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MINUSTAH helps prepare for Hurricane Tomas, SG meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao and more from UN Direct

SG in China: Today, the SG met with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing, noting that China could play a larger role in peacekeeping and the search for political solutions in Somalia, Sudan and other African crises, in addition to discussing the MDGs, climate change and Korean Peninsula.  Yesterday, the SG spoke at the World Expo, expressing his hope that China will be an “urban pioneer”.  He is expected back in New York Thursday.

Third Committee: this morning the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Githu Muigai, presented his latest report to the Third Committee.  Speaking after his presentation in an Interactive Dialogue, John Sammis of the U.S. Mission welcomed Mr. Muigai’s views that blasphemy laws are counterproductive and countries should move away from the notion of defamation of religions, stating that the protection of freedom of expression is essential to human dignity, civil society and development.

Haiti: the UN, along with the Haitian Government and its international partners, are currently preparing for Hurricane Tomas through the development of contingency plans, mobilization of resources and identification of gaps and needs.  For its part, WFP has positioned food supplies in 32 of the most vulnerable locations, enough to feed 1.1 million people for 6 weeks.  A massive public information campaign is also underway, focusing on IDP camps, and warnings will be sent out via SMS and radio.

Treaty on Biodiversity: today the SG issued a statement welcoming the new protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted over the weekend in Nagoya, Japan, which provides an “innovative approach” to conserving and protecting the world’s diminishing living resources while supporting the achievement of the MDGs.

Sudan: The UN Integrated Referendum and Electoral Division reports that it is ready to support the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission through the provision of technical assistance including helping to train staff, developing complaint regulations and designing voter education materials.  The UN will also provide logistical support to facilitate the delivery of these materials throughout Sudan, as well as the eight countries where Southerners can vote.

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Climate Change and Colombia

Climate change in Colombia is causing severe water shortages. As often happens, the poorest and most vulnerable people are the most affected. Check out this video from the UN about how the indigenous Wayuu people are struggling to maintain their livelihoods amidst ecological and political challenges.

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Hurricane Tomas, Haiti’s Next Crisis?

A category 1 Hurricane pounded St. Lucia, Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines yesterday.   The storm has already caused major damage to infrastructure and housing in those countries.  According to the latest forecasts, Hurricane Tomas is expected to make landfall in Haiti on Friday.

Everyone is preparing for the worst.  The UN is estimating that 500,000 people in the west and south of the country will be affected. They are asking that donors send an additional 150,000 tarpaulins and 100,000 blankets in addition to those already in stock. Food aid is being pre-positioned to the likely affected areas and the United States Navy is even mobilizing the USS Iwo Jima to provide logistics assistance.

Cholera is also an ongoing concern. So far, the outbreak has claimed 337 lives out of  4,764 confirmed cases of cholera.  There are five cholera treatment centers operational in Port-au-Prince and three others in the Artibonite valley, which is the center of the epidemic.  The UN and NGO groups responsible for “Water Health and Sanitation” (WASH) released a Hurricane Tomas strategy that includes rushing to fill gaps in areas likely to be affected by the storm and are bolstering facilities in Port au Prince.

Unless weather patterns change, Hurricane Tomas will strike Haiti. And though the Hurricane is weak as far as these things go, it can still inflict serious damage to a country with as struggling an infrastructure as Haiti.  Here is hoping all this preparation is able to limit the hurt.

UPDATE:  A reader asks for images of Tomas’ damage in Barbados. Here is some raw footage from YouTube. As you can see, it’s clearly a powerful storm.

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What You Need to Know About Guinea’s Presidential Election (part 2)

Note: when I published my last post, the presidential election had been rescheduled for October 31. Since then, the date was pushed back to November 7. Part 1 is here.

Guinea’s post-independence history and politics have been closely
intertwined with the country’s military. Reviewing Guinea’s military
history can shed light on contemporary political dynamics. The army,
which constituted a pillar of power during decades of dictatorship, is
notorious for corruption, lack of discipline, internecine conflicts
and divisions along ethnic and generational lines. Rather than a
stabilizing force, the military in Guinea has contributed both to an
ongoing climate of impunity and to the silencing of political
opposition. To understand this deeply dysfunctional military, we have
to go as far back as 1958, when Guinea was the only colony to refuse
the post-independence deal proposed by the French. Instead of choosing to become part of a new French Community, Guinea chose complete autonomy from their colonial rulers. While in other places the transition from colony to member of the community meant that key political, economic and military sectors were still controlled by the French, Guinea was on its own following their decision to opt for total independence.

When the French left Guinea, they dismantled the leadership and
bureaucratic architecture they had put in place – often destroying
archives – and cut all ties with the country. Within a month of
Guinea’s declaration of independence, under the leadership of young
unionist Sékou Touré, a new army was formed. Composed of Guinean
soldiers who had served in the French army, members of the former
territorial gendarmerie, and youth recruited in high schools and
colleges, the army was used to entrench Touré’s rule for nearly three
decades. The French decision to take apart the military they had built
would hamper the effectiveness and reliability of the armed forces
from the beginning. According to human rights activist and former
Guinean military official Mamadou Aliou Barry, a lack of resources and
inadequately trained officers “handicapped the Guinean army from its
inception.”

Touré, feeling threatened by young, disgruntled soldiers in the ranks,
and convinced that a Fulani conspiracy was afoot in an effort to
destabilize his regime, purged the military of its “rogue” elements,
sending them to their deaths or Camp Boiro, the infamous gulag near
Conakry. Under Touré, a Malinke, discrimination against other
ethnicities – in particular against the other dominant group in
Guinea, the Fulani (also known as Peul) – was used to create deep
divisions within military and political ranks. Officers loyal to Touré
would often wind up in the better-paid and more prestigious special
forces, including the president’s personal guard. To this day
inequalities within the military fuel potentially destabilizing
resentment.

When General Lansana Conté – a Soussou – came to power in 1984, he
restored some order to the military. Even so, unfair recruitment
policies favoring some ethnic groups over others, and the further
stratification of the system along generational lines, characterized
the military during Conté’s rule. During the 80s and 90s and into the
new century, instability in neighboring countries led to the
radicalization of marginalized officers in the security sector, even
as Guinea started sending soldiers to UN peacekeeping missions in the
region. Years of autocratic rule, manipulative politics and weak
institutional control have led to a bloated, scattered and
undisciplined 30,000-man-strong security sector. Analysts agree that a
deep reformation of the security sector is critical to the process of
democratization.

As the end of Lansana Conté’s rule became imminent, the traditionally
timid unions and political opposition raised their voices. In early
2007, Guinean trade unions called a strike to protest against
corruption, bad governance, and deteriorating economic conditions. As
a Human Rights Watch report notes: “For the first time since Guinea’s
independence in 1958, tens of thousands of people – men and women, old
and young, including members of all of Guinea’s major ethnic groups –
took to the streets to demand better government.” The movement,
though, was violently suppressed by the army and police: the crackdown
resulted in at least 129 dead and more than 1,700 wounded, hundreds of
them by gunshot. Previously, in June 2006, demonstrations against the
rising prices of basic commodities were met with similar
state-sponsored suppression, during which security forces shot dead at
least 13 unarmed demonstrators.

The bloodless coup led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara in 2008 was not
a surprise; it was widely expected that army officers would take over
power at the end of Conté’s life. According to the International
Crisis Group, the junta led by Dadis further exacerbated the situation
by using the army against political opponents, fostering tension
between the junta and the rest of the armed forces and recruiting
ethnic militia.

Dadis’ ethnicity – Guerze, a minority group living primarily in
eastern Guinea, in the forest region bordering Liberia – also
contributed to increasing resentment, not only within the armed forces
but also among the general population. The Peul people felt that after
decades of Malinke and Soussou rule, the time had come for a leader to
represent their interests. These deepening tensions began to play out
in the open in mid-2009, when Guineans again took the streets,
demanding free and fair elections. On Sept. 28, 2009, a demonstration
in a stadium in Conakry was again met with shocking levels of
violence: 150 opposition supporters were massacred, and more than one
hundred women were victims of brutal sexual violence.

A Human Rights Watch report alleges that the violence was orchestrated
by senior junta officials, and it is widely thought that Dadis’
personal guard were among those fomenting unrest. None of these
incidents, in which grave human rights violations were perpetrated by
official representatives of the government, have made their way
through a court system. In spite of continued condemnations from the
international community and rights groups, the Guinean court system
has utterly failed to bring any accountability or justice.

These incidents are symptoms of the indiscipline, corruption and abuse
of power that have come to define the Guinean armed forces. In recent
months, under Konaté’s transitional rule, the armed forces have seen
some improvement; the general has been rewarding good behavior and has
been equally as stern with insubordinate officers. Nevertheless, the
tensions surrounding the second round of the presidential election
have been amplified by ongoing violent suppression by police and
military officers: beating, shooting and intimidating protesters,
ransacking homes and generally contributing to inflaming supporters of
the two remaining candidates: Celloun Diallo, backed almost
unanimously by the Peul; and Alpha Condé, a Malinke.

It is not surprising that Guinean military officers would attempt to
destabilize the transition to democracy, because the stakes are high:
a reform of the security sector is inevitable under civilian rule. The
army, set to relinquish formal power when a new president is elected,
will likely try to retain some form of control. In many ways, a
peaceful and successful transition to civilian rule will depend on the
willingness of the army to accept inevitable changes.

In the next installment of this series, we will look at the two
presidential candidates – Alpha Condé, the long time opposition leader
and unionist, and Celloun Dallein Diallo, who was prime minister under
Conté’s rule –and examine how the electoral process has unfolded in
recent months.

Further reading:

International Crisis Group

Human Rights Watch

Reuters – Fact Box: Key political risks

Correction: Thanks to Adam Mellion for pointing out an error in a previous version of this post. We had originally written that Dadis was Malinke – he is in fact Guerze, a minority ethnic group.

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SG addresses UN-ASEAN Summit, Pillay speaks out on upcoming elections in Myanmar and more from UN Direct

SG at UN-ASEAN Summit: Today, the SG spoke at the UN-ASEAN Summit in Hanoi, noting that ASEAN is one of the UN’s “leading partners”. He talked about the MDGs, human rights, peace and security issues, as well as humanitarian assistance. In regards to Myanmar, he said the two bodies agree on the need for a credible democratic transition and national reconciliation, including the holding of free, fair and inclusive elections, adding that the period after the election will be just as important as the election itself.  He also held a number of bilaterals with leaders from Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, among others. On Sunday, he will participate in the closing ceremony of the Shanghai Expo, followed by travel to Nanjing and eventually Beijing on Monday.

Pillay statement on Myanmar: Today High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued a statement saying “conditions for genuine elections that meet international standards have so far not been reached” in Myanmar.  She called on the Government to release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, noting that more than 2,000 people imprisoned have been convicted by laws that limit freedom of expression and freedom of association.

SG statement on Lebanon: last night the SG issued a statement expressing his deep concern at recent statements and events related to the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  He also condemned the incident which occurred on  Wednesday, where a team of investigators were attacked, and commends the Lebanese authorities for opening an inquiry into the incident.

PGA in Japan: Deiss arrived in Tokyo today, where he met with key leaders of the Japanese Parliament and discussed issues concerning disarmament and non-proliferation. He also spoke at UN University about global governance and biodiversity.

Cholera tests in Haiti: the results of two tests conducted at the Nepalese base in Haiti are expected later today.

Week ahead: on Monday, the UK will assume the rotating presidency of the Security  Council and the 9th session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group will begin in Geneva.  The United States will undergo its first review on Thursday, November 4.

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Mary Emma Allison and her children, Courtesy of UNICEF

Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF Turns 60

The first children who trick-or-treated for UNICEF are likely drawing Social Security by now.  And the woman who started it all, Mary Emma Allison, passed away yesterday at the age of 93.  Mrs Allison was a Philadelphia woman who’s husband was a well known Presbyterian minister.  In a touching eulogy, USA for UNICEF’s chairwoman Caryl M. Stern recalls how it all began:

In late 1949, Mrs. Allison took her three young children to buy winter coats at Wannamaker’s store in Philadelphia. They came upon a parade of children and followed it to its destination: a booth collecting donations to help UNICEF purchase powdered milk for children in postwar Japan. Ms. Gertrude Ely, a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt who had organized the event, discussed UNICEF’s work with Mrs. Allison. Afterwards, Mrs. Allison rushed home to share the good news with her husband: she had found the perfect beneficiary for their campaign.

In anticipation of Halloween, 1950, Mrs. Allison wrote a passionate appeal, published nationally in the Presbyterian youth curriculum, asking children to collect spare change for UNICEF. And so Trick-Treat-for UNICEF was born. Through the years, many famous faces have championed Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF — from Presidents and First Ladies to celebrities; rock stars to cartoon characters. The program is still driven by grassroots enthusiasm, with teachers, volunteers, and especially children behind its ongoing success. Of course modern technology now plays its role, and it’s unlikely Mrs. Allison could have anticipated the current iPhone application.

It is equally unlikely that Mrs. Allison could have anticipated this light hearted sent up of “Do They Know this is Christmas” by a star studded group of indy rockers known as the “North American Hallowe’en Prevention Initiative” (NAHPI).  The benefits of 2005 single went to UNICEF Canada:

Rest in Peace, Mrs. Allison.  UNICEF and the Allison family has asked people to share their memories of Trick-or-Treating for UNICEF on their blog, Field Notes.

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