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Rwandan Military Leader Convicted of Genocide

Col. Theoneste Bagosora, and two accomplices, Maj. Aloys Ntabakuze and Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva were sentenced to life imprisonment for "genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes" by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda this afternoon. This is very welcome news. Bagosora was a top Rwandan military official who upon the assassination President Habyarimana became one of the most powerful people in the country. He was a Hutu extremist and was irreconcilable to the prospect of a power sharing arrangement with Tusti leaders, known as the Arusha Peace Accord. He was so opposed to the peace process, that he walked out of the talks to "prepare the apocalypse." The apocalypse would begin April 7, 1994 when President Habyarimana's plane was shot down. Over the course of 100 days, some 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis would be killed. How such efficient mass murder was carried out is detailed in Bagosora's criminal indictment, which reads like a how-to manual for committing genocide. First, he sought to kill off moderate Hutu's--his main political adversaries. The indictment shows that as far back as 1992 he instructed intelligence officers to generate a list of people to kill. The Rwandan Foreign Minister and Prime Minister would be among the first of his victims.
Colonel Theoneste Bagosora participated in the Arusha talks, and openly manifested his opposition to the concessions made by the Government representative, Boniface Ngulinzira, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the point of leaving the negotiation table. Colonel Theoneste Bagosora left Arusha saying that he was returning to Rwanda to "prepare the apocalypse". On 11 April 1994, Boniface Ngulinzira was assassinated by the military. His death was announced on [a Hutu extremist radio station] in these terms: "We have exterminated the accomplices of the RPF, Boniface Ngulinzira will no longer go and sell the country to the RPF's advantage."
His main political adversary, though, was the de-jure head of state, Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, also a moderate Hutu. He plotted to kill her and the UN peacekeepers protecting her home.
Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana was tracked down, arrested, sexually assaulted and killed by Rwandan Arnay personnel, more specifically, members of the Presidential Guard, the Para-Commando Battalion and the Reconnaissance Battalion. Concurrently, members of the same units arrested, confined and killed important opposition leaders...That same morning, the ten Belgian para- commandos from UNAMIR who were dispatched to the Prime Minister residence to escort ber to the radio were murdered at Kigali military camp.
As the top military official, he had access to the military's weapons stores. He plotted to distribute those weapons to irregular militia's (known as the interhamwe) and instructed the militias to set up roadblocks throughout Kigali. Tutsi's would be summarily executed at these roadblocks.
In order to implement the plan for the extermination of the enemy and its "accomplices", the militiamen were to receive weapons, in addition to military training. Hence, the military and civilian authorities distributed weapons to the militiamen and certain carefully selected members of the civilian population in various prefectures of the country before and during the events referred to in this indictment, Augustin Bizimana, Théoneste Bagosora, Protais Mpiranya, Anatole Nsengiyumva, Aloys Ntabakuze and others distributed weapons to the militiamen and certain carefully selected members of the civilian population with the intent to exterminate the Tutsi population and eliminate its "accomplices."
A very bad man will now spend the rest of his life behind bars. Photo credit: AFP
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UN Suspends Food Distribution to Gaza

Renewed fighting has forced the the United Nations agency that oversees humanitarian operations in the Palestinian territories to suspend food shipments to Gaza. A six month-old Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, and between Hamas and Israel, is set to expire on Friday. Fighting, though, has already renewed, creating an impossible operating environment for humanitarian workers.
Due to the ongoing crisis with irregular border access and the lack of wheat flour in Gaza, UNRWA has exhausted all stocks of flour in its warehouses. Wheat supplies scheduled to arrive in Gaza the 9-10 December were unable to enter due to rocket fire, hence the mills have run out of flour and UNRWA has been forced to suspend food distribution. Food distribution for both emergency and regular programs will be suspended from Thurs 18th December until further notice. All crossings for goods into the Strip are closed and no humanitarian supplies, fuel and other needed commodities are being allowed to enter. A total of 750,000 refugees out of a population of 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip depend on food assistance from UNRWA. On average, the Agency distributes food to about 20,000 refugees per day. Once the supply of flour resumes, UNRWA will work as quickly as it can to clear the backlog and get back on schedule.
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One Big Happy Naval Family

Spencer Ackerman and Matt Yglesias are thrilled to see the collection of strange bedocean-fellows -- including the United States, Russia, NATO, the EU, and now China -- patrolling the waters off the coast of Somalia. Here's Spencer:
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Yes, that's right, despite the bleatings of militarists who view the Chinese as an inevitable enemy, there are in fact ways to share the world's security burdens in a positive-sum fashion. The world is far, far better served forming legitimate (and legitimized) coalitions of capable nations to confront shared threats than it is when nations either seize for themselves the mantle of global protector and/or assume the burden alone, with or without the blessing of the international community.
This attack on a Chinese ship -- plus the hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil that pass through the channel -- seems to have hastened Beijing to the quite astute conclusion that enforcing some semblance of legality in the Gulf of Aden is very much in their interests as well. May this be a model for cooperation -- military and diplomatic -- on the entire continent. (image of a Chinese patrol boat from flickr user concrete cornfields under a Creative Commons license)
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The Dangers of Firewood

In displaced persons camps in Darfur, women -- who risk "only" being raped, rather than being killed -- face constant danger whenever they venture out of the camps to collect firewood. As Liv Ullman, honorary chair of the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, reminds us, though, sexual violence is not the only threat associated with gathering firewood, and nor are women in Darfur the only ones who are endangered.
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Nor is sexual violence the only aspect of the problem. Firewood, burned indoors, produces toxic fumes that threaten the health of children. The need for firewood is frequently a rationale for keeping girls out of school. And its collection -- which often includes cutting down trees on agriculturally marginal land -- is a major factor in irreversible environmental degradation. The many dangers of firewood gathering have been recognized for years by the United Nations and nongovernmental, international, and humanitarian organizations. Yet little has been done to promote effective protection strategies. Development aid to help these and other vulnerable people -- already at historic lows - could begin falling precipitously as the world's economic woes deepen. It is time to get beyond firewood. The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children - an organization that I helped found nearly 20 years ago -- has begun a worldwide drive to explore alternative fuels and cutting-edge energy technologies, such as clean-burning fuels, fuel-efficient stoves, and solar cookers. Working with UNHCR and the World Food Program, its goal is to reduce the violence by promoting the development of safe alternatives to firewood.
I just selected Solar Cookers International as my charity of choice at a "charity Secret Santa" event. I strongly suggest donations to similar life-saving organizations this holiday season. (image of a solar cooker from flickr user Akuppa under a Creative Commons license)
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UN World Meteorological Organization: 2008 One of the Warmest Years On Record

As if we needed yet more evidence that our globe is getting warmer, the UN World Meteorological Organization announced that 2008 was among the 10 ten warmest years on record. From the UN News Center.
The year 2008 is likely to rank as the 10th warmest year on record since the beginning of the instrumental climate records in 1850, although the global average temperature was slightly lower than previous years of the 21st century, according to the United Nations meteorological agency. The combined sea-surface and land-surface air temperature for 2008 is estimated at 0.31 degrees Celsius (C) or 0.56 Fahrenheit (F), above the 1961-1990 annual average of 14C, or 57.2F, while the Arctic Sea ice volume during the melt season was its lowest since satellite measurements began in 1979, the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said.
These seemingly small shifts in the average global temperature has major effects on our planet. To wit:
A remarkable occurrence in 2008 was the dramatic disappearance of nearly one-quarter of the massive ancient ice shelves on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic. Ice 70 metres thick, which a century ago covered 9,000 square kilometres, has shrunk to just 1,000 square kilometres today, underscoring the 30-year downward trend in Arctic sea ice.
The WMO has more. Image from Oxfam International's flickr page. Used under a creative commons license
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Ben Affleck and Sir Mick Jagger Join forces to help the Displaced in Congo

Ben Affleck directed a video for UNHCR's new Gimme Shelter campaign for victims of renewed violence in eastern Congo. Help is just a click away. From the United Nations High Commission on Refugees
The UN refugee agency, with the help of American actor-director Ben Affleck and British rock legend Sir Mick Jagger, on Wednesday launched a major new campaign to raise US$23 million to help tens of thousands of displaced Congolese civilians. At the centre of the campaign is the "Gimme Shelter" video directed by Affleck and filmed by John Toll, both Academy Award winners. The short film, which was due to be formally released at a ceremony in New York on Wednesday, is set to the classic Rolling Stones song, Gimme Shelter, which Jagger and the group donated to the campaign. The footage was shot last month in Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) strife-torn North Kivu province, where some 250,000 civilians have fled for their lives since fighting resumed in August between government forces and rebel troops. "We made this film in order to focus attention on the humanitarian crisis in the DRC at a time when too much of the world is indifferent or looking the other way," said Affleck. "The suffering and loss we've all seen first-hand is staggering - it is beyond belief."