Qatar's Peacekeepers arrive in Lebanon – while Lebanese leave

A full contingent of 184 Qatari troops is now deployed with the UN Peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL.

As the UNIFIL press release says, the Qatari forces will be “assisting the Lebanese Army in securing stability in southern Lebanon as part of Security Council resolution 1701”.

With the arrival of the Qataris, UNIFIL now has a force strenth of 12,000 soldiers and other personnel from 28 different countries (Belgium, China, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Republic of Korea, Luxemburg, Malaysia, Nepal, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey).

Meanwhile, the Spanish contingent in UNIFIL has started a “major Spanish language training programme”, offering language lessons to some 300 students in and around the town of Marjayoun in southern Lebanon. “The programme is sponsored by the Spanish authorities and is being run under the auspices of the Cervantes Institute”, the UNIFIL press release notes.

This could be useful for those Lebanese who want to emigrate — and a new study suggests that there are many of them, according to a report published today and posted on Yahoo news: “The scale of the hemorrhage is hard to pin down, especially in a land with a long, fluid history of migration and return, but researcher Eugen Dabbous said a survey he had helped to run had confirmed many Lebanese are heading for the exits. ‘Sixty percent of those surveyed want to leave,’ he said.
The project, conducted by the Lebanese Emigration Research Center, questioned about 600 residents from two groups — students or recent graduates and middle-aged people. ‘The younger people want to leave because they don’t see a future in Lebanon, and the older group because they want to get their children out of harm’s way,’ Dabbous said. He said up to a million of Lebanon’s estimated four million citizens already live abroad, mingling with a far bigger Lebanese-origin diaspora born of two centuries of migration. Once mostly Christian, the outflow now affects Lebanon’s Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim communities just as much. Many who left during the 1975-90 civil war sank permanent roots abroad … So many Lebanese have left for the Gulf in recent months that wages there have declined, said Carole Contavelis, a recruitment consultant for Beirut’s Headhunter International. Of 19 people she interviewed for a general manager post in Beirut, 15 had left the country: ‘At the upper management level, it’s 70-80 percent who are out of Lebanon.’ Contavelis said the employment market had been ‘awful’ since last year’s war and was still getting worse, while political instability meant no one could plan their lives sensibly. ‘Now with the brain drain, we don’t have a middle class any more,’ she complained. ‘How can you build a country like that?’ Asked what would have to change to induce people to stay, she said: ‘Frankly, everything. No bribery. We need security, clean politicians. They are treating us like cows, but we don’t want to follow any more’…”

In other news reported by UNIFIL, “two Belgian de-miners were injured by shrapnel in a cluster bomb explosion during a mine-clearance operation in the vicinity of Kunin, near the town of Bint Jubayl”.

The U.S. has said last week that Israel may have violated their agreement about the use of U.S.-supplied cluster bombs, during last summer’s Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

One report suggests that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) apparently used the older U.S.-made cluster bombs, which are not equipped with auto-destruct mechanisms, rather than the newer Israeli-produced cluster bombs which can self-destruct in a short period of time after being used. This auto-destruct mechanism is considered to be an important humanitarian advance, which helps avoid casualties when civilians return to their homes and fields after a conflict is over.

Earlier reports, during the summer, suggested that the IDF was emptying its warehouses of old stock during the attack on Lebanon.

UN and international de-mining teams have identified oer 800 zones in Lebanon where unexploded cluster bomb fragments continue to pose a grave hazard to life and limb.

The UNIFIL press release reports that “UNIFIL de-miners destroyed more than 4,000 explosive devices during the first four weeks of
January 2007. These included rockets, grenades, cluster bombs and anti-tank and anti-personnel mines.”

The UNIFIL website — not so easy to find — is at

In other UN Peacekeeping news, the UN Security Council has given a rap on the knuckles to Ethiopia and Eritrea, by ordering a reduction of 500 troops in the UN peacekeeping mission there (UNMEE). Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, after a long and hard-fought conflict. Tensions still remain, however, and sometimes flare up, between the two neighbors. The UN Security Council expressed disappointment in the stalled process to demarcate the boundary between the two feuding Horn of Africa neighbors.

Ethiopia does not accept an international boundary commission’s ruling, which awarded the key town of Badme to Eritrea. And Eritrea has moved troops and equipment into a buffer zone between the two countries.
The UN Peacekeeping mission will be reduced from 2300 to 1700 persons, but its mandate has been extended for a six-month period.

Ethiopian troops, meanwhile, have not withdrawn from Somalia, which they entered with U.S. training and backing in support of the UN Security-Council-backed Transitional Government. (Ethiopia has said that Eritrean forces were associated with the Islamic Courts grouping that had been credited with bringing a semblance of law and order to what is known as a “failed state” — but which has now been ousted.)

What is wrong in this sentence? Clue: it is the word “outpost”

The UN News Centre has written, in an article about the UN’s Holocaust Remembrance day commemorations on 29 January, that: “Ceremonies were held in other UN outposts around the world. ‘The sheer dimensions of the organized murder of Jews and others, the very scale of the systematic attempt at destroying an entire people, make the Holocaust a unique calamity that cannot – and should not – be forgotten, let alone denied,’ the Director-General of the UN Office in Geneva told a ceremony at the Palais des Nations.”

So, the UN office in Geneva is an “outpost”. It seems that the UN’s Department for Public Information (DPI) which runs the News Centre, has not suggested to its own staff that everything outside UNHQ/NY might not actully be correctly considered as an “outpost”, “foreign”, and “overseas”.

It is true that the UN Office in Geneva is boring and provincial, and a den of iniquity perpetrated by too many people who never worked at the center of the universe in New York, and who therefore don’t know very much about what the UN really is, or ought to be.

But the UN Office in Geneva is the UN’s second headquarters — and not an outpost.

(A previous head of DPI, from Japan actually, once came to Geneva and called it a “field office”, I do recall…)

The same UN News letter article on the Holocaust commemorations also said: “On Friday the General Assembly condemned without reservation any denial of the Holocaust, with only Iran publicly disassociating itself from the consensus resolution.”

The focus on Iran this year was urged, if not organized, by the Geneva-based NGO UN Watch (which watches out mainly for Israel, but also takes action on some other human rights issues). UN Watch did a significant amount of mobilization urging that Iran be specifically denounced for its President’s remarks questioning the Holocaust narrative. They sent a letter urging SG BAN to name Iran explicitly in his video-taped message aired in NY and in Geneva (as he was in Africa at the time). UN Watch may have been disappointed by BAN’s statement, but not by DPI!

DPI put at the top of its special holocaust website a quotation from a remark made by SG BAN at his first press conference at UNHQ/NY after coming to office:
“Denying historical facts, especially on such an important subject as the Holocaust, is just not acceptable. Nor is it acceptable to call for the elimination of any State or people. I would like to see this fundamental principle respected both in rhetoric and in practice by all the members of the international community.” — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Press Conference SG/2120, 14 December 2006

As part of its grass-roots mobilization efforts, UN Watch has a Click button on its website, with which viewers can “Urge the UN to
Condemn Iran — It’s time for the world body’s leadership to tell Iran to stop Holocaust denial and incitement to genocide.” [Click here] “Take Action Now!”

DPI still not righteous enough

DPI has taken the ball and run with it, after the 2005 UN General Assembly resolution “rejecting” Holocaust denial. After all, Shashi Tharoor, DPI’s Under-Secretary-General for “strategic” communications, was part of the engine that brought Holocaust-awareness to the UN, some 60 years after the end of World War two.
It is not completely irrelevant that Tharoor was planning his campaign to become the next SG at the time.

Tharoor had been startled, several years earlier, after then-out-of-office but still-politically- significant Israelis
(notably, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Yuli Tamir) attended for the first time what would have been an otherwise totally routine DPI seminar on the peace process. Tharoor was chairing a panel session when Lipkin-Shahak asked, from the audience, why there was a map of Palestine at the entrance to the room, in a UNESCO facilty in Paris. Why, asked Lipkin-Shahak, was there interpretation of the session into Arabic (as well as into the UN’s five other official languages) — but not into Hebrew? Why, someone asked, had so few (or no) Israeli journalists been invited (with expenses paid by the UN, of course) to the event?

Tharoor, visibly surprised, passed a note to good-girl Therese Gastaut, sitting dutifully behind him in the second row of seats at the podium. Gastaut scurried out of the room, and returned minutes later. She passed a note back to Tharoor. He then replied to the latter question, saying that there were two Israeli media represented in the session. A “journalist” then arose in the audience to reply: Oh, but those two are really accredited to other media (one was with Agence France Presse, I remember this guy saying), so their work for the Israeli papers was secondary stringing — and didn’t count.

OK, that was maybe not the beginning, but it was the start of one of the major efforts — and perhaps his biggest achievement — of Kofi Annan’s term as UN SG. As Salim Lone wrote in an opinion piece published in the Guardian in August to promote Tharoor’s campaign to become SG, and as Eve Epstein confirmed in her article the Jewish Daily Forward at the end of December, one of Kofi Annan’s main aims in office was to make Israel — and its boosters in the organized Jewish communities — feel comfortable in the UN.

(And Eve Epstein was there, at this meeting in Paris, as a New York Public Relations consultant hired by Therese Gastaut, to give DPI big-wigs some pro-organized-Jewish sensitivity training).

Part of the idea was to provide a counter-balance to the UN’s commemoration of the International day of Palestinian Rights on 29 November — the anniversary of the 1947 adoption of UN GA Resolution 181, which authorized the creation of two states, one “Jewish” and one “Arab”, in the British Mandate of Palestine (which Britain had told the UN it was fed up with, and wanted to leave asap).

Palestinians have been saying, where is the second state?

The Israeli Government and its organized supporters want the UN to stop this “discriminatory” annual commemoration — also organized by DPI. The U.S. has for years withheld a portion of its assessed UN dues to protest the 29 November day. And, part of the current drive for UN “reform” is a review of “mandates” — for the Special Committee on Palestinian Rights, and for the DPI programme to support that Committee, as well as the 29 November day, and other related “outreach” activities concerning “Palestine”. One former DPI staffer told me that he had a big fight just to use a photo of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque in a DPI brochure. Former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton — a straight guy, despite his politics — made loud protests about the use of a Palestinian flag (and no Israeli flag) at the 29 November exhibits at UNHQ. Bolton, and others, also complained about a map of the Palestine Mandate that didn’t show the subsequently-created State of Israel.

The first UN GA Resolution on the Holocaust, of November 2005, “Requests the Secretary-General to establish a programme of outreach on the subject of the ‘Holocaust and the United Nations’ as well as measures to mobilize civil society for Holocaust remembrance and education, in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide; to report to the General Assembly on the establishment of this programme within six months from the date of the adoption of the present resolution; and to report thereafter on the implementation of the programme at its sixty-third session.”

One major concern at the time, which seems to have been settled, was concern over preservation of the Nazi concentration camp sites. The 2005 resolution “Commends those States which have actively engaged in preserving those sites that served as Nazi death camps, concentration camps, forced labour camps and prisons during the Holocaust.”

As a result, UNSG Kofi Annan had a Jewish-community liaison in his executive officer (Edward Mortimer, who has returnd to the world of British journalism). DPI has a new Holocaust information website, a link with Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, and much more.

DPI DIDN’T KNOW BETTER (but I’m sure they will just explain that they didn’t have the budget to know this, since they are so “overstretched”) — and a new exhibition opening today at UNHQ is entitled “The Holocaust against Roma and Sinti and present day racism in Europe” ,

Anybody who knows anything about the Holocaust knows that this would be a big NO-NO: the word “Holocaust” should be used to refer only to the Jewish suffering under the Nazis which, it is important to say, was a unique event in history.

Other suffering is acknowledged — but it has to be called something else.

Those responsible in DPI are apparently not the only ones who are not aware of this: in the New York Commemoration, “General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Al Khalifa (of Bahrain) called for paying tribute to all victims – the needless deaths of millions of Jews and the suffering endured by the many minority groups that were also victims”… Nobody has briefed her properly, either.

Actually, depending on how you read it, the first UN GA Resolution on the Holocaust in 2005 could be said to somewhat fudge the issue, by “Reaffirming that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice”.

Anne Bayefsky has written an article, published in The National Review, on the UN and Iran. In it, she says: “On Friday, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution which ‘condemns…any denial of the Holocaust.’ It doesn’t mention Iran by name, nor contain the word ‘Jew’ or ‘anti-semitism’ — any one of which would certainly have made its adoption much more difficult, if not impossible. The resolution was cosponsored by 103 U.N. states. That leaves 89 — including every Arab state — refusing to cosponsor. It also leaves the U.N.’s lead human-rights agency, the Human Rights Council, dedicated to the continuing demonization and demise of the Jewish state. And it stands side-by-side with the U.N. Department of Public Information opening an exhibit today entitled “The Holocaust against the Roma and Sinti.” Despite this being only the second anniversary of the U.N. day of commemoration, the U.N. has already used the undoubted suffering of others — deserving of attention — as a backdoor to deny the uniqueness of the Holocaust as the unparalleled annihilation of six million Jews. ”

Meanwhile, DPI’s chief “strategic” communicator Shashi Tharoor (who was not elected SG, as we all now know, despite being India’s official candidate — but he did somehow mysteriously come in second in the Security Council secret balloting)returned from a break in India to chair Monday’s International Commoration of the Holocaust at UNHQ/NY. (Tharoor is one among 58 Assistant Secretaries-General and Under Secretaries General who had to submit their resignations to new UN SG BAN by 15 January — but I’ll bet that Tharoor will stay on in some capacity or another.)

According to a DPI press release on Monday’s event in New York: “Under Secretary-General Shashi Tharoor, who moderated the event, said it had two key purposes: ‘Of course, we meet to mourn that part of our human family that is missing – to remember the individuals and tell each other their stories. But we also meet to unearth the lessons we can draw from their lives and their fates’.” He said the first among those lessons ‘is that, just as human beings have an almost infinite power to destroy, they also possess an enormous capacity to learn, to grow and to create’.”

Too bad that Tharoor could not have this perspective about his own staff in DPI….

SG BAN at African Union Summit – Darfur and Somalia on agenda

The continuing conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region is what the new UN Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON has said is his top priority at the moment, and he is in Addis Ababa to discuss this and other matters with African leaders meeting at the African Union Summit.

In a keynote address at the Summit meeting on Monday, BAN urged African leaders to back the urgent deployment of a joint force of UN and African Union peacekeepers. BAN also said that conditions for humanitarian aid workers in Darfur were perilous.

Some of the issues on the agenda have many layers of complication.

Sudan had been in line to assume the rotating presidency of the African Union, and Sudan’s President Al-Bashir was pressing the case. On Monday, however, the African Union elected, instead, Ghana’s President John Kufuor as the new AU leader. (Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is from Ghana, and it is not impossible to imagine him involved in negotiations on Darfur or other issues on the AU agenda.)

Sudan was supposed to assume the AU presidency in 2006, but faced objections — precisely because it was considered unseemly and inappropriate, while the conflict in Darfur continued. However much of a simplification it may be, there is nevertheless a persistent belief that there are racialist components to Sudan’s internal conflicts — which is unacceptable to modern-day Africa.

In recent years, the word “genocide” – a term weighty with international law and treaty implications – has been mentioned in connection with the conflict in Darfur, but it has not been heard much recently.

Last year, Sudan’s President Al-Bashir agreed to postpone for one year his taking office as African Union head, while a Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was negotiated and finally pushed through, with African Union and international mediation (mainly U.S. and British) last May.

(Interestingly, SG BAN did not mention the DPA in remarks to journalists after his meeting with Sudan’s President Al-Bashir in Addis Ababa on Monday — he pointedly spoke only of the CPA, which is the Comprehensive Political Agreement reached between the Government and southern Sudan: “I reiterated the UN’s strong commitment to the political process in Sudan, emphasizing the centrality of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the importance of its timely and effective implementation…”)

President Al-Bashir has so far adamantly refused to accept UN Peacekeeping in Darfur, even at the cost of defying a UN Security Council resolution adopted late last year.

An interim agreement has permitted a few specialized UN Peacekeeping military and police forces and other personnel, as well as equipment, to deploy in Darfur, but they are functioning in support of the African Unit peacekeepers there.

One big question is the Addis Ababa meeting: can President Al-Bashir be persuaded to drop his opposition to the larger United Nations Peacekeeping presence in Darfur that has already been approved by the UN Security Council?

After the talks between UN SG BAN and Sudan’s President in Addis Ababa on Monday, Reuters news agency reported that “Sudanese presidential adviser Majzoub al-Khalifa said there was consensus on the first two stages of U.N. support for a 7,500-strong African Union mission in Darfur, but there was no agreement to deploy a hybrid force. ‘We are in full agreement on the first and second stages. We began discussions on the third stage,’ Khalifa told Reuters after 1-1/2 hours of talks which made Bashir late for a meeting of African leaders to decide the chair of the pan-African body. The violence in Darfur generated strong opposition to Sudan taking over the AU chairmanship in Addis, as promised a year ago. Sudan said it eventually withdrew to avoid dividing the continent. Khalifa said: ‘We have agreed on a hybrid operation not a hybrid force‘.”

The conflict in Darfur is an internal Sudanese dispute. But, UN member states have accepted that there is a “responsibility to protect” populations being victimized within their own countries. In addition, spill-over effects from the conflict in Darfur, including cross-border incidents, have given it an international dimension which some governments (France is apparently leading in this) argue gives justification for also putting UN peacekeepers in neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic, and this has already come under discussion in the UN Security Council.

Alex de Waal, who has participated as an expert adviser in the Darfur peace negotiations, wrote in the London Review of Books last November that “Military intervention won’t stop the killing. Those who are clamouring for troops to fight their way into Darfur are suffering from a salvation delusion. It’s a simple reality that UN troops can’t stop an ongoing war, and their record at protecting civilians is far from perfect. Moreover, the idea of Bush and Blair acting as global moral arbiters doesn’t travel well. The crisis in Darfur is political. It’s a civil war, and like all wars it needs a political settlement”.

The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), finalised in May 2006, was signed by the Sudan government and just one of the rebel factions. De Waal wrote: “Had the leader of the main part of the Sudan Liberation Movement also signed, the current crisis would not have happened”. In addition, he pointed out that “It doesn’t specify a UN peacekeeping force – this issue was left for the UN to negotiate with Khartoum”.

De Waal also wrote that “Allowing in UN troops to police a ceasefire and implement a peace agreement that will help the Congress Party consolidate its place in Sudan is one thing. Allowing in ‘international forces’ – the Arabic term, quwat al dauliya, is the same as the one used for coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan – midway through a conflict, with an open-ended mandate, is quite another.

The combination of a huge international force – it would take many more than the 20,000 estimated to be needed to enforce a ceasefire – and 8000 Minawi troops with, Khartoum suspects, direct US backing, would in effect bring about a separation of Darfur from the rest of the country…Bashir’s other main fear is that a UN force would be mandated to execute International Criminal Court arrest warrants. With indictments expected soon, Bashir is fearful that his close military colleagues are likely to be on the list”.

Jan Pronk, the former Special Representative of former UN SG Kofi Annan, who was declared persona non grata in October by the Sudanese government — and who later lamented the lack of support he received from the UN bureaucracy — wrote on his blog on 13 March 2006 that: “The political climate in Sudan towards the UN is deteriorating. In the press statements have been published citing civil society organizations calling for ‘resistance against foreign intervention’, ‘raising the flag of Jihad’, warning both the international community and Sudanese authorities not to ‘help the colonization to come to Darfur’, referring to the West as ‘the devil’, calling for martyrdom and for a readiness to sacrifice and ‘to repulse any attack’, announcing a ‘graveyard for the invaders’. In most statements reference is made to the examples of Afghanistan and Iraq. Clearly the majority of the people assume that there are UN forces in these two countries. This is not the case, but opinion leaders and the public do not make a distinction between the UN and the US or NATO. Those who are aware of the difference express their fear that the UN will pave the way for the US and NATO or say that the UN is an instrument in the hands of the US.”

On the same post, Jan Pronk write that “An award of $100.000 has been promised to the person who will kill me. This has been published in the newspaper Al Watan, with the name of the organization and its leader who have announced this award. It goes with the job and we cannot afford to be intimidated…”

Pronk’s mandate from the UN ended on 31 December.

Pronk write on his blog on 5 March 2006 that he had “brought two messages to my colleagues in New York and to the ambassador members of the Security Council. First: the people must be protected and we can no longer wait. Second: do not organize the protection in such a way that the peace keepers become part of the problem, rather than the solution…. my thoughts went back to Srebrenica, 1995. Will we make the same mistakes, or other, with similar consequences?”

Toward the end of last year, the UN says, Sudan’s President Al-Bashir had “responded positively to three-phase approach presented by the United Nations and the African Union as a package.”

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reported a first meeting on 11 December in Khartoum of a Tripartite Mechanism, composed of representatives of UNMIS, the African Union and the Sudanese Government: “They were discussing how to implement the $21 million UN support package to AMIS, the first part of a three-phase process that is expected to eventually culminate in a hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur.”

However, on 10 January, there was a conflicting indication. The Times of London reported that “Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has rejected the deployment of UN troops in Darfur, saying they were not required,” and that African Union troops were sufficient, the Times (London) reported. “His comment contradicted statements by Sudanese officials, who said last month the government would accept a limited number of UN forces…”

The next day, UN SG BAN KI-MOON told journalists at UNHQ/NY he had just spoken with Jan Eliasson, the Special Representative for Darfur, who was in Sudan that morning, “and he is encouraged by his meetings with President Bashir and other Sudanese leaders…he was assured of very strong cooperation and assistance on the part of the Sudanese Government and President to have a very good cooperation among United Nations, Sudanese Government and the African Union. Therefore, I’m not quite sure about what he said about this so-called – you said ‘rejection’ – of UN forces. Because of the sensitivity of this situation, I’m not in a position to tell you much in detail…I can tell you at this time that this is on the highest priority which I am pursuing…[but] I am not in a position to disclose all what I have been discussing with African leaders.”

Sudanese and UN officials have also said that recent accusations of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers in southern Sudan may be another factor that could jeopardize UN deployment in Darfur.

Ban told journalists in New York: “I will also stress the UN policy on sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping personnel and others: zero tolerance means zero complacency and zero impunity. In the coming months, I will work with Member States to forge an ever stronger partnership to ensure that accountability is brought to bear — among the perpetrators, and among their commanders and superiors.”

Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) meeting is being held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where the AU secretariat is located. The UN also has its African regional office in Addis Ababa.

But, Ethiopian troops (with U.S. training and backing) have recently invaded neighboring Somalia — albeit in support of a Provisional Somalia Government that is supported by the UN Security Council.

The target of the Ethiopian military strike was the Islamic Courts grouping, which was able to bring some degree of law and order where the Provisional Somalia Government had been unable to do so. (The Ethiopians say that the Islamic Courts were getting help from Ethiopia’s arch-rival, Eritrea. It was only a quick hop and a jump from there to claim that the Ethiopian military action in Somalia was a strike against international terrorism, al-Qaeda, and “Islamic fascism”.)

The situation in Somalia is also on the agenda at the African Union Summit.

UN pays $391 MILLION from Iraqi oil revenues to five governments – Kuwait gets most

The UN Compensation Commission in Geneva has paid out $391 MILLION on 25 January, with money from Iraqi Oil revenues. These claims concerned, it seems, environmental remediation.

In this round, Bosnia and Herzegovina received $10,000,000. Kuwait received $326,535,807 (some $272,000,000 went to the Government, and the rest to corporations). Russian Federation received nearly $7,000,000. Turkey received $12,000,000. The U.S. received nearly $10,000,000.

India and Saudi Arabia returned money from previous over-payments, apparently.

The UN Compensation Commission, a body created by the UN Security Council, has now paid out $21,809,642,254.71 of Iraq’s oil revenues, to compensate for losses and damage Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, and its subsequent occupation of Kuwait. The U.S.-led “Desert Storm” coalition expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait in the spring of 1991.

Compensation payments started in June 1994.

For the past five years, payments have been made quarterly, in January, April, July and October.

Today is the 62nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp – now it’s Holocaust Remembrance Day

The UN is going all-out to commemorate this International Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, this year. Because the official date of the remembrance is 27 January, which falls on a Saturday, the commemorations will be at 16h30 on Monday afternoon in Geneva, simultaneously with UNHQ/NY, where it will be 10:30 am.

To reinforce the commemoration, the UN General Assembly has just adopted a resolution condemning Holocaust denial. This resolution was co-sponsored by at least 104 of the UN’s 192 member states, and was then adopted by consensus — meaning that THERE WAS NO OPPOSITION, AND NO ONE VOTED AGAINST IT.

The UN General Assembly (GA) first decided in November 2005 to establish this special annual commemoration. At that time, the UN GA adopted a resolution focussing on urging Member States to develop educational programs to “instill the memory” of the Holocaust, in order to prevent its ever happening again. That first UN GA resolution “rejected” any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event, but what it “condemned” was “all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, whenever they occur”.

This year’s resolution has fundamentally changed, so that what is “condemned” is any denial of the Holocaust.

Who would dare say anything against such a resolution? Only Iran — the country that some diplomats said was the target of the resolution, for having held a conference in Tehran in December on the holocaust.

Yes, the Iranian representative, Hossein Gharibi, expressed objections, saying “we fully disassociate ourselves from this entire hypocritical political exercise”.

Iran Daily (and only Iran Daily, an English-language newspaper published in Tehran) is reporting that after he spoke in the UN GA, Gharibi “left the meeting in a sign of protest”.

But, it must be kept in mind, Iran did not vote against the resolution. It was adopted by CONSENSUS.

The Iranian representative said in the UN General Assembly before the vote that there had been a “mischevous intention” in tabling the resolution.

Could there be any element of truth in this?

Reuters reported on Friday that “the United Nations passed a U.S.-drafted resolution condemning denials of the Holocaust in response to a Tehran conference dominated by speakers questioning the extermination of 6 million Jews in World War Two.
‘We think this is an effective action today to repudiate the Iranian government by the United Nations General Assembly and to have more than 100 countries join us is an effective repudiation to (Iranian) President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s baseless and gross mischaracterization of modern history,’ said [U.S. UnderSecretary of State Nicholas] Burns of the U.N. resolution”.

In the UN GA, it was the American Acting Permanent Representative, Alejandro D. Wolff, who introduced the draft resolution on behalf of all the co-sponsors. He said before the adoption that “The resolution we are introducing builds on the strong foundation of resolution A/60/7 of 2005 in making clear that all people and all states have a vital stake in a world free of genocide…Those who would deny the Holocaust–and, sadly, there are some who do–reveal not only their ignorance but their moral failure as well. Finally, the resolution urges all member states unreservedly to reject any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full or in part, or any activities to this end. By so doing, this Assembly places its moral authority, and its political will, squarely behind the very first words of our Charter, ‘to save succeeding generations’.”

After the adoption of the resolution, Ambassador Wolff told the delegations that: “It is shameful that one country decided to reject that consensus
… This Resolution is not about countering free speech or intellectual thought; it is about avoiding future disasters…We take note that this esteemed body adopted by consensus in 2005 a Resolution unequivocally rejecting the denial of the Holocaust as an historical event. We call upon all Member States to follow through on that and today’s Resolution to include measures in their educational systems that underscore the importance of never denying the Holocaust. As Kofi Annan remarked at the end of his tenure, ‘some of the rhetoric used in connection with the issue implies a refusal to concede the very legitimacy of Israel’s existence, let alone the validity of its security concerns…Today, Israelis are often confronted with words and action that seem to confirm their fear that the goal of their adversaries is to extinguish their existence as a state, and as a people’…Indeed, the words and actions of some, in direct violation of the UN Charter, underscore why this Resolution is so important. Just last month, the Iranian regime sponsored a conference questioning the historical fact of the atrocities of the Holocaust. Iranian President Ahmadi-Nejad has also called for the state of Israel to be ‘wiped off the map’. That same regime is under UN Security Council sanctions right now to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons, in direct violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The confluence of these three forces cannot be viewed abstractly or in isolation of each other. They create a cauldron of conflict that cannot be ignored. Some will cloak their hatred and hidden agenda by invoking the right to free speech and academic freedom. There is a categorical difference between free speech and speech which willfully and maliciously ignores recognized historical facts in order to advance an ulterior agenda…The United States stands firmly opposed to any attempts to deny the Holocaust. This Resolution reinforces that message and we encourage all Member States to take concrete steps to make that message heard. To deny the events of the Holocaust is tantamount to the approval of genocide in all its forms. Today we stand together saying to the world that we will not allow that to happen”.

Then, at a “stake-out” of journalists who gathered comments and reaction from diplomats after the GA decision, Ambassador was asked: “Reporter: Ambassador, were you disappointed that there were so few members in the General Assembly hall for this?
Ambassador Wolff: Yes, I was.”

A UN press release says that Israel’s Ambassador Dan Gillerman told the UN GA that “The Holocaust served as a warning to all people of the profound dangers of hatred, bigotry, and racism.” He also said that “Joining the resolution was an affirmation that the Holocaust was not up for question or debate. Its lessons carried such universal weight that they could not be carried solely by the Jewish people.”

Israel’s YNET News quoted Ambassador Gillerman as saying: “While the nations of the world gather here to affirm the historicity of the Holocaust with the intent of never again allowing genocide, a member of this assembly is acquiring the capabilities to carry out its own…The president of Iran is in fact saying, ‘There really was no Holocaust, but just in case, we shall finish the job.”,7340,L-3357341,00.html

Benny Avni reported in the New York Sun on 24 January that “A new U.N. General Assembly resolution to condemn Holocaust denial, largely seen as aimed at increasing Iran’s diplomatic isolation, will not face opposition from a U.N. voting bloc that contains most of the Muslim member states, diplomats said yesterday. America introduced the resolution proposal yesterday afternoon, and it has already received the support of 72 countries that agreed to co-sponsor it…Diplomats from nations in the Group of 77 voting bloc, which represents the world’s poorer countries, said yesterday that while many diplomats are aware the resolution is aimed at isolating Iran, Tehran’s envoys have made little effort so far to lobby against it.”

Sohail went to the trouble of submitting a comment to Avni’s article, writing that: “the modern world and especially America advocate the freedom of speech and consider it basic human rights. They are opposed to the blasphemy laws in some of the muslim countries which are aimed at dealing with the people who abuse prophet or holy book. while at the same time holocaust which is a historical event is so dear to them that just denial of holocaust is a crime in their view and you can go to prison for that. this is a big dichotomy in their views and one of those events which create hatred among the common people against west. This ridiculous attitude is deplorable.”

In fact, there is something overwhelmingly difficult in this summoning of institutional power to enforce thinking in a certain particular way. All of Ambassador Wolff’s denials to the contrary, this does seem, at the very least, like an issue of freedom of belief, speech and expression.

Last year’s resolution was much better. It rejected Holocaust denial, but what it condemned was intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against any religious or ethnic group.

There was no global campaign to explain that it was directed, implicitly if not explicitly, against Iran. Iran made no objection or reservation about the first resolution, and Iranian diplomats did not make any remark whatsoever.

It was Egypt’s Ambassador, MAGED ABDELFATTAH ABDELAZIZ, who struck the only sour note in November 2005, questioning in the GA meeting “Why should there be a remembrance day for the Jews and not for Christians and Muslims? No one had the monopoly on suffering.”

On Friday, the very same Egyptian Ambassador, MAGED A. ABDELAZIZ, was speaking in somewhat different terms: he said “he had joined consensus on the text, stressing once again his strong belief that the Holocaust should be remembered as one of the dark points in the history of humanity. He thanked the co-sponsors, particularly the European countries, for keeping that memory alive and for working to correct those mistakes. Adoption of the resolution today under agenda item 44, “culture of peace”, could serve as a sobering reminder that preventing the recurrence of such heinous crimes could only be through the international community’s intensive efforts to enhance and revitalize the culture of peace, tolerance, co-existence, recognition and prevention of the suffering of others, regardless of religion, ethnicity or belief. He said that the United Nations had a particular responsibility in that regard to promote ethnic dialogue among civilizations, cultures and regions, and to do what it could to prevent the recurrence of such crimes in all parts of the world. The painful memories of the Holocaust should also serve as a repugnant reminder of the need to combat racism, intolerance and xenophobia in all its forms, and serve as a lesson that appeasing intolerant ideologies would cost humanity dearly. The international community should not remain complacent in combating the xenophobic tide growing in many parts of the world, he warned.”

Is he running for office?

In 2005, it was the then-Jordanian Ambassador, ZEID RA’AD ZEID AL-HUSSEIN — who was then vying for nomination as an Asian Group candidate to replace Kofi Annan as UN SG — who played the good pupil. He said that: “it was appropriate to have another discussion about the Holocaust in the General Assembly because there should never be a cessation of relevant lessons drawn from that astonishing and terrifying period of human experience. The Holocaust was a different genocide; a genocide where wickedness fell into union with human organization. It was a crime of the most colossal proportions. Sixty years on, it was still difficult for the vast majority of Member States to examine their own national histories, particularly modern histories, he said. It was high time that countries begin to reckon with what in their national memory was distasteful or was perhaps even criminal or terrible…We must of course remind ourselves the extent to which chauvinistic nationalisms or philosophies of negation can be pernicious”, he said.

There will be no Holocaust denial here — not out of fear, but out of conviction. But do I need to be afraid of the reaction to the publication of my thoughts here?

For the record, I find it hard to live in a world where people could do to others what was done to the victims of the Holocaust, which is the Jewish people’s part of the tragedy of World War II.

I also find it hard to live in a world with nuclear weapons, and where the U.S. carries out rendition of “suspects” to places where they face torture, and maintains a terrifying legal limbo in Guantanamo Bay where hundreds of still-innocent-until-proven-guilty persons have been abusively incarcerated, with not much human respect or dignity, nor much hope for any true justice.

Can we say, as many Germans did after the Nazi and Axis defeat, that we did not know?

But, coming back to this UN General Resolution condemning Holocaust denial, can we now also expect to have clear majorities for resolutions condemning denial of Joan Peter’s version of anti-semitism and the birth of Israel, in From Time Immemorial? Should there be a resolution supporting Alan Dershowitz and condemning Norman Finkelstein and his books (The Holocaust Industry, among other works), articles, and interviews? Perhaps the UN General Assembly should also weigh in on the debate over whether former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has gone over the top in latest book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid

How far is it from here, to book-burning, and worse?

How is it that the UN General Assembly is now deciding what views we should all have, and which views are condemnable?

UNSG BAN KI-MOON said, in a statement issued through a spokesperson after the General Assembly adoption of the resolution condemning Holocaust denial, that he welcomed the decision: “This reflects the prevailing view of the international community. The Secretary-General reiterates his conviction that the denial of historical facts such as the Holocaust is unacceptable. He expresses his strong desire to see this fundamental principle respected both in rhetoric and in practice.

In a separate message, issued for Holocaust Remembrance Day, SG BAN said that “Decades later, the systematic murder of millions of Jews and others retains its power to shock. The ability of the Nazis to command a following, despite their utter depravity, still strikes fear…”

But the adoption of this resolution strikes fear, too…

Because I can’t find the text of the adopted resolution (which will apparently be known as A/RES/61/255, on the UN website, here is the draft of the resolution on Holocaust Denial

The General Assembly,

i. Reaffirming its resolution A/60/7 of 1 November 2005,

ii. Recalling that resolution A/60/7 observes that remembrance of the Holocaust is critical to preventing further acts of genocide,

iii. Recalling further that, for this reason, resolution A/60/7 rejects efforts to deny the Holocaust, which by ignoring the historical fact of these terrible events increases the risk they will be repeated,

iv. Noting that all people and States have a vital stake in a world free of genocide,

v. Welcoming the establishment by the Secretary-General of a programme of outreach on the subject of the “Holocaust and the United Nations,” and further welcoming the inclusion by Member States within their educational programmes of measures to confront attempts to deny or minimize the importance of the Holocaust,

vi. Taking note that 27 January has been designated by the United Nations as an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust,

1. Condemns without any reservation any denial of the Holocaust;

2. Urges all Member States unreservedly to reject any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event, either in full or in part, or any activities to this end;

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad — a former mayor of Tehran, reportedly close to the Revolutionary Guards, who used to be called a populist for his modest refusal to adopt imperialist trappings, but who now is facing possible impeachment charges (only a few more majlis members need to sign the preliminary petition to summon Ahmedinejad to face questioning) — has not only fiercely asserted Iran’s right to pursue a nuclear program, but has also questioned the historical accuracy of much of the Holocaust narrative.

[South African President Thabo Mbeki does not believe there is a relationship between the HIV Virus and Aids, so maybe there could also be a UN General Assembly resolution condemning that, too. But then again, South Africa gave up its nuclear programme –actually, it was the white Apartheid regime which dismantled the programme, before the non-racial majority democratic government led by the African National Congress was installed.]

For the record, the Iranian representative told the UN General Assembly that “if the thrust of the draft resolution is to condemn the crime of genocide, the assembly, through a great number of resolutions, has already addressed this concern of grave nature. We, like many other countries, have condemned genocide against any race, ethnic, or religious group as a crime against humanity”.

But, Iran is set as an out-cast, already under UN sanctions, and facing further punishment if it doesn’t do something to improve “confidence” in its actions.

Many Israelis have asked, for the past couple of years, why there is not a military strike against Iran to remove the perceived “threat”.

The American, European, and Middle Eastern press is full of alamrist stories about an imminent attack on Iran, and the possible consequences.

Block by block, an edifice of international justification is being constructed.

Cold-warrior liberal journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave, writing for UPI, has written a commentary piece on 25 January from Washington, saying that “In Israel, the perception, clear across the political spectrum, is that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is plotting a ‘second Holocaust’ against Israel by way of a nuclear weapon lobbed by missile into an Israeli city.”

So, is it worth going to war because of what the present Iranian President says?

The Jerusalem Post carries a regular column by Caroline Glick, a journalist who was “embedded” with US military units invading Iraq in 2003 — she may have also had another accreditation at the time, from an American newspaper. Her current piece, Column One: Making the case against genocide, is previewed on the Jerusalem Post’s homepage with the following teaser: “All Ahmadinejad’s coalitions and evil intentions cannot help him against a roused Jewish people”.

In the article, Glick blasts the present Israeli government for working against Israeli interests. She writes that: “A proper Israeli foreign policy would serve to check and undermine Iran’s international maneuvering. It would work to bring about Iran’s delegitimization and isolation in the international community. It would work to dry up Iran’s bank accounts and so unravel the stability of the regime and then act to overthrow it through popular insurrections. An effective, coherent foreign policy would be aimed at building solid international coalitions in which Israel could be part of an international military effort to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations. Or, at the very least, it would prepare international public opinion for a unilateral Israeli military campaign against Iran…There is a small group of prominent Israelis who currently serve in no official capacities who are privately acting to delegitimize and isolate Iran internationally. Members of this group include opposition leader and former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Sharansky, former IDF chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya’alon, MK Dan Naveh and former UN ambassador Dore Gold. These men are pushing to have Ahmadinejad indicted under the Genocide Convention for inciting to genocide by calling for Israel’s destruction. Many also work tirelessly to explain the magnitude of the Iranian nuclear threat not only to Israel, but to the entire world.
On the economic warfare front, Netanyahu is waging a one-man war – and rather successfully at that – to push forward an international campaign to divest from companies doing business with Iran. A study conducted by the Washington-based Center for Security Policy showed that US public employee pension funds are heavily invested in such companies. Divestment from these companies could potentially cause hundreds of billions of dollars in losses for Iran. [Is there really this much American business activity in Iran?] There are a significant number of prominent public figures – both Jewish and non-Jewish – in the world that fervently wish to join forces with Israelis to defend against Iran and the forces of global jihad more generally. A number of them participated in the Herzliya Conference…Under the morbid influence of the Iran discussions at Herzliya, this week I paid a visit to Yad Vashem’s new museum. On display were several copies of Der Stuermer – Josef Goebbels’s infamous anti-Semitic propaganda organ. What was most striking about the caricatures that pictured Jews as monkeys and monsters in human form was how stupid and primitive they were. If we had had the power then to respond to the demonization campaign that paved the way to Birkenau and Babi Yar, we could have defeated it. But we did not have the power then.”

Another opinion article in the same edition of the Jerusalem Post, entitled “Rattling the Cage: Against a preemptive Holocaust, by Larry Derfner, says: “Almost imperceptibly, the debate in Israel over what to do about Iran’s nuclear development has gone over the edge. The unthinkable is now not only thinkable, it’s speakable, it’s writeable, it’s doable. In the last few weeks or so, it has become acceptable, legitimate, to argue for an Israeli nuclear first strike to knock out Iran’s nuclear facilities…So, as most Israelis seem convinced that Iran will inevitably nuke Israel once it gets the capability, which is expected to happen sometime within the next decade, the Israeli nuclear option has made its public debut. IF YOU READ the ‘talkbacks’ on The Jerusalem Post or Haaretz Web sites, not to mention the radical right-wing blogs, the idea of nuking Iran has been boiling in the minds of more than a few people, Jews and gentiles, for a long time. But this idea has now traveled beyond the boundaries of the crackpot Right, and is reportedly on the menu of options for dealing with Iran that the IDF is preparing to put at the government’s disposal…Yet a lot of Israelis…have become so unhinged by Iran’s nuclear program and Ahmadinejad’s threats that they can only imagine one possible future, and it is Israel’s extermination. So for them, Israel has the natural right to do whatever’s necessary to prevent that future from occurring, and if the only thing that will do it is a nuclear attack on Iran, then a nuclear attack on Iran it must be. After all, the overwhelming consensus here is that a nuclear Iran is a risk that Israel cannot allow itself to live with…[But, if Israel acted pre-emptively against Iran] Millions of Iranians would be killed. Let me repeat that: Millions of Iranians would be killed. By Israel. By Israel acting not in response to an attack, but in response to general threats of a future attack. What would such an act be? It would be genocide. It would be a holocaust. Those who think they can see into the future might try to call it a ‘preemptive holocaust.’ But a holocaust it would be.”

SG BAN Financial disclosure … discloses his daughter works at the UN Office in Nairobi

In the interests of “transparency”, and UN “reform”, the new UNSG BAN KI-MOON has today authorized publication of his financial disclosure form on the UN website.

There are no figures given, no sums of money. [CORRECTION: Reuters has reported from UNHQ/NY that “New United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon and his wife have assets valued at $1.2 million to $2.5 million, he said on Friday in the first financial disclosure made public by a U.N. secretary-general. Ban also revealed he made less than $100,000 in salary as South Korea’s foreign minister last year. Ban became foreign minister in January 2004 but stepped down last November to begin the transition to his new job, which began on January 1. At the United Nations, Ban will earn $403,958 a year. He also will be able to live for free…Last April, the world body ordered its most senior staff to file disclosure forms after investigations of the oil-for-food program for Iraq and the procurement department turned up evidence of significant mismanagement and corruption. The rule did not apply to the post of secretary-general…The nine-page form showed Ban’s costliest assets, valued at between $500,001 and $1 million, are an apartment and a plot of residential land in Seoul. His wife, Yoo Soon-taek, owns a plot of non-residential land in Seoul. The couple’s other assets are in bank accounts. Ban checked the ‘no’ box to a question asking if he had ever been involved in an activity that could harm the image of the United Nations or compromise his objectivity or independence in his U.N. duties.”

It was slightly embarassing — what does this really do for us?

The only real disclosure on the financial form is that SG BAN’s daughter (BAN Huan Hee) works in the UNICEF Office in Nairobi, Kenya — where SG BAN will be visiting during his nine-day “foreign” (see UNOG Friday press briefing, cited below) trip. BAN’s daughter’s husband, Suddarth Chatterjee, also apparently works in the UNICEF Office in Nairobi, Kenya.

A UN statement issued upon the publication of this statement says: “Certain personal details have been removed for security purposes”.

Thanks to The Beaver (see comments below), who found this amazing bit, from Digital Chosunilbo (English Edition)- Daily News in English About Korea: Korean Women Fly High in UN, by Kim Yoon-duk (,(2002.10.21):
“Five young Korean women in their 20s will go out into the world as junior professional officers of the United Nations this year, finalists that pushed aside 180 competitors. Starting next month, they will leave for Paris, Geneva, and Sri Lanka with officers from all over the world to learn the work of the UN on location and at its headquarters. ‘Belief in work’ is what brought these women to apply for the positions, as much work will take them to regions under dispute in African and Southeast Asia to labor under inferior conditions. Park Jae-hyun will be the first to leave the country with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). She applied not to the Geneva headquarters but a place called Jafna in North Sri Lanka. A graduate of English Language and Literature at Yonsei University and the Graduate School of International Studies, Park’s connection with refugees began early. She helped North Korean defectors at the boundary of China and North Korea and was at the site of a Kosovo refugee camp. ‘Meeting a refugee family from North Korea in 1999 was a turning point in my life. Refugees weren’t suffering in some far-away country. They were here with us,’ she said. ‘I was moved when I saw refugees from Kosovo helping others when it was even difficult to carry on their own lives.’ Huh Yoon-seon, who applied for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights used to be a reporter for an English newspaper, but last June, she quit her job and began preparing to be a UN official; she will go to Geneva in mid-November. Since her days as a politics and diplomacy major at Ewha Woman’s University, she burrowed stubbornly into human rights and applied to be in charge of this topic as a reporter.
Ban Hyun-hee will go to the UN headquarters in New York. Studying international trade at the Yonsei Graduate School of International Studies, she worked for six months as an intern at the UN Headquarters Economy and Society Department since last September, tending her dreams to be a specialist in international affairs. Youngest of the five, Lee So-hye, will go to the headquarters in France and Yoon Sun-hee will go to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, most likely to Africa. The junior professional officer system was first introduced to Korea in 1996. Every year, the Ministry of Foreign affairs and Trade recruits members ( As of this year, 29 were dispatched at various international organizations such as UNICEF, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.”

What is wrong in this sentence? Clue: it is the word “foreign”

26 January 2007

Secretary-General’s First Foreign Visit

“Ms. [Marie] Heuzé [Directrice of the UN Information Service in Geneva] said Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is on his first foreign trip and is presently on his way to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He will visit seven countries in nine days.”

Foreign to what? And to whom?

The countries that SG BAN is visiting are all UN member states…so, it must be just an unhappy choice of words, passed by people who translate directly from the French, without understanding the nasty nuances in English. Or, perhaps, this was done carelessly, without a second thought, by people who don’t really understand what the UN is…

(The spokespeople at UNHQ/NY are calling it SG BAN’s first “overseas trip”…)

Robert Fisk comments on pledging conference for Lebanon’s Government

Lebanon is a small county on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, with a population of 4 million souls and a debt of $41 billion dollars.

The French government, which has had a “special” relationship with Lebanon (especially with the Christians there) ever since France took over the administration of what became Lebanon following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, under a deal carved out with Britain, and then rubber-stamped by the League of Nations.

Yesterday, the French Government hosted a pledging conference in Paris, for the third time (the meeting was called Lebanon-III). It was deemed a big success, because some $7.6 billion dollars was promised, mainly to help service Lebanon’s debt.

Was it just throwing good money after bad?

The Independent newspaper’s Robert Fisk, in Lebanon, wrote: “If only money could buy peace – or was the £4bn handed out to Lebanon’s Prime Minister in Paris yesterday supposed to help him defeat America’s Hizbollah enemies in Beirut’s increasingly savage street battles? For, even as President Jacques Chirac of France was taking the applause for leading Lebanon’s debt conference – the US itself pledged £405m, Lebanese troops were fighting to control the worst sectarian fighting so far in the capital. From both the Hizbollah leadership and from Saad Hariri, whose future party is in Fouad Siniora’s elected government, came demands for an end to the latest fighting – needless to say, they blamed each other…For several hours, the Lebanese army – yet again – failed to restore order, reduced to firing into the air in a vain attempt to force the crowds apart. Many of the Paris donors must have been wondering how Lebanon, which has a crushing – indeed, astonishing – £23bn (repeat: billion) debt, planned to spend their money when the country is apparently falling apart by the day….The Saudis promised to hand over £500m – a Sunni Muslim kingdom trying to support a Sunni-led government in Beirut from which the Shia have resigned – to the gratitude of the US. Neither Washington nor its friends in the Middle East want another catastrophe – the fall of a US-supported administration in Beirut – to add to the bloodbath in Iraq and the growing anarchy of Afghanistan. But more than this, President Bush does not want his Iranian and Syrian enemies to win the battle for Lebanon via the Hizbollah.
The World Bank and the Arab Monetary Fund stumped up £600m for Mr Siniora’s government – the Lebanese Prime Minister is himself an American-educated economist – but he must know how swiftly security is decaying. At one point, it seemed unlikely he would even be able to reach Paris to listen to M. Chirac’s public expressions of joy. It is now almost impossible to remember that the original purpose of the Paris conference was to raise money to restore the infrastructure of Lebanon that America’s own Israeli ally destroyed after the Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on 12 July last year. In Beirut, it’s now clear that the army commanders simply cannot ask their soldiers to shoot at their fellow citizens when they are seen using weapons. ‘We are here to protect all of our people and these are all the people of Lebanon,’ one junior officer said earlier this week as he was watching rioting between Sunnis and Shias in Beirut. The real problem, of course, is that the Lebanese army is largely drawn from the Shia, and the moment troops are ordered to attack men of their own sect – although many in the mobs wear hoods and carry wooden coshes – the army’s unity cannot be guaranteed. But yesterday suggested that the days when Lebanon’s troops can do little more than shoot into the air may be nearly over. That the great and the good should have met in Paris to help ‘save’ Lebanon – a country which has fewer than 4 million people – shows how desperate the situation in Beirut has now become…”

The day before, Fisk wrote this: “There is worse to come. That is what Lebanon’s opposition, led by the Hizbollah, said only hours after they lifted their violent day-long ‘strike’ on Tuesday night and – here is the rub – there are few in this country who do not believe it. At least three deaths, 120 wounded and sectarian fighting across a hundred miles of Lebanon, we are now told, was only a ‘warning to the government’. If Christian versus Christian and Sunni versus Shia Muslim is not enough, then, what will be? And how planned is the coming tragedy? Planning is what came to mind yesterday among all those who live here. How, we are asking ourselves, did those thousands of violent young men all have near-identical, brand new wooden coshes? How come so many men emerged on to the Beirut streets in near-identical hoods? How come the ‘general strike’ called to demand the resignation of the Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, was switched off in a matter of minutes?
But there were other, far more disturbing elements to Tuesday’s scandalous day of violence. Two of the old civil-war fault lines – on the road north of Beirut and in the suburbs of the city – were reopened. Siniora himself started warning of the dangers of civil war and the United States – as Hizbollah must have hoped – came out in support of the government, claiming, quite falsely, that the violence came from the Hizbollah-led opposition.It certainly did come from their Amal militia ally but Sunni Muslim supporters of the government were in gun battles in Tripoli – they continued yesterday – and the ‘Lebanese Forces’ youths of Samir Geagea, an ex-militia murderer who supports the government, were engaged in pitched stoning battles with other Christian Maronites. Indeed, the inter-Christian war, in retrospect, was probably the most vicious of the day. Most of the wounded were hurt when Geagea’s men tried to stop supporters of the Maronite ex-general Michel Aoun blocking roads outside the capital…And what of the economy? Lebanon nurses a £20bn (repeat: billion) public debt – one of the reasons why the Shias as well as Aoun’s Christian movement claim that the government represents a corrupt clique rather than democratically elected ministers. This, however, hides at least two salient facts. Most of this monstrous waste was perpetrated when Lebanon lay under Syria’s hegemony when a Lebanese academic memorably told me that Lebanese government officials did not hold PhDs in corruption. ‘They have professorships in corruption,’ he told me. And last year’s war with Israel, which began after Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others, added billions of losses to the economy – a figure that will now be increased by the collapse of further foreign investment generated by Tuesday’s ‘strike’. Siniora is supposed to receive more promises of foreign aid in Paris today. The Americans and Europeans are sure to be generous. But it is also a fact that hundreds of thousands of Shias, who suffered most at Israel’s hands, genuinely support the Hizbollah and do indeed demand the resignation of the government”

Post-war funding for Lebanon raised in Paris meeting

But will it mainly go to service Lebanon’s enormous debt?

Can Lebanon be considered a good investment? Even if there are questions, apparently the major donors feel that it is politically very necessary to show support — for the present Lebanese government.

A night curfew was imposed in Beirut Thursday night, after four persons were reported killed during the day in clashes that started after student demonstrations — the third day in a row of deadly civil strife.

A deputy UN spokesperson said at UNHQ/NY on Wednesday that “We think it is important that on Lebanon, we have all agreed, several times, that all Lebanese communities need to be represented and feel represented in the Government. We continue to call on all parties to return to the table of national dialogue and work toward national reconciliation.”

The Lebanese Prime Minister and the UN Special Envoy were both blocked in Beirut by violence that broke out during a general strike called by the Lebanese opposition on Tuesday. Lebanese demonstrators have camped out in downtown Beirut for weeks, calling for improved power-sharing in the government, and many of the ministers have been living camped out in government offices for the duration.

SG BAN flattered his hosts at the Paris Conference on Thursday by speaking, at the beginning of his statement in French. “Il importe, manifestement, de procéder de toute urgence à la reconstruction physique du pays et aussi d’assurer la réconciliation nationale en vue de promouvoir la stabilité et un progrès durable.” (UN Truth translation: The important thing is to make speedy progress in the physical reconstruction of the country and to achieve national reconciliation so as to promote stability and durable progress.”)

BAN said at the donor conference that the unsustainable level of Lebanon’s debt – 180 percent of its gross national product — is a fundamental obstacle to the country’s recovery and long term development.

The Lebanese Minister of Economy, Sami Haddad, told the BBC World Service’s Newshour program the previous evening that Lebanon — with a staggering $41 billion dollar debt – had the highest debt-to-GDP ration in the world.

About half the Lebanese budget is spent on servicing this debt.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said on the same BBC program that most of the aid that expected from the Paris meeting would go to servicing Lebanon’s debt – and the rest to “project finance”, he said, almost as an afterthought, “related to implementing some infrastructure projects”.

The New York Times reported that: ”
In many ways, the donor conference here on Thursday will serve as a snapshot of the larger proxy war between the United States — joined by its Sunni Arab allies and Europe — and Iran and Syria. Lebanon, like Iraq, is a battleground in that war, and Mr. Siniora, a Sunni Muslim, is fighting for his political survival. The Paris conference is considered central to the survival of his government. Lebanon is badly hobbled after the monthlong war between Israel and Hezbollah last summer, with Hezbollah trying to use the war to strengthen its political role, and reconstruction efforts have been burdened by the country’s $41 billion in public debt.” reported that “Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and France lead donors pledging a total of $7.6 billion in new funds to help rebuild Lebanon and lend support to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government, French President Jacques Chirac said…Lebanon’s public debt equals about 180 percent of the country’s $22 billion gross domestic product. The war with Israel damaged major roads and hundreds of houses and buildings. This year’s government deficit will spike to 14 percent of GDP compared with nine percent last year, according to Economy Ministry forecasts…The World Bank will contribute more than $1 billion toward reconstruction in Lebanon in grants and loans, said World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz. The total, which could be increased over time, includes up to $275 million in lending for private businesses, and $700 million for government programs aimed at stimulating growth, he said.”

The Associated Press listed some of the pledges in a report from Paris:

UNITED STATES _ The Bush administration is seeking $770 million in new aid for Lebanon. The money must be approved by Congress and would finance long-term redevelopment and immediate rebuilding from the war between Hezbollah militants and Israel
FRANCE _ Pledged a $650 million loan at advantageous terms.

EUROPEAN UNION _ European Commission pledged $650 million in new aid and loans.

SAUDI ARABIA _ Pledged $1 billion in development funding and an additional $100 million for the Lebanese government.

GERMANY _ Contributing $134 million.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES _ $300 million.

BRITAIN _ Announced $48 million for a U.N. refugee agency, on top of $115 million pledged over next four years.

DENMARK _ Some $3.5 million to clear mines and in other aid.

CHINA _ Contributing $4 million.

WORLD BANK _ President Paul Wolfowitz said the bank was ready to extend, through its various arms, more than $1 billion.

EUROPEAN INVESTMENT BANK _ French organizers said the bank’s contributions totaled $1.18 billion.

ISLAMIC DEVELOPMENT BANK _ Proposed $250 million.


The Washington Post reported that a substantial part of the U.S. donation would go towards bolstering security measures: “At least $464 million of the funds pledged by the United States — or more than 60 percent of the U.S. total — would be directed to military aid or security measures, according to an unidentified State Department official, quoted by news services, who briefed reporters traveling with Rice. That included $220 million in military aid to the Lebanese government for the purchase of small arms, ammunition, spare parts and other hardware; $184 million for U.N. peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon, and $40 million for internal Lebanese security services. About $250 million in a cash reserve would be released to the Lebanese government as it met targets for financial and structural reforms that Siniora has pledged to implement to help restore fiscal stability and stimulate the economy…Among the measures the government has promised are to raise the value added tax from 10 to 12 percent, reduce state subsidies for fuel, and privatize the electricity and telecommunications industries. At a 2002 donor conference in Paris, about $4.4 billion in international assistance was pledged to Lebanon. But donors grew angry when the government did not follow through on its fiscal austerity program and privatization promises, and only about $2.5 billion ultimately was delivered. The U.S. funds, which are subject to approval by Congress, are in addition to $230 million pledged at an August conference in Stockholm and represent a significant increase in U.S. financial assistance to Lebanon, which in years past was as low as $2 million dollars a year.” The Washington Post also reported that Lebanese PM Siniora was happy with the outcome: “I’m going back really pleased with the level of financial support shown today,” Siniora said. “This is for all Lebanon and all the Lebanese.”

The French President was also pleased, according to the Agence France Press report: “M. Chirac a parlé d’un ‘résultat très positif sur les plans politique et financier’.” (UN Truth translation: Mr. Chirac spoke of a very positive result, both politically and financially”.