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UN Week 7/1/13

September 3, 2013

This column was on hiatus between April 8 and July 1.  Welcome back! This blog entry is written by members of our blogging community and expresses those experts’ views alone.

John Carey, Editor

In this issue: Rice’s UN Swan Song; Codex Alimentarius Commission.

On June 25th, our number one UN Ambassador, Susan Elizabeth Rice, took a look back wards while preparing to move forwards as our next US National Security Advisor. She began by reflecting “on my four and a half years here at the UN as the best job I have ever had – fun, sometimes frustrating, but always rewarding.

“And it’s been rewarding for two reasons.“First, the people. I’ll greatly miss working with such a committed and talented group of individuals: my fellow Ambassadors, our amazing team at the U.S. Mission, the Secretary-General and his dedicated staff at the UN, the NGO community, and, of course, you guys, who work day in and day out to tell the people of the world what’s happening at the United Nations.

“The second reason, however, is because of the vital work of the United Nations that I have been so privileged to be part of since January 2009. It’s been a remarkable period for the United States, for the United Nation, and the world as we have carried out President Obama’s pledge to bring a new era of engagement to the United Nations. We’ve improved relations with allies, built and strengthened new partnerships, and exerted effective American leadership on issues that matter most to the United States. We’ve repaid past arrears and met our financial commitments. We joined the Human Rights Council believing that American engagement would improve its performance, and it has. We have worked constructively with a range of partners on a wide variety of important issues in the General Assembly.

“This approach, taken as a whole, has enabled key accomplishments of the last several years. The Security Council has levied the stiffest sanctions ever against Iran and North Korea, imposing real costs for nuclear proliferation and the violation of their international obligations. We adopted a mandate that saved countless lives in Libya. We acted to rectify a stolen election in Cote d’Ivoire; supported the birth of a new nation in South Sudan; and worked tirelessly to prevent renewed conflict between North and South.

“This Council has also supported political transformations in Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. We’ve taken action to pursue President Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons, including the first comprehensive Security Council resolution on nuclear issues in a decade—Resolution 1887. In addition, the U.S. has strengthened and reformed the nature and implementation of UN sanctions to make them tougher, more innovative, and more targeted.

“Just as important, we’ve together championed human rights and universal values, leading efforts to call to account the world’s worst abusers. We’ve joined with colleagues to advance women’s equality, protection, and empowerment around the world, to integrate more fully women’s issues into the work of the United Nations, including through the establishment of UN Women. Together with our partners, we’ve helped lead a remarkable shift on LGBT issues at the United Nations by winning accreditation for LGBT NGOs, opposing discrimination and violence against LGBT persons, and working to make clear to all that LGBT rights are human rights.

“We’ve forcefully opposed unbalanced and biased actions against Israel across the UN system, standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel on principle—regardless of whether such actions were popular in these halls.

“We’ve pushed for significant progress towards a more efficient and fiscally responsible UN—saving hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars for Americans and people around the world. We supported the OIOS to be a strong and independent watchdog of the United Nations and set a new standard for transparency in the UN system by securing agreement to make its internal audit reports—as well as those of the New York funds and programs—publicly available. We’ve advocated successfully for reforms to modernize how the United Nations delivers services to the field and pressed the UN to improve its personnel management policies.

“And yet, I remain acutely aware that the work and responsibility of the United Nations is never finished. Conflict, abuse, atrocities, poverty, and suffering persist in too many places. I particularly regret that the Security Council has failed to act decisively while more than 90,000 Syrians have been killed and millions more displaced. The Council’s inaction on Syria is a moral and strategic disgrace that history will judge harshly.

“We have also not achieved desperately needed humanitarian access by the government of Sudan to the Two Areas, where millions are suffering. In Darfur, tragically, conflict and killing persist.

“There remain big questions about the future of development—including how to forge a post-2015 development agenda that continues to eradicate poverty and foster economic growth in a sustainable way. And as President Obama discussed today, we have significant work ahead to prepare for and mitigate the grave consequences of climate change.

“In short, much remains to be done to modernize the United Nations to enable it to meet the challenges of the 21st century and realize the aspirations of its founders. This includes necessary follow through on important reforms related to peacekeeping, whistleblower protections, and financial and accounting practices.

“But I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished together here. I’m also excited about the work that lies ahead, which will require even stronger international partnership. Without question, the United States will be ably and energetically represented by my nominated successor, Samantha Power, who is now before the Senate, knock on wood, for confirmation.

“And rest assured that even though you won’t be seeing my smiling face every day, I will still be reading your stories, following the United Nations closely from Washington, and looking forward to the next time our paths cross.

“And let me just say before I conclude, a special thank you to my tireless, incredibly skilled, and long-suffering press team, especially Erin and Payton and Kurtis, who have served me and the Mission so well. * * *

“I am gratified that the people of Cote d’Ivoire and South Sudan have at least the prospect of futures that they have chosen freely and democratically. And I could go on, but also I am particularly proud—as I mentioned today, this month is LGBT Pride Month. Tonight, my last official social event will be to host a dinner in the honor of LGBT Pride Month. And what we have done here in the UN on behalf of human rights—the rights of all people regardless of their race, their religion, their sexual orientation, or any other descriptor—is something also that I am very proud of.

“Low moments—those too have been a few. But I think, to be very frank as I suggested in my statement, the repeated failure of the Security Council to unify on the crucial issue of Syria, I think, is a stain on this body and something that I will forever regret, even though I don’t believe that outcome is a product of the action of the United States or its closest partners. * * * “the Security Council has three times voted, and three times has faced a double veto—not by the United States but by Russia and China—of very mild resolutions aimed at beginning to address the situation in Syria. Those resolutions didn’t contain sanctions. They didn’t contain the treat of the use of force, much less authorize the use of force. And yet we’ve been paralyzed. And I don’t know how, in any circumstance, one would ascribe that to a failure of U.S. policy or U.S. leadership when the vast majority of the Council was ready and willing to move ahead. * * *

“First of all, in the context of the United Nations, we have repeatedly—in the case of North Korea—been able to strengthen and tighten the sanctions regime because the entire international community is of one mind that North Korea cannot and will not be a nuclear state accepted by the international community, that the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is an imperative, and we are committed to ensuring that. And on that, we are wholly united. * * *

“Well, look, I think we’ve seen in this region of the world and many other parts of the world that these struggles can be long and costly, but rarely can I think of an instance in recent history where, at the end of the day, the aspirations—the unified aspirations—of the people for freedom and to chart their own future are ultimately suppressed. And I think—I’m hopeful that the Syrian people will have the opportunity to chart their own future, to do so in a fashion consistent with universal values and principles. And certainly the United States is committed to supporting them in those efforts, and we will remain so. * * *

“As I came here, and as I leave it, I am very much of the view that the United Nations, despite its many imperfections, remains an indispensible institution. It is the only venue in which all countries in the world come together, and it is the only venue in which the decisions of our legal body, particularly the Security Council, have the weight of international law and the weight of international legitimacy. And its decisions are binding on every country in the world, and that is itself indispensible.”

Codex Alimentarius Commission

          This international food standards body is holding its annual meeting right now in Rome while celebrating its 50th anniversary. The Commission has 185 member states, 220 observers and one member organization, the European Union.          During the five-day meeting, participants will discuss the approval for dozens of commodity standards, including: Fresh and processed fruit and vegetables (e.g. avocados, chanterelles, pomegranates, table olives, date paste, and tempe); Fish and fishery products (smoked fish, abalone). The Commission will also consider hundreds of safe maximum limits for pesticide residues and veterinary drugs and provisions for food additives. Other issues up for discussion include:

Prevention and reduction of ochratoxin A (a cancer-causing contaminant) in cocoa and of hydrocyanic acid in cassava;

Revised maximum limits for lead in juices

Risk assessment guidance on hazards in animal feed;

Guidelines for National Food Control Systems

Guidance on use of claims for food “free of added salt” to ensure correct consumer information

          Since the first session in 1963, Codex has made a major contribution to ensure that the ever growing international food trade (currently worth US$ 1,356 billion) functions safely and fairly and make sure that consumers are well informed on ingredients and nutrition properties.

          By offering harmonized standards, guidelines and codes of practice that are accepted as an international benchmark for food safety and quality, Codex lowers barriers to trade, drives freer movement of, and ensures a minimum standard in food products moving among countries. That benefits some of the 500 million small-scale farmers  in the developing world, as well as producers in industrialized countries and consumers worldwide.

          However, many challenges remain. Although the overall burden of foodborne illness is not yet known, WHO estimates that foodborne and waterborne diarrhoeal diseases taken together kill about 2.2 million people annually, most of them children.

Provisional meeting agenda:

Codex Alimentarius website:

FAO program on food safety and quality:

WHO program on food safety:

Twitter hashtag: #codex2013

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