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United Nations Week – 8/2/2010

August 4, 2010

by John and Douglas Carey, Editors, www.unweek.blogspot.com

Contents of this issue: Cluster munitions treaty in force; General Assembly tries to create new law on drinking water; Secretariat response to attack against Ban Ki-moon; Galapagos now safe.-

 Cluster munitions treaty in force.

On Friday, July 30th, the Secretary-General stated that, “I am delighted that the Convention on Cluster Munitions enters into force on 1 August 2010. This new instrument is a major advance for the global disarmament and humanitarian agendas, and will help us to counter the widespread insecurity and suffering caused by these terrible weapons, particularly among civilians and children.

“I am particularly pleased that the Convention, which prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster weapons, enters into force in little more than two years since its adoption. This highlights not only the world’s collective revulsion at these abhorrent weapons, but also the power of collaboration among Governments, civil society and the United Nations to change attitudes and policies on a threat faced by all humankind. Such cooperation will be crucial as we seek now to implement the Convention, including through assistance to victims.

“The First Meeting of States Parties will be held in November 2010 in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, a country that has suffered tremendously from the impact of cluster munitions. I encourage all Member States to participate in this meeting to demonstrate their support for the Convention. And I call on those States which have yet to accede to the Convention, to do so without delay.” SG/SM/13030-DC/3253-L/T/4420.

General Assembly tries to create new law on drinking water.

By a vote of 122 in favor to none against, with 41 abstentions, the General Assembly on July 28th adopted a resolution calling on States and international organizations to provide financial resources, build capacity and transfer technology, particularly to developing countries, in scaling up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.

Invoking a human right to water and sanitation, the Assembly expressed deep concern that some 884 million people are without access to safe drinking water and more than 2.6 billion lack access to basic sanita-tion. The Assembly expressed alarm that 1.5 million children under five years old died each year as a result of water- and sanitation-related diseases, acknowledging that safe, clean drinking water and sanitation were integral to the realization of all human rights.

Introducing the text, Bolivia’s representative said the human right to water had not been fully recognized, despite references to it in various international instruments. Lack of access to water killed more children annually than AIDS, malaria and measles combined, while the lack of sanitation affected 2.6 billion people, or 40 per cent of the global population, he pointed out.  The upcoming summit to review progress on the Millennium Development Goals must provide a clear signal that water and sanitation were human rights, he emphasized, reiterating that the right to drinking water and sanitation was essential for the full enjoyment of life.

Hinting at differences over whether the Assembly should have taken action on the text, the representative of the United States said before the adoption that his delegation would abstain from voting. The United States, which had called for the vote, had hoped to join a consensus that would uphold the process under way at the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, he said. Instead, the text could undermine that work because it described the right to water and sanitation in a way not reflected in existing international law. Moreover, the text had not been drafted in a transparent manner, he said, noting that the legal implications of a declared right to water had not yet been fully considered in the Assembly or in Geneva.

Some delegates, speaking before the adoption, expressed regret that a vote had been called in the absence of consensus, saying they viewed the draft not as a threat to the “Geneva process” on water and sanitation, but rather as one of its components. Some expressed regret that the text had provoked division, despite awareness of the importance of access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Germany’s representative said the text included important elements of the work going on in the Human Rights Council and of the independent expert on the subject.

Other delegates, speaking after the adoption, welcomed the resolution’s treatment of important issues, with Egypt’s representative saying he had voted in favor on the basis of an understanding that it did not create new rights, or sub-categories of rights, other than those contained in internationally agreed human rights instruments. Acknowledging the need to set aside controversial questions of international water sources and transboundary water, he said the Egyptian Government trusted that the text would bring such questions to the fore and add impetus to the Geneva process. GA/10967.

Secretariat response to attack against Ban Ki-moon.

 

During a press conference at Headquarters on July 22nd, two senior United Nations officials responded to questions regarding a leaked 50-page internal memo sent to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon from Under-Secretary General Inga-Britt Ahlenius, upon her exit as the Under-Secretary General for the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

Angela Kane, Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Management, and Catherine Pollard, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management, took questions from reporters in New York about the internal report leaked at the end of Ms. Ahlenius’ five-year term.  The memo called into question Secretary-General Ban’s leadership abilities, and sharply criticized many United Nations policies and procedures.

Ms. Kane, who said the memo was supposed to be an “end of assignment report” and an internal management tool for the Secretary-General, added that there were numerous inaccuracies in it, but that its contents would be taken seriously.  However, she reiterated:  “This is an end of assignment report.  It is a personal opinion of one person.”

Continuing, she said that it was important to look at the whole picture as it appeared, not just at the few selected examples in the memo, such as the hiring of D-2 level staff.  Along with numerous inaccuracies, the document ignored instances where there was compliance with policies and procedures.  She said the question really was “where to go from here”.

When several journalists asked if the report would be released publicly, Ms. Kane reiterated that it was an internal memo, and a manage-ment tool that was not intended as a public document. For her part, Ms. Pollard noted that the United Nations Procurement Task Force — an ad hoc working group within the Internal Oversight Office — was engaged in dealing with many cases that had to go to the administration for a determination on the conduct of staff members.  The key was to ensure the due process of staff was respected.  “Publishing some of these reports with the findings as they may have been written for internal documents could be seen as prejudicing the rights of staff members if not carefully handled,” she said.

Regarding questions about the Secretary-General attempting to set up a separate investigations unit, Ms. Kane said that was not something that Mr. Ban had suggested, but an idea that had come out of the General Assembly’s 2005 World Summit. In that Summit’s Outcome Document, Member States had requested the establishment of a task force, which would involve OIOS, she said. “It is not correct to say the Secretary-General was attempting to set up another investigative capacity. That is absolutely not correct.  And I must respond to that in the strongest terms. He has been very supportive of OIOS and its investigative capacity.”

When asked about the world body’s policy on whistleblowers who needed to be protected, Ms. Kane said that there was a strong policy for whistleblowers, because such policies were an important part of an interna-tional organization such as the United Nations. It was up to whistleblowers to ask for protection from the ethics office.

The scathing critique of the Secretary-General on issues such as Myanmar, was “surprising and not reflective of the facts”, Ms. Kane continued, adding:  “In fact, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been at the forefront of the important issues of the day, such as climate change.”

Galapagos now safe.

Ecuador’s headway in combating threats posed by invasive species, unbridled tourism and over-fishing allowed the Galapagos Islands to be removed, as announced on July 29th, from the list of World Heritage sites considered to be in danger by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Comprising 19 islands and a marine reserve, the islands are situated some 1,000 kilometers from the South American continent. Deemed a World Heritage site in 1978, they have been described as a unique “living museum and showcase of evolution.” Situated where three ocean currents meet, the Galapagos were formed by seismic and volcanic activity.

Along with the islands’ extreme isolation, these processes led to the development of unusual animal life, such as the land iguana and the giant tortoise, which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection after his visit to the Galapagos in 1835.

The islands were put on the list of sites in danger in 2007, and the World Heritage Committee, currently meeting in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia, welcomed the Ecuadorian Government’s ongoing efforts to bolster conservation measures, especially in the use of biosecurity measures to prevent foreign plant and animal species from reaching the islands. The Committee also lauded the country’s moves to limit the number of tourists and arrivals of ships and aircraft, as well as to control fishing.

That’s all for this August 2nd issue of United Nations Week: News and Views. We’ll be back with the next issue. Meantime, do send along your own views on these or other UN issues, to www.unweek.blogspot.com

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