Archive for 2013 Spring

United Nations Photo/flickrBy Sabrina Singh

On Thursday, Iran, North Korea, and Syria blocked the passing of the final draft of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a U.N. effort to set standards and regulations for the cross-border arms trade. Approval of all 193 nations of the United Nations would have been necessary for the treaty to pass.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed that the draft had “loopholes” that did not ban sales of weapons to rebel groups. Syrian ambassador Bashar Ja’afari echoed Iran’s concerns, adding that “[Syria’s] national concerns were not taken into consideration.”

The ATT covers weapons systems that include tanks, combat aircraft and missiles.  First negotiated in New York in July 2012, it failed to pass when the United States, Russia, and China, all large weapons exporters, rejected the treaty due to a lack of consensus on its details.

The bid for ATT was revived this year on March 18 when Mexico issued a U.N. statement signed by 120 countries in support of the treaty. “Our voice must be heard,” their statement read.

For signatories, the United States’ willingness to sign the treaty this year had been a cause for optimism. Like other members of the permanent five (P5) nations of the UN Security Council, the United States had balked at the prospect of signing and ratifying the ATT last year. Stewart M. Patrick, Senior Fellow at Council on Foreign Relations, writes that this unwillingness was in part because “the Obama administration did not want to hand Republicans a red meat issue in the run-up to the November elections.”

Pre-election season politics did not affect the United States’ stance this year, nor did the contentious issue of drone warfare, which was absent from this year’s draft treaty.

The global conventional arms trade is estimated to be worth $70 billion annually,  74% of which are produced by the P5 – United States, China, Russia, Britain and France – and Germany.

Human rights groups like Amnesty International have pressured the US government to support the treaty, but gun rights groups like National Rifle Association say the treaty, though it does not address domestic arms commerce, poses a threat to Second Amendment rights in the U.S. constitution.

To challenge the opposition from Iran, Syria, and North Korea, the treaty could be referred to the General Assembly for another vote as early as next week.

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Participants dance in the One Billion Rising event in Valdivia, Chile, organized by Beatriz Sotomayor and attended by almost a hundred people. Photo courtesy of Beatriz Sotomayor.

By Sabrina Singh

Last week, on February 14, people in 203 countries danced to raise awareness about gender-based violence as part of One Billion Rising (OBR), a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about gender-based violence through the medium of dance. Hundreds of flashmobs and performances from Miami to Khartoum, Bali to New Delhi, called attention to a recent United Nations report, which finds that one out of three women – one billion in all – will be raped or beaten during her lifetime.

The One Billion Rising campaign was initiated by Eve Ensler, writer of The Vagina Monologues, through her organization V-Day. The campaign garnered support from organizations like Amnesty International, celebrities like Katie Couric and Anne Hathaway, and even from the United Nations itself. It has also leveraged public support with dance tutorial videos from choreographer Debbie Allen and a short film with over 900,000 views on YouTube.

However, the campaign has raised eyebrows among some feminists. In The Huffington Post, Natalie Gyte, head of communications at Women’s Resource Centre, a London-based charity that supports women’s organizations, criticized OBR as a classic case of relatively privileged, often Western, feminists’ paternalism. “It’s patronising and it denies not only the causes of violence, but also the devastating and long lasting effects,” wrote Gyte, who is skeptical that OBR will accomplish anything with its one-day dance.

Yet organizers and participants of OBR do feel a sense of accomplishment and purpose. “Our event focused people’s attention on gender-based violence, but from a joyful point of view,” said Beatriz Sotomayor, organizer of an OBR event in Santiago, Chile in an email interview. “People did not become overwhelmed, they did not think, ‘Oh my god the world is such a cruel place.’ Instead, they started asking me, ‘What can we do next?’ As an organizer, it was truly satisfying.” For activists like Sotomayor, OBR’s goal and success lie in the consciousness it has raised about gender-based violence. Sotomayor added that she will continue organizing dance campaigns to raise awareness about this issue.

Aditi Adhikari, a participant of an OBR flashmob in Atlanta, USA, reported that more than 20,000 people attend the event. “The writer of the ‘One Billion Rising’ song as well as the daughter of Martin Luther [King, Jr.] and Coretta Scott King were with us,” said Adhikari in an email interview, also expressing satisfaction with overall turnout.

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The Best of #dronevalentines

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Turns out #Feb14 – the rallying cry of the anti-monarchy protests that began in Bahrain two years ago today – isn’t the only conflict-themed hashtag making waves right now. Here are my favorite #dronevalentines so far.

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Categories : 2013 Spring, Newscast
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By Jason Clayton

Domestic policy took center stage at the 2013 State of the Union address, the first of President Barack Obama’s second term. The President did, however, take some time to address two foreign policy concerns: the war in Afghanistan and counterterrorism.

The War in Afghanistan

The President renewed his plans to gradually withdraw the remaining 66,000 American troops currently currently stationed in Afghanistan. He said 34,000 troops would return home in the next twelve months, and the remainder by the end of 2014. The withdrawal plan presented by the President would place the war in Afghanistan among the longest wars in U.S. history, second only to the Vietnam War.

The Obama administration argues that a gradual withdrawal is essential to maintain stability in the region and to train Afghan forces. To this end the administration has given military commanders much flexibility in the withdrawal process.

“This spring our forces will move into a support role while Afghan security forces take the lead,” President Obama said from the podium Tuesday night.

Administration officials say, however, that a significant fighting force will remain in the region at least until October 2013, and that up to 9,000 troops might remain into 2015 and beyond as part of responsible withdrawal.

Opponents of the gradual withdrawal argue that the financial cost of two more years of warfare – about half a trillion dollars – as well as the cost of injuries and deaths of soldiers and civilians do not justify the extended commitment. Other critics believe the presence of American forces will not significantly improve the stability of the region or aid in the further eradication of Taliban forces.

It seems unlikely President Obama will hasten the withdrawal schedule in response, but while public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of the decision to end the war, opinion remains divided on the proper timetable.


The President also stated his commitment to transparency and legality in counterrorism efforts. “I will continue to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world,” he said Tuesday.

In the past, the war on terror has raised legal questions surrounding the use of military tribunals and enhanced interrogation methods. More recently, concerns about legality and secrecy have shifted to the use of unmanned drones in the Middle East and elsewhere. A memo outlining legal procedure for assassination of suspected terrorists, released earlier this month, has raised additional concerns about the authority of the executive abroad and at home.

In Tuesday’s address the President responded to accusations of excessive executive power, assuring the nation that all policies are consistent with American laws and separation of powers.

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On Friday, armed with cell phones, suggested scripts, and educational handouts, Swarthmore College’s STAND chapter hosted a call-in urging the White House to appoint a presidential envoy to peace negotiations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Despite a 2002 peace deal between the Congo and Rwandan occupying forces, civilians in the eastern part of the country are still terrorized by militias, including the anti-government M23, and the army.

While the U.N. has had a peacekeeping mission in the country since 2001, Sierra Eckert, a student leader of Swarthmore STAND, described their efforts to mediate talks between the government and rebels as “small and ineffective.” STAND, she said, advocates for the United States to send a special envoy to aid peace talks in addition to the U.N. mission.

Swarthmore STAND, a chapter of the national anti-genocide student coalition, organized the call-in to coincide with other call-ins hosted by students nationwide. The scale of such actions, Eckert said, raises awareness and puts real pressure on the White House.

In November 2011, Swarthmore STAND hosted two call-in days in support of the sanctions against Syria then being debated in U.S. Congress.

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