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HRC Session Concludes, SG Speaks with Netanyahu and Abbas, Heads of ME PKO’s Meet With Shimon Peres

General Assembly: today the GA committees began their programs of work for the main part of the 65th session.  For its part, the Fifth Committee will cover several topics; most notably, procurement reform, OIOS, human resources management (likely implementing continuing contracts, a key part of streaming the UN’s contractual arrangements), the administration of justice and the UN’s new Enterprise Resource Planning system called Umoja.  Budget-related topics on the agenda include revised estimates for the current (2010-2011) biennium and an outline of the 2012-2013 budget.  Budgetary implications of Special Political Missions and PKOs are also likely to be discussed.

HRC 15th Session: last Friday the HRC wrapped up its 15th session in Geneva, with the adoption of several resolutions.  Highlights of the session include a resolution on the freedom of assembly and association introduced by the U.S., which creates a Special Rapporteur on the issue; a resolution creating a group of experts to report on discrimination against women; and the mandate extension of the Independent Expert on in Sudan by one year.  Other topics addressed include human rights in Somalia and the mass rapes in the DRC.  Laura Rozen’s post on Politico today is a useful resource on U.S. accomplishments.

Security Council: this morning the Security Council adopted its program of work for October and Ugandan Ambassador Rugunda briefed the press on key dates.  Highlights will include a debate on peacebuilding (including the 5 year review of the PBC) on October 13, a debate on support for AU peacekeeping on the 22nd and the tenth anniversary of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security on the 26th , which is likely to be at the ministerial level.  Mandate expirations this month include MINUSTAH and ISAF.  A Council delegation is also leaving for Sudan tonight, and will visit Khartoum, Juba and El Fasher.  The trip will also include a stop in Uganda.  A week from tomorrow the GA will hold Security Council elections for 5 rotating seats for 2011-2013.  Canada, Germany and Portugal will compete for two WEOG seats.  Africa, Asia and GRULAC are likely to be uncontested.

Prepping for Cancún: Speaking at the opening of Tianjin climate meeting, Christiana Figueres, head of the UNFCCC, called governments to accelerate their search for common ground and agree on what is doable at the conference before it launches on November 29, 2010.  Figueres stressed that a concrete outcome was urgently needed in order to restore faith in the ability of Parties to drive negotiations forward.  Roughly 3,000 participants from more than 176 countries are currently attending the Tianjin meeting.

Peace talks: the SG spoke with PM Benjamin Netanyahu, President Mahmoud Abbas, and Senator George Mitchell on Friday, renewing his hope that Israel will extend is settlement restraint policy and discussing the current status of talks between Palestinians and Israelis.  A meeting of foreign ministers from the Arab states will take place later this week.

PKOs in the Middle East: today, the heads of three UN peacekeeping missions in the Middle East (UNTSO, UNDOF, and UNIFIL) met with Israeli President Shimon Peres, discussing the evolving regional affairs and the dangers of terrorism.  Peres expressed his gratitude for the work of UN peacekeepers.

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The Powerful Pull of Motherhood

Robert Evans won the Nobel prize today for his work in developing in-vitro fertilization (IVF). The technique has now been used for 30 years to help otherwise infertile women conceive. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and it doesn’t always work. Couples routinely spend their life savings on IVF. On the other end of the technology spectrum, in both Afghanistan and Niger, a pregnant woman stands a 1 in 55 chance of dying as a result. And women have babies anyway — wanted babies that they conceive on purpose.

Villager women in the developing world and wealthy women using high-tech approaches have one powerful thing in common. They want to be pregnant, and they want it badly enough to risk important resources – their health, their livelihoods, and their savings. And they do know the risks. Women undergoing IVF are bombarded with data on their risks and costs. Women in high maternal mortality countries see their friends and relatives die in childbirth.

The human desire to reproduce is powerful. We’ve done service to it at the top of the pyramid; assisted reproduction technology has exploded in the last 50 years. The question is, what do we do for the bottom of the pyramid? How do we trigger the same kind of revolution? My best guess: we need two things. Better data and more money.

We have identified a lot of ways to make motherhood safer for individual women. What we don’t have is data on how to best make sure those interventions get to women. So we need better information on how to reach women, especially women in countries with weak health systems. Because having lots of great technology and methods is worthless is we can’t find a way to get them to the women who need them.

And then, of course, we need money. Lots of money. Ban Ki Moon launched a global strategy on women’s and children’s health twelve days ago. It has 40 billion dollars of pledged funding behind it. Oxfam estimates we’ll need double that. I can’t find a cost breakdown on the maternal health portion of the strategy, but nonetheless – we’re talking big numbers. Big estimated numbers, at present – we can’t spend that big money usefully without data on the best way to do it.

But how do we get the data and the money we need to revolutionize maternal health at the bottom of the pyramid like we did at the top? I’ve got a few guesses, but none of them are very good. The private sector is good at delivering inexpensive low-tech fixes for improving maternal mortality – things like birth kits. The public sector is good, theoretically, at addressing systemic problems. And we’ve seen some successes: Rwanda, for example, has reduced maternal mortality by getting more women to give birth with skilled attendants. Egypt has brought it down through improving access to contraception.

There must be a way to make this happen everywhere. We just have to find it.

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Congo Police on patrol. Credit: UN Photo/Marie Frechon

After Peacekeepers Leave the Congo

In an above-the-fold, A1 article in today’s New York Times Jeffrey Gettleman shows UN peacekeepers are failing to control spiriling violence in eastern DRC. The most recent and high profile incident occurred in late July when a militia raped more than 200 women during an attack on a village just 11 miles from a UN outpost.

The Indian peacekeepers at the base nearest Luvungi, in Kibua, about 11 miles away, said that they started hearing reports of an attack on the following Sunday, but that they had been tricked many times before. Often, truck drivers claim a certain area is under attack, the peacekeepers said, when in fact they simply want a United Nations escort to the next town to ensure that no one steals their minerals.

Because there is no cellphone service in the area or electricity, it is not always simple to know when there is an attack. The United Nations, which has around 18,000 peacekeepers in Congo, is now trying to install solar-powered high-frequency radios in some villages.

Gettleman does a good job of explaining UN peacekeeping’s tactical failure. But what is left out of his analysis is the international community’s lackluster support for this mission.

You would not know it from reading his article, but the UN peacekeeping force in Congo, now known as MONUSCO, is actually in the process of shutting down. Last year, the Congolese government let it be known that it no longer wants UN peacekeepers in its country.  This led to some intense negotiations at the Security Council.  A compromise was reached in which the peacekeeping force would change its name, immediately withdraw some 2,000 troops, and begin to shut down the mission all together.

It is instructive that the Security Council responded to Congo’s request to end the mission by meeting them halfway.  Council members did not use their collective power to urge the DRC to accept a kind of peacekeeping surge, rather, they obliged the Congolese government and set into motion a process that will likely leave fewer resources available for civilian protection.

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U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Pillay before a special session of the Human Rights  Council on human rights in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Geneva

Ending Impunity: Bringing Truth to Light in the Great Lakes Region

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report which attempts to systematically document human rights and international humanitarian law violations committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between March 1993 and June 2003. A little over a month after a draft version was leaked by French newspaper Le Monde, the comprehensive 550-page report contains descriptions of 617 alleged violent incidents. For the purposes of the report, 1,280 witnesses were interviewed and 1,500 documents were gathered and analyzed to try and paint a picture of what happened in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the course of  a decade.

The report is damning and points to egregious and relentless violations that took place in the DRC by a wide variety of regional actors. There are three broad goals to the terms of reference for this report: conducting a mapping exercise to document violations during that time period; assess the capacity of the Congolese justice system to “deal appropriately” with these violations; and to make recommendations regarding setting up mechanisms of justice, truth and reconciliation in the DRC.

The fact that Great Lakes region, and in particular the Eastern DRC, has been the backdrop to systematic violence against civilians, human rights violations and war crimes in a climate of near complete impunity is nothing new. But the efforts to bring justice and ensure that the records of history are clear have been sparse and inadequate, and the report commissioned by the OHCHR is an important step towards accomplishing that.

As Human Rights Watch executive director notes, “this detailed and thorough report is a powerful reminder of the scale of the crimes committed in Congo and of the shocking absence of justice. These events can no longer be swept under the carpet. If followed by strong regional and international action, this report could make a major contribution to ending the impunity that lies behind the cycle of atrocities in the Great Lakes region of Africa.”

The mapping exercise looked at many dimensions of the conflict and its effects on the civilian population: the actions of various armies and rebels groups, the impact on women, children and the elderly, the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, the role of natural resources and the involvement and responsibility of neighboring states. The latter point provoked the ire of the countries involved, most notably Rwanda.

The Rwandan Perspective

Since the draft report was initially leaked by Le Monde back in August, the Rwandan government has been actively trying to diminish the importance and credibility of the report, which levels serious accusations against the Rwandan army led by Paul Kagame. The message has been that the conclusions of the report are “an insult to history.” The Rwandan government insists that its army was never involved in the deliberate killing of innocent civilians, and that the mapping exercise “contains flawed methodology and applies the lowest imaginable evidentiary standard that barely meets journalistic requirements.” Rwanda issued a 30 page document with criticisms of the report, noting that “the manipulation of UN processes by organizations and individuals – both inside and outside the UN – for the purposes of rewriting history, improperly apportioning blame for the genocide that occurred in Rwanda, and reignite the conflict in Rwanda and the region”

Paul Kagame’s leadership and legacy in Rwanda is strongly underpinned by a narrative that gives him and his forces credit for restoring peace. This brought a form of social consensus upon which Rwanda’ reconstruction was built. But as Reed Brody notes in the Guardian, “Kagame’s forces played a crucial role in ending the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, but this does not absolve them of scrutiny for crimes they may have committed in the years that followed, both in Rwanda and Congo.”

Prospects for Justice

The Rwandan reaction – as well as the criticism expressed by Burundi, Uganda, and Angola (the latter expressed “indignation”, “surprise” and “outrage” in their comments to the OHCHR report) – signals that these countries will not support efforts at bringing justice for the events that took place in the DRC. The argument that this would undermine regional stability and “reignite conflict” has already proved to be a convincing one. Rwanda threatened the UN that it would pull its 3,500 troops out of Sudan unless some of the strongest language regarding its responsibility was removed. In particular, Rwanda is livid about the accusation of genocide leveled in the report. In Foreign Policy, Colum Lynch analyzes some of the language used in the draft and final reports. She finds that caveats were added, and that the report was “watered down.” Already, political objections are getting in the way of justice.

This is not the first time that the international community, through the UN, commissions reports to try and shed some light of the events in the Great Lakes region, and, thus far, justice has been elusive. In 1994, a report to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees which documented serious crimes committed by Kagame’s forces in Zaire during their offensive against Hutu refugee camps which harbored Hutu genocidaires. It was never published.

In a column for the Guardian, Reed Brody, who was the deputy chief of an investigative team sent by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to investigate crimes committed in Congo from 1993 to 1997, describes how the report he was commissioned to prepare was effectively “buried.” He notes: “The key question now, as it was when our team delivered its report in 1998, is whether the international community has the political will to take the next step: identifying the killers and bringing them to justice.”

The new OHCHR report concludes that “a full judicial investigation into the events that occurred in Zaire in 1996 to 1997 will be necessary, in order to permit a competent court to decide on the matter.” The mapping exercise and the ensuing report, while significant in their own right, are only the first steps to bringing justice to the Great Lakes region – political will and a strong commitment to justice are required for these initial steps to lead to the establishment of legal and reconciliation processes.

The report suggests that a “hybrid prosecution mechanism – made up of international and
national personnel – is necessary to do justice to the victims” given the lack of capacity of the DRC’s existing mechanisms “and the numerous factors that impede judicial independence.” Human Rights Watch supports the creation of a mixed chamber, which would be embedded in the Congolese justice system, and would deal exclusively with war crimes and human rights violations. This would be more practical and less costly than an international tribunal, and would allow the region to begin addressing the culture of impunity which has prevailed there for much too long.

The broader context

Shedding light and getting the record straight on what happened in the DRC is essential to ending the culture of impunity which has been defining the ongoing cycle of violence in the Great Lakes region. Following the genocide in Rwanda, an international tribunal was set up, and local courts also sought to bring perpetrators of violence to justice. These processes have been important in restoring a sense of social stability, and have been supporting the country’s healing and recovery.

No such processes have been put in place for the atrocities committed in the DRC, in spite of all the evidence accumulated and the obvious crimes committed there. The perpetuation of a climate of impunity, where grave criminal violations of international law continue to occur, undermines the DRC’s search for peace and prosperity.


Further reading and analysis:

-For contextual analysis and a collection of useful links:  Texas in Africa

- Howard French and Jeffrey Gettleman (NYT)

- For a thorough review of the report’s importance and implications Human Rights Watch

- DRC Mapping Report webpage (OHCHR website)

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Stunning Satellite Images of Displacement in Somalia

The UN Refugee Agency just released these two satellite images of 30 kilometer stretch of road west of Mogadishu known as the Afgooye corridor.

The first was taken October 2007:

And this was taken July 2010:

As you can see, a veritable city has sprung up over the past two and a half years. UNHCR estimates that 410,000 people, most of whom have been forcibly displaced because of fighting in Mogadishu, now live along this stretch of road.


Overall it appears that structures in Afgooye are becoming more permanent as hopes fade for a safe return to the capital any time soon. Over the past four weeks alone, almost 12,000 people have fled to the Afgooye corridor, which has become the third largest urban area in Somalia after Mogadishu and Hargeisa in Somaliland.

Living conditions in the Afgooye corridor are extremely difficult. People struggle for food and other basic necessities as the precarious security situation is preventing humanitarian agencies from accessing people in need.

Some assistance is getting there through UNHCR’s local partners, but the amounts are miniscule in comparison with the needs. Many people take risks and walk to Mogadishu and back every day in search of a daily living. Basic services such as health and education are scarce and rudimentary.

For comparison’s sake 410,000 is larger than the population of Oakland, California.

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Can the International Community Take the Wind out of the Sails of Al Qaeda Propoganda?

Bin Laden is at it again. This time he is railing against the international community’s sluggish response to the Pakistan floods.   “What governments spend on relief work is secondary to what it spends on its armies,” bin Laden says on the 11-minute tape called, “Reflections on the Method of Relief Work.”

He’s actually wrong on that point. What governments spend on relief work is much, much less than ‘secondary’ to military expenditures.  That said, it is hard to argue with the criticism that the international community, as a whole, has not risen to the challenge of providing adequate funding for Pakistan flood relief efforts.

From the most recent Pakistan situation report from OCHA:

Preliminary results of rapid needs assessments in KPK, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan suggest that 10 million people are in need of immediate food assistance. Further assessments are ongoing and will give a clearer picture of food assistance needs both in terms of relief and early recovery…Food Cluster requirements in the revised Pakistan Floods Emergency Response Plan amount to $574million, with a $374 million shortfall. Between October and December alone, $170million is needed to implement activities as planned.

The lack of funding also means that there is a critical shortage of shelter.  According to the report, 1.2 million households have yet to receive emergency shelter material. In all, the international community has only contributed 31% of funding required for emergency relief.

Between Bin Laden’s statement today and statements from al Qaeda principals last month it is clear that the terrorist organization is seeking to use the Pakistan floods to its advantage.  What is less clear is whether or not the international community is willing to counter al Qaeda’s propaganda by fully funding Pakistan flood relief.

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