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UN grants more than $8 million for Sudanese flood relief effort

The United Nations has granted $8.7 million to help the ongoing humanitarian relief efforts in Sudan in the wake of devastating floods.

“Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes announced that he had approved the grant, which will be allocated among 11 relief projects across Sudan, where torrential rainfall has destroyed or seriously damaged more than 30,000 homes and inundated towns, villages and farmlands.”

Approximately 150,000 people are homeless from the floods.

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About that Russian Arctic “Claim”

Since a Russian submarine planted a flag 13,000 feet underneath the North Pole twelve days ago there has been a new scramble (of sorts) for the Arctic. Denmark sent two ice breakers to survey its potential claims; the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just announced a new mission to map part of the Arctic near Alaska; and at a North American summit in Ottawa today, the Canadian prime minister is expected to assert Canada’s territorial claim over the Northwest Passage.

Fortunately, there is a forum for resolving territorial disputes in the Arctic. So, like Scott Paul says, a “new Cold War” this isn’t. Here is how it works. Common international maritime law stipulates that each country’s territory stretches 200 nautical miles off shore. This means that most of the outer ring of the Arctic Circle is neatly divided by Canada, Russia, Norway, the United States, and Denmark (which controls Greenland). It is the inner ring, however, where the confusion — and competition — arises.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (Unclos) Arctic countries can lay claim to the seabed beyond 200 nautical miles if that seabed is an extension of their continental shelf. A panel of 21 geologists and scientists that sit on a body called the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Self reviews and certifies these claims.

Flag planting has zero standing under international law. It is geology that dictates claims. So if Russia wants to make an internationally recognized claim it must send supporting scientific data to the Commission. Unfortunately, while Russia can take advantage of the rights afforded to it under Unclos, the United States cannot. This is because the United States senate has not yet ratified the treaty. So all the mineral wealth that is believed to be hiding underneath the inner ring of the Artic Circle may be beyond the reach of American petroleum companies.

There is, however, a great deal of domestic support for ratification. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is unanimously in favor of the treaty–as is the president. They are joined by an unlikely coalition of environmental groups, oil companies and the military. All that stands in the way of ratification is 1) senate scheduling 2) a small number of senators who still subscribe to what we may call the “Frank Gaffney worldview” in which Unclos cedes, rather than affirms American sovereignty. But under pressure from both the White House, military, and various interest groups opposition to the treaty from the knee-jerk anti-UN wing of congress is dwindling.

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UNESCO chief speaks out on death of journalist in Iraq

Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), issued a statement on the murder of journalist Adnane al-Safi.

“The murder of Adnane al-Safi strikes yet another blow against peace and democracy in Iraq…His killers stand condemned in the eyes of the world, and I call upon the authorities in Iraq to do their utmost to bring those responsible to justice.”

Some 40 media professionals have been killed this year alone in Iraq.

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UNIFIL One Year On

The Washington Institute on Near East Policy just released a very even-handed assessment of the peacekeeping force deployed to Lebanon following a ceasefire brokered through the Security Council one year ago this week.

The post-2006 UNIFIL is regarded as more robust than its predecessor, with units that include tanks as well as armored fighting vehicles. It also has ships in a maritime task force working in collaboration with the Lebanese navy. UN Security Council Resolution 1701 authorizes “all necessary action in areas of deployment of [UNIFIL's] forces,” qualifying this by also stating “as it deems within its capabilities.”

Both Israeli and UN officials have reported that weapons are being smuggled to Hizballah across the border from Syria, although not in UNIFIL’s area of operations below the Litani river in the south.

According to the report, Unifil’s single greatest challenge is maintaining a visible presence and cordial relationship with the local population, despite the understandable urge to scale back patrols following a suicide car bombing that killed six peacekeepers two months ago.

Some UNIFIL officers favor adopting a more population-centric approach, working to build up personal relationships with the villagers of southern Lebanon and even local Hizballah representatives. Others seem content to simply wait out the rest of their tours in southern Lebanon behind the razor-wire fences encircling their bases.

At the root of the problem is UNIFIL’s greatest strength — the fact that it comprises soldiers from so many different countries…The different contingents do not just vary in training and equipment, but also in the way they conduct themselves within their own sectors..

Success in Southern Lebanon is not a foregone conclusion. There is growing concern, for example, that Unifil may be targeted in the future, possibly to intimidate the international community as the Lebanese Special Tribunal gets off the ground. Still, it is worth recalling that just one year ago a barrage of rockets rained down on northern Israel while thousands of Lebanese civilians became displaced by Israeli bombing. But through diplomacy at the UN, catastrophe was contained.

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UN-HABITAT launches alliance of public water operators

The UN Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), which promotes socially and environmentally sustainable housing, has launched a new worldwide alliance with water operators to improve to clean water and basic sanitation.

The new Global Water Operators Partnership Alliance is designed to strengthen the capacities of the public water operators that provide more than 90 per cent of water and sanitation services in developing nations.

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Netherlands Close to Agreeing to Host the Hariri Tribunal

According to press reports the Dutch government is putting the final touches on a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations over hosting the Lebanese Special Tribunal. The only thing that needs to be resolved, says the Dutch government, is an agreement by a second country to imprison people convicted by the tribunal, which will try those responsible for a wave of political assassinations in Lebanon, including the 2005 car bombing that killed Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The tribunal’s precise location in Holland is still being decided. One option may be the facilities of the International Criminal Court, which are being used by the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. (Like the Taylor trial, if the Lebanese Tribunal is held at the ICC the tribunal will operate under its own rules, not those of the ICC.)

It deserves mentioning that both the Hariri tribunal and the Special Court for Sierra Leone were created by the Security Council with strong American backing. The ICC is an independent institution that does not enjoy American support. But by hosting the Taylor trial–and potentially holding the Hariri Tribunal–the ICC may be tacitly showing skeptics that it can, in fact, be a useful institution to support.

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