The Global Citizen
The UN Security Council has been called out by its own Commission on Inquiry in Syria as enabling the continued human rights violations taking place. The ineffectiveness and unreliability of the world body in resolving the crisis led to the Commission's harsh assessment.
“The absolute impunity that pervades the conflict, now entering its fourth year, is utterly unacceptable. The leadership of each party must be held responsible for the violations of its members, and must take action to curb these violations,” says Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chair of the Commission. “Such inaction [by the Security Council] has provided the space for the proliferation of actors in Syria, each pursuing its own agenda and contributing to the radicalization and escalation of violence.”
While barrel bombs continue to drop onto civilian homes and people die from starvation, the Security Council members continue to bicker. Their inability to view the Syrian crisis as humanitarian, and not as your-ally-versus-mine, is preventing the necessary action to stop the violence.
A company called Zambia Sugar, owned by a European corporation that operates in Zambia, has made an average profit of US$18 million a year over the past five years. During that same time, a Zambian woman named Caroline Muchanga has worked in a market in the same town in which the sugar company operates. Caroline sells drinks, sugar, and other assorted items, and works approximately 15 hours a day, seven days a week. On a good day, Caroline makes about $4 in income - about $1,400 a year. Her two daughters attend a volunteer-run school because the government schools are too costly and government subsidies inadequate.
The question that the non-profit Action Aid asked in its report on Zambia Sugar is simple yet astounding: who pays more in taxes to the Zambian government? Zambia Sugar or Caroline?
From 2008-2010, the answer was, resoundingly, Caroline. During that time, Zambia Sugar paid no taxes to the Zambian government. From 2011-2012, Zambia Sugar paid a tax rate of .5% of its income, roughly 90 times lower a rate than Caroline pays.
What is remarkable about this situation is that Zambia Sugar is doing nothing illegal.
Books can provide us with valuable insights about our global problems and how to deal with them. A good example is Glen Martin's The Anatomy of a Sustainable World: Our Choice between Climate Change or System Change and How You Can Make a Difference.
Martin is the Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Radford University in Virginia. In this book, he asks us to recognize "the deep connections between our collapsing global ecosystem and our current world system of militarized nation-states and globalized corporate capitalism," and examines the root causes of our current situation and argues for the specific changes which are needed to move beyond them.
On his Tuesday visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, US Secretary of State John Kerry sought to allay fears that the US was out-of-touch and powerless to influence the ongoing crisis by promising monetary aid to the Ukrainians, along with calls for a coordinated EU-US effort to isolate Russia through sanctions. In doing so, however, Kerry risks further mishandling of the situation by provoking unnecessary escalation.
There is no military solution to be found in Ukraine, that much is clear. The US and NATO will not risk open conflict with Russia, and a war with Ukraine would be immeasurably costly for Russia. Yet sanctions would also be mutually destructive. Seizure of the assets of Russia’s oligarchs would be economically devastating, and Russia would lose billions in its exports to the West. But Europe’s fragile recovery would likely also be undone by the loss of the one-third of its gas supplied by Russia, plunging the EU back into recession. John Kerry is not only threatening economic isolation for Russia, he’s threatening economic turmoil for the West as well. This is raising the stakes even higher, when what the peace process requires now is patience.
In the summer of 2008, tensions between Russia and Georgia reached a climax as conflict (now called the South Ossetia War) broke out. As an explanation as to why they invaded, Russia pointed to its need to defend Russian citizens living in the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from prosecution by the Georgian government. By labeling their use of force as a responsibility to protect, Russia hoped to present their actions as defensive actions instead of antagonistic violence for the purpose of keeping influence over the region.
Fast forward six years and Russia is deploying this same strategy in its response to unrest within the Ukraine. Putin’s government is claiming the uprising and consequent overthrow of Yanukovich and his government are an “anti-constitutional coup and armed seizure of power.” There are rumors that Russia is issuing passports to ethnic Russians in the Crimea to bolster the basis for their defensive maneuvering. While Putin is using caution around when he will deploy his forces, he has made no effort to hide their posturing as open military movement within the Russian base in Sevastopol continues. In defense of this posturing, Putin has invoked the same argument of 2008 maintaining that Russia reserves the right to use all means to protect its citizens within the Ukraine.
What does it mean to be a global citizen?
A citizen of the world, or cosmopolitan, is someone who values the equality of all people regardless of where they're born. Where the modern civil rights project has worked to provide for the civil, legal, and social equality of people regardless of race, sex, class, religion, sexual preference, disability, and more, a cosmopolitan wants to say that there's another group of people who are just as equal as everyone else: all the people who live or were born outside the borders of their state. People aren't morally responsible for the place in which they're born any more than they're responsible for their race, how tall they are, or whether they can jump up and down on one foot while singing "Row Your Boat." We all belong to one vast community of humans in addition to each of the smaller communities we belong to, and that most populated community matters just as much as our families, neighborhoods, cities, provinces, and nations.
"You just do not, in the 21st century, behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text," said Secretary Kerry on Sunday regarding the situation in Ukraine.
The statement rings a few bells I believe many Americans would agree with. Unfortunately, the statement by Kerry also highlights some confusion in American foreign policy.
First, the United States believes that international disputes should be settled diplomatically if possible. There, the United Nations can play the role of facilitating negotiations and ensuring human rights are respected. However, the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan, and subsequent drone strikes, has led to many criticisms of the U.S.’ respect for sovereignty.
Second, the United States likes the status quo in the world. The only reason for any country to intervene in another should be to protect human rights, and if not for human rights, then to stabilize regions vital to U.S. economic interests. Yet Russia just doesn’t care to wait for a politically-correct pre-text for using military force. Russia has seen America and its Western allies fail to take action even under the correct pre-text, i.e. Syria.
Now you are 3 years old! It is a delight to watch you grow up and I admire the way you “keep an eye on” your twin sisters Annette and Clair. I’m so proud of the way you can put together your jigsaw puzzle map of the world all by yourself. I want to transform our world so that children everywhere can be healthy, happy, and caring towards others.
My last letter concluded with a sentence “There is much to be done to turn the United Nations into a strong, democratic, federation of nations.” I am reading a new book about this by a friend of mine, Professor Joe Schwartzberg, Professor Emeritus from the University of Minnesota. (Transforming the United Nations System: Designs for a Workable World.) Joe has done a lot of work creating a comprehensive plan to transform the United Nations so that it works better to solve the global problems facing planet earth. Joe shares my vision that we need systems in place to create and maintain world peace through world law with freedom and justice for all.
Joe’s first two suggestions involve what could be described as a legislative branch of a United Nations system. First he describes how the existing General Assembly (GA) should modify its voting so that the vote of each nation is weighted to take into account the size of its population, the amount of money it contributes to the United Nations budget, and the sovereign equality of nations. With weighted voting, Joe proposes that the GA could pass binding resolutions which are needed to move us towards the establishment of law for global issues like world peace and security.
It’s easy to focus on North Korea’s nuclear program, its constant antagonism with South Korea and the United States, or the long-standing cult of personality built up around the Kim family.
But as last week’s report by a commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea makes plain, we can no longer ignore the plight of ordinary North Koreans. The key concept in their daily life is often terror: fear that they will say or do the wrong thing and end up in one of four massive political prison camps (kwanliso), currently housing an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners.
That’s an entire city’s worth of people disappeared (without trial or judicial order), often never to be heard from, or heard of, ever again, just because they are suspected of having spoken or acted in a way detrimental to the Workers’ Party of Korea. Once imprisoned, these people can expect to be starved, tortured, raped, and/or executed arbitrarily, with punishments not dependent upon the severity of the alleged crime.
Ukraine is quickly becoming the flashpoint for a modern day Cold War.
Throughout the Cold War the United States and Russia were involved in several proxy wars, actually, approximately twenty of them. A proxy war, a conflict which established powers fight using third parties, prevents super powers from almost certain mutual destruction. Think Korea, Vietnam and the Cuban Missile Crisis as proxy conflicts.
Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to convince the world this is not so, stating Tuesday "This is not a zero-sum game; this is not West versus East. It is not Russia or the United States...” He continued his remarks concluding that the Unites States wants to work with all willing countries, including Russia, to come to a peaceful resolution.
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