- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2003

Switching ‘temps’

The U.N. General Assembly will “vote” on Thursday to replace one-third of the Security Council, although the winners of the election already have been established.

Primary responsibility goes to the regional groups to decide who will represent them on the council. This year, for the first time in recent memory, there was unanimous agreement among the groups about their candidates, which negates any need for a full vote in the General Assembly.

The five new members are Algeria (replacing Guinea), Benin (replacing Cameroon), Brazil (replacing Mexico), the Philippines (replacing Syria), and Romania (replacing Bulgaria).

The new council members are unlikely to make waves, said diplomats, several of whom privately noted that it will be a relief for the Americans, and others, to have Syria off the council. By contrast, the Philippines — where President Bush addressed a joint session of the National Congress in Manila on Saturday — is likely to be a reliable U.S. ally on many issues.

Damascus has taken seriously its role as the sole Arab voice on the council, but its increasingly tense standoff with Israel has affected its positions. On at least two occasions, the Syrian delegation abstained from voting on resolutions that the Palestinians and Arab countries had accepted.

Washington also found it uncomfortable to have Syria in the consultation rooms while the 15-member council discussed such topics as terrorist funding, Iraq and the situation in the Middle East — issues on which U.S. officials repeatedly have criticized Damascus as being “unhelpful” or even part of the problem.

Syria’s reputation is such that its ambassador to the United Nations, Fayssal Mekdad, felt it necessary to tell reporters last week why he had joined the other council members in accepting the recent Iraq resolution: “I would like to clarify that Syria has always been a serious member of the international community and of the Security Council.”

Five rotating council members are elected for two-year terms starting every Jan. 1. The five other elected members, whose terms end at the close of next year, are Angola, Chile, Germany, Pakistan and Spain.

The five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — have been on the council since the Charter of the United Nations was signed in San Francisco on June 26, 1945. Efforts to dislodge the five, or neuter the absolute authority of their separate veto powers, have come to nothing after years of increasingly animated discussion.

Dying in childbirth

An “unacceptably high” number of women in developing countries die giving birth and the imbalance with the rest of the world must be corrected through better access to health care, three U.N. agencies say in a global report issued today in Geneva.

Of about 529,000 maternal deaths in 2000, 95 percent occurred in Africa and Asia, 4 percent in Latin America, and fewer than 1 percent in more developed regions, according to research by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

Women giving birth in sub-Saharan Africa had a one-in-16 risk of dying, compared with a one-in-2,800 risk for women in richer countries, the agencies say in the report on maternal mortality.

“Many women deliver their children alone or with family members or other untrained attendants who lack the skill to deal with complications during delivery,” Dr. Lee Jong-wook, director general of WHO, said in a statement.

“These new estimates indicate an unacceptably high number of women dying in childbirth and an urgent need for increased access to emergency obstetric care, especially in sub-Saharan Africa,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said in the statement.

In 2000, world leaders agreed to eliminate 75 percent of maternal deaths to an annual level of about 130,000 worldwide, but health specialists have warned it will be hard to track the progress of this pledge because the cause of death often is not recorded.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at UNear@aol.com.

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