Saturday, 26 February 2011


United Nations undermines Internet Governance Forum

Ah, Global Bureaucracy!

Bureaucratic delay – or something else entirely?

The first preparatory meeting for the 2011 Internet Governance Forum has ended with a significant degree of uncertainty thanks to ongoing bureaucratic delays.

Over two days, representatives from business, government, civil society, and the technical community met in Geneva in order to decide the path forward for the sixth annual meeting of the Forum, dedicated to discussing global governance issues for the internet and due to be held in Nairobi toward the end of the year.

Those plans have been hamstrung by the United Nations in New York, which continues to delay crucial decisions about the event dates and the event’s key decision makers.

Closing the meeting, Kenya’s representative and meeting chair Alice Munyua repeatedly asked for others’ indulgence as she explained she did not have final dates for the event. It will be somewhere between September and December, she said. Nor had dates been finalized for the second preparatory meeting in May.

On top of that, there is still no replacement for the main meeting organizer, Markus Kummer, who left the United Nations in December, with a representative from the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) telling attendees that they were still finalizing the job description, which will then be put through the usual UN recruitment process.

And to make matters all the more surreal, the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG), which was in the room trying to decide the agenda and structure of the next IGF, may not even formally exist.

The MAG has been put together and chaired by former special advisor to the Secretary-General, Nitin Desai, since 2004. Desai was appointed by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, with whom he shared a good relationship, but ended his term earlier this year.

The new Secretary-General has yet to decide a replacement Special Advisor and only that person can decide on the make-up and structure of the MAG, the UN has decided. In response to questions about this crucial role, a UN representative said he did not know when a decision would be made and refused to even be drawn on the process that will be used to arrive at a decision.

While many would be tempted to write off the destabilising delays as typical United Nations bureaucracy (and a good reason why the organisation should not be given a central role in governing the Internet), the widespread suspicion is that they are deliberate.

The Chinese government in particular has been behind efforts to turn the open and “multistakeholder” IGF – where everyone has an equal say – into a traditional inter-governmental body where decisions are made solely by government representatives.

Those attempts have been consistently stymied by Western governments - as well as business, civil society and the technical community - who wish to maintain the broader form of decision-making that has made the Internet what it is today.

However, with China a rising force in the United Nations under Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the end of the IGF’s initial five-year remit has been used to try to force the IGF onto a different path. The head of UNDESA, Chinese national Sha Zukang, has made various efforts to move the IGF into a more governmental direction.

At the same time, UNDESA is half-competing with another arm of the United Nations, the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), which is in charge of deciding broader changes to the structure of the IGF. The CSTD has also taken a very pro-government approach, most recently causing outrage when it held a last-minute and late-night meeting in December in order to push through a decision that the crucial IGF working group would only be comprised of government representatives.

In this context, delays to deciding the two key posts for the IGF – the Executive Coordinator and the Special Advisor – as well as the continued failure to name actual dates for the meeting (ostensibly in order to fit in with Under-Secretary Sha’s schedule) provide the pro-governmental forces with greater leverage over the process while frustrating efforts by the pro-multistakeholder group to continue on in the same vein as the previous five years.

Pushing on

Nevertheless, attendees in Geneva appeared determined to push on with the business of the Internet Governance Forum – designed to act as a global focal point each year for the world to discuss big issues stemming from the Internet.

In the course of discussions, the theme that has been on the minds of many in recent weeks – the role the Internet has played in the Middle East uprisings – came to the forefront. As topics go, it is likely to be extremely interesting to a very broad group of individual worldwide, although MAG members were at pains to ensure the IGF maintained its traditional neutrality, as well as continued the work from previous years.

The end result was the final title: “Internet as a catalyst for change: Access, development, freedoms and innovation.”

With traditional governments doing everything they can to impose old and outdated structures on the IGF, the irony was far from lost on those in the room.

UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned over UK funds

To see this story on BBC click here

The UK is threatening to switch funding away from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization unless its performance improves, BBC News has learned.

Instead, more funding could go to the World Food Programme, which deals with emergency food aid around the globe.

The FAO deals with longer term projects, such as providing seeds and tools for agriculture, and the UK is reviewing how effective this work is.

The announcement will be made in a major review of aid spending next week.

As a major aid donor, any cut or change in UK funding of UN programmes is likely to have a big impact.

Founding member

The UK was a founding member of the FAO, which was set up in 1945.

However, the BBC's international development correspondent David Loyn says the government view is that membership is not bringing results and that it might go as far as to cut that membership altogether.

As part of a major review of aid funding to be unveiled next week by Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, the UK will also announce an increase in aid to individual countries to improve their ability to grow food.

Britain's funding significant

Mr Mitchell is under pressure to make every penny count as his budget is one of the only parts of government spending that will see an increase this year.

David Loyn says any change to the UK's aid funding will be significant.

"Britain is a very big beast in the aid jungle, which is why these decisions - if they actually go as far as cutting whole programmes or increasing whole programmes in the UN - will make a big difference," he says.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The UN's duty to Libyans


The United Nations' statement on Libya was completely inadequate. Gaddafi needs a tough resolution ringing in his ears

Burning buildings at the entrance to a security forces compound in Benghazi, Libya
Burning buildings at the entrance to a security forces compound in Benghazi, Libya. Photograph: Alaguri/AP

Several days after the Gaddafi regime began attacking its own people, the UN Security Council, relaxed and refreshed from its long weekend (the UN was on holiday on Monday), met on Tuesday afternoon to issue its weakest form of expression: a press statement. That statement condemned the violence, demanded that civilians be protected, and – almost laughably – called for political dialogue. It was, of course, lowest common denominator stuff.

We can safely assume that China, Russia and perhaps others resisted any stronger decision, on the familiar if discreditable grounds that the council has no business in the "internal affairs" of states. But even I was shocked to learn that the meeting only took place because the Libyan deputy representative at the UN, who had announced his refusal on Monday to serve his "genocidal" government, had requested it. Not one member of the council itself made that request.

In other words, had the diplomat not defected there would have been no meeting at all.

People are being killed in Libya. Every member of the UN has declared its commitment to protect civilians, including in circumstances where they are being attacked by their own government. In 2005, every member state signed onto the so-called "Responsibility to Protect" (which you can see here), which states, among other things, that all countries must prevent mass killing. The UN Security Council itself endorsed this principle in its own resolutions, including on Darfur and in its resolutions on protection of civilians (including this one). What is happening in Libya is the true test of such declarations, and it is for every UN member, including the UK and US, in their positions as permanent members of the council, to declare loud and clear – and now– that this principle must be respected, and if it is not, that consequences will follow.

I spent four and a half years negotiating resolutions on the Middle East at the UN Security Council. When it wishes, the council can make decisions in hours. We agreed a resolution condemning the 9/11 attacks in less than an hour, the morning after the attacks took place. Time is of the essence. The only message that Gadaffi will understand is one of real substance and force. Such a resolution should state, at a minimum:

• The demand that all violence cease immediately, and that if lethal force continues to be used, the government will face consequences. At this point, such consequences do not need to be spelled out (and would unlikely be agreed) but imply sanctions, and, in extremis, force.

• Immediate freezing of all assets and an explicit travel ban on members of the regime, until all violence is halted and has been fully investigated.

• Since Libya is not a party to the International Criminal Court, the Council can and should refer Libya to the ICC for an immediate investigation into possible war crimes.

• Demand that there be an immediate transition to a representative government, involving consulting civil society and all relevant political actors.

• The decision should be taken under chapter VII of the UN Charter, recognising that events in Libya are an international threat to international peace and security (there are already refugees flowing out of Libya), and requiring all UN members to comply (this reference also implies the threat of military enforcement action).

I would love to see the council agree a no-fly zone or exclusion zone, to prevent air attacks on civilians. However, unless someone is prepared to enforce such a ban, it is meaningless. Realistically, only the US has this capability and such a call would risk playing into Gaddafi's hands in his specious claim that foreign forces are behind the unrest.

Such a resolution can be drafted and tabled very rapidly. All right-thinking countries should urge its immediate adoption.

OECD expert criticizes Austria for being "oasis of corruption"

Click to view this story on MonstersandCritics

Vienna - A corruption expert with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Friday criticizedAustria for not being forceful enough in its fight against bribery and breach of trust.

When it comes to fighting corruption, Austria ranks among the worst third of the world's countries, Mark Pieth said in an interview with the broadcaster O1.

Over the last few days, media reports that secret funds of the late Austrian populist politician Joerg Haider may have been found in Liechtenstein have caused a stir in his homeland.

There is speculation that Libyan President Moamer Gaddafi and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein were among the funders.

No concrete evidence has been brought forward, but the claims have already led to criticism of Austria's justice system and lax political-party laws.

Pieth said the country's prosecutors and courts have not been very convincing in their fight against transnational corruption.

'For me, there seems to be a lack of determination in the prosecution of foreign graft.' he said.

Pieth cited the United Nations' Oil for Food programme in Iraq as one example. The 43-billion-euro (56 million dollars) project, which ran from 1996-2003, came under fire for massive kickbacks. Austrian firms were also involved, but the country never launched an inquiry, Pieth noted.

Pieth, a law professor in Switzerland, also questioned whether a new corruption statute introduced in Austria in late 2009 meets OECD standards.

He said loopholes in regulations for state and semi-state companies meant they are governed by the far less stricter rules that apply to the private sector.

That has turned the country into a sort of 'oasis of corruption,' especially given its important role in Eastern Europe, Pieth said.

Kenyan roads, a Russian oligarch, and the World Bank

click here for story on FOREIGNPOLICY

An investment by a famous Russian oligarch has helped to scuttle a planned Bank investment in a major Kenyan road project, and it appears that China may be poised to pick up the pieces of the deal.

The project to construct a toll road through congested Nairobi has long been a priority for the Kenyan government. The World Bank had considered commiting millions to the road, which would be constructed and run by the Austrian firm Strabag. Then came a series of delays and internal Bank investigations concerning the project's financing. Last week, the Bank pulled the plug. In itsstatement announcing the decision, the Bank strongly suggested that the principal obstacle was Strabag's unwillingness to comply with all its transparency requirements:

After completing a detailed review and due diligence on the project and its sponsors, including a compliance review conducted by external counsel, the World Bank found that the systems and approach to compliance procedures would not be commensurate with the circumstances of this project and the governance risks facing this sector. Accordingly, the World Bank Group is not prepared to participate in financing the consortium involved in this project as currently structured...If the Government of Kenya so desires, the World Bank Group would be prepared to finance a concession undertaken by Strabag, on the condition that Strabag agrees to expand its integrity compliance procedures and training programs to cover the company more completely.

What the Bank statement didn't say was that an investment in the Austrian company by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska was the central cause for concern. One of the world's youngest billionaires, Deripaska made a fortune in the aluminum industry. But like so many other Russian oligarchs, he travels under a cloud of suspicion and rumor. He's been linked in court cases to Russian organized crime and was apparently barred from entry to the United States for several years. It appears that the Bank did not want to be associated with him, even at an arm's length.

The story may have another wrinkle. It was reported this week that China, which has been active in Kenyan infrastructure projects, may pick up the contract for the toll road:

The government has invited Chinese contractors to take over construction of Nairobi’s Sh67 billion highway, a move that may spare motorists the burden of making daily payments to drive through the Kenyan capital.

Ministry of Roads officials said the World Bank’s exit had thrown them back to the drawing board to seek alternative means of financing the project after the preferred public private partnership involving a consortium led by Austrian firm Strabag collapsed last week.

The phenomenon of new donors like China charging in where the World Bank fears to tread has emerged as a common storyline in development circles, and Kenya's road project may become the latest chapter. If China does ink the deal, it may want to send Deripaska a thank you note.

United Nations sees no evil

click here for story on NationalPost

Where is the United Nations Human Rights Council? As the Libyan government deploys tanks, gunships and military aircraft against its own people, many are asking this question, including United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. In a statement issued on Tuesday Ms. Pillay-- whose office is separate from the council itself -- denounced the "callousness" of the government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafiand stated that she expected the council to call a special session and support the call for an international inquiry.

The UNHRC's thundering silence might be explained, of course, by the fact that it counts Libya as a member. Bahrain, China, Cuba, India, Jordan,

Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia and 10 other Islamic states occupy nearly half of its 47 seats. Convening a special session requires the endorsement of 16 countries; since the UNHRC's African and Middle Eastern members tend to vote as a bloc, it is small wonder that the organization has yet to act on the violence in Libya.

Ironically, few of these purported guardians of human rights boast functioning democracies themselves, and all have been accused of human rights abuses. Bahrain, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are either pushing back -- or fearing -- popular uprisings modelled on the Egyptian movement which forced the resignation of president Hosni Mubarak this past month. While Qatar's government did criticize the Gadaffi regime's recent brutality, the Gulf state has its own record of human rights violations against women and domestic workers. As for China, Cuba and Nigeria, their human rights abuses are well-documented -- even if they aren't taken to task by the UNHRC.

Who does the UNHRC see fit to criticize on a regular basis? The one liberal democratic state in the Middle East: Israel. Since the UNHRC's creation in 2006, six of its 11 resolutions have condemned Israel for purported violations of human rights. These include the Israel Defense Forces' interception of a Turkish ship which ran a military blockade of Gaza in 2010, Israel's actions in Gaza in 2009 and the building of settlements in East Jerusalem. Add to that a blanket resolution affirming the Palestinian right to self-determination, and it becomes pretty clear that the UNHRC has more than an agenda: It has a giant axe to grind.

This issue came to a head in 2007, when the United States joined six other nations, including Canada and Israel, in opposing the UNHRC's draft resolution on its working rules, on the basis that the agency was ignoring human rights violations around the globe while obsessively focusing on Israel. These other issues included -- and continue to include -- human rights abuses in Sudan, Tibet, North Korea, Zimbabwe and Iran.

The UNHRC also has a questionable spending record, notably a project which had nothing to do with human rights. In 2008, the UNHRC dropped $23-million, drawn mostly from the Spanish government's foreign aid budget (and supposedly earmarked for starving children in Africa), on ceiling art for its headquarters in Geneva. Despite the outcry in Spain and around the world, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the piece and thanked the artist, Miquel Barcelo, for putting his "unique talents to work in the service of the world."

Ironically, in the past 24 hours, Mr. Ban claims to have spoken with Col. Gaddafi, urging him to respect human rights --while the UNHRC keeps quiet under its expensive painted ceiling. Instead of just calling the Colonel, Mr. Ban should urge the UNHRC to take action, like Ms. Pillay has -- or disband itself. In its present form, it is proving to be no more than an embarrassing charade.

The future of the UN Development System

The FUNDS project is pleased to present the report of the November 2010 conference, which it co-sponsored with the Wilton Park, on the Future of the UN Development System.

Key conclusions of the report:

  • The efficiency of the UN development system and the need to reform it has been much discussed but with little progress and with gathering frustration and concern. The core problem is decision making; the historical design of the system and its fragmentation has resulted in the lack of any overall control which is not subject to the national interest of members.
  • The absence of central governance is the single largest obstacle to any reform of the UN system or any part of it.
  • The Delivering as One programme holds out the greatest hope for reform, and with more countries signing up to it, change may be effected from the bottom up.

Download the complete report

BBC launches website to help people produce TV programmes home click here for story

The BBC college of production website went live yesterday. It provides free practical advice on all aspects of TV, radio and online production.

Part of the BBC Academy, it is hoped that the site will be used not only for training BBC staff, but as a resource for the wider broadcasting industry along with those people seeking to break into the industry.

Like the BBC college of journalism website, it is part of the corporation's remit, under the terms of the BBC's charter agreement, to train the wider industry.

Launch editor Amanda Lyon says: "The premise behind the site's creation is 'the best made easy'. Through filmed talks, short radio programmes and videos, broadcasting innovators, creatives and experts will freely share their experience with the production community in a distilled and focused form."

Several top names in broadcasting have contributed to the site. Among them are Gary Lineker - talking about the Match of the Day production team - Chris Evans enthusing about his relationship with executive producer Helen Thomas - while Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconieshare their hottest tip: "Never look puzzled through the glass!"

Each video or short radio programme aims to answer a single question, providing practical advice on a vast array of subjects from health and safety to self-shooting, editing and interviewing.

Short radio programmes feature experts in conversation on single topics, such as how blogs can be used to add value to programme content.

There are currently around 100 VTs on the site and, throughout the coming year, Lyon and her team will continue to grow the website, hoping to expand it to about 300 items by December.

"There is huge demand across the industry for this kind of innovative training resource', says Anne Morrison, director of the BBC Academy. "We are taking a lead in this area to help reach as wide an audience as possible.

"The BBC relies on an increasingly mobile workforce, with many freelancers or people working on short term contracts.

"We aim to share as much of our training as possible with the wider UK broadcasting industry, for free, equipping people with skills they need for a lifetime of employability in an ever-changing media landscape."

Source: BBC press office

Vodafone in Egypt: How tech companies can uphold, not violate, human rights

click here for story

By Luke AllnuttTue Feb 22, 1:21 pm ET

Prague, Czech Republic – In recent years, we have put corporations under greater scrutiny. We don’t buy shoes if they were made in Asian sweatshops. We boycott companies whose practices contribute to the destruction of the rainforest. Consumers expect to be satisfied with the service, but they also want to be reassured that the company providing the service has not harmed others. We should expect the same high standards from technology companies.

Uprisings throughout the Arab world, especially in Egypt, have brought to light the role that multinational telecommunications companies play in the hands of repressive regimes. Western technology giants are increasingly finding themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to comply with local laws that might not correspond with international rights norms. But in a wired world, Internet access is increasingly seen as a fundamental human right – and the gatekeepers of those rights are not just governments, but corporations.

IN PICTURES: Top 10 countries that say Internet access is a basic right

Vodafone's role in EgyptFor five days during the recent uprising in Egypt, the Egyptian Internet and mobile telecommunications were blacked out. The details are still murky about how the authorities managed the shutdown, but accounts indicate that on Jan. 27, the Egyptian government asked the country’s Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to switch off their services. Two of those companies were the British-based Vodafone, which runs a joint venture with the state-controlled Telecom Egypt, and France Telecom, which runs Mobinil in a joint venture with an Egyptian concern, Orascom Telecom Holding.

In a statement, Vodafone said that it was obliged to comply with Egyptian law, and the authorities could shut down the network without its consent anyway. Several rights groups, including Amnesty International, have since been critical of Vodafone’s decision to pull the plug.

When the Internet and phone services were restored, Vodafone got into hot water once again, allowing its network (technically closed to regular users at the time) to be used to send out pro-Mubarak text messages. One of the messages called on “Egypt’s loyal men to confront the traitors and the criminals and to protect our families, our honor and our precious Egypt.” The “traitors” and “criminals” were presumably those camped out in Tahrir Square. Vodafone has said that it was obliged to send the messages under “emergency powers provisions of the Telecoms Act” and has protested to the authorities.

Local governments vs. international rightsRegardless of where the blame lies, Vodafone’s experience in Egypt is a good case study of the types of pressures multinational technology and telecommunications companies will find themselves up against as states assert their sovereign rights over information, often in order to limit freedom of expression or invade their citizens’ privacy. It’s an awkward situation for these companies: Upholding a certain government’s policies puts these companies in local compliance, but can also conflict with international standards for human rights.

Until Google shut down its search services on the Chinese mainland last year after a cyber attack targeting rights activists, the company had self-censored Chinese search results for years.

With the world’s netizens increasingly using services like Facebook, Twitter, or Google, and with much more information living in the cloud, many foreign governments aren’t overjoyed by the prospect of their citizens’ data living, not readily accessible, on some Western server. RIM, the company that makes Blackberries, for example, has butted heads with the governments of India and the United Arab Emirates, which want access to RIM’s encrypted email and messaging services.

Western technology companies have had a checkered history in dealing with repressive regimes. In 2005, a Chinese activist was imprisoned for 10 years after Yahoo China provided his personal details to the government. During Iran’s post-election unrest in 2009, it was revealed that Nokia had supplied Iran with mobile surveillance technology, which it used to clamp down on protesters.

Other examples are less clear-cut, but still raise moral and ethical questions. For example, should telecom companies sell GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) equipment with “legal intercept” capabilities to repressive regimes? The data (call records or even a user’s location) can be accessed in criminal investigations but it can also be used to find and convict pro-democracy protesters. Or should Narus, a Silicon Valley company owned by Boeing, sell Egypt deep packet inspection technology, which enables the authorities to monitor its netizens’ viewing habits?

Companies should join global networkTo help navigate these choppy waters and to prevent future corporate complicity in shutdowns or excessive monitoring, a good start would be for technology companies to join the Global Network Initiative (GNI) – a loose conglomerate of technology companies, rights groups, academics, and investors. The GNI provides a framework to help companies “respect and protect the freedom of expression and privacy rights of users in responding to government demands, laws and regulations, [and] integrate into their decision making and culture responsible policies and procedures.”

Member companies also “commit to an independent assessment process focused on how they are implementing the GNI’s principles within their organization.”

The GNI is crucial, but still desperately needs more companies – such as Twitter and Facebook – to join. (To date, only Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft have signed up.) A critical mass of companies would not only help enshrine universal standards of moral and ethical behavior but would also present a united front to the world’s repressive regimes.

Countries in the Middle East where the 'winds of change' are blowing

These companies bear a responsibility not just to uphold human rights, but to their consumers. They, at least, should make sure they are on the right side of history.

Luke Allnutt is the editor in chief of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s English website and blogs at Tangled Web. The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The UN gets tough with Qaddafi: fires his daughter from post as UN Goodwill Ambassador


Posted By Colum Lynch

With Col. Moammar Qaddafi allegedly unleashing a campaign of mass killing against his people, the United Nations has decided it might be best to put a little distance between itself and the Libyan leader.

At today's noon briefing, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said that the U.N. Development Program has "terminated" Qaddafi's daughter's position as a National Goodwill Ambassador for Libya. Ayesha Gaddafi had been extended the honor, which comes without pay, in July 2009. Her mission was to "address the issues of HIV/AIDS and violence against women in Libya, both sensitive topics in the country," Nesirky said.

Nesirky did not explain what Ms. Qaddafi had done to be stripped of her title, but referred reporters to article 30 of the U.N. Guidelines for the Designation of Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace. A review of a copy of the guidelines showed that there were, in fact, only 28 articles.*[See note below.] But the final guideline, titled termination, describes the U.N. procedure for dumping unwanted UN goodwill ambassadors.

"The designation of a Goodwill Ambassador or Messenger of Peace shall be terminated if, in the view of the Head of the relevant UN Office, Fund or Program, the designee is unable or unwilling to carry out the role envisaged in the terms of reference, if the Goodwill Ambassador or Messenger of Peace engages in any activity incompatible with his/her status or with the purposes and principles of the United Nations, or if the termination is in the interest of the Organization."

In any event, it doesn't seem like it was such a great job to begin with. "UNDP Goodwill Ambassadors do not get paid, they volunteer their time, and they do not hold U.N. Laissez-Passer travel documents," Nesirky assured.

[Note: In yesterday's blog post, I poked a bit of fun at the U.N. spokesman for allegedly citing the wrong article in the UN guidelines for goodwill ambassadors that was used as a basis for ending Qaddafi's daughters affiliation with the UN. But the last laugh is on me. The guidelines had beenupdated, and there are in fact 30 articles in it. Turtle Bay regrets the error.]

Also, a h/t to Inner City Press for having solicited the U.N. statement on Ayesha Gaddafi.

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch