Friday, 22 December 2017
The United Nations has voted by a huge majority to declare a unilateral US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital ‘null and void.’ At an emergency session of the General Assembly on Thursday [21 December 2017], 128 countries voted in favour of a resolution rejecting President Trump’s controversial decision, announced earlier this month [6 December 2017].
Nine countries voted against the resolution, while 35 abstained. Earlier, Trump had threatened to cut aid to UN member states that would vote against his decision.
The nine UN member states that voted against the resolution are: Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Togo and the US.
Apart from Israel and the US, the other seven states could hardly be regarded as paragons of political virtue or bastions of democracy. Even then, perhaps some international inquiry is needed to decide whether votes have been bought, or ambassadors were the victims of bullying and political violence ahead of the vote.
These are the seven UN member states that voted alongside the US and Israel yesterday:
Guatemala has an international reputation for political corruption that is difficult to surpass even by Central American standards. It also has the lowest literacy rate in Central America, with less than 75% of the population aged 15 and over literate. Guatemala has the third highest rate of murder of women in the world, after El Salvador and Jamaica.
The Guatemalan army was involved in 626 massacres in the 1980s, when it carried out a scorched earth campaign. In those massacres, 83% of the victims were Maya and 17% ladino.
Since the end of the civil war in 1996, death squads and ‘extra-judicial killings’ have continued in Guatemala. They are often linked to current and former members of the military involved in organised crime who have significant political influence.
In July 2004, the Inter-American Court condemned a massacre in 1982 of 188 Achi-Maya in Plan de Sanchez, and ruled that genocide had taken place at the hands of Guatemalan army troops.
Guatemala is known for its corrupt political system. On 2 September 2015, President Otto Pérez Molina resigned because of a corruption scandal and was arrested on fraud charges. He was replaced by Alejandro Maldonado, who only held office until January 2016 when President Jimmy Morales assumed office.
President Morales describes himself as an Evangelical Christian, which should endear him to many in Trump’s inner circle and his core supporters.
Morales has own stand on morality: he boasts he is a nationalist, he supports the death penalty, he opposes abortion, and he denies the Ixil Maya people have been victims of genocide. At the end of last year [November 2016], he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but this could have hardly influenced the vote of Honduras in the General Assembly this week.
At the beginning of this year [January 2017], Jimmy Morales’s older brother and close adviser, Samuel ‘Sammy’ Morales, as a son of Jimmy Morales, José Manuel Morales, were arrested on corruption and money-laundering charges.
Later this year, Jimmy Morales was criticised for seeking to thwart the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala after it began investigating claims that his right-wing party took illegal donations, including donations from drug-traffickers, and asked the Guatemalan congress to strip him of immunity from prosecution. But he still clings onto office.
Guatemala has long claimed all or part of the territory of neighbouring Belize, and did not recognise the independence of Belize until 1991. Perhaps if Guatemala had refused to recognise Israel’s claim to Jerusalem it would find two fewer potential supporters for its territorial claims to Belize.
Honduras, a neighbour of Guatemala, is one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, has the world’s highest murder rate and high levels of sexual violence. The levels of income inequality in Honduras are higher than in any other Latin American country.
A constitutional crisis unfolded in 2009 after a coup and the Organisation of American States (OAS) suspended Honduras because it did not regard its government as legitimate. The coup was condemned by unanimously the UN and the OAS, and many countries around the world refused to recognise the de facto government, although a legal submission to the US Congress declared the coup legal.
President Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado, who likes to refer to himself as JOH, has been President of Honduras since 27 January 2014. He decided to seek re-election this year , even though the constitution allows only a single term as president.
Although his campaign was widely regarded as unconstitutional, illegal and fraudulent, he was declared the winner last Saturday [16 December 2017].
His government is widely accused, both inside and outside Honduras, of being corrupt. Corruption extends through government, the judiciary, the military, the police and public administration. The President’s ruling Honduran National Party has received large amounts of cash from non-existent companies through fraudulent contracts that have been approved by Congress.
Perhaps Honduran politics are so corrupt, Honduras needed no incentive to support Trump yesterday.
Trump’s threat of financial consequences for voting against US interests in the UN General Assembly was a very real threat for the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
This is an island country near the Equator in the Pacific Ocean, and part of the larger island group of Micronesia. The population of 53,158 people is spread across 29 coral atolls that include 1,156 islands and islets.
In 1947, the US, as the occupying power, entered into an agreement with the UN Security Council to administer much of Micronesia, including the Marshall Islands, as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
From 1946 to 1958, the US used the Marshall Islands as the site of 67 nuclear tests, and tested the world’s first hydrogen bomb, codenamed ‘Mike,’ at the Enewetak atoll on 1 November 1952. The US army maintains the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defence Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll, for which land owning islanders are paid rent.
Until 1999, the islanders received $180 million for continued US use of Kwajalein atoll, $250 million in compensation for nuclear testing, and $600 million in other payments under the Compact of Free Association that gives the US sole responsibility for the international defence of the Marshall Islands and that gives islanders the right to emigrate to the US and to work there.
US financial assistance is the mainstay of the economy. Under terms of the compact, the US is to provide $62.7 million a year in assistance to the Marshall Islands (RMI) until 2023, when a trust fund will begin perpetual annual payments.
These financial and military dependencies hardly leave the Marshall Islands free to make their own mind up.
Micronesia takes its name from the Greek, μικρός (mikrós), ‘small,’ and νῆσος (nísos), ‘island.’ It is a sub-region of Oceania, comprising thousands of small islands in the western Pacific.
The Federated States of Micronesia is often called Micronesia, and should not to be confused with the overall region which encompasses five sovereign, independent nations – the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, and Nauru – and three US territories, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and Wake Island.
The Federated States of Micronesia, abbreviated as FSM and known simply as Micronesia, comprise around 607 islands, has a combined land area of about 702 sq km (271 sq m), and a population of about 104,937. The capital is Palikir.
The FSM was formerly a part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, a UN Trust Territory under US administration. It formed its own constitutional government in 1979 and became a sovereign state after independence in 1986 under a Compact of Free Association with the US.
In international politics, Micronesia has often voted with the US in the UN General Assembly. The US is wholly responsible for its defence, there are no political parties and political allegiances depend mainly on family and island-related factors.
These financial and military dependencies hardly leave the Micronesia free to vote independently.
The Republic of Nauru, formerly known as Pleasant Island, is another tiny island country in Micronesia in the Central Pacific, south-east of the Federated States of Micronesia and south of the Marshall Islands. With a population of 9,400 residents in spread over a land area 21 sq km (8 sq m), Nauru is the smallest state in the South Pacific and third smallest state by area in the world – behind only the Vatican City and Monaco.
World War II ended late for Nauru, when the Japanese commander Hisayaki Soeda surrendered the island on 13 September 1945 to the Australian army and navy.
The UN established a trusteeship in 1947, with Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom as trustees, and the UK, Australia and New Zealand forming a joint administering authority. In practice, administrative power was exercised by Australia alone. Nauru became self-governing in 1966 and independent in 1968. Meanwjile, in 1967, the people of Nauru bought the assets of the British Phosphate Commissioners, and income from the mines gave Nauruans one of the highest standards of living in the Pacific.
A significant portion of Nauru's income has been in the form of aid from Australia. In 1989, Nauru took legal action against Australia in the International Court of Justice over Australia’s administration of the island, citing Australia’s failure to remedy the environmental damage caused by phosphate mining.
in 2009, Nauru became the fourth country, after Russia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, to recognise Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia. Nauru also recognised South Ossetia. Russia has given Nauru $50 million in aid as a result of this recognition.
In 2014, President Baron Waqa of Nauru survived a vote of confidence after he deported the Australian Resident Magistrate, Peter Law, and barred the Chief Justice, Geoffrey Eames, also an Australian from re-entering Nauru. In protest, the Solicitor-General, Steven Bliim – also an Australian – resigned. Before these events came the dismissal of the Australian parliamentary counsel, wife of an opposition MP, though now banned from Nauru.
The crisis left Nauru without a functioning judiciary, but also had wider ramifications. Nauru is the site of a detention centre that forms a key component in Australia’s ‘Pacific solution’ aimed at stopping boats landing asylum-seekers on Australian shores. It houses over 900 refugees, mainly Afghans, Sri Lankans, Iranians and Iraqis. Riots at the centre in 2013 triggered the sacking of the island’s Australian police chief. Amnesty International has described the conditions of the refugees living in Nauru as ‘horror.’
Nauru’s size hardly makes it a loud and convincing voice on the international stage. Apart from the questionable links with Russia that have shaped Nauru’s international decision-making, its treatment of refugees hardly give it great moral credibility in the General Assembly.
The Republic of Palau is an another island country in the western Pacific. The country has a population of 21,503, and is made up of about 340 islands, forming the western chain of the Caroline Islands in Micronesia, and has a land area of 466 sq km (180 sq m).
Like many other Pacific Islands, Palau was a part of the US-governed Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands from 1947. Palau voted against joining the Federated States of Micronesia in 1979, and the islands gained full sovereignty in 1994 under a Compact of Free Association with the US, which provides defence, funding and access to social services.
Palau has no independent military, and under the compact the US military has access to the islands for 50 years. The US navy also has a presence, and the US Coast Guard patrols Palau’s national waters.
In 1981, Palau voted for the world’s first nuclear-free constitution, banning the use, storage and disposal of nuclear, toxic chemical, gas and biological weapons. The ban delayed Palau’s transition to independence, because the US insisted on the option to operate nuclear propelled vessels and store nuclear weapons within the territory.
President Thomas Esang ‘Tommy’ Remengesau was in office in 2001-2009, and returned to office in 2013. He has been found guilty of not filing properties of land and their values and accrued interest, after being charged on 19 counts of violating Palau’s code of ethics. He was fined $156,400, a mere one-eighth of the fine recommended by the prosecutor.
Paulau’s freedom to make its own decisions on military matters has already compromised by US demands.
The Togolese Republic in West Africa is bordered by Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso. Togo covers 57,000 sq km (22,008 sq m), has a population of about 7.6 million, and the capital is Lomé.
Togo is among the smallest countries in Africa, it is one of the least developed countries, and its economic situation remains precarious, with a long-stalled transition to democracy in which democratic institutions remain fragile.
President Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who ruled Togo under a one-party system, died of a heart attack in 2005. He was being taken by plane for care, when he died over Tunisia. Under the Togo’s Constitution, the President of the Parliament, Fambaré Ouattara Natchaba, should have become President of Togo, until a new presidential election was called within 60 days.
Natchaba was out of Togo, on his way back from Paris. The Togolese army closed the borders and forced the plane to land in neighbouring Benin. In this power vacuum, the Parliament voted to remove the constitutional clause requiring an election within 60 days, and declared that Eyadema’s son, Faure Gnassingbé, would inherit the presidency and hold office for the rest of his father’s term.
The African Union condemned the takeover as a military coup d’état. In the riots that followed, several hundred people were killed. There were uprisings in many cities and towns, and a general civilian uprising in Aného was followed by a large-scale massacre by government troops that was largely unreported.
In the election that was finally calledm Faure Gnassingbé was elected President with over 60% of the vote. However, there was widespread electoral fraud, and the European Union suspended aid to Togo, although the US declared the vote ‘reasonably fair.’
In parliamentary elections in 2007, the president’s Rally of the Togolese People won an outright majority. Again, there were reports of widespread vote-rigging supported by the civil and military security apparatus.
Faure Gnassingbé was re-elected in a presidential election in 2010. Electoral observers reported ‘procedural errors,’ irregularities and technical problems, and the opposition did not recognise the results.
Togo’s vote is hardly the choice of a free and democratic society.
The UN member states that abstained are: Antigua-Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Benin, Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Fiji, Haiti, Hungary, Jamaica, Kiribati, Latvia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, South Sudan, Trinidad-Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda and Vanuatu.
Patrick Comerford is a former Foreign Desk Editor of ‘The Irish Times’
We have just three days to go to Christmas Day, and we are almost at the end of the last week of Advent.
Throughout this season of Advent, I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar from Lichfield Cathedral.
USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.
Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current prayer diary (22 October 2017 to 10 February 2018), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.
This week, the Prayer Diary continues its Advent series, looking at how the Church is reaching out to mothers and babies. This week, it continues with reflections and prayers from Bangladesh.
On Sunday, the Prayer Diary included an article by Sister Gillian Rose, a former USPG mission partner, who oversees the USPG-supported Bollobphur Hospital, which is owned by the Church of Bangladesh.
The USPG Prayer Diary:
Friday 22 December 2017:
Pray for Bangladesh which is suffering the impact of climate change, with more frequent storms and rising sea levels destroying agricultural land.
Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:
Today, the calendar is headed ‘O Rex Gentium,’ referring to the sixth of the O Antiphons in the final week of Advent.
The calendar suggests lighting your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.
Today, the calendar suggests reading Luke 1: 57-66.
The reflection for today offers this challenge:
Christmas frees our tongues to sing familiar songs and Carols. Pray that what we sing and say, we may believe. Have you been generous yet? Donate today!
Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland, Holy Communion):
I Samuel 1: 24-28; Psalm 113; Luke 1: 46-56.
The Collect of the Third Sunday of Advent:
O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen.
The Advent Collect:
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.