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Sen George Mitchell

Episode 36: George Mitchell

Most people know George Mitchell for overseeing successful peace talks in Northern Ireland and his celebrated tenure in the United States Senate. He’s led an incredible life. He grew up in Maine in relative poverty, and emerged as one of his generations greatest politicians and peacemakers. Mitchell discusses his life story, including how a military posting in post-war Berlin led to law school in Washington, DC, and how his mentor Edmund Muskie helped launch his political career. Sen Mitchell and I kick off with a conversation about his work as President Obama’s special envoy for Middle East peace. This was a great episode.

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Malala at the UN

Malala Gave the Greatest Speech EVER in the United Nations 69 Year History

Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi are the winners of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize!

It’s a well deserved recognition for two child rights activists–one of whom is still a child. The fact that the Nobel committee decided to reach across a highly militarized border to show the common humanity of two exemplar citizens was an equally inspired choice.

Malala Yousafzai is one of the single most brave and articulate human beings in the planet. On June 12, 2013–her 16th birthday–she made her first public appearance since being shot one year earlier. The occasion was the launch of a new UN Global Eduction initiative. The speech she delivered was arguably one of the most powerful speeches ever spoken on the grounds of the United Nations in its 69 year history. It’s 19 minutes long. I promise you will get chills–and inspiration.  


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Defence of Mr Kenyatta at the beginnng of the Status Conference. Credit: ICC-CPI

A Huge Moment for the International Criminal Court

For the first time in the history of the world, a sitting head of state is attending his trial for crimes against humanity. The head of state is Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta. The venue is the International Criminal Court.

The stakes are high, but the case against him is troubled. I speak with Mark Kersten of the LSE and SOAS, and author of the blog Justice in Conflict about the case against Kenyatta. We discuss its significance the ICC, and why it’s exceedingly difficult to build a case against a serving head of state.


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UNDP's Logo

And the Most Transparent Aid Donor Is…UNDP

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The UN Development Program is atop a new list published by the International Aid Transparency Index. And in case you were wondering, China is on the bottom. Overall, donor countries are off pace to meet their promise to join the transparency standard by the end of 2015. “A lot of progress was made at the political level in the early days of aid transparency, including a promise to publish aid information to an internationally-agreed common standard by the end of 2015,” said Rachel Rank, Director of Publish What You Fund. (Humanopshere

Man who brought Ebola to USA Dies…Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, died on Wednesday morning at a Dallas hospital. This was the first death of an ebola patient in the developed world. “Duncan became ill after arriving in the Texas city from Liberia on Sept. 20 to visit family, heightening concerns the world’s worst Ebola outbreak on record could spread outside of the three worst-hit West African countries. About 48 people with whom Duncan had been in contact are being monitored.” (Reuters

Most of the world’s governments are taking measures to reduce the worst and most hazardous forms of child labor, according to a major report released by the U.S. Labour Department. (IPS


Britain will send 750 troops to West African state Sierra Leone to help build an Ebola treatment centre, the BBC reported on Wednesday following a meeting of the government’s emergency response committee chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron. (BBC

The deadly Ebola epidemic could deal a $32 billion-plus blow to the West African economy over the next year if officials cannot get it under control, the World Bank warned Wednesday. (AFP

Sierra Leone burial teams have gone back to work one day after organizing a strike over pay and abandoning the dead bodies of Ebola victims in the capital. (AP

Travelers arriving in the United States from Ebola-stricken Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea will face mandatory screening measures for the deadly virus as soon as this weekend, according to a media report on Wednesday. (CNN

The United Nations mission in Liberia says a second member of its staff has contracted Ebola. In a statement Wednesday, the mission said the international medical official is undergoing treatment, but did not specify their nationality. (VOA


An angry crowd killed a Muslim man in the capital of Central African Republic overnight, decapitating and burning his corpse, and in revenge Muslims killed a taxi driver, witnesses said on Wednesday. (Reuters

A court in Tanzania granted bail to an opposition member of parliament on Wednesday and eight others after charging them with illegal protests for demonstrating last week against a draft constitution. (Reuters

The new head of the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, Ellen Margrethe Loej, called for “the guns to fall silent” in South Sudan to allow the United Nations and aid agencies to stop focussing on protecting people from violence and start helping the young country to grow. (VOA

Somalia’s first-ever cash withdrawal machine has been installed in the capital, Mogadishu. (VOA


The governments of Europe and the United States have criticized Israel for announcing it will build 2,600 new housing units in a sensitive part of East Jerusalem. (VOA

The U.N. refugee agency on Wednesday said it was urging the European Union to overhaul its policy toward Syrian refugees, warning the number of fatal accidents at sea could rise further as winter approaches. (AP


Pakistan is losing ground in the battle against polio, with the country suffering its worst outbreaks in more than a decade, but suspicions about the vaccine itself are also proving an obstacle. (VOA

Five Afghan men were hanged on Wednesday for the gang rape of four women despite the United Nations and human rights groups criticising the trial and urging new president Ashraf Ghani to stay the executions. (AFP

Authorities sealed off villages in Myanmar’s only Muslim-majority region and in some cases beat and arrested people who refused to register with immigration officials, residents and activists say, in what may be the most aggressive effort yet to force Rohingya to indicate they are illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. (AP

Indian PM Modi, in his biggest attempt at fiscal change since he swept to power in May, has been less bold than some would wish, steering clear of reforming the most sensitive and costly benefits – food and fertilisers. (Reuters

Rescuers and fishermen found eight survivors and 17 bodies Wednesday after two days of searching for a motorboat lost since its captain reported an engine failure off Indonesia’s main island of Java. (AP

Cambodia enacted a regulation Wednesday to protect nightclub hostesses and other adult entertainment workers under the same laws that protect other workers’ rights, a move that was hailed by the U.N.’s labor body. (AP

Protracted fighting in northern Myanmar is displacing entire villages, including those of ethnic Palaung, who say they need more help to build up local civil society groups to allow aid to flow more effectively to their people. (IRIN

The Americas

Colombia must invest at least $44.4 billion to implement a peace deal with Marxist rebels to end a 50-year conflict, says a senator who backs the current peace talks, adding the amount is much less than the cost of waging war. (Reuters

As sea levels rise, tidal flooding along the U.S. coast is likely to become so common that parts of many communities, including the nation’s capital, could become unusable within three decades, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists. (Reuters


Meet the Company That’s Bringing the LED Revolution to the Developing World (UN Dispatch

When it comes to aid, learn from those who know what poverty is really like (Guardian Supermarket for torture devices? (GlobalPost

A big deal in the ICC: 6 questions with GlobalPost’s Tristan McConnell

Rethinking US Foreign Assistance: MCC Tops US Government in Aid Transparency Again (CGD

Alternatives to refugee camps: Can policy become practice? (IRIN

Marine Protection as Stand-Alone Goal for Post-2015 Agenda? (IPS

How do donors imagine more effective humanitarian aid? (OECD

Africa On the Rise – a Myth or Reality? (New Times

Journalists Must Avoid Mass Hysteria Over Ebola (allAfrica

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WakaWaka in action 4

Meet the Company That’s Bringing the LED Revolution to the Developing World

Yesterday three physicists won the Nobel Prize in Physics for creating blue-light LEDs, which makes the LED white lights we find everywhere possible. We experience the LED revolution through computer and smartphone screens, household lighting and greenhouse grow bulbs. But for over a billion people in the world, access to light is something that they cannot rely on. One company, WakaWaka, is working to bring the LED revolution to people who live off grid and on less than $2 a day.

In many ways, WakaWaka came about by accident. Founders Maurits Groen and Camille van Gestel won a competition by the South African government to “green” the 2010 World Cup through carbon tax exchanges and LED lights. However, they soon discovered that many South Africans who lived in the townships of the host cities could not participate because they lived off grid. Instead, most people living in the townships relied on kerosene lamps to light their households after dark, which produce 14 times more black carbon than burning wood.

Looking at this reality, Groen and van Gestel decided to create a product that could efficiently light up off grid households without adding to the black carbon and carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. Two years later, the first WakaWaka light was created using new solar technology to power high efficiency LED lights. Since then the company has come out with WakaWaka Power, adding phone charging capabilities to the original light unit, and recently announced a crowdfunding campaign for the WakaWaka base that can charge multiple smartphones and provide power for up to a week.

Although the initial motivation behind the LED units was combatting climate change, there are numerous benefits of replacing kerosene lamps besides reducing carbon emissions. Indeed, van Gestel told UN Dispatch that the socio-economic benefits of WakaWaka lights far outstrip the outcomes for climate mediation. From improving school grades to increasing economic productivity, access to light has the ability to change lives for the better. Access to light touches upon six of the eight Millennium Development Goals and will likely contribute to the post-2015 framework as well. Electricity and power is something that most of us take for granted but the world still has a long way to go before we can all count on.

Numerous other products and initiatives have come out over the years that aim to do the same thing. What makes WakaWaka different from most of these projects is the quality of the product and the willingness to innovate to meet the needs of those living in poverty. The high quality and user-friendly characteristics of the units means that WakaWaka has unexpectedly become popular in the West. This allows WakaWaka to use Western sales to subsidize the costs of units sold in the developing world, making it more affordable for the target market. WakaWaka is also preparing for a pilot project in Rwanda that will combine mobile banking to create a pay-as-you-go model to help users spread out payments on their unit and make it more accessible for the poorest citizens.

WakaWaka is just one product but it demonstrates how simple devices have the potential to change the lives of millions. In the fight against both climate change and extreme poverty, there is no “silver bullet”; problems that took generations of choice to arise will take a multitude of approaches to fix. Portable and adaptable solutions like WakaWaka may be a small step but shows how innovation – even with existing technologies – can take us a step in the right direction.

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Hong Kong Protests

A Grounds-Eye View of the Hong Kong Protests

It is the eleventh day of Occupying Action in Hong Kong. We have faced violence, threats from the government, and plots between the police and the gangs. The crowds are smaller this week than last, but still, every day, especially in the evening, there are thousands of protesters at the three occupied areas. We are more determined than ever to continue to stand firm for our citizens’ rights to experience a true democracy and universal suffrage in Hong Kong, our home and a place in China where we still have freedom of speech and expression.

The protests began when the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism demonstrated outside of the government headquarters on September 22 in response to the government’s proposed plan to take away our right to nominate the candidates for Chief Executive Election in 2017, effectively silencing our voices and opinions.

From there, the movement grew and by September 28, the police initiated their first major crackdown against protestors.The armed police used tear gas and pepper spray and threatened the protesters with even more violent action to clear the crowd. I was there that day as my organization HER Fund, which works with grassroots women’s groups, was one of the organizations supporting the students’ demonstration.

When the police came, we had no time to fear, our determination to resist and to struggle for our future moved us to occupy the space that we know belongs to us and to take a stand for the freedom that we want and the rights that we deserve. Peacefully, we sat down as conscientious citizens, as did people in Mongkok and Causeway By, other parts of the city. The protesters sustained the occupation by blocking the road, stopping the buses, and setting up road blocks with wooden racks, garbage bins, and anything they could get on the street.

For days, I stayed in the occupied area of the Mongkok district. Many people stopped by to support the efforts. They donated water, food, yellow ribbons, free mobile charging services and more. Some helped us make yellow ribbon to distribute to the people visiting the area. We cheered for each other and shared our views in the open street forum. It was so peaceful and empowering to us, the togetherness and solidarity as we struggled for a better Hong Kong with true democracy.

Then came more violence. On October 3, we were threatened with brutality by the oppositions. They swore at us, yelled at us to clear the stage of the occupied area, tore down the cover, sexually assaulted some of the women protesters, and beat the protesters who resisted and tried to protect the occupying space.

Women’s groups spoke out against these act of violence but there has been no response from the government; even the Equal Opportunities Commission and Women’s Commission has not said a word. Instead, every day, the authorities say threatening and distorted statements about our occupying action. We have to struggle on our own. Just today, the Hong Kong Women’s Coalition, one of HER Funds’ past grantees, began setting up a hotline for women protesters who need help if they experience sexual harassment or assault.

Women’s groups have played an essential role in the occupation on the streets. HER Fund grantee partners have mobilized more women to join in the movement and have helped them have a voice during this important time. For example, some created street forums to tell everyone in Hong Kong and the world that we, as women, and as citizens in Hong Kong, want to defend our human rights and social justice. There have been story-sharing sessions, where women have shared stories about using umbrellas to protect themselves from the pepper spray and expressed their fear and anger and their wishes for true democracy in Hong Kong.

One young woman said, “I can’t believe this could happen in Hong Kong, we are very peaceful protesters and we have not been violent at all. When the tear gas hit us, we are so frightened yet our conscience told us that we should not withdraw.”

I am with her. We love Hong Kong and we know our resistance is the only way to fight for our dreams: A better place with freedom and human rights protection! We also know the road toward sustained democracy is long with real harsh challenges ahead, but we will never give up. Our struggle will prevail. We will persist in our occupying action until the government withdraws the political reform proposal.

Fortunately, the government is now willing to open dialogue with the students’ representatives and a meeting will be held on October 10. We will see what happens. But come what may, we, the people in Hong Kong, will continue to persist our demands for true democracy.


Linda To is the Executive Director of HER Fund and a participant in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement.

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