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NHCR Releases Guide Addressing Women’s Protection and Empowerment

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UN Dispatch is pleased to announce that Feministing’s Vanessa Valenti will join the Dispatch team and offer posts on global women’s issues. Welcome aboard Vanessa!

As Saturday marks International Women’s Day, there are numerous efforts happening to increase awareness around the status of women across the globe. One of these is the “Handbook for the Protection of Women and Girls” a new publication released today by the UN Refugee Agency that is designed to promote gender equality using a rights — and community — based approach.

Replacing the UNHCR’s 1991 “Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women”, this document acknowledges and condemns “a massive culture of neglect and denial about violence against women and girls,” develops strategies to address the challenges that women and girls face as well as sets out international legal standards in the area.

Perhaps most importantly, the handbook not only lays out strategies to ensure the protection of women and girls, but also pushes for gender equality “through targeted actions to empower women and girls in the civil, political and economic sectors.”

Click here for the handbook in full.

–By Vanessa Valenti

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Mediators on Call

Talk about an idea that’s time has come. The American head of the UN’s Department of Political Affairs (which is sort of like the UN’s State Department) announced yesterday the formation of the long awaited UN Mediation Standby Team. The idea behind this initiative is to have a reserve of experts on call so political disputes do not erupt into violence, or if violence has already broken out, to manage ceasefire negotiations.

Demand for mediation assistance has grown steadily in recent years, [UN Political Affairs Chief] Lynn Pascoe said, noting the long list of recent talks, in particular those that set up power-sharing arrangements to end the post-election violence in Kenya and attempts to end the armed activity of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda.

And the situations are becoming increasing complex. “These are not places where you can go out and begin a negotiation by the seat of your pants,” the Under-Secretary-General noted. Even the most seasoned UN envoys usually need specialized advice.

Norway footed the $1 million bill to keep fund this new initiative through its first year. Takk!

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Thursday Morning Coffee

Turkmenistan is rewarding women who have over eight children with $25, as well as free utilities, transportation, and dental care.

Top Stories

>>Israel and Palestine – Israel and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed yesterday to resume talks under pressure from US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Talks were suspended by Abbas due to an incursion by the Israeli army into Gaza, which left 125 people dead over 5 days. Human rights groups said yesterday that Israel’s blockade has downgraded Gaza’s humanitarian situation to its worst state since Israel’s occupation in 1967.

>>Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador – The Organization of American States declared the Columbian raid against FARC rebels in Ecuador to be a violation of sovereignty, a measure intended to ease relations between Columbia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

>>Gazprom – Gazprom has agreed resume gas shipments to the Ukraine, after it agreed to settle a $600 million debt that occured after Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko refused to sign contracts negotiated by the President Viktor Yushchenko. Tymoshenko is both attempting to reduce Gazprom’s control of the Ukraine’s domestic gas market and exert political primacy over Yushchenko.

>>Vatican – The Vatican will create an interfaith forum with Muslim leaders and scholars, intended to ease relations between the religions. The first of which, “Love of God, Love of Neighbor,” will be held in Rome in November and will likely be attended by the Pope. Relations between leadership of the two religions have been hindered since the Pope quoted a Bizantine emperor in a 2006 speech as saying that Islam was “evil and inhuman.” He later expressed regret that his remarks had been taken out of context but never apologized.

Yesterday in UN Dispatch
  • Foreign
    Policy Still Most Important to Voters
    by John
    Boonstra
  • href="http://www.undispatch.com/archives/2008/03/un_in_limbo_in.php">UN
    in Limbo in Kosovo – by John Boonstra
  • href="http://www.undispatch.com/archives/2008/03/reese_witherspo.php">Reese
    Witherspoon and Avon Team with the UN to Fight Violence Against Women
    - by Mark Leon Goldberg

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Why A Billion People Need a Stronger U.S.-UN Partnership

Last week, former UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland penned a column in The Huffington Post arguing that, while the living situations of most human beings in the world have been improving over the last two decades, an impoverished underclass of one billion people still lives in deplorable conditions. Egeland, a veteran of disaster and war areas from Colombia to Darfur, issues a call to arms for the world’s richest countries: make combating global poverty a priority, or risk not only moral hypocrisy, but also the danger of antagonizing an entire substratum of the global population.

To address this festering problem, Egeland proposes a renewed commitment to international cooperation, with an emphasis on improving the relationship between the UN and the United States. As we have noted here and elsewhere, the U.S. has significantly shortchanged humanitarian and peacekeeping imperatives in favor of beefing up its defense spending. Egeland puts the contrast in these priorities in stark terms:

Every year since the invasion in 2003 America has spent six times more in Iraq alone than the United Nations system has had to invest on all peace, human rights, relief, development and environmental efforts around the globe. The annual 120 billion dollars spent in Iraq is nearly twenty times more than the cost of all the successful UN humanitarian and peace-making operations in Angola, the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Burundi, Ivory Coast, Northern Uganda, the Middle East and East Timor combined. The cost of unilateralism and effectiveness of multilateralism is not known to the American tax-payer, or to UN member states.

To strengthen Egeland’s last point, it bears reminding that UN peacekeeping has been shown to be eight times cheaper — as well as more effective — than comparable U.S.-led missions.

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Foreign Policy Still Most Important to Voters

According to Mike Boyer, writing in the Foreign Policy blog, the journal’s eponymous issue — foreign policy — is still what matters most to American voters.

Voters are still very much in a Sept. 11th mindset. Clinton won last night in large part by beating Barack Obama two to one among voters who made their decision within the last three days of the race. And she did that by attacking his preparedness to handle national security, not the subprime crisis. Most notably via the now-infamous, and apparently effective, “It’s 3:00 A.M….” ad.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, readiness in foreign policy is not of course limited to the ability to respond to the crisis at the other end of this proverbial phone call. Nonetheless, Boyer’s point is made on firm ground — the “reaction” context seems to be what most voters base their judgments of candidates’ foreign policy on. And with both Clinton and Republican John McCain poised to come after Obama hard on the issue of concrete foreign policy experience, Boyer’s formulation of this year’s campaign dynamics is particularly apt: “Like it or not, it’s a foreign-policy election.”

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UN in Limbo in Kosovo

Today’s Christian Science Monitor asks the very pertinent question of what the 4,000-odd UN personnel in Kosovo are to do in a region whose status as an independent country is, to say the least, still up in the air. A compromise proposal negotiated last year by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari laid out the groundwork to transition from the UN’s eight-year stewardship of the region to an EU-monitored independence, but the virulence of the Serbian and Russian reaction to Kosovo’s declaration has trammeled any hopes of a smooth handover. From the Monitor:

Unable to recognize the newly declared state without a new mandate from headquarters in New York, workers on the ground are left wondering what exactly their job is — and how long they’ll be here. For now, any work on a planned European Union takeover of police and justice responsibilities is on hold.

“We have received no instructions to proceed with transition,” says Alexander Ivanko, the UN’s spokesman in Pristina.

EU leaders agreed to send an 1,800-strong police and judiciary mission to Kosovo to replace the UN administrative mission following Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence on Feb. 17, and it is preparing to deploy.

Until the EU actually deploys — and Serbia is sending signals that it will continue to resist this deployment — UN personnel remain guided by the mandate of the 1999 Security Council resolution that created the mission, even though the scope of that mandate is clearly out of synch with the tension of the current situation. Caught in this awkward bind, UN staff are unfairly feeling the squeeze of the international showdown over Kosovo’s status; Serbs in Kosovo are suddenly supporting the UN as a bulwark against EU presence. To overcome this threat to its impartial presence, the UN Mission in Kosovo needs both clear definition from the Security Council and greater openness from Serbia and Russia to the EU’s proposed role.

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