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The International Criminal Court’s Palestine Problem

The Palestinian Authority may ask to join the International Criminal Court, potentially paving the way for war crimes charges to be brought against both Israelis and Palestinians. Mark speaks with international law expert Kevin Jon Heller about the legal and political consequences of a potential ICC investigation into alleged war crimes in Gaza.



Previous episodes

Episode 28: Nancy Birsdall, founder of the Center for Global Development

Why this Ebola Outbreak is So Hard to Contain

Episode 27: Daniel Drezner, counter-intuitive wonk

How to Negotiate a Gaza Ceasefire

Episode 25: Helene Gayle, CEO of CARE, USA. Long-time AIDS-Fighter

How Humanity is Winning the Fight Against AIDS

Episode 24: Joseph Cirincione, Nuclear Policy Wonk 

A Migrant’s Story: Why are So Many Children Fleeing to the USA?

Episode 23: Live from the UN 2014 (Volume 2); A special edition with a slew of UN officials.

Inside the Iran Nuke Talks

Episode 23: Jillian York, Digital Free Speech defender

Turkey’s Strategic Interests in Iraq

Episode 22: Live from the UN, 2014 (Vol 1); A special edition, featuring the President of the General Assembly,  the UN Ambassadors from Vietnam and Jamaica, the head of the UN Association, and more!

The UN’s View of the Iraq Crisis

Episode 21: Thomas Pickering, former Ambassador to the UN, Israel, Jordan, Russia, India and more.

Dying for the World Cup

Episode 20: Jessica Tuchman Matthews, foreign policy trendsetter

Egypt After the Counter Revolution 

Episode 19: Louise Arbour, human rights pioneer.

What Obama Left Out of His Big Foreign Policy Speech

Episode 18: Zalmay Khalizad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the UN.

Why Libya is Suddenly on the Verge of a Civil War 

Episode 17: Gov Bill Richardson, he frees hostages.

The Foreign Policy Implications of India’s Elections

Episode 16: Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children

What Boko Haram Wants

Episode: 15 Laura Turner Seydel, philanthropist

Episode 14: Douglas Ollivant, Iraq expert

Episode 13: Gary Bass, historian

Episode 12: Mark Montgomery, demographer

Episode 11: Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watcher

Episode 10: Live from the UN, Volume 2.

Episode 9: Mia Farrow, humanitarian activist and Goodwill Ambassador

Episode 8: Suzanne Nossel, Big Thinker

Episode 7: Live from the UN, Volume 1. 

Episode 6: PJ Crowley, former State Department Spokesperson

Episode 5: Octavia Nasr, reporter

Episode 4: Arsalan Iftikhar, “The Muslim Guy”

Episode 3: Dodge Billingsley, filmmaker.

Episode 2: Laura Seay,  @TexasinAfrica

Episode 1: Heather Hurlburt, national security wonk


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A Genocide in Iraq?

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The Kurdish Yazidi ethnic group is under extreme assault by ISIS. In the New Yorker, George Packer relays the harrowing tale of entire villages of Yazidis being emptied as ISIS militants make their advance. “Yesterday, a senior U.S. official told me that the Obama Administration is contemplating an airlift, coördinated with the United Nations, of humanitarian supplies by C-130 transport planes to the Yazidis hiding in the Sinjar mountains. There are at least twenty thousand and perhaps as many as a hundred thousand of them, including some peshmerga militiamen providing a thin cover of protection.  The U.N. has reported that dozens of children have died of thirst in the heat. ISIS controls the entrance to the mountains. Iraqi helicopters have dropped some supplies, including food and water, but the refugees are hard to find and hard to reach.” (New Yorker

Ebola Outbreak

Liberia shut a major hospital in the capital Monrovia on Wednesday after a Spanish priest and six other staff contracted Ebola, as the death toll from the worst outbreak of the disease hit 932 in West Africa. (Reuters

The death toll from the world’s worst Ebola outbreak has risen to 932 after 45 patients died between Aug. 2 and Aug. 4, the World Health Organization said in a statement on Wednesday. (Reuters

Nigerian nurse infected with the Ebola virus has died, the second confirmed fatality from the disease in Africa’s most populous nation and leading oil producer, the country’s health minister said on Wednesday. (Reuters

Relatives of Ebola victims in Liberia defied government quarantine orders and dumped infected bodies in the streets as West African governments struggled to enforce tough measures to curb an outbreak. (Reuters

A team of medical ethicists are weighing the implications of making an experimental drug to treat ebola available to west Africans. (ABC


The UN Mission in South Sudan condemned the killing of five Sudanese aid workers, apparently on the basis of their ethnicity. (UNMISS

Uganda’s parliament will try to re-introduce an anti-homosexuality law that was thrown out by a court, a lawmaker leading the effort said on Wednesday, a move that could once again damage relations with the West. (Reuters

The government of the Central African Republic has stepped down. The resignation comes as part of a peace deal aimed at ending months of sectarian violence in which thousands have died. (Deutsche Welle

Rains and insecurity caused by Nigerian Islamist militants are aggravating a cholera outbreak in northern Cameroon which has killed at least 75 people and infected some 1,400 others since April. (IRIN

Thousands of people displaced by floods and a mudslide in the Burundian capital Bujumbura and surrounding areas in February 2014 need more help to reconstruct their homes and livelihoods, aid workers say. (IRIN

Human Rights Watch is calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to ensure that human rights concerns are a major focus of this week’s U.S. African Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. HRW says at least a dozen of the 50 African heads of state attending the event lead repressive governments that have imprisoned journalists, human rights defenders, and anti-corruption campaigners. (VOA


An Egyptian court upheld death sentences on Wednesday against 12 Muslim Brotherhood supporters convicted of killing a police officer last year, judicial sources said. (Reuters


The most effective drug we have against malaria is losing its potency in Southeast Asia. Doctors can still cure most forms of the disease, but it takes longer and more medications. (NPR

Innovation in the fields of renewable energy, food production, water conservation, education and health will be crucial for the developing economies of Asia to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. (IPS

A landslide in Nepal on 2 August killed 33 and 122 are still missing as search and rescue continues. Experts say this event, one of the deadliest in the country’s recent history, is a wake-up call for hazard mapping, early warning, and disaster management. (IRIN

China says the death toll from Sunday’s powerful earthquake in the southwestern province of Yunnan has risen sharply to 589. (VOA

The Americas

Medicare is paying for HIV drugs for hundreds of patients who may not have the disease, an inspector general’s investigation finds. A 77-year-old woman with no record of HIV got $33,500 of medication. (NPR

Three emergency shelters housing an influx of children from Central America who entered the US illegally will be closed because numbers are falling. (BBC


Will these sustainable development goals do the job? (Guardian

Africa is More Organised (SAPA

‘Land Grabs’ and Responsible Agricultural Investment (OSISA

It Is About the Money, Stupid – U.S.-Africa Summit Comes to Life (Daily Maverick

Global Health blog: Is PrEP Cost-Effective? (CGD

An Elusive Peace for the Central African Republic (UN Dispatch

Is the $200 million World Bank pledge toward the $73 million WHO request in fighting Ebola enough? (Haba na Haba

The Saddest PDF in the Whole Internet (Campaign for Boring Development

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Middle East; Ebola; South Sudan

Middle East: At today’s informal session of the General Assembly on Gaza the SG remarked that the most recent ceasefire has held since yesterday at 8 a.m. local time. He noted that a durable ceasefire is necessary and UN shelters must continue to remain safe zones. The SG thanked UN staff in Gaza and will fly the UN flag at half-mast tomorrow in memory of those who died in the conflict. Ambassador Power stated the US position of continued support for parties to engage in dialogue to resolve the entrenched differences as well as the US commitment to UN and humanitarian actors as they have already provided $50 million to address humanitarian needs.

Ebola: WHO updated statistics on the Ebola virus in West Africa reporting that the total number of cases has now reached 1,711 with 932 deaths. The Organization meets today in an Emergency Committee of international experts to review the outbreak.

South Sudan: The ASG for Peacekeeping Operations briefed the Security Council on South Sudan this morning remarking that the country is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. The ASG urged parties to promptly reach an agreement on how to end the conflict. UNMISS  reported that 110 peacekeepers arrived in Bunj today to protect UN and humanitarian personnel as 220 NGO and UN international staff were flown out of the region for their safety and security.

Ukraine: At yesterday’s Security Council meeting on Ukraine, John Ging of UNRWA spoke for UN Humanitarian Chief Amos relaying the deteriorating humanitarian situation as 3.9 million people live in areas directly affected by violence. Ging remarked that immediate action is required to prevent the crisis from worsening as 1,367 people have already been killed in Ukraine since April. Ambassador Power echoed the call for immediate action and noted that “Russia can stop all of this. The surest way to end violence is for Russia to stop the flow of fighters, weapons and money from Russia into eastern Ukraine.”

Iraq: The Security Council condemned the attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and called upon all Iraqi communities to respond to the threat against the country’s unity. UNHCR reported that 200,000 have fled Sinjar to escape the conflict.

Africa Summit: At the US-Africa Business Forum yesterday, Obama pledged $33 billion in US private and public assistance to Africa. The pledge demonstrates the US commitment to long-term investments in Africa’s future.

Hiroshima Anniversary: Marking the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, the SG sent a message to the Peace Memorial Ceremony in Japan remarking that today’s commemoration “connects memories of a tragic past with the vision of a future free of nuclear weapons.” He called for immediate action so survivors of the bombing and the world can witness the destruction of the last nuclear weapon.

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An Elusive Peace for the Central African Republic

Mere days after the Forum for National Reconciliation and Political Dialogue for the Central African Republic in Brazzaville, the frail cease-fire agreement between Seleka and anti-balaka has already been shattered. Over 22 people were killed last week in Batangafo, a town near the border with Chad (which also happens to be former CAR president Francois Bozizé’s hometown), while some members of the Seleka were killed during a clash with French troops yesterday. Meanwhile, the interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, asked for Prime Minister Andre Nzapayeke and his cabinet’s resignation on August 5. The PM and his government resigned, but no new Prime Minister has been appointed yet, leaving an undesirable political vacuum during a critical time.  

The PM and cabinet’s resignation is supposed to fulfill the promise made during the Brazzaville negotiations to make the government more inclusive and representative. But,  given the timing of the resignation – in the wake of a new cycle of violence and a broken cease-fire – the move appears weak and scrambled. Samba-Panza, whose sterling business and political reputation prior to becoming her country’s president has not translated into a strong presidency, seems to be influenced by events, rather than the other way around. The Associated Press is speculating that a Muslim Prime Minister will be selected to replace Nzapayeke, a move that would potentially appease the Seleka movement, but may also anger the Christian majority and the anti-balaka.

But to try and predict what the reaction will be is almost a futile exercise – as we alluded to in our last piece about the cease-fire agreement, the official negotiators representing the Seleka and anti-balaka movements are not speaking on behalf of homogeneous groups. Whatever was agreed to in the comfortable conference center in Brazzaville was not necessarily going translate into a direct improvement on the ground. And, indeed, as the events of the past 10 days have shown, it did not. Symbolizing the rift between the various strands of the broad Seleka movement and the factional nature of the violent groups in the CAR, earlier last week, Seleka military chief Joseph Zoundeiko told the BBC that his forces would ignore the cease-fire, which did not take into account the views of the movement’s military wing. Another Seleka representative, Ahmat Nedjad, told Reuters that the agreement was broken right after it was signed.

As the conflict continues to kill, wound, displace and disrupt people’s lives in the CAR, a long-term, sustainable peaceful resolution appears difficult to reach. With highly divided and factionalized actors in the conflict, negotiations will continue to be challenging at best, and ineffectual at worst. In addition, as many analysts and human rights defenders have noted, there has been no serious discussions about bringing perpetrators to account, and nothing was included in the most recent agreement about prosecuting for war crimes or crimes against humanity. The interrelated questions of impunity, immunity and accountability loom large, and will need to be addressed for any sort of sustainable – and just – peace. 

Photo credit: Catherine Samba-Panza at a meeting in the CAR – May 2014. UN Women Flickr Photo Stream.


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The Unusual but Dangerous Connection Between Gaza and Ebola

Two of the gravest crises in the world today may soon converge. The outcome could be disastrous for nearly everyone on the planet.

According to news reports, the Palestinian Authority is currently weighing whether or not to join the International Criminal Court, which could potentially lead to war crimes charges for alleged crimes committed in Gaza. This is in part a way to pursue justice for victims of the recent fighting, but also a manifestation Palestinians’ long-term strategy to secure the trappings of statehood by joining international institutions.

Palestine has already been accepted as a member state of UNESCO, the UN’s scientific and cultural organization. It was also granted “non-member observer state” status at the UN General Assembly in 2012. The Palestinian leadership had promised to hold off joining the ICC and various UN bodies pending the conclusion of the John Kerry-lead peace talks. But since those talks broke down in April leading to fighting in Gaza, all bets are off.

The Palestinian Authority is now more likely than ever to join a variety of international institutions and UN agencies. Should that include the World Health Organization, the current fight against the spread of Ebola in west Africa would be severely undermined.

Of course, the conflict in Gaza and the ebola outbreak should have nothing to do with each other. But a pair of US laws on the books since the 1990s blocks the United States government from funding any United Nations entity that accepts Palestine as a member. There are no waivers built into the law, meaning that as soon as Palestine joins a UN-backed institution, American funding for that institution is automatically cut off. This happened in 2012, when UNESCO’s member states admitted Palestine. Up to then, the USA had funded about a third of UNESCO’s operations (including Holocaust education programs and a tsunami early warning system) but promptly cut that funding once Palestine was admitted as a member of UNESCO.

This brings us to Ebola.  Health systems in West Africa are overwhelmed and the World Health Organization has appealed for $100 million to contain the outbreak. This includes buying more protective equipment, expanding isolation wards in hospitals, and boosting epidemiological surveillance and public awareness campaigns. The USA is the largest contributor to the WHO’s $4 billion budget, and has so far contributed over $5 million to the Ebola emergency response plan. But under current U.S. law, if Palestine joins the WHO, the USA would be prevented from funding the WHO at all–let alone contribute to its Ebola emergency response plan.

As it stands, it is highly likely that Palestine will seek membership to the World Health Organization in the near future. It is also highly unlikely that US Congress will any time soon amend those decades-old laws that punish UN bodies for admitting Palestine as members.  This means there will come a time — probably sooner than you think — that the USA will pull its funding from the World Health Organization’s disease-fighting efforts around the world.

This is myopic public policy. It’s also insane–and somewhat detrimental to the survival of human beings as a species.


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Kidnapped Nigerian Girls Spotted

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The good news is they have been spotted. The bad news is the USA is reducing the number of surveillance flights and there is no strategy to secure the girls’ release. “Recent U.S. surveillance flights over northeastern Nigeria showed what appeared to be large groups of girls held together in remote locations, raising hopes among domestic and foreign officials that they are among the group that Boko Haram abducted from a boarding school in April, U.S. and Nigerian officials said. The surveillance suggests that at least some of the 219 schoolgirls still held captive haven’t been forced into marriage or sex slavery, as had been feared, but instead are being used as bargaining chips for the release of prisoners.” (WSJ

Obama  Announces Big Pledges at Africa Leaders Summit…”In his remarks to the summit’s U.S.-Africa Business Forum, Obama discussed pledges of more than $14 billion by various American businesses for help with projects involving clean energy, aviation, banking and construction. Coca-Cola will help provide clean water, General Electric will assist with infrastructure development, and Marriott will build more hotels, Obama said…The president discussed a total of $33 billion in public and private commitments, including $7 billion in new financing to promote U.S. exports and investments in Africa and $12 billion in help from the president’s Power Africa initiative involving private-sector partners, the World Bank and the government of Sweden.” (USA Today

Global Dispatches Podcast: The Nancy Birdsall interview:

Ebola Outbreak

The World Bank said that it would provide up to $200 million to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to help the West African nations contain a deadly Ebola outbreak. (AP

Liberian officials say they are working hard to correct problems resulting in a backlog of the collection and burial of Ebola-related bodies. (VOA

A U.S. missionary who contracted Ebola has been evacuated from Liberia aboard a special medical flight. Nancy Writebol was flown out of Monrovia Tuesday and is expected to arrive in the United States later in the day. (VOA

Doctors in Saudi Arabia are testing a patient suspected of having contracted Ebola during a trip to West Africa, hit by an epidemic of the virus, the health ministry said Tuesday. (Yahoo

Lagos has eight suspected cases of Ebola, all in people who came into contact with Nigeria’s first victim who died last month, the health commissioner said on Tuesday, with one case confirmed. (Reuters


Amnesty International accused Nigeria’s military and its supporting civilian militia on Tuesday of “extensive human rights violations” in their fight against Boko Haram in the country’s northeast. (AFP

A leading Sudanese opposition party called for a transitional government to help resolve multiple crises in the impoverished, war-ravaged nation. (AP

In a joint assault on a Ugandan rebel movement, the Congolese army and UN troops have freed more than 250 civilian hostages in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a senior official said. (AP

A new development bank launched by emerging economies will help all nations in distress to return to health, South African President Jacob Zuma said. (AP

Security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday arrested senior opposition lawmaker Jean-Bertrand Ewanga, a day after a rally to oppose any extension of presidential rule, his party said. (AFP

The UN’s refugee agency says is it dismayed by the killing of an aid worker in a new outbreak of fighting in South Sudan. (AP

Somalia’s government asked for help Tuesday, warning the war-torn nation once again faced a hunger and drought catastrophe three years after famine killed more than a quarter of a million people. (AP

A humanitarian aid worker was shot and killed Monday in Upper Nile state in South Sudan, as talks to restore peace in the country resumed in Addis Ababa. (VOA

Her family said they were going on a vacation. But Nimco Ali was taken to a woman who performed female genital mutilation. Now Ali is helping the more than 100,000 girls in the U.K. possibly at risk. (NPR


Israel’s continuing restrictions on economic development in Palestine are causing so much suffering and such “deep resentment” that they now threaten to undermine rather than preserve the country’s security, a cross-party group of British MPs has warned. (Guardian

The UN Security Council has backed Lebanon’s military action against extremist groups but urged it to stay out of the conflict in neighbouring Syria, as Beirut vowed no leniency for the “terrorist killers”. (AP


Bangladeshi garment workers staging a hunger strike for nine days to press for back-pay and a holiday bonus clashed with police in the capital, Dhaka, on Tuesday, police and witnesses said. (Reuters

Cambodia says it has asked China to restrict the number of visas it issues to single Cambodian women, to prevent the brokering of marriages to Chinese men. (VOA

Not really Asia, but noteworthy: About 730,000 Ukrainians have left the country for Russia this year due to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, the European head of the United Nations agency for refugees said on Tuesday, pointing to a far bigger exodus than previously thought. (AP

The Americas

A US program in Cuba that secretly used an HIV-prevention workshop for political activism was criticized by international public health officials and members of Congress who said such clandestine efforts put health programs at risk around the world. (AP

Over the last few months some 13,000 Munduruku have been protesting against the Brazilian government’s plans to build a series of hydroelectric dams that will flood part of their land on the upper reaches of the Tapajos river. (BBC

A group of banks may be about to buy some of the Argentine bonds owned by a group of creditors demanding repayment in full on their $1.5 billion stash of Argentine debt. (VOA

USAID and The Rockefeller Foundation announced a $100 million Global Resilience Partnership that lays out a bold new vision for building resilience to chronic stresses and increasing shocks in communities across Africa and Asia. (USAID


U.N.’s “Responsibility to Protect” Another Casualty in Gaza (IPS

Why African Stats Are Often Wrong (CGD

Interview with outgoing Africa Great Lakes Special Envoy Mary Robinson (IRIN

We should defend the rights of Gaza’s children (ODI

“Just Turn the Volume Up”: An Interview with Afrikan Boy (Think African Press

Will Climate Change Lead to Conflict or Cooperation? (IPS


Poorly fed children rob Africa of up to 16 percent of its potential growth, making investment in programs to end malnutrition as critical to the continent’s future as building bridges and roads, African leaders and development officials said. (TRF

Impact of religion on security risk management (EISF

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