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U.S. Intervenes on Ethiopian Abortion Law

I applaud recent posts by Frances and Michelle recognizing that, for much of the world, unsafe abortion remains a critical issue for women’s health and rights. I also agree with those who have said that U.S. leadership and support is crucial, and that addressing this problem should be high on the agenda for the next administration.

Here in Ethiopia, we have changed our law to expand the indications for legal abortion. The new law is a result of several years’ effort by a coalition of health and women’s rights advocates both in and out of government working together to revise Ethiopia’s laws in accordance with the 1992 constitution.While the global gag rule does not allow the U.S. to interfere in the sovereign affairs of another nation, the U.S. has nonetheless attempted to impose its own views on abortion on this government-led legal reform process in Ethiopia. USAID’s country office used a firm hand in compelling Ethiopian NGOs receiving U.S. assistance to work under the gag rule. NGOs with expertise in health and human rights were forced to make a difficult choice: did they want to take part in the legal reform process, a democratic process in their own country, or did they want to receive U.S. money that could provide limited healthcare for more people?

In contrast with the current administration, I hope that a new administration will be zealous on the side of women, and will strive to ensure that they have access to legal and life-saving health services, including safe abortion. Ethiopia has a population of over 72 million people – the second largest country in Africa – and 22 percent of these are women of reproductive age, nearly 16 million women, aged 15-44. With a high maternal mortality rate and low rates of contraceptive use, unsafe abortion is an enormous health problem for women in my country. Although we have taken the important step of changing our law, that is not enough to make abortion safe. Leadership from large donors like the U.S. is essential in helping us grow our health sector to bring comprehensive reproductive health services to women – including birth control, STI and HIV/AIDS prevention, and yes, safe abortion care. Governments in Europe are already leading the way in funding global and country-level safe abortion activities in every region, including Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, and Denmark. Where is the United States?

I hope that the new American president will not only repeal the global gag rule on Day One; I hope he or she will also call for a non-discriminatory policy on women’s access to basic health care. I hope he or she will make immediate plans to send a foreign aid bill to Congress that funds comprehensive, not selective, reproductive health programs. U.S. foreign aid reform should repeal the Helms Amendment that for more than three decades has prevented U.S. assistance from supporting the safe abortion care so badly needed to save the lives and health of women in Ethiopia and in many other countries.

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We’re Only Going to Get What We Give

On page one of the Post today, Colum Lynch pens an excellent breakdown of budgetary pressures facing the United Nations. This month, reports Lynch, the United Nations secretariat asked it’s top donors, including the United States, for an additional $1.1 billion over the next two years. Why would the UN need this extra cash? Forgive the pun, but here’s the money graf from Lynch

Much of the increased spending flows from Bush administration demands for a more ambitious U.N. role around the world. During President Bush’s tenure, the United States has signed off on billions of dollars for U.N. peacekeeping operations in Sudan and elsewhere, and authorized hundreds of millions for U.N. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, where U.N. officials helped organize elections and draft a new constitution.

There are always two important thing to keep in mind when folks rail against UN spending. 1) The UN’s budget is relatively small. It’s regular operating budget is about $5 billion; peacekeeping costs about $6 billion. 2) The United States has an effective veto over increases to both peacekeeping and the regular UN budget. If the United States does not think it is in its interest to incur a portion of the cost of a peacekeeping mission, the US always has the option to use its veto to block the mission.

On the other hand, the growth we have seen at the UN over the last few years is largely due to America directing the UN to take on more jobs. Among other things, the United States–which is the UN’s single largest patron–has turned to the UN to send peacekeepers to the Horn of Africa, set up a war crimes tribunal in Lebanon, and arrange elections in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the United States has directed the UN to take on such roles, it only stands to reason that the United States should be expected to pay its fair share of the costs.

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Final Word on Somalia

To clear up any misconceptions, the United Nations–as a rule–does not send peacekeepers to places where there is no peace to keep. Somalia today certainly falls into this category.

Peacekeepers are trained to keep the peace, not mount invasions. Furthermore, the Secretary General does not have any standing forces at his disposal. When the Security Council approves a peacekeeping mission, the Secretary General must rely on member states to pony up troops and equipment. To complicate matters, member states are generally reluctant to offer their troops for a peacekeeping mission that has no ceasefire or political agreement to uphold (see: Sudan, Darfur).

The Security Council can, however, approve the kind of mission that Alex Thurston considers necessary to save Somalia.The defense of Kuwait in 1990 and Australia’s interventions in in East Timor, for example, were authorized by the Security Council. However, these are not “UN peacekeeping missions,” but essentially war-fighting efforts led by individual member states. For humanitarian intervention to occur in Somalia tomorrow, an individual country, NATO, or some coalition of the willing would have to take on the project themselves. Presumably, this would include evicting Ethiopian troops, suppressing an insurgency and defeating spoilers. So far, no country seems willing to take this on, so the next best option is to work to secure a political agreement between as many factions as possible and then use UN peacekeepers as the guarantors of that peace. The newest Secretary General’s report on Somalia, linked here, recommends this path–and I suspect the Security Council will approve.

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Still Debating Peace and Justice in Northern Uganda

Last week, Mark and I both expressed our opinions of the controversy in Northern Uganda, where a proximate peace accord is being stalled by rebel leader Joseph Kony’s insistence on immunity from ICC prosecution. Though there are no new developments in the stalemate, I wanted to share the well-reasoned opinion of Kevin Jon Heller, a blogger at the peerless Opinio Juris. Rejecting his colleague Julian Ku’s assertion that “the ICC really is now the obstacle to peace,” Kevin gives his take on how to navigate out of this morass.

It seems to me that the answer lies in the ICC’s principle of complementarity. Given that ordinary Ugandans favor traditional justice for low-level perpetrators and criminal prosecution for high-level perpetrators, the Court should insist on two things: (1) that the Ugandan government and the LRA revert back to their original plan to try Kony and the other LRA leaders in Uganda’s High Court; and (2) that the Ugandan government revamp its criminal justice system to satisfy the principle of complementarity. At that point — and only at that point — should the ICC step aside.

The key, of course, is to reconcile Ugandans’ belief in the need to prosecute high-level LRA criminals with the deficiencies of the Ugandan justice system. While simply dropping its indictments would be devastating, the ICC could opt for a tactical delay, accepting a less-than-ideal solution in immediate term, but retaining the prerogative to bring Kony et al to justice at least eventually. This would both provide a viable option for the ICC and, as Kevin pointed out to me, give Uganda an opportunity to bring its courts up to the legal standards of the ICC.

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UN targets Sudanese army for mass rapes in Darfur

The United Nations has called out the Sudanese government for committing mass rapes of women and girls in Darfur in a new report released today.

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, released the report stating that President Omar al-Bashir’s administration is providing help and support to the Arab janjaweed militia, who are responsible for looting at least three towns, raping girls and women and killing at least 115 people last month. Over 30,000 people have been displaced as a result as well. Via the UN’s News Centre:

The report describes extensive looting during and after the attacks, and catalogues ‘consistent and credible accounts’ of rape committed by armed men in uniform.

‘These actions violated the principle of distinction stated in international humanitarian law, failing to distinguish between civilian objects and military objective,’ the report concludes.

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Peacekeepers in Somalia Weren’t Always an Option

Piggybacking on Mark’s response to Alex Thurston’s disagreement with Ban’s report on Somalia, there are a couple of things we must keep in mind.

First, the Secretary-General’s suggestion of possibly deploying peacekeepers in Somalia (eventually, at least) was not always his idea. As Edith Lederer of the AP reminds us, Ban has previously actually resisted pressure to push for a peacekeeping force.

In December, the Security Council called on Ban to plan for the possible deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to replace the African Union force now in Somalia. The council was reiterating a request it initially made in August that Ban rejected.

Compare Ban’s most recent report to the one he gave in November. From Reuters:

“Under the prevailing political and security situation, I believe that the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation cannot be considered a realistic and viable option,” Ban said in a report to the Security Council.

Ban’s latest report is not simply a clarion call for another mission for over-stretched UN peacekeepers. Rather, by assessing the prevailing political, security, and humanitarian conditions, Ban is cautiously laying out the process by which blue helmets could most reasonably and effectively be deployed. This would not only result in a more effective mission, but would also alleviate the pragmatic problem of securing troops from Member States.

Second, it’s not that the additional 17,000-odd troops for Darfur haven’t been found; it’s that the Sudanese government has not accepted the pledges of non-African countries. Stronger efforts are needed to overcome Sudan’s objections and actually deploy these troops, yes, but the offers of troop-contributing countries have been welcome.

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