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Pink Floyd takes on The Wall

The one in Israel, that is.

The United Nations on Wednesday premiered a film narrated by former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters on the plight of Palestinians living in the shadow of Israel’s controversial separation barrier.

The 15-minute film entitled “Walled Horizons” was made in honour of the fifth anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) opinion that the barrier’s meandering route through the occupied West Bank is illegal.

It might seem obvious that this is not a "United Nations film," but this fact evidently bears repeating, since that is what the JTA news agency mistakenly calls it.  The UN frequently screens films, and this does not indicate ideological leanings in any one way or the other.

For reference, here's the original Wall.

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Afghan elections today

And the early word is that they have gone off without serious violence.  UN Envoy Kai Eide is optimistic:

During the visit, Mr Eide said: "I am pleased to see that so far the elections have been going quite well. I see it and hear it from the across the country that there is a good turnout."

The UN's Special Representative for Afghanistan added: "This democracy has to grow up from inside. That's why I think these elections are very important that these elections are organized by the Afghans. And we in the international community have been completely impartial with regard to who we would like to win these elections. It is so important to demonstrate that, if not, we will not have Afghan institutions that can stand up on their own feet. That is a long way to go."

Of course this makes sense, but it's also worth remembering how hard it actually is to know how much or how little violence is occurring.  Afghan officials don't want to publish or publicize incidents of Taliban violence, and international observers don't want to get so close to the process that they are seen as interfering.  For now, scanning Twitter (#Afghanelections and #Afghan09) might give one a sense of what's going on on the ground, but I can't help but be skeptical of the incomplete picture this gives; how many Afghans are Twitterers anyway?

At any rate, conducting these elections is an impressive step.  There are sure to be improprieties, and, unfortunately, insurgent attacks, but millions of Afghans are voting, and the world is paying attention.

(image from UNAMA)

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Ethiopia-Eritrea Claims Commission issues payments

Opinio Juris' Duncan Hollis has the goods on the payouts from the Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission (set up to arbitrate damage claims from the 1998-2000 conflict between the two countries) -- another topic sure to be of passionate interest to a certain subset of Dispatch readers.

You can access the damages decisions for Eritrea here, and those for Ethiopia hereAccording to the AP, both sides will accept the awards, but neither is apparently thrilled with the final results.  Ethiopia ends up with more money; its final award totals $174,036,520, while Eritrea receives $161,455,000 plus an additional $2,065,865 for individual Eritrean claimants.  Ethiopia apparently feels though that the delta between the two awards was insufficient given earlier rulings had found Eritrea violated the jus ad bellum in originally resorting to force in 1998. For its part, Eritrea remains miffed that Ethiopia has resisted the Commission’s drawing of boundary lines between the two states (e.g. giving Badme to Eritrea), a point reiterated (subtly) in its acceptance of yesterday’s award.

I'm sure that Hollis is right on both of these counts: both sides think they are in the right, but the fact of the matter is that both are responsible for not implementing parts of the peace agreement, and for forcing the premature departure of a UN peacekeeping force last year.

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Happy World Humanitarian Day

Yesterday we heard from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navinathem Pillay, celebrating the first-ever World Humanitarian Day and marking the six-year anniversary of the Baghdad bombing that cost 22 UN staff members their lives.  Today, the son of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the accomplished diplomat who was the UN's Special Representative in Iraq at the time, pens a moving op-ed in The Washington Post.  The focus is on ensuring that what happened to his father does not happen to more of the thousands of humanitarian workers braving dangerous enviornments in the world today.

It is high time for the international community to face its responsibilities and stop hiding behind humanitarian action. The world must stop using humanitarian efforts as a fig leaf. It can no longer avoid action while putting its conscience at rest by sending humanitarian actors into the killing fields. There are lives at risk.

And on this day, because of their courage, dedication, generosity and humility, humanitarian workers deserve our respect. We should not only praise their work but also remind the world that we must protect them, that we must impress on warlords that if they have any humanity left, they should protect and assist these workers. We must remind the world that humanitarian workers are neutral and help those in need, whatever their color, race, religion or political beliefs. They deserve our efforts and our thanks.

We've made it a habit to thank UN peacekeepers for the hard work that they do; take a moment to appreciate the risks that humanitarian workers take to bring concrete benefits to the lives of others.

(image from Wikimedia Commons)

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Another attack on UN personnel

That it occurred in Somalia, which has seen far too many deaths of UN workers, should come as no surprise. But this time, the UN fought back.

Suspected Islamist insurgents stormed a United Nations compound overnight in southern Somalia, witnesses said on Monday, but UN guards fought back and killed three of the attackers in a gun battle.

One UN official in Wajid, 70km northwest of Baidoa, said about 10 heavily armed men attacked them overnight. The compound is used for storing humanitarian aid.

"After several minutes shooting our security guards repulsed the attackers and killed three of them," the UN official told Reuters.

While it was very fortunate that no UN personnel were killed (one guard was injured), it must be said that this success should not be taken as a policy blueprint. UN guards are not meant to defend against bands of militants, and it's only a matter of time until an incident like this goes much, much worse.

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Refusing to recognize Ahmadinejad’s government will get us nowhere

Following Ban Ki-moon's "congratulating" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election, 200-plus "intellectuals, activists and defenders of rights," including a number of Nobel Prize winners, have signed an open letter to the Secretary-General contesting the Iranian elections and urging him to take a number to steps to withhold support for the Iranian regime and protect the rights of Iranian protestors. Another Nobel laureate, Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, has also stressed that Ban should send a truth-finding commission to Iran and push for a re-election.

There's nothing wrong with -- and in fact much reason to support -- sending a truth-finding commission to Iran (though try telling that to Ahmadinejad), and even more reason to speak out against the human rights abuses of Iranian protestors. In fact, Ban has spoken out against the violence curtailing of press and assembly rights that followed the election, and a UN report on the country is due at the end of the year. But what's harder to responsibly call for is the group letter's final recommendation -- essentially, that the UN Secretary-General denounce Iran's government.

Refuse to recognise Ahmadinejad's illegitimate government that has staged an electoral coup, and curtailing any and all forms of co-operation with it from all nations and international organisations

This is similar to the implicit position in the negative reactions -- fewer, I admit, than I'd expected -- to Ban' perfunctory "congratulation" of Ahmadinejad, and to critics of President Obama's unwillingness to denounce the Iranian regime outright. This sort of criticism is entirely myopic, though, even for skeptics of strategies of engagement and cooperation. No matter how farcical Iran's election was, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is currently the leader of Iran, and no support that the international community bestows or withholds will change that -- in fact, the latter would likely only exacerbate tensions.

Ban Ki-moon is the Secretary-General of 192 United Nations, and Barack Obama the president of the most powerful country in the world. They both have to deal with Iran. Cooperation is much easier than confrontation, and the goals -- ensuring that Iran does not build a nuclear weapon, for instance -- are far more important than the unproductive act of denouncing Iran's leaders.

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Fake earthquake in Lebanon

But worry not, UN peacekeepers were there:

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon today wrapped up a two-day large-scale disaster response exercise, responding to a fictitious earthquake in the south of the country.

The dry run, which the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) conducted with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), tested the forces’ combined reaction to an earthquake with a magnitude of six on the Richter scale.

I suppose that for those who might assume (wrongly, in my opinion) that taking on environmental projects goes beyond peacekeepers' responsibilities, stopping a fake earthquake doesn't sound too impressive. The difference, of course, is that a real earthquake, were one to hit Lebanon, would be all too tangible -- and the benefits of peacekeepers' training all too apparent. The takeaway from environmental projects may not always seem as lifesaving, but it's harder to appreciate their positive impact because they are preventative measures. Kind of like, say, preparing to deal with a large-scale earthquake.

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In case you thought things in Somalia (still) couldn’t get any worse…

...the International Crisis Group warns that something is rotten in the state semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

If its government does not enact meaningful reforms and reach out to all clans, Puntland may break up violently, adding to the chaos in Somalia.

Somalia: The Trouble with Puntland, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, warns about the rise in insecurity and political tension that the semi-autonomous north-eastern region has been experiencing for three years. At its roots are poor governance and a collapse of the cohesion, particularly within the Harti clan, that led to its creation a decade ago.

"Most of the blame rests squarely with the political leadership", says Daniela Kroslak, Deputy Director of Crisis Group’s Africa Program. "If a wide variety of grievances are not urgently tackled in a comprehensive manner, the consequences could be severe for the whole country and even for the Horn of Africa".

Puntland is most widely known as the onshore haven to many of Somalia's pirates. Piracy, though, the report argues, is "only a dramatic symptom" of Puntland's problems, and I'd add that the instability in Puntland itself is only a "symptom" of the greater chaos in Somalia writ large.

Puntland is probably wishing that it had some of the good reputation of Somalia's more successful semi-autonomous region, Somaliland, which some commentators have argued could provide a model of how to organize the country as a whole.

(image from Wikimedia Commons)

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For Dispatch readers in New York…

Susan Rice will be speaking at NYU tomorrow evening:

Susan Rice, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, will deliver remarks on Wednesday, August 12 at 5:30 p.m. at NYU’s Greenberg Lounge in Vanderbilt Hall, NYU School of Law (40 Washington Square South/between Sullivan and MacDougal Streets).

The address- co-sponsored by the NYU/SCPS Center for Global Affairs and the University’s Center on International Cooperation - will focus on the Obama Administration’s work at the UN building partnerships to tackle global challenges.

Go here to RSVP in advance.