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Samantha Power on Colbert

Only the first few minutes were devoted to the “monster” incident. For the most part, Power talks smartly about her new book and the future of the U.S. in Iraq. Money quote: “What Sergio’s life underscores is the degree to which in the 21st century to deal with global challenges…you gotta have people by your side and you have to have international wind at your back.”

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Devil in the details?

My concern really would be with how deeply will the cultural, regional sub-context be taken in to account while implementing the PEPFAR Bill. The way it looks to me with so many clauses and sub-clauses it appears already to have a target group in mind at the cost of keeping certain groups beyond its reach as a form of ‘disciplining’ for not adhering in the first place (in the last five years!). And what worries me is that such a huge amount of money will go in to sticking to the “dos and don’ts” of the Bill rather than reaching substantially larger groups of people. Haven’t we already seen this before? In conflict zones like Afghanistan … in Iraq … where so much money has gone yet women live lives not very different from the previous decade; and of course much too often also reflected in policies taken up by each of our own governments?

Countries in Asia and Africa already suffer from the burden of too many cultural practices and unfair, gender imbalanced value systems (the experience of development workers will show) which cannot be challenged but have to be worked around slowly and deliberately. When one invokes the prostitution pledge I wonder what happens to girls who have been unwittingly lured in to the sex trade in the first place and are unable to return back to their own communities (even when rescued) out of fear of ostracism or the ‘shame’ that they bring to the family. Thus, they are often compelled to return to the very life they fight to leave. These are common narratives for almost every girl in the business and it is these narratives that make up the bulk of the sex workers in these countries. So are these young lives to be deprived of medical care and attention and continue to face persistent stigma and discrimination, (apart from the violence they endure) simply because they reconciled to sex work being the only economically viable means of survival. Even as local groups and communities fight social values to allow some sense of respect to these women in introducing this clause what in effect is being communicated is that they women do not deserve care and support because of the work they do. If that is not discriminatory behaviour then what is? What about men who might contract the virus from the sex worker? Are they also to be denied the aid? And finally down the same chain what about the spouse who contracts it from the husband? In countries like India and patriarchal set-ups such blanket bans only help to perpetuate the practices (which groups have spent years fighting) that while a woman (in this case a sex worker) can be punished for her trade (by limiting her accessibility to medical relief) men correspondingly do not have to bear that burden. So in condemning it for women it carries legitimacy for men — an extremely disastrous situation in societies where women are socially and politically disenfranchised.

Married women form a very large component of the HIV infected population mainly because of the fact that girls are married very early to men much older to them (and often already sexually active). In the absence of information on the subject — since sex itself is a taboo subject as is the use of contraceptives in such traditional, patriarchal set-ups where the value of women is judged by the number of male children they bear — they very rarely are equipped to protect themselves from infections.

More often than not since women in such set ups have very little access to information, groups working on contraception are also the information providers on HIV/AIDS especially since these are subjects that women themselves are hesitant to talk about. Pre- and post-natal care become the entry points to discuss other issues like reproductive and sexual health, HIV/AIDS within these communities and even abortion as an Family Planning tool is commonly used especially in countries like India where it has been legalized for long.

What would be the implications of the Global Gag Rule here? For many women in the lack of any other access to information on family planning (since many traditional families even condemn the idea) it is very often midwives who also act as the carriers of information on various issues like HIV. Again with women contracting the virus so often from their spouses and coming to know of it during a pregnancy the GGR in effect is snatching from them their only access to information and help on the subject, especially since they are often better positioned to prevent new infections among women and youth – the two most vulnerable groups currently.

Besides, to me the hypocrisy of it all lies in the fact that how can something that can not be implemented in the host country (as the GGR can not be applied to US organizations as it raises the issue of unconstitutionality) be force-fed to other nations and yet be used as a position to prevent funding abroad? Is there really no underlying conscientious compulsion to link domestic policies and their enforcement with the moral position beyond the national borders — particularly since morality has such an important role to play by way of ‘abstinence’ earlier and the continuing ‘anti-prostitution pledge.’

My concern is that clauses and sub-clauses in programmes that fail to take in to account the specifics of the cultural and social milieu where they need to be implemented is a way of ensuring their failure. Flexibility needs to be at the core of these programmes. But then whom are we attempting to impact ultimately? All those who require this care or simply those (women specifically) who have made morally correct choices. And where are the definitions of these morally correct choices emanating from?

And this is what makes it imperative that the language of aid does not enjoy such ambiguity that it becomes more a tool to deny groups rather than be more inclusive.

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UNMIK Officer Killed

A Ukrainian police officer serving in Kosovo died today from wounds sustained during Monday’s riots in Mitrovica, a frequent flash point. The lightly armed UNMIK police were forced to withdraw from the city when the riot gained steam, and were replaced by NATO troops. Ban condemned the riots. Serb authorities blamed NATO of using excessive force. This video from Russia today gives you a sense of the scale of destruction visited on Mitrovica yesterday.

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Tuesday Morning Coffee

Top Stories

>>Russia – Today Secretaries Rice and Gates continue what has been widely reported as positive talks on missile defense, non-proliferation, and terrorism in Moscow. Yesterday Secretary Rice confirmed that President Bush had sent a letter to President Putin in the last few days proposing a new strategic framework for cooperation. On Sunday, Secretary Gates suggested that, in order to address Russian concerns about missile defense, the U.S. would not turn on certain elements of the system until Iran demonstrated that it had a missile that could reach Europe. President Putin endorsed portions of the letter on Monday. Secretary Rice is meeting with Kremlin opponents today.

>>Serbia – Yesterday, 100 UN riot police backed by NATO soldiers regained control of a courthouse in Mitrovica in northern Kosovo from which the UN had overseen local justice. The courthouse had been overrun by 300 Serbs on Friday, who refused to leave. The raid, in turn, sparked riots and machine gun and grenade attacks on UN police and NATO peacekeepers in the worst violence in northern Kosovo since Kosovo declared independence last month. One Ukrainian serving in the UN police force was killed by shrapnel, and UN personnel were force to pull out.

>>Pakistan – Pakistan’s new National Assembly, led by opponents of President Musharraf, was sworn in on Monday. Fahmida Mizda, a women and a close associate of Bhutto widower Asif Ali Zardari, has been named as the parliamentary speaker pending approval. Meanwhile, the leader of Pakistan’s lawyers’ movement has said that there will be nationwide protests if the Supreme Court, stacked by Musharraf, decides today to stall the parliamentary resolution to reinstate judges fired by Musharraf. Zardari has said that such a resolution should pass within 30 days.

Yesterday in UN Dispatch

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Peacekeepers in Chad

According to Reuters, the EU peacekeeping force in Chad has deployed sufficiently to be termed “operational.”

A European Union military force deploying in Chad’s eastern borderlands became operational on Monday, starting a one-year mission to protect refugees, civilians and humanitarian operations.

The force, called EUFOR, is expected eventually to have 3,700 troops from more than a dozen European countries. France, the former colonial power in Chad, is providing half the troops.

“The equipment and units currently available allow us to declare that EUFOR has achieved its initial operational capacity,” the EU force said in a statement sent to Reuters.

Even beyond the daunting task of protecting a half million refugees and displaced persons in a still-bubbling war zone, EUFOR faces significant operational challenges. It has already lost one French soldier, killed by the Sudanese military last month. Its neutrality is questioned by both the Sudanese government and Chadian rebels, and Chadian president Idriss Deby welcomes the force, but probably only inasmuch as it seems to provide support for his beleaguered regime.

Despite these dangers, the relative speed of EUFOR’s deployment — at least compared to that of the UN force scheduled to deploy in neighboring Darfur over two months ago — is welcome, and it should bring much-needed relief to those displaced in eastern Chad.

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World’s glaciers melting at record rate

From the UN News Center:

With global glaciers — a vital water source for millions, or even billions, of people worldwide — melting at a record rate, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) urged countries to agree on a new emissions reduction pact.

According to the UNEP-backed World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), data from nearly 30 reference glaciers in nine mountain ranges indicate that between the years 2004-2005 and 2005-2006, the average rate of melting and thinning more than doubled.

Read more.

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