Tag Archives | United Nations

What the UN Palestine Vote Means and What It Doesn’t

1) It should be no surprise that 130-odd countries took the rather technical step of of voting recognize Palestine as a “non-member” in the U.N. General Assembly. That is roughly the number of countries that already directly recognize Palestine as a state! If they have already actually recognized the state themselves, voting to extend such recognition for some particular purpose is hardly precedent-making. (Palestine’s international-recognition level rivals Israel’s.)

2) The apparent diplomatic victory is itself a consolation prize for the collapse of Abbas’ bid last year for actual U.N. membership for Palestine, which was rejected at the Security Council. If that effort was to be a “diplomatic tsunami,” as Israel’s defense minister warned, the current ploy is at most a chill breeze.

3) The vote must be seen in the context of a long history of past anti-Israel resolutions in the GA. These illustrate both the automatic majority such resolutions enjoy, and their unimportance to actual events. For example, in the 1970s, the parliament of nations overwhelmingly agreed that Zionism is a form a racism, and thus the entire country is illegitimate. In 2009, the GA adopted a resolution that concluded Israel intentionally sought to slaughter innocent Palestinian civilians in the Gaza War – a resolution based on the Goldstone report, which has since been retracted by its eponymous author.

4) There is nothing new even in the European position. Since 1980 Europe has maintained that the lands occupied by Jordan and Egypt in their 1948-49 war against Israel is actually
“Palestinian territory,” which Israel must leave. The European votes are consistent with their accord with almost all major Palestinian demands.

5) The theory that some European votes were motivated by the recent Gaza campaign shows that Israel can’t just win. It gets rocketed when it leaves territory, [...]

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How Many Global Deaths from Arms?

That’s the title of a new article which I have just submitted en masse to law reviews. [Note: the full text hasn’t yet appeared on SSRN. So here’s a link to the full text via Berkeley Electronic Press.] Here’s the abstract:

Currently, the United Nations is drafting an Arms Trade Treaty to impose strict controls on firearms and other weapons. In support of hasty adoption of the Treaty, a UN-related organization of Treaty supporters is has produced a report claiming that armed violence is responsible for 740,000 deaths annually. This Article carefully examines the claim. We find that the claim is based on dubious assumptions, cherry-picking data, and mathematical legerdemain which is inexplicably being withheld from the public. The refusal to disclose the mathematical calculations used to create the 740,000 factoid is itself cause for serious suspicion; our own calculations indicate that the 740,000 figure is far too high.

Further, while the report claims that 60% of homicides are perpetrated with firearms, our review of the data on which report claimed to rely yields a 22% rate. The persons responsible for the report have refused to release their homicide calculations, or any other calculations.

This Article also shows how a narrow focus on restricting firearms ownership continues to distract international attention from life-saving, viable solutions. We propose some practical alternatives which have already saved lives in war-ravaged areas.

My co-authors on this Article, as with many of my international law articles, are Dr. Paul Gallant and Dr. Joanne Eisen, who are Senior Fellows at the Independence Institute. [...]

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Will the Arms Trade Treaty provide effective embargos on human rights violators?

Reversing the position of the Bush administration, the Obama administration recently announced support for the global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which is currently being drafted by the United Nations. The leading voices for the ATT are the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA, funded by George Soros, and run by the Open Society’s former gun control executive, Rebecca Peters) and the IANSA spin-off  “Control Arms.” Proponents of the ATT promise that it will impose effective arms on embargos on human rights violators. In a forthcoming article in the Penn State Law ReviewThe Arms Trade Treaty: Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Prospects for Arms Embargoes on Human Rights Violators, Paul Gallant, Joanne Eisen and I examine the issue. Our article shows that if the ATT were to be implemented as its proponents promise (to proactively embargo arms where there are serious risks of instability), there would have to be dozens of new embargos. Because small arms manufacture is already widespread, and is not technologically complex, most targets of new embargos would be able to manufacture firearms domestically. 

We then study two failed arms embargos: Zimbabwe, and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Zimbabwe is currently under a European Union embargo, but there is no UN embargo because Mugabe’s principal diplomatic allies, China and South Africa, have blocked UN action.  Moreover, the South African government has flagrantly violated South Africa’s own gun control law (which was imposed by the currently-ruling party), which forbids South Africa to authorize arms transfers to human rights violators. If South Africa will not obey its own laws, there is no reason to assume that it will obey treaty law created by the UN.

The eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo is under a United Nations embargo, impsed by [...]

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How the Recent UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Freedom of Speech Exemplifies the Dangers of Authoritarian Regimes’ Influence over International Law

The recent UN Human Rights Council Resolution endorsed by the Obama Administration exemplifies a key weakness of international human rights law that John McGinnis and I have focused on in our academic work (e.g. here and here): the heavy influence of repressive authoritarian governments over its content. In this case, the resolution was initially promoted primarily by authoritarian Islamic governments who hoped that it would legitimize efforts to suppress “anti-Muslim” speech. The Obama Administration supported the resolution, I would guess, primarily in order to improve the US image with those governments and their traditionalistic Muslim and Islamist sympathizers.

For reasons indicated by co-blogger Eugene Volokh (here , here, and here), Jonathan Turley, and others, the resolution does indeed justify gross infringements on freedom of speech. As they point out, it threatens free speech not only in the authoritarian states that initially proposed it, but also (though to a much lesser degree) in those Western nations that tend to incorporate international human rights law into their domestic law. While the Resolution probably doesn’t count as international law in and of itself, it is the sort of document that many experts claim can be emobided in “customary international law” over time (see the discussion in this article, and also Eugene’s take here).

It is unlikely that the US and other Western nations would have agreed to this resolution if not for the influence of authoritarian Muslim states that they sought to appease. Thus, the influence of repressive regimes helped promote the enactment of “human rights” law that legitimate their abuses and could potentially weaken protection for freedom of speech and other important liberties in the West.

This danger is not unique to this particular resolution. Rather, as John McGinnis and I discuss in this [...]

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