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65 Years Later – Don’t Look for the UN in New York, Look in Kumasi

UN Foundation chief Senator Tim Wirth pens an op-ed on the lasting value and utility of the United Nations:

After traveling in Africa over the past few days, it’ s clear that the need and impact of the United Nations are greater than ever. As I write from Kumasi, a small town in Ghana in West Africa, I am still thinking about the children I met in a local hospital earlier this week. Three baby girls in particular haven’t left my mind. There were three newborns named Jamilla, Selina, and Issaha who were sharing one crib because there weren’t enough beds. All three were battling infections due to complicated births.

Luckily, Jamilla, Selina, and Issaha have a good chance at surviving thanks to the work of the UN and its partners. It’s not easy work. But it’s vital, and the UN is the one international organization with the reach and the mandate to partner with countries to get it done. The UN is working with the government of Ghana to provide immunizations and treatment to keep children safe. While on my trip, I talked with community health workers who are being trained to distribute life-saving measles vaccines to more than four million children across the country. The logistics of their efforts to reach children in remote villages is daunting, but each is committed to ensuring every child has the opportunity to lead a healthy life.

When I return to the U.S. in a few days, I’m confident I won’ t see stories like Jamilla, Selina, and Issaha’s in the news. Instead, I anticipate I will turn on the TV and be inundated with news about the upcoming elections and the fierce fights between the politicians running for office. When people talk about the UN, they are more likely to talk about the political realities of what happens when hundreds of countries are forced to make things work at headquarters in New York. Politics get the headlines, but the headlines are missing a major global story as the UN turns 65 today.

Read the rest over at HuffPo

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Why Cholera in Haiti, Why Now?

Haiti is currently facing its first cholera outbreak in a hundred years. It’s not a surprise, exactly. It was something public health experts have been afraid of since the earthquake. But after nine months, we were starting to hope maybe it wouldn’t happen.

According to the BBC, 196 people have now died, and 2,634 have been hospitalized as the result of the cholera outbreak. It is most likely the result of drinking water from the Artibonite River. A few of the sufferers report drinking only purified water, but they may have gotten the disease from accidentally swallowing bathing water or from food prepared by an infected person.

Cholera is exactly the kind of diseases you worry about after a natural disaster. It comes from drinking water tainted with fecal matter, which is what happens when infrastructure is destroyed and people don’t have access to clean water or functioning toilets. Cholera is especially hard on children, who dehydrate and very quickly from the diarrhea caused by the disease.

The Haiti Operational Biosurveillance blog is tracking the cholera outbreak. They have confirmed that the disease has spread from the Arbonite valley, and are now researching accounts of cholera within Port au Prince. If it is indeed spreading in Port au Prince, the death and hospitalization rates will shoot up in the densely packed urban environment.

Individuals tweeting from Haiti are deeply anxious about the spread of the disease, and about quality of care. Carel Padre reports that patients have been sleeping on the floor of overcrowded hospitals. A doctor based on Port au Prince points out that investing in cholera prevention is also a long term investment, “Even if PAP makes lots of preparations for cholera that never comes, they would be good investments. Clean Water, Sanitation, ORS for kids.”

Melinda Miles, Director of Let Haiti Live, expressed her frustration to UN Dispatch today, “Considering that an outbreak of this nature was predicted nine months ago, it is absolutely stunning that so little was in place to prepare for it.”

She also fears for the future impact of the outbreak “The potential impact of cholera in the city of Port-au-Prince is a terrifying vision – in addition to the more than one million people living in official camps, many others are living in tents on side streets and in their yards, and very few have access to potable water or sanitary facilities. It is certain that many unnecessary deaths will be the result of poor planning and slow response.”

We’ll know very soon if this is an outbreak or an epidemic. Either way, it’s the result of slow earthquake response, and children are going to suffer the most.

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UN Attacked in Afghanistan

Suicide bombers struck a UN compound in Western Afghanistan. No UN officials were killed.  From Reuters:

HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Four Taliban suicide bombers dressed as women and police attacked the main United Nations compound in western Afghanistan on Saturday, officials said, but there were no casualties among U.N. staff.

The attack was launched on the compound in Herat, a commercial hub and the largest city in the country’s west where Taliban and other Islamist insurgents are usually less active.

It was the highest profile attack on the United Nations since last year and will raise questions about security in a city that NATO officials believe could be among the first to have security responsibility handed from foreign troops to Afghan forces.

“The incident is over and there are no U.N. casualties,” said Kieran Dwyer, chief U.N. spokesman in Kabul.

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HRC Review begins Monday in Geneva, Security Council holds debate on support to AU pecekeeping and more from UN Dispatch

Human Rights Council Review: On Monday, the 2011 Review of the Human Rights Council will begin in Geneva.  Upon the HRC’s creation in 2006, the GA mandated a five year review, which will take place both at both the HRC (on working methods and functions of the HRC) and the GA (on the status of the HRC).  At the end of September 2010, the President of the GA and President of the HRC agreed on a “joint understanding” whereby the formal process in Geneva will commence first and the discussions in New York will be guided by the outcome in Geneva.  From October 25-29, the “open ended working group” (OEWG), mandated to review the work and functioning of the HRC, will hold the first of two sessions in Geneva.  It will hold its second session in January 2011 and is expected to report to the HRC on its progress in June 2011.  The two facilitators of the New York-based process, the Ambassadors of Liechtenstein and Morocco, are expected to present to the IEWG on Monday.

Security Council on support for AU peacekeeping: today, the SG briefed the Security Council on the strategic partnership between the AU and UN, namely in what ways the AU’s peacekeeping capacity can be enhanced based on what has already been achieved. The SG praised the AU for its successful ability to prevent, mediate, and preserve peace in Africa, having demonstrated major peacekeeping efforts in Somalia, for example. He also noted the challenges that the AU faces in undertaking peacekeeping operations developed at last year’s AU-UN Panel, which called for a comprehensive review on the capacity building program for the AU. Based on this review, the SG urges the international community to find ways to gather resources and continue to support the AU in their efforts.  In Amb. Brooke D. Anderson, U.S. Alternative Representative for Special Political Affairs remarks, she commended African nations for their significant deployment of more than 7,000 Ugandan and Burundian troops in Somalia and the critical work being done together by UNAMID. She emphasized the US’s decision to fully back the UN-AU strategic partnership, the UN’s continued assistance to the AU in the development of the Continental Early Warning System, the establishment of the UN Office to the AU in Addis Ababa, and the peace process in Somalia.  She went on further to explain that the “partnership between the UN and the AU has allowed both organizations to accomplish more than they could have on their own.”

SG on G20: The SG is speaking to an informal plenary session at the GA this afternoon on the key priorities for the G20 Summit in Seoul, including preserving and sustaining economic recovery as well as climate change and renewable energy financing.

Relief Efforts in Haiti: Catherine Bragg, ASG for Humanitarian Affrairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, talked briefed the press today on her recent three-day trip to Haiti. In Port-au-Prince, she met with UN officials, NGOs, the government of Haiti, and earthquake survivors. Thanks to the work that has been conducted, Bragg said there hasn’t been a second wave of mortality. She stressed that the magnitude of what has been achieved shouldn’t be forgotten and that the international community has actually done what it set out to do. Medical teams are being mobilized, hygiene kits are being distributed, and shelters have been provided for the most part. Still, more needs to be done. Bragg mentioned that a $10 million project was recently approved to address the issue of gender-based violence.

SG’s Report on UNAMID: In his latest report on UNAMID, the SG explained that while clashes between communities in Darfur have decreased, fighting between communities has continued, resulting in fatalities. He noted that progress has been made by the Joint Chief Mediator, the Joint Mediation Team, and UNAMID towards agreement between the government and the Liberation and Justice Movement. The SG also urges for peaceful negotiations.

PGA briefs press: today the 65th PGA Joseph Deiss of Switzerland briefed the press on some of the key issues for the current session, including preparations for an upcoming high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS, the 2011 Review of the HRC, Security Council reform, disaster risk reduction and the UN’s place in global governance.

Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories: speaking to the press today, the HRC-mandated Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories, Professor Richard Falk, underlined the human toll that the occupation is exacting, stating only one-third of the trucks with humanitarian assistance such as food, medicine and fuel are allowed to enter Gaza (compared to numbers prior to the blockade).  However, this does represent an improvement in goods entering Gaza as compared to before the flotilla incident.

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Obama Receiving Daily Briefs on Sudan

At the Foreign Press Club in Washington, D.C this morning, three Obama administration officials who deal with Sudan briefed we press.  Senior Director for Multi-lateral affairs at the National Security Council Samantha Power, Sudan Special Envoy Scott Gration, and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnny Carson each discussed the current state of US diplomacy on Sudan.

I will post a transcript when it becomes available, but in the meantime here are two highlights of the briefing that are worth mentioning:

1) According to Samantha Power, President Obama is receiving daily briefings about on Sudan for the run up to the southern Sudan independence referendum on January 9.  In addition, Dennis McDonough, who today became the Deputy National Security Council Advisor to the President (and is one of his top confidants), chairs at least three NSC meetings a week on Sudan. These meetings include a wide array of government officials. Power even mentioned that including Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mullen was a regular participant–the first I have heard of his involvement in Sudan issues.  Quote of the presser: “It is impossible to overstate the degree of high level attention being paid to sudan at the White House,” said Power.

2) None of the speakers once mentioned the ICC indictments against the Sudanese President or the Governor of South Kordofan state.  This is nothing new.  If you ask any government official they will state their support of the ICC process.  Right now, the administration seems to be doing all it can to secure Khartoum’s cooperation with the forthcoming referendum.  This includes offering an array of incentives, like lifting sanctions.   Presumably, though, if these incentives are taken to their logical conclusion, at some point the United States is going to have to face up the fact that it is normalizing relations with a government headed by an indicted war criminal.   For now, though, all focus is on holding a free, fair, and peaceful referendum on January 9.

Finally, there will be a big meeting on Sudan at the Security Council on Monday.  Among other things, the head of UN Peacekeeping will brief the council on possible contingency plans for the immediate post-election period. This is something the United States has clearly been pushing for, and is something to definitely keep an eye on.

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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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