UN Reform & multilateralism

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China must not shape the future of human rights at the UN
Kyle Matthews & Margaret McCuaig-Johnston
In 2014, President Xi Jinping began encouraging Chinese officials to move into leadership positions in international organizations and standards bodies to ensure that China’s objectives and policies were given full influence. We can see now this policy is having an impact as China exhorts these multilateral institutions to expel Taiwan from membership and adopt Chinese priorities. Now human rights have been added to China’s sphere of influence.
(The Conversation) While most of the world is occupied trying to manage the spread of the coronavirus, another frightening development is taking place at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
China, a known human rights abuser, is being given the power to influence the investigation of human rights issues around the world.
The non-governmental organization UN Watch recently revealed that the People’s Republic of China had been selected to join a special panel tasked with selecting the next group of special rapporteurs. This panel is responsible for assigning at least 17 positions over the next year that will oversee a whole slew of important human rights issues.
If China joins the panel, it will immediately have the power to appoint or nix global investigators on freedom of speech, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and health.
“Allowing China’s oppressive and inhumane regime to choose the world investigators on freedom of speech, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances is like making a pyromaniac the town fire chief.” – Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch
NB: Fang Liu is the current Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Prior to joining ICAO, Liu served the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC), where over the course of twenty years she eventually became responsible for China’s international air transport policy and regulations, bilateral and multilateral relations with international and regional organizations. (see: UN aviation agency fails to share virus information with Taiwan.)

19 April
US and Russia blocking UN plans for a global ceasefire amid crisis
Resolution strongly supported by dozens of countries, human rights groups and charities
(The Guardian) The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, called for an immediate end to fighting involving governments and armed groups in all conflict areas almost one month ago. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said.
Yet despite strong support for a universal truce from dozens of countries, including leading US allies such as Britain, France and Germany, as well as human rights groups, charities and the pope, the Trump administration is refusing to be bound by the measure.
In an attempt to break the impasse, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has proposed a draft security council resolution which attempts to overcome US and Russian objections by, in effect, making it impossible to enforce.

14 April
The United Nations Has a Bad Case of COVID-19
Through neglect and lack of leadership among Western democracies, authoritarian China has accumulated undue influence at the UN, writes J. Michael Cole, Taipei-based senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa.
(Macdonald-Laurier Institute) Facing mounting criticism over his organization’s initial handling of the COVID-19 epidemic, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week launched an unprecedented attack against Taiwan – a country the WHO has repeatedly ignored – accusing it of orchestrating a “racist” attack campaign against him and black communities over the past three months.
Accustomed to China’s political warfare tactics, it didn’t take long for Taiwan to discover that China’s cyber army had been behind a campaign to discredit Taiwan, to further alienate it from the WHO, and to draw attention away from Taiwan’s success in handling the COVID-19 outbreak and generous medical assistance to international partners.
Thus, at a time when Taiwan was doing what WHO officials have been urging – international cooperation – Tedros was targeting the island-nation with potentially damaging disinformation provided by Beijing. And the latter lost no time to amplify message, calling the alleged attacks by Taiwanese “venomous.”
As with other UN agencies, the WHO often appears to have become an extension of Beijing’s foreign policy; its top officials “owe” Beijing, which used its growing influence behind the scene either to have its own people (e.g., the International Civil Aviation Organization, Interpol) or representatives from other countries whom it believes it can bend to its will, elected. Thus, for all his shortcomings, Tedros is only the tip of the iceberg.
Over the past decade, we have allowed China, one of the world’s most egregious human rights violators, what with its assault on civil society, dissidents, religion, and freedom of expression, and erection of concentration camps in Xinjiang, to tighten its grip on the UN system. Through that influence, it has been rewriting the very principles that have underpinned the global body since its creation following the turmoil of World War II. Beijing has done so not because it fundamentally believes in international institutions, but rather, in a manner quite reminiscent of the USSR before its collapse, because the world body serves as a conduit to advance its own geopolitical ambitions.
Through neglect and lack of leadership among Western democracies, authoritarian China has accumulated undue influence at the UN Human Rights Council, the Economic and Social Council and the UN General Assembly, where it has used “bloc voting” among member states to further its antidemocratic agenda.

6-8 April
Andrew Caddell: The role of the WHO in this crisis has been tarnished by politics
A poisonous cocktail of money and internal and global politics has left the WHO damaged by aligning with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s mendaciousness of the perils and spread of COVID-19.
(The Hill Times) The first [factor] is money. While the WHO’s budget has increased over the years, its ability to compete with other UN organizations for donor funds has not. The dues Canada and other countries pay, called “assessed contributions,” support just one-quarter of the WHO’s more than US$4-billion budget. It needs voluntary contributions from its member-states to survive. Enter China, its third-largest assessed contributor, with money to support WHO headquarters operations, and the potential for more in the future.
The second is global politics. The role of Taiwan in this crisis is a burr under the saddle of the Chinese, as their democracy has proven more effective than communist China in eradicating the virus. Taiwan has long sought membership to the WHO, which has been vehemently opposed by China’s Xi. …
The third is internal politics. Dr. Tedros’ election as head of the WHO can be traced directly to China’s campaign for him in 2017. The “G-77” group of 134 developing countries is a powerful UN voting bloc, and China holds sway over many of them. Dr. Tedros will seek re-election in 2022, and he needs China’s support. Its influence is not something new: his predecessor, Dr. Margaret Chan, a Canadian citizen, was put forth as the Chinese candidate.
This poisonous cocktail has left the WHO damaged, by aligning with Xi’s mendaciousness of the perils and spread of COVID-19. An online petition is calling for the removal of Dr. Tedros, and demands Taiwan’s inclusion at the WHO are increasing. But despite its merits and its proven expertise in the field, Taiwan will be opposed by China and the G-77.
As a former WHO staffer, I have the utmost respect for the professionalism of my former colleagues, the best physicians in the world. But I am saddened their work is being tarnished by politics. I am afraid the reputation of the WHO will be in tatters when the crisis is over, thanks to the incompetence and political intrigue of Dr. Tedros. He has to go.
WHO head dismisses suggestions he’s too close to China
(Reuters) – World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus dismissed suggestions that his agency was too close to China after criticism by U.S. President Donald Trump.
“We are close to every nation, we are colour-blind,” Tedros told a virtual news briefing on Wednesday, urging critics to “please quarantine COVID politics” and thanking the United States for its generous support that he expected to continue.
WHO rejects ‘China-centric’ charge after Trump criticism
(Reuters) World Health Organization officials on Wednesday denied that the body was “China-centric” and said that the acute phase of a pandemic was not the time to cut funding, after U.S. President Donald Trump said he may put contributions on hold…. Trump told a news conference on Tuesday that the United States was “going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO,” however, he appeared to backtrack later when in response to questions he said: “We’re going to look at it.”
It was not immediately clear how Trump could “block” funding for the organization. Under U.S. law, Congress, not the president, decides how federal funds are spent.

Multilateral paradigm needed for UN reform
(China Daily) United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who called the novel coronavirus pandemic the greatest test since World War II, has stressed that developed countries should assist less-developed nations, and he called for “an immediate, coordinated health response to suppress transmission and end the pandemic”.
As the UN turns 75 this year, the global body continues to be the most representative international organization. Peace and security, human rights, and international law and development are still the main issues of its mission.
Western countries are paralyzed by dilemmas created by their obsolete government systems.
Consequently, the inefficiency of multilateral organizations becomes clear.
The attempts to reform the UN have been many. In numerous proposals, it was suggested to change the hermetic structure of the Security Council. It is legitimate to demand a more representative structure that reflects the surge of new, dynamic countries and regions.
Since 1979, more than 10 countries have proposed expanding the council. Three of them are worth mentioning: the proposal led by Brazil, the one led by the African Union and one called Uniting for Consensus.

COVID-19: Populism not dead but multilateralism gaining ground
Populists tendencies shaking; right-wingers seeking help from transnational organisations
(Gulf news) Like Trump who began his term in 2017 by closing United States borders, starting to build a wall on the border with Mexico, ordering sweeping protectionist trade policies, including heavy tariffs on imports from China and Europe, and renegotiating the NAFTA trade pact with Canada and Mexico, Europe’s populists looked inwards and put their countries’ international commitments into doubt. International cooperation and multilateral approach in international relations seemed to be on the defensive, and isolationism and unilateral polices were on the rise.
As the coronavirus struck the world, the populists tendencies started to shake. Governments that were a few months ago empowered by the anti-foreigner policies and slogans began asking for help. International organisations, such as the United Nations and World Health Organisation (WHO) that were ridiculed by President Trump and other populist governments, are gaining prominence.
Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, this week said that the coronavirus outbreak would change our world forever. “The reality is the world will never be the same after the coronavirus,” he wrote in an article on The Wall Street Journal. The 91-year-old is a widely respected political theorist, who has never been an admirer of multilateralism in international relations. [However] He stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic does not know borders. The key to combat the virus, he wrote, is not a purely national effort but greater international cooperation. …
The coronavirus may not knock out populism outright. These right-wing parties will not embrace internationalism today. But, surely, multilateralism is gaining important ground as more governments subscribe to the increasingly recognised belief that the right response to the pandemic is an international one.

Project Syndicate interview with Kemal Derviş, former Turkish Economy Minister and UNDP Administrator and current Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. (paywall)
Project Syndicate: “Precisely at a time when rules-based multilateralism is in retreat,” you and Sebastián Strauss recently wrote, “perhaps the fear and losses arising from COVID-19 will encourage efforts to bring about a better model of globalization.” But how likely is that? As you acknowledge in your most recent PS commentary, “Solidarity across borders will be the most difficult challenge posed by the pandemic catastrophe.” Could the COVID-19 pandemic thus result in uncontrolled deglobalization? How might such an outcome be avoided, or at least mitigated?
KD
Unfortunately, the responses to particular disasters have tended to focus on preventing that exact kind of disaster from recurring, rather than mitigating risks more broadly. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US, for example, robustness was built into airport security – and not much else.
Each area of risk will require specific policies. More ambitious climate action, for one thing, is essential. But the sheer magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis should result in a broader shift toward greater systemic robustness.
This will require enhanced international cooperation, including global early-warning mechanisms, shared circuit-breakers and shock absorbers, a pool of resources ready to be deployed immediately when a crisis strikes, pre-agreed burden-sharing formulas, and automatic exchanges of critical information.

Stretching the international order to its breaking point
(Brookings) As a number of astute observers have noted, COVID-19 could end globalization as we know it, particularly if the pandemic is prolonged. Gérard Araud, formerly France’s ambassador to the United States, told me that when a crisis occurs, one should ask whether it breaks a trend or confirms it. “There is,” he said, “an assault on globalization” from multiple sources — the financial crisis, U.S.-China competition, climate-change activists pushing for people to buy local. COVID-19 piles on the pressure. Countries will be wary of outsourcing crucial medical supplies and pharmaceuticals to other countries. Supply chains more generally will be disrupted and will be hard to repair. Governments will play a much larger role in the economy and will use that role to rebuild a national economy instead of a global one — their priority will be domestic industry.

27 January
UN aviation agency blocks critics of Taiwan policy on Twitter
(Axios) The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has blocked numerous Twitter accounts — including ones belonging to Capitol Hill staffers and D.C.-based analysts — after facing online criticism for excluding Taiwan from membership.
Why it matters: Taipei is an international transit hub, and Taiwan’s exclusion means it can’t take part in information sharing and logistical planning as the coronavirus spreads.
Note:The Republic of China (Taiwan) was a founding member of ICAO, but was replaced by the People’s Republic of China as the legal representative of China in 1971 and as such, did not take part in the organization. In 2013, Taiwan was for the first time invited to attend the ICAO Assembly, at its 38th session, as a guest under the name of Chinese Taipei. As of September 2019, it has not been invited to participate again, due to renewed PRC pressure. Host government Canada supports Taiwan’s inclusion in ICAO. Support also comes from Canada’s commercial sector with the president of the Air Transport Association of Canada saying in 2019 that “It’s about safety in aviation so from a strictly operational and non-political point of view, I believe Taiwan should be there.” Wikipedia

25 January
Why multilateralism is in such a mess and how we can fix it
(World Economic Forum) Ups and downs in the lives of individual international institutions are not new, but the malaise that now afflicts multilateralism is unprecedented in range and depth. It transcends issue-areas, and occurs at a time when the need for sensible rules of international cooperation has greater urgency than ever before.
Even as trade wars rage outside, the Dispute Settlement Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) finds itself paralysed due to the blocked appointments/re-appointments of judges in its Appellate Body. Public awareness of climate change as a global emergency may have increased, but the United States has at the same time delivered a serious blow to the mitigation regime by moving to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
In his remarkable interview with The Economist in November this year, French President Macron declared the “brain-death” of the NATO and pointed to the fragility of Europe. Impending Brexit is one thorn in the side of the European project; the rise of the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party in Germany is another. Multilateralism, in both its universal and non-universal versions, and across economic and security issues, is under severe strain.

2019

13 December
Former UN Human Rights Chief says we must be bolder in calling out world leaders
‘Demagogues and political fantasists — to them, I must be a sort of nightmare’: Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
This is a 2-part conversation: Listen to The Unconventional Diplomat: Standing Up For Principles
In 2016, on a stage in The Hague, Netherlands, and shaking with rage, UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein decided to break with diplomatic convention.
In a speech he personally wrote, he called out political leaders, whom he says were abetting the violation of human rights.
“To Mr. Geert Wilders, his acolytes, indeed to all those like him — the populists, demagogues and political fantasists — to them, I must be a sort of nightmare,” he said in a speech that’s now legendary in diplomatic circles.
Then he revealed a list of other leaders who were undermining human rights — an action that defied diplomatic protocol by naming names.
“What Mr. Wilders shares in common with Mr. Trump, Mr. Orban, Mr. Zeman, Mr. Hofer, Mr. Fico, Madame Le Pen, Mr. Farage, he also shares with Da’esh,” he told the audience.
Al Hussein stresses that he does not equate “nationalist demagogues with those of Da’esh, which are monstrous, sickening.” But he does maintain that the use of “half-truths and oversimplification” is used both by populists in their rhetoric and by Da’esh in their propaganda.

7 December
A new battleground: In the UN, China uses threats and cajolery to promote its worldview
(The Economist) Since Mr Xi took office in 2012 the country has dramatically increased its spending at the UN. It is now the second-largest contributor, after America, to both the general budget and the peacekeeping one. It has also secured leading roles for its diplomats in several UN bodies, including the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (beating a candidate backed by America, to many people’s surprise). Next year the country will join the three-member Board of Auditors, which keeps an eye on the UN’s accounts.
The senior jobs being taken by China’s diplomats are mostly boring ones in institutions that few countries care much about. But each post gives China control of tiny levers of bureaucratic power as well as the ability to dispense favours.
When votes are taken on matters China regards as important, its diplomats often use a blunt transactional approach—offering financing for projects, or threatening to turn off the tap. This buys China clout, if not affection, other diplomats say.
… More than merely language is involved. In 2017 China sought successfully to cut funding for a job intended to ensure that all of the UN’S agencies and programmes promote human rights.

1 November
Official at UN aviation agency signed off on $240K in contracts for his PhD supervisor at Concordia
James Wan says International Civil Aviation Organization now investigating alleged ethical breaches
(CBC) A high-level director at the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) awarded $240,000 worth of consulting contracts to his Concordia University doctoral supervisor while still his student, CBC News has learned.
A confidential internal email obtained by CBC News alleges that James Wan, ICAO’s deputy director of information management and administration, was in a conflict of interest and abused his office for personal gain.
According to Wan himself, an investigation into those allegations was launched in September and is ongoing. However, another email obtained by CBC shows that the agency’s ethics officer asked ICAO Secretary General Fang Liu to investigate two years ago, which Liu initially declined to do.
As CBC reported in February, Liu was criticized for failing to investigate Wan and four of his staff for an attempt to cover up their mishandling of a 2016 cyberattack — the largest computer security breach in ICAO’s history.
Asked for ICAO’s response to the allegations against Wan, chief of communications Anthony Philbin said in a written statement that the organization would not disclose information on “any allegations made against individuals or on an ongoing investigation.”
“ICAO has procedures in place to address staff conduct should someone be found to be in breach of their obligations,” Philbin said.

2 October
U.S. withholds U.N. aviation dues, calls for immediate whistleblower protections
(Reuters) The United States is withholding its dues to the U.N.’s aviation agency, arguing the body needs to move quickly with reforms like expanding public access to documents and giving greater protections to whistleblowers, U.S. government and aviation sources told Reuters this week.
ICAO spokesman Anthony Philbin said by email on Tuesday that other countries have recently commended the agency for its progress in taking steps to become as “transparent, accountable and efficient as possible.”
Philbin questioned the agency’s ability to carry out the safety and security initiatives raised recently in Montreal by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, given “this subsequent move by the representative of the United States threatening to defund ICAO.”
It is the latest instance of Washington clashing with a United Nations body under the Trump administration, which has questioned the value of multilateralism and management practices at the international organization.

13 June
U.N. Head: Climate Change Can Prove the Value of Collective Action
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in an interview for TIME Magazine, said “Climate change is not a problem for multilateralism, climate change is a problem for us all. But I think climate change offers an opportunity for multilateralism to prove its value.”
As populist leaders around the globe have sowed doubts about multilateral institutions like the U.N., Guterres says that climate change, perhaps the biggest collective action problem, offers an opportunity like no other issue for the system to “prove its value.”
“We are involved in the prevention of conflicts, and we are involved in trying to solve Libya, Yemen, Syria, South Sudan. But those are areas in which what we can do is limited,” he said in a May 22 interview at the U.N. headquarters in New York. “Climate change is for me, clearly an area where the U.N. has the obligation to assume global leadership.

2 May
Trump’s Nominee for U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft Has Billion-Dollar Ties to Coal
(New York) The president, not known for his interest in multilateral alliances, has taken his time nominating an ambassador to the United Nations since Nikki Haley left the position at the end of 2018. His prior, unofficial nominee, former Fox News host Heather Nauert, faced criticism for her lack of foreign-policy experience, diplomatic exposure, and understanding of U.S. alliances: Nauert caught serious flack for citing D-Day as an example of America’s “strong relationship” with Germany. Nauert withdrew from consideration in February after reports emerged that she once employed a nanny who was not authorized to work in the United States.
On Wednesday, Trump announced that Kelly Craft would be his first official nominee for the U.N. ambassadorship since Haley’s departure. Craft certainly has more experience than the past candidate: She’s currently serving as U.S. ambassador to Canada, was part of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. during the Bush administration, and played a role in the redraft of NAFTA now known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Still, Democrats in the Senate will contest her nomination, and not without merit. Craft is married to Joseph W. Craft III, a billionaire coal executive who has made several efforts to cancel the Obama administration’s push to regulate his industry’s emissions, including a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan and the postponement of a rule that would end the practice of coal plants dumping toxic metals into rivers.

27 March
Meng Hongwei: China to prosecute former Interpol chief
Mr Meng’s disappearance in September prompted international concern.
(BBC) Meng Hongwei, the former Chinese head of Interpol, will be prosecuted in his home country for allegedly taking bribes, China’s Communist Party says.
He has also been expelled from the party and stripped of all government positions, according to the party’s watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).
He was elected Interpol president in November 2016, the first Chinese person to take up the post, and was scheduled to serve until 2020. His job was largely ceremonial and did not require him to return to China often.
He was one of six vice-ministers in China’s public security ministry and had 40 years of experience in China’s criminal justice system, so he has much knowledge about senior Communist Party officials.
In November Interpol elected South Korean Kim Jong-yang as its new president, rejecting a Russian candidate who had been tipped to succeed Mr Meng.

23 January
The Importance of Multilateralism and the Role of the UN General Assembly in the Maintenance of International Peace and Security
Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly

6 January
Audit finds flimsy accounting for travel, booze at Canadian UN mission
Audit identifies long list of problems at International Civil Aviation Organization office in Montreal

1 January
U.S. and Israel officially withdraw from UNESCO
(PBS Newshour) The United States and Israel officially quit the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural agency at the stroke of midnight, the culmination of a process triggered more than a year ago amid concerns that the organization fosters anti-Israel bias.
The withdrawal is mainly procedural yet serves a new blow to UNESCO, co-founded by the U.S. after World War II to foster peace.
The Trump administration filed its notice to withdraw in October 2017 and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed suit.
The U.S. has demanded “fundamental reform” in the agency that is best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions. UNESCO also works to improve education for girls, promote understanding of the Holocaust’s horrors, and to defend media freedom.
UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay took up her post just after Trump announced the pullout. Azoulay, who has Jewish and Moroccan heritage, has presided over the launch of a Holocaust education website and the U.N.’s first educational guidelines on fighting anti-Semitism — initiatives that might be seen as responding to U.S. and Israeli concerns.
Officials say that many of the reasons the U.S. cited for withdrawal do not apply anymore, noting that since then, all 12 texts on the Middle East passed at UNESCO have been consensual among Israel and Arab member states.
In April of this year, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO said the mood was “like a wedding” after member nations signed off on a rare compromise resolution on “Occupied Palestine,” and UNESCO diplomats hailed a possible breakthrough on longstanding Israeli-Arab tensions.
The document was still quite critical of Israel, however, and the efforts weren’t enough to encourage the U.S. and Israel to reconsider their decision to quit.

2018

Nikki Haley announces resignation as UN ambassador

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