(Trying to) block out the world

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On Thursday, March 12th, Amnesty USA posted a new web action aimed at getting Sudan to reinstate the operations of 13 international humanitarian aid agencies that were kicked out of Sudan and 3 domestic agencies that were shut down after the International Criminal cort issued an arrst warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.  The action targets the UN Missions of the African Union and League of Arab States and the Sudanese Embassy in the U.S.  

On Friday, calls from activists started pouring in, all with the same complaint: their emails to all three targets were being returned as “undeliverable”.   It would seem that facing a deluge of emails, the targets blocked their accounts from receiving incoming messages. So, now, Amnesty is asking activists to fax messages to these three targets urging them to persuade Sudan to rescind its orders.

The very people who ought to be looking out for the victims of the conflict in Darfur are trying to block words from reaching them that urge the continuance of life-saving support for millions of vulnerable men, women, and children.  Just as Sudan would pull the plug on this life-support system, people who could persuade Sudanese authorities to reinstate these 16 key aid groups are plugging their ears to the world’s outrage and urgent plea for help.

Gaza crossings remain restricted despite dire need

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Almost two weeks ago Donatella Rovera, AI researcher posted an entry ‘Task of reconstruction will be truly immense’ during her mission to southern Israel and the Gaza Strip.

This 20 year veteran stated how she and her team were “shocked” and “horrified” at the scale of destruction found and that although prepared for devastation, what they “found was even worse than we had first realized”.

United Nation’s satellite imagery taken of northern Gaza shows widespread and intense damage to buildings, infrastructure and impact craters. Although over 1500 buildings, roads and structures have been damaged, UNOSAT notes that other structures may be damaged or unstable as well, and that estimates of damage are probably an under-estimate because of the difficulty in assessing damage to dense urban areas.

To date, the US has provided nearly $60 million in humanitarian aid like water, food, medicine and plastic sheeting. The cost of damage has been assessed to be more than 2-3 billion dollars

According to the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs, crossings continue to be closed intermittently and imports greatly restricted. Exports are still not allowed.

The following audio clip offers a dire insight into the difficulties into getting humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip after the ceasefire:

A little over a week ago and two weeks after the ceasefire (and audio above), the European Union approached Israeli officials concerned that they “have not witnessed much improvement of the overall restrictions.”

Amnesty International along with other organizations including the United Nations continue to request that all the crossings into the Gaza Strip be opened to allow unhindered access for humanitarian aid and workers. Thousands remain homeless, requiring basic essentials such as food, water, mattresses, blankets and medicine. The grand task of trying to re-build can also not take place when simple reconstruction materials like concrete and plastic are not being allowed in.

Proper monitoring procedures can be put into place to guarantee aid is not going to Hamas authorities, but are properly being utilized. The bottle necks of aid at the crossings are unnecessary and continuing to hurt the victims of the attacks on Gaza from Dec. 27 – Jan. 18th. UNRWA has already shown their ability in guaranteeing the proper carrying out of its function when they stopped aid distribution after Hamas confiscated UNRWA supplies. The supplies were returned and guarantees were made by Hamas that no other confiscations would take place and UNRWA re-started their operations

No more excuses. Open the crossings now.

Forced to Leave Home

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Bloggers Unite

Every day across the world people make the difficult decision to leave their homes. War, persecution, environmental disaster and poverty are just some of the reasons why a person might feel that they have to leave their family, community or country.

Refugees leave their country because they have no other choice and fear for their own life or safety or that of their family. Refugees also flee their country when their government will not or cannot protect them from serious human rights abuses.

Right now, as you read this, millions of people around the world have fled and are waiting to begin their lives again. Tens of thousands of Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa wonder if today is the day their food rations will run out. Hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees in Thailand worry that today is the day they will succumb to illness without medical attention. A quarter of a million Colombian refugees in Ecuador fear that today is the day they will be sent back to face the violence in their home country.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the main agency mandated to provide protection and humanitarian services to those fleeing persecution, estimates there are almost 10 million refugees around the world. They have fled political and religious persecution, been caught up in ethnic conflict, and subjected to violence because of their sexual orientation. There are many reasons that people become refugees, but only a few ways to obtain the protection they so desperately need. International agencies and local organizations do their best to assist everyone, but caring for the world’s most vulnerable is a daunting task.

Amnesty International USA advocates for the rights of asylum-seekers in the United States, and for the humane and dignified treatment of refugees and migrants worldwide. As violations of human rights continue and the number of fleeing people rises, we must all raise our voices to protect the persecuted.

Amnesty’s Solution to DRC is…More Guns??

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I was asked today about Amnesty International’s increasing calls for the UN Security Council to act to reinforce the peacekeeping force currently in DRC (acronym MONUC…it’s French and I can’t find the circumflex character to spell it out). Given the awful situiation in the East of the country, calling on the Security Council to, in his words, “put more guns” in the Kivus was “not going to help in the long run,” he offered. After quickly noting that Amnesty’s call is to strengthen the ability of MONUC to protect civilians…which include more police and armed personnel, but also trucks, aircraft, training to help victims of sexual violence, and a whole slew of logistical support, I gave it a little thought.

Like Amnesty’s support for the UN Mission in Darfur, the calls for increasing support for MONUC—already the largest (most expensive) peacekeeping mission in the world—may seem a desperate recommendation to some. But aside from the obvious and pressing needs of the most vulnerable of people in Eastern DRC—the war affected, the starving, and the displaced—there is no doubt that the humanitarian crisis itself is a policy problem. While Amnesty’s call is surely motivated primarily by the need to address human suffering, there is longer term wisdom to that call.

The roots of the current crisis in DRC can be traced back to the broader “Great Lakes” refugee crisis following the Rwandan genocide. We can trace the general instability of the Kivus and eastern DRC more broadly to the displacement of millions at the borders of Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, and Burundi. That is, we can trace the current political and security situation in DRC back to the displacement and human insecurity of nearly 15 years ago and years since.  

Rwandan refugees setting up camp in E. DRC, 1994

Rwandan refugees setting up camp in E. DRC, 1994

This displacement destroys communities, shreds political fabric, militarizes local commerce, invites predation, increases incentives to take up arms, and destabilizes displacement-receiving communities and countries. The number of people displaced from the Kivus in the past couple months is about equal to the total number of Darfuris who’ve fled to neighboring Chad over the past 5 years. MONUC must be strengthened because civilians will suffer even further if it is not. But the wisdom of strengthening the UN’s thus-far ineffectual presence in the Kivus extends to a generational metric. If the spiraling human security situation in the Kivus isn’t soon slowed, we’ll be citing the international community’s failure to act in 2008 as a key cause of another yet-avoidable catastrophe years down the road.

Yes, securing vulnerable people now is just and necessary (see Mr. Koettl’s post from earlier today). But it has the added advantage of allowing future generations a chance to live in relative peace.