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UN Week – 3/12/12

March 15, 2012

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

by John and Douglas Carey 

Contents of this issue:US position on Palestinian women; US on transparency for UN audit reports; cooperation in outer space.

US position on Palestinian women.

On March 9th, US Deputy Representative to ECOSOC John F. Sam-mis took the floor in the UN Commission on the Status of Women “to express our disappointment with this resolution and to explain our vote against it.” He went on at length to explain the US position:

“The United States, along with many of our international partners, remains committed to supporting the Palestinian people, including Palestinian women, in practical and effective ways. Our deep interest in improving humanitarian conditions is reflected in our ongoing support of vital pro-grams that continue to break ground in integrating gender into the public reform and development process, and in creating environments that enable Palestinian women to advance and lead.

“The United States is the largest bilateral donor to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provides education, healthcare, and social and relief services to five million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. The U.S. government contributed more than $249 million to UNRWA in 2011, and we have contributed $55 million in 2012 thus far. The United States also contributes significant amounts to bilateral assistance and to other UN programs that assist Palestinian women and the entire Palestinian population.

“We remain concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, including reports that Hamas authorities have undertaken efforts to limit women’s freedom of movement and ability to appear in public, and that enforcement of ‘ethical’ crimes in Gaza appears to be on an upward trend. We reiterate our support for additional efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of Gazans and will continue to work with the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and international partners to improve the lives of ordinary people.

“In light of this, we remain troubled at this body’s insistence on including political elements and one-sided condemnations that detract from the real challenges at hand. We implore this Commission to refocus its ener-gy toward our shared goals, as this resolution is unhelpful to all involved.

“President Obama laid out in May 2011 his vision for a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which would involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.

“Our goal remains a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East. We are working closely with the Quartet on our shared goal – resumed direct negotiations between the parties in fulfillment of the goals outlined by the Quartet last September. Only through direct negotiations can the parties address and resolve their differences and achieve lasting peace, and we support all efforts that move us in that direction.”

US on transparency for UN audit reports.

          On March 5th US Ambassador Joseph Torsella spoke in the General Assembly’s 5th Committee about the Office of Internal Oversight Services, saying that the UN “is at a critical juncture in how it responds to one of the defining ideals of our time, one that the Organization itself espouses in its advocacy work: transparency.

“Many governments represented here in this room have been leaders in setting a new standard for public openness and shedding light on the inner workings of public institutions. Many others have made national pledges to join them. Quite simply, when so many governments are advancing these important principles, when people around the world are demanding greater accountability and transparency from all of us, the United Nations should lead, not lag, in these efforts. The United Nations should be held to the same standard, and we should support the Organization’s efforts in that direction.

“This great movement has been animated by the knowledge that when public institutions are more open, they are more responsive and accountable to the people they serve. When public institutions are more open, they build the stakeholder confidence that translates into commitment, resources, and opportunity. And when public institutions are more open, they can defend themselves against those who would use them for private purposes.

“All of that is true at the UN, which is not only a public institution but a global one. Yes, it is accountable to us as member states. But the UN is also accountable to the public each of us represents here –citizens who look to it, who fund it, and who depend on it. Who among us could tell the journalists or researchers, for example, in our home countries with a straight face that we in New York have the right to read these documents, but they do not?

“And yes, these audits will occasionally make public some uncomfort-able facts. But let’s be honest: those facts become public now, and as long as human nature is curious, they will always become public, no matter what we decide. The difference is whether they will become public in a way that sug-gests the UN has something to hide, or in a way that says the UN is a ma-ture, confident, and competent organization, ready and able to identify and correct its own shortcomings.

“And finally, yes, this will likely have an impact on the quality of audits: it will improve them. Official publication of audits will give man-agers a greater sense of ownership and impetus to effect change, and citizens will be able to read both audit findings and management responses. In Under Secretary General Lapointe the Organization has hired a well-regarded and accomplished auditor of international standing, who believes that this step will make her office and the Organization function better. We all should give great deference to her judgment.”

Cooperation in outer space.

 In an October statement just released by the US Mission, Advisor Kenneth Hodgkins noted that, “Over the past year the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and its subcommittees made a substantial contribution to promoting international space cooperation. The Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA) should be congratulated for another year of outstanding support to COPUOS. * * *

 “There were notable achievements this year in COPUOS and its subcommittees that deserve our praise. But for today I would like to focus on a remarkable milestone. Mr. Chairman, this year marks the 50th anniversaries of human spaceflight and the first session of COPUOS.

“The Space Age began as a struggle for security and prestige between two competitors: the Soviet Union and the United States. Today, American astronauts, Russian cosmonauts, and spacefarers from dozens of partner nations in Europe, Asia, and North America live and work together on the International Space Station. In the last 50 years, in fact, men and women from nearly 40 nations have embarked on voyages dedicated to the peaceful exploration of outer space. In the coming years, there will be more.

“This is the great accomplishment of recent history in space. No longer do adversaries compete for primacy in the Cosmos. Now all humankind collaborates to expand human horizons. We work together to promote peaceful cooperation in spaceflight, to expand our capacity to operate in Earth orbit and beyond.

“It is a remarkable accomplishment of which we should all be proud. And our success at transforming the nature of our exploration beyond the confines of our planet has reflected a strong, steady light of hope and peace back onto the Earth itself. If cooperation in space can upend the superpower competition that began the Space Age, might not other great collaborative ventures result in similar triumphs of the human spirit?

“For 50 years the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has enjoyed great success in stimulating international space cooperation and in bringing the benefits of space exploration to a wide range of people and nations around the globe.

“Terrestrial navigation, disaster response and mitigation, global search and rescue, weather and climate monitoring all depend upon space technol-ogy and assets as well as the sharing of data from those assets. This Commit-tee has played a vital role in establishing the framework for international cooperation on these matters.

“COPUOS’s work was critical to the development of the major space treaties that underpin our space activities today. This work continues as the Committee adopts new agenda items to address our evolving and expanding use of space into the future. COPUOS’s success is testimony both to the international coalition that brought it into existence and the commitment of its member states to its essential mission.

“Beyond these practical considerations, human spaceflight has altered our collective frame of reference. Those who have traveled into space share the privilege of seeing Earth as one world, one ecosystem, humanity’s one home, seemingly insignificant against the backdrop of the Universe, yet uniquely precious. The lesson their experience conveys to us is one of peace and cooperation in space.

“The 50thanniversary of human spaceflight is a proper occasion to reflect upon humanity’s spacefaring achievements. Over 500 people, from all six inhabited continents, have flown in space. There have been over 280 human spaceflight missions, including nine to the moon, where the footprints of 12 humans linger in the lunar dust, footprints that will last for millions of years.

“This year marks the end of 30 years of Space Shuttle operations, ferrying crew and cargo to and from space. The International Space Station stands out as the most ambitious international engineering project in human experience, and as the most enduring international space effort. With the assembly of the International Space Station at completion, and a full-time crew of six, a new era of utilization for research is beginning. We expect its operations to continue at least until 2020. Just last year, the Heads of 30 space agencies took the stage together in Washington, DC, to celebrate the space achievements of all nations, underscoring their ongoing commitment to cooperation in space exploration. It is the unique blend of unified and diversified goals among the world’s space-faring nations that will lead to improvements of life on Earth for people of all nations.

“This is also a proper occasion to renew our commitment to realizing our common aspirations. When we consider just how far we have come, we can imagine what we may achieve 50 years hence, on the occasion of the one-hundredth anniversary of COPUOS and human spaceflight. Our technology has freed us from the tyranny of gravity; our commitment to international fora such as COPUOS frees us to dream of a boundless future in space for humankind, a future free of earthbound tyranny and mistrust.

“COPUOS should continue in its role to stimulate international cooperation, helping nations work together to develop the technologies we need to take humans beyond Earth orbit and on to other planets. Continued and expanded cooperation in human space exploration means all nations—space-faring or not—will find their horizons broadened, their knowledge enhanced, and their lives improved.”

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