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First free clinic for refugee women in Kuala Lumpur

More than 300 women lined up to see doctors on the opening weekend of a UNHCR-funded center for refugee women in Kuala Lumpur.

Volunteers turning up at dawn on Sunday to run the half-day clinic – organized by the UN refugee agency with funding from the private Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Malaysia (OGSM) and the IS Puvan OBGYN Foundation – were amazed to see dozens of women waiting for the medics.

One volunteer said, “We were taken aback. We’d never seen this before at any of our other clinics. It was only 6.00am and at least 50 refugee women were already there.”

30 percent of the 37,000 UNHCR-registered refugees in and asylum seekers Kuala Lumpur are women.


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Romney, Iran, Genocide, and the UN

Mitt Romney writes to Secretary General Ban ki Moon to demand the UN block Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmidinejad from speaking before the General Assembly next week. “The only way he should be greeted in the United States,” writes Romney, “is with an indictment under the Genocide Convention.” Romney continues:

“A failure by the United Nations to take a strong stand against Iran’s President Ahmadinejad would be especially disturbing given the United Nations’ record of failure to prevent genocide in other circumstances and the failure of the United Nations Human Rights Council to confront the Iranian regime and others among the world’s worst human rights abusers. Failure to act would mean that the United States must reconsider its level of support and funding for the United Nations as we look to rebuild and revitalize effective international partnerships to meet 21st century threats.” (emp added)

Romney, it would seem, is prepared to condition American support for the United Nations on the whether or not the UN takes a “strong stand” against Iran. This apparently includes preventing the Iranian president from addressing the General Assembly (as all heads of state do) and serving Ahmidinejad with indictment for committing genocide.

Not to get overly technical, but the only country in the world that can block the Iranian president from addressing the General Assembly is the United States, which could deny Ahmidinejad and his entourage a visa to enter the United States. Romney’s letter might better be addressed to the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Second, the United Nations does not have the power of an international prosecutor and cannot serve heads of states with indictments willy-nilly. However, one body that could issue an indictment against Ahmidenijad, if it was so inclined, is the United States District Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Of course, then we’re faced with the serious question of whether or not indicting someone for genocide who has not committed genocide waters down the definition of genocide, therefore making it harder to confront genocide when genocide actually happens.

There is a larger point that is also worth mentioning. Tying UN “progress” on a single issue to American support for the UN as a whole is a common rhetorical tactic by people who seek to gain politically from attacking the UN. But these kinds of propositions, if taken to their logical conclusion, would have dire real world consequences.

For example, should the US stop funding the UN because the UN doesn’t “get tough” on Iran in a way that satisfies Romney, we could reasonably expect UN peacekeeping operations around the world to run out of money. Some immediate consequences of that might include a Haitian refugee crisis and the resumption of war in Southern Lebanon / Northern Israel. Should US funds to the UN dry up, we might also see the World Health Organization fail in its on-going efforts to contain the Asian Bird Flu.

The point is, there are many different ways the United Nations enhances American security, directly and indirectly. It is simply dangerous to propose that America suspend its contributions to the UN over a disagreement on any single issue.

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Cholera cases in Iraq double

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the number of people struck by a cholera outbreak in Northern Iraq has doubled to 16,000 people.

“The good news was that, although the disease has spread, the number of deaths has remained the same,” spokesperson Fadela Chaib told a news briefing in Geneva.


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What Ban Saw

The Secretary General writes an op-ed about the complexities facing a peace settlement in Darfur.

I have just returned from a week in Darfur and the surrounding region. I went to listen to the candid views of its people — Sudanese officials, villagers displaced by fighting, humanitarian aid workers, the leaders of neighboring countries. I came away with a clear understanding. There can be no single solution to this crisis. Darfur is a case study in complexity. If peace is to come, it must take into account all the elements that gave rise to the conflict.

For peace in Darfur to take hold a perfect storm of sorts needs to manifest. Financial and diplomatic support must to flow from donor countries; Libya and Chad need to be fully committed to supporting the peace; the government of Sudan needs to become convinced that it has more to gain from peace than continued war; rebel groups need to be convinced that the government of Sudan is approaching the peace talks in good faith; and all the while, the international community cannot afford to ignore the tenuous peace holding in southern Sudan.

The conflict in Darfur is so seemingly intractible because absent anyone of these elements, a peace process risks failure.

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UN adopts Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The General Assembly has adopted a declaration outlining the rights of the world’s 370 million indigenous people and outlawing discrimination against them.

[T]he Declaration sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.


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Global Child Mortality Rates Plummet

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post reported good news today on worldwide child mortality rates. As shown in the Times chart after the jump, the number of deaths of young children around the world has been cut in half since 1960, when these statistics were first recorded. This fact is even more impressive considering: 1) world population has doubled since 1960, and 2) these stats are based on 2005 household surveys and do not adequately account for the recent uptick in funds from sources like the Global Fund, the Gates Foundation, and the Administration’s AIDS and malaria programs.

UNICEF gives four reasons for the dramatic decrease (according to the Times).

  1. “Measles deaths have dropped 60 percent since 1999, thanks to vaccination drives” like those sponsored by the Measles Initiative.
  2. “More babies are sleeping under mosquito nets” because of campaigns like Nothing But Nets.
  3. “More women are breast-feeding rather than mixing formula or cereal with dirty water.”
  4. “More are getting Vitamin A drops”

Both articles gloss over the vital role that UNICEF has played in the decrease, but one doesn’t have to look far for evidence. Through the Measles Initiative, UNICEF and its partners have vaccinated more than 375,000 children since 2001 and have been the driving force behind the 60 percent decrease in measles deaths worldwide. UNICEF in particular provides a unique framework for procurement and for dealing with the complex logistics of delivering those vaccines where they are needed most. Through the same framework, UNICEF delivers Vitamin A, the deficiency of which is a widespread cause of malnutrition and death. UNICEF also bought nearly 25 million anti-malaria bed nets in 2006, making them one of the largest buyers in the world. They provide the same kind of logistical support that they do for the Measles Initiative to the Nothing But Nets campaign.

A second underdeveloped theme in both articles is that the solutions that are working are surprisingly low-tech and inexpensive. It costs only $10 to purchase and deliver a long-lasting, anti-malarial bed net, which can protect an entire family, and to educate that family on its use. Measles vaccines are less than $1 a pop. Vitamin A supplements are pennies apiece. Breast feeding is free. As global challenges (and the solutions) become increasingly complex, it’s comforting to know that there are some clear and guaranteed ways to make a difference globally.

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