Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Experiencing "Gender & Disarmament" Panel @ the UN

On September 23, 2006, the International WILPF UN Office co-sponsored a panel on "Gender & Disarmament" with the Global Network to End War. Below is feedback from Anastasia Shown, the Project Coordinator Intern at the WILPF US office.
This was my first visit to the United Nations. I was very excited just to see the building and witness the daily activities. I traveled from Philadelphia with Jody Dodd, Leadership and Membership Coordinator, Kate Zaidan, Program Coordinator and Jessica , Development intern. The WILPF UN office made us great badges and welcomed us when we arrived. Anita Pulier, WILPF US Representative to the UN, met up with us for lunch. I was overwhelmed with the food choices and ended up being so full; I needed coffee to stay awake the rest of the afternoon. Anita caught us up on what the voting would be about that day, disarmament issues, nuclear weapons threats, biological weapons use, etc. We attended the panel on Gender and Disarmament, hosted by WILPF UN and Global Network to End War. I was amazed at the clarity and organized structure of the meeting. All the presentations were presented in a timely manner and all questions were answered thoughtfully, yet to the point. The meeting didn’t go on too long and no one strayed from the topic. This must be how the United Nations functions?! I point this out only because it impressed me. I have been to countless meetings in the workplace environment and at the university where the talks stray from the main goal and everyone ends up losing focus. While the gender and weapons discussion is not new to me, I was able to gain information regarding new concerns in the discussion. We spent the rest of the afternoon watching the voting. I was amazed at how defiant the United States was about their votes, often voting NO when 98% voted YES. I wondered how that guy (the U.S. rep) hangs out with the others in the cafeteria. Do they talk to him? While the others voted the promise not to threaten use of their nuclear weapons, is it awkward that he represents a country that blatantly refused to make that promise? At lunch are they able to put it all behind them and chat about their kids or their annoying commute? I was there only one day and I felt like I had to talk about it to everyone I encountered. I called my Dad on the way home and told him about the votes, I talked about it in my classes at school and I vented to my friends. I was impressed with the organized structure of the United Nations, but at the end of the day I had a hard time reframing my attitude from the“But these are real human lives!” to the, “This is business as usual.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

More WILPF Material from the BioWeapons Conference

Several WILPFers are observing the Sixth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention. US WILPFer Joan Ecklein, from the Boston branch, joined Carol in Geneva to do a presentation on the Boston activist community's response to the National Biocontainment Laboratory planned for Boston University. WILPF Boston has been at the forefront of the effort to stop the building of this dangerous lab. The presentation was held yesterday, based on a paper written by Joan and Claire Gosselin, Boston branch co-chair. The paper is available on the WILPF international website as a pdf file.

Our Geneva-based Disarmament team, Beatrice Fihn and Katherine Harrison, wrote an official report on the first week of the conference available at wilpf.int.ch.

Fifth Dispatch from Carol in Geneva

From the Bio-Weapons Treaty Sixth Review Conference
Fifth dispatch from Carol Urner at the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland: 11/24/06

NOTE: Contact me with questions or comments at carol.disarm@gmail.com. Geneva UN has wireless and I will try to respond.

The first week of the review conference ended with formal discussions still moving along at a fast pace, subjecting the treaty to the first article by article review since 1991. Sessions are still private but I talked with the delegate from Argentina at lunch, herself a biologist, who indicated the tone is still upbeat and hopeful, with areas of agreement continuing to emerge. All decisions must be made by consensus, and the delegates have not yet moved to that stage.

The noon forum, presented by Amy Smithson, PhD of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, surveyed 52 U.S. policy makers regarding their current perceptions on the dangers of biological weapons to the US, and on policy and counter measures required . Those surveyed included four former Secretaries of Defense, a past CIA Director, national security experts and current top decision makers Of these 52 75% believe bioweapons are a major threat, and 48% think they are a greater threat to the U.S. than nuclear weapons. 83% felt the threat of attack is on the increase, although 59% do not think it is very likely in the next 5 years. 81%, however, believe an attack is somewhat or very likely in the next ten years. Most (71%) thought any such an attack would be made by a "lone wolf" or deranged individual. (Yes, methinks, probably by someone with access to a hi-level U.S. military lab!)

I think the study would have been much more helpful if she had broken down the groups of respondents. I would have expected a higher perception of threat among current decision makers than among those who had been in power 1992 to 2000, but would like to have seen this confirmed or denied. I also wonder how perceptions of experts compared with those of policy makers.

The second half of the study was more heartening than the first. 98% support vigorous biosecurity measures and. 94% support oversight of genetic engineering involving highly infectious pathogens and want criminalization of biological weapons related activities. The oddest result, however, was that 54% thought bioweapons should be a policy priority, but a whopping 77% made it a spending priority. And spend, spend, spend is what the government is doing with bioweapons now accounting for 44 billion in appropriations since 2001.

The writer did include a range of unattributed quotes in response to each section, and these added life to the pages of charts and percentages. Of course my favorites were ones like "Since this treaty does not have monitoring provisions, there ought to be a major U.S. initiative to inspire them. We should be at the negotiating table on this, leading the way!" Right on! But, unfortunately, that doesn't sound like the response of a current policy maker.

The most heartening finding for me was that a full 69% believed monitoring provisions should be added to the bioweapons ban treaty, but there was no breakdown among classifications of respondents. So out with John Bolton and his friends in the Administration and let's go for it!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Show Solidarity with Israeli Activists: Sign Petition to Stop the Siege on Gaza

WILPF Israel, along with others in the Coalition of Women for Peace, called for a month of action to Stop the Siege! Stop the War! As part of this month of education and action, they have created an online petition. Here is the text:
To the Israeli government and world leaders:

GAZA: Stop the Siege! Stop the War!

The situation in Gaza has reached emergency levels - inadequate water, electricity, and medicine; widespread hunger, poverty, and unemployment; schools and other services rendered inoperative; constant bombardments and attacks by the Israeli military.

This humanitarian catastrophe is man-made: It was brought on by the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip by Israel and the sanctions imposed by the international community on Palestine, made worse by repeated IDF attacks. If this situation continues, we will see spreading disease, malnutrition, and more violence. Under these conditions, negotiations - the only way to reach peace between both peoples - also become an impossibility.

We call upon Israeli leaders to end the siege of and war on Gaza. We call upon world leaders to end the political and economic sanctions of Palestine.

The siege and sanctions are sowing chaos and death in Gaza. They must come to an end.

[your name]
Sign the petition through this link.

Here's the comment I left with my signature:
As the Program Chair of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, US Section (WILPF US), and an American Jew, I urge you to stop the seige. Endless occupation, land appropriation, and killing makes both Israel and Palestine unsafe. Israel's security depends on an independent Palestine. US security depends on making our foreign policy more just and being more open to criticizing Israeli government actions.

Learn more about this month of action, culminating on December 2 at the gazaseige.net website.

Learn more about the WILPF US campaign, Women Challenge US Policy: Building Peace on Justice in the Middle East (WCUSP) at our website.

Fourth Dispatch from Carol in Geneva

From the
Bio-Weapons Treaty Sixth Review Conference
Fourth dispatch from Carol Urner at the United Nations, Geneva, 11/24/06
NOTE: Contact me with questions or comments at carol.disarm@gmail.com.

Today the lunch time seminar was presented by the Center for Biosecurity. The presenter gave good basic information on the civilian high containment laboratories (like the controversial Level-4 lab opposed so vigorously by Boston WILPF) but glossed over the questionable aspects. She was young, personable and, I think, sincere, but her presentation reminded me of the upbeat promotion of Three Mile Island I heard from their public relations specialist just a few days before a nuclear accident shut down the plant. She was willing to answer my questions, however. Check DISARM UPDATE at http://disarm.wilpf.org/NovDec06/BWCconference1.htm for more details. I regret I didn't ask her about BARDA, the new legislation that now exempts bio-defense research from inquiries under the Freedom of Information Act. Our government has been moving in the direction of much greater secrecy, rather than transparency, and that trend must be reversed if we are ever to rid the world of bioweapons.

Here is the URL for the Verification Matters text which I reported on so enthusiastically yesterday. Explore it yourself. I was pleased that Kathryn Nixdorff of the INES Working Group on Biological and Toxic Weapons Control sought me out to provide a better answer to my question two days ago about genetic specific weapons. She clarified that specific gene markers do exist in some ethnic populations that could be targeted. They usually appear in less that 10% (or as little as 1%) of the population but that could be enough to disrupt a society and sow terror in the populace. We agreed that this is the kind of research that should not be allowed to happen. It reminds me of that telltale sentence in the New American Century Rebuilding America's Defenses Report (page 60): And advanced forms of biological warfare that can "target" specific genotypes may transform biowarfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Third Dispatch from Carol in Geneva

From the
Bio-Weapons Treaty Sixth Review Conference
Third dispatch from Carol Urner at the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland: 11/22/06

NOTE: Contact me with questions and comments at carol.disarm@gmail.com. The UN chambers have wireless and I will try to respond.

Oddly, this third day seemed the most productive yet, even though NGO reps and other non-official delegates can no longer access the official sessions. This is because the daily seminar (described below) was, for me, fantastic. I was again only able to spend a half hour in the WILPF office but met more delightful young interns. I plan to introduce at least some of them to you before I cease sending these dispatches next week.

You can find a longer report of the third day at the BWC at the Disarm Committee website. This was the most fruitful day yet in many ways even though the sessions of the BWC are now closed to all but official delegates. The seminar presented by three NGOs on the huge briefing book they have provided at the conference turned out to be very exciting. The book is almost two inches thick and has all the background documents needed to understand what is going on here. I have picked up an extra copy for the WILPF office since this will be a basic reference book for years to come. But most useful was the presentation by one of the three NGOs which compiled the book, VERTIC, and the presentation of another smaller document they have prepared on steps that can be taken now, even without an inspection protocol, to begin developing transparency and the verification necessary. It concentrates on steps to be taken by nation states themselves, and I think we can encourage some of our committee chairs in the new Congress to begin taking steps in this direction. I picked up only two copies of the book before the supply was exhausted, but Angela Woodward, the presenter, has promised to furnish with a web link where the entire document can be viewed or downloaded.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Human Consequence of the Israeli Government's Discrimination

I was forwarded a letter from Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian via a Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) listserv. Professor Shalhoub-Kevorkian was humiliated at the Ben Gurion airport. After ransacking her personal belongings, the Israeli security officers decided she could not board the airplane with her laptop (which she needed to write a lecture for the “Women and Sexual Reproductive Rights” conference she was trying to attend in Tunis.)

The letter can be read in its entirety on Margaret's Wanderings blog. I urge you to read it to understand the human consequence of the State Fear of Others.

Dr. Nadera Shaloub-Kevorkian's website at the Institute of Criminology at the Hebrew University of Jersusalem

cross-posted from Social Upheaval. Also check out my blog for a round up of Israel / Palestine news from the New York Times.

2nd Dispatch from Carol in Geneva

From the Bio-Weapons Treaty Sixth Review Conference
Second dispatch from Carol Urner at the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland: 11/21/06

NOTE: Contact me with questions and comments at carol.disarm@gmail.com. The UN chambers have wireless and I will try to respond.

This second day was more exciting for me since it was my first chance to talk in depth with other NGO reps like Edward Hammond of the Sunshine Project and Loulena Miles, legal representative for Tri-Valley Cares. I've posted a longer report on our DISARM UPDATE at http://disarm.wilpf.org/NovDec06/BWCconference1.htm. My mind was clearer today though my own bio-clock is still upside down (I could only manage 4 hours of sleep), but by tomorrow I hope to be a fully functioning human being.

One of the most interesting items today was the seminar on rapid advances in bio-genetics that will make weaponization even more scary and also harder to detect. The presenters confirmed that it should soon be possible to target specific ethnic groups with bio-weapons agents just as our neo cons suggested in their New American Century Rebuilding America's Defenses report. Adds even more urgency to the work to get inspection and verification underway. But there is much in this review conference to give hope -- a general willingness to cooperate in moving forward, albeit in new and novel ways. And NGOs present are helping to illuminate the path.

I am thinking again of Emily Greene Balch and Jane Addams. The work they started could not be finished in their generation, nor will it be in ours -- this is a task for generation after generation of committed women to carry forward. It is exciting to find here in Geneva all the young WILPF interns at work in the office (I'll introduce you later to some from the USA). Those of us in the older generations must find more of them to join us before we pass on.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Dispatch from Carol Urner at the Bio-Weapons Conference in Geneva

Bio-Weapons Treaty Sixth Review Conference
Dispatch from Carol Urner at the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland. Carol is the co-chair of the WILPF US Disarm! Dismantle the War Economy Committee. She is also the co-chair of the WILPF International Peace & Security Working Group. This dispatch was written regarding yesterday's proceedings.

NOTE: Contact me with questions and comments at carol.disarm@gmail.com. The UN chambers have wireless and I will try to respond.

These are my personal observations after watching the first day of general debate. I am, like all WILPFers, dismayed that the present U.S. Administration has rejected inspection and already invested $44 billion in very questionable "defensive" biological weapons research. However, I am also now heartened by positive efforts of the international community to bring the U.S. back into compliance with and support for the treaty.

Kofi Annan opened the Sixth Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Review Conference today on a positive note, five years after the last one ended in disarray. He congratulated all governments present for keeping the Biological Weapons Convention alive, and for their determined efforts to remedy short comings, including their own. The positive note became a symphony as delegate after delegate expressed his/her nation's determination to continue on a forward path. (I'll admit I read all this as a concerted effort to draw the United States back into the negotiating process, but it was also each nation's real acceptance of responsibility for achieving the treaty's success.)

At the previous BWC Review Conference in November 2001 delegates had gathered expecting to approve an Inspection Protocol painstakingly negotiated over the past seven years. However, the U.S. had a new Administration wary of disarmament treaties and had already expressed dissatisfaction with the protocol in July. In November, two months after 9/11, John Bolton shocked the delegates by announcing the new U.S. Administration would not support the Inspection Protocol and regarded it as dead. He also demanded the following year that the Review Conference adjourn after half a day since there was nothing to discuss.

However, more seasoned diplomats led delegates into innovative and useful annual sessions, and also convened meetings of experts. Together they explored new areas of cooperation in developing universal adherence to the treaty , national legal frameworks supporting domestic compliance, codes of conduct for scientists involved in biological research, education of populations on the necessity of treaty compliance and ways to enhance lab security and control dangerous pathogens.

Today only a few delegates -- including those from Switzerland, Germany, Russia and the non-aligned nations -- spoke openly of the continuing need for inspection and verification. All, however, concentrated on developing a climate of active support for the treaty. In general they seemed in harmony with Russia's request that all stop playing the blame game and concentrate on improving their own compliance and on making acceptance of the treaty universal. True, the U.S. delegate mentioned the possibility that Iran, Syria and North Korea might be developing biological weapons they could pass on to "terrorists," but otherwise also kept to the positive tone. Algeria raised the need for Israel to stop blocking the WMD free zone which all other Middle East nations support for that troubled region, but again there also a more positive note. Israel, though not a party to the treaty, had requested observer status and hopefully will also move toward accession.

I remembered today Emily Greene Balch's conviction that working together in international institutions could help nations learn to cooperate in achieving common goals, and thus abandon making war on one another. I hope we in WILPF can continue to facilitate the process our foremothers fostered almost a century ago at the same time we point out the dangers to all in secrecy, unilateralism and rejection of international law as well as in policies of "full spectrum dominance" and pre-emptive war.

Editor's Note: WILPF International is documenting the proceedings of the Sixth Review Conference on Bio-Weapons. Reports, Documents, Working Papers, and Statements can all be found via the WILPF International website.