Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy has spent the past three days in India on his first state visit to the country. Before heading to New Delhi, though, he floated an odd -- and more than a little ambitious -- idea.
"I am hoping BRICS would one day become E-BRICS where E stands for Egypt," he told India's The Hindu in an interview in Cairo published this week.
It's a bold proposal. The Kremlin has acknowledged the comments but didn't seem particularly enthused about the idea, and it's unclear whether Morsy broached the subject in his meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The BRICS -- that's Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa -- are an economic alliance of top-tier rising powers, the crème de la crème of the developing world. Egypt? Not so much.
Let's put this in perspective. The average GDP of the BRICS countries in 2011 (in current U.S. dollars, according to the World Bank) was $2.78 trillion dollars. Egypt? $230 billion. The country's development isn't exactly in high gear, either. The instability of the revolution has dealt a blow to Egypt's economy, and its estimated growth rate for 2012 is a meager 2 percent, which places it behind four of five BRICS countries. Even as Morsy was meeting with Singh, he was sharing the front page of Egyptian dailies with the news that BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Hyundai are planning to withdraw from the Egyptian market as new customs laws take effect.
Morsy knows this, and clarified that he hopes "the E-BRICS would emerge when we start moving the economy." So it's something of a longer-term goal. Perhaps Morsy might consider one of these starter coalitions instead? Then again, the MIKT (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey) countries, which are moving beyond "emerging market" territory, have an average GDP of $973 billion, so it might still be a stretch. In the same interview with The Hindu, Morsy expressed a desire to be more active in the Non-Aligned Movement. It's probably a good place to start; the NAM is far less discriminatory.
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Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir stands accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. But on Sunday, he met with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy in Cairo, where he received a dignified welcome at the presidential palace. A number of human rights organizations including Amnesty International urged Morsy to cancel the meeting -- which covered regional concerns as well as important bilateral issues like livestock trade and water rights in the Nile basin -- or arrest the Sudanese leader upon his arrival. "If Egypt welcomes Omar Al-Bashir it will become a safe haven for alleged perpetrators of genocide," Amnesty wrote in a press release.
Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2009 for crimes against humanity and then again in July 2010 for three counts of genocide, cannot travel in much of the world for fear of being extradited to the Hague. But Egypt is not a signatory to the Rome Statute -- Jordan, Djibouti, and Comoros are the only members of the Arab League to ratify the ICC's founding charter -- and U.N. Security Council 1593, which referred the Sudanese crisis to the ICC's special prosecutor, merely "urges" non-signatories to "cooperate fully" with the criminal investigation.
In theory, Bashir should fear extradition from all 121 parties to the Rome Statute, but in practice he has been able to travel more or less freely in Africa and the Middle East. Here's a look at the genocidal jet-setter's travel itinerary since he was indicted back in 2009.
ERITREA - March 2009
Only weeks after the ICC issued its first arrest warrant for Bashir, the Sudanese president ventured to Eritrea to visit President Issaias Afeworki, who had invited Bashir in a display of anti-Western solidarity. In his invitation, Afeworki declared the ICC "anti-people" and the indictment a "defamatory conspiracy on the part of external forces."
EGYPT - March 2009
Two days after his visit to Eritrea, Bashir touched down in Cairo for a state visit with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "There is an Egyptian, Arab, African position that rejects the way the court has dealt with the status of the president of Sudan," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in a press conference.
QATAR - March 2009
Following his visit to Cairo, the Sudanese leader traveled to the annual Arab League summit in Qatar, where Arab foreign ministers endorsed a draft resolution rejecting the ICC's arrest warrant. The week before, Amr Moussa, then the secretary general of the Arab League, had cleared the way for Bashir's arrival when he said, "We in the presidency of the Arab League have a clear position on this request and we totally reject it."
SAUDI ARABIA - April 2009
CHAD - June 2010
Bashir travelled to Chad -- the first Rome Statute signatory to host the Sudanese president since the arrest warrant was issued -- in June 2010 in an attempt to mend relations with its eastern neighbor. Khartoum had previously accused Chad of aiding anti-government rebels fighting in Darfur, but Bashir declared the problem "solved" during his visit, adding that he and Chad's President Idriss Deby "are brothers."
KENYA - August 2010
Kenya, which ratified the Rome Statute in 2005, invited Bashir to witness the signing of its new constitution. An assistant foreign minister later defended Kenya's decision to defy the ICC warrant on the grounds that "Sudan's stability is vitally linked to Kenya's continued peace and well being."
DJIBOUTI - May 2011
After Ismail Omar Guelleh won a third term as Djibouti's president, Bashir attended his inauguration ceremony in May. Djibouti, which was the third Rome Statute signatory to flout the ICC arrest warrant, was referred, along with Chad and Kenya, to the U.N. Security Council for failing to arrest the Sudanese leader.
MALAWI - October 2011
Malawi, which signed the Rome Statute in 1999, hosted the Sudanese president for a trade summit last October. When the ICC demanded an answer for why Bashir had not been arrested, President Bingu wa Mutharika said that it was not his country's "business" to enforce the ICC's ruling. Malawi's new president, Joyce Banda, apparently does not share her predecessor's zeal for flouting international law, and denied Bashir permission to attend the African Union summit in Lilongwe in July 2012.
CHINA - June 2011
Chinese President Hu Jintao welcomed the Sudanese president to Beijing in June 2011. There, in a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People, he gushed about the two countries "traditionally friendly relations" before diving into talks with Bashir about how to keep the oil flowing to China following Sudan's impending partition. Interestingly, Bashir's flight to Beijing was delayed because he was forced to avoid Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, both of which denied him access to their airspace. China is not a signatory to the Rome Statute.
LIBYA - January 2012
Bashir traveled to Libya to meet with Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) officials last January in order to discuss immigration, among other issues. Libya is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, but the visit sparked outrage from human rights activists who called it "disturbing" and questioned the NTC's "commitment to human rights and the rule of law."
IRAQ - March 2012
Bashir attended the Arab League summit in Baghdad in 2012.
IRAN - August 2012
Bashir made an appearance at the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran in August, where, in one of the event's least-publicized moments of irony, he met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Correction: Omar al-Bashir has also travelled to Ethiopia several times, the most recent being for the funeral of Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi in September.
The International Criminal Court handed down its first sentence on Tuesday to Congolese war criminal Thomas Lubanga for the use of child soldiers. After over three years at trial, and following his conviction in March of this year, the court issued a 14-year sentence, with one judge dissenting on the grounds that the nature of the crimes warranted a longer sentence. The court has not yet decided where Lubanga will serve out his term.
This is the court's first conviction and sentencing after nearly a decade in existence. But others are in the works, including the first head of state to be tried, Cote D'Ivoire's former president, Laurent Gbagbo, who was transferred to the ICC for trial in November 2011. (Sudan's current president Omar al-Bashir has also been indicted but has yet to be arrested). Gbagbo is charged with crimes against humanity, including murder and rape, for acts committed after the 2010 election when electoral disputes erupted into violence as Gbagbo refused to relinquish the presidency. The next step in his trial, the confirmation of charges, is expected in August 2012.
Under the tenure of Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo -- who was replaced earlier this month by new Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda -- the court has issued open (public) indictments against 28 individuals from seven countries -- all in Africa. The list is a who's who of notorious political leaders, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Saif al-Qaddafi, and military officials. The Court relies on national law enforcement, Interpol and the UN to arrest those charged, and only five of those indicted are currently in custody. 15 cases are currently before the Court, though trials are only scheduled for those in the Court's custody (some pre-trial proceedings are underway in absentia).
The Court's summer schedule shows proceedings will continue against the Central African Republic's Jean Pierre Bemba accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes; Sudan's Abdallah Banda and Saleh Jerbo for war crimes, including attacks on peacekeepers, and Gbagbo. Nearly a decade elapsed between Lubanga's crimes and his sentencing by the court, so don't expect speedy proceedings for any of them.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn't choose his foreign visits lightly. On May 31, Putin makes his first trip abroad since being inaugurated for a third term as president on May 7, to neighboring Belarus. The visit is highly symbolic of Russia's desire to be the leader in the post-Soviet space, as well as Putin's continued support for the authoritarian president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko (also known as "Europe's Last Dictator"). Afterwards, Putin will head to Germany and France, Russia's major trading partners in the EU. After the European visits, Putin will fly to speak with Uzbek ruler Islam Karimov in Tashkent, to Beijing, and finally to Astana, Kazakhstan, to meet with long-time ruler Nursultan Kazarbayev; countries central to Putin's vision of a Eurasian Union.
Earlier in the month, Putin suddenly declined to attend the G8 Summit in Camp David, under pretext that he was too busy forming a new Cabinet of Ministers, sending instead Prime Minister Medvedev. The move was widely seen as a snub to President Obama, as Putin avoided a meeting with the president, and sidestepped making the U.S. his first foreign visit. A few days later, Obama announced he would not be able to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Vladivostok this September, because it conflicted with the Democratic Party convention.
Putin has now also taken the opportunity to snub the UK, by announcing he will not attend the opening of the London 2012 Olympics, even though the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held on Russian territory in Sochi. Likely, Medvedev will once again be sent in his stead. Russian-British relations have been tense since the 2006 poisoning of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London. Moreover the West has been pressuring Russian officials over the 2009 death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky while he was detained in prison. Putin's foreign trip destinations are by no means accidental.
With Greece's national parliamentary election set for May 6, the crisis-ridden country may have a new threat to worry about: the extremist fringe vote. Due to popular frustration with the country's current economic situation, it is "thought likely" that left- and right-wing political fringe parties will make gains among voters at the expense of mainstream political parties like the conservative New Democracy party and the socialist Pasok party.
But as the New York Times reported yesterday, the Greek ultranationalist group Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi group that has broadened its appeal by "capitalizing on fears that illegal immigration has grown out of control at a time when the economy is bleeding jobs," may very well receive more than the 3 percent of votes needed to enter Parliament. This is bad news for Greek society, which University of Athens political scientist Nicos Demertzis calls a "a laboratory of extreme-right-wing evolution." Though no Golden Party member has ever held national office, party leader Nikos Michaloliakos was elected to the Athens City Council in 2010.
Golden Dawn joins the ranks of dozens of nationalist-populist fringe parties all over Europe whose enflamed euroskeptic reactions to the "cuts to wages and pensions imposed in order to secure aid from the EU and the IMF" have resulted in political shakeups. The Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) , led by Geert Wilders, won 24 of the 150 parliamentary seats in the 2010 general election, and came in second in the Netherlands in the 2009 European Parliament elections.
Golden Dawn also espouses a particularly anti-German sentiment:
''It's right to hate Germany, because it is still the leader of the banksters and the European Union,'' Mr. Michaloliakos, the group's leader, said, using a derogatory term for bankers.
Of course, Golden Dawn is still transitioning from a street-fighting group into a political party, but it remains to be seen whether it can become a well-oiled machine like France's National Front, whose leader, Marine Le Pen, is still campaigning for the presidency. Even so, its increasing popularity is evidence of a dangerous trend that only promises to worsen. At least we have Greek left-wing anarchist groups like the Cosnpiracy of Fire Nuclei, Nikola Tesla Commandos, and Immediate Intervention Hood-wearers to keep us properly entertained.
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has an interesting definition of the word "provocative." After meeting with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at the U.N. this week, Lavrov commented on March 14 that the recent resumption of U.S.-Georgia military exercises "seems somewhat provocative."
This might make sense if only Russia wasn't organizing military exercises of its own in the Caucasus. In December 2011, Russia announced a new strategic command-and-staff exercise, "Caucasus 2012," to take place in September 2012. The purpose is to prepare for a possible Israeli attack on Iran (and the potential repercussions in the Caucasus region). The exercises are to involve all areas of the armed forces, and will take place not only in the Russian territories of the North Caucasus, but also in neighboring Armenia, as well as the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (over which the 2008 war was fought).
It also conveniently occurs right before the scheduled parliamentary elections in Georgia for October 2012. The Georgian Foreign Ministry is obviously skeptical of these "military exercises" on its borders, claiming Russia is "seeking to instigate a permanent state of tension" in the region.
Then again, Russian foreign affairs rhetoric isn't exactly known for its consistency. Last year, during the NATO decision-making to provide the Libyan rebels with military assistance against Qadaffi, Russia's NATO ambassador Dimitri Rogozin commented that creating a no-fly zone over Libyan air space was "a serious interference into the domestic affairs of another country." Similar words came from Putin himself, who described the NATO mission as a "medieval call for a crusade ... [that] allows intervention in a sovereign state."
Ah, Putin condemning foreign military intervention
in a sovereign state. How quickly he forgot his intentions
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
While an increasingly devastating famine continues to drive Somalis from their homes, many families are citing another reason for leaving: the forced recruitment of child soldiers. A recent Amnesty International report revealed that al-Shabab has intensified its recruitment process in order to gain more control of Central and South Somalia.
Primary schools are raided for soon-to-be soldiers and children are abducted from local playgrounds. Some are bribed with money and phones. Those who run away are often shot in the back, deemed traitors.
A Somali woman who lost several young family members at the hands of the armed rebels told Amnesty International:
"Those recruited by al-Shabab do not come back."
Boys, sometimes as young as eight, are given guns and forced to fight alongside grown men. Girls are used as servants for al-Shabab members, and in some instances, even wives. One testimony of a 16-year-old boy described how young girls are charged with adultery if they refuse to comply with the marriages. Floggings are a common punishment, sometimes ending with the death of the child. Girls and women accused of being raped (yes, accused) have been beaten or stoned to death - even though refugees have told Amnesty International that al-Shabab was responsible for the rape themselves.
Interviews with youth in the region have produced evidence that the Islamist militant group may be using children as suicide bombers, although Amnesty International cannot verify this. A 15-year-old boy described al-Shabab's recruitment tactics:
"They have a methodology, they say you will fight a jihad and then go to paradise. One friend was recruited by them and then he came to the village asking us to join...He had an AK47 and he said he was given lots of money."
While al-Shabab has been criticized for using children as weapons of war, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is internationally-backed and U.S.-funded, has been listed on the UN's annual list of parties that recruit children for armed conflict for seven years in a row —although they dispute the accusation. During a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland on May 4, 2011, TFG members cited a lack of birth certificates and international financial assistance as the main causes of child recruitment. Human Rights Watch, alongside Amnesty International and other humanitarian organizations, have expressed grave concern over TFG training camps that hold refugee children against their will in neighboring Kenya, which has also denied allegations of using child soldiers.
An ex-child soldier who fled to Kenya told Amnesty International:
"I am not feeling safe. I am stressed. I have flashbacks. I am scared that al-Shabab will come here too. I want a better future, better security, further education. I live in fear here."
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
Yesterday brought good and bad news in the spat over sovereignty in the South China Sea. At a meeting of the annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Bali, Indonesia, representatives from the ASEAN countries and China agreed upon a set of guidelines for resolving territorial disputes in the sea, where six countries - China, Vietnam, the Phillippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan - have overlapping sovereignty claims. The new deal, as outlined by the Jakarta Post, builds off the body's Declaration of Conduct (DOC), a nonbinding agreement signed in 2002 aimed at facilitating a legal agreement to resolve sovereignty disputes and prevent conflict in the region
Official reactions to theARF deal have varied. Chinese assistant foreign minister and meeting co-chair Liu Zhenmin has called the agreement a "milestone document," and his fellow co-chair, Vietnamese assistant foreign minister Pham Quang Vinh, said it was "significant and a good start." Nonetheless, it's important to note that the adopted guidelines are not legally binding; they merely reiterate the need to conform with the DOC, and they also lack a deadline for the implementation of a legal accord to resolve the conflict. Filipino Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario highlighted this concern when he said that more steps were needed to "add teeth" to the new deal.
Events later on Wednesday confirmed the Philippines's dissatisfaction with the ARF agreement. Four Filipino lawmakers and a Filipino military general ignored strong warnings from China and visited the island of Pagasa, the only island in the Spratlys populated by Filipinos, in a "peace and sovereignty mission." They joined residents to sing the national anthem and called for improvements in facilities on the island, which has no schools or hospitals for its 60 inhabitants. A spokesman from the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed outrage about the visit.
Wednesday's events came as Hillary Clinton wrapped up her tour of India and prepared to join ASEAN representatives at the security forum in Bali. At the same meeting last year, she surprised Chinese officials when she called resolution of the sovereignty disputes a "leading diplomatic priority" for the U.S. She looks set to reiterate the position this year. We'll see whether China agrees.
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Dear Pakistani military officers Maj. Ali Sameer and Maj. Iqbal: You may want to delay that long-planned vacation to London. You see, Interpol has just issued warrants for your arrest over your alleged roles in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Interpol's action will further affirm many analysts' suspicion that the Pakistani military played a crucial role in planning the deadly attacks, which resulted in the deaths of 175 people. But to be clear, this isn't proof positive that the two Pakistani officers were involved: Interpol issued what is known as a red warrant, which calls for the "provisional arrest" of an individual based on another country's investigation.
In this case, a New Delhi court is calling for their arrest based on evidence Indian investigators gathered from their inquiry into the network of David Coleman Headley, a U.S. citizen who pleaded guilty to involvement in the attacks in March. The Indians are claiming that Maj. Iqbal was Headley's Pakistani handler when he traveled to India to scout out potential targets for a terrorist attack. This may or may not be true, but the arrest warrants are not based on anything other than the allegations of Indian investigators, which have long suspected Pakistan of complicity in the attacks.
With those caveats firmly in place, there does appear to be some agreement from the United States that Pakistani officers played a role in the attacks. As FP contributor Simon Henderson recently pointed out, the sole footnote in Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars noted that the CIA received "reliable intelligence" that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, the country's main spy agency, were involved in training the militants who went on to wreak havoc in Mumbai.
LORENZO TUGNOLI/AFP/Getty Images
In a speech in Hong Kong arguing that cybercrime may be "one of the most dangerous criminal threats ever," and detailing his organization's efforst to counter it, Interpol Chief Ronald K. Noble told this harrowing tale of his own brush with online identity theft:
[E]ven with the best standards in place, security incidents can always happen.
Just recently INTERPOL’s Information Security Incident Response Team discovered two Facebook profiles attempting to assume my identity as INTERPOL’s Secretary General.
One of the impersonators was using this profile to try to obtain information on fugitives
targeted during our recent Operation Infra Red. This Operation was bringing investigators from 29 member countries at the INTERPOL General Secretariat to exchange information on international fugitives and lead to more than 130 arrests in 32 countries.
Noble didn't go into details about how much success the cyberfraudsters got with their ruse -- some of the press reports have been a tad misleading in this regard -- but frankly, if this is the level cybercriminals are operating on, I don't think we have much to worry about.
It's perfectly fine that Noble has an official Facebook profile, but I would certainly hope he's not using it to share and obtain information with other law enforcement officials. I'm trying to imagine how the fake Ronald Nobles would go about trying to deceive their marks: "Hey there, it's Ron from Interpol. Just postin' on ur wall to see how that big organized crime investigation is going. Please send me all the deets including names of suspects and plans for future operations! TTYL!!!"
If fake Facebook pages are really a threat to Interpol security, they probably have bigger things to worry about.
The Haitian government estimates approximately 230,000 died in the quake
It estimates a further 300,000 people have sustained injuries
An unknown number of others have died from untreated sepsis, illness, and injury
One million remain homeless
Fifty thousand families have received tent-type emergency shelters
Tents donated by the Cirque du Soleil might soon house the Haitian government
More than 500,000 children are orphans
More than 20,000 children under the age of five are severely malnourished
The Miami-Dade School District has enrolled 1,000 Haitian children
Most of Port-au-Prince's schools are planning to reopen
Doctors have treated more than 100,000 people, performing 2,000 to 4,000 amputations
More than 7,000 babies have been born
Eighty percent of Port-au-Prince remains without power
One thousand planes are waiting for permission to land at Port-au-Prince's airport
Haiti's airport, under the direction of the U.S. Air Force, is landing 100 airplanes a day; prior to the earthquake, it handled three to five
Cruise ships continue to dock in gated zones in northern Haiti
The drive from the Dominican Republic, which formerly took six hours, now takes 18
Economists estimate the earthquake impacted half of Haiti's GDP
International donors have committed at least $3 billion to the rebuilding effort
The United Nations Development Program has started an initiative to pay Haitians $3 a day to clear rubble and help rebuild, to infuse cash into the economy
Nearly half of American families have donated to Haitian disaster relief organizations
The United States has caught the first ship of 78 Haitians attempting to immigrate into the United States illegally -- it sent them back
The United States might cut non-Haiti disaster programs by 40 percent, possibly leading to smaller programs for Congo and Sudan.
The rainy season has just started, soaking Port-au-Prince, collapsing many temporary homes, and increasing risks from water and sewage-borne illnesses
Mario Tama/Getty Images
To summarize, David and I are discussing whether debt relief for Haiti is A) a good thing and B) should be a priority -- we agree on A (yes) and disagree somewhat on B. David argues that debt payments aren't going to be an issue in the foreseeable future, and that countries like Venezuela shouldn't get points for relieving relatively small sums of debt -- particularly if they aren't also providing significant aid, which is more important in the near and medium term. I say there's a short window in which to ask for countries to throw in the kitchen sink, so why not, particularly given debt's historical choke-hold on Haiti and given that three or ten years from now, Haiti will still be poor and in debt. Lots of others have good commentary on the subject, including Daniel Altman and Alex Tabarrok.
Ultimately, I still believe there's room and reason to ask for debt forgiveness -- if not now, then when? But it made me wonder about aid effectiveness -- if you're giving x dollars of aid, what provides the maximum benefit: debt forgiveness, direct governmental grants, funding specific programs, ending agricultural subsidies?
Development economists, of course, research this question, well, exhaustively. And the answer? It's now always clear -- or, there's no general rule. Academically, a dollar of debt relief is worth more than a dollar of granted aid. In reality, the level of indebtedness, degree of governmental corruption, relevant economic fundamentals, and the entities doing the lending all matter considerably.
But there's consensus on what other countries can be doing, should be doing, and are doing now. Haiti needs material support (water, batteries, medical supplies, etc.) and cash aid. But the United States, especially, should also think about remittances and immigration. Here, Michael Clemens and Amanda Taub argue for giving Haitians temporary protected status in the States. In the longer term, the United States might consider taking a close look not just at debt, but also at rice.
Ireland is cautious when it comes to defending its stance against abortion. Voters approved the Lisbon treaty on EU integration earlier this year only after stringent guarantees from other EU countries that EU law would not force Ireland to relinquish its ban on the procedure, which was backed by a 1983 referendum.
So, after all that, it's ironic that the challenge to its constitutionally enshrined "right to life of the unborn" is instead coming in the form of a human rights case before a different European body: the 47-member Council of Europe. The case could have continent-wide implications, if the European Court of Human Rights rules in favor of the three women bringing the case, establishing some protection of abortions sought on medical grounds.
As a signatory of the European Human Rights Convention, Ireland would have to change its laws if the court finds in favor of the women -- identified as A, B and C in the court documents. Abortion is currently permitted only in cases of significant risk to the mother, but the women's lawyer argued today that even in those cases abortion is effectively out of reach due to doctor's fear or unwillingness to risk falling afoul the narrow parameters allowed.
The court's ruling, expected in a few months, might have implications for other EU countries, such as Poland and Malta, which have very restrictive abortion laws. Two years ago, the same court found in favor of a Polish woman denied an abortion despite medical recognition that the pregnancy endangered her eyesight, forcing the government to pay her compensation and provide a legal framework for access to lawful, medical need abortions.
It appears the Obama adminstiration will retain the United States's longstanding refusal to sign the 10-year-old Mine Ban Treaty:
"This administration undertook a policy review and we decided our landmine policy remains in effect," [Sate Department Spokesman Ian] Kelly said in response to a question. "We made our policy review and we determined that we would not be able to meet our national defense needs nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we sign this convention."
The U.S. participated in the drafting of the treaty but has refused to sign, largely because of the use of mines on the Korean peninsula. The announcement comes before a review of the treaty's progress in Colombia next week.
The decision has disappointed mine ban advocates like Senator Patrick Leahy, who called it a "lost opportunity for the United States to show leadership instead of joining with China and Russia and impeding progress."
But the adminsitration's decision is probably a moot point anyway since it's unlikely the White House could get the 67 Senate votes required to ratify the treaty anyway, particularly with tough congressional fights looming on the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, Law of the Sea and others.
This afternoon, the New America Foundation hosted "The New Forgotten War," a talk about the future of Iraq. It featured Ad Melkert, the special representative for the U.N. secretary-general in Iraq.
Melkert, a former Dutch member of parliament, remains cautiously optimistic about Iraq's future, with an emphasis on the cautious part. The good news is that security in Iraq is better than it was two years ago. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been able to confront violence in the southern part of the country, Melkert said. As a result of the safer state, investment is starting to rise, but it still has a long way to go. Corruption, the terrible infrastructure, and legal concerns hamper Iraq's ability to draw serious investment.
One serious problem for the nascent state is budgetary, Melkert said. When oil prices are high, the government spends all of its revenue, but when they fall, they have to slash the budget.
Further, Iraq is still under dozens of UN chapter seven sanctions, stemming from Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. The current leadership says these sanctions need to be lifted because they were implemented against Hussein and not the current government.
These problems could potentially be amplified in the coming months and years as foreign security forces draw down in the country. Melkert said that one of two things will happen. Either the Iraqi forces will somehow maintain order, or the insurgents will attack as soon as the United States leaves. Right now, police officers, public servants, and UN workers and buildings remain prime targets.
New America Foundation/Flickr
It now seems close to certain that Herman Van Rompuy, the prime minister of Belgium, will be EU president, and Catherine Ashton, currently the EU trade commissioner and the former leader of the British House of Lords, will be foreign-policy czar.
The picks have a symmetry thought necessary in Europe: Rompuy and Ashton are male and female, from a small country and a large one, conservative and liberal.
They are also expected and surprising. Rompuy has for weeks been considered a frontrunner for president. Ashton -- decently known in Britain and on the continent, but barely known elsewhere -- is something of a surprise. The BBC and other outlets report that up until the very end of negotiations, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pushed for former PM Tony Blair to win the top spot. Germany and other big continental countries advocated for Rompuy, and won; Brown and social-democrats then pushed Ashton through.
Ultimately, Ashton is the more interesting pick. I believe the foreign-policy gig will end up being the vastly more influential one -- Ashton will control thousands of civil servants and a large budget, and will have powers to set policy priorities for the EU. It is unclear just what Rompuy's staffing and responsibilities will be.
But is Ashton qualified enough? Prominent enough? And might any countries object? She has an important job as trade commissioner, but has only been in it for a year. We'll have answers to those questions -- as well as to how transformative these positions might be -- when she and Rompuy take office next month.
Matt Yglesias has some good commentary on the new team and the importance these positions might have, as well as a useful explanation of Ashton's formal title (she is known as Lady Ashton, Baroness of Upholland -- not because she inherited a barony, but because she won an honorific title when she joined the House of Lords). And we'll post any more interesting updates here.
Today, the way Europe functions as a political bloc might change dramatically. In a matter of hours, we should have official word from Brussels as to the new presient and foreign-policy chief of the European Union: positions hashed out over the course of a decade and finally approved by the passage of the Lisbon Treaty, which might -- just might -- give Europe a much more powerful and unified presence on the international stage.
We'll have the latest, as soon as we hear, here.
At this point, the most-tipped favorite for president is Herman van Rompuy, the prime minister of Belgium. And British papers have already announced Catherine Ashton (the Baroness of Upholland, naturally), a somewhat obscure former leader of the House of Lords and current EU trade commissioner, as foreign-policy chief.
It was reported last week that attacks on and kidnappings of aid workers in Chad have caused six aid organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, to suspend operations there. Undeterred, this morning the top U.N. official in Chad announced "positive signs on the horizon," predicting increased peace and stabilization in the country.
This isn't the first time violence has driven away aid groups: in May, 2008, the head of the Eastern Chad mission of British aid organization Save the Children was shot and killed. At first, the organization announced that it would continue working in the country, but five months after the killing ultimately decided to leave.
At this point, the situation doesn't seem that dire with regards to the ICRC: In an interview, Bernard Barrett, an ICRC spokesman, said, "We're not pulling out totally. We're suspending some activities -- we're maintaining life-saving services, particularly medical services." The organization's other work in Chad ranges from water sanitation projects to animal vaccinations; hardly trivial work, particularly given the persistent lack of food security. As far as resuming these activities, Barrett reports a wait-and-see scenario. "Once we've obtained the release of our delegate who was kidnapped, at that point we'll be able to ascertain the security situation," he says.
Chad is a country in dire need of help. Last May, Doctors Without Borders led the effort to combat an outbreak of meningitis, immunizing 7.5 million people in the region. DWB is another organization that has been driven to suspend operations in Chad because of the recent violence. It's terrible to contemplate how many deaths might have resulted from the 65,000 cases of infection in and around Chad had DWB left just six months earlier.
The violence that has hindered desperately needed assistance ultimately stems from poor governance, said Richard Downie in an interview with FP. According to Downie, a fellow with the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "Until you have credible political parties and some sort of civil society developing, it's hard to see the long-term prospects of Chad looking bright."
That sort of civil society seems a ways off. Chad ranks 173 out of the 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, just three spots up from Afghanistan. And the country's heavily oil-dependent economy has only reinforced the political maladies that accompany "the devil's excrement."
It's tough to avoid Downie's conclusion: "I don't see a long-term solution to what's going on in Chad at the moment without much more engagement from the international community."
Photo: FRANCESCO FONTEMAGGI/AFP/Getty Images
European leaders are starting to follow suit; Britain's five largest banks have agreed to publish the pay of their key staff members, and will spread bonus payments over three years. French president Sarkozy has announced a set of even tougher and more broadly applied regulations.
Of course, not everyone thinks that bonus reforms are the way to go. Nobel prize-winning conomist Robert F. Engle III says
We shouldn't ban bonuses, but restructure the way they're paid so they're more commensurate with the risk the company is taking....What's important is we give the banking system the right incentives to figure this out. When companies get too big and too complex to fail, they would face a higher tax rate, which would go into a rescue fund. The banks are not excited about it, they would rather go back to business as usual."
What do you call the grouping of the United States, France, Britain, China, Russia, and Germany, who are due to meet with Iran tomorrow for nuclear talks? In the U.S. it is generally referred to as the wonderfully awkward P5+1. But of course it all depends on your perspective:
The latter grouping is known either as the P plus 1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) or the E3 plus 3, the three Europeans countries plus the others.
This is even worse than P5+1. There's nothing really "European" about this group and it's bizarre to refer a set of countries with an adjective that only describes half of them. Why not the "Pacific rim countries plus 3" or the "English-speakers plus 4"?
The only solutions I can see are to expand the security coucil so that countires like Germany don't need a special invite, or add another country with a vowel so they can have a proper acronym.
"You don't have to hold public office to be a public servant," President Barack Obama said in his address here to the opening session of the Clinton Global Initative. If what his predecessor Bill Clinton says is any indication, it's better if you're not.
Clinton noted that as a former community organizer, Obama was himself an NGO veteran. Additionally, his wife Hillary spent much of the time he was in politics woring in a non-gvenerntal capacity. Noting how they're roles had changed, Clinton mused, " I think I got the long end of the stick."
Without disparaging its goals or methods, CGI does at times seems to embody a decidedly undemocratic ethos, the idea that wealthy donors and political VIPs, unencumbered by the legislative process can achieve the most good for the most people. As Clinton argued, enough heads of states and business leaders (including the CEOs of Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart who spoke at the session) share his views on the urgency of climate change leglistaion, "It's to to convince congresses and parliaments that we're on the right track."
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who also spoke, argued for the virtues of the G-20 over the G-8, not becamse it is more representative, but because compared to the U.N. security council, it is far more efficient. "As the CEOs here could tell you, if there were 192 people on your board of directors, you wouldn't get very much done."
There wasn't much news in Obama's speech, it was a courtesy call that that he decided to make after finding himself "vulnerable to the charms" of the former president. Obama described the need for a "new spirit of global partnership" like that embodied by CGI. What is less discussed is that this type of global partnership oftens happens outside the traditional systems of governmance and depends on the good faith and wisdom of non-elected elites.
Given what Obama has been facing on the hill lately (an ordeal Clinton certainly identifies with) that probably sounds pretty good to him these days.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and his her office released two reports on violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008, citing "possible war crimes and crimes against humanity" by the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a rebel group formerly led by Laurent Nkunda and backed by the government of Rwanda.
Talk about your diplomatic understatement. The crimes involved dozens of killings and rapes. But for those following the DRC this statement has to seem kind of weak. There have been all sorts of atrocities in Eastern Congo for years, and the only questions really are which militia was guilty in which case. Possible? The U.N. head of mission in the DRC called the attacks war crimes immediately after they happened.
Reuters reporters shrewdly dig into the problematic fact that while Nkunda was later arrested by Rwandan forces, it was his lieutenant, Jean Bosco Ntaganda (shown above), nicknamed "The Terminator" who was commanding the CNDP forces at the time of the November killings. Guess where he is?
Ntaganda, who is being sought by the International Criminal Court on separate war crimes charges, wasintegrated into Congo's army in January along with other members of the Tutsi-dominated CNDP..."We know he is there. We are aware of it. He was integrated. He wasgiven a role. And according to our partners, he does not play a role inthe operations that MONUC is supporting," said Kevin Kennedy, MONUC's head of communications.
"But it isn't our job to investigate the role of Bosco Ntaganda in the (army)," he told journalists in Kinshasa.
One other question for other Congo watchers out there. Doesn't a lot of focus seem to be just on the CNDP, when the Hutu FDLR militia has been committing terrible massacres for years? In fact, wasn't a key reason--along with grabbing minerals--for Rwandan support of Nkunda that he was protecting Congolese Tutsis from the marauding FDLR, many of whom were genocidaires? Maybe I've just missed it or Nkunda made such a good media character. Is the FDLR getting as much U.N. heat?
Update: This post originally mistook the gender and misspelled the name of U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem, or Navi, Pillay.
LIONEL HEALING/AFP/Getty Images
Leading up to today's meeting of the African Union in Libya, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been a sore point for Sudan's president Omar Bashir, who was indicted by the ICC last July for war crimes related to violence in Darfur. His indictment has led to protests against the court in Khartoum like one pictured above on May 27, 2009.
Bashir, along with other AU leaders like Libya's Moammar Gadhafi have criticized the court's focus on Africa, and even gone as far as to propose in advance of the AU meeting that states should withdraw from the Rome Treaty which established the court.
Pushing back, however, have been advocates of the ICC including former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In an op-ed yesterday in the New York Times, he defended the court against its African critics:
It doesn't look like the AU will actually decide anyone should withdraw, but the ICC is still under fairly heavy fire from other areas. A recent article in the World Affairs Journal bytwo Darfur experts, Julie Flint and Alex de Waal blames the ICC's controversy and dysfunctional dynamics on its Argentine lead prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. In particular they criticize his handling of the Bashir indictment and his continuing to push for a genocide charge that was rejected as too thin by ICC judges. As the Washington Post's Colum Lynch reported yesterday, there is significant concern that Moreno-Ocampo's efforts could undermine peace negotiations in Sudan.
One must begin by asking why African leaders shouldn’t celebrate this focus on African victims. Do these leaders really want to side with the alleged perpetrators of mass atrocities rather than their victims? Is the court’s failure to date to answer the calls of victims outside of Africa really a reason to leave the calls of African victims unheeded?Moreover, in three of these cases, it was the government itself that called for ICC intervention — the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Uganda. The fourth case, that of Darfur, was selected notby the international court but forwarded by the U.N. Security Council.
The I.C.C. represents hope for victims of atrocities and sends a message that no one is above the law. That hope and message will be undermined if the African Union condemns the court because it has charged an African head of state. The African Union should not abandon its promise to fight impunity. Unless indicted war criminals are held to account, regardless of their rank, others tempted to emulate them will not be deterred, and African people will suffer.
But with so much scorn and a suspect arrested for only one of its outstanding warrants -- former Congo rebel commander Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo -- the ICC needs help if it is to accomplish its mission of discouraging impunity. Even if no one withdraws (and Chile joined this week), few governments have thus far been willing to take much actionon the ICC's behalf. For now, it remains stuck with limited funding and no enforcement mechanism.
To preserve the ICC's relevance, the trial of Gombo will need to go very well, and some sort of progress will be needed on the Bashir case. What are the odds either of these will happen?
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
A NATO source tells Eurasianet that Azerbaijan is now more likely to join NATO than Ukraine or Georgia:
"Earlier, the perception in both Brussels [North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] headquarters] and Baku was that Georgia should integrate into NATO first and Azerbaijan should follow," the source said. "However, the situation has changed and it might be that in the year to come Azerbaijan will become the frontrunner. Baku may enter NATO earlier than Ukraine and Georgia."
After Georgia’s 2008 war with Russia, "[m]any NATO member-states believe that . . . it is simply impossible to provide membership to Georgia," the source continued.
Ukraine’s domestic divisions over NATO and political turmoil have reduced its membership chances, he said. "It is unclear who will represent the Ukrainian government in six months or a year and what its position on NATO membership will be."
By comparison, Azerbaijan appears a bastion of stability. Among its other "strong advantages" are the country’s "strong cultural links" with NATO member Turkey and its strategic importance for the planned Nabucco and TGI (Turkey-Greece-Italy) gas pipelines, projects which "will deepen Western support [for] Azerbaijan in the coming years," according to the source.
Interestingly, a large part of the reason Azerbaijan is now in a better spot for NATO membership is that its government never lobbied particularly hard to join. Ukraine and Georgia, where this has been a long-standing priority, invited both Russia and internal critics to try to prevent them from joining.
For a number of reasons explained in the article, Azerbaijan still has a long way to go before it can join, but it does seem as if the best way for ex-Soviet countries to join Nato might be to act like they don't actually want to.
The Organization of American States welcomes Cuba back into the fold:
Foreign ministers of the Organization of American States have voted to lift the suspension of Cuba, apparently paving the way for it to rejoin.
Revolutionary Cuba was suspended from the Washington-based organisation in 1962 over its 'incompatible' adherence to Marxism-Leninism."
Though former Cuban leader Fidel Castro was said to be uninterested by the development, the lifting of the ban is another signal that relations are improving between the Caribbean state and its neighbors.
For those who're counting, the embargo is 47 years old.
ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
Agim Ceku, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army who was attending a conference on demobilizing guerilla movments in Colombia, has been expelled from the country after he was placed on an Interpol "red list" at the request of Serbia:
The director of Colombia's DAS security agency, Felipe Munoz, told the AP that Serbia sought the expulsion after Ceku's arrival for the conference, which was organized by President Alvaro Uribe's peace commissioner and attended by Uribe himself as well as by Guatemala's president, Alvaro Colom.
The Interpol-issued notices alert member nations that a person is wanted for possible extradition but does not force them to arrest or expel the individual. Munoz said Colombian law compelled the Ceku expulsion.
During the 1998-99 Kosovo war Ceku was the military head of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army.
Ceku says Serbia wanted him expelled because he was the "hero of the conference" and getting too much attention.
This comes two weeks after Interpol redlisted Venezuelan opposition leader Manuel Rosales who has sought refuge in Peru after being charged with corruption by Hugo Chávez's government.
To my mind, these two cases raise the question of whether Interpol is allowing itself to be used by governments to crack down on political opponents. Interpol's constitution states:
It is strictly forbidden for the Organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.
I don't know enough about Ceku or Rosales to form an opinion on their guilt or innocence, but I think it's fairly indisputable that both indictments at least have a "political character." With Chávez requesting that a second political opponent be redlisted, it might be time for the organization to review its procedures.
Two out of four chapters of the IMF's major World Economic Outlook are available -- the other two are expected on April 22.
The short of it? Bad news.
Chapter three includes a long comparison of the current Great Recession with the Great Depression of the 1920s. Ours is now a global down-turn, a "synchronized downturn," the paper argues -- that makes it worse. The only available counterballast lies in coordinated, synchronized governmental spending. Nevertheless, there are worrisome parallels.
There is continued pressure on asset prices, lending remains constrained by financial sector deleveraging and widespread lack of confidence in financial intermediaries, financial shocks have affected real activity on a global scale, and inflation is decelerating rapidly and is likely to approach values close to zero in a number of countries. Moreover, declining activity is beginning to create feedback effects...
The fourth chapter takes a look at how the crisis originated in advanced economies, and spread like wildfire to emerging economies.
As the crises in advanced economies continue to deepen, and trade and capital flows decline further, exchange rates and financial systems in emerging economies could come under more severe pressure. In turn, a broad-based economic and financial collapse in emerging economies would have a significant negative impact on the portfolios of advanced economies....
In light of such cross-country spillovers, there is a strong case for a coordinated approach to a range of policies...
So, some predictions for chapters one and two, and for the IMF in general.
I asked Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch and a former Clinton administration official, to work through some of the foreign policy implications of the newly released torture memos with me.
We discussed whether the Bush administration memos encouraged other countries to torture, or led to any global uptick in "enhanced interrogation" practices. "I've always tried to be careful not to suggest that countries like Egypt or China or Uzbekistan would be torturing more because the United States was setting a bad example. Obviously, dictatorships torture for their own reasons, and they didn't need [former U.S. President] George W. Bush to show them how," he says.
But, the Bush administration torture of detainees and disavowal of the Geneva Conventions did preclude diplomacy on many occasions, Malinowski says. He testified before the Helsinki Commission in 2007 to make the point:
A couple of years ago, Human Rights Watch was meeting with the Prime Minister of Egypt, and we raised a case in which hundreds of prisoners rounded up after a terrorist bombing were tortured by Egyptian security forces. The Prime Minister didn't deny the charge. He answered, "We're just doing what the United States does." We've had Guantanamo and the administration's interrogation policies thrown back in our face in meetings with officials from many other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and Lebanon. U.S. diplomats have told us they face the same problem. A U.S. ambassador to a leading Middle Eastern country, for example, has told us that he can no longer raise the issue of torture in that country as a result.
Malinowski says the detainee abuse made it difficult for the White House to negotiate any human rights provisions or issues, broadly. "Issues beyond torture were effected, because it enabled authoritarian governments to say, ‘You have no right to lecture us,'" he says. "They were delighted to tweak the United States on it."
The biggest offender? Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who Malinowski described as a "world champion" of chiding the United States via its own policies.
Nevertheless, Malinowski thinks that, despite the horrible details revealed by the Bush administration and International Committee of the Red Cross memos, ultimately their release is a very good thing for the Obama administration.
[Obama] can go to a country like Turkey or Indonesia or Egypt and say, "Look, I know what it's like to face real security threats, and we as Americans understand the temptation to give up some of our liberties and principles to defend ourselves against those threats. But what we've learned the hard way in the last eight years is that those liberties and principles actually make us stronger. You could learn from our example."
That's a much more effective way of arguing the point than going to those same countries and saying, look at our perfect system and our glorious morality, and maybe someday you can be as good as we are. So I think if he uses the experience as a cautionary tale, it will actually make our country a more effective and compelling champion of human rights around the world, ironically.
Here's to hoping so.
Photo: Entrance to Bagram Air Base by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
My question yesterday about which countries might be next to come forward for IMF loans has been amply answered!
Today, the IMF announced Poland would seek a $20.5 billion flexible credit line, to insure against any future problems and help it meet its financial commitments.
Now, the New York Times has a story up about how Britain may require IMF assistance. It faces a deficit likely to reach 11 percent of its gross domestic product and rising unemployment. Worryingly, it failed to sell its full offering of government bonds at an auction last month. The NYT article reads:
...Britain’s deteriorating public finances might require the government to seek aid from the International Monetary Fund, just as it did back in 1976 when the country’s economy was on its knees.
As remote as that possibility might be, it underscores the financial bind Britain is in and represents another humbling comedown for a country that once had ambitions to overtake New York as the world’s financial capital.
The IMF has tried to alleviate the stigma attached with seeking a loan, usually provided to truly failed economies. And Poland's received plaudits for seeking aid from the IMF; the finance minister said, "This is the reflection of our cautious and responsible economic policy."
Thus, the question becomes: if the IMF offered a loan that cost less than borrowing in other ways, would once-strong and still-responsible governments still turn them down? That is, would politics stand in the way of economics?
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