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Babylon besieged!

Well, okay, actually just damaged.  But it is (mostly) because of war.

American troops and contractors in Iraq inflicted serious damage on the archaeological site of Babylon in Iraq, driving heavy machinery over once-sacred paths, bulldozing hilltops and digging trenches through the terrain, Unesco experts said Thursday. “The use of Babylon as a military base was a grave encroachment on this internationally known archaeological site,” said a report that the United Nations cultural agency presented in Paris.

This is what the Hanging Gardens of Babylon looked like before the American occupation 2500 years ago.  It's a shame that one of the original Seven Wonders of the World still isn't able to be recognized as a World Heritage site.  Saddam carving his name into some of the buildings also didn't help.

(image from flickr user Carla216 under a Creative Commons license)

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Obama at major emitters meeting

POTUS' statement at L'Aquila:

He said the U.S. - with its "much larger carbon footprint per capita" - now means to lead by example.

"The United States has sometimes fallen short of meeting our responsibilities," Obama said. "Let me be clear, those days are over."

And he prodded others to follow.

The question is, which comes first, the prodding or the emissions reductions?

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Liberia – The Bad News Goes Beyond Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

The indictment of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was not the only conclusion of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that could have a far-reaching impact. True, they recommended banning her from politics for 30 years. But she’s not the only Liberian politician mentioned in the report.

Former warlord and current Nimba County senator Prince Johnson was also named in the report. It recommends that he be prosecuted for gross human rights violations and war crimes, specifically mass murder, extortion, destruction of property, forced recruitment, assault, abduction, torture, and rape. Of the 88 people cited for atrocities in the report, Johnson is ranked #1 for the severity of his crimes as leader of the Independent Patriotic Front of Liberia, the group that executed former President Samuel K. Doe.

As an added bonus, there are rumors that he is threatening to re-start the civil war if he is prosecuted.

Foreign Policy Magazine has a new interview of Johnson, with freelance journalist Glenna Gordon. Not surprisingly, Johnson disputes the TRC report’s conclusions. Not only does he dispute the conclusions, he seems to be politically ambitious. Some quotes from the interview:

“I spoke at the TRC and said, "Forgive me for my sins, but when two elephants fight, the grass suffers." I was repentant. I've accepted Jesus.”

“Every country in the world knows the history of Nimba [Johnson's county]. They know what [former President Samuel] Doe did to my people. I had to defend my people.”

“If people say go there [run for president], I'll go. Leadership does not come from how much you know. Leadership does not go by how much education you have. A leader that is born, you can see the characteristics.”

“I'm honest, straightforward, disciplined. When I say "yes," it's yes. These are characteristics that make people ... trust you. Tolerance, etc., etc. It's a gift. An individual gifted with wisdom is more than the man who is knowledgeable. When you gain knowledge you also gain wisdom. But there is no institution where you can gain wisdom. You got too many institutions that teach knowledge. Wisdom is a gift from God.”

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Member of Congress introduces bill to cut U.S. funding for IPCC

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a group of scientists from scores of countries that study the effects of climate change.  Their findings have provided scientific backbone to policy debates about how much carbon emissions should be reduced over how long a period of time to stem the most dramatic effects of climate change.  In other words, they are an invaluable resource to humanity. 

This is something that the Nobel Commitee recoginized when it awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize to the IPCC.  Someone who apparently does not share this view is one Blaine Luetkemeymer, the representative of the 9th district of Missouri in the United States Congress.  He thinks the IPCC is "international junk science." Accordingly, he just introduced a bill that would block the United States from funding the IPCC.  

For kicks, his press release says:  "Luetkemeyer’s legislation would prohibit U.S. contributions to the IPCC, which is nothing more than a group of U.N. bureaucrats that supports man-made claims on global warming that many scientists disagree with." (emphasis mine)

It would seem that Mr. Luetkemeyer's know-nothingism extends to English grammar. 

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Presenting the founding members of the coup caucus, and push back from House Democrats

Representative Connie Mack's (left) resolution supportive of the Honduras coup was officially submitted for congressional review.  It has nine original co-sponsors, including Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (FL-21), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25), Thaddeus McCotter (MI-11), Zach Wamp (TN-03), Ted Poe (TX-02), Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01), Dana Rohrabacher (CA-46), Chris Smith (NJ-04) and Dan Burton (IN-05)

These members of congress (all Republicans) can be considered the founding members of a congressional "coup caucus."  The resolution that they sponsored is firmly supportive of a military-backed coup in America's backyard.  Nowhere does the resolution express concern for the fact that the coup undermined a key tenet of democracy: the seperation of the military from civil affairs.  Rather, the resolution plays up Zelaya's ties with Hugo Chavez and the Castros as evidence of his nefarious nature--and as reason why other members of congress should support his ouster. 

Chances are the bill will go nowhere. This type of legislation requires 25 cosponsors, including 10 on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. And even if the bill reaches that milestone, the Committee will almost assuredly not take it up.  Also, there is no bill upcoming in the Committee to which it could be attached as an amendment.

However, UN Dispatch just obtained a copy of a resolution that may see the light of the day from Democratic Congressman Bill Delahunt (right).  In a so-called "Dear Colleague" letter obtained by UN Dispatch, Reps James McGovern, Elliot Engel and Bill Delahunt  gives a sense of what that resolution is all about. 

Clearly, a path must be found that allows the restoration of democracy and rule of law, a path that can only be discovered through multilateral negotiations that recognize the illegal interruption of President Zelaya’s tenure in office and address the deep political fissures confronting Honduras at this time, including allegations that the non-binding referendum process initiated by President Zelaya was in violation of what is allowable under the Honduran constitution.

The entire Organization of American States, from left wing Hugo Chavez to Columbia's right wing President Alvaro Uribe, have condemned the coup. And there is good reason for such unanimity.  It is not long ago that military backed overthrows of duly elected  national leaders was a run of the mill occurance in Latin America.  We thought those bad old days were gone. The coup in Honduras shows they are not. 

No matter what you think of Zelaya (and he is clearly a flawed character)  his ouster was a subversion of a 30 year old democracy by the military.  That should be a problem no matter what side of the aisle you are on. 

[Full copies of the competing Honduras resolutions are below the fold]


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ICC in Kenya?

Former S-G Kofi Annan, who mediated the post-election crisis in Kenya in early 2008, has passed on a secret envelope to Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Inside this envelope are names of those responsible for the shocking violence that swept across Kenya, with frightening ethnic undertones, after the contentious election.

Moreno-Ocampo, of course, is no stranger to such lists of names. In the case of Sudan, he went to the very top of the list. Top Kenyan officials are likely not included in this envelope, but Reuters reports that the names of two ministers "probably" are included (which seems just about inevitable, given that Kenya's Cabinet has something around four or five dozen members).

Will the ICC open up investigations in Kenya? Well, that depends. For one, the ICC only has jurisdiction over those most horrific of crimes: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. But if some instigators of the violence in Kenya did in fact pursue a strategy targeting particular ethnic groups, the ICC's mandate may indeed apply.

Second, the ICC will only be able to operate in Kenya if the Kenyan justice system falls short of trying these alleged crimes. And this seems to be the primary purpose of the handover of the envelope -- spurring Kenyan authorities to create an adequate tribunal system. While I admire Moreno-Ocampo's tenacity in this regard, I don't think his critics will be greatly comforted by the bravado of this statement:

The ICC's Moreno-Ocampo told Reuters this week it may take Kenya about a year to establish a tribunal if it agrees to do so in principle. "If Kenya cannot do it, I will do it. There will be no impunity," he said.

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One beneficiary of the financial crisis

Organized crime.

Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said that until the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, the banking system "has been very active and clean," forcing organized crime to return to cash transactions.

"That was basically the situation until the financial crisis, which started as a liquidity problem, an unwillingness of banks to (engage in) inter-banking transactions," Costa said. "So you have on the one hand a supply, resources, cash from organized crime and you have banks very (that are) illiquid and striving for cash. Well, that is really license for organized crime to penetrate into the financial system."

And as with much of the rest of the economy, this dynamic is profiting the few at the expense of the many. Costa made his rather canny financial analysis during the launch of a program bringing multiple UN agencies together to combat West Africa's rampant trafficking problems, which span from drugs to toxic wastes (?!?). The UN's political, economic, and peacekeeping offices are all involved in the effort, which is placing an emphasis on the post-conflict issues that trouble much of the region.

On the plus side, it does seem that the "cocaine iceberg" of trafficking from West Africa to Europe is shrinking.

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Turkey to raise Uighur issue at Security Council?

The violence between ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese that Alanna has blogged about may find its way to the Security Council. Via Ambassador at Large:

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan announced today at a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting that he wants the issue of violence in Xinjiang discussed at the Security Council.

The Turks, currently non-permanent members of the Council and serving as President of the Council for the month of July, are usually reticent of [sic] bringing issues of internal ethnic unrest within states to the Council because of their domestic issues with the Kurds.

Erdogan may want to bring the matter up because many Turks see Uighurs as Turkic-speaking cousins, but the violence does happen to be occurring during Turkish presidency of the Council. And it's a good sign if countries are willing to talk about issues as they exist, without fearing the implications for "their own" similar issues, such as the status of Turkish Kurds, which should be addressed, but in its own different forum.

At any rate, don't expect the Chinese, who of course wield a veto, to be too keen to discuss the matter.