United Nations

The Syrian armed forces that took control of the Homs province town of Deir Balbi in 2012 wanted to show the locals they meant business and avoid attacks by approaching rebel units. So they forced children out of their homes, and allegedly placed them as human shields between their tanks and soldiers to dissuade the rebels from attacking.

The incident is described in a harrowing report issued by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, chronicling the devastating effects of the Syrian civil war on the country’s children, and adds fresh urgency to efforts to end the war. At least 10,000 children have died as casualties or combatants of war or under torture in Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s prisons, the report estimates. Read more

Prospects for peace in Syria
World powers are gathering in Switzerland in an attempt to find a diplomatic solution to Syria’s three-year civil war, which has cost more than 130,000 lives drawn in regional powers to fight a proxy sectarian war. The conference nearly fell apart before it began when the UN invited Iran to participate. But what chance of success remains? Roula Khalaf, foreign editor, and Borzou Daragahi, Middle East correspondent, join Ben Hall to discuss.

Gideon Rachman

Ordinary New Yorkers have good reason to dread “UNGA week” – the five days in September when world leaders descend en masse on New York for the UN General Assembly.

The result is gridlock in Manhattan as the east side of the city, near the UN, is blocked off to allow easier passage for presidential motorcades. On the other hand, the powerful and well-connected can be guaranteed a few good cocktail-party invitations. And interested spectators all over the world can be guaranteed some political theatre. Here is what to look out for this year when the leaders’ speeches get underway on Tuesday: Read more

The FT’s world news desk brings you their picks of the day… Read more

Gideon Rachman

What does the vote upgrading Palestine’s status at the UN to “non-member state” with observer status actually mean? Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, was quick to rubbish the vote as essentially meaningless in her speech. She could be right. But it all hinges on whether the Palestinians will now be able to pursue the Israelis through the International Criminal Court in the Hague. If that happens, then this really is a big deal. If the ICC does not come into play, then today’s vote matters a lot less.

As far as I can gather the legal situation is very unclear – and different lawyers take different views on whether Palestine’s new status will allow it to use the ICC. Inevitably, politics will also come into play. It would be a bold and risky decision for a fledgling institution like the ICC to go after Israel, since that would immediately and possibly permanently sour relations with the US. Most of the European powers would also be opposed. The reason that Britain abstained on today’s vote, for example, was this hovering question of the ICC and the refusal of the Palestinians to give assurances that they would not head straight for the Hague. On the contrary, Mahmoud Abbas hinted heavily in his speech that he was considering doing exactly that. Read more

The United Nations has a chequered history in the Democratic Republic of Congo dating back to its first ever peacekeeping mission in the 1960s. The latest twist will do nothing to change that.

In the same week that a leaked report by UN experts charges top Rwandan officials with teleguiding a rebellion in the east of Congo, Rwanda has been elected to serve a two-year term representing Africa on the UN security council. Read more

Welcome to a new round-up of US coverage of the 2012 presidential election.

With just 41 days of campaigning left – and no new national polls to set the campaigns into nail-biting mode – foreign policy is set to make an impact on the campaign on Tuesday as President Barack Obama addresses the UN general assembly on the Middle East and Mitt Romney is expected to hit back with accusations that the incumbent has failed in his policies there.

Most papers report that the White House is presenting this as a “real moment for the US to assert its values and leadership in this period of transition”.

But CBS News queries why, after making the trip to New York, the president is spending little time at UN headquarters. Unlike last year, he has scheduled no bilateral meetings with world leaders.

Simply put, the White House is prioritizing the president’s reelection effort. Most heads of state will be here all week, but the president will be in New York less than 24 hours, and even then will spend most of his time away from this conference.

 Read more

Here are our pre-weekend reading picks for you:

Roula Khalaf

Nearly a year into their uprising, Syrians have finally won the attention of the UN Security Council. Last night the council put on a big diplomatic show of support for political transition in Damascus. Emotional appeals for ending the Syrian tragedy were issued by Arab officials and western powers, words that Syrian activists have longed to hear.

The question, though, is whether the debate on Tuesday night represents any real progress in terms of international action. The Russian (as well as the Chinese) statements last night were not as confrontational as some had expected, perhaps because Moscow wanted to avoid taking the Arab League head on.

But the Russian red lines were nonetheless enunciated, including a clear opposition to any threat of sanctions or any wording that could lead to military action and, most damaging to the Arab-western backed draft resolution on the table, a resistance to a Security Council imposition of a road map for a political transition. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

Amid so much uncertainty and change, it is cold comfort that at least some things remain the same: Fidel Castro is still alive. A long absence from the public eye had prompted rumours that the 85-year-old revolutionary icon might have died. But on Monday, the former Cuban president, who handed power over to his brother Raúl in 2008 because of ill health, published another of his Reflections.  Read more