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UN Week – 6/4/12

July 3, 2012

This blog entry is written by members of our blogging community and expresses those experts’ views alone.

By John and Douglas Carey

In this issue: UN peacekeepers honored; universal healthcare widely sought; World No-Tobacco Day; the few remaining colonies. UN peacekeepers honored.

May 29 was International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. Tribute was paid to the 112 blue helmets that had lost their lives in 2011 — as well as the 37 killed in the line of duty since the beginning of 2012.

“This is a day of remembrance and fidelity to the memory of [our] brave colleagues,” said Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, during a Headquarters press conference.  Joined by Tony Banbury, Assistant Secretary-General in the Department of Field Support, Mr. Ladsous added that those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice, and those blue helmets that still worked under the most difficult circumstances, needed the international community’s support.

Banbury said that the theme of this year’s International Day — “Peacekeeping Is a Global Partnership” — was most fitting.  Indeed, that partnership not only involved the United Nations governing organs, the Security Council and the General Assembly, it also involved troop-contributing countries, those that provided resources, as well as host countries.

He said it was also a partnership between the United Nations and other international and regional organizations, as in the cases of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  He was also very keen on building on a wide array of regional partnerships with, among others, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD).  In many instances, working with regional organizations, which had specific knowledge of local situations, provided an element of additional legitimacy to operations approved by the Security Council.

Turning to current issues, the most dramatic of which was the situation in Syria and the “appalling tragedy” that had occurred in El-Houleh, which had highlighted even more the absolute necessity for both sides — the Syrian Government and the opposition — “to stop the senseless killing”.  He was also concerned that terrorist groups were now operating in Syria “with agendas of their own”, adding to the risks faced by the nearly 300 United Nations observers deployed in eight cities.

Recalling his recent visit to Syria, he said that while those observers were carrying out their duties in very difficult circumstances where they patrolled, they did help mitigate the level of violence.  They continued to demand that heavy weapons be pulled back and such requests were generally complied with.  Yet, the violence had not stopped completely, “so it is now incumbent on the Syrians to see where they want to go; whether they want to stop the bloodshed” and work solidly to implement the six-point plan proposed by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan.

He noted that Mr. Annan had been in Damascus for the past two days and the Peacekeeping Department was awaiting further details from his meetings with Syrian officials there.  Meanwhile, the United Nations remained solidly behind the Envoy’s proposal, because it was the best option and because “there is simply no alternative, it’s the only game in town”.

Turning to the resources devoted to peacekeeping operations, Banbury said that the cost currently hovered between $7 billion and $8 billion, “which is a lot of money, but a very small price for the international community to pay for all the good United Nations peacekeeping does around the world”, including stemming violence, keeping parties on a political track and building local capacities.

“This is money very well spent,” he continued, but added that the Secretary-General, cognizant of the very difficult external financial situation, had given clear guidance to all parts of the Organization, including the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, to “do more with less”. Therefore, peacekeeping officials were working to fulfill that objective and had, so far this year, reduced the division’s financial requirements by more than $400 million, while at the same time improving the services being provided to United Nations peacekeeping missions.

An example of that had been the Organization’s rapid deployment in Libya, where the Logistics Base in Brindisi, Italy, had been used to ensure a smaller mission footprint in Tripoli.  As for Syria, he said: “Quite frankly, we had already had far too many cases of our personnel getting shot at.”  So, armored vehicles had been deployed there ahead of the United Nations observers so that they were able to carry out their very challenging duties in quite dangerous locations.  “We will not hesitate to invest very significant resources when required, but we will also look at every possible way to ensure that the resources we do expend are used as efficiently as possible,” he said, adding that United Nations peacekeepers deserved to be adequately supported wherever they were deployed.

Turning next to sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeepers, Mr. Banbury said that nothing dishonored peacekeepers more than such acts by individuals.  “Sadly, we do have some of these incidents, but they cannot detract from the extremely valiant and brave work being carried out by the men and women in blue helmets and blue berets in 17 missions around the world,” he declared.  The number of incidents had been steadily decreasing over the past three years and the Peacekeeping Department was working to increase the United Nations transparency in that area, and the United Nations remained committed to the Secretary-General’s “zero-tolerance” policy.

Universal healthcare widely sought.

          This subject, vigorously debated in the US, is considered beyond debate in the World Health Organization. The WHO Director General, Dr. Margaret Chan, included the following in her remarks accepting election to a second term: “It is almost counterintuitive to think that, at a time of rising public expectations for health care, soaring costs, and shrinking budgets, more and more countries are launching plans to reach universal coverage. * * *

          “It had a snowball effect, building a momentum that eventually included a host of national and regional meetings and workshops, debates published in the medical and health financing literature, and international conferences, with the latest organized by Mexico, South Africa, and Thailand. * * *

          “As these meetings have shown, the impact of moving towards universal coverage is truly uplifting, almost magical. * * *

          “Universal coverage is the hallmark of a government’s commitment, its duty, to take care of its citizens, all of its citizens. Universal coverage us the ultimate expressions of fairness.”

World No-Tobacco Day

          Last Week the WHO observed its annual drive against smoking, stressing the industry’s use of litigation against governments in an effort to prevent their taking anti-tobacco measures. The WHO pointed out that half of smokers die from it, and stressed what a hazard smoking is to the young.

          It is discouraging how little attention was paid to No-Tobacco Day here in the United States, at least by the news media I am exposed to.

The few remaining colonies.

          At the end of May, a 3-day seminar was held in Quito, Ecuador, for representatives of non-self-governing territories to address the General Assembly’s Special Committee on Decolonization.

          The following from the 16  non-autonomous territories of the world were discussed: Falklands Islands (Malvinas), Puerto Rico, Guantanamo, American Samoa, Guam, New Caledonia, Nouméa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and Gibraltar.

          Wilma Reveron-Collazo, from Puerto Rico, stated that there had not been proper preparation or implementation of education programs  in anticipation of the referendum scheduled for November 2012.

          Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño stated that conditions must be created so that countries administering non-autonomous territories accept that their administrative role is provisional. There should not be continued control through alliances with local influential sectors or through political or economic means, he said.

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