This Is Great!

I’m over the moon about having something good to say about Barack Obama.  Apparently his administration has decided to climb back into the leadership saddle at the UN:

After nearly a decade of an often tense and estranged relationship with the United Nations, Washington appears to be taking a much more conciliatory and multilateral approach to the world body.

U.S. President Barack Obama formally restored funding for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) Wednesday by signing a major spending bill, prompting U.N. officials to again welcome the policy shift on women’s health-related rights.

In January, Obama issued an executive order lifting an eight-year ban on U.S. funding for overseas family-planning groups and clinics that perform or promote abortion or lobby for its legalisation.

“We are delighted that the United States will, once again, take a leading role in championing women’s reproductive health, and rights,” said UNFPA’s executive director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. “This is a great day for women and girls.”

During the administration of George W. Bush, the UNFPA lost its U.S. funding on charges that it was trying to promote abortion, an allegation that Obaid and other officials strongly denied.

In a recent statement, Obama said the resumption of U.S. funding would help not only to reduce poverty, but also improve the health of women and children and prevent HIV/AIDS.

UNFPA says due to the U.S. restrictions on funding its programmes, millions of women in poor countries were unable to access health care during pregnancy and that many of them died as a result.

Earlier this week, Obama signed the legislative omnibus funding bill containing a 50-million-dollar contribution to UNFPA. The funding had been in limbo since 2002 when Bush began to implement his ideologically-driven policies towards women’s rights.  [more]

The UNFPA has been almost hopelessly underfunded.  Among other things, it’s the UN agency responsible for the health of women in the DNC – those who have been raped and maimed by DNC rebels and soldiers.  Much more money is needed than will be provided by this change, but it’s a wonderful new start.  Thanks Barack!

Afghanistan: We’ve Got ADD

From Martin Regg Cohn at The Star:

It took a milestone to remind Canadians of the millstone around our necks:

Three soldiers died in Afghanistan last week, pushing the death toll to the symbolically important benchmark of 100. That was the cue for newspapers to publish photo montages of the fallen soldiers, triggering more public grief and questioning of the mission.

Until then, Canadians had seemed blissfully oblivious to our biggest overseas military operation since the Korean War.

Canada’s political leadership has long been disengaged from this deployment. Afghanistan was conspicuously absent from the coalition accord signed last week by the opposition parties. And the war against the Taliban was missing in action from the fall campaign.

The debate – or lack of it – has slipped into a predictable pattern: When the mission is going smoothly, the less said the better. When soldiers die, there is much hand-wringing about how we got there – and wishful thinking about how we get out of there.

There’s plenty of second-guessing the mission, but relatively little forethought about the deadly serious consequences of the Taliban’s rebirth. Now, President-elect Barack Obama’s unequivocal commitment to bolster America’s presence in Afghanistan will force Canada to resolve its conflicted view of the conflict.

Obama ran on this issue. Canadian politicians have run away from it. Americans are likely to act on their words. Canadians are destined to talk around it, while our soldiers just get on with it.

Canadians wax nostalgic about the golden age of peacekeeping. But this conveniently ignores the diminishing returns of our most recent deployments to the Balkans, Haiti and Somalia, where we were sitting ducks.

We pay lip service to the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine advanced by Canada at the United Nations, which commits us to intervene when lives are at stake. And we make the right noises about rushing to Darfur to stamp out genocide – as if that would be any less bloody and costly than our commitment to Afghanistan.

Read the rest here

Congo’s Holocaust

Yes, we’ve all been sitting on our butts here in the West while a holocaust rages in Congo.  5.8 million people dead; untold numbers of women raped, gang-raped, forced into pregnancy, infected with HIV and maimed for life.  When I read the history of WW II, I often come across the question, why did we do nothing to stop the mass killing of Jews?  We can ask the same question now:  why have we done nothing, why are we still doing nothing, to stop the holocaust in Congo?  I thought it was never supposed to happen again.

From Johann Hari at The Independent:

The deadliest war since Adolf Hitler marched across Europe is starting again – and you are almost certainly carrying a blood-soaked chunk of the slaughter in your pocket. When we glance at the holocaust in Congo, with 5.4 million dead, the clichés of Africa reporting tumble out: this is a “tribal conflict” in “the Heart of Darkness”. It isn’t. The United Nations investigation found it was a war led by “armies of business” to seize the metals that make our 21st-century society zing and bling. The war in Congo is a war about you.

 

Every day I think about the people I met in the war zones of eastern Congo when I reported from there. The wards were filled with women who had been gang-raped by the militias and shot in the vagina. The battalions of child soldiers – drugged, dazed 13-year-olds who had been made to kill members of their own families so they couldn’t try to escape and go home. But oddly, as I watch the war starting again on CNN, I find myself thinking about a woman I met who had, by Congolese standards, not suffered in extremis.

I was driving back to Goma from a diamond mine one day when my car got a puncture. As I waited for it to be fixed, I stood by the roadside and watched the great trails of women who stagger along every road in eastern Congo, carrying all their belongings on their backs in mighty crippling heaps. I stopped a 27 -year-old woman called Marie-Jean Bisimwa, who had four little children toddling along beside her. She told me she was lucky. Yes, her village had been burned out. Yes, she had lost her husband somewhere in the chaos. Yes, her sister had been raped and gone insane. But she and her kids were alive.

I gave her a lift, and it was only after a few hours of chat along on cratered roads that I noticed there was something strange about Marie-Jean’s children. They were slumped forward, their gazes fixed in front of them. They didn’t look around, or speak, or smile. “I haven’t ever been able to feed them,” she said. “Because of the war.”

Their brains hadn’t developed; they never would now. “Will they get better?” she asked. I left her in a village on the outskirts of Goma, and her kids stumbled after her, expressionless.

There are two stories about how this war began – the official story, and the true story. The official story is that after the Rwandan genocide, the Hutu mass murderers fled across the border into Congo. The Rwandan government chased after them. But it’s a lie. How do we know? The Rwandan government didn’t go to where the Hutu genocidaires were, at least not at first. They went to where Congo’s natural resources were – and began to pillage them. They even told their troops to work with any Hutus they came across. Congo is the richest country in the world for gold, diamonds, coltan, cassiterite, and more. Everybody wanted a slice – so six other countries invaded.

These resources were not being stolen to for use in Africa. They were seized so they could be sold on to us. The more we bought, the more the invaders stole – and slaughtered. The rise of mobile phones caused a surge in deaths, because the coltan they contain is found primarily in Congo. The UN named the international corporations it believed were involved: Anglo-America, Standard Chartered Bank, De Beers and more than 100 others. (They all deny the charges.) But instead of stopping these corporations, our governments demanded that the UN stop criticising them. [emphasis mine]

There were times when the fighting flagged. In 2003, a peace deal was finally brokered by the UN and the international armies withdrew. Many continued to work via proxy militias – but the carnage waned somewhat. Until now. As with the first war, there is a cover-story, and the truth. A Congolese militia leader called Laurent Nkunda – backed by Rwanda – claims he needs to protect the local Tutsi population from the same Hutu genocidaires who have been hiding out in the jungles of eastern Congo since 1994. That’s why he is seizing Congolese military bases and is poised to march on Goma.

It is a lie. François Grignon, Africa Director of the International Crisis Group, tells me the truth: “Nkunda is being funded by Rwandan businessmen so they can retain control of the mines in North Kivu. This is the absolute core of the conflict. What we are seeing now is beneficiaries of the illegal war economy fighting to maintain their right to exploit.”

See the whole thing here

And see Roxanne Stasyszyn at Dissident Voice:

Most every Congolese citizen will agree that the reason for the instability in Congo is the international influence within their borders. Some point their finger at mineral trafficking. Some point to tribal and historical ‘facts’. Others, like Vital Katembo, claim it is obvious that people are doing harm when they are not achieving what they claim to work for—speaking of the humanitarian aid and conservation sectors—especially when they have the needed resources to accomplish their missions.

No matter where you point your finger or for what reason, the DRC is an international playground filled with extremely dangerous toys and irresponsible playmates. Many times, knowing where to point is simply based on how dangerous it is to point that way.

What’s Up With Emerson

Now that US Ambassador David Wilkins has so kindly given Canada the permission of the US to repatriate our citizen, wtf’s up with David Emerson?  We know wtf’s up with Wilkins:

Neither the United Nations nor the United States is blocking the return home of Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian citizen, so Foreign Minister David Emerson should stop stalling and repatriate him, Dawn Black, the NDP’s defence critic said Monday.

“He’s marooned, he’s never charged with any crime and now his own government fails to assist him,” Ms. Black said in an interview. “I think that’s wrong.”

Senior government officials – in documents marked “secret” and “Canadian eyes only” – warned the Harper government against allowing Mr. Abdelrazik to come home to Canada because doing so might upset the Bush administration.

But U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins suggested this weekend that repatriating Mr. Abdelrazik, who has been granted temporary safe haven and is living inside the Canadian embassy in Khartoum, wouldn’t upset Washington.

“The Americans have been clear that they see no problem with his return,” Ms. Black said. In light of the government’s very “tarnished record of how they dealt with Maher Arar” – who was also labelled as an Islamic extremist by Canadian security agents – “one questions what Minister Emerson and the Conservatives are doing on this file,” Ms. Black said.

Anne Howland, a spokeswoman for the minister, said Mr. Emerson could not comment about the case because Mr. Abdelrazik is suing the government to force his repatriation.

His predecessor, Maxime Bernier, told Parliament that it was the UN Security Council travel ban that precluded Mr. Abdelrazik’s return. But the so-called UN 1267 blacklist of al-Qaeda suspects specifically allows for a travel-ban exemption for citizens to return home.

There are numerous documented cases of people on the UN 1267 list returning home. For instance, Abdelghani Mzoudi, a Moroccan once accused of involvement in the Sept 11, 2001, attacks, was acquitted by a German court. Although he remains on the 1267 list, he flew to Morocco on a commercial airline in 2005.

Similarly, there are instances of Canadians on the U.S. no-fly list – notably Mr. Arar – who are now able to fly domestically and internationally after the intervention of Canadian government officials.

The Harper government apparently no longer considered Mr. Abdelrazik a security risk. Not only did Mr. Bernier grant him “temporary safe haven” in the embassy, but last December it advocated to the UN Security Council 1267 committee that he be delisted. In February, senior Foreign Affairs officials suggested a travel ban exemption could be requested to permit Mr. Abdelrazik to return home.

“This would require ministerial decision,” the memo, dated Feb. 28, says. It is marked “secret.” No ministerial decision has apparently been made.

But the assessment by Foreign Affairs that Mr. Abdelrazik should be delisted isn’t shared by some intelligence operatives.

Two senior government officials – Isabelle Desmartis, director of intelligence for Transport Canada and Debra Normoyle, director-general for security and emergency preparedness at Transport Canada, labelled Mr. Abdelrazik an “Islamic extremist” in documents marked “secret” and dated April 30, 2008. That’s the same label Canadian intelligence agents applied to Mr. Arar before his arrest in New York and torture in Syria.

In the Abdelrazik file, the documents warned that “senior government of Canada officials should be mindful of the potential reaction of our U.S. counterparts to Abdelrazik’s return to Canada as he is on the U.S. no-fly list.”

Mr. Abdelrazik, a Montreal resident who was granted refugee status in Canada in 1990 and became a citizen in 1995, was imprisoned in Sudan while visiting his ailing mother in 2003. Mr. Abdelrazik was jailed in Sudan’s notorious Kober prison, where he says he was beaten and tortured.

Previously obtained documents, marked “CSIS” – a reference to Canada’s Security and Intelligence Service – say he was imprisoned “at our request,” meaning at Canada’s request. He was released in July, 2005, after the second of two prison stints. Both Air Canada and Lufthansa refused to honour his ticket home to Montreal. By then he was on Washington’s no-fly list. He wasn’t added to the UN list until a year later.

Maybe Wilkins is full of shite.  Maybe Emerson.  Maybe both.  Canadian citizenship is being emptied of meaning.