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Security Health Human Rights

Nobel Women’s Initiative 2011

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Survivors of sexual violence at a women’s centre. photo: Amnesty International/flickr

Yesterday, 23 May, the third international gathering of the Nobel Women’s Initiative opened its gates in Quebec, Canada. This year it carries the title Women Forging a New Security: Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict. For three days, over 120 civil society activists, corporate and security sector leaders, military and peacekeeping personnel, academics from around the world, and numerous Nobel Peace Laureates are convening to discuss strategies for tackling sexual violence in conflict.

Sexual violence in times of war or turmoil is not at all a new phenomenon. Rape has shadowed war for as long as armies have marched into battle. In the past four decades, however, the scale of sexual violence has come to reach almost surreal proportions. While “traditional” warfare was, in the past, characterized by a clash of armed forces, wars have developed more and more into internal armed conflicts. The targets are increasingly often civilians, turning rape and sexual attack into useful forms of war and a core military strategy in conflicts around the world, from Sudan to Burma to Colombia.

Rape is the most intrusive of traumatic events. Sexual violence is as damaging as a bullet. It destroys not only the body of the victim, but the basic social fabric of the community. Where sexual violence has been a way of war, it destroys the way of life. Rape shatters traditions that anchor community values, disrupting their transmission to future generations. Children accustomed to rape and violence grow into adults who accept them as the norm.

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Government

The Truth will Set You Free

Lie Detecting Politics. photo: PearlsofJannah/flickr

Explosive claims about guerrilla bribes, narco-trafficking and vote tampering have rocked Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, just days after he appeared to triumph in a national referendum. Today, prosecutors in Ecuador have finally decided to investigate allegations that President Rafael Correa’s election campaign accepted funds from Colombian rebels back in 2006.

It all began last week, when the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) published a report which claims that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) helped to fund Mr Correa’s 2006 presidential election campaign. The 240-page oeuvre cites evidence that a $100,000 payment was delivered by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to Correo’s election coffers and goes on to claim that for the Colombian guerrillas, this was a “climax” of years of efforts to infiltrate Ecuador. The report is based on a two-year study of e-mails and documents recovered during a raid by Colombian forces on a Farc camp in Ecuador in March 2008 and testimony provided by a former rebel who later defected.

Meanwhile, at a news conference in Ecuador’s capital Quito, President Correa denied ever meeting the Farc or a representative thereof. “I’ll take a lie detector test to prove I never received funds from the Farc,” he proclaimed. Yet the sense of alarm in Quito deepened even further when Jay Bergman, the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s Andean region director, stated that Ecuador was slowly turning into a “United Nations” of organized crime, with drug traffickers from Albania to China using it as a staging ground for Andean cocaine.

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History Development

UN Summit for the World’s Poorest

Just a Drop in the Bucket? photo: rogiro/flickr

The Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV) opened its doors on Monday in Istanbul. Before its close on Friday, it aims to approve a new action plan to improve the situation for the world’s least developed countries. As the world’s poorest states are today at risk of falling even further behind, politicians and development experts are calling urgently for more investment and an unhindered access to global markets.

In accordance with the UN General Assembly resolutions and the note of the UN Secretary-General outlining the modalities of the conference, the objectives of the conference are (1) to comprehensively assess the implementation of the 2001 Brussels Program; (2) to share best practices and lessons learnt; (3) to identify new challenges and opportunities for LDCs; and (4) to mobilize additional international support measures and action in favor of the LDCs.

It has now been 40 years since the international community first recognized the category of the Least Developed Countries as a group of states with a distinct set of problems. Today, qualification for the list includes a per-capita annual income of less than $905, assessments of malnutrition, child mortality and education levels, as well as an economic vulnerability rating based on population size, remoteness and instability in exports and production. The category does not include large economies, and the populations of its members must be below 75 million.

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Government

A new State on the Horizon

The Times They Are A-Changin. Photo: Rusty Stewart/flickr

Following the breakdown of direct peace talks last autumn, the Palestinian Authority (PA) ruling the West Bank has now come to adopt a new diplomatic strategy: its aim is securing United Nations’ recognition of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. And chances are that this plan will succeed.

Israel and the United States both oppose such a move, arguing a real solution can only be reached through negotiations. However, if no changes are made between now and September 2011, the UN is almost certain to declare a Palestinian state. And if a state of Palestine is declared, Israel will inevitably be put into the uncomfortable position of being considered an occupier of another UN-member country.

Hardly surprising, therefore, the Palestinian march towards statehood is unnerving both Israel and the United States. As a result they have come out with new peace plans to act as counterweights: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is to travel to Washington next month, where he will present his initiative, has not yet spelled out the content of his plan. However, it is said to include a repositioning of Israeli occupation forces in parts of the West Bank, as well as some improvements of Palestinian daily life. Furthermore, Israel is said to transfer some of the territories classified as Area B and Area C to Palestinian control. But not a single Jewish settlement will be dismantled.

Categories
Government

Until Politics Do Us Part

It's Only Love. photo: Olivier Kaderli/flickr

If Latin American politics can sometimes look like a bad Telenovela, Guatemala has just added two more characters to the cast: Alvaro Colom, the country’s president, and Sandra Torres, the first lady.

Torres announced on 8 March that she planned to run for president as the candidate of a coalition of her husband’s UNE party and the Great National Alliance in September’s general elections. However, as the Guatemalan constitution blocks relatives of sitting president’s from running for office, the couple now decided to quietly file for divorce in an attempt to circumvent the country’s set of fundamental principles.

The Colom-Torres divorce set off an avalanche of criticism from opposition parties, members of the Catholic Church and conservative elements of Guatemalan society, with the leading right-wing Patriot Party (a favorite to win the next elections) calling it an “electoral fraud.” Shortly thereafter, a group of university law students filed the first legal challenge to the divorce, followed by seven further petitions by representatives of different sectors within Guatemalan society.