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At UN, Bid to Overturn Same Sex Benefits Fails, Saudi Says UNacceptable

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 24 -- A proposal to overturn UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's decision to extend benefits to same-sex partners of UN staff was voted down on March 24, with 43 nations in favor, 80 against and 37 abstaining.

  Before the vote in the UN's Fifth (Budget) Committee, Saudi Arabia said that such relationships are "morally unacceptable."

  This is the same Saudi Arabia so much praised recently, on the passing of its King and even this week for a its role in Yemen. Some coverage in the run-up to the vote didn't even mention US ally Saudi Arabia.

  There was talk of respecting cultural norms, and from US, EU and others, emphasis that internal UN rules don't impact the domestic legislation of states.

 The chairman of the committee, before giving the floor to Germany, offered condolences for the plane crash earlier in the morning in the French Alps. Then the clashing speeches continued.

  Inner City Press covered the issue back in December 2014, when at the last minute a vote was put off.

In the run up to the December 24, 2014 budget showdown at the UN, diplomats worked until six in the morning, on issues ranging from the 2016 budget to the first performance report.

  At 3 pm on December 24, however, the outgoing head of the Group of 77, Bolivia's Sacha Llorenti, told G77 representatives that the other side said no more talks today. Later in the day it was rolled-over to the next week, and now Inner City Press is first to report some of the results.

  Beyond the money (see below), the contentious issue of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's same sex marriage benefits, on which the Organization for Islamic Cooperation and others were prepared to vote no, has been pushed over into the next session. One African Permanent Representative, not in the OIC, told Inner City Press Ban should "just withdraw" his policy. Ban is on annual leave.

  On Yom Kippur, Diwali and other religions' holidays becoming official UN system holidays, sources tell Inner City Press that language has been arrived at that allows these holidays to be celebrated without requiring it.

  The Partnerships facilities, which many delegates linked to former UN official Robert Orr, ran into opposition from those who say its modalities and "programmatic" elements must be further negotiated. The return of some $150 million by the Capital Master Plan is still being pushed for; G77 says it "held the line on re-costing."

  In the hallway outside Conference Rooms 5, 1 and 3, Inner City Press interviewed a range of diplomats and UN Secretariat officials about the  rebellion by some member states at Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's policy position -- or "executive order," as one delegate called it -- on same sex marriage.

  "Between the OIC and African countries, it's going down," one Permanent Representative had told Inner City Press. The other side says that Ban has the power to "just do it." But, even the person making this argument conceded,  Ban is no Obama.

  And, another asked, where IS Ban Ki-moon, as his policy is "going down" in the Fifth Committee? On December 29 the answer was: on annual leave.

  A delegate from Uruguay last week urged the rest of the Fifth Committee of the UN General Assembly to do everything possible to come to a conclusion before midday on December 24. That didn't happen.  Now will it be done on December 29?

In this session the Fifth Committee is considering, for example, the proposed program budget outline for the biennium 2016-17. On this, amid threats of cut-backs, the Group of 77 and China put a resolution into an “L document” on December 23, leading to protests from diplomats from Italy, Japan and the US.

Diplomats stayed until 6 am on December 24, and returned for a G77 meeting at 11 am, moved due to its size from Conference Room 9 to CR 1. Bolivia's Permanent Representative Sacha Llorenti, soon to turn over the G77 gavel to South Africa, reported back to G77 Ambassador where things stood.

For now, the Fifth Committee “plenary” is not set until 3 pm, with the full General Assembly with no time set at all.

Other items include the Capital Master Plan, the Extraordinary Chambers court in Cambodia, revised estimates for the Ebola mission UNMEER and for the Human Rights Council (regarding cut-backs at which, see this Inner City Press story) and UNHQ long term accommodation needs, otherwise known as building on a current New York City playground.

Another item concerns the UN's UMOJA system, with cost overruns and corruption scandals. One former UMOJA official, Paul van Essche who was caught up in a scandal -- "PHP irregularities," Inner City Press exclusive coverage here -- now announces he'll resurface as UNICEF's chief of information technology in January 2015. We'll have more on this.


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