Ban Ki Moon's final press conference before much of the UN vacates in August. He touches on his recent trip to China/Mongolia; the Capital Master Plan (i.e.the massive renovation of the UN building); and, of course, climate change.
As Emily reported yesterday, the President of the General Assembly convened a panel discussion yesterday that wasn't exactly friendly toward the Responsibility to Protect. This was, as I explained earlier, part of an unfortunate PGA power play (no, that's not a mixed sports metaphor) to back off from R2P. But to hear The Economist tell it, it was practically an anti-R2P putsch.
Contrary to The Economist's salacious wording, I don't think it's worth affording this week's discussions the gravity of a "campaign to sabotage R2P." Nor did it occur "in defiance of Ban Ki-moon," who gave his remarks a couple days before the actual debate, making the savvy argument to not replace the "substance" of R2P with the "rancor" of politically fraught debate.
There are critics of R2P, to be sure, some legitimate, but many brandishing misconstructions of the doctrine as a sort of handy fig leaf for neocolonialism. What they are brandishing, however, are the sharpened "knives" with with The Economist claims certain governments are attempting to "unravel" R2P. The responsibility to protect is not going to collapse because of this week's discussion, past Security Council resolutions are not going to "un-invoke" R2P, and, hopefully, the debate will progress to the level of how best to prevent mass atrocities and protect civilian populations.
In September 2005, countries of the United Nations took a momentous step and endorsed the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine, a framework designed to protect civilians from mass atrocities in cases in which their own governments prove unable or unwilling to do so. The doctrine is contentious, and it has only become more so with misinterpretation -- a common caricature is that it means that "borders are nothing and human rights are everything" -- and discussion of the concept in inappropriate contexts. Yet the basis of Responsibility to Protect remains universally endorsed, as expressed by the General Assembly three years ago: the international community must find a way to ensure the protection of innocent civilians, using mechanisms that neither abridge nor are effaced by the concept of state sovereignty.
Today the Secretary-General presented his report on R2P, and tomorrow the potential for controversy grows when the GA meets to discuss the doctrine. As it was the GA that endorsed R2P in 2005, it is in a position to reaffirm its support. The possibility, however, given some countries' growing discomfort with (at least a misinterpreted version of) the concept, as well as GA President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann's particular style, exists that the GA will try to water down R2P or back off from the UN's embrace of it.
This would be a grievous, and terribly counterproductive, mistake. In adopting R2P three years ago, GA countries signaled their commitment to helping the doctrine progress, making its laudable goals an achievable reality. The emphasis on R2P shifted to the more powerful Security Council, which officially incorporated the next year in Resolution 1674, then applied it to the specific case of Darfur. It has been hard enough to implement R2P; the misguided notion that it provides carte blanche for military intervention by Western powers is entirely fictitious, but it carries with it easy political points for the leaders of developing countries.
The GA naturally has many such leaders, and it would be regrettable if the current structure and politics of one UN body were to undermine -- or just treat without its due seriousness -- a seminal accomplishment in the UN's history. Efforts should be focused on operationalizing R2P, strengthening its robust protection imperatives, and negotiating the global means to provide protection when it is needed. Provocative, and utterly substanceless, conceptions of R2P -- those that claim that it is merely a vehicle for neocoloniasm -- only detract from these efforts. I echo the plea Ban Ki-moon made this morning:
First, resist those who try to change the subject or turn our common effort to curb the worst atrocities in human history into a struggle over ideology, geography or economics. What do they offer to the victims of mass violence? Rancor instead of substance, rhetoric instead of policy, despair instead of hope. We can, and must, do better.
This is not about an R2P #2; this is the same Responsibility to Protect, one that countries still share as their crowning objective. Rather than mar its integrity in a raw publicity stunt, it'd be helpful for the GA to take note of the S-G's report and move forward in a positive direction.
Another tragic example of the dangers that UN personnel face:
The attack on the U.N. worker took place early Thursday at the Kacha Garhi camp near Peshawar. Local police chief Ghayoor Afridi said the assailants tried to abduct the U.N. official and opened fire when he resisted.
The chief of the U.N. refugee agency in Pakistan, Guenet Guebre-Christos, identified the dead U.N. worker as Zill-e-Usman, a 59-year-old Pakistani in charge of the U.N.'s relief efforts at the camp. She said Usman had worked for the U.N. for nearly 30 years and was set to retire soon.
"He was quite an old hand and he was looking forward to his retirement," Guebre-Christos told The Associated Press. She strongly condemned the attack, calling it a "cowardly assassination."
This UN worker was one of many trying to help the two million Pakistani civilians that have been displaced. Trying to abduct him -- and hinder the protection and resettlement of fellow Pakistanis in the process -- was indeed cowardly, as well as foolish, egotistical, and vile.
The report also notes the arrival of the UN team, led by Chilean ambassador Heraldo Munoz, tasked with investigating another cowardly assassination in the country: that of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
The facts that China appears to be on board -- not to mention that the UN panel on North Korea sanctions may come to consensus before its deadline -- do not bode well for a defiant Pyongyang.
The U.N. Security Council neared agreement on Wednesday on North Korean firms and individuals to be added to a blacklist for involvement in Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, diplomats said
"We are very close" to agreement, Japanese Ambassador Yukio Takasu told reporters. Diplomats from several countries said a council committee that has been discussing the issue for a month was on target to meet a weekend deadline for completing its task and could do so as early as Wednesday.
Meanwhile, North Korea insists that its "sovereignty" be respected before negotiations can recommence. This seems to have it completely backwards. North Korea's leaders aren't exactly the ones to place conditions here; they're the ones who will need to reconsider their country's nuclear program if they are interested in, say, having unfrozen bank accounts or being able to travel anywhere.
Yet I wouldn't be surprised to hear some off-the-mark commentators continue to insist that an utterly isolated North Korea somehow has "the upper hand" in this drama.
Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said that until the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, the banking system "has been very active and clean," forcing organized crime to return to cash transactions.
"That was basically the situation until the financial crisis, which started as a liquidity problem, an unwillingness of banks to (engage in) inter-banking transactions," Costa said. "So you have on the one hand a supply, resources, cash from organized crime and you have banks very (that are) illiquid and striving for cash. Well, that is really license for organized crime to penetrate into the financial system."
And as with much of the rest of the economy, this dynamic is profiting the few at the expense of the many. Costa made his rather canny financial analysis during the launch of a program bringing multiple UN agencies together to combat West Africa's rampant trafficking problems, which span from drugs to toxic wastes (?!?). The UN's political, economic, and peacekeeping offices are all involved in the effort, which is placing an emphasis on the post-conflict issues that trouble much of the region.
On the plus side, it does seem that the "cocaine iceberg" of trafficking from West Africa to Europe is shrinking.
The violence between ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese that Alanna has blogged about may find its way to the Security Council. Via Ambassador at Large:
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan announced today at a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting that he wants the issue of violence in Xinjiang discussed at the Security Council.
The Turks, currently non-permanent members of the Council and serving as President of the Council for the month of July, are usually reticent of [sic] bringing issues of internal ethnic unrest within states to the Council because of their domestic issues with the Kurds.
Erdogan may want to bring the matter up because many Turks see Uighurs as Turkic-speaking cousins, but the violence does happen to be occurring during Turkish presidency of the Council. And it's a good sign if countries are willing to talk about issues as they exist, without fearing the implications for "their own" similar issues, such as the status of Turkish Kurds, which should be addressed, but in its own different forum.
At any rate, don't expect the Chinese, who of course wield a veto, to be too keen to discuss the matter.
Replacing Staffan de Mistura will be the current deputy head of the UN Development Program, Dutchman Ad Melkert. Some praise:
U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said Melkert would bring to the Iraq job "a unique combination of extensive political experience ... and economic and development expertise."
"As a result he enters with a deep understanding of the nature of the challenges and priorities that face Iraq at this phase of its transition," she told a news briefing.
He's got his work cut out for him.