Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Multitaskers bad at multitasking



The people who engage in media "multitasking" are those least able to do so well, according to researchers.

A survey defined two groups: those who routinely consumed multiple media such as internet, television and mobile phones, and those who did not.

In a series of three classic psychology tests for attention and memory, the "low multitaskers" consistently outdid their highly multitasking counterparts.

The results are reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Increasingly, people who are looking at their computer screen are frequently watching TV, listening to the radio, maybe reading print media, chatting, texting," said Cliff Nass, a co-author on the study from Stanford University.

"On the computer you could be emailing while you have three chats going on while you're playing World of Warcraft. If you look at classical psychology textbooks, people cannot multitask - but if you walk around on the street, you see lots of people multitasking," he told BBC News.

"So we asked ourselves the question, 'what is it that these multitaskers are good at that enable them to do this?'"

Paying attention

The three experiments undertaken by high and low multitaskers were designed to test three aspects that the study's authors believed must contribute to multitaskers' skills.

The shocking discovery of this research is that [high multitaskers] are lousy at everything that's necessary for multitasking
Clifford Nass
Stanford University

In the first, they were tested for their ability to ignore irrelevant information. They were briefly shown a screen with two red rectangles and either 0, 2, 4 or 6 blue rectangles.

The task was to determine whether, when the screen was shown again, one of the red rectangles had been rotated.

Low multitaskers were better at the task, regardless of the number of blue rectangles, whereas high multitaskers got worse at it as the number of distracting blue rectangles went up.

In a test of the degree of organisation of working memory, participants were presented with a series of letters, one at a time, and told to push a button when they saw a letter that they had seen exactly three letters previously.

Again, low multitaskers were significantly better at correctly spotting the repeated letters. Not only did the high multitaskers do worse from the beginning, they got worse at it as time went on.

Thirdly came a test of the participants' ability to switch tasks. They were first shown either "letter" or "number" on a screen, and then presented with a letter/number pair such as A7.

If the preceding screen said "letter", they were to determine if it was a consonant or a vowel. If it said "number", they were to determine if it was even or odd.

After, for example, a series of "number" tasks, the experimenters switched to "letter" tasks. Again, low multitaskers significantly outperformed their counterparts in switching to the new task.


"The shocking discovery of this research is that [high multitaskers] are lousy at everything that's necessary for multitasking," Professor Nass said.

"The irony here is that when you ask the low multitaskers, they all think they're much worse at multitasking and the high multitaskers think they're gifted at it."

The pressing question that remains, Professor Nass said, is one of cause and effect: are those people with a dearth of multitasking skills drawn to multitasking lifestyles, or do the lifestyles dull the skills?

The team is actively pursuing new research avenues, such as studying the brain activity of the different groups as they go about their multitasking.

The results could be profound, Professor Nass said, potentially suggesting new means of teaching and even reporting news for those given to a multi-media feed of information.

But at the very least, he said, multitaskers should be told that they are bad at multitasking.

US names CIA abuse investigator


A special US prosecutor has been appointed to investigate allegations of abuse of terror suspects.

The announcement of John Durham's selection came as a report was published detailing the allegations of abuse by CIA agents.

Agents threatened to kill a key terror suspect's children and sexually assault another's mother, it is claimed.

The report was made in 2004 but only a heavily censored version appeared and a judge ordered fuller disclosure.

The justice department is reported to be reopening about a dozen prisoner abuse cases.


[I will] stand up for those officers who did what their country asked and who followed the legal guidance they were given
Leon Panetta, CIA director

Profile: John Durham
Teenager leaves Guantanamo

Also on Monday, President Barack Obama approved a new elite team to question terror suspects.

The team includes members of agencies other than the CIA. It will be led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and supervised by National Security Adviser James Jones.

The administration has vowed that in future interrogations will be strictly in accordance with the army's field manual, and adhere to strict rules on tactics.

Republican anger

Mr Durham, who is already investigating the destruction of videotapes of CIA interrogations, was picked by US Attorney General Eric Holder.


CIA INTERROGATION REPORT
Drawn up by CIA Inspector-General John Helgerson in 2004. Edited version released last year
Lists cases of abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and secret CIA "black site" prisons in Europe, Middle East and North Africa
Says interrogation techniques were "unauthorised, improvised, inhumane and undocumented"
Alleges agents carried out mock executions, threatened inmates with handguns and drills, and made suggestions about sexually assaulting a detainee's family
Finds that some detainees provided more information after brutal treatment
Says some methods, such as mock executions, failed
Read the report in full[6.17MB]
Most computers will open this document automatically, but you may need Adobe Reader
Download the reader here

Mr Holder said: "I fully realise that my decision to commence this preliminary review will be controversial.

"In this case, given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take."

Special prosecutors in the US are independent figures appointed to investigate the possible wrongdoing of government officials or agencies.

Senior Republicans have already expressed anger at the decision.

Nine signatories of a letter to Mr Holder said they were "deeply disappointed" at a decision that "could have a chilling effect on the work of the intelligence community".

'Aggressive'

The declassified document released by the justice department said that one agent told key terror suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that "we're going to kill your children" if there were further attacks on the US.


ANALYSIS
Kevin Connolly
Kevin Connolly, BBC News, Washington

The question now that these startling depictions of the handling of those suspects are in the public domain is - what should happen next?

Barack Obama doesn't want to inflame anti-American feelings around the world but he doesn't want to alienate the professionals within America's own intelligence agencies. The problem is that below the cautious pragmatism of the White House rages a partisan political battle.

America's human rights lobby wants full disclosure, and on the left of the Democratic Party there is a real appetite for proceeding with further investigations.

Conservatives, though, will argue that the harsh interrogations came at a desperate moment in American history. The interrogators could be cast as dedicated intelligence officers, ruthless only in the cause of protecting their fellow citizens.
Dilemma over CIA tactics

Another agent allegedly told Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a suspect in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, that his mother would be sexually assaulted in front of him. The agent has denied the allegation.

In other incidents involving Mr Nashiri, he was allegedly threatened with an unloaded gun and had a power drill held near him which was repeatedly turned on and off.

Another incident involved an agent pinching an artery in a detainee's neck. As the man was passing out, the agent shook him awake, then repeated the action twice.

Ahead of the document's release, CIA Director Leon Panetta wrote on the agency's website that the report was "in many ways an old story" and that he would make "no judgments on the accuracy of the report or the various views expressed about it".

He said it was clear that the CIA had "obtained intelligence from high-value detainees when inside information on al-Qaeda was in short supply".

Mr Panetta said the CIA had been "aggressive" in seeking regular legal advice from the department of justice on its techniques.

He said his primary concern was "to stand up for those officers who did what their country asked and who followed the legal guidance they were given. That is the president's position, too."

But Mr Panetta also said: "This agency made no excuses for behaviour, however rare, that went beyond the formal guidelines on counter-terrorism."

Earlier on Monday, deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton confirmed there would be a new interrogation team for key terror suspects.

Correspondents say Mr Obama was concerned at the number of different agencies involved and he wanted to bring them together.

The new team will be called the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group.

Jackson 'had lethal drug levels'


Pop star Michael Jackson had lethal levels of the powerful anaesthetic propofol in his body when he died, coroner's office documents show.

The findings were contained in a previously sealed search warrant which has been made public in Texas.

The singer died in June from a cardiac arrest at his home in Los Angeles. Police have interviewed his doctor, but he has not been named as a suspect.

There are reports that the coroner has concluded Jackson's death was homicide.

The reports, carried by the Associated Press news agency quoting unnamed police sources, have not been confirmed.

But the BBC's Rajesh Mirchandani in Los Angeles says homicide includes manslaughter, and investigators have been trying to establish if there is a case for that charge.

PROPOFOL
A powerful anaesthetic usually used before and during surgery
Can also be used in small doses to reduce stress or anxiety
Produced as a white, opaque fluid and administered intravenously
Marketed under the trade name Diprivan

Jackson's doctor, Conrad Murray, has denied any wrongdoing.

Dr Murray's lawyer Ed Chernoff said in a statement that various details surrounding the investigation were just "police theory".

"Dr Murray simply never told investigators that he found Michael Jackson at 11am not breathing. He also never said that he waited a mere ten minutes before leaving to make several phone calls.

"In fact, Dr. Murray never said that he left Michael Jackson's room to make phone calls at all."

Mr Chernoff added he would comment on the coroner's report when it is officially released.

Details of the Los Angeles County coroners' findings were revealed when a search warrant affidavit was made public in Houston, Texas, where Dr Murray has offices.

Dr Murray's offices were raided last month as part of the police investigation into the singer's death.

The coroner's office has not published its findings regarding the singer's death.

Addiction fears

According to the affidavit, the LA chief coroner "had reviewed the preliminary toxicology results and his preliminary assessment of Jackson's cause of death was due to lethal levels of propofol".

The documents go on to say that Dr Murray told police he had been giving Jackson propofol as part of his treatment for insomnia.

But, he said he had been concerned Jackson was becoming addicted to the drug and had been trying to wean him off, using alternative drugs.

But, on the morning of the singer's death, Dr Murray is reported to have relented and given Jackson a lower dosage of propofol after a number of other drugs had not worked.

He left the star alone to make some telephone calls and when he returned Jackson was not breathing, the LA Times reports.

Dr Murray is known to have performed CPR on his patient while the paramedics were called, but Jackson was declared dead when he arrived at hospital.

Dr Conrad Murray speaking on 18 August: I told the truth

Bottles of propofol found in Jackson's house show it had been prescribed by several doctors, not just Conrad Murray, but he remains at the centre of the inquiry, our correspondent adds.

Earlier this month, Dr Murray - who was employed as Michael Jackson's personal physician for a series of concerts in London scheduled for July - posted a video message on YouTube to thank his supporters.

"I told the truth and I have faith the truth will prevail," he said in the short one-minute clip.

Textbook sparks furore in Mexico


A row has erupted in Mexico after the government distributed a history textbook to primary schools which makes no mention of the Spanish conquest.

The chronology of the text neatly avoids the issue by ending before the Spanish arrived in the early 1500s.

Some opposition figures have seized on what they see as a calculated omission.

The arrival of the conquistadors resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people and the colonisation of Mexico.

On Monday, as 25 million children started the new school term, the government has found itself in the middle of a controversy it apparently did not see coming, says the BBC's Stephen Gibbs in Mexico City.

The new history textbook, published and distributed free by the education ministry, omits what historians agree was one of the most important eras in the country's history - the arrival of the Spanish led by Hernan Cortes in 1519 that led ultimately to colonisation until Mexico gained independence in 1821.

Some opposition politicians have accused the conservative government of President Felipe Calderon of deliberately discouraging a critical analysis of the conquest.

The government is even accused of being closer to the Spanish conquerors than to Mexico's indigenous population.

The textbook was "an attack on the nation's identity", said the president of the culture committee of the chamber of deputies, Alfonso Suarez del Real, from the opposition PRD party.

But the country's assistant education secretary, Fernando Gonzalez, said criticism was not warranted.

The Spanish conquest should and would be studied in depth by secondary school pupils, he said.

Mr Gonzalez added that the school history textbooks were "continually being improved".

Broken hearts mend with 'patch'


A team of Israeli scientists has developed a potential way to fix the damage from heart attacks.

A "patch" has been made from heart muscle that can be used to fix scarring left over from a heart attack.

Writing in the journal PNAS, the scientists describe how the technique strengthened the hearts of rats that had suffered heart attacks.

The "patch" was grown in abdominal tissue first, then transplanted to damaged areas of the heart.

This experiment is the first to show that such patches can actually improve the health of a heart after it has been damaged.

The scientists measured an increase in the size of the muscle in damaged areas, and improved conduction of the electrical impulses needed for the heart to pump normally.

Heart failure

Heart attacks usually cause irreversible damage to heart muscle. If people survive, then the damaged muscle can cause another serious condition called heart failure.

It is hoped that the procedure may eventually lead to treatments in humans because of its "simplicity and safety", the authors - led by Tal Dvir from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva - wrote in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

However, they added that "because most patients with heart attacks are old, and multiple surgery can pose a large risk to them, our strategy is not currently an option".

Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), told BBC News: "In the last decade there has been significant research into injecting cells, including stem cells, into the heart to try and repair the damaged area.

"This study was in animals, but may help scientists better understand how to repair damaged human hearts in the future."

The technique is also being developed for livers and bladders.

Senator Edward Kennedy, 77, dies


Veteran US Senator Edward Kennedy, the brother of ex-President John F Kennedy, has died at the age of 77, after a long battle with a brain tumour.

He became a Democratic Massachusetts senator in 1962, replacing his brother when he resigned to become president, and was re-elected seven times.

Senator Kennedy had been a dominant force in liberal US politics for almost half a century.

Recently he was an active supporter of President Barack Obama.

He has championed issues like healthcare and education.


The liberal lion's mighty roar may now fall silent, but his dream shall never die
Harry Reid
Senate Majority leader

Senator Edward Kennedy: Your comments
Kennedy family statement

In 2006 Time magazine named him as one of America's "Ten Best Senators" saying that he had "amassed a titanic record of legislation affecting the lives of virtually every man, woman and child in the country".

The BBC's Richard Lister in Washington says Senator Kennedy, known affectionately as "Teddy", will be remembered as one of the most effective and popular legislators in American history.

Our correspondent says he was also skilled at forging alliances across party lines: pushing an education initiative with President George W Bush, and immigration reform with Republican John McCain.

But he was also a fierce critic of the Bush administration, in particular over Iraq and the prisoner abuse scandal.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid said the Kennedy family and the Senate had "together lost our patriarch".

"The liberal lion's mighty roar may now fall silent, but his dream shall never die," he said.

'Joyous light'

The Kennedy family announced his death in a brief statement in the early hours of Wednesday.


EDWARD MOORE KENNEDY
1932 Born, youngest of nine children
1962 Becomes country's youngest senator
1963, 1968 Brothers President John F Kennedy and Senator Robert F Kennedy both assassinated
1969 "Chappaquiddick incident" - Kennedy flees scene after road crash in which his young passenger dies
1980 Runs unsuccessfully for Democratic nomination against sitting President Jimmy Carter

Obituary: Edward Kennedy

"Edward M. Kennedy, the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply, died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port (Massachusetts)," the statement said.

"We've lost the irreplaceable centre of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever."

Edward Kennedy was the only one of four brothers to die a natural death.

His brother Joseph was killed in an air crash in World War II, and both President John F Kennedy and presidential hopeful Robert F Kennedy were assassinated in the 1960s.

He was widely expected to be the next Kennedy in the White House, but he was never able to fully overcome the scandal caused in 1969, when he drove a car off a bridge at Chappaquiddick near his home, killing his female passenger.

The incident helped derail his only presidential bid, more than a decade later.

But he remained active in politics right up until his death, famously endorsing Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination during a tight race with Hillary Clinton last year.

Last week, he asked the Massachusetts governor to change state law to allow a speedy succession when his Senate seat became vacant.

Analysts suggest that Senator Kennedy feared a lengthy gap could deny Democrats a crucial vote on Mr Obama's flagship health reform.

His death comes weeks after that of his older sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, on 11 August.

Will Ahmadinejad Be Stronger, Or Weaker, In His Second Term?


By Mazyar Mokfi, Charles Recknagel
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has cracked down so hard on postelection protesters that his forceful behavior has precipitated a second crisis that few foresaw -- a battle with mainstream conservative leaders who are the backbone of the establishment and regard Ahmadinejad’s aggressive style as a threat to their own interests.

The battle comes just as Ahmadinejad begins his second term and the stakes are how powerful he will be in his second term.

On paper, Ahmadinejad should not a strong president.

His hard-line conservative supporters are a minority in parliament, where they share power with a majority block of fellow conservatives usually labeled “traditionalist” and “pragmatic.”

Weakening his parliamentary clout further, there also are sizeable, minority blocks of reformist and “independent” deputies.

But if Ahmadinejad should be a weak according to his parliamentary base, his behavior – particularly in the current postelection crisis – has notably been the opposite.

Tensions Hardening

The death of one protester, the son of a top aide to former Revolutionary Guard leader Mohsen Rezai, the only conservative to challenge Ahmadinejad in the presidential race, has been particularly noticed by mainstream conservatives.

So has Ahmadinejad’s showdown with Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatic conservative usually considered one of the establishment’s most influential leaders. Rafsanjani, who heads the Assembly of Experts, is widely believed to have financially backed the leading reformist candidate Mir Hossein Musavi against Ahmadinejad.

Now, as reformists have been forced from the streets, the tensions between the president and more mainstream conservatives are hardening.

“The conservatives who have a pragmatic view about the government and are looking at the future of the political system are the main opposition to Mr. Ahmadinejad," analyst Ali Reza Haghighi of the University of Toronto told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

"This group has long-term plans for itself and in this future program Mr. Ahmadinejad has no place. Therefore, they are planning for the next parliamentary and presidential elections and are trying to put their members in key policy-making positions," he says.

Open Letter

The tone of exchanges between mainstream conservative groups and Ahmadinejad can be surprisingly sharp.

Recently, the head of the country’s powerful alliance of clerics and shopkeepers, wrote an open letter to the president reminding him to work in the interest of the Islamic Revolution.

The letter from Habibollah Asgar Ouladi of the Hay’atha-ye mo’talafe-ye eslami (Coalition of Islamic Associations), reads in part:

“If you make some mistakes by inaccuracy, by lack of consulting with other honest followers of the Islamic Revolution, and by policies that do not precisely follow the Velayat-e faqih (Rule of the Jurisprudent), it will demolish the people’s trust in you ... and it can damage the whole system irrevocably.”

Ouladi has separately praised Rafsanjani for trying to calm the postelection crisis and said he deserves full public respect.

The Coalition of Islamic Associations, with members in mosques and bazaars throughout the country, is a major backer of the mainstream conservative deputies who make up the largest block in parliament.

But Ahmadinejad has shown no readiness to listen to such warnings. Rather than reach out to other conservatives, he is proceeding alone with the first major step of his second-term: forming his cabinet.

Young Cabinet

Ahmadinejad has rejected urgings from the parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, to discuss the appointees before he presents them to the legislature for approval next week.

Instead, he has signaled he may further challenge Iran’s aging establishment by forming a cabinet made up of “young people who have experience.” It is not yet clear what that means, but it may be more people like Ahmadinejad himself. That is, a second generation of revolutionaries who are ready, like the Jacobins of the French Revolution, to wrest power from the Islamic Republic’s founding generation and pursue their own purist vision of the future.

The mainline conservatives’ mounting frictions with Ahmadinejad suggest that his second-term could be filled with the kinds of power struggles now on display in Tehran.

Some analysts see Ahmadinejad’s prospects for dominating the establishment as limited. That is not only because ultimate executive power in Iran belongs to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but also because Ahmadinejad has made himself some very powerful enemies.

“Going forward, we are going to see, in fact, a weaker Ahmadinejad presidency, not because of Khamenei, but because of all the conservatives who now oppose him," Geneive Abdo, a regional expert at The Century Foundation in Washington, D.C., told Radio Farda.

"He now has heavyweight, big players in Iran openly against him, not the reformers who are sort of irrelevant, but he has now Larijani, Rezai, Rafsanjani, all these people with real power who now are working diligently to undermine his authority,” she says.

Crises As Weapons

But other analysts say that Ahmadinejad is likely to respond to such powerful enemies by using political crises to neutralize them as he mobilizes parliamentary support for his government in the interest of stability. The model for using political crises may be exactly what he is doing now in making no compromises to end the post-election trauma in the country.

“We need to know whether [Ahmadinejad’s] type of management, which is not in favor of the ‘traditional conservatives’ and the ‘bureaucratic conservatives,’ can be understood, and countered, by these groups," says Taqi Rahmaneh, a reformist leader with the Melli Mazhabi movement close to former President Muhammad Khatami.

"He does not give a lot of importance to these groups. For example, he did not take part in [the annual commemoration ceremony] of the Coalition of Islamic Associations. He said that he was too busy last year, even though Mr. Rafsanjani and Mr. Khatami have always taken part in this ceremony,” Rahmaneh says.

Maintaining a crisis atmosphere also enables Ahmadinejad to sidestep rivals by going directly to his powerbase: a mass of poorer Iranians who see him as one of their own. That base can be called out for mass demonstrations and counterdemonstrations and its members are strongly represented in the Basij and Revolutionary Guards.

Combined, those are powerful tools for street power and Ahmadinejad has employed all of them in the postelection crisis.

Unquestioning

What is not known today is exactly what Ahmadinejad and his hard-line camp would do with any additional power they wrest from the mainstream conservatives.

The hard-liners pledge loyalty to the supreme leader and that entails simply following his lead in directing the country’s affairs.

The president's spiritual mentor, the ultra-conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, restated that loyalty as he called on Iranians to unquestioningly follow Ahmadinejad on August 12.

“When the president is endorsed by the [supreme] leader, obeying him is similar to obedience to God,” Mesbah-Yazdi said.

But all of the increasingly independent president's enemies in the postelection crisis – be they reformist or conservative – also follow the supreme leader. And that suggests, when so many rivals pledge the same allegiance, that following the supreme leader can be a relative thing.

Iranian Reformist Leader's Son Talks About Court Appearance


The son of reformist cleric and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi says that he was summoned to court on August 25 on security charges and for giving interviews to Persian-language media based outside Iran. Hossein Karrubi was interviewed by RFE/RL's Radio Farda broadcaster Roya Karimi.

RFE/RL: Hossein Karrubi, can you tell us what happened at court today?

Hossein Karrubi: At today's court hearing they brought up several charges against me, including propaganda against the establishment, spreading prostitution, agitating public opinion, attempting to [assist] rioters, and so on.

I responded that the country's youth had shed its blood in the streets, and young detainees in prison had been killed in the worst possible ways. We talked about what these things [mean] for the health of the [state]. They let me go after I paid bail.

RFE/RL: Was the basis for the accusations against you comments that were made by your father, reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi?

Karrubi: They referred to comments to Karrubi's letters and comments and asked why I had published them. They also said that [I] "confirmed" Karrubi's comments in the interviews [I] gave to the Persian Service of the BBC and [Deutsche Welle].

This is just an excuse. The main issue has been brought up by Mehdi Karrubi. This is just an excuse. The shutting down of the newspaper ["Etemad-e Melli"] had nothing to do with my comments. They've linked [the newspapers' closing] to my talks with Karrubi.

RFE/RL: So in general, were the accusations based on what was published in "Etemad-e Melli" or was it based on your interviews with foreign media?

Karrubi: No, they didn't blame me for the articles that were published in the newspaper. But they made the accusations against me based on the interviews with foreign media.

They have an issue with it and asked me why [I speak] to foreigners. When [the authorities] shut down the paper of a prominent figure such as Mehdi Karrubi, what does the establishment expect? If they would let the newspaper continue publication then maybe what [the authorities] say would be right.

RFE/RL: Can you tell us how the August 24 meeting went between Karrubi and members of the parliament?

Karrubi: Mehdi Karrubi yesterday [told the] the investigation committee [about] four cases [of rape in prison] and told them go and talk to these four individuals and investigate the issue.

It was a very good meeting. Both the parliament members and Mr. Karrubi were satisfied with the meeting. They first have to investigate the four cases, [and] then Mr. Karrubi will present other cases.

Sweden Lists Balkans, Russia, Iran As Among Top Foreign Policy Challenges


By Ahto Lobjakas
BRUSSELS -- Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has introduced his country's foreign policy priorities as EU president for the next half-year.

Speaking at the European Parliament in Brussels, Bildt said the ongoing global downturn is hitting fragile economies and states in much of the EU's own neighborhood. How well the EU does in helping provide stability for these countries, he said, will also determine the bloc's global role and credibility.

"The role of the European Union is also to try to bring stability to fragile nations and fragile economies in our immediate vicinity," he said. "If we fail in that, we'll fail in other tasks as well."

The Swedish foreign minister had very little to say on the EU's evolving relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama, noting only that there now exists a "more promising" relationship. This reflects the current view in Brussels that on many of the issues affecting Europe and its environs, Obama's priorities are a work in progress.

Bildt identified the Western Balkans' process of EU integration as one of Sweden's top concerns. Traditionally enlargement-friendly, Sweden will try to speed up the accession processes of candidate countries Croatia and Macedonia, and facilitate the progress of others.

Bildt said the EU can take credit for helping to keep the Western Balkans on the path of integration -- most recently with a move to lift visa restrictions for Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. But he warned the bloc must not let slip what has been gained.

"I would say that, for the first time in a very long time, the forces of integration in [the Balkan] region are beginning to be stronger than the forces of disintegration," he said. "But this is critically important upon us maintaining momentum in our policies of integration in that particular region."

'Most EU-Friendly Government'

Sweden's top diplomat, who has a long history of involvement in the region as a mediator, praised Serbia as the "perhaps most reformist and EU-friendly government in history." He noted Kosovo is now independent, though he conceded some "issues" remain within the EU itself -- a reference to the fact that five EU member states have yet to recognize the country.

Croatia's progress on the road to the EU has been snagged by a highly public row over borders with neighboring Slovenia. An EU member state, Slovenia is blocking Croatia's accession talks and Bildt will have his work cut out for him if he is to put Zagreb back on track to join the EU in 2011. Without revealing too much of his strategy, Bildt said governments in both countries must tone down their rhetoric.

The issue of Turkey is sometimes controversial. I think that is fairly natural. It is a big issue.
Bildt returned repeatedly to the issue of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose leaders he said had squandered the chance to join Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia in the lifting of the visa regime. Leaders of the Bosnia's three ethnic communities dragged their feet over EU demands to introduce biometric passports and implement other measures.

Bildt said Bosnia's bickering politicians were failing the country's youth, who he said "want a European future."

Bildt also argued that Bosnia needs a so-called "Brussels process" to replace the Dayton process that brought peace to the country in the mid-1990s. He said Bosnia's current bid to move closer to the EU presents much more complex challenges than the Dayton framework is equipped to handle.

'It Is A Big Issue'

Briefly addressing Turkey, the EU's largest candidate nation, Bildt admitted controversy within the EU, where Germany and France want Ankara to accept a "privileged partnership" instead of full membership.

"The issue of Turkey is sometimes controversial. I think that is fairly natural. It is a big issue," Bildt said. "But the task of a presidency is, of course, to execute -- in an impartial and objective way -- the policies that have been decided by the union and supported by the vast majority of this particular parliament. We need to bring also that accession process forward in the months ahead."

In immediate terms, however, Cyprus remains the main obstacle in Turkey's accession talks. Mindful of this, Bildt said reconciling the island's Greek and Turkish communities is "perhaps the most important" challenge facing the EU. The two communities' leaders are currently holding talks, but Bildt ruefully conceded the bloc's own impotence in the matter, as it can have no role in the peace process, which is overseen by the United Nations.

Bildt predicted "maneuverings in the east" will occupy much of his time over the next six months. This will involve delicate efforts to add substance to the EU's Eastern Partnership with Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and the three South Caucasus countries without alienating Russia, which is loath to cede any influence over former Soviet territory to the EU.

"We need to develop the Eastern Partnership into something that is felt to be real and relevant for all of the countries, that deploys the transformational forces and powers that we have demonstrated in the past that we have, and that brings them hope for the future," he said.

"At the same time, [we need] to continue to engage with Russia, a country with which our relationship has deteriorated over the past year due to the conflict in Georgia and by the inability to fully implement the agreements that were done the wake of that particular war," he added.

'Hope For The Future'

Bildt painted a fairly bleak picture of the situation in the 12 countries "between the EU and China," where democracy has largely "stalled" and authoritarianism is on the rise. He said the EU must expand the transformational power that brought about its last rounds of enlargement and give those countries "hope for the future."

He argued for giving greater travel freedom to Ukraine and the South Caucasus countries, but admitted deep domestic concerns in many EU member states means such quick changes are unlikely.

Bildt could afford to be comparatively bullish on one enlargement prospect, however. With Iceland having declared interest, Bildt said he hopes the EU can in future gain a stake in the strategically important Arctic issues. There, again, it is likely to find itself opening up another front of confrontation with Russia.

The Swedish foreign minister had relatively little to say about the EU's southern, Mediterranean neighbors, for whom future membership has been ruled out. He noted that within a few decades, the region will gain "two Egypts" -- or 160 million people -- in terms of population increases. This is a process the EU is vitally interested in managing, given the increasing migratory pressures at its own southern borders.

Bildt said the EU's relationship with the Muslim word is "a huge issue," adding he believes a more positive relationship has now been made possible as a result of U.S. policy changes.

The Swedish foreign minister also paid homage to the "highly significant nation" of Iran, saying the EU wants to reach out to the country's people. But Bildt also defended the EU's determination not to cut links with the Iranian government -- although he acknowledged the regime in Tehran faces "legitimacy" issues in the wake of the violently contested elections last month.

"We need to deal with all of the issues connected with Iran, deal with what has been seen happening on the streets, deal with the consular and other related issues that we've done in the last few weeks and days and will continue to do in a couple of highly important cases," he said. "But [we need] also to see if there is any way in which we can reach an accommodation on important issues, notably but not isolated to the important nuclear dossier."

Bildt largely skirted over his four-day trip to Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, which ended July 20. This was largely due to a lack of interest on the part of his audience of EU parliamentarians. The Swedish minister was also not asked to address the forthcoming elections in Moldova, a country whose internal turmoil has kept EU diplomats exercised behind closed doors for the better part of four months.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Russian Patriarch's Visit Creates Storm In Ukraine


By Claire Bigg
Some see him as their spiritual father. Others say he is merely doing the bidding of his Kremlin masters.

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, is in Ukraine on a ten-day visit that has once again underscored the country's deeply ambivalent feelings toward Russia's main religious authority.

The Russian Orthodox Church retains formal authority over Ukraine's Orthodox Christians, but is losing growing numbers of faithful to Ukrainian splinter churches.

Kirill's arrival in Kyiv on July 27 unleashed passionate reactions.

Scuffles and heated arguments erupted as the patriarch prepared to hold a liturgy at one of Kyiv's churches on July 28.

One demonstrator condemned what he said was "the ongoing expansion of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church on Ukraine's Orthodox territory."

Nearby, a worshipper voiced her anger at the protesters' attempt to disrupt the prayers.

"I came here to pray, but these bastards are preventing me from doing so with their screams," she complained. "They are trying to discredit the Orthodox people, and this disgraceful behavior will be punished at the first occasion."

Disputed Motives

Kirill is on his first visit to Ukraine since being enthroned as patriarch in February following the death of his predecessor, Aleksy II.

The patriarch, aware of the deepening political tensions between the two ex-Soviet nations, has insisted that his 10-day tour of Ukraine is spiritual, not political.

But protester Oles Shevchenko, for one, is not convinced. Shevchenko, one of 5,000 demonstrators who marched against Kirill’s visit in Kyiv, believes the patriarch is in Ukraine to promote the Kremlin's agenda.

"This visit has nothing to do with religion. It is fully in line with the imperial policy of Kremlin," he said. "He has a KGB attitude. When he arrived, he said that 'everything here is ours, that for us there are no political borders.'"

Despite Kirill's assurances that his sole aim is to unite fractious Orthodox Christians, his latest statements have added fuel to the political, religious, and economic disputes pitting Ukraine against Russia.

Speaking on Ukrainian television on July 28, Kirill said Russians and Ukrainians were one and the same people and called on them not to sacrifice their values in the pursuit of closer ties with Europe -- a veiled jab at Ukrainian efforts to move away from Russia's orbit and join NATO.

Such comments are likely to anger many in Ukraine, who claim the Moscow Patriarchate is bent on undermining Ukraine’s independence from its former imperial master.

"The Moscow patriarchate is a church of Russian people, and we have a different state. Ukrainians are not Russians, and Ukraine is not Russia," Bishop Yevstrat Zorya, a spokesman for the Kyiv Patriarchate, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

During his three-day visit in Kyiv, Kirill also condemned attempts to "falsify" history, echoing earlier Kremlin criticism of Ukraine's campaign to have the Holodomor, a Stalin-era famine that killed millions of Ukrainians, recognized internationally as genocide.

The patriarch's itinerary, too, is raising eyebrows. He is currently visiting the Russian-speaking regions of eastern Ukraine before heading to the Crimean Peninsula, home to a majority Russian-speaking population and a mounting separatist movement.

Competing Churches

But what makes Kirill's visit most controversial is his claim to spiritual authority on Ukrainian territory -- an issue that has strong political overtones due to the Moscow Patriarchate's coziness with the Kremlin.

Orthodox Christianity, born from the 1054 Great Schism with Rome, is the dominant faith in Ukraine.

But the country's Orthodox Christians are split between parishes loyal to the powerful Moscow Patriarchate and an autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church that broke off from Moscow in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Moscow continues to consider the Kyiv Patriarchate schismatic.

Advocates of an independent Ukrainian church contend that while the Russian-backed church controls the majority of parishes in Ukraine, the country has more Orthodox faithful than Russia and deserves its own, separate church.

Ukraine's Western-leaning president, Viktor Yushchenko, has long urged Russia to formally grant independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, which many Ukrainians regard as a key element of their nation's post-Soviet national identity.

He has sought the support of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the word's 250 million Orthodox believers, but has not received a clear response.

Yushchenko's renewed call for an independent Church during talks with Kirill Monday met with an icy rebuff.

"This Church already exists, Mr. President. It is the local Church of Ukraine, and if it did not exist, Ukraine would not exist today," Kirill hit back. "There is no imperialism here, no domination over others. There is only a clear Orthodox doctrine: the patriarch is everyone's father, regardless of the color of passports in people's pockets or the state in which they live."

The patriarch went on to describe Kyiv as the "southern capital of Russian Orthodoxy," and dismissed Ukraine's breakaway churches as "wounds" on the body of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Some Ukrainians, weary of the ongoing feuding between Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians, have welcomed Kirill's message of unity.

Former deputy Inna Bohoslovska, now a candidate in the 2010 presidential election, said she was inspired by the religious service held by Kirill in Kyiv on July 27.

"If at least a few thousand people felt the way I did during the service, I'm sure this will be the biggest positive effect of this visit," she said. "The speculations and fights that surround Orthodoxy in Ukraine are a disgrace for our country."

Despite his strong following in Ukraine, Kirill will have trouble dispelling doubts about the motives behind his Ukrainian pilgrimage.

His visit comes as a resurgent Russia seeks to boost its influence on the international scene, including in the religious sphere. Russian political leaders have staunchly backed the Moscow Patriarchate's campaign to bring its foreign offshoots into the fold.

These efforts saw the formal reunification in 2007 of the Moscow church with its main dissident branch, the U.S.-based Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, whose founders fled Bolshevik rule almost a century ago.

Soviet-Era Documents Shed Light On Suppression Of Ukrainian Catholic Church


By Brian Whitmore
Patriarch Kirill's recent high-profile visit to Ukraine was interrupted by an unwanted visitor from the past: Josef Stalin's ghost.

A five-decade-old letter from the Soviet Communist Party archives, made available to RFE/RL's Russian Service this week as Kirill was wrapping up his 10-day visit to Ukraine, illustrates the extent to which the patriarch's predecessors were involved in Stalin's efforts to wipe out the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in the 1940s.

The letter, from then-Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksy I to the head of the Soviet Council on Religious Affairs, Georgy Karpov, was dated December 7, 1945, when the Kremlin was consolidating control over territories in heavily Catholic western Ukraine after World War II. Karpov was a colonel in the NKVD, a predecessor to the Soviet KGB.

In the letter, Aleksy informs Karpov of an "initiative group" that was being formed in Greek-Catholic dioceses in western Ukraine that would pressure clergy to agree to disband their church and convert to Orthodoxy.

"More than 800 priests have already joined the initiative group, and it is expected that by the New Year the entire clergy will have done so with the exception of a small number of diehards," Aleksy wrote.

At the time of the letter, all of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church's bishops had been either imprisoned or exiled, making the clergy especially vulnerable to pressure as Stalin sought to eradicate the Vatican's influence.

"What strikes me most about that letter is that, within the context of the particular power relationships that were in place, [Patriarch Aleksei I] really sounds like he was trying to give a semblance of ecclesiastical credibility to what was otherwise clearly a blatant act of state intervention in Church affairs," says Andrii Krawchuk, the former president of the University of Sudbury in Ontario, Canada and the author of the book "Christian Social Ethics in Ukraine."

In another letter, published this week by the Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress, Nikita Khrushchev, then a member of the Soviet Politburo and a high-ranking Ukrainian Communist Party official, informed Stalin of "work undertaken to dismember the [Ukrainian Greek-Catholic] church and transfer the...clergy to the Orthodox Church." That letter was dated December 17, 1945, just 10 days after Aleksy's correspondence.

Father Ihor Yatsyv, press secretary for the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, Lubomyr Huzar, tells RFE/RL's Russian Service that the documents shed important light on efforts by Soviet authorities to liquidate Catholicism in western Ukraine.

"The most important thing this letter illustrates is that these initiative groups were not established by the Greek-Catholic dioceses themselves, as had been previously claimed, but rather that they were inspired by the Soviet authorities," Yatsyv says.

Echoes Of The Past

Stalin allowed the Russian Orthodox Church, which had been suppressed following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, to operate officially again from 1943 -- albeit under tight Soviet supervision -- in an effort to intensify patriotic support for the authorities during World War II and after.

"In Stalin's regime the idea was to subsume everything into one centralized aegis, namely the Russian Orthodox Church, which itself was subject to strict controls and even repression by the state," Krawchuk says.

The letters came to light as Patriarch Kirill was completing a visit to Ukraine amid criticism that the Russian Orthodox leader was carrying out the Kremlin's political agenda to bring Russia's southern neighbor back under Moscow's control.

In controversial remarks on Ukrainian television on July 28, Kirill said Russians and Ukrainians were one and the same people. He also called on Ukrainians not to forsake their values in the pursuit of closer ties with Europe.

Yatsyv was critical of Kirill's conduct during his visit, which took place from July 12-August 5, which he said "was more political than religious," and suggested that he saw echoes of Moscow's past attempts to dominate Ukraine.

"One would expect a politician from Russia or some other country that wants to establish a sphere of influence in Ukraine to use such a tone. If it is a spiritual person, the head of a church, he should be addressing spiritual and moral issues," Yatsyv says.

Yatsyv says the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church had no role in leaking the Stalin-Khrushchev letter to Kathpress. He says, however, that after the publication the church discovered that it had a copy of the letter, which it has since posted on its website.

In a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev upon returning to Moscow, Kirill called his visit to Ukraine "one of the most striking memories of my patriarchal service" and appealed for closer ties between Moscow and Kyiv.

"We must do everything we can to ensure that our people always feel a mutual closeness, while respecting the sovereignty of nations and taking into account the reality of modern politics," Kirill said.

"The people of Russia and Ukraine should feel comfortable in this common spiritual space, being a part of different nations and being the citizens of different states, but still being the sons and daughters of the Russian Orthodox Church."

Medvedev responded that "in spite of what has happened and in spite of our division into separate states, the special brotherly relations between our peoples must remain, regardless of who is in power."

Underground Seminaries

The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, which was formed by the Union of Brest in 1596, is under the authority of the Vatican but observes Byzantine rites similar to those of the Eastern Orthodox Church . It is considered an important component of national identity in western Ukraine.

According to documents from Ukrainian archives, obtained by RFE/RL's Russian Service, Stalin's security chief Lavrentiy Beria, the head of the NKVD, approved the decision to liquidate the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in January 1941.

Those plans, however, were delayed when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. The Soviet Union regained control over western Ukraine in the summer of 1944.

Initially, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishops were asked by Soviet authorities to endorse a union with the Russian Orthodox Church, but all of them refused -- and were subsequently arrested and sent into internal exile.

Under the supervision of Soviet authorities, new, more pliant, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishops were ordained, but this was never recognized by the Vatican.

In March 1946, just three months after the Aleksy-Karpov and Khrushchev-Stalin letters, the clergy who had joined the initiative group convened in the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv to annul the Union of Brest, dissolve the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, merge its clergy with the Russian Orthodox Church, and turn its property over to the Moscow Patriarchate.

Some clergy, however, went underground to keep the faith alive, conducting services in forests and in homes.

"The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church ceased to [officially] function in the Soviet Union, but it continued illegally, in the catacombs as we say," Yatsyv says. "There were new bishops and underground seminaries."

The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church remained underground until for more than four decades until December 1989, during Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's liberalization, when it was allowed again to function officially.

Russia's Message To Ukraine Echoes Across Former Soviet Union


By Robert Coalson
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's chief of staff has denounced the "aggressive tone" of an open letter from his Russian counterpart that sent shock waves through Ukraine's political elite.

Vera Ulyanchenko accused the Russian leadership of being "hostage to old imperialist complexes" and capable of speaking to its neighbors only "in the language of insults and threats."

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin countered by saying the missive reflects Moscow's "concern" about deteriorating relations, accusing Ulyanchenko of "willfully misinterpreting" Medvedev's message.

In the letter, Medvedev accuses Kyiv of adopting policies intended to undermine a 1997 bilateral agreement on friendship and partnership, and says he hopes "the new political leadership of Ukraine" that emerges after the presidential election in January takes steps to improve relations.

Medvedev offers a litany of specific complaints against Yushchenko, including the claim that Kyiv provided arms to Georgia in the run-up to the war in the Caucasus last August and that Ukraine is "distorting" Soviet history by insisting the Great Famine of the 1930s was an act of "genocide" against Ukrainians. He also complains that Yushchenko's government is suppressing the Russian language and "obstructing" the activities of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, which is based in the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol.

"I am certain that new times will come. But in the current situation, I have decided not to send our ambassador to Ukraine," Medvedev says in a video blog post filmed at Medvedev's Black Sea residence in Sochi. "He will begin work later. Exactly when will be determined by the real dynamics of our relations."

Medvedev goes on to say he's "certain that the multifaceted connections between Russia and Ukraine will return, and on a qualitatively new level -- on the level of strategic partnership."

"Such times are not far off," Medvedev adds, "I hope that the new Ukrainian leadership will be ready for this."

Medvedev's blunt message comes shortly after a controversial 10-day visit to Ukraine by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, a trip that was marred by protests by Ukrainian nationalists and complaints that the visit was part of an attempt to exert Russian authority in Ukraine.

It also comes as politicians in Ukraine prepare for the country's January 17 presidential election. Opinion polls show Yushchenko with just 4 percent support, trailing Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko by 10 percent and Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych by 20 percent.

Just The Start?

Many observers see Medvedev's initiative as an attempt to influence the campaign and the election.

"This is an attempt to make a direct and forceful intervention in Ukraine's domestic politics, and this is an open attempt to give Russia's aggressive politics a decisive influence on the outcome of the upcoming elections in Ukraine," says Andro Barnov, the head of the Institute for Strategy and Development in Tbilisi. "Russia has much more resources and leverage in Ukraine than in Georgia, and so the possibility that this Russian policy will be successful there can not be excluded."

Marek Siwiec, a Polish member of the European Parliament, echoes that sentiment.

"[This is] the beginning of the Russian involvement in the election process in Ukraine," Siwiec says. "I think the language of imperial policies is very well recognized in Europe. The Russians want to be active in the presidential election process and they demonstrate it. That's it."

But former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk dismisses such concerns, saying it's the voters -- not the Kremlin -- who will decide who the next president of Ukraine will be.

"God forbid that our relations should come to a conflict, to a confrontation, or bring about a situation where people are suffering because there is no heat in their homes, where rather than working on overcoming our economic crisis we are worrying about how to please Russia and Russia is thinking how to change the ruling powers in Ukraine," Kravchuk tells RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. "The Ukrainian people will vote for that president, which it wants to elect. This is our right and Russia must accept this, just as we must accept what is happening at the highest level of Russian politics. This is not our business, just as it's not Russia's business to dictate to Ukraine."

Getting Their Attention

Still, most observers are taking Medvedev's signal seriously. Russia's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on August 12 that Medvedev is sending "an unambiguous message to pro-Russian forces in the neighboring country: Moscow would like to see the Ukrainian government re-formed." The moderate daily added that the capitals of all the other former Soviet states are watching these developments closely and warned that such actions could "lead to our close and not-so-close partners distancing themselves further from Russia."

Writing last week in "The Moscow Times," former Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov argued that "Russia's leaders have managed to alienate even its strongest allies." He discusses Moscow's "policy failures" vis-a-vis Belarus, Armenia, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan. In Ukraine, Ryzhkov wrote, "Moscow's actions have helped consolidate Ukrainian society around an anti-Russian platform."

Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, however, says Medvedev's letter is primarily aimed at a domestic audience. He says the Kremlin feels the situation at home -- he mentions the violence in the North Caucasus and growing discontent at the economic crisis worsens and unemployment rises -- is "getting out of control."

As a result, Oreshkin says, Russia's leaders are resorting to the old tactic of building domestic support by convincing Russians their country is surrounded by enemies.

"Over the last few years, we are constantly being encouraged to hate some enemy -- [whether] it is Estonia, or Georgia, or Belarus, or, now, Ukraine," Oreshkin says.

Oreshkin adds that, most likely, Medvedev's open letter to Yushchenko is only the beginning of a new period of heightened tensions.

"I think that since Russia's leaders have decided to ratchet things up like this, this is only the first step and most likely there will be some further steps to come," Oreshkin says.

What is a ‘conflict of interest’?


The financial crisis is awash in so many specialised terms that their sheer number seems to rival the amount of bail-out money being doled out to shore up the faltering economy.

One word that is constantly being bounced around, from the Bundestag to the White House, from Wall Street to High Street, is ‘conflict of interest’. It has been used to describe everything from company boards setting their own salaries to a decision by the US Federal Reserve Bank to hire asset management companies to manage the government’s bailout funds.

But what is a ‘conflict of interest’? Is it something that only happens in companies or does it also occur in government? The components of the phrase can be easily broken down and defined, but when seen as a whole… that’s where the trouble begins. What does the term mean in practice?

For Transparency International (TI), ‘conflict of interest’ is defined as:

A “situation where an individual or the entity for which they work, whether a government, business, media outlet or civil society organisation, is confronted with choosing between the duties and demands of their position and their own private interests.”

For TI, this dilemma can occur both in the public and private sector. An example from the public sector is that of Bosnia Herzegovina. The country passed a conflict of interest law that restricts elected officials, executives, and advisors in government institutions from certain activities, including promising employment, granting privileges based on party affiliation, giving gifts, and providing privileged information on state activities.

‘The Anti-Corruption Plain Language Guide’

plain_language_guideTI has tried to make this and other key terms easier for everyone to understand by producing ‘The Anti-Corruption Plain Language Guide‘. The guide is the result of discussions within the TI movement and consultations in six countries - Bangladesh, Kenya, Lebanon, Romania, South Korea and Zambia - that included stakeholders from government, business, civil society and the media. Drawing from these contributions, a list of 45 terms was compiled accompanied by definitions and practical examples. Each term has been chosen for its influential role in defining and shaping the work of TI, and is open to continued debate and revision.

So what does conflict of interest mean to you?

Do you agree with the TI definition? How should the definition be changed to capture the problems we have witnessed in the public and private sectors?

Every two weeks, TI will be posting another new term on the blog and you are invited to contribute your ideas to the discussion. Help us improve our understanding of the words used to describe what’s happening in our world.

General during Argentina's military dictatorship sentenced to life in prison


A former general who ran a detention centre during Argentina's military dictatorship has been sentenced to life in prison for human rights violations.

Santiago Omar Riveros was commander of the notorious Campo de Mayo prison near Buenos Aires where an estimated 5,000 prisoners were held during the 1976-83 dictatorship.

Santiago Omar Riveros was found guilty on Thursday of torturing and beating to death Floreal Avellaneda, a 15 year old boy, and of abducting his mother Iris.

The two were abducted one month after the 1976 military coup, in order to find out the whereabouts of Floreal Avellaneda's father, a Communist Party Union leader of the same name.

Iris was released after nearly three years of detention and torture; her son's body was found washed up on the Uruguayan coast, bound by the hands and feet, and with signs of beating.

"This sentence is an important achievement in the fight for justice for the victims of Argentina's 'dirty war' and the struggle against impunity enjoyed by so many of the perpetrators," said Javier Zuniga, Amnesty International's special adviser.

The teenager's father said he was satisfied with the verdict, but called for Santiago Omar Riveros to receive no clemency."The sentence must be served in a common prison. Even if he dies in prison, he will never suffer what we suffered," he said.

The former general, who is now 86, is accused of more than 40 crimes against humanity involving victims of the era's so-called "disappeared". During the years of military rule, headed by General Leopoldo Galtieri, around 30,000 people vanished at the hands of the security forces and are still unaccounted for.

Turkmenistan Blocks Students Attending Foreign Universities


Ahead of the academic year which starts in September, the Turkmen authorities have imposed new controls to prevent young people going abroad to study.

NBCentralAsia has been told of numerous cases where students have been prevented from leaving the country, placed on travel blacklists, under a new set of rules placing numerous obstacles in the way of foreign study.

The move represents a complete reversal of the policy President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov announced at the time of his inauguration in early 2007, when he said students would be encouraged to go abroad to study. At the time, his remarks were welcomed as a sign he was rolling back some of the worse policies of his predecessor Saparmurat Niazov, who did his best to stop students continuing their studies abroad, which in Turkmenistan’s case often means in Russia or another former Soviet state.

Reports of the new controls emerged late last month, after new instructions requiring students to obtain special permits for foreign study came into force on July 20.

According to a source in government, the rules entail a lengthy bureaucratic process in which the education ministry has to be furnished with documents including a letter of invitation from the foreign university; a copy of its license to operate as a state university; the student’s tuition contract; and a passport. Once the paperwork has been submitted, the student is referred to the Migration Service to be issued with an exit permit.

Students arriving at passport control at Ashgabat airport and overland on the border with Uzbekistan were unaware of the new regulations and were told they could not leave without an exit permit. Many were half-way through a course abroad and had only returned home for the summer.

"Students were unaware of the changes, and those who were prevented from leaving lost their air tickets," said a local media-watcher.

One young man studying at a private university in Kazakstan was told by border guards that he was now on a travel blacklist. The regulations make no explicit provision for those attending private institutes.

He was told there was no chance of him being allowed to travel.

Some students did apply for the exit permits, without success.

One young man said he travelled to the capital Ashgabat especially to get the document, but was refused. Staff at the education ministry accused him of having an "unpatriotic attitude".

"The official started abusing me and just about accused me of betraying Turkmenistan,” he recalled. “He said I hadn’t even tried to get into a university in Turkmenistan."

NBCentralAsia observers offer a number of explanations for the crackdown on foreign travel.

Some believe the authorities do not want liberal educational values and standards from outside undermining the status quo.

"They authorities are upset that our young people are learning how to think critically, and how to compare and analyse things,” said a resident of Mary region in southeastern Turkmenistan. “This [learning] makes them look at Turkmenistan and the policies pursued here differently.”

This woman’s daughter has been attending the American University in Central Asia, based in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, for some years now. When she returned for the summer holidays she is questioned by the security services, who want to find out more about her studies. The university currently has around 200 students from Turkmenistan, on scholarships funded by the United States government and other donors.

A local observer says the authorities may have instituted the clampdown because so few students are applying for places in higher education in Turkmenistan itself.

At a recent cabinet meeting, President Berdymuhammov blamed ministers for a situation where postgraduates prefer to study abroad. His comments may have spurred officials into curbing the exodus the only way they know how, through repressive rules.

"There are instructions in place not to allow young people over the age of 14 out of the country, and to conduct a thorough check on their motivation for studying abroad,” said the observer.

According to NBCentralAsia;s sources, the education ministry conducted a survey this spring which revealed that only one in four planned to enter higher education in Turkmenistan itself.

Independent estimates suggest that over 12,000 students from Turkmenistan are attending institutes abroad – in Russia, Turkey, Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan. Many graduates do not return for fear of suffering for their choice, and instead seek jobs abroad.

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)

Tsibilisi tea-house gives glimpse of lost ethnic harmony.


Tsibilisi tea-house gives glimpse of lost ethnic harmony.

By Seymur Kazimov in Tbilisi (CRS No. 507, 21-Aug-09)
Tea might be just a drink to most people, but for the men and a few women who gather in a little tea-house in the centre of Tbilisi, it acts like a time machine.

As they sit and drink from the little cups, surrounded by the burble of the Armenian, Georgian, Azeri and Kurdish languages, they are transported back to the days before war split communities all across the Caucasus.

The little café sits in a small house in the heart of the winding streets of Tbilisi’s old centre, which is distinguished from the rest of the capital by its ethnic mix. Neighbours gather at the tables to drink tea every evening, and they call it the “Azerbaijani tea-house”, although its owners are in fact Armenian.

Margarita, 55, and Alexei Petrosian, 63, decided to open the café five years ago, looking for a way to make money from their house after Alexei became ill. They filled what had been their bedroom with tables, and now sell tea for 1.50 lari (about 90 US cents) a cup. It costs two laris if you want lemon too.

Margarita comes from the Azerbaijani town of Ganja, which had a sizeable Armenian population until the war started in Nagorny Karabakh in 1988. She is nostalgic for the age before the fighting when Azeris and Armenians ate each others’ food, enjoyed each others’ holidays and spoke each others’ languages. Her mother-in-law was Azeri, and Margarita still enjoys serving food the way her husband’s mother taught her.

“She came from the Agabekov clan. Apart from making tea, my mother-in-law taught me how to cook Azeri dishes,” Margarita said.

As is typical in Azerbaijan, but unusual in Georgia, most of the customers in the café are men. Women who want to drink tea gather in the kitchen. And that is not the only strange custom for any Tbilisi resident who wanders in. Whereas almost all cafes in the city are full of the guttural roar of Georgian, here as many as four different languages can be heard on any evening.

“Sadly though, we have had fewer clients in recent times. People don’t have money. They drink tea at home,” Alexei said.

There used to be an Azerbaijani flag on the wall of the café, but Alexei said one of the customers asked if he could have it. He said the Azeris and the Armenians here in the old town live together well, and do not mimic the problems surrounding Karabakh, which the ethnic Armenian rulers have proclaimed to be an independent state.

“In our café, we speak about everything except politics. Here we do not divide people up into nationalities,” Alexei said.

Customers say the easy atmosphere reminds them of Soviet times, when the whole South Caucasus was ruled from Moscow and everyone was a citizen of the same state. When they learned that this correspondent had come from Azerbaijan, they were careful to say that the war had made no difference to their friendships.

Albert Musaelian, for example, is a regular customer. He is an Armenian, but he loves Azeri poetry and music and has even written songs in the traditional Azeri folk style.

“This tea-house unites us,” he said, as he sat at a table with Azeri friends.

Margarita said that all the café’s customers enjoy each others’ national or religious holiday.

“I always go to the mosque for Kurban Bairam [the Feast of the Sacifice],” she said, referring to one of the two main Muslim holidays. “I sacrifice a sheep and give meat to all my neighbours even though I am a Christian. Our Azeri neighbours also celebrate all our holidays with us. Sometimes my relatives in Yerevan are surprised how I can live so closely with Azeris, and I tell them that Azeris are true friends.”

Her dream would be to go back to her home in Ganja and see her Azeri relatives who stayed behind when the Armenians fled, but there is little prospect of that.

Her neighbour, an Azeri woman called Fatmanisa, nodded her head.

“Here in Tbilisi, we share our happiness and our sadness. We always support each other,” she said.

Crisis in Darfur


The Darfur conflict has changed radically in the past year and a half. While there are fewer deaths than during the high period of fighting in 2003-2004, the conflict has mutated, the parties have splintered, and the confrontations have multiplied. Violence again increased in 2008 while access for humanitarian agencies became more difficult. International peacekeeping is not yet effective and a political settlement remains far off.

Attacks by both government and rebel forces continued throughout the year, including major aerial bombardments and ground attacks launched by the government in West Darfur in February 2008. In turn, an assault on Khartoum by Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebels in mid-May 2008 left at least 200 dead and was a milestone in the Darfur conflict, constituting the first military strike on the capital since 30 years. An attack by government troops on an IDP camp in Kalma, southern Darfur in August 2008 killed more than 30 IDPs and drew widespread international condemnation.

Meanwhile the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum continued to deny the gravity of the situation and pursue destructive policies in Darfur. At the same time it has continued to resist key provisions in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the North-South war, thus triggering a crisis in that process, with heavy fighting between government and southern troops paralysing oil-rich Abyei in June 2008.

The 14 July request by the ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo for an arrest warrant against President Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur precipitated a redoubling of international pressure on Khartoum to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis, including efforts initiated by the Arab League in late 2008 to bring the the government and different rebel groups together for peace talks in Qatar. In spite of rhetoric from Khartoum emphasizing that it is serious about peace talks, including a November 2008 “Sudan People’s Initiative”, government and rebel attacks have continued.

The NCP wants Darfur in chaos to limit the room for an opposition to emerge, while resettling key allies on cleared land and defying Security Council resolutions by integrating its Janjaweed irregulars into official security structures instead of disarming them. Rebel signatories of the May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), particularly the Sudan Liberation Army faction of Minni Minawi (SLA/MM), have been responsible for attacks on civilians, humanitarians, the AU mission (AMIS) and some of the violence in the internally displaced person (IDP) camps. Their leaders have been given government jobs and land and, as ardent supporters of the status quo and without a clearly defined role in the new negotiations, are potential spoilers. Rebel movements that did not sign the DPA have further splintered. As they divide along tribal lines, their messages become more fragmented and less representative of constituencies they claim to speak for.

The IDP camps are increasingly violent, with residents manipulated by all sides while Khartoum also tries to force them to return to unsafe areas. Inter-Arab dissension has added new volatility to the situation on the ground. Some tribes are trying to solidify land claims as the UN/AU hybrid peacekeeping operation in Darfur (UNAMID) establishes itself. This has led to fighting with other Arab tribes, which have realized the NCP is not a reliable guarantor of their long-term interests and have started to take protection into their own hands. There is now a high risk of an Arab insurgency, as well as potential for alliances with the predominantly non-Arab rebel groups. A spillover of the conflict into Kordofan has also started.

The May 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement was a failure, too limited in scope and signatories. Those who signed – the government and a few rebel factions – hurt the peace process. After a highly publicised opening ceremony in Sirte, Libya, on 27 October 2007, new peace talks were put on hold. A new joint AU/UN mediator, former Foreign Minister of Burkina Faso Djibrill Bassolé, was appointed in June 2008, and the Arab League in September 2008 initiated a new effort to resolve the crisis with peace talks in Qatar.

The new realities emphasise the necessity of broadening participation in the peace talks to associate the full range of actors and constituencies involved in the conflict, including its primary victims, such as women, but also Arab tribes. Incorporating broader and more representative voices can help remedy the uneven weight the process now gives the NCP and rebel factions. Core issues that drive the conflict, among them land tenure and use, including grazing rights, and the role and reform of local government and administrative structures, were not addressed in the DPA but left to the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation process that was supposed to follow the negotiations. They need to be on the agenda of any new negotiations if an eventual agreement is to gain the wide support the DPA has lacked.

UNAMID began deploying on 31 December 2007. The mission has faced difficulties in its first months, including staff shortages, and seven peacekeepers were killed in an attack on 9 July 2008. It continues to face troop and equipment shortages, and a number of its peacekeepers were killed in attacks during 2008 UNAMID must build upon lessons learned from its predecessor AMIS, including being more pro-active in protecting civilians and responding to ceasefire violations. Its leadership should also engage actively in the peace talks so as to ensure coherence between what is agreed and its capabilities. The international community must give it more support than it did AMIS, including strong responses, with sanctions as necessary, to further non-compliance by any party, as well as to actions that obstruct the peace process or violate international humanitarian law.

Can Cyprus Buck the Partitionist Trend?


"Everyone in my community is clairvoyant," a Belfast politician is quoted as saying in Divided Cities, a new book by Jon Calame and Esther Charlesworth (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009). "My community knows how evil and devious the other side is going to be even before the other side has thought about being evil and devious."

Participants in every conflict believe their dispute is unique, especially in cities where divisions reflect old wars, different ethnicities and interests of outside powers. In fact, the Belfast politician could have hailed from any of the apparently disparate situations in Calame and Charleworth's study -- Nicosia, Jerusalem, Beirut, Mostar and Belfast -- and inbred, irrational suspicion is just one of many patterns that communities in these cities share.

In the case of Nicosia, there's plenty of reason to take a deeper look, and not just because of the lessons to be learned from the histories of the other conflicts. Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots are in talks that, over the next year, will decide whether the two divided sides of the Mediterranean island will reunite, or whether, after three decades of keeping the peace and failing to negotiate, they will simply continue the slide to full partition. As this book points out, partition is avoidable, but takes a tremendous effort of will. As for rooting out dividing walls completely, well, nobody seems to have managed to do that yet.

Dividing lines in cities are often surprisingly deep-rooted. In the Cypriot example, Nicosia has been basically divided into northern and southern sections along the same line since Roman times. At first it was the river that used to run through the settlement, which became, in Ottoman times, the division between the southern Christian and northern Muslim quarters. The river has long been diverted and its old route paved over, but, as Hermes and Paphos Streets, it was where the first barricades went up in the mid-1950s, and has hardened into the line we know today.

The authors also show how these divisions are not bolts out of the blue, like the Soviet drive into Europe after the Second World War that ended up in the division of Berlin. It is an "incremental, slow, predictable process" in which physical partition generally comes towards the end. For them a good example of such a build-up is "the tireless plotting of [Greek Cypriot] George Grivas and EOKA in Cyprus" against Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Clearly, the 1974 Turkish invasion played a role, but it came relatively late in the story.

Psychologically, there are patterns too. Since the dawn of time, settlements have put up walls around their houses, chiefly to defend an urban population's accumulated wealth against outside barbarians. Today's urban partitions are therefore the great grandchildren of city walls like the remarkable Venetian bastions surrounding old Nicosia -- and are close cousins to gated communities, abandoned city cores, racial ghettos or invisible zoning lines for mortgage lending. Walled and partitioned cities are not all bad. They engender a sense of togetherness for the residents involved and helped Greek city states achieve their cultural heights. Some argue that partition may be an attempt to bring a community down to a more manageable size, and that good fences can make good neighbors, especially when other methods of managing cities have broken down.

Nevertheless, divisions breed the same problems as walled cities did long ago. They can also lead to a "siege mentality" and a "morbid insularity". Medieval cities were ready to bankrupt themselves to get the latest fortifications (just as today's Cypriots are ready to sacrifice economic advantage in order to avoid sharing a common space with the other.) These losses are difficult to quantify, partly because, in the short-term fever of conflict, the first thing everyone wants is security. Calame and Charlesworth believe, however, that "partition is not an effective long-term reply to discrimination and violence." In Nicosia, "the Green Line has sealed an ethnic dispute in amber without providing an inroad to the root causes of conflict." The authors show that in each city the loss of rent, urban blight, missed opportunities, duplication of urban services and psychological stress of unsolved tensions costs more than the short term fix for security fears. Popular sentiment often demands segregation, but it is contrary to a growing city's economic interests. A lose-lose dialectic sets in, undermining the morale and professionalism of even the highest-minded urban planners and architects, let alone the partitionists who profit from the situation.

Many believe division is inevitable due to ethnicity, but the authors argue that this usually only comes into play when stirred up in defence of class privileges. In several cases, fences are put up to take economic advantage of a subgroup while denying it political or social rights. The earliest walled-off subdivision for workers, who were probably racially discriminated against, has been found in third-millennium BC Egypt. Venice formalized its prejudice against Jews with a first ghetto in 1515, even if it was done in the name of protecting them from hostility. In the Cypriot example, elements of such a situation can be seen in the 1963-74 period (when Turkish Cypriots were forced into ghettos or groups of villages and, as UN Secretary General U Thant put it, lived under a "veritable siege.")

The greatest loss, Calame and Charlesworth say, is that "partitions also postpone or even preclude a negotiated settlement … because they create a climate of dampened violence" and then become "the emblem of threat as much as a bulwark against it." As such, they are a self-fulfilling prophecy and a lazy substitute for equitable governance. The authors believe religious differences are just a symptom of underlying problems, not the cause. All five cities were "outwardly defined by conflict between rival religious communities" but "none reveals upon close inspection the skeleton of a theological or even ideological dispute." The true suspects are usually economic strife or "sovereignty, political influence, territory, property, and opportunity." The real origins of the dispute are lost to most local participants, and outside powers easily project their own interests into the conflict. In each case, politicians and militants learn to live off the culture of division -- not to mention people who find unexpected meaning and self-esteem in the struggle -- and it is the poorer or working classes who suffer most. The authors believe that dividing the political sphere into a rigid ethnic framework -- a proclivity shared by Cyprus, Lebanon and Bosnia -- is a major factor favouring and then reinforcing partition. And just removing physical elements of partition - as happened in Jerusalem in 1967, in Mostar in 1994 or in Nicosia in 2003 - has proved to do little to end divisions in politics, society or people's minds.

Nicosia is not as grimly divided as other examples. The Nicosia Master Plan is admired, as are projects to fund walking paths and restore monuments in the old city. For years, both sides of the city have shared one joint sewage treatment plant, on the Turkish Cypriot side. (Indeed, the Greek Cypriot side, which needs much water, would do well to join up with the Turkish Cypriots to construct a water pipeline to the Turkish mainland.) Planners for future joint projects should to study the book's section on "professional responses". One section deals with nostalgic mistakes made in Mostar, where foreign funders preferred symbolic projects of reunification to ones that would actually have done good for people, or in Beirut, where one company controversially took over the whole ruined downtown. Still, Nicosia's divisions remain. Over the many decades of partition, Cypriots' old mutual tolerance and affinity have been badly
damaged by outside manipulation, the confrontational insularity of education systems, and nationalist leaders. And as with all the other divided cities, both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sectors are heading into what the authors call "regional cul-de-sacs."

Even more compelling is the way the Divided Cities show that Nicosia, Jerusalem, Beirut, Mostar and Belfast are the unlucky vanguard of at least 13 other major cities identified by the authors as showing the symptoms of partition. Dividing walls may be short-sighted, but they are increasingly popular as the world becomes uneasy. Cincinnati, Kirkuk and Baghdad are already partway there. Singapore, Montreal, Kigali and even Washington D.C. are not far behind. The current reunification talks in Cyprus have the potential to show that, in at least one case, the trend to partition can be reversed. But do Cypriots really have the will to do so?

Nepal’s Future: In Whose Hands?


Nepal’s peace process is in danger of collapse. The fall of the Maoist-led government, a mess largely of the Maoists’ own making, was a symptom of the deeper malaise underlying the political settlement. Consensus has steadily given way to a polarisation which has fed the more militaristic elements on both sides. While all moderate politicians still publicly insist that there is no alternative to pursuing the process, private talk of a return to war – led by generals of the Nepalese Army who have never reconciled themselves to peace – has grown louder. Outright resumption of hostilities remains unlikely in the short term but only concerted efforts to re-establish a minimal working consensus and a national unity government including the Maoists can avert the likelihood of a more dangerous erosion of trust. Strong international backing, with India eschewing short-term interference in favour of longer-term guardianship of the process it itself initiated, will be essential.

The immediate cause of the Maoists’ departure from government on 4 May 2009 was their bungled attempt to dismiss the army chief. As the consent for action that they had secured from coalition partners unravelled under external pressure, they pushed ahead unilaterally. Their legally dubious sacking order prompted an even more contentious intervention by the ceremonial president to countermand it. Maoist leader Prachanda quit on grounds of principle; the question of the balance of power between prime minister and president remains in dispute.

The Maoist resignation made the formation of a new administration an urgent necessity and, by Nepal’s standards, the transition was relatively prompt and smooth. However, the new government, led by the centrist Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), UML, is inherently unstable and incapable of addressing the most pressing challenges. Backed by 22 parties, it is yet to take full form and its major constituents are internally riven. Many UML leaders are openly sceptical of the new government, while the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) is now formally split. Between them, they have achieved the unlikely feat of making the Nepali Congress (NC) look the most cohesive and internally democratic of the non-Maoist parties.

The Maoists had not proved as effective in power as many had hoped. Moreover, they alienated two important constituencies: India (both by appearing to make overtures towards China and by refusing to become a pliant, moderate force) and the Kathmandu upper middle classes (by making them pay taxes and failing to deliver basic services, in particular electricity). Yet their main problem is their own refusal to give clear and credible assurances on their commitment to political pluralism and non-violence. Prominent ideologues within the party have given added credence to the argument that they will never alter their strategic goal of state capture and de facto totalitarian rule. In response, the leadership’s insistence that the party has embraced multiparty democracy has been less than fully convincing.

On the other side, the army has adopted a more overt, assertive political role. It is encouraged and supported by many who see it as the only credible opposition to the Maoists. It not only survived the republican transition but has thrived. Helped by timorous parties, it has successfully pushed for a substantial budgetary increase, protected its de facto autonomy, retained its full strength and pressed for new lethal arms imports – in breach of the ceasefire.

Behind much of the recent instability lies an Indian change of course. New Delhi framed the peace deal and acted as its de facto guarantor, pressing all parties to comply with its terms. Never able to digest the Maoist victory and uncomfortable with popular demands for change, it has pursued increasingly interventionist tactics through proxies in Nepali political parties while continuing its policy of ring-fencing the army as the most reliable bastion against Maoist takeover or anarchy. Its resolute opposition to all but token People’s Liberation Army (PLA) integration has unbalanced the peace equation without offering any alternative.

The background against which Kathmandu’s incestuous intrigues are played out is neither stable nor unchanging. Public security remains weak, alarmingly so in several areas. Local governance remains patchy at best and non-existent in places. Peace committees bringing together parties and civil society representatives are functional in some districts but lack a coherent agenda. Identity-based and other newer political movements are impatient with a constitutional process that, while not stalled, looks less and less likely to deliver a broadly acceptable new constitution on schedule. Civil society, a crucial force in the early stages of the peace process, is divided and demoralised.

India’s perceived partisanship has not helped international cohesion. From being the leader of the pack, successfully lining up other international players behind its strategy, it has become something of a lone wolf. It continues to criticise the UN mission, whose credibility was dented by a videotape showing Maoist leader Prachanda boasting that he had duped them into accepting vastly inflated PLA numbers. The UN would like to claim success and get out but cannot refuse requests to monitor arms as long as the situation – over which it has no direct influence – remains unresolved. In the meantime its role in preserving a fragile peace and affording Nepal some shelter from total Indian domination is under-appreciated.

Donors are keen to return to normal development activities and have been willing to fund the peace process. But their patience is wearing thin, conditions for business as usual are yet to materialise and international funding is subsidising a bloated and unaffordable security sector. The army alone far outnumbers the national civil service; it, cantoned PLA combatants and the paramilitary armed police are of no use in addressing the basic need for law and order.

It is true that all parties are still talking and there is a tradition of last-minute deals to stave off disaster. The same could happen again. But that should not obscure the fact that the rifts between the major players have grown wider and the grounds for compromise narrower. Averting a slide back to conflict will require a clear-sighted recognition of the dangers, genuine cooperation between Nepal’s parties to address them and much more solid international backing for the process, starting with a decisive lead from India.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To All Political Actors Party to the Peace and Constitutional Processes:

1. Recognising that political consensus and a broad-based government are essential to the peace process,

a) work without delay to form a national unity government, acknowledging that the democratic mandate to lead it still rests with the Maoists;

b) give shape to the proposed high-level political coordination committee for purely peace process-related issues, ensuring it has a clear agenda, regular meetings and the necessary support to monitor and implement decisions;

c) prioritise cooperation at the local level, in particular by working together to make local peace committees effective bodies for dispute resolution and pursuit of reconciliation;

d) work urgently towards a deal on the long overdue re-establishment of local government bodies or all-party mechanisms alongside formation of a national government; and

e) put in place an overall peace process monitoring mechanism.

2. Build confidence by:

a) adhering to the principle of consultation and consensus, focusing on practical measures to monitor and implement existing agreements;

b) recognising that unfulfilled commitments on all sides have contributed to a loss of trust and agreeing that reciprocity will be needed to move forward;

c) addressing the serious and substantive concerns over the president’s role by agreeing a clarification of his powers and ensuring his ceremonial office does not become a competing political power centre;

d) dealing with critical areas unaddressed by past agreements, in particular by developing plans for broader demilitarisation of armed groups, criminal mafias and party youth militias, not just the PLA; and

e) keeping the constitutional process on track and minimising the knock-on effects of delays that have already occurred.

3. Support the Army Integration Special Committee (AISC) in its task of determining options for the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants by:

a) cooperating in reconstituting the AISC, recognising the need to offer balanced representation to major parties and to move promptly to substantive discussion of the major sticking points;

b) encouraging the technical subcommittee to continue its work while recognising that it is not in a position to resolve major political questions;

c) clarifying requests for international support to the AISC and its technical subcommittee, in particular by fully exploiting the capacity of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) to channel technical assistance; and

d) tackling the most contentious questions, in particular by discussing the numbers of combatants that could be integrated into the Nepalese Army or other forces, seriously considering benchmarks and timetables for substantive progress and being realistic about the near impossibility of meeting the latest six-month deadline.

4. Make the most of international assistance, bearing in mind the risks of fading patience, by:

a) making full use of the UN and other international actors’ good offices as well as facilitating the work of UNMIN and ensuring it can complete its role in Nepal as soon as possible;

b) setting and adhering to benchmarks to achieve this, offering international backers evidence of progress and more solid indications that remaining elements of the peace deal are moving towards implementation; and

c) demonstrating in practice that unity across parties is the best way of preventing external intervention and prolonged, potentially intrusive, political engagement.

5. Cooperate in boosting the legitimacy of the state and political parties by:

a) increasing internal democracy, building on successful examples such as the internal elections carried out by the UML’s general convention and the Nepali Congress’s parliamentary party;

b) bringing an end to party youth wings’ illegal activities, developing local mechanisms to ensure inter-party disputes do not lead to violent clashes and denouncing the use of violence for political ends;

c) without barring constructive debate, using party disciplinary measures to rein in senior leaders who make destabilising public comments that undermine the peace process; and

d) putting repeated commitments to greater inclusiveness and socio-economic transformation into practice, paying particular attention to the prospects for establishing new standards for implementing the goals of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women’s participation in peacebuilding.

To the Government of Nepal:

6. Abide by the constitutional requirement to take important decisions on the basis of consensus among the major parties, including those not in government.

7. Address public security concerns by recognising that political consensus is essential to restoring law and order and using all appropriate mechanisms, national and local, to build all-party support for effective policing and ending of political interference in operational matters.

8. Address critical questions of justice and impunity by pursuing investigations and prosecutions, responding substantively to the most serious documented allegations of war crimes and basing new legislation on disappearances and the truth and reconciliation commission on wide consultation and international standards.

9. Demonstrate commitment to establishing effective democratic control over the Nepalese Army (NA) and respecting the provisions of the November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and Interim Constitution (IC) by:

a) bringing the NA under meaningful democratic control, including establishing parliamentary oversight, fully auditing expenditure and developing the constitutionally mandated work plan for democratisation and right-sizing of the army;

b) respecting the unambiguous ceasefire commitment to refrain from recruitment and weapons purchases;

c) carefully considering the conflict and development risks of increasing security budgets and focusing instead on fulfilling the constitutional commitment to determining the appropriate size of the NA and devising a sensible plan for reaching it;

d) issuing and enforcing clear orders to the NA to advise on national security policy when requested but refrain from expressing opinions on broader constitutional and political issues; and

e) making a first step towards full human rights vetting by refusing promotion to those accused of grave violations unless and until credible independent investigations have been carried out.

To the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist):

10. Recognise that concerns over Maoist strategic intent are genuine and well founded and can only be addressed by concrete steps such as:

a) giving more solid guarantees of commitment to political pluralism both in theory (for example by reconsidering the proposal to ban political parties accused of supporting feudalism and imperialism) and in practice (for example by taking stern action against cadres who threaten, assault or obstruct members of other parties);

b) clarifying the specific questions raised by the Shaktikhor video, which appeared to substantiate charges of deception over combatant numbers and plans to use “democratisation” to politicise the national army; and

c) reaffirming the ceasefire and CPA conditions on ceasing all political violence, in word and deed.

11. Convince other parties and the people at large of genuine intent to abide by the peace process, for example by:

a) ending the militarised structure and paramilitary activities of the Young Communist League (YCL), including its occupation of public buildings as de facto barracks;

b) promptly discharging ineligible personnel in the cantonments in line with repeated public promises, cooperating with government and international efforts to design and successfully deliver appropriate rehabilitation packages;

c) implementing other unfulfilled past commitments such as the return of seized property; and

d) cooperating with investigations and prosecutions of crimes committed during the conflict and ceasefire periods.

To the International Community, in particular India, China, the U.S., EU, UN and Donors:

12. Publicly support the peace process and underline international expectations for its successful conclusion by:

a) emphasising the need for all parties to adhere to all aspects of the CPA, IC and other agreements;

b) supporting effective governance, while recognising that this will only be possible under a broad-based national government and urging all parties to make the compromises necessary to achieve this;

c) underlining that significant development and budgetary assistance is at risk should stable governance not be established;

d) pressuring all parties to use only non-violent methods to pursue protests and to avoid excessively disruptive tactics such as blocking the functioning of the CA; and

e) continuing to urge investigations into the worst alleged conflict abuses and offering technical support as appropriate.

13. Strengthen international consensus and coordination by:

a) addressing the rift between India, which appears to have revised its interpretation of the peace deal, and other major players, who still support the agreements initiated and endorsed by New Delhi;

b) dispelling impressions of waste and confusion by getting a grip on the multiple, overlapping programs supporting critical areas like the constitutional process and security sector reform; and

c) maintaining a common strong emphasis on human rights, political pluralism and conflict resolution at the heart of all policies, including development aid and military cooperation.

14. Recognising that delay in reforming the security sector is continuing to compromise all development efforts by draining resources and undermining political progress:

a) seek unambiguous assurances that affordability and accountability will be key criteria in any consideration of security sector budgets and policy, and that development funds will not be used in effect to subsidise an unsustainably large army;

b) push for democratic control of the security sector and discuss detailed plans for appropriate assistance;

c) urge prompt measures to address the pressing need for improved public security and offer support to such steps; and

d) explore ways to help train integrated NA and other security forces, in particular by offering conversion training for former PLA combatants, including at officer level if requested, and joint training to integrated units on working under democratic control, respect for human rights, etc.

To the Government of India:

15. Given the enduring tradition of intimate Indo-Nepal links, use the special relationship constructively to secure both Nepal and India’s core interests without attempting to dictate, for example by:

a) making a clear, public recommitment to the fundamentals of the peace process;

b) offering public endorsement of the principle of PLA integration into the NA and other security forces, if agreed by Nepal’s parties and in the manner of their choosing;

c) building on India’s leading example of successful civilian control of the military and unique army to army links to offer support in areas such as building a functional defence ministry and training army officers and civil servants to work effectively alongside one another;

d) sending firm messages to the Indian army to support government policy on Nepal and communicate appropriate messages to counterparts in the NA;

e) considering positive steps to support security sector reform, including training for former Maoist combatants joining the security forces and assistance in reshaping policing to meet the needs of federalism and improved public accountability; and

f) supporting the UN’s role and using Indian influence constructively to assist in creating the conditions for the winding up Security Council-mandated operations.

To Members of the United Nations Security Council:

16. The Security Council should underline its commitment to supporting the peace process but also its concern about weakening consensus and delays in addressing key steps by:

a) considering a Security Council visit to Nepal to understand the complex situation and hear directly from the main political actors how they propose to address challenges;

b) encouraging member states represented in Kathmandu to scrutinise progress, offer support as necessary and report publicly on progress or concerns;

c) making stronger public messages of support for UNMIN’s mission and for Nepal’s parties in taking prompt steps to conclude the peace process and restructure UN involvement to reflect the longer term needs of a successful post-conflict transition; and

d) engaging more closely with India to narrow differences in perspective and build more solid common ground on outside support for the peace process