• Indiscriminate bombing of Sudanese civilians: The International Protections of a civilian population in war?

    With very little international attention, the government of Sudan is dropping an average of five bombs a day on its own people - unarmed civilians not soldiers.  This video, by the brave citizen-journalists in Nuba, attempts to shine a light on the atrocities there.

    War taking place inside a sovereign state are particularly difficult issues in international relations. Although there is no rule of international law that prohibits the use of force within a state there are international norms calling for humane conduct during a conflict within a state. Article 51 of the 1977 Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions specifically forbids indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Further, Article 54 prohibits the destruction of food resources, water sources, homes, and other essentials (click here for more).

    The Sudan government has been dropping bombs on its civilians since June 2011. Nuba journalists have confirmed many of these bombings and have recorded many testimonies of the victims (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Why is so little attention being given to the civilian victims of this clear breach of international law?

    2.     What (if any) actions should the United Nations take in Sudan?


  • Private Individual from Texas helping in the hunt for Joseph Kony

    From governments to IGOs to terrorists and even to private military companies there are many actors on the international scene.  Perhaps with so many different actors it is not surprising to find that a mother of two young boys from San Antonio, Texas is helping to hunt down the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).  Shannon Sedgwick Davis is a lawyer and peace activist (he serves with the Elders - fighting to bring peace and human rights) who has set out to actively support those who are searching for Joseph Kony.

    Above: For more than 25 years Joseph Kony has led the Lord's Resistance Army.

    Through her Bridgeway Foundation, Davis has been taken an unusual role in international affairs - she is providing weapons, communications equipment, and training for those who are attempting to capture an international criminal.

    Kony, as you recall, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (click here for more) and is somewhere in the jungles of Congo, the Central African Republic, or Sudan, where he and his band of soldiers have been terrorizing and killing for decades (click here for more).

    The United States State Department official has said, "the Bridgeway Foundation is an independent organization that does not have an official relationship with the U.S. government" (click here for more). Elizabeth Rubin has written an excellent and full account of Davis and Bridgeway's involvement in the cross border manhunt (click here for the full article).

    The work to stop the LRA is an interesting and unusual example of the new security and human rights landscape in international relations. The actors working to capture Kony and his shrinking band of thugs have come together to form a coalition of governments, NGOs, and activists all working together with the United Nations.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do governments need to work in tandem with individuals like Davis and NGOs like Invisible Children to be truly effective in solving the roots of serious cross-border international problems?

    2.     Does it make sense for NGOs that spend significant amounts of money on reintegration of child soldiers and on counseling victims to focus resources on the core problem?


  • Human Rights - The UDHR Universal and Inalienable?

    Our global understanding of the rights of the individual dramatically changed in 1948 when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

    The UDHR is a broad and powerful list of human rights. The litany of rights in the UDHR belong to you - to every single person on earth - as a matter of being born on this pale blue dot.  These rights are inalienable - meaning they cannot legally be taken away.

    The UDHR includes a wide array of civil and political rights as well as a compelling list of economic, social and cultural rights.

    The UDHR devotes Articles 22 to 28 (of 30 Articles) to economic, social, and cultural rights - including worker rights, vacations, health, and access to education.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Are some rights more important than other rights?

    2.     Are the rights listed in the graphic mutually reinforcing? Are they dependent upon one another?


  • United Nations Women Ad Reveals Widespread Sexism

    Since Google strives to tailor its search results to individual personal tastes, I was a bit skeptical when I read about the United Nations newly released campaign expose negative sentiments about women's rights.

    In the new series of ads, the UN Women use actual Google searches to reveal the widespread prevalence of sexism and discrimination against women.

    In these photos the text of the Google searches from 9 March 2013 are placed over the mouths of women as if to silence their voices.

    The creators of the ads hope expose negative sentiments ranging from stereotyping as well as outright denial of women's rights.

    Try these in your own Google search...

    • Women cannot
    • Women shouldn't
    • Women should
    • Women need to

    Join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag: #womenshould.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you find these ads surprising?

    2.     Do you think that the frequency of the Google terms searched actually shows how far we still have to go to achieve gender equality?



  • China's Arms Manufactures Fight for Increased Global Sales: A Safer World?

    Arms sales carry an odd set of costs and benefits. On one hand the firms that manufacture and sell the weapons grow rich while on the other hand the monies spent on weapons is not spent on other goods like schools, hospitals, healthcare, parks, and public transportation.

    The New York Times reported yesterday that China has become a serious player in the global arms industry (click here for more).

    According to the Times, the China North Industries Group Corporation profits in 2012 about $1.6 billion, a 45 percent increase from 2010. Its revenues in 2012 were about $59 billion, a 53 percent increase over 2010. Another Chinese arms manufacturing company, the China South Industries Group Corporation, had profits of about $1 billion in 2011, on revenue of about $45 billion, both big increases over 2008.

    China's weapons are not yet competitive with Western nations on the technology itself. But Chinese equipment is priced lower and has become popular in emerging markets, including in worn torn African and Latin American nations.

    Limiting weapons sales has many appealing goals - saving lives from war and bloodshed and allowing those monies to be spent on other public good.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do weapons sales - small arms or even fleets of fighter jets encourage bloodshed?

    2.     Why do state officials get drawn into spending such huge sums of money on weapons?


  • Saudi Arabia makes an unusual protest with UN Security Council seat

    The United Nations Security Council is made up of five veto-wielding permanent council members - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - and 10 temporary members without veto power.

    Yesterday, five new temporary member states (Saudi Arabia, Chad, Chile, Lithuania, and Nigeria) were elected by the General Assembly. These temporary members are to serve two-year stints starting on Jan. 1.

    Today (Friday 18 October) Saudi Arabia took a never-been-done before in refusing to take its new acquired seat.

    Saudi Arabia has been pursuing a Security Council seat for years.

    The Saudi Arabian government stated that it is protesting the Council's failure to take firmer action in Syria and Palestine.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Might the Saudi protest perhaps help shake up the current system?

    2.     Is the protest a strategic mistake in that refusing to sit at the table simply excluded them from Security Council talks on issues that are important to them - like the war in Syria?


  • Peruvian fishermen continue to slaughter thousands of dolphins each year

    We humans have historically interacted with other animals on our planet in a variety of ways. Among many others, we have domesticated them, butchered them for food, used them for bate, run tests on them in labs, harnessed them for energy and sport, and used them in war. Are natural rights for humans only?

    Many people are calling for reform in the way we deal with other animals on our pale blue dot. Perhaps no animal has attracted more attention and need for protection than dolphins and whales. Governments and NGOs seek to protect these animals by making it illegal to remove them from their natural habitats. Unfortunately, enforcement is spotty in its record of effectiveness (click here for more).

    While the killing of dolphins has been illegal in Peru since 1997, Peruvian fishermen continue to slaughter dolphins - NGOs say that Peruvian fishermen kill some 15,000 dolphins every year. They use dolphins for bait for shark fishing and human consumption in Peru.

    The Peruvian NGO Mundo Azul is involved in the investigation and protection of dolphins. Mundo Azul recently recorded this undercover video of dolphins being harpooned, clubbed, and butchered (click here for more).

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is it necessary to integrate dolphin conservation with the fight against poverty?

    2.     Is it possible to both protect the dolphins and human welfare?


  • Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi says Iran no longer wants to "walk in the dark" of international isolation

    Iranian and US diplomats held face-to-face meetings last night discussing proposals to end decades of diplomatic deadlock.  Until September 2013, a direct conversation between leaders in Washington and Tehran had not occurred since 1979.

    It was President Jimmy Carter - in 1979 - who last spoke with an Iranian leader when he talked by telephone with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi before Pahlavi was overthrown. Since 1979, the United Sates government has not had diplomatic or consular relations with Iran.

    Retorsion is a legal but unfriendly act in International Law. The most common act of retorsion by a state is to withdraw or breakoff diplomatic relations. This action obviously further strains relations and makes any resolution and communication significantly more difficult. The US broke off relations with Iran three decades ago.

    In late September President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani raising the possibility a deal can be reached over Iran's controversial nuclear program (click here for more).

    Following up on that conversation, Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, gave an hour-long PowerPoint presentation of the proposals, entitled "Closing an unnecessary crisis: Opening new horizons", to senior diplomats from the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China in Geneva (click here for more).

    Wednesday's session comes amid the first signs of real progress for at least four years.

    Above: A member of Iran's delegation speaks to Iran's President Hassan Rouhani (R) before a news conference in New York September 27, 2013. Reuters/Adrees Latif

    Discussion starters:

    1.     As the latest talks in Geneva continue, Israel has warned against easing the punishing economic sanctions imposed against Iran too soon. Do you agree with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that such a move would be a "historic mistake"?

    2.     Should the United States move very rapidly to open relations and dismantle its sanctions against Iran?


  • Pirate attacks are a growing international problem costing billions each year

    A Russian court ruled yesterday that Greenpeace activists Kieron Bryan and Philip Ball should remain in detention pending trial for piracy (click here for more). They have now been behind bars for twenty-five days! 

    Bryan and Ball were among six Britons on board Greenpeace's boat Arctic Sunrise held on 18 September.  All 30 Greenpeace activists on the ship have been accused of piracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.

    Although the Russian President has publicly stated that the Greenpeace activists were obviously not pirates they remain in jail awaiting a trial for piracy.

    Real pirate attacks cost billions of dollars every year - as much as $5.7 - 6.1 billion in 2012, according to the Oceans Beyond Piracy advocacy group (click here for more).

    Tom Hanks is starring in a newly released movie about a 2009 piracy act. Acting on orders from President Obama, U.S. Navy Seals rescued hostages, including Captain Richard Phillips who was in danger of being killed by pirates (click here for more).

    Yesterday, Indian officials detained an armed ship operated by a US maritime security company (click here for more). Indian authorities arrested all 35 people on board, for failing to produce papers authorizing it to carry weapons and ammunition in Indian waters.

    The Indian piracy incident highlights the significant problem of piracy on the high seas. With governments unwilling or unable to protect cargo ships the practice of placing private and military guards on those ships for protection against pirate attacks has emerged.


    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do you think the Greenpeace activists were pirates?

    2.     Should governments or perhaps the United Nations take a stronger stance to protect against pirates? 


  • Peace through education or disarmament? The Nobel Peace Prize Committee sets spotlight on chemical weapons IGO rather than Malala Yousafzai

    Today, 11 October 2013, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize to an intergovernmental organization - the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for its efforts to eliminate chemical weapons. The OPCW is headquartered in The Hague and is funded by its member states.  The IGO has recently been instrumental in the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria but has conducted more than 5,000 inspections in 86 countries since its establishment in 1997 (click here for more).

    Many thought that the Nobel Committee might award 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai the prize (Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girl's education). 

    Coincidentally, today is also the International Day of the Girl. Activists, students, colleges, and organizations all around the world will join together to celebrate the International Day of the Girl. For example, the students at The University of Texas at Tyler will be raising awareness on the importance of educating girls by hosting a screening of "Girl Rising" (click here for more). This year's theme is "Innovating for Girls' Education" focusing on how educating girls is the key to creating a better world for everyone.

    The Nobel Peace Prize, however, committee gave a nod to Alfred Nobel's will and awarded the 2013 prize for efforts in disarmament rather than Malala's efforts in promoting education for girls. The OPCW has worked through inspections and destruction to rid our village of these horrible weapons.  The convention and the work of the OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as illegal under international law. Some states are still not members of the OPCW convention.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Did the Nobel committee make a mistake in not awarding the prize to Malala Yousafzai?  

    2.     Obviously the Nobel Committee made this award to help further the elimination of chemical weapons. Was it appropriate to make this award to the OPCW in a year when a large number of people died in a chemical weapon attack? 


  • Gross National Happiness: Lessons From Bhutan

    Perhaps a policy of "happiness" is not the best policy after all?

    Since the early 1970s the state of Bhutan has had a policy focused on gross national happiness - rather than gross domestic product.

    Introduced by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, gross national happiness was an attempt to balance the country's economic growth toward the consumer culture along with spiritual growth and traditions.

    The prime minister, Tshering Tobgay, was elected in in 2008 in part because he promised a list of specific policies designed to provide economic opportunities. Mr. Tobgay is seeking to provide his people with a sense of security, identity, and purpose - rather than a focus on "happiness."

    "Rather than talking about happiness, we want to work on reducing the obstacles to happiness," he said.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Has Mr. Tobgay begun a movement toward the Western consumer culture?

    2.     What lessons might Western policymakers draw from Mr. Tobgay and Bhutan? 


  • Greenpeace activists charged with piracy in Russia

    This week Russian officials charged 13 Greenpeace activists and one freelance videographer with piracy. Under Russian law piracy is punishable by between 10 and 15 years in prison (click here for more).

    In late September, Greenpeace activists sailed into the icy Russian Artic to bring attention to Russia's Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya oil platform. They radioed the platform and let them know that they were coming in peaceful protest and intended no harm to people or property.

    Their peaceful protest against the Gazprom oil drilling in the Arctic ended when Russian authorities seized the Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, and arrested the 30 international activists. The entire Greenpeace crew - from the climbers to the cooks on the ship - have been jailed pending a piracy investigation.

    Kumi Naidoo on Greenpeace activists held in Russia from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.


    Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo tells Bill Moyers why nonviolent protest is not piracy, but is essential to moving forward on climate change and protecting our planet.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Are the Greenpeace activists pirates?

    2.     Is Kumi Naidoo correct in saying that sometimes breaking the law is necessary for protecting our planet?

  • Swords into Plowshares: Non-violence as an approach to peace, freedom, fairness

    Today is the United Nations International Day of Non-violence (click here for more). UN Secretary General said in a statement "Today we celebrate the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi and his resonant legacy of non-violence."

    Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on people across the world to be inspired by the courage of Mahatma Gandhi and his teachings of non-violence saying, "Gandhi showed the power of peacefully opposing oppression, injustice and hatred. His example has inspired many other history-makers such as Martin Luther King, Jr, Vaclav Havel, Rigoberta Menchu Tum and Nelson Mandela."

    Ban said, "Ending such violence can start with each of us - in homes, schools and workplaces.  Violence can be contagious, but so can peaceful dialogue. Violence can be contagious, but so can peaceful dialogue," he said and asked people to "turn your back to division and hatred; stand up for what is right and just."

    "Work with your fellow women and men for a world of lasting justice, peace and prosperity for all," he said.

    Inscribed on the United Nations headquarters in New York are these words from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

    Do the realist preparations for war lead to war? Can a peaceful mindset lead to a peaceful world?

    The original Latin of the expression "if you want peace, prepare for war" is directly opposed to Mohandas Gandhi's statement that "non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being."

    The above sculpture called "Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares" stands in the United Nations gardens in New York.  It was a gift from the Soviet Union in 1959.

    John Frederick Maurice wrote, "I went into the British Army believing that if you want peace you must prepare for war. I now believe that if you prepare thoroughly for was you will get it."

    In setting out to achieve independence for the people of India, Gandhi did not prepare for war but instead prepared for peace.  Working with India's Congress, Gandhi practiced nonviolent civil disobedience and was able to change the course of Indian history. In his quest he sought to make India unprofitable for the British and he asked the people of India to stop buying British goods. He suggested instead that they make their own clothes for example. As such Gandhi took on the loom as a symbol of self-sufficiency and peace rather than a weapon.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Might the reduction of armaments lead to less armed aggression?

    2.     Does the mindset of arming for war promote war?