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A Time for Reflection

The olde English proverb goes something like, “All good things must come to an end.” Such is the state of my rapidly expiring tenure at CGS as a government relations research associate. It’s been a heck of a couple months, and I’ll take the experiences I had here with me forever in my professional career. Here are some of my honest reflections.

When I first showed up, I really hadn’t a clue about the inner workings of a non-profit and the space they operate in -- the abyss between the governmental and civil society spheres. To drive home the point of my alienation, it took a few weeks to get used to the layout of the office (it’s a pretty big house). But I like to think I showed up having zero expectations and an open mind, which I always try to keep with me. In this regard I always wanted to be a soft-spoken and humble sponge that showed up at the right times and took in all the right information, learning as much as possible. Just like any new work place, there was a learning curve.

Something I always try to do is observe the standard operating procedures of a workplace, both formal and informal. It took some explaining (my attention span often gets the better of me at times), but now I can confidently say that I understand the ways in which CGS operates, and, most importantly, how it communicates its messages to the masses.

I’ve had previous work with government at the state level in the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania, so working through government institutions was not something foreign to me. Approaching government from the non-profit angle, however, was refreshing. It was fantastic to work with a political action committee that had a relatable and sincere platform: to support candidates who champion a responsible role for the US in the international realm to solve global problems effectively.

The US and Torture: What Now?

The Senate Intelligence Committee recently released a much-anticipated executive summary of a more than 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s tactics in questioning detainees in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. 

The report documents in detail the inhumane "enhanced interrogation techniques" used by the CIA at various facilities around the world. The techniques included the use of insects, rectal feeding and rehydrating, sleep deprivation, prolonged standing, and threats to family. 

Findings indicate that interrogators frequently went beyond the limits outlined by the Department of Justice, subjecting detainees to extremely aggressive tactics that often proved fruitless.  

The report details the interrogation of at least 39 detainees, focusing specifically on one detainee, Abu Zubaydah. In the case of Zubaydah, waterboarding was more regular and more extreme than previously reported. During one session, he lost consciousness and water and air bubbles began to come out of his mouth.

The US is now coming under scrutiny of many international organizations and countries, including the UN. The UN special Rapporteur on human rights, Ben Emmerson, has called on the US to hold senior officials accountable, stating that there is an international obligation to re-open inquiries into alleged breaches of human rights.

18 December: International Migrants Day

Let us make migration work for the benefit of migrants and countries alike. We owe this to the millions of migrants who, through their courage, vitality and dreams, help make our societies more prosperous, resilient and diverse.      

—Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General

In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 18 December International Migrants Day to commemorate the UN’s 1990 adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Although migration to and from countries is a world-wide phenomenon, only  42 countries (including Indonesia, the Philippines, and countries in Latin America and North and West Africa) have ratified the convention. 

The convention created a Committee on Migrant Workers, which meets in Geneva every four years to review a report of State parties on their application of the convention. The convention also created a mechanism by which the Committee could receive individual complaints. Only three States have ratified this individual complaints mechanism: Mexico, Guatemala and Uruguay.

Today, there are some 232 million persons who reside and work outside their country of birth. The reasons for migration are diverse − most often they are economic, but there are also refugees from armed conflict and oppression, and increasingly what are called “ecological refugees”—persons who leave their home area due to changing environmental conditions: drought, floods, rising sea levels, etc. Climate change may increase the number of these ecological refugees.

CGS Goes to Washington!

After months of hard work, it was finally time to pull out all the stops and make a highly anticipated trip to Capitol Hill to lobby congressional staffers! Dressed to the nines, as any three young professionals in DC should be, two colleagues and I left our cozy Eastern Market office for the mountainous doom and gloom of Capitol South for the day. Our objective: to successfully lobby three offices into co-sponsoring or supporting HR 3344, which deals with issues of human trafficking and foreign labor processes.

Our journey started in the annals of the Rayburn office building, and luckily for us, it was downhill from the metro station. We made our way up to the office of Rep. John Conyers Jr., where we had the only normal meeting of the day in a room filled with Smithsonian items. Did you know that members of Congress could rent items out of the Smithsonian back in the day? We didn’t either. But apparently this only worked for Rep. Conyers because of his illustrious tenure on the Hill. Aside from the wondrous nature of the office, the meeting was a home-run in every sense of the word, and we can look forward to a bright new relationship.

From War to Hunger: The Refugees in Syria’s Civil War

Syrian Refugee Camp (Photo courtesy of Huffington Post)

Since the start of the horrendous civil war attempting to overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, the neighbors of Syria—Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey in particular—have seen endless lines of refugees cross their borders seeking safety. Many travel night and day to reach these countries. Their faces tell the story of war; fatigued, exhausted, broken, these refugees arrive in overcrowded camps that are unprepared to deal with the vast numbers of people fleeing Syria.

What is heartbreaking is that many of these refugees will be left without the aid needed to deal with the hurdles and challenges that they had overcome to get to these camps.

On December 1, 2014, the World Food Programme (WFP), a subsidiary agency of the United Nations and the world’s largest humanitarian agency geared toward fighting hunger, announced that it was going to cut aid to Syrian refugees due to a lack of funding. Earlier this year, the organization reduced food rations to those in need and has stated that many may not receive any food due to the fighting in Syria. The cuts are expected to hurt as many as 1.7 million Syrian refugees.

Refugees crossing the borders will be forced to make do with already strained resources and government services. An estimated 3.2 million Syrians have fled the country and another 7.6 million are displaced. Countries such as Lebanon, with a population of 4.4 million, have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of refugees, taking in nearly 1.1 million Syrians. The mass influx proves to be problematic for regional governments, as many are now reducing the flow of refugees or closing their borders.

Looking Ahead to 2015

My name is Victor, and I am a board chair of Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS). Our Board of Directors are traveling to Chicago this month to map out the road ahead for the organization. 

The meeting is in conjunction with a personal enterprise of mine: the 11th Chicago International Model United Nations (CIMUN), which I'm proud to say educates and inspires over 1,400 high school students from around the world.

As we move into 2015, I can tell you that the organization is working hard to confront the effects that our economy has been having on the non-profit sector as a whole -- simply put, a nerve-wracking drop in contributions (skip the rest of the article if you want to click here and help us out!).

I and my fellow Board members are rising to this challenge by undergoing a new strategic planning initiative, as well as moving forward on a smart capital project. We are converting our beautiful properties in Washington, DC into safe and comfortable income-generating housing for students coming to DC in pursuit of an International Relations internship. 

Finding safe and affordable housing in DC is tough – especially for students who are only coming for one or two semesters. Converting our space is a win-win – we provide some sorely needed space for students passionate about global issues, and this helps to stabilize our budget through a tough economic time.

Your gift right now is absolutely critical!

Your gift would go a very long way toward strengthening our organization and paving the way for long-term financial sustainability.

Right now, the CGS Board Members are tasked with:

From "Womenomics" to "Womenpowerment"

Japan has begun implementing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s new strategy to revive its economy. Dubbed “Abenomics,” the plan – which includes printing more money and a huge buy-back of government bonds – has one key focus: women.

Slightly less than half of Japanese women participate in the workforce, making them a largely untapped resource in increasing the country’s productivity, outputs, and buying power. In fact, it is estimated that Japan could raise its GDP by as much as 14% if female participation in the workforce increased to 80%. Moreover, “‘higher female employment could actually help raise, not lower, fertility rates’,” helping to “insulate Japan from the impending economic challenges posed by its aging population.”

This is the logic behind Abe’s mission to “unleash the power of ‘womenomics,’” the idea that “a country that hires and promotes more women grows economically.” Some of his goals of pursuing womenomics include:

All My Disqualifications: A Tragedy

It’s probably not too much to ask that a prospective ambassador know a little bit about the country they want to work in, right? Or that they actually have been to that country? Well, apparently it is.

Recent Senate confirmations have put Colleen Bell and Noah Mamet in Hungary and Argentina respectively as US ambassadors. One would think that they are diplomats of some sort, with prestige and experience in the country in which they’ll be working. Unfortunately, ths is not the case. Both Bell and Mamet have absolutely no experience or background in the countries they’re going to. But don’t just take it from me – allow Jon Stewart to further illustrate these points.

5 December: UN Day of Coordinated Action for Peace

UN peacekeeper with refugee women and babies in Darfur

The UN General Assembly has designated 5 December as International Volunteer Day: a celebration of the role of volunteers who promote UN values and goals.

The term “volunteer” is somewhat dated. With the end of compulsory military service in many countries, almost everyone is a “volunteer” in what she or he chooses to do. Today, the term “civil society” is more often used, although in practice, most UN cooperation is with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in consultative status through the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

It is in the field of conflict resolution that NGO efforts with the UN are most important, but also most difficult. The relationships among security, conflict resolution, respect for human rights, and the creation of democratic institutions have now assumed a more dynamic form than at any other time since the creation of the UN in 1945. This broad mission for peace demands the concerted attention and efforts of individual States, regional intergovernmental bodies such as the European Union, NGOs, and all of the UN system.

The UN must walk a difficult line, as it is obliged to respect the fragile balance between the sovereignty of States and actions in such fields as electoral assistance, humanitarian aid, administrative activities, rural de-mining operations, the promotion of democracy, and the protection of human rights— which have in the past been under the control of the individual State.

NGOs can take a lead or cooperate creatively in a number of ways:

Human Rights, the US, and International Law

Human Rights Day is Decemeber 10, 2014
The ideal of international human rights spans over 40 years, beginning with the Unverisal Declaration of Human Rights. Since then, there have been nine international human rights treaties adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. These treaties, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stand as the pillars by which the rights of the world's citizens are based.
 
Recently, we have highlighted two key treaties that have gone too long without ratification: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).