On Wednesday, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a long report on the Vatican that has gotten attention for its sharp criticism of the Catholic Church’s response to clergy sex-abuse scandals. But perhaps more remarkably, the study also critiqued the Church’s stance on abortion and birth control.
Specifically, it recommended that the Holy See “overcome all the barriers and taboos surrounding adolescent sexuality that hinder their access to sexual and reproductive information, including on family planning and contraceptives,” and suggested the Vatican “review its position on abortion … with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted.” The committee also made broad criticisms of the Church’s posture toward LGBTQ families and children. The Holy See has responded with a statement defending the Church’s right to define its own religious beliefs and teachings.
The Vatican, which has “permanent observer” status at the UN, is a signatory to the UN’s 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child along with 193 countries and two island nations. Notably, the United States is one of three countries that haven’t ratified the treaty; the other two, Somalia and South Sudan, have both pledged to ratify the agreement soon.
So, if a UN committee finds Church teachings to violate the human rights of children, what can it do to the Holy See? The short answer: nothing.
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It may not have been a flat-out rejection, but Iranian President Hassan Rouhani certainly surprised a lot of people by declining to meet with President Obama yesterday. We don’t know anything approaching the whole story. Letters between the two, back-channel messages, and in all likelihood, secret conversations between representatives of the two countries have been going on for quite a while. The secret diplomacy has been conducted for decades, even though Rouhani was only recently elected.
So far, the plot of “hopes and expectations raised, then a slap in the face” follows the usual script. Just ask Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, both of whom believed they had reached agreement with the Iranian regime, a “grand bargain” that would put the two countries on the path to better relations, lift some American sanctions, and, in Bush’s case, end Iranian uranium enrichment. At the last minute, Iran said “forget it.” Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and her top deputy, Nicholas Burns, had flown to New York in the fall of 2006 to welcome the Iranian diplomat Ali Larijani to the United Nations, where the Grand Bargain was to have been signed. But he never left Tehran. Clinton got a public rebuke from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, currently Rouhani’s boss.
There is nothing particularly new or surprising in Iran’s behavior this week.
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In March of 2011 and just hours before the United Nations Security Council vote, Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi promised citizens of Benghazi—his own countrymen—that he was “coming tonight” and that would show them “no mercy and no pity.” Gaddafi’s brazen statement telegraphed an impending attack with a high possibility massive civilian casualties.
In the Security Council immediately following Gaddafi’s threats, Russia and China—two permanent members with noted authoritarian governments themselves—abstained from voting on resolution 1973, which authorized “all necessary measures to protect civilians… including Benghazi.” (Germany, Brazil, and India, then-rotating members of the Security Council, abstained as well for their own reasons.)
In hindsight, Russia seems to have regretted its abstention. In January 2012, speaking about the growing civil war in Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Australian TV that “the international community unfortunately did take sides in Libya and we would never allow the Security Council to authorize anything similar to what happened in Libya” in Syria.
That seems odd, because “what happened in Libya” was, on balance, a good thing: A sustained NATO air campaign unquestionably protected many more innocent civilians than it harmed and weakened Gaddafi’s forces en route to his downfall. What’s more, the Libya operation served as validation for those supporting the “responsibility to protect,” a 2006 Security Council mandate that called on parties involved in armed conflict to bear primary responsibility to protect civilians, approved by a unanimous 15-0 vote.
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For the past five months, a newly formed rebel group in the North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has been attacking government forces and seizing small towns, and it just took control of the city of Goma a week ago. The movement, called the March 23 Movement (M23), is made up of former members of previous rebel groups and is largely a continuation of hostilities in the region that date back to the First Congo War in 1996. Amid a complicated web of proxy battles, political posturing, defections, and re-defections, M23 rebel forces (purportedly supported by Rwanda) have fought fierce battles against DR Congo government troops and local Mai-Mai militias, sending civilians fleeing for shelter. UN peacekeeping forces in the region have not resisted the advances of the rebels, claiming their duty is to protect civilians, not to act as a substitute national army. Several hundred rebels, soldiers, and civilians have reportedly been killed, and many more wounded, so far. At the moment, M23 refuses to leave Goma and has a stated intention of overthrowing the national government.
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Boasting more than 18 million entries in 279 languages, Wikipedia is arguably the largest store of human knowledge in the history of mankind. In its first decade, the digital encyclopedia has done more to challenge the way we think about the relationship between knowledge and the Internet than virtually any other website. But is this ubiquitous tree of knowledge as culturally sacred as the pyramids of Giza, the archaeological site of Troy, or the Native American mound cities of Cahokia?
Jimmy Wales, president of Wikipedia, thinks so. The digital encyclopedia will launch a petition this week to have the website listed on the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s world heritage lists. If accepted, Wikipedia would be afforded the international protection and preservation afforded to man made monuments and natural wonders.
Read more at The Atlantic