UN suspends Lebanon and Yemen voting rights over unpaid bills

The two countries must meet their minimum financial contributions before they can be allowed to vote again in the 74th session of the United Nations

TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump speaks during the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, September 24, 2019. / AFP / Ludovic MARIN
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Lebanon and Yemen have both had their voting rights at the United Nations General Assembly suspended over a failure to meet financial commitments to the global forum.

Crisis-hit Lebanon on Saturday said it "regrets" being among seven countries stripped by the United Nations of voting privileges for failing to pay their dues.

The UN decision could "harm Lebanon's interests, its prestige and reputation," the foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency.

The ministry called for a solution to be found “as quickly as possible", saying the situation "could be corrected".

On Friday the United Nations said seven countries – Lebanon, Yemen, Venezuela, Central African Republic, Gambia, Lesotho and Tonga – have fallen behind in their financial contributions and would not be able to vote in the 74th session of the General Assembly.

Under Article 19 of the Charter of the United Nations, member states that are behind on the payment of dues in an amount that equals or exceeds the contributions due for two preceding years can lose their vote in the General Assembly.

Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia, and Comoros were also listed but as per a resolution passed in October, the General Assembly agreed their arrears were due to unspecified “conditions beyond their control” and so would be allowed to vote in the current session.

Member states that can show that inability to pay is due to conditions beyond their control are allowed an exception.

The Lebanese finance ministry later said Lebanon's arrears would be paid on Monday. It was not immediately clear how much Beirut owed the United Nations.

However, a letter from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to UN General Assembly president Tijjani Muhammad-Bandesaid on January 7 said that Lebanon would need to pay a minimum of $4.59 million and Yemen $3.19 million to retain voting rights.

War-torn Yemen has yet to officially comment on the suspension.

The internationally recognised government of Abdrabu Mansur Hadi has been fighting a rebellion by north Yemeni Houthi rebels since 2015 with the help of the Saudi-led Arab Coalition.

The country faces what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and the economy has all but ground to a halt due to the fighting.

The Lebanese foreign ministry argued that it had "performed all of its duties and completed all transactions within the deadline" but did not explain who is to blame or why the funds were not transferred to the UN.

The finance ministry hit back saying it did not receive any request to make the payment.

Lebanon is facing its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

The World Bank estimates that Lebanon is in recession, and has warned that the number living in poverty could increase from a third to half the population.

The economic downturn coincides with an anti-government protest movement that has remained mobilised since October 17.

Protesters are demanding the removal of a political class they deem incompetent and corrupt.