Archive for February, 2006

The Winter Olympics wrapped up this weekend and I thought you might be curious how Norway did. They hauled home 19 medals, meaning they came sixth on the list of countries winning medals (Germany came first). It sounds pretty impressive until you consider that only two of the medals were gold. Definitely disappointing from a Norwegian perspective. What made it all the worse was neighbour Sweden’s numerous victories, winning seven golds!

…for more than one reason:

1) This week the OECD warned that Iceland’s economy continues to show signs of overheating.

2) Global warming is also causing the island’s glaciers to melt and creating other damage. In 2005, the Prime Minister announced that Iceland´s tallest mountain, Hvannadalshnjúkur, had shrunk by 9.4 metres due to global warming.

3) The real reason, however, is that Brian Liu (of “Yellow Fever” fame & NSYNC fanatic) is over there this weekend to DJ the annual food and ‘fun’ festival as a guest of renowned Icelandic chef Siggy Hall.

And, Brian claims from Reykjavík, “it’s warmer than Montana was last week!”

A danger lurks in Oslo, not from beneath, but above. A rise in the temperture is melting snow resulting … icicles hanging from all the rooftops. After spending the weekend stepping over and under sticks oddly placed across the pavement, I looked up and realized it was a Norwegian method to barricade the path from the icy threat above.

Oslo’s icicles became a major story this week when a pedestrian in an upscale neighborhood was taken to hospital after receiving an icy blow to the head. His injuries did not turn out to be life-threatening, but the city is now making an all-out effort to remove the icicles and with them the remaining snow that has clogged the streets for the past week.

And I thought DC was dangerous!

Some interesting statistics have been published in the past couple of weeks on two of my favourite things.

Oslo is now the most expensive city in the world according to an annual survey of over 130 cities by the Economist. After fourteen years, Tokyo has been knocked back to the second-most expensive in the world. Reykjavik in neighbouring Iceland is now third.

I must admit to not feeling the prices that badly. Fafo is sponsoring me in an apartment nearby meaning I can avoid public transport, which costs min. NOK 20 ($3) a pop. I’m cooking at home and not eating out plus lunch is free every day in the work canteen. Best of all, there’s a yummy coffee machine downstairs that’s also free, which brings me to the next stat…

According to the governmental statistics agency SSB, Norwegians drink more coffee per capita than any other country in the world. Last year nearly 41 tons of coffee was imported into the country, which has a population of 4.5 million people. On a per capita basis, Norwegians therefore consume an average of 8.8 kilos of coffee per person meaning every Norwegian over the age of 15 drinks around four cups of coffee a day.

And the best thing I learned this week??? There is not a single Starbucks in this country!

I don’t want to give the impression that my time here in Norway is being spent skiing and watching the Olympics. That’s definately part of it, but I’m here on sabbatical for a reason: to write up my own evaluation of the Landmine Monitor, a project I’ve worked on since its inception. Here’s some info on what I’m trying to do. Your feedback and thoughts would be most appreciated…

Subject: Landmine Monitor is a monitoring initiative established by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in 1998 to monitor implementation and compliance with the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty and the humanitarian response more generally to the global mine problem.

Thesis: To what degree has Landmine Monitor succeeded as a monitoring regime? (from the campaign’s perspective it has been incredibly effective, but proving this is another matter!) Does it really function as a type of verification system? (not in the strictest sense and this is the opportunity to speak about it in the broader academic/theoretical context)

Additional questions will be comparative:
1) How does it compare to formal regimes and verification agencies established to monitor chemical and nuclear weapons?
2) How does it compare with NGO monitoring involvement in treaties on the environment (biodiversity) and labour rights?
3) How can movements seeking to monitor other emerging treaties in areas such as disability rights and tobacco control effectively replicate Landmine Monitor or elements of it?

Like I said, your feedback is welcome. It’s been more than a decade since I completed university and I’m outta practice! The end product of this research will be a chapter in a book I am compiling together with my colleagues Steve and Jody, maybe a paper issued by Fafo, and, if I can get my act together to apply, I’d like to get in published in some academic journal. I’m trying to fill a hole in the knowledge of the academic and verification worlds as no-one really knows about this little initiative beyond those working on this issue…

Sister Denise in Phnom Penh today informed the campaign that Cambodian mine survivor and ban campaigner Suon Chreuk died this weekend following recurring problems from his landmine injuries that were complicated by pulmonary and kidney issues.

I met Chruek in New Zealand in 1995 when Phil Twyford of Oxfam brought him out to New Zealand to help convince the government that it should permanently renounce antipersonnel mines and work to secure an international ban on the weapon. He spoke very effectively to media and the public. National television ran a story that focused more on him being carried up the stairs on to the press conference stage thereby inadvertently demonstrating how inaccessibility the parliament buildings were!

After losing both legs in the mine incident, Chreuk joined the Jesuit Service’s Centre of the Dove in 1993 where he manufactured their unique wheelchairs. He was one of four war veterans from opposing sides of the conflict who together issued a famous petition in 1994 that garnered more than a million signatures calling for a ban on landmines. We were amazed they managed to did this in Cambodia, a country where less than 20 years earlier people were executed for being able to read and write!

I met Chreuk again in May 1996 when he came to Geneva to lobby diplomats to support the mine ban. John Rodsted took some great photos of him working together passing out newsletters, throwing shoes in a demonstration, speaking to press together with Reth and Man Sokherm, and talking to and inspiring all of us, especially the governments.

Chreuk was only 43 years old when he died and he leaves behind his wife Joaqui, two children and some nieces and nephews that he was bringing up together with his wife. One of them was sold into prostitution and Chreuk went to buy the child back! Sister Denise described Cheruk as a man of “great courage and integrity.” We’re going to miss him. To help support JS Cambodia, go to their website:

After the cross-country skiing excursion and sledding down the mountain I felt sufficiently prepared to watch the Winter Olympics opening ceremony on television last night. In fact it’s hard to avoid the games, the national television channel NRK (the only one I get) seems to have 24/7 coverage.

The opening was pretty, well, Italian: some terrible techno music, extravagent pyrotechnics, a Ferrari doing doghnuts, acrobats in surreal outfits, dancers towing dairy cows, aging politicians, operatic feats by the big man himself Pavarotti… The athletes (New Zealand - hooray!, Norway - hooray, Seychelles – ???, Trinidad – ???) paraded into the stadium accompanied by a bizarre array of 70s/80s disco hits such as the Village People’s “YMCA” ?! There were no ad breaks so I couldn’t miss a beat. At least some really impressive women got to carry in the flag.

It all made Turin seem a lot more exciting than it really is. On vacation, it’s always been the one to bypass – gray, industrial, boring city… And the slogan for these games is: “Passion lives here”???

By the end of the first day (afterI had checked out the folk museum and massive ships at the Viking museum) Norway was leading the medal totals with two silver and two bronze. I have the feeling this event will be everywhere I go for the next two weeks.

I spent the weekend with an old campaign friend Kjell Knudsen at his family home thirty minutes outside Oslo. The house is down a long road framed by evergreen trees. It lies right beside a long lake that has completely frozen over. At least a foot of snow was lying on top of the ice and we spent Sunday cross-country skiing down the lake. It was my first experience at this type of skiing and I was glad to have such a competent teacher! We also took the family dog Hero along with us. The dog, a Dalmatian that looked pretty cool in the snow, has a leash that can be tied on to a harness around your waist so that he pulls you along. The set-up proved very useful when I got tired!

That afternoon it started snowing and hadn’t stopped by the time we were ready to leave Monday morning. After digging a path through snow two feet deep, Kjell manouvered the four-wheel drive down the access road. Everything was covered in snow. We came across a woman, a foreigner of course, whose car had become lodged in a snow bank. Kjell was late for his class at university, but nonetheless stopped to tow her out. I’ve seen a lot of strangers pitching in to push cars out of snow banks.

This week Kjell and his roommate Mette, another old campaign friend are going to show me how to toboggan down the Korketrekkeren (the Cork Screw), a 2 km bob sleigh run from the 1952 Oslo Winter Olympics. I can’t wait…

The first Norwegian newspaper I saw upon arriving here had a front page photo of protestors somewhere in the Middle East burning the Norwegian flag. A small conservative Christian paper had made Norway the second country to publish the Danish cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist. Islam forbids any depiction of the Prophet.

Over the weekend things got considerably more serious when a mob ransacked the Norwegian consulate in Damascus as Syrian police watched on. In Beirut, protestors set the Danish embassy alight and on Monday the Danish embassy in Tehran was also destroyed in a mob attack. No one was hurt in the Damascus attack, but the apartment upstairs belonging to a secretary from the embassy was destroyed taking with it her partner’s PhD thesis.

The news reports have proven an interesting introduction to Norwegian politicians. I watched as Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, head of a left-of-centre coalition that won a parliamentary election in September, condemned the Damascus attack. ‘He held the Syrian government responsible for failing to quell the protest and said the government will ask for compensation for damage from Syria as well as raise the matter with the United Nations because this is a violation of international law.

One news story I read said that an anti-immigration party came second in September’s election with nearly a quarter of the vote. Norway has a population of around 4.6 million, including about 160,000 Muslims mainly living in Oslo many of them in my neighbourhood.

Today I went into Fafo for my first day at “work.” The 2-minute walk there was a bit treacherous as the footpaths are covered in an icy snow following the last snowfall two weeks ago. Fafo is located in a old brick building between the central police station and a church. The building also houses a small UNDP office and a group that researches oceans.

I have a small office on the fourth floor in the attic. It belongs to a woman who is deaf and who works on issues relating to the deaf. She has a lot of interesting books. I ate lunch with the staff for free in a cafeteria on the ground floor between 12:00noon and 1:00pm. Quite a change from the American habit of eating at your desk!

After lunch Christian took me for a walk through town to orientate me. Christian is supervising my stay together with Mark Taylor. The last time I had spent any substantial time in Oslo was 1997, during the 3 weeks-long negotiations of the treaty banning antipersonnel mines and subsequent Nobel Prize ceremonies. I realized most of my bearings in Oslo from that time could be chartered from the pubs we drank in!

We picked up a Sim card for an old mobile telephone that Fafo has loaned me (Tel. +47-99-88-78-39). Back at the office I set up Skype (mis4mez), instant messangers (AOL, Yahoo), and my three email accounts (HRW, NSP, and Fafo). Finally I seem to be set up and ready to work!