Proposed National Budget Cuts: The Fight for Foreign Aid

February 17th, 2011

Kate Alexander

Today, February 16th, marks a new level of irresponsible Congressional spending, just not in the way it is typically criticized. Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed a series of cuts to the National Budget that focus in on international humanitarian policies of the United States. While many Americans, and maybe their Representatives, believe that U.S. foreign aid is a high percentage of our national spending, it actually accounts for less than 1% of our budget, but that less than 1% betters the lives of millions around the world, making the world a safer place for everyone and every nation, including the United States. According to Representative Steve Rothman (D- N.J.):

“Our country would be less secure if we removed our diplomatic presence from the would be a detriment to our national security if the United States didn’t have Americans who know foreign languages, live in countries throughout the world, and understand the cultures, ways of thinking, and history of those nations.”

Democrats are not the only ones who are skeptical of these proposed cuts. Senator John McCain (R – A.Z.), when asked if he considered diplomacy and development funding to be important pillars of American national security, replied, “Yes, I do.”

In addition to the real security benefits of fostering goodwill for the United States in an age of increased global crime, including terrorism, there very serious moral implications that have to be considered when looking at the proposed budget cuts. Global health programs, contributions to international organizations and financial institutions and disaster assistance are among the programs on the chopping block as are the development assistance and economic support fund accounts, large portions of which go to places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

There are currently more than $800 million in cuts proposed to international food aid and other global hunger programs. This would affect more than 18 million people, leading to needless suffering and deaths. These cuts include $700 million in proposed cuts to the emergency food assistance budget, which would end food assistance for 15 million people facing extreme hunger in the wake of emergencies, and $100 million in proposed cuts to the international school meals budget, which would take away school meals for 2.5 million children around the world. These cuts are happening just as food prices around the world have hit their highest levels ever. Food prices have already been causing unrest in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Without food assistance, we could see this unrest worsen and expand.

House Republicans are also proposing eliminating the United States Agency for International Development completely. USAID has programs in more than 100 countries and in sectors ranging from agriculture, infrastructure, democracy and governance, and economic growth and trade to education, environment, health and medicine and youth and gender issues. Since its founding in 1961, USAID has been the principal U.S. Agency to extend assistance to developing nations or nations in crisis. Its accomplishments are extensive, but I must name a few to give a sense of the program that takes up so little of the budget and does so much for the world. USAID considers these its five major accomplishments in Iraq alone in 2003 and 2004:

1. Created local and city governments in more than 600 communities

2. Restarted schools by rehabilitating 2,500 schools, providing textbooks to 8.7 million students and supplies to 3.3 million students, and training 33,000 teachers

3. Vaccinated 3 million children; equipped 600 primary-care health clinics and rehabilitated 60

4. In conjunction with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), restored electric service to eight major power plants that now deliver 2,100 megawatts of power

5. Revived the marshlands located in southern Iraq by reflooding the area

I know there is concern for the budget, and there needs to be, but humanitarian aid doesn’t have the resources to allow for the deep budget cuts that are needed, and its projects are too instrumental in the lives of too many people. For Representatives to declare that these programs are discretionary spending that should be cut is to make hundreds of millions of lives around the world scapegoats for their political careers. This budget, with these proposals, is expected to pass the House, but meet more resistance in the Senate.

Tunisia and Egypt: The Parallels of Human Rights and Democracy

February 10th, 2011

Tenzing Yonten Sherpa

With the recent protests in Tunisia and in Egypt, I was compelled to write my first blog on examining the interrelatedness of democracy and human rights.

Human rights and democracy have historically been viewed as separate concepts, but with time, the human rights framework has begun to further develop conceptions of social, economic, and cultural rights, in addition to civil and political rights, thus expanding the notion of human rights to include human security, and extending these rights to the collective as well as the individual level. Therefore, more recently with the re-conceptualizations of both ideas, we can see more interdependence between the two. Thus, citizens seeking democratic reform usually fail due to the absence of protection for human rights and likewise, human rights advocates have found it difficult to implement systematic change in the absence of legitimate democracy.

It is for such reasons that I believe Tunisia and Egypt have grabbed most of the headlines in the start of the New Year. Tunisia until a month ago had one of the most repressive governments and levels of corruption among its elite became intolerable once the economic distress that had gripped southern Europe spread to the country, sending unemployment and public resentment skyrocketing. It is a similar case in Egypt where President Hosni Mubarak has held power for over three decades and has promised its citizens economic reform, but its people still suffer from high unemployment and low standards of living. In addition, Mr. Mubarak used tyrannical methods to secure his power and showed complete neglect for human rights when he used tactics such as clamping down on the press, jailing opponents and challenging the judiciary. All of these unpopular methods were used by Mr. Mubarak to undermine the democracy of Egypt. Therefore, we can see in this day and age there are clear parallels between human rights and democracy and essentially for democracy to work, respect for human rights need to be at the forefront of the agenda. I believe it is this neglect and therefore the deterioration of democracy in Tunisia and Egypt that has led to such resentment among its citizens against their respective governments.

Among the protestors in Cairo, Egypt was Bassem Samir, a democracy activist imprisoned under Mubarak who said, “Mubarak did not know the meaning of humanity. He did not know that they have rights. He worked for 30 years to ensure that Egyptians fear democracy. He weakened the opposition, and anyone who didn’t agree with him was out, out of everything- the media, work, and even the country. Whenever Mubarak thought someone else could be liked by the people, he removed them totally.” (

Time will only tell what Mr. Mubarak’s fate will be but what this incident brings up is a more interesting question, one of which looks at individuals as well as groups that come together to pursue democracy when their very human rights are in serious jeopardy. This question will be tested and followed with great interest by many more countries in our world today that still anchor governments that are repressive and that have complete neglect for fundamental human rights.

The Battle After War

February 10th, 2011

Beneva Davies

In light of the upcoming event, “War Don Don: the war is over, a trial begins” ( I have decided to take up the opportunity to introduce myself by exploring my personal ties to this film.

“No matta watin hapin, Salone nah yu ose, nuh eva foget dat,” (No matter what happens, Sierra Leone is your home, don’t ever forget that). Growing up in the States, this was the constant sermon always preached by my parents. I presume that the fear of your children losing their culture and forgetting their origins is always a fear for parents but for the people of Sierra Leone keeping this identity in a time when a civil war threatened to destroy the country itself was particularly important.  Sierra Leone is a country that has been ranked at the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index Report, “adjudged as the poorest nation on the face of the earth and the least developed nation in the world.”  (Sierra Leone in Development. Retrieved January 28,2011, from Awareness Times. < >) Sierra Leone suffered and endured an eleven year civil war, which ended in 2002, that threatened not only to demolish the country and its resources, but the very identity of its people.

For the first time since the war ended, this past Christmas, I returned home. I don’t know what was most overwhelming about the first night I touched down in Sierra Leone: the unbearable heat, the smell of burning trash everywhere, or the dozens of beggars that bombarded the plane straight from the runway. As we drove through the unpaved, congested, fire-lit roads that night, I couldn’t help but be taken aback by what I was witnessing. I could barely see, but it was hard to miss; every road doubled as a market place; it looked like more people begged in the streets than lived in homes and no one was spared the plague of hunger—my people were desperate. This was what the war had reduced my home to.

“War Don Don” covers the trial of Issa Sesay, the commander of the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone’s civil war.  The United Nations’ Special Court for Sierra Leone convicted Sesay of war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The film presents the arguments made by both the prosecution and defense, along with background about the civil war, and how the people of Sierra Leone continue to cope with the tragic fallout of the war. (Issa Sesay’s ‘War Don Don’ Retrieved Feb 1, 2011, from The Torchlight: The Truth Shall Set us Free. < >) The film brings up some interesting themes and questions to explore: restorative justice, truth and reconciliation process versus traditional means of bringing perpetrators to justice, international aid and justice and their place in third world development especially in the case of post-conflict reconstruction.

I hope to see you all at the event, “War Don Don: The War is Over, a Trial Begins,” taking place on Tuesday, February 15, 6:30 pm, in the Golding Auditorium.]

Restorative Justice – The Value of Victim Centered Justice Claims

February 7th, 2011

Rachel Gillette

In light of the upcoming event, “From Guantanamo to the Hague: Human Rights Victims and their Justice Claims,” ( I figured I would comment on something that I actually care about greatly: restorative justice.

What is restorative justice?  Well, in order to answer that question, one must first define what justice means.  For me, justice means equality: equalizing relationship between a perpetrator and a victim.  In traditional – or retributive – justice, the process requires punitive measures.  Almost everyone would accept that if someone does something wrong, he/she should be punished.  But what is the point of punishment?  Arguably, to detract from what the perpetrator has wrongfully taken: a perpetrator should lose what was gained from a victim, whether it be physical property, revenge, satisfaction, etc.  This becomes difficult, however, in cases of rape and murder, or other crimes with similar psychological (and therefore immeasurable) impacts.  When one considers that the goal of punishment is nearly impossible given the plurality of effects to the victim, families, and other related parties that reverberate far past the crime itself, the idea of retributive justice becomes increasingly unsatisfactory.

Let us, then, flip the concept of equalization: instead of focusing on taking from the perpetrator, what would happen if we focus on giving back to the victim?  By giving the victims what they need and desire, healing hastens and we are left with a more positive approach to conflict.  Though punishment does have its place within a restorative justice system – oftentimes as a mild deterrent or for the psychological well-being of the victim(s) – those elements remain on the periphery.  With restorative justice, the victim remains the central priority.

Though I am skimming over many of other types and theories of justice – deterrent justice, cosmic justice, etc. – I wish to make one point clear: placing victims as the focus of justice creates a much more positive, productive atmosphere that will better lend itself to the spirit of peace, community building, and progress.  Ultimately, greater good can be done by giving back to the victim, even if no punishment is ultimately given to the perpetrator.  The goal of restorative justice is to rebuild community and, to quote the event page, “victim-centered justice claims” are the best way to begin this process of healing and community-building.  When we center the victim, and justice becomes about restoring and rebuilding – rather than breaking and taking away – then we will be able to move into a world of collaboration and peace, and away from a world of victimhood and revenge.

I hope to see you all at the event, “From Guantanamo to the Hague: Human Rights Victims and their Justice Claims,” taking place on Thursday, February 3, 7:00, in the International Lounge in the Usdan Student Center.

The Moral Imagination

February 7th, 2011

Anna Khandros

I have written more than one personal essay that began, “I am sick of people telling me that I cannot change the world.”  I am, and I also don’t appreciate people calling me naïve when I tell them that I want to go into the conflict resolution/prevention field. I finally found a response in Cynthia Cohen’s The Arts of Building Peace class, which explores how cultural production and various art forms can contribute to nonviolent resistance and post-conflict reconciliation.

Last Wednesday, we discussed John Paul Lederach’s concept of the moral imagination. The moral imagination, simply defined, is the ability to be grounded in the real world but to be able to imagine a better world. I think this is something most, if not all, of us do.

Lederach says, “Some argue that we suffer from an exaggerated rhetoric coupled with an overly optimistic, and therefore unrealistic, understanding of how the world really works and how change can or cannot take place.” In other worlds, we’re not all cynics, but we’re not all completely pragmatic either, and peace and pragmatism can, in fact, complement each other in theory and in practice. The moral imagination allows us to explore this connection, not to look for a miraculous answer to all of the world’s problems, but to understand their nature and potential turning points. It further gives us the “capacity to imagine something rooted in the challenges of the real world yet capable of giving birth to that which does not yet exist.”

According to this concept of the moral imagination, there are four essential elements for peacebuilding.

First, there is the centrality of relationships, the notion that we are all interdependent, and that change can be achieved through the recognition that the quality of our life is dependent on the quality of the life of others, including our enemies.

Second, there is paradoxical curiosity, which allows us to accept complexities, and tells us that truth lies beyond our initial perceptions and that we must look past what we do not immediately understand. Through paradoxical curiosity, people who display a moral imagination rise above dualistic pluralities – good and bad, right and wrong, winners and losers, black and white. They suspend judgments, and search for a greater truth.

Third, peacebuilding must provide space for the creative act, an art form perhaps, and the moral imagination takes form through this act or this art form. Lederach writes that “Art is what the human hand touches, shapes, and creates and in turn what touches our deeper sense of being our experience.” Art lets us create that which does not yet exist, and, along with creativity and imagination, gives birth to new possibilities.

Finally, there is the willingness to risk, to step into the unknown without guarantees of success or even safety. To work for something bigger than ourselves, a change in society, the end of violence, we have to allow ourselves to become vulnerable. We have to accept to risk of disappointment.

All of this made me think of so many of our not-so-secret dreams of making the world a better place. We’re not naïve, we just have strong moral imaginations.

Female judges, lawyers and rights – oh my! Chipping away at the glass ceiling in international politics

February 7th, 2011

Kate Alexander

Anyone who read through the January installment of International Justice in the News (IJIN) [] may have noticed a common theme: the role of women in international justice is growing in the respect these women are afforded, the opportunities that are available, and the protection of women’s rights in international tribunals. As a female interested in a career in international justice and a constant promoter of women’s rights, I cannot state clearly enough how incredible it is to bear witness to the cracks being made in this glass ceiling.

For those of you who didn’t receive the January 2011 installment of IJIN (for shame!), here’s the synopsis of what I’m talking about: Sandra Day O’Connor, Retired Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, spoke out in favor of U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and in the International Criminal Court (ICC )case Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo the judicial bench, for the first time in history, is composed entirely of women. In this IJIN, there are also links to a ton of reports regarding sexual crimes and a Gender Report if you’re interested in reading up on the topic!

As Sandra Day O’Connor pointed out, the U.S. has yet to ratify CEDAW, the definitive document of women’s rights that has been ratified by 186 nations out of 193. In not ratifying CEDAW, the U.S. is keeping company with such human right defenders (insert sarcasm here) as Iran, Sudan, Somalia, and the three small Pacific island nations of Nauru, Palau and Tonga. Admittedly, I don’t know what equality looks like in Nauru and Palau, but one of my closest friends is from Tonga and I can tell you from her stories of one of the last Kingdoms on the planet, that it isn’t exactly the picture of women’s rights that we, as a gender, are moving towards.

O’Connor’s statement about CEDAW was publicized by an incredible blog: IntLawGrrls []. Its contributors are women who teach and work in international law, policy and practice.  Reading the blog feels like picking the minds of some of the most interesting women you could ever hope to have coffee with. They’re carving out a voice for women in international legal theory and practice, but it’s all written in a really accessible tone. Highly recommended, especially to future U.S. policy makers who will have to reckon with this growing voice in international politics.

In conclusion: United States, you have got to get on board with the trend that is sweeping international politics. I know that it’s hard for you, because you’ll have more moral authority to point out violations of human rights in other nations, some of which may have cultural practices that at times contradict CEDAW, but I think you can balance cultural understanding and universal human rights! I believe in you!

And honestly, if you don’t know how to do this balancing act already, and you are the world’s super power, it’s about time you learned.

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