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Category: Human Rights

Geneva II Stumbles towards Progress

The opening statements of Syrian peace talks which I mentioned in my post on Wednesday alluded to bumpy roads ahead. It turns out “bumpy” might have been an understatement.

Geneva II was almost steered right off a cliff before gaining any momentum. The Syrian opposition and the Syrian Government were refusing to meet face-to-face. Syrian opposition demanded the Government agree to the June 30, 2012 Geneva communiqué, which called for a transitional government body put into place, and that Assad step down from power. In response, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem denounced the idea of Assad’s removal as the perquisites for discussions. 

But in a sudden turn of events, United Nations and Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi worked his magic and announced both sides have agreed to the Geneva communiqué and will continue negotiations. Still, there is no settlement on whether or not Assad will leave his office.

Now cooperation needs to be fostered. A focus on humanitarian issues could build the foundation to a working relationship between the opposition and Government. There are millions of Syrians in need of food, medicine, and shelter. For them, the negotiators must find real, effective solutions.

Are Syria's Cries Not Loud Enough?

UNCHR / M. Hofer

It’s days like these that I am dismayed at what the American public chooses to focus its attention on. The buzz on Capitol Hill seems to be on anything but the worst humanitarian crisis in recent years that is taking place in Syria. The multitude of humanitarian issues resulting from the civil war there will be the discussed during peace talks next Wednesday (January 22), and the United States' role in addressing them is being carried largely by Secretary of State John Kerry. 

Mr. Kerry and his team have their hands full, maybe overflowing. A few of the most pressing issues the State Department is handling include: preparing the stage for Syrian peace talks; maintaining promising relations with Iran; continuing efforts in Israeli-Palestinian peace; and working with Russia, which is perfectly opposed to U.S. interests on each matter. What’s more is that these complex concerns are intricately intertwined. Secretary Kerry's capabilites will be put to the test, but I feel secure he is up to the challenge; the coming months will either result in historic diplomatic achievements or a humanitarian and regional security disaster. The scale of importance is huge – absence of progress would likely demoralize all other diplomatic efforts in the region.

Leading up to the Syrian peace talks, John Kerry ought to focus on laying the ground work for said negotiations in Switzerland. To emphasize the importance of success in Geneva I’ll recount some specifics of the humanitarian crisis.

Syrian Transfer of Russian Missiles Ignores Arms Treaty

U.S. officials now believe up to 12 Russian made Yakhont missiles have been smuggled from Syrian Government hands to Hezbollah in Lebanon, according to a report by In addition to possibly exacerbating regional tension, this flags should also concern Russian security officials and advocates for legal norms regarding arms trade. In 2007 Russia signed a contract with Syria that transfers Yakhont missiles, which fly at speeds capable of evading radar detection, to the Syrian government. This contract calls for the transfer of these weapons to cease if any leave direct Syrian control.

The U.S. government has previously made clear to Russia that the diversion of Russian-supplied missiles out of Syrian control directly violates Russia’s 2007 contract with Syria. Though potentially fueling a civil war and enabling the Assad regime to commit war crimes, Russian officials have stated that it is legally obligated to fulfill contracts agreed to prior to Syria’s civil war. The violation of this "end user agreement" should allow Russia to halt any further transfer of weapons into the hands of the Bashar al-Assad regime. The transfer of Yakhont missiles to Hezbollah may prove to be the most legally binding reason for Russia to end weapon sales to the Syrian Government.

Edward Rawson Memorial Arrangements

For those who would like to celebrate the life of Edward Rawson, the detailed arrangements are below. The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, a contribution in his memory may be made to in support of the Edward Rawson Fellowship Program to allow recent college graduates an opportunity to promote active citizen engagement in global institutions and governance while developing leadership skills in government relations, communications, and grassroots outreach. Click here to learn more about Ed's life and to leave a personal comment that will be shared with the family.  


Friday January 10th, 2014
Joseph Gawler's Sons
5130 Wisconsin Ave, NW
Washington DC 20016

Memorial Service:

Saturday January 11th, 2014
St Johns Episcopal Church
6715 Georgetown Pike
McLean, VA 22101


Following funeral service
Kazan Restaurant
6813 Redmond Drive
McLean, VA 22101

Information, death notice and obituary to be posted on Gawlers website under Edward Rawson

An obituary has also been published in the Washington Post.

Violence Rages on in Central African Republic

The ongoing surges of deadly conflict in Central African Republic demand action from the United Nations. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is applicable to this situation, and human rights groups are calling for the strengthening of peacekeeping forces in CAR to protect the population from further war crimes.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., visited the capital city Bangui on Thursday for talks with CAR President Michel Djotodia. Power called for urgent action to end the "vicious violence" and told victims: "We have come here to hear how you, the people of Central African Republic, are doing and how we can help."

After Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) militia went door to door in Bangui murdering about 60 Muslims, former Séléka Coalition rebels, primarily Muslims, retaliated by attacking and killing almost 1,000. The violence has not stopped. The death toll, according to early U.N. estimates, reached about 600, with 200,000 displaced. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch now say the numbers are much higher, with Amnesty claiming its research "left no room for doubt that crimes against humanity have taken place, including extra-judicial executions and mutilation of bodies.”

Amnesty also claimed that civilians are being hacked to death and villages razed to the ground on a daily basis, even after French and African Union forces stepped in. About 1,600 French soldiers have been dispatched to the former colony, working with about 6,000 African Union force members. They are making efforts to disarm militia groups to stop the atrocities, establish security for the local populations, and enable humanitarian organizations to work.

2014 – The Year of Protecting People

Peace on Earth

To my friends and colleagues in the community, I wish you a joyful holiday season and a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year!  May you celebrate and bask in the warmth of your family and friends.

As we approach the time of year for reflection and giving, I am grateful that we can continue our work together to abolish war, protect our environment, and solve problems facing humanity that no nation can solve alone.

UN SG Ban Ki Moon tweet

Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s call to make 2014 “the year of protecting people” speaks to why the work that we are committed to is so important.  We understand that protecting people is about pushing for pragmatic and systemic solutions to pressing global problems.

Here are some of the challenges that we will take on next year.  I hope you can support our efforts to:

The United States: Last Holdout for Protecting Children's Rights?

One hundred ninety-two member states of the United Nations have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which outlines the social, political, and economic rights of children. It protects their rights to survive; to reach their full potential; and to live with freedom from abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

The only countries who haven’t ratified are South Sudan, Somalia, and the United States. However, two of those three may change that in the near future. The Parliament of South Sudan recently voted to ratify the CRC, while the President of Somalia pledged to do so as well.

Will the U.S. be the final holdout?

Opponents of multilateral treaties often fear that ratification will allow the United Nations to override U.S. domestic law. There are many misconceptions surrounding this idea, largely championed in this case by parental rights groups. in particular predicts a variety of nightmare scenarios, from parents being imprisoned for failing to vaccinate their child to children beginning mandatory sex education at age four. In actuality, the CRC emphasizes the importance of the family and merely specifies rights that most parents would want for their child – the right to education,  development, and protection from exploitation and abuse. The treaty has helped governments evaluate and improve their laws and policies for children. None of the aforementioned scenarios have come to pass in the 192 states that have ratified the convention.

The Legacy and Lessons of Nelson Mandela

Without a doubt, Nelson Mandela was and will remain a giant in the history of the 20th century. With his passing at the age of 95, it’s important to take a moment and reflect on what he meant to many and the way that we remember him. Mandela wore many hats. He was an activist and revolutionary; freedom fighter or terrorist according to the U.S. government; prisoner and president; and a hero to many, many people.

But no one is perfect. This is true of private citizens just as it is true of those we hold up as heroes. Nelson Mandela was not perfect. He was not a saint. He was a human being, like the rest of us. In his death we should not put him on a pedestal but instead reflect on his successes and learn from his mistakes.

To use a worn out phrase, actions speak louder than words. Unfortunately in national and international politics there are plenty of leaders who have more than enough words but too few actions. It is one thing to advocate non-violent democratic transitions and non-retaliation against bitter enemies. It is quite another to follow through on these words with deeds. And that is the truly unique aspect of Mandela’s legacy.

A Diplomatic Resolution of Syrian Civil War Cannot Wait

The Oxford Research Group has reported that 11,420 children have been killed in the ongoing Syrian civil war. This number is absolutely staggering and yet represents only 10 percent of the estimated 100,000 fatal casualties of the war.

What's even more shocking is the fact that over 700 children are reported to have been killed in summary executions and there are over 100 reports of children tortured before being killed. Unfortunately, there is plenty of blame to go around as both the government of Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups are responsible for these deaths. According to one Damascus resident: "The city is raining with mortars. We have nowhere to escape to. Each day, we go about our lives not knowing if we will see the next." Millions have fled Syria for refugee camps in neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey where they face a lack of healthcare, food shortages, and lawless conditions. Lebanon alone is now hosting 1.3 million refugees, more than one quarter of its total population. 


We give thanks on Thanksgiving, take advantage of deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday—but on #GivingTuesday, we generously give back to the world. We cannot be thankful enough or give enough. So, here's why I am thankful:

I'm thankful to live in a time and place where food is abundant and we can enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.

Let us find a way to wisely share our bounty with the almost billion people worldwide who go to sleep hungry and the 19 million children who suffer from acute malnutrition, which kills 3.5 million a year.

I give thanks for shelter that is warm and accessible.