Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Charter 08: Chinese Activists Question Effectiveness of Popular Democracy Petition

published in Huffington Post

Jiang Qisheng was among the first to sign the pro-democracy manifesto -- which calls for a radical departure from China's current one party system. In doing so, the 60-year-old Beijing writer put his freedom, his livelihood, even his life at grave risk.

But he had lived through the massacres of Tiananmen Square, and the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and had great hope in the power of this document to provoke change.

"I think the charter has addressed very well what our people have tried to accomplish for over 100 years: to change the system from tyranny to democracy," said Jiang in a telephone conversation through a translator.

But not all China human rights activists and scholars share his sense of optimism about the petition, known as Charter 08. While most agree that a petition signed by so many ordinary people inside China is a historic first, there is no consensus on its importance or that the new movement will succeed.

read more

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Under-Secretary of the UN Talks to I-House LIVE BLOGGING

Lynn Pascoe
Under-Secretary of the United Nations for Political Affairs, spoke at the International House's Sunday Supper on challenges and limitations of UN peace keeping efforts.

8:23 - Pascoe said that "there have not been conflicts between major states and seemed to cite this as an accomplishment of UN diplomacy. This is partially true but it seems that the advent of nuclear bomb also played a role in this. Also lack of conflict between major states has little relation to overall levels of violence. Fighting between big countries and small ones can be plenty bad too.

8:29 "Countries come to the UN when they can't solve problem and then when we can't solve them they ask why we can't solve them." This is well put. The expectation that the UN address ills that individual states can't solve is a heavy one. It is fair to to fault the UN when it fails but these failures need to be framed around he enormous size of the goals.

8:33 The UN SG was very involved in the Gaza ceasefire, Pascoe said. Now that the firing is done its the division between the Palestinians that the UN will help to iron out. After that a reconstruction of Gaza "for the third time" Pascoe said wearily. Its seems a bit early to be jumping to those stages though - with rockets landing in Israel and a far right-wing party posed to gain significant power in the Knesset the could start again and soon.

8:35 Pascoe wondered aloud why noone seems to be very eager to get involved in Somalia. Somalia is one of those high risk low yield areas of the world. Both politically - no national leaders gain many points for throwing their hat into that stage - and in terms of the good that can be done. At best it seems like Somalia might be able to move up from an anarchic Mad Max style failed state to a loose coalition
of war lords who will maintain their bonds for as long as donor money flows their way and not one moment longer.

8:38 Pascoe explained why the UN is often not able to get involved. Other states have leverage but the UN diplomats "only have their smiles." In the case of Zimbabwe southern African leaders don't want to the UN to get involved in their sphere of influence. I don't buy this argument of not having leverage. The UN has plenty of traction and leverage in southern Africa, where it runs dozens of programs worth billions plus maintains the closest thing it has to a standing army (in the Congo).

8:41 Russia wouldn't allow the UN to get involved so it didn't, Pascoe said. I don't like this limitation because it seems to say that aggressor states get to decide whether or not the UN can take action in preventing agression. In fact this might often be the case but it is dangerous to state this as a matter of principle.

8:43 People often don't see the negotiations that the UN is involved in because it doesn't make news when people don't get killed, Pascoe said. I like this point. The UN is involved around the world in thousands of positive ways large and small and it is difficult to recognize these successes because any violence going to be more prominent then a lack of violence.

I asked Pascoe about what the UN is doing to stop fighting from breaking out again in Gaza:

"What we are trying to do is extend the ceasefire. We are going to need to get those border crossing open - the Egyptians are working on this with us."

For medium term "there needs to be Palestinian unity and then you need to restart the peace process. Annapolis was fine but it was short terms and Olmert flaming out in the middle didn't help things.

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