JFP 4/13: GOP voters turn on war; Welcome to Palestine: "Even Prisoners Are Allowed Visits"
Just Foreign Policy News, April 13, 2012
GOP voters turn on war; Welcome to Palestine: "Even Prisoners Are Allowed Visits"
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Welcome to Palestine: "Even Prisoners Are Allowed Visits"
What difference will it make to the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank when the world meets their demands for freedom and self-determination? One difference it will make: like other peoples of the world, the Palestinians will get to decide who they can invite to visit them.
A Contrarian Optimist View of the Upcoming Iran Nuclear Talks
When President Obama nominated global health superhero Dr. Jim Young Kim to lead the World Bank, Harvard development economist Dani Rodrik remarked, "It's nice to see that Obama can still surprise us." Is it possible that Obama could pleasantly surprise us in the upcoming talks with Iran over its nuclear program? Much of the media coverage would suggest otherwise. Nonetheless, there are actually quite a few positive signs we can point to.
Juan Cole: Why Washington's Iran Policy Could Lead to Global Disaster
Economic war led by Washington (and encouraged by Israel) will not take down the Iranian government or bring it to the bargaining table on its knees ready to surrender its nuclear program. It might, however, lead to actual armed conflict with incalculable consequences.
1) A majority of Republicans say for the first time that the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, the Washington Post reports. The poll findings are likely to present a challenge for Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, who has said that the goal in Afghanistan should be to defeat the Taliban on the battlefield, the Post says.
2) At negotiations this week between Iran and six world powers, the U.S. and its allies hope to make enough progress to take some of the urgency out of the confrontation over Iran's nuclear program, the New York Times reports. The U.S. has made clear that 20-percent-enriched uranium and the Fordo site are matters of urgency, and Iran has hinted it may be willing to suspend enrichment to 20 percent, at least temporarily, in return for concessions - which may include, for instance, suspending the EU oil embargo, scheduled to begin July 1, or even of some sanctions against Iran's Central Bank. Reciprocal suspensions of some kind, experts say, might be enough to buy time and get both sides to another round of talks.
3) The White House said it was "deeply concerned" about growing polarisation between the monarchy and the majority Shi'a community in Bahrain and the welfare of a jailed human rights activist who has been on a hunger strike since early February, Inter Press Service reports. The immediate cause of the statement appeared to be a response to growing pressure from a large number of human rights and labour groups for Obama to intervene in the case of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the report says. But it also reflected increasing concern over the increase in clashes between the kingdom's security forces and youths in predominantly Shi'a communities, and in the absence of movement toward serious dialogue between the government and the main opposition party, al-Wefaq.
4) Recent claims from some economists that Jim Yong Kim, President Obama's nominee to be head of the World Bank, is "anti-growth" are based on a willful misreading of passages from Kim's co-edited volume "Dying for Growth: Global Inequality and the Health of the Poor," write Paul Farmer and John Gershman in the Washington Post. Any reasonable reading of the book indicates that "Dying for Growth" is pro-growth, raising questions about particular policies and patterns of growth that exclude the great majority of people living in poverty.
5) The A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s president has sent him a toughly worded letter saying that he should not officially certify that Colombia has done enough to stop a decades-long series of killings of union leaders and supporters there, the New York Times reports. Richard Trumka, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s president, wrote that it would be wrong to grant such certification because Colombia had done far too little to stop the killings. Trumka also maintained that Colombia had not fulfilled many of the promises it made as part of a "labor action plan" that it embraced last April to help persuade Congress to ratify a trade accord.
6) President Obama will be on the defensive on Cuba, drug trafficking, and immigration heading into this weekend's Summit of the Americas, with the U.S. stubbornly clinging to positions opposed by most Latin American and Caribbean leaders, AP reports. Leaders including Colombian President Santos have said they will permit no more future Summits of the Americas without Cuba's participation. Obama can also expect to be in the minority in his opposition to Argentina's claim to the British-controlled Malvinas Islands, AP says.
7) Pakistan's government and opposition joined on Thursday to present the U.S. with a list of stringent demands, including an immediate end to C.I.A. drone strikes, the New York Times reports. "Now two things can happen," a Pakistani defense expert said. "If the drone strikes continue, it will embarrass the government. The other option is for the U.S. and Pakistan to evolve a new framework for the use of drone aircraft."
8) Despite the Bahrain authorities' claims to the contrary, state violence against those who oppose the Al Khalifa family rule continues, and in practice, not much has changed in the country since the brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in February and March 2011, says Amnesty International in a memo to journalists. In recent months, the Bahraini authorities have become more concerned with re-building their image and investing in public relations than with actually introducing real human rights and political reforms in their country, Amnesty says.
9) Kofi Annan's spokesman described the cease-fire in Syria as "relatively respected," the New York Times reports. An advance team of up to 30 UN observers was due to be dispatched as soon as the Security Council approved it; the full mission would reach 250 observers.
10) A year and a half after cholera was introduced to Haiti by UN troops, a tiny portion of the population on Thursday began getting vaccinated against the waterborne disease that has infected more than 530,000 Haitians and killed more than 7,040, the New York Times reports. The organizers - Partners in Health and Gheskio, which also collaborate on H.I.V. and AIDS care - had hoped to beat the spring rains that spread the cholera germ. But they ran into an unanticipated roadblock and the rains have already started to drench the country, causing flooding and a spike in cases. "It's the ethical and equitable thing to do," said Dr. Paul Farmer, a co-founder of Partners in Health. "If cholera had exploded in the United States like it did in Haiti, everybody would have gotten the vaccine by now."
1) Post-ABC News poll shows drop in Republican support for Afghan war
Scott Wilson and Jon Cohen, Washington Post, April 11
A majority of Republicans say for the first time that the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll that comes as the continuing U.S. presence in that country is emerging as a key point of contention in the presidential race.
The poll findings are likely to present a challenge for Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, who has said that the goal in Afghanistan should be to defeat the Taliban on the battlefield.
President Obama stepped back from that goal during his 2009 strategy review and has set the end of 2014 as the departure date for all U.S. combat forces. [Note that this statement is technically correct: any U.S. troops which remain after 2014 will not be called "combat forces" - JFP.]
Since the 2001 invasion, almost 2,000 U.S. troops have been killed and more than 15,000 have been wounded in Afghanistan. [That is, according to the Pentagon definition of "wounded" - JFP.] According to the poll, two-thirds of Americans think the war has not been worth fighting, equaling the most negative public assessments of the U.S. war effort in Iraq.
But Romney, whose résumé is thin on foreign-policy experience, has criticized Obama's management of the Afghanistan war.
In particular, the former Massachusetts governor has said that he would have listened more closely to his commanding generals, who have urged Obama to keep troops in place longer, and not set a specific timeline for withdrawal. Romney says that Obama's doing so has allowed the Taliban to simply wait out the U.S. military.
For Romney's campaign, the slip in Republican support for the war could pose political difficulties, placing him outside the majority view of his party. For the first time, more Republicans and GOP-leaning independents oppose the war than support it, with 55 percent saying it has not been worth the costs.
2) At Nuclear Talks, Hopes That a New Iranian Attitude Will Reduce Tensions
Steven Erlanger, New York Times, April 12, 2012
Istanbul - At negotiations this week between Iran and six world powers, the United States and its allies hope to make enough progress to take some of the urgency out of the confrontation over Tehran's nuclear program, to reassure Israel and to arrange a second round of talks soon.
For the first time in years, both Iran and the six powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - seem interested in serious negotiations that both sides have agreed will take a "step by step" approach and be "reciprocal." And both sides say they are coming to the talks here in Istanbul with proposals on the nuclear issue in discussions that may begin over dinner on Friday night and will continue formally on Saturday. Iranian state media said Tehran's delegation arrived in Istanbul on Friday morning.
But the context is different now. Iran has produced a much greater quantity of enriched uranium, some of it at 20 percent purity, just a few technical steps from bomb grade; it has placed many more centrifuges deep inside a protected mountain at Fordo, near Qum; and it is facing increased sanctions that are causing severe economic distress. So there is more of a sense of urgency on both sides, with Israeli leaders talking openly of bombing Iran's nuclear sites before it becomes too difficult to do so.
The United States has made clear that the 20-percent-enriched uranium and the protected Fordo site are matters of urgency, and Iran has hinted that it may be willing to suspend enrichment to 20 percent, at least temporarily, in return for concessions - which may include, for instance, suspending the European Union's oil embargo, scheduled to begin July 1, or even of some sanctions against Iran's Central Bank. Reciprocal suspensions of some kind, experts say, might be enough to buy time and get both sides to another round of talks.
3) White House Expresses Growing Concern Over Bahrain
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, Apr 11
Washington - The White House Wednesday said it was "deeply concerned" about growing polarisation between the ruling monarchy and the majority Shi'a community in Bahrain and the welfare of a jailed human rights activist who has been on a hunger strike since early February.
"We continue to underscore, both to the government and citizens of Bahrain, the importance of working together to address the underlying causes of mistrust and to promote reconciliation," said President Barack Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney, in a written statement.
"In this respect, we note our continued concern for the well-being of jailed activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and call on the Government of Bahrain to consider urgently all available options to resolve his case," the statement said.
It added that the government should "redouble its ongoing efforts" to implement democratic reforms recommended by an independent international commission last November.
While the immediate cause of the statement appeared to be a response to growing pressure from a large number of human rights and labour groups for Obama to intervene in the case of Khawaja, it also reflected increasing concern over the increase in violent clashes between the kingdom's security forces and youths in predominantly Shi'a communities in and around Manama, the capital, in the absence of movement toward serious dialogue between the government and the main opposition party, al-Wefaq.
Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet and occupies a strategic location in the Gulf opposite southwestern Iran.
The violence has reportedly increased over the past few weeks with the approach of next week's Formula One race on the island -against which protestors have called for a boycott - as well as growing concerns over Khawaja's deteriorating condition, which has become a rallying point for both the opposition.
Seven police officers were wounded Monday when a bomb exploded as demonstrators just outside Manama gathered to protest the authorities' rejection of an appeal by the Danish government to release Khawaja to its custody for medical treatment.
"The United States continues to be deeply concerned about the situation in Bahrain, and we urge all parties to reject violence in all its forms," the White House statement said.
"We condemn the violence directed against police and government institutions, including recent incidents that have resulted in serious injuries to police officers," it went on. "We also call on the police to exercise maximum restraint, and condemn the use of excessive force and indiscriminate use of tear gas against protestors, which has resulted in civilian casualties."
The administration also spoke out strongly in favour of the conclusions and recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) headed by a prominent international jurist, Cherif Bassiouni, which was tasked to investigate allegations of human rights and other abuses committed during the crackdown.
In addition to the use of excessive force by security forces which resulted in several dozen deaths, the nearly 500-page BICI report released in November detailed other serious abuses, including the rounding up, detention, torture and mistreatment of hundreds of demonstrators, the wrongful dismissal of thousands of others from government posts and universities, and serious due process violations, including the admission of forced confessions, committed against defendants brought before special security courts.
Khawaja, a long-time human rights activist who had been exiled to Denmark in the 1980s but returned to Bahrain in 2001, was himself arrested last April on charges of trying to overthrow the monarchy and subsequently sentenced by one of the courts criticised by the BICI to life imprisonment two months later.
He, along with 13 other prominent opposition activists, has been named as "prisoners of conscience" by Amnesty International which has called repeatedly for his unconditional release.
While in prison awaiting trial, Khawaja was beaten so severely that his jaw and skull were cracked and he has undergone several surgeries since.
To protest his continued detention, he began a hunger strike on Feb. 8, and is now on his 64th day without eating solid food. In an open letter to King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, he said he would continue fasting until "freedom or death".
Reports of his deteriorating health spurred 15 civil society groups here, including Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, the Open Society Foundations, and the AFL-CIO labour confederation, to send an open letter to Obama Monday in which they urged him "to publicly call on the Government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release (him) from prison".
Amnesty reiterated that call Tuesday in light of a decision by Bahrain's Court of Cassation, which is reviewing the verdicts of Khawaja and his 13 co-defendants, to adjourn its deliberations until Apr. 23 without setting bail. Despite concerns voiced by Danish consular officials who have been able to visit Khawaja, the Bahraini government has insisted that his life is not at imminent risk.
"This delay will have potentially disastrous consequences for his health, which continues to deteriorate as a result of his hunger strike," Amnesty said. "The authorities' single-minded determination to persecute Abdulhadi al-Khawaja seems to override any consideration for justice or humanity."
4) Jim Kim's humility would serve World Bank well
Paul Farmer and John Gershman, Washington Post, April 11
President Obama's nomination of Jim Yong Kim to be president of the World Bank is a powerful choice for an institution charged with addressing some of the world's toughest challenges. Chief among these is to help developing economies achieve sustained growth by ensuring that its benefits are broadly shared.
Recent claims from some economists that Kim is "anti-growth" are based on a willful misreading and selective reporting of passages from Kim's co-edited volume "Dying for Growth: Global Inequality and the Health of the Poor," to which we both contributed. Any reasonable reading of the book indicates that "Dying for Growth" is pro-growth, raising questions about particular policies and patterns of growth that exclude the great majority of people living in poverty. Hence the double entendre in the title.
The book must be placed in its historical context. In the 1990s, when the book was researched and written, too many of the world's poorest had been left behind by the growth of the global economy. The reigning view then was that growth and globalization would more or less take care of the poor and that inequality in particular was not an important issue. Not all boats were lifted by unequal growth.
The book's objective was to ask questions about what types of growth and what kinds of policies were beneficial for those struggling to lift themselves out of poverty. The people we spoke of as "left behind" were not a tiny minority of our planet's inhabitants but, rather, the many families we encountered every day in our clinics and hospitals in Haiti, Rwanda, Peru and the United States. Under-investment in basic services for the poor - including health care, education and access to credit - perpetuated their exclusion.
Thanks in part to Kim's trailblazing work, development approaches have changed. As the introduction to the World Bank's 2006 World Development Report notes, "we now have considerable evidence that equity is also instrumental to the pursuit of long-term prosperity in aggregate terms for society as a whole." Today there are greater investments in areas such as health and education, which help countries grow.
Questions about inclusive growth remain important in the 21st-century debate over development policy. In our view, these are precisely the issues that governments and international financial institutions should have been asking all along. And in fact, the global financial crisis and recent upheavals known as the Arab Spring remind us how critical the challenge of inclusive growth is.
That's why the Obama administration's nomination of Kim is nothing short of inspired, as leaders in countries rich and poor, such as former president Bill Clinton, Haitian President Michel Martelly, Japanese finance minister Jun Azumi, and others, have noted.
5) A.F.L.-C.I.O. Chief Sends Obama Letter Voicing Concern About Labor Killings in Colombia
Steven Greenhouse, New York Times, April 12, 2012, 1:01 PM
With President Obama scheduled to attend the Summit of the Americas in Colombia this weekend, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s president has sent him a toughly worded letter saying that he should not officially certify that Colombia has done enough to stop a decades-long series of killings of union leaders and supporters there.
Richard L. Trumka, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s president, wrote that it would be wrong to grant such certification because Colombia had done far too little to stop the killings. Mr. Trumka also maintained that Colombia had not fulfilled many of the promises it made as part of a "labor action plan" that it embraced last April to help persuade Congress to ratify a free-trade accord.
Mr. Trumka asserted that the Colombian government had fallen short on its commitment to prosecute and reduce impunity for those who have murdered union supporters.
"Less than 10 percent of the nearly 3,000 cases of trade unionists murders since 1986 have reached a conviction," Mr. Trumka wrote. "The powers behind the crimes remain almost completely free from punishment. None of the 29 labor activists killed in 2011 had their cases resolved by a successful prosecution."
Labor leaders say they fear that Mr. Obama will announce at the meeting in Colombia that he is certifying that Colombia has fulfilled its promises under the action plan, an important step before the free-trade agreement is officially implemented. Mr. Obama will be meeting with more than 30 heads of state and government this weekend in the coastal city of Cartagena.
Mr. Trumka also faulted the labor action plan for not including any specific "objectives to reduce threats or attacks on labor leaders or other types of human rights defenders." He also said that Colombia, which promised to hire 200 labor inspectors, had not done enough preventive inspections to help ensure that the labor rights of Colombia's workers were not violated.
Mr. Trumka noted that many Colombian employers continued to subcontract work in what he said was an illegal strategy to block unionization. He wrote that after municipal workers in the city of Jamundí began a unionization effort in January, the city fired 43 workers, two union leaders received threats, and one activist, Miguel Mallama, "was gunned down in the streets on March 25."
He also wrote that when 450 port workers in Turbo joined Colombia's port workers' union in February, within weeks 50 of the port workers' leaders were effectively fired.
"It is premature to declare the labor action plan a success - now is not the time to relieve the pressure on Colombia," Mr. Trumka wrote. "Moving too quickly toward implementation could jeopardize future improvements for Colombian workers, undercutting efforts to secure labor and other human rights and harming the workers of both countries."
6) Barack Obama to play defense at Summit of Americas over Cuba, drug trafficking, immigration
Associated Press, Friday, April 13, 3:50 PM
Cartagena, Colombia - Barack Obama will be on the defensive heading into this weekend's Summit of the Americas, with the U.S. stubbornly clinging to positions opposed by most Latin American and Caribbean leaders as its influence in the region wanes.
The American president can expect even some of Washington's friendliest allies to protest U.S. insistence on excluding communist Cuba from the gathering. There will be vigorous discussion on drug legalization, which the Obama administration opposes. And Obama can expect to be in the minority in his opposition to Argentina's claim to the British-controlled Falkland Islands.
Obama remains popular in Latin America, but many of his position are not.
On top of that, many of the issues Latin American leaders are looking for answers on, such as Cuba, drug trafficking and immigration, may prove to be contentious during a U.S. election year. Although the popular, charismatic Obama may be able to charm the region's leaders, he will have to convince them that the United States remains relevant to them and their countries.
Obama can expect a lot of criticism over Cuba's exclusion, at U.S. insistence, from the summits since the first one in 1994.
Leaders including Santos have said they will permit no more future Summits of the Americas without the communist country's participation. Obama's administration has greatly eased family travel and remittances to Cuba, but has not dropped the half-century U.S. embargo against the island, nor moved to let it back into the Organization of American States, under whose auspices the summit is organized.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa was boycotting the summit over Cuba's exclusion, making him the only president in the region to do so.
Another major issue will be drug legalization, which the Obama administration firmly opposes. Santos left the idea off the official agenda but has said all possible scenarios should be explored and the U.N. should consider them.
Meeting with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez at his request, Obama can expect to discuss that country's claim to the Falkland Islands after Argentina lost a war with Britain 30 years ago while trying to seize them.
Among the 33 Western Hemisphere's leaders, there is nearly unanimous support for Argentina's position.
The U.S. isn't the only summit participant facing challenges.
The Organization of American States, composed of all the countries in the Western Hemisphere except for Cuba, organizes the summit but has lost much of its former clout with the end of the Cold War.
The OAS, to which the U.S. still pays 59 percent of its $81 million annual budget, now faces competition from a hodgepodge of new regional groupings that have emerged this century, all of them omitting the United States and Canada. They include ALBA, a bloc proposed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and including Cuba; the Brazil-inspired UNASUR, encompassing South America; and CELAC, comprising 33 countries including Cuba.
Nonetheless, the OAS still plays a prominent role in the region by coordinating institutions such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an important buffer against abuses that has recently come under attack.
7) Pakistan Gives U.S. a List of Demands, Including an End to C.I.A. Drone Strikes
Salman Masood and Declan Walsh, New York Times, April 12, 2012
Islamabad, Pakistan - In a rare show of unity, the government and opposition joined on Thursday to present the United States with a list of stringent demands, including an immediate end to C.I.A. drone strikes, that were cast in uncompromising words but could pave the way for a reopening of NATO supply lines through the country.
After two and a half weeks of contentious negotiations, the main parties agreed on a four-page parliamentary resolution that, in addition to the drone demand, called on the Obama administration to apologize for American airstrikes in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. It declared that "no overt or covert operations inside Pakistan shall be permitted" - a broad reference that could be interpreted to include all C.I.A. operations.
But on the issue of NATO supply lines, the resolution specified only that arms and ammunition cannot be transported through Pakistan, opening the door to the resumed delivery of critical Afghan war supplies like food and fuel for the first time since the November airstrikes. And in practice, arms and ammunition were rarely, if ever, transported in convoys through Pakistan.
A spokeswoman for the State Department, Victoria Nuland, praised the "seriousness" of the Parliament's debate and added: "We seek a relationship with Pakistan that is enduring, strategic and more clearly defined. We look forward to discussing these policy recommendations."
Analysts said the resolution, which is essentially nonbinding but establishes a framework for private talks between senior American and Pakistani officials in the coming weeks, signals a new, more pragmatic chapter in relations between the two countries.
"This makes it easier for the government to negotiate with the U.S.," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a defense expert based in Lahore. "That is why the government agreed to the opposition demand on drones."
Still, the demand for an "immediate cessation of drone strikes" has no easy solution. In 2008 Parliament also demanded an end to drone strikes, only for the C.I.A. to continue attacking Taliban and Al Qaeda targets in the tribal belt along the Afghan border.
The Obama administration considers the operations vital to disrupting terrorist and insurgent networks as well as protecting American troops at war in Afghanistan. For Pakistani politicians, however, drones have become a red-line domestic political issue because of public outrage.
The opposition, led by Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party, agreed to back Thursday's resolution in Parliament only if it contained unequivocal language about drones. The government agreed to the language because it needs broad cross-party support to negotiate a reopening of NATO supply lines - a measure that is privately considered necessary by the political and military leadership, but which enjoys little support among the general public.
"Now two things can happen," Mr. Askari Rizvi said. "If the drone strikes continue, it will embarrass the government. The other option is for the U.S. and Pakistan to evolve a new framework for the use of drone aircraft."
8) Human Rights In Bahrain - Media Briefing
Amnesty International, 13 April 2012
The human rights crisis in Bahrain is not over. Despite the authorities' claims to the contrary, state violence against those who oppose the Al Khalifa family rule continues, and in practice, not much has changed in the country since the brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in February and March 2011.
The Bahraini authorities have been vociferous about their intention to introduce reforms and learn lessons from events in February and March 2011. In November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), set up by King Hamad bin 'Issa Al Khalifa, submitted a report of its investigation into human rights violations committed in connection with the anti-government protests. The report concluded that the authorities had committed gross human rights violations with impunity, including excessive use of force against protesters, widespread torture and other ill-treatment of protesters, unfair trials and unlawful killings.
So far, however, the government's response has only scratched the surface of these issues. Reforms have been piecemeal, perhaps aiming to appease Bahrain's international partners, and have failed to provide real accountability and justice for the victims. Human rights violations are continuing unabated. The government is refusing to release scores of prisoners who are incarcerated because they called for meaningful political reforms, and is failing to address the Shi'a majority's deeply-seated sense of discrimination and political marginalisation, which has exacerbated sectarian divides in the country.
In recent months, the Bahraini authorities have become more concerned with re-building their image and investing in public relations than with actually introducing real human rights and political reforms in their country. Indeed, for the authorities, much is at stake. They are keen to portray Bahrain as a stable and secure country in order to stave off international criticism. But as the country prepares to host the Formula 1 Grand Prix on 20-22 April, after the event was cancelled last year in response to the instability in the country, daily anti-government protests continue to be violently suppressed by the riot police that uses tear gas recklessly and with fatal results. Acts of violence by some protesters against the police have also considerably increased in the last three months.
Holding the Grand Prix in Bahrain in 2012 risks being interpreted by the government of Bahrain as symbolizing a return to business as usual. The international community must not turn a blind eye to the ongoing human rights crisis in the country. The government must understand that its half-hearted measures are not sufficient -- sustained progress on real human rights reform remains essential.
9) Protests Follow Cease-Fire in Syria
Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, April 13, 2012
Beirut, Lebanon - Syrians by the thousands marched through the streets of cities and towns across the country Friday, testing a tenuous, day-old cease-fire that the United Nations struggled to shore up when the rapid deployment of international observers snagged on Russian objections.
There were scattered reports of deaths and arrests linked to the demonstrations, which had been dubbed "A Revolution for all Syrians" by local organizers nationwide.
Participants admitted to feeling somewhat tentative, sticking to back streets to avoid the security forces, snipers and the tanks that were used to suppress the peaceful protest movement and that remained deployed around many central squares and major crossroads.
Activists around the country reported that some demonstrators had been tear gassed and others beaten, along with a few reports of renewed shelling. But the violence was far less than in recent months, when scores were reported killed daily under the pounding of heavy weaponry.
Both the lack of international media circulating across the country and the presence of security forces on the streets contradicted the six-point peace plan negotiated by Kofi Annan, the special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported eight people killed after the demonstrations started. In addition, a lieutenant was killed and 24 other officers and a few civilians injured when a roadside bomb destroyed a bus in Aleppo, according to state-run media. It also accused "armed terrorist groups"-its shorthand for all opposition-with the assassination of a local Baath Party official near the southern town of Dara'a and the shooting death of a brigadier general overnight near Damascus.
Given that all 15 members of the United Nations Security Council had endorsed Mr. Annan's six-point plan, including the deployment of United Nations monitors, the resolution authorizing the mission had been expected to pass easily.
But Russia, the Assad government's most important defender, objected to an operative paragraph that would give the monitors a free hand in conducting their work, granting them abilities like unhindered access to anyplace in the country and the right to interview anyone without government interference, according to Security Council diplomats.
Vitaly I. Churkin, the Russian ambassador, said he still expected a rapid vote on the resolution, but it was unclear how quickly the differences could be resolved. Negotiations going paragraph by paragraph started Friday afternoon and no vote was expected until at least Saturday, diplomats said.
An advance team of up to 30 observers, drawn from various United Nations peacekeeping or observer missions in the region, was due to be dispatched as soon as the Security Council approved it, said Ahmad Fawzi, Mr. Annan's spokesman. The full mission would reach 250 observers he said, and as is common on such missions, Syria would have ultimate approval over the nationalities involved.
Mr. Fawzi described the cease-fire as "relatively respected."
10) Vaccinations Begin in a Cholera-Ravaged Haiti
Deborah Sontag, New York Times, April 12, 2012
A year and a half after cholera first struck Haiti, a tiny portion of the population on Thursday began getting vaccinated against the waterborne disease that has infected more than 530,000 Haitians and killed more than 7,040.
Organizers of the vaccination campaign, who have been pushing to do this since the epidemic began, cleared their final political hurdle this week when a national bioethics committee approved their plan to use all available doses of the cheapest cholera vaccine to immunize about 1 percent of the population.
On Thursday, tens of thousands of slum dwellers in Port-au-Prince took their first of two doses of the oral vaccine, Shanchol; tens of thousands of rural residents of a rice-growing community near St. Marc will begin this weekend. The second dose will be administered in two weeks.
The organizers - Partners in Health and Gheskio, which also collaborate on H.I.V. and AIDS care - had hoped to beat the spring rains that spread the cholera germ. But they ran into an unanticipated roadblock and the rains have already started to drench the country, causing flooding and a spike in cases.
The roadblock surfaced in March when a Haitian radio station raised questions about the vaccination campaign, which had been approved by the Haitian health minister last year.
The radio station asked if the campaign could be seen as a medical experiment using poor Haitians as guinea pigs, which prompted the bioethics committee to take up the issue.
Announcing this week that the "pilot project" would move forward, Dr. Gabriel Timothée, director general of the Haitian Health Ministry, said, "This is not a study, it is not a vaccine trial, it is not an experiment."
The use of cholera vaccine in Haiti has been mired in controversy since the epidemic began in mid-October of 2010.
World health authorities initially opposed vaccination, citing cost, logistical challenges and limited vaccine supplies.
Shanchol was still under review by the World Health Organization then, "with significant concerns in that review about safety and manufacturing practices," said Jon Kim Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization.
But proponents argued that the vaccine could save lives, reduce the caseload and buy time until long-range solutions like water and sanitation systems could be put in place.
They called for expediting approval for Shanchol, for increasing vaccine production by offering manufacturers purchase commitments and for using available doses to immunize especially vulnerable people.
World health authorities eventually endorsed a trial campaign, but the Haitian government did not want to stir political trouble by choosing who would get the vaccine.
Time passed; a new government took power; Shanchol, which is manufactured in India, was approved. And the small vaccination campaign has begun, with organizers hoping that it will succeed and lead to a broader use of the vaccine in Haiti.
"It's the ethical and equitable thing to do," said Dr. Paul Farmer, a co-founder of Partners in Health. "If cholera had exploded in the United States like it did in Haiti, everybody would have gotten the vaccine by now."
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