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>>Myanmar – Cyclone Nargis slammed into the Irrawaddy delta on Saturday, leaving 4,000 dead, 3,000 missing, and hundreds of thousands without shelter. The nation’s military junta made a rare appeal for international assistance. Relief agencies met at the UN’s offices in Bangkok to coordinate their response. Myanmar is scheduled to hold a referendum on a new constitution next week, and the government’s response to the cyclone could shape that vote.

>>Iraq – According to four Shi’ite militiamen captured in Iraq and questioned separately, Hezbollah has been training Iraqi militiamen at a base near Tehran. The U.S. has made such accusations in the past, and Iran has denied those accusations. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced Sunday that Iraq would launch its own investigation into the matter.

>>Somalia – Tens of thousands of people rioted today in Mogadishu over high food prices. The riot began with the refusal of traders to accept old 1,000-shilling notes, which they claim are worsening inflation.

>>Bolivia – Yesterday, Bolivia’s richest region, Santa Cruz, voted overwhelmingly for autonomy in a referendum boycotted by supporters of Evo Morales. The vote, the first of four on greater autonomy for eastern provinces, is seen as a rejection of Morales’s leftist reforms. Morales has said that, because of the boycott, the vote is invalid.

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Dealing with symptoms while causes run free

I’m not sure whether Mark Malan is trying to make a realist or idealist case for Somalia, but no force of the sizes contemplated would be able to control the southern half of that country, on the ground, against the will of its fighting factions. But if we are talking coalition, how about one with a primarily maritime and maritime air component? Somalia is just the right shape for naval aviation (including helicopters). Most of the NATO Response Force is afloat and not doing so much; why not use it to halt piracy in east African/Horn waters, promoting commerce, and to interdict the airborne khat trade, forcing Somalia to sober up? Then, under its wing, try some well-protected, on-scene mediation. Meanwhile, any group that interferes with food distribution gets a prompt visit from the overwatch.

In principle, the same sort of overwatch could support UNAMID, as Darfur is about the same size and shape as southern Somalia. But Darfur isn’t lucky enough to have an ocean–or a stable, friendly country with big airbases–a few minutes flying time from trouble. Meaning that supportive airpower would need to be based in Sudan, and why not? That’s where the problem is. UNAMID faces a functional, predatory state manipulating the fate of peoples and peacekeepers to its ongoing advantage. That is why I previously stressed the limits of dealing with symptoms when causes run free; the government in Khartoum has played the international community–and its own population–for two decades, yet those who would help persist in trying to drink from a full-pressure fire hose instead of changing the decisions of those who control the hydrant. This will require concerted major power pressure on Khartoum, with Chinese cooperation, in pursuit of a solution that will do a better job of keeping the oil flowing than will continued instability.

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Necessary but not necessarily sufficient

The Secretary-General’s last report on Somalia provides necessary but not necessarily sufficient requirements for a hope of success with a UN integrated mission, implicitly one which would try to build a whole state apparatus. I agree with you, we need to heed the lessons of 1993 and not blunder into another “mission impossible” — a point that I have been trying to make.

The S-G does present a less aspirational scenario and contingency plan — for a robust (8,000 strong) “stabilization force” to replace the Ethiopians and hopefully reduce political polarization while committing fewer human rights abuses, reducing “collateral damage” (see the latest) and maybe even helping to create a bit more humanitarian space. He rightly says that this is not a job for the UN, but requires a coalition of the willing made up of nations with high-end military capabilities. The chances of actually generating such a force have to be as poor, if not worse, than those of producing another UN “super mission”.The prognosis is not good, and it is indeed a lot easier to raid suspected terror cells in the ungoverned space than it is to create a semblance of a state that can uphold some kind of rule of law. For example, no one squealed too loudly when two U.S. sea-launched cruise missiles hit a village in southern Somalia last month. Great score, perhaps, for the war on terror — but not so great for humanity. Tomahawks are not cheap, but they are a cheaper and easier option than actually saving lives and protecting the weak, which is what Eric hopes UNAMID can do in Darfur. Creating a democracy out of dust, or even establishing a viable rule of law may not be possible, but providing sufficient security for humanitarian workers to feed 4 million people at risk of starvation should not be beyond the art of the possible.

If Darfur indeed heralds the demise of UN peacekeeping, we all lose some of our humanity — and any claim we may have had to morality in international relations.

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Dissecting Mark’s post

I’d like to pull out and discuss one line in Mark Malan’s latest entry: “The Secretary-General adds that the majority of the parties should state their agreement to the deployment of an integrated United Nations peacekeeping operation…” Majority consent. Isn’t that what the UN had the last time it went into Somalia? As in, minus the major fighting faction? To me, the conditions and objectives specified in the report that Mark cites are essentially identical to those in spring 1993 when the UN last got badly burned in Somalia, except that the occupying force there this time–the Ethiopian army–is not nearly so careful or impartial in its use force or its political sentiments as was US-led UNITAF in winter 1992-93. The outside world keeps trying to build a modern state in this place that’s never really had one. That absence didn’t matter much until the West began worrying about “ungoverned spaces” as potential havens for terrorists. Well, news flash: it’s a lot easier to raid an ungoverned space when you have intel on a terror cell there than it is to build and fund a whole state apparatus just to keep out the guys who want to build that cell.

As to Somalia being UNPK’s final straw/bridge too far/barrel over the falls: too late, done that, gone there: Darfur.

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A focus on Darfur

I have been reluctant to contribute to this conversation because I have so little background in the broader issues. I have for the past nine years worked exclusively in attempting to secure a just peace for Sudan and in improving humanitarian access to Sudan’s immensely distressed populations. My efforts have nonetheless touched on issues that are obviously central to this broader discussion of peacekeeping, so I offer this very modest contribution, focusing exclusively on Darfur (the UN Mission in Sudan [UNMIS] peace support operation in southern Sudan, deployed following the January 2005 “Comprehensive Peace Agreement,” is a complex topic in itself, and cannot be easily or unambiguously assessed; it is certainly not readily folded into the issues I see before us in Darfur).

Currently there are, according to the UN, more than 4.3 million conflict-affected civilians in Darfur, and perhaps another 1 million in eastern Chad, including not only 260,000 Darfuri refugees, but almost 200,000 Chadian Internally Displaced Persons, and hundreds of thousands of Chadian host families that have been severely affected by the spill-over from Darfur and Chad’s many indigenous political, economic, and military problems.There is no peace to keep in Darfur; and in eastern Chad the success of the European Union force (EUFOR) is far from clear, though it seems likely to provide significant security if the force is able to maintain its independence from longstanding French military presence, which has in the past supported the cruel regime of Idriss Déby. Even so, eastern Chad hardly has a peace to keep and in too many ways resembles Darfur. UN DPKO recommended strongly that EUFOR be four times the deployment goal of approximately 4,000 personnel.

The question I see before us in thinking about the UN/African “Hybrid” Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), with the Chapter 7 authority of Resolution 1769 (July 2007), is not whether peace can be “kept” or “enforced,” but whether more than 4 million highly distressed civilians will face the coming rainy season/hunger gap without humanitarian assistance. For make no mistake about it: humanitarian organizations, with whom I speak regularly, including those of the UN, are all at the breaking point.

They operate in security conditions that would preclude the entry of humanitarian organizations in any other circumstances. Organizations and workers stay because they know the cataclysmically destructive consequences of their withdrawal at this point—and what would happen to civilian security if there were no international witnesses. But they all have their breaking point, and far too many are simply one violent incident away from leaving altogether or hunkering down in the el-Fasher and Nyala (el-Geneina, capital of West Darfur, would be too dangerous were security to deteriorate any further).

Some measure of civilian security, and security for critically necessary humanitarian operations, is all that UNAMID will be able to provide for the foreseeable future. The securing of road corridors for UN World Food Program convoys is the most desperately urgent task, along with the introduction of Formed Police Units in the most unstable IDP camps, now housing more than 2.5 million civilians (many of these camps are tinder-boxes poised to explode, with uncontrollable consequences). We might debate about what prevents UNAMID from becoming more effective, or whether it would be adequate to keep any peace that might be negotiated in the future; I would be dismayed if we could not agree that the international community must provide as much security as possible—even in the face of variable and very considerable risks. This may not be peacekeeping in any historically recognizable form, but with so many lives at risk, I believe we need to broaden the discussion of how the military resources of the international community are used.

If UNAMID were to become actively targeted on a continuing and significant basis, indiviSenegal has in the past been quite explicit on this point, and their troops are some of the most important on the ground. There are certainly ways in which even incremental improvements in civilian and humanitarian security could be prevented by combatants on the ground in Darfur. But again, the human stakes are simply too great to ignore the potential security that UNAMID might provide.

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PSA

Our friends at Global Voices Online asked us to pass along the following announcement:

Rising Voices Seeks Micro-Grant Proposals for Health-Related New Media Outreach

Rising Voices, the outreach arm of Global Voices, in collaboration with the Open Society Institute Public Health Program’s Health Media Initiative, is now accepting project proposals for the third round of microgrant funding of up to $5,000 for new media outreach projects focused especially on public health issues involving marginalized populations.

More info after the jump. Ideal applicants are dynamic NGOs or individuals who:

* Represent the vital voices of communities affected by stigmatized health issues whose stories, viewpoints, and experiences are often marginalized, unheard, or misrepresented in mainstream media. These communities include people living with HIV and AIDS and/or tuberculosis, people with mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities, injecting drug users, sex workers, LGBTI individuals, people in need of palliative care services, and Roma facing discrimination in healthcare settings.
* Are enthusiastic about using new, interactive modes of communication to build relationships and establish dialogue on the important advocacy issues of their community.
* Envision and highly prioritize media and communication strategies to achieve the advocacy goals of their organization.

Pre-requisite for the competition:

* Organizations must have their own website or participate in a network website.

Rising Voices and OSI aim to bring new voices from new communities and speaking new languages to the conversational web, by providing resources and funding to local groups reaching out to underrepresented communities. Examples of potential projects include:

* Working with a tuberculosis or HIV clinic or local drop-in center with the offer of training health workers, local harm reduction or sex worker outreach workers, patients, and their families to blog and upload video, in order to document their work, their experiences, and their community.
* Use blogs, podcasts, and online video to help give voice and representation to LGBTI communities and advocate for their rights.
* Distribute mp3 recorders to a local NGO working on palliative care issues, and help them produce monthly audio testimonials and/or interviews featuring stories and experiences of participants, for uploading to the NGO’s website.
* Organizing a regular workshop on blogging and photography at a legal aid center representing the rights of people living with mental disabilities. Part of the budget could be used to purchase affordable digital video cameras and internet café costs, so that participants can describe their challenges and life experiences to a global audience.
* Purchasing an affordable digital video camera and teaching a group of local Roma community outreach workers how to produce an ongoing video-blog documentary about their work, which could then be posted to the organization’s website and linked to other networks’ websites.

Rising Voices outreach grants will range from $1,000 to $5,000. Special consideration will be given to proposals from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucusus. Please be as thoughtful, specific, and realistic as possible when drafting your budgets.

Successful projects will be prominently featured on Global Voices.

Completed applications will be accepted no later than Sunday, June 1st in either English or Russian. Please submit your application on the Rising Voices apply page. Russian-language proposals should be submitted here. All applicants will receive a confirmation email by June 3. Grantees will be announced on June 28 at the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit in Budapest, Hungary.

***

The OSI Public Health Program’s Health Media Initiative aims to increase public awareness of health issues, especially stigmatized health issues involving marginalized populations. The initiative focuses on supporting health NGOs to develop their relationships with journalists across all media platforms so they may communicate health and human rights issues effectively with the public. Where the media environment is especially hostile, OSI also supports “community journalism” initiatives to encourage NGOs to use digital technology to communicate their stories and issues to each other and to the world at large. The initiative also seeks to build the capacity of media professionals to report responsibly on public health issues.

Rising Voices aims to help bring new voices from new communities and speaking new languages to the conversational web, by providing resources and funding to local groups reaching out to underrepresented communities.

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