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French soldiers in CAR, courtesy french ministry of defense

Can UN Peacekeeping Save the Central African Republic?

The Central African Republic is far from the headlines these days, which is unfortunate. Things are bad, but there’s a potential that the situation may improve in the coming weeks as the current African Union-led peacekeeping force is formally “re-hatted” as a United Nations peacekeeping force. I speak with Evan Cinq-Mars of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect about the situation in CAR and what the transition to a UN Peacekeeping mission may mean for the people of this conflict-plagued country.


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ISIS flag

Obama Wants to Bomb Syria. Is that Legal?

President Obama suggested very strongly last night that the USA may bomb ISIS targets in Syria. His invocation of Somalia and Yemen as possible models for a Syria intervention made explicit that the USA intends to launch strikes against individuals in Syria.

But would this be legal?

From a domestic standpoint there is some debate about whether or not the President needs to secure congressional approval for this kind of action. From an international perspective the UN charter is rather clear on the circumstances in which one country can bomb the territory of another.

There are basically three criteria that could make this legal.

1) The Security Council authorizes the intervention. Chapter VII of the UN Charter gives the Security Council the sole legal authority to authorize international interventions when the government of the territory on which the intervention is taking place does not consent to the intervention. In other words, bombing a country without that government’s consent to have its territory bombed isn’t legal unless the Security Council says so. This is why the intervention in Libya was technically legal; and why the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not.

In this case, the Security Council will almost certainly not authorize international intervention against ISIS in Syria because veto-wielding Russia would almost certainly object to such a resolution.  This is not to say that Russia is in any way aligned with ISIS–in fact, ISIS threatens Russia’s allies in Damascus. Rather, Moscow would likely object to a Security Council resolution authorizing strikes against ISIS for the simple reason that Moscow does not want to give the USA any possible pretext for eventually turning its bombs on regime targets. For the past four years, Russia has steadfastly objected to any Security Council resolution that had even the remotest possibility of leading to intervention against Assad. From a Russian perspective, if Moscow accedes to a bombing campaigning Syria, Pandora’s Box could be opened. So, this route for making a US-led bombing campaign in Syria is not likely to succeed.

2) The country asks for help to deal with a threat on its territory. This is by far the most common legal authorization for international intervention. This is how the USA justified intervention against ISIS in Iraq. The government of Iraq asked for international assistance to deal with ISIS on its territory, and the USA obliged. It’s pretty clear cut: A country has the right to ask foreign powers for military assistance against an internal threat. So will Assad give the USA consent to bomb ISIS targets on its territory? It’s not likely. The Obama administration has also consistently stated that it would not coordinate any potential strikes with the Assad regime, which the USA considers illegitimate. So, consent from the Syrian government is not being sought by the Obama administration, but neither would it likely to be forthcoming. Unless some accommodation is made, this route is probably shut.

3) “Collective Self Defense” is invoked.  Article 51 of the UN Charter enshrines the principle that countries have an inherent right of self defense, and that this extends not only to a country protecting itself, but other countries coming to the defense of the country under threat. This is called collective self defense. Here’ Article 51.

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.

In other words, if the UN Security Council is not able or willing to take action, a country may defend itself from armed attack–and that includes asking other countries to help it defend itself. In this instance, it is probably a stretch to consider ISIS a threat to the United States; the execution of two American journalists does not constitute an armed attack against the USA. However, Iraq has almost certainly been attacked by ISIS elements based in Syria. Iraq is a member of the United Nations in good standing. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that the principle of collective self defense as enshrined in Article 51 applies in respect to Iraq. Iraq has a legal right to defend itself; and it has a legal right to ask other countries to help it do so.  This, of course, is more of a slippery argument than getting a Security Council resolution. But article 51 was inserted into the UN Charter for a reason–and the criteria seems to be satisfied in this instance.

Why does this matter?  The USA has sometimes excepted itself from norms applied to other countries in respect to international law. The invasion of Iraq was transparently illegal; and the US-led bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999 also did not have Security Council approval. Still, many countries around the world, particularly American allies in Europe, take international law very seriously. They would be loathe to join a coalition to fight ISIS in Syria without a strong legal backing. So, in the coming days and weeks as the USA builds this coalition to fight ISIS, pay special attention to the international law the Obama administration invokes to justify its potential action in Syria.  It matters if we want to build a world where the rule of law puts limits on a country’s ability to use force against other sovereign countries. And it matters if this coalition against ISIS is to be as broad-based as possible.



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Obama's Syria Speech

The Key Passage from Obama’s Speech

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Syria is the new Somalia? The President’s speech last night did not break much new ground, except for this one passage: “This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”  In other words, expect targeted airstrikes and drone strikes against ISIS targets in Syria, combined with limited humanitarian assistance. Full Text:

Conflict Mineral #Fail…A law meant to curtail the money that rebel groups in DR Congo make off the mineral trade has done more harm than good, say researchers and activists in an open letter. “Nearly four years after the passing of the Dodd-Frank Act, only a small fraction of the hundreds of mining sites in the eastern DRC have been reached by traceability or certification efforts. The rest remain beyond the pale, forced into either illegality or collapse as certain international buyers have responded to the legislation by going ‘Congo-free’.” (Humanosphere


The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says it is committing $50 million to help combat the growing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. (VOA


Health workers in Liberia reported being overwhelmed by new Ebola cases on Wednesday, as the epidemic was blamed for shattering economic growth in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The first case of the Ebola virus detected in Senegal, a 21-year-old student who arrived from neighboring Guinea last month, has recovered from the deadly disease, a senior official said on Wednesday. (VOA

Liberia’s national existence is “seriously threatened” by the deadly Ebola virus that is “spreading like wild fire and devouring everything in its path,” the country’s national defense minister told the United Nations Security Council. (Reuters


Zimbabwe has had to “cough up” $180 million in Chinese loan repayments or face losing its credit line, its finance minister said on Wednesday, in a sign Beijing is tightening its lending terms and expects debtors to be more accountable. (VOA

China is sending hundreds of troops to join the UN peacekeeping force in war-torn South Sudan, where Chinese companies have major oil interests. (VOA

Gambia’s national assembly has passed a bill to introduce the crime of aggravated homosexuality into the criminal code and make it punishable by life imprisonment in some cases, according to a copy of the bill. (Reuters

 Experts say that Africa’s extensive land subdivision is emerging as a significant threat to food security. (IPS

 The Malawi government has presented its budget for the next financial year, which has been designed to regain donor confidence and encourage political stability at home. (Guardian

More than 3,000 families in Zimbabwe’s southeastern Masvingo Province who accuse the government of forcibly resettling them to small plots of undeveloped land, are facing hardships including a lack of adequate food, shelter, health and education facilities. (IRIN

A new medical study out of South Africa has found heartening news in the nation with the world’s highest burden of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.  Their findings reveal that South Africans with HIV can live as long as HIV patients in the United States – provided they begin antiretroviral therapy early enough. (VOA

ICRC warns hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan are facing starvation and are in urgent need of international assistance to survive. (VOA

 A Botswana newspaper editor has been charged with sedition after a story claimed the president was involved in a car accident, prompting angry allegations of stifling press freedom Wednesday. Prominent Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone was arrested on Monday over a story alleging Ian Khama had a night-time crash, which resulted in the other driver being given a new Jeep.


A toxic chemical, almost certainly chlorine, was used “systematically and repeatedly” as a weapon in attacks on villages in northern Syria earlier this year, the global chemical weapons watchdog said. (AP

Dozens of Egyptians have begun a hunger strike to demand the release of activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, a symbol of the 2011 uprising, and others they say are being unfairly detained in an effort to crush new-found freedoms. (Reuters

 A Yemeni draft law envisaging strict penalties for those involved in trafficking migrants, including kidnapping them and demanding ransom, may finally bring an end to decades of exploitation. (IRIN


Continuing military operations in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal district are disrupting the education of more than 85,000 students in state-run schools. (IRIN

One year after a violent siege terrified the southern Philippines city of Zamboanga, tens of thousands of displaced survivors feel they have been forgotten. (IRIN

Indonesia, one of only three countries in the Asia-Pacific region that is seeing a trend of increased HIV infections, must plug a $30 million funding gap in its fight against HIV, a U.N. health official said. (VOA

Myanmar’s political opening has been hailed for loosening the ruling military’s tight grip on power and allowing for more democratic rule. But some critics, like one of the monks who led the 2007 uprising known as the Saffron Revolution, says little has changed overall. (VOA

As flood-ravaged Indian Kashmir faces a communication blackout, social media posts on Facebook and Twitter are playing a huge role in tracing people stranded in the region. (VOA

The Americas

The Argentine government said Wednesday that its refusal to repay a group of US hedge funds that stand to profit on the country’s defaulted debt was vindicated by the United Nations’ support for a multilateral plan handling bond restructurings. (Reuters

The figures were published in a report that Cuba prepares for the United Nations each year in requesting a resolution urging an end to the comprehensive US. (AP

 Haiti has received a large shipment of treatment packets to help it deal with an outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus known as chikungunya amid a rainy season expected to result in a surge of new cases in the country, officials said. (AP

 Top law enforcement officials from North and Central America are forming a multinational task force to address the massive influx of child migrants to the United States. At a meeting in Mexico City with his counterparts from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder agreed to create a working group that will focus on the criminal elements behind child migration. (VOA

 Venezuela’s central bank publishes long-awaited figures showing annual inflation has reached a six-year high at 63.4%, the highest in the region. (BBC


A New European Foreign Policy in an Age of Anxiety (IPS

Three Illicit Flows Targets for the Post-2015 Framework (CGD

Covering Ebola: Fear And Love In Liberia (NPR

The danger of programs that pay for performance (Development Impact

Fresh water in a village called death (Baobab

Towards an Alternative Perspective: Against Hobbes (Why Nations Fail

 How to write about development without being simplistic, patronising, obscure or stereotyping (From Poverty to Power

The Things We Do: Shame is a Powerful Thing (People, Spaces, Deliberation


A top-level international panel called for a major shift in global drug-control policies from prohibition to decriminalisation and regulation. (IPS

Amnesty International said on Wednesday it had documented evidence of war crimes by both sides in the conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

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The NATO Summit’s Most Important Outcome (Maybe)

More than two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is finding new relevance in a changing geopolitical landscape.

The decision last week to bolster NATO’s joint military capabilities, through the establishment of a new Rapid Reaction Force, is meant to demonstrate the West’s willingness to stand up to Russian interference in Ukraine. Building on previous efforts to enhance NATO’s military credibility – which is only as good as its true deterrent potential –  it puts into sharp focus the increased threat to the east of the Europe’s borders.

In June,  Roland Paris,  Director of the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa, wrote in the Globe & Mail that “NATO must adopt a firm stance towards Russia by demonstrating its commitment to defend all its members.” The creation of this new force is meant to accomplish exactly this goal. The new Rapid Reaction Force will reinforce the existing Response Force, created in the mid-2000s. The Response Force, so far, has intervened in only a handful of crises, and currently does not have the rapid reaction “spearhead” which the new Rapid Reaction Force is supposed to create. Early details suggest that the new force, meant to be a nimble, rapidly deployable force of approximately 4,000 troops, with initial British leadership. This new force should reach operational capability by the end of the year, and is meant to send a clear message about NATO members’ resolve to confront the threats on their doorstep.

The new force represents a new attempt to fulfill the responsibilities and mandate of Article 5 of the 1949 Washington Treaty, which states that “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all”,  and that such an attack would trigger a collective response. Russia’s actions in the last few months in Ukraine – the annexation of Crimea, and the active presence of Russian military in the eastern part of the country, in support of separatist rebels – have seriously undermined peace and stability in the region. Ukraine, as a non-NATO member, has not been able to avail itself of Article 5, and NATO’s response has been ambiguous at best. In a speech, NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen rehashed NATO’s core doctrine,  “Should you even think of attacking one ally, you will be facing the whole alliance.” What this means for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, though, is unclear.

The high-level NATO meeting – one of the most significant NATO gatherings of recent years – and the creation of the new Rapid Reaction Force, are meant to be a strong signal to Putin. In addition to the new, rapidly deployable force, the NATO partners also agreed to a number of measures to boost the organization’s ability to project stability, including investing in improving intelligence and asymmetric warfare capability. Nevertheless, in spite of this strong, rhetorical commitment, the concern remains that these measures fail to offer an immediate solution against Russian interference in Ukraine. Those who would like to see “lethal force” provided by NATO allies to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia – which would be a major turning point in the conflict – are disappointed.

The failure to respond forcefully and meaningfully to Russia’s de facto annexation of Crimea and military incursion in the eastern part of the country has weakened the West’s ability to provide credible military deterrence. The creation of the new Rapid Reaction Force and the development of new tools and strategies for NATO to address “ambiguous”, or asymmetric warfare, are important steps. However, they fail to address the immediate question of how Russia can be prevented from further interfering in Ukrainian affairs.

The challenge of using NATO as a meaningful deterrent against Russia highlights how effective state cooperation – even when interests are aligned – can be incredibly difficult in a world where international law – which is supposed to bind and constrain state actions –  is all too often ignored by belligerent actors.

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suicide map, WHO

Map of the Day: Suicides Around the World

More than 800,000 people commit suicide each year. Compare that to the Syrian Civil War, which has killed almost 200,000 people in the past three years. Which topic has gotten more coverage in the media? Suicide rarely receives the attention that it deserves, and as a result, many suffer in silence, too afraid to reach out for help.

The topic may get more of the exposure that it needs due to the WHO’s new report, its first-ever global survey on suicide. The report includes some startling statistics. Globally, suicides account for 50% of all violent deaths in men and 71% in women. Among young people aged 15-29, suicide is the second leading cause of death globally, after traffic accidents. A person dies by suicide somewhere in the world every 40 seconds.

The WHO admits that its data isn’t perfect, but it does gives a general sense of the prevalence of suicide around the world. In terms of absolute numbers, India is the unfortunate leader. A quarter million Indians committed suicide in 2012. North Korea has the highest rates, experiencing approximately 39.5 suicides per 100,000 people in 2012, compared to a global average of 11.4. South Korea is not far behind, with 36.6 per 100,000. The former Soviet Union and East Africa are also particularly affected.

suicide map, WHO

Source: WHO

In high-income countries, men are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than women, while in lower-middle-income and low-income countries, they are only 1.7 times more likely.

Last year, the WHO launched a Mental Action Plan 2013-2020. As part of the plan, member states pledged to work toward a 10% reduction in suicides by the end of the decade. This goal actually might be achievable. The global number of suicides fell from 883,000 in 2000 to 804,000 in 2012, a 9% reduction, despite a large increase in world population. But this hides regional variation. China, for example, has reduced suicide rates by 60% in the past 12 years, but the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central Africa Republic both saw their suicide rates increase by more than 20%.

Much more can be done to actively decrease suicide rates. Only 28 countries have national suicide prevention strategies, and 25 countries still have laws on the books that punish individuals who attempt suicide. Although those laws are usually not carried out, they indicate a failure to classify suicide as a public health problem. A taboo and stigma still surrounds suicide in many places.

Ultimately, suicide is preventable. Individuals at risk can be targeted for help. Risk factors such as previous suicide attempts, mental disorders, harmful use of alcohol, chronic pain, and a family history of suicide can be monitored. Health systems can be changed to allow easier access to care. Media reports can avoid sensationalizing suicide and inspiring “copycat” attempts.

One of the most effective ways to prevent suicide is to simply restrict availability of the means of suicide. Suicides are not always planned out days ahead of time. According to the WHO, “many suicides occur impulsively in moments of crisis and, in these circumstances, ready access to the means of suicide – such as pesticides or firearms – can determine whether a person lives or dies.”

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day, organized by the International Association for Suicide Prevention. The findings in this report make its goal particularly urgent.

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map of yemen

Time to Start Paying Attention to Yemen

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Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the region, but it also survived the Arab Spring without a horrible amount of bloodshed. In recent weeks, though, things have come to a head. Now, the government is firing on protesters. We need only look to Syria to see where that could lead. “Pro-government forces in the capital opened fire on Tuesday at thousands of demonstrators from the Shiite religious minority, killing six and injuring dozens, officials and witnesses said. The killings marked the first outbreak of violence inside the capital, Sana, after three weeks of escalating pressure by thousands of Shiite protesters who have held daily rallies on the outskirts of the city demanding that the government roll back cuts to price subsidies and then step down. Security forces seeking to dismantle a roadblock that protesters had erected near the city’s main airport also killed two people in clashes on Sunday, setting the stage for the violence in the capital.” (NYT

And Here’s the International Crisis Group’s Conflict Alert on the crisis.

Bad News For Displaced Children…”Almost 30 million children are out of school in emergency or conflict affected countries following the targeting of schools and the displacement of millions of children forced from their homes and studies, the United Nations Children’s Fund said today…’Last year, global emergency education programmes supported by UNICEF only received 2 per cent of all funds raised for humanitarian action, resulting in a $247 million funding shortfall. Education is an essential part of humanitarian response, requiring support and investment from the very onset of a crisis,’ Ms. Bourne said.”  (UN News Centre

Ebola Outbreak

Republican Members of the US House of Representatives have indicated that they will approve less than half of an $80 million budget request from the White House to respond to ebola. (The Hill

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has ordered the lifting of an Ebola quarantine on a town near the capital, Monrovia, and an adjustment in the hours of a nationwide curfew. (VOA

The death toll from the worst Ebola outbreak in history has risen to at least 2,296 out of 4,293 cases in five West African countries, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday. (Reuters

Liberia, the country worst hit by West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, should see thousands of new cases in coming weeks as the virus spreads exponentially, the WHO said. (Reuters


A watchdog group says more than 70 women and children have been freed over the past month from the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group, whose leader is the subject of an international manhunt involving US troops. (AP

Sudanese authorities on Tuesday released a senior member of the opposition Umma Party who was detained last month after the party reached a deal to cooperate with rebels.

 According to Cameroonian media, twenty-two cholera cases and one fatality have already been recorded since the 28 August outbreak. Recent flooding has made matters more difficult, says the IFRC.

Although most residents of Sierra Leone’s capital have yet to witness Ebola firsthand, the outbreak has nevertheless affected virtually all aspects of daily life. (Think Africa Press


Human Rights Watch accused the Israeli government of coercing thousands of African asylum seekers to return home where they could face imprisonment and possible torture. (VOA

 More than 12,000 foreigners from 74 countries have gone to fight with rebels in Syria, 60 to 70 percent from other Middle Eastern countries and about 20 to 25 percent from Western nations, a leading expert on terrorism said. (AP

Oxfam called Tuesday on rich nations to commit to accepting between them at least five percent of Syria’s three million refugees and urged them to increase aid contributions. (AFP


 Few issues get more attention nowadays in Afghanistan’s aid circles than insecurity-engendered restrictions on humanitarian access. (IRIN

A decade after the assassination of Indonesian human rights activist Munir Said Thalib, the case remains unsolved but not forgotten. On the eve of the inauguration of the country’s reform-minded president-elect Joko Widodo, pressure is growing to re-open the investigation. (VOA

The death toll from floods in Pakistan and India reached 400 on Tuesday as armies in both countries scrambled to help the victims and authorities in Islamabad warned hundreds of thousands to be prepared to flee more flooding in the days ahead. (AP

 The Americas

 Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet says a bomb attack which left 14 people injured in the capital Santiago was a “cowardly act of terrorism.” (BBC

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has insisted a corruption scandal at state oil giant Petrobras does not involve her government, as she fends off a new threat to her re-election bid. (AFP

Four Peruvian anti-logging activists and tribal leaders have been killed by suspected illegal loggers, officials say. (BBC


Why Asia is probably poorer than we think (Guardian

Can donors support civil society activism without destroying it? Some great evidence from Nigeria (From Poverty to Power

How Will the Death of Its Leader, Ahmed Godane, Impact Al Shabaab? (African Arguments

 Corruption and dirty elections are a symptom not the disease (Chris Blattman

Why You Should Start Paying Attention to a Crisis in Lesotho (UN Dispatch

Expanding Budget Literacy in Nepal (World Bank

 A Global Carbon Tax or Cap-and-Trade? Part 1: The Economic Arguments (CGD

Voice & Matter Festival 2014: Welcome to the cross-border C4D & ICT4D extravaganza! (Aidnography


Here’s why Unrest in Lesotho Matters So Much (UN Dispatch




Norway says Hungarian police raids on the offices of civic groups critical of the government are unacceptable and show Hungary is distancing itself from European democratic norms. (AP

Concept notes have been written, regional consultations have started, and online forums are open for comments – all leading up to the World Humanitarian Summit itself, scheduled to take place in Turkey, probably during May 2016. (IRIN

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