article placeholder

Blogging Iraq’s Upcoming Elections

An innovative way to prepare for Iraqi elections:
purple finger.jpg
A new United Nations-supported blog site just launched in Baghdad is the latest initiative to engage voters in the nascent democracy and motivate them to go to the polls on 31 January 2009 during the country's provincial elections.The blog, called "Vote for Iraq" can be found on and was launched with the support of the UN-led International Election Assistance Team (IEAT).
Voters will just have to make sure not to get too much purple ink on their keyboards.(image of the dyed finger of an Iraqi voter in 2005 elections, from flickr user carcollectorz under a Creative Commons license)
article placeholder

Politics and Pessimism in Somalia

Regarding the most recent of Somalia's tumultuous political twists, Jeffrey Gettleman asks the right question:
Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the cantankerous president of beleaguered Somalia, resigned Monday. The question now is, will it make a difference?Could it be the death knell of Somalia's transitional government, whose zone of control is down to a few city blocks in a country nearly as big as Texas? Or will it be the government's saving grace?
The answer, as should be expected, is that no one really knows. Everyone seems to be optimistic, though. Yglesias calls it "good news (by Somalia standards)," and the U.S. State Department and UN Special Envoy are both aboard the glass half-full train. And while the fact that a (unpopular and probably corrupt) leader did step down peacefully from a national leadership position in a traditionally, ahem, undemocratic state is certainly to be applauded, the magnetic pessimism in Mogadishu is tough to resist.One context in which I am surprised not to have seen this latest development analyzed is one with regard to Yusuf's last attempted initiative before bowing out -- his botched effort to (illegally) "fire" his prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein. It seems pretty clear that this was a last-minute power gamble by Yusuf, and upon its failing, he felt obliged to step down. Whether this makes Yusuf's resignation equally politically waterlogged is unclear. The quotation, from a former employee of Yusuf, with which Gettleman chooses to end his piece, however, is telling.
"Maybe on the outside, to the international community, the resignation will matter," he said. "But not on the inside."
Here's hoping it will at least matter on land and on sea in Somalia.
article placeholder

Peacekeeping and Expectations

Julia Keyser at the great new Enough Said blog takes on the thorny issue of whether UN peacekeeping "take-overs" help or hurt efforts undertaken by regional missions in conflict zones.
There is ample evidence that UN missions may actually prolong a conflict -- if there is no peace to keep. With Somalia once again facing serious violence and humanitarian crisis, the members of the UN Security Council must remember that UN missions are not a substitute for genuine political will, effective diplomacy and a practical plan to end a conflict.
The question of whether there is something about the dynamic of the actual take-over itself of a mission -- the process of transitioning from the African Union-led efforts in Darfur to the "re-hatted" hybrid operation under UN control, for example -- that improves or diminishes chances of success is clearly subsumed by the broader one of whether any peacekeeping mission is feasible and potentially beneficial in a given conflict scenario. The expectation that the UN will do a "better" job than a regional organization is simply an extension of the misguided belief that cobbling together some sort of peacekeeping force will be a silver bullet for a problem.In cases in which a peacekeeping operation cannot halt conflict on its own -- which is to say, never, though the chart that Julia cites does show that conflicts in which peacekeepers are deployed do reignite less often and take longer to do so than those without -- this perverse international response to crises sets up a predictable double-dip of disappointment. First the world sighs when a beleaguered regional cannot impose peace on a chaotic society (e.g. Somalia); then it chastises the UN when its blue helmets also cannot square the circle of keeping a peace that does not exist. It would save a lot of time, money, and lives to recognize this pattern before precipitously looking to peacekeepers as a one-size-fits-all panacea to any problem.
article placeholder

The Republic Formerly Known As Macedonia

The Ambassador At Large points out some rather tongue-in-cheek suggestions from Gregg Easterbrook on how to resolve the, er, name problem of the so-called (and very strictly so, if you ask a Greek) Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
macedonia map.jpg
  • The Republic Formerly Known As Prince.
  • Steve. Wouldn't Steve be a cool name for a nation?
  • An Obscure, Landlocked Mountainous Region Along the Vardar River.
  • Emmanuelle. Really sexy woman's name might increase tourism.
  • ROM. Subliminally suggests Republic of Macedonia, but the official name would be just initials -- like KFC -- thus frustrating Greece's objection.
  • Skopje and So Much More!
  • The Greatest Nation in Human History. This would force the United Nations to say, "Now we will hear from the delegate representing The Greatest Nation in Human History."
  • The United States of America. Leading national brand in the world, yet cannot be copyrighted.
  • Easterbrook's suggestions rest of the logic that, as he exasperatedly reminds Greece, "titles cannot be copyrighted!"
    Anyone may publish a book called "Gone With the Wind." Any country can call itself France, though it's not clear what the incentive would be.
    Perhaps. But I don't think Macedonia would improve its prospects of joining NATO among, say, the French if it tried to call itself "France."
    article placeholder

    LRA Responds With Massacre

    The last thing Congo needs is another out-and-out war. The Washington Post's Stephanie McCrummen reports:
    A Ugandan rebel group known for its horrific cruelties has massacred 189 people and kidnapped at least 20 children over three days in northeastern Congo, U.N. officials reported Monday....The group killed 40 people in the small town of Faradje on Thursday, and over the next two days, it attacked the villages of Doruma, where rebels massacred 89 people, and neighboring Gurba, where 60 were killed, Brandau said, citing reports that the United Nations received from local authorities.
    The group, of course, would be Joseph Kony's murderous Lord's Resistance Army, and the massacre seems to be in response to a joint offensive launched by Sudan, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo a few weeks ago. If there was any doubt that Kony wasn't interested in peace talks before, there can be none anymore.
    article placeholder

    R2P Reductivism

    In an op-ed in The Guardian, Julia Gronnevet replicates many of the false assumptions lining the debate over the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine. Here's how Gronnevet misleadingly characterizes the doctrine.
    Of course, this being not just UNHQ but also Acronym HQ, the whole discussion has been boiled down to R2P - "responsibility to protect", the formal name of the doctrine that says borders are nothing and human rights are everything.
    Just as R2P does not simply prescribe invasion every time a government fails to protect its citizens, it does not create a simple binary between "borders" and "human rights," nor does it fall wholly on the latter half of this false dichotomy. If we are to use these two terms to describe R2P, the best way to do so would be to interpret the doctrine as an attempt to reconcile the existing state-based international system (yes, complete with its borders and all the difficulties they bring) with the paramount global need to protect human rights. This does not require the elimination of borders, or even the disregard of them in cases of various states of emergency. Rather, the doctrine provides a carefully considered program of steps to navigate the tricky divide that Gronnevet depicts so starkly with both circumspection and urgency.Casting R2P in a role of the intrepid human rights defender, severing borders left and right, come what may, is a tempting image, but ultimately inaccurate and unhelpful. This fanciful caricature unnecessarily divides R2P's audience into two divisive parts: the righteous and the rights-abusing. The entire point of the doctrine -- even though some countries may be less comfortable than others with relinquishing the unchecked inviolability of their sovereignty -- is that it is a global compact. Addressing it as such -- and as a pragmatic schema in an interest-based global political system -- is the only way to dispel the fears and misconceptions about it that continue to abound.
    article placeholder

    The Maid Trade: Exploiting Child Servants

    From the Washington Post:
    Adiza ran scared and crying into the street. Ten years old and 4-foot-9, she fled the house where she had worked for more than a year, cleaning and sweeping from before dawn until late at night...."I couldn't take any more," recalled Adiza, a slight girl with close-cropped hair and almond-shaped eyes, who talked in a halting whisper as she described how her employer beat her with her hands and with cooking pots before the November day she ran away.The number of girls like Adiza, who leave their communities or even their countries to clean other people's houses, has surged in recent years, according to labor and human rights specialists. The girls in the maid trade, some as young as 5, often go unpaid, and their work in private homes means the abuses they suffer are out of public view.The International Labor Organization (ILO), a U.N. agency based in Geneva, said more girls under 16 work in domestic service than in any other category of child labor. The organization said that maids are among the most exploited workers and that few nations have adequate regulations to safeguard them.
    Here's a video describing the story of Shyima Hall, whose ordeal began at the age of ten:
    article placeholder

    Top Five Issues Facing the United Nations in 2009

    2009 will be a busy year for the United Nations. Conflicts in central and eastern Africa will likely dominate the Security Council agenda. Meanwhile, new peacekeeping missions have stretched the United Nations peacekeeping apparatus beyond its breaking point, and unless remunerative actions are taken these missions may fail. Finally, this will be a make-or-break year for a post-Kyoto international climate change agreement.Here are the top five issues facing the UN in 2009.
    article placeholder

    Remembering the South Asian Tsunami

    Four years ago today 230,000 people lost their lives in the world's worst ever natural disaster. This is a staggering number, behind which are hundreds of thousands of individual tragedies. The Associated Press tells one story of a Sri Lankan man who is struggling to rebuild his life, post-Tsunami.
    Every morning and evening, Velmurugu Kangasuriyam gathers his 2 1/2 year-old daughter and his wife and confronts the wreckage of his former life.His wife, Thaya, lights an oil lamp on the mantle of a dark, bare concrete room. Kangasuriyam presses his hands together and closes his eyes. Little Theresa follows in imitation. For a long minute his new family stands in silent prayer.Thaya places orange flowers in front of pictures of Hindu gods. She lays several more before a picture of Kangasuriyam's parents.The last flowers sit in front of a photo of a woman in a striking red bridal sari: Devi, who was Kangasuriyam's wife for just 10 months before she died, along with his parents, three of his sisters and a brother, four years ago Friday.The tsunami that crashed over south Asia on Dec. 26, 2004 and killed 230,000 people washed away nearly everything Kangasuriyam held dear. Sixteen close relatives were killed. His seaside village was razed, his house demolished, his business destroyed.Four years later, with international aid and prodding from his remaining family, the 30-year-old has rebuilt his life. He has a new family. He has a bigger house in a resettlement village set back from the ocean.He opened a new bicycle repair shop to replace the one where he worked alongside his father from boyhood.
    And here is a Unicef report on how the Tsunami forever changed the lives of two brothers caught in the deluge.Here is a list of some Tsunami Relief resources.