In a recent press release, the European Commission announced new communication to contribute to the position of the European Union in negotiations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs.) In the statement, titled “A Decent Life for All: From Vision to Collective Action,” the EC suggests priority areas of focus and potential post-2015 targets.

Major priority areas include poverty, health, food security, education, water and sanitation and sustainable energy. Proposed SDGs within these spheres include:

  • The eradication of extreme poverty
  • Increased resilience to disasters
  • An end to discrimination in public service
  • The empowerment of marginalized groups
  • The eradication of malnutrition
  • Improved agricultural productivity
  • Reduced child and maternal mortality
  • Increased global literacy
  • Universal access to quality basic education
  • Elimination of violence and discrimination against women and girls
  • Universal access to clean water and sanitation
  • Reduced pollution and use of fossil fuels
  • Improved air quality
  • Protection of essential ecosystems
  • Decreased global violence

The EC stated that the SDGs should be “specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound” and established on data and evidence.

The report also suggests a “rights-based approach” that promotes justice, equality, democracy and peace.

The European Commission continues to support the position of the EU regarding the creation of a global community and holding all nations responsible for the achievement of the SDGs.

“Mutual accountability at national and international level should be at the core of this mechanism, including monitoring progress on post-2015 goals and targets.”

Data provided by the Interagency and Expert Group (IAEG) on Millennium Development Goal (MDG) indicators will be used to provide annual progress reports towards the SDGs.

The SDGs will succeed the MDGs that expire at the end of 2015. The framework of these goals has been built on three facets of sustainable development: Social, Environmental and Economic. Such a system requires the involvement and cooperation of all nations as well as the private sector to provide global benefits.

The SDGs are still in development, pending final progress reports on the MDGs later this year. At this point, member nations have agreed that the new goals must build on existing commitments, and include active participation of all stakeholders without diverting focus from completion of the MDGs. It is also important that they are applicable to all countries while considering different levels of developing and without interfering with current national priorities.

Andris Piebalgs, European Development Commissioner, said the following of the new Sustainable Development Goals: “It is now recognized that, for the first time, the world has the technology and resources to eradicate extreme poverty in our lifetime. There is no excuse for us failing to do so and avoiding it must be our stated commitment. This can only be done through growth and development which is sustainable. We need to find solutions which truly balance economic, social and environmental objectives. And we need to bring together governments, but also civil society, private sector and citizens to set up a global framework that will ensure a decent life for all.”

– Kristen Bezner

Sources: European Commission 1Sustainable Development
Photo: EEA Grants

North Korea, a state that has a notorious reputation for its secretive, alarming and militaristic demeanor, is at it again. After momentarily stepping down after having alarmed the international community with threats of nuclear testing in February 2013, the regime has once again avowed its intent to initiate an onslaught of nuclear testing despite ongoing suspicion that the state is erecting a nuclear arsenal.

According to a local North Korean newspaper, the state is simply taking protective measures against potential threats to its independence waged by the U.S. and neighboring South Korea. North Korea‘s decision to revitalize its nuclear testing programs is another method in which the state has demonstrated its military competence in order to establish itself as a global militaristic threat and power.

This wager comes fresh off of the United Nations‘ sanctions against North Korea for launching a set of short-range missiles in March, eerily chosen to occur on the fourth anniversary of the sinking of a South Korean ship. According to the Security Council, the regime’s decision to launch the short-range missiles violated significant UN agreements. According to the South Korean defense ministry’s spokesperson, Kim Min-seok, “This missile is capable of hitting not only most of Japan but also Russia and China.” Therefore, the missiles also pose a grave threat towards the well-being of residents in neighboring states — a threat that has not been taken lightly.

Despite North Korea’s recalcitrance, South Korea’s foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, issued a message to the state warning that the sheer economic cost of maintaining an effective nuclear testing program may in fact endanger the longevity of the state. While the economic cost of nuclear-building is in itself an obstacle for North Korea, Yun also avows that South Korea and its alliances in the Security Council will further aggravate the regime’s ability to conduct nuclear testing. For instance, Yun affirmed that “South Korea, together with its partners in the Security Council, will make the cost of having these nuclear weapons very very high, very very heavy, so that could backfire to the regime — the survival of the regime.”

Furthermore, the foreign minister threatened that if North Korea continues to defy present and future sanctions, the regime would have to face substantial retribution from the UN. Therefore, not only will the regime’s nuclear testing program come as a direct economic threat to its government and people, it is also fraught with the potential to break the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — an international agreement that strives to maintain nuclear peace. It is especially alarming that North Korea has already withdrawn from this crucial peace-keeping treaty, indicating its resistance to upholding its once-alleged commitment to the diplomatic use of nuclear technology.

However, Yun’s intentions are not only aimed at halting North Korea’s nuclear testing wagers, but also to facilitate the reunification of Korea,  a process which the foreign minister recognizes as arduous and delicate. The notion here is that the reunification of North and South Korea will help stabilize Asia and engender a long unseen sense of trust among the Asian nations. It is presumed that global peace is unattainable without first having attained global trust.

Furthermore, the foreign minister elaborates: “The geopolitical plate of the region is going through what I would call tectonic shifts. We are witnessing a rising China, a resurgent Japan, an assertive Russia and an anachronistic North Korea which is simultaneously pursuing nuclear weapons and economic development.” Therefore, in order for any cohesion to be established among these changing nations, the development of trust is imperative.

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: ABC News, BBC, The Guardian
Photo: Flickr

It was only twenty years ago that the now infamous “Genocide Fax” was sent, a detailed letter to the United Nations headquarters in New York explaining the brewing events leading up to the mass slaughter that we now know as the Rwandan Genocide.

The letter, sent by the then-Force Commander of the UN peacekeeping mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), General Romeo Dallaire, explained that ethnic Hutu extremists were stockpiling weapons and distributing them to the militias. An informant had also revealed to him that “he has been ordered to register all Tutsi in Kigali” in preparation “for their extermination.” These harrowing discoveries prompted Dallaire to contact UN headquarters, convinced that it was necessary to act. The final line of the letter read, ‘Peux ce que veux. Allons-y,’ translating to ‘Where there is a will there is a way. Let’s go.’

The UN however, decided against acting. Then-Head of UN Peacekeeping Operations, Kofi Annan, instructed Dallaire to essentially do nothing, as “unanticipated repercussions” could ensue.

The repercussions that Dallaire anticipated did ensue, following the tragic plane attack that killed then-President Habyarimana just three months later.

Then came the horrifying Rwandan genocide that claimed nearly one million lives in less than 100 days.

Twenty years later the nation has far surpassed anyone’s expectations. Due to an onslaught of foreign aid and a revitalized Rwandan pride, the country has built itself back and shows no signs of stopping.

Under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, more than one million Rwandans have lifted themselves out of poverty and nearly all children attend school. Investment has nearly tripled since 2005 and economic opportunities abound. Malaria deaths have fallen more than 85 percent, and nine out of every 10 Rwandans claim that they “trust in the leadership of their country.” The transformations that Rwanda has made are far from over, as the country aims to be a middle-income nation by 2020.

These achievements prove just how much can be accomplished in the face of adversity. The Rwandan people have lifted their country out of despair and created a beacon of hope to all of those who still suffer under the dark cloud of genocide.

Not only that, but they have taught us a valuable lesson.

We have a responsibility as human beings to protect each other from such mass atrocities. Unfortunately, the United Nations learned this in a painful way. However, they have now been at the forefront of putting a stop to genocides in countries such as Libya, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Twenty years later we remember all of those who lost their lives in the Rwandan genocide, and we thank them for the valuable lesson that we now must put into practice.

Mollie O’Brien

Sources: The Guardian, The Huffington Post
Photo: Global Solutions

The Myanmar government banned Doctors Without Borders (DWB) from operating in one of its most impoverished states, following rumors of ethnic tension.

Most of the disenfranchised Muslim minority reside in the Rakhine State. The government accused the DWB of favoring this minority over its rival group, the Rakhine Buddhists. This tension led to widespread violence, killing 100 people and displacing nearly 140,000 others. The government regards Muslims as “interlopers” from Bangladesh, as opposed to a legitimate minority. President Thein Sein granted DWB permission to resume its work in other regions, but continued its ban on operations in Rakhine.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut accused DWB of “not following their core principle of neutrality and impartiality.”

Rakhine State government accused the NGO of intentionally fueling tension between the minorities, according to Htut. The perception of bias led to large-scale protests in the state capital against DWB.

The organization responded to these accusations in a statement, asserting “services are provided based on medical need only, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or any other factor.”

This January, DWB released a statement contradicting the government on an alleged massacre in Rakhine. This reportedly “triggered” the ban on its operations in the region. The United Nations report the death of more than 40 Rohingya Muslims, and DWB confirmed treating 22 victims. Wounds occurred at the hands of state security forces, yet the government denounced these claims, reporting the death of one police officer.

Following the ban, the Ministry of Health plans to provide health services for the “whole community.” Myanmar President Thein Sein also dispatched the emergency response workers and ambulances to the region, replacing the DWB clinics.

These services cannot match those provided by the NGO. The national health services rank “among the most rudimentary in Asia,” according to the New York Times. The government also confines Muslims to their villages, preventing the group from receiving medical care.

Banning DWB deprives nearly 750,000 people of proper healthcare.

The NGO acted as the largest provider in northern Rakhine, a region largely populated with Muslim Rohingya. It managed five permanent clinics as well as 30 mobile units. Within these clinics, workers operated an intensive feeding center for undernourished children. Medical professionals report diagnosing more than 20 percent with acute malnourishment.

The government ban forced these centers to close, following the removal of DWB.

The organization also served those living in displaced camps outside the state capital, Sittwe. Tuberculosis, a disease endemic to Muslim neighborhood Aung Mingla, threatens the health of displaced Muslims. HIV and malaria also threaten resident health. With limited medical attention, the supplies of medicine continue to dwindle.

The government prevents these patients from leaving the area, surrounding the camp with “barbed-wire security posts and police officers.”

As head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar, Mark Cutts expresses concern for the present healthcare shortage. Rather than antagonizing the government, though, the U.N. has chosen “quiet diplomacy.”

For the time, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other organizations can provide care. Myanmar deputy health director Dr. Soe Lwin Nyein plans to accept tuberculosis and HIV medication from DWB. These concessions help patients in the region receive more than the minimum government care, yet negotiations over the medicine distribution appear ongoing.

Cutts plans to coordinate with the government and reinstate DWB “as soon as possible,” protecting the minority from disease. As ethnic tension continues to incite violence, the government banned professionals in the best position to serve its people.

Ellery Spahr

Sources: CNN, New York Times
Photo: Richard Roche

Following landmark political shifts in Ukraine during 2014, the scope of international politics has heavily focused its lens upon tension between Ukraine and Russia, and more recently in the eastern Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Popular uprisings in Ukraine have divided the population between western supporters of the European Union and eastern supporters of Russia. Although the majority of Ukraine’s population wants to be in alignment with the European Union, the region of Crimea contains a significant amount of Ukraine’s Russian-supporting population.

Russia has recently received international attention by its military occupation in the region of Crimea. In addition, the parliament of Crimea has even voted to secede from Ukraine. Critics of Russia, such as President Barack Obama of the United States, argue that Russia’s actions are in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and established international laws.

Deputy Secretary General of the UN, Jan Eliasson stressed that meaningful discourse and dialogue ought to be facilitated within the Security Council in order to reach a resolution to alleviate the problems in Ukraine.

The situation in Russia has consistently been a heavily debated topic in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC); however, extensive use of veto power by Russia has hindered the UN Security Council from reaching any substantial resolutions to alleviating the escalating tension between Ukraine and Russia.

The UNSC contains a body of five permanent member states including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, France and Russia. The ability for Russia to block actions that are clearly within the goals and intentions of the UN to “pursue diplomacy, and maintain international peace and security,” and “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” provides significant concern for the institutional framework of the UNSC.

Although the United Nations Security Council accounts for the most powerful UN body, Russia’s ability to exploit its status as a permanent member have produced consequences with their violation of international law.

Moreover, while the UNSC remains in suspension of reaching a resolution, the situation in Ukraine is continuing to rapidly escalate. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations pleaded to the UNSC in an emergency session to do everything that is possible to end the violation of national sovereignty and invasion of Crimea by Russian military forces.

Failure to make steps to remedy the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is exemplary of some of the weaknesses inherent to the UNSC. However, it has not been the only case of Russia’s exploitation of its permanent status and veto power in the UNSC. Critics have also argued that failure to resolve the conflict in Syria has also been the result of blocked motions by Russia.

Considering the level of power and influence the UNSC has, problems arise when just one nation has the means to restrict action in addressing pressing international problems. Russia has been quintessential in portraying how special interests can hinder the intentions of international law—which is at the root of why international law may need to be reformed in accommodating 21st century problems.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: Reuters, Al Jazeera, UN News Centre, ABC News
Photo: Rianovosti

Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council has recently called for its 25th meeting, which will run in Geneva, Switzerland until March 28. The specific focus of this meeting is cited to be the protection of human rights advocates themselves, as a pursuit of rights for those members of civil society who pursue justice.

This uniquely focused meeting seems to be motivated by current events and will include commissions of inquiry on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. It is especially pertinent considering the current violent situations in the Ukraine and Venezuela, which have both separately seen similar human rights abuses against advocates.

More general presentations on topics such as genocide and corporal punishment are also expected.

Citing the United Nations’ responsibility to support those who contribute to its work, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated at the opening that, “No one should have to risk their life standing up and speaking out on violations of human rights and international law.”

The Human Rights Council is a subset of the U.N. and an amalgamation of 47 member states, created in 2006 as a means to exercise the full extent of the U.N.’s movement to protect people globally against tyrannical and abusive governance. Its meetings are known for their thematic organization around various timely issues as well as a complain procedure allowing individuals and organizations to bring attention to various situations of abuse.

The council is responsible for the “Rights Up Front” campaign, launched to ensure the status of human rights as the U.N.’s top priority. Additionally, the uniquely internal focus of the current meeting is hoped to set the stage for the new international development agenda, following the approach of the Millennium Development Goal’s 2015 deadline.

According to an official statement made at the 4th meeting in 2007, the council is founded around the philosophy that “All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action.”

In addition to the rights of political activists, the Council hopes to discuss impunity against perpetrators, and the marginalized voices of those who live in poverty. Members hope that these will be essential tools in attaining the rights of advocates, who often operate under oppressive fear and silence within civil society.

U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights Navi Pillay stressed the importance of advocacy as a public force to ensure security, expressing that, “We need to work together to ensure the space, voice, and knowledge of civil society is nurtured in all countries.”

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Women’s News Network, OHCHR, Washington Post
Photo: ISN Blog

Although recent gains have been made in advancing equality for same-sex couples, the majority of the world’s countries do not have any legislation permitting same-sex marriage. As of 2014, only 16 countries have laws allowing same-sex marriage.  The majority of those countries are in Europe and South America, while the rest of the world struggles to gain ground for this meaningful right.

It is important to note, however, that legal recognition of gay couples varies from country to country and even within countries. Some countries provide full recognition of gay marriage, while other provide for limited civil union status, to even countries that criminalize same-sex marriage such as Uganda.

France legalized gay marriage after much effort and debate in May 2013, becoming the 14th country to do so. Despite more than 60% of France approving of same-sex marriage, the approval of same-sex marriage provoked acts of violence and protests that drew in hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country.

A prior law, the Pacte civile de Soldarité, allowed for civil unions between couples but did not provide the full benefits that marriage brings. Namely, the law did not confer similar treatment under the law for same-sex couples over inheritance issues and parenting rights.

The Netherlands was the first country to grant full legal recognition of same-sex marriage under the law when it passed a bill in 2001. One major difference between the treatment of same-sex couples and heterosexual couples lies in the birth of children. In the Netherlands, the biological father of the child is considered the father while their partner needs to adopt the child in order to obtain a co-parenting status.

In May 2013, a legal body in Brazil, the National Council of Justice, handed down a ruling effectively legalizing gay marriage. The ruling explicitly prohibited government officials from discriminating against same-sex couples by denying them the right to marry. Before this ruling, Brazil allowed for same-sex civil unions through its constitution, which permits “stable unions.” Stable unions gave many same-sex couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples, from the right to joint declaration of income tax, pension, property sharing, and inheritance.

In 2006, South Africa became the only country on the African continent to legalize same-sex marriage when it passed the Civil Union Act. This approval had its roots in the 1997 constitution that was the first to recognize sexual orientation as a basic human right. Despite this progressive legislation, some say homophobia in South Africa continues to be rampant, with famous South African soccer star Eudy Simelane killed in a hate-crime due to her sexual orientation.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, The New York Times
Photo: Illinois Observer

Ben Affleck may be famous for his role in movies such as Argo, The Town and Good Will Hunting, but nowadays he’s making an impact in a new role. Because of his philanthropic involvement in eastern Congo, Affleck went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to testify about the Congolese people and the need for U.S. involvement in the region. The hearing provided an opportunity for Affleck to draw increased media attention to the precarious human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and pressure lawmakers to do more to help.

Affleck first became involved in the Congo through his grant-making and advocacy organization, the East Congo Initiative (ECI). This organization seeks to increase investments in Congolese-led programs that create safe and sustainable communities. Additionally, ECI advocates for increased U.S. involvement in Congo while working against key problems such as rape and sexual violence as well as inadequate education and health resources for children. The East Congo Initiative also seeks to reintegrate former child soldiers back into their homes while leading community-level peace and reconciliation programs.

During his testimony, Affleck highlighted many of the struggles the Congolese people are enduring every day. For instance, Affleck cited UN reports that not only indicate that 2.9 million Congolese had been displaced internally, but also that 428,000 others have become refugees in neighboring countries. These people are being scattered throughout the region by the armed militia known as M23 that had previously taken over the capital of a northern Congolese province. A UN peacekeeping force recently coerced the M23 to surrender and sign a peace agreement. Affleck cited the UN group as evidence that “when the international community acts, and the Congolese government rises to the moment, these challenges are in fact solvable.”

Affleck finished his testimony by sharing a story about one of ECI’s partners, Theo Chocolate. An organic, fair-trade chocolate company, Theo imports more than 50% of its Chocolate from the DRC. Theo Chocolate’s business was connected to small folder farmers in the DRC by ECI and has helped support many of these small Congolese business operations. Through professionally directed investments, ECI was able to help spur economic development in the Congo and improve the lives of several Congolese people.

Through his charitable initiatives with ECI, Affleck is an example of how ordinary Americans can make a difference in influencing Congress and bring attention to the issues they care about. Affleck acknowledged, “I am, to state the obvious, not a Congo expert. I am an American working to do my part for a country and a people I believe in and care deeply about.” Through his actions, Affleck not only successfully drew the attention of the United States Senate to the plight of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but he also gives hope for a better life to many impoverished people.

– Martin Levy

US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, East Congo Initiative
Photo: Heritage

death penalty
A decreasing number of nations around the world utilize capital punishment, but according to Amnesty International, countries that use the death penalty do so at an “alarming rate.” Between 2010 and 2011, known executions increased from 527 to 676, a 28% rise.

In 2012, the number increased again to 680. There are many executions in nations such as Iran, China and Syria that go unreported. Amnesty International has not published Chinese reported figures on executions since 2009 because the organization declares that the government’s official numbers are exceptionally inaccurate. The organization estimates that annual executions in China are likely to be in the thousands.

Iran faces similar criticism. Amnesty states that it has received “credible reports” of a high volume of clandestine and unconfirmed executions in the country. Adding in these reports would effectively double Iran’s death penalty numbers.

In 2011, only 20 out of 198 countries, or roughly 10%, performed executions, and in 2012 the number of countries that had abolished the death penalty was five times higher than those that had not.

Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United States have the highest total number of executions from 2007 to 2012. The Middle East has the highest number of executions of any region (557 executions in six nations.) With the notable exception of the U.S., most countries that still use the death penalty are in the developing world.

The U.S. is the only G7 country where capital punishment is legal.

Methods of executing prisoners vary globally but include lethal injection, beheading, hanging and shooting. In some nations such as Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia, public executions still occur.

Crimes that are punishable by death also vary but can include drug offenses, rape, sorcery, adultery, “crimes against the state” and murder. Amnesty International also articulates concern over an increase in military courts sentencing people to death in Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, the U.S. and other nations.

Japan, India and Pakistan, contrary to global trends, all reinstated the death penalty after long periods of not executing prisoners. In these nations, changes generally occur because different political parties come into power, which leaves sentenced prisoners’ fate to the politics of the moment.

More than half of the world’s nations voted in December 2012 for a United Nations resolution, creating a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty. And the international pressure on countries like the U.S. has intensified.

Due to stated ethical obligations, the European Union banned the export of drugs such as sodium thiopental to the U.S. because they were being used for lethal injections.

Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center states that the E.U. embargo has stalled, but not ended, executions in the U.S. He asserts, “It has made the states seem somewhat desperate and not in control, putting the death penalty in a negative light, with an uncertain future.”

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and many other human rights groups oppose the death penalty in all circumstances. HRW states that capital punishment violates people’s innate dignity, is “unique in its cruelty and finality and is “inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.”

When asked if he thought the world was closer to abolishing the death penalty, Brian Evans, acting director of Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign, seemed to remain hopeful, if hesitant.

“They’ll come around when they take a longer look at their death penalties,” Evans states, “but it’ll be a while.”

– Kaylie Cordingley

Sources: National Geographic, The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, The Huffington Post, Amnesty International, Amnesty International, The Guardian, Death Penalty Information Center
Photo: Amnesty International

According to the Buenos Aires Minister of Education Esteban Bullrich, 7,000 to 9,000 children aged one and a half months to three years will not be able to attend nursery school in 2014. This number has risen since last year, when 6,700 young children were unable to attend school and receive an education in Argentina.

Parents will either have to pay for a private school or search for other daycares that they are able to afford. Bullrich acknowledge that the Ministry was not able to accomplish and satisfy the expectations of the public.

The shortage of space in public schools and the “failures in the bureaucratic forms of information processing” caused 4,000 students to have to be moved to different schools farther away from their homes, Bullrich claims. This is an issue, particularly because there are no school buses in Argentina, so students have to walk or take some form of public transportation to school each morning.

Those families were initially told that there were vacancies for their students in schools, only to be made aware later that their students had to be removed from the lists.

Bullrich did however highlight that the recently developed online registration process was functioning properly “despite these mistakes.” He stated that although many students were unable to gain spots within the public schools, roughly 100,000 children were able to register and be placed. Statistically speaking, Bullrich says that the system was a success in regards to those who could be placed compared to those who could not.

Bullrich claims that since 2007 more spots have opened up in kindergartens, allowing 20 percent more students to gain an education in Argentina at a young age. There were approximately 45,956 vacancies in 2007 and currently there are 55,607 kindergarten vacancies in Buenos Aires.

The National Education Law and the City Constitution are butting heads regarding a student’s right to begin school. The National Education law states that school attendance is mandatory at the age of four, but the City Constitute claims that at 45 days old a child has the right to begin education.

The City Education Ministry recognizes that, “No government has achieved this so far.”

Rebecca Felcon

Sources: The Argentina Independent, Country Reports, Buenos Aires Herald
Photo: Carlo Shiller