Where Do We Stand At The End Of The Millennium Summit?


Credit: © Reuters/Eric Thayer

NOW THAT THE MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS SUMMIT IS OVER, where do we stand? There was lots of talk, lots of world leaders, lots of renewed promises, and familiar debate about an aid-led approach to development.

What have the MDGs achieved? If you’re looking for success stories, there’s good news about Indonesia, Ghana, and Ethiopia. If you’re looking for facts and figures, there’s no shortage of numbers, such as 45 developing nations (out of 84) have already achieved or will achieve the poverty reduction target.

But what does it all mean? And would these “achievements” have happened without the MDGs?

Most people in rich nations haven’t even heard of the MDGs: AidWatch published the results of a survey that in the U.S., the world’s largest donor, 89 percent of Americans “had heard ‘not much’ or ‘nothing at all'” about the MDGs.

Not surprising. On Wednesday, the summit’s last day, at the traditional close of business (5pm EST), the top story on Google News was the announcement of the new judges on American Idol.

Let’s step away from statistics and pie charts for a moment and ask: are we any closer to ending poverty? We know the answer; the question then is, how much do we want to end poverty? How far are we willing to go to improve the lives of people who lack the most basic needs for survival, including food, shelter, and clean water?

“Yes, of course we want to help,” we say, but how many of us actually take actions to do something about it? Are we willing to share our wealth, so we can achieve a true and lasting “global partnership“?

How many of us will give up our coffee allowance, or buy one less pair of shoes, or look at our grocery bill and think, “Is all this food necessary? Do I need the pasta, hamburgers, frozen pizza, Pop-Tarts, and ice cream?”

How many of us volunteer time with a cause we are engaged with, and instead spend it playing Halo: Reach or watching YouTube?

We’re talking about a world now that has rising inequality within industrialized nations, and that goes largely ignored.

Individuals and NGOs continue to work towards poverty reduction, improved maternal health, and clean water—all the “millennium development goals.” The fact is they don’t need to be labeled as such, or even administered or assessed by a large body like the U.N. As always, you and I need to make the education, health, and safety of our neighbors a priority. Only then will there be no need for MDGs.

This is the eighth in a series of posts examining each of the eight Millennium Development Goals.

Where to Find Citizen Reports Covering the Pakistan Floods



THE WORST FLOODS IN LIVING MEMORY in Pakistan is a news story quickly fading from mainstream headlines. South Asian regional expert Juan Cole, writing in tomdispatch.com, called it the worst disaster television didn’t cover.” Contrast that with coverage of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile—and you see how the story in Pakistan disappeared, even though the disaster has so far affected 20 million people.

It’s up to citizen journalism to keep the ongoing crisis in the public eye, at least for those who get their news online. Here’s where to find citizen reports covering the Pakistan floods:


PakReport.org collects texts from observers in the field, and uses an Ushahidi platform as a tool to create a dynamic map of the flood emergency. There were over 700 reports from the field as of this past weekend, ranging from calls for relief to short updates about where help is arriving.

Pakistan Eye

Pakistan Eye is the blogging team chapter of Citizens Eye, which has citizen reporters working in seven locations in Asia and London. The blog takes a look at all aspects of Pakistani society, but since the floods posts are focussed on the aftermath of the disaster. In addition to writing about the efforts of civil society for relief work, there’s also personal essays like Flooded Ramadan, by a teen reflecting on what this tragedy means in the larger picture.


While SeenReport is an open service anyone can post to, freelance journalists have created profiles on the site, giving it authenticity and news credibility. You can view photo essays including this series of flood photos taken by Abdul Majid.

Other resources to explore include PakPositive’s Pakistani Bloggers portal, and Global Voices Pakistan.

For more information on how to help flood victims in Pakistan, here is a list of organizations with relief operations.

Top Tweets for Activists (Week Ending Aug. 20)

Welcome to Top Tweets for Activists: a selection of the week’s best tweets, blog posts, media, and news stories.

If you’d like to suggest a topic or news story, please leave a link in the Comments.


From June 7 to 9th 2010 young people gathered in Washington D.C. for the Women Deliver Conference. Amnesty International Mexico asked young men and women about their main concerns on Sexual and Reproductive Rights in the framework of the National Network to Stop VIolence Against Women and its Demand Dignity Campaign. From @WomenDeliver:


Indigenous Rights/Borneo: Fight against Kaiduan Dam, Sabah @j_rubis

Indigenous Rights/Rapa Nui/Chile: Indigenous activists occupy govt property in Easter Island @Amnesty


What are the root causes of poverty? @FuturityNews via @PamFR

Why do some people think that poverty is easy to fix? @damselfish

Poverty Group Honest About Its Work; How Rare Is That? @freefromhunger


France Racism and Politics: Immigration & Citizenship @globalvoices

Pakistan If all you know about #Pakistan is what you see in the media, please give this a read @jterziett

Food Insecurity Food supplies most at risk in Afghanistan, Africa @alertnet

Sudan Avoiding the Train Wreck in Sudan: U.S. Leverage for Peace. New @EnoughProject report via @jonhutson

Top Tweets for Activists (Week Ending July 23)

Welcome to a weekly feature here at The Activist Writer: a round-up of the week’s best blog posts and articles for activism and social change.

If there’s a great post or tweet you’d like mentioned, please leave it in the Comments section.

Human Rights Cases/Law

Human rights news and case-law roundup (23 July 2010)


Change Mudança, a smart new magazine about sustainable agriculture in Africa.

Environment/Sustainable Living

Top 20 Organic, Sustainable, and Just Plain Tasty Food and Recipe Blogs

Challenging Obama’s commitment to sustainable agriculture

Ask a lawyer: do farmers have the same protection as big beef?

Freedom of the Press/Expression

India – Violence, arrests and censorship in all four corners of India: Reporters Without Borders @RSF_RWB

Journalists under attack in Somalia as government steps up media crackdown

Aid & Activism
Art and activism (Responses to Copenhagen) @kueprints

How to make an ever-expanding humanitarian sector more professional? Is a certification system the answer?

Indigenous People’s Issues

Five Key Indigenous People’s Issues – Peru, Australia, Malaysia, Botswana, … @indigenousissue via @RayBeckerman

Chile: A Short Guide to Indigenous Mapuche Poets

The Mapuche nation flag.

THE MAPUCHE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE of southern Chile represent the largest ethnic group in the country. Today, despite the introduction of the Indigenous Law in 1993, <a href="Mapuche lands remain vulnerable to development.

Contemporary poets compose in their native Mapudungun and Spanish. Here is a sample of two of the leading Mapuche poets writing today, Graciela Huinao and Jaime Luis Huenón:

    Graciela Huinao

in the blue nights of the South
the agonizing vegetable song
of the Nawel buta
reaches my door.
I don’t know if it is
when he shakes his branches
in protest
because they have torn out his eyes
or in the moment
in which he bleeds empty the rivers
because of the cutting
of his arms.
My soul breaks
in an anguished song of Pewen (2)
and ancient voices
reach my door
but only I
understand their language
that cold with fear
glides through the jungle
to die in it.
While in my eyes
the last stars

(1) (Big tiger). Mountain chain near Temuco.
(2) The Araucaria tree.

    Jaime Luis Huenón

I got off in the fog of Port Trakl,
searching for the Bar of Good Fortune
to chat about my trip.
But everyone was mesmerized by the polar stars in their drinks,
silent like the sea off a desert island.
I went out to roam the red-lit streets.
Perfumed and bored women, selling their tired bodies.
«In Port Trakl poets come to die», they said,
smiling in all the languages of the world.
I gave them poems I planned to take to my grave
as proof of my time on Earth.

Translation by Daniel Borzutzky

Four Mapuche Poets: An Anthology collects the work of Huinao, Huenón, Elicura Chihuailaf, and Leonel Lienlaf.

Thai Artists “Imagine Peace” with New Exhibit

Photo: Adrees Latif/Reuters

AFTER THE ANTI-GOVERNMENT DEMONSTRATIONS led by the Red Shirts movement this past May, Thailand remains in a state of emergency which aims to restrict further political protest and silence dissent.

Meanwhile, eighty artists contributed works to an exhibit called “Imagine Peace” at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, which runs through Aug. 22. But does this show cling too tightly to the “imagination”?

Kamin Lertchaiprasert painted an image of a skull around the burning of Bangkok’s CentralWorld shopping mall, which protesters set fire to on May 19. Rirkrit Tiravanija, one of Thailand’s best known contemporary artists, re-created the barricades made of tires used by the demonstrators.

It’s gratifying that a major art space is hosting this show, and is curated by Apinan Poshyananda, who’s run many international exhibitions. The exhibit also included art by other well-known international artists, such as Marina Abramovic and the late Louise Bourgeois.

Both Lertchaipraset and Tiravanija are artists who enjoy international exposure as well, and have lived outside of Thailand.

This all lends considerable weight to the artists’ call for peace and reconciliation. So what’s wrong with this picture?

While these artists are displaying their work in the polite, sterile space of a museum, conditions for Red Shirts supporters are getting worse.

With so much uncertainty ahead for the people of Thailand, and the government so determined to repress rights, artists must take risks, and go beyond merely “imagining” a peaceful, democratic future. Only when they get out of their air-conditioned galleries, and join their fellow citizens, can real change come about.

Supporters mark birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi

image credit: theelders.org

As a tribute to Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, an empty chair is kept open at each meeting of The Elders. Today marks her 65th birthday, and it is also the 15th year the Nobel Laureate has spent in detention. After nearly a decade under house arrest, much more must be done to secure her release, as well as the unconditional release of over 2,000 political prisoners.

Read more about Burma’s first planned national elections since 1990 from a human rights perspective.

Iran: secularism, religion and an uncertain future

image credit: Iran Voices of the Unheard

Iran: Voices of the Unheard is a documentary film about secularists in Iran: a pair of old agitators who despite their political activities have posts in the establishment; a family from the nomadic Ghashghaii tribe; and a young urban intellectual living in Tehran. The filmmaker, Davoud Geramifard, one of many Iranian expatriots, secretly shot the film a few months before the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the bloody crackdown that followed against pro-democracy demonstrators. His film captures the feeling among a few of Iran’s citizens before the elections exposed their society’s frustration with a theocratic government.

Words from the old guard

Geramifard unfolds the protagonists’ stories in three parts. It begins with Hadi and Kazem, who spent seven years in prison for their political activities. After the 1979 revolution they were freed, Hadi becoming a teacher and Kazem working for the government. While Hadi is depicted in the classroom, teaching Socrates to his male (and very bored) students, Kazem mostly sits behind his desk and explains his philosophy for a new Iranian society. It’s his belief that Iran can find a way to have Islam and freedom at the same time. For Hadi, he believes “there’s no place for someone like me,” and the segment ends with his frustration at the outside world’s indifference.

On the verge of extinction

The second part, by far the film’s most effective, takes us to Southern Iran where the Ghashghaii tribe squeezes out a meager existence against famine and years of drought. After the revolution, the tribe lost its lands and were decimated in an armed struggle against the new power structure. Today, they receive no support from the government.

Near the end, after we have watched a Ghashghaii family herding their goats, gathering water from a well, and subsisting on thin flatbreads cooked over a single iron pot, a remarkable thing occurs: the film’s first female voice is heard. “I want to build a house,” this wife and mother says. “But our situation never gets better.” Considering how important and how visible women eventually were in the protests, it is startling that the film gives so little focus to the female perspective.

Boiling point of rage

Geramifard once again turns to another male voice. We’re back in Tehran, listening to the angry, strident Babak. He works for the governmental Cultural Office, and hates his position. In fact he sounds like many young men slowly dying in soulless jobs.

He breaks down the fourth wall by directly addressing the filmmaker and challenging “your viewers.” In addition to the frustration he feels towards society, Babak is in the throes of a deep self-loathing. “The hell with life. I am not up to the challenge,” he says. “In 15 days I’m thirty years old, and I’ll wish again I was never born.”

The film closes with footage of the violent aftermath of the elections. One wonders if Babak, and his friends (again, almost exclusively male), who we see discussing politics in his apartment, joined the millions of others in the streets. It is hard to know for sure, since the people Geramifard’s film focuses on are trapped in their roles as the muzzled secularists. Yes, Iran is a closed, repressive society. But here is a chance to speak out.

Babak’s thoughts run circles in his head, constantly turning over the repercussions of the revolution. He never looks to the future. This resignation is a thread that runs throughout the entire film. Time and again the protagonists ask, what will happen? What will become of us? Today, in Iran, they are no answers.

“Iran: Voice of the Unheard” is screening as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, co-presented with the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Artist of the Week: Harn Lay

Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group | http://www.irrawaddy.org

Harn Lay is the staff cartoonist for The Irrawaddy, a Chiang Mai-based English language news site covering Southeast Asia. Lay is also a fine arts painter but is best known for his political drawings, in which he satirizes nearly anyone and anything on the current geopolitical stage.

He throws his best barbs, though, when skewering Burma’s military regime, and especially Than Shwe.

Lay has lived in exile since the pro-democracy uprising against the regime took place in 1988.

Read more about Burma’s recent political history and current human rights record.