Tag Archives: United Nations

The Head of the UN Worked Secretly With Israel to Undermine An Inquiry Into Gaza War Crimes

This past Friday, new documents released by the news leak site WikiLeaks revealed that in 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon secretly worked with Israel to undermine the findings of a UN inquiry into war crimes in Gaza.

In early 2009, the UN Board of Inquiry looked into Israeli strikes on Gaza in December of 2008 and January of 2009. Their inquiry found that,

“Israeli Defense Force (IDF) targeted UN buildings in Gaza Strip in seven of the nine attacks.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Click to enlarge

The report also added that Israel had,

“breached the inviolability and immunity of UN premises”.

The inquiry recommended that an impartial probe be launched to investigate the bombing of the UN facilities. But for some reason, this suggestion was never presented to the United Nations Security Council. Now it would seem we know why.

Following the UN inquiry, Ban Ki-Moon met and spoke with U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice on a number of occasions.

In their first meeting, Rice strongly urged the UN Secretary-General not to include the inquiry’s recommendations in the final report summary. However, Ban informed her that he couldn’t alter the report or its recommendations since the UN Board of Inquiry was an independent body.

U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Click to enlarge

But while Ban Ki-Moon couldn’t actually alter the inquiry report, he did get to write a cover letter to go along with it. So, in their second meeting, Rice urged him to,

“…make clear in his cover letter when he transmits the summary to the Security Council that those recommendations exceeded the scope of the terms of reference and no further action is needed”

Ban told Rice that his staff was,

“working with an Israeli delegation on the text of the cover letter”.

A section of the leaked documents. Click to enlarge

After the letter was finalized, Ban called Rice to tell her that he believed they had drafted a “satisfactory cover letter”. In this cover letter, Ban asked members of the UN Security Council to,

“not to take into account the report submitted by the UN Board of Inquiry that accused Israel of targeting UN buildings in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.”

At the end of their conversation, Rice thanked Ban for his, “exceptional efforts on such a sensitive issue.”

Check out the full transcripts of the leaked documents from WikiLeaks here.

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France Is Proposing A Law Forcing Supermarkets to Donate Their Unsold Food to Charity

I often hear people saying that there are not enough resources for everyone on the planet, arguing that poverty and inequality are a natural result of scarcity (the idea there’s not enough resources to go around).

But these people fail to consider one extremely important yet rarely-discussed issue:

Food wastage is a HUGE problem in the developed world.

Click to enlarge

The World Food Organization (WFO) is the international food assistance branch of the United Nations. It is the world’s largest humanitarian organization and works to address hunger around the world.

According to the WFO, around one third of all the food produced worldwide is “lost or wasted” while it’s still fit for human consumption.

A group of 63 French Members of Parliament saw this problem as an opportunity. In late July, they proposed a new law forcing large supermarkets (those with 1,000 square metres/10,800 sq ft or moreof floor space) to donate their, “unsold but still consumable food products” to charity.

Carrefour, France’s largest supermarket chain, will be among those affected if the proposal is approved

The proposal follows a number of moves in Europe to cut back on food waste. Earlier this year, the European Union proposed a scrapping of the “best if used by” labels on foods that have long shelf-lives, such as coffee, rice, dry pasta, hard cheeses, jams and pickles.

Then in May, Belgium passed a law similar to the one that France is now proposing.

Many French supermarkets are already donating their unsold food to charities, but the Parliament members felt that more could be done to combat food waste.

The average French supermarket wastes 200 tons of food every year. The EU estimates that across Europe, around 100 million tons of food are wasted yearly.

Click to enlarge

In the United States, the issue is even more pronounced. Though cross-country comparisons can be difficult, it’s pretty safe to say that on average, the United States wastes more food per person than does any other country in the world.

According to a new study released by the USDA in February, the U.S. wasted an estimated 133 billion pounds (66.5 million tons) of consumable food in 2010.

That food is worth around $161 billion (using retail prices), so food waste is definitely an economic problem. But when you look at the actual loss of calories, you really begin to get a picture of just how much we’re wasting.

Click to enlarge. (Source: BCFN, "Defeating the paradox of food waste", 2013)
Click to enlarge. (Source: BCFN, “Defeating the paradox of food waste”, 2013)

According to the USDA’s report, those 133 billion pounds of food contained around 141 trillion calories. That’s equal to 1,249 wasted calories per person every day.

An earlier study from the USDA found 14.5% of Americans live in households that struggle to put food on the table. More than one in five American children are at risk of living in hunger.

Think of how quickly we could end hunger in America if we could use some of those 1,249 calories we waste every day to help feed these people.

Another quick graphic on the impact of food waste. Click to enlarge

In France, most people are welcoming the proposal, with the only issue being how to pay for the extra refrigerated storage containers that the charities will need to store all the extra food.

To me however, this seems like a very small hang-up. The overall value to society will be hundreds of times greater than the costs of a few giant freezers.

Globally, it is estimated that a staggering 1.3 billion tons of consumable food are wasted every year. So please stop saying that there isn’t enough to go around.

Read the original story from The Telegraph here.

Journalists Record Footage of Hamas Assembling and Firing Rockets Right Next to Their Hotel

As the conflict rages on between Israel and Hamas, one of the biggest criticisms of the militant group is their strategy of embedding themselves within the civilian population in Gaza so as to force Israel to incur civilian casualties when they retaliate.

There have been reports that Hamas has launched rockets from crowded apartment buildings, hospitals and schools, though every report comes with another denying Hamas’ responsibility.

Earlier today, however, Indian journalists working for the New Delhi TV broadcasting company got at least one piece of irrefutable evidence: footage of Hamas militants assembling and firing a rocket just a stone’s throw from the hotel they were staying in.

According to NDTV, the rocket was fired just before the start of the 72-hour ceasefire which began this morning.

The team said that yesterday, a small blue tent was erected next to the hotel. Three men made a number of journeys to and from the tent for about an hour before breaking it down and disappearing.

Then, this morning, the team watched the tent be erected once more. The men quickly assembled the rocket launcher and fired the rocket, leaving the area quickly afterwards.

A picture of the tent taken by NDTV. Click to enlarge
A picture of the tent taken by NDTV. Click to enlarge

Obviously, one isolated video doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of civilian casualties are on the Palestinian side. As of this morning, over 1,800 Palestinian civilians have lost their lives, with another 10,000+ injured. Israel has lost just three civilians, along with 64 soldiers.

However, we can’t let these numbers keep us from criticizing Hamas when it’s clear that maximizing civilian death is a large part of their PR campaign.

NDTV put it this way:

“Hamas has not taken very kindly to any reporting of its rockets being fired. But just as we reported the devastating consequences of Israel’s offensive on Gaza’s civilians, it is equally important to report on how Hamas places those very civilians at risk by firing rockets deep from the heart of civilian zones.”

We can argue about whose actions are more “justified” (whatever that even means), but we cannot deny that both sides must be held somewhat accountable for the growing loss of life stemming from the renewal of this conflict.

Read the original report from NDTV here.

Make sure to check back later this week for a more in-depth look into the creation and history of Hamas.

EDIT: A talented blogger put together this post in which he identifies where exactly the rocket was launched from, based off of the NDTV footage.

The Quickest Possible Explanation of the Current Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

For all of the coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it’s come to my attention that very few people actually understand what’s going on there.

This is by no means a complete history- it’s “the quickest possible explanation”. So if you think I’m missing an important piece of information, please don’t attack me, just add it to the comments section at the bottom! 

It all started after World War II.

With millions of Jews being displaced during the Holocaust, the United Nations was looking for a good place to establish a Jewish state.

At the time, Palestine was actually a British colony, and the UN figured that Palestine (which included Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish faith) was the best place to establish the new Jewish state of Israel.

So, in late November, 1947, the UN passed Resolution 181, which divided the Palestinian territory into Jewish and Arab states.

Israeli politician Eliahu Elath presents President Harry Truman with a ceremonial ark after Truman recognized Israeli statehood in 1948

The Palestinian Arabs who were living there at the time refused to recognize the agreement. They had been told (by the United States) that no decisions would be made without consulting them. They also felt that the agreement was too favorable to the Jews, at the expense of the local Palestinians.

So, as soon as the resolution was passed, fighting began, with Arab forces attacking Israeli territories that had formerly been part of Palestine before UN Resolution 181.

The fighting intensified when Israel declared independence a year later. The Arab-Israeli of 1948 ultimately displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs.

The fighting has pretty much been on and off since then. Israel, better funded and better equipped, has slowly been shrinking the Palestinian territory through settlement programs, which urge Israeli citizens to go settle in Palestinian territory, making it harder for Palestine to legitimize a claim on those areas.

Click to enlarge

In John Kerry’s first year as Secretary of State, he took a total of 14 trips to the region in an effort to broker a peace settlement. While he was unable to broker a deal, the talks did succeed in stopping the violence for a while.

But recently it started back up, as tensions over three Israeli teens kidnapped and murdered in Gaza sparked a heavy-handed response from Israel, who sent in military troops to scour Gaza for the perpetrators (killing five Palestinians in the process).

It’s important at this point to understand the Palestinian political scene.

The remaining Palestinian territory is made up of the West Bank and the Gaza strip.

A map of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Click to enlarge

The Palestinians in the West Bank (which make up the bulk of the Palestinian population) are led by Mahmoud Abbas, who is actually quite moderate and has been very much in favor of trying to broker peace deals with Israel in recent times. Just this past Monday he wrote this op-ed piece explaining his vision of a peaceful relationship between Palestine and Israel.

The problem is Hamas, a militant Islamist group founded in 1988 with the sole purpose of destroying Israel and replacing it with a Palestinian state.

Militant groups like Hamas know that their power is rooted in the fear and anger of the people, so they do everything they can to keep Palestinians scared and mad. How? Launch a few missiles at Israel to provoke a response.

Hamas doesn’t want a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestine because it will mean the loss of most (if not all) of Hamas’s power.

Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip

Hamas needs people to hate Israel, so they launch just enough rockets to get Israel to start air-raids which are disproportionately more deadly than the rockets fired from Gaza. There are even reports of Hamas encouraging people to go out onto their rooftops during Israeli strikes so as to increase the civilian death toll.

However, many media outlets are misrepresenting the conflict, making it seem like Palestine is raining down rockets on Israeli civilians while Israel is responding by carrying out precise and strategic targeted air raids.

Israel has an extremely advanced missile dome system to shoot down rockets, and almost all of the buildings there were built to withstand these kinds of attacks. Since the conflict ramped back up, there hasn’t been a single casualty on the Israeli side.

Click to enlarge

Palestine, on the other hand, is ill-equipped to do anything about Israeli air-raids. To make matters worse, Palestinian territories are extremely densely populated, meaning lots of collateral damage when Israel bombs a target. Air raids have killed 89 Palestinians and injured another 600+ so far since the fighting resumed.

Let’s be real here: both Israel and Hamas want conflict. For Israel, the ultimate goal is to eventually take over all of the remaining Palestinian territory and make it part of Israel.

Hamas rockets allow Israel to justify air strikes which inflict serious damage to the remaining Palestinian territories. They also allow Israel to justify their refusal to stop creating new settlements in Palestine.

On the other hand, Hamas would cease to be relevant if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ended, so they do everything they can to provoke harsh military responses from Israel. The more innocent Palestinians get killed during Israel’s air strikes, the easier it is for Hamas to recruit angry young men to their cause and garner support from Arabs in the region.

The only people really losing are the average, moderate Palestinians who are simply trying to make it in one of the world’s poorest and most violent regions.

History courtesy of the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian.

Most other un-cited information came from interviews from a recent episode of NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook about the resurgence in the conflict. You can listen to that interview in its entirety here.

Minneapolis Just Replaced Columbus Day With Indigenous People’s Day. Good Idea? (Poll)

It’s no secret that Christopher Columbus was a liar, a bigot, and just an all around crappy person. He wasn’t the first European to “discover” America (Viking Lief Erikson founded a Norse village in Newfoundland almost 500 years earlier), and he also had quite the track record of totally screwing over and exploiting any natives he came in contact with.

For example, when he landed in the Bahamas, Columbus found that the islands were inhabited by the peaceful and friendly Lucayans, Taínos and Arawaks tribes. In his diary, he describes these people as being very smart and kind, as well as saying,

“They offered to share with anyone and when you ask for something, they never say no.”

The voyages of Christopher Columbus. Click to enlarge (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

When Columbus’s ship wrecked on their shores, the natives spent hours laboring to save his crew and their cargo, without asking for anything in return. How did he repay them?

He proclaimed the island to be Spanish property and enslaved the locals to work in gold mines, mining gold which would then be sent back to Spain. Within two years, half of the native population (125,000 people) had died.

Columbus also supervised the sale of young native girls (usually around the ages of 9 or 10) into sexual slavery. Another excerpt from his diary:

“A hundred castellanoes [Spanish currency at the time] are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”

In Hispaniola, Columbus set gold collection quotas for any native over the age of 13. If they failed to bring back their quota, their hands were chopped off and they were left to bleed to death

For years, Native Americans have been protesting against the celebration of this vile man. The idea for an Indigenous People’s Day was first proposed 37 years ago by a Native Nations delegation during a meeting of the United Nations. It was proposed again by a coalition of 120 indigenous nations at a conference commemorating 500 years of Indian Resistance.

Minneapolis has been really trying to celebrate their native peoples in recent years. Just last year, their City Council approved a measure called “The Year of the Dakota:  Remembering, Honoring and Truth Telling”, to bring attention to all of the contributions Native Americans have made to the city.

Just this past week, Minneapolis’s proposal to create Indigenous People’s Day on Columbus Day was unanimously and enthusiastically approved in front of a packed crowd in City Hall. The resolution creating the holiday explains,

“Indigenous People’s Day shall be used to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of Indigenous people on this land, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that Dakota, Ojibwa and other indigenous nations add to our city.”

The Minneapolis City Hall meeting that officially established Indigenous People’s Day (Photo: Karen Boros/MinnPost)

Although this particular measure does not eliminate Columbus Day, it is possible that the old holiday will be removed from the city ordinances in future years. Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District had this to say:

“Now that we have established Indigenous People’s Day, every child — whether that child is native or whether that child is not — will learn the truth about where America really comes from. This is so important because it’s difficult to imagine, if you are from the mainstream experience, how it feels to sit in a classroom and be told there was darkness and then Columbus came and then there was light.”

Read the full article about the establishment of Indigenous People’s Day from the Minneapolis Post here.

Read more about the true history of Columbus and Columbus Day in this Huffington Post article.

Awesome! US Bans ALL Trade In Elephant Ivory Within Its Borders

The Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week that it will be banning all imports and exports (with extremely narrow exceptions) of elephant ivory within the US.

Conservationists are optimistic that the movie will help to curb the illegal poaching of elephants in Africa, as the United States is home to the second largest ivory market in the world.

Sales of ivory across state lines will be strictly prohibited unless the ivory in question can be shown to be at least 100 years old. Sales of ivory within states will be prohibited unless the seller can prove that the ivory was legally imported before 1990 (the year after the US signed the UN’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora agreement).

However, the move is only as good as its enforcement. If the US isn’t willing to adequately fund the program and aggressively pursue those who violate it the move will have little real impact.

Read the full story from the New York Times here.

Does NASA Have the Right to Sell Moon-Mining Permits? (Poll)

The Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown program or CATALYST as it is often called, is taking the first steps towards exploring the moon for valuable resources.

A number of private companies have submitted applications to NASA, who will pick one or more of the applicants to build “prospecting robots” that will search the moon for valuable resources that are rare on Earth.

With their budget uncertain (the portion of the federal budget appropriated to NASA has declined pretty steadily since the early 90s), NASA has been trying creative ways to obtain funding for their continued research and space exploration- the CATALYST program being the latest example.

Image: NASA
Image: NASA

However, the United Nations’ 1967 Outer Space Treaty explicitly prohibits any one country from laying claim to the moon. Naturally, CATALYST has sparked a fierce debate about lunar property rights, discussed in more depth in this National Geographic article.

The way I see it, there’s two major questions we must ask ourselves here:

Read the full story from The Verge here.

Feature image courtesy of NOVA.org