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A timely launch for Samantha Power’s new book

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samantha Power chose an auspicious day to give her first “Sergio talk” — a discussion of her new book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World, Tuesday afternoon at The New America Foundation. Power’s book is a chronicle of the life and influence of Vieira de Mello, the career UN diplomat tragically killed in August 2003 after a suicide bombing of the UN’s headquarters in Baghdad. While the UN has bravely continued to operate in Iraq, the staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) — the agency to which Vieira de Mello dedicated much of his career — has until now worked almost entirely out of Amman, Jordan. Wednesday, however, High Commissioner Antonio Guterres announced that he would send the organization’s first representative to Baghdad since Vieira de Mello’s premature death.

The weight of UNHCR’s responsibility — dealing with over 2 million refugees in Syria and Jordan, as well as an even greater number displaced within Iraq, all with a Baghdad staff that will soon increase to just five — underscores the courage with which the UN has conducted its mission in Iraq. Despite a persistent lack of security, the UN has nonetheless taken on some of the greatest challenges in Iraq and contributed to some of the country’s most tangible successes. As Power reminded listeners at yesterday’s talk, the indelible images of Iraqis proudly showing their purple hands, stained with the ink from their ballots, trace directly back to the UN’s crucial role organizing Iraq’s landmark elections.

The difficulties faced by the UN in Iraq echo the problems with
which Sergio Vieira de Mello grappled throughout his career. He
believed deeply that the key to the UN’s success was its impartiality;
yet he learned, through one experience after another, that this
impartiality is extraordinarily difficult to assert and maintain in situations of catastrophic violence and flagrant human
rights abuses. Moreover, while the UN’s aims may transcend borders, it
must always work intimately with the particular concerns of its
individual Member States.

In Iraq, the UN faces a double bind: even as it rightly touts its
independence from the occupying powers as the essence of its
usefulness, it must often rely on foreign military personnel to
maintain security — and thereby risk damaging the impression of its neutrality.

Despite the unavoidable tension of its position, the UN is still
appreciated as a neutral moderator in Iraq, emphasized by the Iraqi
Parliament’s recent decision to request UN assistance in organizing the country’s upcoming October
elections. As both the U.S. and the UN encounter further challenges in
Iraq, Power’s insightful and well-articulated book provides an
valuable insight into how one of the UN’s most fervent
supporters dealt with the issues that make its mission so difficult –
yet so very important.

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More on the Eritrean Peacekeeping Crisis

Reader Marian Houk in Jerusalem takes exception to a point made in yesterday’s post on UNMEE

I would agree with UN Dispatch that “the crisis facing the UN mission there is one of the more disturbing developments facing UN peacekeeping a long while.”

But I am more than surprised — I am perturbed — at the suggestion…that “Flagrant violations of the accepted rules of peacekeeping cannot be allowed to go unpunished.”

How does UN Dispatch suggest that any such violations be “punished”, exactly?

A fair question. “The UN”, as an institution, does not have the authority to punish or sanction member states. The Security Council, however, does have that power–and I am suggesting that it use the threat of sanction or other punitive action to respond to this flagrant harassment of peacekeepers. The actions of Eritrea are so disturbing because it shows the rest of the world that peacekeepers can be bullied out of their job by a member state. The Security Council needs to push back, and demonstrate to the world that that there are consequences to this kind of behavior.

And yes (neccesary caveat) the Security Council should be doing more to press Ethiopia to abide by the ruling of the Hague Court of Arbitration that awarded the disputed town of Badme to Eritrea.

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Thursday Morning Coffee

The French have made Terminator-style rubber out of urine, while the Americans were focusing on a wooden car that can travel 240mph.

Top Stories

>>Star Wars – The US Navy successfully hit an impaired satellite the size of a school bus that was falling to earth and potentially contained 453kg of hydrazine, a hazardous fuel. The missile was fired from a vessel off the west coast of Hawaii. The aim was to strike and disperse the contents of the fuel tank. The satellite flew 247km above the earth. The Pentagon denied that this was simply a pretext for a weapons exercise in the face of China’s unabashed test last year.

>>Kenya – The Kenyan government has “more or less agreed on” the creation of a prime minister’s post, a key demand of the opposition and a possible breakthrough in the political crisis. Kofi Annan sees this as considerable progress. Negotiators return on Friday, when they are expected to ink the final deal. The stakes are high says the International Crisis Group in a new report.

>>Bush’s African Tour – President Bush arrived in Liberia today to meet with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman ever elected to head an African nation and a U.S. Medal of Freedom winner. UN peacekeepers provided security in advance of his visit. This completes President Bush’s five-nation tour of Africa, which also included stops in Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Ghana.

Quote of the Day

“The current uneasy calm in Kenya should not be misunderstood as a return to normalcy.”
– International Crisis Group

“We will continue waiting for the ‘Reflections of Comrade Fidel,’ which will be a powerful arsenal of ideas and guidance.”
– as written in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper

Yesterday in UN Dispatch

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Meanwhile, A Peacekeeping Mission Falls Apart

A day after another U.S. primary, and as the partition of northern Kosovo becomes more likely by the hour, the collapse of the peacekeeping mission along the Ethiopia-Eritrea border is understandably getting scant attention. This is unfortunate, because the crisis facing the UN mission there is one of the more disturbing developments facing UN peacekeeping a long while.

What happened is this: For weeks, the government of Eritrea has made it increasingly difficult for the mission, UNMEE, to access diesel. With its fuel stocks dangerously low, the mission decided to relocate to the Ethiopian side of the border. The Eritrean military, however, has blocked them from reaching the border. Two flatbeds carrying APCs and a number of personnel are currently being detained and harassed by Eritrean militia in a remote border crossing. Meanwhile, the rest of the 1,400 strong UNMEE has decided to “regroup” in the Eritrean capitol, Asmara.

Ethiopia is not with out reproach. The Eritrean hostility toward UNMEE stems in large part from an Eritrean perception that the international community is not doing enough to force Ethiopia to abide by binding arbitration which awarded a disputed border town to Eritrea. Nevertheless, nothing can justify this kind out outright harassment of UN peacekeepers. The international community must come down hard against this kind of behavior — the precedent that it sets for other peacekeeping missions is frankly dangerous. Flagrant violations of the accepted rules of peacekeeping cannot be allowed to go unpunished.

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Gambari Expected to Visit Myanmar

From the UN News Center:

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar said today that his return to the South-East Asian nation may take place sooner than mid-April, the original date proposed by the Government.

While “it is still a subject for negotiation,” Ibrahim Gambari said he has received “encouragement” from sources in Beijing, where he is currently holding consultations, that Myanmar may move up the date of his visit. “I really hope this would be the case,” he stated.

This will be Mr. Gambari’s third visit to the country since last summer’s crackdown by the Myanmar authorities on peaceful protesters.

Read more.

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Wednesday Morning Coffee

Obama won in Wisconsin and Hawaii. McCain took Wisconsin and Washington State. Scientists researching the effects of climate change have found giant sea monsters near Antarctica.

Top Stories

>>Uganda – An agreement has been reached between the government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army to create a special court to handle war crimes allegations — seen as a major stepping stone toward a full peace deal. The Lord’s Resistance Army has refused to disarm as long as three of its leaders are wanted by the ICC.

>>Pakistan – Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, which won the most seats in Monday’s parliamentary elections, reached out to Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N, which won the second-most seats, in an attempt to form a coalition government. Neither party claimed an outright majority in the election. A ruling coalition that controlled a two-thirds majority could impeach President Musharraf, who has said he has no plans to resign. The leader of the PPP, Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari, has said that no politician align with Musharraf will be allowed to join the coalition.

>>Gorillas – Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda have launched a joint project to protect the less-than 700 gorillas that inhabit the Virunga mountains and Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest reserve. The gorillas are a significant source of income for the region, with tourists paying up to $500 for the viewing permit alone.

Yesterday in UN Dispatch
  • Kosovo’s
    Partition Imminent?
    by Mark Leon Goldberg
  • href="http://www.undispatch.com/archives/2008/02/un_plaza_the_co.php">UN
    Plaza: The Conflict in Northern Uganda – by Mark
    Leon Goldberg

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