October 2006 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 September 2006
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After an exceptionally busy summer and a September filled with the usual annual flurry of high level activities related to the opening debate of the General Assembly, October is likely to see Council members turning more sustained attention to several ongoing serious problems. Although there will only be three peacekeeping mandate renewals and relatively few other actions required by previous Council decisions, the month, under Japan’s presidency, is shaping up as another busy one.

At least three issues where it had been hoped that high level meetings on the margins of the General Assembly might have prompted significant progress and possibly even breakthroughs-Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and Iran-instead yielded little or nothing at all and will therefore necessitate persistent Council attention in October.

Despite the worsening situation on the ground in Darfur and a massive diplomatic effort to pressure Sudan to consent to a transition from the African Union’s force (AMIS) to the UN, there has been only very limited progress.  The AU’s Peace and Security Council meeting in New York in September decided to keep its peacekeepers in Darfur until the end of the year, thus preventing the worst-case scenario that all international actors might withdraw from Darfur.  But the Council has suffered further setbacks to its efforts, such as the lack of consensus on a presidential statement on the eve of the AU meeting.

Côte d’Ivoire
The situation in that country has lately taken a sharp turn for the worse, with the abandonment of any hope on the part of the international community that the elections, already once postponed, could be held by the end of October. The increasingly belligerent attitude of the country’s president, Laurent Gbagbo and a rise in tension between the government and the still-armed opposition are causes for concern.  Much hope had hinged on a long-planned “mini-summit” in New York at the time of the high-level debate at the General Assembly. To the considerable dismay of all the other key actors gathered there, however, Gbagbo failed to show up and made comments to the press at home that he might ask the UN to leave. The Council, meanwhile, has been unable to agree on imposing targeted sanctions on two influential Gbagbo supporters. In October, the Council will therefore need to make several important decisions, including: setting a new deadline for the presidential elections; whether or not to further pursue the targeted sanctions route; and whether to attempt to make new arrangements for the fragile Ivorian peace process.

Despite high expectations that top level meetings, which could take advantage of the dignitaries’ presence at the opening of the General Assembly, would provide a catalyst for efforts at achieving a diplomatic solution to the looming Iranian crisis, no progress has been seen, largely due to the unexpected absence in New York of Ali Larijani, the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator.

Meanwhile, the 31 August report from the Director-General of the IAEA indicated that Iran had not complied with its obligations under resolution 1696. But, in order to give diplomacy another chance, the P5 plus Germany decided to re-establish contacts with Iran to explore the possibility of a return to the negotiations on the principle of “double suspension”-keeping the issue of the Iranian nuclear programme outside the Council while Iran commits to a suspension of uranium enrichment activities. Therefore, whether the issue will come back to the Council in October depends on progress of the current discussions between Larijani and the EU’s Javier Solana. If the talks show some results, they will continue until an agreement is reached on the resumption of negotiations. If there is too little or no progress, it is possible that within two weeks the P5 plus Germany will start discussing sanctions.

Beyond the consideration of two reports expected in October (the fourth report on the implementation of resolution 1559, and a new one on the proposed design of a tribunal of international character to try suspects in the assassination of the Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri) Lebanon is likely to be on the Council members’ minds because of numerous issues related to the implementation of resolution 1701 that put an end to the hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel in August.  They include the ongoing deployment of the strengthened peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL; the need to more vigorously implement resolutions 1559 and 1680 (some new elements are expected from the upcoming 1559 report); and the Secretary-General’s still pending proposals on the delineation of Lebanon’s international borders, in particular the Sheb’a Farms. There is also the larger question of whether the Council is willing and able to use the momentum gained in August with the passage of 1701 to continue to exercise proactive leadership on that resolution and all related issues. Speakers during the open debate at the General Assembly cited the Council’s action on the cessation of hostilities in Lebanon and in Israel as an example of the UN acting at its best and an illustration for why a strong and effective United Nations is needed.  It remains to be seen whether the Council will prove them right.

Uganda is likely to be on many Council members’ minds. They will be closely following the peace talks between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). With a promise by Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni of an amnesty for the LRA’s top leaders and the pending International Criminal Court warrants against them, accountability will be a key issue for many members. Some members may also want to focus on the follow up to the Secretary-General’s recommendations on the LRA, such as the appointment of a special envoy.

Democratic Republic of the Congo
At press time, members were discussing the renewal of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) to February 2007. In October, Council members will be paying close attention to the developments on the ground, in particular the preparations for the 29 October run-off elections and the potential for election-related violence. The issue of the long-term future of MONUC will linger in the background, but is unlikely to be seriously addressed until after the electoral process is finalised. On sanctions, listing individuals for targeted measures will continue to be on the minds of some members, especially as the Council awaits the Secretary-General’s observations on the application of individual sanctions against those obstructing the work of MONUC or the Group of Experts.

The process leading to the appointment of the next Secretary-General will shift into high gear in October. While it is unclear whether the winner of this race will be known by the end of the month there is likely to be some crystallisation of the matter.  Three new candidates were formally put forward by their governments in September: Prince Zeid al-Hussein, Jordan’s ambassador to the United Nations; Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the Latvian president; and Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s former finance minister.  The overall dynamic of this process has been changed not only by that increased number and by the entrance of a woman candidate for the post, but also by the fact that the Thai coup removed the government that nominated one of the candidates, the country’s deputy prime minister Surakiart Sathirathai. As of this writing, the military government has confirmed its support for that candidate, but the coup and its aftermath are likely to be factors in members’ decisions.

As we go to press, still in September, the Council is scheduled to hold another straw poll on the candidates. The modalities for this poll are still being discussed and it is unclear whether a new feature will be added (such as the use of a different colour ballot for the P5, a strong US preference at this stage), or whether the old routine will remain. Regardless, October is likely to see significant new developments, such as new straw poll rules, the dropping (and perhaps adding) of candidates, and possibly a final resolution.

On 16 October, the Council and the rest of the world will be poised to learn the Council’s composition for 2007. Of the five seats, three are uncontested, but the Asian and the Latin American seats are being disputed between Indonesia and Nepal; and Guatemala and Venezuela, respectively.  With Korea’s recent decision to drop out from the race (in order to focus the government’s attention on its candidate for the Secretary-General), Indonesia is now optimistic that it has the necessary support for a two-thirds majority at the General Assembly.  The Latin American race remains a cliff-hanger.

The annual open debate on women, peace and security as a follow-up to resolution 1325 is the only thematic debate currently envisaged for October. It is likely to focus on women’s role in the consolidation of peace and may also address the role for the newly established Peacebuilding Commission to take gender into account in country-specific post conflict work.

The Council’s October review of the diamond sanctions in Liberia will likely raise interest in the UN’s overall efforts at curbing the trade in “conflict diamonds”. We offer in this issue a piece focusing on that complex aspect of the Council’s activities.

In addition, several issues are most likely to be addressed in consultations because of the reports due. These are:

  • the Secretary-General’s report on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA); 
  • the report of the Secretary-General on the Central African Republic;
  • the periodic  report on Somalia; and 
  • two reports on Timor-Leste: one by the Special Commission of Inquiry into the recent crisis; and the other by the Secretary-General on arrangements between the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) and the international security forces.

Two further mandates are due to be renewed in October: those of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia and the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara.

Finally, issues such as small arms and the Security Council mandates review, that for months have figured in a footnote to the monthly programme of work, may come closer to the front burner in October.

Full forecast