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The Forward Shows Some Love for the UN

The Forward is the oldest American Jewish periodical.  From about the turn of the 19th century to the mid 1980s it published exclusively in Yiddish. Today it has seperate Yiddish and English editions, though circulation of the English edition dwarfs the Yiddishkite

The point is, it's got major street-cred among American Jews.  Natutally, I was very pleased to see this commentary about the United Nations from Jack Rosen, Chairman of the Council of World Jewry, found in the pages of The Forward:

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A Reading List for International Women’s Day

Happy International Women's Day! Here on UN Dispatch we are celebrating by asking our friends and readers to compile a list of their favorite books, articles, and blogs that touch on the themes of women’s rights and human rights.  What do you think should be required reading for International Women's Day? 

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Another perspective on Ban Ki Moon

In the Asia Times,  Ian Williams does a good job of contextualizing some recent criticisms of Ban Ki Moon.   A few worthy exerpts:

Half-way through Ban's first term there is indeed room for a critical assessment of the former South Korean foreign minister, but the sources cited by Juul in her report bear similar examination of their motivation. For many of them, like Rupert Murdoch's London Times or the National Interest's Jacob Heibrunn - who wrote a blistering assault on Ban in Foreign Policy magazine (which in fact looked like the main reference for Juul's report) - the UN is always wrong.

Indeed, their attacks could suggest that Ban has in fact outgrown the do-nothing role that former US envoy to the UN John Bolton allegedly scripted for him on his election. This has led to him joining the long line of UN secretaries general to be excoriated by the conservative press for not following orders.


Many analysts beleive Ban is most certainly not "charmless and spineless". He is remarkably affable, charming and has shown strong attachment to principle - which may be one reason for the neo-liberal disaffection. He went on the hustings to campaign for the seat and while running explicitly avowed support for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) concept - a new international doctrine on the responsibility of sovereign states and the international community to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes - and the International Criminal Court. Neither of these moves were calculated to win the affections of president George W Bush or Bolton, who were in office at the time - nor indeed of China. He has maintained those stands, and recently steered the R2P concept away from the shipwreck planned for it by the Nicaraguan president of the General Assembly.

Since taking office, he has made climate change his pet issue - once again not music to the ears of his original Republican nominators, nor the Chinese, and he has not eschewed berating the powers for not taking it seriously.

Williams also points out that Ban is actually quite popular in China and Japan--no easy feat for a South Korean!  Anyway, read the whole thing. 

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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.


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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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Susan Rice articulates a brave new way of approaching global stability

Susan Rice delivered a blockbuster speech titled A New Course in the World, a New Approach at the UN at New York University. Excerpts don't do it justice, but these few graphs articulate an important and profoundly new way of viewing international relations. (NB a link to her full speech is not yet available. I'll post the link as soon as it goes online.)  Here's the link.

In summary, Rice says that the at the United Nations and in other bilateral and multi-lateral efforts, the Obama administration will undertake a concerted effort to strengthen the will and capacity of states around the world to deal with common security threats.  She says:

The reach, scale, and complexity of 21st-century security challenges put unprecedented demands on states and the entire infrastructure of international cooperation we helped build after 1945. If ever there were a time for effective multilateral cooperation in pursuit of U.S. interests and a shared future of greater peace and prosperity, it is now. We stand at a true crossroads. We must move urgently to reinvigorate the basis for common action. The bedrock of that cooperation must be a community of states committed to solving collective problems and capable of meeting the responsibilities of effective sovereignty.

A fundamental imperative of U.S. national security in the 21st century is thus clear: we need to maximize the number of states with both the capacity and the will to tackle this new generation of transnational challenges. We need a modern edifice of cooperation, built upon the foundation of responsible American leadership, with the bricks of state capacity and the beams of political will.


Building the capacity of fragile states is a major part of our work every day at the United Nations, since the UN is leading the charge in many of the toughest corners of the world. At its best, the UN helps rebuild shattered societies, lay the foundations for democracy and economic growth, and establish conditions in which people can live in dignity and mutual respect. I have seen first-hand how the UN delivers—in Haiti, where peacekeepers flushed deadly gangs out of the notorious Cité Soleil slum and are now training a reformed Haitian police force. I have seen it in Liberia, where the UN Development Program supports impressive efforts to teach literacy, computer, and trade skills to jobless ex-combatants. I have seen it in Congo, where the UN made it possible to hold the first democratic elections in the country’s history.

It is not enough simply to build up the corps of capable, democratic states. We need states with both the capacity and the will to tackle common challenges. As we have been reminded in recent years, we cannot take that will for granted, even among our allies. The simple reality is: if we want others to help combat the threats that concern us most, then we must help others combat the challenges that threaten them most. For many nations, those threats are first and foremost the things that afflict human beings in their daily lives: corruption, repression, conflict, hunger, poverty, disease, and a lack of education and opportunity.

When the United States joins others to confront these challenges, it is not charity. It is not even barter. In today’s world, more than ever, America’s interests and values converge. What is good for others is often good for us. When we manifest our commitment to tackling the threats that menace so many nations; when we invest in protecting the lives of others; and when we recognize that national security is no longer a zero-sum game, then we increase other countries’ will to cooperate on the issues most vital to us.

Rice billed this speech as building upon major addresses by Defense Secretary Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitan, Secretary of State Clinton, Counter-Terrorism Chief John Brennen, and National Security Advisor Jim Jones.  Each of those previous addresses were remarkable for the fact that each respective secretary and official laid out a clear vision of how their various departments can work more cooperatively with other government agencies to advance common security interests.  The Pentagon calls this a "whole of government" approach.  In New York today, Rice took the concept one step further and articulated what could be called a whole of governments approach to common security threats. 

To a large degree, this approach recognizes a global phenomenon that as a public intellectual Rice was among the first to articulate.  Non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, climate change endemic poverty, are problems that nearly every government in the world has a stake in redressing. What the world lacks, however, are coherent mechanisms that helps other governments help themselves, and in so doing help create a more secure world. 

In New York today, Rice took a big step in laying the intellectual foundation for filling that gap.   I eagerly await the implementation of her vision.

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Battlestar Gallactica and “race” in the UN Charter

Battlestar Gallactica actor Edward James Olmos describes his experience speaking on a panel at the United Nations a few months ago to mark the socially conscious television show's finale. Bizarrely, Olmos claims the United Nations changed it's charter to do away with the term "race" as a cultural determinant. He credits his appearance at the United Nations for this achievement. Via Airlock Alpha.

I'm not quite sure where Olmos gets this idea. Amending the United Nations charter is actually an enormous under taking. It requires approval and ratification by two-thirds of the member states of the UN General Assembly and each of the five permanent members of the Security Council according to each countries' own constitutional process. Here in the United States, ratification of an amendment to the UN Charter (or any treaty) requires the support of two thirds of the senate. I appreciate Olmos' sentiment, but needless to say, that has not happened in the last three weeks.