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Iraq: What Does One Do with the Broken Pieces?

Refugees fleeing from Mosul, Iraq

There is typically a sign in shops selling china and porcelain that reads, “Do not touch; If you break it, you buy it.” Rather than portraits of Saddam Hussein, a sign like this should have been hung at the entrance to Bagdad.

With Iraq in armed confusion as sectors of the country change sides and the Iraqi government seemingly incapable of an adequate response other than to call for military help, as concerned world citizens, we must ask ourselves: what can we do?

The forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have broken down a wall on the frontier between Iraq and Syria as a symbol of abolishing national frontiers to be replaced by a community of the Islamic faithful − the umma. In some ways, we are back to the early days of the post-World War I period when France and England tried to re-structure the part of the Ottoman Empire that is now Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, Jordan, Turkey and an ill-defined Kurdistan.

During 1915, Sir Mark Sykes, a Tory M.P. and a specialist on Turkish affairs and Francois Picot, a French political figure with strong links to colonial factions in the French Senate negotiated how to re-structure the Ottoman Empire to the benefit of England and France. Although these were considered “secret negotiations,” Sykes reported to Lord Kitchener, the War Minister, and Picot had joined the French Foreign Ministry as war service.

However, both operated largely as “free agents”. Today Sykes and Picot are recalled for no other achievement than their talent in dividing. The agreement between them was signed in January 1916 but kept in a drawer until the war was over. In April 1920 at San Remo, France and England made the divisions official.

Global Governance without Global Government?

 At the Citizens for Global Solutions Conference last week, there was no shortage of arguments that made the case for strong international norms and institutions. Clearly the planet benefits when we have a framework through which to peacefully resolve disputes, establish equitable access to resources, and prosecute crimes.

I spent the weekend thinking a bit about the approach we take toward achieving an “Earthling Peace” – pax terrana, perhaps? (I confess that I have never known Latin).

From the individuals present at the Conference last week, I consistently heard the argument for global government as a means to achieve world peace. When pressed on what constituted “world peace,” most articulated the removal of various obstacles to strife or calamity on earth. Examples might be the eradication of nuclear weapons or the adoption of sustainable lifestyles around the world.

These ideas, like this organization, were birthed at a particular historical moment. That moment, the aftermath of WWII, capitalized on the citizens’ disgust with the consequences of world war and their belief in the power of democracy to provide the most equitable conditions for the greatest number of people on the planet. Regrettably, the Cold War quickly tore into these optimistic perspectives, though many individuals – some of whom led the push for World Federalism and eventually established GlobalSolutions.org – held on to the ideal of global governance as humankind’s salvation.

I wondered if perhaps the route toward global governance would be the inverse of what these trailblazers initially advocated. Perhaps instead of global government facilitating denuclearization, the end of poverty, expansion of trade and so forth -- perhaps countries will denuclearize, work against poverty, and expand trade before  a “United Government of Earth” is formally established.

Egypt Delivers a "Draconian" Ruling

Egypt is making headlines again.

Only months after a court sentenced over 600 defendants to death, Judge Sa'ed Yusef Sabri confirmed the death sentence for 183 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, including the group’s former leader, Mohammed Badie.

At the time the initial sentence was handed down, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called the proceedings a “cursory mass trial.” Many of the accused were tried in absentia, never facing trial. On Monday similar words were spoken. Ms. Pillay said she was “shocked and alarmed” in a statement and released shortly after the sentencing.

In a statement from New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed that “Proceedings that clearly appear not to meet basic fair trial standards, particularly those resulting in the imposition of the death penalty, are likely to undermine prospects for long-term stability." The statement went on to stress that "participation in peaceful protests or criticism of the Government should not be grounds for detention or prosecution”.

Hesham Qasim, former chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, has called for authorities to intervene in the matter.

Free for a Day: Meriam Ibrahim Released and Rearrested

Meriam Ibrahim, apostasy, women's rights, Sudan

A few days ago, my mother, who of course reads my blog posts, excitedly notified me over Facebook that Meriam Ibrahim has been released from prison in Sudan. Last week I wrote about how the court’s apostasy accusation against Ibrahim, in addition to being an egregious assault on religious freedom, was also a case study in codified misogyny. This legalized chauvinism had forced a mother to give birth shackled to the floor and had sentenced her to death--but last Monday it seemed she’d been granted a reprieve.

The international outcry against the conviction’s abuse of human rights seemed to have been answered in the Court’s latest ruling. Jehanne Henry of Human Rights watch suggested that the international pressure may have had an influence on the decision. Certainly between Amnesty International, David Cameron, and Hillary Clinton, influential voices had raised a clamour worldwide in an international campaign demanding justice for the imprisoned Ibrahim. Widespread investment and concern for the fate of one woman had transcended borders and yielded a concrete and happy result.

Still, the international community rejoiced cautiously. US Rep. Chris Smith called the release a “huge first step,” but maintained that the next was putting Ibrahim and her family on a plane to the US.

Senate Hearing on Women's Rights Affirms Importance of IVAWA, CEDAW

Senate Witness Panel on Gender-Based Violence, cred. Feminist Majority

This blog was co-authored with Ben Gross

Tuesday marked a monumental day for women around the world as the Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women’s Issues gathered to address the global epidemic of gender-based violence and discrimination. Senator Barbara Boxer, presiding, convened an impressive array of witnesses that included prominent Senators as well as many other leading figures in the struggle for gender equality.

Senator Boxer emphasized in her opening remarks the need for the long-overdue passage of  the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) and the ratification of the Women’s Rights Treaty (CEDAW) as vital steps in protecting women’s rights worldwide.

The BRICS Bank: A New Alternative to the IMF and World Bank

For decades the IMF and the World Bank have been the sole institutions capable of producing international financial assistance to countries as a whole. This dominance has been recently called into question with the rise of BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and their united ambition to create a countervailing force in the international assistance.

To advocates, this is a fresh opportunity to generate collaboration between the World Bank, IMF and the new BRICS Bank. While critics have hailed this development as a potential challenge to world order, which has for a century seen western dominance in the field of international debt.

For critics, this challenge is welcomed, particularly in the developing world. According to Al Jazeera, “to economists in the developing world, who have long criticized the World Bank and IMF as anathema to the countries they purport to help, the New Development Bank holds tremendous promise.”

Despite the obvious global north/south divide that this issue brings up, many have chosen to focus on the pragmatic approach by addressing the systematic imbalances these developments hope to address.

One is the lack of representation at the IMF and World Bank. As South Africa’s former Finance Minister explains, “The roots of the World Bank and IMF still lie in the post-World War II environment.” Despite the increase in funding and participation from developing countries, there has been little to no increase in their official role in these global institutions – particularly in regard to voting.

Can Unitary Action Supplement International Intervention?

On Thursday, June 19th, the White House announced that the US will be cutting and redirecting aid to Uganda in response to its harsh anti-homosexuality laws. This comes roughly 3 months after the passage of the law and two weeks after Uganda’s Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa was elected President of the UN General Assembly.

The US’ specific plan includes the following, as outlined on the White House Blog:

  • Restricting entry to the United States by implementing a visa ban on Ugandan individuals involved in human rights abuses or corruption
  • Ceasing support for Uganda’s community policing program in order to address police abuse related to the anti-homosexuality law
  • Redirecting certain financial support for the Ministry of Health (MOH) to other partners by shifting funding to non-governmental organizations, thus untying US aid from the Ugandan government
  • Relocating funds for a planned public health institute and other measures relating to health programming to another country within Africa, in addition to relocating the National Institutes for Health genomics meeting to South Africa

The US will not, however, suspend humanitarian support or its commitment to help end the Lord’s Resistance Army.

A Plebeian in a Politician’s World

Last Thursday I took part in GlobalSolutions’ Annual Lobby Day, where I lobbied members of Congress to show their support for International Law (specifically the Women's Rights and Disability treaties) and to increase funding for the International Criminal Court (ICC). At first this task seemed daunting – how do I, just another member of the public, get my representatives to listen to me? The last time I was at the Capitol I was practically interrogated by officials for trying to drop off a book. How in the world was I going to drop off my two cents?

As it turns out though, it is incredibly easy to meet with your representatives. And by easy, I mean it takes some follow-up time and patience to set up a meeting. And by representatives, I mean representatives’ staffers. (At least, I assumed they were staffers. For all I know, they could have been well-dressed interns who look old for their age).

With that being said, having a meeting did not necessarily mean you were listened to. My last name is not Koch, and I am not in a position to promise anyone a win in their upcoming election. It was not uncommon for staffers to appear disinterested, taking half-hearted notes, promising only to “tell all this to the Senator and let him form his own opinion.”

For every disinterested staffer, however, I found that there were always those who took the time to hear me out, took careful notes, and expressed genuine support for what I was advocating. While they too made limited promises (“we will try our best, but you know how tough things are right now”), they were the kind of promises that made me feel like something had come out of my day on the Hill.

Kermit Rohde: 1922-2014

Kermit Rohde

Earlier this month we lost a great friend and leader, Kermit Rohde. He passed away on June 2 in Austin, Texas, where he had been living with his daughter and son-in-law. Kermit was a dedicated World Federalist and a key supporter of GlobalSolutions.org.

Serving in the navy during WWII led Kermit to believe that international peace must be achieved through international law, and he became actively involved in organizations dedicated to this mission. He served as chapter chair in Lincoln, Nebraska; in Columbus, Ohio; and in the state of Oregon for the World Federalist Organization. He was a board member for Citizens for Global Solutions and the national president for the Federalist Caucus and the Campaign for United Nations Reform. Kermit was also a chair and active supporter of the Global Solutions Political Action Committee. He understood that if we wanted members of Congress to seriously engage in solving global challenges, then we needed to get serious about electing lawmakers who shared our values.

Kermit earned a doctoral degree in psychology from Northwestern University. In 1956, he moved to Corvallis, Oregon to teach in the psychology department at OSU, and taught there until his retirement in 1984. While there he served as president of the Oregon Psychological Association and as chair of the Oregon Board of Psychologist Examiners.  

Kermit, along with his wife Barbara, raised four children in Corvallis and was well known for his activism on behalf of many political issues and candidates. Along with serving on the national board of Citizens for Global Solutions, he served on the board for the Wayne Morse Historical Park. The Rohdes also supported many arts and civic organizations and were active in their church. Kermit was a devoted husband and father, and he was delighted to have been able to celebrate his 50th anniversary with his wife Barbara before her death in 2001.

For Argentina, so far so good at the World Cup in Brazil...

At the Supreme Court in Washington, however, Argentina suffered a catastrophic defeat that no soccer metaphor can accurately capture.

On Monday, the Supreme Court announced it would not hear Argentina’s appeal of a lower court ruling in favor of a group of hedge funds suing the country for more than $1 billion.

The dispute is rooted in Argentina’s 2001 debt default. When the country defaulted, amidst economic and political turmoil, nearly 93% of its creditors accepted a deal and took less money than they were owed. But a small group held out. The holdouts included hedge funds that have been nicknamed “vulture funds.” The nickname derives from the funds’ strategy of buying up the debt of economically distressed countries for pennies on the dollar and then suing, targeting debt relief money for collection. That money, of course, is often earmarked for social services like AIDS prevention and school construction.  

The court’s decision is a huge blow for Argentina, but it’s also a huge blow to the rest of the world. Here’s why.

Poor countries spend five times as much money paying off old debt than they receive in official aid. Debt is a huge problem, and debt relief is an essential tool in the fight against poverty. Debt relief funds have been used to build schools, cancel fees at rural health clinics and provide access to clean water.