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Government Should Defend Climate Science

UN Foundation President Senator Timothy Wirth pens an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle:

The status quo has many guardians, but the future is an orphan. From our out-of-control health care system to lax banking regulation, vested financial interests are having a field day distorting the facts in service of another year’s or decade’s profits. Climate change is the latest issue to take a beating. The formula for legislative obstruction is now well established: When confronted with facts about a future threat, today’s vested interests unleash an army of attack dogs to scour the landscape for the irrelevant anomaly or misleading mud with which to sow doubt. Thus, a single weather event in Washington, D.C., becomes fodder for mindless mockery of the mountain of scientific evidence on significant climatic changes around the world; personal e-mails “reveal” that some scientists can be petulant; and a few mistakes in a 3,000-page, 130-country scientific collaboration are blown grossly out of proportion to discredit the enterprise – indeed, the entire scientific process.

The attacks are withering yet remarkably effective. Why? Because the opponents know, in tried-and-true techniques from the cigarette wars, that they don’t have to “win” the argument; all they have to do is sow doubt, and that is enough to weaken public resolve and delay action.

 The bottom line is that if the fundamental role of government is to protect its citizens and care for their wellfare, then government need to be on the front lines defending climate science from frivolous attacks.   Read the rest

Climate | | 1 Comment

Navi Pillay Gives an Around-the-World Tour of Human Rights Abuses

It’s the job of the UN  High Commissioner for Human Rights to shine a spotlight on human rights abuses, wherever they occur around the world.  Navi Pillay, I dare say, is very good at her job.  Yesterday, in Geneva, she addressed an opening session of the Human Rights Council and delivered something of an around the world tour of human rights concerns.  Here’s a sample of her remarks.

In Sri Lanka, I welcome the progress made in returning displaced persons, and hope the review and release of security detainees can similarly be expedited.  But the opportunity for peace and reconciliation continues to be marred by the treatment of journalists, human rights defenders and other critics of the Government.  I am convinced that Sri Lanka should undertake a full reckoning of the grave violations committed by all sides during the war, and that the international community can be helpful in this regard.

I remain deeply concerned by the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran where there has been a violent crackdown on dissent, including the arbitrary arrest of demonstrators, human rights activists, journalists and prominent political figures. Many have been given harsh sentences, including capital punishment, for their role in post-election protests after questionable trials.  I had the opportunity to discuss these issues with the Iranian delegation during the recent UPR, and have suggested that the authorities allow my Office to visit Iran.  [Ed note: more on Iran at the Human Rights Council here]

 Throughout 2009, I met with representatives of Sudan and expressed deep concern over death sentences and executions imposed and carried out in that country.  I note the Presidential pardon of all alleged combatants of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).  However, the wave of executions, including of six men executed as recently as 14 January 2010 is deeply troubling.  A positive step in the peace process in Sudan was last month’s Framework Agreement between the Government of Sudan and JEM, which was reached with the help of Qatar and Chad.  I am concerned, however, over recent reports of fighting in the Jebel Mara. All parties should make the protection of civilians their utmost priority and I encourage all armed movements to enter into dialogue for peace and to respect the right to life. 

Let me take this opportunity to underline the excellent cooperation between the United Nations, the African Union, and the Economic Community of West-African States (ECOWAS) in relation, to the violence that erupted in Guinea last September. The international Commission of Inquiry into the events and their aftermath, as you know, was called for by the AU and ECOWAS, and established by the UN Secretary General “with a view to determining the accountability of those involved.”  One of the recommendations of the CoI is that OHCHR establish an office in Guinea.  OHCHR has received full support from the current authorities and the United Nations system in this regard.


 Earlier this week, I called on the Egyptian Government to immediately order its security forces to stop using “lethal force” against unarmed migrants trying to enter Israel via the Sinai Desert.  There have been some 60 fatal shootings over the past two and a half years.  An urgent and independent inquiry into these killings must be conducted.
Over a year ago, I welcomed the decision of the United States to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay and to ban methods of interrogation, transfer and detention that contravene international law. Since then some progress has been made.  The United States should now conduct thorough investigations into allegations of torture at the detention centres in Guantanamo Bay and Bagram, account for practices that may have contravened international law, and hold violators to account.

Full remarks here



Introducing MASSIVEGOOD: A Way That Air Travellers Can Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria

A few years ago I shared a long plane ride from Dakaar, Senegal to Mexico City with Philippe Douste-Blazy, the former French Foreign Minister and UN Under-Secretary General.  We had a very interesting conversation about a project to raise money for UNITAID, which is an organization he chairs by that delivers AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria treatments to developing world countries.  At the time, UNITAID was funded through a $2 euro per airplane ticket levy imposed by France.  He wanted to expand globally, but knew that the idea of a mandatory per-ticket levy wouldn’t, er, fly, in many countries.  Instead, he had the idea of asking online airplane ticket brokers to include a check box in which individuals can voluntarily opt to donate $2 to UNITAID when they purchase tickets. 

Douste-Blazy’s enthusiasm for this idea was infectious, but he told me I couldn’t write about it then because the plan was still in its embryonic stages. Still, I thought the idea sounded so cool that I kept my notes from that conversation and have been awaiting the day that the idea went live.  

Well, today, the plan was formally launched at the United Nations when Bill Clinton donated $2 to UNITAID through MASSIVEGOOD, the new landing site for the micro-donations.  A  number of celebs were on hand for the launch.  Spike Lee even directed this PSA: 

So how much could UNITAID raise through micro-donations like this?  Douste-Blazy told me that 2.3 billion airplane tickets are sold annually, 80% of which are bought over the internet. The Gates Foundation, he said, commissioned a McKinsey Study which found that, at the low end, one quarter of airline ticket purchasers will opt in.  This means UNITAID can raise $1 billion for AIDS, TB, and Malaria treatments in the first year, alone.   Not bad. I’ll certainly click on it everytime I buy a plane ticket.   


Commission on the Status of Women, Explained

Lots of action at the UN this week as the Commission for the Status of Women kicks off.  In UN-speak the meeting is officially called the”15-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) and the outcomes of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly (2000).”  Try saying that 10 times fast. Or don’t.  Most folks call this meeting “Beijing+15.”

So what is this confab all about?  In 1995 delegations from a great number of governments signed onto a 12 part plan to promote the welfare of women in their own countries.  This was the Beijing Declaration and it included a wide ranging “plan of action” to promote the rights of women around the world.  The meeting at the UN this week and next are intended to give governments and NGOs the opportunity to assess their progress toward the implementation of that plan of action. 

For those that want to follow the action, but can’t attend in person here are some good resources:

*The opening statement from the United States delegation, in which US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer lays out the Obama administration’s priorities for the conference. 

*Live Webcast of the preceedings

*Opening statement (via YouTube) from Ban Ki Moon

*Feministing’s Lori Adelman is blogging the conference.

Finally, I would be remiss not to post this speech from then-First Lady Hillary Clinton when she lead the U.S. delegation to the 1995 Beijing Conference.  It is a classic — as powerful today as it was 15 years ago.  You’ll enjoy it. I promise.  

UN Direct, Women | 5

One Senator is Blocking a Bill to Support Peace Efforts in Northern Uganda

Courtesy of Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, millions of Americans have seen how a single United States senator can use procedural chicanery to prevent important legislation from moving forward.  By withholding his “consent” from a resolution extending unemployment benefits to out of work Americans last week, Bunning prevented social security checks from reaching many thousands of people in need. 

That fracas seems to have thankfully ended, but it does help shed light on another pitched battle between one senator and 99 others that is receiving considerably less attention.  

The senator in question is Dr. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma who has placed a similar hold on the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act which authorizes $40 million to post-conflict recovery efforts in Northern Uganda and directs President Obama to come up with a peace and recovery plan for war-ravaged Northern Uganda.  Though the bill does not actually appropriate any money (that can only happen through the budget process) Coburn objects, in principle, to new funding unless it is offset elsewhere in the budget. Coburn, therefore, has placed a hold on the bill. 

When Bunning used a similar method to block unemployment benefits from reaching thousands of workers on furlough, there was a huge outcry from Republicans, Democrats, and the public at large. Americans could easily identify with people in a tight financial spot that Bunning threatened to squeeze even further.  They are our friends and neighbors who, through no fault of their own, are out of work and need a small amount of government support to get by.  We can relate, in other words, to the victims of Bunning’s actions.  

You don’t see the same public outcry about Coburn’s actions. Why? I fear because it’s much harder for us to identify with the victims of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army’s 20 year campaign in Northern Uganda.  It’s easier to ignore people ike this: 

And this:

And this:



 These images come from the African Youth Information Network, a local NGO in Northern Uganda that aids victims of the the Lord’s Resistance Army’s campaign of mutilation of children in Northern Uganda.  Thankfully, the war in Northern Uganda has largely subsided. The LRA, though, is still wreaking havoc in neighboring regions.  Two weeks ago, the LRA sacked a town in south west Central African Republic and kidnapped 40 people (including, presumably, many children). 

This is why passing the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act is so important.  It shows our solidarity and common humanity with the victims of the LRA’s campaign of terror and mutilation.  It also demonstrates the United States’ commitment to bringing the LRA to justice. 

So far, though, Coburn’s obstructionism has not received anywhere near the kind of attention as Senator Bunning’s similar actions.  At least one group, though, is trying to tip the scales.  A group of activists have been camped out at Senator Coburn’s Oklahoma office for the past 114 hours, simply to ask Coburn to find a reasonable compromise that would permit him to lift his hold on the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act.  Is that really not too much to ask. 

Show these folks some love.

Security | | 15

CSW 2010: Why This U.S. Based Feminist Gives a Damn

This week marks the kickoff of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a 2-week, woman-focused conference that takes place annually at the United Nations (UN). Basically, this means that for the next two weeks, THE principal global policy-making body will be dedicating itself exclusively to the pursuit of gender equality and the advancement of women. Pretty exciting stuff, right?!?!?

*Cricket Chirp* *Cricket Chirp*

Wait….what? You’re not falling over in your chair with excitement about this event? Come to think of it, where’s the buzz around the domestic U.S. feminist blogosphere? Shouldn’t we all be as excited about this as we are about, say, Lady Gaga? Can’t help but pull a Hanson here and ask…”Where’s the love“??? (for C-S-dubs?)

Although it’s disappointing, I’m not too surprised when I hear folks express apathy/cynicism towards the UN in general and the CSW in particular, especially since I myself have harbored those same kinds of feelings towards the UN in the past. It can seem like with all the acronyms and jargon being used, many delegates don’t want members of civil society to get involved, or that they are creating a deliberate barrier for non-UN folks to get to the content. It can also sometimes feel like the progress being made there isn’t real or important, since things. move. so. slowlyyyyyyy. sometimes.

But I’m one U.S.-based domestic feminist who is now sold on the importance of these two weeks, and I’ve worked with many international advocates who are as well.

Here’s why.

Continue reading on Feministing.

Women | 2

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