Summer is clearly over. The calendar is once again overflowing with international events in Boston.
Harvard's Kennedy School of Government already has a full array of events and speakers in coming days and weeks, some of them related to the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly this week. These events are public, but some need RSVPs and have space limitations, so check in with the organizations directly.
I'll try to post more such events in bulletin-board fashion as I learn of them, so email me with any announcements of upcoming talks.
--Today at 6 p.m. at the Kennedy School's Forum, sponsored by the Institute of Politics, a discussion on Iran, with Elliot Abrams, former senior foreign policy adviser to Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, and Karim, Sadjadpour, a Middle East specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The moderator is Kennedy School Professor R. Nicholas Burns, who was deputy secretary of state and a former US ambassador to NATO who knows US Iran policy better than just about anyone. (And sorry for the last-minute notice).
-- Thursday at 6 p.m., at the Harvard Divinity School, European Union international policy representative Javier Solana will speak on Europe's role in the world. The event, which runs until 8:30 p.m., is sponsored by the Kokkalis Foundation at the Kennedy School; the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard; the Karamanlis Chair, Fletcher School, Tufts University; and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard,. This is part of the “Challenges of the 21st Century: European and American Perspectives Series.”
One of Europe's most senior diplomats and political leaders, Solana was a player in Spain's transition to democracy after the Franco era, and was a Spanish cabinet member for 13 years. He was secretary general of NATO from 1995 to 1999, when he took up a senior role in the EU leadership. He is due to conclude his term as Europe's de facto foreign minister next month.
--On Friday, Sept. 25, at 6 p.m. at the Kennedy School, Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe, will speak at the Forum. First elected in 2002 and reelected in 2006, Uribe has taken a hard-line stance against the country's leftist guerrillas, and has achieved dramatic military gains, although he also has faced criticism on human rights issues.
--On Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 5:30 p.m., Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, will speak at the Kennedy School's IOP forum. Yudhoyono became Indonesia's first directly elected president in 2004, after a military career. He has won applause at home for taking on corruption, ending the Aceh insurgency with a peace deal, and effectively handling of the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami. He won re-election in the first round in July.
The Boston branch of the American Islamic Congress is co-sponsoring a series of events during the current holy month of Ramadan -- including a traditional Iftar meal that Muslims celebrate to break the daily fast.
The Iftar event and others are listed on the Boston-AIC website. They are open to the public but several require RSVPs.
In the spirit of charity toward others in need, the Iftar dinner on the evening of Sept. 10 is also raising donations for the Pine Street Inn for the homeless. It's free, but there's a catch -- you have to bring at least two cans of beans. Space is limited. There are several sponsors, including Project Nur, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, World Boston, Barakat, and Helmand Restaurant.
On Tuesday, Sept. 15, the same groups are co-sponsoring an event at 3:30 p.m. at the Massachusetts Statehouse marking Ramadan. Legislators will join state officials for the civic ceremony.
And to conclude Ramadan on Sept. 26, local Muslims are hosting a multicultural Eid al-Fitr ceremony at the Armory Hall in in Everett at 7 p.m. where several hundred families are expected to attend. The event is co-sponsored by the Bosnian Community Center for Resource Development. The AIC notes that the event is open to the public and people of all backgrounds are welcome and encouraged to attend.
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and his Republican colleague Richard Lugar today introduced a bill to overhaul the US government's system for providing global development aid.
The bill would make numerous changes in the way American aid is handled, and would strengthen the US Agency for International Development, the key foreign assistance agency that has withered in recent years as aid programs were shifted to other departments, including the Pentagon.
It is widely expected that Dr. Paul Farmer of Harvard Medical School, founder of Boston-based Partners in Health and a leading global health activist, will be appointed to head USAID. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton complained publicly this month that the onerous vetting process of candidates for presidential nominations has delayed filling the USAID post and other senior positions.
The legislation co-sponsored by Kerry, Lugar and other senators from both parties would require increased coordination and transparency in US aid programs. It would reestablish a bureau for strategic planning within USAID, and give more authority to USAID staffers in the field. It would also create an executive-branch council that would evaluate US assistance programs.
Oxfam America, the Boston-based non-profit relief and development group, welcomed the bipartisan Senate bill.
Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, said in a statement, “Over the last two decades, USAID has had its legs cut out from under it – its resources and staff have been slashed while more development capacity has been shifted to the Department of Defense. Along with rebuilding USAID, the US must shift its focus from development projects that meet short-term political and security goals back to long term development goals that not only help more people escape poverty, but in the long run, create greater stability and good will for the US. Rebuilding USAID gives the US and its development policy a start down the right path.”
Many development groups have pushed the new Obama Administration to push fast to address the fragmented foreign aid process. Clinton said recently she would work to elevate foreign development to the level of defense and diplomacy in US foreign policy strategy. Legislation has also been introduced in the House to require a more strategic approach to development assistance.
As the debate heats up in the Obama Administration on the United States' global health and development priorities, consider a pair of recent reports from two member organizations of the Global Health Council:
WaterAid America and PATH, two non-profit global health and development groups, issued reports in May that after two decades of major progress in cutting mortality from diarrheal disease, there are signs that the severity of the problem is rising again. These diseases kill 1.6 million children under five a year -- 17 percent of all deaths in that age group -- but are getting "significantly less funding than other diseases," according to the reports.
PATH recently published "Diarrheal Disease: Solutions to Defeat a Global Killer", while WaterAid America issued: "Fatal Neglect: How Health Systems are Failing to Comprehensively Address Child Mortality." Here's the announcement, with links.
Studies and recommendations are coming thick and fast as the Obama Administration weighs how to revamp global health and development assistance. I wrote an article in the Sunday Globe about the global health priorities dilemma facing the new administration.
For those who want to wade into this debate, resources abound. Start with a report in January by Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow on global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, titled, The Future of Foreign Assistance Amid
Global Economic and Financial Crisis
The Institute of Medicine published recommendations in May on how to restructure and energize the American international health iniatitive.
The Global Health Council's resource pages offer an array of rich materials.
Also useful: the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, an alliance of organizations committed to restructuring the US aid system. Also see The Center for Global Development and its aid-effectiveness section.
Among politicians, Rep. Howard Berman of California has been a leading advocate of reform, along with Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois. They have introduced a bill requiring the administration to create a new strategy for global development and structures to implement it. Here's a summary of the bill, HR 2139, on the Bread for the World non-profit's website.
Oxfam America, which is headquartered in Boston, has a helpful introduction to how foreign aid works, called Foreign Aid 101. Oxfam America's president, Raymond C. Offenheiser, is among the leading agitators for reforming foreign assistance.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has a very comprehensive and usable global health policy website . Check out the very cool global map where you can roll your cursor over any country and see its basic health data.
Kaiser also produced a poll in May on Americans' attitude toward supporting global health. Some will be surprised to see that more Americans favor maintaining or increasing global aid than want to cut it.
Burma is once more in the headlines, with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi again on trial, and the United Nations considering yet another condemnation of the military junta that rules Burma.
A Harvard Law School human rights group says it's time to do more than just issue another statement about Burma. Rather, the report argues, the United Nations Security Council should hold a formal commission of inquiry into human rights abuses that could lead to an international tribunal like those for the former Yugoslavia and Darfur.
The Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic issued a detailed report today finding that "human rights abuses in Burma are widespread, systematic and part of state policy." It said the evidence suggests the Burmese regime "may be committing crimes against humanity and war crimes prosecutable under international law."
The clinic's 114-page report examines sources including 15 years worth of UN documents reporting on abuses including the forced displacement of 3,000 villages in eastern Burma and "widespread and systematic sexual violence, torture and summary execution of innocent civilians."
The report was commissioned by five of the world's most prominent legal experts on human rights: Judge Richard Goldstone of South Africa, Judge Patricia Wald of the United States, Judge Pedro Nikken of Venezuela, Judge Ganzorig Bombosuren of Mongolia and Sir Geoffrey Nice of Britain. These jurists all have experience investigating human rights abuses and prosecuting the alleged perpetrators in international rights tribunals.
The jurists write in the preface to the report: "Over and over again, UN resolutions and special rapporteurs have spoken out about the abuses that have been reported to them in Burma. The UN Security Council has not moved forward as it should and has in similar situations such as those in the former Yugoslavia and Darfur."
That commission of inquiry's findings would determine whether the Burma situation is referred to the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal, the jurists say.
The Rights Clinic is part of the law school's Human Rights Program, which studies human rights conditions around the world.
Scientific American magazine has selected Dr. Kristian Olson, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital whose innovations in low-cost technology are saving lives in poor countries, as one of 10 people making a difference globally with new technologies and knowledge.
The editors named the "Scientific American 10" in the June issue. Olson is in distinguished company; others on the list include Bill and Melinda Gates, stem cell pioneer Dr. Andras Nagy and Tesla electric car creator Shai Agassi.
Olson is a project leader of the global health initiative at the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology, a consortium of Boston-area hospitals that figures out ways to use technological advances to improve medical treatment.
His innovations, described in detail in a Boston Globe article in December, include a $7 alternative to the "bag mask valve" that provides ventilation for people who can't breathe properly, and an incubator made of car parts. (A former colleague thought of it, and he is building prototypes and trying to make the idea practical and affordable.)
Olson, born in Kamloops, British Columbia, is a dual American-Canadian citizen, and lives in Holliston. He was the first winner of the Durant Fellowship for Refugee Medicine at Mass. General in 2003, for his work in refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border. That program is in honor of Dr. Thomas S. Durant, who died in 2001 after a lifetime of service to patients and health organizations around the world.
Olson created the resuscitator after the 2004 South Asian tsunami -- and he built a program teaching about 500 midwives in Aceh, Indonesia, to use the technology.
At MIT today, the Dalai Lama spoke at an inaugural event for a new institute in his name, the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values. He tempered his provocative ideas about promoting ethics in a secular society with a stream of lively banter.
In the nearly full Kresge Auditorium, he kidded a Catholic monk in the front row about his less than perfectly shaved head, unlike the Buddhist monks in the hall. Sitting cross-legged on a sofa, he recalled that he had visited a homeless shelter in San Francisco the other day and told a man he met that he, too, had suffered the same fate after he went into exile in 1959. "I said, 'me too. Homeless'."
His talk centered on how to achieve genuine compassion -- not the kind that people easily muster for friends who share their views, but compassion for those they don't agree with.
The Dalai Lama also said the ethics center should search for ways to help secular people build ethical values, arguing that most of the world's six billion people are non-believers who won't get their ethics through their religious values.
He asked the Catholic monk whether secularism means rejection of religion, to which the monk replied, "that depends on your experience of secularism."
"Very wise answer," the Dalai Lama told him to laughter. "We need to promote secular ethics through education."
The address took place in the same hall where the Dalai Lama held a remarkable five-hour debate in 2003 with several prominent scientists about Buddhism and the science of the mind. That public conference, "Investigating the Mind," allowed scientists and the Dalai Lama to reflect on meditation and mental focus.
He said yesterday that scientists may be non-believers but they treat issues with honesty, the key to ethical behavior. "This honesty, truthfulness and calmness lead to compassion," he said. "It also brings a calm mind."
And then he stopped with a shrug, saying, "Anyhow, enough," and asked for questions.
The Dalai Lama had some imaginative ideas for MIT scientists to work for peace.
"You could invent an injection for compassion," he said. "I would want that." And maybe commerce could contribute: "You could have shops selling compassion. In a supermarket, you could buy compassion."
A student asked about ethics and the weapons industry. The Dalai Lama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his non-violent campaign for Tibetan rights, said he hoped this would be the century for global demilitarization. But a good start, he said, would be for institutions like MIT to invent a bullet "that misses ordinary people but hits the decision makers," waving his arm in the path of a wiggling bullet to laughter and applause. "That kind of bullet needs to be developed. Wonderful."
(Correction: in the original version of this post, I called the event a fund-raiser. In fact, nearly all the tickets were given out free to MIT students.)
A report issued today by Amnesty International USA says the number of immigrants being held in US detention facilities has tripled since 1996, from an average 10,000 per day then to more than 30,000 in 2008.
The human rights group issued the report on the eve of its annual conference, being held in Boston from Friday through Sunday. Amnesty is organizing a march on Friday afternoon from the conference site, the Park Plaza Hotel, to Government Center in downtown Boston to protest the US government's immigrant detention policies.
The report launches a new Amnesty campaign on behalf of the rights of immigrants. It puts the cost of detaining an immigrant at $95 per day, whereas alternatives to detention cost as little as $12 per day -- while maintaining very high appearance rates in immigration courts on the scheduled dates. But fewer judges are willing to release immigrants on their own recognizance or with limited bail, the report says, fueling the buildup in detention numbers.
The report, "Jailed Without Justice: Immigration Detention in the USA," says many of those detained struggle to retain a lawyer to help them navigate the complex legal waters of immigration laws and regulations -- leaving some so desperate that they accept deportation even if their cases don't warrant it.
See a full account of the report in today's San Francisco Chronicle.
The Amnesty conference kicks off with a plenary session Friday night featuring leading women human rights activists, including Jenni Williams, the firebrand Zimbabwean rights campaigner who has been jailed repeatedly for challenging President Robert Mugabe's human rights violations and suppression of dissent.
The American Islamic Congress, a civic group that promotes interfaith understanding and awareness of Muslim culture, is sponsoring a series of five lectures in Boston this month, starting Monday evening at Boston University, to explore the diversity of Muslim culture from Africa to Europe to Asia.
There will be music and dance as well as talk. And the series will culminate in a cultural fair on Sunday, March 29, with poetry and other performances. Click here for the full program of the five conferences.
The AIC, which has offices in Boston and Washington as well as abroad, is avowedly moderate and non-religious. Born in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, it embraces women's equality, free expression, and nonviolence, and also confronts the stereotyping of Muslims -- noting that terrorism claims mainly Muslim lives.
The organization received a grant from the Boston Foundation to put on the five-part series on Muslim diversity, being staged at five different university venues at 6:30 p.m. every couple of days. The first, on Monday, March 16, focuses on Muslim mysticism. Then on Wednesday, March 18, at the Harvard Faculty Club, panelists will discuss the Subcontinent. And on Thursday March 19, the series moves to MIT for a session on Muslims in Europe.
Each event includes poetry and music.
The following week the series moves to the Mideast and Asia. On Monday, March 23, the discussion at the New England Conservatory will deal with Muslims in the Near East. And the final panel on Wednesday, March 25, focuses on the Far East, with with panelists including MIT Professor Alan Lightman, who recently helped build a mosque in Cambodia.
Nasser Weddady, who was born in Mauritania and came to the United States as a refugee in 2000, is civil rights outreach director for the AIC and works in the Boston office. He moved to Boston in 2007 from Kentucky. He says the lectures are part of a process of carving a civic space for Muslims in Boston, and moving the discussion beyond the usual simplistic focus on terrorism and religious extremism.
|Nasser Weddady (Globe file photo by Justine Hunt)|
"The conversation around Muslims is either conducted around counterterrorism -- a valid and real concern -- or else people think about theology and religion. But the reality is Islam stretches from Europe to the Far East, and in each area, it has taken on a local flavor. That’s what we’re showing through the series," Weddady said.
He added that looking at Islam through a religious lens, based on the premise "that the central foundation for the Muslim community is the mosque, is patently false.... Muslims don't look at themselves in terms of theology."
Thus the focus not only on discussion, but also on celebration that highlights the rich diversity of Islamic cultures.
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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