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Friday Morning Coffee

An 8-year-old Brazilian who passed a law school entrance exam has been blocked from enrolling becasuse they think he should finish elementary school first.

Top Stories

>>Jerusalem – At least one gunman entered the Merkaz Harav seminary in Jerusalem on Thursday and fired 500 to 600 bullets, killing eight and endangering a fragile lull in the violence and the possibility of the resumption of peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Israel has said that it will not break off talks.

>>Weapons – Russian arms dealer Viktor “Merchant of Death” Bout, said to be the inspiration for the protagonist in Lord of War was arrested in a Bangkok hotel room on Thursday by D.E.A. agents posing as FARC rebels attempting by buy millions in arms. He was promptly charged with conspiracy in the U.S.

>>United NationsTwo top jobs at the UN just opened up as Jean-Marie Guehenno, the Undersecretary General for Peackeeping, and Louis Arbour, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have decided to leave their posts. Guehenno oversaw UN peacekeeping over an 8-year period, during which time the number of peacekeeping missions and peacekeepers skyrocketed at the request of the UN Security Council.

Yesterday in UN Dispatch
  • Scorched
    Earth in Darfur
    by John Boonstra
  • href="http://www.undispatch.com/archives/2008/03/nhcr_releases_g.php">NHCR
    Releases Guide Addressing Women’s Protection and Empowerment
    - by Mark Leon Goldberg
  • href="http://www.undispatch.com/archives/2008/03/why_a_billion_p.php">Why
    A Billion People Need a Stronger U.S.-UN Partnership – by
    John Boonstra
  • href="http://www.undispatch.com/archives/2008/03/mediators_on_ca.php">Mediators
    on Call – by Mark Leon Goldberg

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Africa

Asia

Europe

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Finally, Some Helicopters for Darfur?

According to Reuters, some of the helicopters so desperately needed by peacekeepers in Darfur have been offered by a somewhat unlikely source:

Russia is proposing to supply some of the helicopters the United Nations has been urgently seeking to back up the U.N./African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, Moscow’s U.N. ambassador said on Wednesday.

“The most likely scenario of the use of Russian helicopters would be Russia supplying the helicopters with crews from other countries,” said envoy Vitaly Churkin.

The United Nations has for months been seeking six attack and 18 transport helicopters to support the planned 26,000-member UNAMID force, which is starting to deploy in the violence-torn Darfur region of western Sudan.

Churkin was murky on the details, not specifying the number or type of helicopters that Russia will provide, and the solution of outfitting Russian choppers with foreign crews is far from an ideal option. Nonetheless, combined with the four attack helicopters offered by Ethiopia last month, this is a start.

Unfortunately, even as Darfur peacekeepers seek to receive some much-needed aerial support, they still face crippling shortages on the ground. U.S. special envoy Rich Williamson was right to caution that “we’re wrong to obsess about the helicopters,” but only because there is so much else to obsess about as well. There are still only 9,000 troops that have been deployed, and the state of these largely African units — underfunded, undersupplied, and insufficiently trained — is even worse than many had assumed. In addition, the 105 Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) that arrived from Canada over two years ago are apparently outdated and in need of repair.

So, to the international community, if helicopters aren’t your thing — how about some new APCs?

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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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Americas

Asia

Europe

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Elsewhere

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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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