October 19th, 2012
12:53 AM ET

Time to lay off the Benghazi issue

By Michael O'Hanlon, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings (where he was a colleague of Rice’s for several years), teaches at Princeton and Columbia and Johns Hopkins and is a member of the CIA External Advisory Board. The views expressed are his own.

Ambassador Susan Rice has been roundly criticized of late for her comments made on five Sunday morning talk shows the weekend after the Benghazi tragedy in which four Americans lost their lives to a terrorist attack. Because Rice stated her belief that the violence was the result of a mass demonstration gone bad, rather than the planned extremist attacks we now know them to be, some have even gone so far as to demand her resignation from her current cabinet position as United States ambassador to the United Nations.

This is way off the mark and extremely unfair to a dedicated official who has served the country tirelessly and remarkably over her four years in the Obama administration. Rice did not choose all her words perfectly that weekend, even based on what was known at the time, it is true. There should have been a bit more nuance and more acknowledgement of the uncertainty in some of them. But there is no basis for concluding that she sought to mislead, and no reason to think that harm came to the country's interests because of her comments. While there are issues worth debating in regards to Benghazi, to Libya, and to the state of the Arab awakenings more generally, the unkind focus on Rice badly misses the mark.

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Topics: Arab Spring • Libya • Terrorism • United Nations • United States
October 17th, 2012
10:35 AM ET

‘Traditional Values’ code for human rights abuse?

By Graeme Reid, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Graeme Reid is director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.

The U.N. Human Rights Council recently passed a resolution on “traditional values of humankind” as a vehicle for “promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.” It sounds innocuous, but its implications are ominous. Indeed, it is an immediate threat to the rights of many vulnerable groups – including women and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) people. And it flies in the face of the founding principles of universality and indivisibility enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This is the third Russian-sponsored traditional values resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council. The second, in 2011, called for a study, and the resulting draft study is highly critical of “traditional values” as a framework, criticizing the concept as “vague, subjective and unclear.” The third, though, adopted on September 27, affirms traditional values as a valid framework for human rights.

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Topics: Human Rights • Russia • United Nations
Obama steps up over freedom of speech
September 25th, 2012
07:20 PM ET

Obama steps up over freedom of speech

By Fareed Zakaria

Mitt Romney and his campaign feel that they have an opening in the presidential campaign, on foreign policy at least. The unrest in the Middle East the past couple of weeks, including the killing of the American ambassador to Libya and widespread protests over a controversial YouTube video that has been condemned as blasphemous, has left a general sense of turmoil in the region. The Romney campaign wants to take advantage of it.

On the surface, it seems like a reasonable idea. And Obama has made some missteps including the inexplicable decision to not meet with any foreign leaders this week during the U.N. General Assembly. But I don’t think it will work. And one need look no further than President Obama’s speech at the General Assembly to see why.

International events, even crises, typically help the president because they make him look, well, presidential. The symbolism of Obama delivering a speech at the United Nations will have been a powerful reminder to the public that Obama is the president and Mitt Romney is not. This in turn has the effect of conferring a certain gravitas on the incumbent.

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September 25th, 2012
10:31 AM ET

The five big issues at the U.N. General Assembly this week

By Mark Leon Goldberg

Mark Leon Goldberg is editor of U.N. Dispatch where a version of this originally appeared. The views expressed are his own.

1. Stuck on Syria

“I have 120 bilateral meetings,” Ban Ki Moon told press assembled for his annual briefing on the upcoming General Assembly last week. “Syria is at the top of my agenda.”

Ban’s focus is warranted. Since last year’s U.N. Summit, the Syrian rebellion morphed from a brutally suppressed uprising to an all out civil war. All the while, the Syrian crisis has exposed deep fissures at the Security Council between Western countries on one side and Russia and China on the other. On three separate occasions, Russia and China cast rare double vetoes to block the Security Council from taking measures that might undermine Bashar al-Assad’s tenuous grip on power.

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Topics: United Nations
September 10th, 2012
09:31 AM ET

Rewarding Afghanistan’s torturers?

By Brad Adams, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Brad Adams is the Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.

The Afghanistan government appears to have a new policy for dealing with government officials accused of sadistic torture: it rewards them with job promotions.

President Hamid Karzai has announced that he will appoint Asadullah Khalid as chief of Afghanistan’s main intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS). Khalid is no garden variety spy chief. The current minister of border and tribal affairs and former governor of Kandahar and Ghazni provinces, he has been accused of running an unauthorized secret prison in Kandahar where torture was routine. Parliamentary confirmation is by no means a sure thing, but Karzai regularly circumvents parliament’s control over cabinet appointments by leaving government officials in an acting capacity for years.

“This will take the NDS back 10 years, to when they could do anything they wanted while everyone looked the other way, as long as they were killing Talibs,” a diplomat with many years’ experience in Afghanistan told Human Rights Watch. “If the U.S. doesn’t stand up and fight this, it will prove that they have lost all interest in human rights and the rule of law in Afghanistan.”

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Topics: Afghanistan • Taliban • United Nations • United States
Ban’s surprisingly effective Iran visit
September 5th, 2012
11:31 AM ET

Ban’s surprisingly effective Iran visit

By Daniel R. DePetris, Special to CNN

Daniel R. DePetris is the senior associate editor of the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis.  The views expressed are his own.

The highly-publicized trip last week to Tehran by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was supposed to be a prime opportunity for the Iranian leadership to demonstrate to the rest of the world that the country still has a vital role to play in international diplomacy, despite four rounds of Security Council sanctions and tough economic pressure from the United States and the European Union.

Indeed, afraid that a visit to the Iranian capital by Ban would sabotage a steady and persistent campaign against Tehran on a whole range of issues, Obama administration officials and members of Congress spent a considerable amount of time urging Ban to skip the summit and bypass Iran entirely.  The Washington Post editorial board, for its part, came out swinging with its own impassioned plea to dissuade the secretary general from making the trip: “By attending the Tehran conference, Mr. Ban will dignify a bacchanal of nonsense.”

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Topics: Iran • United Nations
Has U.N. lost its peacekeeping mandate?
September 3rd, 2012
12:05 PM ET

Has U.N. lost its peacekeeping mandate?

By Brian Klein, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Brian P. Klein is an economic consultant and former U.S. diplomat. The views expressed are his own.

Now that Kofi Annan has stepped down from his position as U.N. Arab League Envoy to Syria and peacekeeping troops are being removed from the country one has to wonder – does the United Nations have any role to play in conflict resolution?

The reality is that the Annan Plan, which supported an interim government to shepherd Syria into a post-dictatorship future, was doomed from the start. Bashar al-Assad was to unilaterally step down in the middle of ongoing hostilities while his forces held the momentum against a popular uprising.

Al-Assad of course played the statesman, met with U.N. officials and allowed troops to enter Syria. No one was fooled for long. His military began an all-out assault soon after Annan’s plane took off. Helicopter gunships and fighter jets strafed cities as civilian casualties mounted. Nearly $17 million was authorized for the 150 military observers and 105 civilians. While a paltry sum considering the more than $7 billion peacekeeping budget, that money could have funded, for example, 2,400 water projects for creating wells to bring safe drinking water to over a million people in need.

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Topics: United Nations
How to beat Africa’s water crisis
August 23rd, 2012
02:26 PM ET

How to beat Africa’s water crisis

By Michel Camdessus, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michel Camdessus is former managing director of the International Monetary Fund and a member of the U.N. Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. This is the first in a new series of articles for GPS by members of the Africa Progress Panel, a foundation chaired by Kofi Annan.

Recent discoveries of water reserves under some of Africa’s mightiest deserts raise hopes for quenching African thirst. But the reality is much more grim. From parched desert to tropical forest, roughly 40 percent of Africans, mostly the rural poor, will not get access to clean water any time soon, a fact that exacerbates poverty, hunger, and disease. Indeed, every year, dirty water kills an estimated 750,000 African children under the age of five.

And while rich countries worry about obesity, recent droughts in the Sahel and Horn of Africa have forced millions of Africans to flee their ancestral lands in search of food. To complicate matters further, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expects climate change to hit Africa harder than anywhere else.

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Topics: Africa • Climate • Environment • United Nations • Water
Syria's 'pinball' opposition
August 6th, 2012
04:26 PM ET

Syria's 'pinball' opposition

Editor's note: Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab has reportedly defected from Bashar al-Assad’s regime to join “the revolution.” But who is behind the so-called revolution? CNN’s Tim Lister shares his thoughts on the state of the opposition in Syria, and what the reports of jihadist involvement could mean.

What is the state of the opposition? Since the unrest began, we've heard that there wasn’t a united opposition as was the case in places such as Libya. Has that changed?

Bashar al-Assad’s opponents – both the politicians and the fighters – are like a bunch of pinballs flying in different directions, often beyond control and sometimes cannoning off each other. That’s always been the concern about Syria, one that Assad himself has encouraged – a sort of "Après moi, le deluge." The ethnographic map of Syria looks like a Jackson Pollock painting: Sunnis, Kurds, Alawites and Christians live cheek by jowl (although the Kurds are heavily concentrated in the northeast.) All have their own priorities and agendas. Many Christians and Alawites believe that whatever follows this regime would be worse for them. Many Kurds view the upheaval as an opportunity to achieve their own state within a state (much like their brethren in Iraq.)

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Topics: Middle East • Syria • United Nations
August 3rd, 2012
04:42 PM ET

Diplomacy over Syria may be about to get messier – and perhaps more fruitful

By Chris Brown, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Chris Brown is professor of international relations at the London School of Economics.  The views expressed are the writer’s own.

The resignation of Kofi Annan from his role as U.N. envoy to Syria does no more than recognize what has been clear for most of the past three months, namely that in this case, the standard peacemaking model of a ceasefire followed by talks between the parties to produce a compromise has no chance of success.

A year ago, such an initiative might have worked. But too much blood has now been spilled, and, crucially, the conflict has become overtly sectarian in a way that wasn’t the case in its early stages.

Annan, in his valedictory message in the Financial Times yesterday, is still inclined to blame disunity in the Security Council for the failure of his plan. “Only a united international community can compel both sides to engage in a peaceful political transition,” he argues. This should, I think, be revised to “not even a united international community can compel both sides to engage in a peaceful political transition if neither side conceives it to be in their interest to do so.”

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Topics: Brazil • Middle East • Russia • Syria • United Nations
Will Syria be the next Lebanon?
August 3rd, 2012
09:38 AM ET

Will Syria be the next Lebanon?

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Kofi Annan’s resignation as the U.N. and Arab League joint special envoy is a blow to any hopes that the situation in Syria could go down a stable path. It has also dashed hopes that an early route could be found to an inclusive government that could oversee decreasing levels of violence. Annan represented the possibility of something positive for Syria, and his departure is a sign that things are going to continue to spiral downwards.

There are two basic problems in Syria – an internal and an external political divide. The internal divide is evident every day. We have a brutal regime that is using maximum force, one that is making no concessions and that is simply holding onto power by any means possible. That is the principle problem in Syria, and one that can only be resolved if Bashar al-Assad and the people around him are deposed from power.

But there’s also a sectarian problem in Syria as is evidenced by the fact that minorities, who comprise 40 percent of the population, don’t seem to have joined the opposition. The Alawites, of course, who make up about 12 percent of Syria, are sticking with the Alawite-dominated regime. But the Christians appear to be doing so as well, for fear of what would happen to them in a majoritarian and more Islamist Syria. Other Syrian minorities such as the Kurds also don’t seem part of the Free Syria Army.

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Topics: Arab Spring • Middle East • Russia • Syria • United Nations
The Security Council’s Syria shame
August 2nd, 2012
05:39 PM ET

The Security Council’s Syria shame

By José Luis Díaz, Special to CNN

Editor's note: José Luis Díaz is Amnesty International’s representative at the United Nations. The views expressed are his own.

If there were still any doubts about just how massive the U.N. Security Council’s failure on Syria has been, today’s news out of Geneva surely put paid to them. Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan surprised most observers this morning with his resignation as joint U.N.-Arab League envoy on Syria. The surprise is likely as much about the timing as anything else. No one at the United Nations would say it publicly, but all the players knew the “six-point plan” Annan crafted, and which the Security Council later endorsed, was moribund, if not dead. Annan’s resignation will also make it that much more difficult to renew the U.N. observation mission in Syria, an operation some Council members want shut down in two weeks’ time as there’s no ceasefire to observe. So the question really wasn’t whether Annan would throw in the towel, but when.
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Topics: Middle East • Syria • United Nations
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