Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Peacekeeping Launch in Sudan sparks Hope and Concern

The United Nations African Union hybrid peacekeeping operation for Darfur (UNAMID) today began operations at its El Fasher Headquarters in the conflict-ridden Sudanese region. The UN-AU Joint Special Representative for Darfur, Rodolphe Adada proclaimed, “It is a great day for the United Nations and the African Union, the day of UNAMID's launch, which was only an idea three months ago but now it is a profound reality.” This launch arrives as UN-AU mediated talks aimed at achieving a lasting political solution to the fighting are underway in Sirte, Libya.

The UN and AU are currently conducting pre-deployment visits to some of the troop contributing countries to inspect the uniformed personnel and their equipment. And though the launch of this operation seems to be a step toward achieving the peacekeeping mandate in Sudan, Adada fears that there is not enough support of the operation. He warns that UNAMID is “facing a lack of pledges for specialized units in areas such as aviation and land transport that should be arriving in Darfur as part of the heavy support package” to the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), which has been on the ground in Darfur since 2004.

With a conflict that has already claimed the lives of 200,000 people, and displaced another 2.5 million, serious support of a long-lasting solution is greatly needed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hope in Haiti

The UN Security Council is extending its stabilization Mission in Haiti through mid-October 2008. The extension includes a reduction in military forces with an increase in police in order to adjust to changing circumstances in the country, where civil unrest is still a pressing issue, but gang violence has diminished greatly.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommended that the peacekeeping force’s military should enhance its capabilities in border control and engineering and mobility, while decreasing its infantry capabilities. The mission will be reducing its military force by 140 troops, while adding approximately 140 police officers. These efforts are aimed at gradually turning over the responsibility of law and order from the United Nations to the Haitian authorities themselves.

However, Mr. Ban warned that the possibility of civil unrest remains high in a society of such deep socio-economic divide. In addition Ban cautioned that, “the potential for renewed armed violence within the country remains considerable,” while the illicit drug trade continues to have a destabilizing effect on Haiti.

The success of security measures in Haiti, including the fight against gang violence has been successful, as 850 suspects have been apprehended since July. However, these captures have been costly, with six peacekeepers injured in counterattacks. The Council resolution “condemns any attack against personnel from MINUSTAH and demands that no acts of intimidation or violence be directed against United Nations and associated personnel or other international and humanitarian organizations engaged in humanitarian, development or peacekeeping work.”

Still, hope is high in Haiti. Hooray!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Women take Centerstage

Last week, the Americans for the UNFPA held the Gala for the Health and Dignity of Women in New York City. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) supports countries in using population data for policies and programs to reduce poverty, improve female healthcare, and eliminate the spread of HIV/AIDS. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was at the event, stressed the need to support UNFPA, stating “today, we understand, even better than our founders did, that the empowerment of women is a fundamental condition if we are to make progress towards the goals for which the United Nations was created.”

Mr. Ban spoke of the fact that many women die during pregnancy and childbirth because of limited sexual and reproductive health; many women become infected with HIV because they do not have power over their bodies; and many women are subjected to violence. Ban cites this as “one of the most systematic and prevalent human rights abuses in the world.”

He encouraged the Americans for UNFPA to continue support of this increasingly important UN agency. The gala honored four Americans from the media, financial and political fields along with women from Niger, Mongolia and Cambodia for combining passion and entrepreneurship with social responsibility to advance the health and dignity of women. Ted Turner also received a lifetime achievement award for his continual support of UN programs and women’s issues.

Girl power.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Refugees in Despair

It has been an extremely tumultuous week for Iraq-related refugees, but UNCHR has been doing its best to alleviate difficulties. In Syria on Monday, UNHCR started registering Iraqi refugees in the country’s northeast region. The registration team expects to register tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees in the coming year. UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis said that the commission estimates nearly 1.4 million Iraqis in Syria, and once they have a clearer picture of the whereabouts of these refugees, they will be better equipped to protect and assist them.

Nearby, at the Al Tanf camp for Palestinian refugees on the Iraq-Syria border, a fire has swept through, injuring twenty-five people. Approximately 310 Palestinian refugees live at the camp after having fled sectarian violence in Iraq in 2006. These refugees, who have been denied entry into neighboring countries, are mostly women and children.

It is the third fire the camp has seen in less than a year, and Pagonis stresses that this latest disaster, “yet again highlights the need for a humanitarian solution to be found for Palestinians trapped at the border after fleeing Baghdad.” In the meantime, a UNHCR team has rushed tents, mattresses and kitchen supplies to the camp, organized refilling of fire extinguishers, and explored extra fire-prevention measures.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Understanding through Dialogue

On October 4, 2007, the UN General Assembly convened its first-ever high-level dialogue on interreligious and intercultural understanding. Srgjan Kerim, president of the General Assembly, told participants, “We are reaffirming the values enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But more importantly, we are taking concrete steps to advance these values around the world.”

He stressed the importance of opening dialogue and using all forms of media to encourage awareness. He noted that governments can help by adopting educational curricula that promotes peace and tolerance, while maintaining that the private sector, civil society, faith groups, and NGOs are also crucial.

Ban Ki-moon also spoke at the event, saying, “It is time to explain that different religions, belief systems and cultural backgrounds are essential to the richness of the human experience.” He emphasized that our differences should be seen as enriching, and not threatening.

Toward that end of the event, Mr. Kerim welcomed an informal talk aimed at fostering an exchange of views among Member States and civil society and the private sector. Leading academics, religious leaders, and civil society representatives will take part in this discussion.

As Jews mark the celebration of the Torah and Muslims approach the end of the holy month of Ramadan, the timing couldn’t be better.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A Partnership for Empowerment and Awareness

The discrimination that children with intellectual disabilities face often means that they are less likely to have adequate healthcare and education, and more likely to encounter violence, abuse, and exploitation. UNICEF and Special Olympics International are now collaborating to reconcile these inequalities.

On October 3, 2007, they launched a partnership focusing on healthcare, education, recreational sports, and employment policies for children with intellectual disabilities. It coincides with the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai. While in the Chinese city, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman stated, “This new partnership will help make the point that children with disabilities have the same rights as all other children. They are entitled to adequate health care and quality education, and to live in an environment that protects them from abuse, exploitation and disease.”

The partnership will initially concentrate on Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, El Salvador, Jamaica, Panama, and Uzbekistan, before expanding to more countries in 2008. Focusing on developing countries is especially important as children with intellectual disabilities in these countries run an even higher risk of being overlooked or mistreated.

Speaking about the partnership, Special Olympics International Chairman Timothy P. Shriver explained, “We are thrilled to partner with UNICEF to empower children with intellectual disabilities and their families and to increase public awareness about critical issues facing this population in the developing world.”

Education. Empowerment. Equality. Three words a developing country loves to hear.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Celebrities Against Poverty

People listen when sports stars have something to say. Maria Sharapova recently joined up with NBA star LeBron James to spearhead the "Team Up Against Poverty" intiative, launched by the UN Development Program to raise awareness about the Millennium Development Goals. Essentially, the stars will use their celebrity to publicize the MDGs and encourage greater action to achieve them by the 2015 deadline.

With the help of world-renowned photographers, Sharapova, James and a total of 50 other celebrities will participate in a series of advertisements promoting the MDGs. These include eradicating povery, improving access to education, promoting women's rights and providing adequate health care. UNDP is responsible for coordinating the specific actions relating to each goal.

Sharapova has experience in using her fame to rally support for important causes. Appointed a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador in February 2007, she has supported the MDG campaign, as well as specific development programs in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Hopefully her fame and experience will provide "Team Up Against Poverty" the necessary push it needs to suceed. Let's bring the MDGs to the mainstream.