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Nuclear Posture Review sticks to the middle ground

Today the Obama administration released the much-anticipated Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), coinciding with the anniversary of President Obama's progressive Prague speech last April. Splitting with Bush-era nuclear doctrine, the NPR renounces the development of new nuclear weapons and states that the "fundamental purpose" of nuclear weapons is deterring other states from deploying them. The NPR is the beginning of a six week focus on nuclear issues, as President Obama signs New START on Thursday, hosts a Nuclear Security Summit in April, and the UN holds the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May.

Yet the NPR might be more of a status quo document than an expression of President Obama's Prague vision, as some advocates had hoped. Despite the its modest advances, there were early expectations that the language in the NPR would be bolder and suggest more concrete numbers for nuclear weapons reductions. The NPR's largely middle ground stance indicates some political signaling to Congress. The Obama administration's nuclear priority in Congress at the moment is to ratify the New START, which will require 67 votes in the Senate, including the votes of key Senate Republicans. More drastic changes to the NPR might have fueled conservative opposition to New START.

April 4: International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action

Sunday marked the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, commemorating victims who have suffered the effects of the deadly weapons. Antipersonnel landmines have been dubbed indiscriminate killers, as they injure and kill more civilians than soldiers. In the wake of armed conflict, women and children often come across these hidden killers - in fields or on the way to school - and are maimed or killed.

The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty prohibits all use, production and trade of antipersonnel mines, provides timelines for destroying stockpiles, and recommends assistance programs for mine victims. Although 156 other countries have signed and ratified the Mine Ban Treaty, the U.S. has not. All U.S. military allies are party to the treaty, and Cuba is the only other country in this hemisphere that hasn't signed the treaty. Given that the U.S. was the first country to call for the elimination of landmines in the 1990s, the U.S. ought to sign the treaty to solidify its commitment to arms control.

In 2009, 67 national organizations asked President Obama to undertake a review of U.S. landmine policy. The State Department announced the beginning of the review in December 2009, and there is hope that it will end with a decision to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines is considered one of the most successful NGO campaigns to create momentum around a multilateral arms control instrument. The treaty was signed and ratified in a record 15 months, and over the course of the last 11 years, the weapons have come to be regarded by many countries as illegitimate weapons of war. Click here for more information about the treaty and the campaign.

Still, the U.S. has one of the largest landmine stockpiles, despite the fact that landmines have not been deployed by the U.S. since the first Gulf War.

Harry Potter: Wizard or War Criminal?.... (An April Fools' blog)

The answer may be both according to British lawyer Shami Charkrabarti.  That's right, children of the world, it's time to pick a new hero (and it's slim pickings kids, Twilight? Seriously? No.) Is this a lawyer's idea of an April fools' joke you ask?  Of course not! Find me one legal text with a joke and we can reconsider, so let me continue analyzing the 'Crucio curse' as a war crime...enjoy…

So how can anyone profess to put dear Harry in the same category as the likes of Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Darth Vader and other evildoers?  Shami Chakrabarti CBE is a former British Home Office lawyer who has been outspoken on many civil liberties issues including Britain's role in extraordinary rendition.  She is also a self-professed "Potter-head," claiming to be the "biggest Harry Potter fan over the age of 12."  Yet Chakrabarti was willing to come forward with a very serious allegation against the young wizard. In a somber statement to the press she said: "Yes, Harry Potter has tortured someone. That was a war crime."

The prima facie case is strong.  In "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," Mad Eye Moody explains to his class that there are the three Unforgivable Curses. "The use of any one of them on a fellow human being is enough to earn a life sentence in Azkaban." The first, is the "Imperius curse" which makes one dance like a puppet on a string.  (I welcome any suggestions as to the real world equivalent of this. American Idol?) The third curse, "Avada Kedavra," kills the victim, an act which may be legal depending on the situation, such as in self-defence or combat.  It is the second curse which is our main concern here: "Crucio," is effectively torture. A crime that is never legally acceptable in the wizarding world or in the muggle world where it is universally accepted as a war crime.

"Oh no he didn't...!"

Part III: This is the third post from Ariela Blatter, Director of Policy and Programs for GlobalSolutions.org. Ariela is attending the 8th Resumed Session of the Assembly of States Parties in New York City this week.

 Did the US delegation get unfairly singled out today, as the only country that feels that haste makes waste when it comes to the dash to finalize the crime of aggression? Not according to the UK, who stood up in the ICC Assembly to agree with the US concerns on the inclusion of the crime. The US remained silent in the session as the UK took on the Venezuelan delegation's constant attempts to prove that the US stands alone. Today's colorful closing session on the crime of aggression at the UN became an interminable he-said-she-said debate over the language used in the Chair's summary report of the Assembly of States Parties. All of the fuss arose when the states parties were asked to approve the aggression working group report, drafted by Prince Zeid, which stated that "some [countries] cautioned the assembly that in so far as the Rome Statute, the crime of aggression should not be concluded hastily, and should be built on consensus." So in the end, at least in diplomatic "speak," the US may not be in good company with "some" countries in its position on aggression, but it can now return to DC knowing that that the final text reflects that it stands with "a few" countries. Phew- that was a close one!

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Is the ICC greater than the sum of its parts?

By: Ariela Blatter

Part II: This is the second post from Ariela Blatter, Director of Policy and Programs for GlobalSolutions.org. Ariela is attending the 8th Resumed Session of the Assembly of States Parties in New York City this week.

Calling the ICC a "game-changer" in international relations and international criminal law, Ambassador Christian Wenaweser of Liechtenstein, Chair of the Special Working Group on the Crime of Aggression, spoke last night about the US relationship with the Court. Against the backdrop of this weeks meeting of delegates at the UN, Ambassador Wenaweser painted a picture of the ICC as more than just an institution; instead, it is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, the Court is more than the individual preferences and beliefs of the States that support it.  Although he took great pains to remain neutral during his panel presentation at NYU, his remarks were directed at the US, represented by Ambassador Stephen Rapp, to make a leap of faith by putting the need for achieving international criminal justice above any of its own agenda or its "national interests" as it considers its future policy on the Court. That may be a hard pill for the US to swallow, who stated very clearly on the floor of the Assembly and during this panel that there is a lot that needs to be done to bring the Court to the highest level of effectiveness. And top of the US's list of things that still need to be done, with no leap of faith on the horizon, is reworking or removing the crime of aggression.

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U.S. & Russia reach agreement for New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)

After more than eight months of talks between the U.S. and Russia, negotiators have reached agreement on the terms of the New START treaty, reported the Kremlin on Wednesday. The most comprehensive arms control treaty between the U.S. and Russia in almost two decades, the treaty calls for reductions of more than one-quarter in the number of deployed strategic warheads and delivery vehicles in both countries.

New START replaces START I, the 1991 bilateral pact governing arms reduction that expired in December 2009. A new treaty was originally anticipated prior to the December expiration of START I, but disagreement over thorny issues such as the American missile defense system in Europe and the verification process for nuclear arsenals prevented the two parties from finding consensus. Officials from both countries have not disclosed detailed contents of the treaty nor have they discussed how these particular issues were ultimately resolved.

The date of the treaty's signing has yet to be determined, though early April seems likely. Prague is the tentative location for the signing in order to commemorate the one-year anniversary of President Obama's famed Prague speech on nuclear non-proliferation. If the signing ceremony takes place in early April, it will precede the Nuclear Security Summit hosted by President Obama in Washington on April 12-13.

However, some challenges to ratification are anticpated in the Senate, where 67 votes are needed to pass a resolution of ratification and provide "advice and consent" to the President. Some Republicans have stated that they do not intend to agree to a treaty that would restrict the planned missile defense shield for Europe. President Obama has already initiated discussions regarding ratification with Senate Committe on Foreign Relations Chairman John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and the committee's ranking minority member Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.).

Should states put everything on the line for the US?

By: Ariela Blätter

This is the first of a series of updates you can expect from CGS's Ariela Blätter who is attending the resumed 8th session of the Assembly of States Parties at the UN in New York.
After nine years of absence from the ICC, the US came out fighting yesterday at the UN giving the world's delegates and ICC States Parties pause. Although couched in soft language or as 'mere' questions, the US position, reading between the lines, is uncomfortably harsh- a demand that the assembly of state parties not to take ANY steps that would cause the US pause, particularly on the crime of aggression. As a non-State Party this is really what you call "chutzpah"- especially in telling Prince Zeid, the chair of these proceedings, that he has not only not built consensus around this issue and hasn't sought answers to the right questions about the functioning of the court. So what to do? Start over? Carry on despite and without US support? Kick the question on aggression down the road five or ten years? Stay tuned till tomorrow...

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Bangladesh becomes an ICC State Party!

Bangladesh ratified the Rome Statute today, becoming the 111th State to do so.  The Rome Statute was adopted by the international community on July 17, 1998 and Bangladesh signed it on September 16, 1999. This leaves twenty-eight states that have signed but not ratified the treaty.  As a State Party to the Rome Statute, Bangladesh now has a vote in the Review Conference which will begin in May in Kampala, Uganda. The Asian Human Rights Commission forwarded a Statement from Odhikar, a human rights organization, congratulating the government of Bangladesh for ratifying the Rome Statute: "Bangladesh has demonstrated its commitment to international justice."

ICC President, Judge Sang-Hyun Song, noted that "By ratifying the Rome Statute, Bangladesh will become the first State Party in South Asia. I applaud its decision to join the growing commitment of states to end impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide."

CLICK HERE to see Citizens for Global Solution's interactive ICC flash module.

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World Water Day

Did you know that today is World Water Day?  The UN General Assembly designated the first World Water Day in 1993, and on 22 March every year since, the focus has been on a different aspect of freshwater sustainability. In a statement today, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that more people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war.  He further stated that water is vitally linked to all UN development goals including maternal and child health and life expectancy, food security and sustainable development. On behalf of UN-Water a three-day celebration for World Water Day has begun in Nairobi, Kenya, bringing together scientists and policy-makers to discuss how to address the challenges posed by degrading water quality worldwide.

It is children that are most affected by world water problems, one child under the age of five dies every 20 seconds from water-related diseases, according to the UN Environment Program (UNEP).  In a new publication, entitled Clearing the Waters: A focus on Water Quality Solutions, the agency points out that in some developing nations, more than half of treated water is lost to leaks, but by some estimates, saving just half of the water could benefit 90 million people without additional investment.  Additionally they argue that an investment of $20 million in low-cost water technologies, such as drip irrigation and treadle pumps, could potentially lift 100 million families out of extreme poverty.  

"Courtside"! New ICC blog coming soon!

Next week the resumed 8th session of the ICC's Assembly of States Parties (ASP) meeting will begin.  Each State Party has one representative in the ASP, the ICC's governing body.  So far 110 States have ratified the Rome Statute.  Out of them, 30 are African States, 14  are Asian States, 17 are from Eastern Europe, 24 are from Latin American and Caribbean States, and 25 are from Western European and other States. The U.S. has not ratified the Rome Statute but, due to the US signature on the Final Act of the Rome Conference, US representatives may attend ASP meetings as observers.

CGS will have an observer at the meetings who will keep us updated throughout the week.  Check back for "Courtside" CGS's International Criminal Court blog that will be up and running soon!

CLICK HERE to To see Citizens for Global Solution's interactive ICC flash module

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