Monthly Archives: May 2008
Spencer Ackerman says it well, “The Burmese Junta does what juntas everywhere do…using the catastrophe that killed perhaps as many as 100,000 people — a death toll too large to be comprehensible — as a shakedown opportunity.” Tragic, but true. Consider this:
“Burma’s ruling military junta today impounded United Nations food shipments bound for the storm-ravaged Irrawaddy Delta, and U.N. officials said they would suspend further aid to the country in response.
Two planes carrying about 76,000 pounds of high-energy biscuits landed in Rangoon today, but were forced to offload into a government-controlled warehouse, said Paul Risley, a spokesman for the U.N.’s World Food Program in Bangkok. Risley said UN officials were told that only Burma’s minister for social welfare could release the aid for distribution.
It gets worse, BBC just reported that the World Food Program has suspended all new shipments to Burma until the aid is freed from impound. Like I said yesterday, this is criminal behavior. For a view closer to the ground, check out Burmese Bloggers Without Borders.
As Liberia recovers from a decade of civil war, the country’s top UN official is not only pushing for an advancement in women’s rights, but also saying that women’s empowerment is critical to improving peace and development:
Addressing participants at the start of a five-day national women’s conference in the capital, Monrovia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Liberia, Ellen Margrethe Løj, yesterday highlighted the need to take the message of women’s empowerment and the advancement of human rights to the community level.
‘When discussing these issues, ensure that they are not only discussed with intellectual women in Monrovia; make sure that all women of Liberia are involved in these efforts,’ she told the gathering, which included UN and Government officials, diplomats, local women leaders, female traditional and religious leaders and members of civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Løj also addressed women’s participation in agriculture in reference to the rise in food prices, as well as the prevalence of rape in Liberia, which is currently the single most frequently committed serious crime in the nation.
Imagine that a crowded building is on fire, that people are dying inside, and that a guy with a gun is standing outside the door to prevent firefighters from entering. Now multiply that by a couple million times or so and you can get a feel for what is happening in Burma right now.
The junta has never had a reputation for caring much about its own citizens, but the fact that they are erecting all sorts of bureaucratic hurdles to prevent life saving relief from reaching their own citizens is downright criminal. Given this behavior, I wonder if the Security Council should invoke the “Responsibility to Protect” and authorize the violation of Myanmar’s sovereignty by other member states? (This is the principal, agreed upon by UN member states in 2005, that the international community is permitted to violate the sovereignty of a country when that country is unwilling or unable to prevent mass atrocities from being visited upon its own citizens.)
It seems that at least one P-5 member, France , thinks so. The proposal was aired by Bernard Kouchner, French foreign minister and founder of Doctors Without Borders, but quickly shot down by China and Russia. The UN’s Top Humanitarian Official, John Holmes, also derided the proposal, saying “I’m not sure that invading Myanmar would be a very sensible option at this particular moment. I’m not sure it would be helpful to the people we’re actually trying to help.”
True, the immediate goal is to get relief to Burmese citizens as fast as possible. Right now, this means working with the military junta. But if this kind of obstructionism on the part of the Burmese government is not overcome soon, invoking Responsibility to Protect should not be too far outside the realm of possibility.
>>Myanmar – The first aid supplies are on their way to Myanmar in a UN plane as the military junta continues to drag its feet on large-scale international aid. The first shipment includes high-energy biscuits, medical kits, and tents. The World Food Program says that two more planes are expected to follow. The UN is still waiting for visas for 40 of its disaster relief experts. The U.S. embassy in Myanmar stated yesterday that the death toll could be as high as 100,000, and France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, has suggested the UN bypass the junta to deliver aid, evoking the “responsibility to protect” clause.
>>Burundi – A day after the Forces for National Liberation, the remaining active rebel group, agreed to implement a peace deal, Burundi’s army killed 50 FNL fighters in a gun fight outside of Bujumbura. Both sides claim they were provoked. The people of Burundi have suffered under a decade-long civil war between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority that has left over 300,000 dead.
>>Israel – Celebrations have begun in Israel to mark its 60th anniversary. President Bush will visit next week. Palestinians, on the other hand, are holding solemn marches in the West Bank to mark the day they call al-Nakba, or “the Catastrophe.” The celebrations are also overshadowed by a continuing corruption probe against Prime Minister Olmert, which prompted him to cancel the customary interviews granted to local media on independence day.
The tiny port nation of Djibouti, a key U.S. ally in the Horn of Africa, has urged the U.N. Security Council to take immediate action to prevent a conflict with its northern neighbor Eritrea.
In a letter to the council president circulated Tuesday, Djibouti’s Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf said Eritrea has launched a major military buildup on their border overlooking critical Red Sea shipping lanes.
It is not yet clear how the Security Council will respond to Youssouf’s appeal, and Djibouti is as yet unsatisfied with the mediation from the Arab League and African Union. According to Djibouti’s president, the Eritrean and Djiboutian armies are each massed along the border, and “the situation is explosive.” With Russia and Georgia also — at least rhetorically — sparring over the region of Abkhazia, yet another regional confrontation over territory is clearly not in the UN’s interests. In the border spat with Ethiopia, though, Eritrea’s government did not exactly welcome the continued presence of UN peacekeepers, eventually forcing them out of the country by withholding necessary fuel supplies. In that case, the UN had even ruled that the disputed border territory at hand belonged to Eritrea, so one can only imagine how the country would react to UN involvement in a case in which its claim to Djibouti’s land seems much more dubious.
According to conservative estimates, over 15 million children worldwide have lost at least one parent to AIDS. That population, equivalent to the population of New York, Paris, and Bangkok combined and mostly living in sub-Saharan Africa, is vulnerable to exploitation, including forced labor, prostitution, and child soldiering, and stands a greater chance of suffering from malnutrition and contracting HIV themselves. That population also constitutes a tremendous strain on communities already straining under the weight of other significant health and development challenges.
Simply put, resources are needed. As such, in 2002 FXB International founded World Aids Orphans Day, a grassroots campaign to push all nations to direct at least 10 percent of their HIV/AIDS funding to the care of orphans. So far, the US, UK, and Ireland are the only nations to do so. To join the effort, go to www.worldaidsorphans.org.
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.