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Top of the Morning: Bombing Targets UN in Somalia

Top stories from DAWNS Digest

Bombing Targets UN in Mogadishu

No UN staffers were killed in the attack. “At least five people were killed and a dozen wounded on Thursday when a car loaded with explosives blew up outside a restaurant next to the entrance to the international airport in Mogadishu, officials said. Witnesses said the car bomb attack, which was believed to be aimed at a passing United Nations convoy, went off around 12:40 p.m., setting shops and cars ablaze along the busy road to the Aden Abdulle International Airport. The Shabab, the militant Somali Islamist group, claimed responsibility.” (NYT

Humanitarian Ceasefire for Homs, Syria extended for another Three Days

But the UN is over capacity and cannot begin to immediately evacuate distressed civilians. “Both sides in the Syrian conflict have agreed to extend a cease-fire in the Old City of Homs, but relief efforts to the besieged district will not immediately resume, the United Nations’ top official in the country said Thursday. Yacoub El Hillo, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Syria, said aid workers are concentrating on assisting more than 1,400 people who have been evacuated from the Old City since the high-profile relief operation began  Feb. 7.” (LAT

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Map of the Day: Where The Press Isn’t Free

Today’s map comes from the 2014 World Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders  Click on the image for a larger view.

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Here’s what Reporters without Borders says about the index

The 2014 World Press Freedom Index spotlights the negative impact of conflicts on freedom of information and its protagonists. The ranking of some countries has also been affected by a tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed. This trend constitutes a growing threat worldwide and is even endangering freedom of information in countries regarded as democracies. Finland tops the index for the fourth year running, closely followed by Netherlands and Norway, like last year. At the other end of the index, the last three positions are again held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, three countries where freedom of information is non-existent. Despite occasional turbulence in the past year, these countries continue to be news and information black holes and living hells for the journalists who inhabit them. This year’s index covers 180 countries, one more than last year. The new entry, Belize, has been assigned an enviable position (29th). Cases of violence against journalists are rare in Belize but there were some problems: defamation suits involving demands for large amounts in damages, national security restrictions on implementation of the Freedom of Information Act and sometimes unfair management of broadcast frequencies.

Other significant findings from the index: Syria is by far the most dangerous place in the world to practice journalism. Also, the USA is not in the same league as Canada or the Nordic countries because of certain issues pertaining to whistleblower protections and leaks. The

Press freedom is important in its own right. It keeps governments in check, helps root out corruption and expose (and prevent) human rights abuses.  A few years ago, UNESCO (which is the only UN body with a mandate to protect and promote press freedom) also found a relationship between press freedom and economic and social development. Per a 2008 study 

According to the authors’ conclusions, the analysis suggests that “there is a ‘good’ correlation between press freedom and the different dimensions of development, poverty and governance”. Along with other indicators of good governance, press freedom creates the environment favourable for sustainable development.”

Freedom of the Press: It’s good for governance, good for development and a fundamental precept for a healthy society. Let’s have more!

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CAR is Falling Apart. And Everyone Knows Why

When the Security Council authorized the African Union MISCA force for the Central African Republic ten weeks ago, Samantha Power made clear that this course of action was chosen because it was the most expedient way to get international troops to CAR.

 …Achieving these goals requires a credible military force with a robust mandate to engage in peace enforcement activities. Today’s resolution gives us that. The deployment of MISCA and French forces with a Chapter VII mandate provides the most immediate vehicle to protect civilians, prevent atrocities, and restore humanitarian access that has been lost.

The Security Council has rightly recognized that the situation in CAR is desperate and it is dynamic. What is necessary today may not be what is necessary tomorrow. As such, this resolution asks the UN Secretary General to begin contingency planning on the possible transition from MISCA to a UN peacekeeping operation if conditions warrant.

 That was in December. Today, the head of the UN Refugee Agency Antonio Guterres just left the Central African Republic. This is what he had to say about what he saw. (Full statement here).

I have witnessed in the Central African Republic a humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions.

Massive ethno-religious cleansing is continuing.

There have been indiscriminate killings and massacres.

Shocking barbarity, brutality and inhumanity have characterized this violence.

Tens of thousands of people are fleeing the country for their safety, many are trapped with nowhere to go. In Bangui alone, thousands of people are in ghettos in grave conditions.

Even with a new President and the formation of a Government, it still cannot effectively protect its citizens.

It is imperative to re-establish security, law and order. For the people of the Central African Republic, safety and security for all is the most urgent priority.

The international community must come together for a significant and immediate increase of the forces and police on the ground.

It is becoming evident that the course of action decided by the Security Council in December needs some re-evaluation. After a brief period of improvement in Bangui, the security situation is now rapidly deteriorating. Muslim Central Africans feel too threatened to stay in Bangui and are fleeing by the tens of thousands. They are being escorted out of the country African Union troops who protect them from lynch mobs lining the street. Meanwhile, other troops are guarding humanitarian convoys which had been held up at the border of Cameroon as people were going hungry in CAR. This is on top of the regular patrols and disarmament that are intended to help bring a semblance of law and order the country, but failing to do so.

There are currently about 5,000 African troops deployed as part of an African Union peacekeeping mission, known as MISCA. Beyond that, there are about 1,600 French troops backing this mission. These troops levels are clearly not doing the job.  More peacekeepers are needed. An urgently so.

The good news is that MISCA will add another 1,000 troops by the end of next month. And a new EU Force of up to 1,000 troops is expected to deploy at the end of April. But that is a long way off. In the meantime, who will come to the rescue of civilians in the Central African Republic as it falls to pieces?  And will another 2,000 make a difference?


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Top of the Morning: Progress! China and Taiwan Hold Fist Official Meeting in 65 Years

Top stories from DAWNS Digest

Progress! China and Taiwan Hold First Official Meeting in 65 Years

The talks focused on ways to formalize communications between the two parties. Baby steps, but still progress. “Representatives of Taiwan and China held their first official talks on Tuesday since the end of China’s civil war in 1949, a meeting expected to produce few concrete results but one that was a symbolic development in the easing of the two sides’ longtime rivalry. The setting was a resort hotel in the Chinese city of Nanjing, which was at times the capital of Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China before its government fled to Taiwan after being defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communist forces.” (NYT

Security Council Mulls Syria Resolution on Humanitarian Access in Syria

It is being pushed hard by France, but will only succeed if they can avoid a “Nyet” from Moscow.  This is the French Ambassador Gerard Araud: “It is in this context that this text has been presented. It is a very moderate, very simple text. It is calling for ending the siege of the cities where civilians are blocked ; to end indiscriminate shelling by the regime ; the demilitarization of hospitals, schools and civilian infrastructures ; a humanitarian pause to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid and allowing the access of humanitarian aid through the borders of Syria. It is not a political text, it is balanced. There is no reason to oppose it. It can be amended. As my President said this morning, we are determined to go all the way.” (French UN Mission

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Why Israel is Drinking From Juice Cans at the UN

JUSCANZ (pronounced “juice cans” — really!) is UN-speak for a collection of non-European Union states that often form a negotiating bloc at UN bodies and committees. The acronym stands for Japan, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which were the original members. Over the years, its membership was extended to Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and Switzerland.

And now, JUSCANZ can add another member to its bloc at a key UN committee: Israel.

Today, for the first time, Israel joined the JUSCANZ bloc at the UN’s Third Committee, which is a committee of the General Assembly that deals with social, humanitarian and cultural issues.

This is a big deal for Israel and for the UN. Let me explain.

At UN committees and conferences like-minded countries often form negotiating caucuses to collectively advance their mutual interests and goals. These caucuses include the European Union, the aforementioned JUSCANZ, and the “G-77″ (a collection of developing countries), among others. Negotiating caucuses  are not to be confused with “regional groupings” at the UN, which are (mostly) geographically-linked countries.  A set number of seats at UN bodies like the Security Council and Human Rights Council are reserved for specific regions based on the number of countries in that region. These groups are Asia, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and “WEOG” (which stands for Western Europe and Others and includes the USA, Canada, Australia)

Israel is a special case at the United Nations. For most of its history it was excluded from membership to a regional group and negotiating bodies. It should be in the Asia regional group, but Arab countries in the region block it from membership for political reasons. In 2000, then-Ambassador Richard Holbrooke helped secure Israel membership to WEOG for UN bodies headquartered in New York (like the Security Council). In 2013, the Obama administration helped secure Israel membership to WEOG for UN bodies in Geneva, like the Human Rights Council. Theoretically, Israel is now capable of becoming a member of the Human Rights Council and Security Council, whereas before joining WEOG it had no pathway to membership.

Israel has also historically been excluded from joining  the informal negotiating blocs, which undermined its ability to contribute to deliberations in various UN committees. This began to change in 2009 when the Obama administration convinced other members of JUSCANZ to let Israel join the bloc. (This leaked memo offers insight into how the Obama administration pressed the last holdout–New Zealand–into letting Israel join).  But being a member of JUSCANZ at one committee does not automatically make a country a member of JUSCANZ for another committee. So although Israel joined JUSCANZ for the first time in Geneva for the Human Rights Council in 2010 it was not until today that Israel finally joined JUSCANZ in all relevant UN Committees in New York and Geneva.

This is a big deal for Israel and the UN. Membership to JUSCANZ helps Israel advance its national interests as part of a negotiating bloc of like-minded countries, which is a privilege that every other UN member state enjoys.  For the UN, this is significant because it undermines the perception that the UN is systematically anti-Israel.  To be sure, many countries around the world use UN forums to air their grievances and concerns about Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. But the clear trajectory is toward a UN system that is becoming more welcoming of Israel to its formal bodies and informal negotiating blocs.



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Russia UN

Humanitarian Access in Syria is all about Russia

The big drama at the United Nations this week is over a draft resolution calling for unfettered humanitarian access to besieged parts of Syria and threatening sanctions on those who obstruct the delivery of aid. Not unexpectedly, the resolution is supported by the western alliance on the Security Council, but opposed by Russia and China.  In fact, the two veto-wielding countries skipped a meeting yesterday in which the resolution was to be discussed. From ABC News. 

Russia is blocking Western efforts to push through a Security Council resolution that would raise the prospect of sanctions against Syria unless the government gives unrestricted access to deliver humanitarian aid.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin vowed to veto the proposed measure if necessary. Both he and China’s U.N. ambassador were no-shows at a meeting Monday to discuss the Western and Arab-backed resolution.

“This text would not have any positive impact on the situation,” Churkin said, explaining why Russia didn’t bother to attend the meeting. “If anything, it would create disruption of humanitarian efforts.”

The fact is, progress can only be made if Russia is on board. There is no point in putting forward a resolution that Russia will veto. We’ve seen this movie before. Russia and China have vetoed three previous resolutions on Syria. What was the consequence on the ground after those vetoes were cast? Nothing, which is to say: continued fighting, death, destruction and a deepening humanitarian crisis.

On the other hand, the one resolution on Syria which Russia supported called for the Assad regime to hand over its chemical weapons stockpile to the United Nations. To that resolution, the Syrian government complied. The weapons are now in the process of being isolated and destroyed.

The lesson is clear: if Russia supports a resolution at the Security Council, the Syrian government will be compelled to abide by it. If Russia opposes the resolution it will have no practical effect on the ground.  For diplomats at the UN, the challenge is to craft a meaningful resolution to which Russia can agree. Alternatively, international diplomats need to change Russia’s calculus. Either way, without Russian support a resolution calling for greater humanitarian access in Syria will fall on deaf ears in Damascus.

Credit: Russian Mission to the UN

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