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The Passing of the Torch: Selection of the UN Secretary-General October 10, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in United Nations.
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Mere hours after the first nuclear arms test in North Korea; the United Nations nominated their next secretary general in Ban Ki-moon of South Korea. banki-moon.PNGAfter reading up on his accomplishments and the respect he has garnered internationally, it appears to be a smart choice. The timing of his nomination could have been looked at as rather suspicious (considering his history as a south Korean diplomat and recent North Korean news) but it was indeed planned for quite some time. All other reasonable candidates for the position had dropped out and for all intents and purposes, he should be a worthy successor to Kofi Annan. Shortly after his nomination was made official, he had these words to say, “This should be a moment of joy. But instead, I stand here with a very heavy heart. Despite the concerted warning from the international community, North Korea has gone ahead with a nuclear test.” Those may quite possibly be words that define his legacy as he has vowed to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis once he becomes secretary-general. Hopefully, his influence and experience in the region will do just that. Kofi Annan, whose second term expires in January, had his own goals early on when he became secretary-general.

Kofi Annan made great efforts to trim down the UN expenditures and save face after some massive failures throughout the 90s. But his legacy was supposed to be one of a more humanitarian nature. It was abundantly clear that the world was facing a crisis in regards to the needs of survival and the resources available to guarantee it. Annan seemed to have a vision. Quoting from Paul Kennedy’s, “The Parliament of Man”:

Annan seemed to be increasingly successful in steering attention to Africa, the continent facing the greatest concatenation of challenges, and in getting public opinion to recognize that efforts to help African societies must involve not only substantial resources, but above all cleverly shared work by all parts of the UN as well as by the NGOs, the churches, and international business. In this large, holistic view of things, the Security Council is but one of the actors—a vital one, to be sure, for every community needs its nightwatchmen and policemen—but much else is also needed to make the world community content and prosperous.

In a post Cold-war world, he had hoped to be able to let cooler heads prevail, and worry about the oft forgotten humanitarian goals of the United Nation. But it was soon shown that Cold-war or not, the forgotten continent of Africa would always be overshadowed by those with the wealth. At the dawn of the 21st century there remained problems that never seemed to go away. From the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, India and Pakistan’s perpetual quarrel over Kashmir, to Saddam Hussein and all of the fresh eruptions of violence in Congo and Sierra Leone, he had a mountain to climb just to bring world-wide attention to his humanitarian goals. However, calling for action against the HIV/AIDS pandemic in 2001, and proposing the Global AIDS and Health Fund, he seemed to be making progress in his ambitions.

And then, September 11th arrived.

From that point on, the focus on the humanitarian goals of the United Nation were once again overshadowed when a new war on terrorism was waged by the only remaining super power. Africa continued to be an afterthought by those with the ability to help make a difference. Martin Meredith takes the words of a Nigerian academic in his epic book, The Fate of Africa, by saying “the problem is not so much that development has failed, as it was never really on the agenda in the first place.” He then closes with the following:

After decades of mismanagement and corruption, most African states have become hollowed out. They are no longer instruments capable of serving the public good. Indeed, far from being able to provide aid and protection to their citizens, African governments and the vampire-like politicians who run them are regarded by the populations they rule as yet another burden they have to bear in the struggle for survival.

And that is where we stand today. Kofi Annan’s legacy was displaced by the realities of the modern world. The North Korean tests may pave the way for a different legacy for the new secretary-general. However, this passing of the torch may extinguish whatever hope there was left for a dying continent.

Sitting alone, the fire.

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UNIFIL Success Depends on Hezbollah’s Commitment to Cease-Fire August 15, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in News and politics, UNIFIL, United Nations.
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This is a further discussion on my previous article in regards to the problems associated with sending more UN Peacekeepers into Lebanon. As a major point in the Cease-fire mandate that was signed over the weekend, it was agreed that UNIFIL will be strengthened to a maximum of 15,000 troops (an additional 13,000 troops). As with when UNIFIL was created, the intention is most definitely a noble one. Their responsibilities include the following:

  • Monitor the cessation of hostilities
  • Accompany and support the Lebanese armed forces as they deploy throughout the South, including along the Blue Line, as Israel withdraws its armed forces from Lebanon
  • Coordinate its activities with the Government of Lebanon and the Government of Israel
  • Extend its assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons
  • Assist the Lebanese armed forces in taking steps towards the establishment of the area
  • Assist the Government of Lebanon, in securing its borders from peoples, arms, or related material who do not belong

Please refer to the actual resolution (UN Security Council Resolution 1701) for a more detailed and thorough description of the vagaries’ that have been agreed upon. There still remains several questions that will surely be addressed within the next 48 hours or so. It appears that the general tendency that major peacekeeping operations are lead by developing countries, which often send under trained and under equipped troops, has been reversed to a degree. Italy has announced that it will send 3,000 troops. Germany, which had prior concerns about how its Nazi past would be seen in the region, is also sending troops. France, Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia are also discussing their contributions. Considering the scale of the conflict, I predict the rest of the promised troops will come from other prominent member states. My previous article on the subject presented several arguments as to why sending more troops in is a bad idea. For the sake of the peacekeepers, I still stand by this but understand the necessity of their presence nonetheless.

Elements of the most successful peacekeeping operations can be seen in the current operation. These elements, where the troops will occupy an intervening strip of land after a ceasefire for however long they’re required (in UNFILS case, it seems to be ongoing) can most definitely be seen here. Sadly, the region remains unique and the events of the last month prove this. The country of Lebanon suffered the largest devastation during the 34 day attacks that lead to the ceasefire, yet they, as a nation and its population, were by no means the target. I’m just repeating myself here, but it will be impossible to make Hezbollah abide by the rules because they don’t represent any unit of a recognized international body. Paul Kennedy recently wrote about the initial UNIFIL forces deployed decades ago;

The UN “interim” force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was honestly meant but could do little because Palestinian fighters refused to stop fighting and terror bombing, Israeli military countermeasures (including repeated and large-scale sweeps into the north) were brutal but ineffective, and the various Lebanese ethnic-religious factions were tearing one another apart. – The Parliament of Man, Paul Kennedy

Much of the cease-fire agreement allows these forces to assist Lebanon in securing its land, and preventing Hezbollah from regrouping, but it stops short of allowing these forces to assist in the destruction of Hezbollah. This is not in the mandate simply because if it was, there would be no cease-fire agreement.

Since its creation, there have been 261 fatalities within UNIFIL. That’s over 10% of the total number of peacekeepers killed (2,226 from over 100 countries as of the end of 2005) since the UN began peacekeeping operations. During the best of times, it’s been a turbulent region. Israel, as a internationally recognized nation, will always be allowed to defend itself by the means it sees fit. This has been demonstrated in recent weeks. All it will take is one more foolish action of defiance by Hezbollah against Israel and the ceasefire will end. Their ability to do so has been backed by George W. Bush, the Israeli Prime minister but most importantly, and common sense. It just so happens that if this break in the agreement does indeed occur, there will be 15,000 UN troops stations in the middle of a hostile territory with little ability to assist in either direction. Regardless of whether or not UNIFIL has been strengthened (in sheer number and ability to defend themselves) they still have a very limited capacity to fight what would be a battle of war planes and long ranger rockets. This may sound like one of the most obvious statements to make, but peace in the region does depend on Hezbollah more than any other player. Sadly, it is Hezbollah that, providing they have indeed remained strong and capable of attack, has the least to gain from a Cease-fire. And with continued rhetorical support by Syria and Iran, the ongoing war, in only of words, will continue.

With all of this said, a cease-fire is essential for any progress to be made. We will hear tragedies within UNIFIL in the upcoming months, and probably years (even though the UNIFIL mandate officially expires at the end of August 2007, it will surely be extended). Everything is a gamble, and the situation is obviously more complex than anything I could have written here today, but the steps made in recent days had to be made. I sometimes struggle with the idea of hope, as its definition implies the inability for ones actions to truly dictate what takes place, but hope is all that the masses can do in a situation like this. Because ultimately, the preservation of peace depends entirely on the actions of one man, and the subsequent reaction of another.

Leaders Respond to the Ceasefire August 14, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in News and politics, United Nations.
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So it was said, so it was done. At 8:00 a.m. Lebanese time, the ceasefire agreed upon by Israeli, Lebanese and Hezbollah leadership began after 34 days of bitter conflict. UN Security Council Resolution 1701 demands a complete end to hostilities, an eventual withdrawal of Israeli forces in Lebanon, full control of Lebanese forces in by the Government of Lebanon, and the strengthening of UNIFIL to a possible 15,000 soldiers. The longevity of the ceasefire, however, has been called into question since it was agreed upon over the weekend. It would be a mistake to claim that a turbulent cease-fire is better than the attacks that had been going on but to proclaim it as an overall victory would be very short sighted indeed.

On Sunday alone, after the ceasefire had been agreed upon, Hezbollah fired more than 250 rockets into Israel and Israeli war planes continued their bombardment of Lebanon (suspected Hezbollah strongholds). It’s apparent that tensions remain high, but aside from a few skirmishes between Hezbollah guerillas and Israeli troops early Monday, the cease-fire seems to be holding throughout its first day. So what do the respective leaders have to say about all of this? George W. Bush spoke during a press conference on Monday about of the dangers still present in Hezbollah due to their ongoing support from Syria and Iran (and how worse it could have been had they had nuclear weapons). But suggested an Israeli victory nonetheless. He spoke of the “universal desire” to promote democracy and the dangers new democracies will continue to face and later that “America’s actions have never been guided by territorial ambition.” His comments were poignant and seemed sincere (you’ll rarely hear me say this). On whether the ceasefire will be effective, he simply said that he hoped so because it was the first step in ensuring Lebanon’s democracy remains strong but that Israel does have the right to defend itself further if further attacks occur (as allowed by the UN Security Council Resolution). Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah made a televised announcement stating that Hezbollah guerillas had achieved a strategic, historic victory against Israel. In the same broadcast, he claimed that “the most powerful army in the world cannot defeat Hezbollah” (CBC Newsworld translation). This measure of confident rhetoric doesn’t sound like something that will lead to long term peace. But, Hassan Nasrallah doesn’t exactly have the best reputation internationally. George W. Bush, during his news conference, responded to this by saying that, “if I were Hezbollah, I would claim victory as well.” The rationale behind saying this is simply that they are relying on propaganda, and nothing else. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was more moderate in his approach by stating that the conflict had its fair share of “deficiencies” and that he took sole responsibility of how the attacks occurred. He did order the end of further attacks as the ceasefire ended but did add, through his spokesman Asaf Shariv, “if someone fires at us we will fire back.” Fair enough. His moderate approach seemed more in tune with someone who is actually an elected figurehead and subsequently in charge of a country. Supposedly support for his recent campaign has dwindled amongst the Israeli people as popularity for a politician further right on the scale of ideals was gaining popularity. Rumours of this whole ordeal as a reason for Ulmuts government to collapse were broadcast shortly after Hassan Nasrallah made his proclamations of victory on CBC Newsworld. Lastly, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said, after agreeing to the ceasefire, that “This resolution shows that the whole world stood by Lebanon.” However, I did quote these individuals in reverse chronological order.

It seems that with every passing hour of the ceasefire, more and more words of hostility are being spread. The world can only hope for the best. But there is much to do. The kidnapped Israeli soldiers that have yet to be returned. It is yet unclear exactly which UN members will contribute to the additional UNIFIL forces (the majority will most likely come from the developing world as has been the case in recent missions), and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will surely respond to the recent Hezbullah claim to victory. Regardless of what happens, the middle east will surely remain a turbulent region. The news of the kidnappings by Palestinian gunmen of two Fox News journalists proves this. It is yet to be seen how Rupert Murdoch and his armies will respond. Israel also, in an unrelated matter, fired rockets into Gaza against what it says to be a Islamic Jihad terrorist group. I fear that the subject matter of this article will forever remain in progress.

AIDS is Not About Politicians August 14, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in News and politics, United Nations.
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Sunday marked the commencement of the sixteenth International AIDS Conference and with it came what will surely be a media diversion that will pull away from what this week is all about. Approximately 27,000 HIV/AIDS scientists, activists, journalists and patients were on hand when Dr. Mark Wainberg, a prominent AIDS researcher, began the evening with an attack on Prime minister Stephen Harper by saying, “HIV is one of the worst enemies we have on this planet. Why is Mr. Harper not here to show leadership on the world stage? As a Canadian it breaks my heart.” He continued by accusing Harper of “poor politics” but suggested to the audience that they shouldn’t put any of the blame onto Tony Clement, The Minister of Health, who was going to speak in the upcoming minutes. But Pandora’s box had been opened and when it was turn for Mr. Clement to make his comments, loud chants of “Where is Stephen Harper?” were repeated several times over, and the camera kept returning to a sign that read, “Sleep in Steve? HIV Never Sleeps!” It’s true, HIV does not sleep, and that’s why Harper’s absence should make headlines during the next election campaign, not during the remainder of the conference in Toronto.

As the evening went on, there were no further references to Stephen Harper and the focus returned to its proper place. Ontario’s Premiere and Toronto’s Mayor each brought up how great it was to be from Ontario, or the sights to be seen in Toronto, but these promotional words lead into the issues at hand. One of, in my opinion, Premiere Dalton Mcguinty’s strongest messages came through when he said, “we know that teaching abstinence as the only solution is to be willfully blind to human nature.” Indeed. Peter Piot, the executive director of UNAIDS, spoke openly about the dangers of being selective about who should be helped. Whether the are homosexual, drug users or sex workers, he reminded the viewers that AIDS does not discriminate its victims and that it would be catastrophic for humanity to do so. He seemed weary about the forum he generally speaks in because after making these straightforward comments, he said that in their regard they were, ”words that cannot get through in the general assembly.” During Bill Gates’ speech, he praised the Bush administration for its efforts to fight the disease and there were grumblings in the audience. As if AIDS has anything directly to do with the War in Iraq or other administrative blunders that have occurred since he was elected. AIDS is ignorant of politicians, yet everyone I’ve mentioned thus far is a politician or represents the political sphere in some way, shape or form.

The reason for this is simple. It is the governments of the world, elected or otherwise, that are responsible for the largest contributions to fight the plight that is inflicting their people. Of the 9.5 billion dollars pledged towards the Global Fund, just over 8.8 billion of those dollars are supposedly coming from the governments. Political organisms do indeed represent the largest contribution in fighting for a cure. So how can I say AIDS is not about politics? Simply because the issue here is about the people that suffer, those who die by the millions. AIDS is about human ignorance, social stigmas, dangerous ideals, the voiceless majority but more importantly, it’s about our efforts to do away with the affliction. It’s time to comb away our fantasy that AIDS is about anything else and focus on the task at hand.

My experience with the disease is very limited primarily because of my nationality. I was once in an audience during a presentation by two women who had been tested positive for HIV but were getting by, some months better than others, by sharing their story. It was during this session that one of the speakers pointed me out and claimed that it looked as if I had seen better days, and wondered if there was anything she could do to help. I must confess, I hit the bottle a bit hard the previous night and presumably it showed. Her eagerness to inquire about my state of mind while she herself was a carrier of a disease to which there is no cure allowed me better understand what AIDS is. It helped me understand why there is always a way out. It helped me better define hope. Sometimes I want to cry for months. AIDS should never be about politicians or the subsequent corridor cocktail parties that follow. The tragedy, is that far too often that is precisely what it becomes.

Stephen Harper decided that defence of the Canadian arctic was more important than attending the conference. So be it. Sadly, too large a portion of the upcoming week in Toronto will be about just that. It is a shame that too much of the country will focus their attention on his absence, on his politics. I am not suggesting that his absence should be ignored. I just know that this conference is not the proper forum to be discussing it. This is simply what I see.