New UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, began his new tenure cautiously on Tuesday. When asked for comment, the Secretary General did not criticize Iraq’s death by hanging of Saddam Hussein.

“The issue of capital punishment is for each and every member state to decide,” said Ban, inviting speculation on the UN’s position on the death penalty.

It is widely known that the oraganization officially opposes the death penalty. Ban’s new spokesperson, Michele Montas, was quick to label Ban’s comments as his “own nuance” on the issue and not a change of policy at the UN.

In his remarks on Hussein, the Secretary General stated that the former Iraqi president was responsible for “heinous crimes and unspeakable atrocities against Iraqi people.”

Interestingly enough, Ban did not say anything about Hussein not being tried for all of his crimes and that his second trial had not been completed. After all, Hussein’s death sentence was for relatively small incidents — considering his track record — in the city of Dujail. Those incidents, of course, were not minor, but one would expect a verdict on his use of chemical weapons and his comportment during the Iran-Iraq war. Yet Hussein was sentenced in a limited (Dujail only) and flawed trial, which has been criticized by Human Rights Watch and by a UN group.

As far as the UN position on the capital punishment is concerned, the policy is clear: no matter the degree of the crime, the organization does not support the death penalty. Ban’s comments made it seem like the death penalty was the just thing to do. In effect, Ban’s logic almost removes the UN policy, because the Secretary General simply refuses to voice it.

Is this the direction of the so-called “new UN”? While the organization has been criticized in the past (and has often faced scrutiny from the US), this does not mean that Ban must be a pushover. One of the strengths of having the UN as an International Organization, is the alternative voice it provides to the realpolitik rationale that often guides state decisions.

The UN’s policy is idealistic — Ban’s South Korea and Bush’s US will not change their laws on capital punishment because of the UN — but this does not mean that Ban must ignore it. As an ambassador of the UN, he must represent the policies of the organization. If he wants to change them, he should be transparent about them.

Instead, Ban simply left it to Michele Montas to spin his flop by calling it his “own nuance.” What is that supposed to mean anyway?

January 7, 2006. UPDATE 1: Ban Ki-moon’s comments this weekend differed from earlier in the week. The UN Secretary General has asked that Iraq postpone the execution of two Saddam Hussein aides, indicating that he is more in line with official UN policy.

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To watch in 2007

January 1, 2007

Afghanistan. Often forgotten because of the headlines from Iraq, Afghanistan is not a solved affair. Only Kabul is somewhat stable, with Kandahar and other cities remaining unsafe.

Global Warming. Scientists have been talking about it for years, and Al Gore has now popularized it with a documentary film . Yet there is still no clear policies on tackling this global issue. The US has not returned to the Kyoto framework (and hasn’t offered a good alternative) and Canada’s new government has been defiant in backing out of the Kyoto protocol. Meanwhile, the arctic is shrinking.

Iran. Will the Republic bow to pressure and halt uranium enrichment? And if not, what will Ahmadinejad do next? Iran has potential to play a vital regional role in stabilizing Iraq. It also may face opposition from the US.

Iraq. Will British and US occupying forces leave Iraq and leave it to Iraqi forces to provide security?

Lebanon. The standoff in Beirut continues, with protesters vowing to stay on. Will Prime Minister Siniora give in? Will protesters patience run out?

Mexico. Mexico will spend 2007 with new president Felipe Calderon. Will he be able to solve the mess of Oaxaca? Will state violence be halted or will the President disregard Mexican citizens in favor of Governor Ruiz?

North Korea. The DPRK has vowed to continue to provide a strong defense of the country and called on the 1.1. million army to be prepared to “mercilessly defeat any invasion of the US imperialists.” If nuclear talks don’t go well, will the Koreans test another bomb?

Palestine. Fatah and Hamas are at a stand-off, with Israel allowing arms deliveries to Fatah. Will elections take place? Will Abbas reach a deal with Olmert? What if Hamas prevails in the elections?

Russia. A presidential election is set for March 2008, yet some cynics have contended that Putin will attempt to stay in power, despite constitutional law which allows for only two terms. Putin the dictator?

Somalia. The country has lived through a lot in the last six months, with power shifting from one leadership to another, violence starting and ending. Will it stabilize in 2007?

United Nations. Ban Ki-moon enters his official duties as Secretary General of the UN. Will the troubled international body gain influence with its new face and voice? The test will be how Ban Ki-moon — a South Korean — handles the nuclear crisis in North Korea.

United States. The presidential elections are set for 2008, but candidates are already stepping up to the race. Will Senator Clinton run? Will McCain enter the race?

And everything else.

Please post omissions, like some of the obvious ones (China, Darfur, Haiti).

Hussein Trial, a failure

November 29, 2006

After the recent severe criticism of Saddam Hussein’s trial by Human Rights Watch, experts at the United Nations have come to similar conclusions. A UN group studying arbitrary detention has deemed the trial flawed and has called Hussein’s detention illegal.

The group released its statement yesterday because it believes Hussein’s death penalty must be readdressed due to procedural inconsistencies throughout the trial.

This is not welcome news to the new Iraqi government, which oversaw the Saddam Hussein’s trial. The first significant judicial case executed under this government has now been criticized by two major organizations, one of which is an NGO, the other an IO; with time, more similar reports may be published. This is part of the reason that Iraqi PM Maliki has already stated that Hussein may be hanged by the end of 2006. The Iraqi government knows the trial was illegitimate and it wants to move on.

This is also not welcome news for the US, as it has ostensibly been supporting an Iraqi government which does not conform to standards of democratic behavior. If the US went into Iraq to bring democracy to the region, then the mission has certainly not been accomplished.

Will Russia Swerve on Iran?

November 10, 2006

Russia has reportedly come to an agreement with the US in regards to the county’s entrance into the WTO. The obvious question now is what has Russia given up in terms of its foreign policy to obtain the US go-ahead. Currently, the biggest disagreement between the two states are the Iranian sanctions to be discussed at the UN Security Council; the initially-proposed sanctions were edited and weakened by Russia to reflect Russia’s partnership with Iran.

Today, Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani was in talks in Moscow to persuade Russia not to steer away from its position. The Iranians, of course, need the support of Moscow as it is virtually its sole diplomatic ally for the nuclear program. However, the WTO may be a significant incentive for Russia to alter its stance — the country has been trying to enter the trade organization for years. On the other hand, the Russians are building Iran’s first nuclear power plant in Bushehr, an $800 million project. If the project is successful, the Russians stand to gain more contracts in the country.

In fact, it’s almost advantageous to be the sole supporter of the nuclear program and have a monopoly on similar contracts.

North Korea Under Watch

October 29, 2006

Gathering Intelligence

Since the October 9 nuclear test, the world has been waiting for the next step from North Korea.

More reports have surfaces that the US and South Korea have been monitoring a North Korean test site, to determine if the North was planning a second test or not. In the meantime, it is also reported that North Korea has stepped up efforts to prevent any possible intelligence leaks, as early as October 15.

Ban Ki-moon in China

UN Secretary General-elect (and North Korea’s current foreign minister), Ban Ki-moon was in China this weekend to discuss bilateral relations. It was hoped that some progress on the denuclearization of Korea could be accomplished with this visit. So far, no announcements have been made.

BBC reports that the UN Secretary General-elect (and South Korea’s current foreign minister), Ban Ki-moon, is on his way to Beijing for talks with Chinese officials.

The topic of nuclear proliferation will certainly be talked about as China is committed to resuming the 6-party nuclear negotiations with North Korea. Prior to his departure for Beijing, the diplomat said: “I intend to seek an active role for the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue.”

And now, we wait. Some positive announcements are possible this weekend.