Leaked UAE emails could threaten peace talks in Libya

The New York Times reports: The United Arab Emirates was shipping weapons to favored belligerents in Libya over the summer in violation of an international arms embargo while simultaneously offering a highly paid job to the United Nations diplomat drafting a peace accord there, leaked Emirati emails show.

The leaked correspondence is threatening to undermine months of Libyan talks by tarring the diplomat with an apparent conflict of interest. The emails also open a new window into the hidden and contradictory machinations of regional players like the United Arab Emirates that have helped inflame the fighting even as their diplomats say they support a peaceful solution.

“The fact of the matter is that the U.A.E. violated the U.N. Security Council Resolution on Libya and continues to do so,” Ahmed al-Qasimi, a senior Emirati diplomat, wrote in an email on Aug. 4 to Lana Nusseibeh, the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the United Nations. [Continue reading…]


Do Tehran and Moscow still believe Assad’s political survival depends on mass murder?

Frederic C. Hof writes: In Syria consent for the country to be used as a supply and training base for Hezbollah is limited to Assad-Makhluf family and its enablers. Popular consent in Syria is the last thing Tehran wishes to facilitate.

What Iran might be willing to consider, however, is — with the support of Moscow — obliging its client to suspend indefinitely the worst aspects of his mass homicide political survival strategy. Assad will not conduct mass casualty events — barrel bombing, artillery barrages, aircraft strafing, or Scud missile assaults on apartment blocks — if Iran and Russia instruct him not to do so. If so ordered, Assad will direct the lifting of sieges and the unrestricted passage of United Nations humanitarian assistance convoys to people desperately in need of food and medical treatment.

The key question here is whether Tehran and Moscow will persist in believing that mass terror is essential to their client’s political survival. For some four years they have believed so. To the extent that the Supreme Leader and Russian President Vladimir Putin have had reputations worth preserving, they have jeopardized them by facilitating the ability of the Assad regime to conduct war crimes and crimes against humanity with absolute impunity. As they evaluate the Syrian situation now, in October 2015, do they still believe that Assad’s political survival must rest on mass homicide?

This is the question that could conceivably produce a new answer from Tehran. Speaking privately in track two settings, senior non-governmental Iranians have expressed regret over and disgust with Assad regime behavior toward defenseless civilians. Can Tehran reconcile the protection of civilians in Syria with its own national security interests? This — rather than some manner of political grand bargain over Syria — would be worth a serious discussion in Vienna. [Continue reading…]


Diplomatic opening has not led to any improvement in Iran’s human rights record

Foreign Policy reports: It has been a bumper year for capital punishment in Iran.

Tehran hanged at least 694 people between Jan. 1 and Sept. 15, the highest rate of executions in the Islamic Republic in some 25 years, according to a report released Tuesday by a U.N. human rights monitor.

The pace of executions is likely driven by a surge in drug crimes, which accounted for 69 percent of the executions in the first half of 2015, according to the 26-page report.

The report’s findings present a decidedly harsh image of the country at a time when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his American-educated foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have been promoting a more moderate vision of Iran to the outside world.

Since signing a landmark nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers in July, Tehran has been hosting a procession of Western officials and business leaders looking to do business with a newly sanctions-free Iran. But even if the country has seen a diplomatic opening of sorts since Rouhani came to power in the summer of 2013, that hasn’t translated into any improvement in other sensitive areas.

“In terms of human rights, there has been no sign of improvement in the country,” Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, told reporters at a press conference Tuesday at U.N. headquarters. [Continue reading…]


We Syrians are losing our faith in the international community

A letter to The Guardian: We, a group of Syrian civil society organisations and actors, both men and women, from multiple sects and ethnic and minority backgrounds, write this following Russia’s recent airstrikes (Russia sends in bombers and raises stakes in Syria, 1 October). It has become eminently clear that the international community has little political will to stop the bloodshed in Syria. Indeed, the international community’s collective failure to help end the conflict created the vacuum for the de facto occupation of our country by Iran and now Russia. While the United Nations has repeatedly expressed “deep concern” and “regret” at the tremendous loss of life and the mass displacement of Syrians, the international community has done next to nothing to deter the main perpetrator of the conflict in Syria: the Assad regime.

The dire situation in Syria is no mystery. After four years of conflict, half the country has been killed, displaced or exiled. Indeed, airstrikes by the Syrian regime are the foremost driver of the Syrian refugee crisis and the leading cause of death in Syria (66% of civilian deaths by May 2015); 95% of all deaths caused by regime airstrikes are civilians – not members of Isis or armed opposition groups. While UN resolution after resolution has condemned the use of indiscriminate weapons against civilians, there has been no international action to stop regime aerial attacks. And now Russia has joined in the slaughter of Syrians with nothing more than feigned concern by the international community. [Continue reading…]


Why solving climate change will be like mobilizing for war

Venkatesh Rao writes: If scientists are right, and there is no reason to think they aren’t, averting climate change will require such large-scale, rapid action, that no single energy technology, new or emerging, could be the solution. Neither could any single non-energy technology, such as video-conferencing as a substitute for travel, solve the problem on its own.

There is always a possibility that a single cheap and effective solution will emerge, rendering expensive interventions moot, but few climate experts are willing to trust the future to that unlikely prospect.

The challenge therefore, is one of rapid, concerted deployment of a portfolio of emerging and mature energy and non-energy technologies. This means accepting a certain level of attendant risks. The Volkwagen emissions scandal illustrates these risks well: Aggressive forcing, through EU policy instruments, of the adoption of diesel engines (which are better suited to reducing emissions) created incentives that led to sophisticated gaming.

The Volkswagen scandal won’t be the last or the worst. Unlike many of the other objections put forth by climate skeptics, the objection that managing moral hazards at a planetary scale might prove impossible is a solid one.

Assuming we do manage to significantly accelerate deployment without cancerous levels of corporatist corruption, if emissions targets still remain out of reach, some growth must be temporarily sacrificed. At the same time, investment across the portfolio of energy technologies will need to continue.

In other words, we are contemplating the sorts of austerities associated with wartime economies. For ordinary Americans, austerities might include an end to expansive suburban lifestyles and budget air travel, and an accelerated return to high-density urban living and train travel. For businesses, this might mean rethinking entire supply chains, as high-emissions sectors become unviable under new emissions regimes.

What [Bill] Gates and others are advocating for is not so much a technological revolution as a technocratic one. One for which there is no successful peacetime precedent. Which is not to say, of course, that it cannot work. There is always a first time for every new level of complexity and scale in human cooperation. But it’s sobering to look back at the (partial) precedents we do have.

Of the previous six energy revolutions of comparable magnitude — wind, water, coal, oil, electricity, and nuclear — only nuclear power had anywhere near the same level of early-stage technocratic shaping that we are contemplating. Among technological revolutions outside the energy sector, only space exploration, nuclear-weapons technology, and computing technology have had similar levels of bureaucratic direction.

None of these are true comparables, however, for one critical reason. In each historical case, the revolution was highly focused on a single core technology rather than a broad portfolio of technologies, and a managed transition of infrastructure at civilization scale. [Continue reading…]


Afghan Taliban’s reach is widest since 2001, UN says

The New York Times reports: The Taliban insurgency has spread through more of Afghanistan than at any point since 2001, according to data compiled by the United Nations as well as interviews with numerous local officials in areas under threat.

In addition, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan over the past two weeks has evacuated four of its 13 provincial offices around the country — the most it has ever done for security reasons — according to local officials in the affected areas.

The data, compiled in early September — even before the latest surge in violence in northern Afghanistan — showed that United Nations security officials had already rated the threat level in about half of the country’s administrative districts as either “high” or “extreme,” more than at any time since the American invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001.

That assessment, which has not been publicly released but is routinely shared by the United Nations with countries in the international coalition, appears at odds with the assessment of its American commander, Gen. John F. Campbell, in his testimony to Congress last week. [Continue reading…]


Major investors call on governments to secure a clear, long-term goal on climate action in Paris

We Mean Business: Almost 400 institutional investors representing more than $24 trillion in assets relased a statement in top-tier business and finance journals around the world, today.

In a previous letter to the G7 governments, investors noted that with the right market signals from policy makers, investment in low-carbon and climate resilient opportunities can flow and climate impacts and resulting economic damages can be mitigated.

Today’s statement from the group of investors who are responsible for managing the retirement savings and investments of millions of people, called for governments who will meet at the December climate negotiations in Paris to secure a clear, long-term goal. A long-term goal will enable investors to deploy more capital and unleash a wave of innovation, reduce emissions, build climate resilience and protect the investments and the livelihoods of millions of citizens around the world. [Continue reading…]


As Saudis block a human rights inquiry in Yemen, America stays quiet

Vice News reports: A Dutch-led effort to create a human rights mission for Yemen was abandoned Wednesday amid intense Saudi opposition at the UN, but human rights experts are laying blame in part at the feet of the United States, which failed to vigorously back the Netherlands — and may have worked behind the scenes to head off the independent investigation.

A Saudi-led coalition has bombed Yemen since late March in an attempt to push back Houthi rebels and their allies and reinstate the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. The US (and UK) offers logistical support for the coalition, in addition to selling billions of dollars in weapons to its members, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. US officials say American personnel are also involved in providing targeting assistance for airstrikes, which the UN says are responsible for the majority of the more than 2,300 civilian deaths in the conflict in the past six months.

In September, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for an independent, international inquiry into crimes committed in Yemen in the preceding year. Shortly after, the Netherlands, supported by several European countries, presented a draft resolution to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). Among other elements, it called for a human rights mission, commissioned by Zeid, to be sent to Yemen, and for that team to be allowed access to all areas of the country.

Multiple sources familiar with negotiations in Geneva, where the HRC is located, said the Dutch initially encountered objections from the Yemeni government, as well as from the Saudis, Qataris, and Emiratis — all three of whom currently sit on the council.

The Saudis and other Arab members of the council then introduced an alternative text, which called for the UN to only assist an existing national inquiry in Yemen, established by the government in exile in Riyadh, which supports the Saudi-led intervention. Human rights and civil society groups considered it unacceptable, both due to its content and because it was introduced by a belligerent in Yemen’s war. They offered public support to the Dutch.

Largely quiet on the matter was the United States. After multiple requests for comment on whether the American government supported an international, independent human rights inquiry for Yemen, US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power released an ambiguously worded statement on September 24. [Continue reading…]


Saudi objections halt UN inquiry of Yemen war

The New York Times reports: In a U-turn at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Western governments dropped plans Wednesday for an international inquiry into human rights violations by all parties in the war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians in the last six months.

The change of direction came as the Netherlands withdrew the draft of a resolution it had prepared with support from a group of mainly Western countries that instructed the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to send experts to Yemen to investigate the conduct of the war.

That proposal was a follow-up to recommendations by the commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who detailed in a report this month the heavy civilian loss of life inflicted not only by the relentless airstrikes of the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia but also by the indiscriminate shelling carried out by Houthi rebels. [Continue reading…]


Ukrainian president mocks Putin in front of United Nations

The Washington Post reports: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko sought to return his country’s long-running conflict with Russia to center stage Tuesday, telling the United Nations General Assembly that Russia has been waging an aggressive war of occupation against Ukraine.

The Russian delegation was not present in the General Assembly Hall for Poroshenko’s speech, an apparently deliberate boycott. On Monday, the Ukrainian delegation pointedly left the hall when Russian President Vladimir Putin started speaking.

Though he did not mention Putin by name, Poroshenko openly mocked the Russian president’s call for an anti-terrorism coalition to fight radicals in Syria, characterizing it as “double-tongued.”

“Cool story,” he said, his voice dripping in sarcasm. “But really hard to believe.

“How can you urge an anti-terrorism coalition if you inspire terrorism right in front of your own door? How can you talk peace and legitimacy if your policy is war via puppet government? How can you speak for freedom for nations if you punish your neighbor for this choice? How can you demand respect for all if you don’t have respect for anyone?”

Many Ukrainians fear their confrontation with Russia, which began in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, has been sidelined under a blizzard of international crises, particularly the war raging in Syria. [Continue reading…]


Obama’s call at UN to fight ISIS with ideas is largely seen as futile

The New York Times reports: At least eight Islamic State branches in the Middle East and Afghanistan have cropped up in recent years or have redefined themselves as allies, such as the Boko Haram insurgency group in Nigeria.

At the same time, international efforts to combat the Islamic State’s online propaganda messaging has been an abysmal failure, according to a recent State Department assessment.

So far, the Islamic State’s violent narrative — promulgated through thousands of messages each day — has effectively “trumped” the efforts of some of the world’s richest and most technologically advanced nations, the State Department assessment said. [Continue reading…]


Abbas says he’s no longer bound by Oslo Accords

The New York Times reports: Demonstrating a new level of tension with Israel, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority declared Wednesday that it was no longer bound by the Oslo Accords that formed the basis for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his annual General Assembly speech, Mr. Abbas accused Israel of having violated the accords and subsequent agreements. He asserted that there was no reason the Palestinians should remain faithful to them as long as the Israelis were not.

“We cannot continue to be bound by these signed agreements with Israel and Israel must assume fully all its responsibility as an occupying power,” Mr. Abbas said.

There had been speculation fed by Mr. Abbas’s aides that he would drop a “bombshell” announcement during his speech. While the announcement sounded serious, the practical effects were not immediately clear. [Continue reading…]


Pope Francis at the UN: ‘Any harm done to the environment, is harm done to humanity’

Pope Francis addressing the United Nations General Assembly today: The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realization that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity. In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings. The effective distribution of power (political, economic, defense-related, technological, etc.) among a plurality of subjects, and the creation of a juridical system for regulating claims and interests, are one concrete way of limiting power. Yet today’s world presents us with many false rights and – at the same time – broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded. These sectors are closely interconnected and made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships. That is why their rights must be forcefully affirmed, by working to protect the environment and by putting an end to exclusion.

First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which “are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology” (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.).

The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”.

War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.

To this end, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm. The experience of these seventy years since the founding of the United Nations in general, and in particular the experience of these first fifteen years of the third millennium, reveal both the effectiveness of the full application of international norms and the ineffectiveness of their lack of enforcement. When the Charter of the United Nations is respected and applied with transparency and sincerity, and without ulterior motives, as an obligatory reference point of justice and not as a means of masking spurious intentions, peaceful results will be obtained. When, on the other hand, the norm is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favourable, and to be avoided when it is not, a true Pandora’s box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces which gravely harm defenseless populations, the cultural milieu and even the biological environment.

The Preamble and the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations set forth the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapons. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.

The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy. I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved.

In this sense, hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community. For this reason, while regretting to have to do so, I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.

These realities should serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the part of those charged with the conduct of international affairs. Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in every situation of conflict, as in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region, real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be. In wars and conflicts there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.

As I wrote in my letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 9 August 2014, “the most basic understanding of human dignity compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities” and to protect innocent peoples. [Continue reading…]


Putin said to plan ISIS strike with or without U.S.

Bloomberg reports: President Vladimir Putin, determined to strengthen Russia’s only military outpost in the Middle East, is preparing to launch unilateral airstrikes against Islamic State from inside Syria if the U.S. rejects his proposal to join forces, two people familiar with the matter said.

Putin’s preferred course of action, though, is for America and its allies to agree to coordinate their campaign against the terrorist group with Russia, Iran and the Syrian army, which the Obama administration has so far resisted, according to a person close to the Kremlin and an adviser to the Defense Ministry in Moscow.

Russian diplomacy has shifted into overdrive as Putin seeks to avoid the collapse of the embattled regime of Bashar al-Assad, a longtime ally who’s locked in a 4 1/2 year civil war against opponents including Sunni extremists fighting under the banner of Islamic State. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Moscow for talks with Putin this week, followed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Putin’s proposal, which Russia has communicated to the U.S., calls for a “parallel track” of joint military action accompanied by a political transition away from Assad, a key U.S. demand, according to a third person. The initiative will be the centerpiece of Putin’s one-day trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 28, which will include a meeting with President Barack Obama, both the White House and Kremlin said Thursday. [Continue reading…]


Human migration will be a defining issue of this century. How best to cope?

Alexander Betts writes: Throughout the crisis, a debate has been on whether it is a “migrant” or a “refugee” crisis. It has been important for the public to understand that most people coming to Europe have been from refugee-producing countries and that “refugees” have a particular set of rights under international law. Furthermore, people have a right to seek asylum, and have their claims to refugee status adjudicated.

However, the stark dichotomy between “refugee” and “economic migrant” masks a growing trend: that many people coming fall between those two extremes.

The modern global refugee regime was established at a particular juncture of history, in the aftermath of the Holocaust and at the start of the cold war. The 1951 convention on the status of refugees defines a refugee as someone fleeing “persecution”, based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group, or political opinion. The interpretation of that definition has adapted over time. But at its core was the idea of protecting people whose own governments were either out to get them or unable to prevent persecution by others. Today, the sources of cross-border displacement are increasingly complex, and many fit poorly with the 1951 convention.

Environmental change, food insecurity, and generalised violence, for example, represent emerging sources of human displacement. In strong states, the government can usually provide some kind of remedy or resolution to people affected by these types of crisis. However, much less so in fragile states. People who fall outside the internationally recognised definition of a refugee but are nevertheless fleeing very serious socio-economic rights deprivations might be called “survival migrants”.

In the contemporary world, a significant proportion of the people we attempt to describe as economic migrants fall into this category.

Survival migration has been an emerging challenge. Nearly a decade ago, Zimbabwean asylum seekers fleeing Robert Mugabe’s regime made up the largest group of asylum seekers in the world. Most British people would probably assume that at the height of the crisis between 2003 and 2009 the majority would have been refugees. However, in South Africa, to where the overwhelming proportion fled, only about 10% were recognised as refugees and up to 300,000 people a year were deported back to Zimbabwe. The reason for this was simple: they were not judged to fit the 1951 convention definition of a refugee. However, on ethical grounds, it was incontrovertibly cruel to deport people back to a country in a state of socio-economic and political collapse.

This example illustrates how current policy responses bypass engagement with long-term trends. The world as a whole lacks a vision for how to respond to the changing nature of displacement. So much of the current “crisis” is not a crisis of numbers but a crisis of politics. We need bold leadership that correctly and honestly articulates the causes of movement and outlines global solutions. [Continue reading…]