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Forced Eviction of IDP Camp in Darfur

More disturbing news out of Darfur today. From the BBC:

An un-named UN official on Sunday saw the forced relocation of refugees at gunpoint from Otash camp to Amakassara. The UN says this “dangerous precedent” could jeopardise Darfur peace talks…

UN emergency relief coordinator Sir John Holmes said a UN official witnessed Sudanese security forces with sticks and rubber hoses coercing hundreds of refugees, including women and children, to leave Otash refugee camp on the outskirts of Nyala.

Other witnesses told the BBC they saw 10 vehicles with heavy machine guns surrounding people, while eight trucks were loaded with their belongings.

The refugees have been moved into an area where the UN says it is known that the Janjaweed militia operate.

Read more. Also, see daily updates from the Passion of the Present.

Finally, I’d like to thank blogger KM at the Coalition For Darfur, who has posted important updates on Darfur for the past three years. You have been an invaluable resource to me, and I’m sure countless others who have tried to keep up with the conflict in Darfur. Thanks for all your hard work over the years.

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Ban travels to Turkey for meeting on Iraq

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will attend a high-level diplomatic meeting on Iraq in Turkey this week.

The Istanbul Expanded Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Neighbouring Countries of Iraq will focus on ways to promote greater regional dialogue.

“The Secretary-General hopes the Istanbul meeting will be an important opportunity for the participants to find mutually acceptable solutions on issues of common concern,” spokesperson Marie Okabe said.


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Uh, Fred?

As we’ve said before, the UN usually takes a beating during campaign season. The latest candidate to get in on the action is Fred Thompson, who in an ‘exlusive email’ to the Gun Nut blog of Field and Stream, rails against a UN plot to take guns away from law abiding Americans.

Says Thompson, “Last year, the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights declared that international human rights law requires all nations to adopt strict gun control laws. These “minimum” provisions are much more restrictive than any of those on the books anywhere in the U.S. and would almost certainly violate the Second Amendment of our Constitution.”

I’m no fancy big city lawyer — and I certainly don’t play one on TV — so I am hard-pressed to find something in this document that would violate Americans’ second amendment rights. But, like I said, I’m no lawyer. Decide for yourself. Here are the offending paragraphs from the very brief August 2006 declaration of the Human Rights Council Sub-commission to which Thompson refers:

Urges States to adopt laws and policies regarding the manufacture, possession, transfer and use of small arms that comply with principles of international human rights and international humanitarian law;

Also urges States to provide training on the use of firearms by armed forces and law enforcement personnel consistent with basic principles of international human rights and humanitarian law with special attention to the promotion and protection of human rights as a primary duty of all State officials;

Further urges States to take effective measures to minimize violence carried out by armed private actors, including using due diligence to prevent small arms from getting into the hands of those who are likely to misuse them;

As you can see, these are pretty broad directives. And as you can see, no country is required to do anything. In fact, the only UN body that can require something of a member state is the Security Council, on which the United States has a veto. Thompson next gets philosophical and channels Grotius. Really! Says Thompson, “the UN report remarkably denied the existence of any human right to self-defense, evidently overlooking the work of Hugo Grotius, the 17th century scholar credited as the founder of international law, who wrote, ‘It is to be observed that [the] Right of Self-Defence, arises directly and immediately from the Care of our own Preservation, which Nature recommends to every one…’ and that this right is so primary, that it cannot be denied on the basis that it is not ‘expressly set forth.’

Back in 1945, the framers of the UN Charter were not going to take any chances, so they expressly included the right to self defense. See Article 51 of the UN Charter, which affirms the Grotian view that self-defense is an ‘inherent’ right.

Thompson isn’t so foolish to think that this declaration is just an attempt to secretly rebuke the work of a 17th century Dutchman. Really, there is something more sinister at work, “There is another disturbing aspect to this call for international global gun control. Throughout modern history, the forced disarmament of people by its government has often been accompanied or followed by that government’s commission of often massive human rights abuses. Disarming civilians under the guise of international human rights law will only lead to more…genocides by ensuring that civilians can never defend themselves!

Of course, there is some truth to this logic. Still, most estimates place the number of the victims of the Darfur genocide — which occurred in the context of an armed insurgency, in which the victim population was not, in fact, disarmed — at between 200,000 to 400,000 dead in five years of fighting. This declaration, and those like it at the UN, are attempts to address the proliferation and misuse of small arms, which kill 500,000 people each year. Most of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, where the availability of small weapons like the AK-47 is no impediment to violent conflict.

The point of this declaration, and similar UN work, is to impede the transfer of small arms to recoving conflict zones like Liberia or Sierra Leone, thus removing one of the drivers of conflict. It is not intended to violate American’s Second Amendment rights. Even if the UN wanted to–which it doesn’t–it could not amend the Bill of Rights to alter the Second Amendment. Only a two-thirds vote of Congress and the States can do that.

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New Blogging Heads

After a brief hiatus, Matthew Lee and I are back on Blogging Heads. Topics discussed include: the UN Day Grinches, Darfur, the UN in Iraq, Libya on the Security Council and the dilemmas of peacekeeper accountability. Enjoy.

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‘The Melancholy Destiny of the UN’

On October 22, the New York Times Magazine‘s James Traub published a report on the likelihood of an expanded UN role in Iraq for the Stanley Foundation. Traub speaks to UN Dispatch about the report, the inevitability of greater UN involvement in Iraq, and the troubling prospect that Iraq’s last best hope may still fail.

In your report, you argue that it is inevitable that the UN take on a more robust political role in Iraq. How do you come to that conclusion?

It is probably inevitable that the UN’s role will be expanded, but it is by no means inevitable what that role will be. It will be expanded in part because the dimensions of catastrophe there call on some of the abilities that the UN uniquely has. For example, the whole question of what will be done with the over two million refugees — perhaps an equal number of IDPs — is the kind of work the UN does. There is also another sense in which the expansion of the UN’s role is inevitable, namely that there is a wish both on the part of the United States and of the United Nations for an expanded UN role.

The question is, what can the UN usefully contribute to Iraq?The security situation limits the number of people that can go there. And of course, the greatest catastrophe in the history of the United Nations was the [bombing of the UN headquarters] in August 2003 which killed 29 people. So there is a deep wariness to putting more personnel in Iraq.

The real question is a political one: can the UN use its convening capacity — its capacity as an impartial mediator — to somehow engage in the kind of acts of political reconciliation that it has done elsewhere, but which no-one has been able to replicate in Iraq?

To that end, do you see any parallels from previous UN operations that might be applicable to Iraq?

Look at Burundi. That may seems like a silly comparison. But there you had a situation where Hutus ands Tutsis came close to using genocide as a political instrument in their struggle for power. That seemingly intractable situation has now become cured by a combination of UN intervention and the cooperation of all the relevant neighbors.

In that sense, the UN at times has been able to bind up wounds that otherwise seem incurable. Iraq of course, presents a unique situation because of the astonishing level of violence. Even beyond that (so far as most outsiders can tell) there is an unwillingness among the belligerents to concede that violence is not going to be the best way to achieve political goals. Neither the UN nor any other interlocutor can succeed in helping foster the conditions for political reconciliation unless the parties themselves are convinced that they can get what they want through some sort of negotiated process.

How then could the UN, as opposed to the US or any other country, break that impasse and convince the various factions that they have more to gain than lose through a negotiated settlement?

The first answer to your question is that that UN clearly has an advantage over the United States because it is seen as being an impartial actor. For all the anger at the UN that built up in the United States during the oil for food program, the fact is that back in 2004, Washington recognized that it could not speak to any of the players that it wanted to be a part of the interim government. That was part of what Sergio Vieira de Mello was doing when he was tragically killed in that bomb blast. This was also what Lakdhar Brahimi did in 2004 when he was able to put together the interim government of Iraq.

So the UN does have that kind of impartial convening power. The question, though, is how can the UN persuade the belligerents in Iraq that they have more to gain from compromise than killing people? I don’t think the UN can do that. I think you have to begin the process and hope it attracts enough energy and attention so that the Maliki government and Sunni groups, however grudgingly, begin to come around.

For this to succeed, it would seem that the United States would have to fully support this track. What indicators have you seen that suggest the US would support a robust UN-led diplomatic endeavor?

Only desperation. Outside of that, I see none. You can parse the words that [UN Ambassador] Zalmay Khalilzad has spoken, and see in them a greater willingness to have the UN play a serious leading role in Iraq. The rub is going to come when, for example, the Sunni parties say “we’re not going to even talk seriously about the kinds of concessions we are willing to make unless the Americans say they are going to leave.”

Would Washington permit someone from the UN to negotiate away key strategic decisions? I find that hard to believe. But then again, what exactly does Washington mean when it says it wants the UN to play a much greater role in the process of political reconciliation? I assume that this issue has not been joined.

What ‘needs to give’ for Washington to cede that kind of authority to the UN?

I think the answer probably is that there needs to be a growing sense that there is no alternative. The kind of threshold question is: Does Washington support sending a serious negotiating figure to Iraq, and is it willing to give him or her the political space required?

If you look back to the Brahimi example in 2004, the US essentially allowed Brahimi to have a central role in assembling what would become the Iraqi government. So there you could say Washington granted him the political space he needed because they saw he could play a useful role. Could that provide an analogy for what could happen now? Hypothetically it does. It shows you that the key thing is granting that political space and to some extent stepping back and allowing this process to happen.

If the UN were so empowered, it may be able to break the political impasse we are seeing now. But as you say in your report, even if the UN is given this space, there is no guarantee of success — far from it.

Right, but the problem is that every other path looks like a trajectory of sure failure. It is the melancholy destiny of the UN to be called on in the most desperate situations when everyone else has thrown up their hands or nobody else cares. Here is a case where people care desperately, but there doesn’t seem to be any path to success. So, this is one of the besetting problems of the UN: it may be called on, then fail, then be blamed. But you can’t say “we are not going to try because it will look bad if we fail.” That’s not how the UN thinks.

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UNCHR: More than 4.4 million Iraqis have been displaced

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, reports that violence in Iraq has displaced more than 4.4 million people.

The agency estimates that 60,000 people are forced to leave their homes every month.

Of these, some 2.2 million Iraqis are displaced internally, while more than 2.2 million have fled to neighbouring states, particularly Syria and Jordan. Many were displaced prior to 2003, but an increasing number are fleeing now. In 2006, Iraqis had become the leading nationality seeking asylum in Europe.


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