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UN Week – 10/18/2010

October 31, 2010

by John and Douglas Carey, Editors,

Contents of this issue: Chilean miners’ rescue; Security Council elections; status of Member States’ contributions.

Chilean miners’ rescue.

“Both as Director-General of the ILO and as a Chilean, I share joy of millions of people all over the world at the return of these heroes from the depths of the earth.

“Behind this impressive achievement we have to admire above all the calm, courage, organization and love of life displayed by the miners. Their fortitude in the face of disaster, which has amazed us all, was a constant encouragement for the rescue efforts. They have my most profound respect.

“No less exceptional has been the tenacity, the skill and the efficiency of all those from the public and private sector, Chileans and non-Chileans alike, who contributed their know-how to this great collective success.

“My congratulations go to President Piñera, to the Government team and to the people of Chile. All the necessary financial, technical and human resources were made available so that life might triumph over adversity!

“Above all, let us pay tribute to the solidarity shown by the miners’ families and the entire nation and to their confidence that what seemed impossible was indeed possible

“The rescue of the Chilean miners has more than one lesson to teach us as we go about our daily lives. We cannot allow ourselves to forget how this terrible drama began: a group of miners found themselves trapped underground simply because the safety measures in place were inadequate. Safety at work is a core concern of the ILO.

“In Chile the issue of safety at work is part of the joint agenda being pursued by the Government, employers and workers. The ILO, guided by the principles of decent work, will continue to collaborate with them in realizing the goals they set.

“One way of honoring the bravery of these 33 miners and the worldwide concern for their safe return would be for Chile – for Chilean society as a whole – to become a world leader in occupational safety and health, espousing a cause which would bring honour to the nation.

“The fact is that all too often the news from the world’s mines brings us tidings of death and disappearance. By the ILO’s reckoning the mining sector employs around 1 per cent of the global labor force, and yet it generates 8 per cent of fatal accidents. In many countries, mining carries the highest risk factor among those working in potentially dangerous environments. Every day some 6,300 people die from occupational injuries or diseases, an annual total of more than 2,300,000 deaths; and to this a further 337 million accidents at work per year must be added.

“Much remains to be done. Employment in unsafe conditions is a human tragedy, as we said during the commemoration of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28 April this year.

“Today more than ever we must take the utmost care that our economic adjustment and recovery strategies in the face of the current crisis do not set us on a hazardous course where human life and workers’ safety are devalued. Too little is heard of this brutal reality that strikes so many millions of people year after year! It comes to us in brief news flashes with little call to action.

“Perhaps one of the most significant contributions of the 33 Chilean miners is to have made the whole world that much more conscious of the need to ensure more safety, more protection, more prevention, more decent work, with the most urgent attention being given to work done in dangerous conditions.

“Let us acknowledge this and be thankful that we have heard a universal appeal to our conscience for greater safety at work.”

Juan Somavia, Director-General, International Labor Office, Geneva, 13 October 2010

Security Council elections.

Despite not having won election to the Security Council, Canada would continue to work towards a transparent Council that was accountable to Member States as well as responsive to contemporary realities and challenges, Lawrence Cannon, the country’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, said on October 12th.

“We will not back down from our principles which form the basis of our great country and we will continue to pursue them on the international stage,” Mr. Cannon said at a Headquarters press conference.  The country had demonstrated its leadership on peace and security, as well as development issues, at the Group of Eight (G-8) Muskoka Summit, and its economic leadership at the Group of Twenty (G-20) Summit in Toronto. 

“ Canada is proud of its track record on the world stage,” the Minister said, adding that 2010 was its “international year”, during which it had pledged to double its aid to Africa and fulfilled that commitment.  Canada was also on track to double its overall development assistance by March 2011.  Since taking office in 2006, the current Government had also made a significant contribution to peace and security in Africa, he said.  Not only was Canada currently involved in 18 United Nations, or United Nations-mandated, peacekeeping operations, it also supported the Organization’s peacekeeping efforts through capacity-building, training, planning and logistics, as well as the strategic provision of personnel.

Canada had pursued a “robust” foreign policy, asserted its sovereignty in the North and focused its foreign aid on countries that needed it most, the Minister said.  “While right, these decisions were not always popular,” he added.  It had not been helpful that opponents of Canada’s election to the Security Council could point to the fact that, for the first time in its history, the country had not been united in its bid.  [Leader of the Opposition Michael Ignatieff had said that Canada did not deserve a Council seat given the current Government’s track record.]

 Nevertheless, he said, Canada would continue, with its partners inside and outside the Council, to advance its interests on the international stage, including through organizations such as the General Assembly, the G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, the Commonwealth, La Francophonie and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.  “Canada will continue to demonstrate leadership, advancing our national interests and foreign policy priorities, supporting the [United Nations] in contributing to peace and stability in the world.  We are a nation with a strong international character and an independent foreign policy.  We will continue to make our voice heard on the world stage, including through the United Nations,” the Minister said.

Asked why Canada had not pursued the election — having withdrawn its candidacy after the second round of balloting in the General Assembly and paving the way for Portugal’s election — Mr. Cannon said he had decided to concede on the advice of his country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and others.  “We thought this was the right thing to do under the circumstances.”

The fact that Canada had not been elected was not a repudiation of its foreign policy, he said in reply to another question.  It had run a strong campaign based on principle, but, unfortunately, the Leader of the Opposition had determined that Canada did not speak with one voice.  He said he was “extremely disappointed” that Mr. Ignatieff had indicated that the country did not deserve the seat, adding that he had never seen any leader of an opposition party dismiss a candidacy for the Security Council.

Responding to a question about the reasons for the defeat, he said it had not been due to any one factor.  The Canadian delegation had received strong commitments from other Member States, he said, thanking those who had committed their votes in writing.  Following Mr. Ignatieff’s statement, there had been a “Liberal Party scurry” to correct it within the 12-hour news cycle, but the damage had been done, and the diplomatic corps in Ottawa had reported it to their respective capitals.  The issue had been used to prevent Canada from acceding to the Council, he said, adding:  “Michael Ignatieff’s statement hurt us.”

Asked whether his country’s “de-funding” of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), or the complaint by the African Group that it had delayed debt relief to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, had led to a loss of votes, Mr. Cannon replied that the latter had never come up in discussions that he and Permanent Representative John McNee had held with African ambassadors.  As for the funding of UNRWA, the Minister for Development had recently corrected all misgivings surrounding that issue, he said, adding that Canada continued to support the agency.

Status of Member States’ contributions.

On October 14th, Angela Kane, Under-Secretary-General for Management, told the press that total unpaid contributions were $4.1 billion. UN Controller Jun Yamazaki said the US owes $1.2 billion. This consists of $691 for the regular budget, $431 for peacekeeping, $34 for the criminal tribunals for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, and $75 million for the capital master plan.

To a question on the notification system used for Member States that had fallen behind in their contributions, Mr. Yamazaki said that, at the beginning of the year the Missions received a letter with an invoice stating their annual assessment. They were also reminded of late payments when United Nations officials presented the figures to the Assembly twice a year.  Ms. Kane added that if a State fell behind in its payment and was close to losing its ability to vote in the Assembly, a reminder was issued to the particular State, as well as to all Member States.

Ms. Kane said the following were paid up, showing no pattern: Australia, Azerbaijan, Canada, Congo, Denmark, Germany, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Netherlands, Singapore, Switzerland, South Africa, and Tanzania.

That’s all for this October 18th issue of United Nations Week: News and Views. We’ll be back with the next issue.

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