Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Islamic countries set aside their 12-year campaign to have religions protected from "defamation", allowing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Genea to approve a plan to promote religious tolerance on Thursday. Western countries and their Latin American allies, strong opponents of the defamation concept, joined Muslim and African states in backing without vote the new approach that switches focus from protecting beliefs to protecting believers.
Since 1998, the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) had won majority approval in the council and at the United Nations General Assembly for a series of resolutions on "combating defamation of religion". Critics said the concept ran against international law and free speech, and left the way open for tough "blasphemy" laws like those in Pakistan which have been invoked this year by the killers of two moderate politicians in Pakistan. They argued that it also allowed states where one religion predominates to keep religious minorities under tight control or even leave them open to forced conversion or oppression.
The United Nations has set up a new super agency to better fight for the rights of women around the world including Afghanistan. This week UN Women, as the new body is called, held elections to choose countries to sit on the board and the results have triggered a storm of criticism even before the new agency formally comes into being next January. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia were in the running for a seat, and while Iran got displaced at the last minute in the vote, the Saudis are through.
And that has provoked the wrath of rights activists and commentators. The idea of the conservative desert kingdom, where women cannot drive or take significant decisions without the permission of a male relative or work as supermarket cashiers, leading a global fight for the promotion of women’s rights is hard to accept, they say. How can you take the UN seriously, asks Greg Scoblete in a short piece on Real Clear World’s Compass blog headlined : Saudi Arabia bastion for women’s rights.
It was a strange or at least unusual event. Reuters, other news wires and mostly Afghan journalists were summoned to the presidential palace early in the morning. A frequent and very familiar routine of standing around, waiting and multiple security checks then started .
On this occasion, we were packed onto mini buses with blacked-out windows and told only that we would be leaving the palace and going “some place outside”. The guessing game ended when the buses, flanked by armored Land Cruisers and charging down a busy city highway, honking other vehicles out of the way, turned into another building very familiar to reporters in Kabul: the Independent Election Commission (IEC).
Last month, a senior EU parliamentarian, Pino Arlacchi, said a staggering 70-80 percent of the $34 billion in aid earmarked for Afghanistan since 2002 never reached the Afghan people due to corruption, waste and donors witholding funds.
Although Arlacchi’s figures were only an estimate based on a visit to Afghanistan in March and while few would dispute the fact billions of dollars in aid have been wasted over the last eight years, the numbers can also be somewhat misleading.