Visa denial raises interesting debate about hosting the UN

unacto1This week we witnessed a very interesting element of the workings of the United Nations. The UN headquarters is located in New York, and thus the US is required to allow UN diplomats gain entry to the US in order to carry out their work. It does still have the right to refuse diplomatic entry visas, however this is rare as in doing so it gives the US a say in who represents the countries at the UN and its various bodies.

The US on Friday, denied Hamid Aboulatebi, Iran’s chosen UN envoy, a US visa, effectively blocking him from taking up his new role. Despite a 35-year diplomatic malaise in which the countries broke off relations, Iran retained its presence at the UN. Its diplomats and visiting leaders are confined to New York but are approved diplomatic passage for the sole purposes of the UN. The reason behind America’s decision to deny a visa to Mr. Aboulatebi is his involvement in a group linked to the infamous Iran Hostage Crisis between 1979 and 1981. The incident involved 52 American diplomats and citizens being held hostage for 444 days by student supporters of the Iranian Revolution. Mr. Aboulatebi insists his role was ‘limited to translation and negotiation’[1]. Previous denials of visa’s linked to UN work include another person involved in the Hostage Crisis who was sent to speak to the UN in the 1990’s as well as more recently, Omar Al-Bashir, President of Sudan.

The issue at hand here hasScreen Shot 2014-04-13 at 7.48.54 PM wider implications for the running of the UN as a multilateral institution, which should not be beholden to US domestic decisions. The argument is summed up in the American and Iranian positions on the Aboulatebi case. Reaction from America since the decision that the selection “was not viable”, has been mixed. Senator Ted Cruz said the administration “did the right thing barring this acknowledged terrorist from coming into the country”[2]. Conversely, an interesting editorial in the Los Angeles Times points out that Mr Aboulatebi was 22 yrs old when the hostage incident took place. They write that “it is not unknown for youthful radicals to mature into middle-aged statesmen”[3]. An example of this from my own country, Ireland, is Martin McGuinness. The former IRA leader is now Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Only this week, Mr McGuinness attended a state banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth for the Irish President. His attendance at the Queen’s residence, even standing to toast the British Monarch, would have been unthinkable for both sides only a short 10 years ago.

Iran, itself, believed the rejection was “not acceptable” and “in contravention of international law, the obligation of the host country and the inherent right of sovereign member-states to designate their representatives to the United Nations.”[4].

It would be desirable that Nations conducted their affairs at the very highest standards and respected the forum, which the UN offers. It is debatable whether Iran did that in this case. However, it is still worth discussing whether America as host country, does have obligations to see the UN and its work as separate from its normal diplomatic protocols. As Iran refuses to name an alternative, the debate will continue. Analysts are wondering how this spat will affect the recent détente between the US and Iran.

Post written by UNAC-Vancouver Board member and website writer, Barry Hynes.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/12/iran-replacement-un-diplomat-denied-visa-us

[2] http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/middle-east/us-denies-visa-for-iran-s-proposed-un-ambassador-1.1759550

[3] http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-ambassador-to-united-nations-iran-hostage-cr-20140410,0,7573953.story#axzz2yiE6EIE0

[4] http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2014/04/in_a_rare_rebuke_us_blocks_ira.html

General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon Travels to Sochi

unacto1On the eve of the opening ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, it is hard to think of a positive news story over the last month. Between homophobia, unfinished hotels, terror threats, stray dogs and dangerous snowboard half pipes, it has been a tough buildup to Sochi 2014. Ban Ki-Moon arrives in Sochi today to carry the Olympic torch and meet with Russian President, Vladimir Putin ahead of attending the opening ceremony. Many Western leaders have, for one reason or another, decided against attending the grand opening which takes place tomorrow. This could be seen as politically motivated; perhaps it is, but the Winter Olympics is not as mandatory to attend as its summer equivalent would be.

Ban Ki-Moon has arrived in Russia with a single message to spread. That sport is a great unifier. The Olympic movement is perhaps the biggest embodiment of this and it is vital that its important message is not lost.  He praised the power of sport to “promote human rights and unite people regardless of their age, race, class, religion, ability, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.”[1] Ban didn’t explicitly mention Russia’s new laws on Gay propaganda, but he did hit out against discrimination and hatred of any kind. Mr. Ban said that the “Olympics gives us an opportunity to celebrate everyone’s right to compete on equal terms, no matter where they come from or whom they love.” The Secretary-General concluded his remarks saying that he appreciated President Putin’s assurances that there will be “no discrimination whatsoever” at the Sochi Olympics.

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 7.43.12 PMMr. Ban also used the global stage afforded to him by an Olympic audience to call for an “Olympic Truce”[2]. He called on the warring sides in conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic to “lay down their weapons” for the duration of the Olympic games to allow for the humanitarian agencies to reach those most in need and improve the chances of dialogue between the political leaders involved.

Here’s hoping for a safe and progressive games with the athletes, and their extraordinary dedication and commitment to their craft, making the headlines. It would be an added bonus if Mr. Ban’s sentiments could echo around the world bringing positive change via the Olympic message.

Post by UNAC-Vancouver writer Barry Hynes.

A Turbulent Week at the UN

Human Rights Committee Report on the Vatican

This week two UN reports appeared high in the headlines. They dealt specifically with the plight of children. Neither offered any good news, but it is essential that these issues are kept in the mainstream so action to prevent them can be top of the agenda. The first report[1] followed an investigation into the Catholic Church’s handling of Child sex abuse. The report was damning and has elicited a strong rebuke from the Vatican. The UN panel accused the Vatican of “not acknowledging the extent of the crimes committed”, nor have they, in the panel’s view, “taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children.” The panel reiterated a charge against the Vatican, which has been made numerous times before, that it has for decades put its own reputation and interests above those of children who have suffered while under the church’s care.  Pope Francis was the only member of the Vatican leadership who garnered any sort of positive feedback from the panel who described him as “progressive”. The Vatican responded to the report, the first in 14 years, claiming it had been “unfair” and had “distorted” the facts by failing to include the child protection measures that had been implemented by the Holy See.

 Secretary-General Report on Children and Armed Conflict in Syria

The second report[2] was based on UN investigations into the treatment of Syrian children during the country’s three year old civil war. It found that children in Syria are not safe from combatants on either side of the conflict. The report estimated that at least 10,000 children have been killed and “grave violations…had been carried out by all parties to the conflict”. Widespread reports of torture, sexual abuse, incarceration in government institutions and recruitment of child soldiers by the opposition, paint a starkly grim picture of the day to day lives of the most vulnerable in Syria.

UN Mission in South Sudan

In an effort to provide some grains of positivity from this update of the week at the United Nations, I came across some positive news (hidden amongst the awful news) from South Sudan. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous commended as a huge success the UN’s decision to allow 85,000 civilians onto 10 peacekeeping bases around the country, to shelter them from vicious fighting. Ladsous commented that had the action not been taken, “it would have been many thousands or tens of thousands of civilians who would have been killed. I think it shows a great example of what we do.”[3] The UNMISS focuses on three pillars, the protection of civilians, human rights and the creation of an environment in which the humanitarian actors can do their work.

Situation still anarchic in CAR

Since my last post on the Central African Republic, the Muslim Seleka Rebels have disbanded after the coup leader Michel Djotodia, stood down under strong international pressure. He was replaced by Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza. Sectarian fighting between the ‘former’ Muslim Seleka Rebels and the majority Christian militia anti-Balaka has worsened despite the presence of nearly 7,000 African Union and French troops. Reports coming from Human Rights Watch today, detail the instability of the situation. A man, accused of being a former Seleka member, was lynched by members of the CAR armed forces. The callous murder was made all the more ominous as it took place moments after the Interim President’s motorcade had left the area having re-introduced the army as the stabilizing force in the country[4]. The Central African Republic Armed Forces (FACA) faded into the background following the coup last March. It was hoped that its re-emergence today backed by Interim President Samba-Panza, would bring some level of stability. This incident casts huge doubt over that plan.

Post by UNAC-Vancouver website writer Barry Hynes.

Analysis of Nobel Peace Prize nominees

unacto1Nobel Peace Prize nominees are a shining light for all who work for peace.  

The 2013 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The intergovernmental organisation was formed in 1997 to promote and verify the Chemical Weapons Convention which prohibits the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and outlines procedures for their destruction. The organisation hit the headlines recently for its ongoing role in Syria and so quickly emerged as a potential winner of this year’s award. Syria submitted its application to sign up to the treaty and join the organisation as part of the process to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile. The OPCW is not a UN organ; however the two bodies do have a strong working partnership and cooperate on many issues relevant to both parties.

Not intending for one second to overshadow the great work of the OPCW or question the decision of the Peace Prize Committee but for me, what was interesting about the award was learning about some of the lesser known contenders and the tireless and brave work they are doing. The Guardian newspaper launched a poll for their readers to vote on possible candidates for the Nobel Peace prize. There were some very recognizable names and some less so. All have their own stories and struggles which led to their inclusion on the list. One name that quickly stands out was Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban last year for her work promoting women’s right to access education in Pakistan. Hassan Rouhani, the new president t of the Islamic Republic of Iran also made the list. This was due to the early signs that he is steering his country away from the more hostile and sinister route which his predecessor Ahmadinejad had taken.

I didn’t really have any personal preference for who won the prize, they were all very worthy for different reasons. I was struck by the power of the biography given for Teresita Quintos Deles who is an adviser to the president of the Philippines for the Peace Process in Mindanao. Her impact on this protracted conflict is extraordinary. The conflict as described by Simon Tisdall has claimed the lives of nearly 120,000 people over 40 years of fighting between government forces and the Muslim insurgency, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao. Quintos Deles is a former teacher who has worked for years as a women’s right activist. Her calm and patient mediation of the conflict has brought the two sides very close to a peace deal which is being stalled only by a small number of extremists.  Her inclusive approach, ensuring that all stakeholders to the agreement, whether they are in political office or on the streets, felt a part of the peace process, has made the difference.

Another sterling ambassador for peace is Denis Mukwege. Trained as a gynaecologist, Denis has helped thousands of women who suffered the torture of gang-rape during the DRC conflict. He has travelled the world advocating for more to be done to help the victims of this conflict and punish the rebels as well as the DRC and Rwandan governments. His work led to an assassination attempt which he survived. His injuries and fear for his family’s safety, forced him into exile. In early 2013, Mukwege returned to South Kivu to continue his work and treat the women who still suffer from this most gruesome ‘act of war’. Denis Mukwege will never be a household name but his advocacy, bravery and morality in the face of pure evil should be respected and honoured.

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 8.24.09 PMThese people along with many others, offer great hope for humanity and it is important that people who make a real and tangible difference on the ground are recognised for their efforts.

Post written by UNAC-Vancouver website writer, Barry Hynes