Tag Archives: United Nations

Addressing Global Climate Change in Paris

The international community yesterday agreed to an historic international agreement to address global climate change, concluding a two-week meeting in Paris. Representatives from 195 countries agreed to commit all countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions as part of an effort to keep global temperatures from exceeding a 2 degree Celsius target that scientists say could be catastrophic.  The scope of the agreement is particularly impressive, as previous agreement had exempted developing countries, including India and China, from mandatory reductions. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the agreement as “truly a historic moment. For the first time, we have a truly universal agreement on climate change, one of the most crucial problems on earth.” President Obama described the agreement as “a turning point for the world.”

The agreement includes a wide range of initiatives and commitments, including efforts to curb deforestation, mobilization of funding for sustainable energy production, mechanisms to ensure transparency, and regular updating on progress in achieving the goals by individual countries. But Republican Presidential candidates were quick to dismiss the deal, and many said that they would seek to overturn US commitments if they were elected. Environmentalists were also quick to criticize the agreement, arguing it doesn’t go far enough quickly enough to prevent a sharp increase in global temperatures.

What do you think? Do you support the climate change agreement that came out of the COP21 Paris climate talks? Why? Do you think it will be effective in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing global change? Why?

Is It Time to End the Cuban Embargo?

The United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn the US embargo on Cuba earlier this week. Only the United States and Israel voted against the resolution, which passed by a vote of 186 in favor and 2 against. The embargo, put in place by the United States in 1963, less than 10 years after a communist movement led by Fidel Castro seized power in the country. According to the Cuban government, the embargo has cost the island nation at least 109 billion euro. Despite improving relations between the two countries, the embargo remains in place, largely because of political differences between Congressional Republicans and the Obama White House.

What do you think? What purpose does the embargo serve? Has it been effective in achieving that goal? Why? And should the United States lift the embargo against Cuba?

Preventing Torture and the Responsibility to Protect

New and graphic video released by Syrian dissidents shows massive torture regime allegedly orchestrated by Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad. The Coalition for a Democratic Syria, a group of Syrian Americans campaigning for a more interventionist US policy to address what they describe as a genocide being perpetrated by the Syrian regime, says the video highlights the need for a more aggressive international response.

The United Nations Convention against Torture, ratified by 158 countries including the United States and Syria, defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimating or coercing him or a third person, for for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or pother person acting in an official capacity.” States are expected to take measures to prevent torture in territories under their jurisdiction, including investigating accusations of torture. More broadly, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), a still-contested principle in international human rights law, would suggest that the United States and other parties have a responsibility for intervening to prevent gross human rights violations around the world.

What do you think? What responsibility does the international community have to prevent acts of torture in Syria and elsewhere? What limits, if any, exist on that responsibility? Would you support intervention in Syria to protect human rights and prevent torture? Why?

War Crimes in the Middle East

A report issued by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council earlier this week concluded that both the Israeli government and Palestinian militants committed war crimes during the summer 2014 conflict that resulted in more than 2,200 Palestinian deaths—the majority of whom were civilians—and 73 Israeli deaths.

Both sides were quick to condemn the report. In a press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that Israel remains “committed to the rule of law” and noted that the country has repeatedly been forced to defend itself against “Palestinian war crimes.” In Gaza, Hamas authorities complained that the report stablished “a false equality between victims and their killers.”

The report could further efforts by the Palestinian Authority to launch a formal war crimes complaint against Israel with the International Criminal Court, a strategy Palestinian officials already appear to be pursing.

What do you think? Given the report’s findings, does the international community have an obligation to help resolve the longstanding conflict and prevent further civilian casualties? What if anything might be done to de-escalate tensions between Israel and Palestine? And is the Palestinian strategy of pursuing recourse through the International Criminal Court the correct one? Why?

Palestine, Israel, and the International Criminal Court

Palestine-ICCAfter failing to secure full membership in the United Nations earlier this month, the Palestinian government received approval from the UN Secretary General to join the International Criminal Court. Palestinian membership in the ICC opens the possibility of Palestine filing suit against Israel in the ICC, though such a move would likely provoke a sharp response from both Israel and the United States. Both countries opposed both full UN membership and membership in the ICC for Palestine.

Recent moves by the Palestinian Authority signal a growing frustration with US-led negotiations, which have failed to produce significant results to date. The Palestinian government is seeking to pressure the US and Israel by using other international forums. For their part, both the United States and Israel have threatened to withhold funding for Palestine if it continues with such efforts, maintaining that a negotiated settlement is the only foundation for a lasting peace in the Middle East.

What do you think? Is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ strategy of shifting the locus of attention from US-led negotiations to international forums like the United Nations and the ICC likely to increase pressure on Israel to move the peace process forward? How will the US and Israel likely respond? And will their responses be effective?

The Role of the United Nations

 

United Nations Peacekeepers in South Sudan.

United Nations Peacekeepers in South Sudan.

At least 48 people were killed and dozens were injured when a militant group launched an attack against a United Nations compound in Bor, South Sudan, yesterday. The compound is home to more than 5,000 refugees displaced first by tensions between Sudan and South Sudan, and later by growing conflict between government and rebel forces within South Sudan.

In a public statement responding to the attack, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the attack a “serious escalation” and noted that any attack on UN peacekeepers is “unacceptable and constitutes a war crime.” He also called on the South Sudanese government to take immediate steps to ensure the safety and security of UN personnel in the country.

United Nations peacekeepers have been in South Sudan since 2011, and currently has thousands of troops and civilians providing relief to more than 80,000 people displaced by the conflict. But the UN forces have been unable to prevent growing conflict, and as a result the Security Council last month moved to double the size of the UN operation in the country.

What do you think? Can the United Nations bring peace and stability to South Sudan? How? What steps should the organization take? And what should the United Nations avoid doing in the country?

Happy World Happiness Day!

The United Nations has recognized March 20 as the International Day of Happiness! What are you doing to celebrate it?

The United Nations’ recognition is intended to highlight the importance of fundamental freedoms. While measuring happiness can be problematic, the overall findings of the World Happiness Report suggest that levels of economic development—that is, of satisfying basic material needs—is important.  Thus it’s perhaps not surprising, the happiness index ranks the Scandinavian states as the happiest in the world.

So happy International Day of Happiness! What are you doing to celebrate?

Tracking International Migration

migration interThe Migration Policy Institute has produced a new interactive tool that lets us analyze global migration patterns. According to the United Nations, an estimated 232 million people—approximately 3.2 percent of the global population—live as international migrants abroad.

International migration is driven by many factors. Political asylum seekers hoping to escape repression, economic refugees hoping for better lives and new opportunities abroad, and slaves and sex trafficking victims forced abroad against their will are all grouped into the broad category of “international migrants.”

Just ten countries receive half of all international migrants: the United States (45.8 million), Russia (11 million), Germany (9.8 million, Saudi Arabia (9.1 million), the United Arab Emirates (7.8 million), the United Kingdom (7.8 million), France (7.4 million), Canada &7.3 million), Australia (6.5 million), and Spain (6.5 million).  But South-South immigration is quickly increasing, with migration to Asia increasing at the quickest rate since 2000.

Given the complexity of global migration dynamics, the new interactive tool provides a useful way to analyze the data and to note some interesting trends. As the New Republic observes,

The map, which allows you to select by country and by immigrants or emigrants, is a font of fun facts. For instance: While there are 13 million Mexican immigrants in the U.S., more Americans immigrate to Mexico (849,000) than to any other country. Or: There are more Ukrainians in Russia (3 million) than from any other country, and there are more Russians in Ukraine (3.5 million) than from any other country.

So take a look and see what patterns you can find.

Intelligence, Surveillance and Diplomacy in the Digital Age

AP_angela_merkel_cell_phone_spying_jt_131024_16x9_992The governments of Germany and Brazil on Friday asked the United Nations General Assembly to adopt a draft resolution establishing a right to privacy in the digital age. The draft resolution would declare that United Nations is “deeply concerned at human rights violations and abuses that may result from the conduct of any surveillance of communications,” explicitly including “extraterritorial surveillance of communications, their interception, as well as the collection of personal data, in particular massive surveillance, interception and data collection.”

Because it would be passed by the General Assembly, the resolution would not represent a binding commitment. Instead, it expresses the sentiment of the international community. Its strength would thus depend on the ability of Brazil and Germany to garner consensus among the 193 United Nations Member States on the resolution.

The decision of the German and Brazilian governments to introduce the resolution was driven by expanding accusations of widespread US surveillance abroad, including accusations that it had eavesdropped on the cell phone communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. According to one source, such surveillance has been underway for a decade, but President Barack Obama claims he was unaware of the program. Other governments have also weighed in. Spain last week warned of a breakdown in trust as a result of the operations, and the government of France cautioned that such operations could hinder international cooperation on the war on terror.

The Politics of Global Diplomacy

Saudi King Abdullah greets President Barack Obama in 2009.

Saudi King Abdullah greets President Barack Obama in 2009.

Less than 24 hours after being elected to the United Nations Security Council, the government of Saudi Arabia surprised the international community (and its own diplomats) by declining the seat. It’s the first time any country has rejected a seat, which are highly coveted because of the increased influence and prestige they afford a state.

Most observers believed that Saudi Arabia’s role on the Security Council could increase pressure on the organization to address the crisis in Syria, the Iranian nuclear program, and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. But in declining the seat, Saudi officials run the risk of undermining the influence of the country more broadly. As one observer put it, “This is very bad for the image of the country. It’s as if someone woke up in the night and made this decision.” It’s clear that the decision could only have been made at the highest levels, likely requiring the direct approval of King Abdullah himself. Winning the seat required more than two years of diplomatic maneuvering and courting of support in the United Nations General Assembly. But in doing so, Saudi Arabia was also forced to move away from its preferred diplomatic style of discrete negotiation.

What do you think? Did Saudi Arabia make a mistake in declining the UN Security Council seat? Or does the move give the Saudi government greater leeway in addressing issues of concern to it? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.