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UN creates new women’s agency

Good news:

The United Nations General Assembly voted Monday to create a new, more powerful agency for women, in a move supporters hailed as a breakthrough for women’s equality and rights. An Assembly resolution called for the amalgamation of four existing United Nations offices dealing with women’s affairs into a single body to be headed by an under secretary general. The unanimous vote followed three years of negotiations.

The creation of this body had actually been somewhat controversial, as some member states opposed consolidating the currently existing women's agencies into one supra-agency.  The step is to be applauded, though, as it will make the UN's work on women's issues more streamlined and more effective.

UNIFEM, one of the UN's chief agencies dedicated to women, naturally approves.

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Obama Nominates Two for U.S.-UN Mission

President Obama announced two new additions to the U.S. Mission to the UN yesterday. He will nominate:

  • Frederick "Rick" Barton to be the U.S. Ambassador to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC)
  • Jide Zeitlin to be U.S. Ambassador on UN Management and Reform

Barton is an excellent choice.  He's well-versed in both the UN system and U.S. foriegn aid, is a creative thinker, and, I've heard, has the right demeanor to succeed in dealing with other delegates.  He served as the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva from 1999 to 2001, and he worked on Obama's transition team on foreign aid issues. The UN Peacebuilding Commission falls under his purview, which is a great fit, as he's currently the Co-Director of the Post Conflict Reconstruction Project at CSIS and started the Office of Transition Initiatives at USAID.

Zeitlin is more of an unknown entity and, arguably, has a much tougher job, advocating reforms to a G-77 that is sceptical of any U.S. reform initiatives.  He's of Nigerian descent and has a Nigerian name, which will help assuage that skepticism, but he was also a partner at Goldman, which works in the other direction.  He would do well to avoid making comparisons to the private sector.  Considering that he doesn't come from a UN background, it's also probably a good idea that he hit the ground running, show that he's willing to listen and learn, and be prepared to be patient with the politics of reform.

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U.S. Takes Its Seat on the HRC

Today the U.S. officially took its seat on the UN Human Rights Council, after being elected in June.  This is the first time the U.S. has chosen to participate in the revamped Council, created to replace the UN Human Rights Commission in 2006.

The highlights of Asst. Secretary of State Esther Brimmer's remarks:

The charge of the Human Rights Council ties closely to the United States’ own history and culture. Freedom of speech, expression and belief. Due process. Equal rights for all. These enduring principles have animated some of the proudest moments in America’s journey. These human rights and fundamental freedoms are, in effect, a part of our national DNA, just as they are a part of the DNA of the United Nations. And yet, we recognize that the United States’ record on human rights is imperfect. Our history includes lapses and setbacks, and there remains a great deal of work to be done.

Building on those bedrock foundations, the United States’ aspirations for the Human Rights Council encompass several key themes. The first is universality. The principles contained [in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] are as resonant today as they were when Eleanor Roosevelt led the Commission that enshrined them. We can not pick and choose which of these rights we embrace nor select who among us are entitled to them. These rights extend to all, and the United States can not accept that any among us would be condemned to live without them.

The second is dialogue. The Human Rights Council is unique in its ability to draw together countries for serious, fact-based and forward looking debate on human rights abuses. [T]he United States will be an active and constructive participant. We will not resolve our differences overnight, nor end abuses with the wave of a hand or even the passage of a resolution. We approach this mindful of the long-haul, ready to devote the time it takes to build understanding and shared will to act.

The third is principle. We have come together as Human Rights Council members on the basis of shared principles. Our challenge lies in taking these principles - reflected in the Universal Declaration and many other broad based human rights instruments - and applying them in an even-handed way to situations that defy easy resolution. Defending our core principles from compromise and applying them fairly under all circumstances will require steadfastness and courage from all of us.

The fourth is truth. Make no mistake; the United States will not look the other way in the face of serious human rights abuses. The truth must be told, the facts brought to light and the consequences faced. While we will aim for common ground, we will call things as we see them and we will stand our ground when the truth is at stake.

More after the jump.

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Wall Street Journal shout out for DataDyne and mHealth

by Adele Waugaman

Could a mobile phone be a key tool in the prevention of disease outbreaks and epidemics? Judges on the Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovation Awards panel believe so., a core partner in the United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation’s mHealth (mobile health) program, has just won the prestigious award in the Healthcare IT category. An article in today’s paper explains:

In developing countries, gathering and analyzing time-sensitive health-care information can be a challenge. Rural health clinics typically compile data only in paper records, making it difficult to spot and to respond quickly to emerging trends.

With EpiSurveyor, developed with support from the United Nations Foundation and the Vodafone Foundation, health officials can create health-survey forms that can be downloaded to commonly used mobile phones. Health workers carrying the phones can then collect information—about immunization rates, vaccine supplies or possible disease outbreaks—when they visit local clinics. The information can then be quickly analyzed to determine, say, whether medical supplies need to be restocked or to track the spread of a disease.

A key advantage of EpiSurveyor is its sustainability: the software is free and open source, meaning that country health officials can download health surveys and modify them to meet local needs. For example, last month Kenyan health officials adapted EpiSurveyor to help track and contain a polio outbreak in the northern Turkana district. 

Although large-scale immunization efforts eliminated the last indigenous cases of polio in Kenya in 1984, recent inflows of refugees fleeing violence in neighbouring Sudan renewed the threat of a polio epidemic. Health workers in Kenya used a web-enabled version of EpiSurveyor to help track and contain these outbreaks. On the DataDyne blog, health worker Yusuf Ajack Ibrahim noted how immediate access to health data enabled health workers to refine their emergency vaccination campaign:

Weakness noted were acted upon immediately. Some of the actions taken were redistribution of the vaccines, on the job training for our health workers, staff redeployment, immediate case investigation of suspected AFP cases, and change of [the] social mobilization strategy.

The Foundations invested $2 million to support the development, piloting and subsequent expansion of DataDyne’s EpiSurveyor health data-gathering software for mobile devices. In partnership with the World Health Organization and national ministries of health, the Foundations are helping to bring to scale the EpiSurveyor mHealth program in over 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The new mHealth Alliance, announced earlier this year by the UN Foundation, Vodafone Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation, will build on this effort by promoting thought leadership, global advocacy and public-private sector collaboration to help bring the smartest ideas in mHealth to scale around the globe.

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And the winner is…

By Sameer Lalwani

The UN backed commission's charge of electoral fraud confirmed what most Afghans and observers already knew—that this was a messy election revealing the corruption, fecklessness, and disarray of the government. But the implications are much more strategically disturbing.

In terms of the US and NATO's counterinsurgency strategy, the best possible outcome they could have hoped for was a sweeping electoral mandate for a single candidate (presumably President Karzai) to avoid the infighting and delays in a runoff and demonstrate to the Afghan people (and the international community) that there was a unified Afghan state ready to return to the business of governance and state development.

Unfortunately, the electoral outcome was the worst of both worlds—a fractured vote mired in illegitimacy amidst allegations of vote-tampering and ballot-stuffing with President Karzai likely barely accumulating over 50% of the vote.

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Angelina Jolie visits Dadaab refugee camp

Angelina Jolie uses her considerable celebrity to draw attention to the world's largest refugee camp.  Some 300,000 Somalis live in Dadaab, Kenya, having fled persistent instability in Somali.

And here is Erin Weir of Refugees International discussing her recent trip to Dadaab.  She says that despite some political progress in Somalia, the size of Dadaab is growing, and stretching the ability of the international community to maintain the camp. 


One issue that Jolie alludes to is the onslaught of malaria that typically accompanies the (coming) rainy season. Refugees are particularly vulnerable to malaria. So, if I may, consider sending a net.

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UN canceling election aid to Honduras

So it seems:

The United Nations has decided to cut off a previously announced aid to Honduras for its upcoming elections, as a new action against the putschists who took over the country in June.

The contribution, which was expected to be channelled through the UN Development Programme (UNDP), was now cancelled and it will be announced Monday, Honduran envoy to the UN Jorge Arturo Reina told Prensa Latina Saturday.

The United States has already taken steps cutting aid to Honduras' coup-backed government.


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Obama Plans 2 1/2 days at the UN

Farah Stockman reports that President Obama will go beyond the typical Presidential stopover in Turtle Bay and spend some serious time at the UN.   

In addition to the annual speech at the opening of the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23, the same day Obama will host a luncheon for African heads of state and hold a separate gathering for the largest contributors to peacekeeping. The next day, he will preside over an usual summit meeting of the Security Council on arms control. In addition, Obama will speak at the Secretary General's Climate Change Summit. 

Great news.  We'll be there for all the action.