Monthly Archives: May 2008
In the run-up to Wednesday’s elections to the UN Human Rights Council, Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, and Jimmy Carter have all issued statements opposing Sri Lanka’s candidacy. The case against Sri Lanka, according to Tutu:
Sri Lanka has failed to honour its pledges of upholding human rights standards and cooperating with the UN since joining the council two years ago. Indeed, its human rights record has worsened during that time. The Sri Lankan idea of cooperation with the UN, meanwhile, has been to condemn senior UN officials (including the high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, and the under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, John Holmes) as “terrorists” or “terrorist sympathisers.”
The systematic abuses by Sri Lankan government forces are among the most serious imaginable. Government security forces summarily remove their own citizens from their homes and families in the middle of the night, never to be heard from again. Torture and extrajudicial killings are widespread. When the human rights council was established, UN members required that states elected must themselves “uphold the highest standards” of human rights. On that count, Sri Lanka is clearly disqualified.
Opposition to Sri Lankan membership in the Council — the successor to the Human Rights Commission, which was much-maligned for its regular inclusion of rights-abusing and abusive regimes — does seem to have crystallized among NGOs and human rights activists. While the new Council is by no means a paragon of human rights monitoring — passing more resolutions that condemned Israel than those that censured Sudan, for example — the campaign to tighten the standards of countries accepted into the body reveals how far the Council has come. Last year, Belarus’ candidacy flopped, deterring notorious human rights offenders like Sudan and Zimbabwe from even attempting to stand for election. Sri Lanka may well not be pleased with the negative attention is receiving, but ultimately, both the Human Rights Council and the human rights situation within Sri Lanka stand to benefit.
In case you missed Jeffrey Gettleman’s stunning expose of the near-famine conditions in Somalia, it is worth a read:
Somalia — and much of the volatile Horn of Africa, for that matter — was about the last place on earth that needed a food crisis. Even before commodity prices started shooting up around the globe, civil war, displacement and imperiled aid operations had pushed many people here to the brink of famine.
But now with food costs spiraling out of reach and the livestock that people live off of dropping dead in the sand, villagers across this sun-blasted landscape say hundreds of people are dying of hunger and thirst.
This is what happens, economists say, when the global food crisis meets local chaos.
“We’re really in the perfect storm,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Columbia economist and top United Nations adviser, who recently visited neighboring Kenya.
There has been a collision of troubles throughout the region: skimpy rainfall, disastrous harvests, soaring food prices, dying livestock, escalating violence, out-of-control inflation, and shrinking food aid because of many of these factors.
The UN has branded the situation in Somalia a “humanitarian emergency” — the final step before an official famine, which is likely just weeks away. This news only further accentuates the need for a credible peacekeeping force in Somalia, as well as continued investment in both humanitarian assistance and political negotiations. As Gettleman’s article reminds us, the ramifications of famine cannot be divorced from the panoply of other factors exacerbating Somalia’s plight. Across the border in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, there are signs that the Ethiopian government is manipulating an equally dire food crisis to snuff out an insurgency. In Somalia’s violent landscape, such a tactic is unfortunately not far from the realm of possibility.
>>South Africa – Anti-immigrant attacks continued to escalate on Monday as mobs beat and raped foreigners and burned down their homes and shops. So far 22 have died in the violence. The groups mostly targeted Zimbabweans and Mozambicans, who they have accused of taking jobs and fueling the high violent crime rate. The unrest comes at a time when the nation is already struggling with power outages, inflation, and widespread anger at the government’s pro-business policies. On the flip side, investors are already worried about the growing influence of labor in an ANC lead by Jacob Zuma.
>>Myanmar – Today Myanmar agreed to open its doors to aid from Southeast Asian neighbors but will still restrict access to others. An estimated 2.5 million survivors are still in dire need of aid.
>>Iraq – An American sniper serving in Iraq has been sent home after it was discovered last week that he had used a Qur’an for target practice. Major General Jeffrey Hammond, the commander of U.S. troops in Baghdad, publicly apologized for the incident, which some Iraqi officers had threatened to quit over.
- UN Plaza: Faltering Peace in Northen Uganda
- Taking On Maternal Death, One Cause at a Time
- Over the Moon Over Somalia
- Bad News on World Economic Health
In this edition of UN Plaza, I welcome Enough Campaign policy analyst Julia Speigel back to the program. We discuss her recent trip to Northern Uganda, where she monitored last month’s peace talks between the government of Uganda and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army.
The peace talks stalled at the last minute when rebel leader Joseph Kony failed to show up to the signing ceremony. In the clip below, Julia discusses how the international community might pressure Kony to come back to the table. You can also read her excellent report on how to revive the peace process in Northern Uganda.
UNFPA officials are calling on governments to address the high rates of maternal death, and to find the root causes behind them. Deputy Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for the English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean, Jaime Nadal-Roig, said in a recent interview:
“This should be from the perspective of reproductive health, which is more holistic. we have to look at root causes of the problem and the broader picture.”
Tackling the specific causes of maternal complications, such as fistula incontinence, hypertensive disease and obstructed labor, can help reduce numbers. RH Reality Check has a piece up addressing the fact that nearly 13% maternal deaths that are caused by unsafe abortions. Here’s a snippet:
Reducing maternal deaths is a laudable goal, and one that must be achieved if the rest of the millennium development goals are to be realized. But reductions in maternal mortality can never be fully realized unless the global community of donors, governments, and public health starts including abortion in realistic approaches to protecting women’s health. If the world wants to promote development, it needs to start promoting comprehensive reproductive health care.
Read the full piece here.
At least one person on the UN Security Council is enthusiastic about the possibility of a robust UN peacekeeping force deploying to Somalia.
“I am so excited! I’m over the moon!” South Africa’s jubilant U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo told reporters afterwards.
Somalis are also likely to be pleased by the news, because it indicates a firm UN commitment to help alleviate the deteriorating humanitarian and political situation in their country. The African Union also welcomes UN involvement, as its contingent of 2,600 Ugandan and Burundian troops is not sufficient to maintain security as the country slowly opens up a peace process. One reason that this force has remained so deeply undermanned is because neighboring countries are loathe to involve their troops in a regional conflagration; UN peacekeepers from all over the world will not have this problem.
Possible troop-contributing countries may be less ecstatic, however, at the prospect of ponying up additional contributions to the over 110,000 blue helmets already deployed around the world. Other commentators are also likely to question the feasibility of rounding up troops for another UN peacekeeping mission when the force in Darfur remains over 16,000 personnel short of its target size.
These are legitimate concerns, and, in calling for preparations for possible UN deployment, the Security Council is in fact anticipating the difficulty of obtaining peacekeepers. Setting out the conditions for dispatching a peacekeeping mission to Somalia — while simultaneously pushing for more concerted pressure in broader peace negotiations — is not mere bureaucratic red tape; it is a prudent recognition that simply throwing in troops that the international community cannot yet provide would not solve either Somalia’s political or humanitarian woes. Pragmatism is necessary on deliberations of whether, when, and how UN peacekeepers — or a coalition under a different guise, which was one of the options laid out in the Secretary-General’s most recent report on Somalia — deploy to Somalia, but to allow the weight of the difficulties of achieving such a deployment to trump the actual needs of the situation on the ground would smack of expediency and perpetrate a great disservice on Somalis.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.