John Singer Sargent’s 1918 painting of gassed British soldiers
This article was originally published by the Stimson Center on 28 June 2016.
Investigating the use of chemical weapons
The first inquiry into the use of chemical weapons (CW) in Syria was the United Nations Secretary-General’s Mechanism (SGM) for Investigation of Alleged use of Chemical and Biological Weapons. Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1987, and endorsed by the Security Council (Resolution 620) a year later, the SGM enables the Secretary-General to carry out investigations in response to any UN Member State reporting possible violations of the 1925 Protocol or other relevant rules of customary international law.
The SGM was trigged in March 2013 after Syria (a State Party to the Geneva Protocol) reported allegations of CW use in the Khan al-Asal area of the Aleppo Governorate, for which Syria’s government and opposition blamed each other. A team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the World Health Organization (WHO) was assembled and remained on standby in Cyprus until the terms of reference between the UN and Syria were agreed on. The holdup was a difference of opinion on the scope of the investigation: the UN argued that all credible claims of CW use reported by other Member States should also be investigated while Syria argued that only the March 19 Khan al-Asal attacks should be examined. In the end, the SGM team was dispatched to Syria in August 2013 to investigate Khal al-Asal and two other incidents at Sheik Maqsood and Saraqueb. Three days after their arrival, allegations of CW use in the Ghouta area of Damascus led the team to prioritise the most recent allegations.
A photograph of José Vela Zanetti’s mural “Mankind’s Struggle for Lasting Peace” at the UN Conference Building , coutesy United Nations Photo/flickr
This article was originally published by the IPI Global Observatory on 17 June 2016.
Earlier this week, a damning report from advocacy group The Syria Campaign accused the United Nations of breaching its humanitarian principles by prioritizing cooperation with the Assad government “at all costs.” This is not the first time that such charges have been leveled. An internal inquiry into the UN’s response to the final days of the decades-long Sri Lankan civil war found that officials privileged maintaining good relations with the Colombo regime over their responsibilities to protect human rights.
What is more, the UN has recently been at the receiving end of an avalanche of revelations that it has succumbed to pressure from it member states over its reporting and language:
- Australia lobbied hard to ensure that UNESCO removed the Great Barrier Reef from a list of endangered world heritage sites, despite near universal consensus among scientists studying the reef that it is, indeed, deeply at risk as a result of climate change and runoffs from coastal farms and industrial plants.
- Saudi Arabia threatened to defund UN programs, and to encourage other Islamic countries to do the same, if the UN did not remove a report’s references to patterns of violations against children in Yemen committed by the Saudi-led coalition.
- Morocco threatened to withdraw support for UN operations in retaliation for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referring to Western Sahara as “occupied,” despite the fact that this is precisely the legal situation in that part of the world until a referendum on its future can be held.
- Myanmar insisted that UN officials refrain from using the term “Rohingya” to refer to an ethnic minority in that country and has threatened to withdraw cooperation with any that do. Some, such as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Satish Nambiar, have complied with the regime’s demand, overlooking the right of groups to self-identify. Others, such as Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Yanghee Lee continue to use the label and have faced vilification because of it.
UNSC Chamber in New York, the Norwegian Room, courtesy Patrick Gruban/WikiMedia
This article was originally published by the IPI Global Observatory on 9 March 2016.
The United Nations was created to foster peace and stability among nations and promote economic prosperity and social justice for all. Seventy years later, there is a shared sense that the global structures entrusted with peace and security are not keeping pace with today’s more complex and interconnected world, where local problems have global dimensions and where the monopoly of violence is no longer the sole preserve of states—a world where the nature of peace and conflict is challenging the analytical frameworks, norms, and paradigms that have been painstakingly fashioned over the past two decades.
The three major peace and security reviews conducted in 2015 have taken stock of the changing global environment; analyzed UN responses; and come up with several key policy messages, as well as a number of complementary recommendations which, if implemented, could help the UN peace and security architecture be better fit for purpose.
United Nations HQ – The Security Council Chamber
This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 6 January 2016.
When the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) opened on 15 September 2015, reforming the UN Security Council (UNSC) was again on the agenda. By the time that the annual general debate concluded on 3 October, no agreement had been reached on an issue that has remained unresolved for several decades.
The composition of the UNSC has only been changed once. This occurred in 1964, after a large expansion of UN membership and two years of intense debate that resulted in four additional non-permanent seats, increasing the Council to 15 members.
Discussions about UNSC reform assumed a different approach during the most recent round of negotiations that started early in 2015. The former UNGA president, Sam Kutesa from Uganda, worked closely with the chair of the intergovernmental negotiations – the Jamaican representative, Courtney Rattray – to advance the discussions. Each UN member state was asked to present its position, and these were then used to draft a single, integrated negotiation text.
The document produced was 118 pages long, consisting of 22 official pages plus 96 pages of specific ‘inputs’ provided by several members. This so-called Framework Document highlighted the same issue that has plagued discussions in the last two decades: member states are not willing to compromise.
Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya. Photo: World Economic Forum/flickr.
Kenya wants the United Nations Security Council to halt the trials of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. With the African Union at its side, Kenya has asked the Security Council to temporarily defer ICC prosecutions through the invocation of Article 16 of the Rome Statute. Doing so will undoubtedly lead to accusations that the Security Council is actively endorsing impunity in Kenya. But will that stop them?
Recent reports have suggested that Western diplomats are busy drafting a Security Council resolution to defer the Kenya cases. This is significant. Presumably ‘Western’ powers – especially the US and ICC member-states France and the UK – are the key to any resolution passing. A veto from any of them would ruin Kenya’s chances at a deferral – although it should be noted that such a resolution is unlikely to ever come to a vote unless it is guaranteed to pass in advance. » More