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Ann M. Veneman: Tsunami: Reflection and Progress Five Years Later

December 26th, 2009 admin No comments

2009-12-26-UNICEFtsunamichild.jpg
Five years ago the world watched in horror as nearly 230,000 people, particularly women and children, perished in the tsunami that struck south Asia. The powerful force washed away homes, schools and devastated communities, many of which were impoverished and in remote areas. So many families not only had to cope with the loss of loved ones, but also the task of rebuilding after their lives were literally wiped away in just a few moments.

In the years since, UNICEF and its partners have worked to ease the pain, rebuild and bring improved social services, clean water, and sturdier schools to the region.

To give children a much-needed head-start in life, we have helped build nearly 100 health centers, equipped more than 7,000 health facilities, and trained 60,000 healthcare workers.UNICEF has also supported campaigns for mass vaccination, mosquito net distribution and nutritional monitoring. All of these efforts are critical in containing the spread of disease and keeping residents healthy.

2009-12-26-UNICEFrebuiltschool.jpg Education helps bring children together with other students, providing an important structure for support, learning and a sense of normalcy back to their lives. This was a top priority in the aftermath and today more than 300,000 students learn in new or repaired schools. And, over 1.3 million children have benefited from psychosocial activities to help them cope with the trauma of the tsunami. In addition, more than 30,000 educators have been trained in child-friendly approaches.

Schools have also seen improvements in clean water and sanitation. Clean water has come to communities thanks to new wells, new toilets and new waterworks. Over 820,000 people across the region have benefitted from restored water points.

Programs such as these, developed during the tsunami response, are not only aiding the affected countries but also helping respond to other humanitarian situations around the world. For instance, improved emergency procedures have allowed UNICEF and its partners to better deliver relief supplies and protection measures children.

The dedication and hard work of so many partners toward recovery will help ensure that those who were impacted by the devastation have more resources and programs in place to help them recover and have a more hopeful future.

While there is still much work to be done, all the heartfelt support from around the world has helped provide much needed relief and resources to help the region cope and rebuild.

Ann Veneman is the Executive Director of UNICEF. UNICEF just released a report, Tsunami Five Years Later, that marks progress and lessons learned from the relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts. To learn more visit www.unicef.org.

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Mort Zuckerman: God Bless America

December 25th, 2009 admin No comments

The end of a year always provides an opportunity to think about the true joys of living in this wonderful country we call America.

One quality integral to the American sense of community is giving. It has traditionally been a key characteristic of our society — “the spirit of mutual helpfulness” that so impressed the young French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville early in the 19th century. Private philanthropy in the United States has long been far greater in proportion to either our population or our total economic output than philanthropy anywhere else in the world. Last year, the gifts of Americans across the whole range of income groups added up to approximately $308 billion or 2.2% of our annual gross domestic product.

Twenty-one individuals or couples have made philanthropic pledges in excess of $100 million, and we have observed the largest single pledge ever made — the $30 billion ($30,000,000,000!) to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from Warren Buffett. The Sage of Omaha might have left his fortune to his family, but he pithily explained why he didn’t: He wanted to give his children “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much they could do nothing.” Amen to that.

The urge to give and to be seen giving is almost as universal as our urge to acquire, something else de Tocqueville noted. Sometimes this urge goes overboard–witness the excesses of Wall Street. At the heart of American capitalism there seems to be an unwritten contract that those who acquire the most wealth will share it with those who have the least. We give to causes ranging from medical research to scholarships for disadvantaged minority students, from supporting opera houses to preserving our historic landmarks. And we do this not only for our citizens but also for those of other countries-witness the extraordinary work of Bill and Melinda Gates to wipe out malaria in Asia and Africa, and the millions of dollars raised here to halt the rampant AIDS epidemic in Africa.

We are blessed by our history. The early immigrants came mostly from countries with a strong, central government, a dominant church, and an energetic aristocracy. Central government assumed the responsibility for the public good, with its costs underwritten by taxes. America, by contrast, was a young, frontier society with no tradition of strong, central government, with no state religion and no established aristocracy. When American pioneers wanted to raise a church or a school or a hospital in their new communities, they had to build it themselves. One farmer couldn’t put up a barn by himself, so individual farmers called on friends and neighbors, and when they needed help, the favor was promptly returned. The party the farmer threw for his neighbors after the barn was completed lives on in the wonderfully American phrase “raising the roof.”

Other rich countries have a far higher proportion of hospitals, libraries, and universities-all funded by the state. This reduces the sense of community. The commonplace cry is “Why don’t they do something about it?” instead of “Why don’t we do something about it?” Many Europeans believe that simply paying taxes absolves them of any further responsibility to their fellow citizens. It is an attitude that is beginning to change somewhat, given the American successes-the “thousand points of light” that the elder President Bush commended. But European governments vary from the stingy to the downright mean in their attitude to philanthropy.

Of course, government has hardly been rendered redundant in the United States, but its role in relation to philanthropy is a positive one. Our government, irrespective of political control, encourages giving, with indirect subsidies and tax exemptions for cultural institutions and tax relief for individuals. This jibes with the American instinct for individualism. We don’t want government to make all moral or aesthetic judgments. But studies have shown that the tax relief Americans enjoy from giving doesn’t explain the impulse to give. Happily, that is something deeply ingrained in our national psyche.

It has to be admitted that this system works well for middle — and upper-income Americans who can take advantage of tax deductions and arts subsidies but functions less well for lower-income groups. That’s why our universities, hospitals, and art museums are among the world’s finest, while healthcare and preschool education for poor Americans are below European standards. Here, still, is a challenge to the American spirit we celebrate as we give thanks for our blessings.

Thomas Wolfe put what America is all about well:

“So then, to every man his chance… his shining golden opportunity… to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him — this, seeker, is the promise of America.”

This is the very promise that binds into one society so many races, languages and national cultures. The vision of what we might become enables us to endure the injustices and inequalities of American society today. We do not feel embedded in the past or trapped by the present. We feel we have a future, not for the purpose of glorifying the state, but rather to realize our private ends in peace and freedom.

At this time of celebration of family and community, we can all sing ” America! America! God shed his grace on thee.”

More on Christmas


Mort Zuckerman: God Bless America

December 25th, 2009 admin No comments

The end of a year always provides an opportunity to think about the true joys of living in this wonderful country we call America.

One quality integral to the American sense of community is giving. It has traditionally been a key characteristic of our society — “the spirit of mutual helpfulness” that so impressed the young French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville early in the 19th century. Private philanthropy in the United States has long been far greater in proportion to either our population or our total economic output than philanthropy anywhere else in the world. Last year, the gifts of Americans across the whole range of income groups added up to approximately $308 billion or 2.2% of our annual gross domestic product.

Twenty-one individuals or couples have made philanthropic pledges in excess of $100 million, and we have observed the largest single pledge ever made — the $30 billion ($30,000,000,000!) to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from Warren Buffett. The Sage of Omaha might have left his fortune to his family, but he pithily explained why he didn’t: He wanted to give his children “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much they could do nothing.” Amen to that.

The urge to give and to be seen giving is almost as universal as our urge to acquire, something else de Tocqueville noted. Sometimes this urge goes overboard–witness the excesses of Wall Street. At the heart of American capitalism there seems to be an unwritten contract that those who acquire the most wealth will share it with those who have the least. We give to causes ranging from medical research to scholarships for disadvantaged minority students, from supporting opera houses to preserving our historic landmarks. And we do this not only for our citizens but also for those of other countries-witness the extraordinary work of Bill and Melinda Gates to wipe out malaria in Asia and Africa, and the millions of dollars raised here to halt the rampant AIDS epidemic in Africa.

We are blessed by our history. The early immigrants came mostly from countries with a strong, central government, a dominant church, and an energetic aristocracy. Central government assumed the responsibility for the public good, with its costs underwritten by taxes. America, by contrast, was a young, frontier society with no tradition of strong, central government, with no state religion and no established aristocracy. When American pioneers wanted to raise a church or a school or a hospital in their new communities, they had to build it themselves. One farmer couldn’t put up a barn by himself, so individual farmers called on friends and neighbors, and when they needed help, the favor was promptly returned. The party the farmer threw for his neighbors after the barn was completed lives on in the wonderfully American phrase “raising the roof.”

Other rich countries have a far higher proportion of hospitals, libraries, and universities-all funded by the state. This reduces the sense of community. The commonplace cry is “Why don’t they do something about it?” instead of “Why don’t we do something about it?” Many Europeans believe that simply paying taxes absolves them of any further responsibility to their fellow citizens. It is an attitude that is beginning to change somewhat, given the American successes-the “thousand points of light” that the elder President Bush commended. But European governments vary from the stingy to the downright mean in their attitude to philanthropy.

Of course, government has hardly been rendered redundant in the United States, but its role in relation to philanthropy is a positive one. Our government, irrespective of political control, encourages giving, with indirect subsidies and tax exemptions for cultural institutions and tax relief for individuals. This jibes with the American instinct for individualism. We don’t want government to make all moral or aesthetic judgments. But studies have shown that the tax relief Americans enjoy from giving doesn’t explain the impulse to give. Happily, that is something deeply ingrained in our national psyche.

It has to be admitted that this system works well for middle — and upper-income Americans who can take advantage of tax deductions and arts subsidies but functions less well for lower-income groups. That’s why our universities, hospitals, and art museums are among the world’s finest, while healthcare and preschool education for poor Americans are below European standards. Here, still, is a challenge to the American spirit we celebrate as we give thanks for our blessings.

Thomas Wolfe put what America is all about well:

“So then, to every man his chance… his shining golden opportunity… to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him — this, seeker, is the promise of America.”

This is the very promise that binds into one society so many races, languages and national cultures. The vision of what we might become enables us to endure the injustices and inequalities of American society today. We do not feel embedded in the past or trapped by the present. We feel we have a future, not for the purpose of glorifying the state, but rather to realize our private ends in peace and freedom.

At this time of celebration of family and community, we can all sing ” America! America! God shed his grace on thee.”

More on Christmas


Mort Zuckerman: God Bless America

December 25th, 2009 admin No comments

The end of a year always provides an opportunity to think about the true joys of living in this wonderful country we call America.

One quality integral to the American sense of community is giving. It has traditionally been a key characteristic of our society — “the spirit of mutual helpfulness” that so impressed the young French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville early in the 19th century. Private philanthropy in the United States has long been far greater in proportion to either our population or our total economic output than philanthropy anywhere else in the world. Last year, the gifts of Americans across the whole range of income groups added up to approximately $308 billion or 2.2% of our annual gross domestic product.

Twenty-one individuals or couples have made philanthropic pledges in excess of $100 million, and we have observed the largest single pledge ever made — the $30 billion ($30,000,000,000!) to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from Warren Buffett. The Sage of Omaha might have left his fortune to his family, but he pithily explained why he didn’t: He wanted to give his children “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much they could do nothing.” Amen to that.

The urge to give and to be seen giving is almost as universal as our urge to acquire, something else de Tocqueville noted. Sometimes this urge goes overboard–witness the excesses of Wall Street. At the heart of American capitalism there seems to be an unwritten contract that those who acquire the most wealth will share it with those who have the least. We give to causes ranging from medical research to scholarships for disadvantaged minority students, from supporting opera houses to preserving our historic landmarks. And we do this not only for our citizens but also for those of other countries-witness the extraordinary work of Bill and Melinda Gates to wipe out malaria in Asia and Africa, and the millions of dollars raised here to halt the rampant AIDS epidemic in Africa.

We are blessed by our history. The early immigrants came mostly from countries with a strong, central government, a dominant church, and an energetic aristocracy. Central government assumed the responsibility for the public good, with its costs underwritten by taxes. America, by contrast, was a young, frontier society with no tradition of strong, central government, with no state religion and no established aristocracy. When American pioneers wanted to raise a church or a school or a hospital in their new communities, they had to build it themselves. One farmer couldn’t put up a barn by himself, so individual farmers called on friends and neighbors, and when they needed help, the favor was promptly returned. The party the farmer threw for his neighbors after the barn was completed lives on in the wonderfully American phrase “raising the roof.”

Other rich countries have a far higher proportion of hospitals, libraries, and universities-all funded by the state. This reduces the sense of community. The commonplace cry is “Why don’t they do something about it?” instead of “Why don’t we do something about it?” Many Europeans believe that simply paying taxes absolves them of any further responsibility to their fellow citizens. It is an attitude that is beginning to change somewhat, given the American successes-the “thousand points of light” that the elder President Bush commended. But European governments vary from the stingy to the downright mean in their attitude to philanthropy.

Of course, government has hardly been rendered redundant in the United States, but its role in relation to philanthropy is a positive one. Our government, irrespective of political control, encourages giving, with indirect subsidies and tax exemptions for cultural institutions and tax relief for individuals. This jibes with the American instinct for individualism. We don’t want government to make all moral or aesthetic judgments. But studies have shown that the tax relief Americans enjoy from giving doesn’t explain the impulse to give. Happily, that is something deeply ingrained in our national psyche.

It has to be admitted that this system works well for middle — and upper-income Americans who can take advantage of tax deductions and arts subsidies but functions less well for lower-income groups. That’s why our universities, hospitals, and art museums are among the world’s finest, while healthcare and preschool education for poor Americans are below European standards. Here, still, is a challenge to the American spirit we celebrate as we give thanks for our blessings.

Thomas Wolfe put what America is all about well:

“So then, to every man his chance… his shining golden opportunity… to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him — this, seeker, is the promise of America.”

This is the very promise that binds into one society so many races, languages and national cultures. The vision of what we might become enables us to endure the injustices and inequalities of American society today. We do not feel embedded in the past or trapped by the present. We feel we have a future, not for the purpose of glorifying the state, but rather to realize our private ends in peace and freedom.

At this time of celebration of family and community, we can all sing ” America! America! God shed his grace on thee.”

More on Christmas


Roger Warner: Peace In Laos At Last?

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

There’s been a breakthrough in ending a war that should have ended long, long ago. No, not Afghanistan or Iraq. It’s a tiny, little-known conflict that grew out of the Vietnam War. Yeah, that one – the war that was supposed to have ended all the way back in 1975.

The country involved is Vietnam’s next-door neighbor, landlocked, mountainous Laos, now officially known as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The people involved are from the Hmong ethnic minority, which under C.I.A. direction fought the communists during the Vietnam war years. Many Hmong kept fighting once the Americans went home and the communists took over Laos’ government. It’s a fossilized insurgency, lost in a time warp. Even today, when the rice paddies of nearby countries are morphing into shopping centers, the mountains of Laos hold a few ragged resistance bands, whose leaders got their original training from the C.I.A. forty years ago. The “jungle” Hmong, as they are called, get much of their support and direction from Hmong who live in America.

The man at the center of the surprise breakthrough is General Vang Pao, the Hmong commander in the C.I.A. years and now in American exile. Until a few months ago, Vang Pao was the marquee defendant in a U.S. federal terrorism case – accused of conspiring to overthrow the same Laotian regime with which he’s now trying to reconcile. Now, with the help of representatives of the king of Thailand – another one of Laos’s next-door neighbors – and an unnamed member of the Lao Poliburo, this 80-year old tribesman has put together a tentative deal. The plan may or may not come to fruition, but it has a certain Nixon-goes-to-China audacity. And it has exposed an embarrassing reluctance to act by the U.S. State Department – even though the State Department had a major historical role in the Hmong problem’s creation.

The deal, announced December 22nd, will have Vang Pao and his retinue traveling to Thailand in January, where they will be the guests of a Thai royal foundation with connections to the Thai national security establishment. On January 10th, if their safety can be guaranteed, Vang Pao will shake hands with representatives of his old enemies halfway across a bridge over the Mekong river, which separates Thailand from Laos. He will then make a brief visit to Laos’s capital, Vientiane. That’s the ceremonial part.

The economic part is that Vang Pao and his Laotian and Thai partners would set up a 25,000-acre farm cooperative in the highlands of southern Laos on land leased for 99 years from the Laotian government. The hope is that many of the 4,000-plus Hmong refugees in Thailand – currently facing forced repatriation to Laos – now would return voluntarily to farm and become reintegrated into Laotian society. The old general would also try to persuade the remaining tribal resistance fighters to come down out of the jungle in peace, and would work with the Laotian regime to ensure their safety. Realistically, Vang Pao’s return by itself cannot end the refugee crisis or the insurgency. But it might mark the beginning of the end, by changing the mindset of the Hmong involved and by giving the local governments a new way to resolve the impasse without losing face.

Though the U.S. embassies in Thailand and Laos were briefed on the negotiations, they played no role in planning this possible breakthrough. Why? In part because of financial concerns. Who would profit from the farm in Laos? Vang Pao’s lead negotiator, a Californian named Charlie Waters, says the motive is solving a social problem, and he will set up the farm co-op in whatever way works best. Other Hmong-Americans not connected to this initiative say the U.S. embassy in Laos has a reputation for being anti-Hmong, and for giving a chilly reception to outside ideas. That was certainly my impression when I met with the embassy staff in 2008. I was told that the Hmong insurgency was a fifty-year problem in its thirty-third year.

The tribe and the State Department have had a long, roller-coaster relationship. During the Vietnam war era, the U.S. ambassador to Laos actually ran the covert military effort. The C.I.A. and the U.S. Air Force reported to the ambassador and, because there were no U.S. ground troops, Vang Pao and the Hmong were the favorite proxy soldiers. After the communists took over Laos in 1975 and began their revenge, slaughtering more than 10,000 Hmong, the State Department withdrew most of its embassy staff and turned its attention elsewherre. It has done no serious post-conflict resolution work in Laos up to today.

Eventually, one third of all Laotian Hmong came to the U.S. as refugees – an act of great American generosity. But the State Department seldom bothered to track the Hmong factions that continued to fight the Laotian regime, or chart the relationships between the jungle Hmong and their cousins in America. This indifference – together with the misrule in Laos, one of the last five communist regimes in the world – allowed a curious kind of anarchy to take root in the Hmong populations of both countries. The results included widespread illegal fundraising in America to support the resistance, young Hmong-Americans traveling to Laos to fight, and a persistent myth of Vang Pao’s inevitable return at the head of great invading army. “A lot of this could have been prevented,” says Bill Lair, Vang Pao’s former CIA advisor, “If there had been a liason” between the State and Justice Departments, on the one hand, and the Hmong-American community on the other. But there wasn’t. Nor did the State and Justice Departments appear to be sharing solid intelligence information with each other – if they had any.

In 2007, the Justice Department indicted Vang Pao and ten others on charges of conspiring to overthrow the Laotian regime with a massive, spectacular armed coup. It soon became clear that the old general learned about the coup idea from his fellow defendants, but hadn’t endorsed it, because he knew it wouldn’t work. The plan was a kind of exaggerated military fantasy, heavily promoted by a U.S. undercover agent, as part of a widespread pattern of federal sting operations in the post-9/11 era.

The reality was that the tiny, vestigial, Hmong resistance on the other side of the world was little threat to the Laotian regime and no threat to the U.S. government. The resistance at that time – maybe one or two thousand people in an Asian country the size of California – consisted of small bands of hungry men, women, and children who stayed on the run and ate roots and bugs to stave off starvation. Via satellite phones, resistance leaders in the mountains of Laos spoke regularly with Hmong in the U.S. Their underlying message: They wanted to come out of the mountains and lead normal lives, if only there was a way for them to surrender in safety.

Even before the charges against him were dropped in September, the old general had decided to return home, to make peace with his enemies and do the best he can for the jungle Hmong. He is doing so now without the support of many of his Hmong-Americans followers. It is as though he were the most prominent Cuban-American exile in Florida, and he had decided to go to Havana for a chat about normalizing relations with Fidel and Raul Castro. To many unreconciled Hmong-American exiles, this is simply unthinkable. He is puncturing their reality bubbles.

Vang Pao’s gambit could easily fail – disrupted by angry Hmong-Americans, or by hard-line elements within the Laotian regime. But it is in the U.S. interest for him to succeed. To maximize his chances, the State Department should pop its own reality bubble. It should get involved, for a change, supplying technical expertise and behind-the-scenes diplomatic muscle. And it should do so for reasons that are much bigger than America’s relationship with Laos – which is, when all is said and done, just an obscure, impoverished, strategically marginal country. It should get engaged because there’s a bigger game afoot.

The game is being played in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and in smaller conflicts that seldom make the news in northern Africa. The success or failure of many of today’s U.S. conflicts revolves around relationships with local indigenous people and their power brokers. In an interconnected world, it doesn’t help a U.S. Army captain recruit a tribal chief if the chief knows the U.S. has a history of abandoning tribal allies, as it notoriously did in Laos. And it doesn’t help U.S. Treasury agents stop the flow of money for jihad, if Egyptians and Syrians know that American citizens of Hmong descent send money to Southeast Asia, to support an insurgency there. On an international scale, leaving the Hmong mess unresolved makes the U.S. look foolish and hypocritical.

So it’s time for Secretary of State Clinton to send in skilled practitioners of statecraft to end this little conflict that should have ended a generation ago. And then apply the lessons of Laos to cleaning up the aftermaths of wars elsewhere. Unless her State Department gets much more aggressive and creative, and sends talented people out into the field for years at a time to work with local people and seek constructive opportunities, insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan will last for many decades after the Americans leave. The drama unfolding now in Laos should be seen as a warning sign – and a training mission – for the much tougher jobs of peacemongering that lay ahead.


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Navi Pillay: Stop treating migrants as second-class human beings

December 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

In recent years, migrants – including people who may be refugees – are reported to have been shot dead by security forces, or dumped to die in the desert as they tried to cross borders in North Africa. Hundreds more are believed to have died after being pushed back out into the Indian Ocean in boats without functioning engines. Many others die on a regular basis as they try to evade coastguard and naval vessels deployed by the world’s richer nations, or because they have been packed on unseaworthy vessels by ruthless smugglers who seem, in some countries, to operate with almost total impunity.

Others are killed by landmines, die of exposure in remote mountain areas, or are raped or forced into bonded labour or prostitution in both developed and developing countries. In some countries, migrant communities have been forcibly rounded up by the authorities, or have had to flee for their lives as they are attacked by mobs, and seen their homes and businesses ransacked.

Despite the heavy toll, remarkably little attention is devoted to all these deaths and the chronic human rights violations of so many extremely vulnerable men, women and children.

The commonest reaction seems to be a collective shrug: the deaths are sad of course, but it’s their own fault for trying to enter other countries uninvited. The unmistakable conclusion is that many of us – politicians, state authorities, media and the general public – view migrants, especially poor migrants, as second-class human beings, who are somehow not entitled to the same rights as the rest of us.

It is likely that this year’s International Migrants’ Day will elicit token expressions of concern before we return to business as usual: keeping migrants out, blaming those in our countries already for some of our social or economic problems – while at the same time readily exploiting them as cheap labour. The trend of criminalization of irregular migration and the use of detention to discourage more people from coming are also likely to continue or get worse.

Such policies often violate the human rights of migrants and contribute to anti-migrant sentiments and xenophobia. Immigrants arriving irregularly in a new country are often detained as a routine procedure and at times without proper judicial safeguards. In addition, irregular migrants intercepted at sea, and others seized by law enforcement officials during raids, are increasingly facing violence, arbitrary detention and premature expulsion. Such actions rarely take into account the mixed character of migration flows, and often lack necessary measures to protect the most vulnerable amongst irregular migrants, such as unaccompanied children, asylum-seekers and victims of trafficking.

Migrants who reach their final destination often face severe discrimination in the fields of housing, education, health, work or social security. Laws discriminating – or allowing for discriminatory practices – against non-nationals, along with programmes and policies that fail to address specific needs and vulnerabilities of migrants, often result in them being unable to access basic services or only able to do so at levels that do not meet international human rights standards.

International human rights law recognizes this heightened vulnerability of migrants, but here too the ‘collective shrug’ is having a noticeably negative impact.

The International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families*, which offers the most comprehensive framework for the protection of the human rights of migrants, will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its adoption in 2010. Unfortunately, few States will be attending the party, as it is one of the least respected human rights conventions, taking more than 12 years to gather the 20 State ratifications it needed to come into force (in July 2003), and picking up only a further 22 ratifications since then. Of these, 17 are African States, 15 are from Latin America and the Caribbean, six from Asia, three from Eastern Europe and only one (Turkey) from the ‘Western group’ of nations, which includes Western Europe, North America and Australasia.

I would urge those countries which have not yet ratified the Migrant Workers Convention, to consider doing so without further delay. While States have a right to place limitations on migration, and to institute systems to manage it, this does not mean they can treat migrants as second-class human beings, who deserve less protection than the rest of us.

(*) International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cmw.htm

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Dr. Allan Hoffman: Recognizing Water for What It’s Worth

December 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

Steve Solomon’s new book “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” is an exhaustively researched and well written contribution to the world’s increasing awareness of water issues. It traces the overriding importance of water in the world’s economic and political history, accurately identifying water as the world’s most precious resource. It provides strong support for the statement that “Water is fundamental to life and health. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite to the realization of all other human rights.” (UN, 2002).

Is water in short supply? The reality is that the earth is a water-rich planet on which less than one percent of its water inventory is used for human purposes. What is in short supply is inexpensive fresh water that people can afford to buy.

How much water is there in the world and how is it used? The best current estimate is that the earth has 329 million cubic miles of water, with each cubic mile containing more than one trillion gallons. But the vast majority, 99.7 percent, is found in the oceans with an average salt content of 35 parts per million. This level of salinity (fresh water is usually 500 parts per million or less) means that humankind cannot use this water without doing something to it, such as desalination, which is not easy or cheap.

The majority of global freshwater (75 percent) is used for agriculture, 39 percent in the U.S. and Europe, and more than 80 percent in parts of Africa and Asia. World water demand more than tripled over the past half century, and today more than a billion people lack access to clean drinking water and more than two billion to water for proper sanitation.

Solomon’s book lays out this reality in considerable detail as well as the implications. These include health effects (80 percent of infections in the developing world are due to water-borne diseases), the inability to adequately feed a growing world population, and the potential for conflict as water supplies are contested by neighboring peoples. Another implication derives from the inseparability of water and energy issues. Both water and energy are essential to the reduction of poverty, and the linkage between them has not always been recognized. This has begun to change in recent years, with growing sensitivity to the fact that energy is needed to provide water services (pumping water from underground aquifers, moving water to where it is used, treating impaired water for reuse, and desalinating brackish and sea water) and that many forms of energy production depend on the availability of water (hydropower, cooling of thermal power plants, fossil fuel production and processing, biofuels, carbon capture and sequestration, hydrogen economy). As a result a new term has appeared in the water lexicon, the water-energy nexus.

This is not to say that some people haven’t spoken out on water issues in the past. A number of voices have sought to sound the alarm for several decades, including the United Nations which declared an International Decade of Water in the 1980s and a new one in 2005. The UN Millenium Summit in 2000 identified fresh water availability as a major global crisis, as did the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. World Water Forums have also been held every three years since 1997.

What is complicating the world’s ability to address water security issues is the linkage between water and global climate change. In its 2008 Technical Paper on Climate Change and Water the International Panel on Climate Change stated that “Observational records and climate projections provide abundant evidence that freshwater resources are vulnerable and have the potential to be strongly impacted by climate change….” Climate change will disrupt the hydrological cycle and impact global water resources long before other impacts are felt. Precipitation patterns can change, leading to a greater frequency and intensity of extreme weather events (flooding, drought, hurricanes), and by altering the timing of winter snows, snowmelt, and spring rains, climate change could overload reservoirs early in the season, forcing releases of water and leaving areas like California high and dry in late summer. Coastal areas and island nations also face a serious threat. Rising water levels, before they destroy property and flood low-lying areas, will cause saltwater intrusion of freshwater supplies, putting the drinking water of millions of people at risk.

As Solomon’s book effectively documents, “Just as oil conflicts were central to twentieth-century history, the struggle over freshwater is set to shape a new turning point in the world order and the destiny of civilization.” This is not hyperbole but fact. Just as the struggle to control water resources has shaped human political and economic history to this point, so will the struggle in future years be central to the world we will live in and leave to our children and grandchildren. This book helps us immeasurably to understand this reality.

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Cambodia Deports 20 Uighurs To China, Gets $1.2 Billion

December 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Visiting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping thanked Cambodia on Monday for deporting 20 Muslim asylum-seekers while handing the country $1.2 billion in aid , the government spokesman said.

The 20 ethnic Uighurs deported Saturday were sought by China in connection with violent anti-government protests. Human rights activists are concerned that they will face persecution in China.

The United States said Sunday it was “deeply disturbed” by the forcible deportations. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said the incident would affect Cambodia’s relationship with the United States and its international standing.

“China thanked the government of Cambodia for assistance in sending back those people (Uighurs) to China because under Chinese law these people are criminals. This represents cooperation by the two sides,” Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said after a meeting Monday between the Chinese leader and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

He said that the 14 agreements totalled $1.2 billion in grants and loans, ranging from Chinese help in building roads to repairing Buddhist temples. Earlier, China had provided Cambodia with $930 million in loans and other aid.

China is key ally and donor to impoverished Cambodia.

Cambodia said it was expelling the Uighurs because they had illegally entered the country.

Xi’s trip to Cambodia is seen as significant because he is widely considered the leading contender to eventually succeed President Hu Jintao. It is his last stop on a four-nation Asian tour that also included Japan, South Korea and Myanmar.

While economic powerhouses Japan and South Korea are rivals to China, Myanmar and Cambodia are two of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries, where China uses its wealth to spread its influence.

Beijing is the closest and most powerful ally of military-ruled Myanmar, and has major investments in the country, which is shunned by the West because of its failure to restore democratic rule.

Cambodia is nominally more democratic than Myanmar, but Hun Sen is an autocratic ruler who uses his ties with China as a balance against dependency on Western nations.

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Uighur refugees deported back to China

December 21st, 2009 admin No comments

Cambodia will deport 20 refugees of Uighur minority descent back to China, where human rights groups say they may be tortured or executed upon return. Hundreds of Uighurs were detained by Chinese authorities after a civil uprising, with official reports that 17 have been sentenced to death, but independent reports point to widespread use of torture extrajudicial killings, and grave human rights violations. (via Oxblood)


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World’s worst endangered animal smuggling kingpin

December 21st, 2009 admin No comments


Marilyn sez, “Bryan Christy writes in the Jan issue of National Geographic about a notorious animal smuggler. It took the undercover unit of the US Fish & Wildlife Service five years to track down Anson Wong, the world’s most wanted smuggler of endangered species. But he got out of prison in 47 months, during which time his wife kept the business going full force. And when Wong got out of prison he set his sights on a ‘new wildlife venture, a zoo that promises to be his most audacious enterprise yet’ — smuggling tigers. Christy tells the story of how the Fish & Wildlife Special Ops team set up a sting operation to capture Wong, who boasted of having horns of Sumatran and Javanese rhinoceroses, both forbidden Appendix I animals. He talked openly about getting shahtoosh, the ‘king of wool,’ from the Tibetan antelope. He had access to extraordinary birds, including the Rothschild’s mynah, whose wild population was estimated to number fewer than 150. He bragged about his Spix’s macaws, a bird now believed to be extinct in the wild, claiming he’d recently sold three. The black market rate for a Spix’s macaw was $100,000. His expanding list of astonishing illegal rarities included panda skins and snow leopard pelts.”

While no one knows exactly how large the illegal wildlife trade is, this much is certain: It’s extraordinarily lucrative. Profit margins are the kind drug kingpins would kill for. Smugglers evade detection by hiding illegal wildlife in legal shipments, they bribe wildlife and customs officials, and they alter trade documents. Few are ever caught, and penalties are usually no more severe than a parking ticket. Wildlife trafficking may very well be the world’s most profitable form of illegal trade, bar none.

Asia’s Wildlife Trade

(Thanks, Marilyn!)


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