Wednesday, July 20, 2011

'Triangle Of Death' In Horn Of Africa

Waiting for food in the Dadaab camp, located in Kenya near the Somali border. Refugees wait patiently at Dagahaley registration center to receive cooking tools and their first food rations.
Source: The Guardian. Picture taken by Matilde Gattoni

Somalia - a failing state suffering from an internal conflict and from the worst drought in half a century - is in crisis. Humanitarian organizations and aid agencies have asked the international community to intervene and offer humanitarian assistance to the victims of drought and famine in the Horn of Africa.

According to the United Nations, the Horn of Africa is experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. The drought, internal conflicts and the failure of the governments to fund agriculture and irrigation projects have led to the threat of starvation of more than 10 million of people [1]. In Somalia one of three children is suffering from malnutrition. At least 500,000 children from the Horn of Africa are severely malnourished and at risk of death [2].

The United Nations have officially declared two parts of Somalia, the Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions, to be in famine. Mark Bowden, head of the UN operation in Somalia, warned that: “If we don't act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks.[…] Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine-affected areas” [3]. U.N Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that nearly 3.7 million people are now in crisis and in order to stop the crisis from deteriorating, “We need donor support to address current needs” [4]. As a result of severe food shortages, failed harvest, rising food prices and conflict in the region, at least 10 million people in the Horn of Africa will be in need of humanitarian assistance, estimates the UN [5].

According to Oxfam, famine has a couple of causes: A "triple failure of food production, people's ability to access food and, finally and most crucially, in the political response by governments and international donors. Crop failure and poverty leave people vulnerable to starvation -- but famine only occurs with political failure."[6]

The political failures which caused the famine do not just concern the failures made by the Eastern African governments but also concern the lack of interest and acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation at hand among “rich”, Western governments on the northern hemisphere. Oxfam: "Several rich governments are guilty of willful neglect as the aid effort to avert catastrophe in East Africa limps along due to an $800 million shortfall," [7].

The internal conflict in Somalia has a negative and possible disastrous influence on the famine and on the assistance aimed at diminishing the humanitarian catastrophe. The humanitarian agencies have not been able to reach famine-affected areas because the Al-Qaeda linked militant Islamic group, Al-Shabaab, refuses to give access to the areas which are dominated by Al-Shabaab. According to Susan Rice, USA ambassador to the UN , "Al-Shabaab is principally responsible for exacerbating the consequences of the drought situation by preventing its own people from being able to access critically needed assistance". Whereas at the beginning of July, 2011, the Al-Shabaab pledged to allow aid groups access to areas under its control, the militants now refuse to help the aid workers. The Islamic militants have accused the Western humanitarians of being anti-Muslim. The Al-Shabaab fears that foreign assistance will undermine its power in the areas under its control. The disaster has a negative influence on the militant group as well. They fear that the famine drives away the people upon which they depend for tax revenues and military conscription [8].

In the past, the militants have blocked aid workers from helping those in need in Somalia, fearing that foreign assistance would undermine their control.

On the morning of Thursday 28 July, the Somali government took the fight against the Al-Qaeda linked militants. 15 members of the Al-Shahaab group were killed during this offensive. According to David Orr from the United Nations World Food Program, the offensive has not had a hindered the United Nations efforts to help the famine stricken people in Eastern Africa [9].

Relevant Peace Palace Library Keywords

Monday, July 18, 2011

South Sudan: Birth Of A Nation

Update: This post is a follow up of a prior post discussing the secession of Southern Sudan.

On 14th July 2011, South-Sudan became the newest member of the United Nations. On 9th July, South Sudan finally gained independence from Sudan after almost 50 years of devastating conflicts in Northeastern Africa in which more than two million people lost their lives.

Independence came after an internationally backed referendum that was held in January of this year and in which 99 percent of the regions’ voters approved of a split from the Khartoum government in Northern Sudan, thus finally exercising their hard-fought right to self -determination.

After the celebrations wear off, South Sudan faces a future with many challenges and obstacles as it ranks among the worlds’ poorest nations. This blog will briefly discuss the most important difficulties that will lie ahead for the people of South Sudan.

One of the toughest issues to tackle is by far the Abyei region. The Abyei area, rich in minerals and natural resources including oil, is home to the Ngok Dinka people, who are closely allied wth the South, but it is also serves as grazing grounds for the Misseriya tribes from the North. A referendum that was set to determine whether the Abyei area will become part of the South or North was delayed over disagreements on who was eligible to vote. Just weeks prior to independence, fighting broke out which makes the region highly vulnerable to yet another major conflict. Subsequently, on the 27th June, the U.N Security Council voted unanimously to send 7000 peacekeepers en 900 uniformed police to South Sudan in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1990 .

Another major stumbling block involves determining criteria for citizenship. Years of conflict has resulted in large scale internal displacement and many southerners now live in the north and many northerners live south of the new border. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has expressed fears that a significant number of people will be rendered stateless. South Sudan states that it will recognize dual north-south citizenship and has urged the north to reciprocate.

Even though having a constitution is by no means mandory or a guarantee for upholding fundamental rights, in this case it can be considered an essential legal instrument to formalize rules of government. South Sudan has, for the time being, an interim constitution but has not yet agreed upon a final version. Paulos Tesfagiorgis, a constitutional adviser with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, stated that 'without a constitution, South Sudan will struggle to assert its independence within its own borders'. Furthermore, he emphasized that 'a constitution is of extreme importance as it will frame politics, the economy and other policies'.[1]

In spite of all the difficulties, South Sudan is also a country of tremendous possibilities. South Sudan produces about 375,000 barrels of oil per day, and though negotiators continue to work out a specific formula on how the north and the south will share the oil, South Sudan stands to make billions from its reserves. South Sudan also has miles and miles of fertile lands and thick forests rich in fruits and vegetables. [2]

In adittion, for the past six years the Southern Sudanese have proven to be extremely resilient; they have been running their own affairs, patrolling their borders and wooing investments and development aid.

South Sudan will have to built from the ground up and in the process will heavily lean on the support of the international community, especially in the fields of education and health care. The new government of South Sudan should first make it a priority to settle the dispute concerning the Abyei issue by starting proceedings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The UN and the two permanent members, China and the USA should because of their strong business interest in the region, endeavour all available means with the UN framework to enforce the ICJ decision.For the government of South Sudan, international law and diplomacy offer the best solution to give its people a future devoid of conflicts and wars.






Image: Khaleej Times Online

Publications in the Peace Palace Catalogue

Politics of Ethnic Discrimination in Sudan; A justification for the secessin of South Sudan by Dhieu Wol / LAP LAMBERT Academic publishing, Saarbrücken, Germany

The South Sudan Defense Force: Patriots, Collaborators or Spoilers? by Matthew B. Arnold in the Journal of Modern African Studies 2007

Sudan's blood memory: the legacy of war, ethnicity and slavery in early South Sudan by Stephanie Beswick in Rochester Studies in African history and the Diaspora, university of Rochester Press 2004

The Abyei Arbitration and the use of Arbitration to resolve inter-state and intra-state conflicts by W.J. Miles and D. Mallett in Journal of International Dispute Settlement Vol 1 (2), p.313-340, 2010

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Plastic Soup – What Legal Response to Marine Debris Pollution ?

In 1997, Captain Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation (AMRF), was sailing his 50-foot racing catamaran, the ORV Alguita, back to California from Hawaii and decided on a lark to cut through the center of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. The Gyre is an enormous vortex of currents revolving around a continuous high-pressure zone. Boats typically avoid it since it’s essentially one big windless death trap, so when Moore motored through it, it was just him, his crew, and an endless field of ….. garbage.

In the eastern portion of the Gyre, Moore encountered a substantial amount of trash, mostly plastic, scattered across the area. Now commonly referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it is a vast plastic soup containing everything from large abandoned fishing nets to plastic bottles, bottle caps, toothbrushes, containers, boxes, to miniscule particles of plastic (polymers) that have either been reduced from larger pieces by wave action or photodegradation. Since then, Captain Moore has made numerous research voyages to the Gyre, resulting in a body of authoritative research publications, data and educational programs, while expanding his research to include all five major gyres worldwide.

Environmental Impacts of Marine Debris and Plastic Pollution

What is exactly the global environmental problem of marine debris and plastic pollution we’re dealing with ? In two reports of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) dedicated to this topic, marine debris (or marine litter as this term is used) are defined as ‘any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment’. This definition is also used in a 2010 report of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive Taskgroup (EU) on marine litter. As the latter gives a more refined clarification on the subject, it excludes ‘ semi-solid remains of for example mineral and vegetable oils, paraffin and chemicals that sometimes litter sea and shores’.

Of all marine debris, plastic accounts for more than 80 %. But where does it all come from ? Global estimations account land-based sources for some 4/5 of marine debris, while the remaining part originates from marine resources, e.g. vessel source pollution. Marine debris can be encountered in the surface, in the water column, and even on the ocean floor. In some places, marine debris occurs in dense concentrations on account of ocean gyres, as Captain Moore’s discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has shown us.

In its summary, the 2009 UNEP report Marine Litter : A Global Challenge, states that marine debris are ‘an environmental, economic, health and aesthetic problem’. We are all too familiar with the environmental impacts of marine debris on marine wildlife : entanglement, ingestion, suffocation, etc. Obviously, marine debris evidently cause widespread suffering of marine animals. Concerns have also been raised about the effects on the oceans’ food chain. High concentrations of PCBs, DDT, and a range of other persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been absorbed and accumulated in the food chain. Invasive alien species transported by the debris have destroyed certain local ecosystems.

Besides the impacts on marine wildlife and ecosystems, marine debris affect humans as well. The fouling of beaches and other coastal areas has been costly and controversial. Many coastal communities must pay for their own beach cleanup. While cleanup is expensive, the economic impact on tourism and related industries may be even far greater. Other examples are : damage to fishing boats and gear, to coastal installations, as well as damage to people’s health.

Legal Responses to Marine Debris Pollution

Solving this problem of marine pollution is a very complex and challenging enterprise. In particular, its legal framework. Various international and regional instruments, domestic and local laws and regulations apply directly or indirectly to marine debris pollution. International authorities concerned with marine debris and ocean dumping include the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (London Dumping Convention), its 1996 Protocol, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), its Annex V on garbage, agreements concluded under the United Nations Regional Seas Programme, the OSPAR Convention, and the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. Of growing significance is also the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

The conspicuously global nature of the marine debris problem indicates that a potential role of significance is reserved for international environmental law. However, not all international and regional instruments are legally binding, and not all have a strong focus on marine debris and plastic pollution. In his recent article "Managing Marine Litter : Exploring the Evolving Role of International and European Law in Confronting a Persistent Environmental Problem", Arie Trouwborst concludes that on the one hand, the situation with regard to marine litter would have been worse without international environmental law, but on the other hand, international environmental law has still unfulfilled potential. Due to its inherent limitations, international environmental law cannot provide for more than a ‘thirty percent solution’ to environmental problems.

That leaves a remaining seventy percent to be provided by domestic laws and regulations, to politics, economics, technology, public awareness, etc. In two articles (see BAUR and IUDICELLO, "Stemming the Tide of Marine Debris Pollution" and WEINSTEIN, "Main Ingredient in “Marine Soup”") the importance of domestic legislation and action as a solution for this global environmental problem is shown.

If we want to keep our oceans sound and healthy, more (inter)national action has to be taken to counter this huge environmental problem. Recent initiatives as the Waves of Change : Global Lessons to Inspire Local Action, 5th International Marine Debris Conference, Honolulu, Hawai'i, March 20-25, 2011, show growing interest in and commitment to preventing, reducing and managing marine debris and plastic pollution.

PPL Systematic classification

Environmental Questions, Marine Pollution

PPL Keywords

Dumping at Sea, Land-Based Marine Pollution, Marine Environment Protection, Marine Pollution, Oceans, Pollution from Vessels

PPL Books and Articles

BAUR, D.C. and S. IUDICELLO, “Stemming the Tide of Marine Debris Pollution : Putting Domestic and International Control Authorities to Work”, in : 17 Ecology Law Quarterly (1990) 1, pp. 71-142

TROUWBORST, A., “Managing Marine Litter : Exploring the Evolving Role of International and European Law in Confronting a Persistant Environmental Problem”, 27 Merkourios – Utrecht Journal of International and European Law 73, pp. 4-18

WEINSTEIN, S., “Main Ingredient in Marine Soup : Eliminating Plastic Bag Pollution Through Consumer Disincentive”, in : 40 California Western International Law Journal (2009-2010), pp. 291-333

UNEP Marine Litter Publications

Marine Litter: A Global Challenge (2009)

This report prepared under a collaborative partnership between the Ocean Conservancy and UNEP Regional Seas Programme, aims to provide an overview of the status of marine litter in UNEP's assisted Regional Seas, based on the analysis of regional reviews, and regional action plan documents prepared in the regions.
It makes a comparative analysis of all available materials and draws conclusions regarding the state of marine litter at the global and regional levels, and concludes that there is an urgent need to approach the issue of marine litter through better enforcement of laws and regulations, expanded outreach and educational campaigns and the employment of strong economic instruments and incentives.

Marine Litter: An analytical overview (2005)

This publication was prepared by UNEP/Regional Seas and the GPA and was published in June 2005. The document deals with the problem of marine litter, as well as measures to prevent the problem, with an analysis of the situation and proposals for action.

External Links

Great Pacific Garbage Patch - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Indian Ocean Garbage Patch - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Marine Debris - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

NOAA Marine Debris Program

North Atlantic Garbage Patch - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia