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Category: Human Rights

US Signs Arms Trade Treaty

Kerry Signs the Arms Trade Treaty

Secretary of State John Kerry has now added the United States' signature to the Arms Trade Treaty. This treaty is a great step forward in dealing with the unregulated and illicit global trade in conventional weapons and ammunition, which fuels wars and human rights abuses worldwide. I am so proud of thousands of GlobalSolutions.org members who emailed, petitioned and called the White House. Your efforts paid off!

GlobalSolutions.org also was one of 33 national organizations who urged President Obama to sign the treaty, saying it, "...would be a powerful step demonstrating the United States' commitment to preventing mass atrocities and protecting civilians from armed conflict around the globe."

Not only is it good for our nation to have all countries operating from the same rule book, it's also our responsibility. Without the treaty, warlords and terrorists will continue to get weapons which are used to force child soldiers to kill their parents, to attack American soldiers and missionaries, and to rape refugee women and girls.

As the world's largest arms dealer, the US signature will put pressure on other major buyers and sellers such as Russia, China and India to join the treaty. US signature will add momentum to efforts to get at least 50 nations to join or ratify the agreement so it can go into force. So far, eighty-six other nations have signed the treaty and four have ratified it.

The US has the world's gold standard in national arms export trade controls. Kerry's signature now paves the way for the US to provide assistance and cooperation with other states on how to create good export control systems for themselves.

Guess Who (May Be) Coming to the UN General Assembly

Courtesy of premiumtimesng.com

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced that he is planning to come to the US to attend the UN General Assembly.  Bashir, accused of human rights abuses in the western Darfur region of Sudan, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).  If he goes through with these travel plans, the US government should arrest him and extradite him to The Hague to face charges for his crimes.

The ICC has indicted Bashir twice for crimes related to the conflict in Darfur that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.  The indictments include five counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture.  Another two counts are for war crimes, or attacking civilians, and three counts are for genocide.

Bashir has applied for a US visa to come to the UN General Assembly and is scheduled to speak next Thursday afternoon.  If the visa is granted and he chooses to attend, Bashir will undoubtedly be met with angry protesters and shunned by most other world leaders.  His motives for wanting to attend are unclear. It's been speculated that he is simply "thumbing his nose" at the US and the rest of the world.  Some UN diplomats suspect that he may not actually make good on his threat, for fear of arrest and extradition.  But this is not the first time Bashir has tested the limits of travel under ICC indictments; in July he attended an African Union summit in Nigeria, promptly returning home when protests broke out and lawsuits were filed.

Uphold International Human Rights: Don’t Cut the SNAP (Food Stamps)

http://www.caritas-europa.org

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted for a bill that would cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $4 billion per year for the next 10 years. A different version with smaller cuts was passed in July by the Senate. Colloquially known as "food stamps," this program provides 47 million Americans with the necessary funds to buy food every month. The SNAP budget in 2012 was $78 billion or 2.2 percent of the total federal budget of nearly $3.5 trillion. The argument for cuts is that the program is rife with fraud. But, according to the USDA, SNAP has a less than 1 percent fraud rate.

In 2012, the average gross income of all SNAP participant households was $744 per month. In the same year only 17 percent of SNAP households had gross incomes above the poverty line. While only 12 percent of the SNAP households received cash assistance from state or federal governments in 2012, 42 percent receive Social Security payments due to age or disability. Clearly, this program is serving a vulnerable population in need of assistance.

International Day of Peace: A Day to Reflect

With news media saturated with war coverage and updates on a possible intervention in Syria in recent weeks, Saturday's International Day of Peace was a welcome opportunity to reflect during this tumultuous international climate. It seems that violent conflict is all too common and some states are all too willing to wage war but the International Day of Peace reminds us of the core principle of the United Nations - to promote peace. Specifically, the day is meant, "...to devote a specific time to concentrate the efforts of the United Nations and its Member States, as well as the whole of mankind, to promoting the ideals of peace and to giving positive evidence of their commitment to peace in all viable ways."

This year's theme is the power of education. In his address in New York, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "Every girl and every boy deserves to receive a quality education and learn the values that will help them to grow up to be global citizens in tolerant communities that respect diversity." Though we have problems to solve today, it would behoove us all to consider the problems of tomorrow and prepare the next generation to better meet the challenges of war, climate change, and poverty. The needs of children are especially salient in light of the Syrian conflict with an estimate 1 million child refugees. One million children will grow up with memory of the horrors of war and an education will be imperative in addressing the root causes of conflict.

The Latest Failure in Corporate Accountability

Courtesy of Jaber Al Nahian

The world's worst garment factory disaster occurred this past April in Bangladesh when the Rana Plaza collapsed, killing 1,132 workers and injuring over 2,500.  Months later, surviving victims and families of the deceased have yet to be compensated for their losses.  While Bangladesh's government, garment factories, and foreign retailers continue to skirt their social responsibility, grieving families and injured workers are left without income or medical assistance. 

The facility owned by Sohel Rana was eight stories high, built on swampy ground, and constructed with shoddy materials.  According to an investigating committee appointed by the Bangladeshi government, Rana had permission to build a six-story structure but illegally added two floors to rent out to garment factories.  The site was not fit to support a building of this proportion, nor was the building stable enough to accommodate industrial work with heavy machinery.  On the day before the collapse, some workers noticed cracks in the walls and pillars, causing the Plaza briefly to shut down.  However, employees were called back to work under threat of docked pay or termination just hours before the collapse.

Initially after the disaster, both Bangladesh's government and the trade group the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association promised to provide financial assistance.  However, only a small fraction of the 4,000 families affected has received any aid whatsoever and none have received the full sum they were promised.  The head of BGMEA claims the factory owners cannot afford compensation because of the financial setback the collapse has caused them.  Maybe next time they'll think of that before setting up shop in a deathtrap.

A Peacekeeping Mission with Teeth

photo courtesy of unmultimedia

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or MONUSCO, has been conducting peacekeeping operations in the unstable countries since early 2000. But on March 28th, 2013, the Security Council approved Resolution 2098 which allowed for the creation of an Intervention Brigade. This Brigade, a first in the history of the UN, is allowed to conduct offensive operations against numerous rebel and guerilla groups, including the Lord's Resistance Army, operating in the DRC. These groups have been responsible for 59 peacekeeper deaths and have attempted to further destabilize the country and halt elections. The Brigade has a one year mandate and a defined exit strategy; it consists of almost 20,000 soldiers in 3 infantry battalions, 1 artillery battalion, 1 Special Forces group, and 1 Reconnaissance Company.

A peacekeeping force that can actually go after rebels and guerrillas that attack civilians and destabilize regions is a very positive step forward for UN Peacekeeping. Past UN operations have been heavily criticized for be unable to stop events and groups that were killing innocent civilians. The most damning example of a UN Peacekeeping failure is the Rwandan Genocide. Peacekeepers were not allowed to combat machete wielding Hutus as they massacred Tutsis and even when several Peacekeepers were killed the force was withdrawn rather than being reinforced and allowed to counterattack. Being able to stop and combat the groups that led to a need for a UN mission will make for a more lasting peace than when the groups were ignored or government forces had to be relied on to stop them. Future instances of the brigade will depend on how well the one in the DRC performs, but being able to actually stop violence directed at civilians and peacekeepers alike will go a long way in ensuring that a tragedy like the Rwandan Genocide will not happen again just because peacekeeping forces' hands are tied by red tape.

Split Decision, Split Congress, and No Good Answer: Considerations on Syrian Intervention

Courtesy of fpif.org

If you are on the fence on what the United States should do in regard to Syria, you're not alone; the US congress is equally befuddled. Many republicans are opposed to intervention but some big names not commonly behind the president are supporting intervention, notably John Boehner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Democrats are largely undecided, split on whether to support the administration or vote their conscience.

Long time opponents of the administration like Trent Franks of Arizona, a tea party favorite, has long fought the president on almost every issue on the Hill but he also is strongly opposed to the Syrian regime. As of Monday, he denied assertions that he was undecided and claimed he was undeclared; he would not admit the he had not yet made up his mind. Representative Adam Kinzinger criticized Senator Ted Cruz's accusation that any intervention would be akin to "serving as Al-Qaida's air force".

Russia's proposal to put Syria's weapons under international control has postponed a vote in the senate and the house until it is clearer if the proposal will hold water and be followed through. If not, congress will have to vote and they have a lot of considerations to make:

How Silicon Valley is Bringing Internet to the Rest of the World

Not Quite the World Wide Web: a three-part series about the importance of full access to the internet for all

Imagine a world where wifi signals were more accessible than sunlight. You won't have to wait for very long because Google is already on it.

In the last post in this series I discussed the motivations and intensions behind the push to provide cheap and reliable internet access for all. This week I want to explore just exactly how companies like Google, Facebook and Soni Ericson plan on doing this.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg launched a new plan, in August, to connect the remaining two thirds of the world to the internet. Companies like Samsung, Qualcomm, Nokia, and Ericsson have joined forces with Facebook and call the plan "Internet.org." Zuckerberg believes that in order to widen their market, the telecom and tech industries need to make systematic changes. He also estimated that it will take at least 10 years for significant progress.

Statement on U.S. Policy Toward Syria

Citizens for Global Solutions Supports the International Rule of Law and Cautions Against Unauthorized Use of Force

Citizens for Global Solutions supports the Obama Administration's push to have Syrian chemical weapons placed under the jurisdiction of the United Nations. We also caution against a unilateral, unauthorized military action to punish Syrian President Assad and his regime for the apparent use of chemical weapons. While the use of chemical and other weapons of mass destruction is abhorrent and offends our collective conscience, we believe the United States must work within the U.N. charter in order to protect the Syrian people and advance international peace and security through the international rule of law.

The goals of U.S. and international action regarding Syria should be to:

  • Protect the Syrian people by ending this humanitarian crisis that has already cost over 100,000 lives and spawned over 2 million refugees;
  • Create space for a political settlement of the conflict;
  • Hold accountable individuals who authorized and implemented the use of chemical weapons and other war crimes and crimes against humanity; and
  • Strengthen the international system's capacity to respond to similar crises in the future.

The unauthorized, unilateral use of force against Syrian chemical weapons facilities will not help to achieve these goals.

Mr. Obama has said the threat of military action is, in part, "about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules." This is a noble aim. But we cannot demonstrate this resolve if, by engaging in unilateral military action for non-defensive purposes, we ourselves flout one of international law's most fundamental rules.

The President, supported by Congress, should immediately:

Delusions of Grandeur: How American Exceptionalism is Killing Our Human Rights Record

RIA NOVOTSI/REUTERS

Leave it to the oft-maligned thorn in the United States' side to eloquently pin down one of our country's greatest flaws. In his now infamous New York Times op-ed, Vladimir Putin closed out the Syria-focused piece by calling Americans out on our arguably engorged self-pride:

"It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."

Say what you will about the rest of the Russian President's article, but this closing sentiment truly hits home.

It was obvious that Putin's op-ed hit a target when a torrent of fiery political indignation hit the internet. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) told CNN that he, upon reading Putin's words, "almost wanted to vomit," while Senator John McCain (R-AZ) alleged that the "op-ed is an insult to the intelligence of every American." Forbes even made an embarrassingly weak attempt at rebutting Putin, claiming in an article the following day that America is exceptional because we are the number one destination for potential migrants worldwide. I guess I'm the first to learn that this is the barometer for being exceptional (read: sarcasm).