The United Nations welcomed the release on Saturday of 21 Filipino peacekeepers, who had been seized by Syrian rebels on the Golan Heights, as they crossed to freedom in Jordan after a three-day ordeal.
Philippine authorities also expressed relief at the release of the 21 members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
A Jordanian military official said the peacekeepers were greeted by border guards as they crossed from Syria in the afternoon and “underwent medical examinations.”
They then boarded an army bus and were given a military escort to the east Amman headquarters of the armed forces where they were “handed over to the UN representative in Jordan Costanza Farina in the presence of the Philippines ambassador,” the official added in a statement.
Via the NYT:
As my colleagues Rick Gladstone and Alan Cowell report, 30 armed rebel fighters kidnapped a group of 20 United Nations peacekeepers in the Golan Heights on Wednesday and gave a 24-hour deadline before they would treat the peacekeepers “as prisoners of war.”
The abduction was announced in two video messages posted online by a group calling itself the Martyrs of Yarmouk Brigade that showed two young-looking rebels, one carrying a rifle, standing in front of captured United Nations vehicles. The videos did not clearly show any of the abducted United Nations personnel, although two figures seated in the cab of one of the captured vehicles may have been peacekeepers.
One of the videos posted on YouTube does appear to show the abducted peacekeepers, although they are not the focus of the message. Several people in the signature light blue helmets and vests of the United Nations can be seen inside the captured vehicles while their kidnappers energetically talk about the treachery of both the United Nations and the Syrian government.
Speaking about the United Nations, one rebel shouts, “They are agents of Israel, and the Syrian regime and the United Nations and all the European countries, and the Assad regime, they are all agents of Israel!”
He also calls Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, “an agent of Zionism and America” before the sound of gunfire is heard. “One of the tyrant’s snipers is shooting at us,” he said, before the video ended.
In a second video clip, a young spokesman for the rebels listed their demands.
The spokesman said:
We are holding the forces of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force until the withdrawal of Bashar al-Assad’s forces from the village of al-Jamla and its outskirts to their positions. We ask America, the United Nations and the Security Council that Assad’s forces withdraw to obtain their release. We won’t release them until after the withdrawal of the forces of the regime of Bashar al-Assad from the outskirts of the village of al-Jamla, which is on the border with Israel. We ask them for the complete withdrawal of the forces back to their positions. If the withdrawal does not take place within 24 hours, we will treat them as prisoners of war, and praise be to God almighty.
Fragmentation is the current leitmotif of international geopolitics.
In his masterpiece Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger describes, probably too idyllically, the international balance-of-power system that, following the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15, produced what came to be called the ‘Concert of Europe’. As Kissinger describes it, after the Napoleonic Wars, “There was not only a physical equilibrium, but a moral one. Power and justice were in substantial harmony.” Of course, the concert ended in cacophony with the outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914.
Today, after the brutality of the first half of the 20th century, the temporary bipolarity of the Cold War, and the United States’ brief post-1989 hyper-power status, the world is once again searching for a new international order. Can something like the Concert of Europe be globalised? Unfortunately, global cacophony seems more probable. One obvious reason is the absence of a recognised and accepted international referee. The United States, which best embodies ultimate power, is less willing - and less able - to exercise it. And the United Nations, which best embodies the principles of international order, is as divided and impotent as ever.
But, beyond the absence of a referee, another issue looms: the wave of globalisation that followed the end of the Cold War has, paradoxically, accelerated fragmentation, affecting democratic and non-democratic countries alike. From the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia’s violent self-destruction, and Czechoslovakia’s peaceful divorce to today’s centrifugal pressures in Europe, the West, and the major emerging countries, fragmentation has been fundamental to international relations in recent decades.
The information revolution has created a more global, interdependent, and transparent world than ever. But this has led, in turn, to an anxious, Balkan-ising quest for identity. This effort to recover uniqueness is largely the cause of the international system’s growing fragmentation.
In the Concert of Europe, the number of actors was limited, and they were mostly states, whether national or imperial. Essential values were widely shared, and most actors favoured protecting the existing order. In today’s world, by contrast, the nature of the actors involved is no longer so clear. Trans-national forces, states, and non-state actors are all involved, and their goals are complex and sometimes contradictory, with no universal commitment to preserving the status quo.
Who knows, maybe this could be better than the real United Nations.
Dashshund UN, an art instalment currently being staged by Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage festival, has critics’ and audiences’ tails wagging.
A dachshund is petted by its owner before the start of a performance installation “Dachshund UN”, where dogs were used to mimic a United Nations Commission on Human Rights meeting in Toronto
The 50-minute show, developed by Australian artist Bennett Miller, involves 36 dachshunds reenacting a meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
“It gets the audience to consider human behaviour differently,” Miller told CBC News.
“Shock, delight, cacophony! A meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights is staged with the help of specially recruited dachshunds in this wild performance installation. Joyful and chaotic, spectacular and fascinating, Dachshund UN questions our capacity to imagine and achieve a universal system of justice,” Harbourfront Centre’s website states.
“It’s a simple concept. Some choral music with a martial tone and then the curtain rises on four tiers of dogs — apparently a replica of the UN office in Geneva — and then the audience watches the dogs, talks loudly and snaps photos throughout, and the dogs stare back, mostly in bafflement,” Toronto Star entertainment reporter Bruce DeMara writes.
How cute :)
Look, coming in 2013 a Ron Paul vs Paulbots cagematch!
Ron Paul is feuding with his rabid fan own rabid fan base over the ownership of RonPaul.com. Paul wants it, but his fans own it. They’re willing to sell it to him… for a price Paul doesn’t agree with. So now he’s taken the dispute all the way to the United Nations.
Paul was interviewed by Conservative radio show host Alex Jones at the beginning of January and said he wished he had control of RonPaul.com. It’s not an uncommon wish. Everyone wants to own theirname.com. The site was registered by his fans years ago, though it’s unclear who exactly owns the domain. Ownership have protected their identity from public searches. Regardless, Paul supporters have used the site as an organizational tool to help the popular libertarian since.
The proprietors of RonPaul.com say they reached out to the retired politicain and offered him RonPaul.org as a free gift, but if he “insisted” on owning RonPaul.com then they would sell it to him. There was a catch, though. It would be part of a “liberty package” with the site’s 170,000 person mailing list for… wait for it… $250,000.
After declining the Paulbots offer he’s going straight to the UN.
…But Paul did not respond to their generous offer. Instead, he went to the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organization to file a 13 page complaint asking for control of both domains. Oops! Paul’s opting for legal action is notable because he’s spoken out against the U.N. in the past. They generally aren’t very popular among libertarians. They aren’t so bad now that he wants control of his own name’s website.
And now his fans are pissed…
As the civil war in Syria enters its third year, there is much discussion of the regime’s chemical weapons and whether Syria’s Bashar al-Assad will unleash them against Syrian rebels, or whether a power vacuum after Assad’s fall might make those horrific tools available to the highest bidder. The conversation centers on Syria’s chemical weaponry, not on something vastly more serious: its nuclear weaponry. It well might have. This is the inside story of why it does not.
Relations between the United States and Israel had grown rocky after Israel’s incursion into Lebanon in 2006, for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice believed the Israelis had mishandled both the military and the diplomatic sides of the conflict. While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s personal relations with President George W. Bush were excellent, those with Rice were sometimes confrontational—especially when Rice worked at the United Nations to bring the war to a close while Olmert sought more time to attack Hezbollah. Olmert always seemed to ask for 10 days more, while Rice believed the war was not going well and that more time was unlikely to turn the tables.
By the war’s end on August 14, 2006, Olmert’s political status had been diminished and his ability to negotiate any sort of peace agreement with the Palestinians was in doubt. The autumn of 2006 and winter of 2007 saw no movement on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and all the Israeli analysts we consulted said there would be none. We were stuck. And there was another surprise in store.
The Philippines filed a case Tuesday against China before a United Nations tribunal, saying it had exhausted “almost all political and diplomatic avenues” to settle a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said he summoned Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing to advise her about Manila’s decision and to hand her a diplomatic note containing the country’s challenge to Beijing’s territorial claims.
The note also urged China to desist from violating the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction.
“This afternoon, the Philippines has taken the step of bringing China before an arbitral tribunal under… the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) in order to achieve a peaceful and durable solution to the dispute over the West Philippine Sea,” Del Rosario said in a press briefing after his meeting with Ma. Del Rosario said that since 1995, the Philippines has exhausted almost “all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute with China.”
“On numerous occasions, dating back to 1995, the Philippines has been exchanging views with China to peacefully settle these disputes. [However, up until] this day, a solution is still elusive,” he said.
The front-line heroes of Pakistan’s war on polio are its volunteers: young women who tread fearlessly from door to door, in slums and highland villages, administering precious drops of vaccine to children in places where their immunization campaign is often viewed with suspicion.
Now, those workers have become quarry. After militants stalked and killed eight of them over the course of a three-day, nationwide vaccination drive, the United Nations suspended its anti-polio work in Pakistan on Wednesday, and one of Pakistan’s most crucial public health campaigns has been plunged into crisis.
The World Health Organization and Unicef ordered their staff members off the streets, while government officials reported that some polio volunteers — especially women — were afraid to show up for work.
At the ground level, it is those female health workers who are essential, allowed privileged entrance into private homes to meet and help children in situations denied to men because of conservative rural culture. “They are on the front line; they are the backbone,” said Imtiaz Ali Shah, a polio coordinator in Peshawar.
Is there a substantive, positive outcome of the UN’s recent vote to upgrade Palestinian status? How will this new recognition change the reality on the ground?
At a glance the new found Palestinian status gives the PA legal access to UN and international conventions, entities and treaties. The Israelis are worried their leadership (past and present) will be hauled in front of the ICC (International Criminal Court) in the Hague. While it is unlikely to result in any meaningful convictions, the PR blitz of such actions would be invaluable.
The other side of that very same coin has not been discussed. The Israelis would be free to drag the Palestinian leadership into the ICC as well. Given the fact many acts of terror have proudly ‘owned’ and claimed by the various Palestinian terror groups, the courts may be in a bind. Add to that the reality most western nations consider many of the Palestinian leaders to head terrorist organizations. By their own admission, other Arab states proudly support these organizations an their military ‘operations’, thus validating their terror status. It is more than likely a truce of sorts will be reached- You don’t go after our guys and we won’t go after yours.
So when all is said and done, do the Palestinian population benefit from their diplomatic upgrade? Unless actual peace talks are initiated soon, this exercise will be a case of ‘Deja vu all over again’.
The Palestinian people just can’t catch a break.
The Arabs, I am told, have a saying: “Everything starts small except calamity.” If you think about this aphorism for a minute, a sort of witty definitional wisdom comes through. The problem is that sometimes calamity starts small, too. Yesterday’s United Nations General assembly vote on making Palestine an observer-status state is a good example, most likely. But so is a now two and a half-year-old innovation in the so-called peace process milieu that came from the other, the Israeli side. I note this because even as the newsworthiness of the UNGA vote fades from the newspapers over the next few weeks, that other innovation is going to return to prime time along with the standard rhetorical pyrotechnics of the January 22 Israeli election.
But first things first—the UNGA vote.
As the Obama administration has said countless times both in private and public, this effort by the PA is unhelpful. It said so more than a year ago, and managed to delay the effort, and it said it more recently, as well. And it’s true: It is unhelpful, and the “peace process” really doesn’t need more disadvantages; if it has an abundance of anything, that’s it. (A particularly brilliant essay on the logical structure of the problem appeared in TAI a few years ago, written by a Duke University law professor not particularly known for comment on this subject. I still recommend it very highly.)
Ah, but so what? It isn’t as though some other route to a revived and successful peace process is in prospect, so the vote could easily be dismissed as a marginal tactical stunt. Besides, everybody knows that United Nations is not a place where problems get solved, but a place where either insoluble or trivial issues go to be talked to death by second-rate diplomats with nothing better to do.
This may turn out to be the case, but it’s not obvious that it will. There are at least three reasons to think that this episode will turn out to be more important and more harmful than that.
Our Imperiled World: It took billions of years to make the earth habitable for humans. It won’t take that long to ruin it.
I’m holding in my hands two ball bearings, each about two centimeters in diameter. I propose to build a model of our cosmic environment here at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The first sphere represents the sun. On this scale Earth will be two meters away, and much too small for you to see it. Mars, even smaller, will be another meter farther from the sun. On this scale, where should we place the second sphere, representing the closest star to our own solar system? On top of the Empire State Building? At JFK? Much too close! It should be placed some distance beyond Toronto.
These stars are but two among the 200 billion in our Milky Way Galaxy. That’s some 30 stars apiece for every man, woman, and child on Earth. On the scale of our ball-bearing model, the Milky Way would go far beyond the moon! So now let’s collapse our model by 10 billion times, such that our disk-shaped, pinwheel galaxy would be the size of a two-euro coin. Now where should I place a second two-euro coin to represent the next closest major spiral galaxy? In London? Be surprised! The coins should be only about 60 centimeters apart. Collisions between stars are fantastically rare because stars are so far apart, whereas collisions between galaxies are common because the galaxies are relatively close together, though the collisions take ages to happen.
A most curious and interesting fact about the distant galaxies is that they are rushing away from each other, and the farther they are from us, the faster they are going. It’s as if an immense explosion took place, as indeed it did, and the faster fragments are the farthest away. We can calculate from the speeds and distance when that explosion happened, 13.7 billion years ago, the creation of the universe, and the creation of time itself. This means we live in a universe with a history, a universe that has been changing throughout time. It is the history of the universe, and our place within it, that I want to sketch briefly.
In the first three minutes of that fiery Big Bang, the two lightest elements were created, hydrogen and helium. Fire of sorts existed, yes, but no earth or air, and no water because there was no oxygen for H2O. The Big Bang was over before the heavier elements had a chance to form.