Author Archives: John Boonstra
Your wrangling over the name of the UN mission that was scheduled to be extended last month, in a fairly de rigueur process, has resulted in the departure of the 130-odd UN observers that many in Abkhazia — from government officials to everyday people — trusted as the only effective objective presence in the border region.
“We were interested in the mission continuing its work,” Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said.
“(The mission) opened contacts for us, making it possible for us to participate in the international (diplomatic) process; our problem would be discussed at U.N. Security Council meetings.” There are more than 200 E.U. observers in Georgia itself, but they are not allowed to enter Abkhazia. The E.U. observers only patrol the Georgian-controlled part of the conflict zone.
“The U.N. cars used to patrol our village, and we would feel more secure,” said a 72-year-old woman who lives in Nabakevi in Abkhazia and declined to give her name. “The end of the mission to me means the end of the hope for peace.” [emphasis mine]
The concerns about Georgia and Russia gearing up for a another war should not be taken lightly. Last year’s confrontation was completely unnecessary, a result of foolish provocation from both sides. The short-sighted step of forcing out UN observers is a rash move down the same counterproductive line. Their departure may not be the end of peace prospects, but it certainly makes them look a lot dimmer.
S-G Ban is briefing the Security Council on his recent trip to Burma today. And while Britain’s Foreign Minister may have praised Ban’s trip, others were less sanguine about the outcome of his meetings with Burma’s ruling junta. Most of this criticism has focused on the fact that Ban was not able to meet with jailed “on trial” opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But Refugees International’s Sean Garcia has a different objection, which I think is more worth looking at: that Ban was too focused on his political mission.
Garcia argues that by calling on Burma’s generals to adopt political reforms — and receiving blithe promises to transition to civilian rule in exchange — he fed their insecurities about an international agenda of regime change. Putting political pressure on recalcitrant leaders-for-life is of course important — but, because of their very recalcitrance, this is also very likely to only strengthen their anti-democratic resolve. It also made Ban look worse for not securing a meeting with Daw Aung; as unfortunate as it may be, there was very little likelihood that the Burmese generals would have consented to more than a superficial meeting between the two, and there is little that Ban Ki-moon can do to ensure that the opposition leader’s trial will be anything more than grossly unfair.
Yet I am also not as optimistic as Garcia that Ban could have achieved too much more in the way of allowing humanitarian aid into the country either. The international community did succeed, eventually (and sort of), in convincing the junta to permit aid to reach the population after last year’s devastating Cyclone Nargis. But as that case demonstrated, for such a ruthless and desperate cadre of leaders, even (or especially) the humanitarian assistance is political.
This is not to say that Ban’s visit was in vain, or that his pursuit of both tracks, that of political reform and that of human rights and humanitarian aid, were dead ends. The Secretary-General’s office is one of the bully pulpit, even if his rhetoric is not of the brow-beating variety. Than Shwe and company do not need any further reasons to oppress their own people; but they know that they are pariahs, and that joining the community of nations as a respected member requires some modicum of both political and human rights. Conveying this is the balance that the S-G needs to strike every time he opens his mouth, no less in an environment as fraught as Burma’s than in the Security Council chamber.
Will a new U.S. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region (that’s Congo-Rwanda-Burundi, not Michigan-Wisconsin-Illinois) solve MONUC’s difficulties? Well, no, but it’s still good to see the United States engaged in the oft-neglected region. And the man tapped for the job, Howard Wolpe, is, as his informed introductions of many a speaker over at the Woodrow Wilson Center indicate, one of the more knowledgeable Africa hands that President Obama could have picked.
An informative look from Al Jazeera on MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo and the largest in the world.
One minor issue: MONUC is no longer just dealing with the “aftershocks” of the Rwandan genocide. Congo’s conflict, while tied up in dynamics that cross the border into Rwanda, has long since morphed into its own multi-headed problem. But that’s still more than enough for MONUC to deal with.
Eritrea’s support for al-Shabab militants is not helping what is crystallizing as an all-too-painfully-obvious consensus: if the Somali government isn’t supported (though I’d hasten to add, not by another Ethiopian occupation), then it will collapse.
(by the UN Foundation’s Shannon Raybold)
This Saturday, the U.S. Soccer Men’s National Team takes on Haiti in a battle for glory in the CONCACAF Gold Cup! In addition to an intense game between two of the region’s top teams, the game will also highlight soccer’s leadership in the global fight to end malaria deaths through United Against Malaria.
United Against Malaria is a partnership of football stars, non-governmental organizations, foundations, governments, corporations, and the general public who have joined forces ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to unite in the fight against malaria.
Fox Soccer Channel is a leading partner in United Against Malaria. Its “Every Goal Saves A Life” program sends a mosquito net to Africa for every goal scored on Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Español throughout the 2008-2009 season, ensuring that each goal on the field brings us one step closer to our shared goal of ending malaria deaths in Africa.
During the broadcast, campaign partner and Population Services International spokesperson Molly Sims will give a shout-out to United Against Malaria and how the soccer community is coming together as a team to defeat malaria for once and for all. She’ll be cheering on our fellow United Against Malaria team, US Soccer!
Be sure to tune in! The US will defend its Gold Cup title from Haiti from 7-9pm on Fox Soccer Channel.
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.