UN

Help is needed for IDPs in Cote d’Ivoire.

Hello all! Hope all is well!

This is an informal post, but I am hoping those of you with UN or other IDP agency contacts will heed these words and help to get rapid assistance for the IDPs living in Cote d’Ivoire. I am currently living in Abidjan and have been watching as civil war is breaking out all around me.

There are an estimated at least 30,000 newly displaced persons within Abidjan alone right now (and thousands upon thousands more across the country), because of fighting between different militias, rebels, and government forces during this past week. I have seen many scattered, sleeping out on the streets with their meager belongings as they have no where else to go.

These populations are now being heavily targeted, facing attacks from different factions. I have taken reports of some having their throats slit. Others being trapped within tires and burned alive. Many others still are being harassed, attacked, raped and beaten by groups of thugs from both sides, depending on the ethnicity of the IDP and the area they are in.

The UN has a mandate right now to protect civilians. Civilians are not being protected. There is a large contingent of UN troops stationed at the Golf Hotel, while the civilians are seemingly left to fend for themselves. These people need protection, some sort of “safe zone” for them to head to. Some sort of camp. Something.

The situation here is escalating quickly. If these populations are not protected quickly, I fear there will be many, many lost.

Hoping for peace for Cote d’Ivoire.
Rebecca

Is peace a possibility for Cote D’Ivoire in 2011? Part 1.

This past month or so has been a particularly stressful one for me. I have been living in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire for most of the past year and have watched as the country has been sinking deeper and deeper into violence and intense propaganda. Sadly, I’ve found I no longer believe a word I read in both local and international news, as I have read “news” that is in direct contrast to what I have seen and heard with my own eyes and ears. The stories seem to be escalating the situation further and further, and I’m finding myself extremely frustrated that everything seems to be so one-sided (either pro-Ouattara or pro-Gbagbo). It hurts me to think I have posted articles and comments that are seen as even slightly defensive of Gbagbo in the international sphere in an effort to elicit some form of balance in the reporting, as I have been (and still am) heavily critical of him. It hurts to try and have discussions with locals within Abidjan in defense of Ouattara, to try and bring reason to fervent Gbagbo supporters. I hate playing the “other-side” game in response to one-sided arguments, but I think it’s important to try to play devil’s advocate with those die-hard supporters who only paint one side of the story. Frankly, I wish both presidents would move on and allow a fresh batch of politicians that aren’t tainted with past violence to step forward to take the country to a more peaceful future, but this is not reality.

I was last here in 2004, during the previous civil war and saw the violence as it spread and resulted in the intense hatred of all things foreign. It was sometimes scary and devastating to watch. I heard many horrific personal stories from friends of the violence they experienced at the time. Despite this, I was ecstatic at the opportunity to come back here. I love this country. I love the mostly kind and friendly people I have encountered here. I love the rich culture and delicious food. I love the countryside, the beaches and the thick, lush forest. I love the way of life here, barring the corruption that sometimes makes things difficult. It’s a beautiful country with a lot of really amazing treasures.

The November 28th presidential elections resulted in a political crisis, with two different entities announcing two different results. Both Presidents were sworn in, in separate ceremonies and the country has been awash with reports of violence and violent-rhetoric ever since. The crisis didn’t really begin here; it has been festering for many years but it is now looking likely to outbreak into civil war, political assassinations or exiles and further inter-group hatreds.

Though I have been writing detailed personal notes throughout this situation, I must admit that I have been fearful to publish anything on the situation in the past few weeks. After writing a critique of the nearly unanimous support for Ouattara (the opposition) demonstrated by the international community on this site and several posts on the subject in a few other forums, I received some rather scary death threats from one person and many comments that broke my non-violence, non-discrimination, non-racism policy. I decided to take a bit of a break from posting on the subject.

The results of the elections sadly, is no longer even really relevant to the discussion. Whoever “really” won did so in a circumstance of intimidation and irregularity that can be attributed to both parties, depending on where one is situated in the country (with Gbagbo-supporters being intimidated mostly in the north, and Ouattara supporters being intimidated mostly in the south). The events that have happened since have only worsened the possibility of the “truth” being told. Propaganda has run wild, with increasingly violent-rhetoric being spread among both state and opposition media. Any probing of results or investigation at this point will be lost behind propaganda I’m afraid.

There has been acts of violence and the country is at real threat of returning to civil war, which it never fully recovered from in the first place. At least 150 are confirmed dead, and probably somewhere closer to several hundred. Dozens (and perhaps many more) have disappeared, and hundreds are said to have been arrested. Many thousands have fled to neighbouring Liberia, escaping violence in the south perpetrated mostly by Gbagbo-supporters, alleged mercenaries and the security forces; and violence in the north perpetrated mostly by Ouattara supporters and the Forces Nouvelles. Further investigation is needed to assess the refugees and their experiences of violence.

Some 120,000 Liberian refugees reside within Cote D’Ivoire, thousands of Burkinabes, and other West Africa refugees; and there have been hints from some sources within the UNHCR that suggest that many of those flooding out of Cote D’Ivoire are these long-term refugees who have long worked the system. They are appearing heavily at the UNHCR border office rather than being evenly distributed throughout Liberia or other neighbouring countries (this is taken from both personal communications with officials and comments made to Chris Blattman from a UNHCR official). I do however believe, that even if these refugees “know how to work the system”, they are still experiencing violence, as foreigners are often scapegoated during domestic troubles.

Regardless of who these refugees are and where they came from, they must be assisted and resettled with caution. The increase of people into Liberia, itself prone to instability, leaves an already burdened population with more mouths to feed and endangers peace in that country as well. Armed groups have been cited crossing borders to intimidate refugee populations and take the conflict to new populations as they do. Instability in the region could easily pass borders if things in Cote D’Ivoire worsen.

Besides the refugees, there are many foreigners with money who have decided to return to their home countries by more planned means (via plane with actual luggage) as their embassies sent messages urging them to quit the country before more violence came. This has had some effect on the local economy, although it appears many major business owners will be staying and instead sending their wives and families back home.

Nearly half the population was already unemployed before the conflict began and the vast majority lives on little more than $1 a day. Those that work often support large numbers of people on their meager salaries. Many workers have been laid off since the crisis, and the prices of food staples has doubled. As the population becomes more food and job insecure, so the risk for conflict increases. Strikes called by Ouattara’s camp affected some of the services of the buses, gbakas (minbuses) and taxis for a few days, but as most of the population is living day to day, long-term or full out striking is extremely unlikely. Most can simply not afford to take the time off without severe repercussions to themselves and their families.

Rallies have been held and marches planned. Ouattara’s march on the RTI television station ended without real success and resulted in much-expected clashes between security forces and protesters. Despite the violence, Ouattara was calling on his supporters to continue the attempt the following day, again without success. He has since repeatedly warned Gbagbo of imminent consequences should he not back down immediately, though it is difficult to administer consequences when one is backed into hiding and the consequences have yet to be seen. The notorious Ble Goude (Gbagbo’s Youth Minister) has been busy rallying up Gbagbo supporters and spinning them into an angry frenzy, readying them for the moment he can unleash them to try to take the Golf Hotel (where the Ouattara camp is currently residing under UN and Force Nouvelles protection) by force. Two major marches planned by Ble Goude have been canceled the night before they were even begun, allegedly to prevent further violence (though they were called using the extreme violent-rhetoric Goude is famous for).

The local political humour paper Gbich has taken the opportunity openly mock both candidates and their behaviours, much to my enjoyment. However, in the serious papers (both state and opposition); violent, inciting rhetoric makes me skeptical of the veracity of anything printed inside and angered that more peaceful dialogue is not the popular option. Rumours of local media intimidation by Gbagbo forces haven’t stopped most opposition papers from writing, as they can still be found daily in many places around the city. I’ve personally been threatened by a pro-Ouattara supporter, so I know that the intimidation definitely goes both ways, but I can also say that I fear writing anything hyper-critical of either candidate should the situation deteriorate further.

On the streets, during the day time, things are pretty normal. The streets and markets are crowded with people again going about their daily business, though people are still cautiously stocking up on supplies and keeping an eye out for any signs of coming danger. The police in many parts of the city have even returned to using radar to ticket speeders. I’ve found no trouble or signs of blatant violence while traveling throughout the city in the past two weeks, except for roadblocks and neighbourhood patrols in a few districts at night. In fact, on New Years eve, I traveled throughout several districts (including both known pro-Ouattara and pro-Gbagbo districts) and saw drunken partying, fireworks and dancing as if nothing was wrong.  I couldn’t sleep that night as the music, cheering and fireworks of those partying around my apartment blared in through my windows.

I have detailed some of the local situation and the underlying tensions that exist in this post. I will discuss in further detail some of the proposed “solutions” to the crisis and the effects I see coming from those in the next post.

International Day of Peace

Peace sign

Image via Wikipedia

Today is the UN’s International Day of Peace. However, despite this thought of goodwill, war and violence raged on today in many countries around the world. What can we do to change this? How can we move towards more positive peace?

To honor this day, I thought I would leave you with some famous peace quotes.

“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime” – Ernest Hemingway

“When you find peace within yourself, you become the kind of person who can live at peace with others.”

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

“A smile is the beginning of peace.” – Mother Teresa

“The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it” -George Orwell

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” – Jimi Hendrix

“The poor long for riches, the rich long for heaven, but the wise long for a state of tranquility.” -Swami Rama

“I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower

“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.” – Abraham Lincoln

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace, one must believe it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it, one must for it.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.”

“The way of peace is the way of love. Love is the greatest power on earth. It conquers all things.” – Peace Pilgrim

“Those who are at war with others are not at peace with themselves.” – William Hazlett

“It you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another.” – Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

“The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had. Finally it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

“One of the most persistent ambiguities that we face is that everybody talks about peace as a goal. However, it does not take sharpest-eyed sophistication to discern that while everbody talks about peace, peace has become practically nobodys’ business among the power-wielders. Many men cry Peace! Peace! but they refuse to do the things that make for peace.” -Martin Luther King,Jr.

“Peace be with you.” – The Bible: Genesis XLIII. 23

“The Holy Prophet Mohammed came into this world and taught us: ‘That man is a Muslim who never hurts anyone by word or deed, but who works for the benefit and happiness of God’s creatures. Belief in God is to love one’s fellow men.'” –Abdul Ghaffar Khan

“All who affirm the use of violence admit it is only a means to achieve justice and peace. But peace and justice are nonviolence…the final end of history. Those who abandon nonviolence have no sense of history. Rathy they are bypassing history, freezing history, betraying history.” André Trocmé

“Generally speaking, the first nonviolent act is not fasting, but dialogue. The other side, the adversary, is recognized as a person, he is taken out of his anonymity and exists in his own right, for what he really is, a person. To engage someone in dialogue is to recognize him, have faith in him. At every step in the nonviolent struggle, at every level we try tirelessly to establish a dialogue, or reestablish it if it has broken down. When I say ‘the other side,’ that could be a group of persons or a government.” -Hildegard Goos-Mayr

“One cannot simultaneously prepare for war and create peace.”

“We, the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal right of men and women and of nations large and small….And for these ends to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors…have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.” –Preamble, Charter of the United Nations.

This week in conflict… September 11- 17th, 2010

World

  • The UN will be having its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Summit in New York city from the 20th to the 22nd of September. They are looking to accelerate the progress towards the MDGs by 2015, review successes, best practices and lessons learned, obstacles and gaps, challenges and opportunities to lead to more “concrete strategies of action”.
  • A new machine was invented to convert used plastic back into oil. The machine is relatively small, and lightweight and could have enormous impact on global waste management.
  • For the first time in 15 years the number of hungry people in the world has declined, however these figures do not include the millions of hungry people in three “emergency” areas of Pakistan, Haiti and the Sahel in Africa and are not significantly lower than previous years. Rising grain, meat and sugar prices are threatening to increase the number of hungry and malnourished in the upcoming year.
  • The number of children who die before reaching the age of five has fallen by a third since 1990, UNICEF reported on Friday. The estimates suggest that 12,000 fewer children are dying each day around the world compared to 1990.

Africa

  • Scheduled run-off elections in Guinea will be delayed following the conviction of the head of the election commission for election fraud, who died on Tuesday in a Paris hospital. The run-off was scheduled to take place September 19th. Outbreaks of violence killed at least one person and injured another 50 as rival political factions clashed on Sunday.
  • Somali police claimed to have foiled a suicide attack by Islamist rebels in Mogadishu on Saturday. Security forces blew out the tires of a petrol tanker and arrested the wounded gunman found with explosives in his bag before he could ram the tanker into the seaport. A senior government minister in Somalia’s separatist region of Somaliland has admitted that a group of rebels have secretly landed along Somaliland shores to fight against the Ethiopian government, a claim that the Ethiopian government adamantly denied. An escalating dispute between the PM and the president could result in the PM being forced from his post. The president later denied the dispute had taken place. Clashes on Thursday between government troops and insurgents around the government buildings killed 15 people and injured at least 50.
  • It appears that Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni will run for a fourth time in next year’s presidential election. Museveni has been in power since 1986 and that he does not want any independent competition. The government issued its Public Order Management Bill which is intended to control public political gatherings. Opposition parties and human rights group claim the law is designed to stifle dissent and intend to challenge it. The government also dismissed the UN draft report’s accusations that it committed war crimes during its operations in the DR Congo in the 1990s. A journalist was beaten to death by an angry mob in the southern town of Rakai after filming an attack by a crowd of angry motorcyclists on a local home, and another journalist was murdered three days later as he walked to work.
  • Senegalese courts issued a new ruling forbidding marabouts (Muslim holy men) from enlisting children to beg on their behalf. Going against decades of tradition, the ruling is said to be a victory for the near 50,000 street children endangered in Senegal. Amnesty International reported that Senegal’s security forces are continuing to torture prisoners, while its ministers of state block investigations into those claims.
  • The Rwandan Army is rumored to be sending new soldiers to neighbouring Congo. This followed several private meetings between Congolese President Kabila and Rwandan President Kagame during Kabila’s three day trip to Rwanda. Following the meeting, Kabila announced that he would suspend all mining from three eastern provinces, with no details of how it would possibly be enforced. Prices have already tanked and experts are concerned about rioting and increasing lawlessness around the mines. Civil society in the Congo are calling for action against harassment following the recent imprisonment, torture, kidnapping and disappearances of several activists. A ceremony marking the destruction of the 100,000th weapon by Mines Advisory Group in the Congo was held in Kinshasa this week and was seen as a step towards positive peace even though violence rages on through much of the country.
  • Mobile phone companies in Mozambique are being accused of bowing to government pressure and suspending their texting services and then lying about it in the wake of the Maputo riots at the beginning of the month. The riots were thought to have been organized through text message.
  • The UN Security Council extended its mandate in Liberia (UNMIL) for another year and authorized the peacekeeping force to provide support to the government through its elections next year.
  • Assassins killed a top anti-graft official in Nigeria on Tuesday. Around 1,000 hoodlums have allegedly been hired to burn down the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission office.
  • Twenty-three constitutional outreach meetings had to be canceled in Zimbabwe after ZANU PF supporters brought guns to disrupt the meetings where contributions are deemed to contradict the party. In other areas, their representatives have simply boycotted the meetings, forcing an abandonment of proceedings under the outreach meeting rules.

Asia

  • Protests continue in Afghanistan, with protesters setting fire to police checkpoints and shops in response to the now withdrawn threat by a US pastor to burn copies of the Qur’an. Two people are said to have been shot and killed during the first day of demonstrations after police opened fire on the protesters. The violent protests continued during the week with dozens of injuries and an unknown number of deaths. NATO forces acknowledged this week that there could have been civilian casualties in an air strike earlier this month that wounded an election candidate that was strongly condemned by President Karzai. Election officials declared that thousands of fake voter registration cards have been found all across Afghanistan for the Saturday parliamentary elections. The Taliban took claim to the murder of two election staff members on Wednesday, while NATO forces are said to have shot an armed protester on Thursday. The Taliban have threatened that they would try to disrupt the poll, urging all Afghanis to boycott the election. On Friday they claimed to have kidnapped 30 campaign workers, elections officials and even a Parliamentary candidate. The UN has evacuated about a third of its permanent workforce over fears of election violence and fraud. The “war on terror” has not had the exact effect on security that was hoped, as this cool graphic shows. The number of attacks each month and travel risks have both increased dramatically.
  • Five militants were killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan near the Afghan border on Sunday and another 10 suspected killed in drone strikes on Tuesday. At least 11 are reported killed in another series of US unmanned drone missile strikes on Wednesday. A journalist was shot dead outside his office after receiving repeated death threats on Tuesday. Gangs torched vehicles and a shop in Karachi following the death of a senior politician in London.
  • North Korea made a surprise gesture of reconciliation with the South this week by proposing that families separated by the six decades of war be allowed to reunite. The proposal has been suggested by the South in the past. Former President Jimmy Carter suggested that North Korea has sent “strong and clear signals” that it will abandon its nuclear weapons programme if the US guarantees it will not attack. The death of two North Korean journalists became public this week. The two died in a prison camp in 2001, while many more are thought to still be held inside in terrible conditions.
  • The Timorese national police force in the eighth district took back its primary policing responsibilities from the UN in the gradual transfer of security functions that has been ongoing since May of 2009.
  • Tajiki security authorities killed at least 20 Taliban fighters in a clash along the Afghani border on Saturday. Officials are concerned with growing Islamic radicalism in the country.
  • Tens of thousands of Muslims marched through Indian Kashmir on Saturday in violent protests injuring at least 20 people. Government and police buildings were set on fire, and an indefinite curfew was re-imposed, but did little to stop the over 300 protesters who stoned the home of the state education minister. More than a dozen people were killed in protests on Monday following a report on an Iranian TV channel about the desecration of the Qur’an in New York on 9/11 and another 18 people were killed on Tuesday after police fired into protesting crowds. At least five more protesters were shot and killed by police on Wednesday as the violence began spreading to new areas. The protesters wounded six soldiers on Thursday night as they attacked government forces with rocks and another two people were shot dead by Indian troops in demonstrations on Friday.
  • Myanmar/Burma’s ruling military claims to have defused a bomb threat aimed at disrupting the upcoming November 7th elections. Observers are concerned that recent incidents might spark wide-spread unrest in the country.
  • Thousands of Russian, Chinese and Kazakh soldiers began two weeks of war games in Kazakhstan on Monday to prepare for regional threats. More than 3,000 troops will take part in the exercise.
  • More than 70 gay rights activists were detained in Nepal on Tuesday after a rally demanding government identification papers for transgendered people. Without papers, these sexual minorities are unable to get a job, enroll in schools or colleges, seek treatment in hospitals, inherit property or travel.
  • A UN backed court in Cambodia formally indicted four surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge on Thursday on charges of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and murder. These cases are said to be more difficult than the recent Duch case, who was sentenced to 19 years in prison for the torture and death of at least 14,000 people.
  • Freedom of expression is being curtailed in Azerbaijan in advance to this year’s elections. Nine NGOs met and conducted a three-day mission to collect testimonies of violations earlier this month.
  • Three soldiers were killed in an ambush in the Philippines on Thursday. The attack was linked to al Qaeda militants.

The Middle East

  • In an ironic case, the Iraqi government has agreed to pay around $400 million to American citizens who were tortured or traumatized by Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1990s. This move is likely to anger many Iraqis who consider themselves the victims of both Saddam and the current US invasion. Amnesty International issued a report saying that tens of thousands of detainees are being held in prisons without trial and are facing physical and psychological abuse or other mistreatment. At least four people were killed in clashes between militants and security forces in northern Iraq on Sunday. Seven Iraqi civilians were killed near Falluja on Wednesday during a raid by American and Iraqi forces while nine Iraqi soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in a separate incident in Mosul.
  • Barack Obama has called on Israel to extend its partial freeze of settlement building on occupied Palestinian lands during the newly-resumed Middle East peace talks, with PM Natanyahu later indicating that it might be possible to limit the scope of future building but refusing to extend the freeze. The Palestinians have made it clear they will walk away from the talks if settlements continue. Air raids and rocket launches continued despite the peace talks, killing at least two Palestinians on Saturday, another three on Sunday, and at least one on Wednesday, with Hamas vowing to carry out attacks in the coming weeks to undermine the “useless” talks. Israeli soldiers killed a local Hamas commander on Friday during a raid on a refugee camp. The UN General Assembly President condemned the desecration of the ancient Muslim cemetery of Mamilla in Jerusalem. The UN has reported that at least 40,000 Palestinian children eligible to enroll in UN schools had to be turned away this year because building materials for school construction have not been approved to enter the area for the past 3 years.
  • Iran has barred two key nuclear inspectors from investigating into the country’s nuclear program. The UN atomic watchdog head voiced “great regret” over the decision. President Ahmadinejad has also called off plans to attend a high-level UN global disarmament meeting next week. A senior Iranian diplomat has defected after resigning from his position in the Finnish embassy, and another defected on Tuesday from his post in Belgium. The diplomat said he stepped down due to the attacks by government forces on protesters during the disputed 2009 elections.
  • Armed militants failed to bomb a key gas pipeline on Monday in Yemen, after their hand grenades fell metres away from the pipeline. It was not yet determined who was behind the attacks.

North and Central America

  • Two religious leaders burned Qur’ans on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in Tennessee claiming that the act was an act of love and to defend the US Constitution and the American people. At Ground Zero in New York City, several Qu’rans were desecrated in protest.
  • The US is moving ahead with its plans to sell $60 billion worth of advanced aircraft and other weaponry to Saudi Arabia in what is thought to be the largest US arms deal ever. The Senate has also advanced the New Start arms control treaty with Russia, which would bar each side from deploying more than 1,550 strategic warheads or 700 launchers starting 7 years after ratification.
  • A Jordanian reporter claimed that some of the women who were raped at the US’s Abu Ghraib prison facility in Iraq were later “honor killed” by their families due the shame this inflicted. Robert Fisk reported that “a very accurate source in Washington” has confirmed “terrible stories of gang rape” by US forces in the prison, including videotape evidence of underage boys being sodomized.
  • The Pentagon scurried to buy up all 10,000 copies of the first printing of Anthony Shaffer’s new book Operation Dark Heart for destruction because it threatens to expose highly embarrassing information about secret operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan and how the US missed to opportunity to win the war against the Taliban.
  • Mexican marines captured the alleged leader of one of the country’s top drug cartels on Sunday in a raid. Several drug lords are now surrendering without a fight when surrounded. More than 28,000 people have died in drug violence in the past 3 years. Members of several Mexican political parties attacked 170 Zapatista supporters and expelled them from their homes in retaliation for the construction of an autonomous school.
  • The Cuban government has announced plans to lay of at least half a million state workers by mid-2011 while reducing the restrictions of private enterprise to help them find new employment. Nearly 90% of the Cuban work force has been state-employed for many years.
  • The UN has launched a new operation against rape and gendered violence in Haiti. The head of MINUSTAH voiced his continued concern over the situation of women and children in refugee camps, but noted that a 200-strong police unit maintains a permanent presence in six high risk camps.

South America

  • Peru’s President asked Congress to repeal his two-week old decree that gave virtual amnesty to hundreds accused of atrocities during the civil war amid harsh criticism. Activists are alleging widespread rights abuses during the President’s first term and are seeking to put him on trial along with previous President Fujimori.
  • Peruvian police clashed with protesters on Thursday, resulting in the death of one man and injuring at least 18 others. The protesters opposed an irrigation project that will leave their town without water.

Europe

  • Serbia has indicted nine ex-paramilitaries over the killing of ethnic Albanians during the 1998-9 Kosovo conflict. Serbia, who is also seeking ratification of the Stabilization and Association Agreement, is thought to have taken the move in a step in their process towards EU membership.
  • A clash between ethnic Serbs and Albanians broke out after the Turkish defeat of Serbia in the World Basketball Championships. Two NATO soldiers were injured in the clashes.
  • The Russian government has found a new way to quash dissent, confiscating computers under the pretext of searching for pirated Microsoft software. Dozens of outspoken advocacy groups say they have been raided. Microsoft was quick to respond, changing their policies to prohibit its Russian division from taking part in piracy cases. The government was also quick to shut down an attempted protest outside Moscow City Hall that was protesting against the government.
  • A senior security police officer was gunned down in the Northern Caucasus region of Daghestan, following several attacks from the previous week that killed at least two officers dead and several wounded. At least seven militants were said to have been killed in a separate incident on Sunday and another 10 militants on Monday.
  • The International Court of Justice (ICJ) began hearings on Monday of charges by Georgia of Russian human rights abuses in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Charges were filled by Georgia in 2008 with claims that Russia had violated the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination. Hundreds of protesters gathered in North Ossetia on Wednesday demanding better security after recent violence.
  • Presidential aides in France are charged with violating the law on the secrecy of sources of journalists by using a domestic intelligence agency to identify an informant in the Bettencourt scandal. If true, this would violate freedom of the press in the country. The French Senate also voted almost unanimously to ban face-covering Islamic veils in public, with 246 votes for and just one against. The ban should come into effect in spring of next year. A bomb threat at the Eiffel Tower resulted in the evacuation of approximately 25,000 people, but was later declared unfounded. The French government may also face legal action from the European Union for its expulsion of hundreds of Roma on the basis of discrimination based on ethnic origin.
  • Turkish voters have approved a referendum on changing the constitution, which critics say will give the ruling party more power over the judiciary. Turkish rights groups, seizing on the opportunity of the reforms that would remove previous immunity, immediately launched petitions to try a retired general over his role in a 1980 coup. At least 8 people were killed by a landmine while traveling in a bus in the south-east. The attack has so far been attributed to the Kurdistan Workers Party. Another attack on Friday killed at least 10 people near a taxi stand amidst clashes between police and demonstrators following a funeral for victims of the bus attack.
  • Spanish police have arrested nine people suspected of leading a Basque separatist group Eta. The group is listed as a terrorist group by the European Union and had announced a ceasefire in March of 2006, which was subsequently broken.
  • A Belarusian activist was detained by police and later fined for distributing newspapers with the logo of the opposition Tell the Truth campaign. The campaign encourages Belarusians to speak out about social problems. An opposition leader says he will not run in the upcoming December elections because he believes it will be rigged.
  • A dissident republican group in Northern Ireland has threatened to target bankers and financial institutions on mainland Britain. The group is said to have broke away from the Provisional IRA during peace talks.


This week in conflict…

I decided to start a new type of post on a Peace of Conflict reviewing conflict situations in the world on a somewhat weekly basis. I figured, I read this stuff every week anyway– I might as well share it with readers in condensed form.

Here’s some of what’s happening in the world of conflict this week:

World

Asia

Europe

  • A bomb explosion in a Ukrainian church killed one person and injured 8 others. Officials are so far keeping quiet on suspected responsibility for the bomb as they investigate.
  • Germany has charged a suspected former Nazi guard with helping to murder 430,000 Jews at a death camp in Poland during WWII. The 90 year old will also testify against suspected Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk. Samuel Kunz denies all charges and of ever working as a prison guard for the Nazis.
  • A Russian police officer, tired of the constant corruption within the policing system, appealed to Putin for action via YouTube only to be immediately fired, arrested and charged last November. He recently gave the New York Times a tour of some luxury homes of top ranking police officers as he now regularly speaks out about the corruption within the force.
  • Shootouts in Russia’s Dagestan resulted in the death of at least five people, including a village head and a policeman.
  • Serbia asked the UN on Wednesday to review the independence of Kosovo, following last week’s World Court ruling that the 2008 secession from Serbia did not violate international law. A Serbian ex-policeman was indicted for crimes against civilians, including children, committed in Sarajevo during the 1992-5 war.

Middle East

Africa

  • 20,000 grenades were destroyed in Burundi by the Mines Advisory Group in an effort to reduce armed violence. Grenades are a popular choice for violence in the country involving nearly 22% of all armed violence registered in the country in 2008.
  • Fighting continued in Somalia with reports of at least 17 civilians being killed in fighting between the Somali government and al-Shabab fighters in Mogadishu, 13 militia killed in clashes in Puntland and thousands displaced. The UN welcomed the African Union’s decision to send 2,000 more peacekeeping troops into the country.
  • Former Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga, the first person to be tried by the International Criminal Court will remain in jail after proceedings were suspended on July 15th. Lubanga is accused of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 to his Union of Congolese Patriots. Calls for his release, after the prosecutor failed to comply with an order to turn over information to the defense were denied.
  • Mali is up in arms about the recent French-backed Mauritanian raid of an al-Qaeda base within their country, calling it an “unannounced declaration of war”.
  • Sudan’s army was accused of killing at least two civilians during a raid on a refugee camp on Wednesday and burning some of the camps full of internally displaced persons.

North America

Central and South America

What to do about blood minerals in the DR Congo.

I  may have spoken too hastily in the past regarding conflict resources in the DR Congo. My rage at the inherent abuse led me to think that boycotting and protesting companies was perhaps the best way to go. I realize now, that I was wrong. Starting with the last steps in the chain is the wrong approach to this problem.

Over the past six years, I have delved into this subject more than any other and have even gone so far as to ban all products for my personal use if I didn’t know EXACTLY where they came from and what effect they had. I still feel comfortable with this personal decision. I have become essentially a non-consumer (except for second hand goods) and I like it that way because I cannot fathom my personal choices causing pain in others and could not live with myself and my luxuries at that expense. As such, I’ve taken to growing almost all of my own food, having friends make me new clothes from reclaimed fabric or hitting the second hand shop and living a pretty austere life away from any new fangled gadgets. I have been mocked by other friends who suggest I now live in the stone age (not quite, I still have many older modern conveniences such as my laptop that I’ve had for the past 8 years– she runs just fine!). Frankly, that doesn’t bother me. I enjoy being connected to what I produce and what I consume. It makes me feel whole, but it’s definitely not a plausible life choice for everyone.

Over the past several months, it has become blatantly clear to me that boycotts will not improve the situation for those in the DR Congo, in fact, it will only make things worse for the people on the ground. Nor will creating a certification-scheme for “fair trade” products to help ban all blood minerals and metals. Lobbying governments or companies will create further awareness on the issue, perhaps bringing much needed funding for Congolese humanitarian projects, but it won’t make the lives of the people any better and it won’t stop conflict resources from flooding the market.

It’s hard for me to admit this, especially since I have so vehemently proposed such things in the past and now feel stupid for doing so. I ask myself, how did I not come to this conclusion earlier? The evidence was all there, I was reading it daily, but these conclusions made me feel helpless. Boycotting and calling the governments and companies to change made me more able to do something about the problem. Again, I feel helpless and feel like I am starting from scratch.

So what can people in North America do?

I still advocate that people should be aware of what they are purchasing. They should know that when they buy luxuries, they are affecting more than just their pocketbook. They should not over-consume, and skyrocket demand for mining and resource extraction that may cause environmental degradation, abuse or suffering. But what can they do directly about the problem?

In a country where corruption is king, and violence rampant– certification schemes are going to be corrupted. One only has to look to the Kimberley Process and the recent problems in Zimbabwe to realize that certifications schemes are not all they are cracked up to be. Until corruption and governance can be stabilized, a certification scheme is out of the question. So should we just ban all such resources from the areas of fighting in the DRC?

Criminalizing imports in an area where the majority of the population is reliant on revenues from mineral exports means that the local economy would experience rapid devaluation of their currency, suddenly making their basic needs completely unaffordable. It will also push illegal trade much further underground, making it much harder to track and people will still be subject to abuse for the sake of minerals. These minerals will still end up in our market, only they will have gotten there through much shadier means.

The new Bill C-300 on the table in Canada will open channels for victims of human rights abuses at the hands of Canadian corporations acting overseas and in theory allow them to have more access to justice. The bill would allow guilty companies to be sanctioned, their support withdrawn from Export Development Canada (EDC), as well as any investment by the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) in their company shares. In practice, however, given the high risk nature and generally small size of extractive companies, they do not generally even receive EDC funding or CPP investment. Mining companies could feel the sanctions, but as the bill is a private member’s bill, it will not likely be receiving the financial resources it needs to adequately make this function-able in the first place. Not to mention that the average person living in the DRC would probably not even be aware of the existence of said bill to even begin to file a complaint. In its current form, the Bill is clearly problematic and will have little effect on the well-being of the affected population.

The American Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 is meant to push companies to report on any minerals used in their products coming from conflict areas and describe the steps they took to ensure the minerals procurement did not support arms groups. All information would be public for citizens so that they could make their purchasing choices accordingly. This will result in essentially boycotting minerals from the DRC since the cost to the companies will increase with their use and people will avoid buying from companies who use potentially conflict-laden materials. Boycotts, as mentioned above, will have devastating effects for the population. The Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009 also amounts to a boycott.

Ok. Ok. Enough with the bad stuff, what will work?

It’s not that simple. What the DRC needs more than anything is good governance and security. “Without a Congolese state capable of playing its role in controlling and running affairs, how can the minerals of Kivu be de-criminalized?”

Since MONUC, the UN peacekeeping troop in the DRC,  has recently decided to scale back its mandate and reduce its troops by 2,000 to change itself into MONUSCO, the possibility of good governance in the country looks bleak. The latest UN resolution calls on MONUSCO to “support” and act “upon explicit request” from the Congolese government (one of the major human rights abusers in the country, including within the mineral trade), a move that offers no explicit details on how MONUSCO is supposed to support them or deal with abusive officers or improve the behaviour of the forces. The resolution also limits the mandate of civilian protection to only areas where peacekeepers are stationed, clawing back existing assistance. The former head of MONUC has also just retired to be replaced with the surprise choice of Alan Doss, a man with no previous UN experience, potentially leaving the already troublesome command structure weakened.

What can we do about this? Well, the UN already has the largest peacekeeping force in its history in the country, but it would take thousands more troops to really provide some semblance of stability and that is just not likely to happen.

We can petition our governments to push for greater UN presence in the country, to increase their spending to aid these endeavors and increase their arms sanctions or actually enforce them. We can push the UN to increase its mandate so it can try to actually secure unstable territory. We can push them to be more engaged with the local populations and look at ways to more effectively communicate with them (such as hiring more translators or setting up remote radio communication systems). We can push the UN to work on good governance programs, ensure active functioning justice systems, continue its Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program and thoroughly train the police or in areas where there are no police, do the job of policing to ensure security. We can also push them to rethink their approach and adopt differing strategies that would allow them to better address the realities on the ground  (Séverine Autesserre has some good suggestions)  We can push the UN to hunt down and contain the rebel movements who are destabilizing the country. We can push the international community to actually listen to local solutions and help implement them. We can push our own governments to demand accountability for the billions of dollars they give to the Congolese government each year. We can push for any of our extraction companies in the DRC who are directly committing crimes in the country to be brought to justice and actually investigate all claims made by UN and other reports that implicate any companies in criminal actions within the country. We can push the media to actually show the severity of the conflict to help increase international aid and monitor the progress and to focus more on local solutions and initiatives to the problems. We can inform people of what is happening and encourage them to push their governments and the UN as well.

And we can hope that the world will listen and respond. With enough pressure, anything is possible.

** Update: I received a thoughtful email from Laura at Texas in Africa with some great suggestions who agrees with the idea that “getting a functioning security sector, police who can and will do their jobs, collecting taxes so that salaries can be paid, and getting the judiciary working again” are a top priority.

She stated, “I’ve found that the best thing for me to do in terms of formulating a response is to support organizations that I think are doing a good job, and to encourage others to do the same.  If you’re concerned about women who are victims of rape in the region, Heal Africa, Panzi Hospital, and Women for Women all do a wonderful job of helping them to return to health and rebuild their lives.  The IRC, Doctors without Borders, and Oxfam also do good work, especially in the education and health sectors.  Supporting  NGO work doesn’t solve the bigger issues, but it does help me to feel like I’m making a small difference, even as I work to figure out these issues and educate others about them.”

She also suggested reading over Resource Consulting Services Ltd. ‘s work for ideas on how to legalize and formalize the mineral trade in the DRC. Thanks Laura for your helpful suggestions!

 

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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Disrespect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Human rights abuses run rampant in many parts of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is often considered one of the strictest religious states and largest human rights abusers in the world. Despite this reputation, Saudi Arabia announced it would be sponsoring a discussion at the UN on religious tolerance starting November 12, 2008. Islam is the official religion in Saudi Arabia, with law requiring all citizens to be Muslim, and strictly prohibiting any non-Muslim worship, dress or goods which contradict Islam. Non-Muslims risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation and sometimes torture or even death for these crimes. Customs officials routinely open mail and shipments to search for contraband, which includes Bibles or non-Muslim religious materials. Women face incredible discrimination in law, with what has been called a “gender apartheid” system. By law, two women’s testimony is equal to one man’s in court. They are not allowed to drive a car, a bicycle or a motorbike, or be in a car with a non-related male. They are not allowed to vote, have separate buses, entrances, booths or areas in restaurants. They face more difficult and stringent divorce procedures, separate workplaces, and a law which permits polygyny for men. Women are to wear an abaya or headscarf or face possible arrest. Virtual slavery exists in Saudi Arabia, often South Asian “maids” lured with promises of high pay. These abuses are all in contradiction to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and are continually ignored by international governments who make no real move to sanction the government for its abuses.

 

Israel is another major human-rights abusing government in the Middle East. Despite having a majority self-identified secular population (51%), Israel is also a strict religious state. Civil marriage is forbidden in Israel and taxes fund religious seminaries whose students avoid military service. The Israeli army routinely blockades humanitarian aid to occupied territory, worsening an already desperate situation. Israeli authorities restrict movements of the population, including refusing to grant permission for fatally ill children and their parent(s) to enter East Jerusalem for treatments not available in the Gaza strip. They have also been accused of forcibly evicting asylum-seekers and migrants from Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia without an appeals process, sending many of these people back to torture, abuse or death. The authorities have locked down Gaza and cut it off from the outside world, even forbidding students to leave the country for educational purposes granted by international scholarships.

 

The list of abuses is incredibly extensive, but clouded with much propaganda. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was drafted in 1948 as a statement of objectives to be pursued by governments, and in these 60 years since signing, little progress has been made in ensuring the ratification of these basic human rights universally. Saudi Arabia was one of the abstaining countries from the signing of the UDHR, and Israel had not yet formed, but even signing states (such as Canada) have ignored aspects they find contrary to their practices. The UDHR is an important document that needs to be reviewed by the international community and should be a basis for international laws to protect the people of the world. These declarations and conventions are useless unless they have enforcement and ratification capabilities. International institutions such as the UN need to be restructured so that human rights abuses will actually be punished, and so that progress can be made towards positive peace in the world.


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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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Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Source: United Nations Department of Public Information

Preamble

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, therefore,

The General Assembly,

Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11

  1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
  2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.
  2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14

  1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
  2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15

  1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.
  2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16

  1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17

  1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
  2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
  2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21

  1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
  2. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.
  3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23

  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25

  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26

  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27

  1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
  2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29

  1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
  2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
  3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.