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Entries tagged "United Nations"

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A Tale of Two Speeches

September 27, 2012 ·

Benjamin Netanyahu (L), Barack Obama (C) and Mahmud Abbas in New York, 22 September 2009. (Photo: Reuters)

Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the United Nations General Assembly was as much about trying to reclaim his dwindling support among Palestinians as it was designed to outline Palestine’s intention to move for a new status at the UN. The consequence of “non-member state” status, while not granting full UN membership, would provide a UN imprimatur to the identity of Palestine as a state, meaning it would have the right to sign treaties. Of particular significance would be Palestine joining the Rome Treaty as a signatory to the International Criminal Court. That would, at least potentially, enable an ICC investigation of potential Israeli war crimes on Palestinian territory.

Beyond his anticipated call for the new UN recognition as a “state,” much of Abbas’ speech focused on Israeli violations of international law, particularly the Geneva Conventions. While he issued his usual call for resuming peace talks with Israel, he called for the United Nations, specifically the Security Council, to pass a binding resolution setting out the terms of reference for any renewed diplomatic process, something that seems to contradict his longstanding willingness to allow unchallenged U.S. control of the negotiating process.

In other parts of his speech, the PLO Chairman reasserted the PLO’s role as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, while rejecting the occupation’s efforts to divide Gaza from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and reaffirmed the need for a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees under the terms of UN resolution 194. In language clearly designed to win support from Palestinians both in the OPT and in the diaspora, many of whom remain dissatisfied with the current Palestinian leadership and whom he identified as "an angry people," he spoke of Israeli “apartheid,” asserted Palestinian rights and the need to continue “peaceful popular resistance” against occupation. In a clear effort to win support from Palestinian civil society, whose call for a global campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions has fundamentally challenged longstanding PLO/PA strategy, he spoke in a language of rights, rejecting the notion of statehood being bestowed on Palestinians, and identified Israel’s “settler colonialism” as something that must be “condemned, punished, and boycotted.”

As anticipated, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech, reflecting the huge political gain that he has won from his year of escalating threats against Iran, barely touched the Palestinian question. He has taken advantage of the fact that as long as the claim (however specious) that Israel faces an “existential danger” from Iran is on the table, no one, certainly not the United States, has been willing to exert any real pressure on Israel regarding the occupation. His reference to Israel’s occupation was limited to a brief paragraph in which he claimed that “we seek peace with the Palestinians.” He then went on to lecture the Palestinians, saying “we won’t solve the conflict with libelous speeches at the UN, that’s not the way to solve them.” He said the conflict wouldn’t be solved with “unilateral declarations of statehood,” that the only goal can be a “mutual compromise in which a demilitarized Palestinian state [heavily emphasized in his delivery] recognizes the one and only Jewish state.”

Netanyahu’s speech focused almost solely on Iran, comparing it to Nazi Germany and calling for the world to join his crusade against it. He spoke derisively of those who claim that a nuclear-armed Iran might stabilize the Middle East, looking up from his prepared notes with a sarcastic “yeah, right.” Interestingly, he reminded the world — seemingly as a point of pride — that he had been speaking about “the need to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons for over 15 years.” It apparently didn’t appear to his speechwriting team that this admission, when all of those earlier warnings were shaped by the same “it’s almost too late” rhetoric that we heard today, might somehow discredit his unchanging claim.

Ignoring the fact that the United States, unfortunately, already has an “all options on the table” red line of its own (preventing Iran from obtaining a bomb), Netanyahu called on the United States to endorse his own specific red line for using force against Iran.  He set his red line as Iran’s ability to enrich uranium to bomb grade, and demanded that the U.S. join. While Iran has not enriched anywhere close to that level, Netanyahu’s language reflected his red line on Iran’s “capability,” a line that he argued is almost here. He spoke on the need to attack Iranian facilities while they are “still visible and still vulnerable.” Perhaps taking a lesson from then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s use of fake “anthrax” props when trying to persuade the Security Council of the need to go to war against Iraq in 2002, Netanyahu held up a primitive grade-school level poster prop and used insulting “this is a bomb, this is a fuse” language.

Netanyahu’s overall language, however, was significantly more conciliatory towards President Obama than much of his recent rhetoric. Perhaps it was the cohort of Jewish Democratic Party heavyweights who scolded the Israeli prime minister for interfering in U.S. politics, or perhaps it was his U.S. advisers, or perhaps his own political team at home — but whatever the reason, Netanyahu’s overt embrace of all things Romney, and his disdain for all things Obama, was kept well under wraps in New York.

Caught Red Handed: Rwanda, Violence in Eastern Congo, and the UN Report

July 5, 2012 ·

The atmosphere was tense during the DRC Briefing at IPS on June 29, 2012. The audience of 45 squeezed into the conference room to hear the updates on Rwanda’s most recent breach of Congolese sovereignty, and the Q & A session threatened to reach a fever pitch.  

The panel, comprised of three Congolese and one Rwandan, represented integral members of panelist and moderatorCongo's extended civil society family. Each panelist expressed concerns about the future of Eastern DRC, yet convictions about the recent M23 uprising diverged dramatically. Some were convinced the conflict was spurred on by remaining post genocide ethnic tensions between Hutus and Tutsis. Others blamed the Congolese government for its lack of political will to handle conflict. Yet others maintained that the external influence of international actors was muddling the picture and exacerbating the poor image of African nationhood. And, of course, the "corruption card," omnipresent in conversations of the "dark continent's" troubles, was placed on the table early on.

Anyone who has heard of the DRC knows it's a country with some issues but despite the devastating numbers (200,000 displaced), popular media has largely ignored the gravity of the latest mutinies in the Kivu provinces. Perhaps the "resource curse" seems too cliché to make headlines anymore...Or, perhaps the ugly effects of Western involvement are too unpleasant for America's tender ears.

The US government certainly seems to believe the latter is the case. Portions of a recent leaked UN Report provide implicating evidence that Rwandan leaders have been aiding and abetting mutinous rebel leaders. Furthermore, the US has turned a blind eye to its ally’s behavior, suspiciously delaying the release of the report.

However, the root motivation for Rwanda's and the State Department's covert support of violence was largely overlooked by the panel. What the conversation lacked was a focus on the vast amount of valuable minerals in the region and potential succession of the Kivu Provinces. It has been said that Rwanda wishes to see the Eastern DRC break off and form a South Sudan-esque situation. A vulnerable and independent Eastern DRC would make an easily manipulated nation state for the resource hungry Rwanda.

audienceMore troubling was the lack of solutions with real teeth. Increased diplomacy between the Rwandan’s and Congolese has a warm fuzzy feel to it but in a situation driven by layers of greed, it sounds hollow and unlikely. Security sector reform was also mentioned as a potential answer to the problematic mutiny. However, if the Congolese government lacks political will and all of its members are defecting to the M23 in the Kivus, it's likely that Kabila's government simply doesn't have the capacity to undertake such reforms.

The situation is likely to remain sticky if the international community continues to play the role of concerned onlooker.

The Wall Street Journal reported the State Department’s tepid response:

"'We are deeply concerned about the report's findings that Rwanda is implicated in the provision of support to Congolese rebel groups,' said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. The U.S. has 'asked Rwanda to halt and prevent the provision of such support from its territory.'"

Pentagon, it is time to put your money where your mouth is. Politely asking to cease and desist is3 of the panelists a little too polite with the amount of lives at stake.

One of our panelists, Kambale Musavuli, summed up the situation tidily in a July 3rd Al Jazeera interview:

"We are funding half of the [Rwandan] military. They are being trained by AFRICOM and we are still not holding them accountable... Military aid [to the Rwandan Government] is causing conflict in the Congo, and we are partly responsible in the United States."

Ultimately, a push for greater corporate responsibility is needed in the mining regions and must take a increased policy priority. In the mean time, the US government must suspend all aid to Rwanda until the Rwandan army discontinues its supply of ammunition, recruits, and weapons to M23. It’s time to stand with the people of the Congo. Let's talk about an sanctions, not pathetically stand by because we can’t let our corporations suffer from lack of access to minerals. The US has a law that requires the revocation of aid from countries who contribute to violence in the Congo. It's called Public Law 109-456. Let's see that it gets enforced.

Blogging the Rio+20 Earth Summit for the Rest of Us: What's at Stake with the Green Economy

June 16, 2012 ·

President Barack Obama may be steering clear of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, but thousands of government delegates, civil society activists, and business lobbyists are already streaming into Brazil.

I arrived last night and will blog throughout this UN Conference on Sustainable Development. I'll bring you the latest about the talks among those somber-suited delegates who'll buzz around a complex of aircraft hangars on the edge of the city. And I'll sum up the action at the tent city that has sprung up in Rio's vast and verdant Flamengo Park — where the People's Summit for Social and Environmental Justice is taking place.

Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro/Shutterstock.comTo kick things off, here's some recommended reading for anyone who's about to board a plane to Rio to attend the summit from June 20-22, or to help you follow the action if you're not. To learn what's at stake, I recommend reading the Rio Conventions, which world leaders agreed to follow during the meeting they held here in 1992. These landmark treaties laid out the principles under which key issues of environmental protection are to be discussed. The three landmark conventions address climate change, biodiversity, and desertification.

Then there's Agenda 21 — a modest and rather toothless action plan for supposedly "sustainable development." (While over-excited tea partiers may consider that document to be a Soros-funded, left-wing conspiracy for the United Nations to achieve world domination, it never had much impact.)

And although the first Rio Earth Summit successfully established a framework for multilateral environmental negotiations, its impact has remained limited. Nature magazine's damning report card, which makes that clear, is also very disturbing. Global greenhouse gas emissions have risen at even faster rates than before. We continue to lose biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. Land degradation is causing the continued spread of deserts.

For this reason, many delegates in Rio this time around are simply calling for measures to implement existing commitments. They say that would be better than creating any new corporate-driven initiatives or issuing yet more empty promises. The Third World Network has a comprehensive overview of the key issues, and is publishing regular updates with details of who said what at the Rio+20 talks.

"Green economy" proposals have proven to be some of the most contentious so far. On June 14, the 133 countries that comprise the G77+China (the largest negotiating bloc, representing the majority of the world's population) walked out of talks on this element of the text. They cited a lack of progress on funding to help developing countries achieve more sustainable development and "technology transfer" mechanisms that could ease patent restrictions to promote the spread of cleaner technologies. Today, they kicked out of the agreement text that would have advocated a "transition to a green economy."

That's a win for progressives. Really. Wait — don't we want a greener economy? Of course we do, but as this briefing, this video , this animation, and this report clearly show, there's widespread concern that the term "green economy" is being used as a cover by rich countries lobbying for new markets to be created in biodiversity and ecosystems, and new avenues for financial speculation. A truly green economy, by contrast, would recognize the limits of what can be "financialized." It would protect both the common good and public resources.

The battle between these very different worldviews will continue here over the coming days. The Rio+20 negotiating text remains littered with language that could be used to promote markets for environmental services. And the fight against the anti-democratic variety of green economics must be waged outside this conference too, because the World Bank and other powerhouses are busily building institutions to support these new markets.

Oscar Reyes is an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies' Sustainable Energy & Economy Network. www.ips-dc.org

Durban Diary: The Waiting Game

December 9, 2011 ·

NGO events: part of COP17 waiting game. Photo by WWFCOP17. It’s 2:30pm in Durban, South Africa, and I’m rushing back and forth from meeting to meeting in the convention center waiting for the final plenaries of the UN climate negotiations to start.

There’s a particular arc to the climate negotiations I’ve noticed – at least in the last five that I’ve attended. The first week is a lot of meetings with government delegations to discuss the issues we’ve been following all year, meetings with our colleagues to figure out our strategy for getting what we want out of the climate talks. NGOs release their reports, advocacy groups try to crank out suggestions for countries’ to introduce in the official negotiating sessions. There are lots of side events, panel discussion, receptions with free wine and eats.

In the second week there’s a bit of a lull, the doors on government meetings swing shut on most conversations and we’re left waiting outside meeting room doors trying get a scrap of paper here and a snippet of intelligence from a friendly government there. 

By midway through the second week the high level ministers start arriving. Security gets tighter. Actions by youth, indigenous people, activist groups pop up here and there and are quickly shut down by the UN secretariat. Generally there are marches ‘outside’ that very few on the ‘inside’ even hear about (the exception was, of course, the demonstration by hundreds of thousands of people in Copenhagen in 2009).

By the time you reach the end of the second week, there’s a palpable sense of frenzy in the air. People are running back and forth in the halls waiting for some thing to happen. Anything.

But you wait.

And you wait. And you wait. And you wait. 

Eventually, after all the deals have been struck behind close doors, poor countries have sold their future for a handful of magic beans, and the US is duly satisfied that nothing agreed upon will upset its position at the top of the economic food chain, the negotiations resume.

Then governments make statements, deliberate various versions of draft decisions, and release a significant amount of hot air until around 2am. In a final crescendo, countries start lining up like well behaved infantry ready to get behind any solution that brings an end to the talks so they can get the hell out of here and go to bed.

And then that’s it. We go back to our hotels exhausted wondering why our governments won’t take the climate crisis seriously enough to do anything meaningful to stop it. We try to convince ourselves that there are ‘hooks’ all over the decision taken that will help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions either at home or multilaterally, or that there’s way to use the final outcome to raise some money for those communities who are already reeling from drought, floods, landslides, heat waves, wild fires, and sea level rise.

So that’s where I am right now. Sitting on the floor, tied to an electrical outlet to power my computer, waiting for the plenary doors to open, and wondering if my government – or any of the other governments present here – will do anything of consequence to make sure our future is one of ecological stability instead of planetary chaos.

Durban Diary: Climate Reality Check

December 8, 2011 ·

International climate negotiations, like those now grinding through their second week in Durban, South Africa, are generally rife with spin and counter spin. Governments, media, business groups – even non-profits – vie to get their messages to trump the rest.

Protesters have made their presence known at Durban. Photo by powless.The messaging frenzy at this year’s climate talks is over whom to blame for a lack of serious action to match both the need to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by least 85% by mid-century and the need for financial support in developing countries to deal with the realities of a warmer world.

The latest strategy from the press and some development and environment groups seems to be calling countries now emerging on the economic scene climate villains while giving truly recalcitrant countries like the US – which still has no hope of climate regulation at home – a pass.

Call me naïve, but do headlines like “Durban climate talks 'roadmap' held up by India” really reflect the forces pushing an alarmingly insufficient response to an increasingly imminent planetary emergency?

Let's have a reality check. 

Although it’s home to only 4 percent of the world’s population, the United States is responsible for 29 percent of carbon emissions over past 150 years, triple China’s share. On average, each person in the US emitted 720 tons of CO2 per year from 1960 to 2005. That’s almost fourteen times India’s per capita emissions and ninety times the per capita emissions of people Kenya during the same period.

Meanwhile in India 400 million people lack access to electricity.

According to a 2005 World Bank estimate, 42 percent of the Indian population fell below the international poverty line of US$ 1.25 a day (PPP).  

The 2011 Global Hunger Index (GHI) Report ranked India 15th among countries facing serious problems with hunger. It also reported that between 1996 and 2011 India’s GHI actually increased – one of only three countries in the study to do so. The other 78 of the 81 developing countries studied actually improved conditions related to hunger.

India is also one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. During last year’s climate talks in Cancun, the World Food Program released a food insecurity and climate change map that gave India its highest rating.

Yes, global emissions need to peak as soon as possible. And, yes, we’re seeing the opposite happen. It’s an alarming fact that between 2009 and 2010, global emissions increased a record 6 percent. It’s just as alarming that the US – the country now blaming the big emerging economies for blocking progress on a climate deal – increased it’s emissions from the year before by 200 million tons. India’s increase was 150 million tons, which is a lot – but consider that India is home to about 900 million more people than the US!

For hundreds of millions of poor Indians, the right to develop is the right to survival. And part of developing means, realistically, growing emissions – unless there’s massive support from rich countries in the form of money and clean technology. 

Increasing greenhouse gas pollution in the United States is about spreading icing on the already rich cake of overconsumption.

So from my perspective here in the negotiating halls, India has good reason to insist that developed countries fulfill the existing mandate. The members of the Kyoto Protocol promised they would sign a second commitment period before 2012 ends, the US said it would take ‘comparable action’ to the developed countries that signed that treaty, and all developed countries agreed in 2007 in the Bali Action Plan to support developing countries pay for the greenhouse gas mitigating activities they promised to take on.

None of these have happened.

And why would anyone in their right mind agree to a new mandate that binds poor countries to do what rich countries – those who are most responsible for the climate crisis – refuse to do?

All governments need to significantly raise their level of ambition in the fight for climate stability. A global reduction in climate pollution and a domestic transition to a clean energy economy is good for India’s poor and for climate vulnerable communities around the world.

What we need in Durban is a commitment to complete the mandate that already exists. Countries must deliver a renewed Kyoto Protocol, and effective Green Climate Fund, and substantial money to fill it.

Many thanks to Dale Wen of the International Forum on Globalization for substantial contributions to this commentary.

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