Monthly Archives: May 2009
The Times of London reports that the death toll from fighting in Sri Lanka could be orders of magnitudes higher than current estimates.
Confidential United Nations documents acquired by The Times record nearly 7,000 civilian deaths in the no-fire zone up to the end of April. UN sources said that the toll then surged, with an average of 1,000 civilians killed each day until May 19, the day after Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers, was killed. That figure concurs with the estimate made to The Times by Father Amalraj, a Roman Catholic priest who fled the no-fire zone on May 16 and is now interned with 200,000 other survivors in Manik Farm refugee camp. It would take the final toll above 20,000. “Higher,” a UN source told The Times. “Keep going.”
Horrifying aerial photos of the conflict zone accompany the article. Amnesty International is demanding a full public accounting of the death toll.
The investigation led by esteemed judge Richard Goldstone is leaving for Gaza this weekend to conduct its inquiry into possible Hamas and Israeli war crimes during the December-January war. Israel, of course, has rejected participation, so the investigation may have to enter through Egypt. It occurs to me here that Israel’s stance on this matter parallels the Sri Lankan government’s rejection of a similar commission of inquiry into its alleged war crimes. So while the Human Rights Council should be chided for not mustering cohesion on sending a mission to Sri Lanka, Israel should demonstrate more cooperation than officials in Colombo, whose stonewalling only impedes the causes of human rights and open inquiry.
Meanwhile, as the investigation team struggles to get into Gaza this weekend, the territory’s population remains trapped within this small sliver of land. This New York Times article captures the privations faced by its residents in Gaza’s bizarre state or permanent suspension, and the top UN humanitarian official in the region has recently underscored how the Israeli blockade is making relief efforts more difficult. In this post — overall an optimistic one, titled “Gaza is alive” — by TPM contributor Philip Weiss, the effects of the blockade are felt, even as Gazans create an entire culture and society within the walls.
It is not that the world’s blockade of Gaza is not evident. It is evident at almost every turn. Most buildings downtown are dark at night. Generators go in the street. Store shelves are thin, and the sense of high unemployment is everywhere at hand. The commerce feels like that of a dusty Caribbean island.
Shuttering an entire part of the world, where over one million human beings live, from both outside investigation and internal movement of goods and people, is simply not a sustainable course. Denying the problem will only create more tunnels, and with enough tunnels, the foundation simply will not hold.
(image of a smuggling tunnel in Rafah, Gaza, from flickr user Marius Arnesen under a Creative Commons license)
[W]hile UN peacekeeping can’t resolve every conflict, the U.S. firmly believes that it can be a valuable tool for helping parties to a conflict restore peace and stability.
The truth of that statement can been seen in places like Sierra Leone, Guatemala, and Mozambique, which are at peace today with the help of successful peacekeeping missions. The U.S. strongly supports the UN’s “blue helmets,” and in part that support stems from the fact that multilateral peacekeeping allows the U.S. to share the burdens and risks of peacekeeping with the world community.
And this support is more than merely rhetorical. For the first time in years, the administration’s budget allocates full funding to all UN peacekeeping missions. Now it will have to make sure that Congress does not attempt to wedge in any cuts to this important funding.
(image of Pakistani peacekeepers in Haiti, from UN Photo)
On top of dealing with drones, a Taliban insurgency, and a government crackdown on that insurgency, the more than 2 million recently displaced persons in Pakistan will be forced to face a new and equally daunting challenge coming in three weeks, the rainy season and the malaria-bearing mosquitoes that soon follow.
This threat is particularly dire because the 18,000-plus families arriving every day, a migration that the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has called one the worst since the genocide in Rwanda, have been displaced from regions, the Swat, Lower Dir, and Buner districts of the Northwest Frontier Province, where malaria is not endemic. Refugees are ill-prepared to deal with the disease both because the refugee population has no pre-existing immunity to malaria and because the flow of internally displaced people (IDPs) is quickly overwhelming available resources, including access to life-saving bednets.
The Human Rights Council’s failure to pass a resolution authorizing a commission of inquiry in Sri Lanka was, as we’ve already stressed, deeply disappointing. The 29 countries that voted for Sri Lanka’s own proposed resolution are undeniably guilty of letting the fox control the henhouse. But as the Guardian‘s Julian Borger reports, the lackluster efforts of Western countries to pass a stronger resolution should not be overlooked:
A European diplomat admitted that if EU states had been more organised they might have put forward a more critical resolution that could have been accepted by the council.
This is the sad — but by no means insurmountable — fact of the Human Rights Council; there will always be countries who vote to protect repressive regimes, or to ward off human rights investigations out of a concern for their own poor records. It will always be an uphill climb to ensure that the Council makes investigating all human rights violations a priority. But this doesn’t make the climb any less worthwhile; when the United States formally joins its Western counterparts on the Council, it should work tirelessly to make the Human Rights Council the most effective body it can be. A lack of organization is not an excuse when the rights of so many human beings are at stake.
Yesterday I wrote that a sad fact about life is that when things get tough, it’s often those who can least afford more hardship who bear the brunt. I was pointing to this story about how the global economic crisis was exacerbating human rights abuses.
Here’s more on how the dynamic works:
Aid funds are running short for worsening humanitarian emergencies in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Horn of Africa, as political complexities and the global economic crisis dampen the generosity of governments and individual donors.
Agencies in Sri Lanka, which are struggling to meet the basic needs of nearly 300,000 people displaced in the final stage of the country’s civil war, are warning they only have enough money to keep their relief operations going for around another three months….
As of Thursday, funds donated to the U.N.’s $155 million appeal for Sri Lanka stood at $61 million, or 39 percent of the total, with a further $27 million in pledges that have yet to be firmed up.
For the crisis in Pakistan – where a government offensive against Taliban militants has sparked an exodus of some 2.3 million people in the north – aid agencies need around $543 million to provide food, water, shelter and other relief to displaced people sheltering in camps and with host communities.
So far, the appeal is only 16 percent covered. Donors have promised a further $224 million but it remains unclear how and when this money will be allocated.
The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) says it has received about a third of the funds its needs to provide food aid to around 1.5 million people in Pakistan, but desperately requires more.
“We have food and we have (financial) commitments, but we need cash to move the food,” said Nancy Roman, WFP’s director of public policy and communications. “In terms of lead times, you can’t buy food with a commitment.”
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.