digging channels near the river, part of a long-running border dispute in the remote region on the shores of the Caribbean Sea.

In total, Nicaragua was ordered to pay just over $378,890 for environmental damage and other costs incurred by Costa Rica— a small fraction of the $6.7 million sought by San Jose. That “represents a great defeat for Costa Rica and its ambitions, and a vindication of Nicaragua’s position,” President Daniel Ortega’s government said in a statement.

Nicaraguan vice president, government spokeswoman and first lady Rosario Murillo said the findings “leave us with ample natural patrimony both in the Caribbean and in the Pacific.” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez said the court did not take into account environmental recovery projected over 50 years in areas where trees more than two centuries old were logged, but added that his country would abide by the ruling.

“This should be one of the last chapters of that painful page of our bilateral history,” Gonzalez said in a statement. Decisions by the court based in The Hague, Netherlands, are final and legally binding.

Associated Press writers Javier Cordoba in San Jose, Costa Rica, and Luis Manuel Galeano in Managua, Nicaragua, contributed to this report.

Free at last: A UN without US diplomatic blackmail

December 22, 2017

Not for the first time, the free world has stood up for truth and justice in Palestine. The General Assembly’s vote against President Trump’s decision on Jerusalem was a victory for the rule of law over the law of the jungle. It now leaves both the US and Israel isolated, disgraced and humiliated.

Washington’s threat to cut aid to countries that voted not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was an insult to the UN and a vicious assault on the sovereign rights of its members. In their customary delusional manner, Israelis believed the US threat was enough to force compliance. They were mistaken; people around the world are simply tired of their arrogance and unethical conduct.

As it stands, Trump’s threat is consistent with a long-standing policy of US blackmail and intimidation exerted within the UN to further Israel’s illegal claims. It was no different from the threats issued to impoverished nations to extract the controversial UN Partition Resolution 181 in 1947.

When that vote was taken, it narrowly gained the two-thirds majority to be adopted – 33 countries voted in favor, 13 opposed and ten abstained. Haiti, Liberia and the Philippines all opposed the partition plan initially but were forced to change their position following the intervention of officials “at the highest levels in Washington”, including President Harry Truman. They were threatened with the withdrawal of US financial aid. James Forrestal, the then Secretary of Defense admitted that “the methods that had been used…to bring coercion and duress on other nations in the General Assembly bordered closely onto scandal.”

By allowing itself to be used in such a scandalous manner to facilitate the claims of one people, the UN had done immense damage to its credibility. It had, in fact, violated one of the most fundamental principles of its Charter namely, “respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples” (Article 1).

There were, apart from Forrestal, other US officials who were prepared to acknowledge the wrong done to the Palestinian people. Commander E.H. Hutchison, who chaired the Jordan-Israel Armistice Commission after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, recalled that “every step in the establishment of a Zionist state” was “a challenge to justice”.

While there are parallels between what happened in the General Assembly in 1947 and 2017, there are, nonetheless, striking differences. Both presidents, Trump and Truman, sought to exploit an international crisis to bolster their domestic standings. However, what the incumbent president does not realize is that the free world has moved on from the days of diplomatic blackmail. So, whereas two-thirds were coerced to vote for partition in 1947, 70 years on two-thirds exercised their free will and voted for peace and the rule of law.

Where does this crushing defeat leave Israel and its mercurial Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu? For sure, Israel will become more isolated among the community of nations. Instead of countries moving their embassies to Jerusalem many will now consider severing or curtailing diplomatic contact with the Zionist state. South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) has taken the lead by adopting a resolution at its national conference to downgrade the South African embassy in Israel to a liaison office.

As for Netanyahu, the UN defeat will, almost certainly, increase calls for his resignation. He is, in political terms, damaged goods, even to the point of being toxic. Only the delusional would want to be associated with him.

Instead of disparaging the UN as “the house of lies”, the Israeli prime minister and his fellow travelers should be eternally grateful to the world body for voting to partition Palestine. Gratitude, regrettably, has never been in their lexicon.

In years gone by, Israel was aided and encouraged by a combination of blind American support; indifference on the part of western powers; and the complicity of “leading” Arab countries. If nothing else, yesterday’s vote at the UN on Jerusalem must mark the beginning of the end of that long chapter of subterfuge.

Political disasters can sometimes be turned into opportunities. This scandalous attempt by the Trump administration to trample roughshod over the UN, in defiance of international norms and standards, must be seized as an opportunity to review Israel’s membership of the world body. After all, it was admitted to the world body on condition that it respects the terms of partition and allows the Palestinian refugees to return (Resolution 273). Israel has not only refused to honor the terms of its membership; it has systematically undermined the UN Charter and brought the world body into disrepute. Surely, the UN would be a much better organisation without member states like this.

As for the Arab leaders who were misled into believing that Donald Trump can realize their grand ambitions, they too must think again.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


UN denounces US recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli capital

December 22, 2017

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Thursday to denounce President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, largely ignoring Trump’s threats to cut off aid to any country that went against him.

The nonbinding resolution declaring U.S. action on Jerusalem “null and void” was approved 128-9 — a victory for the Palestinians, but not as big as they predicted. Amid Washington’s threats, 35 of the 193 U.N. member nations abstained and 21 were absent.

The resolution reaffirmed what has been the United Nations’ stand on the divided holy city since 1967: that Jerusalem’s final status must be decided in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Trump administration made it clear the vote would have no effect on its plan to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said afterward that he completely rejects the “preposterous” resolution.

Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour called the vote a victory not only for the Palestinians but for the United Nations and international law, saying U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley “failed miserably” in persuading only seven countries aside from the U.S. and Israel to vote against the resolution.

“And they used unprecedented tactics, unheard of in the diplomatic work at the U.N., including blackmail and extortion,” he said. The United States and Israel had waged an intensive lobbying campaign against the measure, with Haley sending letters to over 180 countries warning that Washington would be taking names of those who voted against the U.S. Trump went further, threatening a funding cutoff: “Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”

But in the end, major U.S. aid recipients including Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Africa supported the resolution. Egypt received roughly $1.4 billion in U.S. aid this year, and Jordan about $1.3 billion.

The nine countries voting “no” were the U.S., Israel, Guatemala, Honduras, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, the Marshall Islands and Togo. Among the abstentions were Australia, Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic and Mexico.

The absent countries included Kenya, which was the fifth-largest recipient of U.S. aid last year, Georgia and Ukraine, all of which have close U.S. ties. After the vote, Haley tweeted a photo naming the 65 nations that voted no, abstained or were absent, and said: “We appreciate these countries for not falling to the irresponsible ways of the UN.”

She later sent invitations to the 65 ambassadors inviting them to a reception on Jan. 3 to thank them for their friendship with the United States. The U.S. is scheduled to dispense $25.8 billion in foreign aid for 2018. Whether Trump follows through with his threat against those who voted “yes” remains to be seen.

But within hours, the Trump administration appeared to be backing away from its funding threats. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said cuts to countries that opposed the U.S. are not a foregone conclusion.

“The president’s foreign policy team has been empowered to explore various options going forward with other nations,” Nauert said. “However, no decisions have been made.” During the debate, Arab, Islamic and non-aligned nations urged a “yes” vote on the resolution, which was sponsored by Yemen and Turkey.

Yemeni Ambassador Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany warned that Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem undermines any chance for peace in the Mideast and “serves to fan the fires of violence and extremism.” He called Trump’s action “a blatant violation of the rights of the Palestinian people and the Arab nations, and all Muslims and Christians of the world,” and “a dangerous violation and breach of international law.”

On Wednesday, Trump complained that Americans are tired of being taken advantage of by countries that take billions of dollars and then vote against the U.S. Haley echoed his words in her speech to the packed assembly chamber, threatening not only member states with funding cuts, but the United Nations itself.

Haley said the vote will make no difference in U.S. plans to move the American Embassy, but it “will make a difference on how Americans look at the U.N., and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the U.N.”

“And this vote will be remembered,” she warned. Trump’s pressure tactics had raised the stakes at Thursday’s emergency meeting and triggered accusations from the Muslim world of U.S. bullying and blackmail.

“It is unethical to think that the votes and dignity of member states are for sale,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. “We will not be intimidated! You can be strong but this does not make you right!”

The Palestinians and their supporters sought the General Assembly vote after the U.S. on Monday vetoed a resolution supported by the 14 other U.N. Security Council members that would have required Trump to rescind his declaration on Jerusalem.

The resolution adopted by the assembly has language similar to the defeated measure. It “affirms that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the holy city of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded.”

Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Joe Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

France’s Audrey Azoulay wins vote to be next UNESCO chief

October 14, 2017

PARIS (AP) — UNESCO’s executive board voted Friday to make a former French government minister the U.N. cultural agency’s next chief after an unusually heated election that was overshadowed by Middle East tensions.

The board’s selection of Audrey Azoulay over a Qatari candidate came the day after the United States announced that it intends to pull out of UNESCO because of its alleged anti-Israel bias. The news rocked a weeklong election already marked by geopolitical resentments, concerns about the Paris-based agency’s dwindling funding and questions about its future purpose.

If confirmed by UNESCO’s general assembly next month, Azoulay will succeed outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, whose eight-year term was marred by financial woes and criticism over Palestine’s inclusion in 2011 as a member state.

Azoulay narrowly beat Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari in the final 30-28 vote after she won a runoff with a third finalist from Egypt earlier Friday. The outcome was a blow for Arab states that have long wanted to lead the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

UNESCO has had European, Asian, African and American chiefs, but never one from an Arab country. In brief remarks after she won the election, Azoulay, 45, said the response to UNESCO’s problems should be to reform the agency, not to walk away from it.

“In this moment of crisis, I believe we must invest in UNESCO more than ever, look to support and reinforce it, and to reform it. And not leave it,” she said. The new director will set priorities for the organization best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions. The agency also works to improve education for girls, promote an understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, defend media freedom and coordinate science on climate change.

The next leader also will have to contend with the withdrawal of both the U.S. and Israel, which applauded its ally for defending it and said Thursday that it also would be leaving UNESCO. The election itself had become highly politicized even before the U.S. announced its planned departure.

Azoulay started the week with much less support than Qatar’s al-Kawari but built up backing as other candidates dropped out. She went on to win a runoff with a third finalist, Moushira Khattab of Egypt. Egypt’s foreign ministry has demanded an inquiry into alleged “violations” during the voting.

Jewish groups opposed al-Kawari, citing a preface he wrote to a 2013 Arabic book called “Jerusalem in the Eyes of the Poets” that they claimed was anti-Semitic. He wrote, “We pray to God to liberate (Jerusalem) from captivity and we pray to God to give Muslims the honor of liberating it.”

In March, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre wrote an open letter to German Ambassador Michael Worbs, chair of the UNESCO Executive Board, to criticize the organization for accepting the former Qatari culture minister’s candidacy.

During the months leading up to the election, Egypt and three other Arab nations were engaged in a boycott of Qatar over allegations that the government funds extremists and has overly warm ties to Iran.

French media reported that Qatar recently invited several members of the UNESCO executive board on an all-expenses-paid trip to the country’s capital, Doha. Azoulay’s late entry into the leadership race in March also annoyed many UNESCO member states that argued that France shouldn’t field a candidate since it hosts the agency. Arab intellectuals urged French President Emmanuel Macron to withdraw his support for her.

She will be UNESCO’s second female chief and its second French chief after Rene Maheu, UNESCO’s director general from 1961-74. While she is Jewish, her father is Moroccan and was an influential adviser to Moroccan kings, so she also has a connection to the Arab world.

The Trump administration had been preparing for a likely withdrawal from UNESCO for months, but the timing of the State Department’s announcement that it would leave at the end of 2018 was unexpected. Along with hostility to Israel, the U.S. cited “the need for fundamental reform in the organization.”

The outgoing Bokova expressed “profound regret” at the U.S. decision and defended UNESCO’s reputation. The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011, but the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes. UNESCO says the U.S. now owes about $550 million in back payments.

Azoulay acknowledged the image of the organization — founded after World War II to foster peace, but marred by infighting between Arab member states and Israel and its allies — needed rebuilding. “The first thing I will do will be to focus on restoring its credibility,” she said.

While UNESCO’s general assembly must sign off month on the executive board’s leadership pick, but officials said the confirmation vote typically is a formality.

Masha Macpherson contributed to this report.

France and Qatar get to final of UNESCO chief vote

October 13, 2017

PARIS (AP) — The election of UNESCO’s new chief has been narrowed down to two candidates, one from Qatar and the other from France. The winner to be selected on Friday will succeed outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova, whose 8-year term leading the U.N. cultural agency was marred by financial woes and criticism over Palestine’s inclusion as a member.

The final vote comes the day after the U.S. and Israel said they plan to pull out of the Paris-based organization over perceived anti-Israel bias. Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari and France’s Audrey Azoulay are vying to get the needed 30 votes from UNESCO’s executive board.

Arab countries have long wanted to lead the organization, but the Palestine issue has complicated the election. UNESCO’s general assembly will have to sign off on the board’s pick.

Tag Cloud