The Israel-Gaza Dialectic – cont'd

Was John Holmes pointing the finger?

Reuters photo of John Holmes and retinue visiting Sderot on 17 Feb 2008

Would a UN official ever do that?

Well, today, the Israeli Foreign Ministry made a highly-publicized complaint directly to Holmes, in a meeting in Jerusalem.

In a statement on the MFA website — which was also sent around to journalist by email, and reported in the various languages of Kol Israel this evening — it said that “Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director-General Aaron Abramovich met today in Jerusalem with John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, who is currently visiting Israel and the Palestinian Authority … [and] rejected out of hand Mr. Holmes’ statement yesterday in Sderot, in which he described the situation prevailing between Israel and the Palestinians as a vicious “circle of violence”“.

According to the Foreign Ministry statement, Abramovich told Holmes that “the use of expressions such as these creates an analogy between the terrorists and those who are defending themselves against terror” — and “emphasized that Mr. Holmes’ remarks do not serve the interests of peace, as they may unwittingly encourage terrorists to believe that the international community will exert pressure on Israel, instead of dealing with the roots of the violence”.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported this evening that “When asked about the Foreign Ministry statement, Holmes said: ‘I think it’s very hard to construe from what I said anything which could be said to be encouraging terrorism’. On Sunday, Holmes warned Israel against an invasion of the Gaza Strip and said that the crisis in the South can be solved only by diplomacy. ‘The only thing that will make a lasting difference is a peace settlement’, he said. ‘You can’t stop these problems militarily. They have to be solved through negotiations’.
In an interview with Haaretz after his visit to Sderot, Sir John Holmes said that the response to the Qassam rocket attacks must be proportional from a humanitarian point of view. The former British diplomat, who had been involved in negotiations regarding Northern Ireland, said that despite the terrorism, the British government never considered bombing that region, and sought other means to resolve the crisis. Holmes said he was aware of the domestic pressure on the Israeli government to respond to the Qassam attacks, as well as the differences between the situation here and in Northern Ireland, but said there were no magic formulas. The senior UN official had requested to meet with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, but was turned down”.

The Haaretz story recalled a recent earlier episode of Israeli irritation with Holmes: “Regarding the continued Qassam rocket attacks, Holmes said during a visit to Sderot, ‘We condemn absolutely the firing of these rockets. There’s no justification for it. They are indiscriminate’. Two weeks ago, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, attacked Holmes for a statement he issued against collective punishment in the Gaza Strip, while ignoring the rocket attacks against Sderot. Holmes said Sunday that Gillerman apologized when he learned that the condemnation also included specific references to the rocket attacks on Sderot”. This Haaretz story is posted here.

In an earlier story today, Haaretz reported that “Israel has said it is targeting Hamas in response to daily rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli towns. [Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami] Abu Zuhri said Hamas was ready to halt if Israel ended all military action both in Gaza and the West Bank, and allowed free movement into Gaza. In the meantime, Abu Zuhri said, the rocket fire was a form of ‘self-defense’ — partly because of the ‘psychological’ effect it had on Israelis who were abandoning homes in the line of fire. ‘It encourages our people’, the Hamas official said … Israel says it may target senior Gaza leaders but Abu Zuhri said it would have no effect. ‘Threats to the Hamas leadership are an expression of the bankruptcy of the occupation’, he said. ‘If the end comes serving the people, that is a very honourable way to go. But the occupier will pay the price’.”

The Israel-Gaza Dialectic

On Friday, UN’s Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, visited Gaza and expressed shock about the ‘grim and miserable’ situation there, and he said the Gaza Strip’s borders should be open.

On Sunday, Holmes visited the Israeli city that has been the target of many Qassam rockets fired by Palestinians from Gaza, and said, according to the Jerusalem Post, that “there was ‘no excuse’ for the Kassam rocket fire at the town, which contained no military targets. He said the real victims were the civilians, and that this was a violation of all principles of human rights. He stressed that the children were suffering emotional damage as a result of exposure to the security threat”.

Reuters photo of John Holmes and retinue visiting Sderot on 17 Feb 2008

The JPost added that Holmes “advocated Israel’s keeping up military pressure on the heads of Hamas”. This JPost article is here.

However, Haaretz did not make the same interpretation of Holmes’ words.

Haaretz reported that Holmes told the Associated Press: “We condemn absolutely the firing of these rockets. There’s no justification for it. They are indiscriminate, there’s no military target … We just need to keep on saying to the people in Gaza, to the Hamas leadership, they have to stop these rockets. They do no good. They cause suffering”.

Haaretz said that Holmes said “the only way to solve the problem is through a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. ‘At the end of the day, the only thing that will make a lasting difference is a peace settlement’, he said. ‘You can’t stop these problems militarily. They have to be solved through negotiations’.” The Haaretz report is posted here.

According to an Israeli Cabinet Communique Sunday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke about Sderot and the Israeli communities bordering Gaza during the weekly cabinet meeting, and said that “The Government has several tracks for dealing with this issue. First of all, there is the operational activity of the IDF and the security establishment. I have already said that there is an almost daily war in the south and terrorist leaders are certainly a target and we will not slacken on this issue and we will continue to struggle in order to reduce to nil the threat that is upsetting the quality of life of residents of the south. Of course, there are also other measures that we are using, including sanctions and striking at the supply of materials that could serve the terrorist organizations, including energy, and this is being carried out according to the decision of the Cabinet, in coordination with the considerations of the security establishment at the behest of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, with my assent. I think that this is being done correctly, prudently and responsibly. This may not always be loved but it is an important part of counter-terrorist activity”.

On Thursday evening, the Israeli military was supposed to have ordered another phased reduction in directly-supplied Israeli electricity to Gaza, though there has been no public confirmation of that.

Meanwhile, the also-visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told Israel’s State President Shimon Peres in a meeting today that “the mood emanating from the Palestinian street was one of despair, frustration and lack of hope regarding the chances of a Palestinian state being established. ‘This is a dangerous thing’, Kouchner said and underscored the fact that since the Annapolis conference and donors’ conference in Paris there had been no real progress in the peace process and that it was imperative to immediately start implementing economic-oriented projects on the ground so as to generate some hope in the Palestinian people”.

In the context of Gaza, this sounds almost surreal. (In the West Bank, people are worrying that the situation is so bad it may lead to a new intifada.)

Palestinians detained at Kerem Shalom crossing in Gaza - Haarety

Palestinians detained today at Kerem Shalom crossing

An interesting analysis in the latest issue of MERIP (the Middle East Research and Information Project), by Harvard PHD candidate Darryl Li, who has lived and worked in Gaza before, and who also spent the month of January there, gives a bleak picture of the situation.

Harsh as it is, this analysis is not more harsh than the reality.

Entitled “Disengagement and the Frontiers of Zionism”, it says that “the stranglehold on Gaza is not simply a stricter version of the policies of the past five years; it also reflects a qualitative shift in Israel’s technique for management of the territory. The contrast between Israel’s expedited transfer of animal vaccines to Gaza and its denial of medicine for the human population is emblematic of this emergent form of control, that, for lack of a better term, we may call ‘disengagement’. ‘Disengagement’ is, of course, the name Israel gave to its 2005 removal of colonies and military bases from the Gaza Strip. But rather than a one-time abandonment of control, disengagement is better understood as an ongoing process of controlled abandonment, by which Israel is severing the ties forged with Gaza over 40 years of domination without allowing any viable alternatives to emerge, all while leaving the international donor community to subsidize what remains. The effect is to treat the Strip as an animal pen whose denizens cannot be domesticated and so must be quarantined. Disengagement is a form of rule that sets as its goal neither justice nor even stability, but rather survival — as we are reminded by every guarantee that an undefined ‘humanitarian crisis’ will be avoided … From 1967 to the first intifada of 1987-1993, Israel used its military rule to incorporate Gaza’s economy and infrastructure forcibly into its own, while treating the Palestinian population as a reserve of cheap migrant workers. It was during this stage of labor migration and territorial segregation that Gaza came closest to resembling the South African ‘bantustans’ — the nominally independent black statelets set up by the apartheid regime to evade responsibility for the indigenous population whose labor it was exploiting. During the Oslo phase of the occupation (1993-2005), Israel delegated some administrative functions to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and welcomed migrant workers from Asia and Eastern Europe to replace the Gazans. A new infrastructure of movement controls also emerged. Permits for travel to Israel and the West Bank, once commonly granted, became rare. Ordinary vehicular traffic ceased. In the second half of the decade, Israel erected a fence around the territory and commenced channeling non-Israeli people and goods through a handful of newly built permanent terminals like the ones that have recently come to the West Bank. It was during this period that Gaza under Israeli management most resembled a giant internment camp. The detainee population was, to a certain extent, self-organized and appointed representatives to act on its behalf (the PA) who nevertheless operated under the aegis of supreme Israeli military authority, within the framework of agreements concluded by Israel and a largely defunct Palestine Liberation Organization (which are now basically agreements between Israel and itself) … In any event, in Gaza the Oslo experiment in indirect rule seems to be over. Israel now treats the territory less like an internment camp and more like an animal pen: a space of near total confinement whose wardens are concerned primarily with keeping those inside alive and tame, with some degree of mild concern as to the opinions of neighbors and other outsiders … In order to understand the management differences between an internment camp and an animal pen, it may help to start with the place where Israel’s control over Gaza is most physically manifest: the crossings. Karni crossing is the sole official crossing point for commercial traffic between the Gaza Strip and Israel, a highly fortified facility straddling the frontier on the site of an old British military airfield near Gaza City. Karni has approximately 30 lanes for handling different types of cargo — from shipping containers to bulk goods — needed to meet the diverse needs of a modern economy. Karni is a creature of the Oslo period, concretizing its logic of impressive spectacle and laborious inefficiency in order to balance Israeli control with the image of Palestinian autonomy. The crossing operates on the wasteful principle of ‘back-to-back’ transport: Goods are left by one party in a walled-off no man’s land and then picked up by the other without any direct contact, essentially doubling shipping costs.
In recent months, Israel has completely shut down Karni except for occasional shipments of wheat grain and animal feed. At the same time, Israel has routed a few types of permitted ‘essential items’ mostly through the Kerem Shalom and Sufa crossings further south. Unlike Karni, Kerem Shalom and Sufa are operated entirely by Israel and make no gestures toward Palestinian partnership. They are not commercial crossings but essentially gates in the fence, never designed for trans-shipment of goods and incapable of handling many types of difficult-to-package items such as building materials and piped gases. When open, Kerem Shalom and Sufa together can process perhaps 100 truckloads of cargo per day compared to Karni’s capacity of approximately 750 truckloads. Most revealing, however, is the manner of transfer: Cargo at Kerem Shalom and Sufa is offloaded from trucks and then left on pallets in the open for Palestinians to come and pick up when they are allowed to approach. The contrast with Karni’s elaborate security procedures and regimented distribution system is striking. ‘At least in prison, and I’ve been in prison, there are rules’, Gazan human rights lawyer Raji Sourani told the New York Times. ‘But now we live in a kind of animal farm. We live in a pen, and they dump in food and medicine’. The physical move from Karni to Kerem Shalom and Sufa and the official restriction of passage only to ‘humanitarian items’ embody the shift in Israel’s blockade policy, from trying to punish the Gazan economy to dispensing with the economy altogether (except when Israeli producers need to dump cheap surplus in Gaza). Israel is also selectively disengaging from other economic relations with Gaza: Major Israeli banks have announced their intention to sever ties with Gaza, and Israel has since autumn limited the inflow of US dollars and Jordanian dinars, endangering Gazans’ ability to purchase imports and make use of remittances … In practice, the neat distinction between vital needs and luxuries is often impossible to implement since it ignores the enormous swath of human activities and desires in between that are no less important simply because they can be temporarily deferred. This has been most poignant in the case of permits to leave Gaza for medical treatment, which are now granted only to those with ‘life-threatening’ conditions. Under the scheme, according to Human Rights Watch, permits for mere ‘quality of life’ procedures such as open heart surgery have been denied, leading to patient deaths. In the case of the electricity cuts, the Supreme Court blithely acted as if Gazans could easily redirect remaining power to hospitals and sewage networks despite clear evidence to the contrary. To the extent that electricity can be redistributed within areas, technicians must physically go to substations several times per day and manually pull levers that are designed to be operated only once a year for maintenance purposes. As a result, there have been numerous breakdowns and at least two engineers have been electrocuted. Even if it was possible to implement and was done with the best of intentions, the logic of ‘essential humanitarianism’ (it is unclear what would constitute the ‘inessentially’ humanitarian) promises nothing more than turning Gazans one and all into beggars — or rather, into well-fed animals — dependent on international money and Israeli fiat. It allows Israel to keep Palestinians and the international community in perpetual fear of an entirely manufactured ‘humanitarian crisis’ that Israel can induce at the flip of a switch (due to the embargo, Gaza’s power plant only has enough fuel at any one time to operate for two days). And it distracts from, and even legitimizes, the destruction of Gaza’s own economy, institutions and infrastructure, to say nothing of ongoing colonization elsewhere in Israel-Palestine. The notion of ‘essential humanitarianism’ reduces the needs, aspirations and rights of 1.4 million human beings to an exercise in counting calories, megawatts and other abstract, one-dimensional units measuring distance from death …
Disengagement, however, is not merely the latest stage in a historical process; it is also the lowest rung in a territorially segregated hierarchy of subjugation that encompasses Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and within the Green Line. Half of the people between the Mediterranean and the Jordan live under a state that excludes them from the community of political subjects, denies them true equality and thus discriminates against them in varying domains of rights. Israel has impressively managed to keep this half of the population divided against itself — as well as against foreign workers and non-Ashkenazi Jews — through careful distribution of differential privileges and punishments and may continue to do so for the foreseeable future … As Israel has experimented with various models for controlling Gaza over the decades, the fundamental refusal of political equality that undergirds them all has taken on different names, both to justify itself and to provide a logic for moderating its own excesses. During the bantustan period, inequality was called coexistence; during the Oslo period, separation; and during disengagement, it is reframed as avoiding ‘humanitarian crises’, or survival. These slogans were not outright lies, but they disregarded the unwelcome truth that coexistence is not freedom, separation is not independence and survival is not living”. This analysis, published by MERIP, can be seen in full here.

Two new UN reports on the Palestinian situation

Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar has written this week about two new UN reports on the Palestinian situation:

1. OCHA – The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

To fully appreciate this item, a little background — Kevin Kennedy is a former U.S. Marine, who became a “star” in Kofi Annan’s UN, and whose rise continues…]

“If it did not deal with human beings, including infants, the latest report published over the weekend by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in the occupied territories, on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip would be one of the funniest documents ever published here.

The report, which relates to the period between June 28 and July 5, reveals that the situation is anything but pleasant. It is estimated that 75 percent of the workshops in the Gaza Strip are not operating at all or are operating at less than 20 percent their usual activity due to a lack of raw materials.

However, the report states that the situation is not all that terrible. ‘Humanitarian imports into Gaza between June 25 – July 1 through Kerem Shalom, Sufa and Karni have met 70 percent of the minimum food needs of the Gazan population’.

Basing himself on UN World Food program (WFP) figures, the coordinator notes that this is ‘a significant increase from the prior week, where only 21 percent of the food needs were met’. The authors of the report do not confine themselves to general data. They append a table that details daily local consumption in the Gaza Strip alongside the level of imports and the local supply. Not only in metric tons; someone went to the trouble of calculating the percentages for them. And there is also a total of the two.

The report’s implication is that if there is no flour, let them eat animal feed. If there is no rice, drink oil. If there is no hummus, lick sugar. What is important is that the total amount of essential foodstuffs reaches 70 percent. Behind these dry numbers lurks a juicy story about the tense relations among the UN organizations operating in the territories. It turns out that at OCHA’s Jerusalem offices they are quite ashamed of this document, which bears their organization’s name. The instruction to publish it came from the office of Kevin Kennedy, the humanitarian coordinator in the office of Michael Williams, the UN secretary-general’s special envoy to the territories.

In this branch of the UN they are trying to curry favor with the Israelis and the Egyptians, who, as everyone knows, are not going out of their way to enable Hamas to maintain orderly life in Gaza.

The envoy’s office stands firmly behind the Israeli position, which insists on operating the Kerem Shalom crossing point in particular, despite strong objections by the Palestinian side.

The office also supports Egypt’s objections to opening the Rafah crossing point without European inspectors. Members of the Meretz Knesset faction, who returned yesterday from a visit to Cairo, were told in the Egyptian capital that ‘it is necessary to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza’, but ‘it mustn’t become too good there’…

Kennedy’s office has responded that there is no significance to the calculation of the average supply of various foodstuffs and hence to the ostensible improvement in the humanitarian situation. It was promised that this would be fixed and would not be repeated in future reports”…

Read the full Haaretz article by Akiva Eldar here.

2. UNWRA – The Un Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees

Akiva Eldar’s article in Haaretz is entitled:

    Border Control / Who told them to give birth at night?

“The small village of Azun Athma is located in the southeastern part of the West Bank, not far from Qalqilyah and too close to Israel and the Jewish settlements of Etz Efraim, Elkanah, Sha’are Tikva and Oranit, which surround it in all directions. To ensure the security of the residents of Israel and for the sake of the settlers’ convenience, the Palestinian village has been encircled by a fence and has become an enclave closed on all sides. In order to partake of essential services in the West Bank, the inhabitants of Azun Athma pass through a gate controlled by the Israel Defense Forces. They undergo physical searches each time they exit and enter. At 10 P.M. the soldiers close the gate and only open it again the next morning at 6 A.M.

It is common knowledge that the Palestinians suffer from a serious lack of discipline, which starts in their mother’s womb. There are fetuses that insist on coming into this world right at the time when the Israeli soldiers go to sleep. What is to be done with these babies when Azun Athma only has a clinic providing the most basic services for two hours, twice a week? To make sure they will receive proper medical care during the birth, pregnant women (in an average year about 50 babies are born in the village) tend to leave their homes and move in with relatives, who reside in places where one can obtain accessible and good medical services. Thus, of the 33 babies that were born to inhabitants of the village between January of this year and the beginning of June, 20 were born outside the village. The others were born in their mothers’ homes without the aid of a doctor or a qualified midwife.

According to a report published yesterday by the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the publication of which coincided with the third anniversary of the ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague concerning the security fence, the 10 Palestinian communities surrounded by the fence have no access to 24-hour emergency services. The authors of the report estimate that when construction of the fence is completed along the planned route, about 50,000 people will find themselves in a similar situation.

Their examination of 57 Palestinian communities also shows that the ruling of the International Court of Justice has not resulted in a dramatic change in the situation: of the 61 passages in the fence, only 26 are open all year round for the use of Palestinian farmers, while less than half the farmers enjoy direct and regular access to their lands; the gates are open only$ 64 percent of the planned and declared time; in 72 percent of the communities there have been complaints about routine humiliation and verbal harassment on the part of the soldiers; 24 percent of the communities complained of damage caused to produce as a result of being refused entry to agricultural areas; and 85 percent of traditional roads have been ruined and cut off by the fence”…

Read the full Haaretz article by Akiva Eldar here.

UN SG BAN announces he will launch Iraq compact on 3 May in Sharm el-Sheikh

Here are excerpts from remarks made by UN SG BAN Ki-Moon at a press conference with Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey in Bern, Switzerland, this evening: “I think everybody, including myself, in the world should be very much concerned and troubled by this ongoing violence and instability in Iraq. The international community has been trying to help in many aspects. The United Nations has also been trying to help the Iraqi Government and people in their very difficult and daunting, but noble, efforts to secure their security and political stability and economic and social stability. I hope the international community will continue as part of the ongoing efforts by the United Nations and the international community.

I am going to officially launch an International Compact for Iraq on May 3rd in Sharm el-Sheikh together with Prime Minister [Nuri al-]Maliki of Iraq. That will be followed immediately by an expanded ministerial meeting of [the countries] in the region as well as some other major countries. I hope these two international events will also play an important momentum to help the Iraqi Government to restore peace and security.

At the same time I would urge the Iraqi Government, in parallel with the international cooperation, Iraqi Government leaders should also engage in an inclusive or political process to promote national reconciliation. And also the countries in the region should be prepared to help such a process …

Question:  Will the UN go back in and work on the ground in Iraq?

… At this time the United Nations has been largely constrained and limited, by the [security] situation on the ground. There may be many other ways for the United Nations to strengthen our role. There may be an idea of increasing our physical presence, but this physical presence and maneuverability have been very much dictated by security on the ground. As a part of all continuing efforts, we are going to open this International Compact to help them, politically and economically and socially help their process”.

Iraq Conference pushes Iraq

At the conclusion of the Conference on Tuesday afternoon, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres ,announced that he had succeeded in negotiating with the UN to have one high-level liaison officer with international status who will be based inside Iraq, to make sure that coordination with the Iraqi Government “works properly”.

Hosheyr Zebari at UNOG by Jean-Marc Ferre on 17 Apruil 2007

There is a UN “ceiling” on the number of international staff it will allow to operate inside Iraq, in the aftermath of the devastating August 2003 bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad, and the High Commissioner for Refugees indicated he had to negotiate his appointment of an international coordinator with Ashraf Qazi, the Special Representative of the UN Secreatary General for Iraq, who also heads the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq.

Guterres said that Syria had presented a “meaningful document” during the Conference saying that its expenses for Iraqi refugees over a two year period would be in the range of $200 million. He also said that Jordan had presented “some figures” in which they indicated they would like compensation of about $1 billion – but, the UNHCR chief indicated, the Norwegian refugee council would be working with the Jordanian government to try to get an accurate census and survey.

The Iraqi Government’s $25 million would go to the offices Iraq would be establishing in its embassies in Syria and Jordan, and possibly also in Egypt, Guterres said, in order to address the needs of the Iraqi communities in those countries.

Earlier, Amman-based International Organization for Migration (IOM) Iraq chief of mission Rafiq Tschannen told a UN press conference in Geneva Wednesday that donors had hesitated to come up with additional funding before the conference, since, by their understanding, Iraq still “had some budget unspent.” Continue reading Iraq Conference pushes Iraq

Why bother to have a big International Conference — Iraq and U.S. can pay most of costs for Iraqi refugees

One of the main aims of the International Conference on Iraq, convened in Geneva today, was to mobilize help for countries neighboring Iraq who are being flooded with refugees fleeing relentless violence inside Iraq.. Syria — a country whose rival Baathist government was profoundly distrusted for decades by Iraq’s own Baathist leadership — has taken in over 1.2 million Iraqis, while Jordan has received an estimated 750,000 – most of whom are in an “irregular situation”, according to Amnesty International.

UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon, who was unable to attend the International Conference convened in Geneva today in person, supplied a videotaped message in which he urged that there should be “no forced return” of anyone trying to flee Iraq.

Sir John Holmes, the UN’s new humanitarian coordinator, told the Conference that the UN believes 35,000 civilians have been killed, and 36,000 injured, in 2006 alone. The majority of victims, he said, are adult male heads of household, and their deaths dramatically increases the vulnerability of the families left behind. Awareness of the seriousness of the crisis dates to the beginning of this year, and the sectarian and political violence has increased, with appalling brutality, Holmes told the Conference – and it cannot be assumed that the problems will be temporary. Holmes noted, however, that significant capacity still exists inside Iraq to fund a good part of the assistance programs to its own population.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told the International Conference that the movement of Iraqi civilians is “the most significant displacement in the Middle East since the dramatic situation of 1948”.The International Committee of the Red Cross’ Director-General Angelo Gnaedinger told the opening session of the Conference that the medical-legal authorities in Iraq are having difficulty coping with the rising number of bodies, many unidentified. He also said that 14 Iraqi Red Cross workers have been killed, and 45 abducted – with 12 of them still unaccounted for.

Nevertheless, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hosheyr Zebari told journalists at the end of the sessions on Tuesday that the situation is bad – “but not as bad as all the media images, otherwise we’d all seek asylum here”. Zebari said that one of the most significant accomplishments in the Conference is “that we didn’t get into the blame game, and not to politicize this Conference was a big achievement”. Continue reading Why bother to have a big International Conference — Iraq and U.S. can pay most of costs for Iraqi refugees

Iraqi refugees to be discussed at Geneva Conference

A two-day ministerial-level humanitarian meeting will convene in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday to seek help for countries neighboring Iraq who are being flooded with refugees seeking shelter from the relentless violence in the country.

 A man lies wounded in a hospital after a car bomb blast in Karbala, one of Iraq's holiest cities, on Saturday

Much of the meeting will be closed, presumably to allow government delegations to speak freely.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who is hosting the conference, estimates that “by April 2007, there were believed to be well over 4 million displaced Iraqis around the world, including some 1.9 million who were still inside Iraq, over 2 million in neighboring Middle Eastern countries, and around 200,000 further afield. A significant proportion of these were displaced prior to 2003, but many others have fled since then”.

Before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, there was a lot of talk about how there were, then, 4 million Iraqi refugees — and this was cited as further proof of the need to take action against that regime.

In the latest issue of its publication, Refugees, the UNHCR writes that “By early 2007, two million Iraqis on top of some four million long-term Palestinian refugees had made the Middle East easily the biggest refugee-hosting region in the world. Add in the nearly 2 million displaced people inside Iraq, and the problem becomes gigantic”.

Syria — a country whose Baathist government was profoundly distrusted for decades by Iraq’s own Baathist party led by Saddam Hussein — has taken in over 1.2 million Iraqis recently. Jordan also has many tens of thousands. And Palestinian refugees who have been living in Iraq are finding nowhere to go now that they are under great threat.

The violence is so terrible that the UNHCR reports in Refugees: “There is a new job in Baghdad today. For a fee, certain people will scour dumps and river banks to find the body of your missing loved one…”

Jan Pronk’s final advice to UN staff in Sudan last December

This was posted recently on Jan Pronk’s blog:

“Weblog nr 41
February 25, 2007
Before my final departure from Sudan in December last year I addressed the UN staff in Khartoum and Juba. In my address I presented fifteen guidelines for peacekeepers. Several colleagues asked me to put these on paper. Here they are:

First: United Nations peacekeepers in a country are visitors. Their presence is temporary. Their function is catalytic, no more. Peace ought to be home grown.

Second: There is no peacekeeping without peace. Peace, to be made by the parties to a conflict themselves, should precede efforts to keep the peace.

Third: The sovereignty of a state has to be respected, but brought into balance with the protection of the people within that state. Keep that balance!

Fourth: Respect national traditions and domestic cultures

Fifth: International staff members should respect national staff members, their views and their positions. They are vulnerable: they have no ticket to leave the country. They know their country better than you.
National staff members should have patience with international staff members.
They could have chosen for comfort back home. They are idealists, or anyway, once they have been idealists.

Sixth: All UN staff members have the duty to follow a unified approach, in whichever agency they work, as peacekeepers or as humanitarian and development workers. That implies a commitment to the same goals and a duty to respect the same boundary conditions, for instance those set by the Security Council representing the international community. A unified approach of all UN agencies also implies the duty to consult each other about each other’s work, the duty to cooperate and to use a common infrastructure and common services. Finally this unified approach requires the acceptance of a unified command.

Seventh: Delegate, decentralize, trust your staff and show this to them.

Eight: Work as a team.

Nine: The field is more important than headquarters. People in headquarters should understand this. But those who are working in the field, when critical about headquarters, should be aware that they are not “the” field, but that, farther away, other colleagues may consider them too as a headquarter

Ten: Never be satisfied. There is no room for complacency, despite many achievements.

Eleven: Insecurity, risk, uncertainty and political pressure are not a hindrance, but a challenge. They are no exceptions to a normal and stable pattern. They are not exogenous factors, but inherent to peacekeeping.

Twelve: Fight bureaucracy. Fight also the bureaucrat in yourself. Stay a movement; keep the spirit of a pioneer.

Thirteen: Care for people. People first.

Fourteen: Peacekeeping is a calling, not a job

Fifteen: Please, stay”

Russian tennis star named UN Goodwill Ambassador – Mia Farrow to address UN Security Council on 27 February

The BBC World Service is reporing today that : “Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova has been named as a goodwill ambassador for the UN development agency, UNDP. The 19-year-old will focus on projects dealing with the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Signed on for a symbolic $1 the world’s top-ranked female player said it was ‘one of my proudest contracts ever’. Ms Sharapova immediately gave $100,000 to projects tackling the world’s worst nuclear accident. She explained that the issues were important to her as she had a personal connection with the area. After the accident and just before she was born, Ms Sharapova’s father and pregnant mother fled from the Belarussian city of Gomel, some 80 miles (128km) north of Chernobyl. They went to Siberia where their daughter was born in 1987.
‘That’s why it means so much to me to be a part of this project because I was sort of part of it as well. I hope that I can go there on field trips’, Ms Sharapova said. She added that she was more nervous about this new role than before a Grand Slam tournament. The tennis pro has set up a private foundation which will channel funds into eight projects in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.”

This phenomenon of signing up celebrities as “Good Will Ambassadors” and “Messengers of Peace” has gotten out of hand. Investigative journalist Claudia Rossett, who has taken apart the UN on the Oil-For-Food program, wouldn’t be able to tackle this story. There is too much star-pandering. It’s the “silly season”.

Yesterday, the Beaver got me thinking about this, with the comment sent about an earlier post, yesterday: “I thought these Ambassadors are chosen because they: ‘Demonstrate an active commitment to promoting the rights of children and to furthering UNICEF’s mission in building a world fit for children; Are committed to the values and principles set forth in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Child and other humanitarian guidelines championed by UNICEF; Exemplify good citizenship and are passionate, courageous, inspiring, caring, principled, credible, and capable of acting as influential advocates for children’. Time for UN to rethink its star-struck cult of celebrity, special envoys or ‘senior advisers on disaster and emergency’ as there is a difference between sizzle and steak when innocents lives are in danger”.


On Sunday, Reuters news agence reported from Bangui (Central African Republic) that: “Hollywood film star Mia Farrow arrived in Central African Republic at the weekend seeking to draw world attention to what aid workers call a ‘forgotten crisis’ worsened by spillover from war in Sudan’s Darfur region. As a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF, Farrow has campaigned for U.N. peacekeepers to be sent to Darfur and to stricken parts of neighboring Chad and Central African Republic caught up in spreading violence. ‘It’s being called a triangle, and I needed to see the third side. I’ve been twice to Darfur, and last November to eastern Chad’, Farrow told Reuters late on Saturday after arriving in the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui. ‘I don’t understand why there is not a peacekeeping force’. The U.N. Security Council has decided to send blue helmets to Darfur to stop what Washington says is genocide. But the Khartoum government denies its army and mounted Janjaweed militia allies are committing genocide against Dafuri tribes and has resisted deployment of U.N. troops. It has agreed only to phased U.N. support for an under-resourced African Union force struggling to stem the bloodshed. The violence has fueled rebellions in Chad and Central African Republic, triggering calls for U.N. troops to deploy in areas bordering Darfur. U.N. officials, including former Secretary General Kofi Annan, have questioned the value of deploying peacekeepers until deals can be reached to end these rebellions. But the Security Council sent a technical team to both countries to look into the idea further. Former colonial power France sent troops and planes late last year to Central African Republic to help dislodge rebels who captured the remote northeastern town of Birao near the Darfur border, where Farrow was due to go on Sunday Central African Republic has been the scene for several years of attacks by bandits, armed rebels and government troops that have forced an estimated 220,000 people from their homes in what Bob Kitchen of the International Rescue Committee called a ‘forgotten crisis’. ‘There has been a very limited humanitarian response, and the situation is continuing to deteriorate. There is ongoing displacement as a result of the ongoing hostilities between the government forces and rebels’, Kitchen told Reuters. Some 50,000 refugees have crossed the border into southern Chad, and 20,000 into Cameroon. Another 150,000 are displaced within Central African Republic, many living rough in the bush after fleeing attacks on their villages by government troops … Farrow is due to address the U.N. Security Council on February 27 on Chad and Central African Republic.‘ What does it say about the greatest institution on earth that in the face of a genocide all we can do is ask permission of the perpetrators to come in and save innocent civilians’, Farrow said.”

Nicole Kidman toured Kosovo — where two protesters were killed by UN policement on Sunday, while protesting a UN proposal on the future status of Kosovo — in October. The BBC World Service reported at the time that: “Actress Nicole Kidman is touring Kosovo as part of her new role as a United Nations goodwill ambassador. Kidman arrived in Pristina on Saturday and was cheered by onlookers as she walked through the city to her hotel. ‘I’m here to learn so that I can help your country at this crucial, crucial time for the future’, she said.
Kidman, 39, was appointed a goodwill ambassador for the UN’s development fund for women, Unifem, in January. The tour is her first in that role. She said she was in Kosovo to ‘meet people, hear their stories and educate myself, and I suppose be a voice for you if you need it’. … Unifem has run several projects studying the impact of the conflict on women and their role in reconciliation…”

At the time of Kidman’s appointment as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNIFEM, in January 2006, it was reported that she would “promote women’s rights around the world … [and] will focus on issues such as ending violence against women”. Kidman has also, apparently, been a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund since 1994. Kidman starred in the movie The Interpreter, playing a UN employee (a simultaenous interpreter from southern Africa, as hit happens.) The decision to open the UN to filming was part of the “strategic” communications decision taken by Under-Secretary-General Shashi Tharoor (who ran second in UN Security Council straw polls as a candidate for SG’s job last year, and whose contract is not being renewed by the winner, new SG BAN KI-MOON.) Tharoor got the explicit approval of SG Annan to allow the filming inside the UN Headquarters. They argued that it was an important way to explain, to the people of the world, the work of the Organization. The UN Security Council endorsed the decision.

I’m not kidding.

A more reflective piece by the BBC’s entertainment news division tried to explain all this:
“Why Jolie gets your story on air”, by Ben Sutherland: “Celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and George Clooney have become integral to getting stories about global problems on air, a leading anchor for the international news network CNN has told the World Urban Forum in Vancouver, Canada. Zain Verjee, who co-anchors CNN’s international rolling news, said that news editors worldwide – particularly those in news organisations which rely on advertising – are ever more likely to broadcast something with a celebrity angle. ‘In terms of having the media using celebrities to focus on getting the rating – unfortunately it’s a business’, she said. ‘Having Angelina Jolie talk about refugees puts more eyeballs on TV’. Angelina Jolie recorded a message for World Refugee Day earlier this month. The actress, currently in the spotlight after giving birth to a daughter with actor Brad Pitt, is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency. The message was shown by a large number of television stations, with one Spanish network broadcasting it twice an hour. Ms Verjee said that celebrities were now an integral part of the way that important stories are told. She explained that she herself had only been able to get pieces about the troubled situation in Darfur on air when actors Mia Farrow and George Clooney visited the region.
‘It isn’t great, no – I think it’s awful, frankly – but it does help to raise awareness’, she added. The media has come under intense criticism at the World Urban Forum, with many speakers expressing anger or disappointment that what they see as hugely important problems facing the planet are not getting enough exposure. There was a big ovation for a speaker from the floor who said that ‘instead of interviewing celebrities, I would like to see your cameras going into the villages of Africa and focusing attention on them’. But Ms Verjee described this as ‘me-go’ – people earnestly wanting to get an issue they care deeply about in the news without thinking about how to present it in an interesting way. When this happens, ‘my eyes just glaze over’, she said. However, Charles Kelly, the Commissioner General of the Forum, told the BBC that he felt there was little interest in getting an in-depth understanding of some of the vastly difficult problems that urbanisation presents. ‘The media is looking for what they can fit into 30 seconds’, he said. ‘But these issues are far too complex to fit into 30 seconds’.”

The proof of this is that Mia Farrow still doesn’t understand why it is difficult to get UN peacekeepers into Darfur …

The other part of this is to explain why it is that the UN loves doing this.

Because it brings “positive” press publicity. For the UN agencies, this means a possible “surge” in donations.

A UN press release dated 18 October 2000 says: “Forty-eight United Nations Messengers of Peace and Goodwill Ambassadors — prominent personalities from the worlds of art, music, film, sport, literature and public affairs who help publicize key United Nations issues and activities — will meet for the first time at United Nations Headquarters on 23 October 2000. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has invited them to Headquarters in order to acknowledge their contribution to the Organization’s work and to discuss ways of raising public awareness of and support for United Nations goals and activities. The celebrity advocates speak out for the United Nations and seven of its offices, funds and programmes on issues ranging from fighting poverty, HIV/AIDS and intolerance, to improving the status of women, promoting educational and employment opportunities for youth, and protection for vulnerable groups such as children and refugees. The day-long programme will include a public forum titled ‘The United Nations and Celebrity Advocacy in an Age of Cynicism’. Representatives of the United Nations system, civil society and students are expected to participate in the discussion, which will be open to the media. The forum will be followed by a private luncheon hosted by the Secretary-General.
Those expected to participate include:

Messengers of Peace (appointed by the Secretary-General):
Muhammad Ali, former heavyweight boxing champion (United States); Anna Cataldi, author and journalist (Italy); Michael Douglas, actor (United States); Enrico Macias, singer (France)

Goodwill Ambassadors:
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): Danny Glover, actor (United States); Nadine Gordimer, Nobel laureate for literature (South Africa); Misako Konno, author, television personality and actress (Japan); ‘Ronaldo’ Luis Nazario de Lima, football player (Brazil); Hussein Fahmy, actor (Egypt).

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA): Kattis Ahlstrom, journalist (Sweden); Nicolaas Biegman, former co-Chairman, Cairo Conference on Population and Development (Netherlands); Mary Banotti, Member of European Parliament (Ireland); Magenta Devine, radio and television personality (United Kingdom); Geri Halliwell, singer (United Kingdom); Waris Dirie, fashion supermodel, activist (Somalia); Safia El-Emary, actress (Egypt); Catarina Furtado, actress (Portugal); Wendy Fitzwilliam, former Miss Universe (Trinidad and Tobago); Lupita Jones, former Miss Universe (Mexico); Feryal Ali Gauhar, actress/film maker (Pakistan); Linda Gray, actress, environmental activist (United States); Hanne-Vibeke Holst, author and journalist (Denmark); Manisha Koirala, actress (India); Mikko Kuustonen, singer, songwriter (Finland); Mpule Kwelagobe, former Miss Universe (Botswana); Goedele Liekens, media personality (Belgium); Bui Nakhirunkanok, former Miss Universe (Thailand); Bertrand Piccard, scientist-adventurer (Switzerland); Rosy Senanayake, actress, former Miss World (Sri Lanka).

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF): Harry Belafonte, singer, actor (United States); Johann Olav Koss, Olympic champion speed skater (Norway); Mia Farrow, actress (United States); Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, television personality (Japan); Nana Mouskouri, singer (Greece); Youssou N’ Dour, musician (Senegal); Susan Sarandon, actress (United States); Vendela Thommessen, model (Norway); Sir Peter Ustinov, actor (United Kingdom).

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): Djordje Balasevic, singer (Yugoslavia); Adel Imam, actor (Egypt); Arja Saijonmaa, singer (Finland). [n.b. — and now, Angelina Jolie]

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR): Seamus Heaney, Nobel laureate for literature (Ireland); Marian Wright Edelman, activist for children’s rights (United States).

United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODCCP): Al Bano Carrisi, singer (Italy); Franz Klammer, Olympic champion skier (Austria); Tetsuya Komuro, musician (Japan); Letizia Moratti, television executive (Italy).

United Nations Volunteers (UNV): Takehito Nakata, volunteer/activist (Japan).

The public forum will focus on the influence that famous people have in drawing attention to global problems and promoting United Nations action to improve the lives of people everywhere. … Moderated by television journalist Riz Khan of CNN International, it will allow participants to examine how to increase public awareness and support for United Nations work in key areas, such as promoting development assistance to poor countries, tolerance and respect for human rights, disarmament, drug control and help for vulnerable groups such as refugees and children.

Goodwill Ambassadors have served United Nations bodies since UNICEF’s first Goodwill Ambassador, Danny Kaye, was named in 1954.

In 1997, Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed for the first time United Nations Messengers of Peace -– prominent personalities not directly affiliated with an individual United Nations programme. Messengers of Peace are distinguished men and women of talent and passion who have expressed their desire to help focus global attention on the noble aims of the United Nations Charter: a world without war, respect for human rights, international law, and social and economic progress. These appointments were intended to recognize the individual’s commitment to peace, honour and human dignity, and as a means of underlining that working for peace is not solely the province of governments.

Over the years, many prominent people have lent their names, talents and time to support United Nations programmes as Goodwill Ambassadors and celebrity advocates. There is no typical Messenger of Peace or Goodwill Ambassador. In general, however, those named are people of international reputation, outstanding in their fields, who have a demonstrated interest and commitment to the goals and ideals of the United Nations and who accept to serve as advocates, spokespersons and representatives. They are active at a variety of levels — from the national to the global…”

This group [updated, of course] met again at UNHQ/NY in June 2002: UN MESSENGERS OF PEACE, GOODWILL AMBASSADORS SHARE EXPERIENCES, AS TWO-DAY MEETING ON CELEBRITY ADVOCACY OPENS: “The two-day meeting entitled, “Celebrity Advocacy for the New Millennium”, is the second time the group is meeting at Headquarters, the first being almost two years ago. Forty-eight prominent persons, from 27 countries, from the worlds of art, film, music, sports, literature and public affairs have come together to participate in workshops, share information on the priorities of the United Nations system and discuss ways for lending greater impetus to the Millennium Development Goals … The celebrity advocates speak out for the United Nations and nine of its offices, funds and programmes on issues ranging from fighting HIV/AIDS to improving the status of women and protecting children and refugees.”

UN SG Annan would not have missed such a gathering. According to the UN Press release: “Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN apologized for opening on a somber note. He said this morning there had been another desperate act of terror in Israel. ‘My sorrow could not be deeper for all the families touched by the tragedy’, he said, condemning the act. No cause could justify taking innocent lives. It was one more reason to work harder to bring peace to that tragic region. Welcoming the Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace, he said this meeting would help them to gain a deeper understanding of the work of the United Nations. It was just as important, however, that the meeting help people at the United Nations to learn how the Organization might make its message more effective. It was on people as much as governments that the United Nations depended for support. The Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace could connect with people practically everywhere on earth, he said, in particular, they could capture the attention and imagination of young people, to instil in them the values of understanding, solidarity, respect and communication across all cultures, the very ideals the United Nations stood for. In the two years since the first gathering, a great deal had happened to bring home the crucial importance of those values in the twenty-first century. The attacks of 11 September had provided a painful reminder of the need to work together to address global challenges, and the special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS showed that the world indeed was ready to work together in fighting one of the biggest challenges of this age. He said the Nobel Peace Price had offered recognition that to achieve such truly global cooperation in the twenty-first century, the United Nations played an indispensable role, as had been demonstrated by events in East Timor and Sierra Leone, among other things, and by the entry into force of the Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The presence of Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace here today showed vividly that when it came to working together for a better world, there was no divide between civilizations, the Secretary-General said. It showed that the message they would take back to their various audiences and constituencies was truly universal. That message could be summed up in the Millennium Declaration, agreed on by all the world’s countries two years ago as a blueprint for improving people’s lives in the twenty-first century. It was up to national leaders to put it in practice, but Governments could not do it alone. They needed to hear the voices of people who insisted that their leaders would translate those pledges into action. That was where the Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace came in. Referring to the impact Bono had had in arguing the case for debt relief and poverty alleviation in Africa, he said a reporter had told him he was confused about who was the real architect of United States foreign aid policy — the Irish musician or the Treasury Secretary. The commitment of the Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace reflected their true ‘star quality’ –- not the glitter of celebrity on the outside, but the character of the human being inside –- a human being who cared enough to stick with his or her mission. It gave those in difficult situations hope to know that someone cared. ‘Dear ambassadors, dear messengers, dear friends, please go out and use your talent to help us make the world a better place’, he said.”

The same UN Press Release also quoted Angelina Jolie: “ANGELINA JOLIE (United States), actress and Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that despite the fact that she had not learned much in school about what was going on in the world, she had always thought the United Nations was a good institution. When she read in a book about the United Nations that there were more than 20 million refugees and more people displaced, she said she could not believe it. She had called Washington to offer her services. She had gone to Sierra Leone and Pakistan among other countries, and the first trip had completely changed her life. She had become very connected to what was truly important“. [Isn’t this what she says about her children?]

There are also Good Will Ambassadors appointed just for one specific event, such as MARCEL MARCEAU NAMED GOODWILL AMBASSADOR FOR 2002 UNITED NATIONS SECOND WORLD ASSEMBLY ON AGEING: “often referred to as the world’s greatest mime”, Marcel Marceau served as the first Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Second World Assembly on Ageing, in Madrid, Spain from 8 to 12 April 2002. A UN Press Release added that: “Mr. Marceau will accept his designation as Goodwill Ambassador at a press conference on 26 April 2001, at 11:15 a.m., at United Nations Headquarters in New York. Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, will announce Mr. Marceau’s designation. Also participating in the press conference will be: Odile Frank, Chief, Social Integration Branch, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs; and Thérèse Gastaut, Director, Public Affairs Division, Department of Public Information, who will serve as moderator”.

And, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson appointed performer Natacha Atlas as Goodwill Ambassador for the World Conference against Racism.
Mrs. Robinson, Secretary-General of the World Conference, said that Natacha Atlas, a great singer of mixed European-Egyptian-Jewish background, “embodies the message that there is strength in diversity, that our differences — be they ethnic, racial or religious — are a source of riches to be embraced rather than feared.” In fact, Ms. Atlas was the eighth Goodwill Ambassador named for the World Conference Against Racism, which took place in Durban, South Africa, from 31 August to 7 September 2001 [just before the 9/11 hijacking of passenger airplanes which were crashed into the World Trade Center twin towers in NYC, and into the Pentagon building in Washington D.C. ] The other Good Will Ambassadors for the Racism Conference were: Nobel Prize laureates for literature Wole Soyinka of Nigeria and Seamus Heaney of Ireland; Panamanian actor and musician Ruben Blades; Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun; Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar; former Icelandic President Vigdis Finnbogadottir and children’s rights defender Marian Wright Edelman of the United States.

Then, Vanessa Redgrave visited the occupied Palestinian territory in 2004 as a Good Will Ambassador of UNRWA and of UNICEF. An UNRWA Press Release, re-issued as a UN Press Release, reported: “The actress and human rights activist Vanessa Redgrave has made an appeal to the international community to increase its emergency humanitarian assistance to Palestinians suffering in the occupied Palestinian territory and to the Government of Israel to ease its movement restrictions on United Nations agencies. Ms. Redgrave is making her first-ever visit to Palestine, after nearly 30 years of campaigning for peace and justice in the Middle East, as a guest of UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and as a Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s agency. She has already toured some of the crowded refugee camps of the Gaza Strip, seeing for herself the conditions in which Palestine refugees live. She has visited an UNRWA clinic, taken part in a women’s community discussion about the difficulties of their lives under occupation, and helped to launch a UNICEF measles immunization campaign targeting all children under five in the occupied Palestinian territory. Ms. Redgrave also visited the Palestinian Youth Association for Leadership and Rights Activation (PYALARA) and the Children’s Municipal Council in Gaza City. A planned visit to Rafah to meet some of the more than 15,000 people made homeless by Israel’s house demolitions there had to be cancelled because of the internal closure of the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, Ms. Redgrave has visited A’Ram and Qalqilya to see the impact of the barrier on Palestinian communities. Thousands of refugees who rely on UNRWA’s humanitarian aid will be cut off from humanitarian services by the barrier.
As part of an extensive cultural programme, Ms. Redgrave and the British violinist and composer Stephen Bentley, of the InKlein Quartet, will perform for Palestinian children at the Kalandia children’s centre in Kalandia refugee camp. Mr. Bentley will also give a violin master class at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music summer camp at Emmaus village. Ms. Redgrave will perform a short programme of readings at the Al Kasabah Theatre in Ramallah and attend a performance of the theatre’s production of Smile for Palestine. At a press conference in Jerusalem, Ms. Redgrave appealed to the international community to contribute more to UNRWA’s Emergency Appeal for the West Bank and Gaza for 2004. So far, only 30 per cent ($62 million out of $209 million) of UNRWA’s needs for the year has been pledged.”

SG BAN at African Union Summit – Darfur and Somalia on agenda

The continuing conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region is what the new UN Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON has said is his top priority at the moment, and he is in Addis Ababa to discuss this and other matters with African leaders meeting at the African Union Summit.

In a keynote address at the Summit meeting on Monday, BAN urged African leaders to back the urgent deployment of a joint force of UN and African Union peacekeepers. BAN also said that conditions for humanitarian aid workers in Darfur were perilous.

Some of the issues on the agenda have many layers of complication.

Sudan had been in line to assume the rotating presidency of the African Union, and Sudan’s President Al-Bashir was pressing the case. On Monday, however, the African Union elected, instead, Ghana’s President John Kufuor as the new AU leader. (Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is from Ghana, and it is not impossible to imagine him involved in negotiations on Darfur or other issues on the AU agenda.)

Sudan was supposed to assume the AU presidency in 2006, but faced objections — precisely because it was considered unseemly and inappropriate, while the conflict in Darfur continued. However much of a simplification it may be, there is nevertheless a persistent belief that there are racialist components to Sudan’s internal conflicts — which is unacceptable to modern-day Africa.

In recent years, the word “genocide” – a term weighty with international law and treaty implications – has been mentioned in connection with the conflict in Darfur, but it has not been heard much recently.

Last year, Sudan’s President Al-Bashir agreed to postpone for one year his taking office as African Union head, while a Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was negotiated and finally pushed through, with African Union and international mediation (mainly U.S. and British) last May.

(Interestingly, SG BAN did not mention the DPA in remarks to journalists after his meeting with Sudan’s President Al-Bashir in Addis Ababa on Monday — he pointedly spoke only of the CPA, which is the Comprehensive Political Agreement reached between the Government and southern Sudan: “I reiterated the UN’s strong commitment to the political process in Sudan, emphasizing the centrality of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the importance of its timely and effective implementation…”)

President Al-Bashir has so far adamantly refused to accept UN Peacekeeping in Darfur, even at the cost of defying a UN Security Council resolution adopted late last year.

An interim agreement has permitted a few specialized UN Peacekeeping military and police forces and other personnel, as well as equipment, to deploy in Darfur, but they are functioning in support of the African Unit peacekeepers there.

One big question is the Addis Ababa meeting: can President Al-Bashir be persuaded to drop his opposition to the larger United Nations Peacekeeping presence in Darfur that has already been approved by the UN Security Council?

After the talks between UN SG BAN and Sudan’s President in Addis Ababa on Monday, Reuters news agency reported that “Sudanese presidential adviser Majzoub al-Khalifa said there was consensus on the first two stages of U.N. support for a 7,500-strong African Union mission in Darfur, but there was no agreement to deploy a hybrid force. ‘We are in full agreement on the first and second stages. We began discussions on the third stage,’ Khalifa told Reuters after 1-1/2 hours of talks which made Bashir late for a meeting of African leaders to decide the chair of the pan-African body. The violence in Darfur generated strong opposition to Sudan taking over the AU chairmanship in Addis, as promised a year ago. Sudan said it eventually withdrew to avoid dividing the continent. Khalifa said: ‘We have agreed on a hybrid operation not a hybrid force‘.”

The conflict in Darfur is an internal Sudanese dispute. But, UN member states have accepted that there is a “responsibility to protect” populations being victimized within their own countries. In addition, spill-over effects from the conflict in Darfur, including cross-border incidents, have given it an international dimension which some governments (France is apparently leading in this) argue gives justification for also putting UN peacekeepers in neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic, and this has already come under discussion in the UN Security Council.

Alex de Waal, who has participated as an expert adviser in the Darfur peace negotiations, wrote in the London Review of Books last November that “Military intervention won’t stop the killing. Those who are clamouring for troops to fight their way into Darfur are suffering from a salvation delusion. It’s a simple reality that UN troops can’t stop an ongoing war, and their record at protecting civilians is far from perfect. Moreover, the idea of Bush and Blair acting as global moral arbiters doesn’t travel well. The crisis in Darfur is political. It’s a civil war, and like all wars it needs a political settlement”.

The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), finalised in May 2006, was signed by the Sudan government and just one of the rebel factions. De Waal wrote: “Had the leader of the main part of the Sudan Liberation Movement also signed, the current crisis would not have happened”. In addition, he pointed out that “It doesn’t specify a UN peacekeeping force – this issue was left for the UN to negotiate with Khartoum”.

De Waal also wrote that “Allowing in UN troops to police a ceasefire and implement a peace agreement that will help the Congress Party consolidate its place in Sudan is one thing. Allowing in ‘international forces’ – the Arabic term, quwat al dauliya, is the same as the one used for coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan – midway through a conflict, with an open-ended mandate, is quite another.

The combination of a huge international force – it would take many more than the 20,000 estimated to be needed to enforce a ceasefire – and 8000 Minawi troops with, Khartoum suspects, direct US backing, would in effect bring about a separation of Darfur from the rest of the country…Bashir’s other main fear is that a UN force would be mandated to execute International Criminal Court arrest warrants. With indictments expected soon, Bashir is fearful that his close military colleagues are likely to be on the list”.

Jan Pronk, the former Special Representative of former UN SG Kofi Annan, who was declared persona non grata in October by the Sudanese government — and who later lamented the lack of support he received from the UN bureaucracy — wrote on his blog on 13 March 2006 that: “The political climate in Sudan towards the UN is deteriorating. In the press statements have been published citing civil society organizations calling for ‘resistance against foreign intervention’, ‘raising the flag of Jihad’, warning both the international community and Sudanese authorities not to ‘help the colonization to come to Darfur’, referring to the West as ‘the devil’, calling for martyrdom and for a readiness to sacrifice and ‘to repulse any attack’, announcing a ‘graveyard for the invaders’. In most statements reference is made to the examples of Afghanistan and Iraq. Clearly the majority of the people assume that there are UN forces in these two countries. This is not the case, but opinion leaders and the public do not make a distinction between the UN and the US or NATO. Those who are aware of the difference express their fear that the UN will pave the way for the US and NATO or say that the UN is an instrument in the hands of the US.”

On the same post, Jan Pronk write that “An award of $100.000 has been promised to the person who will kill me. This has been published in the newspaper Al Watan, with the name of the organization and its leader who have announced this award. It goes with the job and we cannot afford to be intimidated…”

Pronk’s mandate from the UN ended on 31 December.

Pronk write on his blog on 5 March 2006 that he had “brought two messages to my colleagues in New York and to the ambassador members of the Security Council. First: the people must be protected and we can no longer wait. Second: do not organize the protection in such a way that the peace keepers become part of the problem, rather than the solution…. my thoughts went back to Srebrenica, 1995. Will we make the same mistakes, or other, with similar consequences?”

Toward the end of last year, the UN says, Sudan’s President Al-Bashir had “responded positively to three-phase approach presented by the United Nations and the African Union as a package.”

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reported a first meeting on 11 December in Khartoum of a Tripartite Mechanism, composed of representatives of UNMIS, the African Union and the Sudanese Government: “They were discussing how to implement the $21 million UN support package to AMIS, the first part of a three-phase process that is expected to eventually culminate in a hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur.”

However, on 10 January, there was a conflicting indication. The Times of London reported that “Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has rejected the deployment of UN troops in Darfur, saying they were not required,” and that African Union troops were sufficient, the Times (London) reported. “His comment contradicted statements by Sudanese officials, who said last month the government would accept a limited number of UN forces…”

The next day, UN SG BAN KI-MOON told journalists at UNHQ/NY he had just spoken with Jan Eliasson, the Special Representative for Darfur, who was in Sudan that morning, “and he is encouraged by his meetings with President Bashir and other Sudanese leaders…he was assured of very strong cooperation and assistance on the part of the Sudanese Government and President to have a very good cooperation among United Nations, Sudanese Government and the African Union. Therefore, I’m not quite sure about what he said about this so-called – you said ‘rejection’ – of UN forces. Because of the sensitivity of this situation, I’m not in a position to tell you much in detail…I can tell you at this time that this is on the highest priority which I am pursuing…[but] I am not in a position to disclose all what I have been discussing with African leaders.”

Sudanese and UN officials have also said that recent accusations of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers in southern Sudan may be another factor that could jeopardize UN deployment in Darfur.

Ban told journalists in New York: “I will also stress the UN policy on sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping personnel and others: zero tolerance means zero complacency and zero impunity. In the coming months, I will work with Member States to forge an ever stronger partnership to ensure that accountability is brought to bear — among the perpetrators, and among their commanders and superiors.”

Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) meeting is being held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where the AU secretariat is located. The UN also has its African regional office in Addis Ababa.

But, Ethiopian troops (with U.S. training and backing) have recently invaded neighboring Somalia — albeit in support of a Provisional Somalia Government that is supported by the UN Security Council.

The target of the Ethiopian military strike was the Islamic Courts grouping, which was able to bring some degree of law and order where the Provisional Somalia Government had been unable to do so. (The Ethiopians say that the Islamic Courts were getting help from Ethiopia’s arch-rival, Eritrea. It was only a quick hop and a jump from there to claim that the Ethiopian military action in Somalia was a strike against international terrorism, al-Qaeda, and “Islamic fascism”.)

The situation in Somalia is also on the agenda at the African Union Summit.