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Darfur IDPs Arrested After Meeting Security Council

Two weeks ago, US ambassador Susan Rice and UK ambassador Mark Lyall Grant lead a Security Council trip to Sudan and some neighboring countries.  While in Darfur, leaders of internally displaced persons camps apparently discussed with the delegation the deteriorating humanitarian conditions of these camps and human rights abuses by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).

According to the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, after the Council delegation left, the NISS sought to hunt down and arrest 16 IDP leaders who met with the Council.  Those 16 were able to escape, but two others who spoke with Rice and Grant were arrested.

On 8 October, NISS agents entered Abu Shouk and Al Salaam IDP camps to arrest 16 IDPs, all of whom were able to evade arrest and interrogation by going into hiding. The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) has documented the identities of this group of 16. The group included two IDPs, Alhafize Edress Mohamed and Zahra Abdulrahman Musa, who had been detained for over a year until their release in September. In recent days, the NISS has managed to locate and arrest other IDPs. On 10 October, Mohamed Abdall Mohamed of Abu Shouk IDP camp was arrested for a speech he made at a demonstration in El Fashir calling for the Security Council to implement outstanding resolutions on Sudan. Abdalla Eshag Abdul Razig of Abashed IDP camp was arrested and interrogated by the NISS for his interaction with the US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice in the market of Abashed camp. As of today, both remain in detention.

A group of Sudan and anti-genocide activist organizations wrote a letter to the Council urging them to take up this issue, which is how it first came to my attention.

According to U.S. government official with whom I spoke the United States first learned about these arrests last week and has been actively pursuing the release of the detained, though out of the public view.  “We have been working this through various channels – direct communication with the Sudanese, through our Embassy, through the UN, and in conjunction with other Security Council Member States, including the UK,” the U.S. official said.

On Monday, the Security Council is holding a high profile meeting on Sudan.  According to this official, the arrested IDPs will be on the agenda.

Good for the United States. If these individuals were brave enough to speak candidly to the Security Council about their plight, it would only be appropriate for the Council to make a big deal about their arrest and harassment.   If not, I can hardly imagine vulnerable people will be willing to speak up the next time the Council visits a similarly hostile environment.

Hopefully, having the full weight of the Council on the case can help secure their release.

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UNESCO Pulls The Plug on “Dictator Prize”

The 58 members of UNESCO’s executive board agreed yesterday to put the UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences on hold indefinitely. The prize – worth $300,000 annually -  was to be awarded to recognize “scientific achievements that improve the quality of human life.” For an initial five-year period, it would have been funded by a $3 million grant from the Obiang Nguema Mbasogo Foundation for the Preservation of Life. The problem with the prize? It is named after and funded by Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea’s oppressive and kleptomaniac leader.

The irony – or, rather, the hypocrisy – of such a prize was not lost on rights activists. Leading organizations such as Human Rights Watch and the Soros Foundation’s Open Society Justice Initiative have been unequivocally condemning the UNESCO-Obiang prize, noting that the prize “constitutes an unwarranted international endorsement of Obiang, who has displayed open contempt for the values UNESCO promotes.” Obiang has been ruling resource-rich Equatorial Guinea with an iron fist and complete disregard for the welfare of his people: Transparency International ranks Equatorial Guinea in its top 12 most corrupt states, and in spite of an annual GDP per capita of over $30,000, it remains in the lower ranks of the Human Development Index.

UNESCO clearly made a mistake in approving and establishing this prize. The foundation supposed to provide monies for the prize is a government entity, and there is no doubt that these funds belong to the people of Equatorial Guinea. Following the announcement that the prize would be suspended, Ken Hurwitz, senior legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative, noted, “We are concerned that UNESCO did not do due diligence in accepting money from a foundation that no one knows anything about from a country where money laundering rules are minimal – it is a classic red flag for money laundering.”

Simon Taylor, director of Global Witness, boiled it down “A dictator who has impoverished his citizens and enriched himself and his family by plundering the country’s oil wealth has no place sponsoring a UN prize.” It is unfortunate and surprising that UNESCO would even consider such a prize: Obiang’s track record is well-known, and the UN agency should have never established the prize in the first place.

Obama, Obiang and their respective spouses, at a state dinner at the Met in NYC in 2009

Further reading: Human Rights Watch Resource Page: Canceling the UNESCO-Obiang prize

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Where Does All the Southern Sudanese Oil Money Go?

BENTIU, Southern Sudan—“The people of Unity state are the victims of its politics,” said a Southern Sudanese man I met on a recent reporting trip to Unity state. Some in Southern Sudan joke that this oil-rich state, which borders northern Sudan, was given its name after the signing of the 2005 peace deal that ended decades of war because Khartoum hoped that unity would be the outcome of the January 2011 southern self-determination vote. Khartoum stands to lose a great deal from southern secession; to be specific, if the southern referendum ends in separation, as is widely predicted, the northern government could lose the lion’s share of its GDP, which comes from revenues from the oil fields located in Southern Sudan. So retaining access to the resources in Unity state is indeed a priority for Khartoum.

But the semi-autonomous government in the southern capital Juba has equally important reasons for needing to continue profiting from its oil resources. Aside from the fact that oil constitutes more than 98% of the south’s budget, the south’s ruling party is a precarious position and, like Khartoum, needs funds to sustain its political and military patronage networks.

“Every politician has been made happy by the Unity state government’s resources,” continued this man, referring to the infamous “two percent” allocated to this government according to the terms of the 2005 peace deal. Two percent of Sudan’s oil revenues go directly into the coffers of this state government, a sum that amounts to millions of U.S. dollars per month. Yet the sprawling town of Bentiu feels more like a collection of small mud hut villages than the capital of a state with a hefty budget. Streetlamps line the one paved road, which runs for not more than a few kilometers and terminates near the governor’s residence, but I never saw them illuminated at night. The few small restaurants open at night stay a lit by noisy generators.

So where did the money go? Bentiu is a tense place—the site of violence during Sudan’s contested elections back in April—and it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that it’s not wise to traipse through the market asking nosy questions. But the rumors I did hear indicated quite clearly that the local population understands well that their governor is the patron of a network of political and military officials past and present who could and often do pose threats to security in this strategic area. The word on the street is that the southern government in Juba relies on Governor Taban Deng to “meet demands” from the central government. In other words, the strongman governor needs to stay in power to protect the interests of the south’s ruling party and to make sure that potential challengers—who may be receiving backing from Khartoum—are not allowed to destabilize an already fragile situation before the southern independence vote.

Spending time here sheds more light on the southern ruling party’s recent and ongoing efforts to promote internal southern unity in an attempt to increase the likelihood of a “peaceful and credible” referendum in January. The logic is sound; prevent potential spoilers in the south from gaining the chance to receive financial or military backing from Khartoum, which could be used to pursue self-interested, personal agendas, instead of
promoting the broader goal of achieving an independent Southern Sudan.

The open question, however, is whether this strategy will be sustainable after the referendum, when the spoils of an independent state may lead certain actors to pursue even more cunning and cutthroat tactics.

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UN marks 10th anniversary of 1325, SG briefs Security Council on Somalia, Myanmar’s human rights under scrutiny and more from UN Dispatch

SG on Resolution 1325: This morning, the SG made remarks at an event entitled “Women Count for Peace” to mark the 10th anniversary of Res 1325.  He praised the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and 1325, but said, “we must admit that we have failed to build sufficiently on these conceptual foundations” as women still face sexual violence during and after conflict.  However, with the appointment of nine female SRSGs/DSRSGs and the launch of UN Women, the UN is developing tools to improve 1325’s implementation.  Earlier this year, a set of indicators to measure progress on 1325 was presented to the Security Council.

SG on Somalia: This morning, the SG also addressed a Security Council meeting on Somalia, characterizing the situation as “fragile” but with “glimmers of hope”.  He urged the Somali Parliament to endorse the new Prime Minister to allow a new government to come into place.  Somalia currently faces 2 million people in need of emergency aid, including the 1.4 million displaced since 2007, and foreign extremist elements infiltrating the country.  He said the UN can help support the Djibouti peace process through: 1) supporting the reconciliation efforts of the TFG (through SRSG Mahiga and the UN Political Office in Somalia/UNPOS); 2) supporting TFG in completing tasks set out in the Transitional Federal Charter (such as talks on the Constitution); 3) advancing agreements between the TFG and regional authorities; and 4) developing Somali institutions.  The UN will continue its “light footprint” approach.  The SG also called on the Security Council to enhance the capacity of AMISOM to deliver.

New Settlements Built in the Palestinian Territory: Today, Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said that the reports of new Israeli settlements are alarming, as it is illegal under international law and goes against the repeated appeals of the international community to create conditions conducive to negotiations.

Financial Situation of the UN: details on the financial situation of the UN as of October 5, 2010 can be found in document A/65/519, which USG Management Angela Kane presented to the Fifth Committee early last week.  The report details the budgetary status of both the regular and peacekeeping budgets, as well as those of the tribunals and CMP.

Myanmar in the Third Committee: yesterday, the HRC-mandated Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, reported on the situation of human rights since March 2010, focusing primarily on the upcoming elections November 7 (the first in 20 years) and concluding, the “conditions for genuine elections are limited”.  In his recommendations to the government, he calls for the respect of freedom of expression and of assembly, the release of all prisoners of conscience and assurance of justice and accountability.  In regards to the latter, he asserts that if the government fails to assume this responsibility, it falls to the international community, which has the option of establishing a commission of inquiry (the GA, HRC, Security Council or SG could mandate this).  The U.S. has expressed its support for the establishment of such a commission, stating “the U.S. believes a properly structured international commission of inquiry that would examine allegations of serious violations of international law would be warranted and appropriate”.

UNESCO: upon the completion of the 58-member UNESCO Executive Board session yesterday in Paris, the decision was made to suspend the UNESCO-Obiang Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, which had faced tremendous opposition from Western States due to former Equatorial Guinea President Obiang’s human rights record.  The agreement was reached to suspend its implementation until an agreement could be reached.  The Board meets twice a year.

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Cholera Outbreak in Haiti–This is Bad

Since this morning, media outlets have reported on a mystery illness that has killed over 50 people in Haiti.  Over the past hour, various reports confirm that Haiti is experiencing an outbreak of Cholera, an extremely virulent disease that is transmitted via contaminated water. Some of these victims have died within hours of becoming infected.

A twitter user who identifies himself as a staff surgeon at a Haitian hospital tweets:

It is confirmed that #outbreak is caused by vibrio cholerae but we do not know which type as of now…waiting for more from #who and #moh#cdc #haiti is lookinf forward to deploy a team that is going to be permanently there to help with investigation…

The outbreak seems to be centered in Artibonite, an area that was relatively unscathed by the earthquake but which experienced a massive influx of people displaced from Port au Prince. A situation report from USAID last month reported that “Of the nearly 143,000 people who moved to Artibonite Department from the Port-au-Prince area following the earthquake, more than 121,000—or approximately 85 percent—remain.”   Most of these displaced people live with host families and USAID warned that “IDPs and host families are also facing scarce livelihoods opportunities and experiencing difficulties accessing safe drinking water and hygiene items.” [Emphasis mine]

This is what happens when people experience “difficulties accessing safe drinking water.” It is not just dangerous in the abstract. It is deadly.   So far, at least 400 people have been hospitalized.  Presumably, this will get worse before it gets better.

I will post more updates soon.

UPDATE: MSF/Doctors Without Borders emails me:

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) teams in Haiti are aware of reports of diarrhea outbreaks in the Artibonite area of the country.  Medical assessment teams including doctors, nurses, and logistical staff — in coordination with the national health authorities — have been dispatched to the affected area and are providing technical and material support. MSF is acquiring additional medical materials in preparation for a possible intervention. MSF will reinforce these assessments teams as necessary in the coming days. At this stage, MSF cannot confirm either the cause or the exact type of outbreak that has been reported.



UPDATE II: Haitian radio host Carel Pedre tweets: “#Cholera #Haiti last update: 1498 people affected… 134 deaths in 2 days …”  But I am not sure where those numbers are coming from.

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Ed Helms’ Multi-Pronged Attack Against Malaria

After rendering the Rhino an endangered species, “Francis Callahan” lays out his “Multi-pronged attacked against Malaria.”

That’s via our friends at Nothing But Nets, check out these “malarious” videos that other comedians appear in for Malaria No More.

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