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UN Week – 10/21/13

March 10, 2014

UN Week 10/21/13 – by John Carey

This blog entry is written by a member of our blogging community and expresses that expert’s views alone.

Saudi surprise.

          An unprecedented event took place last week, after the election of new non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. The following were elected by the General Assembly, for prized two-year terms starting in January: Chad, Chile, Lithuania, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.

Soon after being elected, Saudi Arabia rejected the post for which it had lobbied over many months. According to the October 19-20 Wall Street Journal, the Kingdom had even sent a dozen diplomats to Columbia University to study diplomacy.

Said the Journal, “Saudi Arabia has armed rebels in Syria to defeat President Assad’s government, which in turn has been heavily supported by Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival. Saudi frustration that the U.S. won’t act militarily peaked in recent weeks when the U.S. pulled back from intervening militarily in Syria in favor of a plan to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.”

Suggestions that snubbing the Security Council was the decision by  the Saudi king alone bring to mind the question how far a US president can constitutionally go in making foreign policy decisions all alone. We might recall that in the time of President George W. Bush, the US declined to run for a seat in the UN Human Rights Council. This decision must have been finally made by him alone. He could have agreed with this stance or reversed it. The Department of State can run US foreign policy, but only on behalf of the head of the Executive Branch. Congress can grant or deny funds, use the power of investigation, and grant or withhold treaty ratification, but go no further.

The Gulf Co-operation Council has backed Saudi Arabia’s rejection of its seat on the UN Security Council, praising the Gulf nation’s call for reform. In a statement released on Saturday, the GCC Secretary General, Abdul Latif bin Rashid Al Zayani, “underlined the importance of Saudi Arabia’s call for the realisation of a fundamental reform of the Security Council’s system,” reported Qatar’s state news agency, QNA.

In addition, the news agency also reported the Qatari government’s support of Saudi Arabia’s stance. “The state of Qatar agrees with the reasons outlined by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to turn down a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council,” QNA reported, quoting an official source from the Foreign Ministry.

Meanwhile, other Arab nations appealed to Saudi Arabia to reverse its unprecedented decision to reject the seat. Arab UN ambassadors made the appeal on Saturday after an emergency meeting following Friday’s surprise announcement by the Kingdom to decline the seat in a display of anger over the failure of the international community to end the war in Syria.

Saudi Arabia’s leaders should “maintain their membership in the Security Council and continue their brave role in defending our issues specifically at the rostrum of the Security Council,” said a statement released by Arab states at the UN. It added that it was crucial for Saudi Arabia to represent the Arab and Muslim world on the council “at this important and historical stage, specifically for the Middle East region.”

Many diplomats and analysts have said the Saudi protest was a message to the United States that it wanted a tougher stance on Syria and was angry that Washington had opened contacts with Iran. The Kingdom has been angered by the increasing rapport between Washington and Iran, Saudi Arabia’s old regional foe, which has taken root since President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Administration of Justice in the UN

          A report of October 14th, A/68/5340, from the Advisory Committee on Administration and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), noted that the case load of the Office of Staff Assistance increased 60 % from 2011 to 2012, which “could be explained by a number of factors, including a large number of de facto class action cases, better record-keeping within the Office and increased awareness among staff of the Office’s existence and role.” Id. at 3/13. I assume de facto class action cases consist of the confluence of a number of claims raising similar issues.

“The Advisory Committee affirms the importance of lessons-learned guides on the Tribunals’ jurisprudence for managers, and expects that the lessons learned will produce concrete results in managerial actions.” Id. at 4/13. The concept of “lessons learned” is in wide use at the UN, more than anywhere else that I am aware of. Perhaps in some people’s eyes, wrongly in my view, admitting that you have learned a lesson implies ignorance before the experience.

The true nature and purpose of what the UN calls the administration of justice is revealed in the following quotation: “The Advisory Committee is of the view that an interim independent assessment of the formal system of administration of justice is desirable at this juncture to evaluate the functioning of the system to date and to ensure it is meeting its objectives as a mechanism to effectively resolve labour disputes within the Organization.” Id. at 5/13. When we in the US speak of “labor disputes” we generally mean a struggle between management and organized labor, not a single worker’s problems with the boss.

Finally, “The Secretary-General states that preparation of the code of conduct for external [legal] representatives is under way and will be ready for presentation at the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly.” Id. at 6/13. Since the 68th General Assembly has only just begun, the issuance of such a code of conduct is hardly in the offing. Time will tell whether it will deal primarily with ethical conduct or with a broader range of activities on the part of outside legal counsel.

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