Infotmation and stories on diplomacy

young political leaders
The American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) focuses on international education exchange programs for young political leaders worldwide. Participants gain more than a standard experience abroad, however. The program provides in-depth exploration of the governance, politics, bilateral relations, geographic diversity, culture and policy-making of the host country. Since their founding in 1966, ACYPL has worked in 113 countries around the world.

ACYPL’s goal is to provide opportunities for the development of future political leaders, allowing them to gain insight into the realm of international relations. The program promotes more than just knowledge, focusing on individual growth and development as well.

One of ACYPL’s strategic goals is to strengthen participant’s leadership skills and promote an open-minded attitude. Mutual understanding, respect, and friendship are all positive outcomes of the experience. In addition, the program provides an opportunity for networking, allowing people to stay in touch across the globe.

Lasting around 14 days, the program is for mid-level professionals with leadership potential in government, the private sector or civil society. The program requires that participants be between the ages of 25-40 and have current employment related to the legislative and governing process.

As our world becomes increasingly globalized, cooperation is becoming as crucial as ever. The founders of ACYPL understood the importance of promoting understanding across cultures as an imperative ingredient for a progressive future. In 1966, in the midst of the Vietnam War, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the Chinese revolution, a group of young Democrat and Republican leaders decided to create an opportunity for the next generation of political leaders to know and understand each other.

With the support from the U.S. government, Spencer Oliver, Peter McPherson, Hodding Carter, Bill Hybl, Charles Manatt and Pat Buchanan created the ACYPL. Young American political leaders began to travel to the Soviet Union and throughout Western Europe. In return, the U.S. welcomed international delegates.

As the program grew in response to political developments, new exchanges were forming at a rapid speed. When President Carter normalized relations with the People’s Republic of China, his special White House advisor at the time was Sarah Weddington—the only person in the administration who had actually been to China. She was on the first ACYPL delegation in 1977 as a young Texas state representative.

The ACYPL conducts multinational programs on topics of global or regional importance including the North American Trade Agreement, clime change and energy security and political activism for minority populations.

According to the ACYPL, the U.S.’s national and international conversations have become increasingly polarized. Thus, the ACYPL works to open a door for respectful dialogue among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all over the U.S. In addition the conversation is shared with numerous political affiliations from countries all around the globe, who despite their differences, desire to solve problems through informed policy making. The ACYPL hopes to enhance delegate’s understanding of international structures, advocating for a well-informed and comprehensive perspectives on issues.

Most recently in 2004, Pakistan joined the partnership. The ACYPL works to continue to establish exchanges with countries on all ends of the spectrum—whether it is a country deemed strategically significant, a developing democracy, or a longtime ally, the ACYPL is constantly looking to extend its network.

While continuing to develop as many political leaders as possible, the ACYPL signifies a beacon of hope for peace. Aiding in a mutual understanding of a country’s culture and the political system in which governs its borders is a crucial first step in this process.

– Caroline Logan

Sources: Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Exchange Program, American Council of Young Political Leaders
Photo: Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Exchange Program

Open Hands Initiative

Silver Scorpion is not your average superhero. His crime fighting activities may seem run of the mill for a comic book protagonist, but his story has a twist. Silver Scorpion is a Muslim boy who lost his legs in a landmine accident and is forced to use his mind control powers from the confines of a wheelchair. Silver Scorpion, along with a variety of other cultural, creative, and media based projects, is the work of The Open Hands Initiative. Inspired by the famous pledge by Barack Obama to “extend open hands of friendship and dialogue to all people of the world,” The Open Hands Initiative is a non-profit that aims to improve people-to-people understanding and international friendship. “Diplomacy” is the creed of Jay T Snyder, the founder of The Open Hands Initiative. In October of 2010, Snyder flew to Damascus with 12 disabled Americans to meet with their Syrian peers and create a new superhero. Snyder’s goal was to foster mutual respect between two groups of people that may ordinarily harbor hatred for each other. On May 7th, 2011, Comic book stores gave away thousands of free copies of Silver Scorpion, published in both English and Arabic, courtesy of Liquid Comics. To date, more than 20,000 people have read the comic online. To those at The Open Hands Initiative, and to kids across the world, Silver Scorpion is more than a superhero; “he represents a new phase of US-Arab and Muslim public diplomacy efforts and serves as a cross-cultural hero for the world that promotes tolerance, inclusion and equality.” Since that inaugural project, The Open Hands Initiative has championed a variety of causes. These programs range from facilitating the production, distribution and exchange of local art and music across cultures, to sponsoring journalism fellowships for young students. Student reporters who participate in the Open Hands Fellowship gain real-world experience in countries such as Egypt and Burma. Working with seasoned journalists and experts in media, politics, economics and culture, these students gain knowledge and networking connections. Not only does the program foster budding journalists, it supports democracies in transition by promoting free speech. The Open Hands Initiative does not practice cultural assimilation. Instead, they share the best parts of each society. “In doing so, we enrich each other, deepen our independence and respect, and build a reservoir of goodwill that can withstand even the most fundamental policy differences.” With hope, the reservoir of goodwill promoted by The Open Hands Initiative will bring a more peaceful world in generations to come. – Grace Flaherty Sources: Open Hands Initiative, Huffington Post

chinese_diplomacy_isreal
Israel is but a pawn on the playing board of the massive Chinese economy. But it is a strong and able pawn.

On April 8, Israeli President Shimon Peres made the first trip to China by an Israeli President since 2013. He met with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, in order to improve economic and diplomatic ties between the countries and to bolster a mutual commitment to opposing the spread of nuclear and other non-conventional weapons throughout the Middle East. According to Peres, China has the ability to strengthen safety and stability in the region.

Just last year, in 2013, Xi met with both Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. China has made a point of urging a revival and reinvigoration of peace talks, giving Israel confidence in cooperation.

A member of the United Nations P5+1, Xi comforted Peres with a pledge from China to continue supporting international nuclear negotiations with Iran. He said China understands Israel’s security concerns with Iranian nuclear proliferation and that he wants to help prevent Iran from obtaining those weapons.

China’s stance on Iran, however, is a bit complicated. A customer of Iranian oil and thus a backer of Tehran, China has resisted imposing heavier sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Consequently, in an effort to achieve diplomacy in all corners of the ideological world, China hopes to both maintain ties with Iran and to improve relations with Israel simultaneously. Israel shares these hopes.

If China manages to retain its close ties with Iran, Israel can potentially utilize those connections and push its own initiatives through the Chinese hand. Peres, for example, claims that China can significantly help in the Middle East, particularly in light of the present tumultuous circumstances of the Arab Spring aftermath. China has brought millions of people out of poverty without relying on foreign aid and assistance and, as such, Israel believes China can bring its expertise to the region.

Though circumstances may not be the same in reverse, China is Israel’s third largest trading partner and Israel can use China’s desire for diplomatic ties in the region to its advantage. In order to solidify ties, Israel is even considering setting up a model farm in southern China. That way, China can study and make use of Israel’s agricultural technology while asserting its power in the Middle East.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: The Jerusalem Post, The Diplomat, The Times of Israel

north_korea_human_rights_crimes
North Korea and the United Nations go head to head on matters of human rights. In a resolution passed on March 28, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva condemned North Korea for “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations, including crimes against humanity, that continue to be committed in the country.”

The resolution came shortly following a Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry conducted earlier in the month, and received acceptance by 30 nations, against six opposing and 11 abstaining.

Many of the human rights violations allegedly occurring in North Korea are unparalleled in a world modernized by the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights. A great number of people are detained in prison camps for crimes they did not commit. Their guilt, it seems, is declared by association with family members or close friends of those who allegedly committed political crimes. The Commission report provided evidence for circumstances of rape, murder and torture within the prison labor camps.

North Korean officials did not appreciate the Commission and resolution results. So Se Pyong, North Korea’s UN envoy, claimed the UN Human Rights Council had politically confronted North Korea, putting the nation on the defensive. When UN Human Rights investigators asserted North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un be tried for crimes devastatingly akin to those committed under Nazi rule, the country’s ambassador told the Council to “mind your own business.”

Despite the horrendous situation the investigative Commission has shown, many activists are pleased that the results have led to such strong support for the UN resolution.  Rather than stopping at investigations of nuclear proliferation and weapons development, the United Nations will now be putting Security Council and General Assembly staff to work on bringing justice to North Korea.

At this point, some world powers are wary of the extent that can be done regarding the issue. At most, North Korea could be taken to the International Criminal Court by UNSC, yet China and Russia, both veto powers, voted against the March resolution. However, an increase in investigation could possibly turn the tide. Human rights may not yet be completely universal, but for now the world is making progress.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Al Jazeera, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reuters
Photo: Yahoo

russia_exploits_veto_power
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

same_sex_couples_marriage
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

u.s._russia
In a Cold War-style competition between the U.S. and Russia, Ukraine’s ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych insinuates that the West, for now, holds the upper hand. Yet saying so could fuel the Russian fire to turn back the current state of affairs.

The conflict began when Yanukovych refused to sign a free-trade agreement between Ukraine and the E.U., instead leaning on inevitable trade ties with its Russian counterpart to the East. Many Ukrainians did not see the appeal. On February 21, in response to violent protests and backlash, Yanukovych gave up responsibility for his country.

Purporting to support a peaceful transition in Ukraine, President Barack Obama and senior officials discussed the situation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his aides. The main effort emphasized a multibillion-dollar aid package for Ukraine with the International Monetary Fund. Various governments in the European Union support this endeavor, or at least intend to contribute economically to peace in Ukraine.

Ultimately, the goal is to keep Russia from sending troops into the country. Interference by Russia in order to restore a pro-Russian government in Ukraine would be detrimental to all parties involved. United States national security advisor Susan Rice emphasized on an episode of Meet the Press that Russian interference “would be a grave mistake.” Likewise, British Foreign Secretary William Hague stressed the importance of persuading “Russia that this need not be a zero sum game.”

The U.S. and Russia, according to Rice, share hopes for a unified, independent Ukraine that is capable of exercising freedom amongst its people. Obama and Putin jointly aim to see the agreement of February 21 carried out in peaceful terms. Constitutional reforms, near-term elections and a government to bring together the unified desires of the Ukrainian people shall be implemented in due process. These efforts shall reflect “the will of the Ukrainian people and the interests of the United States and Europe,” said Rice.

While Rice did not mention Russian interests, one might hope that continued violence is not among them. Perhaps diplomacy can win this war.

– Jaclyn Stutz 

Sources: Businessweek, Foreign Policy, New York Times, Wall Street Journal
Photo: BASIC

young migrants
On February 14th, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) released the 2013 World Youth Report, aimed at addressing the significant impact of young migrants on both origin and destination countries. The report also highlights the specific concerns, challenges and successes faced by migrants across the globe.

Whether it be for work, study or family reasons, voluntary migration continues to increase every year. The UN estimates that there are 232 million international migrants worldwide, representing 3.2% of the world’s total population. More than 30% of these migrants are considered youth migrants under the age of 29 and approximately half of these are female.

Youth migration has a significant impact on not only individual lives, but also global economies. Many young migrants leave their country of origin in search of better job opportunities and often send remittances home to benefit their families. These individuals improve their financial situations while engaging in economic transactions that will benefit their destination country.

However, countries of origin often suffer the negative effects of “brain drain,” or human capital flight. This is the process by which professionals, often in the fields of health or education, leave developing countries in search of a higher salary and better living conditions.

The report also goes into detail about the specific struggles and opportunities that young migrants can face.

In the preparatory stage, migrants cited the difficulties they faced in obtaining accurate information about their intended destination, as well as in obtaining needed documents and making travel accommodations.

On arrival, migrants noted experiencing both culture shock and loneliness. Often communication barriers had to be overcome and in the long term, many faced both stereotyping and discrimination.

The report notes some recommendations made by migrants to ease the transition from origin to destination country. Among these is the development of tools to assess the readiness of a migrant and to help facilitate decision-making and planning. They recommended peer-to-peer initiatives, pre-departure orientation programs, and awareness-raising campaigns.

Despite these challenges, many young migrants have become exemplary examples of what can be achieved in the face of adversity.

As the report notes, “their capacity as agents of social change and development should not be underestimated.”

Mollie O’Brien

Sources: UN News Centre, United Nation Regional Information Centre for Western Europe
Photo: Caritas

North-Korea-Foal-Eagle
In a bid to better relations with its southward neighbor, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea has agreed to allow family reunions with The Republic of Korea for those separated during the Korean War. Initially proposed by President Park Geun-hye early in 2014, the reunion was promptly rejected by North Korea.

However, a news conference from the North Koreans communicated the acceptance of the proposal under the guise of improving relations between the two countries. Between 1985 and 2010, over 22,000 individuals have been reunited with their families as organized by both governments on the peninsula, reports The New York Times.

This development comes as a result of South Korea’s prompt to its northern neighbor to prove their desire to reconcile citing a letter from North Korea which relayed the message of “reconciliation and unity” with South Korea. The letter comes from the National Defense Commission and more directly, Kim Jong-un himself. “The DPRK [North Korea] has already unilaterally opted for halting all acts of getting on the nerves of South Korea and slandering it,” reports the BBC.

However, South Korea and its military ally, the United States, remain wary of either proposal. Previous military provocations despite periodic peace concessions from North Korea keep the two allied nations skeptic. A North Korean disarmament of nuclear arms remains to be realized and this new development may just be another power play from the North.

Furthermore, “Foal Eagle” maneuvers, annual military drills between South Korea and the U.S., are often met with aggression from North Korea. In 2013, North Korea threatened both nations with pre-emptive nuclear strikes, viewing the military collaboration as acts of aggression against the People’s Republic.

“Foal Eagle” will consist of around 10,000 soldiers from both South Korea and the U.S. and is set to begin in February.

In its open letter, North Korea has asked to stop the military drills, to which the U.S. has responded with a clear no—the drills will continue as planned.

Whether or not North Korea is serious in its calls for reconciliation remains to be seen, as will most likely become clear as the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises begin.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: BBC, CNN, New York Times
Photo: Borgen