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Antonio Banderas Joins the UN

You loved him in Philadelphia, saw his performance lacking in The Mask of Zorro,  now, Antonio Banderas will take on his next role: goodwill ambassdor for the United Nations Development Program.  From the UN News Center:

Mr. Banderas will advocate for the poor and push for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight globally-agreed targets with a 2015 deadline to halve world poverty, with a focus on Africa and Latin America.

“Poverty robs us of our potential as a people, preventing us from being all that we can be,” he said, underscoring the importance of mobilizing all efforts to tackle the scourge.

Yesterday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a new report, entitled Keeping the Promise, in which he unveils a new action plan aimed at getting governments, civil society actors, private businesses, philanthropy and the multilateral system to act “efficiently, effectively and collectively.”

With just five years to go before the 2015 deadline, he said that progress has been uneven and without an accelerated action plan several Goals are likely to be missed in many countries.

“Despite hard economic times, despite lagging progress on many fronts, we can still achieve the Millennium Development Goals by our target date of 2015,” he told reporters at his monthly press conference in New York.

With a decade of efforts towards achieving the MDGs already under the world’s belt, “we know what works and what doesn’t,” with lessons learned on how to best utilize new technologies, national development policies and better governance, he noted.

As Goodwill Ambassador, Mr. Banderas hopes to raise the profile of the MDG Achievement Fund, set up in 2006 with a $700 million contribution by Spain to accelerate progress on reaching the Goals.

My understanding is that Ban Ki Moon’s introduction of Banderas went something like this:

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A Documentary on Human Rights Abuses in Zimbabwe that forced the Filmmaker into Hiding.

In 2008, a tribunal of the South African Development Community (SADC) ruled that the Zimbabwean government’s policy of taking over white-owned farms was illegal. Despite the ruling, official harassment of white farm owners and the thousands of workers employed at their farms continued. This 25 minute film, titled “House of Justice,” documents the farmers and farm workers struggle against the government of Zimbabwe. It also shows, in stark terms, how top government officials used torture to intimidate farm owners and their workers. The film’s producer, Gertrude Hambira, is the General Secretary of the General Agricultural and Plantation Union of Zimbabwe. She was forced into hiding shortly after its release. She remains in hiding to this day.

Part 1.

Part2. Part 3.

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SVU Brings Attention to Rape as Weapon of War

It’s almost always painful to watch when TV shows try to stretch to make a statement, and SVU is only the second best Law & Order on NBC, but rape as a weapon of war gets such weak attention and I’m interested enough in John Prendergast’s involvement that I’m willing to tune in to NBC tonight (Wednesday, March 17, 10pm ET). 

The plot: 

After a witness to a sexual assault reveals that she is a refugee from Congo, her story begins to unravel into something that goes beyond Manhattan. A survivor of sexual violence herself, she brings to light the complexity of the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The team works hard to keep her safe in the US after hearing her horrific story, but will soon learn that this case will affect more lives than they had ever imagined.

SVU‘s Benson penned a post on Huffington today with Prendergast explaining the broader issue:

Eastern Congo is the world’s deadliest conflict globally since WWII. Widespread rape is used as a strategy of war and an instrument of communal terror, making this region the world’s most dangerous place to be a woman or a girl. Armed groups compete to control lucrative mines and smuggling routes. Rape becomes their principal means of terrorizing local populations into passive compliance, so they can steal the mineral wealth without opposition.

The punchline of the piece is a call to urge industries not to use these minerals. We’ll jump on that bandwagon too.

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The Somali Pirates’ Business Model


Last week, a group of investigators dispatched by the Security Council to Somalia released an exhaustive, 100 plus page report on arms trafficking, aid diversion, and other criminal activities in Somalia.  So far, much of the press around the report has focused on allegations that World Food Program aid had been diverted to suspected militants.  The report also provides evidence that Eritrea has been supporting Somali militants, raising the prospect that Eritrea will once again come under international condemnation. 

I’ll have much more to write about this report soon. In the meantime, I found this short explanation of the pirates’ business model, tucked away in the report’s annex, to be fascinating.

A basic piracy operation requires a minimum eight to twelve militia prepared to stay at sea for extended periods of time, in the hopes of hijacking a passing vessel. Each team requires a minimum of two attack skiffs, weapons, equipment, provisions, fuel and preferably a supply boat. The costs of the operation are usually borne by investors, some of whom may also be pirates.

To be eligible for employment as a pirate, a volunteer should already possess a firearm for use in the operation. For this ‘contribution’, he receives a ‘class A’ share of any profit. Pirates who provide a skiff or a heavier firearm, like an RPG or a general purpose machine gun, may be entitled to an additional A-share. The first pirate to board a vessel may also be entitled to an extra A-share.

At least 12 other volunteers are recruited as militiamen to provide protection on land of a ship is hijacked, In addition, each member of the pirate team may bring a partner or relative to be part of this land-based force. Militiamen must possess their own weapon, and receive a ‘class B’ share — usually a fixed amount equivalent to approximately US$15,000.

If a ship is successfully hijacked and brought to anchor, the pirates and the militiamen require food, drink, qaad, fresh clothes, cell phones, air time, etc. The captured crew must also be cared for. In most cases, these services are provided by one or more suppliers, who advance the costs in anticipation of reimbursement, with a significant margin of profit, when ransom is eventually paid.

When ransom is received, fixed costs are the first to be paid out. These are typically:

• Reimbursement of supplier(s)

• Financier(s) and/or investor(s): 30% of the ransom

• Local elders: 5 to 10 %of the ransom (anchoring rights)

• Class B shares (approx. $15,000 each): militiamen, interpreters etc.

The remaining sum — the profit — is divided between class-A shareholders.

Wonder if they teach that at Wharton

Image: Report of the Somalia Monitoring Group: “Two skiffs (Arabian model) used by pirates to carry provisions and fuel”

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Are Groups like the LRA Really Spreading Across Africa?

In a Foreign Policy feature, Jeffrey Gettleman describes the kind of roving banditry practiced by the LRA and in Eastern Congo as “Africa’s un-Wars.”

What we are seeing is the decline of the classic African liberation movement and the proliferation of something else — something wilder, messier, more violent, and harder to wrap our heads around. If you’d like to call this war, fine. But what is spreading across Africa like a viral pandemic is actually just opportunistic, heavily armed banditry. My job as the New York Times‘ East Africa bureau chief is to cover news and feature stories in 12 countries. But most of my time is spent immersed in these un-wars. (Emphasis mine)

His piece is well worth a read. but I wonder if it’s actually true that these conflicts “are spreading across Africa like a viral pandemic.” The opposite seems to be the case. In fact, they seem fairly contained to the Niger Delta, the Congo borderlands of north-eastern Congo, and a few places in the greater Horn of Africa (Sudan, Somalia). Also, to the extent that the resource-fueled conflicts in western Africa a decade ago can be considered part of this trend, the number these conflicts appears to be in decline.  Sierra Leone and Liberia, for example, no longer face big threats from roving, rootless militias.   

I don’t mean to minimize the brutality and human suffering caused by these groups. (And Gettelman does a good job explaining why it is so hard to reach a political compromise with them.)   It just strikes me that calling this a “viral pandemic” is a bit hyperbolic.     

Image: flickr user hmvh

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Video of Hillary Clinton at the Commission on the Status of Women

This video is a few days old, but I thought folks might be interested in watching Secretary of State Clinton’s address to the Commission in the Status of Women at the United Nations last week. 

Full text of her remarks here.

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