- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2004

Glug, glug, glug

Some of the most moving speeches at the recently concluded General Assembly debate came from leaders of small island states, begging larger and more powerful members to sign the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and step up emergency assistance.

Often geographically isolated, deeply impoverished, underdeveloped and unable to participate in distant markets, the island states pleaded for a concerted response to global warming and rising seas.

“Sao Tome and Principe continues to see our very existence threatened by global warming,” President Fradique de Menezes said in his address, voicing fears that his nation would end up as “nothing but a tiny volcanic peak sticking above the waves.”

Diplomats and ministers from an assortment of island paradises traveled to New York as a string of hurricanes pounded the Caribbean and storms gathered in the distant Pacific.

The 59th annual debate opened two weeks ago with unscheduled but emotional pleas from Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in the path of advancing storms, seeking international help for the most vulnerable U.N. member states.

African debt relief

A key U.N. economic agency last week proposed a debt write-off for all African nations, calling it the only way the continent will meet poverty-reduction goals.

The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) called Thursday for debt-holding nations and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to immediately stop the clock on all debt and consider an outright waiver of further repayments.

Africa has paid $550 billion on $540 billion in loans since 1970, according to UNCTAD. But nations on the continent, primarily those south of the Sahara, still owe $210 billion in interest.

The outstanding debt has compromised the ability of the poorest governments to meet ambitious anti-poverty goals outlined by world leaders in the U.N. Millennium Declaration. Preliminary assessments show that there has not been significant progress toward one of the key targets — halving extreme poverty by 2020.

“Even if all the outstanding debt were to be written off, this would represent less than half the resource requirements of Africa,” Kamran Kousari, an author of the report, said in Geneva last week.

UNCTAD also seeks to end the idea that African debt is a legacy of irresponsible kleptocracies that crippled their own people. It says most of the debt was accumulated from the World Bank and other international lenders to shoulder structural-adjustment policies.

‘Why, howdy there’

The United Nations and the fledgling International Criminal Court will sign an agreement today formally recognizing each other and pledging cooperation on matters of mutual interest.

The agreement, to be signed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and ICC President Philippe Kirsch, will make it easier for U.N. field staff — such as aid workers for refugee, food or children’s programs — to share information with ICC prosecutors. It also encourages cooperation between the U.N. peacekeeping department and The Hague-based tribunal.

The United States was instrumental in creating the ICC, but later decided that the court’s rules do not adequately protect U.S. government officials and military personnel, and renounced it.

Washington has signed bilateral agreements with 93 governments that agreed not to surrender U.S. citizens to the court’s jurisdiction.

Seventeen of the countries have not permitted the agreements to be made public, and a quarter of those that signed the so-called Article 98 agreements are not ICC signatories, meaning their cooperation with the court likely would have been limited anyway.

The work of ICC tribunals is to investigate and try individuals for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. ICC prosecutors currently are looking into atrocities purportedly committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at Kinshasa’s request.

Today, the ICC will acquire observer status at the United Nations — meaning its representatives will be able to participate in international U.N. meetings and conferences related to legal, human rights and similar issues.

Betsy Pisik can be reached at [email protected]

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