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Pauline Marois, leader of Parti Quebecois. Credit: Parti Quebecois

Elections in Quebec: What You Need To Know

The province of Quebec is gearing up for a key election next weekend. The current Premier, Pauline Marois, rose to power following the massive student and popular protests during the spring of 2012. Her party, the Parti Quebecois, has been in a minority government situation – Marois’ inability to pass her legislative agenda led her to decide to dissolve the National Assembly and trigger an election last month. Over the course of 33 days, candidates from rivaling political factions in Quebec are jostling for votes, leading up to the April 7 general election. Marois, who called for the election believing she would clinch the majority government that would allow her to realize her party’s ambitions, is now seeing her position diminished, due to a miscalculation of Quebeckers’ position on key electoral questions.

Her political agenda, which includes support for Quebec sovereignty and a Charter of Values which would ban public sector workers from wearing overtly religious symbols, were thought to be wedge issues that would allow Marois to give her party a stronger position. But, as it turns out, Quebec voters are not so clearly in favor of these policies. Marois initially launched her campaign by focusing on Quebec sovereignty, and promising to call for another referendum on independence from Canada (the last one, in 1995, saw the “No” win with barely a one percent margin). But lack of clarity around what she believes the contours of sovereignty would look like, and the recruiting of Pierre Karl Peladeau, a staunchly sovereigntist media and business magnate, is clashing with Quebeckers’ political beliefs and hopes for their province. A March 9 poll shows that 60% of Quebec voters would not support Quebec becoming a sovereign country. Marois and the Parti Quebecois are in a difficult position, both trying to reassure the die-hard sovereigntists that an independence vote is not off the table, all the while trying to appeal to a majority that doesn’t want this question revisited.

On the eve of the election, Marois’ Parti Quebecois has taken a tumble in the polls. The Liberal Party of Quebec is now poised to win the vote on April 7 – possibly with enough margin to form their own majority government. This would deal a serious blow to the Parti Quebecois and to the ideas and political beliefs they represent.

Photo credit: Parti Quebecois Flickr Stream

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Top of the Morning: 1 Million Displaced in South Sudan

Top stories from DAWNS Digest

Over 1 Million Now Displaced by South Sudan Conflict…It has been 100 days since the outbreak of civil conflict in South Sudan and this sad milestone has now been reached according to the the latest UN report on humanitarian activities on the ground. Key figures: Over 800,000 people are now internally displaced and over 250,000 have been made refugees. 4.9 million in need of humanitarian assistance. Funding level: only 25% of a $654 million appeal. Food security a key concern. The report says the conflict has caused “a serious deterioration in the food security situation” leaving around 3.7 million people at high risk. Big aid operation underway. UNICEF and the WFP launched a large aid operation on Friday to pre-position aid in remote villages before the rainy season hits and makes roads impassible. Deeper dive: OCHA’s latest humanitarian snapshot.

Guinea Ebola Outbreak: The death toll is now at 70, with over 100 confirmed cases. Senegal has closed its border with Guinea to prevent the spread of the disease. (CNN

At least 24 people have been killed and another 100 seriously injured by Chadian soldiers sent to repatriate their compatriots from the Central African Republic. (AFP

Brazilian security forces have moved into a slum near Rio airport, as part of efforts to drive out drugs gangs before this year’s football World Cup. (BBC

The faltering, US brokered Israel-Palestine talks are on the brink of collapse over Israel’s delay of releasing Palestinian prisoners. (Bloomberg

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Here’s What UNICEF and WFP’s New Relief Operation in South Sudan Looks Like

This is an airdrop of food.


The airdrop is part of a new humanitarian operation by UNICEF and the World Food Program that launched today in South Sudan. The operation aims to reach some of 250,000 people over the next month.

The operation is targeting people in the most remote conflict-affected communities in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states.  I caught up with UNICEF’s James Elder, who had just returned from rebel held areas of South Sudan. Elder discusses the population that is being targeted by this relief operation, how UNICEF and WFP are reaching inaccessible areas and why humanitarians are racing against time as rainy season approaches. Have a listen.


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Finally Some Justice for Sri Lanka?


Justice may finally be coming to the victims of a mass atrocity that took place in Sri Lanka in the spring of 2009.

An estimated 40,000 ethnic Tamils were slaughtered in the concluding weeks of a Sri Lanka’s long civil war. Tamil civilians, along with the last remnants of the Tamil Tiger militia, were cornered into a small patch of beach about the size of Central Park in New York City. They were surrounded by the Sri Lankan military, which called this patch of land a “no-fire zone.” Just the opposite was true.  Stories in the press and reports from reputable research institutions and the United Nations provide evidence that the Sri Lankan military made no attempt to distinguish between civilian and combatant while they pummeled the area with artillery. What resulted was a bloodbath that lasted several weeks.

From the International Crisis Group

The intentional shelling of civilians. Starting in late January, the government and security forces encouraged hundreds of thousands of civilians to move into ever smaller government-declared No Fire Zones (NFZs) and then subjected them to repeated and increasingly intense artillery and mortar barrages and other fire. This continued through May despite the government and security forces knowing the size and location of the civilian population and scale of civilian casualties.

The intentional shelling of hospitals. The security forces shelled hospitals and makeshift medical centres – many overflowing with the wounded and sick – on multiple occasions even though they knew of their precise locations and functions. During these incidents, medical staff, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and others continually informed the government and security forces of the shelling, yet they continued to strike medical facilities through May forcing civilians to abandon them.

The intentional shelling of humanitarian operations. Despite knowing the exact location of humanitarian operations and food distribution points, the security forces repeatedly shelled these areas, which were crowded with humanitarian workers, vehicles and supplies, and civilians. Many were killed or wounded trying to deliver or receive basic humanitarian assistance, including women, children and infants.

This was the most horrific mass killing since Darfur, but it has received relatively little international attention. The Security Council failed to act, and the Human Rights Council was hobbled on this situation for years because of objections by key member states.

That may be about to change.  Yesterday, the UN Human Rights Council approved an official  inquiry into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. By a vote of 23-12 (with 12 abstentions) the Council agreed to a proposal from the High Commissioner of Human Rights Navi Pillay to dispatch a team of experts to investigate the alleged crimes.

This may provide the first clear path toward accountability and justice for the victims of this  horrific slaughter. What often happens in investigations like this is that the report conclusions recommend that the situation be referred to the International Criminal Court, so that the perpetrators may be brought to justice.  This would require an act of the Security Council, and this report provides a neutral set of facts upon which the Security Council can base its decision.

It could be a heavy lift to get the Security Council to agree to an ICC referral to Sri Lanka.   Still, given the reluctance of the Sri Lankan authorities to investigate their own, if justice is to be served at all the ICC is probably the most likely venue. That means the Security Council must heed the recommendations of the Human Rights Council’s inquiry.


Image credit: IDP settlement near Putumattalan Hospital in second No Fire Zone, March 2009/UN


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Top of the Morning: South East Asia Polio Free

Top stories from DAWNS Digest

Humanity Affirming News of the Day: All of Southeast Asia has been certified Polio Free. That includes India, which just five years ago accounted for half of all polio cases. (LAT

Buddhist-led mobs tore through streets hurling stones at the offices and residences of international aid workers in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state. (AP

The Philippine government and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group have signed a historic peace deal to formally end decades of fighting that has left over 120,000 people dead. (VOA

Image credit: UNICEF

The IMF agreed to a $14-18 billion bailout for Ukraine, a deal that will unlock further credits to reach a total of $27 billion over the next two years. (Reuters

The U.N.’s top human rights body launched an investigation Thursday into Sri Lanka’s civil war, approving a U.S.-led resolution over the strong protests of Sri Lanka’s government. (AP

A new $50 million grants scheme by Bloomberg Philanthropies will support delivery of reproductive health services in Uganda, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Nicaragua. (Guardian

Attitudes toward women’s equality are dimmer in North Africa than in the rest of the continent, according to a new poll of about 50,000 people across 34 African countries. (AP

Health authorities in Liberia say there have been no new suspected deaths from the deadly Ebola virus since the admission four reported cases earlier this week. (FrongPageAfrica

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What The CSW Tells Us About Reproductive Health in the Sustainable Development Goals

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58) ended officially in the wee hours of Saturday morning when negotiators agreed to a final outcome document. Though several issues were up for debate, perhaps one of the most broad-ranging and difficult points of contention were around sexual reproductive health rights. There were three main sticking points for negotiators this year: funding; the link between violence against women and reproductive health rights; and the connection between poverty reduction and reproductive health.

How the outcome document navigated this difficult terrain will almost certainly influence how sexual and reproductive health issues will be broached when the international community decides on the successor agreement to the Millennium Development Goals in the coming year.  The outcome document from the CSW will almost certainly serve as a guide to the intergovernmental panels which will formulate the post-2015 framework and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) beginning this September.  The panels will use documents from various conferences and Open Working Groups as a guide and agenda for their meetings. This means that the results of the CSW could have an outsized influence on how these issues are handled in the post Millennium Development Goals international development agenda.

The following sections, from the Agreed Conclusions,  are the most important items addressing these three critical and contentious issues.

Conclusion #23 states:

“concern about the significant gaps in funding that remain and the magnitude of unmet need for all sexual and reproductive health care services.”

What this means:

By addressing the most fundamental of development issues, money, negotiators are indicating to the builders of the post-2015 framework that sexual and reproductive health rights should be accounted for in any effective Sustainable Development Goal budget.

Conclusion #24 states:

“stresses that structural gender inequalities and violence against women and girls undermine effective HIV responses and the need to give full attention to increasing the capacity of women and adolescent girls to protect themselves.”

What this means:

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HIV infection and violence against women are related in many ways.  In connecting the two in the outcome document, intergovernmental panels will see see that sexual and reproductive health rights are multi-faceted – part of maternal health (MDG 5), and HIV/AIDS infection (MDG6), as well as under the umbrella of gender equality (MDG 3).  The better they understand sexual and reproductive health rights, the greater the chance of some real progress in the post-2015 framework.

Conclusion #42 (A)(k) States:

Address the multiple and intersecting factors contributing to…equal access to…women’s and adolescent girls’ access to health including sexual and reproductive health care services, and women’s equal access to full and productive employment and decent work, women’s full participation and integration in the formal economy, equal pay for equal work or work of equal value, and equal sharing of unpaid work;

What this means:

One of the more positive points in the Agreed Conclusions, the above text effectively ties poverty reduction and employment to a woman’s ability to protect her sexual and reproductive health rights.  It highlights the need for ‘unpaid care work’ to be treated in the post-2015 framework as a human rights issue, but also a deterrent to real economic growth in the least developed countries.

Not an easy task, but including these sections in their Agreed Conclusions, CSW58 negotiators have sent the intergovernmental panels the message that addressing the three issues of funding, violence against women, and unpaid care work are critical to overall progress on sexual and reproductive health rights of women.

The outcome document will certainly play a role in determining the post-2015 framework and SDGs and will likely lead to sexual and reproductive health rights being addressed more thoroughly than in the MDGs.

Image credit: UNFPA
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