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Category: Human Rights

Roméo Dallaire: Leaving the Senate But Not the Life of Service

In Canada, Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire is a household name. When asked in elementary school to write a composition on a Canadian Hero, students invariably gnash their teeth in frustration as they find themselves presenting eight or nine identical essays on the famed commander of the ill-fated 1994 UNAMIR mission in Rwanda.

In his bestselling Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Dallaire recounts his experiences as a witness to the horrific mass murder of 800,000 men, women and children despite his peacekeeping force’s best attempts to prevent the slaughter.

The titled failure of humanity refers not only to the massacres, but also to the murderous passivity of the international community, whose failure to intervene despite Dallaire’s pleas and whose lethal withdrawal of resources and support from UNAMIR depleted Dallaire’s forces, abetting the killing of civilians for months.

Pirates, the Printing Press and Global Democracy

Cell phones have facilitated access to health care for millions of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Mobile applications are enhancing government accountability with respect to sexual violence. Social media is augmenting disaster response and emergency management.

Digital technology has drastically impacted some of the most routine facets of our lives. Beyond this new threshold of interconnectedness, we should consider digital technology’s impact on citizenship and governance in the future.

When Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1436, he knew it would ease the labor of monks who spent all day manually copying the Bible. He probably didn’t think it would fuel colonization of the New World, make custom t-shirts or enable representative democracy. Imagine the difficulties of lobbying, holding elections, and organizing political parties without the ability to mass produce written correspondence.

In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond says, “Invention is often the mother of necessity, rather than vice versa.” Diamond’s point, outlined in the NY Times, is that inventors often create new products and the society finds a use for the product afterward.

Just as Gutenberg did not anticipate his press would promote literacy, mass media, and eventually enable the rise of Twitter, today’s technological developments have immeasurable possibilities.

No Sanctuary in Sanctions,_21_October_2003.jpg

Economic sanctions are increasingly being used to promote the full range of American foreign policy objectives. Yet all too often sanctions turn out to be little more than  expressions of U.S. preferences that hurt American economic interests without changing the target's behavior for the better.

Fifteen years later this quote from a Brookings policy brief on the topic of economic sanctions still stands true. Economics sanctions have a long history of being used by the US and international community to reprimand states for their actions or to enact change in national policies. While sanctions are seen as an effective policy tool, how successful are they at actually enacting the change countries hope to see? 

The textbook example of sanctions and their effects on a nation is that of Iran. Ever since the state began its nuclear program in 1967, sanctions have been placed upon, removed from, and reinstated against Iran. The approaching July 20th deadline for a new agreement between the P5+1 countries (the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China) and Iran over current sanctions has once again brought international attention to the issue. 

Both sides in the debate want different things out of a new agreement. While the international community, especially the US, continually favors applying sanctions, Iran wants sanctions to be lifted and its nuclear rights to be guaranteed. Iranian representatives at a recent debate stressed how the US must stop its “illegal and irrational” stand in the negotiations.

UN Peacekeeping in Syria and Iraq: Why not?

UN Peacekeepers at Work.

"Do you see UN Peacekeeping as a viable option to help solve the humanitarian crises in Syria and Iraq?” I asked Hervé Ladsous, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. Couldn’t UN Peacekeepers help remedy the enormous humanitarian dilemma that has resulted from these two crises-- with millions now suffering from a shortage of food and clean water?

“The answer to your question is no,” stated Mr. Ladsous, without even the slightest hesitation. “We wish we could help the people suffering, but the magnitude of the two crises is simply much too large for the UN to handle.”

It was at that point I found myself disagreeing with one of the world’s leaders in peacekeeping. For if we wish to help solve two of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history, UN Peacekeepers must be involved.

They must be involved because they are undoubtedly the best and most well-trained peacekeeping group in the entire world. They are experts at delivering supplies to those who need them, and quickly. They are adept at helping to mend differences between ethnic groups, often healing situations that many had previously thought were beyond repair. They remain 100 percent committed to their missions no matter the circumstance--some even paying the ultimate price in a concerted effort to help make the world a better place.

Now, I understand that some of you may be looking at me sideways at this point, and are thinking of the various studies that have recently come out declaring that UN Peacekeeping is only marginally effective, if that. You probably want an answer for some of the UN Peacekeeping’s failures--like the Rwanda catastrophe in 1994 or Kosovo’s bloody civil war in 1999, and you deserve one.

The Debate on UN Funding

$1.5 billion. That was the amount of the United States' debt to the United Nations at the beginning of the 2009 fiscal year. Of that, over $1.3 billon was for peacekeeping operations. This put the US at the top of the UN collections list.

In 2010 the US satisfied a significant portion of its debt to the UN, paying more than $500 million owed for peacekeeping and other UN operations. This was a significant feat at the time; the newly Republican House had threatened to withhold funding for the UN, which they perceived as a waste.

Why does the US’s contribution to the UN, and more specifically peacekeeping, matter?

Peacekeeping has emerged as an integral part of the UN; it is also the most scrutinized arm of the International Governmental Organization (IGO). While some of the most polarizing examples of UN peacekeeping operations are failures, such as those in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, many other peacekeeping missions have been successful.

In addition to its peacekeeping efforts, the UN also helps war-ravaged countries rebuild and close the chapter of conflict. Peacekeeping and building efforts have been instrumental in reconstructing dozens of countries around the world.

Hey FIFA, Which Team Are You Playing For?

FIFA, and subsequently the World Cup, has received criticism from many for its corruption, human rights violations, and the problems it has caused for many residents of host countries. After writing about this last week, I admit that I was left with some deep-seated resentment of FIFA, and the World Cup by association. Having never been much of a soccer fan, I had no problem boycotting the games, taking what I felt to be some sort of moral high ground.

But then I heard about how women in Iran were openly watching the Iran-Argentina game in public alongside men, not only to show support for their country but also to protest a law banning women from entering most sporting events. As a woman of Persian descent, I was instantly filled with pride; I was also struck by the role the World Cup had played in this small but significant event.

Soccer brings the world together; there is no doubt about that. And since it is the “UN of Football,” FIFA has the power and influence to make incredible, important changes. In what ways has it already done this, and in what ways can it improve? 

After Tragedy: Rejecting the Option for Destruction

Last Monday brought a devastating conclusion to the 18-day search for three missing teenagers in Israel with the discovery of the bodies of Naftali Fraenkel, 16; Gilad Shaar, 16; and Eyal Yifrach, 19. Tens of thousands attended the  funeral, and the international community echoed the nation’s grief; Barack Obama said that as a father, he could not imagine the pain of the parents. Yet as a world leader, he urged restraint in Israel’s response, encouraging Israel and the Palestinian Authority to work together in pursuing justice and to “refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon suggested that “this heinous act by enemies of peace aims to further entrench division […] and to widen the conflict. It must not,” he asserted, “be allowed to succeed.”

Months after American-brokered peace talks broke down, their warnings against provoking escalation went unheeded.

Thailand: The Story That Flew the Coup

The international media has a tendency to focus on the news stories that will garner the greatest attention from a given audience. Events such as the ISIS declaration of a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria and the ongoing World Cup in Brazil have taken up headlines within recent weeks and are likely to stay in that spot. So what happens to the stories that go unnoticed?

One example of a story that has flown under the radar in recent weeks is the situation in Thailand. On May 22nd the Thai military led a coup after mounting protests against the elected government over accusations of corruption and factional violence. Following the military takeover the international community diverted attention from the issue, afraid of what effects the move could have upon the region and even the world. 

UN Should Deliver Humanitarian Aid Without Assad's Consent

The number of people needing humanitarian aid in Syria has reached nearly 11 million - half the country's population. Yet with Syria's ongoing civil war, the only way for aid to reach those in need is for the government of Bashar Assad to allow aid workers into affected areas.

To say the least, this is a poor system for ensuring the basic needs of millions of people. With the country in tatters, people must have unfettered access to food, water, medicine, and other necessities: life shouldn't be held up by checkpoints and constant threats. With mounting evidence that Assad has used food and aid access as a weapon of war - to maintain and demand loyalty of Syrians wherever they might be - the international community has clearly needed some way to take control of humanitarian aid away from those who might use its access arbitrarily or maliciously.

In recent weeks world leaders have started work on plans to begin routing access around Assad and the rebels. The UN Security Council has been drafting a resolution in which aid workers, possibly with the legal protections of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, would be able to cross into Syria without consulting the Syrian government. That way people would have access to the resources they need and neither Assad nor the opposition would be able to use access to aid as a weapon of war.

Assad has vehemently protested the news of this resolution, claiming that any such cross-border aid deliveries would be a violation of Syrian sovereignty and would amount to an attack on the Syrian state.

This brings up two important points.

FIFA's Failures

The World Cup is moving into the knockout stages and, rightly so, the tournament has garnered immense attention internationally. I myself have been cheering for the US Men's National Team, though I think that Die Mannschaft (Germany) will ultimately emerge victorious in the tournament. The World Cup never fails to disappoint and this year has certainly been thrilling.

The World Cup is also a moment in which football's governing body, FIFA, is most scrutinized -- and this is for good reason.

Brazil's opportunity to host the World Cup has been a moment of pride for the Brazilian government and is almost too fitting a scene. A country that evokes images of beach parties, carnivale, and joyful people is coupled with a deep appreciation for the rich history of Brazilian soccer -- players like Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Marta, and more come to mind.