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A timely launch for Samantha Power’s new book

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samantha Power chose an auspicious day to give her first "Sergio talk" -- a discussion of her new book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World, Tuesday afternoon at The New America Foundation. Power's book is a chronicle of the life and influence of Vieira de Mello, the career UN diplomat tragically killed in August 2003 after a suicide bombing of the UN's headquarters in Baghdad. While the UN has bravely continued to operate in Iraq, the staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) -- the agency to which Vieira de Mello dedicated much of his career -- has until now worked almost entirely out of Amman, Jordan. Wednesday, however, High Commissioner Antonio Guterres announced that he would send the organization's first representative to Baghdad since Vieira de Mello's premature death.

The weight of UNHCR's responsibility -- dealing with over 2 million refugees in Syria and Jordan, as well as an even greater number displaced within Iraq, all with a Baghdad staff that will soon increase to just five -- underscores the courage with which the UN has conducted its mission in Iraq. Despite a persistent lack of security, the UN has nonetheless taken on some of the greatest challenges in Iraq and contributed to some of the country's most tangible successes. As Power reminded listeners at yesterday's talk, the indelible images of Iraqis proudly showing their purple hands, stained with the ink from their ballots, trace directly back to the UN's crucial role organizing Iraq's landmark elections.

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Why it’s better to be Idriss Deby than a Darfurian civilian

On Monday, the Security Council issued a statement condemning the rebel assault on Chad's capital, N'Djamena and urging Member States to support the Chadian government. The speed at which the Security Council responded to this threat underscores the distinction between defending a sovereign government from rebel attack and responding to a genocide perpetrated by a government on its own people. Even though the Security Council's statement had been toned down to omit references to military force or to Sudanese involvement in the attack, it implicitly gave France, which maintains 1,400 troops in Chad, the green light to defend President Idriss Deby's government. French president Nicolas Sarkozy explicitly articulated his country's willingness to intervene militarily, asserting yesterday that "if France must do its duty, it will do so." In the tragic history of the Darfur genocide, by contrast, no country has so baldly proclaimed its readiness to pony up military support -- or even peacekeepers or equipment -- in the face of opposition from the Sudanese government.
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President Bush’s budget beefs up defense spending, shortchanges UN peacekeeping

In the record-setting $3.1 trillion budget proposal that he unveiled yesterday, President Bush allocated nearly $1.5 billion for 18 UN peacekeeping missions across the world. While the administration lauds the budget's contributions to helping "end conflicts, restore peace, and strengthen regional stability," this figure actually falls over half a billion dollars short of the amount that the US needs to provide for these UN missions to perform effectively. Moreover, the $610 million shortfall that this gap creates will only add to the $1.195 billion that the US still owes in arrears to UN peacekeeping.
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Somalia’s Crisis Continues In the Shadow of Darfur

by John Boonstra As reported by Reuters, the violence in Somalia, according to a high-ranking UN official, has generated a humanitarian emergency eclipsing even that of Darfur:
High levels of malnutrition and the difficulties of delivering aid make Somalia the world's most pressing humanitarian crisis, the U.N. refugee agency's representative there said on Tuesday. More than 1 million people have fled their homes in Somalia, which is convulsed by fighting between Ethiopian-backed government forces, Islamist insurgents and an assortment of warlords. "I've never seen anything like Somalia before," Guillermo Bettocchi, representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said during a visit to London. "The situation is very severe. It is the most pressing humanitarian emergency in the world today -- even worse than Darfur," he told reporters, referring to the war in western Sudan, which has driven 2.5 million from their homes. A bomb attack which killed three foreign aid workers in Somalia on Monday underlined the difficulty in delivering aid in the anarchic country that has been wracked by clan violence for 17 years, he said. Fifteen percent of the population suffer acute malnutrition while health services are very limited and sanitation, water and shelters are extremely poor, Bettocchi said.
While a remarkably broad grass-roots constituency has propelled Darfur to the forefront of US media attention -- at least relative to other enduring African conflicts -- the ongoing chaos in Somalia has been relatively ignored. Lacking the moral impetus of "the g-word," Somalia's humanitarian disaster has not galvanized US activists as has Darfur, which can be easily oversimplified and digested as genocidal "Arab" militias attacking black "African" civilian victims. Somalia's diverse array of armed groups and history of instability foster an impression that this conflict is particularly intractable.