FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Friday - March 17, 2017

Two new flags will be flying high at the Olympic Games in Rio.

(Kosovo's Majlinda Kelmendi. © AP)For the first time, South Sudan and Kosovo have been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Kosovo, which was a province of the former Yugoslavia, will have 8 athletes competing; and a good shot for a medal in women's judo: Majlinda Kelmendi is considered a favorite. She's ranked first in the world in her weight class.

(South Sudan's James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel & coach Joe Domongole, © AFP) South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, will have three runners competing in the country's first Olympic Games.

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in France (12)

Thursday
Nov082012

World leaders praise Julia Gillard's sexism speech at ASEM - (REPORT) 

(Video ABCNEWS Australia)

(HN, November 8, 2012) - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s now famous misogyny speech in parliament last month is still creating waves abroad, with the prime minister congratulated by other world leaders during an international summit.

Ms. Gillard says French President Francois Hollande and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, among other leaders, approached her at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Laos to commend the speech, in which she branded Opposition Leader Tony Abbott a misogynist.

The prime minister’s fiery 15-minute address to the Australian parliament early last month went viral worldwide, making news headlines and dominating social media.

“The president of France congratulated me on the speech, as did the prime minister of Denmark, and some other leaders, just casually as I’ve moved around, have also mentioned it to me,” Ms. Gillard told ABC radio on Wednesday.

Video of Ms Gillard’s outburst was watched more than 300,000 times on YouTube in just one day, and it made headlines in the US, India, Canada, UK and South Africa.

On one prominent American website, Jezebel, Ms. Gillard was described as a “badass motherf****r”.

Interviewed for the latest edition of Marie Claire magazine, the prime minister said her office had been besieged with emails and phone calls after the speech went viral on the internet.

“I’m taking it all with a bit of a wry smile,” she said.

“I’m certainly taking `badass’ as a compliment. I think that’s how it was meant.”

Ms. Gillard said she had heard that a Melbourne all-girls school had watched the speech during a class and “spontaneously broke into cheers and applause at the end of it”.

“So that touched me,” she said.

Ms. Gillard said what motivated her to make the speech was the “double standards and the lecturing” from Mr. Abbott.

-- This article first appeared on the Australian Times website via the AAP.

Monday
May072012

Vote 2012 Analysis: Now the real campaign begins (PERSPECTIVE)

(Video: OSCE election observer statement on Armenia's May 6 parliamentary elections)

By Naira Hayrumyan

May 6 saw general elections in several European nations, including France, Greece, Serbia, as well as their eastern neighbor - Armenia.

Experts usually make references to ideological differences between contestants in elections. In referring to the Armenia vote, most foreign media would call it a contest between the presidential party and the party of a billionaire former arm wrestling champ – the Republican Party of Armenia led by President Serzh Sargsyan and the Prosperous Armenia Party of Gagik Tsarukyan.

In France, people went to the polls in the presidential runoff to choose between the right-wing ideology, which is based on the support of those “who know how to make money”, and the socialist one, which stands for higher taxes for the rich and more money spent on the opening of new jobs. In France, the Socialists won (with their candidate Francois Hollande beating incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy), and the people of France, still experiencing the effects of the recent global economic crisis, decided that they needed social benefits more than the financial strengthening of Europe.

Greece was also making its difficult ideological choice: two major parties that have alternately ruled the country since 1974, have been in favor of austerity measures, including the sale of national wealth, if only to stay in the euro zone and to get loans to repay the debt. The Conservatives and the right-wing forces think they can sacrifice the future of the euro zone to preserve the national wealth and social guarantees. And in Greece, the latter ideology has prevailed.

In Serbia, the choice has been between the forces espousing concessions on national issues for the European future, and those who have a hard line on issues related to sovereignty, including on Kosovo. The pro-European party is enjoying a slim advantage, with President Boris Tadic still facing a tense runoff. 

And what have the political forces in Armenia been fighting for? What ideologies do the parties that entered the fray stand for? Perhaps, it is only clear that ARF Dashnaktsutyun is a nationalist and socialist party. It speaks of social reform, about promoting national issues. The other parties are quite amorphous.

For example, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, which spent much of the past five years trying to grapple with the crisis, has been running on the platform of reforms. What it hasn’t said, however, is what kind of reforms it wants to press ahead with. Nor has the opposition Armenian National Congress elaborated in plain terms what kind of reforms it wants to implement. Sometimes it stresses social issues, stating that it is necessary to curb migration, resulting in a dwindling of the population, then it speaks of a liberal economy that is far from being social-oriented.

(PHOTO: Gagik Tsarukyan)The most obscure position is of the Prosperous Armenia Party, whose leader Tsarukyan, known for his charity projects, would state at campaign rallies that after the elections he will be doing “even more for the people than he has done before.”

An ideological struggle, when everyone could try this ideology on themselves and see what their lives would be like if one ideology or another prevails, would have entailed a real competition. But this time, the presidential party prevailed.

France and Greece, in fact, have changed their ideologies and the power along with it. In Armenia, the power remained, and this means that nothing will change in people’s lives. Do people going to the polls really want their life to stay unchanged?

Still before the parliamentary elections both the government and opposition were saying that they were preparing for the February 2013 presidential election. And from this point of view it is interesting what the list of presidential candidates will look like against the new backdrop of the alignment of forces in the National Assembly.

Still last year President Serzh Sargsyan publicly spoke about his plans to run for a second term in 2013. And the victory by his party, which is expected to gain some 70 seats in the National Assembly and an opportunity to form the government single-handedly, is likely to become a solid support for his reelection bid. The question is whether or not the first and second presidents of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Robert Kocharyan, mount any serious challenge to him.

The opposition Armenian National Congress led by Ter-Petrosyan has overcome the 7% hurdle for election blocs in the May 6 parliamentary elections and has got the right to form a faction in the next parliament. The result appears to be much more modest than expected by Ter-Petrosyan, whose bloc, however, has been speaking about large-scale violations during the Sunday polls.

(PHOTO: Serzh Sargsyan)But the real question here is whether Ter-Petrosyan will estimate his chances as good enough to try to join another presidential campaign against Sargsyan (the last time they had a rivalry in 2008 the opposition leader got some 21%, as against Sargsyan’s 52%, and the eventual street standoff resulted in deadly clashes).  As things stand now, Ter-Petrosyan hasn’t got any reassuring result percentage-wise.

As for Kocharyan, he had implied he would announce his decision on whether or not to return to active politics after the elections, after May 6. Prosperous Armenia and the ARF, both of which are believed to be loyal to Kocharyan, according to preliminary vote results, have about 36% of the vote. This appears to be a formative resource, and Kocharyan may just put everything on the line.

In this view, new alliances could already be in the offing, such as those that have already been formed once during the pre-election month. If the ANC also backs the candidate from the PAP (whether Kocharyan or former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian), then an alternative to Sargsyan is possible.

One way or another, May 7 marks not only the end of the grueling parliamentary campaign, but the start of perhaps a similarly strenuous presidential race.

---This commentary originally appeared in ArmeniaNow.

Wednesday
Apr042012

Suriname's Slippery Slope (REPORT) 

(MAP: World Maps) (HN, 4/4/12) - Up until 3 weeks ago, President Desi Bouterse was Suriname’s most popular politician according to an opinion poll - despite his suspected murderous past.  

Throughout his life, he has been closely tied to the military regime that controlled the country and he was a leader in the 1980 Surinamese coup d'état which forced  President Johan Ferrier from power, declaring the country a Socialist Republic in August of that year.

The coup, transferred most of the political authority to the military leadership - making Bouterse the Chairman of the National Military Council until the beginning of the 1990s.

From 1980 until 1988, the country's Presidents, Ronald Venetiaan, Jules Wijdenbosch, and Venetiaan again - were essentially army-installed by Bouterse, who ruled as a de facto leader while trying on his own to return to power through elections.

In the 2010 Surinamese legislative election, Bouterse and his coalition, the Mega Combination (De Mega Combinatie) were voted to become the biggest party in Suriname though the coalition failed to gain an absolute majority in parliament by three seats, requiring 51.

Finally on July 19, 2010, Bouterse was elected as President of Suriname; and took office on August 12.

THE DECEMBER MURDERS - 1982

On December 8, 1982, 15 prominent political opponents of the military regime - thirteen civilians and two military officials - were taken from their homes to Fort Zeelandia and executed under the political eye of the then coup leader & army commander Desi Bouterse. 

After his 2010 inauguration, Bouterse immediately honored all nine still living conspirators, who together with him had been leaders of the 1980 coup, with the country's highest honor - the Grand Cordon of the Honorary Order of the Yellow Star.

(PHOTO: Desi Bouterse/Wikipedia) This led to great controversy internationally, since all nine are accused of involvement in the December murders.

The killings have cast a long shadow over Suriname for the last 30 years and it was only in 2007, 20 years after democracy had returned to the country, that a court case against the suspects began - with Bouterse thought to be the main perpetrator

Bouterse has denied any involvement in the killings, saying that the decision was made by the commander of the battalion, Paul Bhagwandas, who died in 1996, although he does take `political responsibility' for the event. 

INTERNATIONAL OUTLAW

Since his rule began in 2010, Bouterse has been accused on various occasions of involvement in illegal drug trafficking and in July 1999, he was convicted in absentia in the Netherlands (Suriname's former colonial parent, along with Britain) to nine years in prison for cocaine trafficking.  In 2011, Wikileaks published a cable in which the American embassy in Paramaribo, Suriname's capital, confirmed Bouterse's involvement in drug trafficking, together with Shaheed Roger Khan from Guyana.

From that point  there has been an international warrant for his arrest ordered by Europol, the European Union's criminal intelligence agency. 

But, according to the United Nations Convention against illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (UNODC), since he was convicted before his election as Head of State in 2010 he has no immunity from the prosecution.  

Even though he was found guilty in the Netherlands, he has remained free in Suriname. Though the Surinamese government said that it is preparing `a' case against the perpetrators of the December murders to be brought before a judge this Spring - as the statue of limitations on prosecution runs out.  

BOUTERSE AS PRESIDENT

None of this prevented Bouterse from being elected president in 2010 and becoming a well-liked politician among young voters in particular, who have been supportive of his election.

Within a year and a half, he has put the country back on the map in the region and attracted investors; while both friends and frenemies, including the United States and France, have praised his progress.  

Even the Caribbean leadership community CARICOM has honored Suriname by holding its  annual `Heads of Government' meeting in the country, March of this year.  

Representatives of the Surinamese parliament say that President Bouterse should give an explanation for the Wikileaks cable; but officials from Bouterse's office discard this as not being their problem.

(PHOTO: Desi Bouterse as military leader, 1985/Wikipedia) AMNESTY OUTRAGE

Now, the Surinamese parliament is debating a 1989 amnesty law - which would include a new amendment - granting President Desi Bouterse immunity from prosecution for his part in the 1982 killings.  Put forward by fellow party members of the former army commander, it is likely to be supported by almost all the coalition parties in parliament.

In an unusual move for the Surinamese law-making body which often takes years to vote on laws, the amnesty bill was announced two weeks ago, and started going through the assembly immediately. During last weekend's debate some parliamentarians asked not to even discuss the ‘December murders’, saying the bill has nothing to do it.

And its timing is no coincidence either - as the court martial period for the December murders is drawing to an end on April 13, when the public prosecutor will also sum up his case, a judge will hand down a sentence sometime in May.

Meanwhile, the issue has become an international outrage among governments and human rights groups.

The Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Uri Rosenthal issued a statement this week saying Suriname should `abide by its international obligations'; and a spokesperson for the European Union's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the so-called December murders must be `cleared up, as reconciliation will only be possible then'.  

Yesterday in London, Amnesty International’s Secretariat started a worldwide ‘Urgent Action’ campaign against passage of Suriname's Amnesty Act, calling on its networks to send e-mails to Suriname’s Parliament protesting against the bills passage over the next 6 weeks.  

WHAT DOES SURINAME WANT TO DO?

“We are young and we want stability in the country,” says Melvin Bouva, a member of Bouterse’s party and one of the authors of the amnesty bill. "Amnesty is the best solution for the country.”  

A sentiment which relates what politicians say is 'Suriname’s ever-present political pragmatism'.

Local rights organizations, relatives of those executed in 1982, and former President Venetiaan sent a letter to the National Assembly asking for the amnesty law to be rejected saying, "People have committed acts, let them bear the consequences now."

The bill needs a simple majority and the support of at least one of the government's coalition partners from either the Pertjajah Luhur (PL) party or the Interior Party ABOP to pass - and who also want to stay in power as part of Bourtese's coalition too.

But, Suriname is party to international treaties that consider crimes against humanity punishable under all circumstances and it remains to be seen if the country wants to face its past as a new regional leader, or move on, leaving ghosts in its closets.

The National Assembly is expected to finish its debate on the Amnesty law later this week. 

---HUMNEWS

Tuesday
Mar062012

The World Reacts to Vladimir Putin's Victory 

By Barnaby Phillips

Here's a quick round-up of global reactions to Vladimir Putin's not-so surprising triumph in the Russian presidential elections:

First prize for effusiveness goes to ... Syria, where the official news agency said President Bashar al-Assad "offered in his name and that of the Syrian people his sincere congratulations for his remarkable election".

Another happy man was Hugo Chavez, the Venezuela president, who sent his personal congratulations to Moscow, saying that Vladimir Putin had "initiated a strategic relationship of co-operation between Venezuela and Russia, connected by a very strong bond of friendship".

There was also a warm reaction from Beijing.

President Hu Jintao sent a congratulatory message, and the Chinese foreign ministry said the election had been "a success".

West's reaction

In contrast, Western reactions have been almost uniformly tepid. The EU, according to the foreign affairs head, Catherine Ashton, "took note" of the election.  In this context, "took note" would appear to be diplomacy speak for "we recognise it happened, but we are not overly delighted by it".

Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, registered a similar rection. "I take note that President Putin is our interlocutor for years to come ... The election was not exemplary ... [but] ... there was no brutal repression during the campaign, as might have been the case in other times," he said.

Talk about damning with faint praise.

The reaction from the US meanwhile, was even more restrained.

The official statement from Washington DC did not mention Vladimir Putin by name. It said that the US “looks forward to working with the president-elect after the results are certified and he is sworn in”.

US statement

The US statement noted concerns about “the conditions under which the campaign was conducted, the partisan use of government resources and procedural irregularities on election day”.

However, it also recognised the Russian government's efforts to reform the system, including the reintroduction of direct elections for governors and the simplification of registration procedures for parties and presidential candidates.

Lastly, the award for sarcasm goes to US senator and former presidential candidate, John McCain, who, after watching Putin's surprisingly weepy appearance at a victory rally, tweeted: "Dear Vlad, Surprise! Surprise! You won. The Russian people are crying too!"

Mind you, Senator McCain has form when it comes to taunting Vladimir Putin. When protests broke out in Russia after December's disputed parliamentary elections, he tweeted: “Dear Vlad, The #ArabSpring is coming to a neighborhood near you".

Putin responded by describing McCain as "nuts".

- Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License 

Tuesday
Feb142012

UNEP Report Says World Soil Management is Key to Food, Water, Climate Future

(PHOTO: Soil, side by side/Treehugger) (HN, 2/14/2012) - According to the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Year Book 2012 released Monday on the eve of the 12th Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, 24% of the global land area has already suffered declines in health and productivity over the past quarter century as a result of unsustainable industrial land-use and dramatic improvements in the way the world manages its precious soils will be key to food, water and climate security in the 21st century.

WHY? Soils contain huge quantities of carbon in the form of organic matter that in turn binds the nutrients needed for plant growth and allows rainfall to penetrate into underground aquifers.

Since the 19th century, an estimated 60% of the carbon stored in soils and vegetation has been lost as a result of land use changes, such as, clearing land for agriculture and cities and by some estimates, the top one metre of the world's soils store around 2,200 Gigatonnes (or, a billion tonnes) of carbon; three times the current level held in the atmosphere.

The report states some kinds of agriculture processes have triggered soil erosion rates at 100 times greater than the rates at which nature can form soil and by 2030, without changes in the way land is managed, over 20% of habitats such as forests, peatlands and grasslands in developing countries alone could be converted to cropland which also aggravate losses of vital ecosystem services and biodiversity.

There could also be profound implications for climate change as amounts of this carbon could be released to the atmosphere, aggravating global warming linked to the burning of fossil fuels and points to the world's peatlands as an area of special concern. WHY?  The draining of super carbon-rich peatlands is currently producing more than 2 Gigatonnes of CO2 emissions annually; equal to around 6% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions and is happening at a rate 20 times greater than the rate at which the peat, and thus the carbon, is accumulated.

The Year Book, launched 4 months in advance of the Rio+20 Summit, highlights another issue of emerging global concern - the challenges of decommissioning the growing numbers of end-of-life nuclear power reactors.

There are plans to close up to 80 civilian nuclear power reactors in the next 10 years, as the first generations of reactors reach the end of their `design lives’. So far in world history, 138 civilian nuclear power reactors have been shut down in 19 countries, including 28 in the United States, 27 in the United Kingdom, 27 in Germany, 12 in France, 9 in Japan and 5 in the Russian Federation.

Decommissioning has only been completed for 17 of them, so far but events such as the tragedy of the tsunami that struck Fukushima and its nearby nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011 has caused heightened concern.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of developing countries have built or are considering building nuclear power plants, including the United States which just announced at least 2 new reactors to be built on February 4.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director said: "The Year Book spotlights the challenges, but also the choices, nations need to consider to deliver a sustainable 21st century and urgently improve management of world's soils and the decommissioning of nuclear power reactors".

"Superficially they may seem separate and unconnected issues, but both go to the heart of several fundamental questions: how the world will feed and fuel itself while combating climate change and handling hazardous wastes," he added.  "The thin skin of soil on the Earth's surface is often one of those forgotten ecosystems but it is among the most important to the future survival of humanity. Improved, sustainable management such as no-till policies can assist in productive agriculture without draining peatlands," said Mr. Steiner.

Across the globe, there are examples of how multiple benefits can be delivered through effective management of soil carbon. In Kenya, the World Bank's BioCarbon Fund is providing the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project with US $350,000 to pay smallholder farmers to improve their agricultural practices, to increase both food security and soil carbon sequestration.

From Dakar to Djibouti, the `Great Green Wall’ initiative is a massive forestation project creating a 15 km wide strip of trees and other vegetation along a 7000 km transect to improve carbon sequestration, stabilize soils and conserve soil moisture amongst others.

In China, similar approaches are being monitored to assess whether land degradation in arid areas can be reversed.  In Brazil, changes in crop production and rotation practices have been found to have significant effects on soil carbon stocks and conversion to no-till techniques in soybean, maize and related crop systems resulted in a decrease of soil carbon degradation. And in Argentina, significant increases in soil carbon stocks have also been achieved, where farmers changed to no-till systems, along with enhanced benefits in water retention, infiltration and erosion prevention.  The UNEP Year Book 2012 is available at: http://www.unep.org

--- HUMNEWS

Tuesday
Jan172012

New Chair of ASEAN, Cambodia can reset the balance of Asia power (Perspective) 

By Kavi Chongkittavorn

(PHOTO: Cambodia, as the new ASEAN chair, will seek to consolidate the community of 600 million ASEAN citizens & increase the grouping's bargaining power with the world's major powers/THE NATION)

Ten years have elapsed since Cambodia chaired the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit for the first time, in 2002, three years after its admission. Now, Phnom Penh is more democratic and richer and has gained more experience in handling the ASEAN scheme of things. Indeed, the current host has the potential to reset the grouping's global standing and relations with all of its powerful dialogue partners. Undeniably, Cambodia would like to leave behind a tangible legacy under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen - the region's longest-reigning leader. It is not surprising that Cambodia has chosen a simple slogan of "One Community, One Destiny" - reflecting the nation's fundamental Buddhist values and new-found confidence. In short, at least for the time being, ASEAN's destiny is now in Cambodia's hand.

There are at least three areas in which Phnom Penh can take the lead.

First, as an emerging developing country, Cambodia can serve as a linchpin to narrow the development gap between the new and old ASEAN members. The country is in a good position to do so. During the past decade, Cambodia's economy has grown impressively at around 5 per cent per year. That helps to explain why it has now graduated from the list of the world's least-developing countries. The Cambodian leaders believe that more equitable development within ASEAN will strengthen its unity and prosperity. Truth be told, a development gap does not only exist between the old and new members but also among the former group. For instance, the per capita GDPs of Singapore and Brunei are many times higher than those of Indonesia or the Philippines.

Although Cambodia is the newest member of ASEAN - joining in 1999 - the country has enjoyed a special status within the group because of the nature of its political system and leadership - nobody can deny that it is the freest among the new ASEAN members. This unique position allows the once war-torn nation to play multiple roles in the regional and international arenas.

Just take a look at present-day Cambodia and its cosmopolitan capital city, with its heavy presence of foreign investors and thriving business community. Cambodia, the UN and other international organisations have been working closely together to build up this nation since the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991. Indeed, its international profile has been the envy of ASEAN members. For instance, it is the only ASEAN member that has signed all important human-rights instruments. Next year, it will bid for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the first time. At the end of December, Hun Sen delayed for another two years the adoption of a highly controversial law to regulate the operation of civil society organisations based in Cambodia. It was a wise move to mitigate any possible criticism in the future. The host is also contemplating holding a forum to allow interfacing between ASEAN leaders and representatives of non-governmental organisations ahead of the summit in early April.

The second challenge is to ensure that ASEAN will not become a pawn in the major powers' competition. With pro-active multilateral diplomacy and a long tradition of strict neutrality since independence, Phnom Penh will not shy away from engaging the grouping's dialogue partners, especially the US and China, to harness their economic power as well as manage their relations with ASEAN. The outcome of the East Asia Summit in Bali last November showed that ASEAN needs to stay ahead of the curve and further consolidate its common positions, which are extremely limited. As the ongoing Thai-Cambodian conflict and disputes in the South China Sea will continue to dominate the ASEAN agenda one way or another, Cambodia's past diplomatic finesse and brinksmanship could come in handy in keeping ASEAN together.

Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong are considered highly seasoned diplomats, each with three decades of experience, who understand the regional pulse like the backs of their hands. The two want to see ASEAN play a mediating role in the six-party talks aimed at resolving problems relating to North Korea's nuclear weapons programme since all concerned countries are members of the ASEAN Regional Forum. In the past, ASEAN tried to play such role but was not successful. At the Bali summit, South and North Korean foreign ministers met and agreed on the resumption of six-party talks. With the new leadership in North Korea, the ASEAN chair wants to explore this prospect again. Phnom Penh has longstanding and good relations with Pyongyang. Former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung built a residence for retired Cambodian King Sihanouk to live in during his exile. His son, King Norodom Sihamoni, has a contingent of security guards trained by North Korea.

As the ASEAN chair, Cambodia hopes to get all five members of the so-called "nuclear club" - the US, China, Russia, the UK and France - to sign the protocol of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone this year. ASEAN wants a commitment that the five would not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the group's members. China was the first nuclear power to express interest in signing the protocol in 2005. But ASEAN would prefer all five to sign at the same time.

Another important mission is to encourage China and ASEAN to conclude a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea as soon as possible. Senior ASEAN officials met and discussed the terms of reference last year among themselves, ignoring China's request to sit in on the meeting. Last week, senior officials from China and ASEAN held discussions in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, after months of delay, to exchange views on how to proceed with the proposed joint projects stated in the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. At the meeting, Beijing was more conciliatory, while the ASEAN claimants, especially the Philippines, played tough.

The third area of importance regards the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI). Cambodia would certainly like to promote multifaceted cooperation within this framework. That would also mean boosting its ties with the US. During the past three years, the countries have ramped up their relations, including the security dimension. Since there are many ongoing hydroelectric projects along the Mekong River, cooperation concerning water management and conservation as well as better governance will be highlighted. The degree to which the lower riparian countries (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) can cooperate with the US will impact on the upper riparian countries in the long haul. Last November, the US invited Burma to join the LMI as part of the US-Burma normalisation process.

In the final analysis, the current chair must do its utmost to convince the leaders of non-ASEAN countries that their participation in all ASEAN-led meetings or summits are important and beneficial to all. Uncertainties abound at this juncture on whether the invited leaders would be able to make their way to Phnom Penh. For instance, despite Washington's strong commitment to ASEAN and the East Asia Summit, it is not clear who will represent the US at the upcoming EAS summit later this year. Similar anxieties also persist in the cases of China and Russia, which will pick new leaders.

Can Cambodia build on the success of the Indonesian chair in raising the profile of ASEAN and consolidating ASEAN in the global community? It will not be long until we find out.

- Kavi Chongkittavorn is assistant group editor of Nation Multimedia Group – publisher of the English-language daily, The Nation, in Thailand. He has been a journalist for over two decades reporting on issues related to human rights, democracy and regionalism. This piece ran in the Nation on 1/16/12.

Sunday
Jan152012

(UPDATED) International Films at Tonight's Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globe Awards

(PHOTO: Ricky Gervais, JUST JARED) Tonight in Hollywood, the 69th annual Golden Globe awards put on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) will take place.  Hosted, as it has been for the past three years, British comedian Ricky Gervais will be back even though in his past appearances he has caused controversy by taking aim at Mel Gibson and Sir Paul McCartney in 2010; and again in 2011 when he openly questioned the sexuality of "some famous Scientologists" before revisiting the troubled past of actor Robert Downey Jr.

Gervais has tweeted about his Globes game plan in the days leading up to the show: "I keep having to write new jokes as I pick my victims, I mean targets, I mean presenters to introduce. Some great people have confirmed." He even told Twitter followers that he'll be drinking lager, ad-libbing and speaking his mind.

The HFPA origins stem from a group of journalists' desire “to efficiently and accurately cover all aspects of the world of entertainment”.  According to the group’s website, “today's organization has its roots in the early 1940s when Pearl Harbor had drawn America into World War II. Audiences, hungry for diversion, were seeking out films offering escape, inspiration and entertainment.  Amid the turmoil of war and the difficulties with communications, a handful of Los Angeles-based overseas journalists banded together to share contacts, information and material.”

   

(Ricky Gervais 2011 Golden Globe Opening Monologue, Courtesy Golden Globe Awards)

In 1943 the journalists, led by the correspondent for Britain's Daily Mail, formed the HFPA and conceived the motto “Unity Without Discrimination of Religion or Race.”  The group’s first special event was a luncheon in December 1947, at which a plaque was awarded to Harry M. Warner, president of Warner Bros., in recognition of his humanitarian work as the principal sponsor of the “Friendship Train,” which left Hollywood with food, clothing and medical supplies for the needy of Europe.

 

(THE FLOWER OF WAR, CHINA)

During its early years the HFPA established itself with the studios by innovations such as its World Favorites awards, which it came up with by polling more than 900 newspapers, magazines and radio stations around the world. The group also came up with the idea of "bon voyage" interview lunches with actors and actresses who were leaving to make films in countries represented by the members.

At first awards were only given for films, but in 1955 the Golden Globes began honoring achievements in television too. Today, the Golden Globes recognize achievements in 25 categories; 14 in motion pictures and 11 in television. Dick Clark Productions has produced the Golden Globes ceremony since 1983. 

 

(THE KID WITH A BIKE, BELGIUM)

Today the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association represent some 55 countries with a combined readership of more than 250 million. Their publications include leading newspapers and magazines in Europe, Asia, Australasia and Latin America, ranging from the Daily Telegraph in England to Le Figaro in France, L'Espresso in Italy and Vogue in Germany as well as the China Times and the pan-Arabic magazine Kul Al Osra.

However, despite the group’s international beginnings, only one of the twenty six categories for awards features `International Films”.  This year from China, Belgium, Iran, Spain and the United States.

The Flowers Of War (China) features Christian Bale and Ni Ni tells the story of a Westerner who finds refuge with a group of women in a church during Japan's rape of Nanking in 1937. Posing as a priest, he attempts to lead the women to safety.

 

(A SEPARATION, IRAN)

The Kid With A Bike (Belgium) directed by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, starring Cécile de France and Thomas Doret.  Set in Seraing, it tells the story of an 11-year-old boy who turns to a woman after his father has abandoned him. The film was produced through companies in Belgium, France and Italy.

A Separation (Iran) tells the story of a married couple who are faced with a difficult decision, to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimers. The film stars Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami and Sareh Bayat.

 

(THE SKIN I LIVE IN, SPAIN)

The Skin I Live In (Spain) features the story of a brilliant plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, who creates a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. His guinea pig: a mysterious and volatile woman who holds the key to his obsession. The film stars Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya and Jan Cornet.

And Angelina Jolie’s recently released film In The Land Of Blood And Honey (United States) which tells a story which took place during the Bosnian War, in which Danijel, a soldier fighting for the Serbs, re-encounters Ajla, a Bosnian who's now a captive in his camp he oversees. Their once promising connection has become ambiguous as their motives have changed.  Directed and written by Jolie the film stars Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic and Rade Serbedzija.

The 68th Golden Globes will be seen LIVE around the world on local broadcasters from Brazil to Botswana to Bahrain and beyond.

---HUMNEWS