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The Slow Process of Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

President Sirisena at the Sri Lankan High Commission's Interfaith Ceremony, March 2015 (Courtesy of Daily FT and dbsjeyaraj.com)

It has been nearly half a year since Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena was elected to office, and he and his administration have been seeking the path of reconciliation ever since. Unfortunately, it’s going to be a slow process that will take generations to achieve. The beginning is going to be frustrating for everyone involved, especially for those who suffered the most.

I reported in February that Sirisena promised to give back most of the land taken from the Tamils by the military, but thus far it seems that not much has been given back and the military continues to engage in commercial activities on these seized lands.

The Oakland Institute published a report this May about Sri Lanka’s military still engaging in commercial activity on land seized from the Tamil population during the civil war.

The Sri Lankan High Commission in London countered by stating that this report exaggerated the extent of the military’s activity on the captured lands, that the government has already returned several to their original owners, and that it will continue to do so.

It should be noted that earlier this year, both President Maithripala Sirisena and Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera have met with Tamil Diaspora groups in London, England as part of reconciliation efforts.

Put Away your Passport

I consider myself a pretty culturally diverse person. I was raised as Serbian-American, and I remain highly involved in this community today. You can ask my friends. I have always been playfully teased about my “obsession” with being a Serb, inviting them to “crazy Serb” events, and forcing them to try my mother’s food. 

My connection to my ethnicity inspired me to love and appreciate learning about others. I chose to major in Global and International Studies with the regional focus on Latin America and a specialization in comparative politics. Throw in a Spanish minor and a semester abroad, and there you have it: culturally diverse.

My fascination with global affairs also led me to apply for an internship with Global Solutions Pittsburgh. Nevertheless, when I read their Spring Fundraiser program last week during the event, they had a section about “Global Engagement” that caught my attention:

“What does it mean to be globally engaged?”

I had always associated the word “global” with international; over there; foreign and exotic lands different than my own. But is that always the case? What does it really mean to be globally engaged? Can you be globally engaged in your own backyard?

Merriam Webster defines global as “involving the entire world.” Although that can mean abroad, it doesn’t always have to. The entire world includes the United States. It includes your state, your city, and your home. How is it possible to be globally engaged in your own neighborhood, though? Can you make a global impact without a passport?

June 26: Anniversary of the Signing of the UN Charter

June 26 is the anniversary date of the signing of the Charter of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945.  While UN Day is usually celebrated October 24 when the UN Charter came into force after ratification by States—especially the five permanent members of the proposed Security Council—it was June 26 that the Charter was presented to the world. As a friend noted, "I prefer to celebrate the birth and not the baptism.”

For today, we will look at two reports that outline challenges facing the emerging world society and the role that the UN should play.

Since the presentation of the Charter in 1945, there have been criticisms and proposals for reforms and revisions. In response to these criticisms, the UN Charter provided that a review conference on the Charter would be put on the agenda 10 years after the Charter's coming into force—that is, in 1955.

Omar Al-Bashir: Like a Thief in the Night

In what was almost a "Pinochet moment" in South Africa, the NGO Southern African Litigation Centre requested a South African court to serve two International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants against President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan.

The South African Supreme Court issued an order that Bashir not leave the country until the court decided on the validity of the request. The president had been in Johannesburg, South Africa, to participate in the yearly Summit of the African Union (AU). He left on his governmental jet on June 13 before the Supreme Court was able to meet.

The ICC arrest warrants of 2009 contain seven charges, including crimes against humanity, murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture, rape, attacks against civilian populations, and pillaging. The thorough examinations of the evidence presented by the then Chief Prosecutor of the ICC confirmed the statements, which NGOs, including the Association  of World Citizens, had been making to the UN human rights bodies in Geneva since early 2004.

The charges against Bashir concern the conflict in Darfur which began in 2003, not the 1982-2005 civil war that led to the separation of South Sudan in 2011. This civil war was the second half of a conflict from 1954-1972, which ended with a ceasefire largely organized by the World Council of Churches.

Julian Huxley and the Intellectual Foundations of UNESCO

Visions of beauty for mankind to see
The Present's place in the Eternal scheme,
And point which way to turn Life's undeciding stream.     

        —"Holyrood," a 1908 poem by Julian Huxley

Julian Huxley (June 22, 1887 - Feb. 14, 1975) was the founding Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Although he was elected for reasons of geographic balance for only a two-year term (1946-1948), he set in motion a broad intellectual and cultural framework that allowed for future development.

As he wrote,

The fabric of the peaceful co-operative world towards which we are working must be woven of many strands, or it will unravel under strain.

A Call for Just Security

Co-chairs Albright and Gambari launching the report at the Peace Palace in The Hague

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post and is cross-posted with the author's permission.

We are in danger of losing the most pressing global security and justice challenges of our times. That's what motivates a prestigious blue ribbon panel, co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright and Professor Ibrahim Gambari, the former Foreign Minister of Nigeria and UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.

Fragile or corrupt governments have allowed conflicts to fester and terrorism to run rampant. Climate change is melting ice caps, raising sea-level and changing weather patterns setting off increased conflicts and a rapidly growing population of climate refugees. Internet accelerated globalization has increased our connectivity, but leaves us open to illicit trade, spying and theft.

In response to these threats, the Commission on Global Security, Justice and Governance brought together 14 high level statespersons from around the globe to offer comprehensive recommendations. Their goal is to build an accountable and effective international system that can better safeguard international human rights and promote sustainable peace.

A Time of Departure: Forces that Create Refugees and Migrants

Syrian refugees walk to a metro station in Istanbul to begin a day of begging.

Current refugee-migrant flows (from Burma and Bangladesh toward Thailand and Malaysia, and across the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East toward Europe) have highlighted the need to address the root causes of such migration and refugee flows. We need to move beyond the narrow definition of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, which claims a refugee is someone who,

  owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality.

Migration and refugee flows are intrinsically of the same nature, differing only in the degree and intensity of the problems that drive them from their homes. The root causes can be summed up as:

  •  poverty with little hope of change;
  • social tensions (some created for political reasons);
  • environmental degradation.      

These conditions uproot people, resulting in alienation and suffering. Some stay within their own country (the “internally displaced”). Those who cross State borders become migrants or refugees, thus a concern to neighboring States and the United Nations—in particular the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Seventy-Year Solutions, Part 3

Over the next 70 years, our children and grandchildren will need to negotiate three major transitions in human civilization. Parts 1 and 2 of this series discussed transitioning to large-scale sustainable energy flows and managing the impact of human civilization on the environment.

This blog addresses the issue of maintaining global governance systems that enable humans to meet these challenges.

It has now been 95 years since the League of Nations was founded after World War I. Its current embodiment, the United Nations, is functioning but has widely recognized limitations. The UN operates in conjunction with the World Bank and the International Monetary fund (often called the Bretton Woods institutions). And, of course, there are hosts of bilateral and multilateral treaties which facilitate trade and development.

What needs doing in the next 70 years? Let us address organizational issues and challenges to be managed.

Let My Children Go: World Efforts to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor

12 June is a red-letter day on the UN agenda of events as the World Day Against Child Labor. It marks the June arrival in 1998 of hundreds of children in Geneva, part of the Global March against Child Labour that had crossed 100 countries to present their plight to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

We are hurting, and you can help us,” was their message to the assembled International Labour Conference, which meets each June in Geneva. One year later, the ILO had drafted ILO Convention No. 182 on child labor, which 165 States have now ratified — the fastest ratification rate in the ILO’s history.

ILO Convention No.182 sets out in article 3 the worst forms of child labor to be banned:

  1. all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labor, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;

  2. the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;

  3. the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;

  4. work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

Kim Kardashian for President? UN Celebrity Ambassadors: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

Daniel Craig, most known for his ongoing movie role as James Bond, was recently appointed the first United Nations global advocate for the elimination of mines and explosive hazards. In observance of this appointment and the International Day for Mines Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, the actor-turned-“advocate” visited the headquarters where UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reportedly commented on the recent appointment, saying, “Along with moviegoers worldwide, I have been on the edge of my seat watching Mr. Craig, as James Bond, defuse ticking time-bombs with seconds to spare.”

While I too clung to my seat at the array of adrenaline rush-worthy stunts performed in the 007 series, I differ from Ki-moon in one way—I am undeniably aware that these stunts are just that: stunts. Explosives in movies versus explosives in real life; there’s a huge difference. 

Fame and celebrity status are not prerequisites for advocacy. While I agree that celebrities can easily leverage their popularity to help advocate for special causes, I don’t believe that diffusing mock bombs on the big screen makes you an expert on explosives or the ongoing efforts of the UN to change this very critical threat that actually affects hundreds of thousands of citizens globally.

In the press release issued by the UN regarding this appointment it states, “Mr. Craig’s designation as UN Global Advocate for the Elimination of Mines and Explosive Hazards applies for three years. He narrated two videos for the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in 2014, and has been interested in the global campaign to ban landmines and explosive remnants of war for a number of years.”

So maybe I am being a little too critical? Demonstrated experience and knowledge in UNMAS does qualify an individual for the role.