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Episode 37: Anneke van Woudenberg

Anneke Van Woudenberg first came to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997 on a drunken dare. The rest is history.

In this episode, the famed human rights investigator discusses her life and career working for human rights in Africa. Woudenberg was born in Holland, raised in Canada, and schooled in the United Kingdom before she set foot in the country that would define her career. The name Anneke Van Woudenberg may not ring a bell to you –though it should!–but Congolese warlords know and fear her. This is a fantastic episode with one of my personal human rights heroes.

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Joko Widodo, a famous photo

A Remarkable Politician Takes Office

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Joko Widodo is sworn into office as president of Indonesia today. He was born in a slum, and he’s run a remarkable campaign as a “man of the people” and true outsider to Indonesia’s often corrupt political elite. He oozes charisma. But can he lead? “Mr Widodo, or Jokowi as he is known, has several significant tasks immediately in front of him, and will be judged by how well he handles them. Among the first is dealing with a fuel subsidy bill that is blowing out to more than $US20 billion, draining a hole in a budget when funds are needed for education and health programs, and overhauling the nation’s shoddy infrastructure. The cheap fuel provided by the government’s subsidy is mainly enjoyed by the well-off, according to the World Bank, but a rise in the fuel price hurts the poorest the most. As does any subsequent rise in inflation. This is the tricky scenario that Mr Widodo will face first.” (ABC-Australia

Some Good News on the Ebola Vaccine Front…”A senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health’s Vaccine Research Center, Dr. Sullivan has worked for years on a vaccine that has been proven to block Ebola in research monkeys. NIH is now racing to telescope what would have been a five- to 10-year testing plan into a few months. The vaccine is scheduled to undergo full human testing by early 2015 and could be in use potentially in time to help stem the disease in stricken West Africa.” (WSJ

And… Britain’s biggest drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline said on Saturday work to develop a vaccine to combat Ebola, which has killed thousands in West Africa, was moving at a rapid pace. (Reuters


Canada will start sending more than 1,000 doses of an experimental Ebola vaccine to Switzerland this week as part of the global fight against the deadly virus, a Geneva hospital said. (AFP

Oxfam is appealing to European Union foreign ministers to do more to fight Ebola; a disease Oxfam said could be the “definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation.” (VOA

France’s foreign minister said Sunday a call by unions representing Air France cabin staff to suspend flights to Ebola-hit Guinea would encourage riskier forms of travel that could spread the virus even faster. (AFP

Spain has agreed to allow the US to use two military bases in the southwest of the country to support its efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. (AP


The United Nations peacekeeping chief on Saturday urged the Malian government to show a strong signal of its commitment to peace as negotiations with rebels restarted. (Reuters

UNHCR reports that the number of South Sudanese refugees in Sudan has passed the 100,000 mark, while funding remains low. (OCHA

A wave of violence hours after Nigeria’s government announced a truce with Boko Haram raised doubt on Sunday about whether more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist militants will really be released, deflating the new hopes of their parents. (Reuters

Zambia’s main workers union is threatening to embark on an indefinite strike and hold a series of protests later this month if President Michael Sata’s government fails to lift an ongoing pay freeze for all public sector workers. (VOA

Attorneys for Mozambique’s main opposition RENAMO party are gathering evidence to launch a legal challenge of the credibility of the recently concluded presidential and parliamentary elections, citing “overwhelming” instances of voter irregularities. (VOA

The UN rights chief on Sunday condemned Kinshasa for expelling his top envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and accused the authorities of intimidating other members of his staff. (AFP

Between heeding a message from officials to remain calm and another to flee looming attacks by Ugandan rebels, the choice for many residents in the Democratic Republic of Congo town of Beni is clear – they are leaving. (AFP


The offensive by Islamic State militants against the northern Syrian city of Kobani has caused more than 400,000 residents to flee to Turkey. (VOA

Some 40,000 persons are confirmed displaced in Iraq’s Anbar Governorate, but the total figure could be much higher as insecurity continues unabated and people continue to flee. (OCHA

Award-winning Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh told AFP Sunday that she has been barred from practising for three years and will hold a protest against the decision this week. (AFP

Iraqi authorities have executed at least 60 people so far in 2014, a United Nations report said Sunday, expressing concern that “irreversible miscarriages of justice” were taking place in some death penalty cases. (AP


Violent clashes erupted in Hong Kong early on Sunday for a second night, deepening a sense of impasse between a government with limited options and a pro-democracy movement increasingly willing to confront police. (Reuters

At least 40 people remain missing, and presumed dead, after a deadly, unexpected blizzard struck a popular Himalayan trekking route last week. (VOA

The most important meeting of the year for the 205 members of China’s ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee, beginning Monday, will focus on how to rule the country in accordance with law. (AP

The Americas

Twenty-two people have died in Nicaragua during several days of heavy rains, nine of them in the capital Managua when a wall collapsed. (BBC

Global anti-corruption campaigners at Transparency International elected Peruvian lawyer José Ugaz as its new head on Sunday marking a shift from quiet diplomacy in combating fraud and bribery toward more grassroots activism. (TRF


How Ebola Could Save Thousands of U.S. Lives (allAfrica

Ebola: Africa’s image takes a hit (AP

Liberians Wonder If Duncan’s Death Was A Result Of Racism (Goats and Soda

This is the World Health Organization that Member States Created (UN Dispatch

Is fighting rebel groups the only way to defeat them? (Rachel Strohm

Zero poverty? The Sustainable Development Goals aren’t quite there yet  (ODI

Ebola: Where we are; where we should be (Africa is a Country

Let them drown (Roving Bandit

Which countries are driving global growth? (The Interpreter

State violence and domestic abuse (Journeys towards Justice

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WHO Head-Quater in Geneva, Switzerland.Copyright : WHO/Pierre Virot

This is the World Health Organization that Member States Created

The Associated Press got its hands on internal WHO documents that show a degree of self-criticism by top level WHO staffers about their organization’s handling of the ebola crisis. Much of the criticism focuses on the WHO’s regional office for West Africa.

This, I think, is a teachable moment about how the World Health Organization is structured–and what reforms might help streamline a response in the future. Here’s the nub of the problem:

The U.N. health agency acknowledged that, at times, even its own bureaucracy was a problem. It noted that the heads of WHO country offices in Africa are “politically motivated appointments” made by the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr. Luis Sambo, who does not answer to the agency’s chief in Geneva, Dr. Margaret Chan

Dr. Peter Piot, the co-discoverer of the Ebola virus, agreed in an interview Friday that WHO acted far too slowly, largely because of its Africa office.

“It’s the regional office in Africa that’s the front line,” he said at his office in London. “And they didn’t do anything. That office is really not competent.”

It may come as a surprise to many, but the World Health Organization is not a centrally directed bureaucracy. Rather, it’s more of a confederation of regional offices that act — hopefully– in coordination with WHO headquarters in Geneva. There six of these regional offices (Washington, D.C. residents may know the American regional office, The Pan-American Health Organization located in Foggy Bottom, for its curious beehive architecture). These regional offices have a great deal of autonomy. Their directors are elected by the member states of their region and they do not report directly to headquarters in Geneva, but to their own regional member states.

In theory this regional ownership should be a good thing. The WHO regional office would best serve its region if it’s staffed with people from that region who understand local language, customs, and are motivated to respond to local health priorities. But in practice, electing a regional director by ministers of health from that region can add an unfortunate level of politics into the process. It also means that the regional director cannot be hired, fired, or replaced by headquarters. Only member states of the region can do that, which again makes this process much more political than it would otherwise be.

If member states believe that the ebola crises demonstrates that the bureaucracy of the World Health Organization needs to be adjusted to give more autonomy and management control to the Director General in Geneva, they can change the WHO’s constitution and bylaws. (The World Health Assembly, the WHO’s ultimate governing body, meets each May). But for now, this is the WHO that member states created. If member states want the WHO to be more nimble, they need to give WHO staffers the political backing (and funding) they require to do their jobs.


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A UN Unmanned/Unarmed Aerial Vehicles (UAV) is taxiing in at Goma airport following a successful flight during an official ceremony with USG for UN Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous, 3 December 2013. © MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti

How the UN is Learning to Love Drones

It’s one of modern technology’s biggest public relations problems: the ever-increasing popularity and proliferation of drones. Drones, both those oriented towards the consumer market and those pitched towards the military and industry, hit the headlines every week – with recent reports ranging from a small consumer-level drone sparking a football match brawl between Serbian and Albanian fans, to revelations today that the UK will deploy advanced, expensive armed drones to battle ISIS in Iraq.

Most people, well-acquainted with the march of modern warfare in South Asia and the Middle East, associate these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with destruction and violence — spooky fighters criss-crossing the sky and “eliminating” targets with little regard for human life and sensibilities.

But as peaceful organizations around the world are beginning to realize, camera and sensor-equipped drones also have immense potential for non-violent uses, and the United Nations, for its part, is already exploring the possibilities.

How has the UN already used UAVs, and how will they likely work with this new technology in the future? Here’s a few recent examples, and some thoughts on how drones will likely be incorporated into United Nation’s operations in the not-so-distant future.

While drones (provided by other governments) have been used in some joint surveillance and mapping missions since 2006, the true turning point for the UN’s usage of drones came in February 2012, when UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme conducted a mapping survey of rebuilding efforts in Haiti with camera-equipped UAVs. Experts analyzed the data, looking for important points such as debris hazards, water drainage capabilities, the construction of new housing, and other relevant information.

UNOSAT deemed the effort “successful” in a press release, with mission director and UAV pilot Josh Lyons deeming the effort “incredibly satisfying,” resulting in “aerial imagery of an unprecedented spatial resolution right there during the deployment.”

The UN’S next foray into official UAV usage came in December of 2013, when the UN Security Council approved the launch of surveillance drones over the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, hoping to monitor human activity in the deeply forested and hard-to-access region with the oversight of the UN peacekeeping.

Capable of flying for 12 hours and with a range of over 150 miles, the camera-equipped drones have a range of interesting uses. Equipped with night-vision enabled cameras that are also able to detect heat signatures, able to ascertain where refugees are going and for which reasons, to deal with changing environmental obstacles, and to provide previously unknown levels of situational awareness. That’s not all: it’s been shown that they act as a visual deterrent to violent armed groups, making them think twice about entering the area.

The future of drone usage in United Nations operations is guaranteed to be interesting. The UN’s two existing, approved UAV use cases have gone well, and it’s likely that more and more of these missions will be introduced in the future.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for such a novel technology, obstacles remain in the path of a UN-led drone revolution. Some countries – including the United States – have restrictive (and often rather nebulously enforced and written) regulations on the usage of UAVs and where they can go.

In many more parts of the world, regulations simply have yet to be considered at all, meaning that humanitarian UAV users may find themselves drafting the rules as they go along – a process that could foreseeably be hastened in the event of a disaster or conflict where UAVs will prove particularly useful.

Training and expertise for UN and UN affiliated drone users will also have to keep pace with the ever-changing innovation in the industry. Both the technology and the regulations surrounding it are changing at a remarkable pace, and successful humanitarian UAV deployments will depend on flexibility and quick thinking.

Perhaps the most important barrier to the widespread adoption of drones is popular perceptions: these flying machines still make many people more than a little nervous, for both safety and personal privacy reasons. Private citizens aren’t alone: many world governments have voiced concerns over who will have access to and be able to control the data that these drones will routinely gather.

Outreach programs and other efforts to educate and comfort both the public and the decision makers granting (or removing permission) to fly will need to be created and carried out.

And permission will be key. As US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland emphasized in her statement supporting the UN’s recent peacekeeping missions in the Congo: “This would only happen with the consent of the country or the countries where the mission would operate, and their use would not impact in any way on sovereignty.

If the UN and other peaceful organizations want to use drones as a regular part of their aid activities, they will have to take pains to make the public realize that these flying machines will not harm them — nor will they invade their privacy as their missions are carried out. International leaders will also have to be reassured that their sovereignty won’t be tacitly violated by these increasingly popular eyes in the sky

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credit: UN Foundation

How Much Money is in the UN’s Ebola Trust Fund?

$100,000. That’s it. There are millions in pledges. But so far, only $100,000 has actually been committed to a fund intended enable UN agencies to rapidly respond to an evolving crisis. “As of Thursday, $365 million had been committed by at least 28 countries, the African Union, the European Union, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and several foundations and corporations, according to U.N. records. But nearly all that money was donated directly to U.N. agencies and nonprofits working on the ground in the three worst affected countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, with just $100,000 paid into the fund by Colombia, the records show…Dr. David Nabarro, who is heading the U.N. response to the Ebola crisis, told Reuters the trust fund was intended to offer “flexibility in responding to a crisis which every day brings new challenges; it allows the areas of greatest need to be identified and funds to be directed accordingly.” (Reuters

Ebola misinformation abounds… A majority of Americans believe the Ebola virus can be spread by sneezing or coughing and more than a third fear that they or someone in their immediate family may contract the deadly disease in the next year, according to a Harvard University poll. (Reuters

Turkey Snubbed...In a surprising twist and what counts for drama at the United Nations, Turkey lost its bid for a Security Council seat on Thursday. Turkey was competing with Spain and New Zealand for two of the non-permanent seats on the Security Council and it lost to spain after three rounds of voting. (UN Dispatch


The global famine warning system is predicting a major food crisis if the Ebola outbreak continues to grow exponentially over the coming months, and the United Nations still hasn’t reached over 750,000 people in need of food in West Africa as prices spiral and farms are abandoned. (AP

A total of 4,493 people have died from the world’s worst Ebola outbreak on record, and the situation in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is deteriorating, the WHO said. (Reuters

The deadly Ebola virus has infected two people in what was the last untouched district in Sierra Leone, the government said Thursday, a setback in efforts to stop the spread of the disease in one of the hardest-hit countries. (AP


Three Ethiopian peacekeepers were killed Thursday in an attack in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region, the joint UN-African Union mission said, the latest deaths in increasingly dangerous peace operations in Africa. (AFP

A South Sudanese national who works for the United Nations was “kidnapped” Thursday in Malakal by men in uniform, the head of an association that represents locals who work with the United Nations said. (VOA

Niger has removed former President Mamadou Tandja’s legal immunity, his lawyer confirmed on Thursday, as it hunts for $780 million that has gone missing. (Reuters

At least 27 people were killed in overnight attacks on villages near the eastern Congolese town of Beni, a local official said on Thursday. (Reuters

International rights groups urged South Sudan President Salva Kiir not to sign the national security bill that was passed last week by parliament, saying it would give security forces excessive powers, and violates international and South Sudanese law. (VOA

State repression is on the rise in Uganda, according to the rights group Amnesty International, as it documents legislation that has been enacted during the past year and half.  Analysts say fundamental human rights are being violated. (VOA

Uganda’s HIV/AIDS control efforts have been undermined by a lack of consensus and clarity over which people constitute Key Populations to be targeted in various prevention, care and treatment efforts, say experts. (IRIN


A crackdown on dissent and restrictions on democratic freedoms is forcing the Carter center to close operations in Egypt. (AFP

Morocco’s government says a father has been detained as he tried to take his two small daughters to join the Islamic State group. (AP

Libya’s Red Crescent called on Thursday for a ceasefire in the eastern city of Benghazi to allow the evacuation of families trapped by street fighting between Islamist militants and pro-government forces supported by local youths. (Reuters

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. (VOA

Saudi Arabia is seeing “sporadic” cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, which has killed 324 people in the country, the health ministry said Thursday. (AFP

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday it had delivered its first medical supplies in a year to Palestinian refugees living in a camp in the Damascus suburb of Yarmouk in Syria. (Reuters

Ground fighting alone has killed more than 600 combatants since Islamic State group jihadists launched an offensive on the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Kobane a month ago, a monitoring group said Thursday. (AFP


Rescue teams in Nepal’s Himalayas continued searching for dozens of missing hikers Thursday, after the previous day’s heavy snow and avalanches killed at least 20 people. (VOA

Hundreds of Malaysian lawyers on October 16 marched towards the Malaysian parliament house demanding the government honor its two-year-old pledge to repeal the Sedition Act of 1948. (Reuters

A Myanmar court sentenced a media owner, publisher and three journalists to two years in prison Thursday in the latest ruling to raise concerns about press freedoms in the country emerging from military rule. (AP

The Americas

Despite public support for female parliamentary representation in Uruguay, some MPs have tried to undermine measures to tackle inequality. (Guardian

The Sao Paulo state water utility on Thursday assured customers that Brazil’s largest city won’t run out of water, even though a main reservoir is nearly dry. (AP

New laws and changing attitudes mean disabled persons in the Caribbean are making important gains. (AP


Some common sense on Ebola…from Fox News? (Humanosphere

The American Media Is in Full Panic Mode Over Ebola — And It’s Only Making Things Worse (Mic

Ebola hysteria is going viral. Don’t fall for these 5 myths (GlobalPost

Ebola, Economics and Equality in Africa (African Arguments

What Are Mozambique’s Prospects for Peace? (SAIIA

Do Journalists Use Double Standards When Reporting Vulnerable Subjects Far From ‘Home’? (African Arguments

Why Inequality Matters (Bill Gates

Ebola’s Other Contagious Threat: Hysteria (NY Times

Paul Farmer Diary: Ebola (London Review of Books

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ICSU paper on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) published by Nature

Getting to Know the “Sustainable Development Goals”

The Millennium Development Goals are expiring in 2015 and they will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals. This is a big year for international development–and humanity — as complex diplomacy is underway at the United Nations to finalize what’s called the “Post 2015 Development Agenda.”

Here with me to discuss the process of creating the Sustainable Development Goals, the substance of those goals and the key points of contention is Minh-Thu Pham of the United Nations Foundation. This is a super helpful discussion for anyone who cares about international development, global do gooder and diplomacy. Have a listen!


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