It didn't shock me very much that Mike Huckabee, speaking at the "Take America Back Conference," tried to hatchet the UN while pandering to his base:
Attention shifts from the United Nations to Pittsburgh as world leaders convene for the G-20 summit.
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.
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.
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.
DataDyne.org, 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.
Juan Cole has a bead on it:
There are two electoral commissions operating in Afghanistan, a wholly local and a partially international one. The local one, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan, announced Tuesday that with 90% of ballots counted, incumbent President Hamid Karzai now has 54% of the votes, enough to allow him to avoid a second-round run-off against his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah. But the other body, the United Nations-supported Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) (which has Afghan members but the head of which is a Canadian), clearly was disturbed at the IEC announcement and it ordered the IEC to conduct a recount and to throw out clearly fraudulent ballots.
In essence, the two electoral commissions have locked horns, and if the local body gets its way, Karzai may well be declared the winner hands-down. The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission has the authority to order recounts, but it is probably too under-staffed and under-funded to make its objections stick. If the IEC declares for Karzai, he may well keep his job because of inertia (see: next-door Iran). On the other hand, the EEC's objections really could lead to a massive recount of over 5 million ballots, which might delay a firm result for several months.
I doubt the analysis that the EEC is "probably too under-staffed and under-funded to make its objections stick." It is very likely under-staffed and under-funded, a weight too many UN offices are forced to suffer under, but people seem to be listening to what they have to say, and I very much doubt that the Karzai government could just sweep those objections under the rug.
What does "UN-supported" mean? According to the EEC website, it was formed under Article 52 of Afghanistan's Electoral Law and three of the five EEC commissioners are chosen by the UN Secretary General's Special Representative. Those three commissioners --Maarten Halff, Scott Worden, and the chairman Grant Kippen -- look pretty impressive, at least on paper, having served in election monitoring capacities in Algeria, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Iraq (where Halff "advised on the development of election laws, electoral systems and complaint mechanisms"), Liberia, Nepal, Moldova, Pakistan, Timor Leste and Ukraine.
Reading the NY Times this morning after the long weekend, I was immediately struck by two stories that seem to encapsulate the lay of the land in the lead up to the climate negotiations in Copenhagen. Spoiler alert: the message will be that we need to get in gear. But I'm going to keep driving that home.
First story, Yukio Hatoyama, the presumptive PM of Japan, according to the NY Times headline, has repeated his campaign pledge to cut emissions from 1990 levels by 25 percent in the next decade, a major commitment given the lack of action by others. One small caveat, it's contingent on commitments from other major polluters -- less than completely helpful. Nevertheless, you have to respect his flying in the face of a government report that said such a reduction could lead to the loss of 90 million jobs in Japan at a time when it's suffering through a tough recession.
Now let's leave the land of conditional commitments and climate politics where the argument is largely academic at this point and start getting real. Second story, with a crushing headline: "Lush Land Dries Up, Withering Kenya's Hopes." I imagine you can imagine where this is going. A wrath-of-God-level drought is sweeping Kenya, "killing livestock, crops, and children." WFP has said that 4 million need food and that "red lights are flashing across the country." This is wrecking the two main industries in Kenya, agriculture and tourism -- big game is "keeling over from hunger" -- which, of course, inflames an already fragile political situation. This article goes into greater detail about the devastation and makes a more explicit connection to climate change, but I think you get the picture.
Behind the curve a bit, I just discovered the Reuters blog Oddly Enough. And here I am commenting on the first post I read: Cool dudes, dashing in haberdashery…, the last installment of Oddly Enough's "scientific Coolest Leader Dude poll."
I'll be kind and skip the title...of both the post and the poll. Let's focus on the contestants: Obama, Putin, and Prince Charles. Slim pickins if we're truly talking about the traditional definition of cool. Michelle Obama, yes. But B. Obama's mom jeans, Bud Light, and medium-well burger each mean immediate disqualification in my book. Let's not even talk about the other two. Ok, well, Putin is certainly macho but is definitely not cool.
Admittedly the easy choices, B. Clinton and Koizumi, have left office and others with aspects of what we might call "cool" -- Kim Jong Il's shades or Qaddafi's threads and entourage -- are folks we don't want to hold up on a pedestal. Berlusconi's joie de vivre is really just womanizing...not cool, and, true, Carla Bruni ups Sarkozy's quotient, but can you really call a person cool if that coolness is solely derived from another person?
What about Ban Ki-moon? Admittedly, his rapping is just a gag, but isn't that what "cool" really is, the confidence to have fun with oneself? Also, he does roll with Jay-Z.
Senator Edward Kennedy, who President Obama called "the greatest United States Senator of our time," died today at age 77 after a protracted battle with brain cancer.
Though best known for his expansive body of work on U.S. domestic issues, he also lead Congressional efforts to right wrongs abroad by applying pressure to repressive regimes like the apartheid government in South Africa and the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, denouncing war (in Vietnam and Iraq), and promoting peace. He was granted an honorary Knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II for his role in the Northern Ireland peace process, which was "tremendous" according to Tony Blair on MSNBC this morning.
But, more importantly, he serves as the model for public service and diplomacy. Despite being a frequent target of partisan attacks, Kennedy's legacy in the Senate is one of pragmatism, compromise, and, as countless colleagues and analysts have repeated today, unparalleled effectiveness. He stood above personal concerns despite suffering great personal tragedy, and, as an emotional Vice President Biden said today, "made his enemies bigger, made them more graceful, by the way he conducted himself."
His eulogy for his brother Bobby echoes today: "[he] need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it." It is a simple, definitive, and profound paradigm for effective public service and statesmanship and is the most fundamental lens through which we should judge all world leaders and their representatives. Blair also said today that Kennedy is "a great icon not only in America but around the world." I sure hope so.
Rest in peace Senator.
UPDATE: The S-G pays his genuinely heartfelt respects.