Monthly Archives: April 2009
Yesterday, the Government of Sri Lanka informed UNHCR and other agencies that an estimated 40,000 people had fled areas where the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are engaged in heavy fighting. They were expected to reach the districts of Vavuniya and Jaffna within 48 hours. This would bring the estimated total to have fled the conflict zone to more than 100,000, a majority of whom have fled in recent weeks.
Of the anticipated 40,000 displaced, so far we have confirmed reports that some 5,500 people have reached sites in Vavuniya, while another 2,000 new arrivals were recorded in Jaffna yesterday. As civilians are transported into the sites, UNHCR is still ascertaining the total number of new IDPs in the two districts.
And from the ICRC:
“What we are seeing is intense fighting in a very small area overcrowded with civilians who have fled there,” said the ICRC’s director of operations, Pierre Krähenbühl. “The situation is nothing short of catastrophic. Ongoing fighting has killed or wounded hundreds of civilians who have only minimal access to medical care.”
The ICRC is concerned that the final offensive in the area by government forces against fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) could lead to a dramatic increase in the number of civilian casualties…
“The LTTE must keep its fighters and other military resources well away from places where civilians are concentrated, and allow civilians who want to leave the area to do so safely,” said Mr Krähenbühl. “On their part, government forces are obliged to ensure that the methods and means of warfare they employ make it possible to clearly distinguish at all times between civilians and civilian objects, on the one hand, and military objectives, on the other. In this situation, we are particularly concerned about the impact on civilians of using weapons such as artillery.”
Meanwhile, Reuters captures some compelling images from the incredible mass-exodus.
I can hear the chants of “Kill the pirates!” already. No, not in response to the sole surviving Somali teenager facing trial in the United States for attempting to hijack a U.S. ship the other week — though I don’t expect his mother’s appeal for clemency will find a very receptive audience from the take-no-prisoners crowd. Rather, if mainstream commentators are already explicitly calling for summary executions of pirates, I don’t expect the latest chapters in the piracy justice chronicles to endear many to a more nuanced legal position.
Over the weekend, NATO enjoyed two successes in its anti-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden, foiling an attempted hijacking of a Norwegian tanker and rescuing 20 Yemenis who had apparently been impressed into piracy as hostages. Yet the bottom line that I worry some will take out of these successes is what happened next: the pirates were released. Lacking legal jurisdiction — in the latter case, neither the pirates, the victims, nor the waters were Dutch, as the ship’s commander rather unhelpfully pointed out — and without a NATO policy on how to detain the pirates, they could not be arrested.
That there is no standing NATO policy on pirate detainment is troubling, but it is not insurmountable. This is a relatively new scenario that NATO finds itself in (Barbary piracy aside, please — I don’t think Jefferson’s escapades in the 1800′s count as a fair argument in favor of unilateralism here), and it is certainly no reason to regress back to a “walk the plank” solution. The UN has brokered extradition accords with Kenya, and more countries, as well as international organizations like NATO, will assuredly do the same in the near future.
As for the pirate on trial in New York — he should probably be glad he’s being tried by the American justice system, not by those who probably would rather the SEALs have just taken him out too.
(image from flickr user ClownBog under a Creative Commons license)
A globe-spanning U.N. digital library seeking to display and explain the relics of all human cultures has gone into operation on the Internet for the first time, serving up mankind’s accumulated knowledge in seven languages for students around the world.
I’d do the same for lefty sources, but I gotta call out two conservative publications for a couple conspicuous FAILs today.
At The Corner, reporting from (probably a corner at) the Durban Review Conference, Brett Schaefer and Steven Groves deride the UN for “literally roll[ing] out the red carpet for Ahmadinejad.” From the hecklers and walkouts that met Ahmadinejad’s rant, I wouldn’t call it a very conspicuous welcome for the Iranian leader.
And this Wall Street Journal editorial, while it does correctly note that UN Security Council “presidential statements” are not technically “legally binding,” also somehow thinks that, if they were, Israel would be in a whole lot of trouble. For clarification on why this will never be the case: presidential statements can be vetoed by any permanent UN Security Council member. So unless the Journal thinks that the United States, UK, or France (or any other Israel ally on the Council) is going to somehow let an anti-Israel statement slip by, I’m not really sure where it’s coming from here.
Particularly when you’re the head of the world’s nuclear watchdog group, and you’re addressing the country with the greatest leverage over an off-and-on nuclear “rogue” state. Speaking in Beijing, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei sounded the right message on Iran and North Korea:
“There is no other solution apart from dialogue,” ElBaradei said at a conference on nuclear energy in Beijing. “The only way to resolve these issues is not through flexing muscles … but to try to engage the root causes.”
ElBaradei, whose spats with the Bush Administration are well documented, is clearly pleased with the shift toward engagement with Iran occuring in Washington. Now, though, the onus is on Tehran; ElBaradei rightly emphasized that, if Iran too is serious about negotiations, it will have to “reciprocate” the U.S. opening. Opponents will assume that ElBaradei is simply talking soft when it comes to Iran, but this misses the point; it was the Bush Administration’s confrontational stance toward Iran that messed up the IAEA’s nonproliferation efforts, not the other way around (though I suppose if the IAEA had been able to continue its work in say, Iraq, it would indeed have dampened enthusiasm for U.S. hawkishness).
When it comes to China and North Korea, though, “dialogue” has to mean something different. Talk of the U.S.-Iran opening abounds in the media; the issue is, one can conclude without much cynicism, also a domestic political one for both sides. China and North Korea, on the other hand, will have to engage much more quietly, and behind the scenes. Neither wants to let on any rupture in their alliance, so it is all the more important that Beijing talk — but talk tough — to Pyongyang. Let’s hope ElBaradei pressed this on the Chinese once the cameras were off.
As for the alleged “freedom-hating” speech by Jackie Chan in China the other day, I’m going to have agree with Josh from FP that Chan was making a clever use of sarcastic doublespeak when addressing his Chinese hosts. After all, this is a guy who, as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, channeled his martial arts prowess toward the goal of peace in East Timor.
With most conference-related attention being sucked into Geneva, another meeting just finished up its work not too far away, in Treviso, Italy. While (fortunately) lacking the histrionics of a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the G8 “agriculture summit” is tackling a problem even more urgent: global food insecurity. In the words of Director-General Jacques Diouf of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, one of multiple UN food agencies invited to the meeting:
“In order to feed the nearly one billion hungry people and provide for the extra three billion people coming into the world by the year 2050, the world needs political leadership and well invested resources…World leaders looking for ways to save the global economy from disaster and to create jobs and income for millions of people in rural areas would be well advised to invest heavily in agriculture.”
The summit may not have achieved all that advocates for the world’s poor could have hoped for, but it seems that the G8′s farm ministers recognize the imperative identified by Diouf. But — and no offense to farm ministers here — this is an issue whose weight merits attention by G8 ministers themselves at their next gathering.
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.