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UN Week- 12/26/2011

December 27, 2011

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: 66th General Assembly main session concludes; General Assembly President’s views on the session just ended; Security Council President on its December activities.

66th General Assembly main session concludes.

The General Assembly closed its main session midday Saturday, December 24th, with the adoption of a $5.15 billion United Nations budget for the 2012-2013 biennium and an unexpected intervention by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who commended Member States for having risen to that challenge with “energy, creativity and an indispensable willingness to make the hard choices”.

In a “collective achievement”, United Nations Member States “found savings, while protecting the Organization’s ability to get the job done”, the Secretary-General said.  “We worked together and made history,” he declared, by approving a that was lower than the one for the previous biennium.

“All budgets are tough, but this year was particularly difficult, as Governments and peoples everywhere are struggling in this time of financial austerity,” he said, praising the “compact” between Member States and the United Nations Secretariat and all United Nations staff.  Today, member nations kept their promises — to each other and to the world’s people.  In turn, he gave his pledge, and he would instruct all his managers to do the same, to do more and better with less, to make the most of “our precious resources”.

He would ensure that Member States’ contributions, and all mandates given to the Secretariat, were fully and efficiently delivered and at a savings.  “You can count on my commitment,” he said, concluding with his best wishes for a “Merry Christmas and a very healthy and happy New Year” for all.

At the meeting, begun the afternoon of the 23d, and then suspended through the night to allow delegations more time for consultations, Assem-bly President Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser had commended the “robust and constructive engagement” he envisaged of all delegations in reaching consensus on a financial plan and taking action on a range of vital issues throughout the main part of the world body’s sixty-sixth session that began in September.

“The negotiation process on the biennium budget has been particularly challenging this year in the wake of global financial challenges,” he said, acknowledging the intense discussions leading up to the Assembly’s action.  He praised the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) for “working tirelessly” to reach agreement on issues of critical importance to the Organization, including funding for special political missions, the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and law of the sea.

President Al-Nasser recalled that, in September, he had opened the session urging the Assembly to take concrete actions that would “define our place in this decisive moment in history”, when the world faced unprecedented environmental, economic and socio-political challenges and when people’s demands for good governance and prosperity were stronger and louder than ever before.  “I firmly believe that you rose to this challenge,” he declared, noting that the 193-nation Assembly had “acted in concert on many of the major issues of our time” and had, thus far, adopted some 300 resolutions and decisions.

Highlighting key events of the past few months, many of which had been driven by the popular uprisings that had swept North Africa and the Middle East, he said Member States had restored the legitimate representation of the Libyan people to the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.

Turning to a troubling situation in the Middle East, he said the Assembly had expressed its concern regarding the ongoing developments in Syria with the adoption, on December 19th, of a resolution condemning the “grave and systematic human rights violations” being committed by the Syrian authorities. That text had called on Damascus to implement the League of Arab States’ Plan of Action in its entirety. “I hope that the killing and violence in Syria will immediately come to an end, in keeping with the calls of the international community,” he added.

He went on to say that the issue of Palestine had been particularly central to this General Assembly session, and he recalled the “historic development” when, on 23 September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had transmitted Palestine’s application for membership in the United Nations to the Secretary-General. “It is my conviction that the General Assembly should continue to work collectively for the attainment of a just and comprehensive negotiated peace settlement in the Middle East,” he said.

General Assembly President’s views on the session just ended.

Speaking at a year-end press conference, Nasser Abdulaziz al-Nasser outlined some of the achievements made over the first three months of his tenure, saying the Assembly had been active in galvanizing the necessary global partnership to assist the Governments and people in the Arab world during the “Arab Spring” — or what he termed the “Arab Awakening”.

“The General Assembly is increasingly getting vocal on human rights issues,” he said.  Indeed, as those protests and calls for freedom had generated much concern for the needs and demands of the people in affected countries, Mr. Al‑Nasser had undertaken a joint trip to Libya with the Secretary-General.

The Assembly had taken action to restore the legitimate representation of the Libyan people at the United Nations through its adoption, prior to the start of the general debate, of a resolution allowing the National Transitional Council to speak and vote for Libya.

Another highlight had been the Assembly’s adoption of a political declaration on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, which — while preventable — were now the largest cause of death worldwide. Additionally, the Assembly, through the September adoption of a political declaration entitled “United against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance”, had “spoken with one voice” against the global scourges of racism, hatred and intolerance.

Looking ahead after a demanding three months, he said that when the Assembly resumed its sixty-sixth session in January 2012 it would focus on issues ranging from mediation to sustainable development to Security Council reform.  In particular, the question of reforming the Security Council — which had been on the agenda of the General Assembly for some two decades — still loomed large on the world stage, with a wide array of countries favoring some level of reform on that 15-member body.

Observing that the Palestinian people would not receive full membership in the United Nations, as they lacked the necessary support in the Security Council, a correspondent asked whether the President would encourage them to reverse course and bring their case to the General Assembly.  He responded that, if they did come to the Assembly, their chances of being recognized as an “observer State” were very good.  He hoped that they would do so, but, indeed, that was a “Palestinian decision” to make.

Russian Security Council President on December’s activities.

The Russian Federation wanted Security Council action to end violence in Syria, but not if it would become an “auxiliary of regime-change policy”, Council President Vitaly Churkin said at Headquarters today.

Speaking at a press conference, he expressed concern over the growing acrimony among Council members, certain of whom were becoming inflexible and evincing “impatience and nervousness”.

However, he said much cooperative work had been done in response to crises occurring during the “Arab Spring”, which had posed difficult challenges for the Security Council.  Emerging from the Libyan crisis in particular, Member States had been receptive to the Russian Federation’s draft resolution on controlling the spread of weapons, he said, adding that the Russian Federation had worked well with the United States on “unfreezing” Libyan assets, and there had been consensus support for the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL

Mr. Churkin announced that his country had proposed an updated draft resolution on Syria earlier in the day, and a meeting of experts had been called.  Analysis of the text by Council members would then be awaited, he said, expressing hope for early action in the last week of December..  He recalled that the day before he had proposed a Council press statement welcoming the deployment of a League of Arab States monitoring mission to Syria, commending its objective of ending violence in the country and calling for all parties to act with maximum restraint while allowing the mission to achieve its aims.  Unfortunately, five Council members had objected to the draft statement, he said, pointing out that such statements required consensus.

“When we try to do something positive we are inevitably met with all sorts of concerns about balance,” he said, adding that he had explained that the draft press statement was in no way a substitute for a resolution, but to no avail.  He said he had also tabled a draft press statement on today’s bombings in Damascus, in the standard form used by the Council after terrorist attacks, which was to express the body’s condolences and its determination to fight terrorism.  Noting that the deadline for delegations to object to the text under the “silence procedure” was in two hours’ time, he expressed hope that the draft would be approved, as the standard form had been modified to make it palatable even to those with the most “anti-Damascus” positions.

On Libya, he clarified statements he had made yesterday, explaining that he had reacted to the “unusually explosive rhetoric” of the United States and French Permanent Representatives.  It had included accusations of “bombast and bogus claims” against the Russian Federation, he recalled, commenting: “You cannot beat a Stanford education can you?”

Explaining his country’s call for investigations into Libyan civilian casualties from NATO’s actions, he said resolution 1973 (2011) had been followed by a massive bombing campaign that had exceeded the text’s provisions, but which the Alliance had claimed to have been undertaken to protect civilians.  When news had emerged of civilian casualties, NATO had repeated the claim that everything had been done to protect civilians.  However, a New York Times investigation showed there had indeed been numerous civilian casualties.

He went on to say there had been no reaction to his suggestion that an investigation be held, although one member had proposed an investigation conducted by NATO and Libyan authorities.  Mr. Churkin said he had stressed that the involvement of the United Nations and military experts would be critical to ensuring impartiality.  Some members had said they would support an investigation if it was requested by the Libyan authorities, while others had noted that the International Criminal Court would report in July.

Mr. Churkin stressed that he was not in any way claiming that NATO had intentionally set out to harm civilians.  However, it was important to determine quickly what mistakes had been made and to provide any restitution necessary.  There was no reason to wait for a request by the Libyan authorities, who were just now being put in place.  “If you want to clear the air, you do a quick investigation,” he said, adding that in any case, Libya could not be seen as a standard for future reaction to crisis situations.

Responding to questions, he stressed that Syria and Libya were different situations.  In respect of the Syria text, the Russian delegation remained flexible, but would not drop all references to violence by the extreme opposition.  Similarly, an arms embargo would not happen if imposed only on the Government.  However, all consideration would be given to language on human rights and stopping the violence and impunity, among other matters, he said, emphasizing that it was important that the Council show prudence and not take over responsibility for human rights in a way that impinged on other United Nations bodies.

He said the Council could have prevented much of the violence if it had worked together for a Syrian-led political process, as it had advocated in its 3 August presidential statement, and as had been supported in relation to Bahrain and Yemen.  The crisis could have been ended months ago, but instead it had turned into an opportunity to target Syria for regime change, and now the country was on the brink of civil war, he noted.

In response to other questions, he said that although his country had helped facilitate the Arab League effort, he would coordinate neither with that body or with the Syrian Government on Council drafts.

Asked about his delegation’s frequent references to extremists while it seemed as though thousands of seemingly peaceful demonstrators had been killed, he said peaceful demonstrators had been caught in crossfire and used as human shields by extremists.

Denying that his country was supporting the Assad Government under any circumstance, he said the Russian Federation merely objected to externally driven regime change.  The complexity of the situation must be recognized, he maintained.  What was clear was that “something tragic has been happening in Syria and we have to bring a halt to it as quickly as possible”.

That’s all for this December 26th issue of United Nations Week: News and Views. We’ll be back with the next issue. Meantime, do send your own views on these or other UN-related issues to

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