The Global Citizen: September 2011
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.
Last week I attended the Social Good Summit in New York City, hosted by the United Nations Foundation, Mashable and Ericsson. In every panel and key note the underlying theme of the interdependence between individuals and UN Agencies made itself known. In some cases individual countries were instrumental to the success of a program and in some cases technology was, but in every case without the institutional support, expertise and legitimacy of the UN and without the innovation, willingness to risk and passion of the individuals, success was impossible. Nowhere was this partnership highlighted more than on the panel discussing the 46 million displaced people in the world. The moderator put it best when he stated: "Technology must come with a generous helping of hope, because technology alone is not the answer."
This week, it was announced that a United Nations draft resolution on Syria--written by France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Portugal and supported by the U.S.--was backing off from demanding immediate sanctions on the Assad regime. Instead, it would threaten to impose sanctions only if the Syrian government does not cease its violence toward protesters. This change apparently comes as the sponsoring nations seek to gain the support of Russia and China, both permanent U.N. Security Council members, who oppose sanctioning Assad's government. Meanwhile, Russia is floating a resolution of its own which would condemn the violence in Syria but include no sanctions at all.
On the plus side, the France-UK-Germany-Portugal resolution "demands an immediate end to all violence", and states that the Security Council "expresses its determination, in the event that Syria has not complied with this resolution, to adopt targeted measures, including sanctions."
Citizens for Global Solutions, along with several partner organizations, sent a letter yesterday to President Obama and other key administration officials outlining several recommendations for the administration's new Atrocities Prevention Board.
The letter was written by the Prevention and Protection Working Group, a coalition of humanitarian organizations working to improve U.S. government policies towards preventing violent conflict and mass atrocities. This letter follows the issuance by the Obama administration of the Presidential Study Directive on Mass Atrocities (PSD 10), affirming that the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide is both of vital interest to U.S. national security and also a key moral responsibility for our government, creating the Atrocities Prevention Board to address these issues. The letter outlines steps that this new interagency Board should take to advance the goals of violent conflict and genocide prevention, including engaging Congress, strengthening U.S. Foreign Service Officer training, and including indigenous civil society organizations in peacekeeping efforts.
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?
For the last two and a half days I have been attending the Social Good Summit at the 92nd Street Y in New York City (on the Upper East Side). The event is a collaboration between the United Nations Foundation, Mashable and Ericsson (the CEO of whom I leave the Summit with a rather large crush on), a unique partnership of a large scale non profit, a social media expert and a ground breaking mobile company. The conference focused on highlighting individual and small group actions that have made significant changes to save the world. I've been live tweeting my experiences and I can barely contain my excitement during some of the panels (i.e. Connecting the Unconnected: 43 million Displaced People Around the World) - but it calls into questions something that was asked of Ted Turner in the very 1st session: is the UN still relevant?
President Obama took to the podium today at the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), and spoke to that body-and the world--about the progress that's been made since last year's UNGA and the multitude of challenges that lie ahead. This was a speech more focused on lofty goals than concrete proposals or policy commitments, but nevertheless it was powerful and touched on many key issues at the heart of Citizens for Global Solutions' mission.
The key theme of Obama's speech? "Peace is hard." But it's also worth the effort.
Watch the Video:
On the eve of President Obama's address to the United Nations General Assembly, Citizens for Global Solutions calls on the President to use the opportunity to emphasize the need for continued U.S. leadership and support of the United Nations.
Isolationist attacks are fanning the flames of anti-U.N. rhetoric, both inside Washington and around the country. These attacks range from decreasing U.N. funding to abolishing the institution altogether.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is the latest member of Congress to viciously attack the U.N. with the introduction of an extreme and misguided bill that would slash U.N. funding if her outrageous demands aren't met.
The President's address to the General Assembly is the most appropriate time to remind the American people and peoples of the world that international cooperation is essential to tackle problems that know no borders to build a safer, more secure world.
Citizens for Global Solutions believes President Obama should acknowledge the benefits the United States receive from its continued engagement at the U.N.
United States leadership and influence at the U.N. fostered a coalition of nations to protect the Libyan people from threats of mass atrocities, the continued monitoring of nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, and halting the spread of pandemics like SARS and swine flu.
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