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The recession hits…

...everyone who needs assistance the most.

The United Nations Tuesday revealed a record $4.8 billion (2.9 billion pound) funding gap for its 2009 aid projects as a result of strained foreign assistance, widespread economic trouble and a ten-fold increase in needs in Pakistan.

"This recession is driving up humanitarian needs," U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes told a news briefing in Geneva, where he held meetings with donor nations who will soon set their 2010 aid budgets.

A financing report prepared for those sessions stressed that the United Nations has received less than half the $9.5 billion it sought for humanitarian work this year. Yet some 43 million people need assistance this year, up from 28 million in 2008.


The $4.8 billion shortfall for 2009 affects all major U.N. humanitarian projects, which involve supplying water, food, medical care and shelter, clearing landmines, and helping vulnerable people improve their agricultural output.

The temptation may be for countries to skimp on foreign aid in tough economic times; but ultimately, this will only prolong the recession in the places that have been impacted worst by it.

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More reasons it sucks to be a refugee

Kate Cronin-Furman at Wronging Rights lists the top five (only five?) "reasons it sucks to be a refugee." The suckiest, IMHO, seems to be number four: "Your brain might swell up and kill you." Because if you're a refugee, you aren't facing enough pressure from your home country, the country where you've been displaced, and the dire conditions in which you live; no, your own brain has to come after you.

But to continue this line of morbid thinking helpful understanding of refugees' plight, I thought I'd add a few reasons that it sucks to be a refugee that we've mentioned over the past few months:

  • You lose contact with your friends and family -- and hope that someone invents a sort of "search engine" to help you out.
  • You could be rejected for asylum by the very country that started a war in your backyard to begin with. And struggle if you are lucky enough to get there.

(image from flickr user hdptcar under a Creative Commons license)

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R2P2: This is not the doctrine you are looking for

In September 2005, countries of the United Nations took a momentous step and endorsed the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine, a framework designed to protect civilians from mass atrocities in cases in which their own governments prove unable or unwilling to do so.  The doctrine is contentious, and it has only become more so with misinterpretation -- a common caricature is that it means that "borders are nothing and human rights are everything" -- and discussion of the concept in inappropriate contexts.  Yet the basis of Responsibility to Protect remains universally endorsed, as expressed by the General Assembly three years ago: the international community must find a way to ensure the protection of innocent civilians, using mechanisms that neither abridge nor are effaced by the concept of state sovereignty.

Today the Secretary-General presented his report on R2P, and tomorrow the potential for controversy grows when the GA meets to discuss the doctrine.  As it was the GA that endorsed R2P in 2005, it is in a position to reaffirm its support.  The possibility, however, given some countries' growing discomfort with (at least a misinterpreted version of) the concept, as well as GA President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann's particular style, exists that the GA will try to water down R2P or back off from the UN's embrace of it.

This would be a grievous, and terribly counterproductive, mistake.  In adopting R2P three years ago, GA countries signaled their commitment to helping the doctrine progress, making its laudable goals an achievable reality.  The emphasis on R2P shifted to the more powerful Security Council, which officially incorporated the next year in Resolution 1674, then applied it to the specific case of Darfur.  It has been hard enough to implement R2P; the misguided notion that it provides carte blanche for military intervention by Western powers is entirely fictitious, but it carries with it easy political points for the leaders of developing countries.

The GA naturally has many such leaders, and it would be regrettable if the current structure and politics of one UN body were to undermine -- or just treat without its due seriousness -- a seminal accomplishment in the UN's history.  Efforts should be focused on operationalizing R2P, strengthening its robust protection imperatives, and negotiating the global means to provide protection when it is needed.  Provocative, and utterly substanceless, conceptions of R2P -- those that claim that it is merely a vehicle for neocoloniasm -- only detract from these efforts.  I echo the plea Ban Ki-moon made this morning:

First, resist those who try to change the subject or turn our common effort to curb the worst atrocities in human history into a struggle over ideology, geography or economics. What do they offer to the victims of mass violence? Rancor instead of substance, rhetoric instead of policy, despair instead of hope. We can, and must, do better.

This is not about an R2P #2; this is the same Responsibility to Protect, one that countries still share as their crowning objective.  Rather than mar its integrity in a raw publicity stunt, it'd be helpful for the GA to take note of the S-G's report and move forward in a positive direction.

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New report: Every third day a trans person is killed

Via Questioning Transphobia, a sorrowful new study on violence directed against trans people worldwide.








From the release: 

In April 2009 the international NGO Transgender Europe (TGEU) in cooperation with the multilingual Online-Magazine “Liminalis — A Journal for Sex/Gender Emancipation and Resistance” started a new project, the /Trans Murder Monitoring Project/, which focuses on systematically reporting murdered trans people on a worldwide scale.

The very preliminary results of the first step of this project have revealed a total of 204 cases of reported murders of trans people world wide in the last 1 1/2 years. 121 cases of murdered trans people have been reported in 2008. From January to June 2009 already 83 cases of murdered trans people have been reported.

Furthermore, the preliminary results show an increase in the number of reports of murdered trans people over the last years. Since the beginning of 2008 the murder of a trans person is reported every third day, on average.

You can read the full report here.

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A UN army is not forthcoming in Somalia either…

In his Financial Times column today, Gideon Rachman makes the argument for a "United Nations army." His test case, interestingly, is Somalia, where offshore piracy has galvanized international cooperation, but 18 years of onshore violence and instability has rumbled on unchecked. Would it be easier, or any more advisable, to send UN peackeepers to Somalia if there were, as Rachman proposes, "a proper UN force on permanent stand-by?"

Maybe, but many of the same problems with deploying UN personnel in Somalia would still apply: militants would be all too eager to turn their violence onto UN blue helmets, the presence of foreigners could inspire radical nationalist sentiment, and the ensuing deaths and difficulty would only make countries more skeptical of contributing their troops to UN peacekeeping.

And herein lies a problem that Rachman does not consider. In his view, the chief obstacle to creating a "UN army" is a general wariness, primarily on the part of conservatives, to cede such power to an internationalist institution. He cites the proverbial UN "black helicopters" synonymous with world government and counters conservative skepticism by quoting the Gipper himself:

Even perfectly sane American conservatives regard the idea of a permanent UN force with horror. They might be surprised and enlightened to learn that the hero of the conservative movement, Ronald Reagan, once spoke approvingly of the idea of “a standing UN force – an army of conscience – that is fully equipped and prepared to carve out human sanctuaries through force”. And, of course, to take on the Martians, whenever they finally invade.

But a problem possibly even greater to overcome than (conservative) discomfort with the idea is the reluctance of UN member states to contribute troops. The mission in Darfur has been short on personnel for over a year and a half, and its counterpart in DR Congo can't even muster a requested addition of 3,000 troops. However one conceives of this "UN army," the soldiers would have to come from somewhere, and countries that don't contribute troops now (ahem, the United States) wouldn't be likely to sign on to a permanent deal.

Rachman's Martian example -- that fighting an alien invasion is a perfect example of when a global UN force would be appreciated -- is also revealing. For as I've argued before, UN peacekeepers are not invasion-repellers. They are peacekeepers. So I'd hope that the powers that be on Earth would be smart enough to only deploy them after a peace has been reached with these hypothetical invading Martians.