Tuesday, September 13, 2005

UN reform final outcome document - agreement reached (various news reports)

(Update, September 14, 2005: I've added links to various news stories on the final agreement. Of these stories, probably the most useful guide to what is in the final outcome draft is the Economist. The most interesting from the standpoint of internal debate is the Guardian, with its note that GA President Ping simply removed all remaining points of contention from the final draft.)

The Economist story is here:

Hardly radical, but it’s a start
September 14th 2005
From The Economist
Global Agenda

Diplomats have agreed on a draft package of reforms to the scandal-hit United Nations as world leaders gather for a summit in New York. The document they are expected to approve is, naturally, full of fudges and omissions. But it is better than nothing

Get article background

IT HAS been billed as the biggest gathering of world leaders ever: a five-year review of the Millennium Summit that set ambitious development goals, and a chance to modernise the United Nations. But the world leaders gathering in New York this week to review a package of reforms to the world body will be given a document that falls short of many of the aims of its negotiators.

In the run-up to the summit, the beleaguered UN was wincing from a body blow. In a devastating report last week, the independent committee of inquiry into the UN-administered oil-for-food programme in Iraq castigated virtually every aspect of the world body, including its Security Council. The report painted a grim picture of corruption both inside and outside the UN system, with evidence of bribes, kickbacks, smuggling and other illicit deals going on throughout the vast programme.

In this environment, both fans and detractors of the UN agreed that it needed thoroughgoing reforms. The “draft outcome document”, which will be put before world leaders on Wednesday September 14th, tackles a range of crucial issues: humanitarian intervention, the definition of terrorism, creating a so-called Peacebuilding Commission, a new human-rights council, development, management reform, and expanding membership of the Security Council, the UN’s most powerful institution. Though some progress was made in the pre-summit negotiations, the need for consensus meant that many worthy aims were watered down.

The main issues tackled by the negotiators were:

• Humanitarian intervention

The UN Charter prohibits intervention “in matters which are essentially within the jurisdiction of any state”. But a panel of experts argued in a high-level report in December 2004 that the principle of non-intervention could no longer be used to shield genocidal acts and other atrocities. The UN should assume a “responsibility to protect” civilian populations when governments are “unable or unwilling” to do so. Military action should be authorised by the Security Council as a last resort.

The United States was wary of any wording that smacked of a legal obligation, but in the end the language of the “responsibility to protect” section is fairly strong: the international community “has the responsibility” to use peaceful means to prevent or stop atrocities, and the document states that “we are prepared to take collective action” under Chapter VII—the one that allows the Security Council to authorise military force—should peaceful means fail.

• The Security Council

The council’s membership has become increasingly anachronistic and unrepresentative. But apart from the addition of four non-permanent members in 1963, bringing total membership to 15, it has eluded all reform. This is partly because of the rivalries of nations competing for seats and partly because of the blocking power of the five permanent, veto-wielding members: America, Russia, China, France and Britain. India, Brazil, Japan and Germany formed an alliance, dubbed the G4, to press jointly for permanent seats. But their hopes dimmed at the end of July when they failed to get the backing of the 53-member African Union, vital for winning the two-thirds majority vote in the General Assembly required for a Charter amendment. All plans for Security Council reform are now in tatters and may remain so. The draft document, while agreeing that the council should be made more representative, fails to say how.

• Development

Developing countries, supported by members of the European Union and some others in the rich world, want wealthy countries to commit to giving 0.7% of their GDP per year in development aid. The Americans, while they have increased their (unusually low) levels of foreign assistance under George Bush, think it is more important that aid recipients reform themselves, tackle corruption and prepare for investment.

Compromise language emerged in the end: America is prepared to see the document recognise that some countries are committed to the 0.7% goal, while it will also reaffirm the need for action by countries that receive aid. Development wonks fear that this is nothing new, and that crucial momentum for “eradicating extreme poverty”, begun with the Millennium Summit in 2000, will be lost. Nicola Reindorp of Oxfam, a non-governmental organisation, says “the summit is in danger of failing before it has begun”, calling the language on development a showcase of past commitments, with nothing new to offer.

• Terrorism

The draft says “we strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms”, and calls on the General Assembly to finish drafting a convention on terrorism this year. But in the end, the negotiators failed in their main task: to define terrorism. An earlier draft included strong language that “deliberate and unlawful targeting and killing cannot be justified or legitimised by any cause or grievance…Any such action intended to cause death or serious bodily harm…to intimidate a population or to compel a government…cannot be justified on any grounds.” But developing countries wanted a declaration that the fight against terrorism should not be used as an excuse to crush “the legitimate right of peoples under foreign occupation to struggle for their independence”—a nod to militants in places like Iraq and the West Bank. This was rejected by other countries, and in the end the terrorism section included no definition.

• Peacebuilding Commission

The summit will establish a Peacebuilding Commission to help prevent post-conflict nations from relapsing into violence. But a row over its control has meant that crucial details are left out of the document. The Americans and Europeans want it to be set up under the auspices of the Security Council, with the council’s five permanent members assigned automatic membership of the new body. Under the Security Council, they point out, the new commission would be taken seriously. But developing countries, which think the Security Council—especially the permanent five—already has too much power, want the Peacebuilding Commission to come under the General Assembly or the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), where their representation is stronger. Joint management by the Security Council and ECOSOC is a possible compromise but could leave the commission effectively rudderless. A final decision has been postponed, though the draft calls on the commission to begin work by the end of the year.

• Human Rights Council

Rich countries, including America, want the UN’s discredited 53-member Commission on Human Rights to be replaced by a smaller, more powerful Human Rights Council. But this is being fiercely opposed by those who have most to fear—Zimbabwe, China and Cuba are all current members.

Although the principle of a new body has survived, there is no agreement on its structure, including how many members it should have, who should be included and who excluded. America wants countries currently under UN sanctions or investigation for human-rights violations excluded, while countries including Pakistan and Egypt fought to keep it much as is. Leaving these details for further discussion down the road, the draft document might bury the new Human Rights Council for some time. In one bright spot for human rights, however, the budget for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (an institution that is separate from, and more credible than, the Human Rights Commission) will be doubled.

• Non-proliferation

This part generated some of the fiercest disputes of all and, in the end, no agreement. The Americans wanted greater emphasis on arms control, believing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction constitutes “the pre-eminent threat to peace and security”. Developing countries wanted the West to make new commitments to get rid of its own weapons, including nuclear warheads. They also wanted action against small weapons, which threaten poor countries far more than nuclear terrorism does. The draft makes no mention of action on either. Kofi Annan, the UN’s secretary-general, told reporters on Tuesday that this omission was “a real disgrace”.

• UN management

In the wake of the oil-for-food scandal, America especially wanted to see a thorough overhaul of the UN’s working practices. Currently the secretary-general does not have enough power over budgets and personnel to oversee the sprawling organisation effectively, and America wanted to see him given more, in exchange for greater oversight. It also wanted more authority moved from the General Assembly, where every country has an equal vote, to the secretariat, but this was resisted by developing countries (which have a majority in the General Assembly).
In the end, the two sides could not agree. However, the document does urge a strengthening of the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services, and a full, independent and external audit of the UN and its agencies, which should make further recommendations to the secretary-general for reform. This is a start. John Bolton, America’s new ambassador to the UN, said the new measures “represent steps forward, but this is not the alpha and the omega, and we never thought it would be.”

The usually outspoken Mr Bolton’s subdued language was echoed in modest statements from other ambassadors as well. The reform document is not a big leap forward. Perhaps it will be, at least, the alpha if not the omega. But continuing reform of the kind Mr Bolton, Mr Annan, and others would like to see will require, most of all, a continued engagement by the UN’s member states—and especially its most powerful, often mercurial, one.

The Washington Post story is here:

U.N. Scales Back Plan of ActionAssembly Approves Declaration on Goals, Internal Reform
By Colum Lynch and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post
Wednesday, September 14, 2005; A06

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 13 -- The U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday adopted a declaration on the need to combat world poverty, promote human rights and strengthen management of the organization, but only after negotiators scaled back the document because of intractable disagreements among nations on sensitive issues.

The 35-page declaration will be endorsed by an estimated 170 world leaders at a three-day summit on U.N. reform that is to begin Wednesday, and delegates expressed disappointment that it had fallen short of Secretary General Kofi Annan's aspirations for a broad reorganization of the 60-year-old organization.

Still, they voiced relief that the entire process had not collapsed, which would have left the summit with no tangible result, and they highlighted relatively modest achievements in the document. Those included provisions that call for an increase in foreign aid, condemn terrorism and underscore the obligation of states to halt genocide and ethnic cleansing. Only Cuba and Venezuela voiced reservations about Tuesday's agreement.

The negotiators were forced to put off action on some of the thorniest and most ambitious goals, including proposals to expand the U.N. Security Council, to create an independent auditing board to scrutinize U.N. spending, and to impose basic membership standards for a new Human Rights Council so that chronic rights abusers will not be able to join.

Various proposals for expanding membership in the Security Council, for example, had been opposed by countries that felt they would lose out in the deal. And some developing countries fought proposals for changes in U.N. management practices, which they felt would shift authority from the General Assembly to the secretary general's office.

Negotiators also failed to agree on provisions calling on governments to halt the transfer of weapons of mass destruction to terrorists and urging nuclear weapons states to abide by their commitments to dismantle their atomic arms.

Annan said that the members' inability to adopt these measures on disarmament and nonproliferation constituted "a real disgrace" and that he hoped world leaders would see this as "a real signal to pick up the ashes and show leadership."

"There were governments that were not willing to make the concessions necessary," Annan told reporters after the declaration was adopted by the General Assembly. "There were spoilers, let's be quite honest about that."

Still, Annan said he was pleased that the declaration reiterated the U.N. commitment to meet targets for slashing rates of poverty, disease and child mortality and that it called for creation of the new human rights council and a peace-building commission to oversee postwar recoveries. "I would have wanted more, all of us would have wanted more, but it's an important step forward," he said. "I think we can work with what we've been given."

The negotiations provided the first test of American diplomacy at the United Nations since President Bush bypassed congressional confirmation to install John R. Bolton as U.S. ambassador for 17 months.

Bolton on Tuesday demonstrated sufficient flexibility to reach agreements on some issues, while fending off provisions that might have restricted U.S. prerogatives and the freedom to use force unilaterally. Bolton, who led efforts to block the disarmament provision, succeeded in eliminating language that would have urged countries to support a host of international treaties or organizations, including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the International Criminal Court, which the United States opposes.

But Bolton failed to secure support for a number of key U.S. priorities, including the provision urging states to halt the transfer of the world's deadliest weapons to terrorists and measures intended to expand Annan's authority over hiring and to strengthen the oversight of U.N. finances.

Bolton said that while he would have preferred stronger provisions to ensure greater accountability in the U.N. bureaucracy, Tuesday's agreement would lead to a "somewhat improved U.N."

"But it would be wrong to claim more than is realistic and accurate about what these reforms are," he said. "They represent steps forward, but this is not the alpha and the omega, and we never thought it would be."

"This is not the end of the reform effort," added Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns. "It really is the beginning of a permanent reform effort that must be underway at the United Nations."

Despite setbacks, Burns said that Tuesday's agreement would eliminate the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission, which includes Zimbabwe, Sudan and other human rights violators. But he acknowledged that "it is going to be a difficult exercise" to win the votes in the General Assembly to create a human rights council that reflects the wishes of the United States.
Burns said that although the United States and other governments had failed to include a clear condemnation of the deliberate targeting and killing of civilians, they had succeeded in extracting an Arab-backed provision that would have excluded so-called national liberation movements that target civilians from being labeled terrorists.

"We have broken the back of this ideological debate here about what constitutes terrorism," Burns said, noting that "sometimes in diplomacy defeating negative measures is very important." U.N. delegates, however, said Arab governments would insist on protections for armed groups fighting foreign occupation in an international convention on terrorism that is being negotiated by U.N. members.

Human rights and development advocates said the membership had squandered a rare opportunity to improve the organization, but praised the negotiators for endorsing the creation of an international obligation to halt attempted genocide.

"There is very little to celebrate," said Nicola Reindorp of Oxfam International. But governments "are showing that they can act boldly, by endorsing their responsibility to protect civilians from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity."


The Guardian story is here:

Poor nations lose in watered-down UN document
Final draft a bland version of Gleneagles promises
No new money for aid and debt relief

Ewen MacAskill in New York and Larry Elliott
Wednesday September 14, 2005

Diplomats at the United Nations finally reached agreement last night on a watered-down document to reform the organisation and tackle poverty just hours before leaders arrived for the start of a world summit.

This final draft, to be presented to the leaders for publication on Friday, fell far short of ambitious proposals for an overhaul of the UN which was set out earlier this year by Kofi Annan, the secretary general.

Development campaigners expressed disappointment at the lack of progress on aid, debt and, particularly, trade. Ambassadors at the UN, who have been engaged in tortuous negotiations for weeks, made one final push yesterday to find consensus but soon abandoned the attempt.
Instead, Jean Ping, Gabon's ambassador to the UN and president of the general assembly, unilaterally removed all the remaining points of contention, leaving in place a bland final draft. It is far removed from the original plan to reform the UN to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The general assembly voted in favour of the final draft, which is unlikely to be changed between now and Friday.

About 149 leaders are scheduled to attend the summit, which would make it the biggest-ever world gathering. The general assembly will be addressed by George Bush this morning, and Tony Blair this evening.

Campaigners and diplomats who favoured a bold approach put much of the blame for the failure on John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, who introduced hundreds of late changes to the original document.

Mr Bolton said he was pleased with the final draft: "This is not the alpha and omega and we never thought it would be."

The US ambassador, who had argued that UN reform was too important to be done in a rush, said: "It was only ever going to be the first step."

Oxfam described the development section of the final draft as a "recycling of old pledges". Save the Children said the chance of a historic breakthrough on poverty "had all but slipped through the fingers of world leaders".

The final draft document shows progress has been made during negotiations on intervention to prevent genocide, but limited progress on the creation of two UN bodies, a human rights council and a peace-building commission. There is no new money for aid or debt relief, and the language on fair trade has been weakened. Nor has there been movement on climate change, arms proliferation or expansion of the security council.

The negotiations have been caught in a squeeze between Mr Bolton, and a group of countries that one diplomat referred to as "the awkward squad", which includes Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela.

Mr Blair, who will meet Mr Bush this morning, is worried that progress made at the G8 meeting at Gleneagles in July on aid and debt may end up being reversed.

The prime minister believes elections in Germany and Japan, together with the impact of Hurricane Katrina in the US, may make it more difficult to persuade G8 members to make good on their promises and to widen the Gleneagles agreement to other rich countries.

Although some development campaigners have criticised the government for exaggerating the success of the Gleneagles deal, Mr Blair believes he pushed the G8 as far as possible. A Downing Street source said: "We always said Gleneagles was just a beginning and it is going to take quite a fight to build on it. There is the risk of a backlash."

The NY Times story is here:

September 14, 2005 NYT

U.N. Adopts Modest Goals On Reforms and Poverty


UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 13 - The General Assembly unanimously approved a scaled-down statement of goals on Tuesday that Secretary General Kofi Annan said would still give world leaders gathering Wednesday a basis for recommendations to reform the organization and combat poverty.

Loud cheers from the delegates, however, could not disguise widespread disappointment at the weakening of the 35-page document.

When Mr. Annan first proposed the statement, it represented an ambitious blueprint for trying to balance the concerns of great powers over security, human rights and management efficiency with the developing world's needs for increased assistance and measures to cut poverty. In the end, virtually every section underwent severe cutbacks.

"Obviously, we didn't get everything we wanted," Mr. Annan said. "With 191 member states, it's not easy to get an agreement. But we can build on it." He noted that it represented progress in setting up a human rights council to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission and a new peace-building commission. He also singled out language on how to fight terrorism and establish means for international intervention when countries failed to protect their citizens from genocide.

He complained pointedly, however, about the elimination in the final version of language covering nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, labeling the exclusion a "disgrace" at a time when the world feared a spread of unconventional weapons.

John R. Bolton, the American ambassador, said the United States was satisfied with the outcome, which he said matched the limited hopes he had had for the document.
"It would be wrong to claim more than is realistic and accurate about what these reforms are," he said. "They represent steps forward, but this is not the alpha and omega, and we never thought it would be."

The General Assembly vote ended three weeks of tense talks at which regional rivalries and national ambitions succeeded in scuttling attempts by a majority of nations to act in the broader United Nations interest. The continuing debate exposed in high profile the kind of indecisiveness that the document was supposed to address.

"There were governments that were not willing to make the concessions necessary," Mr. Annan said. "There were spoilers also in the group, let's be quite honest about that."

In his discussions with member states, he said, "I've tried to get them to understand that in our interconnected world, we need to look at issues in much broader terms rather than narrow national interests."

In answer to a question, he said he wished voting procedures could be changed so that a small minority of nations could not block the will of a large majority, as has occurred during recent weeks.

Mr. Bolton, a vocal critic of the organization's practices, seized on the events to say: "This is the way the U.N. operates. And it goes to the question, which is a much longer term question, as to whether the culture of decision-making at the U.N. is the most effective for the organization, and that's something that's not going to be resolved today or tomorrow."

The three-day meeting is expected to attract more than 170 presidents and prime ministers. The document they will be asked to approve does create a human rights council, but it leaves out any mention of its size and duties and drops language proposing that membership be subject to a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly. That was meant to insure that notorious rights offenders would not become members. While it condemns terrorism "in all forms," language saying that making targets of civilians is unjustified was deleted in exchange for dropping language exempting movements to resist occupation.

Management reform does not include strengthening the Secretary General's office, which is considered essential if the office is to have the flexibility to act decisively. In this case, a small group of developing countries blocked action out of fear of seeing power taken away from the General Assembly, where their voices are heard but where real decision-taking is discouraged.

Bloomberg reports that agreement was reached on a final outcome document for the UN summit that opens tomorrow morning in New York, here:

UN Diplomats Reach Accord on Restructuring World Body (Update2)

Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) -- United Nations member governments agreed today on a 35-page declaration of steps to restructure and improve management and oversight of the world body that U.S. President George W. Bush and other world leaders will be asked to endorse this week.

``The adoption of this document is a tremendous achievement,'' U.K. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said after the General Assembly adopted the text. ``For us the challenge will be to maintain the progress of what has been agreed today.''

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton and envoys representing 32 other nations finished negotiations behind closed doors on a declaration for 150 world leaders to adopt on Sept. 16. Cuba and Venezuela were the only nations to oppose the text.

Bush and other heads of state and government began gathering in New York today to mark the 60th anniversary of the UN's creation. Bush visited UN headquarters today for a 40-minute meeting with Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and ``expressed his support'' for the world body, according to a UN statement.

Diplomats agreed yesterday to create a human rights council to replace the Geneva-based commission that has been criticized for including nations such as Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe accused of human rights abuses. They also accepted a peace-building commission to aid post-conflict reconstruction and institution- building efforts.

Independent Ethics Office

The final text today affirmed the role of the secretary- general as ``chief administrative officer'' and asked Annan to make proposals for the ``most efficient use of the financial and human resources available to the organization.'' It also called for Annan to ``submit details on an ethics office with independent status.''

That paragraph resolved a debate in which Egypt and other developing nations said the General Assembly should retain its traditional authority over personnel matters.

Improvements in management and oversight became an imperative for Bolton and other envoys after former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker led an investigation into corruption of the $69.6 billion UN-administered Iraq aid program that he said weakened the world body. Volcker said changes were ``urgently needed.''

The declaration includes commitments to UN Millennium Development Goals such as halving world poverty by 2015, and to the target of allocating 0.7 percent of the gross national product of industrialized nations to development aid. Bolton initially opposed those references, then compromised on their inclusion.

Security Council

A general endorsement of expansion of the Security Council to make it ``more broadly representative, efficient and transparent'' was included. The formula for expanding the 15-member panel, and which nations will get new permanent seats, was left to future talks.
The U.S. compromised on a statement ``underlining the central role'' of the United Nations in the areas of peace and security, development and human rights. ``We don't like it, but we'll take it,'' U.S. deputy Ambassador Anne Patterson said.

Bolton told reporters the declaration would lead to a ``somewhat improved UN.''

Disarmament Dropped

Details on how to determine membership of the Human Rights Council also were left to further talks, and a proposed section on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation was been dropped from the text.

``We didn't get everything we wanted, but it is an important step forward,'' Annan told reporters. ``On non-proliferation, we failed twice this year. I hope the leaders will see this as a signal to pick up the ashes and show leadership on this important issue.''

The first failure came during a month-long nuclear nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament conference in May that ended without agreement.

``There were hopes that this summit would reinvigorate disarmament, but governments have passed up an historic opportunity to do so,'' Greenpeace disarmament official Nicky Davies said in an e-mailed statement. ``The failure to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at this summit and to also put in place a moratorium on all nuclear re-processing means that disputes such as those in Iran are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. The world is now a far more dangerous place.''

Amnesty International said in an e-mailed statement that the ``proposed text on the Human Rights Council is woefully inadequate in failing to call for minimum elements essential for an improved and more authoritative human rights body.'' Amnesty International blamed China and Russia for blocking agreement on the makeup of the new rights body.


``We have a document that many people will criticize from many directions, but still we have one that will lead us forward,'' Swedish diplomat Jan Eliasson, who will be president of the UN General Assembly for the next year, told reporters.

The beginning of the 60th session of the General Assembly, originally scheduled for 10 a.m. local time today, was postponed to allow talks on the summit declaration to continue.

``This very ambitious reform proposal represents a major step,'' Eliasson said. ``The secretary-general set the bar very high with what he wanted. What is coming out, if you compare to other partial reform efforts, will rank as a major step.''

To contact the reporter on this story:
Bill Varner in United Nations at wvarner@bloomberg.net.
Last Updated: September 13, 2005 18:56 EDT

And here is the Reuter's report.

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