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Can this Man Save Syria?

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Ban Ki Moon yesterday appointed Staffan de Mistura as his newest special envoy for Syria. He follows Lakdhar Brahimi and Kofi Annan as the latest international mediator for the conflict.

de Mistura is well-known in UN circles. He’s a duel Swedish-and Italian citizen, former foreign minister of Italy and top UN official in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s a veteran diplomat and skilled troubleshooter. But can he succeed where Kofi Annan and Lakhdhar Brahimi failed?

Probably not. And that has very little to do with his diplomatic acumen and very much to do with the fundamental diplomatic dynamic that has so far stymied an internationally backed peaceful resolution to Syria’s civil war.  The Security Council is paralyzed on Syria, with the gaps between Russia on the one hand and the USA, UK and France growing wider by the day. Russia has vetoed four previous resolutions on Syria, and there’s no prospects for unity at the Security Council in the horizon.

This lack of cohesion at the Security Council has made it impossible to compel the Assad government to enter into good faith negotiations; and it has made it impossible to work cooperatively with the regional actors that are backing various sides of the conflict. No one wants to see the Syria conflict drag on, but there is a wide gulf between the outcomes that Russia seeks and the outcomes that the USA and the west seek.  Without unity, there is very little the Security Council can do to affect outcomes in Syria. It cannot sanction instigators of the conflict; it cannot compel compliance with a peace accord; and it cannot threaten coercive action to force the sides to the negotiating table.

This brings us back to Steffan de Mistura. He is set up to fail in the same way as Brahimi and Annan — two other exceptional diplomats. He is a lone mediator without the backing of the Security Council. Until the Security Council finds unity, there is very little he can do or say to affect the situation on the ground.  At this point, Prince von Metternich himself could come back to life and even he would not be able to mediate away this crisis.

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Kofi Annan Declares War on the War on Drugs

This op-ed by Kofi Annan originally appeared in Project Syndicate and is reprinted with permission. 

recent estimate by the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics that the market for illegal drugs adds £4.4 billion ($7.6 billion) annually to the country’s economy gives a sense of the astonishing scale of the illicit narcotics trade. For regions such as West Africa, with economies that are neither as large nor as developed as the UK’s, the impact of such activity can be even more corrosive.

West Africa finds itself increasingly enmeshed in the global drug trade. Its location makes it vulnerable to being exploited as a transit point between the Latin American and Asian production centers and consumer markets in Europe and the United States.

But, as the experience of Central America shows, transit countries do not serve only as a corridor for drugs. Illegal drugs and the money that surround them invade and destabilize their societies. This disturbing development – a byproduct of the failed “global war on drugs” – threatens to reverse recent economic and social gains in our region.

So far, West Africa has avoided the worst of the endemic and routine violence that accompanies the passage of drugs through Central America. But, with the stakes so high, there is no room for complacency. The scale of the cocaine trade alone in West Africa dwarfs the combined government budgets of several countries in the region.

We already know that the narcotics trade has played a direct or indirect role in political upheaval in countries such as Guinea-Bissau and Mali. National and international action against the traffickers must be stepped up, and it should include targeting those who run the networks, rather than expending scarce law-enforcement resources to pursue their foot soldiers. We need to pursue those who gain the most, whoever they are and whatever position they hold.

But it is not only the trade in illegal drugs that is destabilizing countries in the region; narcotics consumption is becoming a major problem as well. The West Africa Commission on Drugs, which I convened and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo chairs, points out in a new report that cocaine, heroin, and locally produced methamphetamines have become increasingly available across the region. This has led to greater use and dependence, especially among the region’s young people.

Yet the region is simply not ready or equipped to deal with the spread of drug use and dependency. All too often, the response is to stigmatize and penalize drug users. But pushing them to the fringes of society or locking them up in ever increasing numbers will not solve the problem. On the contrary, it worsens health problems and puts enormous pressure on West Africa’s already over-stretched criminal justice systems.

The Commission’s report instead calls for a new approach to drug abuse, one that treats it not as a criminal-justice issue, but rather as a public-health problem. That means tackling the near total absence of drug-treatment facilities and programs and the lack of personnel qualified to manage and monitor drug abuse.

The Commission accepts that there are many urgent demands on strapped health-care budgets. But such is the importance of this challenge – and so dire are the consequences of failure to overcome it – that the Commission strongly recommends the adoption of a drug-treatment policy with minimum standards across the region.

This includes the establishment of drug treatment and related health services and facilities, and the implementation of harm-reduction approaches, such as needle-exchange programs, which have been proven to reduce the spread of HIV and the incidence of drug-related deaths. To date, Senegal is alone in West Africa in implementing some form of government-run harm-reduction initiative.

Tackling the impact of drugs through informed, humane, and coordinated policy will require leadership and a concerted effort by countries across the region. The Commission calls for a shared commitment from governments, civil-society groups, and regional organizations. We can no longer sweep this issue under the carpet or pretend that it is not our problem.

The report also urges increased support for these efforts from the international community. Governments in those West African countries that are the principal producers and consumers of illegal drugs should fund prevention, treatment, and harm-reduction initiatives, rather than only investing in interdiction and law enforcement.

Without a change of direction, drug trafficking, production, and consumption in West Africa will continue to undermine institutions, threaten public health, and damage development progress. But reforming drug laws, offering chronic users proper treatment, and vigorously pursuing high-level drug traffickers will reduce the damaging impact of illegal drugs on communities, families, and individuals. By having the courage to refocus national and international efforts, we can help to ensure that our young people grow up healthy and secure.

Kofi A. Annan, a former secretary-general of the United Nations, is the founding chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation and also chairs The Elders and the Africa Progress Panel. In 2001, he and the United Nations were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

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Where Humanity Will Live in 2050

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Our Urban Future…A new UN report predicts a sharp rise in urban living. “Two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, posing unique infrastructural challenges for African and Asian countries, where 90% of the growth is predicted to take place…Africa is projected to experience a 16% rise in its urban population by 2050 – making it the most rapidly urbanising region on the planet – as the number of people living in its cities soars to 56%. The report predicts there will be more than 40 megacities worldwide by 2050,each with a population of at least 10 million. Delhi, Shanghai and Tokyo are predicted to remain the world’s most populous cities in 2030, when each is projected to be home to more than 30 million people.” (Guardian

Happy World Population Day!

A Child Migrant’s Story: What is compelling this surge in migration to the USA, particularly of unaccompanied minors? Who are these children and families? And what is their journey like? Mark speaks with Gary Shaye of Save the Children, which is running a relief operation in Texas for children and families that have made it across the border. (Global Dispatches Podcast


Amnesty International has published the names of people suspected to have committed human rights violations and war crimes in the Central African Republic. The human rights group says these individuals must be investigated and held accountable in order for the country to begin a peace and reconciliation process. (VOA

More than half of China’s foreign aid of over $14 billion between 2010 and 2012 was directed to Africa, the government said on Thursday, underscoring Beijing’s interest in the resource-rich continent to fuel its economy. (Reuters

The number of hungry people in Somalia will increase this year for the first time since the 2011 famine as drought is starting to bite, the United Nations said. (Thompson Reuters Foundation

Health workers in Liberia are said to be fleeing and returning from their areas of assignment due to the increasing number of Ebola patients. Some are said to have died from treating patients infected by the deadly virus. (The New Dawn

A new study by two British universities says Somalia’s piracy problem can be sustainably solved by building roads and harbors to encourage people in remote areas to engage in legitimate trade. (AP


The United Nations has evacuated dozens of foreign staff from its mission in Libya due to a deteriorating security situation in the North African country, a U.N. spokesman said on Thursday. (Reuters

Palestinian deaths from Israel’s aerial attacks in Gaza rose sharply on Thursday, while militants there fired more than 100 rockets into Israel, reaching new targets spread across a vast swath of the country. (NYT


John Kerry arrived in Afghanistan Friday on a key mission to try to quell tensions over disputed presidential polls which have triggered fears of violence and ethnic unrest. (AFP

India’s new government has unveiled what it says is a roadmap to revive economic growth, which has fallen to its lowest level in nearly two decades. (VOA

The US military is scaling back its counter-terrorism assistance program in the southern Philippines after more than a decade of regular rotations. The move comes despite persisting security threats in the region. (VOA

Four reporters and the chief executive officer of a magazine in Myanmar have been sentenced to 10 years at hard labor in prison on a national security charge for investigative stories about a weapons factory. (AP

The Americas

The Nicaraguan government has confirmed the country’s first two cases of people infected with a mosquito-borne virus that has spread quickly through the Caribbean region this year. (AP

Panama’s new president Juan Carlos Varela’s key challenges include dealing with slower economic growth, rising inflation and the goal of reducing poverty.


“Help” is Hurting Africa (Medium

I’m getting tired of ‘corporatization’ claims regarding the development industry (Aidnography

What Can South Africa Learn From India’s Response to Sexual Violence? (Daily Maverick

The west’s peanut butter bias chokes Haiti’s attempts to feed itself (Guardian

Q&A with Simon Denyer: India’s Massive, Complex Democracy (VOA

The Elusive Quest for Women’s Land Rights (CGD

Q&A with Rita Manchanda: Conflict and Women’s Rights (VOA

The Brics New Development Bank and Currency Reserve Arrangement At a Glance (GEG Africa

Can the New African Court Truly Deliver Justice for Serious Crimes? (ISS

Obama’s Quick Fix Won’t Solve the Regional Refugee Crisis (IPS


A cash injection of as little as $12 per month for an impoverished family could determine whether a child eats properly or goes to school or not. With cash transfer programmes around the world now having a profound impact on the lives of poor people, the debate is less about whether to implement them than how to do so. (IRIN

The dealings of public finance institutions, which use billions of euros of taxpayers’ money to fund private sector projects in poor countries, remain shrouded in secrecy and skewed to favour the governments of wealthy states, according to a coalition of NGOs. (Guardian

Some of the statistics in the latest Millennium Development Goals report are up to four years old, according to the lead author of the UN’s recent report. (SciDevNet

Between 2009 and 2012, an estimated 94,000 newborn deaths were averted as a result of the scale-up of these malaria interventions during pregnancy. Countries attaining high coverage and use of malaria control interventions during this period saw child mortality rates fall by as much as to 20%. (WHO

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Middle East; Lebanon; Saudi Arabia

Middle East: The SG briefed the SC this morning on the situation in the Middle East. He condemned the rockets fired from Gaza into Israel as well as Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza and warned of an all-out escalation if both sides fail to exercise restraint.

Lebanon: The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon visited the north-eastern region today to examine the conditions of the 376,000 displaced Syrians. The Humanitarian Coordinator commended the generosity of Lebanon and reiterated that the UN will continue to encourage the international community to assist the country and share Lebanon’s burden.

Saudi Arabia: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Pillay expressed concern for the treatment of peaceful human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. She urged authorities to release those held in connection with peaceful advocacy of human rights.

Japan: OCHA reported that a landslide yesterday killed a 12 year old boy ahead of Typhoon Neoguri which is expected to reach Japan tomorrow.

New Syrian Envoy: Ambassador Samantha Powers welcomed the SG’s appointment of Mr. Staffan de Mistura to replace Lakhdar Brahimi as the UN Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Syria.

Urbanization: UN DESA released the 2014 revision of the World Urbanization Prospects report stating that the current 54% of the world’s population that inhabits urban areas today will jump to 66% by 2050. The report highlights the need for successful urban planning in order to meet the needs of growing urbanization.

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A UN View of the Gaza Conflict

“Maximum restraint” is the maxim at the United Nations.

Earlier today, Ban Ki Moon briefed a special security council session on the current crisis in Israel and Palestine. From the UN News Center 

 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today warned the United Nations Security Council of the “risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza” and made an urgent appeal for maximum restraint, saying his “paramount concern is the safety and well-being of all civilians, no matter where they are.”

“Today, we face the risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza, with the threat of a ground offensive still palpable – and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing,” the Secretary-General told the urgently-called meeting of the Security Council Thursday morning on the Middle East, which he told reporters yesterday that he had requested.

The Secretary-General said over the past several days, the Palestinian factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad have fired more than 550 rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel, and the Israeli Defence Forces have launched more than 500 airstrikes on Gaza.

“It is now more urgent than ever to try to find common ground for a return to calm and a cease-fire understanding,” he said.

“Once again civilians are paying the price for the continuation of conflict,” Mr. Ban said. “My paramount concern is the safety and well-being of all civilians, no matter where they are. It pains me – and it should pain us all – to be reliving circumstances that are all too reminiscent of the two most recent wars in Gaza.”

So far, both sides are not heeding his call. The death toll so far is neatly 70 and counting in Gaza, including many children. Meanwhile, rockets are raining down deep inside Israel (though no Israeli has been injured so far).

From the UN’s perspective, this is first and foremost a humanitarian calamity. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is a UN humanitarian organization dedicated to supporting the needs of Palestinian refugees, is reporting that several of its facilities, including six schools and two hospitals, have sustained damage.

From a political standpoint, this crisis is likely to demonstrate further divisions at the Security Council, with the United States not likely deviating from its role as Israel’s defender-in-chief. Should the conflict drag on for much longer, I would suspect that some members of the Security Council would draft a resolution (or at least a non-binding “presidential statement”) calling for a ceasefire. At this point, it is not likely that the USA would support these efforts; they would likely block consensus required for a presidential statement calling for a ceasefire. Also, if it came to it, the USA would also likely pull out all the necessary diplomatic stops to avoid having to veto a resolution calling for a ceasefire.

This dynamic played itself out back in 2012, when Israel launched a weeklong assault on Gaza following a barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza.  What has changed since then, from a Security Council point of view, is that Russia and the United States have become increasingly antagonistic, with both parties maneuvering to force the other to cast potentially embarrassing vetoes. I would not be surprised if Russia presses hard for a ceasefire resolution that it knows the USA would veto.

Photo Credit: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

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A Migrant’s Story: Why are So Many Children Fleeing to the USA?

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There is a refugee crisis in the USA.

Since October over 50,000 children and tens of thousands of families have streamed across the southern border of the United States. What is compelling this surge in migration, particularly of unaccompanied minors? Who are these children and families? And what is their journey like?

I speak with Gary Shaye of Save the Children, which is running a relief operation in Texas for children and families that have made it across the border.  He discusses the circumstances in which children and families come to the USA from central America and tells stories from his recent visit to the border.





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Episode 22: Live from the UN, 2014 (Vol 1); A special edition, featuring the President of the General Assembly,  the UN Ambassadors from Vietnam and Jamaica, the head of the UN Association, and more!

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Episode 21: Thomas Pickering, former Ambassador to the UN, Israel, Jordan, Russia, India and more.

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Episode 20: Jessica Tuchman Matthews, foreign policy trendsetter

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Episode 19: Louise Arbour, human rights pioneer.

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Episode 18: Zalmay Khalizad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the UN.

Why Libya is Suddenly on the Verge of a Civil War 

Episode 17: Gov Bill Richardson, he frees hostages.

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Episode 16: Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children

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Episode: 15 Laura Turner Seydel, philanthropist

Episode 14: Douglas Ollivant, Iraq expert

Episode 13: Gary Bass, historian

Episode 12: Mark Montgomery, demographer

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Episode 10: Live from the UN, Volume 2.

Episode 9: Mia Farrow, humanitarian activist and Goodwill Ambassador

Episode 8: Suzanne Nossel, Big Thinker

Episode 7: Live from the UN, Volume 1. 

Episode 6: PJ Crowley, former State Department Spokesperson

Episode 5: Octavia Nasr, reporter

Episode 4: Arsalan Iftikhar, “The Muslim Guy”

Episode 3: Dodge Billingsley, filmmaker.

Episode 2: Laura Seay,  @TexasinAfrica

Episode 1: Heather Hurlburt, national security wonk

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