NOBEL LAUREATES CALL FOR ACTION ON BURMA — Eight other Nobel laureates joined with South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu earlier this month to call for an international arms embargo, supported by the United Nations Security Council, against Burma’s military junta. Despite international anger and pressure to reform in the wake of the regime’s October 2007 violent crackdown on demonstrations led by Burma’s monks, the ruling junta has largely continued with business as usual – denying basic human rights to Burmese citizens. Several countries, including China, Russia and India, continue to sell military equipment and arms to the regime. “Despite decades […]

Kosovo’s Feb. 17 declaration of independence places the Russian government in an awkward position. Neither Moscow’s nor Belgrade’s pre-declaration threats prevented Pristina’s parliament from voting 109-0 in favor of severing ties with Serbia. Actually implementing the threatened retaliatory measures, however, could easily backfire and seriously damage Russian interests. Most NATO governments likewise decided to back Kosovo’s independence despite Russian warnings that Moscow might respond by promoting the independence of other separatist regions in Europe. For months, Western governments have argued that, given the deep divisions separating the parties involved in the Kosovo status negotiations, delaying action would not improve the […]

AFRICA’S RAPE EPIDEMIC SPREADS — Rape has long been a tool of terror for military forces, but in Africa the practice is now spreading to civilian populations, with members of various ethnic groups using it as a weapon against women and young girls of other groups, UNICEF said Feb. 13. “Sexual violence is taking epidemic proportions and it is translating into the civilian populations, no longer only the military and the militia. It seems there is a license to rape when everything falls apart, in the sense that it becomes legitimate to do things that you otherwise never would do,” […]

Kosovo Prepares to Declare Independence

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo, the separatist province of Serbia, is making nervous preparations for adeclaration of independence on Sunday: “Independence is ready,” says a government poster. Sunday is thought the most likely delcaration day because it is followed by a national holiday in the United States to mark President’s Day. This timing could stop Russia, which opposes independence, from immediately calling an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council in New York, which it would have to do within an unofficial three-hour time limit. Such immediate high-level opposition could easily fuel disorder and violence, with the Albanian majority eager to […]

DAMASCUS CRACKDOWN ON DISSIDENTS CRITICIZED — Human rights groups and Western politicians have united in the past two weeks to criticize the Syrian government’s latest efforts to crack down on dissidents. Thirteen activists have been detained and allegedly tortured as part of a crackdown against individuals who participated in a Dec. 1 meeting of opposition and pro-democracy groups. They face several charges, including “weakening national sentiment,” “membership in an organization formed with the purpose of changing the structure of the state,” and “joining a secret association.” The detained include a cross-section of Syrian artists, writers, medical professionals and journalists, as […]

Earlier this year, the Republic of the Congo became the 183rd state party to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which forbids the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, transfer, and use of chemical weapons (CW). In addition, the Indian media recently reported that the Indian government had eliminated over 90 percent of its chemical weapons, suggesting the country should fulfill its requirement to eliminate all its CW by April 2009. While welcome, these developments should not obscure the continuing difficulties facing the CWC as its April 2008 review conference approaches. Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter, head of the Organization for the Prohibition of […]

WOMEN’S RIGHTS DRIVE CONTINUES IN SAUDI ARABIA — A royal decree on Jan. 21 allowing women to check in to hotels or rent apartments without male guardians has raised hopes among Saudi women’s rights campaigners that another key restriction on Saudi women — the ability to drive a car — may soon be removed. Campaigners have submitted two petitions to King Abdullah since September and are collecting signatures for a third. Meanwhile, a number of Saudi royals have issued fairly pointed statements saying they support women’s desire to drive. Since coming to power in 2005, the king has staked out […]

Valery Loshchinin, Russia’s ambassador to the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, recently revealed that on Feb. 12, Russia and China will present a joint draft treaty to restrict the deployment of weapons in outer space. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is scheduled to address the 65-member, U.N.-affiliated forum on that day. Neither Russian nor Chinese government representatives have publicly indicated what provisions are included in the draft treaty. Nevertheless, both governments have long been concerned by U.S. military programs in this realm. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits countries from basing weapons of mass destruction in space, but its application to […]