Monthly Archives: January 2009
With much international attention focused on Gaza, a humanitarian crisis is simultaneously unfolding in another place where journalists are not permitted to go, where the two sides both persist with military solutions, and where even UN buildings are not safe from bombings. In northeastern Sri Lanka, where the government is reaching the terminus of a furious offensive against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (L.T.T.E.), civilians are suffering in the midst of the onslaught, and human rights groups have found evidence of abuse by both government and rebel forces. Last weekend, a group of Sri Lankan aid workers, prohibited from leaving the war zone by L.T.T.E. guerillas, took shelter near UN personnel, in an area the government guaranteed as a “no-fire zone.” Then this happened:
A shell landed near the compound on Saturday evening, and then another early Sunday morning, killing 9 civilians and wounding more than 20, according to a memo sent by United Nations officials in Sri Lanka to their headquarters in New York.
“Our team on the ground was certain the shell came from the Sri Lanka military, but apparently in response to an L.T.T.E. shell,” the memo read. “All around them was the carnage from casualties from people who may have thought they would be safer being near the U.N. Sadly they were wrong that night.”
This disregard for the responsibility of civilian protection is as unconscionable as Israel’s bombing of UN schools and the UN headquarters in Gaza. And as tragic as the loss of further civilian life is, perhaps even more unfortunately portentous for the cause of protection is the willingness of another military to ignore the neutrality of UN blue and jeopardize the lives of those who thought they had found temporary safe shelter.
More and more Americans are paying attention to the new evidence and fresh warnings from scientists. There is a much broader consensus on the need for action than there was when President George H.W. Bush negotiated – and the Senate ratified – the Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 and much stronger support for action than when we completed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.
The elements that I believe are key to a successful agreement in Copenhagen include:
• Strong targets and timetables from industrialized countries and differentiated but binding commitments from developing countries that put the entire world under a system with one commitment: to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants that cause the climate crisis;
• The inclusion of deforestation, which alone accounts for twenty percent of the emissions that cause global warming;
• The addition of sinks including those from soils, principally from farmlands and grazing lands with appropriate methodologies and accounting. Farmers and ranchers in the U.S. and around the world need to know that they can be part of the solution;
• The assurance that developing countries will have access to mechanisms and resources that will help them adapt to the worst impacts of the climate crisis and technologies to solve the problem; and,
• A strong compliance and verification regime.
The road to Copenhagen is not easy, but we have traversed this ground before. We have negotiated the Montreal Protocol, a treaty to protect the ozone layer, and strengthened it to the point where we have banned most of the major substances that create the ozone hole over Antarctica. And we did it with bipartisan support. President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill joined hands to lead the way. [emphases mine]
The population of mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park has risen by 12.5%, a census shows.
Rebels have had control of the park for a over a year, and the first census taken since then shows an increase in their population? This is either an anomaly, or it belies the convention intuition that having a huge protected forest in the hands of murderous rebels probably does not bode well for primates. That, or some entirely different explanation that has more to do with gorilla demographics than I’d care to know.
With only the first two options available, I’d say a little bit of both. Not to disparage the benefits provided by the gorillas’ caretakers — the deplorable attacks against whom, one could reasonably wager, have been a destabilizing factor with regard to the area’s gorilla population (and they have a blog, so there’s no way I could disparage them) — but rebel presence in the enormous Virunga National Park may not have affected gorillas as much as is typically assumed. Over 3,000 square miles. a couple hundred gorillas are not too likely to get hit by a stray bullet.
Really, though, the relative well-being of the region’s gorillas should just provide further reason to the, shall we say, morally eerie logic of bemoaning gorilla deaths when many, many more human beings are being raped and killed. May the Year of the Gorilla continue successfully, but may the Year of Peace in Eastern Congo flourish at least equally.
An item in today’s Washington Post rams home the disastrous inevitability of the massive effects of global warming.
Greenhouse gas levels currently expected by mid-century will produce devastating long-term droughts and a sea-level rise that will persist for 1,000 years regardless of how well the world curbs future emissions of carbon dioxide, an international team of scientists reported yesterday.
This lede is somewhat deceptive, however — not for the immensity of the crisis that it forecasts, but for the subtle implication that inaction will be as effective as action in preparing for these devastating global changes. The scientists’ findings are a warning cry, certainly: carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere longer than other greenhouse gases, and is “more like nuclear waste than acid rain,” they caution. But the study also emphasizes the importance of not delaying in halting our current carbon emissions, lest the sea rises of the future be even higher, the droughts more pronounced, and the repercussions of our fecklessness even more deadly. The money quote, from the study’s senior scientist: “The more time that we take to make decisions about carbon dioxide, the more irreversible climate change we’ll be locked into.” So there’s irreversible, and then there’s irreversible.
If President Obama’s early sign of support for a California emissions regulation that his predecessor subverted is any indication, then he understands the imperative of immediate U.S. leadership in the fight against climate change. And with Al Gore testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the subject tomorrow, Congress does not seem to be waiting to take action either.
Without such initiative, those iconic emperor penguins of the Antarctic, according to the scientists, will go marching right into extinction within the next century.
There is lots to parse from this brief, nine minute interview. What stands out to me is how firmly President Obama rejects the “War on Terror” paradigm that we have become so used to here in the United States.
Q: President Bush framed the war on terror conceptually in a way that was very broad, “war on terror,” and used sometimes certain terminology that the many people — Islamic fascism. You’ve always framed it in a different way, specifically against one group called al Qaeda and their collaborators. And is this one way of –
THE PRESIDENT: I think that you’re making a very important point. And that is that the language we use matters. And what we need to understand is, is that there are extremist organizations — whether Muslim or any other faith in the past — that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.
And so you will I think see our administration be very clear in distinguishing between organizations like al Qaeda — that espouse violence, espouse terror and act on it — and people who may disagree with my administration and certain actions, or may have a particular viewpoint in terms of how their countries should develop. We can have legitimate disagreements but still be respectful. I cannot respect terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians and we will hunt them down.
But to the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship.
” But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress ”
There are, of course, policy implications for eschewing the language of the “War on Terror.” One is that it makes America’s ability to combat terrorist groups much, much easier. In an On Day One video the journalist Nicholas Schmidle explains why this is so. Have a listen.
Middle East: During the last 48 hours of the continued ceasefire, humanitarian workers have delivered food to hundreds of thousands of people, repaired water and sanitation infrastructure, re-stocked medical supplies, and some of the 520,000 displaced Palestinians have returned to their homes. However, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator remarked the scale of needs remains “unprecedented in the Gaza Strip.”
Middle East: At today’s informal session of the General Assembly on Gaza the SG remarked that the most recent ceasefire has held since yesterday at 8 a.m. local time. He noted that a durable ceasefire is necessary and UN shelters must continue to remain safe zones. The SG thanked UN staff in Gaza and will fly the UN flag at half-mast tomorrow in memory of those who died in the conflict.
Middle East: The SG commended Israeli and Palestinian parties for committing to a 72-hour ceasefire that took place at 8 a.m. local time today. He urges all parties to abide by the ceasefire and commence peace talks in Cairo to address underlying issues and agree on a durable ceasefire to sustainably stop the violence. The UN lends its full support toward these efforts.
Middle East: The SG condemned yesterday’s shelling outside of an UNRWA school in Rafah that killed at least 10 Palestinian civilians. The SG stated that the attack violated international humanitarian law and UN shelters must continue to be safe zones and not combat zones.
SG: Last night the SG spoke at a joint press conference with the Foreign Minister of Costa Rica where he repeated his call for an unconditional and extendable humanitarian ceasefire. Speaking about yesterday’s shelling of a UN shelter he said: “Nothing – nothing – justifies such horror” and demanded “that all parties immediately respect UN premises”.
SG: The SG met with President Ortega yesterday in Nicaragua where he visited a wind farm and praised the country’s commitment to renewable energy. The SG arrived in Costa Rica today where he is expected to lecture about “Costa Rica and the United Nations: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century”.