That’s the free number that Afghans can call for information about their upcoming elections. Set up by the UN team in the country, the number has become one of the most popular in Afghanistan:
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said today that some 25,000 Afghans call the Independent Election Commission (IEC) every week to get information on the 20 August presidential and provincial council elections.
Providing details on voter registration, polling place, and the election date, the hotline is one of those small, subtle ways that technology can further the UN’s — and Afghans’ — goals. The fact that operators sometimes receive threats from callers claiming to be part of the Taliban may make their job more dangerous, but it also underscores how important this service is to the growth of Afghan democracy.
(image from flickr user rybolov under a Creative Commons license)
The small archipelago nation, Palau, is stepping up to take 17 ethnic chinese Uighurs from prison in Guantanamo. In fact, the United States Supreme Court ordered these detainees released months ago, but until now the Obama administration could not find a country willing to receive them.
Why Palau? Well, it is one of the staunchest American allies in the world. At the United Nations there is sort of a running joke that the United States is never fully isolated: it can always count on Palau for support. And, indeed, when you look at some of the more contentious votes at the General Assembly you’ll often find the United States, Palau and the Marshall Islands on one side of and most of the rest of the world on the other. Palau’s UN ambassador is even an American.
And of course, Palau was a member of the coalition of the willing.
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A day after representatives from more than 35 countries and international organizations met in Rome to discuss piracy off the coast of the Somalia, the UN today reports the astonishing figure that over 100,000 Somalis have been displaced in the last month. Even by the standards of Somalia’s recent turmoil, this is a shockingly high rate — the highest, in fact, in “many, many years.” Amidst this gross displacement, all sides of the conflict have committed egregious human rights violations, with an appalling frequency of rape, impressment of child soldiers, and reckless shelling of civilians.
Compared with the widespread travesties faced by these thousands of Somalis, the international community’s focus on piracy, whatever its impact on the global economy, seems almost an affront to human dignity. Yet there are signs that leaders in Rome yesterday understand the connection between Somalia’s humanitarian crisis and the headline-grabbing antics of pirates. From Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini:
The minister said that piracy is linked to phenomena like the “criminality and infiltration of extreme elements easily recruited also by Al-Qaeda”.
“Piracy is only the tip of the iceberg,” Frattini said. “We are convinced that piracy is related to the political and socioeconomic crisis on land, not on the sea.
He said piracy and terrorism, illegal immigration, human trafficking are ” a threat not only to Somalia but to the entire international community”.
How they choose to address this larger problem is, of course, the big question. Pirate courts and an enhanced Somali coast guard are nice steps, but the iceberg is much, much bigger.
The House Appropriations Committee released budget allocations (the 302Bs) to each subcommittee today for the FY10 budget. The number for State-Foreign Ops, $48.8 billion, is disappointing, nearly $5 billion less than what the President requested and certainly not enough to fulfill his committments to Foreign Aid and the Foreign Service.
On top of that, CQ is erroneously reporting that the subcommittee is “set to receive significant increases above the current fiscal year’s spending levels.” That simply isn’t true. They failed to calculate the significant amount included in two supplemental spending bills (we’ve been repeatedly told not to expect the same in the future), which brings this year’s spending to roughly $50 billion and means the current allocation represents a significant contraction in diplomatic spending right at the moment when it is needed most.
If the $48.8 billion still seems high to you, you would be wise to keep in mind that it represents a only 1.4% of the total budget and just 7% of the total ‘national security budget.’ The Department of Defense was allocated $508 billion, $20 billion more than last year (an increase equal to 40 percent of the entire State-Foreign Ops allocation).
The S-G will be traveling to the rapidly melting Arctic at the end of August. As a locale to symbolize the imperative of addressing climate change, he couldn’t have chosen better. Glaciers are melting at an astonishing rate (for glaciers, that is), and much of what once reasonably could have been considered part of Santa Claus’ land route from the North Pole will soon require reindeer that have learned to swim. (More seriously, the global warming of the Arctic does threaten to disrupt important ecosystems, not to mention cause the rise in sea levels that small island nations the world over are so rightly concerned about.)
The trip underscores the enthusiasm with which Ban honestly seems to have taken up the mantle as the UN chief who galvanized the fight against climate change, which he has called the crisis the “defining challenge of our time.” Ban will now be the first UN Secretary-General to have traveled to both of the Earth’s poles. Two years ago, he became the first S-G to visit the Antarctic (so really, he’s just showing off his toughness in the cold here). He did learn to dress warm on that last trip though.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.