Somalia: A Symbol of World (Dis)Order

It seems that Somalia now represents the nexus or ground zero of the world disorder. Two articles independently describe the situation there in pretty much the same terms.

And here as well:

It indeed seems that we have a lot of dynamics present there: weak to non-existent national governance, warlordism, religious fundamentalism, ambivalent exercise at global intervention and governance. The conflict in Somalia seems to indeed have all the characteristics of new wars: lengthy duration (not much has improved since the disaster of 1994 intervention), the presence of multiple warlords plundering the country, the massive victimization of the civilian population, and with religious fundamentalist groups who, not unlike the Taliban, look like the closest thing to law and order compared to what the warlords have wrought. Add to this the intervention of foreign forces that contribute to the problems and you have a pretty good picture of what is going on.

At the same time, efforts at exercises in global governance have not worked, either through UN Resolutions:

or through peacekeeping… and besides, what peace is there to keep in Somalia?

And the roots and sudden interests may have to do with this:

And it now looks like the Chinese have had enough of having their ships attacked and are sending their own forces in the Gulf Aden, for the first time since the 1420s… Plus ça change…

66 Countries Ask The UN General Assembly to Decriminalize Homosexuality

With Sarkozy and his thugs in control of the French government, there aren’t that many opportunities to be proud of France these days, except for this:

Or for the anglophone crowd:

So, who aren’t the enlightened nations who refused to join the list of 66 signatories (which includes the entire European Union, Brazil, Israel, and Japan)?  The United States, China and Russia, Arab nations,The Holy See (the Catholic lobby), the Organization of the Islamic Conference. What are their objections? Why, legalizing homosexuality will legitimize pedophilia (a bit rich coming from the Catholic Church, that great moral authority) and other "deplorable" acts (whatever the hell that means), of course.

Well, at least, there is now a document in place and that’s a big step.

A Pressing Development Challenge: Access to Bathrooms

Via Le Monde. In order to reduce global poverty and improve the health of the poorest of the poor, the simplest method is to build toilets. Yup, good ol’ fashioned johns.

At least, that is the conclusion reached by The United Nations University International Network on Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH). In a report published at the end of October, the group recommends that governments integrate and coordinate their approach to clean water supply and access to functional toilets.

The numbers are staggering: approximately 2.5 billion people use toilets that do not protect against diseases in fecal matters (I know, sorry, but that’s what it is). 1.2 billion have no other choice but to use the bush or any other natural setting as toilets, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF. These people may spend over half an hour waiting in line for public bathrooms or to find an isolated place. That’s two days per months.

The health impact is devastating: diarrhea-based disease kill around 2 million people each year. 88% of these disease are linked to a lack of hygiene and access to healthy sanitary structures. 5,000 children die everyday as a result. They are the prime victims.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, half of all hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from disease borne by fecal matters. Worldwide, 200 million tons of human excrement end up in rivers, thereby contaminating surface waters or even water tables with all sorts of bacterias, viruses and parasites.

This sanitary challenge rarely makes headlines because it’s not very nice to talk about excrement, no more than it is to talk about sex as Elizabeth Pisani has demonstrated in The Wisdom of Whores. The United Nations have tried to overcome this taboo by declaring 2008 the International Year of Sanitation and Goal 7 of the MDGs, target 3 states the need to "halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation".

How much would this cost? A minimum $38 million (compare that to the trillions of dollars we are going to spend to salvage Wall Street). And for every dollar invested, $9 are reinvested in the economy, in the form of increased productivity and better sanitation, less disease, etc. According to UN projections, this would translate into 3.2 working days added to the year.

To install proper toilets in schools would allow a lot of young women to continue their studies past their puberty. And 10% more literate women translate into 0.3% additional growth.

Regarding access to drinking water, the most progress has been accomplished in East Asia and the Pacific region where coverage went from 30% of the population in 1990, to 51% in 2004. The Middle East, North Africa and Latin America should be able to meet their goals. However, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with only 37% of coverage, are behind. Some experiments have produced encouraging results but they are insufficient.

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Planet of Slums

I am shamelessly using the title of Mike Davis‘s book regarding the latest report from UN-HABITAT, State of World Cities 2008/2009 – Harmonious Cities whose main points are reported in Le Monde. This is the fourth such report whose publication usually precedes the World Urban Forum, currently held in Nanjing.

The report is a major compendium of world statistics on global urbanity. Since this year, half of the world’s population live in cities. 700 new cities have been created since the 1990 and they host over 250 million inhabitants. There are also mega-cities of over 20 million people: Tokyo, Mexico City soon to be joined by Mumbai, Dakha, Sao Paulo and Karachi. And so, for the UN, the 21st Century is the Urban Century. However, unsurprisingly, there are costs to this massive global urbanization in economic, environmental and social terms.

Cities are growing in the Global South and stagnating in the core countries

Developing countries account for 95% of world urban growth and absorb 5 million new urbanites every month, compared to 500,000 in developed countries. The urban population of developing countries should double by 2050 according to the UN. The earth will then sustain 5.3 billion people living in cities, 2/3 in Asia and 1/4 in Africa where the urban revolution has been the most brutal.

On the other hand, in developed countries, approximately half of the cities have had growth under 1% and 40% of cities are losing population, especially in Europe. This is related to slowing demographic growth and low birth rates in the North (in the reverse in the Global South). And whatever growth occurs in developed countries has a lot to do with immigration, which accounts for 1/3 of urban growth. And contrary to what is often stated, urban growth in Global South is largely due to fertility there rather than rural exodus.

Persistent social inequalities… unequally distributed

As the report states, the largest US cities have comparable levels of inequalities as those of Abidjan, Nairobi or Buenos Aires, according to data using the GINI coefficient (0 = perfect equality and 1 = maximum inequality). Many American cities, along with cities in Sub-Saharan Africa and South America are over 0.6 if not 0.7 (which is REALLY bad in terms of potential for social explosion): Bogota, Sao Paulo, Johannesburg, Cape Town. Half of the African urban population lives below the poverty line, 60% lives in slums (compared to the 30% – one billion people – average for developing countries).

In general, the most equal cities are in Western Europe (HA! Try living in Paris!) However, the gold medal of equality goes to Beijing, with a GINI coefficient of 0.22 (however, that coefficient goes up to 0.33 once migrating workers are factored in).

Climate Change and Risky Cities

380 million people live in  over 3,000 coastal cities with low altitudes (less than 10 meters). These cities, such as Dakha, have high risks of flooding (same for Alexandria or Lagos).

Regarding cities contributions to global warming, the report states that it is not so much the degree of urbanization of a country that has an impact on the quantity of greehouse gases produced, but the structure of the city, its living conditions and environmental policies: the mega-city of Sao Paulo produces about 1 tenth of emissions of San Diego, with 4 times as many people. As a result, the authors of the report are more in favor of concentrated cities with less dependency on cars.

Overall, as its title indicates, the report promotes innovative urban policies as paths toward harmonious urban development, as experimented in Bangkok or Bogota.

This is all well and good, but according to Amnesty International, world-cities are also places of human rights violations as illustrated by case studies:

Today’s world-cities: ground zero of the world risk society.

Global Justice – Jorge Castaneda and Taxi to The Dark Side

TttDS Alex Gibney’s latest film, Taxi to The Dark Side, is now out on DVD and airing on HBO. Gibney is also the director of some other great documentaries such as Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and No End in Sight.

In many ways, Taxi to The Dark Side (TTTDS) is very comparable to Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Where SOP focused on Abu Ghraib, TTTDS focuses on Bagram, in Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. The similarities are striking but not surprising: systematic torture, killing of prisoners (TTTDS focuses on the death of Dilawar, a taxi driver, guilty of nothing, who died at Bagram a few days after he had been sent there, after being beat up to death by his guards). TTTDS is a horrible story of the Kafkaian environment created by the US in Afghanistan where people are thrown into a nightmare with no end in sight, on the flimsiest of reasons, and where the interrogators themselves know they are guilty of nothing.

And considering the current state of the war in Afghanistan, one cannot even claim that the end justified the means. With the conflict overflowing into Pakistan, the strategy followed by the US and its NATO allies is not exactly a resounding success.

The story of Dilawar allows Gibney to retrace all the steps leading to this systematic use of torture, with "fascinating" developments on the behavioral research used against detainees. The film also makes a clear case that the buck stop definitely at the top (in particular with Cheney and Rumsfeld). And whereas the soldiers on the ground are clearly guilty of torture, they should not be the only one to receive punishment. And there are a few heroes in this story as well, especially Alberto Mora. The film leaves no doubt that more than a few high-ranking members of the Bush administration belong in the Hague, at the International Criminal Court.

The ICC is the subject of Jorge G. Castaneda‘s column in the Guardian.

The problem that Castaneda discusses here is the decision by the UN Security Council to possibly suspend the ICC’s proceedings after the prosecutor signaled his intention to prosecute Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for the Darfur genocide.

Indeed, indicting a head of state while in office, for such obvious crimes, would indeed send a clear message regarding impunity. However, there remains to be seen how the ICC operates in the face of war crimes committed by citizens of core countries. Again, there is ample documentation now that members of the Bush administration should be indicted for war crimes. Will it happen? Or will it have to be done by a country with universal jurisdiction, as in the case described by Castaneda?

It would be perfectly appropriate for these people to become pariahs of the global community and, like Kissinger, to have to check with their attorneys every time they want to travel abroad.

I’m not holding my breath.

This does not take away the fact that the very creation of the ICC was one of the most progressive developments in global governance.

Victims of New Wars

Since I just reviewed Dave Donelson’s Heart of Diamonds, it is an appropriate time to discuss three stories out of African countries that have experienced new wars and that share common traits: resource curse (diamonds or other), corrupt leaders, militia or private armies making use of child soldiers.

First, out of the Congo (DRC):

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Lord’s Resistance Army is one of the most barbaric armed organizations in the world and its leader, Joseph Kony, deserves to have his behind dragged to the International Criminal Court for his crimes, which are numerous, varied but always horrific, all in the name cleansing the Acholi people based on biblical references. The LRA has made a specialty of using children as easily disposable and easily replaced cannon fodder (that’s for boy… girls usually get sexual slavery).

The conflict in the DRC is actually a regional conflict that includes the lingering of the genocide in Rwanda, and obviously, an overflow of the Ugandan rebellion in addition to conflict internal to the DRC. The social consequences have been devastating with no end in sight.

But that’s not all for the DRC:

And in addition to rape, malnutrition is an enormous problem as well. The children are fed, well, whenever. Children eat if charity organizations or their family bring food to the prison. In a system ridden with corruption, parents do not dare appeal their children’s incarcerations and do not appear in court when their children are arraigned.

The news is not entirely bad though, sometimes, a bad guy seems to be getting his comeuppance:

I hope he gets it. Some more background on Charles Taylor here. My own writing on new wars here.

Navanethem Pillay – New UN High Commissioner on Human Rights

Pillay UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon appointed a new UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to succeed outgoing Commissioner Louise Arbour: South African Judge Navanethem Pillay who currently serves at the International Criminal Court. She seems like the right person for the job, judging from her short bio on the ICC website:

"In 1967 Judge Pillay became the first woman to start a law practice in Natal Province, South Africa, and the first black woman to serve in the High Court in her country. She has presided over both criminal and civil cases. As a practitioner, Judge Pillay defended many opponents of apartheid. She was then elected by the United Nations General Assembly to be a judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, where she served for eight years, including four years as president. During her term, Judge Pillay was credited with turning the Tribunal towards a more positive course. She has written on and practised in international criminal law, international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and more particularly on crimes of sexual violence in conflicts."

I like her already. And of course, I appreaciate seeing another great woman as Human Rights Commissioner. Sadly, the Office of UN High Commissioner on Human Rights ranks pretty low on the complex UN hierarchy but it is still an important office and, hopefully, Judge Pillay will be able to make her mark. She certainly has her work cut out for her.

This appointment still needs to be approved by the General Assembly.

Louise Arbour Against Relativism as Erosion of Human Rights

Louise Arbour Louise Arbour, outgoing UN High Commissioner on Human Rights , give an interview to Le Monde as she takes stock of the current state of human rights around the world.

Every time human rights are mentioned in conversation or even academic meetings, the objection always comes up that human rights are a Western creation that the United States and European countries are ramming down people’s throats all over the world. It is nonsense, of course (to everyone who knows the history of the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ), and it is reverse patronizing (as if only Western people could have come up with the idea of human rights).

But now, emerging countries, groups and powers such as China, Russia or the Muslim world claim a right to a different version of human rights (unsurprisingly, one that is much more restrictive, in terms of, well… rights). So how do we preserve the universality of these rights?

According to Louise Arbour, there are different lines of fracture in this debate. Developing countries, including China, tend to favor social and economic rights more than civil and political rights whereas the United States has done the opposite. This is a line of fracture inherited from the Cold War.

But the main line of fracture now has to do with the rise of religious groups, especially fundamentalist groups who declare these rights secular and therefore inapplicable to them. These groups claim that they should be adjusted.

For Arbour, this is truly an assault against the universality of human rights in the name of religious and cultural relativism. What is the solution for the High Commissioner then? Have a debate with the right parties: not the ambassadors from the European Union or the Organization of Islamic Conference , but rather Muslim women because they are at the heart of the debate as to how to reconcile religious beliefs and human rights.

There is also a juridical, as opposed to political, dimension to consider. For Arbour, it is a false dichotomy to oppose freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The only real question, for her, is "what are the reasonable limits to freedom of expression in a free and democratic society?" After all, even the most democratic societies impose some restrictions on such freedoms.

What has been the impact of the "war on terror" on human rights and their promotion? For Arbour, a lot of democrats (small "d") have contributed, or turned a blind eye, to the erosion of human rights. And therefore, this has opened the door to a lot of abuse (and certainly, the United States bears a great responsibility here, in my view).

Louise Arbour puts what happened after 9/11 in interesting terms. The attitude after the attacks has not been "how much freedom are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of security?" but rather "How much of other people’s freedom are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of security?" And of course, the answer to the latter question is a hell of a lot easier especially when the "other" has been properly stigmatized and dehumanized. And of course, of suspected terrorists very quickly get treated as established terrorists.

For Arbour, we, in democratic societies, have also become easily accustomed to the secrecy of our governments in the name of national security, again. Maybe, ten years from now, she says, we’ll discover the full extent of the abuses. However, the recent US Supreme Court decision granting Guantanamo detainees access to civil federal courts shows that the judiciary branch is starting to push back and regain the ground that legitimately belongs to it: the arena of fundamental civil liberties.

As bad as the abuses brought about by the war on terror have been (and continue to be), Arbour is optimistic regarding the advance of the cause of human rights, especially through the greater recognition of the International Criminal Court. Progress is slow, definitely, However, the greater acceptance of the doctrines of obligation to protect and right to intervene means that more and more countries accept the provision of human rights not as discretionary but as mandatory. Application varies greatly, to be sure, but the framework we use to discuss these issues is significant as well. The Overton Window is shifting in the right direction.

For instance, as bad as the situations are in Darfur and Zimbabwe, both cases are forcing African governments and the Organization of African Union to really consider human rights in the African context and the relevance of the right to intervene.

And then, there are the "new" front lines of human rights. One cannot possibly have witnessed the food riots and not consider access to food a basic human rights. These riots also highlighted the appalling state of social inequalities in world, something well documented but too often ignored. These riots also made relevant discussions on related topics, such as food production and trade, biofuels and agricultural subsidies, trade protectionism on the part of rich countries, financial speculation on food, etc. But too often, for Arbour, these debates have been strictly economic in framing.

For her, the right to food, the right to a decent standard of living are fundamental rights. Is there a right to development. Arbour asks, what is the difference between a government that kills part of its population through genocide and a neglectful and corrupt government that let its people starve or die as a result of sickness and disease? Why do powerful countries a duty to intervene in one case, and less so in another.

And then, there is the next front line: the right to water. And that’s another doozie.

I confess to always finding the High Commissioner on Human Rights fascinating  and intellectually powerful peoples, especially the women, I have always been a big fan of Mary Robinson. I was more ambivalent about the late Sergio Vieira de Mello. But, even though their office is not by any means the most powerful in the complex UN hierarchy, these Commissioners always speak the truth to power.

Finally, Rape Classified as “War Tactic” By UN Security Council

Via Le Monde, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1820 (full text in pdf) at the end of a debate on "women, peace and security" presided by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Let me quote a few chosen excerpts from this important resolution. The resolution

"1. Stresses that sexual violence, when used or commissioned as a tactic of war in order to deliberately target civilians or as a part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilian populations, can significantly exacerbate situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security. (…)

2. Demands the immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians with immediate effect. (…)

3. Demands that all parties to armed conflict immediately take appropriate measures to protect civilians, including women and girls, from all forms of sexual violence. (…)

4. Notes that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide, stresses the need for the exclusion of sexual violence crimes from amnesty provisions in the context of conflict resolution processes. (…)

7. Requests the Secretary-General to continue and strengthen efforts to implement the policy of zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse in United Nations peacekeeping operations. (…)

10. Requests the Secretary-General and relevant United Nations agencies, inter alia, through consultation with women and women-led organizations as appropriate, to develop effective mechanisms for providing protection from violence, including in particular sexual violence, to women and girls in and around UN managed refugee and internally displaced persons camps. (…)

12. Urges the Secretary-General and his Special Envoys to invite women to participate in discussions pertinent to the prevention and resolution of conflict, the maintenance of peace and security, and post-conflict peacebuilding."

This is very strong language. The resolution also includes the possibility of deferring suspects of sexual violence in war to the International Criminal Court.

This resolution is late but it is welcome and necessary. According to Dutch General Patrick Cammaert, who used to command UN missions in Ethiopia and Erythrea, it is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in war situations. Systematic sexual violence as war strategy has been well established and documented in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Liberia, Darfur and the DRC. In this last country, a recent study showed that over 2000 women surveyed, 75% had been raped during the civil war.

According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, violence against women has reached "pandemic proportions" in some societies in transition from civil war to peace. The Secretary General is also tasked with preparing an action plan  to collect information regarding sexual violence in current conflicts and transmit that information to the Security Council.

So, why was there even a debate on this? According to the BBC,

"China, Russia, Indonesia and Vietnam had all expressed reservations during the negotiations, asking whether rape was really a matter for the security council."

As usual with the UN, the question will be whether the resolution will go beyond words and how it will be implemented. Indeed, the resolution imposes a lot of constraints on the states themselves to protect women and girls. But at least, there is recognition of the changing nature of armed conflicts where, according to the UN News Center,

"Council members said women and girls are consistently targeted during conflicts “as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.”

The effect is to also prolong or deepen conflicts and to exacerbate already dire security and humanitarian conditions, particularly when the perpetrators of violent crimes against women go unpunished for their actions."

Not surprisingly, human rights organization, such as Human Rights Watch, are very pleased with the resolution:

"The UN Security Council’s new resolution on sexual violence is a historic achievement for a body that has all too often ignored the plight of women and girls in conflict, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch applauds the council for setting out in the resolution a clear path to systematic information-gathering on sexual violence. Until now, the Security Council has asked for information on such violence only in selected cases."

It is a major accomplishment for women and girls in war zones. Hopefully, implementation will follow and whoever the next US Secretary of State is will not drop the ball on that one. After all, the United States was the sponsor for this resolution and there is no doubt that Secretary Rice deserves enormous credit for this. (First – and probably last – time I’ll ever praise something coming from the Bush administration!)

Global Increase in the Number of Refugees and IDPs

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released yesterday its figures (full report) regarding the global numbers of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs):

"UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres expressed concern Tuesday about the growing number of refugees worldwide after an annual survey said there were 11.4 million refugees and 26 million others displaced internally by conflict or persecution at the end of 2007. "After a five-year decline in the number of refugees between 2001 and 2005, we have now seen two years of increases, and that’s a concern," Guterres said in London. (…)

"We are now faced with a complex mix of global challenges that could threaten even more forced displacement in the future. They range from multiple new conflict-related emergencies in world hotspots to bad governance, climate-induced environmental degradation that increases competition for scarce resources, and extreme price hikes that have hit the poor the hardest and are generating instability in many places.""

Refugees The number of refugees and IDPs increased by 2.5 million this year compared to last year. The UNHCR provides relief for approximately 14 million people.

So who are these millions of people? Unsurprisingly, we found roughly 3 million Afghans in Pakistan and Iran, 2 million Iraqis in Syria and Jordan. Both countries account for almost half of the world’s refugees. They are followed by Colombians (552,000), Sudanese (523,000) and Somalis (457,000). At the same time, the top refugee-hosting countries in 2007 included Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Germany and Jordan.

As for the IDPs, the order may be different but the countries are roughly the same: 3 million people in Colombia; 2.4 million in Iraq; 1.3 million in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; 1.2 million in Uganda; and 1 million in Somalia.

The UNHCR also reported a 5% increase in applications for asylums. Most of that increase comes from Iraqis trying to obtain political asylum in Europe (good luck with that! European countries have gotten less and less generous in the political asylum departments).

There is some good news though:

"Some 731,000 refugees were able to go home under voluntary repatriation programmes in 2007, including to Afghanistan (374,000), Southern Sudan (130,700), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (60,000), Iraq (45,400) and Liberia (44,400). In addition, an estimated 2.1 million internally displaced people went home during the year."

For those who cannot go home, the UNHCR tries to find long-term resettlements solutions in third countries. There are more applications but not that many successes, only 1% of refugees are resettled in third countries. And as the New York Times notes, the burden of receiving refugees is shouldered by poorer countries rather than rich ones. But it is a problem because a large population of refugees can be a source of instability for the receiving countries, especially when there are ethnic differences and when politicians use refugees for their own purposes (as was the case in the DRC and the Hutus refugees from Rwanda).

June 20th is World Refugee Day.

Development Aid – Does it Hurt More than it Helps?

It is detrimental, says Thilo Thielke in Der Spiegel , because it creates unfairness and dependency in many different ways. First, using the case of Kenya, Thielke invokes a classical concept of formal organizational behavior: self-perpetuation.

"The roads are in horrid disrepair, and they’ll stay that way for a while. As a result, it would take days or even weeks to get the corn from the west to the northern parts of the country. But why would they need it there anyway? There’s a shortage in the north because the World Food Program is usually there to hand out food for free. The UN’s employees are paid to fight hunger, and that’s why they usually write reports in which they dramatically portray the situation in Africa and which they usually end with appeals demanding more donated food.

These developmental aid workers, whose reports largely shape our image of Africa, behave this way to a certain extent out of an instinct for self-preservation that they believe the Africans don’t have. Without help, they say, all the Africans will starve. And, indeed, without aid, all the helpers would also be out of a job."

A first problem then is that the persistent handing out of free food (largely surplus from Western countries) eliminates any incentives to be locally self-sufficient. And there is also the idea that the WFP needs people to be hungry in order to justify its existence and work (and some well-paying jobs for UN consultants). Even if some adventurous local entrepreneur tried to start local food production in an area with a numerous malnourished or under-nourished population, the results would likely be disastrous:

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The End of the Washington Consensus?

That’s what Le Monde states, based on a recently released report from the Commission on Growth and Development and titled The Growth Report – Strategies for Sustained Growth and Inclusive Development . The Commission was composed of 21 members, most of them prestigious economists, former heads of state, former prime ministers or finance minister from a variety of countries as well as high-ranking member of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP ) as well as bankers. It was chaired by Michael Spence , 2001 Nobel prize of economics winner. In other words, it was not composed of dirty fucking hippies and anti-globalization types. The goal of the Commission, according to its chairman?

"We chose to focus on growth because we think that it is a necessary condition for the achievement of a wide range of objectives that people and societies care about. One of them is obviously poverty reduction, but there are even deeper ones. Health, productive employment, the opportunity to be creative, all kinds of things that really matter to people seem to depend heavily on the availability of resources and income, so that they don’t spend most of their time desperately trying to keep their families alive."

And according to Le Monde article, the report challenges a number of neoliberal assumptions, often nicknamed the Washington Consensus . So, what’s in that report that is so earth-shattering? The Commission studied the countries that experienced sustained growth since 1950 and created a list: Botswana, Brazil, China, Hong kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Malta, Oman, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand and asked, what did they do right? This is especially interesting considering the major differences between these countries, from the giant China to the small Malta, from the open market in Singapore to the state-controlled economy of Malaysia.

The report does not challenge or question the necessity of globalization or economic openness and free trade as the only path to wealth and development. The closing off of national markets and protectionism are not seen as long term solutions. Nothing new or controversial here.

The focus on poverty reduction is new as it is often perceived as the magical side effect of the wonders of the free market. The other novelty is the recognition of the crucial role of public administration in development and growth. So, there should be long-term planning and better paid (that is, less corruptible) public servants. This also means that there should be public investments in infrastructures as well as health and education since those stimulate private investments rather than impede it.

The Washington consensus also turned a blind eye to the social consequences of its policies. The Commission, on the other hand, is convinced that economic insecurity, poverty weaken population support to economic reforms (no kidding) necessary for success in the global context. So, lay-offs should be accompanied by social programs to help the unemployed adapt to the new economic conditions (haven’t we heard that before? Oh yeah, for the past 25 freakin’ years). Similarly, it calls for governments to limit the level of stratification and inequalities that always increase when economies open themselves to the global market.

On the other hand, the Commission has nothing to say as to political regimes and systems and very little to say about the environment. It only states that subsidies to energy and biofuels should stop in core countries. It also incites developing countries to pay attention to greenhouse gases and water pollution without delay.

So, yes, overall, it’s less orthodox than strict neoliberalism, but quite frankly, there is nothing earth-shattering here. It is more of the same, in a nicer packaging, as if someone were riding Jeffrey Sachs’s brand of modernization theory.

So, is this the end of the Washington Consensus? Not likely.

Global Food Crisis – Update

Weeks after the food riots spread around the world, a flurry of articles have been published all over the place, taking stock of what is happening, providing analysis and critique as well as prospects on global food production and policy. So let’s review.

Who’s To Blame for Food Prices?


According to the BBC, financial speculation has a lot to do with the soaring food prices:

“It is inevitable that financial investors are going to latch onto any cyclical commodity that’s seeing sharp price rises. Property may have bombed, demand for industrial raw materials may be peaking. Yet everyone has to pay more for food, so why not invest in farm products?

Right now, everything seems to be conspiring to push up basic food prices. From drought to poor crops, from high fuel prices to explosive demand, and changing diets in China and the Far East. And most of all, precious farmland being switched to crops for biofuels.

Small wonder that in their quest for investments to beat inflation, even some traditional pension funds are trading in the likes of wheat, soya beans and livestock.”

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Mary Kaldor on Human Security

Human SecurityIn an interview with the Guardian, Mary Kaldor outlines her views on human security in the global context. That is the subject of her latest book, Human Security (review forthcoming). Her view fit fairly well with the vision of global security outlined in Samantha Power’s latest book on Sergio Vieira de Mello (which I reviewed here). Mary Kaldor is current Professor of Global Governance and co-Director (with the indispensable David Held) of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at the London School of Economics.

Her views on human security have been outlined not only in her book but also in a report – A Human Security Doctrine for Europe – presented in 2004 to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana as part of the Study Group on Europe’s Security Capabilities. This was followed in 2007 with a follow-up report titled A European Way of Security.

So, in this global context, how do we define human security?

“In many ways Kosovo represents a laboratory for Kaldor’s thinking on human security, which she defines as the security of individuals and communities rather than the security of states. This security of individuals is a fundamental thread in Kaldor’s work – its utopian aspect. For Kaldor, humanitarian intervention and international peacekeeping involve “a genuine belief in the equality of all human beings; and this entails a readiness to risk lives of peacekeeping troops to save the lives of others where this is necessary”.”

It is eerie how much her thinking matches indeed the evolution of Vieira de Mello on what makes or breaks a peacekeeping mission, especially as it pertains to newly-independent Kosovo, where the EU mission will be composed of “police, judges, lawyers, and administrators.” Similarly, Kaldor expresses the same frustration regarding the gap of good intentions, when it comes to the UN, and the tendency to turn sensible statements of principles into bureaucratic nightmares.

However, contrary to the unrelenting optimism of Vieira de Mello and his faith in the capacity of the UN to improve and protect people’s lives, Kaldor’s assessment is more clear-cut and unflattering:

“”It is hard to find a single example of humanitarian intervention during the 1990s that can be unequivocally declared a success. Especially after Kosovo, the debate about whether human rights can be enforced through military means is ever more intense. Moreover, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have been justified in humanitarian terms, have further called into question the case for intervention.””

Leaving aside the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan which do not constitute peacekeeping operations in the UN sense, it is also hard to make the case that things would be better had the UN not intervened. Moreover, it is well-known that members of the UNSC have a tendency to not fully fund and staff peacekeeping missions, dooming them often from the start. There is nothing inherently condemned to failure in peacekeeping but there are systemic issues in political will and implementation.

New WarsAs for Iraq and Kosovo, had the Bush administrations actually read Kaldor’s book on New Wars, they would have probably made fewer deadly mistakes. And there is also the problem of who is part of the interventionist party and what interventionism really implies:

“A crucial and recurring problem for those who intervene, even those with the best of intentions, says Kaldor, is the psychological distance and the cultural barriers between the so-called internationals and the local population. Kaldor remembers an instance in Iraq where she was appalled by the insensitivity and arrogance of a young, uneducated American talking down to a highly qualified Iraqi with a Phd.”

So, what is to be done in the global context of new wars? According to Kaldor, there should be a shift in thinking in the nature and goal of warfare: military intervention should be more about protecting civilians than military victory. This might have proved a better strategy in Iraq when it came to fighting the insurgency, another costly mistake.

The Totally Unsurprising Headline of the Day: Women Face Bias Worldwide

Really?? Quelle Surprise! Oh well, let’s review anyway:

“Women are discriminated against in almost every country around the world, a UN-commissioned report says. It says that this is despite the fact that 185 UN member states pledged to outlaw laws favouring men by 2005. It adds that 70% of the world’s poor are women and they own just 1% of the world’s titled land. The report, which was prepared for UN Human Right Commissioner Louise Arbour, says rape within marriage has still not been made a crime in 53 nations.”

Other laws discriminating women included statutes on divorce, maternity benefits and pensions. The interesting part of this report is that it calls for a specific instruments to deal with gender discrimination since current institutions and treaties are not working in that direction in a satisfactory fashion and it also calls for a special UN gender expert to deal with laws promoting and maintaining gender-based repression, social, economic and political.