Monthly Archives: March 2009
Since the United States opted to send back the observer to the Human Rights Council that the Bush Administration had recalled nine months earlier, the next logical question has been whether the U.S. would opt to run for an official seat on the Council in its May elections. No decision has yet been made, but one is expected very soon, and signs seem to be pointing in a positive direction.
The rumors suggesting a U.S. decision to run, however, include a somewhat disconcerting detail. Rather than entering a competitive election in the “Western European and Others Group” to which it belongs, the United States may seek to convince one of the current candidates in the group to drop out, leaving Washington to run unopposed. Norway, Belgium, and New Zealand are currently the only countries campaigning for three slots, and I’m told that Belgium, the EU’s representative, would be the one to bow out in this scenario.
Deciding to campaign for a spot on the Council would be, as Mark has argued before, a very smart move for an Obama Administration seeking to bolster its image in the world, engage more with other countries, and, not insignificantly, improve the Human Rights Council itself. And the question is really one of when rather than if the United States will run, given the Obama team’s hints on the issue. This decision is weighted considerably by the fact that, if it runs next year, it will not be able to contribute to the mandatory review of the Council – a prime opportunity to push for reforms.
But the option of running in an unopposed field of candidates is wrongheaded and counterproductive. First, it is most likely unnecessary, as the United States stands a very good chance to win a seat anyway if it chooses to campaign. Second, and more fundamentally, this undermines the entire principle of competitive elections that has made the Human Rights Council an improvement over its ineffectual predecessor, and which were a sticking point for the United States in the negotiations to create the Council. Sure, unsavory countries still make it on to the body, but this is largely through a system of bloc voting in which each region agrees on a certain number of candidates to propose. A system that, come to think of it, seems suspiciously similar to what the United States would be engineering if it nudged Belgium off the stage…
Here is a bit of news that combines two of my favorite things: diplomacy and Pittsburgh Steelers football.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday selected Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney to be U.S. ambassador to Ireland, turning to a lifelong Republican who provided the Democrat critical campaign support during the White House race.
The 76-year-old Rooney endorsed Obama over Hillary Rodham Clinton during Pennsylvania’s contentious Democratic primary; Clinton won the contest last April. Rooney later campaigned for him in Steelers country in western Pennsylvania, and Obama went on to win the state last November.
In the 1970s, Rooney helped found the American Ireland Fund, an organization that has raised millions for advocacy of peace and education in Ireland. His legacy is reflected in a Steelers-themed bar in a disused linen mill in one of the roughest parts of northwest Belfast.
Ambassadorships to places like Ireland–and most of Europe for that matter–frequently go to high profile supporters of the president who possess no diplomatic experience. (On the other hand, the ambassadors to trouble spots around the world typically go to the most skilled members of the American foreign service.) For most of Europe, the two most important ambassadorial appointments are in Washington, DC and the United Nations in New York. These typically go to the most seasoned diplomats the country has to offer. The Irish ambassador to the United States, for example, His Excellency Michael Collins joined the Irish foreign service in 1974.
I don’t begrudge Mr. Rooney. In fact, I respect him mightily. I just think that our ambassadorial system here in the United States is sort of bizarre.
22 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa live with AIDS, that’s about 5% of the adult population. 1.5 million adults and children die each year from the disease. Each of these infections and deaths are individual human tragedies, but taken together AIDS exerts a heavy toll on fragile health care systems of these poor countries.
To their credit, a number of sub-Saharan African countries are facing the AIDS epidemic head on. Central to these efforts are vast public information campaigns on how condoms can prevent AIDS. For example, I snapped the picture you see here on the side of a road in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last November. And while I don’t speak Amharic, I think you get picture.
So, on the one hand you have governments trying to do the right thing and educate their people about condoms. On the other hand, you have comments that disparage the use of condoms coming from hugely influential outsiders. To wit, Pope Benedict is visiting Africa today, his first visit to the continent as head of the Catholic Church. En route, he had this to say about AIDS.
“The problem cannot be overcome by distributing condoms. It only increases the problem,” the pontiff told reporters on board the plane headed for Africa.
Two million people died last year because they did not use condoms during sex. Now, I understand that the Pope’s religious mores prevent him from advocating any kind of contraception. But is it too much to ask that if you cannot be part of the solution, at least don’t be part of the problem?
Reuters and the Associated Press report. The conditions for EU participation appear to be the same as those that prompted the United States’ withdrawal from the anti-racism conference, scheduled to occur next month in Geneva: either the draft document is changed to eliminate anti-Semitism and free speech restrictions designed as “anti-defamation of religion” statutes, or we won’t be there.
Obviously, the best option is for all parties, including the United States and the EU, to participate and work toward a document acceptable to all sides. The only way to have an effective anti-racism conference is for everyone to be involved. In Durban in 2001, the EU banded together — during the conference itself, after the United States and Israel had already departed — to keep all offensive passages out of the final document. If EU countries are not confident that they could do so this time, then I suppose solidarity is best, but solidarity at the conference would be better.
A UN-produced video on Fistula in Afghanistan. Apparently, there is only one facility in the whole country where obstetric fistula is surgically treated.
UPDATE: A reader corrects me: “Actually, the video reports that, in addition to the special unit in Kabul, surgery for fistula has also been performed at the provincial hospital in Badakhshan, in northeast Afghanistan (among other hospitals).”
Readers from outside the north America may not realize the basketball mania that is about to seize many of us here in the United States. The mania is appropriately called “March Madness” and is a 65 team single elimination tournament among college basketball’s elite (and some not so elite) teams. It is convention here in the United States that friends and office mates enter into friendly competition with each other over who can correctly predict the outcomes of the 64 games played throughout the month. A small wager is generally involved.
Here is the deal: For Nothing But Nets to “win” we need strong showing from my hometown team the University of Connecticut Huskies. A UCONN victory is not too much of a stretch, they are currently the fourth seeded team in the whole country. But the plot thickens! UCONN’s star is an amazingly talented 7 foot 3 inch tall center from Dar el Salaam, Tanzania named Hasheem Thabeet (above).
Tanzania is relatively stable country in a dangerous neighborhood. As a result, it has the largest refugee population of any country in Africa. These refugees are disproportionately at risk for contracting malaria, which is the leading cause of death for refugees world wide.
As it happens, Nothing But Nets has a campaign to donate 22,000 bed nets to four refugee camps in northern Tanzania that shelter 110,000 people. I’m playing for them.
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.