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United Nations Stakes

As in the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness Stakes -- the United Nations Stakes is a horse race.  I had no idea the United Nations had a horse race named after it -- since 2000 -- and I can't quite seem to figure out why.

For horse-racing fans out there, Presious Passion (no typo there) won the race this year, which takes place in Monmouth, New Jersey.

The winner:

(image from flickr user Linda Dougherty under a Creative Commons license)

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North Korea and Burma – Sharing Nukes?

Well, this certainly scares me. North Korea and Burma are growing increasingly close. The two countries re-established diplomatic relations in 2007, and they’ve been growing closer ever since. According to the Bangkok Post, a high-level military delegation from North Korea was in Rangoon in November 2008, where they signed a memorandum of understanding on military cooperation. There are reports from the Democratic Voice of Burma news service that North Korean advisors are supporting construction of a network of underground tunnels throughout Burma. According to DVB, the tunnels are large enough to drive trucks through, constructed to withstand attacks, and intended to house munitions factories.

The fear is, of course, that North Korea is exporting weapons to Burma. Especially nuclear weapons. That is not an unfounded fear. According to the US Treasury, North Korea has already exported weaponry to several Middle Eastern and African states, including Syria, as well as Taiwan and Iran. And the missile tests that took place on the fourth remind us that North Korea remains committed to proving its military prowess to the world.

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Listen to ICC radio in (the) C.A.R.

One of the controversies the ICC has had to deal with is the notion that it is "biased" against Africa. Even though most of the ICC's work to date has been in African countries, this is a pretty hollow charge; the reason that the ICC is operating in three of these four states is because they asked it to do so.

Much of the resistance to the ICC in Africa, particularly since the indictment of Sudanese President Bashir, has come from other heads of state. Hence the AU resolution last week rebuking the court, which was concluded in a closed-door session and evidently did not garner the support of all participants.

Discomfort with the ICC among Africans on a populist level, though, does undeniably exist, even if much of it seems based on misinformation (often peddled by state governments). To counter these negative impressions, the ICC is taking to the airwaves.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) today launches a series of radio programmes in the Central African Republic (CAR) as part of an outreach campaign aimed at informing the country’s population about the court’s mandate and activities.

The 13-episode series, which will be broadcast in the Sango language, is called “Understanding the International Criminal Court” and uses a question-and-answer format. At least 14 separate radio stations are expected to air the programmes.

Crank that dial.

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

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UN Plaza: Conflict Minerals

I talk to David Sullivan of the Enough Project about his new report on the role that minerals used for electronics are playing in prolonging conflict in the Congo. You've heard of blood diamonds. Think different. Think "blood ipods."

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Rioting in Urumqi

I'm seeing reports on Twitter on riots in Urumqi (Urumchi), Western China. Urumqi is the capital of Xinjiang, a Muslim-majority region populated by the Uighur ethnic group. It’s been the center of a long-term campaign by the Beijing government to fully integrate the region into China. This has included a policy of moving Han-origin Chinese families into the region to change its ethnic balance and suppression of Uighur language and Islamic practice.

 I can’t find any reference to the riots in the mainstream media (A Reuters article is now up), but Twitter is alive with reports of the riots. You can find photos of the riots, YouTube video, and a stream of English and Chinese language discussion of the violence.

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Ban to Burma

Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is en route to Burma/Myanmar to press for the release of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.  Evelyn Leopold, a long time United Nations correspondent, previews the trip and the political gamble that the Secretary General is undertaking.    Also, see this interview with Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis (IL)

IL:  It is a tough mission.  We believe in the man, we believe in his office and we believe if ever there was a test of the United Nations relevance Burma is that test.  That’s why we’ve been strongly supportive of the mission, that’s why we believe he’s doing absolutely the right thing and it’s also why our Prime Minister for example only recently spoke directly to the President of China because it’s very important that Burma’s friends and neighbours also send a clear and strong message about the abuse, human rights abuses, and also about political prisoners.

[Question:]  I suppose the trouble is that the Burmese ruling military junta has not in the past proved very susceptible to international pressure and there has been a lot of pressure on them.

IL:  Well the message via the Secretary General from the international community is that Burma has a choice.  That choice is to continue contravening human rights, to continue imprisoning political prisoners, or to come in to the main stream, to be part of the international community.  And in a sense this mission by the Secretary General is a crucial pivotal moment in the choices that Burma has to make.

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Meet your new IAEA chief

Posting will be light today, but I wanted to flag this news:  Yeterday, the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors elected Japan's Yukiya Amano to be the next Director General of the IAEA.  He will succeed Mohammed elBaradei in November.  After six rounds of voting Amano finally secured the 2/3rds majoriry required by the IAEA charter. Here is a just-released IAEA video announcing Amano's selection.

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Ban Ki Moon saying useful things in the New York Times

I have an embarrassing crush on Ban Ki Moon. You really can’t blame me. He raps! He married his high school sweetheart!

His op-ed in the New York Times tomorrow just made it worse. In it, he announces the launch of the Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System:

 “We know the big picture: countries with low financial reserves; countries that face shrinking foreign investment, remittances and aid; countries where demand for exports has fallen. But we need a sharper lens with finer resolution.

 I am marshalling the resources of the United Nations to monitor the impact of the crisis in real-time.”

Ban then calls on donor countries to maintain their support for international aid, pointing out that we already have evidence for what works in international development. He finishes with a call for the reform of international institutions, and an argument for multilateralism.

“Challenges are linked. Our solutions must be, too.”

Other than the Global Impact and Vulnerability System, he’s not saying anything new here. But it’s all things that need to be said. It would border on disaster to reduce foreign aid right now, and we are marshalling institutions created in response to the second world war to respond to a global financial crisis of unprecedented shape.

 On the new alert system - I can’t find any additional information beyond a reference from UNDP and a blog post from iRevolution. UNDP says “The UN system is also working with other development partners to establish a ‘Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System’, to track the impact of global crises on the most vulnerable, and to provide decision makers with evidence which can guide specific, rapid, and appropriate responses to countries suffering from the crisis.” iRevolution cites an unnamed UN report which also mentions tracking real-time data to support effective decision-making by leaders.

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UN enlisting religious support to promote women’s health in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman--literally. The country has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.  As this video from UN TV explains, the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan is trying to enlist Afghanistan's religious leaders to advance womens' health and improve women's access to healthcare.