The Visual Du Jour – Global Peace Index

2007: in 2007, China ranked better than the US.




In terms of ranking:

The US clocks in at rank 85, which is better than the previous years (not sure why, maybe the somewhat-pull out of Iraq or just the fact that Bush is not president. Because, as far as I know, everything else is the same).

The Global Peace Index is composed of 23 indicators:

  1. Perceived criminality in society
  2. Security officers and police
  3. Numbers of homicide
  4. Jailed population
  5. Access to weapons
  6. Levels of organized conflict
  7. Violent demonstrations
  8. Level of violent crime
  9. Political instability
  10. Disrespect for human rights
  11. Weapons import
  12. Potential for terrorist acts
  13. Deaths from conflict (external)
  14. Military expenditures
  15. Armed service personnel
  16. UN peacekeeping funding
  17. Number of heavy weapons
  18. Weapons export
  19. Military capability / sophistication
  20. Number of displaced people
  21. Neighboring country relations
  22. Number of conflict fought
  23. Deaths from conflict (internal)

The Visual Du Jour – Global Peace Index

Via Daniel Fincke, the 2010 edition of the Global Peace Index is here. First, what is the Index based on?

So, the GPI map looks like this (click on the link for larger and animated view):

And the list:

The US ranks at 85.

As Daniel Fincke notes, the least religious countries are also the most peaceful. I’ll add that they are also the most egalitarian.

The Twitter Revolution… Only for Chosen Conflicts

While the Iranian movement is saving Twitter (rather than the other wat around as I have heard somewhere… can’t remember it now), one should not forget that Iran has always been part of the conflicts that Western media and polity choose to pay attention to, at least ever since the Islamic Revolution and the hostage crisis.  In this sense, the Iranian election was going to be under close scrutiny, fraud or no fraud.

So, the current Western enthusiasm for the Mousavi movement did not emerge spontaneously or out of universal support for any pro-democracy movement. The pre-conditions were already set to make the Iranian situation a chosen conflict.

In contrast, some conflicts, more deadly and more disastrous from a humanitarian standpoint, are not so heavily twittered. Some conflicts remain in a stealth state:

And the situation is dire indeed:

Southern Sudan

This Should Help World Peace

Maybe so, but when it comes to the top 10 spenders, it’s a no-brainer:

The US accounted for 58% of the increase. And despite an increase in peacekeeping personnel, major operations such as the DRC are grossly understaffed.

What is ironic (or maybe not so ironic) is to compare the fact that the US and Western Europe are the biggest weapons sellers with this:

At the same time,

Book Review – Economic Gangsters

Economic Gangsters I am sure someone has already compared Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel‘s Economic Gangsters – Corruption, Violence, and The Poverty of Nations (website) to Freakanomics (the comparison is made more obvious with Steven Levitt’s blurb on the back cover). Economic Gangsters (EG) clearly belongs to the same class of books of economic vulgarization (in the French sense, that is, positive sense of making specialized knowledge and methods accessible to the general public). In this sense, I found the book extremely successful. It is a great and easy read. It uses fascinating examples. It is entertaining.

But what I found the most interesting aspect of the book was the social research part. The authors spend a lot of time detailing how to put a value on corrupt practices, how to measure corruption in the first place and all the different levels of corruption that may exist in different countries and how to figure out their quantitative and qualitative aspects. The topics covered in that fashion vary from the "value" of political connections under the Suharto regime in Indonesia (and the fluctuations of the stock market correlated with Suharto’s health reports), the diversity in smuggling practices in China and their economic impact, the oh-so-politically explosive topics of UN diplomats not paying their parking tickets in New York City, the connections between environmental pressures and war, and between war and post-war periods and poverty, to more general policy recommendations regarding poverty in developing countries. This diversity is part of the appeal of the book. If anything, it is not boring.

Throughout all these different topics, the authors make visible the connections between corruption, violence and poverty, defining corruption, following Transparency International, as "the illegal use of public office for private gain."

Where the book is frustrating is in its "economics explains (almost) everything" attitude, which is not surprising or presenting well-established connections as if for the first time. For instance, the connection between environmental pressure and social conflict has been widely studied to name one example, Michael Klare’s Resource Wars, among others. Similarly, the economic and environmental issues as partial factors in the genocide in Rwanda have been rather thoroughly illustrated by Richard Robbins and Jared Diamonds, each from its own perspective. And although the authors acknowledge that culture matter, they bypass other social factors to stick to a narrow focus, which would be fine, again without the "economics explains it all" stance. The case for good data and data interpretation is much strong in my view.

Similarly, especially when discussing the vast and question of global poverty, the authors write as if these problems were self-contained, as if there were no forms of neo-colonialism, as if the IMF and the World Bank had not been actors in some brutal economic disasters, and as if former colonial powers had no responsibilities in propping up puppet dictators in their former colonies, or as if the Asian Tigers had not been able to heavily restrict foreign trade and investments under the developmental state regime while African countries had structural adjustment policies forced upon them in addition to having to deal with the predatory state regime. And yes, predatory governance and poverty / violence are correlated and operate as a vicious cycle. Again, Manuel Castells has written quite extensively on these topics in his trilogy The Information Age.

As I mentioned already, it seems a convenient simplification to focus on only certain factors and then treat them as essential while not paying attention to others. That is my main issue with this book. But then, I would concede that vulgarization, by definition, requires some trade-off in terms of technical jargon and complexities but the overall tone of the book is not one of nuance but more of certainty that indeed, "economics explains it all."

Sexism in All Shapes and Forms – A Global Review

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts on reports – most of the time by IRIN – on the deplorable conditions under which women and girls live in many parts of the world. However, the articles have been piling up in my Newsreader, so, it’s time for one. So here we go:

First stop, Liberia with the always painful topic of fistula.

WOLPNET "Of 600 rape victims recently interviewed by a Liberian non-governmental organisation, 90 percent of the women were found to be suffering from fistulas – a vaginal tear which results in loss of bladder control and social stigmatisation.

Aid workers say the statistic, provided by the Women of Liberia Peace Network (WOLPNET) from surveys conducted in April 2008, shows the horrifying prevalence of rape and of a phenomenon which Liberian medical officials say they are ill-equipped to respond to."

There are two types of fistulas that are prevalent in parts of Africa:

  • Obstetric fistula , which is a vaginal tear resulting from prolonged obstructed labor. This form of fistulas is responsible for the appalling numbers of maternal death (deaths while in labor) in this area because of the increased risk of vaginal bleeding right after childbirth. And since a lot of women give birth at home, attended by a midwife, if they are lucky, they just bleed to death. Liberia has a particularly high rate of such deaths and this rate has been going up since the end of the war in 2003 as a result of the poor state of the health care system. With only 300 midwives when the country needs around 1,400, it is not surprising:

Maternal mortality has gone up by about 71 percent with 994 women dying for every 100,000 who give birth, compared to 580 out of every 100,000 women in the previous survey."

The situation is so bad that the Liberian government has put in place different programs to recruit health workers and re-train the existing ones to include more obstetrics and gynecology in their skills as well as get health workers and midwives to emphasize family planning with their patients.

  • The other type of fistula is "traumatic gynaecologic fistula that is a vaginal injury resulting from violent sexual assault or when objects are forcibly inserted into the vagina." (Just typing that makes my skin crawl)

Continue reading

Turkish Transsexual Diva Sued for Call to Peace

Ersoy I never though I’d write a title like that! Via Le Monde, Bülent Ersoy, 56, is a Turkish transsexual singer. She is immensely popular across the entire country, especially among the working class. She is now risking 18 months in prison for her call to pacifism on television, on behalf of Turkish mothers.

She did so in the midst of a wave of patriotism, last February, as Turkish troops launched an assault against the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan. Taking everyone by surprise, as she was hosting the Turkish version of American Idol (I guess crappy television programs are the stormtroopers of cultural globalization), she declared "I am not a mother and I will never be" but that if she had had sons, she would have refused to send them "to their graves." She continued, in front of the live audience, "Our children continue to be sent there, there are only tears, blood and funerals and we continue to propagate the same cliches [the nationalist and vengeful slogans]. Why can’t we find a solution?"

The very next day, a prosecutor in Istanbul filed charges against her for "inciting the hatred against the armed forces" as well as demeaning military service. Such charges carry a maximum of three years in prison.

This has to be understood in the context of Turkey. Turkey is a democracy but the military is a very strong institution that has long dominated political life. It plays a central role in maintaining national unity through mandatory conscription for all men. As the proverb says, "every Turk is born a soldier." Conscientious objection also carries a prison term. However, in recent years, there have been calls against military propaganda and the military establishment.

This is not the first time that Bülent Ersoy gets in trouble with the authorities. Until 1988, she was banned from public performances by the military regime because of her "social deviance." Apart from her singing, she has made headlines for her marriages and divorces with much (much) younger men.

Photo source: AFP from article.

Amnesty International 2008 Report – Failing Grades to Powerful Countries

AI We are failing at human rights, globally. That’s not a big surprise but the annual Amnesty International Report (Pdf version … big file!) is a good opportunity to remind us all that we need to do much much more for human rights, at all levels, not just governments.

So what are the highlights of this year’s edition? Seven major themes:

  1. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is 60 years old (and still is one of the, if not THE, most powerful document humans ever wrote)
  2. Stop violence against women (unfortunately, this one never gets old)
  3. Living in dignity (yup, dignity IS a human right)
  4. Counter terror with justice (What? You mean we can’t play Jake Bauer and kick some brown ass?? And no, there is no more powerful value than justice)
  5. Human rights defenders (Because believe it or not, being a human rights defenders is a risky job)
  6. People under fire (War sucks, peace rocks)
  7. Death penalty (like violence against women, this one never goes away either)

As the press release states:

""The human rights flashpoints in Darfur, Zimbabwe, Gaza, Iraq and Myanmar demand immediate action," said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, launching AI Report 2008: State of the World’s Human Rights.

"Injustice, inequality and impunity are the hallmarks of our world today. Governments must act now to close the yawning gap between promise and performance."

Amnesty International’s Report 2008, shows that sixty years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations, people are still tortured or ill-treated in at least 81 countries, face unfair trials in at least 54 countries and are not allowed to speak freely in at least 77 countries.

"2007 was characterised by the impotence of Western governments and the ambivalence or reluctance of emerging powers to tackle some of the world’s worst human rights crises, ranging from entrenched conflicts to growing inequalities which are leaving millions of people behind," said Ms Khan.

Amnesty International cautioned that the biggest threat to the future of human rights is the absence of a shared vision and collective leadership.

"2008 presents an unprecedented opportunity for new leaders coming to power and countries emerging on the world stage to set a new direction and reject the myopic policies and practices that in recent years have made the world a more dangerous and divided place," said Ms Khan.

Amnesty International challenged governments to set a new paradigm for collective leadership based on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"The most powerful must lead by example," said Ms Khan.

  • China must live up to the human rights promises it made around the Olympic Games and allow free speech and freedom of the press and end "re-education through labour".
  • The USA must close Guantánamo detention camp and secret detention centres, prosecute the detainees under fair trial standards or release them, and unequivocally reject the use of torture and ill-treatment.
  • Russia must show greater tolerance for political dissent, and none for impunity on human rights abuses in Chechnya.
  • The EU must investigate the complicity of its member states in "renditions" of terrorist suspects and set the same bar on human rights for its own members as it does for other countries.

Ms Khan warned: "World leaders are in a state of denial but their failure to act has a high cost. As Iraq and Afghanistan show, human rights problems are not isolated tragedies, but are like viruses that can infect and spread rapidly, endangering all of us."

"Governments today must show the same degree of vision, courage and commitment that led the United Nations to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sixty years ago.""

Good for amnesty to take on the powerful countries for their general and inexcusable hypocrisy in human rights matters. Torture and renditions have no possible legal or moral justifications. These practices must end. We, Western countries, are in no position to lecture other countries on human rights and due process of law as long as we keep these things in place.

If the United States is to regain any moral leadership with the international community, there is no better way to do this than to endorse Amnesty International’s recommendations. And since this is election time here in the US, now is the time to make such demands on the candidates.

The Bush Administration Defeated in its Attempt to Undermine Anti-Cluster Bombs Treaty

CMC Via Human Rights Watch , or, as I call it, "is there no issue on which this administration is not willing to take the most vile position, contradicting every standard of good global governance and just plain ol’ human decency"? I know… simple answer to simple question. Anyhoo,

"US efforts to undermine a new treaty banning cluster munitions met with significant defeat today at the final negotiations in Dublin, Human Rights Watch said. Preliminary agreement on a draft treaty text on the afternoon of May 28 indicated that virtually all of the 110 countries gathered in Dublin favor a more comprehensive ban of cluster munitions than the US itself can tolerate. News on the morning of May 28 that the British government was willing to give up cluster munitions that it had used in recent years in Iraq left Washington further isolated in the endgame in Dublin."

Oh, and in case you wondered, the Bush administration did not even bothered to send representatives to the negotiations, because, you know, if we negotiate ANYTHING, the terrorists win. However, the administration lobbied hard behind the scene in the hopes of undermining the treaty-in-the-making.

"“In the end, the Americans had very little support in Dublin,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s a big defeat for the Bush administration. This conference is going to produce a strong treaty banning cluster munitions, and there’s nothing the White House can do to stop it.”

Expert analysts of the treaty say it will require the United States to remove its stockpiles of cluster munitions at several military bases around the world, a measure that Washington had firmly opposed."

But of course, the Bush administration was able to got a loophole in that states that signatories can cooperate with non-signatory states on specific operation (hence the "interoperability" loophole). So, that would mean that the US could cooperate on a specific operation (always humanitarian, they insist) with a state using cluster munitions.

The human rights community is opposed to the loophole but there was no way around it. In the end, HRW thinks it will be a strong treaty. The final vote is scheduled for Friday. The impact of the treaty will be not only practical (destruction of stocks) but also symbolic:

"The treaty text released today represents a significant victory on key provisions such as the definition of cluster munitions, assistance for victims, and the treaty’s quick entry into force.

“The treaty is going to stigmatize cluster munitions in the same way that the landmines treaty did,” said Goose. “This is a weapon headed for obsolescence, fast.”"

And indeed, considering the case of landmines, stigmatizing a type a weapon is a significant victory.

The 2008 Global Peace Index is Out!

Global Peace Index Rankings, 2008 edition has been released. That means we get to find out which countries are the most “peaceful”… via the Guardian,

“Iceland is the world’s most peaceful country, according to an index measuring internal and external turmoil in 140 countries. Only one of the G8 countries, the world’s most economically powerful nations, makes it into the top ten of the survey, which is published today.

While Iraq, Somalia and Sudan unsurprisingly take the bottom three places in the index, the survey suggests that the world is a marginally more secure place than it was a year ago. Angola, Indonesia and India are seen as the nations that have made the greatest strides away from conflict in the twelve months since the previous index was published.”

I think we can all credit Bjork for Iceland’s ranking. Let’s see the top 10:

  1. Iceland
  2. Denmark
  3. Norway
  4. New Zealand
  5. Japan
  6. Ireland
  7. Portugal
  8. Finland
  9. Luxembourg
  10. Austria
Unsurprisingly, the Scandinavian countries are also at the top of the list. Japan is the only G8 countries to crack the top 10. Economic power is not a guarantee of stability as observed by the absence of the other top G8 countries.

The bottom ten:

  1. Russia
  2. Lebanon
  3. North Korea
  4. Central African Republic
  5. Chad
  6. Israel
  7. Afghanistan
  8. Sudan
  9. Somalia
  10. Iraq

Where is the United States? It ranks at 97. The UK ranks 49. China at 67. France at 36.

But what is the Global Peace Index (GPI) exactly? It is composed of 24 qualitative and quantitative measures beyond just the presence or absence of war.

Five indicators of ongoing domestic and international conflict

  • Number of external and internal conflicts fought: 2001-06
  • Estimated number of deaths from organised conflict (external)
  • Number of deaths from organised conflict (internal)
  • Level of organised conflict (internal)
  • Relations with neighbouring countries

Ten indicators of societal safety and security

  • Level of distrust in other citizens
  • Number of displaced people as a percentage of the population
  • Political instability
  • Level of disrespect for human rights (Political Terror Scale)
  • Potential for terrorist acts
  • Number of homicides per 100,000 people
  • Level of violent crime
  • Likelihood of violent demonstrations
  • Number of jailed population per 100,000 people
  • Number of internal security officers and police per 100,000 people

Nine indicators of militarization

  • Military expenditure as a percentage of GDP
  • Number of armed services personnel per 100,000 people
  • Volume of transfers (imports) of major conventional weapons per 100,000 people
  • Volume of transfers (exports) of major conventional weapons per 100,000 people
  • UN Deployments 2007-08 (percentage of total armed forces)
  • Non-UN Deployments 2007-08 (percentage of total armed forces)
  • Aggregate number of heavy weapons per 100,000 people
  • Ease of access to small arms and light weapons
  • Military capability/sophistication
From these indicators, you can see why the United States ranks as low as it does. Its massive prison population, high levels of crime (for a core country), and overall heavily policed society drags it down. Similarly, the enormous military expenditures as well as weapon manufacturing and sale AND deployment in several countries of the bottom ten play a big part.

Blog and Movie Recommendation on African Issues


First, I want to recommend the blog Crossed Crocodiles. In addition to having a logo that makes me jealous because it is so amazing, this blog has great content on African issues that we should all care about. And it brings great information that, of course, the MSM would never cover in a million years, because they don’t have enough time for that between the latest missing blonde and Britney Spears’ most recent meltdown.

Sweet CrudeCase in point: how many of you have ever heard of AFRICOM? Exactly, So head on over there and read the latest posts on the subject here and here. Also, if it weren’t for this blog, I would have missed the documentary Sweet Crude on the plight of indigenous peoples living in the Niger Delta in Nigeria at the hands of the government, military and oil company. The movie has a great website with videos of the film. Apparently, they have a hard time finding a distributor. I hope that if they can’t have the movie distributed in theaters, they’ll get it on HBO (which has done a great job with docs on Africa lately) or on DVDs, because this is really something I’d like to show to my global problems class.

Anyway, update your bookmarks, newsreaders, etc.

World Press Freedom Day – Freedom of the Press as Precondition to Development

Via the UN News Center,

“Marking the annual World Press Freedom Day, top United Nations officials have stressed the role of a secure and independent media, and access to information, in empowering individuals and advancing development. (…) Mr. Ban stressed that a free, secure and independent media is one of the foundations of peace and democracy. Attacks on freedom of the press are attacks against international law, humanity, and freedom itself – everything the UN stands for, he said.”

The UN Secretary General also noticed the fact that journalists have been more and more targeted by combatants in current conflicts (and Iraq, with the case of Bilal Hussein, to name only one, certainly is a perfect illustration of that trend) along with the failures to investigate crimes against journalists.

The theme for this year’s WPF Day is “Access to Information and the Empowerment of People”, so, it is no surprise that UNESCO would be involved as well.

““This empowerment supports participatory democracy by giving citizens the capacity to engage in public debate and to hold governments and others accountable,” said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. Access to information is primordial to the exercise of the basic human right of freedom of expression, Mr. Matsuura added. To be free, the media need to have access to information. Such access is also indispensable in fighting corruption, which has been defined as the primary obstacle to development.”

And I guess this is as close as you can get to a dressing-down of several governments, from Louise Arbour, High Commissioner on Human Rights,

“The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights marked the Day by noting that harassment and secrecy laws are weakening press freedom. “It is a sad fact that many governments across the world persist in undermining the freedom of the press to report facts and opinions and, by extension, the right of people in general to be informed about events and policies that are shaping our world,” Louise Arbour said. Ms. Arbour noted that governments are becoming more secretive and offering propaganda disguised as objective information – especially when alleged security-related issues are on the table.”

However, freedom of the press on paper looks really nice. However, in practice, things can get a lot messier. As the years of Bush administration and the current electoral campaign have shown is that the so-called free US media has become part of a corporate and political elite (or a power elite, as classical sociologist C.W. Mills would say) with a political agenda of its own (NOT reporting and informing). See the complicity of the Telecoms companies in domestic surveillance.

Also, what has been made blatantly clear is that the US media stands alongside the political structures of power not as a watchdog but as a member of the Village. Do not expect accountability from there. If I had thought that the progressive blogosphere would step up and play the role of watchdog where the traditional media failed to do so, I have been severely disillusioned.

So, when we think of a free press as a press free from censorship and governmental pressure, we should also remember that pressure can come from other powerful sources: the corporate world, powerful interest groups, or the military establishment. It should also be mentioned that media actors represent a specific slide of the social class structure that places their interest firmly up on the social ladder, as such, they carry specific social class biases that should not be ignored.

Another great cartoon by Michel Cambon, with permission.


Mary Kaldor on Human Security

Human SecurityIn an interview with the Guardian, Mary Kaldor outlines her views on human security in the global context. That is the subject of her latest book, Human Security (review forthcoming). Her view fit fairly well with the vision of global security outlined in Samantha Power’s latest book on Sergio Vieira de Mello (which I reviewed here). Mary Kaldor is current Professor of Global Governance and co-Director (with the indispensable David Held) of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at the London School of Economics.

Her views on human security have been outlined not only in her book but also in a report – A Human Security Doctrine for Europe – presented in 2004 to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana as part of the Study Group on Europe’s Security Capabilities. This was followed in 2007 with a follow-up report titled A European Way of Security.

So, in this global context, how do we define human security?

“In many ways Kosovo represents a laboratory for Kaldor’s thinking on human security, which she defines as the security of individuals and communities rather than the security of states. This security of individuals is a fundamental thread in Kaldor’s work – its utopian aspect. For Kaldor, humanitarian intervention and international peacekeeping involve “a genuine belief in the equality of all human beings; and this entails a readiness to risk lives of peacekeeping troops to save the lives of others where this is necessary”.”

It is eerie how much her thinking matches indeed the evolution of Vieira de Mello on what makes or breaks a peacekeeping mission, especially as it pertains to newly-independent Kosovo, where the EU mission will be composed of “police, judges, lawyers, and administrators.” Similarly, Kaldor expresses the same frustration regarding the gap of good intentions, when it comes to the UN, and the tendency to turn sensible statements of principles into bureaucratic nightmares.

However, contrary to the unrelenting optimism of Vieira de Mello and his faith in the capacity of the UN to improve and protect people’s lives, Kaldor’s assessment is more clear-cut and unflattering:

“”It is hard to find a single example of humanitarian intervention during the 1990s that can be unequivocally declared a success. Especially after Kosovo, the debate about whether human rights can be enforced through military means is ever more intense. Moreover, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have been justified in humanitarian terms, have further called into question the case for intervention.””

Leaving aside the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan which do not constitute peacekeeping operations in the UN sense, it is also hard to make the case that things would be better had the UN not intervened. Moreover, it is well-known that members of the UNSC have a tendency to not fully fund and staff peacekeeping missions, dooming them often from the start. There is nothing inherently condemned to failure in peacekeeping but there are systemic issues in political will and implementation.

New WarsAs for Iraq and Kosovo, had the Bush administrations actually read Kaldor’s book on New Wars, they would have probably made fewer deadly mistakes. And there is also the problem of who is part of the interventionist party and what interventionism really implies:

“A crucial and recurring problem for those who intervene, even those with the best of intentions, says Kaldor, is the psychological distance and the cultural barriers between the so-called internationals and the local population. Kaldor remembers an instance in Iraq where she was appalled by the insensitivity and arrogance of a young, uneducated American talking down to a highly qualified Iraqi with a Phd.”

So, what is to be done in the global context of new wars? According to Kaldor, there should be a shift in thinking in the nature and goal of warfare: military intervention should be more about protecting civilians than military victory. This might have proved a better strategy in Iraq when it came to fighting the insurgency, another costly mistake.