The Irish Defence Minister has officially banned recreational soccer football for the 400 Irish troops stationed in Chad as part of the UN mission there.
Defence Minister Willie O’Dea said the decision was made for health and safety reasons. “The reality in Chad is that the ground is extremely hard. Some of the sports are played out on open ground and when people fall, it tends to have a much greater impact on their bodies than falling in a field in Ireland, where the ground is not nearly as hard,” he told the Dáil.
(Not to worry — “indoor judo” is still acceptable, according to the Irish defence brass.)
The ground is not too hard — or more importantly, not yet too muddy — for Chadian rebels to attempt, in fits and starts, their annual assault on the capital, N’djamena. Naturally, the latest fighting — in which Chadian rebels were most likely supported by the Sudanese government — occurred just days after Chad and Sudan pledged to halt violence against one another for what seems like the umpteenth time.
Chad’s government says it has repelled the attacks — and the rebels insist they are still moving toward N’djamena. The rebels’ gambit seems a little desperate this time around, but the UN has rightly voiced concern about the impact of both the rebel violence and Chad’s reprisal bombings on the country’s stability and the situation of the 300,000 refugees in the east.
In case the fighting gets too close, it’s good to know that at least the Irish peacekeepers can still practice their judo.
(image of Irish peacekeepers, from flickr user EDWARD DULLARD)
I have a piece up on The New Republic’s website arguing that the Obama administration’s response to the Sri Lanka crisis augurs well for the place of human rights in American foreign policy.
Over the past four months an estimated 6,500 ethnic-Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka have died at the hands of their own government. Tens of thousands more have been injured. Unlike humanitarian crises in places like Darfur, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this outbreak of violence occurred almost entirely during President Obama’s first 100 days. It is the first man-made humanitarian crisis of the Obama era. So far, the Obama administration’s response to the crisis in Sri Lanka is encouraging to those who believe that human rights–in name and deed–should enjoy a prominent place in American foreign policy.
One of the more disturbing aspects of the Israeli Defense Forces incursion and shelling of Gaza last winter was the fact that United Nations buildings and personnel were routinely hit. In fact, there were nine incidents in which UN staff or property came under attack.
Yesterday, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon forwarded a 27 page summary (h/t Innercity Press) of a UN report on the nine attacks during operation Cast Lead to the Security Council.
Reading the summary, a troubling pattern emerges in which 1) the UN gives GPS coordinates of its buildings to the IDF 2) civilians seeking shelter from IDF bombing gather at UN compounds or schools believing they would be safe 3) The IDF drops bombs on or near these UN compounds, killing or injuring the civilians therein 4) The IDF later says rockets were launched from the vicinity.
The report raises the serious question of whether or not the IDF deliberately targeted the UN during operation Cast Lead. Either way, it is clear that the IDF was not as vigilant as it could have been about avoiding UN targets — and avoiding civilian casualties more broadly. For example, the report finds that the IDF used an incendiary substance called White Phosphorous in an attack on a UN compound and a UN school where hundreds of civilians had taken shelter.
Now, Hamas is a terrorist organization so we would not expect it to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. And, indeed, the report finds one incident in which a likely Hamas rocket fell short of its target and hit a World Food Program warehouse.
Still, I think it is fair to say we should hold Israel to a higher standard. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be much accountability in the offing. For one, Israel declined to cooperate with a UN Human Rights Council authorized investigation by the lauded jurist Richard Goldstone. Second, the IDF has dismissed claims by its own soldiers that its rules of engagement were lax. Third, the Secretary General, in forwarding the report to the Security Council, did not immediately endorse one of the recommendations that he appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate incidents beyond the nine attacks on UN facilities.
The saga continues.
Photo from Flickr user Ghasal
Somalia is sick and tired of Eritrean arms being funneled to al-Shabaab terrorists. Eritrea is sick and tired “tired and sick” of being accused of funneling arms to al-Shabaab terrorists in Somalia. Somalis are probably sick and tired of being caught between arms smuggling in a country already awash with guns.
Eritrea certainly had made a practice of arming Somali insurgent groups to fight the Ethiopian forces occupying Somalia. This was not out of sympathy with the Somalis who detested this occupation, but rather to tie up the hands of the Ethiopian military, with whom Eritrea remains on tense terms over a border dispute. The Ethiopians, of course, have since departed Somalia, but it might still be in Eritrea’s interests to keep things roiling there.
As for Eritrea’s claims, that “ulterior motives” are behind Somalia’s accusations of Eritrean arms trafficking and that “western powers” are the ones responsible for Somalia’s internal problems, they sound pretty similar to the counter-attacks one might expect of a government accused of illegal arms shipments. Yes, Western countries have also been guilty of “meddling” in Somalia, but that does not make Eritrea’s influence — which, as a regional actor, could be considered much greater — any less damaging, “ulterior motives” or not.
This is just amazing. The Sri Lankan government denied a visa to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, apparently fearful that Bildt would add his voice to the growing international chorus condeming the military’s counter-insurgency tactics that have claimed at least 6,000 civilian lives since January. The AFP has a startling quote from an un-named Sri Lankan foreign ministry official who exhibits a troubling animosity toward Europe.
“The Swedish minister also wanted to jump on that bandwagon and we said no,” the official said.
“Some think they can land up at our airport and expect a red carpet treatment. We are not a colony and neither a bankrupt Third World country. Our main donors are in Asia, not in Europe,” the official added.
In fact, the International Monetary Fund is currently in negotiations with Sri Lanka over a $1.9 billion loan. I imagine that the un-named government official is miffed that the loan has not been approved quicker. Still, playing hostile with the Europeans may not be the best way to get that loan approved.
The UN and AU’s joint special representative to Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, recently opined that Darfur is a “low-intensity conflict.” Lest this comment be construed to mean that the crisis in western Sudan is no longer much of a big deal — which I doubt it will, largely because of the domestic issue that Darfur has become, but also because the term “low-intensity conflict” has a very specific definitional meaning, and is not a value judgment on the severity of a conflict — but it’s worthwhile to point out the obvious: Darfur has been a “low-intensity conflict” for a long time now — four years, some might argue — but that does not diminish the importance of solving the crisis one iota. Rather, as the terrifying example of the Democratic Republic of Congo attests to, a “low-intensity conflict” is just the kind that can be the most consistently deadly, and the easiest for the international media to ignore.
That said, I don’t share Nick Kristof’s worries that the Obama Administration’s policy toward Darfur thus far amounts to “appeasement.” Without relegating Darfur to the backseat of international priorities — and he did appoint Scott Gration as his Special Envoy relatively quickly — it’s important to address the crisis based on an accurate reading of the current situation. This does not mean swallowing Khartoum’s propaganda, or being guilelessly led astray by its prevarications and obstructionism, too feckless to wield sticks. But it does mean that if some sanctions are not contributing to a political solution that will solve the region’s root problems, then, yes, they should be reassessed. And it certainly means that if bombing Sudan would prove counter-productive (and it would), then we should look to other means of ensuring that Sudan does not conduct further bombing raids on its own population.
The fact is, Darfur in 2009 is not the same as Darfur in 2004, and recognizing this is imperative to formulating a sensible policy toward it.
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.