By Mark Leon Goldberg
Mark Leon Goldberg is editor of U.N. Dispatch where a version of this originally appeared. The views expressed are his own.
1. Stuck on Syria
“I have 120 bilateral meetings,” Ban Ki Moon told press assembled for his annual briefing on the upcoming General Assembly last week. “Syria is at the top of my agenda.”
Ban’s focus is warranted. Since last year’s U.N. Summit, the Syrian rebellion morphed from a brutally suppressed uprising to an all out civil war. All the while, the Syrian crisis has exposed deep fissures at the Security Council between Western countries on one side and Russia and China on the other. On three separate occasions, Russia and China cast rare double vetoes to block the Security Council from taking measures that might undermine Bashar al-Assad’s tenuous grip on power.
By Brad Adams, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Brad Adams is the Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.
The Afghanistan government appears to have a new policy for dealing with government officials accused of sadistic torture: it rewards them with job promotions.
President Hamid Karzai has announced that he will appoint Asadullah Khalid as chief of Afghanistan’s main intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS). Khalid is no garden variety spy chief. The current minister of border and tribal affairs and former governor of Kandahar and Ghazni provinces, he has been accused of running an unauthorized secret prison in Kandahar where torture was routine. Parliamentary confirmation is by no means a sure thing, but Karzai regularly circumvents parliament’s control over cabinet appointments by leaving government officials in an acting capacity for years.
“This will take the NDS back 10 years, to when they could do anything they wanted while everyone looked the other way, as long as they were killing Talibs,” a diplomat with many years’ experience in Afghanistan told Human Rights Watch. “If the U.S. doesn’t stand up and fight this, it will prove that they have lost all interest in human rights and the rule of law in Afghanistan.”
By Daniel R. DePetris, Special to CNN
Daniel R. DePetris is the senior associate editor of the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis. The views expressed are his own.
The highly-publicized trip last week to Tehran by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was supposed to be a prime opportunity for the Iranian leadership to demonstrate to the rest of the world that the country still has a vital role to play in international diplomacy, despite four rounds of Security Council sanctions and tough economic pressure from the United States and the European Union.
Indeed, afraid that a visit to the Iranian capital by Ban would sabotage a steady and persistent campaign against Tehran on a whole range of issues, Obama administration officials and members of Congress spent a considerable amount of time urging Ban to skip the summit and bypass Iran entirely. The Washington Post editorial board, for its part, came out swinging with its own impassioned plea to dissuade the secretary general from making the trip: “By attending the Tehran conference, Mr. Ban will dignify a bacchanal of nonsense.”
By Brian Klein, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Brian P. Klein is an economic consultant and former U.S. diplomat. The views expressed are his own.
Now that Kofi Annan has stepped down from his position as U.N. Arab League Envoy to Syria and peacekeeping troops are being removed from the country one has to wonder – does the United Nations have any role to play in conflict resolution?
The reality is that the Annan Plan, which supported an interim government to shepherd Syria into a post-dictatorship future, was doomed from the start. Bashar al-Assad was to unilaterally step down in the middle of ongoing hostilities while his forces held the momentum against a popular uprising.
Al-Assad of course played the statesman, met with U.N. officials and allowed troops to enter Syria. No one was fooled for long. His military began an all-out assault soon after Annan’s plane took off. Helicopter gunships and fighter jets strafed cities as civilian casualties mounted. Nearly $17 million was authorized for the 150 military observers and 105 civilians. While a paltry sum considering the more than $7 billion peacekeeping budget, that money could have funded, for example, 2,400 water projects for creating wells to bring safe drinking water to over a million people in need.
By Michel Camdessus, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michel Camdessus is former managing director of the International Monetary Fund and a member of the U.N. Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. This is the first in a new series of articles for GPS by members of the Africa Progress Panel, a foundation chaired by Kofi Annan.
Recent discoveries of water reserves under some of Africa’s mightiest deserts raise hopes for quenching African thirst. But the reality is much more grim. From parched desert to tropical forest, roughly 40 percent of Africans, mostly the rural poor, will not get access to clean water any time soon, a fact that exacerbates poverty, hunger, and disease. Indeed, every year, dirty water kills an estimated 750,000 African children under the age of five.
And while rich countries worry about obesity, recent droughts in the Sahel and Horn of Africa have forced millions of Africans to flee their ancestral lands in search of food. To complicate matters further, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expects climate change to hit Africa harder than anywhere else.
Editor's note: Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab has reportedly defected from Bashar al-Assad’s regime to join “the revolution.” But who is behind the so-called revolution? CNN’s Tim Lister shares his thoughts on the state of the opposition in Syria, and what the reports of jihadist involvement could mean.
What is the state of the opposition? Since the unrest began, we've heard that there wasn’t a united opposition as was the case in places such as Libya. Has that changed?
Bashar al-Assad’s opponents – both the politicians and the fighters – are like a bunch of pinballs flying in different directions, often beyond control and sometimes cannoning off each other. That’s always been the concern about Syria, one that Assad himself has encouraged – a sort of "Après moi, le deluge." The ethnographic map of Syria looks like a Jackson Pollock painting: Sunnis, Kurds, Alawites and Christians live cheek by jowl (although the Kurds are heavily concentrated in the northeast.) All have their own priorities and agendas. Many Christians and Alawites believe that whatever follows this regime would be worse for them. Many Kurds view the upheaval as an opportunity to achieve their own state within a state (much like their brethren in Iraq.)
By Chris Brown, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Chris Brown is professor of international relations at the London School of Economics. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
The resignation of Kofi Annan from his role as U.N. envoy to Syria does no more than recognize what has been clear for most of the past three months, namely that in this case, the standard peacemaking model of a ceasefire followed by talks between the parties to produce a compromise has no chance of success.
A year ago, such an initiative might have worked. But too much blood has now been spilled, and, crucially, the conflict has become overtly sectarian in a way that wasn’t the case in its early stages.
Annan, in his valedictory message in the Financial Times yesterday, is still inclined to blame disunity in the Security Council for the failure of his plan. “Only a united international community can compel both sides to engage in a peaceful political transition,” he argues. This should, I think, be revised to “not even a united international community can compel both sides to engage in a peaceful political transition if neither side conceives it to be in their interest to do so.”
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Kofi Annan’s resignation as the U.N. and Arab League joint special envoy is a blow to any hopes that the situation in Syria could go down a stable path. It has also dashed hopes that an early route could be found to an inclusive government that could oversee decreasing levels of violence. Annan represented the possibility of something positive for Syria, and his departure is a sign that things are going to continue to spiral downwards.
There are two basic problems in Syria – an internal and an external political divide. The internal divide is evident every day. We have a brutal regime that is using maximum force, one that is making no concessions and that is simply holding onto power by any means possible. That is the principle problem in Syria, and one that can only be resolved if Bashar al-Assad and the people around him are deposed from power.
But there’s also a sectarian problem in Syria as is evidenced by the fact that minorities, who comprise 40 percent of the population, don’t seem to have joined the opposition. The Alawites, of course, who make up about 12 percent of Syria, are sticking with the Alawite-dominated regime. But the Christians appear to be doing so as well, for fear of what would happen to them in a majoritarian and more Islamist Syria. Other Syrian minorities such as the Kurds also don’t seem part of the Free Syria Army.
By José Luis Díaz, Special to CNN
Editor's note: José Luis Díaz is Amnesty International’s representative at the United Nations. The views expressed are his own.
If there were still any doubts about just how massive the U.N. Security Council’s failure on Syria has been, today’s news out of Geneva surely put paid to them. Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan surprised most observers this morning with his resignation as joint U.N.-Arab League envoy on Syria. The surprise is likely as much about the timing as anything else. No one at the United Nations would say it publicly, but all the players knew the “six-point plan” Annan crafted, and which the Security Council later endorsed, was moribund, if not dead. Annan’s resignation will also make it that much more difficult to renew the U.N. observation mission in Syria, an operation some Council members want shut down in two weeks’ time as there’s no ceasefire to observe. So the question really wasn’t whether Annan would throw in the towel, but when.
By Julien Barnes-Dacey, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Julien Barnes-Dacey is a senior policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations. He was based in Damascus from 2007 to 2010. The views expressed are his own.
As civil war engulfs Syria talk of politics and diplomacy has fallen silent. The Annan plan, previously bandied around by Western governments as the only way forward, attracts scant attention, while support for the armed opposition is intensifying with the indirect backing of Western governments.
Yet even as the militarization of the opposition gains steam, it’s imperative that efforts aimed at securing a political transition be maintained rather than abandoned as increasingly appears to be the case. As the conflict develops and balances of power shift, new openings will emerge and the international community must be primed to support any opportunities if the country is to be saved from a protracted conflict that could destabilize the entire region.
By Philippe Bolopion, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Philippe Bolopion is the U.N. director at Human Rights Watch and the former U.N. correspondent for Le Monde. The views expressed are his own.
To the outside world, the question might sound puzzling: How can the United Nations stop itself from supporting human rights abusers? Sadly, the issue is by no means theoretical. For many years, sometimes unknowingly and sometimes it seems because it chose to look the other way, the United Nations has provided assistance, money or logistical support to armies or police forces involved in abuses and serious human rights violations.
It all came to a head in 2009, when U.N. peacekeepers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo carried out joint military operations with the Congolese army including providing food, fuel, transport and tactical support to army units engaged in combat against militias in the jungle. The goal was laudable, until it became clear that the support was also benefiting well-known human rights abusers in the army. Some of the U.N.-backed Congolese troops had engaged in rape, murder and pillaging, tarnishing the blue flag in the process.
Editor’s note: Stewart Patrick is senior fellow and director of the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance at the Council on Foreign Relations. The original post can be read here. The views expressed are solely those of the writer.
The Obama administration hoped the specter of an oil embargo and increasingly stringent banking sanctions would finally force Iran to come clean on its clandestine nuclear program and end its enrichment activities. No such luck. After the third round of P5+1 negotiations in Moscow ended last month in a stalemate, the White House and Congress are competing to isolate the intransigent Iranian government.
Last Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department moved to close holes in the Iran sanctions regime, blacklisting more than a dozen front companies and four individuals that are helping Tehran evade U.S. and EU restrictions on its oil exports, and placing twenty Iranian financial institutions on a watch list.