A new president takes office with no government experience and a background as a TV personality. He comes to the job after squaring off against a woman candidate, who he accuses of corruption. He promises that things will be different, but he can’t get much done. He’s forced to rely on a small group of retired military officers, some of them with shady pasts. Worse, information starts emerging about his party’s illegal campaign finance schemes, and an independent investigation turns up evidence of wrongdoing. To avoid further scrutiny, the president tries to get rid of the investigator, but runs into political resistance. A constitutional crisis ensues.


Sound familiar? Welcome to Guatemala.


The president is Jimmy Morales, former comedian, who on August 27 declared persona non grata the head of the U.N. Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, Colombian jurist Ivan Velásquez. The Commission, known by its Spanish initials as CICIG, was created in 2006 through an innovative agreement between the United Nations and the Guatemalan government in order to deal with clandestine groups that had infiltrated the state and were attacking human rights defenders and others. In 2014, the U.N. appointed Velásquez to the post, and he helped shift CICIG’s priorities to the endemic, large-scale corruption that has sapped the country’s resources and allowed for strategic alliances among government and military officials, economic elites and organized crime. CICIG cannot prosecute, but acts as a civil party in cases brought by the local Prosecutors’ office.

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The World’s Largest Minority

Around 10% of the world’s population live with a disability. They are the world’s largest minority.

On 17 July 2013, the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) opened its 2013 session at the United Nations. The CRPD came into force in 2008 and provides an important legal platform for addressing the global short-comings towards ensuring the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in an inclusive society as well as ensuring their human rights. Pointing to the link between disability protection, poverty and development, this year’s focus is on empowerment. In two months the General Assembly will hold a high-level meeting on disability and development.

A social model of disability

Article 1(2) of the CRPD provides the following definition:

“Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

The CRPD thus adopts a social model of disability, different from the medical model, in that it means that society is the main contributory factor in disabling people. While physical or mental variations may cause individual functional limitations, these do not have to lead to disability unless society fails to take account of and include people regardless of their individual differences.

A social model of disability also means that the number of persons with disabilities is increasing through population growth and the aging process. In countries with life expectancies over 70 years, individuals spend an average about 8 years living with disabilities.

Development and Empowerment: The importance of the CRPD

80% of persons living with disabilities live in developing countries, according to the UN Development Programme. Most people with disabilities have poor access to education, heath care, employment and other necessities. Women and girls with disabilities are particularly vulnerable because they often are multiply disadvantaged. According to UNESCO, 90% of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school.  Persons with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence and rape and less likely to obtain legal protection.

Despite the clear need for ensuring the full enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities, only 45 countries have anti-discrimination and other disability-specific laws. This makes the CRPD even more important, not only because it re-states rights but because it creates a new rights discourse. It provides specific steps that states need to ensure to enable persons with disabilities to exercise their rights. The focus of this year’s Conference on empowerment  has the potential to make an important contribution to the work that still needs to be done in this area. Bringing the link between disability, empowerment and development to the global agenda is a small but important step in reducing the world’s largest minority.

Sex in Peace Operations

sex in peace opsShould all sex between international personnel and local people in peace operations be prohibited? Why are peacekeepers rarely prosecuted for crimes such as rape? Should humanitarian workers be allowed to pay for sex? Should local laws or international standards determine the age of consent to sex between local people and international personnel in peace operations? My book, Sex in Peace Operations, examines the regulation of sex between international personnel and local people in United Nations peace operations through case studies of Bosnia, West Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Over the past two decades there has been a series of scandals implicating UN peacekeepers, humanitarian workers and private military contractors in sexual exploitation and abuse of local people. Perhaps the best known of these are the cases of Cambodia and Somalia in the early 1990s, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2002 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2004.  More recently the film The Whistleblower has publicised trafficking in women by private military contractors employed by DynCorp and seconded to the UN as international police monitors and trainers in post-war Bosnia.  Although less widely reported, there are also non-exploitative sexual relations between peacekeepers and local people.

The response to sex in peace operations has shifted over the last twenty years from an attitude that ‘boys will be boys’ to a ‘zero tolerance’ policy.  The zero tolerance policy, which appears to have been developed as a substitute for an effective legal framework, is itself highly problematic.  My book argues that the regulatory focus should be on preventing, and ending impunity for, sexual crimes committed by international personnel against local people, rather than trying to prevent nearly all sex between international personnel and local people, as the zero tolerance policy claims to do.  It suggests more responsive approaches to sex in peace operations that aim to promote the sexual autonomy of local people, particularly women and girls.