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Reese Witherspoon and Avon Team with the UN to Fight Violence Against Women

Apparently, it’s celebrity endorsement week at the United Nations. Yesterday, we learned that Drew Barrymore is donating $1 million to the World Food Program. Today, Reese Witherspoon is getting in on the action. She and Avon are partnering with the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. From the UN News Center.

Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon and cosmetics giant Avon have agreed to lend their voices to United Nations-led efforts to stamp out violence against women as part of a public-private partnership announced today.

Avon is committing $1 million to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which was created by the General Assembly in 1996 and is administered by the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). Avon’s donation will be the largest corporate grant ever made in a single year to the Trust Fund.

“Violence against women is the hidden pandemic,” UNIFEM’s acting Executive Director Joanne Sandler said at a press briefing in New York today.

But she also stressed that “violence is a problem with solutions,” welcoming Avon’s donation as a means to bolster the work of the Trust Fund, which has disbursed $18 million to 250 innovative programmes in more than 100 countries in the past decade.

Read more.

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War crimes prosecutor won’t meet Uganda rebels

Last week, I wrote on the risk that LRA rebel leaders’ insistence on amnesty from prosecution posed for the prospects of peace in northern Uganda. Now it seems that, fortunately, the importance of justice and accountability is not being overlooked. From Reuters:

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor said on Tuesday he would not meet Ugandan rebels who want him to lift indictments against them before they sign a final peace agreement.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement the leaders of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army he has charged can approach the court’s judges if they want to challenge his case.

“Any LRA legal representative would have to follow the judicial procedures and file applications before the pre-trial chamber,” he said, adding he was confident his case was sound.

Moreno-Ocampo’s response to this hurdle reminds us that, as important as the ICC’s work in bringing perpetrators to justice is, the court also fulfills a crucial role in establishing the rule of law and appropriate legal procedure. Uganda will not be able to fully transition into a phase of reconciliation through procedural shortcuts in the interest of a quick — but ultimately unsubstantial — peace.

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Scorched Earth in Darfur

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This image — the Darfurian town of Abu Surouj, after it was burned to the ground by Sudanese government and proxy militia forces last month — is a sobering reminder that the genocide in Darfur is far from over. The photo accompanies another intrepid piece of reporting by the irreplaceable Lydia Polgreen, who provides stark proof that, in the chilling phrase with which she begins her article, “the janjaweed are back.”

The tale of this town’s — as well as multiple others’ — recent destruction provides a stark rejoinder to those who contend that the active military campaign in Darfur largely ended in 2004. As Polgreen reports, the uncompromising counter-insurgency tactics employed in the early years of the genocide have been resuscitated with little compunction:

Such brutal, three-pronged attacks of this scale — involving close coordination of air power, army troops and Arab militias in areas where rebel troops have been — have rarely been seen in the past few years, when the violence became more episodic and fractured. But they resemble the kinds of campaigns that first captured the world’s attention and prompted the Bush administration to call the violence in Darfur genocide.

Aid workers, diplomats and analysts say the return of such attacks is an ominous sign that the fighting in Darfur, which has grown more complex and confusing as it has stretched on for five years, is entering a new and deadly phase — one in which the government is planning a scorched-earth campaign against the rebel groups fighting here as efforts to find a negotiated peace founder.

These attacks deeply exacerbate the already precarious situation of displaced Darfurians, cutting them off from aid, forcing them still further from their land, and sharply reawakening the fear in which they must constantly live. Sudanese government spokesmen defend their army’s activities as necessary to secure areas from bandits and rebels, unabashedly affirming that “there is nothing abnormal about a government doing this.” While the rebels are also intimately responsible for Darfur’s deteriorating security situation, surely there is little “normal” about a government bombing its own civilians. Both rebels and government forces need to immediately accede to the rapid deployment of UN peacekeepers, for any meaningful peace accord is unsustainable without their active civilian protection.

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Drew Barrymore Helps Fight Hunger in Kenya

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For the past couple of months, we’ve seen how political unrest in Kenya can spark a food crisis in a normally stable place. Thankfully, this crisis has not gone unnoticed. Drew Barrymore, for one, decided to pitch in. From the UN News Center.

The United States actress Drew Barrymore today announced that she would donate $1 million to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), where she is an Ambassador Against Hunger, to help the agency feed thousands of Kenyan schoolchildren.

The personal donation kicks off WFP’s ‘Fill the Cup’ challenge to the US to raise enough funds to help feed 59 million children around the world for a year.

Speaking on the Oprah Winfrey Show on US television, where she announced the donation, Ms. Barrymore said she had witnessed first-hand the impact hunger has on poor children during two visits to Kenya in the past two years.

“I have seen with my own eyes what a difference a simple cup of nutritious porridge can make in a child’s life,” she said. “It helps them learn, stay healthy and sets them on track for a bright future.”

Read more about Fill the Cup.

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Tuesday Morning Coffee

Hillary promises to press on regardless of the results today in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The BBC reports from the Obama bus.

Top Stories

>>Ukraine – Gazprom, Russia’s state natural gas company, cut a quarter of its gas flow to Ukraine yesterday and threatened another 25 percent cut today to force the nation to pay a debt of $600 million. A similar incident occured two years ago when Russia unilaterally renegotiated the price of natural gas supplied to the Ukraine. Europe, which draws 20 percent of its gas from Gazprom pipelines crossing the Ukraine, has expressed concern about the reliability of Gazprom’s gas. The Ukraine has threatened to restrict the gas flow to Europe if Gazprom proceeds with further cuts.

>>China – China announced today that it intends to increase military spending by almost 18 percent this year to $59 billion (compared to the $439 billion — not including funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — spent last year by the U.S.). Yesterday the Pentagon released a report criticizing the lack of transparency in China’s military spending, which, it says, “poses risks to stability by increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation,” and its development of the ability to destroy enemy satellites.

>>Iraq – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on his second day in Iraq, called for the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops, saying their presence has only caused “descruction and division.”

>>Iran – The United Nations Security Council enacted a third round of sanctions (resolution 1803) against Iran yesterday, which imposes a travel ban on Iranians suspected of involvement with a nuclear weapons program and further restricts the activities of Iranian banks.

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U.N. Human Rights Chief to Leave Post

a famous maxim of Theodore Roosevelt that Sudan analyst John Prendergast frequently uses to characterize the Bush administration’s Darfur policy. By limiting its action to sharp rhetoric, Prendergast contends, the U.S. has effectively pursued a policy of “speaking loudly and carrying a toothpick.” Vocal condemnation of countries’ human rights policies, as deplorable as they may be, is not the only way to induce a change in behavior, and Arbour is simply articulating the necessity of working within the UN system. When faced with the alternatives of unilateralism or inaction, this remains a laudable goal, even if some aspects of the UN, such as the Human Rights Council — over which, incidentally, Arbour’s office exercises no control — fall short of the ideal level of reform. Instead of merely pointing its fingers at the transparent violations of notorious human rights abusers, the U.S. should work with the UN to effectively address these issues — and should focus on cleaning up its own act as well.

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