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UN Week – 4/18/11

April 18, 2011

John and Douglas Carey, Editors,

Contents of this issue: Syrian violence; anti-terrorism treaty talks drag; UN in Côte d’Ivoire; high-level US appointment at UN.

Syrian violence. On April 15th a group of UN human rights experts denounced the rising death toll and brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters, journalists and human rights defenders in Syria, and called on authorities to immediately halt the repression and engage in a meaningful dialogue on reforms.

“Firing on peaceful crowds attending protests or funerals is by no means justified,” stressed Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on arbitrary executions, one of 10 independent experts joining the call on the Syrian Government to end the crackdown. Since the beginning of the protests calling for democracy, in mid-March, the violence has dramatically intensified, reportedly resulting in at least 200 deaths, the experts noted. Demonstrations are taking place across the country, in Deraa, Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia, Duma and Banias.

“Live ammunition is being used outside the prescribed limits and in clear violation of international law. Firearms may only be used in self-defense or in the defense of others,” Mr. Heyns added. Citing reports that people are now taking up arms to retaliate against law enforcement officials, he warned that “this can easily escalate into widespread violence.”

Juan Méndez, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, urged the Govern-ment to respect the physical and mental integrity of protesters, ensure justice and accountability for victims, and bring those responsible for violations to justice. Alarmed at the reported arrest of hundreds of protesters, El Hadji Malick Sow of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for the immediate release of all peaceful demonstrators who have been arbitrarily detained.

The experts, who all report to the UN Human Rights Council, noted that the crackdown is continuing despite the Government’s promises of reforms and consultations to end the 48-year-old emergency rule. There were many underlying grievances that led to recent protests, including deep-seated corruption, injustice and discrimination, the lack of consultation, participation, and accountability, said the experts. Stressing that political reforms, accompanied by economic and social reforms, are “urgent and critical,” they urged the authorities to engage in a meaningful, inclusive and transparent dialogue to implement reforms.

Anti-terrorism treaty talks drag. While acknowledging the sense of disappointment that the last outstanding issues surrounding a proposed global anti-terrorism convention had yet to be resolved, the Chairman of the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee charged with elaborating that treaty on April 15th stressed that “good progress has been made over the past few years,” and various recommendations were beginning to coalesce into solid proposals for reaching a conclusion.

As he closed the Ad Hoc Committee’s session, Chairman Rohan Perera of Sri Lanka said that during the past week several delegates had expressed satisfaction over consolidation in the report of the Working Group of the Sixth Committee (Legal) of the text of the convention’s draft articles and of the various proposals. “This was certainly a step forward. It reflects the current state of negotiations and will surely facilitate our work,” he said.

It was also noteworthy that delegations continued to view the 2007 elements as a way out of the current impasse, he said, referring to a package proposal put forward four years ago to spur progress towards resolving persistent disputes related to a definition of terrorism and the proposed convention’s interaction with other international law. “I am extremely encouraged by the flexibility shown by many delegations in their comments this week and their continued commitment to bringing our work to a conclusion,” he said.

Yet Mr. Perera reminded delegations that the Committee’s current session was its fifteenth and, therefore, the Assembly’s forthcoming sixty-sixth session should be seen as “an opportune moment to make our final attempt to find solutions to our efforts”.

He expressed every confidence that delegations would review the relevant issues so that the Assembly could take the necessary decisions. He encouraged them to use the coming months to seriously consider elements that could be included in a possible resolution as a way to move the process towards a conclusion.

The Chairman’s words echoed a recommendation, adopted by consensus in the body’s draft report, by which the Ad Hoc Committee — formally known as the Ad Hoc Committee Established by General Assembly resolution 51/201 — recommended that the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee (Legal) establish a working group with a view to making a concerted effort to finalizing the draft convention and continuing discussions on the question of convening a high-level conference on the matter, under United Nations auspices.

Twenty members of the Ad Hoc Committee took the floor to briefly comment on the status of the negotiations and suggest recommendations on the way forward. While a few preferred the former Coordinator’s 2002 package proposal as a way forward, the majority of the speakers backed a 2007 package, without modifications, as “the best compromise”. That proposal, they felt, would serve as a sound basis to continue discussions, if it would bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion. At the same time, several who supported the 2007 proposal urged that it not be seen as a “take-or-leave-it package;” rather, it should be considered alongside other options.

Other speakers supported an approach that did not seek to alter or create new obligations under international humanitarian and human rights laws and that ensured respect for those rules. Some speakers considered that progress on the draft convention was predicated on two principles, namely that the proposed treaty exclude from its scope the activities of military forces of a State, which were already covered by other regimes; and that it not include activities undertaken by national liberation movements.

With very little to show in the way of progress since 2007, one speaker said the Ad Hoc Committee must admit that the current nature of its negotiations “is just not working”. Another said the Committee had been wasting time over the past week because it was clear that negotiations on outstanding issues — chiefly a concrete definition of terrorism or terrorist acts — had stalled. It was time to pursue a more open and transparent path, as befit the United Nations, an Organization based on multilateral cooperation.

To a suggestion that yet another working group be created to deal with specific sticking points, such as a definition of terrorism and extradition procedures, one Committee Member said that, while his delegation was not opposed to the recommendation, the gaps to be bridged “are just too vast” and the differences “are not just a matter of semantics”. As such, he also called urgently for a review of the Committee’s working methods.

He was also among those who suggested that, if and when a high-level conference on international terrorism was convened, it must not merely adopt a convention that had already been elaborated; rather, it should also be devoted to bridging divergent views on language and definitions that had thus far eluded the Ad Hoc Committee and the Sixth Committee (Legal). L/3174.

UN in Côte d’Ivoire. Here is a photo of Jordanian officers of UNOCI patrolling in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, days after the former Ivorian President, Laurent Gbagbo, surrendered to the internationally recognized new president, Alassane Ouattara. Mr. Gbagbo’s surrender put an end to a violent, months-long stand-off in which UNOCI staff had also been targeted.

US high-level appointment at the UN. US Ambassador Susan Rice on April 15th made this announcement: “I am delighted that last night the U.S. Senate confirmed Joseph M. Torsella, President Obama’s nominee for U.S. Representative for UN Management and Reform. Joe brings a wealth of talent, knowledge, and experience to this vital job. In Joe, the United States will have another outstanding advocate for serious, sustained, and comprehensive UN reform.

Rice said that, “The United States is working urgently and determinedly toward a leaner and more effective United Nations that can more fully realize its founding values, prevent conflict, help halt nuclear proliferation, isolate human rights abusers, promote democracy, and provide lifesaving food, medicine, and shelter. As Ambassador, Joe Torsella will head a team that, under the able leadership of acting Ambassador Joe Melrose, has continually pushed for much-needed reforms – from a more disciplined UN budget and a more mobile, meritocratic UN civilian workforce to a culture of greater transparency and accountability. Across the U.S. government, we are working tirelessly to ensure that U.S. taxpayer money is spent wisely.”

 The new U.S. Representative to the UN for UN Management and Reform currently serves as Chairman of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education. He was the founding President and CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, a non-profit museum and education center dedicated to explaining and celebrating American ideas and ideals. He has also been a small business owner and Deputy Mayor for Policy and Planning in Philadelphia. Mr. Torsella is a former Rhodes Scholar and Phi Beta Kappa graduate with a B.A. in History and Economics from the University of Pennsylvania.

That’s all for this April 18th issue of United Nations Week: News and Views. We’ll be back with the next issue. Meantime, do send along your own views on any UN-related issues to

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