Yearly Archives: 2008
A troubling new report from Human Rights Watch suggests that civilians fleeing fighting between Tamil separatists and the Sri Lankan army are being warehoused in government run “welfare centers” that are “just badly disguised prisons.”
They face severe shortages of food and other essentials because of government restrictions on humanitarian assistance. Individuals and families who have managed to flee areas controlled by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been detained in poor conditions in army-controlled camps.
“Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in a war zone with limited aid because the government ordered the UN and other aid workers out,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “To add insult to injury, people who manage to flee the fighting end up being held indefinitely in army-run prison camps.”
International humanitarian law is very clear on how to treat civilians in internal armed conflict. Yesterday, in a letter to the Sri Lankan government Walter Kalin, the Secretary-General’s Representative for the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) voiced his concerns.
“IDPs, who are civilians and who retain their right to freedom of movement, must not be detained in camps…Only the most limited and narrow exception would be allowed for a temporary relocation or restriction of civilians, and only then for imperative military reasons or when safety of the civilians so requires.”
The point is, this wreaks of arbitrary detention. IDPs should not be treated as POWs.
On a related note, here is a video (via Witness) on the plight of war-affected Tamil youths.
In September 2006 billionaire investment guru Warren Buffett joined forces with the Nuclear Threat Initiative (a sister organization to the UN Foundation, which sponsors this blog) to kick start the creation of a “nuclear fuel bank” at the International Atomic Energy Agency. The idea behind a nuclear fuel bank is pretty simple: countries that seek civilian nuclear power must either a) import low-enriched uranium or b) enrich their own uranium. From a country’s perspective, b is generally preferable because it means they are not dependent on external sources of enriched uranium. From a non-proliferation perspective, however, b is worrisome because once countries start enriching their own uranium, it could be only a matter of time until they decide to use that technology to create weapons-grade uranium.
A “nuclear fuel bank” would theoretically obviate the need for countries to enrich their own uranium because the bank would provide a back-up supply of low-enriched uranium should the importer’s supply become disrupted. It is sort of an insurance policy for countries that chose to not develop their own uranium enrichment technologies. It also helps take away the incentive for developing the kind of uranium enrichment technologies that could eventually yield nuclear weapons.
The idea to create a nuclear fuel bank has been around for decades, but in 2006 Buffet breathed new life into it by promising $50 billion to the IAEA as a seed investment to start the bank. His pledge was conditioned on IAEA member states raising $100 million in matching funds by the end of 2008.
So far, the United States pledged $50 million, and Norway and the United Arab Emirates pledged $15 million. It looked like the European Union’s pledge of 25 million euros would leave the bank just shy of the $100 million mark. Then this happened:
The dollar’s 12 percent slide since Dec. 10 is helping the International Atomic Energy Agency beat a year-end deadline to win $50 million from Buffett, money he offered on condition UN member states raise $100 million in matching funds. Euro appreciation wiped out a $3 million shortfall last week in the matched funds, when the European Union said it would give 25 million euros ($36.6 million) to the project.
So there you have it. The declining dollar to the rescue.
Medicines sans Frontieres (a.k.a Doctors Without Borders) released its annual list if the years’ top ten humanitarian crises.
* Somalia’s Humanitarian Catastrophe Worsens
* Beyond the International Spotlight, Critical Health Needs in Myanmar Remain Unmet
* Health Crisis Sweeps Zimbabwe as Violence and Economic Collapse Spread
* Civilians Trapped as War Rages in Eastern Congo
* Millions of Malnourished Children Left Untreated Despite Advances in Lifesaving Nutritional Therapies
* Critical Need of Assistance in Ethiopia’s Somali Region
* Civilians Killed and Forced to Flee as Fighting Intensifies in Northwestern Pakistan
* No End in Sight to Violence and Suffering in Sudan
* Iraqi Civilians in Urgent Need of Assistance
* HIV/TB Co-infections Posses Health Battle on Two Fronts
The links will take you to a detailed description of each individual crisis, accompanied by slides and photos of what MSF is up against. It is a powerful reminder that we in politically stable communities with functioning health systems have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.
History was made at the United Nations yesterday when 60 countries signed onto a General Assembly declaration in support of the decriminalization of homosexuality. France–which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union–spearheaded the resolution, which was a 13 point declaration “to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention.”
Opposing the resolution, were the United States, the Holy See, and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. This latter group issued its own statement claiming the declaration would ease restrictions against pedophilia. The United States couched its opposition in legal technicalities. “We are opposed to any discrimination, legally or politically,” said Alejandro D. Wolff, the deputy U.S. ambassador. “But the nature of our federal system prevents us from undertaking commitments and engagements where federal authorities don’t have jurisdiction.”
Despite the opposition, this was a pretty significant event for the United Nations–and for the world. A resolution like this is non-binding, meaning that it does not have the force of law anywhere. But in the long run these kinds of resolutions do help to foster the genesis of new legal norms and new human rights.
Our friends at Nothing But Nets send along the following.
The UN Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign, a global, grassroots initiative to prevent malaria, announced today the distribution of nearly one million bed nets to children and their families throughout the Central African Republic (CAR). The nets will be distributed as part of an integrated measles immunization campaign led by the government of CAR with support from the Measles Initiative. The bed nets contributed by Nothing But Nets will provide full coverage for 740,000 children under the age of five who are being targeted in this effort.
As always, send a net, save a life. The rest of the release is below the fold.
Over the past week, 60,000 Congolese have fled across the border into Uganda. Nearly all of them have left loved ones behind and, with only impromptu infrastructure in camps, would have no way to communicate with them. Fortunately, the remarkable Telecoms sans Frontieres (TSF) — whose excellent work we have highlighted before — has been able to deploy practically immediately, providing free phone calls for families displaced by the recent violence. Check out this fascinating video of TSF on the ground, helping the 10,000 refugees in the town of Matanda, Uganda.
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.