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Qaddafi to compensate IRA victims

Even from over 2000 miles away, Libyan leader Muammar al Qaddafi was able to fan the flames of sectarian conflict in 1970's Ireland. A staunch supporter of anti-imperialist, anti-West rebel movements, Qaddafi sympathized with the campaign of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Qaddafi acted as the group's arms supplier, smuggling over the explosives and weapons the paramilitary forces needed to escalate the struggle into all-out terror.

One year ago, Qaddafi expressly refused to accept liability for the Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacks of the 1980's, instead telling victims to "go to the court." Though he had already compensated the families of passengers aboard Pan Am Flight 103, victims of many other attacks executed with weaponry and explosives Qaddafi had supplied the IRA -- such as the Harrods bombing of 1983 and the Enniskillen atrocity of 1987 -- had yet to recieve any kind of consolation or apology. But yesterday, after nine months of negotiations between officials in London and Tripoli, the dictator made an unexpected concession: he announced that he would shell out up to 3.5 billion dollars in reparations to victims of IRA terrorism. The deviation from his previous response accompanies renewed bilateral relations with Switzerland, against whom Qaddafi had declared a holy war in February. Qaddafi has both released Swiss businessman, Max Goeldi -- detained in Libya for defying a travel ban put into effect after Switzerland authorities arrested Qaddafi's son on charges of assault -- and established an arbitration tribunal to settle the diplomatic dispute with Libya's former adversary.

These recent developments are productive, but they doubtfully signify that Qaddafi -- the principal financier of a laundry list of horrific terrorist attacks and rebel movements -- will now make a habit of letting reconciliation or reform govern his agenda.

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images

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The refugees won't go home

What happens when a refugee is no longer temporary? What does it mean when 6.6 of the world's citizens reside in no country? And what is the world to make of the 5.5 million people whose countries are in protracted conflict -- meaning they won't go home anytime soon? Those are among the questions raised by the United Nations' High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, in its Global Trends report released today. The main findings? The number of refugees returning home was the lowest it has been for two decades last year. Meanwhile, the number of forcibly displaced refugees hit its highest level since the 1990s -- a whopping 43.3 million.

In other words, it was a bad year for refugees -- the worst since the bad old days of the 1990s. Much of the unfortunate news comes from stories that are all too familiar: Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo. They've been bad before, but they're not getting better. Even more forgiving situations, such as in Iraq, are not attracting voluntary returns, as UNHCR calls them. And the number of people sent out into this growing abyss of refugeehood has grown each year.

It's a humbling inflection point.  In this Westaphalian world where the state is still the most important piece of international capital, we now have a world in which million of people are -- perhaps permanently -- stateless. How do we imagine their human rights, their legal status, and our negotiation with and about them? On top of the protracted situation in the Middle East, conflicts in Africa, Asia, and across the world are now producing people of no less conclusive status. UNHCR was meant to be a stop-gap mechanism until a better solution could be found. But we might soon reach a point where we can't keep up that story.

Reinnier KAZE/AFP/Getty Images