Kofi Annan to propose a 250-observer force with helicopters for Syria

Former UNSG Kofi Annan, who is now the joint envoy of the UN and the Arab League with a mandate to end the violence in Syria, is readying a recommendation that will be delivered to the UN Security Council in New York later today to establish a 250-observer force that will also have its own helicopter support.

The Syrian Government was involved in Annan’s planning discussions, and apparently agrees with this proposal. It has already been presented to the Arab League, before it goes to the UNSC today.

Reuters is reporting that “A six-day-old truce has held in some parts of Syria since President Bashar al-Assad pledged to enforce it last week. But in strong opposition areas such as Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deraa the army continues to attack and battle rebels, using heavy weapons in violation of the pledge by Damascus to pull back. After negotiations led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan acting as envoy of the United Nations and Arab League, Assad’s government has agreed to allow a small U.N. force to monitor the ceasefire. But the planned 250-strong mission is a fraction of the size of U.N. peacekeeping forces sent to other conflicts, raising doubt among Assad’s opponents about whether it can be effective or will serve as a figleaf substitute for more robust action”. This is reported here .

Meanwhile, Syrians are still singing and dancing in the streets in a display of popular mobilization that appears to be extraordinarily energizing. A video shot this week in Douma has been posted here:

    UPDATE: Later, the number went up from 250 to 300 observers, Reuters reported on Thursday 19 April: “In a letter to the Security Council on Wednesday, [UNSG] Ban said Syria had not fully complied with Annan’s six-point peace plan but still outlined plans to deploy up to 300 observers for three months to supervise a fragile truce between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and opposition fighters seeking to oust him. Ban said the observers would be deployed incrementally over a period of weeks, in approximately ten locations throughout Syria. He said an earlier UN proposal for 250 observers was insufficient. Ban also said that the freedom of access of the advance monitoring team was imperfect. It was allowed to visit Deraa but not the battle-scarred town of Homs”.

Continue reading Kofi Annan to propose a 250-observer force with helicopters for Syria

UN Security Council passes unanimous resolution to send 30 unarmed military observers as advance team of monitors to Syria

The UN Security Council met with relative efficiency on Saturday afternoon at UNHQ/NY and voted unanimously [15-0] to send an advance team of some 30 unarmed military observers to Syria, as an advance team of monitors to observe compliance with a six-point plan by “Joint Envoy” Kofi Annan to stop the violence that has killed nearly 10,000 Syrians over the last year [as the current President of the UNSC, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice noted], and made at least 45,000 flee their country.

Some 5 or 6 of the observers were to arrive within hours — Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that one Russian would be coming from the Golan Heights [Syrian-claimed territory occupied by Israel since June 1967].

Another 20 military observers were supposed to be in Damascus within 24 hours.

Kofi Annan, former UNSG who now represents both the current UNSG BAN Ki-Moon and the Arab League, is due to present a more detailed plan by 18 April for a more substantial UN “supervising” mission in Syria.

Russia and China, who vetoed a previous proposed UNSC resolution on Syria, said that they could go along with this one because it respected Syrian government sovereignty…

Russia’s representative, Vitaly Churkin, complained at length however about hearing other representatives on the Security Council misrepresent the terms of the resolution — the

Syria’s representative Jaafari said that the resolution was not balanced, but added that his government would live with it because of the need to reestablish order in the country. Jaafari bitterly blamed outsiders — he named Saudi Arabia as one — for interfering, due to a long-standing rivalry between “Pan-Arabism and Political Islam”. And Jaafari blamed money coming from “Salafist and Wahhabi” sources for the acts of terror that he said have been committed by gangs operating throughout the country…

Shashi Tharoor running in elections for India's Parliament

What do people want?

India’s Congress Party, headed by Sonia Gandhi, has been inspired to field former UN official Shashi Tharoor as a candidate from Kerala State contesting India’s forthcoming parliamentary elections on 16 April.

Here is a photo from his campaign website:
Shashi Tharoor campaigning for a parliamentary seat from Kerala

Should he win, apparently, he could even become the future External Affairs Minister of the Government of India, according to some observers.

This is not my fight.  But, would I vote for him?  Nope.  I learned my lesson — Shashi Tharoor says one thing, and does another.  If the direction of the wind shifts, he immediately changes his mind, and apparently doesn’t feel either guilty, or ridiculous.  He exhibits no apparent need to reconcile his actions with his position [and by this I do not mean with his position in the world, but with his personal moral stance]. And he shows not even a twinge of conscience.  The absence of principles makes this possible.
Continue reading Shashi Tharoor running in elections for India's Parliament

UN reports: human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory remains grave

“The human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory remains grave”, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour informed the members of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this week.

Three new reports on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory were discussed at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

Arbour told the Council that there must be urgent implementation of her earlier recommendations, made in a previous report last March, for ending human rights violations caused by Israeli military attacks and incursions — including “the establishment of accountability mechanisms”, and the ending of the closure of Gaza.

Three months ago, Arbour had reported that “the protection of both Palestinian and Israeli civilians requires immediate action by all parties and by the international community”.

The aim, she said, is to “bring about a change in approach to the use of force”.

Arbour’s recommendations in her earlier report called on Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the “de facto” Hamas government in Gaza, to establish urgently and without delay “accountability mechanisms” to carry out independent, law-based, transparent and accessible investigations – according to international standards – of any alleged breaches of their respective obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.

The specific violations she mentioned formed a “balanced” list in which the blame was divided between Israel and the Palestinians: “indiscriminate attacks and incursions, indiscriminate firing of rockets or mortars, suicide bombings, targeted killings, and torture”.

Arbour said that personal accountability should also be investigated and prosecuted, where “negligence, recklessness or intent is established”.

And called for an end to the closure in Gaza, and to the suffering due to deprivation of human rights. Living conditions for 1.4 million people in Gaza, she wrote in March, were “abhorrent”. And, she said, Israel must cease all actions violating international human rights and humanitarian law obligations – in particular the prohibition of collective punishment.

At the same time, Arbour said, the “de facto government in Gaza under the effective control of Hamas should take all measures in its power to eliminate the negative effects of the siege” – and must stop all human rights violations against both Palestinian and Israeli civilians, “notably the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel”. And, Arbour added, the Palestinian Authority should “take all measures in its power to alleviate the situation”.

Arbour urged the international community, at that time, to “actively promote the implementation of the decisions, resolutions and recommendations” of the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations human rights mechanisms, and the International Court of Justice.

Just prior to making those recommendations, Arbour, a Canadian lawyer and judge who served as chief prosecutor for the United Nations international tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, handed in her resignation notice in early March, after being buffeted by strong criticism and diplomatic obstruction from multiple sources – not the least of it involving the Middle East.

At the time she announced that she would not be seeking renewal of her first four-year term appointment as High Commissioner, Arbour did not give any explanation. She will be leaving office at the end of June.

Her successor – who will be appointed by UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon – has not yet been announced.

During her time in office, Arbour criticized human rights violations committed by the Bush administration in its “war on terror”, and the disproportionality of the Israel’s Second War on Lebanon.

Though she had very little to do with it, the conversion of the UN’s Human Rights Commission into a Human Rights Council during her tenure has been less than a success.

The change was billed as an attempt to deal with what was in fact a highly-political denunciation of the “politicization” of human rights. Then, once the Council was in place, it was denounced for focusing too much time on Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. Even the UN Secretary-General joined in (both the previous one, Kofi Annan, and the current one, BAN Ki-Moon).

The United States – which was not elected as a member of the Human Rights Council when it was set up, decided not to run for election this year, and has recently announced its effective withdrawal from the Council except when its “vital national interests” are involved.

The bulk of the criticism was aimed at the Council’s “obsession” – purely political, it was charged – with Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, at the expense of dealing with the many other instances of human rights violations around the world.

However, if the aim was to bully the Council into diverting its attention from the grievous situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, the reports issued on Monday indicate that it is not going to happen just quite yet. But, there are also signs of reaching out for accomodation.

In her latest – and last — report, Arbour laid out arguments describing the specific commitments and obligations of each the parties:

1. Israel’s obligations, the report noted, were described in the International Court of Justice’s July 2004 Advisory Opinion, The Consequences of the Construction of A Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Accordingly, Israel is bound by the provisions of the Hague Regulations, which have become part of customary international law, even though Israel is not a party to The Hague Convention of 18 October 1907. In addition, the Fourth Geneva Convention (of 1949) is applicable, the report said, “in the Palestinian territories which before the 1967 conflict lay to the east of the Green Line and which, during that conflict, were occupied by Israel”. A footnote adds that “This fact has not been altered by Israel’s 2005 unilateral withdrawal of its forces from the strip, as confirmed repeatedly since then by the General Assembly (most recently in its resolution 62/107 of 17 December 2007”.

Arbour wrote that United Nations human rights treaty bodies have been guided by the opinion of the ICJ (1) that Israel, as a State party to international human rights instruments, “continues to bear responsibility for implementing its human rights conventional obligations in the OPT, to the extent that it continues to exercise jurisdiction in those territories”, and (2) that Israel’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights include “an obligation not to raise any obstacle to the exercise of such rights in those fields where competence has been transferred to Palestinian authorities”.

2. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the report said, “made a unilateral undertaking, by a declaration on 7 June 1982, to apply the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Protocol Additional thereto relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol 1). Switzerland, as depositary State, considered that unilateral undertaking valid”.

(1 + 2.) In addition, the Arbour report pointed out, in the 1994 (Oslo Accords) agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area, both Israel and the PLO made a commitment and signed an agreement (in article XIV) to respect human rights

3. Hamas “is bound by international humanitarian law obligations concerning, inter alia, the conduct of hostilities and the rights of civilians and other protected persons”. In addition, the report says, Hamas has confirmed its commitment to respect “international law and international humanitarian law insofar as they conform with our character, customs and original traditions” – according to the text of the National Unity Government programme delivered by then Prime Minister Ismail Haniya before the Palestinian Legislative Council, 17 March 2007. The report adds: “it is worth recalling that non-State actors that exercise government like functions and control over a territory are obliged to respect human rights norms when their conduct affects the human rights of the individuals under their control”.

In discussion in the Council on Monday, Israel’s Ambassador Itzhak Levanon – usually a combative critic – said “it was gratifying to see in her latest report” that the High Commissioner “chose not to focus solely on Israel … but also to detail both the obligations and the violations of the Palestinians”. This, he said, “set a new precedent for the Human Rights Council: the possibility of a balanced consideration of what neutral observers can acknowledge is a complex situation”.

However, the Israeli Ambassador otherwise totally ignored the catalog of reported violations “caused by Israeli military attacks and incursions in the occupied Palestinian territory” – the subject of one of the three reports presented Monday – as well as the recommendations to deal with them.

He focused, instead, on refuting criticism made in another report about infringement of religious freedom caused by “obstacles to freedom of movement, such as the closures/permit regimes, and the Wall”, which, Arbour told the Council, “severely impeded the population’s access to religious sites as well as hindered cultural exchanges”.

That report concluded that “the measures adopted by the Government of Israel to restrict freedom of movement of both people and goods in the Occupied Palestinian Territory severely impeded the population’s access to religious sites, notably in Jerusalem, cultural exchanges and events. While the security of the population is undoubtedly an important consideration, the relevant measures should be proportionate to that aim and non-discriminatory in their application. A considerable part of the restrictions were introduced to ensure and ease freedom of movement for the inhabitants of Israeli settlements, which have been established in breach of international law, creating intolerable hardship for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians attempting to exercise their right to freedom of movement inside the Occupied Palestinian Territory … As the Occupying Power, Israel bears responsibility for the preservation of the cultural and religious heritage in the Occupied Palestinian Territory under international law”.

But, the Israeli Ambassador countered, Israel has always guaranteed the protection and freedom of access to holy sites for all religious”.

He did add that “Israel has never asked to be exempt from critique of its human rights record …we simply ask to be judged by the same standards and on equal footing with every other country”.

However, while the Israeli Ambassador was going easy on the out-going High Commissioner, UN Watch, a non-governmental organization that watches out for Israel in the UN, was going after Professor Richard Falk, the new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, who made his first presentation to the Human Rights Council on Monday.

In an effort to discredit Falk, a Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University (and an American Jew), who has been highly critical of Israel’s occupation and who last year made remarks comparing Israeli practices in the Palestinian territories with those of the Nazis in World War II, which he recently explained were intended to “shock” — UN Watch asked him about more recently reported remarks he made about the 9/11 attack on the twin World Trade Towers and the Pentagon on 2001.

The specific question, by a representative of UN Watch – and widely circulated by UN Watch to its email list — asked Falk “what credibility you expect your reports to have, when leading newspapers such as The Times of London are commenting on your support for the 9/11 conspiracy theories of David Ray Griffin, who argues, and I quote from the Times article of April 15th, ‘ that no plane hit the Pentaton’ and that ‘the World Trade Center was brought down by a controlled demolition’?”

An Egyptian move to strike the question from the record in the Human Rights Council was smilingly brushed aside by the Council’s chairman.

What Falk apparently in fact did, however, was slightly different than what the UN Watch questioner said he did – Falk wrote a chapter in a book edited by Griffin – without giving any explicit endorsement of Griffin’s specific remarks.

Falk has also been a long-time anti-nuclear-weapons activist.

Because of his remarks making the comparison with the Nazis, it has been predicted that Falk will be barred from entry into Israel – though it has not actually happened — as was done recently to another American Professor, Norman Finkelstein. Finkelstein, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, has severely criticized what he calls the “Holocaust industry” in which he argued that political and financial concessions are extorted from the West, while the actual survivors are left to fend for themselves.

Falk is replacing as Special Rapporteur the South African law professor and anti-Apartheid activist John Dugard (who has made analogies between Israel’s occupation policies and the Apartheid regime). Falk and Dugard worked together, previously, with a third personality (Indian or Pakistani, I can’t remember who) to prepare a report for the UN Human Rights Commission at the height of Israel’s re-invasion of Palestinian Authority areas in the spring of 2002, during the Second Intifada. Falk made the most striking statements both at the time. The report of their work for that 2002 Committee is virtually un-findable.

Israel has consistently not replied to visa requests to most UN Special Rapporteurs, or special investigation missions, whose mandates it does not like. So, most of them do not come to the region. Dugard, by contrast, refused to abide by UN niceties and protocols, and traveled instead on his national passport, to make a number of visits, without ever being barred – though he did not have official Israeli cooperation, meaning mainly that he was not given appointments to meet Israeli government officials.

Falk’s approach to this dilemma remains, of course, to be seen.

On Monday, Falk told the Human Rights Council that “My acceptance of this assignment is based on many years of study and contact with the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people, including periodic visits to the area. I am dedicated to the possibility that the conflict can be presented in ways that are fair and just to both sides, but I believe that this can only happen if the guidelines of international law [which Falk subsequently said are ‘a mutually beneficial alternative to war and violence’] are allowed to shape the peace process designed to achieve a solution”.

Falk also said that “It is not possible to approach the mandate without expressing a grave concern for the present circumstances confronting the Palestinians subject to the occupation, especially 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza … It seems desirable even in advance of my own effort to prepare a report on the conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to alert the Council to a dire situation in Gaza that daily threatens the health and well-being of the entire population. The focus on Gaza is justified by the extremity of the occupation policies being pursued by Israel, but the issues associated with the West Bank and Jerusalem are also serious, especially to the extent that any future possibility of the successful establishment of a Palestinian State is being daily undermined by the ongoing unlawful extension of Israeli settlements”.

Falk, who has been on the job for only six weeks, presented Dugard’s final report – dated 28 January, but issued only a few days ago. (The date, it was explained from Geneva “has to do with UN translation and internal archiving systems, it has nothing to do with a
release date”).

In that report, the UN Special Rapporteur (Dugard) stated starkly that “regular military incursions, the closure of crossings, the reduction of fuel and the threat to the banking system have produced a humanitarian crisis in Gaza”.

All three reports presented by the UN on Monday relied on data from UN agencies and bodies operating in the occupied Palestinian territory, and on some human rights NGOs.

A humanitarian crisis in Gaza is exactly what the Israeli military, which administers the sanctions regime in Gaza, pledged to the Israeli Supreme Court in January that it would avoid — at least, as the IDF said, to the extent that this would be under their control.

The Israeli Prime Minister has also said several times that a humanitarian crisis in Gaza would be avoided – although he also indicated at the same time that the situation would be allowed to go right up to the brink.

In a discussion with journalists on Monday near the Nahal Oz fuel transfer point into Gaza, IDF Colonel Nir Press said that while the Israeli military “is not inside” and does not have its own information on the humanitarian conditions inside Gaza, it does rely on the international organizations who are there, and on lists provided daily by Palestinian officials from Ramallah.

The problem is that the international organizations, at least, have all said clearly that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza – while the Israeli military and government continue to make their denials.

Also on Monday, Falk asked the members of the Human Rights Council to amend his mandate, so that he could also investigate Palestinian violations of human rights and international law – although, he said, only “internationally”, and not within the Palestinian territory.

This, Falk said somewhat obtusely, would maintain the focus of attention on core concerns of the Human Rights Council with the suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people as a result of the prolonged Israeli occupation.

Interestingly, this proposal — that the Special Rapporteur’s mandate be extended to include Palestinian as well as Israeli violations — emerged from criticisms originally emanating from Israel.

But many if not most Palestinians would also most likely be in favor of having Palestinian human rights violations exposed and corrected, as well.

In any case, in his closing remarks, following a lengthy debate with statements made by many countries, Falk told the Human Rights Council that “I think it’s extremely important to realize that we are dealing with the suffering of the Palestinian people, and secondarily of the victimizing of those Israelis that are affected by the violence that has been associated with Palestinian rocket attacks. My view, as Special Rapporteur, is that the primarily responsibility is to see to it that international humanitarian law is respected and implemented and taken seriously. And that requires looking at the behavior of all relevant parties, it seems to me. But that should not confuse the issue of the primary responsibility of Israel to protect the lives and well-being of the occupied population. And, indeed, as I’ve tried to suggest, by making the mandate credible, it will be possible to more effectively focus on the substantive issues that are most troubling to those who have been concerned with the situation”.

Of course not

Salim Lone, the spokesman for Sergio Vieira de Mello who was killed in the truck bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003 — who was earlier the Director of the Media Division in the Department for Public Information at UNHQ/NY, is now apparently working as spokesman for the angry opposition who say they have been cheated out of an electoral victory last month in Kenya.

Lone, whose family was of subcontinental origin before the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, was born in Kenya, and worked as an editor for the Kenyan daily paper, The Nation. But, he got in trouble for his political stances, then his nationality was revoked during the African persecution of subcontinentals. So, he went to study anthropology at the New School for Social Research — and was rather radical and overbearing at the time (we actually took a class together, when I was a first year postgrad anthropology student there myself in the fall 1969 semester). After getting his doctorate, Salim took refuge at the United Nations, married a New Yorker, and found a niche editing a publication called “Africa Recovery“.

The AP reported today that “The government of President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition have traded blame for the killing and arson that followed Kibaki’s victory in the Dec. 27 election that international observers say was followed by a rigged count. Some of the attacks took on an ugly ethnic twist, with other tribes turning on Kibaki’s Kikuyu people. But the respected and independent Kenyan Human Rights Commission says there is more to it, and that it appears to involve politicians from both sides. It ‘was portrayed as some primal irate rising up of (ethnic) communities against each other’, commission chairwoman Muthoni Wanyeki told The Associated Press. ‘But our investigations indicate it seems to be very organized militia activity … (the violence) very much seems to be directed and well organized’. She pointed to the torching of a church sheltering Kikuyu, dozens of whom burned to death. ‘One group was watching the church, and then another took over’, Wanyeki said. ‘We say it’s organized because they are working in groups of 10 to 15 people and in shifts’. Their training areas have been identified, some of the people from whom they get money have been identified’, she said. ‘They are being paid 500 per burning and 1,000 per death’. The information, she said, comes from about 100 monitors and a network including prominent individuals and community-based organizations who were given pre-election training in researching human rights violations. She said information is being compiled in a report to be published this week and given to another body, the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, for investigation by appropriate authorities. The state-funded commission, as well as a bishop and a police superintendent, agree that a lot of the violence seemed orchestrated. However, they stop short of claiming money changed hands, and both camps vying for the presidency strongly deny it … Odinga’s spokesman, Salim Lone, said the charges of payment were ‘wild propaganda’. ‘I cannot categorically say that no politician is doing that (paying militias)’, he said, but bristled at the suggestion that his party, having denounced the violence, could at the same time be fomenting it … Maina Kiai, chairman of the state-funded human rights body, said that in response to attacks on Kikuyu, government politicians have recruited the Mungiki, a Kikuyu gang blamed for a string of beheadings carried out in Nairobi’s slums this year. Kiai said the government has promised Mungiki immunity in return for protecting the Kikuyu. He said his information came from several sources including Mungiki members. In a crackdown last year, police killed dozens of alleged Mungiki. Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said Kiai’s charge was ‘preposterous. There is no truth to it’. He accused Kiai of being partisan and challenged him to produce evidence…” This AP report is posted here.

The International Herald Tribune had another set of comments from Lone: “Both the government and opposition leaders, who have blamed one another for the surprise burst of bloodletting in the relatively stable country, are now also pointing fingers over the lack of progress in negotiations. ‘The government had offered dialogue which was to be facilitated by President John Kufuor, but Orange Democratic Movement leaders have not been responsive’, a government statement said, referring to Odinga’s political movement. Salim Lone, a spokesman for Odinga, said that ‘the government was obviously never serious about negotiations’. ‘To tell you the truth, we’re getting discouraged’, Lone said”. This IHT article is posted here.

And, now we hear that former UN SG Kofi Annan, during whose time Salim Lone prospered, is going to Kenya to try to mediate…

Rosett Remembers Mark Malloch Brown

In her blog, The Rosett Report, investigative journalist Claudia Rosett of Oil-For-Food fame, wrote a post on 8 November, “Speaking of Public Servants Living the Good Life — Remember Mark Malloch Brown?

UN Photo of Mark Malloch Brown

Rosett’s post continues: “Of course you do. Kofi Annan’s former deputy, former chief of staff, former head of the UN Development Program; now Lord Malloch Brown. He was the British UN bureaucrat who, while doing what he described as ‘God’s work’ at the UN, lived as a tenant on the Katonah, NY estate of tycoon George Soros, paying UN-subsidized rent of about $10,000 per month. When Kofi Annan left the UN at the end of 2006, so did Malloch Brown — in swift succession receiving a British Knighthood, enjoying a brief affiliation with Yale University, and going to work for George Soros’s ventures. Then, this past summer, in the U.K., Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, and in a search for foreign policy expertise dipped into Kofi Annan’s old handpicked pool of UN talent, and dredged up Malloch Brown… who not only got himself a Lordship, but a ‘grace and favour’ taxpayer-funded apartment in London, valued by the U.K. Treasury as worth more than the digs above 10 Downing Street. Read all about it in this week’s cover story of The Spectator, in which the Spectator’s James Forsyth and I take a look at ‘Labour’s Lord of the Perks’. ” Rosett’s blog posting on MMB — as he was known by some in the UN — is here.

What Rosett and Forsyth wrote in their story published on 7 November in the Spectator was that “Gordon Brown, shortly to become Prime Minister, was desperate to bring Malloch Brown on board. One friend who was advising him while Brown and Malloch Brown were negotiating over the telephone remembers egging him on: ‘It was great fun! You know, strike a hard bargain’. It ended up with Malloch Brown nailing down a quite remarkable deal from the supplicant Prime Minister-in-waiting…
Continue reading Rosett Remembers Mark Malloch Brown

Ex-UNSG Kofi Annan visits Palestinian school in East Jerusalem – may visit Gaza

Thanks to our dear friend Adnan, here is some news you will not read in many other places — it was published in Al-Quds, the Palestinian Arabic-language newspaper published in Jerusalem: ex-UNSG Kofi Annan, here with a delegation of some 10 well-connected do-gooders led by himself and Ted Turner (“We want to help”, Turner told Israeli officials, according to Israeli media), and please see our earlier post here, visited a Palestinian school in Qalandia — right next to one of the world’s most awful checkpoints, between Ramallah and Jerusalem. IDF soldiers at Qalandia routinely tell those crossing that this is a checkpoint between “two countries” — “that’s another country over there”, the soldiers say, pointing over at the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Kofi Annan, Ted Turner, and delegation are also reportedly going to visit Gaza.

How will they deal with the Hamas leadership in Gaza — just ignore it?

It will be interesting to see what the reception will be to their visit to Gaza…

UPDATE: Annan and Turner left Jerusalem on Wednesday, and they are supposed to be leaving the region early Thursday morning, according to the UN Foundation.

Kofi Annan meets Israeli PM Olmert today

The Israeli Government Press Office has just sent out an UPDATE to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s schedule today — announcing a meeting early this evening with former UN SG Kofi Annan as head of a delegation of the “UN Foundation” [I think they mean “Annan’s” Global Humanitarian Forum, which was just officially launched on 17 October in Geneva to tackle “humanitarian challenges”. The UN Foundation was set up to spend Ted Turner’s multi-million-dollar donation to the UN to help make up for a shortfall caused by the U.S. Government’s withholding of funds.]

UPDATE: Col. Miri Eisin, the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser for the Foreign Press, has responded to my query by confirming, on the one hand, that Kofi Annan is in Jerusalem for the Global Humanitarian Forum, and on the other hand that Ted Turner will also be in the meeting with Prime Minister Olmert this evening.

UPDATE TWO: the Jerusalem Post reported on Monday that the cut-off of fuel supplies to Gaza was not discussed with the former UNSG or his delegation: “The issue – according to officials in the Prime Minister’s Office – was not raised during a meeting Olmert held Sunday evening with a delegation from the Board of Directors of the United Nations Foundation that included former UN secretary general Kofi Annan. The delegation also included Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and chairman of Turner Enterprises, and former Atlanta Mayor and US ambassador to the UN Andrew Young“. [n.b., Andrew Young, who was U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s Ambassador to the UN, was forced to resign when it was revealed, probably by an over-eager Zuhdi Terzi, may his soul rest in peace, that he had received Terzi, the PLO Ambassador to the UN at the time. Andrew Young was serving as the rotating President of the UN Security Council when the meeting took place, and apparently thought that this would provide enough cover for the meeting, even during a time when it was strict U.S. policy not to have any contacts with the P.L.O., which was not yet recognized by Israel, and was deemed as a “terrorist” organization due to what were regarded as ambiguities in the P.L.O. Charter about Israel’s “right to exist”.]

The JPost added that “The prime minister told the delegation that Israel would be more than willing to converse with Hamas if it accepted the principles that Annan himself had laid down: recognizing Israel, rejecting terrorism and accepting previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements.” The JPost UPDATE on Olmert’s meeting with Kofi Annan and his friends is here.

UPDATE THREE: The JPost reported in another story on Monday that Kofi Annan has just become a member of the board of Ted Turner’s UN Foundation. The Annan – Turner delegation apparently also met with Israel’s President Shimon Peres: “Asked by The Jerusalem Post whether he had come to invite Peres to join the board of the UN Foundation, which was established in 1998 with his billion-dollar gift, Turner said the foundation was not a membership organization, ‘but we’d love to have him if he’d like to join us’. The board’s members include Queen Rania of Jordan. Among the Israelis at the luncheon [which Peres hosted for the delegation] were former chief of General Staff and ex-government minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Ron Pundak, director-general of the Peres Center for Peace and one of the architects of the Oslo Accords”. The JPost story about Annan and Turner meeting with Shimon Peres is here.

The Global Humanitarian Forum has been set up in Geneva by the Swiss Government, in order to make good use of the presence of the retired UNSG. Apparently, it’s not as if Kofi Annan was burning with his own ideas and projects. A Swiss news report earlier this year indicated that Annan was basically going to let the Swiss Foreign Ministry and one other Swiss agency [the Swiss Development Corporation, an official government body run by Swiss Ambassador Walter Fust] to determine what this UN Foundation should do — and then Annan would just do it.

In his inaugural speech, Annan told assembled dignitaries that “The Global Humanitarian Forum will put the prevention of individual suffering at the centre of our concern”. He indicated it would wish to better “serve the individual who is most vulnerable and in need”. This Global Humanitarian Forum will hold an annual high-level meeting in Geneva (which just loves to host high-level international conferences) — and the first one will be next June.

Annan also said in the speech: “Let us cut down the barriers that separate one of us from another, that stand between us and more effective prevention of human suffering”.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry, of course, is still interested in promoting the Geneva Initiative that has been strongly backed by Swiss Foreign Ministere Michelene Calmy-Rey, who is also the Swiss Federal President this year. And the Swiss Foreign Ministry has also been interested in being helpful in promoting peace talks between Israel and Syria. [The Swiss authorities are also almost certainly strongly against any military action against Iran].

The humanitarian situation in Gaza must also be on the agenda …

In any case, after the Sunday evening meeting, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office issued the following statement: “The Prime Minister briefed the delegation on the talks being held with the Palestinians in order to reach a two-state solution in which the State of Israel and a Palestinian state live side by side in peace and security, and on his talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The delegates expressed their appreciation for the Government’s efforts to advance relations with the Palestinians…”

On Monday morning, Kofi Annan and the delegation with whom he is travelling are to receive a briefing on the situation on the ground by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (probably when he was SG, Kofi Annan would not have had time for such things). The former SG and the other members of the delegation are expected to stay in Israel (and the Palestinian territory) for about a week.

I wonder what other meetings and activities will be on the former UNSG’s schedule during his visit here? I wonder, for example, if he will visit The Wall …?

On a visit to the Golan Heights last week arranged by the privatized Israeli Media Central organization that aims to inform journalists of Israeli reality and points of view, we were shown the cleverly-named “Coffee Anan” coffee shop on a prominent Israeli outlook point high up on the Golan.

It’s a play on words, our Israeli accompaniers explained – “Anan” means clouds in Hebrew, so this is a coffee shop in the clouds…

Is UN about to backtrack on Lebanese border?

The UN should never have gotten into the business of demarcating borders.

The first time was after Iraq had confirmed its surrender by accepting UN Security Council Resolution 687, following its August 1990 invasion of Kuwait and its expulsion by the U.S.-led Desert Storm coalition in April 1991. Under the terms of that resolution, the UN demarcated the Iraq-Kuwait border, possibly laying the groundwork for a future conflict.

The second time the UN got into this boundary demarcation business was after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 — but at the time the UNSG very pointedly stated that the Organization was “not engaged in a border demarcation exercise”.

The UN said they were just trying to determine the line behind which Israel must withdraw On 16 June 2000.

UNSG Kofi Annan reported to the Security Council that he was “in a position to confirm that Israeli forces have withdrawn from Lebanon in compliance with resolution 425 (1978)”.

To do this, of course, Kofi Annan had to know more or less what the frontier was, between Lebanon and Israel.

And there, he ran into difficulty.

To overcome the problem, the SG proposed that the line separating the UNIFIL (UN Peacekeeping force in Lebanon) area of operations from that of the UN Disengagement Observer force (UNDOF) operating in the Golan Heights “be adopted for the purpose of confirming Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon”.

After an exercise involving cartographers, engineers, and painting stones and other markers with “UN blue” paint, this withdrawal line is now known as the “blue line”.

A little patch of territory along the Syrian-Lebanese borders, known as the Shebaa Farms, had meanwhile become a big problem.

The United Nations determined that the Shebaa Farms region was territory that belonged to Syria, and put it within UNDOF’s Golan Heights zone.

The United Nations did so despite the claims by both Lebanon and Syria — although to varying degrees, it has to be admitted –that this bit of territory is in fact Lebanese.

The UN’s high-handed actions, based on a certain amount of exasperation with Syria, had something to do with the conflict that broke out last summer between Hizbullah and Israel, and the Israeli attack on Lebanon in July and August.

There was more than a little diplomatic sniggering, both in 2000, and again this past summer, that Syria was just slyly throwing a wrench into the works in order to advance its own interests, and using Lebanon in the process — and that Lebanon was not strong enough to stand up for itself.

But, in a revised balance-of-power calculation, there is some indication that the UN might now be preparing to consider some diplomatic adjustment. But Kofi Annan is being very cautious — and it now appears that this might not happen on his watch, before his term of office comes to an end at midnight on 31 December.

Kofi Annan explained in 2000 that no international boundary agreement has been concluded between Lebanon and Syria, and that his decision was based on a post-World War I deal between colonial powers Britain and France, that adjusted the border between the mandates they operated in the Middle East. (In this deal, Britain gave a small piece of its Palestine Mandate to France’s Syrian Mandate, in exchange for France’s acquiescence in Britain’s “administrative” separation of Transjordan from Palestine.)

Kofi Annan noted that the 1923 British-French deal was reaffirmed in the Israeli-Lebanese General Armistice Agreement signed on 23 March 1949, which was designed to settle the fighting that broke out upon Britain’s withdrawal from Palestine and Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948.

In the June 1967 war, however, Israeli Forces overran the Syrian Golan Heights, and then, in a fit of pique in 1980, Israel announced it had annexed the Golan Heights — but the UN has declared this annexation, which would mean the illegitimate acquisition of territory by force, null and void.

So, the particular issue here is that if Shebaa farms were Lebanese, Israel would have had to withdraw, and the UN would have to confirm Israel’s withdrawal.

If it is Syrian, well, then Israel can just stay put in the Shebaa farms until there is some movement in the non-existent Israel-Syrian peace process.

For Israel, the Shebaa farms (which Israelis call the Mount Dov region, named after an IDF officer killed while Israel was constructing roads to what it called a permanent post there), on the slopes of Mount Hermon, is strategically important for Israel’s security because it dominates the water sources for the Jordan River (including the Hasbani River).

PLO forces operated against Israel from this region, until their expulsion from southern Lebanon in Israel’s 1982 invasion. More recently, Hizbollah has claimed that their resistance activities in southern Lebanon were legitimized by the continued Israeli occupation of this bit of Lebanese territory.

The cease-fire that was brokered in August to end Israel’s attack upon Lebanon, agreed in UN Security Council resolution, refers to a Lebanese Government “seven-point plan” on the Shebaa Farms, in which the Lebanese Government proposed putting the Shebaa farms area under UN jurisdiction.

Resolution 1701 asked the UNSG to develop proposals for demarcation of the boundary in areas that are disputed or uncertain, including the Shebaa farms. The SG’s proposals, which were to have been delivered within 30 days of the 14 August cease-fire, were delivered in a “status report” to the UN Security Council on Friday 1 December.

Reuters’ Senior UN Correspondent Evelyn Leopold reports that Annan told the Security Council that “he had sent a senior cartographer to review the material on the Shebaa Farms area, a strip of land occupied by Israel which Lebanon claims as its own but the United Nations says is part of Syria. He said he took ‘careful note’ but gave no recommendations on Lebanon’s proposal to put the Shebaa Farms under UN jurisdiction until a permanent border was delineated.”

Leopold also reports that “The secretary-general said that he continued to receive reports of illegal arms smuggling across the Lebanese-Syrian border but has been unable to verify them. Still, his envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, said earlier this month he had evidence of the smuggling but was unable to reveal his sources.”

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, however, reported last week in an article authored by Ze’ev Schiff that Israel was the source of intelligence information that UNIFIL acted on: “UNIFIL intelligence has led to the discovery of a number of Katyusha and ammunition dumps in south Lebanon, and their subsequent destruction… Israel is said to have been the source of the intelligence regarding the munitions dumps. The units involved in the searches are Belgian, Spanish and French.”

(Schiff added that “Despite this success, thousands of Katyusha rockets are still being hidden, especially in the larger villages in the Tyre region.” And he wrote that “Senior Israel Air Force officers met recently with the heads of the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on the issue, and it was decided to establish an Israel-UNIFIL coordinating body.”)

See http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/793966.html