New York

My friend and colleague Jo Becker joined Human Rights Watch in 1997, the year before I came on board. We’ve been there ever since–with the occasional break–leading advocacy for the organization’s respective “thematic” divisions on children’s rights and arms.

Under Jo’s leadership, Human Rights Watch and other NGOs founded the International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (now Child Soldiers International) in May 1998. Exactly two years later, the coalition’s efforts paid off when governments adopted a protocol to prohibit the use of child combatants in the UN General Assembly on 8 May 2000. The story of this remarkable achievement is told in Chapter One of her new book Campaigning for Justice: Human Rights Advocacy in Practice. (more…)

“Peace isn’t ‘Kumbaya’ or a dove and a rainbow,” as Jody Williams illustrates so clearly in her new book on life as “a grassroots activist to the core.”

It’s hard to believe that Jody has not published her auto-biography until now, 15 years after receiving the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. Yet it’s not surprising given the intense pace at which she continues to advocate for peace and justice, both in the US and around the world. It can be hard for activists to find time to reflect and write about their own lives when there is so much to do, but recording how we work is just as necessary as doing it. (more…)

Women have been appointed to head both the disarmament and mine action sections of the United Nations (UN). This is the first time that women have served as chief of either of these UN agencies. (more…)

obama_nobelRight-wing bloggers blazed at the audible gasp that went up from the crowd when the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced (first in Norwegian, then English) that it had awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to US President Barack Obama.  In its press statement, the Committee described Obama as heralding a “new climate in international politics” in which  “multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position” with emphasis on “dialogue and negotiations” and the role played by the United Nations and other international institutions (tho not civil society). (more…)

dsc_0007While I was in New York to launch the Disarm DVD, I stopped by a diplomatic meeting at the United Nations on the proposed Arms Trade Treaty. Governments had convened for the first meeting of a delightfully named “open-ended working group,” the latest phase in what has become a lengthy effort to create an international treaty to regulate government transfers of conventional weapons and small arms. (more…)

dsc_4582brimaryweblrWe released the DVD of our documentary feature film on landmines, Disarm, at at the beautiful Scandinavia House venue near the United Nations in New York Monday, 2 March. A massive snowfall the night before and throughout the day had us worried that the event would be a bust, but 150 people showed up to watch the film and listen to a panel discussion featuring diplomats, activists and the filmmakers. A full report on the event is available on Disarm’s website. The film can be purchased from Amazon, rented from Netflix, and purchased via digital download from IndiePix.

Next Step Productions is grateful to everyone involved in the production of the DVD (especially Disarm director Brian Liu, Guillaume Bernadeau, Amy O’Byrne, Nick Pimentel, Katy Wood, and our translators).  We are grateful to IndiePix for their taking Disarm on and for their phenomenal organising around the New York launch event – many thanks to  Bob Alexander, Danielle DiGiacomo, Ryan Harrington, Liz Ogilvie, and Matt Posorske. Finally, a big thanks to the speakers and participants at the New York event as well as the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) for its support.

disarmdvdart-loWe’re preparing an event in New York to launch the DVD of Disarm. After completing the film in 2005 it screened at film festivals in the United States and around the world until Janson Media picked up the film’s broadcast distribution. Last year, independent film distributor IndiePix agreed to distribute the Disarm DVD, which we spent many, many months preparing. We’re very proud of the final product. The DVD is loaded with extras including 40 minutes of deleted scenes and director’s commentary. It includes subtitle French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

The DVD will be available from stores in Canada, the US and UK, online at Amazon and Netflix, and available via digital download. We’re asking all our friends and supporters to PLEASE buy the film, spread the word, and leave comments and ratings on the Disarm profile on Amazon and Netflix.

We’re working with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) on the 2 March event at Scandinavia House in New York, where we’ll will launch the DVD and commemorate the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty’s tenth anniversary. The speaker line-up includes Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams, Colombian Ambassador Claudia Blum, Norwegian Ambassador Mona Juul, and Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch. It should be a great launch for Disarm’s long-awaited DVD!

2009alison_des_forgesMy colleague Alison Des Forges died in a plane crash in New York this week. She was an researcher in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch (HRW). A receipent of the MacArthur ‘genius’ award, Alison was a very inspiring colleague and her death has touched everyone at HRW. The New York Times published her obituary today.

When I first joined HRW’s DC office in May 1998, the associates for the Arms and Africa divisions shared a tiny office next to mine. I remember the Africa associate Juliet Wilson working weekends and evenings to format (in word perfect!) Alison’s authoritative account of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda: Leave None to Tell the Story. When the 789-page book was issued in March 1999 it was the largest publication ever produced by HRW. Two months later, we took that record with the hefty Landmine Monitor Report 1999. I still have my copy of Alison’s report on my bookshelf – it takes pride of place. May she rest in peace.

It became difficult to write daily updates in the closing days of the conference, mainly because I was there until midnight on Wednesday 5th and until 2.30am on Thursday 6th July. The President scheduled informal sessions on those evenings to try and reach consensus on some of the more contentious elements of his outcome document – future of the process, arms trade, ammunition, civilian posession, etc.

I left the conference to return to DC on Friday 7th at 3.30pm. Little had happened until that point. Governments were talking to each other bilaterally to try and sort out some of the problems and all indications pointed to an evening session to finalize the outcome document. Instead when I arrived in DC close to 6pm I received a text from my colleague that read: “total meltdown. no outcome document. complete failure of UN arms trade conference.”

It turns out that the President of the meeting gave up in his attempt to get the governments to agree to the final outcome document and closed the conference just before 6pm Friday. He then did a press conference where he described the meeting as a success because the 2001 Programme of Action (PoA) remained “an enabling framework that empowered states, international and regional organizations and other relevant organizations and civil society” to work to end the illicit trade in small arms.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan subsequently expressed disappointment that delegates were unable to agree on a common declaration to guide further action. Without an outcome document from the meeting, states in effect are left with guidance on future implementation of the PoA and no mandate to meet again although Canada has said it will go ahead and convene an unofficial and informal meeting in May 2007 to discuss the need for global controls on arms transfer controls between states.

The NGOs to the conference had focused much of their attention and effort on influencing the outcome document language and spent less time educating governments on what would be required to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty. This is because the ATT was not seen as achievable via the 2001 PoA and they did not want to detract attention from the PoA. Here’s a link to the press statement by Control Arms… In it, the NGOs blame a small number of countries (Cuba, India, Iran, Israel and Pakistan) for holding the rest of the conference hostage due to the decision-making process that guided the conference.

Today the President of the Review Conference released an updated outcome document for discussion by the meeting. The nine-page paper is three pagers shorter than the previous version released last Wednesday. In the afternoon, President Kariyawasam opened up discussion on the paper by placing it on overhead projectors shown to delegates for their comment and suggested amendments. Over 100 governments making comments on one document seemed like editing by committee and unfortunately it was.

The question now for me is how much more the NGOs will put up with this meeting??? We’re not moving us any closer toward the goal of an Arms Trade Treaty. Tomorrow is US Independence Day when, contrary to NRA propoganda, we will not be meeting…

Next Page »