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Yemen: Where Humanity Is Flouted

Ban Ki-moon and Peter Maurer (UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

At the United Nations headquarters in Geneva On October 31, 2015, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Peter Maurer presented an unprecedented joint warning.

It is very rare that the ICRC makes public criticisms of governments, in part because of the fear that a criticized government would cut off relations and end the ICRC efforts to help the wounded, prisoners of war, and others covered by the Red Cross mandate. The public and high-profile statement alongside Ban Ki-moon is an indication of widespread fears that the recent attacks against hospitals in Afghanistan and Yemen could weaken and perhaps destroy the laws of war, now called humanitarian law

Standing next to Ban Ki-moon, Peter Maurer said,

If States, other actors in conflict, and the international community as a whole do not act responsibly now, there will be millions more victims. Acting responsibly means redoubling efforts to achieve political solutions and, pending such achievements, ensuring that humanitarian principles and law are respected. Hospitals are being attacked, patients, doctors, nurses and humanitarian workers killed. When humanitarian law and principles are disregarded, when humanitarian needs are trumped by political agendas, when access to the wounded and sick is denied, and when security concerns lead to a suspension of operations, people are abandoned, the notion of protection loses its meaning, and humanity is flouted.

International humanitarian law prohibits deliberate attacks on civilians not taking a direct part in hostilities and attacks that do not distinguish between civilians and combatants. The essential core of humanitarian law is the prohibition on attacking hospitals, medical personnel and the wounded unable to continue fighting.

Kashmir: The Oldest Unresolved Conflict in the World

This week, the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee meeting dealing with social, humanitarian and cultural questions was held. Here, Pakistan and India sparred over a decades-old issue: the Kashmir conflict.

The Kashmir conflict is a territorial dispute which started in 1947 after the British Indian Empire was divided into the sovereign states of Pakistan and India. Both countries then claimed the state known as Jammu and Kashmir. Two wars and various attempts at UN intervention later, the region is still being disputed, with both nations controlling sections of the territory today.  

The United Nations' role in Kashmir has dwindled over the last few decades. In the first few months after the creation of Pakistan and India, the UN Security Council passed resolutions calling for the people of Kashmir to exercise their right to self-determination through internationally supervised elections. To this day, these resolutions have still not been implemented.

At the Third Committee meeting, Pakistan repeated its call to implement the Security Council resolutions with its Ambassador to the UN Maleeha Lodhi stating that “fulfillment of the long-held promise of self-determination to the Kashmiri people is urgent as well as indispensable to establishing peace and stability in South Asia.”

A Radical Win-Win Solution for Syria

The perspectives of Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S President Barack Obama on Syria are so different that you have to wonder if they are living on the same planet.

Putin’s public rationale for intervening in Syria and backing President Bashar al-Assad boils down to a case against failed states. “After the invasion [of] Iraq, the authorities were destroyed, Saddam was hanged, and then the ISIL came there,” Putin told interviewer Charlie Rose. “And what happened in Libya? Full disintegration, no state at all….We don’t like the same thing to be repeated in Syria.” In other words, when Western democracies take down despotic, human-rights-abusing strongmen, the result is chaos and terrorism.

From Obama’s perspective,

When a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not just a matter of one nation’s internal affairs—it breeds human suffering on an order of magnitude that affects us all….Let’s remember how this started. Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing that, in turn, created the environment for the current strife.

Both leaders call for a diplomatic solution, with Putin supporting Assad and Obama calling for a managed transition away from Assad. Both leaders are using air assets to bomb “terrorists,” although Obama is going after the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) and Putin is targeting anti-Assad rebels. Both are supplying their proxies with training, arms, and supplies—as are Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The Global Cost of Gender-Based Violence

By Leon israel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

When you think of gender-based violence, you may think of women abused in a refugee camp or conflict zone; you may think of a wife mistreated by her husband. However, gender-based violence seeps into all aspects of society, including the labor force—and it carries a high cost.

The McKinsey Global Institute recently published a report that found achieving equality in the workplace could result in a $12 trillion to $28 trillion increase to the global annual GDP by 2025. A large part of this inequality stems from the consequences of gender-based violence, such as lost labor force participants who are too intimidated or traumatized by violence to return to work.

Despite these high costs, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has yet to ratify a convention on gender-based violence in the workplace. Prior to the ILO’s Governing Board meeting in 2014, US Democrats called on the ILO to put gender-based violence on their agenda, stating that “an ILO Convention would help address the injustices for women in the garment industry and other industries and would be an important step to improve women’s working conditions worldwide.” Despite this push from government officials and unions, the ILO failed to address a convention in 2014 and 2015.

The Right to Change

Last week, the Mexican west coast was hit by “the biggest storm ever recorded in the western hemisphere,” Hurricane Patricia. While Mexico’s response to the disaster has been praised and resulted in less damage than expected, the takeaway for many scientists has been that “in a warmer world…weather extremes will be happening regularly, causing havoc for vulnerable communities.”

This is a thought that is not always talked about when discussing climate change: that while this is an environmental and economic issue, it is also one of equity. Of justice. Of human rights. The effects of climate change, as well as the policies we put in place to curb these effects, have very real implications for the rights of individuals, particularly in poorer, more “vulnerable communities.” 

Hate in Burma Slows but Does Not Stop Democratization

I have written that Burma is still suffering from ethnic and religiously motivated violence, even as it seeks to strengthen its democratic institutions. Democratization has allowed people to express views they did not have the legal rights to under the military regime, especially in advocating for political changes.

Sadly, at the same time, this type of freedom has also allowed hateful elements to boil up to the surface,  including ethnic-religious bigotry which the military regime suppressed to maintain a degree of stability.

Many authoritarian regimes both past and present have discouraged or prohibited discussions about ethnic/racial tension and diversity as if it will make such problems disappear. All this does is smolder the coals for years, even generations, and when liberalization does occur, allows the flames of hate to rage out of control.

Citizens for Global Solutions Announces New Executive Director Earl James

The Boards of Citzens for Global Solutions, Inc. and the CGS Education Fund have announced the appointment of Earl James as Executive Director. He will take up the role effective immediately and will be responsible for implementing the organization's new five-year strategic plan. 

The Board is pleased to appoint Earl James as our Executive Director! As a long time board member, advocate, and staffer, Earl brings experience and passion to our organization. We look forward to working with him to build a strong constituency for world peace and effective global governance.

--Victor Lang, Chairman of the Board (CGS Education Fund)

Earl James has worked for social change in the nonprofit sector for over 40 years, including a previous stint as Development Director for CGS (1994-95), where he was instrumental in establishing and funding a staff position to build a US-based coalition for an International Criminal Court, and in increasing membership in CGS by 40%.

He has also served as an International Election Supervisor in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina, as Executive Director of CGS’s Pittsburgh Chapter, for the Rachel Carson Homestead Association (PA), and for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

As Director of Preservation Services for the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, he launched Rivers of Steel, a National Industrial Heritage Area, and as Director of Programs and Development for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center he organized statewide coalitions working on environmental health issues, and on cleanup and prevention of mining pollution.

Women as Peacemakers

Seeing with eyes that are gender aware, women tend to make connections between the oppression that is the ostensible cause of conflict (ethnic or national oppression) in the light of another crosscutting one : that of gender regime. Feminist work tends to represent war as a continuum of violence from the bedroom to the battlefield, traversing our bodies and our sense of self. We glimpse this more readily because as women we have seen that ‘the home’ itself is not the haven it is cracked up to be.  Why, if it is a refuge, do so many women have to escape it to ‘refuges’? And we recognize, with Virginia Woolf, that ‘the public and private worlds are inseparably connected: that the tyrannies and servilities of one are the tyrannies and servilities of the other. 

Cynthia Cockburn, Negotiating Gender and National Identities

UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which calls for “full and equal participation of women in conflict prevention, peace processes, and peace-building, thus creating opportunities for women to become fully involved in governance and leadership.” This historic resolution, passed October 31, 2000, provides a mandate to incorporate gender perspectives in all areas of peace support. Its adoption is part of a process within the UN system through its World Conferences on Women in Mexico City (1975), in Copenhagen (1980), in Nairobi (1985), in Beijing (1995), and at a special session of the UN General Assembly to study progress five years after Beijing (2000).

Since 2000, there have been no radical changes as a result of Resolution 1325, but the goal has been articulated and accepted. Now women must learn to take hold of and generate political power if they are to gain an equal role in peacemaking. They must be willing to try new avenues and new approaches as symbolized by the actions of Lysistrata.

What's Happening in Paris this Year?

No, it doesn’t involve pastries or the Eiffel tower.

From November 30 to December 11, over 190 nations will meet up in Paris to plan a new global agreement on climate change. This agreement will replace current policies on greenhouse gas emissions, which expire in 2020.

Here’s what you need to know:

1.  What is it?

This conference is formally known as COP21, or the “21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).”

The UNFCCC was created at the Rio de Janeiro Summit in 1992 and adopted in 1994. It has been ratified by 196 countries.

These countries make up the Conference of Parties (COP):  the convention’s decision-making body. Every year the COP meets up and discusses how to meet climate change goals.

This year’s convention in Paris will be the 21st, hence the name COP21.


2.  Why does it matter?

Greenhouse gas emissions cause global temperature rises. The threshold beyond which global warming becomes  irreversible is 2C above pre-industrial levels.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with today’s emissions we are heading for a rise of 5C. There is still, however, time to limit climate change-- just not very much time.

Need I remind you of why this temperature rise could be catastrophic?


Water, Sunlight, Oil, and Sectarianism

In a prior post in the International Affairs Forum, I tried to outline what Western and Eastern polities might want out of the ever-fractious Middle East, using the P5+1 deal with Iran as a focus point.

Basically, this would be peace, prosperity, citizen-centered governance, and openness to global economic and social systems. In other words, we have had enough of this area’s interminable squabbling. We need to aim for more constructive regional and global engagement.

But there is a deeper set of issues and needs. First, let us take water.    

Several analyses suggest that the recent major drought in the area of Syria was a factor in Syria’s unraveling. Water shortages are of even broader scope in the area.

If the people of Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, and even Saudi Arabia are impoverished by water depletion, governance systems are likely to destabilize, refugees will multiply, and oil supplies will be prejudiced as a result of civic unrest and violence. 

This would be a disappointing future for those in the area. But why should Americans, Europeans, and everyone else care? The temptation is to think or say that the Middle East was dry before we appeared on its scene, and that is not our responsibility.