Archive for the ‘United Nations’ Category

Yesterday, American journalist Marie Colvin was killed in a government bombardment in Syria. Her final report, issued from the city of Homs, can be found here and reads in part:

Snipers on the rooftops of al-Ba’ath University and other high buildings surrounding Baba Amr shoot any civilian who comes into their sights. Residents were felled in droves in the first days of the siege but have now learnt where the snipers are and run across junctions where they know they can be seen. Few cars are left on the streets.

Almost every building is pock-marked after tank rounds punched through concrete walls or rockets blasted gaping holes in upper floors. The building I was staying in lost its upper floor to a rocket last Wednesday. On some streets whole buildings have collapsed — all there is to see are shredded clothes, broken pots and the shattered furniture of families destroyed.

It is a city of the cold and hungry, echoing to exploding shells and bursts of gunfire. There are no telephones and the electricity has been cut off. Few homes have diesel for the tin stoves they rely on for heat in the coldest winter that anyone can remember. Freezing rain fills potholes and snow drifts in through windows empty of glass. No shops are open, so families are sharing what they have with relatives and neighbours. Many of the dead and injured are those who risked foraging for food.

Fearing the snipers’ merciless eyes, families resorted last week to throwing bread across rooftops, or breaking through communal walls to pass unseen.

Marie Colvin

For better or worse, it feels particularly poignant to learn of the death of a journalist as she set to the crucial work of telling the stories of the world’s most endangered and most vulnerable. Amazingly, in the conditions described above, the people of Homs braved the streets of their decimated city en masse last night to honor Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik with a show of gratitude.


In the United Nations, intervention for Syria, such as that that the U.S. sent to topple Qaddafi in Libya, was double-vetoed in the Security Council by Russia and China earlier this month. There is still hope for action by the Arab League, but meanwhile the Assad government continues to attack its own people mercilessly. Bashar Al-Assad acknowledges in this interview with Barbara Walters that no government in the world kills its own people unless it is led by a crazy person as Syria clearly is.


Marie Colvin in her final report wrote that throughout Homs, “On the lips of everyone was the question: “Why have we been abandoned by the world?”” When Assad questions the legitimacy of the United Nations, it is hard for me to disagree, but not because the horrific reports are unsubstantiated. Rather because it cannot seem to move its behemoth bureaucracy to fulfill its purpose: to prevent atrocities, protect the innocent, and create a world where that question can be answered with a resounding “You haven’t.”

What do you get a planet for its seven-billionth person?

Grist.org published this article back in May announcing the UN claim that in just a few weeks, around Halloween of 2011, the seven-billionth person will be born on Earth. We started thinking of ourselves as a six-billion person planet way back in 1999. At least we started referring to ourselves that way –I’m not sure six billion is something we’re capable of thinking of.

World population hit 1 billion people in 1804. It took 123 years to add the next billion, but less than a century to cruise past the next four billion — from 2 billion people in 1927 to 6 billion people in 1999.

The music is cheesy, but this is worth a watch. It’s not that there are just too dang many of us –or them, more likely– it’s that we seem to be fundamentally so bad at sharing

This is the private prison industry issue as I understand it: Increasingly, to “save costs” and “promote free-enterprise” our government has turned over the job of incarcerating those who are incarcerated for breaking the laws the government establishes to private prison companies. These companies, the biggest being Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, are supposedly subject to government oversight through the BOP but have repeatedly refused to share information about what’s happening inside their facilities’ walls. The legal argument goes like this: information on how the prisons are run, the kind of medical care prisoners receive, for example, is considered a trade secret and sharing it would put the company in question at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace. As a result, abuse goes unreported.

How are things going inside these privately run and private beyond government scrutiny facilities? It’s difficult to know, but there have been riots and prisoner deaths, and many reports of abuse, such as the overuse of solitary confinement. Cases like that of Jesus Gallindo, reported by Dan Rather in the video below. Gallindo is one of nine prisoners known to have died at the Reeve’s detention facility in Pecos, Texas since 2006.

Today at the ACLU of Texas internship we had a guest speaker, Bob Libal from Grassroots Leadership which works on prison issues. He spoke mainly on immigration detention as locking up undocumented migrants has become a money-making strategy employed by the for-profit prison industry. NPR reported on this last year in the wake of the passage of Arizona’s SB1070, the “Papers, Please” law.

If you live in Texas and want to find a private prison near you (or just see the scope of the issue), check out this incredible map from Texas Prison Bid’ness.

How has our so-called justice system become a for-profit industry? How could we have gone so wrong? Grassroots Leadership is promoting a divestment campaign as part of its strategy and will be rallying tomorrow at Congress and 1st to protest Wells Fargo’s stock ownership in these for profit prisons.  I think this poster says it best.

DUMP IT.

This is a quote from Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander who was arrested yesterday, upon his incarceration. After 15-years of living a fairly public life under the not-at-all conspicuous pseudonym of Milorad Komadic, Serbia finally apprehended Mladic to answer for his crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC). Apparently the crimes are well documented and well known, even filmed, even celebrated by some. The most interesting thing to me here, however, is the sense of entitlement and the profound disconnect. His lawyer apparently passed along the message that his client (accused of, among other things, murdering 8,000 people of an ethnic minority) would like some fresh strawberries. And apparently Mladic got them.

Here is what British comedian Eddie Izzard has to say about mass murderers. “If you kill ten people, you go to Texas, they hit you with a brick. That’s what they do.”

The ICC, first proposed in 1919, took the United Nation’s requisite 80-years to gestate and be born. You might have thought that the events of the Jewish Holocaust in World War II would’ve sped up the process of establishing an international body to try those individuals who commit crimes against humanity and you would be wrong. While the idea of a panel like the ICC had been kicked around for decades, it took the horrific events in Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s to really get things moving again. A treaty to establish the ICC was finally voted on in 1998. The United States (in the warm company of China, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar, and Yemen) voted against it.

Whatever you think about the idea of world government and international courts, this is what we have right now. A tribunal with no enforcement arm recognized by some nations and ignored by others. But at least the threat of their existence ruined George W. Bush’s visit to Europe. At least they can do something about Mladic’s abuse of the word deserve. I sort of hate this word because I think that deserving-ness is a false concept, but let’s not get into that. I’ll just say that I think if Mladic actually wanted  someone to sit down and do the math to see what he supposedly deserves, I think the ICC or anyone would find that it’s a hell of a lot less than fresh strawberries.

Here’s an excellent video from 2007 that provides a lot of background and context, though be warned it’s 24-minutes long and really heavy.