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The Security Council and the Conflict in Gaza

The statistics are alarming: As of 3 PM local time yesterday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that at least 149 of the 194 people killed thus far have been civilians. That included 38 children. Over 1,300 people have been injured, and 18,000 seeking shelter in UNRWA school. There is also a brewing humanitarian emergency as 600,000 people risk losing access to safe drinking water. Meanwhile,  Israel has warned 100,000 people to flee their homes in northern Gaza or risk being bombed.

And just today, there is word that four Palestinian kids were killed when an Israeli mortar struck a beach. 

If this drags on much longer without a ceasefire brokered regionally, it is very likely that many members of the Security Council, including key American allies like France and the UK, will try to impose a ceasefire through a legally binding resolution. Such a move would put the Obama administration in a tough spot. In general, permanent members of the Security Council are loathe to caste lone vetoes; on this particular issue vetoing a ceasefire resolution would be deeply unpopular internationally and perhaps even jeopardize other foreign policy priorities. On the other hand, backing a ceasefire resolution without Israeli support could pose political problems domestically for the Obama administration.

A  Security Council vote to impose a ceasefire would be a no-win situation from an American political standpoint. This means that the closer the Security Council comes to voting on the matter, the more urgently the USA would want to do what it can to obviate the need for this kind of resolution by directly or indirectly brokering a ceasefire that Israel and Hamas can accept. But the USA does not have much time.  As the humanitarian situation in Gaza gets worse, there will be growing pressure by other Security Council members to move quickly on a legally binding ceasefire resolution.

The USA would not benefit from a showdown at the Security Council. But the only way to avoid that is to swiftly broker a ceasefire.

photo credit:  Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

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Why This One UN Report on Sustainable Development is Different from the Rest

Amid growing numbers of internally displaced peoples and environmental crises, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs officially released the “prototype” of the Global Sustainable Development Report last week. Practitioners and spectators in the international development field might be tempted to file this away with the myriad of development policy briefs that are released any given week. — but this draft does something unique.

This report comes at a pivotal moment, as the Millennium Development Goals  near their set completion date of 2015. There has been significant progress made in pursuit of these goals. According to the report, 1.1 billion people have been  fed, nurtured, housed, educated, and employed since 2000, building on the 800 million from 1970 to 2000. However, poverty and hunger still plague the global community at significant rates, despite advances in technology and science. As such, the report in its current form seeks to build on the progress of the MDGs, while galvanizing more collective action to pick up the slack.

Unlike the yearly check-ups on the progress of the MDGs, the Global Development Report focuses on the big picture, combining existing resources and highlighting the connection between scientific and policy components of development. The report includes a comprehensive view of the past three generations of development initiatives, a unified collection of existing measures of development from the science and policy worlds, and scenarios based on how the economic, environmental, and political parts of development influence each other. These components highlight the trade-offs between the business-as-usual path and the sustainable alternative route. The former is filled with increased global environmental disasters, prompted by unrestrained consumption of finite resources and wasteful production. Our journey down this path will be accelerated by isolated thinking, with policymakers and academics working in insular groups instead of working together to sustain vital global public goods, such as air and water.

These chapters and other parts of the report show a good faith effort on behalf of the United Nations to think differently about sustainable development. The overarching themes of consolidation and interdependence serve the report’s secondary, but vital, objectives: bridging the gap between the science and policy communities. The data in the report were collected by a platform capable of understanding multiple languages to generate greater input from both communities, especially young scientists from developing countries. The platform currently uses English, Spanish, and Chinese, but improvements are being made to allow input in more languages. The report also includes an estimated range of investments and technologies needed to create the sustainable path outlined in the alternative to current levels of consumption and production.

The report features an improved framework in which to create and inspire collective action in international development, but it is too soon to declare a new era of global sustainable development. The report is being finalized while the convening body that will analyze and discuss it, the High Level Political Forum that was created following the Rio+20 Summit, continues to meet. However, this draft shows promise, providing the data-driven narrative needed to spur the global community to think and act boldly on our path to a more sustainable world.


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BRICS Launch New Development Bank

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The BRICS have finally launched their much-anticipated new international development bank …”The leaders of the five Brics countries have signed a deal to create a new $100bn (£583m) development bank and emergency reserve fund. The Brics group is made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.The capital for the bank will be split equally among the five participating countries. The bank will have a headquarters in Shanghai, China and the first president for the bank will come from India.” (BBC

Horrific bombing in Afghanistan…At least 89 people were killed in a car bomb attack in a remote town in eastern Afghanistan. This was the worst since attack since the toppling of the Taliban in 2001.It comes as the USA helped broker a deal to end Afghanistan’s election stand-off. “There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, and the Taliban issued a statement denying involvement, saying they “strongly condemn attacks on local people.” Several other insurgent groups operate in Afghanistan. The U.N. mission in Afghanistan said initial reports “suggest that the attacker prematurely detonated after police detected the explosives in his vehicle.” (AP


At least 26 people were killed when suspected Islamist Boko Haram militants stormed a village in northeast Nigeria and a government warplane opened fire to repel the attackers, local residents and a security source said. (Reuters

The death toll from an Ebola outbreak in West Africa has risen to 603 since February, with at least 68 deaths reported from three countries in the region in the last week alone, the World Health Organisation said. (Reuters

Militant group Al-Shabab has lived up to its promise to step up attacks in Somalia, mainly against government installations and personnel, during the holy month of Ramadan, which began on 29 June. Over 30 people have been killed in Mogadishu alone. (IRIN

The UK’s Department for International Development is to face a full judicial review over its alleged funding of rights abuses in Ethiopia. (Guardian

Human Rights Watch says Boko Haram militants have killed more than 2,000 civilians in Nigeria this year, nearly three-fourths of them in the northern state of Borno. (VOA

The EU is about to launch its first ever multi-donor development trust fund, in support of the Central African Republic. With an initial amount of €64 million the fund creates an effective and coordinated international instrument to help the population of the country and contribute to its stabilisation. (EC

The Kenyan government’s continued failure to properly investigate crimes committed during the 2007-2008 post-election violence and to provide justice and reparation for its victims is having a devastating impact on their lives and livelihoods. (Amnesty International

The presence of armed groups and continued fighting causing displacement across the Central African Republic has led to an escalation of insecurity leaving women and girls vulnerable to forced marriage and extreme violence, including rape. (IRIN

At least 750,000 people are stateless in West Africa, according to UNHCR, which is calling for governments to do more to give or restore the nationality of stateless individuals, and improve national laws to prevent statelessness. (IRIN


The first Israeli was killed by a Hamas rocket attack since the crisis began eight days ago. Some 200 Gazans are believed to have been killed. (NYT

A militia shelled Tripoli airport, destroying 90 percent of planes parked there, a Libyan government spokesman said, as heavy fighting between armed groups prompted the United Nations to pull its staff. (Reuters

As Israel continues to bomb hundreds of targets in the Gaza Strip, hospitals are facing a shortage of medical supplies. Pre-existing shortages are being exacerbated by heightened need and by the border policies of the Egyptian government. (IRIN

John Kerry warned that the escalating violence by Libyan militias was alarming and said Washington was working through its envoys to restore peace to the North African nation. (Reuters

Aid agencies said Tuesday they were ready to truck desperately-needed supplies to 2.9 million more Syrians after the UN Security Council finally passed a resolution backing cross-border convoys. (AP

Preliminary findings of a UN survey show that while food security has improved in some areas, over 10 million Yemenis – more than 40 percent of the population – don’t know where their next meal will come from. (WFP


Warnings as another typhoon hits the Philippines there are insufficient evacuation centers available to keep people safe. (Oxfam

Bangladesh’s anti-graft agency will file charges against the owner of a building that collapsed last year killing more than 1,130 people, most of them garment workers, in a construction violation case, an agency spokesman said. (AP

The World Bank said that it and its private sector arm have committed concessional loans of up to $4.2 billion to the Philippines to help the country reduce poverty, create jobs and sustain growth as it recovers from the impact of a devastating typhoon and separatist rebellion. (AP

The Americas

During a visit to Haiti, the UN Secretary General promises to help fight the cholera epidemic which has killed more than 8,500 people since 2010. (BBC

Pope Francis calls for moves to protect thousands of unaccompanied children found migrating from Central America to the US every month. (BBC

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales will run for re-election in October to press on with his promise of expanding social reforms in the Andean nation, the vice president of the ruling party said. (Reuters

Honduran President Juan Hernandez blamed U.S. drug policy for sparking violence in Central American countries and driving a surge of migration to the United States, according to an interview published on Monday. (VOA

Brazil’s sluggish economy faces substantial risk of falling into a light recession in 2014, and may already have done so, providing opposition candidates with extra ammunition in the run-up to October’s presidential election. (Reuters


How flawed are current aid responses? (IRIN

South Sudanese Debate: Should We Leave or Stay? (VOA

Why A Village Leader Ordered The Rape Of A 14-Year-Old In India (NPR

No School, No Handshakes: Reporting On Ebola From Sierra Leone (NPR

The Caribbean: A Clean Energy Revolution on the Front Lines of Climate Change (IPS

Who Aids Whom? Exposing the True Story of Africa’s $192 Billion Losses (Think Africa Press

Much Hangs in the Balance in Indonesia’s Election (CGD


Attacks on teachers and other educators are a disturbingly common tactic of war and a serious threat to education, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack said in a new study. (GCPEA

Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum, says that in general, the current list of proposed goals and targets that will follow the MDGs is not an adequate response to the global social, economic and environmental crises and the need for fundamental change. (IPS

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SG; Afghanistan; Middle East

SG: After meeting with a Haitian family affected by cholera, the SG expressed the UN’s commitment to ending the epidemic through projects such as the “Total Sanitation Campaign” launched yesterday to scale up sanitation and hygiene in rural areas.

Afghanistan: The SG condemned today’s two attacks in Kabul and Paktika. The Taliban denied involvement in the suicide attack in Paktika killing 43 civilians, but claimed responsibility for the attack in Kabul killing two people on a shuttle bus. UNAMA called on the Taliban to cease attacks on civilians.

Middle East: Referencing Egypt’s proposed ceasefire for Israel and Gaza, the SG called on Hamas to follow Israel’s willingness to accept the proposal and cooperate with the Egyptian initiative.

Syria: UN agencies and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent reached Madamiyet Elsham in Rural Damascus for the first time in two years. Food, household items and hygiene supplies reached 5,000 people on the first of four days of deliveries and is expected to reach 20,000.

Yemen: WFP reported that more than 40% of Yemen’s population remains acutely malnourished despite food security improvements in some regions of the country.

West Africa: WHO reported that nearly 1,000 cases of Ebola have been reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. A new Sub-Regional Coordination Centre is being set-up to help coordinate response efforts in the three countries.

Philippines: OCHA warned that Typhoon Rammasum is expected to reach the Philippines this evening. Flooding and landslides could affect 43 million people in the capital by noon tomorrow.

Peacekeeping: The SG expressed his gratitude for Ameerah Haq following her announcement to step down as the USG for Field Support.

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This Iran Nuke Deal Might. Just. Work.

We are now five days out from a July 20 deadline for a final deal over Iran’s nuclear program…and for the first time, I think we can be cautiously optimistic about the outcome.

This weekend, John Kerry joined the talks ongoing in Vienna between Iran and the Permanent five members of the Security Council plus Germany over a final agreement that would limit Iran’s capacity to build nuclear weapons in exchange for an easing of international sanctions. The negotiations are technically and politically complex. But with less than a week from the deadline there are a few reasons to be hopeful for a positive outcome.

Iran’a foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gave an extended interview to the New York Times in which he outlined Iran’s current negotiating position. It satisfies many of the American demands, with the exception that all of Iran’s centrifuges would remain intact. (The USA fears that without dismantling centrifuges, Iran still has a breakout capacity should they decide to walk out on the deal.) Still, the proposal Zarif describes would effectively halt any new development of its nuclear program—which essentially extends the interim deal struck last November.

But Mr. Zarif’s decision to go public with the proposal in a 45-minute conversation before meeting with Mr. Kerry for a second time in two days was clearly tactical. His willingness to move away from Iran’s insistence that it must be free, immediately, to expand its nuclear program may give Mr. Kerry room to recommend to President Obama that the negotiations continue, for weeks or months.

Mr. Zarif’s plan follows a declaration by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last week that Iran would not dismantle any of its infrastructure under Western pressure, but would not need a major expansion of its fuel-making facilities for at least five years. That gave Mr. Zarif, who is viewed with suspicion by Iran’s military and its clerical leadership, some wiggle room. His proposal for a freeze moves significantly in the direction that the United States and the five other nations have been urging, and brings into focus the outlines of a possible deal, though one that would be extraordinarily hard to reach by Sunday.

In a press availability earlier today in Vienna, John Kerry did not respond specifically to Zarif’s proposal. But he did cite “tangible progress.”

As I have said, and I repeat, there has been tangible progress on key issues, and we had extensive conversations in which we moved on certain things.  However, there are also very real gaps on other key issues.  And what we are trying to do is find a way for Iran to have an exclusively peaceful nuclear program, while giving the world all the assurances required to know that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon.

I want to underscore:  These goals are not incompatible.  In fact, they are realistic.  But we have not yet found the right combination or arrived at the workable formula.  There are more issues to work through and more provisions to nail down to ensure that Iran’s program will always remain exclusively peaceful.  So we are going to continue to work and we’re going to continue to work with the belief that there is a way forward.

But – and this is a critical point – while there is a path forward, Iran needs to choose to take it.  And our goal now is to determine the precise contours of that path, and I believe we can.

If a deal is to be struck, it will probably be struck around 11:59 on Sunday night. There is also a decent chance that sides will mutually agree that they need more time, in which case we can expect a delay. But at this point it does not look like these talks will end in total failure. And that is a positive development.

For an inside look at these negotiations, check out this recent Global Dispatches Podcast episode with journalist Laura Rozen and Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association.

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France’s Gamble in the Sahel

Following an 18 month deployment in Mali, the French military Operation Serval is ending. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian explained during a national interview on Sunday July 13 that “Serval has accomplished its mission. Mali had to regain its integrity, and that’s been done.”  He added that since the beginning of the French military operation, territorial integrity has been restored, elections have been held at several levels of government, and, overall, the Operation achieved its aims. “It’s the responsibility of Malian authorities to continue to manage the democratic process,” Le Drian told journalists.

But while Serval is ending, a brand new French operation is beginning in the Sahel region. Well, in fact, not so much a brand new operation as a reshuffling of current forces and footprint in the region. With a projected 3,000 ground troops, and additional support from fighter jets, helicopters, unarmed drones and the cooperation of local military partners, France hopes to quell the terrorist threat in the Sahel. “There is a major jihadist threat from the Horn of Africa to Guinea-Bissau” – in particular in the northern areas of Mali, Chad and Niger – explained Le Drian, and “the French President wanted to see a reorganization of French forces to address what are perceived to be the current challenges in the region.” The new operation, Barkhane, will be launched within days, with counter-terrorism as its main goal, in partnership with five countries (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso.)

Operation Barkhane’s role will be to prevent “the highway of all forms of trafficking” between Southern Algeria and the northern parts of those countries from becoming a permanent location for jihadist groups to gain strength and organize. Le Drian explained that the French goal for this operation goes beyond ensuring the territorial integrity of African nations, and that there is a direct link between the security of France and what is perceived to be a growing hotbed of terrorism in the region.”The world is dangerous, especially at our own doors, and in particular at these doors just south of the Mediterranean,” Le Drian said.

Meanwhile, as the 1,700-strong Operation Serval winds down in Mali, a French officer was killed in a suicide attack on Monday. Two other soldiers were severely wounded in the bombing. This is the ninth French military death since the beginning of the Operation in January 2013. Jean-Yves Le Drian is expected in Mali mid-week to speak about the evolution of Operation Serval into its regional incarnation, Barkhane. French President Francois Hollande will be going to N’Djamena, Abidjan and Niamey in the coming days to formalize the launch of the new operation.

Given the recent suicide bombing that killed and wounded French soldiers in Gao, there is still a feeling that the Malian operation isn’t quite over yet, and, locally, some are feeling concerned about the rejigging of the French operation.  In the next few weeks we should know whether or not this redeployment of French troops in the rejoin has come too soon. 

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