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“Aleppo is our Srebrenica”

Ed note. This op-ed by Jan Egeland and David Milliband appeared in Project Syndicate and is reprinted with permission. 

NEW YORK – After more than a thousand days of death and misery, two important recent public statements show why policy toward Syria must enter a new phase of intensity and focus. Last month, US President Barack Obama, in setting out his broader foreign-policy stance, spoke of Syria’s three evils – brutal military tactics, the terrorist threat from the opposition, and the need to support refugees. A week earlier, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported excruciating details of Syria’s humanitarian crisis, including citizens under fire from all sides, sustained government barrel-bomb attacks, and shortages of food and medicine.

Over the past three years, at least 160,000 people have been killed, nine million displaced, and three million refugees have flooded into neighboring countries. Many have suffered untold horrors, from repeated chemical weapons attacks to the bombing of hospitals and bread lines.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, growing ever stronger, is acting with impunity. The opposition is fragmented, comprising more than a thousand armed groups. And Syria’s neighbors are struggling to cope with the conflict’s spillover.

Three years ago, few would have believed that the world would do so little to prevent such a situation. But diplomatic efforts during this time have been lamentable. Indeed, the UN still has not replaced Lakhdar Brahimi, who recently resigned as its peace envoy to Syria.

With little hope for a political solution, we must focus on relieving the humanitarian crisis. The Norwegian Refugee Council and the International Rescue Committee, for example, are doing important work, delivering cross-border humanitarian supplies into Syria and helping refugees and host communities in four countries. They currently aid more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees, including a half-million who are internally displaced, traumatized, angry, and bewildered by the lack of outside assistance.

More can and must be done. First, we must focus on the four million civilians trapped inside Syria and cut off from aid. Some are being starved into submission, while others are being subjected to unspeakable atrocities. Aleppo is our “Srebrenica” – the site of Serbian forces’ 1995 genocidal massacre of Bosnian Muslims – except that in Aleppo, more lives are at stake and no international witnesses are there to report on what is happening. Despite the UN’s ill-fated observer mission, the Security Council must seek ways to increase the international community’s presence on the ground.

Second, we need to address the Security Council’s insufficient attention to the humanitarian situation, and specifically its failure to implement Resolution 2139. We propose that the Council’s permanent members, along with key Middle Eastern states, appoint humanitarian envoys whose sole purpose would be to secure access to those in need. The envoys would be senior diplomats and politicians who could tap the highest levels of government to challenge abuses of international law, cut red tape, and apply pressure on warring parties to agree to local ceasefires.

Third, we must intensify cross-border operations. Of course, there will be concerns over sovereignty and consent, but there are millions of desperate people within just a couple of hours of those borders. Simple measures –including easier registration, swifter visa procedures, improved information-sharing with Damascus-based aid workers, and predictable funding mechanisms – would allow colleagues in the field to concentrate on reaching those in greatest need. This would make a huge difference, especially when coordinated with aid packages that are delivered to border crossings.

Finally, we must recognize that the refugee crisis is a collective international responsibility. Jordan has more than 600,000 registered refugees, and a similar number who are unregistered; it expects a half-million more this year. Lebanon has more than one million, the world’s highest refugee population per capita – equivalent to the combined populations of Germany and France migrating to the US. Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq are also severely affected.

However, only 26% of the funds needed to support Syria’s neighbors have been pledged, resulting in a patchwork of short-term aid. As resources dwindle and tensions rise, these countries need help to ensure that refugee assistance is aligned with longer-term national development plans, such as Jordan’s National Resilience Plan and Lebanon’s Stabilization Plan. Half-funded, half-coordinated, and half-committed international responses not only threaten regional stability, but also endanger millions of lives.

Syria’s seemingly endless civil war, waged without regard for international law, has left countless civilians at fate’s mercy. We should have done more to prevent this disaster; now it has become this generation’s greatest humanitarian challenge.

Jan Egeland, a former UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, is CEO of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

David Miliband, Britain’s Foreign Secretary in 2007-2010, is President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee


Photo credit: Aleppians waiting in a bread line during the Syrian civil war, wikimedia commons

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Giving Birth in an IDP Camp

The math is not good for displaced women in South Sudan.

Since the start of the civil war in South Sudan in December, some 1.3 million people have been displaced. This means that many hundreds of thousands of women and girls of child-bearing age have been dislocated from their homes and communities.

This fact sheet from the Reproductive Health in Crisis Consortium says that between 6 to14 percent of all displaced women between the ages of 15-49 could be pregnant at a given time, and 15 out of every 100 pregnant women will experience unpredictable obstetric complications.

Those are terrible statistics. But to make matters worse even in peace time, South Sudan had the worst maternal mortality ratio in the world, with as many as one in seven women dying from complications of pregnancy or childbirth.

This excellent video from UNICEF  offers context for the immense challenges facing pregnant women in IDP camps.  

Unfortunately, relief for the women of South Sudan is not coming soon enough. Fighting continues, and funding levels for the humanitarian relief operation–the kind that saved this woman and her baby — are only filled to 41% of the required $1.8 billion

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Top of the Morning: Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict Kicks off in London

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie and UK Government are co-hosting the largest event ever of its kind. “The summit aims to: launch a new international protocol for documenting and investigating sexual violence in conflict, and encourage countries to strengthen domestic laws to enable prosecutions; urge countries to train all soldiers and peacekeepers to prevent sexual violence; increase funding to support survivors of sexual violence; change attitudes towards rape in conflict…The organisers want the event to be the moment the world wakes up and declares that sexual violence is not an inevitable part of war. (BBC

Acute Humanitarian Emergency as Key Iraqi City Falls to Insurgent Group…Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, fell to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a cross border al-Qaeda linked group. 500,000 people have been displaced and in need of humanitarian relief.  “There were no immediate estimates on how many people were killed in the assault…Earlier this year, Islamic State fighters took control of Fallujah, and government forces have been unable to take it back.Mosul is a much bigger, more strategic prize. The city and surrounding Ninevah province, which is on the doorstep of Iraq’s relatively prosperous Kurdish region, are a major export route for Iraqi oil and a gateway to Syria. (Bellingham Herald

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A United Nations envoy today renewed the world body’s commitment to supporting ongoing efforts by the Nigerian Government to secure the safe release of the abducted schoolgirls from Chibok, and called for concerted efforts to tackle the insurgency in the north-east of the country. (UN News

Reporting rates are low for sexual crimes committed during conflict in South Sudan and the means to gather the information are extremely limited.Yet hundreds of cases are being reported of women being sexually abused, gang-raped, detained and their young sons castrated – singled out on ethnic lines. (BBC

Madinah Nalukenge, who did not study beyond grade school, is part of a growing trend in Africa where more women are running businesses on a scale that was unthinkable a generation ago. Africa now has the highest growth rate of female-run enterprises across the world, according to the World Bank. (AP

More than two-thirds of mines in eastern DR Congo which produced “conflict minerals” four years ago are no longer run by warlords, a report says. (BBC


Egypt’s President Sisi orders a crackdown on sexual assaults amid growing public anger after women were attacked in Cairo during his inauguration. (BBC

A high-level meeting in Geneva between US and Iranian diplomats comes amid fears that a six-month interim deal may not yield a final agreement before a July deadline. (CSM


China is ready for a final settlement of its border disputes with India and prepared to invest more in the South Asian nation if trade rules are eased, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said late yesterday in New Delhi. (Bloomberg

Thai “ghost ships” that enslave, brutalise and even kill workers are linked to global shrimp supply chain, Guardian investigation discovers. (Guardian

The Americas

Prostitutes more than double their earnings by moonlighting as currency traders in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela. They are the foreign exchange counter for sailors in a country where buying and selling dollars in the streets is a crime — and prostitution isn’t. (Bloomberg

Latin America’s parliaments have failed to protect the forests and to guarantee their sustainable use, despite the fact that a number of countries have laws on forests, legislators from the region said at a global summit in the Mexican capital. (IPS

Peru urgently needs a national plan for the management of water over the next two decades, one that will take into account the effects of climate change and the social and environmental conflicts triggered by problems over water. (IPS


A Useful Data Set on Political Violence that Almost No One Is Using (Dart-throwing Chimp

How do we end sexual violence in conflict? (Guardian

The FDLR demobilisation gamble reloaded (Ethuin

Markets in Everything, Venezuelan edition (Cherokee Gothic

Let’s Create Sub-National Corruption Perception Indexes for the BRICS (Global Anti-Corruption Blog

Time Running Out for Iran Nuke Negotiations (UN Dispatch

Food shock recovery suggests price spikes went against the grain (Guardian


A four-day summit on sexual violence in war is taking place in London, the culmination of a two-year campaign to raise awareness. (BBC

Major donor countries will unveil next week a new initiative aimed at strengthening the ability of developing countries’ governments to negotiate complex contracts, particularly around the extractives sector. (IPS

Do non-contributory pensions work? (Development that Works

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Map of the Day: Has Al Qaeda Won the Iraq War?

In 2003, the US-led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein. 11 years and four months later, it looks an al Qaeda affiliate called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is no longer a ‘state’ in name only. It controls large swaths of Iraq and Syria. And as of today, that includes Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.

This map was created by Laris Karklis of the Washington Post. It was appended to an article by Liz Sly about the rise of ISIS, who writes, “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) effectively governs a nation-size tract of territory that stretches from the eastern edge of the Syrian city of Aleppo to Fallujah in western Iraq – and now also includes the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.” 

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Where did this group come from? What are their goals, and what, if anything, can be done to stop them?

I caught up with Douglas Ollivant of the New America Foundation a few months ago for the Podcast. He was an official in the Bush and Obama administrations responsible for helping to set Iraq policy. He’s written extensively on ISIS. In the interview he gives context for the rise of ISIS, Iraq’s violent death spiral, and how it all relates to Syria.

If you want to understand what’s happened in Mosul today and the greater threat it poses to the region have a listen.

Subscribe on Itunes.

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Time Running Out for Iran Nuke Negotiations

Ed note.  I’m pleased to welcome Homa Hassan to Dispatch. Ms. Hassan has Master of International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, where she was a fellow of American foreign policy. She is a former Scoville fellow on nuclear nonproliferation and global security and currently works at the Inter-American Development Bank. 

The U.S.-Iran relationship is littered with missed opportunities to normalize relations.  Now the P5+1-Iran interim deal, an attempt to draft an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, is set to expire on July 20, with the possibility for an extension.  But with Deputy Secretary Bill Burns (who has led back channel efforts) and EU high representative Catherine Ashton (who has negotiated with Iran since talks resumed in 2011) set to retire this year, upcoming Congressional elections, and two years left of an administration willing to negotiate with Iran, one thing is clear: time to reach a deal is running out.

Iran will only become more significant in global politics in the coming decade; therefore both sides need to step it up in negotiations toward a deal able to weather upcoming changes before the opportunity is lost.

Having both Western powers and Iranian leaders not only on speaking terms, but also on large-scale, publicized negotiating terms is not something to be taken for granted.  Decades of bad blood between the U.S. and Iran made it virtually impossible to envision any form of reconciliation. Even now, hawks in both Congress and Iran’s leadership are driving high bargains.

But Congressional elections at the end of this year could bring more aggressive stances on Iran or a call for more sanctions that would derail further negotiations. And with only two years left of the administration willing to engage, if Republicans take over both houses of Congress in November, they could make negotiations much harder for the administration to navigate.  Currently, Iran has halted its uranium enrichment and all enrichment processes are under IAEA surveillance for the duration of the talks.  For better or worse, the negotiating environment we have right now might be the best environment we’ll ever have.

Coming to an agreement is not only significant for nuclear nonproliferation. Iran’s influence in global affairs is expanding.  Iran has already been highly influential in Syria’s civil war, helping Assad maintain his ground. Iran’s leadership has been vocal in supporting a two-state solution in the ongoing Arab-Israeli peace negotiations.  Iran retains bilateral trade relations with Afghanistan and provides crude oil imports to India while India provides port use for Iranian access to Russia and Europe. With the U.S. and Russia on strained terms over Ukrainian sovereignty, broken negotiations could push Iran further back into Russia’s arms where it found solace in light of Western sanctions over the last few decades.

The complexity of the issues being discussed make it all the more difficult to come to an agreement. However, Western powers ought to consider the influence Iran will have on geopolitics, like it or not, and aim for incremental gains.  Iran should consider the crushing effects of sanctions and what it has to gain domestically with a deal on the horizon.  Both sides should remember that if the dynamics are the best we’ll possibly ever have to negotiate, no one can afford to squander the opportunity.


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Top of the Morning: Yet another Boko Haram Kidnapping of Women.

Yet another Boko Haram Kidnapping of Women…Suspected Boko Haram gunmen have reportedly kidnapped 20 women from a nomadic settlement in northeast Nigeria near the town of Chibok, where the Islamic militants abducted more than 300 schoolgirls and young women on April 15…In another incident, the Defense Headquarters said Monday that troops prevented raids by Boko Haram this weekend on villages in Borno and neighboring Adamawa state. Soldiers killed more than 50 militants on Saturday night as they were on their way to attack communities, defense spokesman Chris Oluklade said in an emailed statement.(AP

YouTube Video of Sexual Assault in Egypt Sparks Outrage…One attack occurred at an al-Sisi rally. “A string of sexual assaults on women during celebrations of Egypt’s presidential inauguration — including a mass attack on a 19-year-old student who was stripped in Cairo’s Tahrir Square — prompted outrage Monday as a video emerged purportedly showing the teenager, bloodied and naked, surrounded by dozens of men. Seven men were arrested in connection with the assault and police were investigating 27 other complaints of sexual harassment against women during Sunday’s rallies by tens of thousands of people celebrating Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s inauguration late into the night, security officials said.” (USA Today

Global Dispatches Podcast…Jessica Tuchman Mathews is on the line this week! The longtime president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace discusses growing up in a famous household, her very unconventional path to a career in foreign policy, and writing two hugely influential foreign policy treatises which helped mainstream the concept of “human security.”

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The death toll from Ebola in Sierra Leone has doubled to at least 12 in a week, local health authorities said on Monday, deepening the spread of a disease that has killed over 200 people in Guinea and Liberia. (Reuters

A sugar refinery — the wartorn Central African Republic’s biggest factory — is back in business after soldiers recaptured it from former rebels who occupied it for more than a year. (AFP

Niger will repatriate its citizens living as illegal migrants in neighbouring Algeria, as the government steps up efforts to combat trafficking networks. (Reuters

Young people in Zimbabwe with HIV are increasingly dying at a time when HIV-related deaths are declining for all other age groups. They are also less likely to get tested for the virus, as concerns about guardianship and privacy can discourage clinics from testing children. (IRIN

The kidnapping of 200 Nigerian girls and several recent horrific murders of women is expected to raise pressure on the world community to take concrete action to punish those responsible for sexual violence at a global summit in London this week. (Reuters

Africa’s climate change legislative frameworks, though a step in the right direction, have come under fire for not being ambitious enough to meet the challenge of a changing climate. (IPS

A new report shows that Nigeria now has the largest internally displaced population in Africa, and the third largest in the world. (VOA

African lawyers say they are committed to bringing back money illegally taken out of the continent. (VOA


Egyptian authorities have arrested seven men for sexually harassing women near Cairo’s Tahrir Square while thousands celebrated the inauguration of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Interior Ministry said on Monday. (Haaretz

The International Committee of the Red Cross and Syria’s Red Crescent have made rare aid deliveries in rebel-held territory in northern Aleppo province with government consent. (AP

Libya’s Supreme Court ruled on Monday that parliament’s election of Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq a month ago was unconstitutional, state media reported, a decision which means his predecessor will stay on for now, a parliament speaker said. (Reuters

Humanitarian needs in Yemen are huge, but it is also recognised as one of the most difficult places in the world for aid workers to operate in. What to do? (IRIN

Hope of political transition in Yemen is being jeopardised by hunger, access to safe water and conflict, UN warns. (Guardian


Thailand’s junta said on Monday it had ordered the Thai ambassadors to the United States and Britain to meet human rights groups in an effort to “create understanding” about last month’s seizure of power. (VOA

A new report warning that nearly half of the commercially-available condoms in Vietnam are of poor quality has health officials worried the country’s tenuous gains in safer sex habits could be at risk. (IRIN

The Solomon Islands’ Ministry of Health has declared a nationwide alert, with diarrhea outbreaks reported in six of nine Solomon Islands provinces, including Western, Choiseul, Malaita, Central, Makira, Honiara and Guadalcanal Provinces. (OCHA

The Americas

Brazilian riot police use tear gas to disperse protesters in Sao Paulo three days ahead of World Cup opening match. (BBC


Four things everyone should know about wartime sexual violence (WaPo

Bringing ‘Power Africa’ from Pledges to Projects (AllAfrica

The best books on Afghanistan: start your reading here (Guardian

Journalism Is Dying a Slow Death in Nigeria (Daily Trust

What Future for West African Fisheries? (Greenpeace

Keeping Momentum on Nutrition for Growth (IDS

The Corruption-Security Nexus: Lessons from Afghanistan (Part 1) (Global Anticorruption Blog

Five facts about informal economies (Chris Blattman


Italy has rescued about 5,200 men, women and children and recovered three dead bodies from overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean Sea since early Thursday. (Reuters

A British government pledge to tackle child poverty is set to be broken as 3.5 million children will remain poor by 2020, a watchdog said on Monday. (AP

Despite significant gains, the HIV/AIDS epidemic is far from over, United Nations officials said, calling for greater political commitment, investment and innovation to end the global scourge. (UN News Centre
Some 60 percent of countries where malaria is endemic lack solid information about the quality of available drugs to treat the deadly disease, according to a new study. (IRIN

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