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President Obama to sign a UN treaty

At 4:45 pm this Friday, President Obama will sign the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), beginning the process of U.S. ratification. This is a good thing.

The CRPD addresses barriers that impede the full participation of people with disabilities in their communities on all aspects of daily life. The treaty enhances opportunities for community access, employment and entrepreneurship, international exchange, and the attainment of an adequate standard of living for all individuals, children and families affected by disability.

53 countries have already ratified the Convention, which went into effect in May 2008, after the 20th state ratification.  According to U.S. law, though, for the United States to ratify the treaty, the Senate will still need to vote in favor of it.  And due to what seems to me a very silly protocol, the Senate can only consider one UN treaty at a time.  This means, among other things, that the United States cannot ratify a convention upholding the rights of women at the same time as it ratifies an equally overdue treaty upholding the rights of children, nor, it seems, one that affirms the rights of people with disabilities.

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Victory for the Save Darfur movement, or the next challenge?

If you haven't looked at Mark's thoughtful consideration on the place of the Darfur advocacy movement in today's world of Sudan policymaking, read it now.

I largely agree with Mark's analysis, but I'd offer a different possible conclusion: instead of the end of the "Save Darfur" community's role, this may be a make-or-break moment for Darfur advocacy, or even for foreign policy advocacy writ large.

Most savvy Darfur advocates already know this, but the time for sloganeering and awareness raising is long past (and endured well past what should have been its expiration date).  In some respects, the kind of misguided, generalist "stop genocide" tactics that one could find in early Save Darfur campaigns and that are so maligned by critics like Mahmoud Mamdani have affected the position we find ourselves in now, in which rhetoric that generates a lot of heat but no light can supplant directed action.  This is not entirely the fault of vapid aims by advocacy organizations, to be sure; policymakers actually need little excuse to make noise instead of policy, and stopping genocide provides the perfect soundbite.

Darfur advocacy organizations for the most part adapted their tactics, targeting their energies and substantial constituencies toward specific aims, such as deployment of UN peacekeepers and the provision of long-needed helicopters.  Some have had more, and some less, success (and in ways intended and unintended) than others, but the trickiest of them has always been the promotion of a robust peace accord.

This may be simply past the ability of advocacy organizations to effect, as Mark suggests, but it could also represent a stunning opportunity for transforming the nature of grassroots foreign policy campaigns.  If the "Darfur movement" is successful in navigating the complicated and unsexy terrain of policymaking, then it will be a major victory for Darfur, for citizen activism, and for democracy.

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The power of 1874

One of the snippets from Hillary Clinton's ASEAN speech in Thailand tomorrow, as obtained by Laura Rozen:

We are also asking every country to join in demanding transparency from the North Koreans.  A recent incident involving the North Korean ship, the Kong Nam, led the United States to conduct intensive conversations with states in the region to avert North Korea's efforts to send shipments abroad without declaring their contents.  We were pleased that the ship turned around and returned home. The bottom line is this: If North Korea intends to engage in international commerce, its vessels must conform to the terms of 1874, or find no port.

1874, of course, is UN Security Council Resolution 1874, which carries with it the remarkable power to make North Korean cargo ships cryptically turn around before they can deliver any nuclear material (to Burma or elsewhere).  Well, okay, maybe the U.S. destroyer following the North Korean ship had something to do with it.

Still, the resolution, which also tightened sanctions on top North Korean officials, has certainly brought some pressure to bear, and it's good to see that it forms the crux of the U.S. position on the matter.  1874, agreed to by even frequent Pyongyang ally China, represents the best leverage the international community has right now, both because of its own strengths, and, more importantly, because of the consensus that it brought together.

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More troops make more peace

Neocon and former occupation mouthpiece Coalition Provisional Authority spokesperson Dan Senor on the upcoming Kurdish elections:

On Saturday, the Kurds vote on a new parliament and president. While polls show that President Massoud Barzani and the two largest Kurdish parliamentary parties will be re-elected, the dynamic of this election is making Kurdish leaders nervous. Historically, Kurdish elections turned on the KRG’s power struggle with the national government. But in this election, the Iraqi Kurds seem to be more preoccupied with local governance issues such as KRG corruption. This may be prompting KRG officials to foment tension with Baghdad in the hope that the perception of external threats will strengthen their position at the polls. [emphasis mine]

He uses this analysis to argue for increasing not decreasing U.S. troop presence in Kurdistan.  I don't buy that, but I also don't buy the logic underlying it.  If Kurdish voters are mostly concerned about corruption in their own government, then their votes are most likely going to be in response to corruption in their own government.  Kurdish politicians can try to foment all the tension they'd like (over the next three days), but that's not likely to assuage their constituencies' concerns about corruption.

Senor seems to be doing a little fomenting himself here.  If there's tension between Kurdistan and Baghdad, then he can argue for a greater U.S. military troop presence (and conveniently oppose the president's agenda).  And there's nothing to reduce tension like an enduring occupation force.

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When newspapers are closing their foreign bureaus…

...who will report from the desolate border area between Kenya and Somalia?  For now, fortunately -- though covering what seems like half a continent -- there is The New York Times' Jeffrey Gettleman, who reports how easily Somali al-Shaba militants are slipping easily to and from the thinly marked border with Kenya.

The most interesting takeaway from the piece, for me -- more so even than the dangers of Shabab recruitment in refugee camps, of destabilization in Kenya, or of the bribery that is rife along the border -- is that the region is not going unwatched.

Ever since Al Qaeda blew up the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing more than 200 people and wounding thousands, American counterterrorism officials have been watching East Africa warily. But in the areas along the Kenya-Somalia border, it seems that anti-Americanism is still spreading, despite the millions of dollars the American government has spent on a hearts-and-minds campaign.

Take an American-built well in the village of Raya. No one is using it, though Raya is desperately poor and dry.

“The Americans wanted to finish us,” said one villager, Ibrahim Alin, convinced that the American water engineers who built the well had poisoned it to sterilize him.

Bizarre.  I don't think this shows the futility of "hearts-and-minds" campaigns, but it does speak to their great difficulty, when anti-Americanism is such a cheaply easy political card for regional actors to play.

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

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The most neglected Millennium Development Goal… #5, the agreement to reduce global maternal mortality levels by 75%, according to a moving appeal in The Huffington Post by Ethiopian model Liya Kebede.  She sounds a welcome call for a "Global Fund for Moms," whom she rightly calls "our best stimulus package":

In times of economic crisis, it is tempting to turn inward, to ignore or postpone the problems of the outside world and focus on ourselves. But, if we hope to thrive once again, we must realize that there are no outside problems in today's interwoven, globalized world. Each mother who dies leaves behind a devastated family and weakened community that will eventually, somehow, affect each of us. Each mother who dies deepens the financial and social strain on our world and puts economic recovery further away. Mothers are our best stimulus package because they invest in their families and in our collective future.

Half a million women and girl, disproportionately in the developing world, die in childbirth every year, yet funding for maternal health programs from wealthy nations has actually decreased.  While this sad statistic may not be surprising, given the desperate humanitarian funding shortage that has accompanied the slumping economy, it is nonetheless counterproductive.  Helping mothers around the world ensures a better future for all, in this generation and the next.

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Abyei loses an oil field, Sudan gains better prospects for peace?

As Mark forecasted, The Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration handed down a ruling today on Abyei, the contentious border area that could prove the tinderbox for renewed civil war in Sudan.  A bit surprisingly, the ruling effectively favored the North, shifting the borders of Abyei to award valuable oil fields to the government in Khartoum.  Even more surprising, though, is that -- for now at least -- everybody seems happy with the decision.

Mutrif Siddig, the Sudanese foreign ministry under-secretary, said that Wednesday's decision was a "step forward".

"We respect this decision. And this decision is final and binding because all the parties agreed from the beginning that the decision of the court was binding and final," he said.

Riek Machar, a representative of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which heads an autonomous regional government in the south, said that he hoped that the ruling would increase the chances for peace.

"We want peace. We think this decision is going to consolidate the peace," he said. "We came to see justice and it's a decision we will respect."

Such punctiliousness is nice and all -- particularly on the part of the South, which could be aggrieved at the ruling -- but I don't exactly share U.S. Sudan Envoy Scott Gration's robust optimism at these rhetorical promises.  It's worth remembering that a deal was reached four years ago, through an objective commission that determined fair boundaries for Abyei, and that that ruling was also supposed to be "binding and final."  Diplomatic niceties were followed up to -- and no farther than -- the point of actually implementing the agreement.

One of the authors of the previous Abyei commission report, the very knowledgeable Douglas Johnson, says that "each side can come away feeling that they have been given something from this arrangement."  If that's all it takes to get a viable resolution of the border dispute, then an oil field or two seems worth trading for peace.  Let's hope both North and South Sudan agree.

(image from UN Photo)

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The recession hits…

...everyone who needs assistance the most.

The United Nations Tuesday revealed a record $4.8 billion (2.9 billion pound) funding gap for its 2009 aid projects as a result of strained foreign assistance, widespread economic trouble and a ten-fold increase in needs in Pakistan.

"This recession is driving up humanitarian needs," U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes told a news briefing in Geneva, where he held meetings with donor nations who will soon set their 2010 aid budgets.

A financing report prepared for those sessions stressed that the United Nations has received less than half the $9.5 billion it sought for humanitarian work this year. Yet some 43 million people need assistance this year, up from 28 million in 2008.


The $4.8 billion shortfall for 2009 affects all major U.N. humanitarian projects, which involve supplying water, food, medical care and shelter, clearing landmines, and helping vulnerable people improve their agricultural output.

The temptation may be for countries to skimp on foreign aid in tough economic times; but ultimately, this will only prolong the recession in the places that have been impacted worst by it.

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More reasons it sucks to be a refugee

Kate Cronin-Furman at Wronging Rights lists the top five (only five?) "reasons it sucks to be a refugee." The suckiest, IMHO, seems to be number four: "Your brain might swell up and kill you." Because if you're a refugee, you aren't facing enough pressure from your home country, the country where you've been displaced, and the dire conditions in which you live; no, your own brain has to come after you.

But to continue this line of morbid thinking helpful understanding of refugees' plight, I thought I'd add a few reasons that it sucks to be a refugee that we've mentioned over the past few months:

  • You lose contact with your friends and family -- and hope that someone invents a sort of "search engine" to help you out.
  • You could be rejected for asylum by the very country that started a war in your backyard to begin with. And struggle if you are lucky enough to get there.

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