Monthly Archives: April 2009
Late last week I wrote about how few people were paying attention to the death and destruction taking place in Sri Lanka. The situation was basically this: the Tamil Tiger militia was preventing tens of thousands of civilians from leaving the last sliver of territory it controlled. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government was using heavy artillery to shell that territory, resulting in the death of a significant number of civilian non-combatants.
In the past few hours, it seems that the situation has become even more fierce as Sri Lankan government forces have begun an incursion into the Tamil Tiger’s final stronghold. The Sri Lankan government is calling this the world’s largest ever “hostage rescue” operation and is this circulating footage of thousands of civilians fleeing the war zone. Apparently, three Tamil suicide bombers blew themselves up in this fleeing crowd, killing dozens.
The International Crisis Group issued a statement on the situation in Sri Lanka this morning that is worth re-posting in full.
A humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Sri Lanka involving the possible deaths of tens of thousands of civilians trapped between government and insurgent LTTE (Tamil Tiger) forces in a tiny strip of land not much bigger than Central Park in Manhattan.
As many as 150,000 or more1 civilians are so trapped. Their living area is being shelled by the Sri Lankan military, and the Tamil Tigers are using them as human shield hostages. Dozens are dying every day, and there are grave shortages of food, water, and medical treatment. Available reports suggest 5,000 civilians, including at least 500 children, have died since mid-January, and 10,000 have been injured.
With both the government forces and Tamil Tigers abdicating their responsibility to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes, urgent, determined, and united international action is necessary to ensure their safety – by the United Nations Security Council, other multilateral organisations, and individual countries with relations with Sri Lanka.
The International Crisis Group urges that the following specific steps be taken:
Here’s the money quote:
Like Theodore Roosevelt, among others, my allegiance and sympathies have always been with the men and women in the arena, struggling with courage and determination to win the day.
It may be easier to criticize those efforts from afar, but it does not advance the universal cause.
Peter Leeson, an economist at George Mason Univeristy, just published an extremely well-timed book on the hidden economists of old-school pirates. Tired of the “arrrrrrrrs” and “aye mateys” floating through blog posts on modern-day pirates? Join the club. However, Leeson does make a solid connection at the end of this Freakonomics interview:
What kinds of lessons can we draw from The Invisible Hook in dealing with modern pirates?
We have to recognize that pirates are rational economic actors and that piracy is an occupational choice. If we think of them as irrational, or as pursuing other ends, we’re liable to come up with solutions to the pirate problem that are ineffective. Since we know that pirates respond to costs and benefits, we should think of solutions that alter those costs and benefits to shape the incentives for pirates and to deter them from going into a life of piracy.
Clearly part of the “benefits” side of that equation is building up (or at least not breaking down) other economic opportunities.
It is rare for a Secretary General to single out a particular head of state for condemnation. But Ahmadinejad clearly crossed the line and Ban Ki Moon is obviously quite angry with what transpired.
Fresh from the UN presses:
Statement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the remarks by the President of Iran at the Durban Review Conference
I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian President to accuse, divide and even incite. This is the opposite of what this Conference seeks to achieve. This makes it significantly more difficult to build constructive solutions to the very real problem of racism.
It is deeply regrettable that my plea to look to the future of unity was not heeded by the Iranian President. At my earlier meeting with him, I stressed the importance of the Conference to galvanize the will of the international community toward the common cause of fight against racism.
I further stressed the need to look to the future, not to the past of divisiveness. In this regard, I reminded the President that the UN General Assembly had adopted the resolutions to revoke the equation of Zionism with racism and to reaffirm the historical facts of the Holocaust respectively.
We must all turn away from such a message in both form and substance. We must join hands and work together to achieve a constructive, substantive agenda to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
In this edition of UN Plaza, I speak with Michael Cohen, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation. In the first half of the diavlog we chat about a new report on democracy building and U.S. foreign assistance, co-authored by Cohen and Maria Figueroa Kupcu. Then, we switch gears and talk about Michael’s beef with the growing affinity for counter-insurgency among American national security policymakers. Have a watch! And for those in the DC area, Michael will be discussing the report in an event at the New America Foundation on Wednesday.
Unfortunately, with many fewer participants than it would would have taken to assure a productive, substantive conference on anti-racism. Joining Israel, Canada, the United States, Italy, and Australia in announcing boycotts over the weekend were Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and, making it official, the United States. According to the Prez:
“I would love to be involved in a useful conference that addressed continuing issues of racism and discrimination around the globe…[but] We expressed in the run-up to this conference our concerns that if you adopted all of the language from 2001, that’s not something we can sign up for,” Obama said.
“Hopefully some concrete steps come out of the conference that we can partner with other countries on to actually reduce discrimination around the globe, but this wasn’t an opportunity to do it,” he said.
While this justification — the Geneva conference will affirm a previous conference in which we did not participate, therefore we cannot support it — may seem enticingly logical, it is ultimately, as we have repeatedly shown with some exasperation here on Dispatch, rather shallow and disingenuous. To oppose a conference that inarguably did produce a substantive platform for combatting racism, only because of one reference to Israel was unfortunate enough; to oppose its successor simply because it mentions the expansive document in which Israel was itself mentioned is downright unjustifiable. After Western countries worked to secure a compromise document to engender greater participation in Geneva, this flimsy objection by the United States seems to be quite a reach for a country for whom anti-racism supposedly remains an important cause.
Without the participation of so many Western, rights-upholding countries, the Review Conference in Geneva risks degenerating into a self-fulfilling prophecy. President Obama’s worry that it isn’t “an opportunity” to fight racism rings hollow; how could the United States be “involved” in a productive conference if it chooses not to involve itself? The unsustainability of this position is illustrated by this statement from a British diplomat quoted by Julian Borger in the Guardian: “Our position is: we’ve got our shoes on, and we can walk at any time.” Standing at the edge of the room with your shoes on, one foot already out the door, is no way to participate in a conference.
If Western countries wanted to ensure that the conference focused on substantive matters, and didn’t lapse into juvenile Israel-bashing, they should have come, and come prepared. Jon Voight may be crazy, but he’s got the right idea here — instead of letting the fox have the keys to the henhouse, show up with your gloves on, ready for a fight to defend what you believe in. Any complaints about what the conference was not able to achieve will now be entirely self-fulfilling.
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.