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Friday, May 14, 2010

Human Rights leader Samantha Power on the life of United Nations Icon

If Samantha Power -- who was a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, acclaimed journalist, and popular Harvard lecturer on human rights before becoming a close advisor to President Obama -- says that she has a story to tell about a "man of action and a man of reflection," who had "a thirty-four-year head start in thinking about the plagues that preoccupy us today," we would all do well to listen.

The story of longtime U.N. diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello has become a centerpiece of Power's public discussions on the importance of the U.S. taking a principled stance on human rights in its foreign policy, the shortcomings of the United Nations, and how to confront, or better yet prevent, mass atrocities and genocide. From her book Chasing the Flame grew the film "Sergio" by director Greg Barker, which after making the rounds at international film festivals, debuted on HBO last week. Following the screening, Power and Barker joined a public conference call moderated by a veteran of African conflict zones, John Prendergast.

Their candid conversation, which lasted well into the night, is a rare gem, and I wanted to draw attention to it today. You can listen to this podcast after the jump, at the bottom of this post.

When Sergio Vieira de Mello died in the rubble of the bombed out U.N. compound in Baghdad, the United Nations lost one of its most experienced and talented diplomats. Power eloquently described how she channeled her grief over his death into an effort to examine and immortalize his legacy. And she found that, beyond simply an intriguing biography, the tragedy of Vieira de Mello's death was a metaphor for the vexing, even debilitating, challenges the United Nations faces around the world.

Power first met Sergio Vieira de Mello when their paths crossed in eastern Europe in 1994. She was a young journalist covering the war in the former Yugoslavia and Vieira de Mello was a top U.N. diplomat dispatched to work on ending it. Though it would be another 10 years until Power began researching Vieira de Mello's life for the biography, she recounts their first dinner meeting with a level of detail that conveys the significance of those first impressions. He was "a cross between James Bond and Bobby Kennedy," she wrote.

Vieira de Mello did indeed travel with the headlines of the day; a timeline of significant dates over the last 30 years of the U.N.'s history mirrors the major promotions and moves of Vieira de Mello's career since he was 21. As he rose through the U.N. ranks, he continuously reflected on his decisions from both a philosophical and a practical standpoint. As Power wrote in Chasing the Flame:

At the start of his career he advocated strict adherence to a binding set of principles. (...) He was deeply mistrustful of state power and of military force. But as he moved from Sudan to Lebanon to Cambodia to Bosnia to Congo to Kosovo to East Timor to Iraq, he tailored his tactics to the troubles around him and tried to enlist the powerful. He brought a gritty pragmatism to negotiations, yet no amount of exposure to brutality seemed to dislodge his ideals.

At times, Vieira de Mello's approach flirted with moral lines, such as when he chose to negotiate directly with the Cambodia's Khmer Rouge while the rest of the world isolated the genocidal regime, and certainly he was responsible for his share of mistakes. But the profile Power paints is of a leader who challenged himself to translate failures into lessons. He understood that his engagement -- the U.N.'s engagement -- would not always, or perhaps even not often, move mountains. But he understood that even a small improvement made the effort worthwhile. Vieira de Mello personifies Power's concept of an upstander, someone who doesn't simply stand by when injustices occur.

It's remarkable to have the chance to hear Samantha Power, a woman many people regard as a hero in her own right, describe the inspiration she found in one of the fallen heroes of our time. Listen to this podcast; the lessons she draws from Vieira de Mello's life are central to the work all of us do as human rights advocates.
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Government of Canada Supports Western Canadian Food Processors Accessing Asia-Pacific Markets

SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN, Food processors based in Western Canada will soon access new markets across Asia-Pacific countries, thanks to an investment from the Government of Canada.

An announcement was made today in Saskatoon by the Honourable Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification Canada, to support international trade opportunities for western Canadian food processers. The Government of Canada is providing $961,000 to help increase the availability of Western Canadian value-added food product exports in Asia-Pacific markets.

"Western Canadian producers process some of the best food in the world, and today's announcement will help them grow and create jobs by expanding their market opportunities," said the Honourable Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification.

Saskatchewan Food Processors Association, Inc. (SFPA), as the lead organization in partnership with similar associations in Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia, and with Food Beverage Canada, will direct the trade missions to and from China, Hong Kong, South Korea, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. This is an ideal opportunity to market existing food products to these countries and also develop new value-added food products based on the needs of Asia-Pacific consumers.

"This funding will be instrumental in developing and implementing a multi level strategy for assisting and growing the Western Canadian Food Processing industry in Western Canada," said Darrell Schneider, Chief Operating Officer of the Saskatchewan Food Processors Association, Inc.
This marketing initiative is projected to return approximately $13.5 million in sales and foreign direct investment from Asia-Pacific countries to Western Canada over the next four years. This represents a direct benefit to over 900 food processing companies associated with the SFPA and its partners, their employees and their communities. Many of these member companies are small and medium sized businesses who might otherwise not be able to market their products on this scale.

Western Economic Diversification Canada works with the provinces, industry associations and communities to promote the development and diversification of the western economy, coordinates federal economic activities in the West and represents the interests of western Canadians in national decision making.

A stronger West. A stronger Canada to news releases and keep up-to-date on the latest from WD

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Master Bronze Works on Display in Washington

On the metro platform, in Washington DC, a billboard highlights the “Gods of Angkor” exhibit.

Thirty-six master bronze works from Cambodia are being exhibited now at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery in Washington, part of a collection of 7,000 bronzes from the National Museum.

Curators of the exhibit say they hope “Gods of Angkor” will raise international awareness of the richness of Cambodia’s artwork, and possibly convince more tourists to visit the country.

The bronze works are from prehistory—somewhere between 300 BC and 400 BC—and from the Angkorian period—from about the 9th to 13th centuries AD.

“Despite it’s title, ‘Gods of Angkor,’ even before Angkorian time we were advanced in bronze work,” Chea Socheat, deputy chief of the conservation office at Cambodia’s National Museum, told VOA Khmer Wednesday.

The exhibit is meant to celebrate “the accomplishments of the Khmer bronze casters” as well as the conservation work of the National Museum, Julian Raby, director of the Freer and Sackler galleries, told reporters.

“I am happy that Cambodian culture is being shown here, and the benefit from this will be more tourists coming to Cambodia,” Chea Socheat said.

The bronzes represent Buddhism and Brahmanism and are set amid three linked galleries. They include an urn, bell, a naga-protected Buddha, Ganesh, Shiva, and other ritual objects.

Some are on display for the first time, such as a group of seven bronzes that were only unearthed in 2006.

The exhibit will be open to the public from May 15 to Jan. 23, 2011, before it moves to the J. Paul Getty Gallery in Los Angeles in February 2011.

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Chamkarmon Governor to Retain City Position

Phnom Penh’s governor says he will not investigate a district official who was nearly implicated in two illegal karaoke clubs earlier this month.

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema told VOA Khmer on Friday there was “no need” to investigate Chamkarmon District Governor Lo Yuy because of the structure of city government.

If he were removed, Kep Chuktema said, it would not be publicly. Kep Chuktema said he had not found bribery among any of the city’s eight district governors.

Kep Chuktema was quoted by the English-language Phnom Penh Post as saying in a meeting last week he wanted to fire Lo Yuy, after police raided two illegal karaoke clubs in his district.

“I did not accuse Lo Yuy of taking bribes from karaoke clubs,” the governor said Friday. “I only said, ‘The drug problem and sex abuse was happening in your area. So what does that mean that it still happens in your area? You don’t know, or you pretend not to know?’”

Kep Chuktema said he had phrased his words this way because residents in the area had complained of illicit drugs, prostitution and child sex crimes in the district, which could lead them to assume bribery by the district’s leader.

Instead, Lo Yuy will remain at his post. He declined to comment Friday.
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