In 1972, my parents and the five of us along with seventy thousand other Asians had to flee Uganda, having lost all our life savings and property due to the despotic President Idi Amin. All Asians were given three months to leave the country as Amin had declared "economic war" on Uganda’s Asian population. The Asians had dominated Uganda’s trade and manufacturing sectors, as well as formed a significant proportion of the civil service. Over the several years, President and Dictator Idi-Amin who was known as the "Butcher of Uganda", brutally murdered thousands of people. The death toll during the Amin regime will never be accurately known. The best estimate, from the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva, is that it was not less than 80,000 and more likely around 300,000. Another estimate, compiled by exile organisations with the help of Amnesty International, put the number killed at 500,000.
Over the years, the world has witnessed terrible turmoil in Africa – Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, Chad, Uganda, Kenya and the list goes on. As the world watches, the genocide in Darfur goes on unabated. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in the Darfur region of Sudan since government-armed militias began burning villages, raping women and executing villagers 2003. Since 2003, at least 200,000 people are believed to have died from violence, hunger and disease as the Sudanese government, often using militias as proxies, sought to suppress a rebellion in the region. Some Darfur activists have put the toll as high as 450,000. The Sudanese government says 5,000 have died."
With these key issues in the backdrop, I along with Americans from around the US gathered at the United Nations headquarters on April 5th to participate in the UN-USA’s 11th annual member’s day. The Millennium Development Goals, The Crisis in Darfur and the Global Warming were key discussion topics on the agenda. Ambassador William Luers, President, UNA-USA welcomed the gathering. He said," There are talks of reform of the US Security Council. There could be a formula where certain countries such as India, Japan, Brazil are given temporary status." He also talked about Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s trip to California, which was to spotlight the issue of climate change. The Secretary General praised California for taking measures to foster energy efficiency and invited Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to United Nations to talk on the issue. Later in February, the Secretary-General attended a dinner at the Economic Club of Chicago along with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. In a speech to the hundreds of business leaders gathered there, he said that the world is on the threshold of a revolution, the "age of green economics", that would rival the industrial revolution in its impact. With the right financial incentives and a clear and consistent global framework, economic growth could be steered in a low-carbon direction. "Done right, our war against climate change is an economic opportunity, not a cost," he said.
The Panel on Climate Change consisted of Ambassador Ismat Jahan of Bangladesh, Ambassador Fekitamoeloa Utoikamanu of Tonga and Ambassador Carsten Staur of Denmark. Ambassador Ismat Jahan said," Bangladesh today is confronted with the difficult reality that the phenomenon of climate change is not a myth, and that its impacts are no more a conjecture. Bangladesh and many others are on the threshold of a climatic Armageddon, foretold by increasingly violent and unpredictable weather patterns. Devastating floods, cyclones, droughts and storm surges are now recurring with relentless regularity. Climate change is fundamentally altering our lives, for example by impeding our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. This is especially so for the Least Developed Countries, which can ill-afford to absorb the impact of climate change." She added that the sea level in Bangladesh has risen by 0.17 meters in the past century and that more than 125 million people in India and Bangladesh alone could be displaced if global temperatures rise between 4-5?C. Ambassador Jahan had negotiated at the Bali conference on behalf of the least-developed countries in drafting a document to replace the Kyoto Protocol. She emphasized that each individual can be part of an environmental awakening by reducing, reusing and recycling. She said, "The climate change is a global challenge requiring global collective action. Let us address this with renewed resolve, courage and sincere determination and above all with necessary political will."
Ambassador Carsten Staur, Permanent Representative of Denmark to the United Nations said, " We will see increased drought and there is an urgent need to limit the effect of climate change. Historically, industrialized countries have contributed the most to the increase of carbon emissions, but Denmark has found a way to cope with the increasing demand for energy in an environmentally conscious way i.e. by its relying on wind, solar and hydropower as sources of energy. A big population is still dependent on firewood and this poses a big challenge. Increased use of electricity should reduce dependency on wood. Also it is very crucial for the transfer of relevant technology to fight global warming and this needs financing. The US needs to take a leadership role so that our generation can experience a fascinating life in all its complexities."
Ambassador Fekitamoela Utoikamanu, Permanent Representative to the United Nations spoke about the social implications of global warming on Pacific island countries. She said, "Rich countries are causing climate change and poor countries are bearing the brunt. We need to put a human face on climate change. Countries like Tonga suffer the most from climate change. We consider this issue of climate change one of security. Women are proportionally affected by climate change and children as well are vulnerable. "
The next panel discussion comprised of Leo Nevas, Member, Board of Directors, UNA-USA, Georgette Gagnon, Acting Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (Africa Division), Dr. Edward Luck, Vice President and Director of Studies, International Peace Academy, and Professor Philip Alston, Faculty Director, Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University. Ms. Georgette Gagnon, who has made numerous trips to Darfur on fact finding missions, presented a first hand account of the genocide and torture in Darfur by the armed militia’s. She showed us very disturbing images of women who had been raped, men’s bodies that were badly mutilated, and suffering children in Darfur including Sudanese children?s drawings of gunships depicting the attacks on their villages. Gagnon said, " It is the moral responsibility of the international community to intervene. However, the world has been too slow, too late and done way too little to respond to Darfur. The Security Council is hampered by the threat of veto by some of the permanent members. Russia and China being big trading partners of Sudan have prevented the Security Council from taking meaningful measures. The current efforts of the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) forces are also not effective because of insufficient technology and personnel." Gagnon further suggested that the best international approach toward Sudan would be a mix of carrots and sticks approach i.e. setting human rights benchmarks for Sudan and, rewarding them if they meet those benchmarks by lifting the US oil embargo and removing the country from the "list of terrorists."
Edward Luck, Vice President and United Nations Special Advisor said that political dialogue is not a short-term effort but a continuous one. The emphasis should be on capacity building and rebuilding, early warning and assessments, rapid response and collaboration with UN partners. He encouraged UNA-USA members to keep pushing the 2008 presidential election candidates to address these issues, suggesting that there hasn?t been a real debate among them about the role of the UN and US participation in it.
Professor Philip Alston. Faculty Director, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice said that putting the blame solely on China for Darfur genocide is not right. He said, "The ones that are blocking progress are the African countries as they have been the most reluctant to get involved in ending violence in Sudan. He added that it was a disgrace that the US had abdicated the Human Rights Council." He suggested that the UNA-USA members should target the countries of the African Union to intervene in Darfur. Mr. Ad Melkert, Under Secretary-General and Associate Administrator for United Nations Development Program said that the middle class is rising rapidly in India and China. He added," One Billion people are trapped in poverty and the main reasons for this are conflict, dependence on natural resource and bad governance. India and China do not have a balance by which everybody can benefit from economic growth. Tax collection in developing countries is a big issue such as in India."
It was an eye opener for me to listen and meet with this distinguished panel of speakers. I left the conference with a new vigor and determination to do my part in helping raise awareness with respect to the injustice going on in Darfur against innocent people and the issues of global warming. We cannot ignore what is going on in Darfur. We need to act now to stop the genocide in Darfur.
About The Author
Brian Santhumayor of Nanthoor, Mangalore works as a Senior Strategic Relationship Manager for a Global Technology Company in New Jersey. He actively writes articles on US Foreign Policy, UN and World Affairs. He volunteers by fundraising for numerous non-profit organizations including the American India foundation run by President Bill Clinton and has won numerous awards for his charitable efforts.
Author: Brian Santhumayor- USA