The Global Citizen: Capitol Hill
On Sunday I experienced one of the greatest aspects of living in Washington DC. I heard Dr. Vandana Shiva, world renowned environmental and social activist, speak at the Right2Know March for labeling Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in food products, and then walked only three blocks over to the Occupy DC camp, where people have come to protest their unhappiness with corporate greed and the state of the economic system, among many other things.
I was struck by the similar mentalities yet fundamental differences of these protests. The Right2Know March began in New York On October 1st, and ended here in Washington DC at Lafayette Square on Sunday, October 16th. Their goal is clear; they fight to create and pass legislation that requires all genetically engineered food ingredients to be labeled. Nutritionists, organic farmers, and concerned moms spoke out that it is our "right to know," what is in the food we eat (Read more here). Right2Know, like the Occupy Wall Street Movement, is fighting for the rights of common people.
Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) has called for Malawi to be dropped from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) aid program, in the wake of the country's recent decision to host Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir despite Bashir's indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC). In a letter to President Obama, Rep. Wolf asserted that in light of Malawi's actions, if the U.S. continues aid to Malawi, it would be "complicit in aiding a genocidal government."
Bashir has been charged by the ICC with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide stemming from the violence in Darfur. Malawi is a state party to the ICC, and is therefore obligated to arrest Bashir and any other individuals wanted by the Court as soon as they step foot on its soil. It's deeply disappointing that Malawi failed to live up to its duty as an ICC member in this case, and I applaud Rep. Wolf for speaking out. To read CGS's letter thanking Rep. Wolf, click here.
The pattern of failure of ICC state parties like Malawi to arrest Bashir and other indictees and allow them to visit their countries with impunity needs to end. Chad, Kenya, and Djibouti have already hosted Bashir, which is simply unacceptable. The ICC will only work when all its members live up to their obligations and refuse to allow war criminals like Bashir to take a holiday from international justice.
The U.S. Diplomacy Center (an office in the Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State) has launched a new interactive website. It is designed to give high school students, college students, interested civilians, and international visitors a tool to better understand what diplomacy refers to, how it is achieved, and who the players are. Separated into three colorful sections; People, Places, and Issues, the site breaks down the ins and outs of U.S. Diplomacy. There is also a "diplomatic dictionary," which will delight International Relations students everywhere, as well as an "Explorer," section that enables you to peruse a map of the world and find out about U.S. Diplomacy in specific areas.
Diplomacy is so important in a time when everything we do, from buy products to talk to friends, is happening on a global scale. Yet today only 1% of our entire budget is allocated for all Internationals Affairs Funding. Raising public awareness and education about diplomatic efforts is an important step in strengthening U.S. Foreign Policy. It is great to see the U.S. Department of State recognizing this, and prioritizing education about diplomacy. Check out the website, and find out how you already are a diplomat!
Last Friday, President Obama announced that the U.S. will send a small deployment of troops to several countries in Central Africa to help combat the Lord's Resistance Army. Approximately 100 American soldiers will likely be sent to Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in support of a regional effort to counteract the notorious LRA.
Obama's order follows Congress' passage of the "Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act," which the President signed into law last year. In a letter to Congressional leaders informing them of the action, Obama noted that "Although the U.S. forces are combat-equipped, they will only be providing information, advice, and assistance to partner nation forces, and they will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense." Obama noted that "...regional military efforts have thus far been unsuccessful in removing LRA leader Joseph Kony or his top commanders from the battlefield," and therefore, "I have authorized a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa."
The House of Representatives took yet another regrettable step today to disengage the U.S. from the United Nations, as the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) voted to approve the "United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act" by a 23 to 15 margin. The vote was along party lines, with Republicans on the committee supporting the bill and Democrats opposing it.
The United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act, introduced in August by HFAC Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), is bad legislation in many ways. It would cut U.S. funding for the U.N.'s general budget in half if the United Nations does not enact a long series of reforms within a two-year time period. It would prohibit the U.S. from holding a seat on, or providing funding for, the Human Rights Council, where the U.S. has been using its influence to keep human rights violators such as Syria and Iran from obtaining seats. And it would establish a moratorium on new or expanded peacekeeping missions, at a time where instability around the globe means that the U.N. needs the flexibility to react to events and adjust its missions to protect civilians accordingly.
Looking for your first paid step into the world of peace and security organizations? The Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellowship is now accepting applications for the spring 2012 semester.
Spring fellows will begin between January 15 and April 1, 2012 and work for six to nine months. Candidates must have a bachelor's degree by the time the fellowship begins; those with graduate degrees may also apply. All U.S. citizens, as well as non-U.S. citizens living in the U.S. who have an appropriate work permit, are eligible to apply; foreign nationals living outside the U.S. are not. The deadline for receipt of all materials has been extended to October 10, 2011 at 5:00 PM Eastern Time/21:00 UTC.
Established in 1987, the Scoville Fellowship is a highly-competitive national program that provides college graduates with the opportunity to gain a Washington perspective on key issues of peace and security. Supported by a stipend, the fellows serve as full-time junior staff members at the participating organization of their choice. Citizens for Global Solutons has had some awesome Scoville Fellows!
Many former Scoville Fellows have gone on to pursue graduate degrees in international relations and related fields and taken prominent positions in the field of peace and security with public-interest organizations, the Federal Government, and in academia. To date, 135 fellowships have been awarded.
On Wednesday Eric P. Schwartz, the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, addressed a crowded assembly at the United States Institute of Peace. Schwartz, who took the oath of office on July 8, 2009, is leaving the State Department to take on the position of Dean at the Humphrey School of Foreign Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
He began his speech by mentioning the "elephant in the room," saying it would be impossible to talk about humanitarian aid without speaking of the Horn of Africa right now. The State Department estimates that right now more than 13.3 million people there are in need of emergency assistance, primarily in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. People in that area are facing the worst drought they have seen in 60 years, on top of conflict and poverty, and therefore now is a crucial time for humanitarian aid.
On Wednesday the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY12 State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill. The vote brought funding for the U.N.’s regular budget and funding for 15 peacekeeping missions very close to what President Obama originally requested from Congress. Citizens for Global Solutions would like to thank the Senate for understanding the importance of funding international organizations like the U.N., unlike their friends in the House who aimed to slash this vital aid that affects our ability to accomplish our foreign policy goals and national security interests.
In July, when the House took up funding for international organizations and peacekeeping, it dramatically cut these budgets by 20%. This figure may not seem outrageous, but consider this: the entire foreign aid budget makes up less than 1% of the overall budget. As many advocates for the U.N. and international funding have pointed out before, the International Affairs Budget is not an efficient place to make a dramatic effect on the deficit. This move is unwise because it does not yield any meaningful economic savings, and also has substantial costs to United States leadership, prestige, and influence.
Think about it: Would any organization respect and give leadership roles to a board member who rarely paid their dues on time?
The White House Briefing and Training brought 50 people from 23 states to Washington DC to experience a day of briefings at the White House and a full day training at the Citizens for Global Solutions National Office. Everyone involved found the event exhilarating, useful and energizing to continue their activism after they left the nation's capitol.
One participant remarked: "I am honored to have been able to attend this event and feel it will definitely help me continue to lobby much more effectively, with more coverage and with a better understanding of the facts. Thank you. Also, a very diverse group - that is a big priority for me personally."
For many visiting the East Wing of the White House was a once in a lifetime experience: "The only place more impressive to have met would be the Oval Office!"
Citizens for Global Solutions partnered with Resolve for this event - bringing together people of different ages from different parts of the country to participate in the briefing with high level speakers at the White House, but also for the training the following day. People were able to learn from each other's experiences and insights. "It was a good idea to coordinate with Resolve. We can only win with collaboration with all interested parties."
August is usually a quiet time in Washington, but not this year for those who advocate in support of the United Nations. On August 30th, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced the United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act of 2011, a bill which threatens to undermine the United Nations by conditioning U.S. financial support on the U.N. meeting a number of reforms demanded by Republicans in Congress.
Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen timed her introduction of the United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act to come right before the U.N. General Assembly session in September, when a vote on Palestinian statehood is expected to occur. In doing so, she hopes to capitalize on American support for Israel in order to push through an anti-U.N. agenda she has long championed (she introduced the same bill in the previous Congress, with a few changes).
The bottom line is, this bill is bad legislation. It attempts to hold hostage the U.S. commitment to the U.N. and the international community based on a single vote in the General Assembly. But voting on controversial international issues is what the U.N. is designed to do-settling conflicts through votes rather than through wars. For the U.S. to threaten to withdraw its support and fail to pay its dues to the U.N. based on the outcome of a single U.N. vote is simply wrong, counterproductive, and hurts our ability to lead.
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