Newsletter

The recent attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris by Islamic extremists riveted the world’s attention on dangers to the press throughout the world.  Following the attack, Secretary of State John Kerry said freedom of the press is “under siege” globally and called for action, as did most Western leaders.  The attack on Charlie Hebdo, though tragic, should not obscure the fact that diminished freedom of the press has been a trend throughout the world in recent decades.  There are various techniques which governments and non-state actors have used to diminish freedom of the press: violence via beatings, incarceration, or murder; repression via legislation and censorship, and self-censorship by the press due to fear of violence or legal action.


In the wake of the Democrats’ stunning losses in the November midterm elections, President Barack Obama turned, instead, to shoring up his legacy on foreign affairs. Immediately following the elections, the president began a week-long swing through Asia for a series of key summits and bilateral meetings that will have major implications for US trade policy, anti-climate change efforts, and labor rights.

President Obama kicked off the trip with a stop in Beijing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, which brought together 19 of the 21 members of the economic community. It was the first APEC gathering held in Beijing, and the first that President has attended since 2011.

Stealing the headlines – apart from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s flirtatious overtures to Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan – was the unexpected climate deal announced between China and the US. Reportedly in the works for nearly a year, the deal was hammered out in secret and included unprecedented commitments from both sides – commitments that may well face domestic opposition in both countries, but especially in the newly Republican US Congress.

In particular, the deal included China’s first ever formal commitment to reach peak carbon levels by 2030.


This month’s midterm elections dealt a blow to Democratic power across the board. With a transition to Republican control of Congress, President Obama is officially a lame duck president. While this is a major setback to the Obama administration in terms of reaching its goals for immigration reform, energy policy, and building a resilient health care system, trade policy is one area that might actually benefit from divided government.

If history is any indicator, lame duck presidents typically look abroad to create an international impact when their domestic support wanes. Some see President Obama’s influence on the international stage shrinking as well, but the key to preventing this may be a strong leadership role on trade. Over the past six years, the US has quietly been working on major bilateral trade deals that will position the country favorably within the global economy.

President Obama’s trade agenda is one of the most ambitious of any US president – but, ironically, one of the obstacles to its success was the Democratic controlled Senate. The Republican controlled 114th Congress may well see eye-to-eye with Mr. Obama on America’s trade future.

Earlier this month, President Obama turned his focus to the APEC Leaders Meeting and made his case for the US to pivot to Asia.


It appears that the Ukraine crisis has come full circle. Ukrainian parliamentary elections in October gave Ukraine and the world community a brief respite from the images of revolution, war, annexation, and invasion. However, the successful Ukrainian parliamentary elections were followed by illegal separatist elections in Donetsk and Luhansk, which subsequently led to increasing violence in the east of the country.

Despite the nominal cease-fire, clashes have broke out again, throwing the freshly signed ceasefire agreement between government troops and Russian-backed separatists into further doubt. The sources in Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) report that large convoys with large-scale military hardware have been crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border.  Additionally, European monitors have reported sightings of heavy artillery and rocket launchers near the centre of Donetsk city.

These allegations of sending in troops and military equipment to help the rebels have repeatedly been denied by the government in Moscow. But as the death toll mounts and the economy continues to shrink, Russian aggression is casting a shadow on the peace process and denying Ukraine the ability to make decisions regarding its own future.

After the rebel elections were held on November 2nd, in defiance of the official government in Kiev, both sides accused each other of violating the peace agreement.


Later today, November 20th, the historic Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. will set the scene for the Global Fairness Initiative’s (GFI) fifth annual Fairness Award ceremony. GFI is a Washington-based NGO founded by Karen Tramontano which works in developing countries – including Ghana, Guatemala, India, Tunisia, and Guinea Bissau – to enable women and marginalized groups to enter the workforce through targeted programs which rely largely on local staff for implementation.

The Fairness Awards are a five year tradition, meant to honor exceptional leaders who have created opportunities for poor and marginalized communities. GFI operates through an integrated leadership approach based on consulting with governments, civil society, and the private sector, and the awardees themselves are selected by a combination of GFI leadership and in-country civil society partners.

This year’s Awards recipients are Robert B. Zoellick, former President of the World Bank Group, Karl-Johan Persson, President and CEO of global retailer H&M, and Nani Zulminarni, the founder of the Program for Women Headed Households in Indonesia (PEKKA).


In the midst of an angry citizenry, crumbling political consensus, and an atmosphere of power-brokering and deal-making, Ukraine has still managed to take important, if hesistant, steps into a new phase of political life. Facing economic collapse, an ineffective state, high levels of corruption, and Russian aggression, on October 26th Ukrainian citizens headed to the polls to elect members of a new parliament.

The parliamentary election in Ukraine is of great importance, as it will define the country’s ability to follow a democratic, pro-European course. Ubiquitous political campaigns for the twenty-nine parties indicated serious competition and desire for change. And in addition to the reincarnation of many recognizable names, the campaign also featured new heroes of the Maidan: activists, media figures, and battalion commanders who seek an equally glorious political future.

Ukraine’s parliamentary elections happen under a mixed electoral system, which means that of the 450 seats in the Rada, or parliament, half will be proportionally distributed to political parties that receive above 5 percent from all votes. The other half will be filled from single-seat constituencies by candidates not required to reveal their party affiliation. Further complicating matters, the number of seats in the new Parliament may only be 423 because voting did not take place in at least 27 constituencies in Crimea, annexed by Russia in March, and the war-torn east of Ukraine.

Among the positive signs, however, are the presence of more than thirty civil society activists and pro-democracy fighters on party lists. This brings hope for the rise of a new, responsible political elite – even though at the same time it is important to understand from where these newcomers draw their credibility.

Meanwhile, armed clashes and military operations are still ongoing in Eastern Ukraine.


This article is a contribution from James Le Grice, of our network partner Insight Public Affairs, based in London. Find more about them at http://insightpublicaffairs.com/

“Hong Kong will never have to walk alone.” Thus said Prime Minister John Major in the last visit to Hong Kong by a British leader before the colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Referring to the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which ensured Hong Kong’s autonomy over its social, economic and legal systems, Major promised that Britain would “pursue every legal and other avenue available” if China failed to uphold the agreement.

Eighteen years after this speech was made, tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens have taken to the streets, defying tear gas and police batons in a month-long protest against Beijing’s plan to vet the candidates for Hong Kong’s leadership election in 2017. Protestors argue that the decision is an attempt to claw back Hong Kong’s unique freedoms and tighten the Communist Party’s control over the island. Beijing argues that the protestors are unpatriotic puppets of “hostile foreign forces.”

Yet, as far as Britain is concerned, Hong Kong is most certainly walking alone. The UK Government has shown very little interest in the pro-democracy uprising save for the occasional brief statement from a junior Foreign Office minister, or non-committal comments of “concern” from Prime Minister David Cameron and his Deputy Nick Clegg. This relative silence led Anson Chen, deputy to the last British governor of Hong Kong, to accuse Britain of abandoning its “moral and legal responsibility” and reneging on its promise to hold China to the 1984 Joint-Declaration.

Britain’s silence reflects a somewhat different pledge made by Tony Blair on the eve of the handover ceremony in 1997.


A recent study by Restaurant Centers Opportunities found that 80 percent of female restaurant workers in the US have been sexually harassed, as well as over half of male workers. Although gender-based violence in the workplace is most common in lower-wage and tipped jobs, it can occur at in any field, and is an increasingly international problem.

In this context, non-profit and public sector groups working on improving labor conditions believe that the International Labor Organization (ILO) could have a critical role to play in ameliorating these risks. In particular, they argue that a potential ILO Convention on Gender-Based Violence would help create international norms to confront the problem and create a base for national-level laws. However, the discussion around this option is still in its infancy.

The ILO is unique among UN agencies for a number of reasons. To begin with, it predates the UN, having been founded after World War I in 1919. Additionally, it has a singular tripartite structure in which each of the 185 member countries sends a representative from the workers, the employers, and the government. The United States, for example, sends the AFL-CIO to represent the workers and the United States Council for International Business (USCIB) to represent the employers. Given that each of the three members in the tripartite structure have an equal vote, approving new conventions requires significant deliberation.

This is because the ILO has a particular protocol for proposing new conventions, known as the Convention Standards Setting Measures.


With US and EU sanctions having little appreciable impact on the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and parliamentary elections in Ukraine setting the stage for a government in favor of Ukrainian unity, many observers are wondering what the next steps must be for Europe, the US, and NATO.

In Washington, the integrity of the Euro-Atlantic security pact and the future of NATO strategy in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has been the topic of a number of high level discussions, as leaders come together to chart a common course. The most recent such dialogue took place at Johns Hopkins University on October 7th, and featured the thoughts of the Foreign Affairs minister of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius. Lithuania’s role as one of the three Baltic states with significant Russian populations and close proximity to Russia means that its experience is key to understanding how Western leaders must confront the newest challenge to Europe.

Given the nature of the current conflict, Linkevičius largely focused on the ways in which it is possible to strengthen defense cooperation between the Baltics, the United States, and the Nordic countries that also border Russia. At the same time, he stressed other important issues such as energy security and prospects in the Arctic region and the High North, which, due to rapidly accelerating climate change and the pace of natural resource development, pose potential security challenges as well.

The central question, for Linkevičius and others, that ties these issues together is: what are the options for cooperating and advancing a common vision of a Europe “whole, free, and at peace” as originally envisioned?


It’s September once again, and with the end of summer comes the perennial gathering of world leaders at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City. At the same time, the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative this week is advancing the discussion of pressing issues of global development with guests ranging from Fortune 500 CEOs to US President Barack Obama.

The Clinton Global Initiative, or CGI, was founded by outgoing President Bill Clinton in order to bring policymakers, business leaders, NGOs and members of the philanthropic community together, with the aim of fomenting the kind of unscripted interactions that lead to deeper relationships and specific commitments to concrete action. After ten years of work, the theme of the 2014 meeting is “Reimagining Impact” – the effort to improve how CGI’s members measure and assess the success or failure of their projects.

This emphasis on impact evaluation is part of a three year focus on rigorous accountability in the development sphere.


On July 14th, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed into law major new regulations for Mexico’s telecommunications and broadcasting industries.

These are what are known as the “secondary” laws which will implement the original legislation proposed in 2013, and will effect Mexican consumers in myriad ways, including abolishing long-distance phone charges, making it easier for customers to switch phone companies, and punishing firms that enjoy “asymmetric advantages” through a different pricing regime. The government is also now able to break up monopolistic companies – called “preponderant companies” – with over 50 percent market share in any sector.

With these actions, the government is generally seen as attempting to curb the power of Carlos Slim’s empire: America Movil in telecom and that of Televisa in broadcasting. Telmex, which is a subsidiary of America Movil, and Televisa also dominate most internet services in the country. Until recently, America Movil had 70 percent of the mobile market in Mexico and 60 percent of the fixed lines, while Televisa owned over 64 percent of the Mexican television market.

Televisa fought the Mexican Federal Telecommunications Institute’s (IFT) designation of preponderance through the courts; however, they lost that challenge at the end of August.


Despite Scotland’s referendum on independence failing to create a new nation, the September 18th vote may serve a more significant purpose for Scotland and the rest of Europe. That is because politicians in the United Kingdom’s Parliament pledged, in response to the strong showing of pro-separatist voters, devolution of powers to the regional levels of government in the UK, including Scotland. In many regards, it seems the shakeup could benefit the Scots more in the long run than an actual separation.

Scotland’s referendum vote will have reverberations around the continent because it served as a barometer for what territories like Catalonia, Flanders, and the Basque region can accomplish in a time of increasing interdependence. The gains won by the Scottish referendum have the power to influence Europe’s overall narrative regarding what a country needs to preserve its identity and power in the 21st century.

During the height of the Better Together campaign, pro-unity politicians pleaded with the Scots, arguing that there would be changes in the relationship. Leading figures like David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown have all signed a resolution to that effect – even though specifics on what exactly the Scots could gain are currently slim. But we can expect that it will be to the tune of greater devolution of taxation and welfare authority to the regional Scottish government. Of course there is no guarantee that this resolution will overcome political gridlock—and some Labour party leaders have expressed their reluctance to get onboard.

Scotland is not the only European region struggling with questions about its governance.