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Donald Trump and the United Nations: What to Expect at the UN General Assembly This Week

23. September 2018 - 15:16

Donald Trump will spend three consecutive days at the United Nations. And this year, like last year, his speeches, off the cuff remarks and general comportment will drive the discussion in New York.

On Monday, Trump will chair a meeting focused on counter narcotics and drugs. This event is mostly intended for a domestic political audience and includes a somewhat banal pledge from attendees to engage more deeply on supply and demand side issues of the drugs trade. It will be a brief event, and attendees are promised a photo-op with Trump.

On Tuesday, Trump delivers his remarks to the General Assembly. Given the apparently warm feelings that Trump now holds for Kim Jong Un, we probably cannot expect a repetition of his bellicose rhetoric from last year in which he derided Kim. However, we probably can expect some harsh words directed against the Palestinians, as the United States has recently broken with decades of precedent and cut off virtually all humanitarian to Palestinian refugees and bi-lateral assistance to the Palestinian Authority. We can also expect Trump to hit on themes of sovereignty, stressing that the United States should remain above reproach and not bound to international agreements like the Paris Accords.  

The real drama may unfold on Wednesday, when President Trump is scheduled to chair a meeting of the United Nations Security Council. 

The United States currently holds the presidency of the Security Council, a position that rotates each month between member states. This gives the United States the chance to set the Security Council’s schedule for September, and therefore the US president the opportunity to serve as President of the Security Council when other heads of state are in town.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley first announced in early September that this meeting would focus on Iran. Days later, she walked that back after it became obvious that every single country on the Security Council, including America’s closest allies, would use the opportunity to re-iterate their support of the Iran Nuclear Deal,  from which the United States has withdrawn. Furthermore, the bylaws of the Security Council would have permitted the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, to address the Council.

The optics of this would not have been great for the United States, so the US Mission to the UN sent a clarifying note saying that the meeting would instead focus on non-proliferation issues more generally. But one week before the scheduled meeting, the Washington Post reported that the White House had disowned this new iteration, and instead the meeting would now focus on a rather vague grab-bag of international affairs buzzwords favored by conservatives, including “sovereignty and constitutionalism.” A planning memo for the press circulated by the White House on Thursday lists simply “counter-proliferation” as the topic of the meeting. But then, on Friday, Trump tweeted this: 

I will Chair the United Nations Security Council meeting on Iran next week!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2018

The upshot is that no-one really knows what will happen on Wednesday, when President Trump chairs this meeting. Still, in a press conference on Thursday, Nikki Haley invoked Trumpian superlatives to describe the upcoming meeting, saying it would be “the most watched Security Council meeting ever.” 

Every country on the 15 member panel will be given an opportunity to speak. Chances are, most countries will play it cool and strenuously avoid anything that may offend Trump. (The exception here might be Bolivia, which seems to enjoy needling the United States during Security Council meetings.) The real variable is Trump himself. Will he stay on script and follow protocol as “President of the Security Council?” Will he break protocol by interrupting speeches and take pot shots at other Council members, as he did during the G7 and NATO? Does he even have the stamina and attention span to sit through 14 purposefully innocuous speeches by other member states? Does he expect the Security Council meeting to mimic meetings of his cabinet, in which officials take turns lavishing him with praise?

The fact that no-one really knows what to expect from Trump during this meeting is exceedingly worrisome to people around the United Nations. There is a profound desire around the UN not to offend Trump or do anything that might trigger a negative reaction from him. The worst outcome would be a repeat of the G7 or NATO summits, which Trump purposefully blew up by offending allies and openly deriding the utility of these institutions.  “Figuring out what might offend Trump and how to avoid that is something of a parlor game around here,” one time UN watcher told me. “No one wants this to end up like the G7 or NATO summits.”

So far, the UN has been able to escape Trump’s ire. But whether or not UNGA devolves into a diplomatic train-wreak hinges largely on what will happen during this Security Council meeting. 

The post Donald Trump and the United Nations: What to Expect at the UN General Assembly This Week appeared first on UN Dispatch.

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A New UN Report Finds that a Child Under the Age of 15 Dies Every 5 Seconds

21. September 2018 - 15:12

Globally, children have a greater chance of survival than ever before. Yet because of growing inequality, in 2017, a child under the age of 15 died every five seconds, a new UN report says, and most of those deaths were preventable.

The report published Tuesday by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Population Division and the World Bank Group estimated that 6.3 million children under the age of 15 died in 2017. Of those, 5.4 million died before their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable or treatable causes like complications during birth, pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. For those between ages five and 14, injuries – especially from drowning and road traffic accidents – were the main cause of death.

Since 1990, the world has made impressive strides to reduced the mortality rate of infants and toddlers under age five by more than half. In 1990, the under-five mortality rate was 93 deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2017, it was 39 per 1,000 live births. But as the global rate drops, persistent inequalities are becoming more evident.

The report found that if a child lives in a rural area, she is 1.5 times more likely to die before she turns five than a child who lives in an urban area.

“Without urgent action, 56 million children under five will die from now until 2030 – half of them newborns,” Laurence Chandy, director of data, research and policy at UNICEF, said in a press release. “We have made remarkable progress to save children since 1990, but millions are still dying because of who they are and where they are born. With simple solutions like medicines, clean water, electricity and vaccines, we can change that reality for every child.”

Unsurprisingly, regional inequalities exists as well. A third of the children who died in 2017 before they turned five were in southern Asia. Half were in sub-Saharan Africa – or one in 13. Compare that to one in 185 children in high-income countries. Children age five and older in sub-Saharan Africa are also 15 times more likely to die before their 15th birthday than their European counterparts.

As global levels of child mortality decrease, the inequality gap is widening. According to the report, 30 percent of global under-five deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa in 1990. In 2017 it was 50 percent. By 2050, it’s estimated to be 60 percent. Especially in regions like sub-Saharan Africa, air pollution is an major contributor to children dying before their first birthday.

The report also suggests that had mortality rates in every country been as low as the lowest country rate in the world, 95 percent of deaths before age five would not have occurred. The deaths of more than 5 million children would have been prevented just in 2017.

“More than 6 million children dying before their 15th birthday is a cost we simply can’t afford,” Timothy Evans, senior director and head of the health, nutrition and population global practice at the World Bank Group, said in a press release. “Ending preventable deaths and investing in the health of young people is a basic foundation for building countries’ human capital, which will drive their future growth and prosperity.”

The report says that 118 countries out of the 195 analyzed have already met the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target to reduce the rate of under-five mortality to at least 25 deaths per 1,000 live births, and 26 more countries are expected to meet that target by 2030 if they sustain current trends. But the other 51 countries – two-thirds of which are in sub-Saharan Africa – need to speed up progress if they want to hit the target by 2030. Thirty of them need to more than double how fast they’re reducing child mortality.

But, the report says, if every country can hit the SDG target by 2030, the lives of nearly 10 million children under the age of five can be saved.

The post A New UN Report Finds that a Child Under the Age of 15 Dies Every 5 Seconds appeared first on UN Dispatch.

Kategorien: english

PODCAST: These Stories Will Drive the Agenda at UNGA

20. September 2018 - 11:58

All eyes turn to the New York and the United Nations as world leaders gather for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, better known UNGA. This is always the busiest week of the diplomatic calendar and on the line the help make sense of it all is Richard Gowan. He is a Senior Fellow at the UN University Centre for Policy Research, and a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

This year, like last year, much of the oxygen in Turtle Bay and beyond will be sucked up by the Donald Trump, who is scheduled to be in New York for three consecutive days. We discuss some of the key moments to watch, including a scheduled Security Council meeting over which Donald Trump will preside.

We also discuss some of the other events and issues that probably wont make headlines, but are nonetheless important outcomes of this year’s UN summit. This includes a key high level meeting on UN Peacekeeping, which we discuss at length.

If you have 20 minutes and want to learn the key stories to follow this UN Week, have a listen.

Links mentioned
Action For Peace

Download this episode to listen later. You can subscribe on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify

The post PODCAST: These Stories Will Drive the Agenda at UNGA appeared first on UN Dispatch.

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The Good, Bad and REALLY Bad News from the World Health Organization’s Latest Report on Tuberculosis

19. September 2018 - 15:06

The World Health Organization released its annual Global Tuberculosis report on September 18th. The report is 250 pages long, a massive conglomeration of everything we know about the current state of the Tuberculosis (TB) epidemic. It has all the newest data on TB infections, funding approaches, research into treatments, and policy approaches to stopping the epidemic.

The report tells the story of a fight we’re winning, but not fast enough. TB remains a global epidemic; it’s among the top ten causes of death globally. One-fifth of the world’s population has a latent TB infection, and every one of those people is at risk for developing active TB later in life. Still, the overall trend is mostly good. TB is no longer an automatic death sentence; we have the drugs and tools to treat the infection. But it’s not good enough. We’re not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target for tuberculosis, and new cases of tuberculosis are on the rise – not decreasing.

The Good News

Tuberculosis is less deadly than it used to be. In 2017, 16% of people with TB died from the infection. That’s a decrease from 23% in 2000. The global TB incidence rate is falling by about 2% every year. In especially good news, the WHO Euro region and the WHO Africa region – showed decreases of 5% and 4% per year respectively. Care and treatment for TB has also gotten better. A new test for TB came into common use in 2013, the Xpert MTB/RIF. Health systems and health care providers are getting better and better at using these new tests for faster, more accurate TB diagnosis.

Finally, TB incidence is falling rapidly in five African countries – by 18% in sSwatini (formerly Swaziland) 10% in Zimbabwe, 8% in Botswana, 7% in Lesotho & South Africa, and 6% in Namibia. These are among the fastest reductions seen in recent decades, and they represent the impact that good HIV treatment has on tuberculosis incidence. People living with HIV are much more vulnerable to TB infection than the population as a whole. Access to ART drugs for HIV helps to restore the immune system and reduce vulnerability to infection.

The Bad News

In 2017, 6.4 million new cases of TB were reported. That’s an increase from 2016 – the number has gone up every year since 2013. While the percentage of people who die from TB is decreasing, it needs to fall by another 10% in the next two years to meet the SDG target for TB. There is almost no possibility that we can achieve that kind of reduction.

The Really Bad News

160,184 cases of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR TB) were reported globally in 2017; an increase from the previous year. MDR TB is difficult and pensive to treat, because the TB bacteria have evolved resistance to isoniazid and rifampin, the two most potent TB drugs. MDR TB has a much higher death rate than ordinary (susceptible) TB – only about 55% of patients are successfully treated, compared to over 80% among people infected with susceptible TB.

Treating MDR TB also takes longer, making people more likely to leave treatment before they’re finished and put their communities at risk of infection. In 2017, almost half of all MDR TB cases were in three countries; India, Russia, and China. Among those 160,184 cases of MDR TB, about 8.5% were infected with extensively drug resistant TB (XDR TB). XDR TB is resistant to more than four TB drugs. XDR cases are difficult, sometimes impossible to treat.

Globally, 3.6% of new TB cases were drug-resistant. That’s a very bad sign. Normally, a patient ends up with drug-resistant TB when their susceptible TB is treated incorrectly. Maybe they get the wrong drugs, or maybe they quit their treatment early. Whatever happens, their treatment puts enough pressure on their bacteria colony for resistance to evolve – and not enough pressure to get rid of the infection. That kind of drug resistance can be prevented through better patient care. In those 3.6% of cases, though, their first TB infection was resistant to drugs. That’s a much more challenging situation to address.

What does it all mean?

Tuberculosis is still a poor person’s disease. In 2017, there were fewer than 10 cases of TB per 100,000 people in higher-income countries, compared to 150-500 cases per 100,000 in the rest of the world. The list of the 30 countries with a high TB burden was made up entirely of lower income and middle-income countries. Globally, there were approximately ten million cases of TB in 2017, about 133 cases per 100,000 people.

If it’s a poor person’s disease, though, that means money could solve the problem. Two out of the report’s eight chapters are devoted to the finances behind fighting the epidemic, and there’s a reason for that. Right now, we’re not investing the money needed to solve it. For 2018, there is a gap of over three billion dollars between the financing needed to fight the epidemic and the funds that are actually available. If trends don’t change, the gap will be over six billion dollars by 2022.

In global health, we talk about “commitment,” a lot. Most of the time, though, commitment just means money. And money is what’s needed here. Money to support research into a better TB vaccine, money to find new diagnostic technologies, money to support MDR and XDR TB treatment. We stop a TB epidemic by diagnosing TB quickly in people who are infected, and then getting them started in the correct treatment as fast as possible. Better technology and treatments would help, but we’ve got enough tools already if we just had the funds to fully deploy them.

The post The Good, Bad and REALLY Bad News from the World Health Organization’s Latest Report on Tuberculosis appeared first on UN Dispatch.

Kategorien: english

When UN Peacekeeping Works: The Story of the United Nations Mission in Liberia

17. September 2018 - 17:55

In this special episode of Global Dispatches Podcast, we are bringing you the story of how UN Peacekeepers partnered with the people and government of Liberia to help transform the country from one of the bleakest places on the planet, to one of the more hopeful today.

When peacekeepers were first deployed to Liberia in 2003, the west African country had just experienced a devastating civil war. Fifteen years later, the last Blue Helmets left the country.  Through interviews and archival audio, you will hear from Liberians, UN officials and experts who explain how the UN Mission in Liberia, known as UNMIL, was able to work itself out of a job.

When the world works together, powerful and lasting change can take place.  UNMIL is a success of UN Peacekeeping. This episode tells its story.

This episode is produced in partnership with the United Nations Foundation as part of the special series that examines success stories of multilateral engagement.

Download this episode to listen later. You can subscribe on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify


The post When UN Peacekeeping Works: The Story of the United Nations Mission in Liberia appeared first on UN Dispatch.

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Podcast: Unmasking “The Elite Charade to Change the World”

14. September 2018 - 16:01

Anand Giridharadas is the author of the new book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. The book is a piercing examination of how the global elite have co-opted our mechanisms of social change. This trend manifests itself in many ways, including the belief that market forces are more important than government in affecting change.

The book is an extremely challenging, and at times discomfiting, critique of a trend that I’ve witnessed and certainly of which I’ve been on the periphery.  The book argues that conferences like the World Economic Forum, Aspen Ideas Fest, or the Clinton Global Initiative, exemplify an approach to social change that ends up entrenching a highly inequitable status quo.

The book has a chapter dedicated to UN Week when heads of state come to New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly and also attend all manner of side events. We kick off discussing the significance of many of these events to his overall  thesis.

This book has definitely struck a nerve. At time of publication it’s number 6 on the New York times best seller list– and I think this conversation will help you understand why we expect this book to be so impactful.

Download this episode to listen later. You can subscribe on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify

The post Podcast: Unmasking “The Elite Charade to Change the World” appeared first on UN Dispatch.

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A Major UN Report Shows That Progress on Reducing Global Hunger Has Been Reversed

13. September 2018 - 14:38

Global hunger is on the rise for the third year in a row and reached an “alarming” ten-year high in 2017, according to the UN’s annual State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report published yesterday.

One in nine people – nearly 821 million – suffered from chronic food deprivation in 2017,  compared to about 804 million people in 2016. The report says that these are the same levels from almost a decade ago. That means the massive strides the global community made over the last 10 to 15 years to reduce hunger are rapidly being reversed as we move away from the Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030.

According to the report, the main drivers of this increase is persistent conflict, adverse climate events and economic slowdowns.

In another report published on Monday, Save the Children estimated that 590,000 severely malnourished children in conflict zones who are under the age of five are expected to die from lack of treatment before the end of the year. To put that into perspective, the charity noted, that’s an average of 1,600 children under five dying from hunger every day, or one child every minute.

But that’s only a fraction of the 4.5 million children under five in the most dangerous conflict zones who will need treatment for life-threatening malnutrition this year. According to the report, that figure is nearly 20 percent higher than in 2016.

The good news is that there have been improvements in global rates of stunting and exclusive breastfeeding, but millions of children are still affected by stunting, wasting (low weight for height, which increases risk of death) and even overweight. Although the global rate of overweight children has only increased slightly since 2012 (from 5.4 percent to 5.6 percent in 2017), adult obesity continues to climb, affecting more than 672 million people in 2017, or one in eight adults. The rate of anemia among women of reproductive age has also risen, affecting one in three women – consequently also affecting the health and development of their children.

The UN report says that Africa remains the continent with the highest prevalence of undernourishment at almost 21 percent, or more than 256 million people, while improvements in Asia appear to be slowing down “significantly.” But it’s also getting worse in South America, where the UN says that low prices in main exports, like crude oil, have persisted, straining resources for food imports and social safety nets for the most vulnerable amid rapid inflation.

Venezuela is the most notable example. When oil prices nosedived in 2014, imports – including food – suddenly became scarce and expensive. The government kept printing money to maintain popularity with the poor, but all that did was rapidly hike inflation. Soon, millions of starving Venezuelans found themselves scrounging on the streets for anything edible. According to the UN, 3.7 million Venezuelans were undernourished in the 2015 to 2017 period, and more than 2.3 million have fled the country since 2014.

But more than conflict or economic woes, the report focuses on the effects of climate change as a leading cause of severe food crises. According to the report, “the number of extreme climate-related disasters, including extreme heat, droughts, floods and storms, has doubled since the early 1990s.” These events (especially drought) have harmed agricultural output, raised food prices and stripped governments and people – particularly smallholder farming communities – of financial resources. As temperatures continue to rise, the effects will worsen.

The report, therefore, calls for more resilience-building interventions, such as early warning systems, emergency preparedness and response, forecast-based financing and vulnerability reduction measures. But the authors also include a reminder that climate resilience policies and programs are not enough.

“We must also keep in mind that the underlying factors or causes of hunger are also poverty and inequalities and marginalization,” Cindy Holleman, a senior economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), told UN News.

Achieving zero hunger by 2030 is becoming more difficult, but it’s only possible with progress toward the other sustainable development goals as well.

The post A Major UN Report Shows That Progress on Reducing Global Hunger Has Been Reversed appeared first on UN Dispatch.

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Chart of the Day: These are the International Issues “Generation Z” and Millennials Care Most About

12. September 2018 - 18:47

What do younger Americans believe are the most important global issues for the US to help tackle?

A new poll released today offers some insights into the kinds of global issues that animate 17 to 35 year old Americans — so called “Generation Z” and Millennials.

Respondents were read a list of eleven different international concerns and were asked to select their first, second, and third priorities for the US on the global stage. Nearly four in ten ranked global environmental issues as critical global issues they would like policy makers to take on. Nearly as many also said human rights issues, like freedom of speech, religion and the press were top priorities.  Conversely, conflicts in the middle east and refugee issues were farther from their minds. 


The poll was conducted by the bi-partisan teams of Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research, on behalf of the Better World Campaign. It was released ahead of a major climate summit taking place in San Francisco, the Global Climate Action Summit, and confirms that younger Americans care deeply about global environmental issues. To that end, policy makers can count on this large and (mostly) voting-aged cohort to support global environmental causes. But what form does that support take? The survey also asks sheds some light on that question.


This is not an apathetic generation.  It would appear that this younger cohort are prepared to donate their money,name and time to global causes they believe in.

Full data here.

The post Chart of the Day: These are the International Issues “Generation Z” and Millennials Care Most About appeared first on UN Dispatch.

Kategorien: english

PODCAST: The World is Experiencing an Unprecedented Boom in Dam Building

11. September 2018 - 16:44

The world is experiencing a dam building boom. According to research by my guest today, David Hulme, there are plans underway around for the construction of over 3,700 new dams around the world. This explosion in dam building comes after a period in which there was a lull in the construction of new dam projects.

So what accounts for this new interest in dams? Where are these new dams being built?  Do dams contribute to sustainable development or do they detract from it?

We discuss these questions and more in this episode.

David Hulme is an academic who leads the FutureDAMS consortium at the University of Manchester’s Global Development Institute.  In this capacity he helps policy makers make better informed decisions about dam projects, and we discuss at length what academic research can teach us about what makes dam projects succeed or fail in their stated goals.

Download this episode to listen later. You can subscribe on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify

The post PODCAST: The World is Experiencing an Unprecedented Boom in Dam Building appeared first on UN Dispatch.

Kategorien: english

The UN Secretary General Just Gave An Major Speech On Climate Change

10. September 2018 - 21:52
On Monday afternoon, UN Secretary General António Guterres delivered a major address drawing attention to the world’s insufficient action on climate change.

“Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment,” he said. “Scientists have been telling us for decades. Over and over again. Far too many leaders have refused to listen. If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change,” Guterres said.

The speech was carefully timed. It comes before a Global Climate Action Summit, hosted in San Francisco by California’s Governor, Jerry Brown. And in the speech, the Secretary General announced a new major climate meeting to be held next year at the UN. The upcomming California summit will bring together representatives of national, state and municipal governments with businesses and investors. A main focus of both the conference and speech is how these entities, which may not have been eligible to sign on to the Paris Agreement but which the UN says have a role to play in decreasing global emissions, can help get the world to the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius. More than two years since the agreement was signed, that goal is drifting rapidly out of reach. Activists marched around the world Saturday — including, according to organizers, more than 30,000 people in San Francisco — to draw attention to this objective ahead of the California summit. But the Secretary General’s speech was not simply timed to proceed that summit. 2020 is a key year, when the Paris Agreement is meant to be fully in effect. It is also the year by which many analyses climate change-causing emissions must begin to fall rapidly. During the first week of September, climate negotiations in Bangkok stagnated and concluded with some frustration after old debates over setting different targets for rich and poor countries resurfacing between China and the U.S. (President Donald Trump’s promise to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement is being carried out in such a way that the country will be formally out of the agreement until 2020; so far, the U.S. State Department has continued to send negotiators to UN climate talks.) 2018 was meant to be the year in which the Paris rulebook got written, but there is still a daunting pile of work remaining before negotiators reach that goal. “Progress has been made on most issues but no issues have been fully resolved yet,” UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa told reporters at a press conference last week. Some “elements are more politically complex” she said, and, on those, “limited progress has been made here in Bangkok.” The pace of climate change continues to outpace climate action. The world has received a number of jolts on the climate front in 2018 while progress on confronting the problem of climate change has continued to ebb. Summer has seen extreme heatwaves, floods and wildfires around the globe, including an unusually heavy monsoon season, the floods from which killed nearly 500 in Kerala, India. Later this year, a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels is expected to paint a dire picture. With 2020 looming and the world seemingly in a state of paralysis, Guterres has planned a summit for September 2019 in New York City at which governments will be asked to dramatically up their ambition. Today’s speech was meant to put governments and the private sector on notice ahead of that meeting. In 2014, a well-timed speech by then-Secretary General Ban Ki Moon helped set the stage for the Paris Agreement to be signed the following year. Guterres may hope his speech Monday will have a similar effect. Whether it will succeed where so many other warnings have not is an open question.

The post The UN Secretary General Just Gave An Major Speech On Climate Change appeared first on UN Dispatch.

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Can an attack on Idlib be Prevented?

7. September 2018 - 16:28

The presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia met in Tehran today to discuss the situation in Idlib. This is the province of Syria to which millions of civilians and some fighters have fled as their cities and towns fell to government forces. They were permitted by Russia and Iran-backed fighters to escape to Idlib as part of surrender plans as cities like Aleppo came under government control. Idlib is the last major concentration of a constellation of rebel forces and 2.9 million civilians.

Now, it appears that the province may come under attack.

This meeting in Iran could be the moment in which an attack on Idlib is prepared, held off, or something in between.

The stakes are so high.

Meanwhile, in New York today the Security Council held a meeting on this unfolding situation. The council heard from the UN’s Syria envoy Steffan di Mistura  who reminded the council that Erdogan, Rouhani and Putin are “the guarantors of the last de-escalation zone.”  A top humanitarian official, John Ging told the council that an attack on Idlib “the potential to create a humanitarian emergency on a scale not yet seen by this crisis.”

Two weeks ago, as it became clear that an attack on Idlib could be imminent, I spoke with Jan Egeland, who is a former top UN official and current advisory to the UN’s special envoy for Syria. He described both the geopolitics driving a potential attack on Idlib as well as the profound humanitarian fallout that would result in such a strike. He told me, quite straightforward that it would be a “bloodbath.”

The post Can an attack on Idlib be Prevented? appeared first on UN Dispatch.

Kategorien: english

PODCAST: The Return of Syrian Refugees Has Begun. And it is Becoming a Tactic of War

6. September 2018 - 16:25

1.5 million Syrian refugees are in Lebanon today. But as the fighting quells in areas of Syria, some of these refugees are considering returning home.

Who gets to return, the places to which they will return, and the circumstances under which refugees move back to Syria are intensely political decisions. As journalist Charlotte Alfred explains, the return of refugees, albeit in small numbers, has begun. And it is becoming a tactic of the civil war.

Charlotte Alfred is the managing director of the news website Refugees Deeply. Her recent longform article Dangerous Exit: Who Decides How Syrians in Lebanon Go Home explains the geopolitical calculations and the tactical military considerations behind these refugee returns; and on an individual level she explores the deeply personal dilemmas facing individual refugees as they make this decision.

The UN Refugee Agency is not aiding in the return of refugees to Syria. They have concluded that the situation in Syria is not safe enough to guarantee the security of returning refugees, and in fact, they have warned countries against returning refugees. But Lebanese and Syrian forces are working together to facilitate some returns.

The return of refugees and the politics around may define the next phase of this civil war and Charlotte Alfred has written the most important explanation of what that means.

Download this episode to listen later. You can subscribe on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify

The post PODCAST: The Return of Syrian Refugees Has Begun. And it is Becoming a Tactic of War appeared first on UN Dispatch.

Kategorien: english

President Trump Will Preside Over a UN Security Council Meeting About Iran. Iran’s President May Be There, Too

5. September 2018 - 17:19

Nikki Haley previewed a potential showdown at the Security Council between Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani. Both men are expected to be in New York during the annual UN General Assembly later this month. And now there is a very good chance that they will sit face-to-face around the dais.

This is all made possible by a quirk of the calendar. The United States holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month. This means that the United States has the opportunity to set the Security Council’s calendar for the month of September, which includes the annual opening of the UN General Assembly when heads of state descend on New York.

This means the United States has the opportunity to preside over a meeting of the Security Council on a topic of its choosing at a time when other foreign leaders are in town. In a press conference yesterday, Ambassador Haley announced that President Trump will preside over a meeting about Iran during UN week.

There is a very decent chance that a meeting intended to highlight Iran’s nefarious role in world affairs will instead leave the United States isolated.

In September 2009, the US held the rotating presidency of the Security Council and President Obama chaired a meeting focused on nuclear non-proliferation. IN 2014, Obama chaired a meeting on counter-terrorism. Both meetings were to demonstrate American leadership over an issue that has broad international support.  On the other hand, a Security Council meeting on Iran, chaired by Donald Trump, may have the opposite impact. It may show the extent to which the United States has abdicated leadership on an issue that had broad support.

Since Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal, the issue of Iran’s nuclear program transformed from one in which there was profound unanimity at the Security Council to one in which the United States stands alone. During the Obama administration, the Security Council collectively leveled intense sanctions against Iran. Then, the Security Council collectively endorsed the Iran Nuclear Deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Council unanimously agreed to ease those sanctions and endorsed an aggressive inspection regime by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran continues to comply with the strictures of the deal. But the United States, under Trump, is now seeking to undermine that deal — which means undermining a decision of the Security Council.  That does not sit well with the other members of the Security Council.

The United Kingdom and France still vigorously support the deal. As do China and Russia. This Security Council meeting may be very diplomatically awkward for the United States. Furthermore, the rules of procedure at the Security Council give representatives of a country that is being discussed the opportunity to attend and speak at the council meeting.  This means that Hassan Rouhani (who has complied with the deal) will have the opportunity to directly confront Donald Trump (who has not) on live TV, with the world watching.

There is a very decent chance that a meeting intended to highlight Iran’s nefarious role in world affairs will instead leave the United States isolated.

From an American perspective, the diplomatic gains from a decision to hold this meeting are hard to understand. But it does have the potential to make for a televised spectacle.



The post President Trump Will Preside Over a UN Security Council Meeting About Iran. Iran’s President May Be There, Too appeared first on UN Dispatch.

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Contagious Bacon? Why the UN is Warning About a New Swine Fever that Can Spread Through Food

4. September 2018 - 11:02

A unique kind of swine fever is spreading rapidly though China.

The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reports a severe outbreak of a disease called African Swine Fever, or ASF, that may cross Chinese borders and spread throughout Asia. So far, thousands have domestic pigs have been culled to slow the spread of the disease.

This could be an economic disaster. There are about 500 million pigs in China — it produces about half the world’s pork. And ASF is spreading fast. It’s already been detected in regions 1000 miles apart. There is no vaccine for ASF, and it’s almost 100% fatal in domestic pigs. Outbreaks are stopped by rapidly culling infected pigs, and applying rigorous hygiene and biosafety measures.

To date Chinese authorities have culled 24,000 pigs. The real fear here is not just China – if ASF could move this fast across China, it could also move into Korea and Southeast Asia.

African Swine Flu doesn’t infect people, so the harm it causes to humans is economic rather than medical. Still, the scary thing about African swine fever is that its spread is not restricted to live pigs. It can also be spread through food like pork meat, and even cured pork products. Think: contagious bacon. Outbreaks often start when pigs get into garbage left where they can eat it. Or, in at least one example, when a tourist shared food with a wild boar, triggering an outbreak that led to twelve herds being culled.

This is the first time that African swine fever has been reported in China.

The source of the initial outbreak is unknown, but the most likely cause is an infected pork product being brought across the border from Russia and discarded where domestic pigs could scavenge it. The disease has been prevalent in Russia for decades, as well as in Eastern Europe and Sardinia; 100,000 pigs have been culled in Romania this year because of ASF. In addition to the risks of pork products, the ASF virus lingers on surfaces, and can survive in very hot or very cold weather. This means the disease can be transmitted through the trucks used to transport swine, or even on shoes or farm equipment.

This is not the only disease that spreads among animals with human help. Hoof and mouth disease which infects pigs and cattle, but not humans, is an ongoing threat to European and British farming. It’s spread by infected meat products, and originally arrived in the UK from Asia because of improperly discarded food waste. Any time large numbers of animals are kept in close quarters, there is a risk of disease. Minor failures in hygiene or quarantine can lead to rapid outbreaks.

ASF is endemic and largely symptomless among wild pigs in Africa. In domestic swine that have been bred for food, however, it causes fatal hemorrhaging. And, of course, as more wild land is turned into farmland, more wild pigs are forced into contact with domestic animals. It was first identified when European settlers brought domestic swine to Africa in the early 20th century, but virus research indicates the disease probably evolved in the 1700s.

FAO is now working closely with governments in Asia to ramp up biosecurity efforts and contain the virus. They have activated a regional ASF contingency plan, and are training veterinarians in the region.  Beijing has asked farmers to stop transporting live hogs from high risk areas. Chinese authorities, however, don’t sound optimistic. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs issued a statement that, “We cannot rule out the possibility of new African swine fever outbreaks,” going on to state that neighboring countries have been infected with the disease for a long time.

The evolving economic catastrophe of Africa Swine Fever is reminder of why international health regulations, and institutions, exist. Rapid detection of ASF infections, good biosafety techniques in farms and at borders, and close cooperation among regions and nations will be required to keep ASF contained. Detection, biosafety, cooperation – they’re the same tools that are being used against Ebola in Congo right now, and against Zika virus in Brazil. When governments stop taking those tools seriously, epidemics get the chance to spread.

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Here’s Why the Security Council Should Not Refer Burmese Authorities to the International Criminal Court

30. August 2018 - 16:55

Ed note. This is a special guest post from Mark Kersten, who is the Deputy Director of the Wayamo Foundation as well as a fellow and lecturer at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, and the author of the blog Justice in Conflict. All opinions expressed are his own.

Confirming what close observers have long suspected, investigators from the United Nations have determined that Burmese authorities have committed genocide against the Rohingya population. Without any prospects of the Burmese government investigating and prosecuting atrocities committed against a people they don’t even recognize, the latest revelations have predictably led to renewed calls for the United Nations Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Before proceeding, let me be unequivocal: the ICC or some other competent judicial body should absolutely investigate crimes committed in Myanmar. The Rohingya deserve justice and accountability. But there are real questions as to whether a UN Security Council is the best way to deliver that. Indeed, experience suggests that such referrals can do more harm than good to victims, survivors, the ICC and justice itself.

The first Security Council referral of a situation to the ICC came in 2005, when Darfur was referred to the Court. The second came six years later, when the 2011 uprising and civil war in Libya was referred to the Court. Both referrals have done damage to the ICC. They included political carve-outs which ensured that citizens of states that were not members of the Court were excluded from its jurisdiction. This violates the very premise of equality before the law. Despite saddling the Court with a significant and difficult task in both Libya and Darfur, the Council also refused to provide the ICC with any commensurate funding. The results have been brutal for the Court. Not a single individual for whom the ICC has issued an arrest warrant in Libya or Darfur has ever been convicted. Not one. Making matters worse, the Council’s role in referring situations to the ICC has become a keystone criticism of African states towards the Court. While it is true that the Security Council, and not the ICC, should be criticized for the failures to achieve justice in Darfur or Libya, it is clear that the Court has received the brunt of criticism.

Security Council referrals have done little for those victims who favor ICC justice. They have elevated expectations that justice will be delivered, and the ICC’s investigations and prosecutions will be supported by a united Council. Not only has no justice been achieved in any Council-referred situation in over thirteen years, but in some cases, victims have resigned from participating in the cases altogether.

We should also avoid an argument which suggests that, because Darfur and Libya received referrals to the ICC, Myanmar should have one too. If the tool is broken, it needs to be fixed – not applied again, in the same way with us expecting different results.

Incredibly, none of the organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, that have pushed for a referral by the Security Council of Myanmar to the ICC, have spelled out why anything would be any different this time. Nor have they put forward a vision of what an appropriate referral would look like – one that would be good for victims, survivors, and the ICC. One possible reason for this is that they know a referral will fail, but that the process is, in and of itself, valuable.

It is extremely unlikely that the Security Council will refer Myanmar to the ICC.

Both China and Russia vetoed an attempted referral of Syria to the ICC in 2014. China, with its geopolitical interests in the region, would almost surely veto a resolution referring the situation in Myanmar to the Court. Russia, meanwhile, has made it clear that it won’t be supporting referrals to the ICC any time soon. At a recent meeting at the Council, a Russian diplomat stated that it “is determined to do whatever is necessary to enable the members of the Council to avoid repeating the unsuccessful experiment of referring Security Council issues to the ICC.”

Still, there may be an argument that the Security Council referral route has to be exhausted. Why? So that the UN General Assembly can then create an investigatory mechanism for Myanmar – as it did following the failed referral of Syria to the ICC. This may be a reasonable approach, but it isn’t clear that naming-and-shaming China and Russia by forcing them to veto a referral would be useful for resolving the crisis facing the Rohingya people. It would also give the perception that the ICC (and not just the Council) is impotent. Surely, given Russian and Chinese antipathy towards the ICC, the Security Council route can already be considered exhausted.

The UNSC referral option is not the only option. In comparison to an ICC referral, there has been scant discussion about creating a hybrid court located in the region. Could the 132 legislators from regional states who have declared their support for accountability for the Rohingya not be asked to push for an ad hoc tribunal? It would be a remarkable opportunity for Asian states to extend their influence and leadership on international criminal justice. There has also been bizarrely little discussion of exercising universal jurisdiction, something that at least eight European are invoking to prosecute crimes committed in Syria.

There has also been too little discussion about how to put pressure on, and provide support to, Bangladesh in order to investigate and prosecute allegations of genocide committed against the Rohingya. Over 900,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh since the crisis erupted. With them, they carry the testimony and evidence of the Burmese government’s crimes. More can, and should be done, to seek a degree of accountability at the source of the suffering, closer to where victims and survivors live.

Many of those over 900,000 civilians who fled were, in fact, forcibly deported. In a widely praised decision, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requested to investigate the deportation of Rohingya from Myanmar into Bangladesh, arguing because it is a crime initiated on the territory of a non-member state (Myanmar) but completed in a member-state (Bangladesh), therefore giving her jurisdiction to investigate. If Judges at the ICC approve the Prosecutor’s request to investigate the deportation of the Rohingyas into Bangladesh, Bensouda has hinted at the possibility of potentially investigating other crimes as well.

It is not a popular position to argue against a Security Council referral of Myanmar to the ICC. But advocates of international justice need to think through the consequences of what we advocate – as well as the expectations we are setting for victims and survivors. If the Darfur referral was fooling us once, and the Libya referral was fooling us twice, why would we accept, even advocate, to be fooled for a third time? Instead of repeating the same mistakes and reifying the problematic relationship between the Council and Court, it behooves us to reimagine it.

Advocates of a Security Council referral cannot claim ignorance this time. Groups pushing for a referral may get pro-ICC states to support a referral of Myanmar to the Court, but these states may only do so to show that they are “doing something” and not out of any faith that it will be successful in producing accountability. We have ample evidence of the negative consequences of such referrals. It won’t be good enough to only blame the Security Council if a referral is passed and it leads to unmet expectations and no accountability. This time, advocates will have to own it too. This time, they can’t claim to be surprised if it doesn’t work out.

Again, victims and survivors of genocide in Myanmar deserve justice. The ICC should investigate these atrocities. But let us not repeat the same mistakes with the same tools that failed us before. Let us be creative and re-imagine how to best pursue accountability for those suffering from unconscionable crimes. We owe it to them and the project of international justice. 

The post Here’s Why the Security Council Should Not Refer Burmese Authorities to the International Criminal Court appeared first on UN Dispatch.

Kategorien: english

PODCAST: There’s New Evidence of China’s Brutal Repression of its Uighur Population

29. August 2018 - 18:49

In mid-August the UN’s Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said that up to 1 million ethnic Uighurs in China were imprisoned in massive internment camps.

Subsequent reporting in places like the Wall Street Journal offered confirmation that Uighurs were being rounded up, seemingly at random, and sent to “re-education” centers where they are forced to chant communist party slogans, study the speeches of Xi Jinping and also subjected to torture.

Uighurs are a religious and linguistic minority in China. The majority practice a form of sunni Islam and most live in Xinjiang province in the far northwest of China. They have been the subject of discrimination for decades, but abuses against this community seem to be accelerating.

On the line with me to discuss this situation is Sophie Richardson, the China Director for Human Rights Watch. She explains the methods by which the Chinese government is repressing this community, including mass internment at these so-called re-education centers. We also discuss the history of China’s repression of ethnic minorities, including against Tibetans; and finally, we discuss what the rest of the world can do to help protect vulnerable Uighurs.

Download this episode to listen later. You can subscribe on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify

The post PODCAST: There’s New Evidence of China’s Brutal Repression of its Uighur Population appeared first on UN Dispatch.

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Remembering Ambassador Princeton Lyman

28. August 2018 - 19:11

Ambassador Princeton Lyman passed away last week at the age of 82. He was a widely respected Africa policy expert who served as the United States ambassador to South Africa during the critical period that saw the end of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela.  More recently, he served as President Obama’s special envoy for South Sudan.

In January 2017, he came on the podcast to discuss his remarkable life and career, which included being born in San Francisco to a poor immigrant family and rising to the heights of American foreign policy.

Listen back to that interview to learn from one of America’s finest diplomats and peacemakers.


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American Companies Earn a Handsome Profit from the United Nations

27. August 2018 - 17:14

The United Nations is a boon to American businesses.

New research from the Better World Campaign finds that American companies were awarded $1.74 billion worth of contracts from the United Nations last year. That amounts to about 9% of the total contracts awarded, making American companies the biggest recipients of UN contracts, by far. The next highest was India, with about 4.8% worth of the UN’s $18.6 billion contracts

In all, the last eight years, American companies have received over $9.5 billion in procurement contracts with the UN.

The state that reaps the biggest windfall from the United Nations is New York, where the organization is headquartered. But the research finds that contracts are fairly widely spread — 42 states plus the District of Colombia host companies that hold contracts with the UN.

In all, the report finds that “eighty-four Senators and 239 members of the House of Representatives have companies headquartered in their district or state that are directly benefitting from doing business with the UN.”

This is an important observation because Congress plays an outsized role in the UN’s pursestrings. The US is the largest financial contributor to the UN budget, and ultimately US congress appropriates how much the US will contribute the UN each year.  With economic benefits spread across this many districts, members of congress should be more likely to fully fund America’s dues payments to the UN.

These are the companies with the largest UN Contracts

The individual companies that receive the biggest contracts are some of America’s largest. This includes pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Microsoft, and the IT Management firm Trigyn, among others.

Last week, in Detroit, Ambassador Nikki Haley held a seminar for American companies seeking to do business with the United Nations, in an effort to increase American participation in UN contracting even deeper.

Data like this speaks directly to President Trump’s transactional approach to foreign policy. To be sure, the United States pays more than any other country into the UN system. But American companies overwhelmingly reap the benefits of these investments.


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Europe is in the Midst of its Largest Measles Outbreak in Years — Ukraine is a Big Part of the Problem

24. August 2018 - 16:06

41,000 cases of measles have been recorded in Europe as of June. Those are the highest numbers we’ve seen in years.

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases in existence, traveling person to person through contaminated air or surfaces. It’s not often fatal, but it can kill – especially babies and people who have other health problems. Sometimes it causes massive nervous system damage after the virus passes. Measles can also lead to complications like pneumonia, encephalitis and secondary bacterial infections.

The virus should be a thing of the past – the measles vaccine is one of the great child survival success stories of global health. Before 1980, measles killed about 2.6 million people every year. In 2015, measles killed 134,200 people – a massive reduction in lives lost. In 2016, however, things began to backslide in Europe. A measles outbreak in Romania spread rapidly through the region. And now, the World Health Organization has reported record numbers of measles infections so far in 2018. 41,000 people have been infected, and 37 people have died.

The current European outbreak is spreading through unvaccinated older children and babies too young for vaccination. Those babies are also at an increased risk of death, because measles is much more fatal in infants. 95% of the population has to be vaccinated to stop the spread of measles, and European countries just aren’t reaching those numbers.

More than half of the measles cases in this outbreak are in Ukraine.

While childhood vaccine coverage was nearly universal in the Soviet Union, the countries of the former Soviet Union have struggled to maintain this coverage after independence. Ukraine faces a number of challenges to successful vaccination. Ongoing conflict with Russian in the Crimean region limits access to health care services in the area. But measles outbreaks in Ukraine are evenly distributed throughout the country, reflecting the low vaccination rates in the nation as a whole. Research on vaccine uptake in Ukraine indicates widespread mistrust of vaccines among parents, and more shockingly, among health care providers. Vaccine refusal is increasingly common in Ukraine, with parents refusing to have their children immunized and some health care providers not making the case for immunization. As a result, in 2014, less than half the children in the country had been vaccinated for measles. That kind of failure has consequences, not just for Ukraine but for the whole European region.

Aside from Ukraine, the outbreak affects Italy, Greece, Georgia, Russia, Serbia and France most strongly, with over 1000 measles cases occurring in each country. Not coincidentally, France, Russian, and Italy have some of the highest recorded anti-vaccine sentiment among the European population.

This outbreak is driven by poor human choices. Of all the regions of the world, Europe is best resourced for effective vaccination. With the exception of Russia and Ukraine, it’s not an issue of government capacity or logistical challenges. It’s some other kind of breakdown – parents not trusting physicians or the medical system. Vaccinations are one of the cornerstones of public health – we know the epidemiology, we know how to main a cold chain for fresh vaccines, we know when children should receive them for maximum protection. But we don’t, apparently, know to convince people that vaccines are good for their kids.

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A Final Showdown Looms in Syria. The UN Warns it Could be a “Bloodbath”

23. August 2018 - 16:13

The Syrian war may be entering its final phase. Rebel fighters from various factions are now concentrated in Idlib, in northern Syria.  Idlib is the place to which civilians and members of armed groups were permitted to escape as part of evacuation deals from places like Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta as they fell to government forces.

Millions of displaced Syrians and some armed groups are now concentrated there. Now, there is every indication that Syrian forces, backed by Russia, are preparing for attack.

My guest today is trying to warn the world how disasterous such a battle would be for civilians caught in the crossfire.  Jan Egeland is a senior advisor to the UN Special Envoy for Syria and heads the UN’s humanitarian task force for Syria. As such, it is his job to negotiate access to besieged populations for relief workers and facilitate humanitarian relief in war zones. A battle over Idlib would be a bloodbath, he says, that could jeopardize the lives of 3 million people.

In our conversation, Jan Egeland describes the significance of Idlib to the trajectory of the war, and the geopolitics underpinning a potential decision by the Syrians to lay siege to it. We also discuss what NGOs in Idlib are doing to prepare for a potential attack.

Jan Egeland is a longtime humanitarian professional. He is current the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council and served as the top UN humanitarian relief official from 2003 to 2006. This meant he reported directly to Kofi Annan so we kick off with a brief conversation about the late Secretary General’s legacy before discussing Syria at length.

Download this episode to listen later. You can subscribe on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify

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