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What’s Topping Obama’s Agenda at the United Nations

President Obama will be in New York for three days, starting Wednesday. Where he will be going, who he will be meeting, and one big event that is surprisingly off his schedule.

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Mass Sickness of Afghan Schoolgirls Raises Poisoning Fears

Since April 21, at least eighty Afghan schoolgirls at three schools in the increasingly violent northern city of Kunduz have mysteriously fallen ill after reporting a strange smell in their classrooms. Most of the affected girls have been hospitalized briefly and released, but the sudden, mysterious epidemic of fainting and nausea is raising fears of poisoning by opponents of girls’ education.

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Richard Goldstone in the New York Times

The famed jurist explains why the international community should concern itself with accountability for alledged war crimes in Israel and Gaza.

both Israel and Hamas have dismal records of investigating their own forces. I am unaware of any case where a Hamas fighter was punished for deliberately shooting a rocket into a civilian area in Israel — on the contrary, Hamas leaders repeatedly praise such acts. While Israel has begun investigations into alleged violations by its forces in the Gaza conflict, they are unlikely to be serious and objective.

Absent credible local investigations, the international community has a role to play. If justice for civilian victims cannot be obtained through local authorities, then foreign governments must act. There are various mechanisms through which to pursue international justice. The International Criminal Court and the exercise of universal jurisdiction by other countries against violators of the Geneva Conventions are among them. But they all share one overarching aim: to hold accountable those who violate the laws of war. They are built on the premise that abusive fighters and their commanders can face justice, even if their government or ruling authority is not willing to take that step.

 

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Crimes were committed, now what?

We knew this day was coming.  And, true to his reputation, the Goldstone report provides a dispassionate account of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity committed both by Hamas and during Operation Cast lead. There is a lot of horrifying stuff contained there in. I suggest you have a look.

The question is, now what?

The report suggests that the Security Council refer the situation to the International Criminal Court should local processes fail to provide appropriate accountability for the alledged crimes.   That is the sort of route taken by the Council when it came to crimes in Darfur.  Sudan, like Israel, is not a member of the ICC, so any court action would have to be mandated by the Security Council.  Presumably, this sort of action would be blocked by Israel’s historical ally on the Council, but so far, the American government has been silent on the Goldstone report.  We’ll have to wait and see how firmly the Obama administration stands behind the recommendations contained therein. 

Meanwhile, Abraham Foxman debases himself with this kind of sentiment:

Israel refused to deal with Goldstone or the council, despite Goldstone’s Jewish credentials and longstanding ties to Israel — he’s a trustee of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, among other things. Foxman suggested that the United Nations was using Goldstone’s credibility to disguise an inherently biased report.

The idea that one of South Africa’s leading anti-apartheid activists and a former head of the Rwanda and Yugolosav war crimes tribunal is just a patsy would be laughable if it did not come from the president of a formerly respectible group like the ADL. 

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U.S. Takes Its Seat on the HRC

Today the U.S. officially took its seat on the UN Human Rights Council, after being elected in June.  This is the first time the U.S. has chosen to participate in the revamped Council, created to replace the UN Human Rights Commission in 2006.

The highlights of Asst. Secretary of State Esther Brimmer’s remarks:

The charge of the Human Rights Council ties closely to the United States’ own history and culture. Freedom of speech, expression and belief. Due process. Equal rights for all. These enduring principles have animated some of the proudest moments in America’s journey. These human rights and fundamental freedoms are, in effect, a part of our national DNA, just as they are a part of the DNA of the United Nations. And yet, we recognize that the United States’ record on human rights is imperfect. Our history includes lapses and setbacks, and there remains a great deal of work to be done.

Building on those bedrock foundations, the United States’ aspirations for the Human Rights Council encompass several key themes. The first is universality. The principles contained [in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] are as resonant today as they were when Eleanor Roosevelt led the Commission that enshrined them. We can not pick and choose which of these rights we embrace nor select who among us are entitled to them. These rights extend to all, and the United States can not accept that any among us would be condemned to live without them.

The second is dialogue. The Human Rights Council is unique in its ability to draw together countries for serious, fact-based and forward looking debate on human rights abuses. [T]he United States will be an active and constructive participant. We will not resolve our differences overnight, nor end abuses with the wave of a hand or even the passage of a resolution. We approach this mindful of the long-haul, ready to devote the time it takes to build understanding and shared will to act.

The third is principle. We have come together as Human Rights Council members on the basis of shared principles. Our challenge lies in taking these principles – reflected in the Universal Declaration and many other broad based human rights instruments – and applying them in an even-handed way to situations that defy easy resolution. Defending our core principles from compromise and applying them fairly under all circumstances will require steadfastness and courage from all of us.

The fourth is truth. Make no mistake; the United States will not look the other way in the face of serious human rights abuses. The truth must be told, the facts brought to light and the consequences faced. While we will aim for common ground, we will call things as we see them and we will stand our ground when the truth is at stake.

More after the jump.

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Is Sri Lanka determined to become an international pariah?

The government of Sri Lanka has ordered the expulsion of a UNICEF spokesperson.  UNICEF Director Ann Veneman and Secretary General Ban Ki Moon have objected to the decision.  But authorities in Columbo apparently stand by their decision to expel the Australian James Elder, chief of communications for UNICEF’s operations in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan authorities have not stated what offense Elder committed. Chances are, however, that it has something to do with UNICEF speaking out on behalf of children affected by a brutal counter-insurgency against the Tamil Tigers.  To date, over 200,000 ethnic Tamils are being forced to live in military run internment camps, largely off limits to the press and international humanitarian community. 

Expelling a UNICEF spokesperson is not exactly the behavior of a responsible government.  Sri Lanka is well on its way to becoming an international pariah state, on par with the governments of Eritrea, Iran, Sudan, North Korea, and Burma. 

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