The Global Citizen
Following a dramatic month of bluster and diplomatic turmoil, the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution demanding the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons. But it still has done nothing to halt the traumatic civil war that has so far killed over 100,000 and displaced over 7 million Syrians.
During the lead up to the agreement, US Ambassador Samantha Power complained, "The Security Council the world needs to deal with this urgent crisis is not the Security Council we have." Her words are too true. Since 2011, Russia and China have vetoed three different Security Council resolutions condemning the Syrian regime's violence or promoting a solution. This year Russia has blocked at least three statements calling for humanitarian access to besieged cities and four resolutions or statements condemning or expressing concern over the use of chemical weapons. Prior to the current resolution, the Security Council could not even agree to put out a press statement expressing its disapproval over the use of chemical weapons.
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Good news and bad news came out the UN this week: the rumored meeting between Presidents Obama and Rouhani did not come to fruition but the Security Council did come to a consensus on Syrian Chemical Weapons but the resolution did not mention consequences. Earlier this week Obama and Rouhani had exchanged letters and the language used suggested that they believed a meeting would be beneficial. Compared to the rhetoric of his predecessor, Rouhani appears to be much more moderate and reasonable. He does not deny the Holocaust nor is openly belligerent and obstinate. Obama is also more moderate that his predecessors who refused to deal with Iran in any way and seemed to want war with the country. The meeting, unfortunately, did not take place; Iranian officials explained that they were worried about the political climate in Tehran and how such a meeting would be received. Secretary Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif did meet and had a constructive discussion. They agreed to a Security Council hearing on the Iranian Nuclear program in Geneva in October. Progress was made in improving US-Iranian relations but a meeting between Obama and Rouhani would have been more meaningful and significant and would have indicated a commitment to rapprochement.
We may have dodged a bullet: the US Senate has voted down the Famer Assurance Provision of HR 933. Commonly known as the “Monsanto Protection Act,” this measure gave the US Department of Agriculture the authority to grow and sell genetically modified (GM) crops even if courts ruled against them. It also shielded major biotech companies like Monsanto from lawsuits.
However, the fight isn’t over. The Provision will now go to the House, where Monsanto’s allies will likely force it back in during the commotion over the government shutdown. Meanwhile, the US maintains its standing as the only developed country in the world without mandatory labeling laws for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Despite the risks of genetic engineering, biotech firms continue to mass-produce and sell GM foods while keeping consumers in the dark.
So what’s the big deal about GMOs? Isn’t that graphic a little alarmist? Well, maybe. The problem is we don’t actually know what dangers GMOs pose to the people who ingest them. Because no human tests have been conducted, ill effects cannot be linked conclusively to GMOs. Animal testing, however, has indicated numerous problems: GMO-fed mice, rats, and rabbits have experienced ulcers, liver and kidney damage, heart dysfunction, cancer, and death.
The trial that captured the attention of the most populous country in the world came to an unsurprising end this weekend as Bo Xilai, a former member of the Politburo, was convicted of embezzlement, abuse of power, and accepting the equivalent of about 3.3 million dollars in bribes. Known as a charismatic populist who commands a broad base of support in Chongqing, where he was Party Secretary, Mr. Bo has been sentenced to life in prison and the court has ordered the seizure of all his personal assets. He has already filed an appeal, but it is unlikely to be successful.
But for such a predictable verdict, the trial was anything but. Widely expected to be the brief, formal, and predetermined sort of affair typical of Chinese courts, the public was instead treated to a spectacle worthy of a courtroom drama, complete with dramatic cross-examinations, fiery defense speeches, and a love triangle laced with murder. These unprecedented proceedings were even relayed online in real time through an official Sina Weibo feed, a Chinese micro-blogging service similar to Twitter. From start to finish, a concerted effort was made to ensure the trial seemed fair and transparent. Yet the Chinese courts remain a tool of the party, and the verdict was still likely decided behind closed doors - a show trial, emphasis on "show." So why put on such a spectacle for a foregone conclusion?
In the aftermath of the August 21st chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb, the United States and Russia have tentatively agreed upon a deal that calls for Syria's ascension into the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the swift destruction of its stockpiles. Because details of this plan have so far been scarce, many flaws have been found with such a proposal. I will not get into those flaws at the moment, as it has been quite a central topic throughout the op-ed sections of most major international publications. Ultimately, this political disaster has proven that once a state already possesses chemical weapons, the balance of interests take precedent over what is most sound from a humanitarian perspective. This is probably most apparent with the Russian government defending the Assad regime and continuing to insist that the opposition forces perpetrated the use of chemical weapons. What must be done is to create a system that prevents states from obtaining the chemicals necessary to construct these weapons in the first place. This prescriptive solution is preferable because insofar as there are 189 member states of the CWC, there is a general international commitment to preventing the spread of these terror weapons. Fortunately, one such regime already exists and ought be expanded.
Westgate Premier Shopping mall -- 69 dead, 200 injured. Washington Navy Yard -- 13 dead, 8 injured. Aurora, CO movie theater -- 12 dead. Sandy Hook Elementary School -- 27 killed. We are confronted with these headlines every month. A massacre shakes the psyche of a community, a city, a nation, and then the discussion quickly shifts to how we can prevent "the next one." It's an all too common narrative of tragedy, shock, bitter debate, then normalization as the memory passes and no action is taken to prevent the occurrence of such massacres. As these massacres occur with seemingly increasing frequency, the risk of becoming desensitized is greater than ever. If shock at the senseless slaughter of innocents doesn't spur governments to action in addressing the various incubators of extremism, what will?
The recent tragedy in Kenya is a case study in many shortcomings: the inability to address the neighboring failed state of Somalia, the oversaturation of weapons in the developing world, and the extreme desperation of people with nothing to lose and nothing to gain that are drawn to extremist messages. Domestic and International terror have varied causes, but violence has become a common means of expression among the desperate and disenfranchised. How should we as a society stop the violence? Please leave your comments below...
Secretary of State John Kerry has now added the United States' signature to the Arms Trade Treaty. This treaty is a great step forward in dealing with the unregulated and illicit global trade in conventional weapons and ammunition, which fuels wars and human rights abuses worldwide. I am so proud of thousands of GlobalSolutions.org members who emailed, petitioned and called the White House. Your efforts paid off!
GlobalSolutions.org also was one of 33 national organizations who urged President Obama to sign the treaty, saying it, "...would be a powerful step demonstrating the United States' commitment to preventing mass atrocities and protecting civilians from armed conflict around the globe."
Not only is it good for our nation to have all countries operating from the same rule book, it's also our responsibility. Without the treaty, warlords and terrorists will continue to get weapons which are used to force child soldiers to kill their parents, to attack American soldiers and missionaries, and to rape refugee women and girls.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced that he is planning to come to the US to attend the UN General Assembly. Bashir, accused of human rights abuses in the western Darfur region of Sudan, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). If he goes through with these travel plans, the US government should arrest him and extradite him to The Hague to face charges for his crimes.
The ICC has indicted Bashir twice for crimes related to the conflict in Darfur that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions. The indictments include five counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture. Another two counts are for war crimes, or attacking civilians, and three counts are for genocide.
As delegates have been meeting for the 68th plenary sessions and General Debate (“UN Week”) at the UN General Assembly this week, September 23rd to October 1st, at UN Headquarters in New York City, it's worth taking a moment to focus on the General Assembly as an institution and not just as an annual headline-generating device. It's a great reminder of how far humanity has come these past 68 years in improving diplomacy, collaboration, and peace-building, and yet we still have far to go.
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