article placeholder

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.

article placeholder

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.


article placeholder

Crackdown on illegal fishing

From the UN Food and Agriculture Organization:

The final text of a new treaty that aims to close fishing ports to vessels involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has been agreed upon by a group of 91 countries during talks brokered by FAO, the UN agency announced today.

The "Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing" will be the first ever global treaty focused specifically on the problem of IUU fishing. It is hoped that the agreement will help block IUU-caught fish from entering international markets, thereby removing an important incentive for some fishermen to engage in illicit fishing.

Once it is formally adopted (which is considered a near certainty), the treaty will enter into force 30 days after 25 state parties have ratified it.

(h/t Jurist)

article placeholder

Shaking hands and reading bias

Whatever one thinks of Ban Ki-moon's diplomatic style as Secretary-General, to describe his policy of meeting with rather unsavory foreign leaders as "jetting off for tete-a-tetes" or having "discreet chats" with autocrats, as Colum Lynch does in his WaPo piece today, certainly shifts the tenor of the argument in a derisive direction. I imagine that much of the subtle rhetorical slant in Lynch's article has to do with finding an appealing hook for an old story: that there are plenty of foreign policy crises that are not going very well, and that the strategy and performance and of Secretary-General in dealing with these issues has been controversial.

But what's frustrating is that Lynch takes the very easy way out of this jam, reducing complex issues of diplomacy, political causality, and the place of rhetoric in effecting change into a depiction of "We can talk" seances with dictators. There's nothing wrong with criticizing the approach of meeting with foreign leaders; after all, Ban is surely aware that, lamentably, much of what comes out of these meetings are photo-ops, such as the one that adorns the Post article, of the S-G shaking hands with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. But this is, as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch clarifies, as quoted by Lynch, only the image that people have of Ban. This distorted image, of a carefree, amoral, and ineffective shaker-of-hands, comes partially from these photo-ops and people's own rash interpretations; but it also comes, in a major way, from articles like Colum Lynch's.

It may seem an insufficient response to criticism to argue that Ban Ki-moon's job is perhaps the hardest in the world, but, well, Ban Ki-moon's job is perhaps the hardest in the world. Lynch touches on this, quoting U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice deflecting Lynch's agenda by offering up this exact argument, but one could easily read the article and resentfully surmise that Sri Lanka's military slaughtered civilians because Ban Ki-moon didn't mount a loud enough protest.

The S-G's only weapon is the podium, and it is one whose power many seem to overestimate. Might fewer Sri Lankans have died if Ban had issued harsher words? Might Burma's ruling junta have allowed Aung San Suu Kyi to participate in next year's elections, rather than extend her interminable house arrest once again, if Ban had "demanded" as much? Might Omar al-Bashir have committed to a robust peace deal in Sudan if Ban had refused to meet with him? All are extremely unlikely, and all of which is to say that if these are the expectations for a Secretary-General, then we might as well resign ourselves for ineffectiveness.

article placeholder

Grab a paintbrush and geo-engineer

In addition to planting fake plastic trees, another simple "geo-engineering" measure, suggests Brad Plumer (via Yglesias), is to "paint all our roofs white, reflecting more of the sun’s heat and cooling the Earth."

This obviously makes sense, and along with other standard home modification measures (solar panels, high-efficiency lighting, etc.), as well as some that are probably more instinctively unpopular -- the fetish of having a perfectly green lawn (and not in the environmental sense) is not lying to die out soon -- painting roofs while is indeed a "total no-brainer" in terms of reducing our environmental impact. The problem, as Matt recognizes, is that the farther that the geo-engineering scale tips toward the drastic (or the ridiculous), the less vigorously politicians feel compelled to push for costly reductions in carbon emissions.

The point of trying to reclaim the term "geo-engineering" from the province of futuristic tubes pumping sulfur dioxide into the air does seem worthwhile. If it's about painting houses, everyone can be a "geo-engineer," and maybe we won't have to worry as much about those rogue environmentalist billionaires.

article placeholder

More praise for Senator Kennedy

From UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres:

Throughout his life, Senator Kennedy was a tireless advocate for refugees - among the most vulnerable people in the world.

For nearly five decades in the United States Senate, Senator Kennedy fought for legislation improving the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers and reducing the discrimination to which they could be subject. His efforts have benefitted millions of individuals from all over the world forced to seek shelter and protection outside their homelands.

Senator Kennedy's life is a testimony to the difference a single policy-maker can make. As an advocate for the persecuted and displaced, Senator Kennedy could expect no reward for his efforts. He did what he did from the conviction that it was the right thing to do - and wholly in line with the great American tradition of providing help and hope to those who have suffered from injustice and war.

Year after year, conflict after conflict, Senator Kennedy kept the plight of refugees on the international and national agenda, promoting policies and laws that saved and shaped countless lives. The world is diminished by his passing. But we will always have his example to inspire us.


article placeholder

Getting closer to the CTBT…

For what it's worth, way to go, Liberia:

The total number of countries that have ratified the United Nations-backed Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) has inched closer to 150 after Liberia ratified the agreement this week.

Liberia’s ratification on Monday brings the total number of countries having ratified the CTBT to 149, according to the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

Of course, the real problem to implementing the CTBT is that nine of the 44 so-called "Annex 2" states -- those that had nuclear weapons technology in 1996, when the treaty was written -- still haven't ratified.  Only when they do (ahem, United States!) will the treaty go into effect.