Monday, December 06, 2004

U.N. peacekeeper Birnback calls upon students to pressure politicians - John Danforth asks questions

Tufts alum Nick Birnback, pictured below, is currently a political officer with United Nations peacekeeping operations and has participated in missions in far-flung locations including East Timor, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ethiopia and Liberia.

On Friday night Birnback received the Light on the Hill award and offered anecdotes and pointed commentary to an intimate group of students and faculty in Cabot Auditorium: he was introduced by Tufts Community Union (TCU) President Dave Baumwoll and Director of the Institute for Global Leadership Sherman Teichman, who was Birnback's teacher and mentor at Tufts through the Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC) program.

Here is an excerpt from The Tufts Daily report on the talk:


Birnback said peacekeeping missions require realistic goals. "Don't try to keep the peace where there is no peace to keep," he said.

"If two groups decide that if it is in their best interests to resort to violence, it is difficult to stop them physically given the resources at our disposal."

Birnback said he first learned this principle while bartending. "If two guys at the bar have already started to fight, don't jump in front, or you'll get hit," he said.

Thirdly, Birnback said peacekeeping "has to be part of a whole set of activities, probably by the entire international community," he said, stressing the importance of long-term investments in health care and education. "If you don't stay long enough, you end up back there."

Finally, he spoke about the international community's resistance to taking action even when the situation clearly requires it. Sometimes, "it's impossible to do certain things in the international system that you feel deeply you should be doing," he said.

Birnback said the current humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan is an example of U.N. member nations' lack of initiative. "It's a massive crisis and people are dying every day," he said. "You don't read about it most of time because there is no political will to address the issue in a serious matter."

What then, he asked, can one do? "You take a page out of the book of Teichman and ring a bell," Birnback said, calling upon students to pressure politicians to take action in matters of international concern.
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Pressure politicians to take action in Darfur?

In Nick Birnback's talk (see above) he called upon students to pressure politicians to take action in matters of international concern.

Could we reach out to student unions around the world and ask their members to put pressure on politicians and the UN Security Council? If anybody has an insight into how best to do this, or knows somebody who does, please email here or the Passion with ideas, suggestions, tips (and what action you would like politicians to take) asap. Any feedback would be much appreciated. Thank you.
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Armed intervention ... and for how long ... a regime change fly zone ...sanctions ...or what?

Note the following excerpt from a December 4 report by Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau Chief, Jon Sawyer, and the questions asked of human rights groups and media by John Danforth, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations:

" ... Danforth railed at the human-rights groups and media, especially The Washington Post, that have faulted the administration for not pressing hard enough on Darfur, where an estimated 70,000 individuals have died and 1.6 million have been driven from their homes.

"The Washington Post said Darfur was another Rwanda, that the U.S. government and Bush don't care and that if they cared they could stop this," Danforth said. "But they didn't have the gut to say how they would do it. Did they propose armed intervention? An attack on Khartoum [the Sudan capital]? They wouldn't say. Did they propose occupying an area the size of France in perpetuity? They didn't say. They pulled their punch. "What's the chance of the Security Council authorizing a military response if we can't even use the word 'sanctions'?" ..."

John C. Danforth, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
Photo: John C. Danforth, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

If we are to push politicians to take action, we need to be clear what it is we are asking them to do. It'd be interesting to know what readers think - and what Mr Danforth would advise students to push for as he's most likely to know what would work. The peace agreement Mr Danforth worked so hard for over the last three years is the only hope for Sudan. If there are not tens of thousands of protection troops in Darfur, the situation could get worse especially if new rebel groups spring up.

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