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Another attack on UN personnel

That it occurred in Somalia, which has seen far too many deaths of UN workers, should come as no surprise. But this time, the UN fought back.

Suspected Islamist insurgents stormed a United Nations compound overnight in southern Somalia, witnesses said on Monday, but UN guards fought back and killed three of the attackers in a gun battle.

One UN official in Wajid, 70km northwest of Baidoa, said about 10 heavily armed men attacked them overnight. The compound is used for storing humanitarian aid.

"After several minutes shooting our security guards repulsed the attackers and killed three of them," the UN official told Reuters.

While it was very fortunate that no UN personnel were killed (one guard was injured), it must be said that this success should not be taken as a policy blueprint. UN guards are not meant to defend against bands of militants, and it's only a matter of time until an incident like this goes much, much worse.

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Dear Greece and Macedonia, get over it

Few topics spark as intense debate among a cadre of readers of this blog than the dispute over the proper name of the country to the immediate north of Greece, south of Serbia, east from Albania and west from Bulgaria.  The capital of this country is Skopje. 

This country is known formally as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," FYROM for short.  The government of this country wants it simply to be called "The Republic of Macedonia." However, Greece objects to this appelation because it shares the name of the adjacent Greek province called "Macedonia."  So, since independence, the two countries have been in constant dispute. 

Enter the United Nations. Specifically, mediator Matthew Nimitz, who has tried to broker a compromise. He is meeting with both sides this week and according to this regional paper the newest innovation on the negotiating table is "Republic of Northern Macedonia."  

We'll see how far that goes.  In the meantime, I think it's useful to remind folks on both sides of the dispute that this kind of nationalism is just stupid. It can also turn dangerous.  And if you want to know how this all looks from the outside, the answer is really, really petty. 

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Maasai on video

This is cool:

The Maasai people of Laikipia in Kenya have received digital recording equipment, marking a milestone in a United Nations-backed pilot-project aimed at helping indigenous communities document and preserve their cultural heritage, the UN intellectual property agency announced today.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) handed over a digital camera, sound recording equipment and a laptop computer to Chief Kisio and other elders of the Maasai community at a formal ceremony attended by some 200 its members in late July.

The ceremony was a landmark event in the agency’s Creative Heritage Project, which provides indigenous communities with opportunities to digitally preserve expressions of their culture and traditions, as well as training in how to protect their intellectual property from unwanted exploitation.

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Peacekeeping’s challenges, and Obama at the UN

There was a big meeting at the Security Council today about UN Peacekeping, spurred by the publication of a so-called "non paper"  by the UK and France on peacekeeping reform.

Meanwhile, at a press stakeout outside of this event, Susan Rice elaborated on the heads of state meeting on non-proliferation, to be chaired by President Obama on September 24 at the Security Council.

Reporter:  President Obama is coming in September, we saw your statement yesterday, what are you hoping will come out of this?  Will it be a resolution, maybe a Presidential Statement?  And what would, why was the decision made that it wouldn’t focus on individual countries because ultimately it is all about countries that you know might…

Ambassador Rice: No, it isn’t all about.  We want to secure loose nuclear material within four years. We want to start a follow-on agreement. We want to ratify CTBT. We want to have a fissile material cut-off.  There are many, many issues out there that are important and relevant that go beyond individual countries. And we are dealing with the individual countries every day in the Security Council, as we just have, I think quite effectively, with North Korea and as we continue to review and to deal with the situation of Iran and any all and other proliferation concerns. 

So, this is an opportunity that we very much welcome, that will bring the Security Council further into the discussion of the sorts of topics that President Obama raised in his speech in Prague.  And it is an opportunity for the Council, which obviously has a deep stake in nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament to continue its thinking and to concert its action. We will work very closely with our partners in the Council over the coming weeks to ensure that it’s a maximally productive session.

 Reporter:  Madam Ambassador, a follow up on that. You didn’t quite answer…

Ambassador Rice: You noticed.

Reporter: …Lou’s question on whether there is going to be any kind of any kind of an outcome document. But obviously this meeting is coming ahead of the 2010 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I am certain that part of this is also to see that this discussion gets underway earlier because a lot of the issues you just raised are part of that.  Am I right in saying that? And do you have firm commitments that heads of state and government will be attending this Security Council meeting?

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How much shame can child murderers really have?

Don't get me wrong, I am wholly supportive of this step, mostly because of the consensus required to enact it:

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to name and shame countries and insurgents groups engaged in conflicts that lead to children being killed, maimed and raped.

The council resolution will expand a U.N. list that in March identified more than 60 governments and armed groups that recruit child soldiers.

But, first, it's already pretty clear which countries or groups are responsible for the deaths and rapes of children, isn't it? Second, naming and shaming alone obviously won't suffice. Anyone who can kill innocent children is likely lacking in the moral compunction department, so "shame" would seem to be out of their range of emotional responses to this crime.

That said, this is an impressive and positive step for the Security Council to take unanimously. The tougher part, of course, will be following the naming and shaming with concrete and effective action.

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UN Group issues recommendations on U.S. use of mercenaries

One tricky area of international and national law is how to approach private military contractors.  So-called PMSC, or Private Military and Security Companies are becoming a more and more common feature of international security operations.  The suite of national and international law, however, has generally not kept pace with the increasingly frequent use of armed forces that are not government entities.   This is a relatively new, post-cold war phenomenon that has come to the fore with the expansive use of PMSCs in American-led operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Into this mix is a UN body affiliated with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, called the Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries.  The "group" as it were, is a panel of five independent international experts, led by Shaista *Shameem of Fiji.  Today, the group concluded a two-week fact finding mission in the United States and released a set of recommendations. It found that significant progress has been made on regularizing accountability mechanisms for PMSCs through legislation enacted in January 2008 and an internal Department of Defense "Interim Final Rule" issued in January 2009.  Still, the working group identified areas where the United States could improve its oversight of PMSCs. 

Although the US authorities have put in place mechanisms to better monitor PMSCs,there is still very little information accessible to the public on the scope and type of contracts. The lack of transparency is particularly significant when companies subcontract to others. The Working Group would like to reiterate that the responsibility of the State to protect human rights does not stop with contracting or subcontracting. It is indeed the responsibility of the State to ensure that any contractor to which it outsources its functions, fully respects human rights, and, in cases of violations is prosecuted and held accountable.

The Working Group is greatly concerned that PSMCs contracted by US Intelligence agencies are not subject to scrutiny from the US Congress and Government, due to classified information. The Working Group believes the public should have the right to access information on the scope, type and value of those contracts. The Working Group hopes that the US Government will take the necessary steps to remove all obstacles to transparency and accountability on the intelligence activities contracted to PMSCs in order to ensure full respect for and protection of human rights and prevent any situation that may lead to impunity of contractors for violations of human rights.

To that end, the working group offered a few recommendations:

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The UN and the San Francisco 49ers

collective securityI'm in San Francisco at the moment---back to where it all began, you might say--and saw this headline in the San Francisco Examiner:  "United Nations Could Help Replace 49ers."

Now, for readers not familiar with American sports,  '49ers' refers to the San Francisco-based (American) football team, which were a dominant force in the late 1980s and 1990s.   Contra the headline, Ban Ki Moon will not replace Joe Montana. Rather, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that a site once thought to be reserved for a new football stadium will now go to a new United Nations Global Compact center to study global warming.  The San Francisco Chronicle says:

"The 80,000-square-foot United Nations Global Compact Center will include office space for academics and scientists, an incubator to foster green tech start-ups, and a conference center."

A very nice get for the city that gave birth to the UN. 

Image of San Francisco 49ers engaging in a form of collective security, from Flikr user ravencrest.

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Rice signs “first human rights treaty of the 21st century”

Amid "applause and a smattering of hoots" Susan Rice signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilties at ceremony at the United Nations yesterday.  Bravo. 

Here are full remarks from Ambassador Rice and trusted aid to the Obamas, Valerie Jarret.

Ambassador Rice: Thank you all so much. It’s really a tremendous honor to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on behalf of the United States.

This Treaty, as you all know, is the first new human rights convention of the 21st century adopted by the United Nations and further advances the human rights of the 650 million people with disabilities worldwide. It urges equal protection and equal benefits under the law for all citizens, it rejects discrimination in all its forms, and calls for the full participation and inclusion in society of all persons with disabilities.