Strong words from SG, Cameron in London on Egypt, Brazil assumes Council presidency with focus on security/development relationship, International Year on Forests launch and more from UN Direct

Egypt: After meeting with PM David Cameron in London this morning, the SG and Cameron held a joint press encounter, where he urged for more restraint from all parties in Egypt, and strongly condemned attacks against peaceful demonstrators. He explained that the danger of instability in the Middle East shouldn’t be underestimated and the will of the people should be respected.  He also offered the UN’s assistance to further reform efforts by Egypt or any other Arab country, urged parties to engage in dialogue, and closed by stating, “there needs to be a very peaceful and orderly transition; if any transition is to be taken, it should be done now”.  While in London he also met with Foreign Secretary Hague, Secretary of State for International Development Mitchell, and Labour Party (and Opposition) Leader Miliband.  These meetings touched on a range of issues including, Egypt, Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, Afghanistan, UN reform, ODA, climate change and sustainable development.  This afternoon, he gave a lecture at Oxford University, which focused on human protection.  Before turning to the subject, Ban re-emphasized the main messages he conveyed to the press this morning on Egypt; namely: 1) discontent “calls for bold reforms, not repression”; 2) all sides should exercise restraint and he condemns attacks against peaceful protests; and 3) “orderly and peaceful transition” is important, and parties should “engage in such a process without delay”.  On human protection, Ban discussed the issue within the wider context of human security, and noted that the changing nature of conflict has facilitated the need to operationalize a concept of “human protection”, dividing the UN’s work on human protection into 3 areas: 1) responding to conflict and complex emergencies; 2) prevention; and 3) developing legal institutions promoting accountability.  On conflict and complex emergencies, the SG sited progress on peacekeeping and the protection of civilians (including sexual violence), as well as peacebuilding and humanitarian relief (citing Myanmar, CERF).  On prevention, he said “The best form of protection is prevention”, citing the UN’s support in 2010 alone on 34 different mediation efforts.  Finally, on accountability, he discussed R2P, UN tribunals in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Lebanon, as well as the ICC.  He also cited the UN’s work to address the “creeping vulnerabilities” that put societies at risk, such as water scarcity, food security and the effects of climate change, adding that weak infrastructures make countries vulnerable to address diseases and infant mortality.  Thus, improving the UN’s civilian capacity is key.

Security Council: As President of the Security Council for the month of February, Ambassador Viotti of Brazil addressed the press on this month’s adopted program of work. The centerpiece of the Council’s agenda will be a high-level debate February 11 (chaired by the Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs) on the relationship between security and development, which will look at the peace and security implications of poverty, social inequality, and exploitation of natural resources.   Consultations this month include: DRC on the 3rd, Côte d’Ivoire on the 4th, peacekeeping on the 17th, and Protection of Civilians (POC) on the 18th.  USG Pascoe will also brief the Council on the 23rd on preventative diplomacy.  Ambassador Ribeiro stated that this month will also be marked by a follow-up briefing on the situation in Sudan February 8th, where the Council will listen to leaders from both the Government of Sudan and the Government of South Sudan and Haile Menkerios, Benjamin Mkapa, and Thabo Mbeki will discuss the recent developments of the referendum process.  The SG is also expected to brief the Council on his trip to Addis for the AU Summit, but a date has not yet been set. It is worth noting that, at present, the Council only plans to discuss Middle East issues February 24th (as part of its standing monthly debate on the Middle East), despite the drastic and fast-changing developments in the Arab world, namely in Egypt and Tunisia.  More than a handful of journalists pressed Ambassador Ribeiro on the unfolding situation in Egypt that is now seeing a sharp increase in violent clashes, questioning why this hasn’t become an official priority of the Council.  Ribeiro stated, “The situation in Egypt is not on the agenda and there’s no expectation that it will take up the issue. So far, there hasn’t been a request.”

Vaccines: great Gates Foundation cartoon illustrating the importance of vaccines against measles and polio.  Explains why polio eradication – not just containment – is essential: 1) it is impossible to keep polio at low levels indefinitely, “polio anywhere is polio everywhere”; and 2) eradication will energize the world around saving lives.  Rotary has also released a PSA on polio eradication called “This Close”.

USUN: Brimmer’s remarks at Brookings yesterday on “Revitalizing the UN and Multilateral Cooperation: The Obama Administration’s Progress” is worth a read for arguments she raises for strong U.S. support of the UN in the areas of national security and human rights (detailing progress achieved with U.S. HRC membership, such as the fact that the HRC has not held a special session on Israel since it became a member).  She also lists management and reform accomplishments over the past two years in the areas of improving the UN’s administration (accountability, Ethics Office, OIOS), creating accountability and transparency (led the establishment of new oversight bodies at UNDP, UNFPA and the ITU), and reinforcing UN’s effectiveness in policy areas (Global Field Support Strategy, UN Women).  Turning to the issue of withholding funds, Brimmer stated, “trying to avoid paying our bills hurts our ability to deliver results at the UN that the American people want, and that the United States needs.  The United States must be a responsible global leader, and that means paying our bills and working for real renewal at the UN”. Moreover, she argued that Obama’s decision to pay UN assessments in full yields the U.S. “more political capital to galvanize support from allies, partners, and others for achieving our goals at the United Nations”.

Haiti: the long-awaited final results of the first round of Haiti’s presidential elections, which were due to be released today, have not yet been announced.

International Year of Forests: Today, the UN launched a year-long celebration on the role that forests play to address issues of sustainable development, management, and conservation. Briefing the press, Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Forestry Director, FAO, and Wangaari Maathai, Nobel Prize winner, discussed the importance of the launch of the International Year of Forests.  Robas-Briales explained that this year will focus on four major parts: 1) analyzing forests from a regional perspective using data that illustrates forest management progress; 2) sustainable forests and industries, including green growth and green economy; 3) the role of forests in regards to climate change; and 4) the role of forests in relation to livelihoods. He also highlighted the varied progress of developing countries and LDCs, noting that parts of Asia have surpassed Europe in improvements. In regards to climate change, Turkey and other countries have displayed progress in financial commitments. Also, Rojas-Briales stated that there are three elements important in managing carbon in the atmosphere, which account for ¾ of the GHGs: vegetation, fossil fuel emissions and the sea. Of these three, he emphasized our control in managing fossil fuel reduction and the use of renewable energy. On deforestation, Africa and Latin American have shown a 50% and 5% reduction respectively.  In regards to REDD, Roja-Briales stated that if we don’t get a second Kyoto deal including the ones that haven’t signed, REDD  isn’t going to happen; we need important additional resources that can only come from the commitment of developed countries. There is a real need for a big climate change deal.

Somalia: Valerie Amos, the USG for Humanitarian Affairs, is in Puntland, Somalia to discuss humanitarian concerns, and met with a local drought committee and visited an IDP camp. Tomorrow, she’s meeting with humanitarian partners and UN staff in Nairobi and will hold a press briefing there.

Iran: Navi Pillay expressed alarm today on the dramatic increase of executions in Iran, with reports that 66 people were executed in January. Pillay said she’s repeatedly urged Iran to stop executions. She stressed that dissent isn’t a crime.