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THE INTERNATIONAL OBSERVER & RECORD
THE INTERNATIONAL OBSERVER & RECORD
Our 39th year
of publishing The International Observer
VIEWING THE WORLD
Ridding the world of nuclear weapons
The elimination of
nuclear weapons is vital to the “survival of life on
this planet”, Secretary General António
Guterres told the
final major event of the United Nations General Assembly’s
high level week on 2 October. He told delegates it was the
only way “to completely eliminate nuclear risk.”
And although nuclear disarmament has been a UN priority
since its founding 75 years ago, he reminded the plenary
meeting that “the world continues to live in the shadow of
Progress towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons
has “stalled and is at risk of backsliding”, the UN chief
Against the backdrop of growing distrust and tension between
Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) - and programs that modernize
arsenals for faster, stealthier and more accurate weapons,
with costs Guterres called “simply staggering” - he said,
pointedly, that the only treaty restricting the size of the
world’s largest nuclear arsenals is set to expire early next
year – threatening a return to “unconstrained strategic
“For the sake of all of our security, the world must return
to a common path towards nuclear disarmament”, he
underscored, adding that it is “imperative” for Russia and
the United States to extend, “without delay”, the new
Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) for the maximum
duration of five years.
Among other things, START calls for halving the number of
strategic nuclear missile launchers and establishing a new
inspection and verification regime within seven years from
the date the treaty enters into force.
The Secretary General upheld that NWS “have a responsibility
to lead”, including by honoring their existing commitments
and taking steps to reduce nuclear risks. “Especially in
today’s tense international security environment, with
rising friction between major powers, such steps are more
necessary than ever”, he spelled out.
The Secretary General advocated for “a strengthened, inclusive and renewed multilateralism built on trust” with human security at its center, to “guide us to our shared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons”.
behavior or wishful optimism about the current corona virus
or COVID-19 pandemic are ill placed.
The World Health Organization (WHO), in late September,
warned of a further rise in deaths from the virus. It noted
that the number of two million deaths is unimaginable “but
not impossible.” The one-million death mark was passed on 28
Ten countries account for 70 percent of all reported cases and deaths, and just three countries account for half: United States of America, India, Brazil, Russia, Colombia, Spain, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, and South Africa. France and the United Kingdom are close.
Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam filling up
political momentum has been building up over Ethiopia’s
Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
(GERD/TIHG) project. Between threats of war, fierce disputes
over historical obligations, frequent delays and deadlocks
over legal and technical issues, Ethiopia met its first-year
target of its gigantic mega-reservoir with water of the Blue
Nile in July. Aided by the July-September monsoons, storing
river water did not appreciable reduce the flow to the two
down-river beneficiaries of River Nile in Sudan and Egypt.
In April 2011, Ethiopia began a six-year project for
the construction of GERD, a 6000-megawatt hydroelectric dam
on the Blue Nile (Abay) River in Guba District (woreda),
Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State, about 40 km east of the border with
The dam is
expected to be a boost for the Ethiopian economy and
improvement of living conditions of its people. Dispute over
the dam project escalated over the years and is not yet completely
settled. Egypt feared that its water supply for farmland and
population will be diminished once dam is finished and being
filled and disagreement rose over the rate of filling.
Ethiopia plans to complete the 74 billion cubic
meter-capacity GERD in 4-7 years while Egypt insists on its
historical supply of 55.5 billion cubic meters of water.
Waters of the Nile River and tributaries are shared by Burundi, Congo (DR), Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. The Blue Nile River which originates in Ethiopia supplies about 80 percent of the water in the Nile during the rainy season.
It will take 5-7 years to fill the reservoir and between each subsequent flood season the reservoir will be lowered. Currently the project is about 70 percent complete. When it reaches full power-generating capacity in 2023, it is expected to generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity, reports Voice of America (VOA).
The pandemic is causing pandemonium everywhere
Worldwide, with a few exceptions in remote areas, the pandemic caused by the coronavirus, is temporarily sidelining attention on the constant threats from climate change or nuclear mass weapons. Government leaders are quickly learning that they are dealing not just with a public health disaster but that the outbreak of the virus is facing them with overriding human and social challenges too and that it has far reaching global, political, security, and economic effects. People, health facilities and governments are trying to cope with the spread of COVID-19, some with more success than others while in a number of African and American regions preparations are underway to limit infections. Some continuing conflicts in the world seem to be little affected but quite a few of the large nations’ security forces are deeply engaged in assisting public health endeavors, quarantines, and limiting contact between people.
Kabul under pressure
Afghanistan’s government is pressured by Taliban and the United States to abide by an ill-defined open agreement. Left out from talks about a comprehensive peace agreement and withdrawal of US forces that began in October 2018, told by the Taliban it would not negotiate with it, and consumed with the fallout from elections when both political rivals claimed the presidency. Trying to mediate between president and former chief executive, the US state secretary cut the US1 billion aid to force the two contenders to agree to a unified government that would be able to end the conflict with an intra-Afghan political solution. The government decided to assemble a delegation that would be a partner in any intra-Afghan talks or negotiations and belatedly has agreed to limited and timed exchanges of prisoners. Two days later, the Taliban complained that the team was not selected so it would include “all Afghan factions” and refused to negotiate with it. Meanwhile Taliban attacks against national army, security forces, district governments and civilians are continuing as are US air strikes in support of Afghan National Army operations. Concern is rising among Afghans and governments abroad not only that Washington’s effort to end the conflict will be crippled and vital for Afghans that their government will fall apart and the country will again be split among warlords and the Taliban.
North Korea restarting missile tests
The announced end of the moratorium on North Korean nuclear and missile tests deeply concerns United Nations Secretary General António Guterres. On 1 January, he expressed his hope that the tests will not resume, in line with relevant Security Council resolutions. Non-proliferation remains a fundamental pillar of global nuclear security and must be preserved. He once again expressed his support for the resumption of a dialogue that will lead to complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Diplomatic engagement is the only pathway to sustainable peace.
UN Assembly president alerts about loss of native languages
While the world’s attention is fixed on the loss of
land to rising oceans and the disappearance of species of
animals and plants caused
by changing climate and human expansion, languages of
indigenous peoples are also vanishing, especially those of
small native populations.
Calling attention to this worrisome development, the
President of the current 71st Session of the
United Nations General Assembly, on 17 December cautioned
that “challenges persist” despite UN efforts to highlight
the daily disappearance of mother tongues across the world.
“Every fortnight, at least one indigenous language vanishes
from the face of the earth”, warned Tijjani
Nigeria. “This translates into two extinct indigenous
languages each month”. Turning to the
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,
the President pointed out that the 2007 milestone calls on
states, among other things, to enact policies and laws aimed
at preserving and strengthening indigenous languages.
“The status-quo is indeed grave”, he asserted, painting a picture of only 4,000 surviving indigenous languages, spoken by a mere 6 percent of the total world population. He also said it was “equally noteworthy”, that 15 percent of the poorest people on the planet are indigenous.
Indigenous traditions have served as a “dependable means of
acquiring knowledge” which can be transmitted across
generations, he stated, citing examples of herbal medicine,
food processing and settling disputes within communities.
And although linguistic diversity is essential to preserve
humanity’s common heritage, which is critical to its
survival, it is imperiled with every language that goes
extinct. “With the death of languages, the indigenous people
who speak them lose a significant part of their identity”,
Muhammad-Bande urged the world to focus attention on the measures to ensure the survival of those which remain, underscoring that “schools have a major role to play”. “By integrating indigenous languages into their curricula, they would have fulfilled the vital mission of shielding the languages from external onslaught and internal decay”, he said.
The forthcoming trial of the president of the United States of America is easily the top political event of the year in the States, even if a sizeable section of the public seems to ignore it. Worldwide it is equally regarded as a dominant development in government circles.
Donald John Trump Sr. of the Republican Party and 45th President of the White House since January 2017 is generally seen as one of the most
powerful men of the world, thanks to the military and economic strength of his country, and a view he not only cherishes but expands and exploits to satisfy his
Even before the proceedings shaped up, Trump called impeachment unconstitutional and a witch hunt, refused steadfastly to cooperate while complaining
about being denied an opportunity to state his side, and order staff and government officials to refuse testifying when being subpoenaed although a number
complied, feeling it was their constitutional obligation.
The US House of Representatives led by the Democratic Party majority, for months collected statements from witnesses inside and outside of government,
including from a staff member of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), about alleged misuse of presidential power for personal political benefit. In the
course of congressional inquiries and stonewalling by president and White House officials, leading to disregarding and rejecting subpoenas, a second charge of
obstructing Congress was added. On 18 December, the House, mainly along party lines voted 232 for and 196 against impeachment.
The actual trial of a sitting president, vice president or civil officer, provided for in the US Constitution, is conducted by the 100-member Senate,
the upper House of Congress, and presided by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.
It will open once the Speaker of the House submits the case, sometime next year. If warranted and evidence of additional violations are discovered, charges may be added or expanded. The Senate has a majority of members of the Republican Party, at present strongly in support of the president, a circumstance that not only jeopardizes the unbiased exercise of justice, but the outcome of a fair proceeding. But as has been noted repeatedly, this is not a criminal trial regardless of charges, but a political process by a political body of politicians.
Reporters sans frontières(RSF)/Reporters Without Borders of Paris are actively telling the world that in the course of keeping citizens informed independently, journalists everywhere are paying a heavy price - 49 killed and 387 imprisoned. In the United States of America too members of the media are increasingly on the firing line, not the least from a president who is never too busy to belittle and undermine the profession in the public’s mind.
Despite the attacks on press freedom in this country, a majority (52 percent) of Americans do not believe that it is currently under threat, according to bipartisan research released by the Reporters Committee and Democracy Fund.
*A coalition of over 30 media, technology and nonprofit partners, including Barron’s, CBS News, Comcast-NBC Universal, CNN, Facebook, Gannett/USA TODAY NETWORK, The Los Angeles Times, McClatchy, The New York Times, National Public Radio (NPR), Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, Reuters, Scripps, Sinclair, Twitter, The Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones, and The Washington Post. In addition to the Reporters Committee and CPJ, the campaign steering committee includes Free Press, Internews, Media Law Resource Center, PEN America, Reporters Without Borders and the Society of Professional Journalists. Additional partners include the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, International Center for Journalists, National Association of Broadcasters, Radio Television Digital News Association, National Press Club Journalism Institute and Society of Environmental Journalists.
Novem ber 2019
The much advertised of the British retreat from the European Union (EU) will not happen this year. Parliament in its wisdom rejects a no-deal withdrawal which was due on 31 October – the prime minister’s “do or die” promise – and is delaying
Brexit until the government can either obtain a more advantageous negotiated deal or a second referendum will either confirm the results of the first one or the
United Kingdom will remain an EU member.
The prime minister, on 28 October, in a letter to the EU president confirmed the extension of the withdrawal until 31 January 2020 while accusing
Parliament of resisting. His first attempt on the same day to schedule new elections on 12 December failed when the 299 against 70 votes fell short of the
required two-thirds vote of 434, partly because the leader and Brexit opponents of the Labour Party abstained. A new attempt will be made under different
legislative provisions requiring a lower minimum of votes to have new elections this year. Even if the prime minister succeeds, the outcome could result in a
new parliamentary strength distribution or change little.
This has changed dramatically since the current president settled in the White House. Already the atmosphere was burdened with campaign rhetoric about
disloyal staff, a “deep state” determined to sabotage the new Administration and its policies, the presence of too many allegedly beholden to the previous
For some time, numerous upper-level positions in the Department remained vacant and few ambassadors were named. At the working level, staff felt either
they were not part of the team or that their contributions were not welcome or the subject of suspicion.
Abroad, missions have always accepted that some of their observations and recommendations were neglected or rejected – that was not an unusual feature
of the diplomatic bureaucracy. What hurts more is either lack of public or verbal support and now censure or recall in reaction to untruthful complaints by
Witness the rash removal of the US ambassador to Ukraine, a career diplomat, without much of an explanation, and in her absence insertion of a private
citizen, albeit lawyer of the president, to interact with the new Ukrainian government.
Added to the demoralizing working conditions of diplomats are the unforeseen policy changes. Whether it is inconsistent policy coming out of Washington,
sudden changes and especially reversals, more than unsettling staff it is weakening reliability and reputation of the US government as experienced by other
nations, both allies and opponents. Former US national security officials, who have spoken up in recent weeks, criticize the president’s conduct and his foreign
policy: “lending weight to the picture of a president motivated by political interests with little regard for policy expertise, legal boundaries or
institutional restraints” according to former officials cited in The Washington Post.
The lack of policy process in the current US presidency showed up early, on relations and issues with opponents as well as with allies. China and the United States have been getting deeper into the trade conflict which now affects academic relations, diplomacy, and technology security. Absent in the White House is a decision-making process to set a strategy and resolve policy issues, writes David Ignatius in The Washington Post of 6 September.
The president of Guinea and his supporters
are trying hard for a third term in elections in 2020. Government is working on a
constitutional change to allow the current president to be a candidate for a third presidential term. To gather support, his Party of Unity and Progress formed
a Coalition for the Defense of a New Constitution on 2 August. The opposition Bloc Against Alpha Condé joined the National Front for the Defense of the
Constitution on 21 August. Article 27 of the current Constitution of 2010 states that mandate is renewable once and that “no one may exercise more than two
presidential mandates, consecutive or not.”
Prof. Alpha Condé (born 4 March 1938) started his first five-year term on 21 December 2010 and was reelected for a second, final term on 11 October 2015.
Concerns about a Taliban Deal
The imminent agreement of the United States with the Taliban militia after nine rounds in Doha is raising grave concerns: Distrust in Taliban assurances, ending defense of a struggling secular government after 18 years, and the political and self-aggrandizing involvement of the current US
In talks between the US and the Taliban militia for the past 11 months in Doha (see chronology below), the US is seeking to draw down its and allied forces if the Taliban agrees to keep the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) out. A ceasefire, ending
violence against the civilian population, and starting peace negotiations leading to a political settlement with the Afghan government are part of the agenda
but the overriding US interest is bringing the troops home – a presidential campaign promise! The president’s remark to the visiting Pakistani Prime Minister on
22 July that he could have had Afghanistan “wiped off the face of the earth,” greatly upset Afghans inside and outside of government, seeing it as a sign of
total indifference not only to their country but to its people.
The major US demand in exchange for drawing down foreign military forces are counter-terrorism assurances: Renunciation of al-Qa’ida and preventing its
sanctuary as well as that of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) branches. In addition, the US wants to retain the ability to counter al-Qa’ida and ISIL in
Afghanistan if needed.
Reasons for concern are a fear of a premature retreat and of further diminishing of US reliability as an ally and defender of democracy. Taliban is
continuing its effort to set up an emirate and abolish the secular government. Elections are to be held in September and the Taliban is determined to stop it
with increased violence and threatening voters to stay away. Recently, commanders on the ground see the ISIL-Khorasan affiliate as a growing threat. Should the
Taliban turn more conciliatory toward Kabul, its hardline militants might defect and join more ruthless jihadists.
The regional situation has become more complicated this month with India’s revocation of autonomy and statehood of Kashmir because of the influence of
India and Pakistan in Afghanistan.
The US-Taliban Talks
21 Sep. US State Department appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as lead
envoy for the talks with Taliban
12 Oct. Round 1 Doha
14-16 Nov. Round 2 Doha
Round 3 Abu Dhabi, UAE
8 Jan. Round 4 cancelled
25 Feb.-12 Mar. Round 5 Doha
1-9 May Round 6 Doha
29 June-9 July Round 7 Doha
Round 8 Doha
7-9 July 1st Afghan-Taliban meeting Doha, declaration issued on agreement
on basic roadmap for negotiating
Nuclear weapons and changing climate threatening animals, humans, and plants are now joined by a new peril – declining biodiversity. Linked partly to global warming, the extinction of wildlife endangers human civilization, according to an assessment for the United Nations made public on 6 May. The result of research by hundreds of scientists was prepared by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. One direct source of the dramatic decline of animal and plant species is poor conservation.
US Administration-Congress power struggle in full swing
To impeach the US president or not and the launch of subpoenas has unleashed a fierce power struggle between White House and the newly elected Democratic Party leadership of the House of Representatives. The release of the abstracted “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election” of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III by the Attorney General on 18 April was expected in the United States. The public abroad was not that interested or aware but there too government chanceries and embassies were eagerly awaiting details to shape their reactions.
The president pounced on the investigators’ inability to establish that anyone connected to the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated – ‘colluded’ – with the Russian government when it interfered to help the campaign. He and the Attorney General conveniently downplayed that the findings did not exonerate the chief executive and that the absence of a judgment on obstruction of justice remains an open question. Dealing with Russian contacts, numerous constant efforts to foil the inquiry, the trail of lies, suspicious interactions, charges against 34 lawyers and campaign advisors, including 25 Russians, and an additional 7 charges in related cases are contained in the 448-page, two-volume investigatory effort that took 22 months to complete.
Plans and policies of new government are further polarizing Brazil
Even before Jair Messias Bolsonaro, a confrontational elected member of the Chamber of Deputies for 27 years announced his
candidacy for federal president in March 2016, his highly extreme populist positions and views were known. Together with retired General
Antônio Hamilton Martins Mourão he placed first and was elected in the second round on 28 October 2018. On 1
January 2019 they assumed office. His nationalist, pro-business/landowner, pro-military statements in support for the religious right appealed to those voters
who were hoping for a government to end to corruption and crime and bring prosperity. Homophobic Bolsonaro’s rejection of abortion, same-sex marriage,
secularism, disregard for black people, women, and the indigenous population, and lack of concern for the environment strengthened the political opposition but
its tarnished record cost it the majority.
During the last months of the past year the character of the coming government began to reveal itself and polarization of the electorate continued: Eight cabinet positions
went to former generals, a conservative theologian was chosen to be in charge of education and a career diplomat who says that both man-made climate change and
globalism are Marxist or communist inspired became foreign minister.
The incoming president set the tone when he declared in his inaugural address “I
take this solemn moment and summon each of the Congressmen to help me in the mission of restoring and reconstructing our fatherland, liberating it,
definitively, from the yoke of corruption, criminality, economic irresponsibility and ideological submission…. Let us unite the people, cherish the family,
respect the religions and our Judeo-Christian tradition, combating gender ideology, preserving our values. Brazil will again be a country free of ideological
Once installed, the flood of decrees issued by Bolsonaro clearly showed direction
and content of his government’s plans and policies, according to O Globo, Correio do Povo, and
Political Freedom :
:Democracy in Retreat!
The rule of law and other vital pillars sustaining democratic society in the United States of America have been under attack for years but the lack of respect and support by President Donald Trump and his administration are weakening democracy at home and threatening to undermine political rights and civil liberties worldwide is the major conclusion of this year’s annual survey1 of Freedom House of Washington. The decline in global freedom has sustained a variety of countries in every region. In states designated as Not Free, governments have increasingly shed that thing façade of democratic practice that they established in previous decades. More authoritarian powers are now banging opposition groups or jailing their leaders dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain, warns Freedom House.
“The greatest danger comes from the fact that American democracy is not infinitely durable, especially if a president show little respect for its tenets,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “We have seen democratic institutions gradually succumb to sustained pressure elsewhere in the world, in places like Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela. Antidemocratic rhetoric and the rejection of democratic constraints on power can be first steps toward real restrictions on freedom.”
1 Freedom in the World 2019, Washington DC: Freedom House, 4 February 2019.
Chinese influence spreading
China deepening its influence in Africa and elsewhere is now getting more attention inside German and US governments. The Federal Chancellor is visiting the neighboring continent and is shown talking to African leaders in Berlin. The national security adviser in Washington on 13 December spoke at the Heritage Foundation about the government making a greater effort to widen its economic and financial footprint in Africa.
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