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The Importance of Extra Credit

Jim McGovern (top), Ed Royce (bottom left), Ben Cardin (bottom right)

Members of Congress are responsible for casting votes on issues of national importance, including foreign policy priorities. Many Representatives and Senators have a perfect voting record from our members’ perspective, earning an A on the Global Solutions Congressional Report Card. Yet some in Congress do more than cast a vote; they actively champion policies that prevent war, build peace, cooperate with international norms, and defend human rights. That’s why Global Solutions Action Network rewards extra credit to those in Congress that go beyond the ballot on our core issues.

Representatives and Senators demonstrate their commitment to the values we share by sponsoring relevant legislation, speaking out on the floor of the House or Senate, writing op-eds and Dear Colleagues letters, and chairing relevant caucuses that promote our concerns. Any of these efforts can raise a member of Congress’ grade by one mark, from a B+ to A- for example. Legislators that show exceptional leadership on global issues, by promoting our core issues through multiple avenues, can even have their grade raised a full letter, from a B- to A-.

A Mass Death Sentence

In what has been deemed as contrary to international law; 529 Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters have been sentenced to death.

The ruling came after only two days of arguments and has been called a “cursory mass trial” by Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Defense attorneys were reportedly denied access to evidence and threatened into silence after objecting to procedures. Additionally, two-thirds of the accused were tried in absentia, only 131 were reportedly faced their trial.

The convictions were of various charges stemming from mass protests after former President Mohamed Morsi was ousted last July. The charges included incitement of violence, membership of an unlawful organization and the killing of one police officer.

The sentence has been condemned by several human rights organizations, being called an “injustice” by Amnesty International’s regional program director Hassiba Hadj Sahroui. The UN human rights office has also stated the trial was “rife with procedural irregularities” and a “breach of international law”.

World Water Day: A Chance to Reflect on Conservation

Saturday, March 22nd, was World Water Day. Recognized by the United Nations since 1993, World Water Day aims to raise awareness of the issues surrounding the conservation and development of water resources as well as practical policy options to address those issues. Previous years have focused on issues such as “Water Quality” and “Water and Food Security.” The 2014 day was dedicated to the “nexus” of water and energy.

It is easy to forget just how interconnected these two issues are.

Of course it takes energy to extract, treat, and distribute water; "about 8% of the global energy generation is used for pumping, treating and transporting water to various consumers."  But it also takes great quantities of water to produce energy, particularly certain types such as hydroelectric, nuclear, and thermal. UN Water also estimates that a rising demand in biofuels could significantly increase the demand for water in energy production.

The Future of Multilateral Engagement: Treaties or Gentlemen’s Agreements?

In an increasingly globalized world, multilateral engagement is becoming even more critical for the planet’s survival. No longer can a nation act unilaterally without being left behind. In light of this, a debate has emerged about what is the best way to engage on the international level: through treaties or agreements?

In a 2013 article posted by Foreign Affairs, David Kaye argues that treaties create reliable expectations and impose consequences for violators that agreements do not. Kaye points out that because a systematic rejection of treaties has developed in the US, treaty commitment and full US participation is no longer expected, hindering the government's ability to engage in global policy making. While treaty opponents decry them as a threat to U.S. sovereignty, treaties actually create more stable and transparent relationships than gentlemen’s agreements, he says.

Kaye also asserts that treaty opposition has forced US presidents to use ‘stealth multilateralism,’ or engagement through back-channel agreements. Through stealth multilateralism, the U.S. has been able to influence policy to some extent, but it is not a long-term answer. Gentlemen’s agreements can only take an issue so far without the binding force of law. Kaye states that, “many global solutions require force and permanence that only treaties can provide.” He uses climate change to illustrate that in order for nations to undertake painful restrictions, each country needs to know that others are taking the plunge as well. Voluntary restrictions will only take an agreement so far as it does not impede national interest.

For this Beloved Global Activist, the System Worked

He was always there at every activist meeting. A quiet, rather quirky, guy who rarely spoke, but was eager to assist with hooking up the projector or making sure the microphones didn't squeal. He cared about using institutions to oversee the path to a peaceful, clean and just world. He believed in good government, and in the end, justice was delivered to him.

Our Milwaukee friend Peter Holzberger was murdered recently and our worlds turned around.

Two young men had found Peter working in his back yard, broke his neck, hog-tied him with bungee cords and carried his body to his basement where they hid him with boxes and clothes. Then they robbed his house, coming back several times over the next week to load up their blue van. They even bought items with his debit card on his computer, which ultimately led in their discovery.

Last week I was fascinated as I watched the court system unfold. Every step tried to guarantee an honest and true quest for fairness and truth. The two who were accused saw that they were getting a fair shake and did not rebel. And in the end, a jury of strangers gave Peter justice and the rest of our community safety (two life sentences). My eyes welled up with gratitude and pride as the anonymous twelve walked out, having done their duty to society.

A nation ruled by law and justice worked in Milwaukee this time, just as it is working in its first stages with the International Criminal Court. Having society see that its institutions are viable is something we need to keep highlighting if we want to promote the dream of using them to create a better world.

Peter fought for that dream. His spirit and example will love on with us in the Global Solutions community.

A Decade of Foreign Policy Partisanship

Day in and day out, I hear too many partisan attacks on the news. I thought it may be getting worse than ever before. Partisanship ends at the water’s edge? Laughable. Recent news on Syria, Iran, and Ukraine had me once again shaking my head at Congress – we can’t even put together a unified face for America’s most pressing international concerns.

Despite the splitting headache I get from listening to Republicans and Democrats argue with each other on a daily basis, the decade’s worth of data collected by Global Solutions Action Network reveals that the partisan divide on global issues is a phenomenon of consistency but isn’t necessarily getting worse. Over the course of 10 years, there’s been an average partisan divide of 62 points in the House and 70 points in the Senate.

Average Congressional Scores 2004-2014

The graph pictured above shows the average scores of Democrats and Republicans per year, separated by chamber of Congress. Clearly, the partisanship has been a part of U.S. foreign policy for at least a decade. Over and over again, many Democrats will vote to fund international organizations, human right law, peacekeeping missions, and more. Meanwhile, most Republicans vote for resolutions that call for action for human rights protection and other basic health prerogatives, but will not put their money where their mouth is; they typically vote to not fund the initiatives those resolutions envision to protect human rights and basic health. 

U.S. Human Rights Record Illustrates Troubling Indifference To Fundamental Equality

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

With the U.N. Human Rights Committee reviewing the report the United States has submitted on its own human rights record this month, it’s an important time to review just what that record is. When the U.S. last went through this process in 2006, headlines frequently contained words like “torture,” “rendition,” and “war.” Are we doing better in 2014?

The biggest, most important headline today may be that we have a broken criminal justice system that desperately needs to be overhauled. Our system is systematically prejudiced against racial minorities and the impoverished. Harsh sentences result in overpopulation and an increasingly elderly and infirm prison population. Most infuriating of all is the system’s overdependence on solitary confinement, an egregious human rights violation that leaves some inmates locked alone in a cell for months and even years. Finally, 32 states still practice the death penalty, an irreversible punishment in a justice system that must admit of skepticism in the face of increasingly sophisticated criminal evidence and a growing body of knowledge of deep racial prejudices in convictions and sentencing.

Open Letter #4 To My Grandson Jake

Crimea, Ukraine and Russia

Dear Jake,

It was great fun seeing you and the twins on Skype this weekend. Every time I see you I can tell that you are bigger, stronger and smarter than the time before. You might be a little young for a history lesson, but I know you are not too young to appreciate a map, especially a map that looks like a puzzle.

In this letter I want to address the current crisis of Ukraine, Crimea and Russia and explain that I see a better way to solve crises like this one. As is often the case in understanding the problems of the world, it is good to start with a map and a history lesson.

In this map Crimea is the little peninsula hanging below Ukraine and to the left of Russia. It has had a tumultuous history, with many different governments over the past 100 years. Two events in the past are interesting to me. (1) In 1954 the Premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, transferred Crimea from the Soviet Union to Ukraine. From the research I have done, It does not appear that the people of Crimea had any choice in this transfer; (2) In 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, 54% of the Crimean voters supported independence from Russia with a 60% turnout. Although Crimea initially claimed independence, later that year they agreed to be part of Ukraine.

What’s Next for Those Left Behind After the Disappearance of MH 370?

A vigil is held for the missing passengers of MH 370 in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo: Demotix)

Eleven days out, with the chances of any of the passengers being found alive, or at this rate found at all, being slim, it won’t be long before the families of the lost passengers of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 start looking for compensation for the loss of their loved ones.

When the plane first disappeared many questions were raised about what happened, why it happened and how could it have happened. But as these questions continue to remain unanswered and speculation continues the families of the passengers have to begin to ask themselves, "What now?".

But where do they look? MH 370 was an international flight going from Malaysia to China with 12 crew members and 227 passengers from 15 different nations. Do they ask petition their home country, the country they were flying from, or the country they were flying to?

Well there’s a treaty for that.

The 1999 Montreal Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air standardizes the rights of passengers on international flights. It provides for everything from cost of lost luggage to liabilities in cases of death, even specifying how long something can be missing before it is deemed to be lost (21 days for baggage). This ensures that the families of the missing passengers of flight 370 they will receive something for their loss.

Treaties like this impact us in every facet of our life. That is why we must get behind treaties such as the disability treat (CRPD) and the women’s rights treaty (CEDAW). While we may be protected at home by our own laws, when we travel abroad people with disabilities and women in particular are not guaranteed the same rights and assurances of safety. But if we ratified these treaties we would be a force for change, an enforcer, ensuring that other nations respect the rights of all people regardless of ability, gender, or anything else.

UN Human Rights Committee Reviewing U.S. Rights Record

The U.S. comes up for the Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council (Photo: AP)

As a U.S. delegation comes before the UN Human Rights Committee this month in Geneva, expect some tough criticism about the United States’ human rights record both at home and abroad. The U.S. record is not spotless and this review offers an important opportunity to review policies and our general approach to human rights.

Every few years, states that are parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) submit reports to the Human Rights Committee (an independent panel of experts created by the Covenant) on “the measures they have adopted which give effect to the rights recognized herein and on the progress made in the enjoyment of those rights.” Those rights include the right to equal respect of each person regardless of race, sex, nationality, or other status, the right to life, civil liberties, freedom from torture and unjust imprisonment, the right to liberty and security of person, and freedom of speech and conscience. While the treaty doesn’t incorporate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, many of the same rights overlap, and a state party agrees to respect the dignity and equality of each person. The treaty went into effect in 1976 and was ratified by the United States in 1992.