UN must reform to remain relevant, says Lebanon’s former ambassador

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Updated 22 September 2023

UN must reform to remain relevant, says Lebanon’s former ambassador

CHICAGO: Lebanon’s former United Nations Ambassador Amal Mudallali said there is growing pressure to reform the 78-year-old international body in order to force its five founding members to share power with the rest of the world and keep the organization relevant.

The UN was founded in 1945 and consists of two major bodies: the UN Security Council, which includes five founding members with the power to veto any action or proposal; and the General Assembly, which has grown from 51 members to 193 today, and can adopt resolutions with moral authority, but no enforcement.

Mudallali acknowledged that although the UN has had some successes, failure to reform combined with growing inequity between nations of the “global north” and “global south” has resulted in a rise in competing but narrowly focused international coalitions such as BRICS, which was founded in 2010, but in recent years has become much more influential.

“If you look at the last 78 years, the world averted a big war, a third world war. And I think a lot of it has a lot to do with the fact that all these big powers and small powers and all these countries sit together there and work on trying to find solutions, and that is very important. It avoided a nuclear war. It created a big, huge system of development, helping poor countries around the world everywhere,” Mudallali said during the taping of “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” on Wednesday (Sept. 20, 2023).

“The problem is that the system that was created after the Second World War has not been reformed. It has been so static. There has been no change, no reform. Because the big powers who are now, and they gave themselves more power by creating the Security Council and they have veto power. They are the ones who control whether there is any change or not. The big powers are the ones who can do it.”

Mudallali added: “There is a new movement in the United Nations and the General Assembly to challenge the veto because the veto is preventing the Security Council from any decisions that are very important, and central to peace and security, especially when you need it when you have like the war in Ukraine. The Security Council has been gridlocked and there has been no resolution on Ukraine.”

Failure to reform has resulted in many nations contesting the old power structure that the UN of 1945 represented compared with the changing world balance today, with the rise of small groups of independent member-nation organizations, such as BRICS and the G20.

“But today, as we talk, it is really an interesting General Assembly because it comes on the heels of the BRICS meeting in South Africa. It comes after the G20 meeting, where the global south is rising. Their voice is rising. There is a new narrative now. They are telling the north, as people say, that things are not going to go on as business as usual,” Mudallali said.

“We need reform and this time our life depends on it. Because the international world order that we set up in 1945 and that served the world beautifully for the last 78 years and advanced economies, social issues and prevented wars, but now is not working. Because it has to be more equitable. It has to represent the diversity, that the world has changed. Because the volume of the world economy and the power is shifting. There is a shift in dynamics from the north to the south. There is a shift in the dynamics of power, not only the economic power but the political power. People are contesting the order.”

Over the years, the world has seen the rising influence of new limited member-nation coalitions, such as BRICS and the G20, seen as competing with the UN, which is supposed to represent the interests of all nations on all issues.

Groups such as BRICS, founded in 2010 by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, have grown significantly since the start of the Ukraine war. BRICS has raised some concerns about its intent, to “contest the international order” or “undermine the domination of certain countries” such as the US, Mudalalli said.

“If BRICS’ only objective is to change the order, it means like if it is international competition with the US only, this is not going to be good for anybody. But if they are doing it because they really want to reform the system and they want to have a better way, a diversified way of doing business with everybody, I think that would be good,” said Mudallali, now a respected international affairs analyst.

“And, then, maybe you can see, hopefully you can see a constructive role they can play in the international economy and this. But it really not good for the world if it is seen or it is perceived as only a competition between the US and China, and the world is being divided now into groups. If you weaken the UN, and if you weaken the state institutions that you put there to bring peace and security and economic prosperity and stuff like that and to get the world to work together, and you go and work outside it, this is very dangerous and this is no good for world peace.”

Many “global south” nations are wondering if the UN can be inclusive to address their needs, Mudallali said, noting that the UN plan to advance 17 Sustainable Development Goals is halfway through its 10-year timeframe and has achieved only 12 to 15 percent of its stated goals.

“As long as these countries, what you call them the global south, the rest of the world — not the Security Council and the big powers — see that they have no stake at the UN, and they see there is no movement to be inclusive and be representative of the world as it is today, you are going to see a very divided world order,” Mudallali said.

“You are going to have a splintering of different groups, people shopping for different alliances and things like that, because the central forum for bringing them together, to work together, is being weakened if it is not being reformed.”

The dramatic growth of debt among countries of the global south is of immediate concern, Mudallali said.

But it was discouraging that the leader of only one of the Security Council’s founding members, the US, addressed the UN General Assembly this week, with the leaders of Russia, France, the UK and China absent.

Mudallali made her comments during an appearance on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show,” which is broadcast every Wednesday in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 Radio and in Washington D.C. on WDMV AM 700 radio on the US Arab Radio Network. 

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi arrested again

Updated 2 sec ago

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi arrested again

DUBAI: Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, who had been previously detained for showing support to anti-government protests and was released on bail earlier this month, was arrested again, Iran's state media reported on Thursday.
"Salehi has been arrested for publishing false information and disturbing public opinion, after being released upon an order by Iran's supreme court to revise his case", the judiciary news agency said.
Following the death in custody of 22-year-old Iranian-Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in September 2022, Iran has seen months of nationwide protests that represented one of the fiercest challenges to the Islamic Republic since its establishment in 1979.
Salehi, who wrote songs about the protests, was initially sentenced to six years in prison on multiple charges, including "corruption on earth", a ruling that was then rejected by Iran's supreme court.
The 33-year-old rapper spent one year and 21 days in prison, including 252 days in solitary confinement, during which he sustained physical injuries, according to his official page on the social media website X, formerly known as Twitter.

UN peacekeepers try to stay safe amid Lebanon-Israel border flare-ups

Updated 30 min 37 sec ago

UN peacekeepers try to stay safe amid Lebanon-Israel border flare-ups

  • Troops from the UNIFIL have repeatedly sheltered in bunkers during “intense shelling and rocket launches,” said Lt. Col. Stephen MacEoin
  • He hoped the truce in Gaza between Hamas and Israel would be extended, as it was civilians “who suffer most”

MAROUN AL-RAS, Lebanon: While trying to fulfil their mandate to keep the peace, UN soldiers deployed along Lebanon’s border with Israel during the worst hostilities there in nearly 20 years have another urgent concern: keeping their own forces safe.
Since the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza seven weeks ago, troops from the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) have repeatedly sheltered in bunkers during “intense shelling and rocket launches,” a senior commander said during a Reuters visit to a UNIFIL base in southern Lebanon.
“I’ve got to maintain force protection as a priority while also carrying out the mission,” said Lt. Col. Stephen MacEoin, battalion commander of the Irish and Polish soldiers stationed at Camp Shamrock in the village of Tiri, near Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.
The conflict in Gaza, some 200 km (124 miles) away to the south, has seen Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas, trading fire daily along the Lebanese-Israeli border.
Israeli attacks have killed about 100 people in Lebanon — 80 of them Hezbollah fighters — since Oct. 7.
MacEoin said he hoped the truce in Gaza between Hamas and Israel would be extended, as it was civilians “who suffer most” from conflict, be it in Lebanon or Gaza, and the violence in Gaza was linked to the situation in southern Lebanon.
“The concerns of the mission are that, after so many weeks of exchanges of fire, now we have a truce, a moment of calm, but that intensive changes of fire can really trigger a much wider cycle of conflict,” said UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti.
“This is the real warning and danger that everyone is facing not only in the south but in the region.”
He said UNIFIL communicated with both sides in the flare-ups on the Lebanon-Israel border to try to “de-escalate tensions.”
No peacekeepers have been killed since the escalation of hostilities. But two peacekeepers have been injured in two separate incidents and UNIFIL compounds and bases have been hit and damaged by mortar shells several times, Tenenti told Reuters.
“We’ve had a lot of firing north and south of the Blue Line...a lot of close incidents,” MacEoin said, referring to a 120-km (74 mile) demarcation drawn by the United Nations that marks the line to which Israeli forces withdrew when they left south Lebanon in 2000.
In the latest incident, a UNIFIL patrol was hit by Israeli gunfire in the vicinity of Aytaroun of southern Lebanon, although there were no casualties. The UN force called the attack on “deeply troubling.”
UNIFIL was established by the Security Council in 1978 after Israel invaded Lebanon. Its scope and size were expanded after a 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah that killed 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 158 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
The force is deployed in southern Lebanon with the primary role of helping maintain international peace and security.
The mission says it currently has about 10,000 troops drawn from 47 countries, and about 800 civilian staff, stationed in 45 positions throughout a 1,060 square km (409 square mile) area between the Litani River and the Blue Line.
Last December, an Irish soldier serving in UNIFIL was killed after the UNIFIL vehicle he was traveling in was fired on as it traveled in southern Lebanon. Seven people were charged by a Lebanese military tribunal in January for his death, the first fatal attack on UN peacekeepers in Lebanon since 2015.
Calm had prevailed on the border since Hamas and Israel agreed a temporary truce that began on Nov. 24. But on Thursday morning the Israeli military said it intercepted an “aerial target” that crossed from Lebanon. Earlier on Thursday the two sides struck a last-minute agreement to extend the truce.

Blinken tells Netanyahu ‘imperative’ to protect Gaza civilians

Updated 30 November 2023

Blinken tells Netanyahu ‘imperative’ to protect Gaza civilians

  • Stresses imperative of accounting for humanitarian and civilian protection needs in southern Gaza

JERUSALEM: Visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday, emphasized the need to protect civilians in southern Gaza, where many have fled, the State Department said.
Blinken “stressed the imperative of accounting for humanitarian and civilian protection needs in southern Gaza before any military operations there,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement, adding he “urged Israel to take every possible measure to avoid civilian harm.”

Truce in Gaza extended another day but talks over remaining hostages held by Hamas could get tougher

Updated 30 November 2023

Truce in Gaza extended another day but talks over remaining hostages held by Hamas could get tougher

  • Hamas is expected to demand greater concessions for many of the remaining captives
  • Blinken is expected to press for further extensions of the truce and the release of more hostages

JERUSALEM: Israel and Hamas agreed at the last minute Thursday to extend their ceasefire in Gaza by another day. But any further renewal of the deal that has seen dozens of hostages and prisoners released could prove more challenging since Hamas is expected to demand greater concessions for many of the remaining captives.
As word of the extension came, gunmen opened fire on people waiting for buses along a main highway entering Jerusalem, killing at least three people and wounding several others, according to police.
The two attackers, brothers from a Palestinian neighborhood in annexed east Jerusalem, were killed. Hamas said they were members of its armed wing and celebrated the assault, but called it “a natural response” to Israel’s actions in Gaza and elsewhere. It was unclear if the attack had been ordered by Hamas’ leaders or if it would have an impact on the truce.
International pressure has mounted for the cease-fire to continue as long as possible after nearly eight weeks of Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign in Gaza that have killed thousands of Palestinians, uprooted more than three-quarters of the population of 2.3 million and led to a humanitarian crisis.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is on his third visit to the region since the start of the war, said “my heart goes out” to the victims of the Jerusalem attack. Blinken is expected to press for further extensions of the truce and the release of more hostages.
“This process is producing results. It’s important, and we hope that it can continue,” he said.
The talks appear to be growing tougher, however, with Hamas having already freed most of the women and children kidnapped during the deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war. The militants are expected to make greater demands in return for freeing men and soldiers.
Qatar, which has played a key role in mediating with Hamas, announced that the truce was being extended Thursday. In the past, Hamas has released at least 10 Israeli hostages per day in exchange for Israel’s release of at least 30 Palestinian prisoners.
The announcement followed a last-minute standoff, with Hamas saying Israel had rejected a proposed list that included seven living captives and the remains of three who the group said were killed in Israeli airstrikes. Israel later said Hamas submitted an improved list, but gave no details.
Israel says it will maintain the truce until Hamas stops releasing captives, at which point it will resume military operations aimed at eliminating the group. The Biden administration has told Israel that it must operate with far greater precision if it expands the ground offensive to the south, where many Palestinians have sought refuge.

Increasingly tense hostage talks
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under intense pressure from families of the hostages to bring them home. But his far-right governing partners are also pushing him to continue the war until Hamas is destroyed, and could bolt his coalition if he is seen as making too many concessions.
The initial truce — which began Friday and has now been extended twice — called for the release of women and children. Israeli officials say Gaza militants still hold around 30 women and children, who would all be released in a few days if the swaps continue at the current rate.
It’s not clear how many of the women might be soldiers. For soldiers and the men still in captivity, Hamas is expected to push for comparable releases of Palestinian men or prominent detainees, a deal Israel may resist.
Israel says around 125 men are still held hostage, including several dozen soldiers. Thus far, Hamas has released some men — mostly Thai laborers.
An Israeli official involved in hostage negotiations said talks on a further extension for the release of civilian men and soldiers were still preliminary, and that a deal would not be considered until all the women and children are out. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because talks were ongoing.
So far, most Palestinians released have been teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces. Several were women convicted by Israeli military courts of attempting to attack soldiers. Palestinians have celebrated the release of people they see as having resisted Israel’s decadeslong military occupation of lands they want for a future state.
With Wednesday’s releases, a total of 73 Israelis, including dual nationals, have been freed during the six-day truce, most of whom appear physically well but shaken. Another 24 hostages — 23 Thais and one Filipino — have also been released.
Before the cease-fire, Hamas released four hostages, and the Israeli army rescued one. Two others were found dead in Gaza. On Thursday, the military confirmed the death of Ofir Tzarfati, who was believed to be among the hostages, without providing any further details. Israeli media say the 27-year-old attended a music festival where at least 360 people were killed and several others were kidnapped on Oct. 7.
Hamas and other Palestinian militants killed over 1,200 people — mostly civilians — in their wide-ranging attack across southern Israel that day and captured around 240. Authorities have only ever provided approximate figures.
Israel’s bombardment and ground invasion in Gaza have killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.
The toll is likely much higher, as officials have only sporadically updated the count since Nov. 11. The ministry says thousands more people are feared dead under the rubble.
Israel says 77 of its soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive. It claims to have killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence.

In Gaza an anxious respite
During the pause in fighting, Palestinians in Gaza have been consumed by the search for aid and horror at the extent of destruction.
Residents described entire residential blocks as leveled in Gaza City and surrounding areas in the north. The smell of decomposing bodies trapped under collapsed buildings fills the air, said Mohmmed Mattar, a 29-year-old resident of the city who along with other volunteers searched for the dead.
In the south, the truce has allowed more aid to be delivered from Egypt, up to 200 trucks a day. But humanitarian officials say it is not enough, given that most now depend on outside aid. Over 1 million displaced people have sought refuge in UN-run shelters, with many forced to sleep outside in cold, rainy weather because of overcrowding.
At a distribution center in Rafah, large crowds line up daily for bags of flour but supplies run out quickly.
“Every day, we come here,” said one woman in line, Nawal Abu Namous. “We spend money on transportation to get here, just to go home with nothing.”

Displaced Syrians face another harsh winter as fuel costs soar

Updated 30 November 2023

Displaced Syrians face another harsh winter as fuel costs soar

  • Families burning garbage to stay warm as prices become ‘unbearable’
  • Humanitarian aid to Syria has been falling steadily since 2021

DAMASCUS: Syrians displaced by war and living in camps in the northwest of the country are preparing for another difficult winter amid soaring fuel prices, dwindling humanitarian aid and a scarcity of jobs.

Abdul Salam Al-Youssef, 53, who had to leave his home in Al-Tah, south of Idlib, told Arab News: “We have been in random camps for three years, lacking the minimum necessities of life, and our suffering increases at the beginning of each winter.

“We, the heads of families, are responsible for large expenses because the price of all heating methods exceeds $150, and even the prices of heaters are high, and these are all costs that we are unable to bear.”

He added that the tents in which people had been living for the past three years were becoming worn and letting in water.

Khaled Abdel Rahman, also from Al-Tah, tells a similar story.

“I have been displaced for five years … and every year when winter comes, it brings with it worries for us,” he said.

“We used to receive support for heating materials at the beginning of every winter, but every year this support decreases. Until, in the last two years, we started burning nylon garbage or plastic containers. These materials are harmful to health, especially children, and we use these because we do not have the ability to buy heating materials because their price is very expensive for us.”

The average price of a ton of firewood was now about $150, he said.

“We do not have the ability to buy a single kilo of firewood in these bad conditions. Our tents are in very poor condition. We patch and sew them every winter, and with every strong wind we repair them again.”

The amount of humanitarian aid being provided to camps in northwest Syria has been falling steadily since 2021.

Displaced people accounted for almost half of the more than 6 million now living in northwest Syria. (Supplied)

Samir Al-Ahmad, who sells firewood at a local market, told Arab News: “Firewood in previous years was much cheaper than now, but the prices of all heating materials are very expensive.

“I wanted to install a diesel greenhouse, but I did not have the ability to do so, so I installed a wood-burning greenhouse because I can pay for firewood from my work in this market. Firewood is very expensive, with prices ranging from $140 to $210, depending on its type and quality.”

He added that these days, people bought only small amounts of firewood when they could afford it.

The Syria Response Coordinators team said that displaced people accounted for almost half of the more than 6 million now living in northwest Syria. Of those, more than 2 million — including 600,000 women, 888,000 children and 84,000 people with special needs — live in the region’s camps.