Just 68 Iraqi refugees resettled in US in last six months

USA Today is reporting that “The United States admitted 68 Iraqi refugees in the six months through March, a tiny percentage of those fleeing their homes because of the war, State Department figures show. The United States has been unable to accept more Iraqis in part because of the time needed for background checks, which have become more stringent since 9/11, Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of State, told USA TODAY“.

[Before a big conference on Iraqi refugees was held in Geneva about ten days ago, the U.S. said it could take up to 7,000 Iraqi refugees this calendar year.  However, in response to a journalist’s question at a press conference, Sauerbrey said the U.S. could { theoretically } take up to 25,000 Iraqis this year.]

A man gathers scattered tomatoes next to his destroyed food stall after a bomb attack in a market in Baghdad on 30 April 2007 -- Ali Jasim for Reuters

From October 2006 through March, the United States gave refugee status to more than 15,000 people. How Iraqis compared with some other groups:
• Somalis: 3,077
• Iranians: 2,468
• Burmese: 1,518
• Cubans: 1,339
• Iraqis: 68
Source: State Department

At a conference [in Geneva] earlier this month, the UN “called the Iraqi refugee crisis the most serious in the Middle East since the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of Israel in 1948, and it urged other countries around the world to share the burden”. Continue reading Just 68 Iraqi refugees resettled in US in last six months

UN: "abuse, harassment, theft and rape" during violence in Mogadishu

The UN Spokesperson told journalistsa at UNHQ on Monday that “Eric Laroche, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, has written an open letter to Somali leaders, military commanders, elders and community representatives, in which he expressed grave concern at reports of abuse, harassment, theft and rape perpetrated on civilians displaced by the latest round of violence in Mogadishu. Laroche deplored the fact that while the country is in the middle of a major human tragedy, military activity continues to hamper the provision of humanitarian assistance to those in critical need.

Children stand outside their destroyed home in Hamar Jadid neighbourhood in Mogadishu on 30 April 2007 - REUTERS - Shabelle Media

He appealed to the Somali leaders to ensure the safe passage of relief goods and workers throughout the regions under their control and urged them and the Ethiopian forces backing the government to respect the provisions of international humanitarian law”.

weapons in Mogadishu - AFP photo

Salim Lone wrote in The Guardian on Saturday that “This is the most lawless war of our generation. All wars of aggression lack legitimacy, but no conflict in recent memory has witnessed such mounting layers of illegality as the current one in Somalia. Violations of the UN charter and of international humanitarian law are regrettably commonplace in our age, and they abound in the carnage that the world is allowing to unfold in Mogadishu, but this war has in addition explicitly violated two UN security council resolutions. To complete the picture, one of these resolutions contravenes the charter itself.

The complete impunity with which Ethiopia and the transitional Somali government have been allowed to violate these resolutions explains the ruthlessness of the military assaults that have been under way for six weeks now. The details of the atrocities being committed were formally acknowledged by a western government for the first time when Germany, which holds the current EU presidency, had its ambassador to Somalia, Walter Lindner, write a tough letter – made public on Wednesday – to Somalia’s president, Abdullahi Yusuf.

The letter condemned the indiscriminate use of air strikes and heavy artillery in Mogadishu’s densely populated areas, the raping of women, the deliberate blocking of urgently needed food and humanitarian supplies, and the bombing of hospitals. This is a relentless drive to terrify and intimidate civilians belonging to clans from whose ranks fighters are challenging the occupation.

Continue reading UN: "abuse, harassment, theft and rape" during violence in Mogadishu

UN: East Timor's first round of presidential elections "not perfect" but free and fair

The UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) announced in a statement today that “while it recognizes that the first round of elections was not perfect, the consensus assessment was that they were free and fair … UNMIT also said that “considering that these are the first national elections which the Timorese authorities have ever conducted, they should be seen as a significant achievement”.

Guterres got over 28 percent and Ramos Horta got over 22 percent

For most of the world’s media, however, the glass is half-empty. Most headlines read: “East Timor election fails most UN benchmarks“. Continue reading UN: East Timor's first round of presidential elections "not perfect" but free and fair

USA to preside over UN Security Council in May

The presidency of the UN Security Council rotates by alphabetical order monthly. The USA’s new Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, will preside over the UN SC in May.

The UK served as SC President in April — and took the 15 Council members on a trip to Kosovo that ended on Sunday. Belgium’s Ambassador Johan Verbeke spoke to the press in Kosovo and said that “the Security Council delegation saw in Kosovo a willingness to build a strong multiethnic society. Asked about divisions in the Council over Kosovo, he said there was enough potential for mutual confidence and cooperation to move towards the international community’s collective aim for Kosovo – namely a multiethnic society where everybody is at ease. Verbeke also said that there were no firm deadlines in the status process”.

In Washington today, the U.S. State Department spokesman was asked by a journalist about “an interview published today in which the Kosovar Foreign Minister said that he expected to declare — unilaterally declare — independence, before the end of the month unless there’s a — the Ahtisaari plan gets through the Security Council. Given Russia’s intention to veto –”

The State Department spokesman Sean McCormick replied: “Yeah. Well, I wouldn’t — you know, I’m not going to put words in the Russians’ mouths. I haven’t heard them say the word veto. Continue reading USA to preside over UN Security Council in May

Blogging at UNHQ/NY

The NY Times has an article on a colleague (we have not yet had the pleasure of making his acquaintance), who blogs from UNHQ/NY. The Story, As Blogs Proliferate, a Gadfly With Accreditation at the U.N., by Maria Aspan, was published on 30 April, and focuses mainly on issues concerning accreditation [with which we do have more than a passing acquaintance — though not because we have asked for accreditation for our blog, which we are still doing anonymously].

Here is the text in full of the NYTimes story:

“UNITED NATIONS — The daily press briefing was routine. Marie Okabe, a spokeswoman for the secretary general, read a five-minute update on Somalia, Darfur and the Security Council’s actions, and about 30 journalists quietly listened

In the third row, Matthew Lee tapped away at his laptop and scribbled on two notepads with the intensity of a graduate student at thesis time. When Ms. Okabe asked for questions, Mr. Lee, the resident blogger of the United Nations press corps, pounced, asking almost as many questions in 20 minutes as the other correspondents combined.

Mr. Lee, a well-known gadfly who often presses banks to revise their policies on mortgage loans to the poor, is the only blogger at the United Nations with media credentials, entitling him to free office space and access to briefings and press conferences. There had been a second accredited blogger, Pincas Jawetz, a 73-year-old retired energy policy consultant, but he was ejected last month on the grounds that he had distracted too many briefings with off-topic questions.

The United Nations is one of the only institutions of its size and importance that currently allow bloggers not affiliated with larger, more traditional media companies into the permanent press corps.
Continue reading Blogging at UNHQ/NY

"…they say that the world doesn't care or this would not be happening to us."

What is about to happen here?

A man accused of being a spy is tied up by an insurgent at a base in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Tuesday April 24, 2007, as artillery shells and mortars rained down on Mogadishu - AP Photo by Abdi Farah

A man accused of being a spy is guarded by an insurgent holding an AK 47 at a base of the insurgents in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Tuesday, April 24, 2007. Artillery shells and mortars rained down on Mogadishu  despite a plea by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to end the violence. AP Photo by Abdi Farah)

It is perfectly predictable and obvious. This man, lying face down on the ground, is about to be summarily shot.

A man suspected as a spy being shot in Mogadishu on 24 April   - Shabelle Media for Reuters

The Guardian newspaper of London ran a story on Thursday by Reuters correspondent Sahal Abdulle in Mogadishu, reporting that: “Anybody with the means to leave Mogadishu has already gone. Some houses have one or two people guarding them. Many others are abandoned. The markets are open but very quiet. Even the people who carry sacks of rice are too afraid to work. The war that we worried about has not only started but has taken a turn we never thought was possible. The latest fighting has been going on for nine days. It seems the shelling never stops. On Saturday night it was raining and we could not make out what was thunder and what was artillery. Both sides are firing indiscriminately. Even the normally quiet areas are under attack. From my house in K4 I can see branches falling where the bullets are hitting. In other areas it is far worse. There are burned bodies in burned-out houses. People are being buried by the roadside in shallow graves. There are so many wounded people; from babies to 90-year-olds. They are brought to the hospitals near my house in wheelbarrows and donkey carts, bleeding, missing limbs. The smells and sounds are unbearable. I find myself crying. I need to go to the hospitals to chronicle what is happening. But it is getting too hard emotionally. As a reporter for Reuters I am an observer, but I am also a human being…At my home near the airport I now have five other journalists staying with me because their houses are in areas that are being heavily shelled. They joke and call themselves Internally Displaced Journalists. We often report from the roof of my house because it is too dangerous to move around the city. We must walk a very fine line. Not only are we afraid of getting killed in fighting as innocent bystanders, but by reporting the reality you quickly create enemies. My sons phone everyday from Toronto to ask why I am still here and doing this to them. Even local people here ask why I am staying when I could get out. I tell them that I want to show the world what is going on. But they say that the world doesn’t care or this would not be happening to us“.
Continue reading "…they say that the world doesn't care or this would not be happening to us."

Critique of proposed international tribunal to judge Rafik Hariri's assassins

The April issue of Le Monde diplomatique carries an incisive critique of the proposed [it will happen] international tribunal to find and try the killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Valentine’s Day 2005 — and some subsequent victims.

The Le Monde diplomatique article is written by two professors and a lawyer: Geraud de Geouffre de la Pradelle, Antoine Korkmaz [the lawyer] and Rafaelle Maison.

The subtitle of this excellent article, written in French, is: “Who is going to charge the assassins of Prime Minister Rafic [French spelling]”?

The article states: “Il serait vain de masquer le caractère politique du Conseil de sécurite: c’est ainsi que la Charte de l’ONU l’a conçu. Il jouit d’un pouvoir discrétionnaire trés étendue, et son action n’est guère contrôlée juridiquement. En revanche, il est plus embarrassant que le respect apparent du droit masque en fait des atteintes grave aux libertés sans contribuer à l’apaisement de la situation intérieure au Liban. C’est le cas des initiatives prises dans le cadre de l’affaire Hariri. Avant même d’être créé, le tribunal spécial envisagé exaspère les tensions internes dans ce pays.” [UN Truth translation: It would be pointless to try to hide the political character of the UN Security Council — that’s how the UN Charter designed it. The SC enjoys a very large discretionary power [lawyers say this about judges] and there is no juridical oversight of the UN SC. What is of more concern is that the apparent respect for law hides, in fact, a great attack on freedoms without contributing to calming the internal situation in Lebanon. This is the case of the intiatives taken in the case of the Hariri affair. Before even being established, the special tribunal that is envisaged is aggravating the internal tensions in the country.]

The article’s first major argument is that:
Toutefois, dans le cas libanais, il n’existe pas juridiquement parlant de crime international à réprimer, et l’investigation en cours présente des traits suffisamment inquiétants pour que l’on s’interroge sur une instrumentalisation de la justice internationale. Encore bien fragile, cette dernière n’a guere besoin de telles manipulations.
[UN Truth translation: “However, in the Lebanese case, there is no international crime, juridically speaking, and the current investigation has enough questionable qualities to wonder about how international justice is being used. Still very fragile, international justice hardly needs such misuse”.]

It states that the international independent commission of inquiry that was established by an agreement concluded between Beirut and the UN on 3 June 2005, following the adoption of UN SC Resolution 1595 of 7 April 2005 “accord à la commission internationale une sorte de tutelle sur les autorités locales, qui sont désormais affectées à son service“. [UN Truth translation: this 3 June 2005 UN-Lebanon agreement makes the international commission a sort of oversight body to which local (judicial and investigative) authorities are made subservient”.]

Then, on 29 March 2006, the UN SC adopted resolution 1664, which asked the UN SG to “négocier avec le gouvernment libanais un accord visant la création d’un tribunal international fondé dur les normes internationales de justice pénale les plus élevées“. [UN Truth translation: to conclude, with the government of Lebanon, an agreement for the creation of an international tribunal based on the highest standards of international criminal law.]

The subsequent proposed agreement transmitted by the UN to the Lebanese Government on 10 November 2006 states, according to Le Monde diplomatique, that “le tribunal spécial comporterait des juges internationax et une minorité de juges libanais. Le bureau du procureur serait un organe indépendant composé d’un procureur nommé par le secrétaire général et d’un procureur adjoint nommé par Beyrouth“. [UN Truth translation: this special tribunal would be composed of international judges and a minority of Lebanese judges. The prosecutor’s office would be an independent body composed of a prosecutor named by the UN SG, and an assistant prosecutor named by Beirut] In addition to dealing with the murderer or murderers of Rafik Hariri, it would also deal with some unspecified others — defined as some of those killed since 1 October 2004. Continue reading Critique of proposed international tribunal to judge Rafik Hariri's assassins

What does this body language say?

The caption on this photo says: “Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad laughs during his meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (unseen) at the Presidential Palace in Damascus, 24 April 2007”.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad laughs during his meeting with UN SG BAN - AFP - Don Emmert

The Syrian President looks excruciatingly uncomfortable.

UN SG BAN Ki-Moon shakes hands with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on 24 April - AFP photo by Don Emmert

The AFP photo editors wrote, in their caption, that “Ban urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday to press all sides in Lebanon to accept an international trial of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri’s suspected assassins”.

AP Photo by Bassem Tellawi

The caption written by AP photo editors states that “Ki-moon said before arrival that he would seek Assad’s help in bringing about stability to Lebanon and would also seek Syrian cooperation with Security Council resolutions designed to disarm the Lebanese Hezbollah, end Syria’s influence in Lebanon and establish a tribunal ‘of international character’ to try suspects accused of political assassinations in Beirut”.

UN SG BAN is saluted upon arrival at UNDOF HQ 31 miles south of Damascus - AP Photo by Bassem Tellawi

UNDOF — the UN Disengagement Observer Force — was stationed in the Golan Heights by the UN Security Council after the 1973 Israeli-Arab War.

UN SG BAN Ki-moon walks with Wolfgang Jilke, commander of the United Nations Disengagement of Forces (UNDOF) at the headquarters of the force at Alfawar Camp 50 km south of the Syrian capital Damascus on Tuesday 24 April 2007 - AP Photo by Bassem Tellawi

UN SG Ban Ki-moon reviews UN peacekeepers during his visit to the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) headquarters at the Nabea al Faouar village in Golan Heights near the border with Israel on 24 April 24 2007 - Jamal Saidi for Reuters SYRIA

Upcoming run-off in East Timor's presidential elections

There will be a run-off vote on 8 May between the top two candidates in the first round of East Timor’s presidential elections — the parliamentary chief Francisco Guterres, who is leader of the Fretilin party, and the current Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, Jose Ramos-Horta.

Here are the top two candidates shaking hands – Francisco Guterres is on the left and Jose Ramos Horta is on the right:

the top two candidates shake hands - Fretilin's Francisco Guterres on left and Jose Ramos Horta on right

They held a debate on Friday 27 April.

Though Ramos-Horta got only about 23 percent of the vote as opposed to Guterres’ nearly 29 percent, Ramos Horta has since picked up support from a number of the ten other lesser-ranked candidates in the first round of voting on 28 April. There were complaints about irregularities in the first round, and some districts may have to vote again before the second round takes place. Ramos-Horta reportedly says the United Nations should explain why some 30 percent of the voters cast no ballot. He has said that thousands of Timorese may have been harassed and intimidated during the voting, and has also demanded an investigation into revelations government officials were given access-all-area passes during this month’s presidential election.

Ramos-Horta arriving at a polling station to cast his ballot in the first round of voting on 11 April - AFP/Adek Berry

East Timor became independent in May 2002, and the winner of the run-off vote will be the second president of East Timor — called the world’s youngest country — replacing independence hero Xanana Gusmao, shown in this photo dancing at a party for journalists at his house on 13 April.

Xanana dancing at a party at his house for journalists on 13 April - REUTERS/Beawiharta

UN staff protests enforced "mobility"

This week, a journalist noted in a question to the UN spokesperson, “the Staff Union is basically handing out leaflets at the entrances to all the United Nations staff, basically asking for a freeze on the Secretary-General’s mobility package. In talking to some of the representatives, the concerns are that, basically, the Secretary-General is pushing through a mobility package that, first of all, changes the terms and conditions and understanding upon which a lot of the staff joined this Organization, and that it didn’t address fundamental issues of family, visa issues, security tenure and all the rest of it”.

The spokesperson responded by saying “Well, for the time being, as you know, the Staff Union is asking for a meeting with staff on the issue and to discuss the issue. As far as I know, the mobility package has been extensively discussed with them. I realize they are not fully satisfied with the answers they got, and I think this issue is being discussed”.

Then, on Thursday, a journalist noted that the day before “the Staff Council passed a resolution calling on Mr. Ban to immediately suspend his plan for mandatory mobility of staff … It was a pretty overwhelming vote”.

The spokesperson noted that “As you know, mobility was decided by the General Assembly in 2002. And it will be implemented gradually and comprehensively. I understand that there is a town hall meeting [Friday] with the staff, specifically on the issue of mobility. So I’m sure that this issue is not over now. It is continuing. And the Secretary-General’s view, he has expressed it, is that management mobility is a necessity for a strong and efficient UN. The programme, as far as I know, is starting next month, with about a little more than 130 staff members: 60 at the P-3 level and some 90 staff at the G-7 level. These staff have been in their posts for a minimum of five years. So, that’s what I understand is happening. But I will be happy to get more for you from someone in management, after of course, they have met the staff here. But you have had some very mixed reactions about this. There’s the staff in New York and Geneva expressing reservations. And you have staff from other duty stations, the most difficult ones, actually welcoming the mobility measures. So you have different points of view.”

Then, a journalist asked a follow-up question: “One thing that was said in the meeting yesterday was that, why did the mobility start at the relatively lower levels and not at the top?”.

While mobility sounds like a good idea, in the UN it becomes a catastrophe.

The UN Administration is so bad that it cannot manage to send a staff member on a mission without causing problems that have negative financial repurcussions. Now, it’s supposed to churn the staff, moving the people from the city to the countryside and from the countryside to the city, in a grotesque immitation of the most catastrophic communist excesses, such as the Khmer Rouge declaration of Year Zero.

UN Staff Members are being blamed for “occupying” their posts for more than five years, and told they must move, in order to bring in “fresh blood” and acquire new skills themselves.

But, the way this mobility exercise is being managed, staff who have “encumbered” their posts for more than five years are being evicted, and new people are being brought in. In the meantime, the evicted staff are told they must apply for new posts. This is causing monstrous problems — and offers a wonderful opportunity for hidden harassment.   It takes more than a miracle — it takes connections — to get another job within the UN.

So, if these staff members want to get another post, even a UN peacekeeping assignment, much less a promotion, they almost surely will not succeed.  So, then what happens?  No help is being offered for a managed reassignment, and the staff members are effectively abandoned to their fate.

Does anyone care?