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Ukraine: A Federalist Future?

Map of Ukraine via Shutterstock

Can tensions in Ukraine be lowered without a federalist-constitutional restructuring of the State?

On Thursday, 17 April 2014, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergy Lavrov, Ukraine's acting Foreign Minister Andriii Deshchytsia, and the European Union Foreign Policy representative Catherine Ashton met in Geneva for a one-day exchange to address concerns over the situation in Ukraine and to take steps to limit the growing violence within the country.

The meeting came shortly after the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned in a 15 April report that “Misinformation, propaganda and incitement to hatred need be urgently countered in Ukraine to avoid the further escalation of tensions in the country...It is critical for the Government to prioritise respect for diversity, inclusivity and equal participation of all− including minorities− in Ukraine.”

Also on the eve of the Geneva talks, President Vladimir Putin said on Russian television that he had been authorized by Parliament to use military force in eastern Ukraine if necessary, but hoped that it could be avoided. The statement highlighted the possible use of Russian forces, some 40,000 of which are stationed on the Russian-Ukraine frontier.

The Russian Government has denied that the pro-Russian armed militias around occupied government buildings in eastern Ukraine are under their control, begging the question of whom the men in unmarked military uniforms are working for. Turmoil, including the shooting of some of these pro-Russian demonstrators, is growing. In response, NATO forces have been strengthened in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States.

Is South Sudan Sliding Into Chaos?

South Sudan soldiers ride on a truck in Bor, about 100 miles outside the capital.(Photo:James Akena/Reuters /Landov)

Violence has re-escalated in South Sudan as a new wave of attacks this month have included a UN base, places of worship, and other sites typically treated as neutral ground in conflicts. With the conflict taking on an increasingly ethnic and retaliatory tinge, we now must worry about how we might prevent these setbacks from spiraling into something far worse.

The last few months of conflict in South Sudan originate from a political falling out between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, when Kiir dismissed Machar and the entire cabinet in July 2013. After months of recriminations, a rebel movement began attacks in December 2013. Machar took responsibility for this movement and its continued operations just two weeks after a public ceasefire agreement between Kiir’s government and rebel groups in January.

That ceasefire has been broken repeatedly in the months since, and is all but dead in the wake of this recent wave of attacks.

One Year Since Bangladesh Building Collapse

April 24th marked the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

This devastating collapse killed more than 1,100 people and injured 2,500 more. By no means the first industrial accident in Bangladesh's history, though certainly the most devastating, the collapse was the result of turning a blind eye to the factory's structural problems by the local owner and the failure of international corporations like Walmart to properly ensure that their supply chains meets minimum safety standards for workers in countries such as Bangladesh.

The garment industry plays an enormous role in Bangladesh's economy. It is now the world's second largest apparel producer, behind China, and Bangladesh's 5,600 garment factories employ 4 million people, 90 percent of whom are women, and produce $20 billion in exports every year. Because this industry dominates the economy, workers often have no choice but to take jobs in unsafe factories for what little income they can earn. The Rana Plaza factory produced clothing for as many as 28 foreign brands,including Walmart and Benetton.

Global 911: It's Time for a UN Emergency Peace Force

PHOTO: U.N. peacekeeper walks with children/Wikipedia

Genocide, mass atrocities, violent oppression; these acts, these words, invoke fear, disgust, anger and beg the question why? Human history is littered with examples of these heinous crimes against humanity and yet it took one of the darkest moments in world history to garner a response.

That event? The Holocaust.

An estimated eleven million people died as a direct result of the Holocaust. Of that eleven million, nearly six million Jews were systematically eliminated in what was called the Final Solution.

In the wake of the terror of World War II the world said it had enough. For the first time in history countries came together to lay framework of cooperation, peace, and most importantly, prevention. The United Nations was founded in the wake of the horrors of WWII, a means to protect the human family.

The UN has evolved since its foundation and so has the means by which the UN meets its goals. One of the primary tools of the UN is its peacekeeping function.

Peacekeeping in itself has evolved over time, from observer missions to peacekeeping to building and enforcing. All with two primary goals in mind; prevent a third world war and eliminate the threat of genocide.

While the former has been prevented to date, the latter is far from. Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and the Central African Republic, ravaged by ethnic cleansing and threats of genocide. In these cases the slow response of peacekeeping operations has undoubtedly led to unnecessary loss of life.

US Quietly Ratifies Fish Treaties

Congress protect fisheries, while ignoring the rights of the disabled (Photo: ThinkProgress.org)

On April 3, 2014, the United States ratified three treaties, all of which help protect oceanic wildlife and eliminate the black market fishing industry. Black market fishing is an enormous industry that produces up to $23.5 billion each year--that’s some serious competition for fishermen who play by the rules. Not only that, but pirate fishers commonly use banned fishing gear, slaughter unwanted fish and other sea creatures, and participate in drug smuggling and human trafficking.

The Convention on the Conservation and Management of High Seas Fishery Resources in the South Pacific Ocean and its sibling convention by a similar name for the North Pacific Ocean are two regional treaties that have been adopted. These conventions have set up monitoring groups for each region that will implement conservation measures to protect the marine wildlife and sustain the legal fishing industry.

The largest of the three treaties, commonly known as Port State Measures Agreement, is not in effect due to the lack of participating coastal countries. The agreement will only go into effect once 25 countries have ratified; only 11 have ratified so far. This treaty would require ports to refuse products offered by any vessel suspected of illegal fishing. Widespread adoption of this treaty would strangle the profits of illegal fishing and bring a significant portion of the entire fishing industry back in line with conservation regulations.

US v. Russia: No Competition

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (Photo: RIA Novosti/Grigoriy Sisoev)

Politico Magazine put out an article last week by James Bruno about how US diplomats stack up to Russian diplomats. Based on his experience as a foreign service officer, he concludes that America's diplomats are woefully inferior in experience to their Russian counterparts.

Only one ambassador to a major NATO ally, Turkey, is a career diplomat -- Mr. Francis Ricciardone. Of the remaining 25 filled U.S. ambassadorships to NATO countries, three quarters are political appointees. (Two of these posts are currently unfilled, one to our major NATO ally, France. My colleague Kevin Burke wrote on the backlog of nominees for diplomatic posts last month.) Eleven of these secured their position by giving big money to Obama’s campaign, including our ambassadors to Germany and the UK. In contrast, all but two of Russia's ambassadors to NATO countries are career diplomats.

By Bruno’s calculations,

The total number of years of diplomatic experience of Russia’s 28 ambassadors to NATO nations is 960 years, averaging 34 years per incumbent. The cumulative years of relevant experience of America’s ambassadors are 331, averaging 12 years per individual. Russia has 26 NATO ambassadors with 20-plus years of diplomatic service; the United States has 10.

These statistics are very worrisome in a world where nations can no longer act unilaterally; a world where multilateralism increasingly rules the day. With unskilled and untrained diplomats US influence will continue to wane as others rise.

The Weaponization of Hunger in Syria

Children sit with their belongings as they wait to be evacuated from a besieged area of Homs February 12, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

On Friday reports surfaced that U.N. documents obtained by Foreign Policy show that the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria has been consistently cutting off food supplies to opposition-held areas in order to starve rebels and their supporters into submission. This is a clear-cut war crime under the Geneva Conventions and the UN Security Council needs to provide what evidence it has for this and other crimes against humanity in a referral to the International Criminal Court.

The basic evidence is this: as the World Food Programme has been implementing increased food aid under UN Security Council Resolution 2139, they have taken note of large population movements from opposition-controlled areas to government controlled areas. For months now, experts have been warning that the Assad regime is using hunger as a weapon of war: it cuts off food access to opposition-controlled areas, forcing rebels, supporters, and non-combatants to surrender or die an agonizing death from starvation. This is clearly a war crime: the fourth Geneva Convention explicitly protects the welfare of civilians in conflict.

War crimes demand response from the international community. Many war crimes, such as the use of chemical weapons, civilian targeting, or the use of powerful weapons of mass destruction, are blatant abuses of power and humanity that can often invite immediate reprobation from the international community, often escalating quickly into discussions of the extent to which response is required and how soon.

Legitimacy and the Rule of Law in Kosovo

Will the new special tribunal be a step forward or a reopening of old wounds for Kosovo? (Photo: motls.blogspot.com)

What would you do if major figures in your government were suspected of or charged with war crimes? In Baltic States like Serbia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, this is not very uncommon; however, the difference between these countries comes from which of these figures are actually tried for their crimes. The ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) has put Serbian war criminals on trial since 1993. In Kosovo the rule-of-law is still too new to function perfectly, but many are calling for a more efficient court system to put the accused on trial safely and successfully.

After NATO-led airstrikes in 1999 led to the end of the war between Kosovo and Serbia, and since Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008, relations between the two nations have been far from perfect. Serbia to this day refuses to recognize Kosovo as an independent country (along with other major powers like Russia and Spain).

It is no secret that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which was the opposition to Milosevic’s troops, took part in violent acts against the Serbian military in order to end the Serbian oppression. More recently, however, it has been speculated that prominent Kosovo leaders, like Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi, were involved in much more serious war crimes like organ trafficking.

The EU-led rule-of-law mission in Kosovo (EULEX) has been in charge of most of the proceedings for the crimes that have taken place thus far. The proceedings led by EULEX do not take place in Kosovo, and they have no seat there either. They have, however, helped to establish a rule-of-law in Kosovo where it was severely lacking. The EULEX mission is set to expire on June 14, and that is leaving many people to question what will happen next.

Will De-escalation Really Occur?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meeting in Paris (Photo: PBS)

Yesterday saw progress on ending the crisis in the Ukraine with a diplomatic agreement reached in Geneva.

After ongoing talks between officials from the Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union, it was agreed that the situation in Ukraine must de-escalate. The agreement calls for all illegal military formations in Ukraine to be dissolved and everyone illegally occupying buildings to be disarmed and to evacuate. There is added amnesty for all anti-government protesters under the agreement as well. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will moniter the de-escalation efforts. 

Beyond this general agreement, however, much is left unclear. I think most of the world with access to the Internet could deduce that the situation in Ukraine needed de-escalation even without going to Geneva. And we could reasonably assume that for this to happen, violence and occupation of buildings needed to stop. This agreement leaves much to be desired in the realm of resolving the conflict in the region and stabilizing the government and economy of the Ukraine. Already today there are reports that the protestors in East Ukraine are refusing to disperse, showing the cracks in the weak facade of this "deal."

Less certain is whether or not Russia will actually support the agreement or agree simply to save face, but not act. Putin is an unpredictable leader and has shown that he has no qualms about bending the rules to ensure that he remains in control. Hopefully Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s assent to this agreement will hold true and the Russian government will remain committed to ending the conflict with the Ukraine, but there is no certainty in dealing with Vladimir Putin.

A Responsible Boycott: Canada and the Commonwealth

Canadian Tamils protest against Sri Lankan government abuses in Toronto during the late stages of the civil war. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

On Monday, Canada’s foreign affairs minister announced that the world’s 11th largest economy would be suspending its $10 million annual contribution to the Commonwealth of Nations until late 2015 in protest against Sri Lanka’s two-year leadership of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper caused controversy last year by joining the leaders of India and Mauritius in boycotting the summit in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital. This persistent conflict stems from Sri Lanka’s continued refusal to address claims of human rights atrocities committed by government forces during the country’s 26-year civil war.

Since the end of hostilities in 2009, Colombo has continuously rejected all calls for investigation into the claims, most recently denouncing a March resolution by the UN Human Rights Council requesting a “comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations” by “both parties” in the war. Monday’s announcement has been met with similar obstinacy, as the Sri Lankan foreign ministry accused Canada of attempting to “hold the Commonwealth to ransom” for the sake of “scoring political points.” Human Rights organizations, however, have consistently praised the Harper government for its uniquely stern stance in dealing with Colombo.

The pulling of $20 million in total from the Commonwealth marks the strongest action taken yet in pursuit of accountability and an independent investigation into atrocities which continue to be ignored.