United Nations

The DR Congo, MONUC and Joseph Kabila.

MONUC, the UN’s mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) will sadly soon be coming near an end, even though the country is arguably home to one of the most deadly and violent humanitarian crisis the world has ever seen. In December 2oo9, the UN extended their mission to run until May 2010 and have spent this time discussing plans for withdrawal. Recent talks suggest the troops will most likely stay past Congolese president Joseph Kabila’s hopeful June 30, 2010 deadline until the least devastating exit strategy can be fully devised. This will probably delay a full withdrawal until at least 2011.  The UN troop’s effectiveness and the necessity of their continuation in the country has been hotly debated. Congolese President Joseph Kabila calls for their immediate departure. Human Rights Watch has accused MONUC of complicity in massive abuses against the local population. Locals protest the UN headquarters, tell rumors of lizard-eating UN troops, and the abandonment of many bastard children parented by MONUC workers should they pull out of the country. Yet there is an obvious necessity for some stability as the local population is in desperate need of protection from wide-spread violence and an incredibly corrupt government system.

President Kabila has been asking the troops to leave now for years, claiming things are getting better and that the government can manage on their own, however the poor human rights record in the DRC would suggest otherwise. The atrocities happening in the DRC rival any crisis and brutality our planet has ever seen, yet seems hidden in the media behind violence in Afghanistan, Iraq or the Sudan. The DRC has been wracked with war for more than a decade, pushed to the brink after colonial independence, decades of poor despotic governance, enormous global theft of resources, and the violent militias fueled by ethnic hatreds spilling into the country following the Rwandan genocide. It is still enraged in severe violence with as many as 45,000 people dying each month from war or war related causes.  The violence has not diminished over these last few years. In fact, if anything, it seems to be increasing. According to OSCHA (the UN office for the coordination of Humanitarian affairs), violent incidents against aid workers increased 26% in the first six months of 2009 compared to 2008. They also report that security incidents in Goma were up 44% and up 63% in North Kivu over the past year. People are still dying at alarming rates, with mass violent atrocities regular, daily occurrences. One would be hard-pressed to find a person who hasn’t been personally affected by violence in the country. Yet, it seems to drop from our view here in North America so easily.

The UN mission in the Congo is the largest and most expensive in history with now more than 20,000 personnel on the ground. 150 UN personnel have lost their lives since the mission’s inception in 1999.   These troops have been accused of atrocities ranging from rape and murder, to assisting local militias and rebel groups in their massacres and have faced protests at the UN doorstep in extreme anger and frustration by local populations who feel they are not being fully protected. We cannot forget that despite all this negativity these troops have also been credited with protecting thousands of local Congolese on a daily basis who would surely die if not for their presence and assistance; they have also had their hands essentially tied by vague mandate and lack of funding. Millions and millions of locals have died (at least 5.6 million in the past decade and probably much more than that), millions more have been displaced, many tens of thousands have been raped (if not more) and these atrocities still continue daily in the most brutal fashion. More than half of the remaining 55 million people in the country are children who are vulnerable to recruitment into fighting factions, are subject to a lack of access to education, malnutrition, or other major human rights abuses, which makes long-term peace increasingly difficult. If these children grow up in constant violence and war, how can they ever know peace?

The peacekeepers’ are under a Chapter VII mandate which allows them to take “necessary action, in the areas of deployment of its infantry battalions and as it deems it within its capabilities, to protect United Nations and co-located JMC personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, ensure the security and freedom of movement of its personnel, and protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.” Their role on paper is essentially to provide stability, security and protection in the country while monitoring human rights abuses and assisting in disarmament, demobilization, resettlement and reintegration of rebel troops. The mission is clearly flawed as violence keeps increasing around them. By supporting the Congolese government, the UN peacekeepers are routinely found being complicit in operations that could be construed as war crimes. Peacekeeping is not enough for this mission. The corrupt government, police and army systems meant to protect are often accused of raid, rape, abuse and murder and the communities propagandized to continual vengeance by rumors that separate and demonize entire ethnic populations. Peacemaking, peacebuilding and regulation of government systems are a necessity on top of the peacekeeping force if any semblance of peace within the country is to be established.

President Joseph Kabila has been a controversial leader of the DRC since 2001. Taking control after his father’s assassination, he was elected as president three years later. His history (including even his age) is highly debated and the subject of great rumor. His lineage and parentage are also debated. Many local rumors claim he is the son of a Rwandan who was adopted by Laurent Kabila after his marriage to Joseph’s mother (Laurent was said to have as many as 13 wives and more than 25 children). There are also many claims of Joseph’s relation to and alliance to Rwandan forces, as he is feared as a puppet of Rwandan President Paul Kagame with an eventual plan to occupy and annex the eastern Kivu provinces from the Congo. Joseph spent many years of his life in neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda, making his life even more of a mystery to many Congolese citizens. He was commonly known as the commander of the famous army of kadogos (child soldiers) in his father’s campaign to oust the Mobutu regime. Kabila is also said to have studied at the Makerere University in Uganda and the PLA National Defense University in China. He had to change the Congolese constitution in 2006, lowering the eligibility age for elections from 35 to 30 so that he could himself run for office legally. His government troops have been accused of mass atrocities and continuing violence that seem to go unpunished. Despite this violence and lack of accountability, his government continues to receive extensive funding and assistance from many foreign sources.

The IMF has loaned over $502 million to the government of the Congo, requiring with it a roll-back of government services that have had some devastating effects. The World Bank and many other agencies continually supply the Congolese government with financial assistance, despite claims of massive human rights abuses by governmental parties. The DRC currently owes billions in debt from Mobutu’s dictatorial period with interest payments consuming more than 10% of the government budget each year, although talks are currently underway to try to reduce this debt. CIDA, Canada’s international development agency funnels over $30 million per year to “political and economic governance” programs with little accountability and transparency of where this funding actually goes. Natural resource wealth is the prime fuel for much of the violence including that earned from uranium, cobalt, coltan, gold, copper, tin, zinc, diamonds, and tantalite often found in many electronics products or packaging for products such as cans. Rebel and government groups battle it out for control of resources; a single mine able to provide them with upwards of $20 million per month in profit, enough to fund more weapons, power and control. The Chinese, Belgians, French, Canadians and Americans (among others) all have a vested monetary interest in the country and often take the opportunity to politically maneuver the government for their own interests.

Refugees returning to the Kivus are adding to the tensions as local politicians and rumor say the returnees are not Congolese Tutsi but rather Rwandans who have never even lived in the Congo. They are accused of throwing locals off their land, fueling further ethnic tensions and hatred in the region. Armed militias for several different ethnic groups who claim to “provide protection” for local and refugees populations are themselves accused of mass rape, murder, forced recruitment of soldiers (including child soldiers), and using slaves to illegally exploit minerals. There is little place to really turn for protection. The intense violence has caused dwindling humanitarian services (see also here, here, here, and here) that will surely diminish even further if the UN does withdrawal.

Something must be done to stop this violence. Proper oversight of natural resources is an absolute necessity combined with awareness in consuming nations to pressure the change within North American, Chinese and European consumption and lending habits. UN withdrawal will only bring more devastation, murder and abuse to the civilian population and must be avoided at all costs.

Please speak out against these crimes to anyone who will listen and be aware of what you purchase as you may be much more connected to this war than you might think. If you would like to read more about conflict resources in the Congo, please read about my quest for a conflict free laptop.

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Some hope for the future.

In Canada:

Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries

In the US:

Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009

Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009

In the EU:

Global Witness pushes for legislation

Some of the corporations:

Congo tracking project aims to end IT industry’s use of “blood tin”

Supply chains unite to start iTSCi mineral traceability project in DRC

Global e-Sustainability Initiative


Individualistic Climate Change

We all hear about the terrible effects of climate change and environmental abuses on our earth. These are abuses against our human rights and are something that majorly affects peace worldwide. We are all urged to change our individual actions to reduce our carbon footprints and told how this is the best way to stop negative climate change.

Sometimes I wonder.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take these measures– I am a hardcore advocate of sustainability who writes about these types of issues frequently and urges people to think of generations to come and our individual footprint on this earth. What I am saying is that I don’t think this is the entire picture of what’s going on in our environment. Why is everything always thrust upon the individual who really has very little say (or none) in what happens worldwide? Where is governmental restraint? Corporate restraint? What other factors are contributing to climate change?

Sometimes I wonder what effect the over 2,000 nuclear bomb tests done globally since the 1940s have had on our environment and how this, in and of itself, has contributed to global climate change and environmental harm.

Let’s entertain that idea for a second.

A nuclear bomb has enormous destructive capability. More modern nukes can have the explosive power of more than 50,000 kilotons (that’s thousands of tons) of TNT. Tests have been done in the atmosphere, underground, in the water and even in outerspace, spewing out tremendous heat, energy and radiation into the air, ground and water; along with creating shock waves carrying immense pressure that is able to take  down buildings. Hmmm. And we are expected to believe that this has had no lingering effect on the climate, weather patterns, or our health? Well, not entirely, but its definitely not in the forefront of our environmental ideology.

A nuclear explosion underwater has the capability to create a tsunami. A nuclear explosion underground has the ability to create an earthquake. A nuclear explosion in the atmosphere rains radiation down to the earth and has enough explosive power to take down large buildings in a massive radius. What long term effects does this radioactive legacy have on our environment and our climate? What cancers and other maladies has it caused in humans and animals? What weather patterns changed on account of these explosions?

They say that simply increasing ocean temperatures by a few degrees can drastically change the weather. So we are expected to believe that numerous underwater ocean tests of nuclear devices that give off extreme amounts of heat and radioactive power have not effected ocean temperature or toxicity at all?

Now, I’m not a scientist. I’m not a nuclear specialist. I’m not a climatologist. But I do think that the entire truth of the situation is being downplayed. How can these explosions NOT have a lingering, long-term negative effect on our health, our climate and our world? How can they expect us to believe that individual actions are responsible for all our climate problems? I think that this shift to the individual helps to dissuade the blame and ensures that states can take the least amount of responsibility and action. If the problem is individual– then the best way to solve it is through individual actions– right?

Treaties have been established by international bodies to try and stop nuclear weapons testing. The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 banned nuclear tests in the atmosphere, underwater and in space (most recently violated by the US), still allowing for underground testing, and was originally signed by the USSR, the UK, and the US. And the testing continued.

Then in 1968, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty set to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. 189 states became party to the treaty, with five signing states (US, Russia, UK, China and France) already in possession of nukes and unwilling to fully give up their power. Four states have never signed and have also been in possession of nuclear armaments: India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan. And the testing still continued.

In 1996, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty was adopted by the UN General Assembly to ban all nuclear explosions in all environments, yet has not fully entered into force. Tests are still happening. Our environment is still being polluted with radioactivity. And yet, where is the discussion on their effects on climate change and the environment? Why is this not talked about in the mainstream?

And where is the legislation necessary to protect our rights? Why is the individual responsible when it is governments who are letting it happen? When there are no laws to protect the citizenry from major toxicity and environmental harm we all face the consequences. Democracy is supposed to be by the people, for the people. In reality it is by a few individuals, for a few individuals (and corporations) and the well-being of the general population is not what is being protected.  Why are there such lax laws governing corporate or governmental environmental abuses? Why are major treaties not being respected?

I say it’s time for states to take responsibility and stop thrusting it all on the backs of the individuals. I say it’s time for the international community to take responsibility. I say its time we started looking into ALL the reasons behind our climate problems and stop blaming the individual for everything. It is not individual changes in and of itself that is going to make a real difference for our future, it is through collective action that difference will be made. If our states are not acting in our collective interests, whose interests are they acting for? Who is looking out for our collective interests and the interests of future generations? We need to speak our voice against atrocities and make change or our voice will be taken away from us.

Nuclear weapons have one purpose- destruction and death. I say its time for those countries in possession of such destruction to become accountable to the rest of the world for their actions. I say its time these countries faced the truth of their actions. I say its time that international bodies and states started actually representing collective interests instead of focusing on their own power and greed. Individual state power is not in our collective interest. If these governments truly represent the people, they should start acting like it and start thinking of all of our futures. It is time the true reason for government– to protect our rights and help keep us safe from abuse– becomes reality.

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The United Nations Human Development Report 2009: A Very Brief Look

Written by Heather Wilhelm

On Monday, the United Nations (UN) released their Human Development Report (HDR) for 2009, ranking 182 countries into their respective places based on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Human Development Index (HDI) of these countries.  GDP is defined as the total market value of all final goods and services produced in a country in a given year, equal to total consumer, investment and government spending, plus the value of exports, minus the value of imports.  In layman’s terms, it measures a country’s economic performance on a yearly basis.  Since its inception in 1990, the HDR has reached beyond simply looking at a country’s GDP and has created the HDI which measures three dimensions of human development:  life expectancy, literacy and gross enrolment in education, and having a decent standard of living.  While it is easy to argue that these measurements are not an effective way to gauge the success or failure of a country in a numbered ranking system (what of gender, social services, child welfare), for the purpose of this article, let’s just look at the gross difference between those living at the top (Norway, Australia, Iceland and Canada ranked 1 through 4) and the bottom (Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Niger in spots 180-182).

While it should be noted that this Report was created using 2007 statistics before the current economic crisis, it is still very apparent that there are stark disparities between those countries at the top of the list, and those at the bottom.  For instance, the average life expectancy in Niger is 50 years, which is a full 30 years less than the life expectancy in 4th place Canada.  For every dollar earned in Niger, eighty-five (85) dollars is earned in 1st place Norway.  It is believed that more than half the population in the lowest ranking 24 countries are illiterate.  These kinds of statistics put on paper what most students of global studies already know – we do not live in a world of equality and justice.  These yearly reports simply reiterate that while the privileged can expect to enjoy a long life with education and excellent standards of living the poor seem to be destined to remain in a position of poverty, illiteracy and shortened life expectancies.  I’ve provided a very brief background on the UNHDR for you, and I encourage you to click the link that follows and read a bit more on your own…the results will hopefully shock you back into reality – I know it always does for me.

Click here to view the full Human Development Report 2009.

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The Global Hunger Crisis – Why Haven’t We Made More Progress Towards the Millenium Development Goals?

Written by Heather Wilhelm

It is so easy to forget about the true state of the world when we live our day to day lives just going through the motions.  Here are some statistics to shock you back into reality:

~        1.02 billion people do not have enough to eat – more than the populations of USA, Canada and the European Union;

~        More than 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women;

~        Every six seconds a child dies because of hunger and related causes; and

~        Lack of Vitamin A kills a million infants a year.

When I read statistics like these, I actually find it very hard to believe that they are real.  How is it possible that I’ve lived 28 years never going hungry, and yet somehow during my regular 8 hour work day more than 4,800 children die of hunger-related diseases?  Women and children the world over continue to be the most disenfranchised individuals on the planet, and even the most well-meaning organizations, like the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP), are unable to help effectively.  A recent report from Reuters states that world food aid is at an all-time low despite the fact that the number of hungry people in the world soared to its highest level ever, with more than 1 billion people classified as lacking food.  The WFP has barely enough funding this year to help a fraction of these people, which is made more horrifying by the fact that it would take a mere 0.01% of the global financial crisis bailout package from the United States to solve the hunger crisis.  Priorities need to shift in Washington and in neighbouring developed countries, with the eradication of poverty and starvation not only in “third world” countries, but also right in their own backyards moving to the top of the list.

As per the WFP’s website, one of the possible solutions to the world hunger crisis is the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, which are:

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight goals to be achieved by 2015 that respond to the world’s main development challenges. The MDGs are drawn from the actions and targets contained in the Millennium Declaration that was adopted by 189 nations-and signed by 147 heads of state and governments during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000.

These eight development goals are:

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

Goal 5: Improve maternal health

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

The importance of the implementation of the MDG’s cannot be overlooked, but considering we are more than halfway through the fifteen year period that was allotted to make these development goals a reality, how much has really been accomplished?  If the WFP can say that 2009 saw more hungry people than ever before, clearly something is being done wrong.  In an attempt to look into progress reports, I found most sites to be sorely lacking (for instance, the United Nations Development Programme website’s section entitled “Implementation of the MDG’s” last shows an update in 2005), which is beyond discouraging.  The eight goals listed above are so basic, so simple and so easily achieved that is simply doesn’t make sense why there hasn’t been more progress reported.  As a society, we need to hold our government accountable for the commitments they made to the disenfranchised, poverty-stricken people of the world in 2000, and ensure that they are meeting the requirements set out for each country in helping to bring the Millennium Development Goals to fruition by the year 2015.  If you want to make sure they are held accountable, speak up, tell people what you’ve read here and make your voice heard.  Local government representatives aren’t just elected to sit around and look pretty – they are supposed to carry our voices and concerns up to Ottawa and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  If there’s one country in the world that exemplifies the spirit of helping others, it’s Canada, so let’s make sure when 2015 rolls around, our country has done everything in its power to ensure the full implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

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The Practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in Kenya’s Meru Society

Written by Heather Wilhelm

After briefly reading about the prevalence of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in the Meru tribe of Kenya while updating our website’s Media Watch section, I decided to do some further research on the history of FGM/C amongst Meru women, and what is being done to change these barbaric traditions.

The tradition of FGM/C in the Meru society dates back to an ancient myth in which all healthy men of the village were sent off to fight enemy tribes, but upon their return from war, found their women impregnated by the weaker men who had been left behind.  The myth continues that from this day forward, women were forced to endure the removal of their clitorises to deplete their sexual desires in the hopes that they would remain faithful to their warrior husbands.  This practice of FGM/C has been carried forward into present Meru society despite the fact that these procedures have been illegal since 2001 under the Children’s Act.  The Act specifically states:

No person shall subject a child to female circumcision, early marriage or other cultural rites, customs or traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect the child’s life, health, social welfare, dignity or physical or psychological development. (Kenya 2001, Sec. 14)

In an effort to change and modernize Meru society, elders of the tribe have begun to run an Alternative Rites-of-Passage (ARP) program that promotes both knowledge of cultural traditions of the Meru, as well as modern values.

These ARP programs have been taught in several Meru locations since 2007, and so far more than 2,000 girls and young women have taken these classes as an alternative to the brutal FGM/C.  The idea behind the program is to remain true to the values of the Meru and the idea of preparing girls for womanhood through education rather than physical mutilation.  These young women learn about relationships, marriage, self-awareness, Meru cultural values and traditions, substance abuse and even HIV/AIDS.  While ARP seems like the perfect alternative to FGM/C in the Meru society, there is still a huge amount of resistance to the change and FGM/C procedures are now often performed under cover of night, sometimes by individuals not qualified to perform them.  There are so many risks and dangers involved in the practice of FGM/C (aside from the fact that it is a blatant violation of basic human rights), that these procedures are becoming increasingly dangerous.  Some of the short-term side effects include severe pain, shock, hemorrhage, tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and damage or injury to nearby genital tissue.  Some of the long-term consequences of FGM/C can include recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility, increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths, and the need for further surgeries depending on the type of FGM/C that the woman was subjected to.  There are four main procedures used to perform FGM/C and in brief they are:

1)      Clitoridectomy: involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoris and sometimes the prepuce as well;

2)      Excision:  involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, which can or cannot include the removal of the labia majora as well;

3)      Infibulation:  the creation of a covering seal to narrow the vaginal opening.  The seal is formed by removing and then repositioning the inner and/or outer labia.  This procedure can or cannot involve the removal of the clitoris; and

4)      Other:  this includes all procedures performed on female genitals not for medical purposes and can include pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

There are many organizations including the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund and local NGO’s throughout Africa that are trying to put an end to the practice of FGM/C.  As I mentioned earlier, ARP programs are being created in different regions of the continent, including in the Meru society, but there are still millions of young girls at risk of FGM/C every year in Africa.  Moving towards the eradication of FGM/C will require that education and awareness about the consequences of this procedure to young women (both physically and mentally) be made available to community leaders throughout the many regions in Africa where FGM/C is prevalent.  In the meantime, it will be up to the many women who have suffered this barbaric procedure, and the brave men who support them to bring forward change in local communities through alternative learning programs.  Hopefully the international community will continue to fight for the rights of children in developing countries, specifically the rights of girls, by bringing awareness to the public on such a large scale, that these violations of human rights can no longer be ignored.

Iran’s beef with the US.

In most of the news I read or see about Iranian-US relations, it negatively portrays Iran and almost chides it for its hosility towards the States. Anyone who has read about or lived in Iran, knows that there is a complicated history here of betrayal, hostility and distrust. There is definitely little reason for the Iranians to trust the Americans and many reasons for them to be angry. The rise of religious fundamentalism in Iran spawned out of a series of political intervention in the Iranian system by outside forces. Democracy at one time, was developing here, but this was stifled by American and British parties who were striving to keep full control of their colonial resources.

In the 1950s Mohammed Mossadeq, the Iranian Prime Minister, began seeking independence (from Britain) and democracy for Iran. He was loved by the people, and seen as a great hope for the development of Iran. He was overthrown in a coup carried out by the CIA (Operation Ajax) and the British after he cut off their oil profits, seeking to better his population with some of the oil money. After intense hostility, and wanting to receive better shares in their country’s own resources (at least a 50-50 split), Mossadegh decided to nationalise Iranian oil supplies and take full control. Britain put an immediate worldwide embargo on the purchase of Iranian oil and pressured all of its allies to do the same. Only Japan and Italy continued to purchase Iranian oil, and the economy began to go into serious decline.

Assassination attempts on Mossadegh’s life, led him to call a referendum to decide the fate of the government in a democratic way. Overwhelming support in his favor resulted, so he dissolved the house and took control.

The Shah (the monarch of Iran), with British prodding, signed a royal decree dismissing Mossadegh and his cabinet and appointed a new Prime Minister. The legality of this was questionable since a Prime Minister could only be appointed or dismissed by the House and not the Shah according to the consitution. After intense public demonstration in favor of Mossadegh, the Shah fled the country, only to return after the CIA coup that removed Mossedegh from power. Mossadegh was charged, tried and sentenced to 3 years of solitary confinement, after which he would remain under house arrest until his death in 1967. Any opposition to the coup were arrested, with many sentenced to death.

The Shah was placed in charge, and subsequently restored the oil concession with Britain. Under his rule opposition parties were banned, suppressed and closely controlled. Freedom of speech was silenced and the constitution became questionable. The secret police (SAVAK- Sazman-e Ettelaat va Amniyat-e Keshvar) grew, as did massive corruption and Shia fundamentalism, rebelling against the growing oppression. The Shah’s regime allowed for US military personnel serving in Iran, their staffs and families to receive full diplomatic immunity; basically allowing them free reign within the country.

Despite the government’s incredible human rights abuses, the Shah was allowed to purchase unlimited quantities of military hardware from the US, in return for two listening posts in Iran to monitor Soviet ballistic missile launches and other military activity in the early 1970s. The government was accused of suppressing the population to such an extent that they actually fired on peaceful antigovernment marches killing at least 87 people in the streets in one attack.

Cleric Ayatollah Khomeini rose up against the increasing American and British presence and control in the country with bitter fundamentalism, pushing towards Islamic rule. He took over the country in a swift revolution and installed himself as supreme leader. The Shah fled for his life, and a brutal regime took hold for many years.

In 1979, the Americans allowed the exiled Shah into the US for cancer treatment, to the great anger of the Iranian people who wished to try him for his crimes against the Iranian people in their own country. They demanded his return to Iran, which was ignored by the US. A hostage situation ensued at the American Embassy in Tehran, where a group of Islamist students held 52 embassy staff hostage for 444 days.

A peaceful, democratic regime overthrown by the US and British, only so they can install their loyal, human rights abusing Shah so that they can keep stealing resources out of the country? If any other country attempted to overthrow a democratic American President or the British PM, only to install a brutal dictator; there would be serious consequences of those actions. Would there not be tremendous backlash and political uprising in the US if this were attempted? Would there not be attempts to overthrow the new dictator? Would there not be hatred towards those who helped to install the dictator? Why would we expect any different in Iran?

These type of practices continue. The plundering hands still reach the world, only now they are better disguised and hidden behind intensive propaganda. These powers still disrupt the democracy of many countries, while attempting to install it elsewhere, severely undermining the sincerity of their attempts.

This should not be permitted to continue. The UN and its Security Council need to be restructured so that this sort of crime will actually be discouraged and punished in the future.

Human rights abuses committed by the Iranian government should not be tolerated, and should be punished; but so should those who would disrupt democracy for profit.

I urge anyone interested in this topic to read “All the Shah’s Men” by Stephen Kinzer. It gives a great view into the roots of Middle Eastern terror and is a great introduction into the region.


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Evolutions of peacekeeping: The UN’s constraints to global conflict resolution.

The UN’s peacekeeping role in global conflicts has evolved since the first mission in 1948. Since World War Two there has been a reported rapid decline in traditional interstate conflict, which seems to have been replaced by a rise in intrastate conflict (Yilmaz, 2005: 13). There has also been an increased tendency to describe the conflicts occurring after the 1980s as “ethnically-based” (Gilley, 2004: 1155), changing the way collective security forces respond to disputes. This change from interstate political wars to “ethnic civil wars” makes it natural for many outside parties to assume that the warring country will settle the conflict itself, as it is seen as their own concern and business, and based on long-standing hatreds . However, uncontrolled escalations, and psychological components such as increased tensions, lack of trust, suspicion, and biased communication, makes those disputing unable design a solution since they are the least equipped to stop the fighting. A third party, in this situation can be the difference. The UN has increasingly been this party, as the “grand guardian” of international peace and security in the world (Yilmaz, 2005: 14). The lack of success in many UN peacekeeping missions is based on a variety of factors which hinders its capability to fully act and transform the conflict into non-violent solutions. The UN’s evolving medley of structures is currently incapable of dealing with the roots of global violence and must be re-designed to reflect the current realities, focusing on transforming the UN itself and the sources of global dispute into non-violent structures.

The international community expects more from the UN than any other party in solving disputes, even though member states so often ignore their role in keeping this institution alive. Despite these intense expectations and UN involvement in over 60 peacekeeping operations so far, the term “peacekeeping” is not specifically mentioned anywhere in the UN Charter, making the actual concept incredibly ambiguous within the organization. Peacekeeping evolved as a pragmatic solution in the early years of the organization, and is often referred to at the UN as “Chapter 6-and-a-half” since it falls between Chapter 6 of the UN Charter (on Pacific Settlement of Disputes) and Chapter 7 (on Action with Respect to Threats of Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression) and is not specifically outlined or defined anywhere (Yilmaz, 2005: 15). Peacekeeping evolved as a non-coercive instrument at a time when Cold War constraints prohibited the use of more forceful steps permitted by the Charter. Peacekeeping without combat connotations emerged. This called for trained military personnel not to wage war, but to prevent fighting between warring parties, ensure the maintenance of cease-fires, and to provide some stability while negotiations are conducted (Nambiar, 1999).

The non-use of force has been central to UN peacekeeping for many years, with more than half of operations prior to 1988 consisting of only unarmed military observers who were allowed to use force only in cases of self-defense. The non-use of force has been critiqued as making peacekeeping ineffective, but has also been seen as essential to ensuring the legitimacy and credibility of the organization. For example, in Cyprus in 1974 and Lebanon in 1982 the presence of UN peacekeeping troops could not prevent the breakdown of order and the subsequent foreign invasions that resulted in tremendous violence because of their non-use of force left them powerless (Yilmaz, 2005: 16). To keep legitimacy and credibility, peacekeeping at the UN has always been based on a triad of principles: the consent of the parties to the conflict, the impartiality of the peacekeepers and the use of force by lightly armed peacekeepers only in self defense. The reality of meeting these principles in violent conflict is remote. Consent by warring parties to be restrained by the UN is only really possible if there are already negotiations going on and relative peace to keep between the parties. By their very nature, enforcement actions are subjective and biased towards one side. Peace enforcement is no different. Many believe that force must be met with force, and the only way for peacekeepers to keep peace is through intense enforcement and military solutions (Nambiar, 1999).

Certain international actors often feel that the UN’s non-use of force mandate prevents it from making any real progress towards peace. Individual nations have instead taken on military action themselves with the alleged intention of stopping violence, often even with Security Council authorization (for example, Korea in 1950 and Persian Gulf War in 1990). The end of the Cold War saw a removal of the perceived major obstacle to implementing collective security; the end of hostile relations between the United States and the Soviet Union (Clark, 1995: 238-9). The end of the Cold war also resulted in a decline of the use of the veto in the UN Security Council (Yilmaz, 2005: 17), which has in the past few years again started to increase (Global Policy Forum, October, 2008). Some states have been reluctant to trust the UN to act (especially in cases that affect their own interests), and so are increasingly more likely to take matters into their own hands (Clark, 1995: 238-9), as has been the case for the US.

The veto privilege held by 5 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) works against the UN’s aim to be legitimate and credible. The veto privilege allows these members to stop any action of the UNSC (responsible for global peace and security, economic sanctioning, trusteeship functions and UN peacekeeping initiatives) by exercising their veto. Since the UN’s inception in 1946, there have been 261 vetoes in the Security Council: 124 by the USSR/Russia, 82 by the US, 32 by Britain, 18 by France, and 6 by China. Among the actions vetoed were potential peacekeeping operations, such as the vetoes by the US in 2001, 2004, and 2006 that prevented the UN from demanding a cessation of violence in the Gaza strip and the establishment of a UN observer force to protect Palestinian civilians. Lebanon’s complaints against Israeli violence (1986, 1988); Nicaragua’s complaints against US violence (1984-86); complaints against South Africa of violence by Angola, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (1981, 1986); Libya’s complaint against US attack (1989); Grenada’s complaint against invasion by US troops (1983); and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1980) were all ignored by the UN because they were vetoed in the UNSC. The veto privilege also resulted in full out war being ignored on several occasions by the UN (in Lebanon, Panama, occupied Palestine, Namibia, Nicaragua to name a few; Global Policy Forum, October, 2008). This has resulted in inequitable structures in a body that is meant to be impartial in maintaining global peace and security. Peace and security is clearly only maintained for some.

The deployment of UN peace enforcement and peacekeeping forces has been moderately successful at resolving disputes between larger players and may be essential to terminate these types of conflict. It is currently not sufficient, however, for the local disputes, long term recovery of a conflict or for addressing the root cause of the conflict. In order for long term recovery to happen, intense DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants), civilian policing programs, judicial programs, law reform programs and conflict transformation programs must be in place to help re-order society and instill some sense of stability and rule-of-law. Sadly, these programs often receive comparatively meager funding next to other initiatives, such as running “democratic” elections (Global Policy Forum, 2004). The “democratic” push has also had the effect of calling into question the impartiality and motive of the UN and international structures, as the implementation of market democracy through aid programs is often seen as “western” and almost colonial, leading to increased ethnic tension and global insecurity (Chua, 2003).

Inequitable structures that fail to provide basic political and civic freedoms are most often the cause of “ethnic conflict”, which has been on the rise globally since the end of the Cold War (Gilley, 2004: 1162). In the Congo, for example, ancient ethnic hatreds are often cited as the reason for conflict in the region. Colonial and political choices that favored arbitrary groups of people over other groups cemented divisions along “ethnic” lines and ensured one group’s access to resources, opportunities and services over the others. This fueled tensions and led to conflict (Jackson, 2007). Ethnic groups in the Congo lived (and continue to live) in mostly intermixed communities and are not completely homogenous and static (Pottier, 2008). Ancient ethnic hatreds are seen as almost natural and inevitable; making action to stop them unlikely. Rarely are the underlying roots of the conflict (the colonial or political choices, access to resources, etc.) addressed, making continual conflict inevitable. The focus on ethnicity has prevented the UN from taking action in many cases.

When the UN peacekeeping forces are not inhibited by vetoes, ethnicity or other factors and decide to act to keep the peace; they are still incredibly restrained in their capabilities. Member States are important for support, financially, logistically and in troop commitment. The debt owed by the 15 largest payers of the peacekeeping budget is certainly a cause for concern. The US currently owes $1.466 billion in debt to the UN; Japan owes $832 million; France owes $235 million; China owes $213 million; and Germany, the UK, Italy, Canada, Spain, Mexico, Korea, the Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland, and Russia are all among the top debtors. These millions of owed dollars prevent the UN from being able to properly implement its missions (Global Policy Forum, November, 2008). Dues for peacekeeping missions are collected separately, allowing for each member state to reject funding for individual projects as they choose (Yilmaz, 2005: 24).Calls for troop support are commonly ignored by international players who are over committed to countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, with priorities of defending “terrorist actions” (Yilmaz, 2005: 21-2). Without its Member States support, the UN is virtually useless to act and prevent violence.

The genocide in Rwanda and massacre in Srebrenica and the failure of the UN to prevent these atrocities, led in 1999 to the Brahimi Report, recommending a funding minimum and personnel requirements for UN peacekeeping missions. New peacekeeping missions grew by almost 50% in the summer of 2006, stretching the peacekeeping resources of the UN to the extreme. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for peacekeeping reform and re-structuring of the UN peacekeeping structures in February of 2007, was at first rejected by the General Assembly. In July of 2007, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) was restructured to focus on operations, leaving management and logistics to the newly created Department of Field Support (Pelz and Lehmann, 2007). This restructuring ignored the other problems faced by the DPKO and left it still incapable of addressing root causes of conflict.

If countries ignore the UN and its missions, it loses its power and its meaning in the international community. The UN is important because it is the only place where all countries can work together and have a voice, and is the best chance for peace in the world. The UN is capable of much more than it is currently doing, but it does not have the resources to do these things alone. It must have the support of its Members in the international community to work, who must practice what they preach and provide their promised share in the international community. The UN can work if it is provided the proper resources and support to actually run. Major violators should not be allowed to decide what methods of peace should be used in an area that they have a hand in violating. This is wrong and is preventing justice from existing in the world. All violators should be brought to justice, regardless of whether they hold a veto power or not.

The current state of the UN is inequitable. How can the UN possibly inspire positive peace, if its own structures are so incredibly unjust? The current international peacekeeping strategy is based on an evolution of changing ideologies and as such, is incapable of truly handling conflict. It must be restructured to address the political choices, colonial legacies, and continuing inequitable structures that enhance tensions and ensure continual conflict. It must also be restructured to address financing and troop support issues. It is time to learn from past mistakes and create a new structure that tackles all of the inequities of the former structures. Without this, there can be no possibility for peace in the near future.

Sources:
1) Chua, Amy. 2003. World on fire: How exporting free market democracy breeds ethnic hatred and global instability. Doubleday. Random House. 329 pages.
2) Clark, Mark T. Spring 1995. The trouble with collective security. Orbis. Vol. 39, No.2. pp. 237- 258.
3) Gilley, Bruce. 2004. Against the concept of ethnic conflict. Third World Quarterly. Vol. 25, No. 6. Pp. 1155-1166.
4) Global Policy Forum. December 4, 2004. UN panel on reforming UN peacekeeping recommends a new peacebuilding commission. Citizens for Global Solutions.
5) Global Policy Forum. October 7, 2008. Subjects of UN Security Council Vetoes. Global Policy Forum.
6) Global Policy Forum. November, 2008. Debt of 15 largest payers to the peacekeeping budget 2008. Global Policy Forum. Retrieved November 20, 2008, from
7) Jackson, Stephen. November, 2007. Of ‘doubtful nationality’: Political manipulation of citizenship in the DR Congo. Citizenship Studies. Vol. 11, Issue 5; 481-500.
8) Nambiar, Lt. Gen. Satish. March 17-19, 1999. UN peacekeeping operations: Problems and prospects. Embassy of India.
9) Pelz, Timo and Lehmann, Volker. November 2007. The evolution of UN peacekeeping (2): Reforming DPKO. Dialogue on Globalization. Friedrich Ebert Foundation. New York.
10) Pottier, Johan. 2008. Displacement and ethnic reintegration in Ituri, DR Congo: Challenges ahead. Journal of Modern African Studies. Vol. 46, Issue 3; 427-450.
11) Yilmaz, Muzaffer Ercan. June 2005. UN peacekeeping in the post-cold war era. International Journal on World Peace. Vol. XXII, No. 2.


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Why is the UN failing in many of its missions?

The United Nations is only as powerful as its Member states. It can call on its Members for support: financially, logistically or in troops and hope that they answer the call. If this call goes unanswered (as is currently the situation), what powers does the UN have to ensure enforcement or support?

 

The structures of the International Court of Justice, the UN’s principle judicial organ, are only meant to settle legal disputes between states, and rely on local enforcement structures to arrest and detain crime suspects. The International Criminal Court, which tries crimes against humanity and war crimes, is also reliant on local enforcement structures, which prevents it from trying many international criminals because of a lack of cooperation or capabilities of local enforcement.

 

Five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) enjoy a veto privilege, which means they can stop any action of the UNSC by exercising their veto. The UNSC is responsible for maintaining international peace and security, investigating disputes, recommending methods to solve disputes, regulating armaments, determining the existence of threats to peace or acts of aggression, recommending what actions are to be taken, applying economic sanctions and other measures to prevent or stop aggression, taking action against an aggressor, recommending admission of new Members to the UN, overseeing trusteeship functions of the UN, and recommending the appointment of the Secretary-General to the UN and Judges of International Court of Justice. Since the UN’s inception in 1946, there have been 261 vetoes in the Security Council: 124 by the USSR/Russia, 82 by the US, 32 by Britain, 18 by France and 6 by China. These vetoes have included subjects such as condemning the violence by the government of Zimbabwe against civilians following the elections in 2008 (vetoed by China and Russia), stopping Israeli military operations in Gaza in 2004 and 2006 (vetoed by the US), on taking action against the killing by Israeli forces of several UN employees and the destruction of the World Food Programme warehouse in 2002 (vetoed by the US), on establishing a UN observer force to protect Palestinian civilians in 2001 (vetoed by the US)[1]. Many others operations are never even brought to the table, since the veto will ensure the action cannot happen.

 

It is structures like these that allow major criminals to evade justice and limits the power of the UN. Combine this with incredible budget arrears owed to the UN by its Member states. The debt owed by the 15 largest payers of the peacekeeping budget is certainly a cause for concern, especially considering that peacekeeping support is so desperately needed in many areas of the world. The US currently owes $1.466 billion in debt to the UN; Japan owes $832 million; France owes $235 million; China owes $213 million; and Germany, the UK, Italy, Canada, Spain, Mexico, Korea, the Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland, and Russia are all among the top debtors. The hypocrisy that these countries all sponsor intense humanitarian aid (and state loans) to conflict zones, yet cannot manage to pay their promised share of peacekeeping debt should not go unnoticed. Requests for troop support to areas are also frequently ignored by the international community.

 

If countries ignore the UN and its missions, it loses its power and its meaning in the international community. The UN is important because it is the only place where all countries can work together and have a voice, and is the best chance for peace in the world. That being said, it is time the UN lived up to its original purpose, and created some means of enforcing its own legalities. The UN is capable of much more than it is currently doing, but it does not have the resources to do these things alone. It must have the support of its Members in the international community to work, who must practice what they preach and provide their promised share in the international community. The UN can work if it is provided the proper resources and support to actually run. Major violators should not be allowed to decide what methods of peace should be used in an area that they have a hand in violating. This is wrong and is preventing justice from existing in the world. All violators should be brought to justice, regardless of whether they hold a veto power or not.


[1] A full list of vetoes can be found at http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/membship/veto/vetosubj.htm

 


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