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Ban Cluster Bombs

If any weapon deserve to be banned, it seems that so-called "cluster bombs" fit the bill. A description from The Washington Post:
The weapons consist of canisters packed with small bombs, or "bomblets," that spread over a large area when a canister is dropped from a plane or fired from the ground. While the bomblets are designed to explode on impact, they frequently do not. Civilians, particularly children, are often maimed or killed when they pick up unexploded bombs, sometimes years later.
Despite the bombs' deplorable after-effects, the United States opted not to sign onto an agreement to ban the weapons. I'm not sure which justification is less defensible: that cluster bombs are a valuable part of the U.S. military's arsenal (they have not been used at all in over five years) or that banning them could somehow hinder the U.S.'s disaster relief efforts.Likewise, the fact that the other major users and producers of the bombs -- Russia, China, Israel, and Pakistan -- also did not sign the treaty does not seem to warrant retaining cluster bombs for defensive reasons. That said, there may still be hope for curbing the use of these munitions. Remember: the United States also did not sign the 1997 ban on landmines -- and that has not inspired it to join the lonely ranks of Burma in planting the deadly devices. Perhaps, though, it'd be better to just sign both treaties and come out against weapons that mutilate and kill children.
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The State of Women in Iraq

Yesterday, women's rights activists and UN officials testified in Stockholm about the escalation of violence against women in Iraq since U.S. occupation:
The United Nations' special representative to Baghdad, Staffan de Mistura, cited a recent UN human rights report on Iraq as saying that 'in Basra 100 or more women had been killed or mutilated because they were wearing what was considered by some as inappropriate dress. The dress was not inappropriate at all.'De Mistura also mentioned the high number of so-called 'honour crimes' in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.'Since the (2003 US) occupation we have seen a deterioration of women's rights,' said Lena Ag, the secretary general of the Swedish organisation Kvinna till Kvinna (Woman to Woman).
The testimony took place the day before the International Compact with Iraq (ICI) conference, which looks at the political and security status since its peace plan they launched five years ago.Iraqi women's rights activists also stressed the importance for more women, and civil society in general, to take part in development efforts in Iraq.
'Women are a potential factor for democratic and development processes in Iraq,' said Hanaa Edwar Busha, one of the founders of the Iraqi Women Network, stressing that women represent around 55 percent of the Iraqi population.
For more information on Iraqi women's rights, check out the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq and the Iraqi Women's Rights Coalition.
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Thursday Morning Coffee

Top Stories

>>Myanmar - The ruling junta belittled foreign aid in the wake of the cyclone as "chocolate bars" and stated that the 2.4 million victims could "stand by themselves" in an editorial in the state-run newspaper. The junta simultaneously accused the international community of being stingy as the UN's $201 million flash appeal hasn't been filled by donor nations. Meanwhile, the NY Times reports that an "economy warped by years of misrule" is hindering aid delivery.

>>Nepal - Yesterday, a special assembly elected in April abolished Nepal's 239-year-old Hindu monarchy. The king's palace will be turned into a museum; he has 15 days to vacate.

>>Iran - Yesterday, Ali Larijani, a rival to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the former nuclear negotiator, was elected as the speaker Iran's parliament. He is conservative and a supporter of Iran's nuclear program, but is seen as being more pragmatic and open to diplomacy. However, his election is more likely due to butter issues, discontent with Ahmadinejad's management of the economy.

Yesterday in UN Dispatch
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A Message From George Clooney

Today is International Peacekeeper's Day. In a new video for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, United Nations Messenger for Peace George Clooney explains what peace is not...To send a note of thanks to the over 100,000 peacekeepers serving in 17 conflict zones around the world, click here.
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The Effects of Global Warming on America

So if drowning polar bears haven't convinced you that the climate is changing, perhaps the United States Government can be more persuasive. The U.S. Climate Change Science Program has issued a report on the impacts a changing climate is having on the American landscape. From the Washington Post:
The report, which runs 193 pages and synthesizes a thousand scientific papers, highlights how human-generated carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have already translated into more frequent forest fires, reduced snowpack and increased drought, especially in the West.
This is a wake up call for citizens and policymakers alike. The effects of global warming are no longer part of a distant future scenario that we can fix when we get around to it. Already, according to the report, close to 60% of the animal species in our country have experienced some effects of a changing climate. The Department of Agriculture is already issuing warnings of increased risk of certain crop failure because of changed conditions.All of this comes from the same administration that once encouraged more patience in verifying the science of global warming before taking policy action. This skeptical approach has given way to outright acknowledgment that global warming is real, it is man-made, and it is having effects on the United States. As floral blooming patterns and animal migrations change while forests burn and crops die, still some would say that we should do nothing. To them I ask:What will it take?
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Clinton, Obama, McCain United on Darfur

Via the Save Darfur Coalition, the three remaining presidential candidates just issued a rare (unprecedented?) joint statement affirming their commitment to resolving the violence in Darfur.
Today, we wish to make clear to the Sudanese government that on this moral issue of tremendous importance, there is no divide between us. We stand united and demand that the genocide and violence in Darfur be brought to an end and that the CPA be fully implemented. Even as we campaign for the presidency, we will use our standing as Senators to press for the steps needed to ensure that the United States honors, in practice and in deed, its commitment to the cause of peace and protection of Darfur's innocent citizenry. We will continue to keep a close watch on events in Sudan and speak out for its marginalized peoples. It would be a huge mistake for the Khartoum regime to think that it will benefit by running out the clock on the Bush Administration. If peace and security for the people of Sudan are not in place when one of us is inaugurated as President on January 20, 2009, we pledge that the next Administration will pursue these goals with unstinting resolve.
Read the whole statement.Here's the video
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Wednesday Morning Coffee

Top Stories

>>China - Chinese authorities are evacuating 150,000 citizens who are threatened by a gigantic lake that formed in Tangjiashan when a river was blocked by mudslides set loose by the earthquakes this month. Engineers continue to dig drainage areas in hopes that the lake's size might be decreased. Meanwhile, a 5.4 magnitude aftershock destroyed 420,000 houses in Sichuan's Qingchuan county and injured 63. China is seeking help from Japan's military.

>>Israel - Israel's defense minister Ehud Barak called for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down today, a day after American businessman Morris Talansky testified in a Jerusalem District Court that he had handed Olmert envelopes full of up to $150,000 in cash. Both Olmert and Talansky have admitted the transfer but denied it was a bribe.

>>Syria - In a meeting with British members of Parliament, including the Interior Minister, Syria's president Bashar al-Assad said that Syria intends to maintain normal relations with Iran while negotiating with Israel, contrary to Israel's demand that it abandon its alliance. The two nations confirmed indirect talks last week, the first since 2000.

Yesterday in UN Dispatch
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IHT: Even With Access, Distributing Aid in Myanmar is a Challenge

After meeting with the Secretary General last week, the Burmese military junta finally relented from their opposition to letting foreign aid workers into the country. Still, that doesn't mean delivering that aid is easy in a country where the military tightly controls the economy. From the IHT:
An SUV for $250,000 and a cellular phone for $3,000. As foreign aid workers test Myanmar's commitment to allow them to operate inside the country as part of the relief effort for Cyclone Nargis they face not only administrative hurdles erected by a xenophobic military government but an economy warped by years of misrule.Myanmar's military limits the sale of mobile phones, bans satellite phones, sharply restricts car imports and rations gasoline to one or two gallons (between 3.5 and 7 liters) a day. The main beneficiaries of this system are government employees and military officers, who profit by selling permits, gasoline and many other items on the black market.Aid workers from the United Nations and private aid agencies continued Wednesday to travel into the Irrawaddy Delta, the area hardest hit by the May 3 cyclone, following an agreement last week reached with the Myanmar government. Richard Horsey, the spokesman for the UN relief effort, said the military was requiring aid workers to give 48 hours' notice before traveling into the delta but that he was hearing only positive news about their access. [snip] "I assume we will be running out of quite a lot of things when the influx comes," said Hakan Tongul, deputy country director in Yangon of the World Food Program, a UN agency delivering supplies to the victims of the storm. "There will be logistical problems for sure."
Read more.
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Ambush on UNAMID Peacekeepers

Last week's ambush of a convoy of Nigerian peacekeepers in Darfur -- at the hands of 60 well-armed bandits (likely janjaweed militias), wearing military uniforms and wielding machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades -- adds yet another exclamation point to the urgent need to bolster UNAMID, the joint UN-AU peacekeeping force still struggling to patrol an area the size of France with just 9,000-odd troops. UNAMID's spokesman, Norredine Mezni, captures the difficulties faced by the force well:
"We have bandits and we have armed groups and we have the (rebel) factions. With our very limited number of troops, it is not an easy job," Mezni told Reuters."We are a peacekeeping organisation but there is no peace on the ground to keep. We are appealing for the cooperation of all sides in this conflict. We are here to help."
Mezni could not be more on the mark. As much as the attack underscored the urgency both of deploying more peacekeepers and of better supplying those currently on the ground, the need for "cooperation of all sides" is ultimately the bedrock on which UNAMID -- as a neutral, peacekeeping force -- must operate. NYT correpondent Lydia Polgreen characterizes the attack as "a humiliating blow," but the scales seem far too overwhelmingly stacked against UNAMID to justify calling this an embarrassment. Rather, the ambush emphasizes how unattainable the mission's goals are in an atmosphere of such uninhibited obstruction from all sides. UNAMID simply cannot function when continually harassed by rebels, militias, government bureaucracy, and opportunistic raiders. Instead of depicting the UN-AU peacekeepers as hapless victims, though, the international community should recognize their unsustainable position, and take stronger steps to address the root causes of their situation.