Monthly Archives: March 2009
Fresh from the State Department:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice announce that the United States will seek a seat this year on the United Nations Human Rights Council with the goal of working to make it a more effective body to promote and protect human rights.
The decision is in keeping with the Obama Administration’s “new era of engagement” with other nations to advance American security interests and meet the global challenges of the 21st century.
“Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy” said Secretary Clinton. “With others, we will engage in the work of improving the UN human rights system to advance the vision of the UN Declaration on Human Rights. The United States helped to found the United Nations and retains a vital stake in advancing that organization’s genuine commitment to the human rights values that we share with other member nations. We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies.”
The big question is whether or not the United States will run in a contested election. There are three open seats on the council reserved for the Western Europe and Other Group if which the United States belongs. Norway, Belgium, and New Zealand are already announced candidates for the May 15 elections. With the United States running, will one of these countries pull out? (Perhaps, say, New Zealand, which was just rewarded with the head of the UN Development Program?) I sure hope not. Competitive elections are good for the system. Uncompetitive elections are how countries with less than stellar human rights records sometimes make it on the council. In all, though, this is a good move by the United States. It is much easier to guide the work of these sorts of forums as a participant on the inside than a critic from the outside.
Bjoern Seibert writes on The Argument that, when it comes to anti-piracy patrols, too many chefs battleships in the kitchen Gulf of Aden make for an unsavory stew of piracy. His points are well-taken: NATO and EU can tend to get into a show of gamesmanship; fighting piracy is a crowd-pleaser for both alliances; and coordination difficulties between the two can be expected in such a complicated endeavor.
For these reasons, I was even more reassured, after reading Seibert’s post, that the UN is not insisting on elbowing its way into the pirate-fighting game. The Secretary-General’s most recent report [pdf] on Somali piracy is also refreshing in this regard: it acknowledges and supports the efforts currently ongoing; stresses the UN’s work in liasing and coordinating countries’ anti-piracy mechanisms; and, taking into account the “operational capacity and resources of the United Nations Secretariat,” refrains from advising a UN military presence (something that countries would be wise to consider when it comes time to discuss a possible UN peacekeeping mission on land in Somalia).
The unfortunate flipside of the international indignation over piracy off Somalia’s coast has always been the appalling negligence to which the instability in the country itself has been treated. While NATO and EU are eager to speed into the Gulf of Aden and burnish their pirate-busting credentials, the same kind of will (or ease) just doesn’t exist when it comes to peace-making, capacity-building, and law-and-order-upholding. Sure, pirates are an enemy of China and the United States alike — and everyone (in the waters) between — but aren’t, say, terrorist landlubbers as well?
But then, if building up state structures stable enough to withstand terrorism were as easy as fighting pirates, then we could just station a whole bunch of troops around the country. Oops — guess it isn’t that easy out there on the deep blue sea either.
From an article titled Worse than the Taliban:
Hamid Karzai has been accused of trying to win votes in Afghanistan‘s presidential election by backing a law the UN says legalises rape within marriage and bans wives from stepping outside their homes without their husbands’ permission.
The Afghan president signed the law earlier this month, despite condemnation by human rights activists and some MPs that it flouts the constitution’s equal rights provisions.
The final document has not been published, but the law is believed to contain articles that rule women cannot leave the house without their husbands’ permission, that they can only seek work, education or visit the doctor with their husbands’ permission, and that they cannot refuse their husband sex. [Emphasis added]
The Financial Times published the leaked G20 draft communiqué yesterday in advance of the summit’s Thursday meeting in London. According (pdf) the UN Millennium Campaign, “the global economic crisis threatens to reduce development assistance by at least $4.5 billion as a result of contractions in Gross National Income, force more than 50 million more people to live in poverty and set back the fight against poverty by up to three years. Already, more than 130 million people were pushed into extreme poverty as the result of soaring food and fuel prices in 2008. This is particularly cruel and unjust given that the crisis is of the rich world’s making.”
As far as the developing world and the United Nations are concerned, the communiqué reconfirms the commitment of the G20 countries to the Millennium Development Goals and promises an unspecified amount of money for “social protection” for the poorest countries.
Spring break travel to Cancun usually conjures up visions of hordes of American college students, partying at one of the many bars along the strip. But the UN Foundation has been working for the last four years to try and change that by promoting sustainable tourism along the Mayan Riviera. So, Erika Harms, Director of the UN Foundation-led World Heritage Alliance, and I have travelled down here to take a look at several community projects in the area, meet with our travel industry partners and tour two of the area’s five World Heritage sites.
We are also travelling with the crew from Designing Spaces, a show on The Learning Channel. Designing Spaces will air a segment in June on sustainable tourism.
Today we started filming the show and as part of the experience, we’ve really gotten to know two members of the World Heritage Alliance really well. Both Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya and Fairmont Mayacoba have established powerful relationships with the local Mayan communities and are working to better educate travellers about what is available to them to experience aside from bar-side pools, karaoke contests and hamburgers.
Hillary Clinton may not be shaking the hand of an unclenched fist yet, but at least she’s working together in the same room as Iran. Today in The Hague, countries are meeting at a UN conference on Afghanistan, and it’s a very good sign that Iran is in the mix. Cue Richard Holbrooke’s blunt wisdom:
“How can you talk about Afghanistan and exclude one of the countries that’s a bordering, neighbouring state?” Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters. “The presence of Iran here is obvious.”
Iran’s interests in Afghanistan are, well, obvious. Drug traffickers have destabilized the Aghan-Iranian border, and Tehran has no interest in a resurgent Taliban next door either. Remember that immediately following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, Iran was — quite literally — on the phone with Washington, offering its help. What happened next? George W. Bush included Iran in his “axis of evil” speech in January 2002. So long, cooperation.
Could this be a turning point in U.S.-Iran relations? Well, probably not yet. But it could be a turning point in terms of Afghanistan, and international relations with that country are just as, if not more, important.
UPDATE: Laura Rozen suggests that, because Iran is only sending its deputy foreign minister to the conference, it is effectively holding back on warming relations with the U.S., deploying a “B team” as a snub to the America’s “A team.” True enough, but again, I think this misses the point. This conference is not about Iranian-American relations; it’s about Afghanistan. In this light, the delegation disparity makes sense — the United States currently has more at stake in Afghanistan than Iran. But it’s only in Iran’s interest to increase engagement with its neighbor.
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.