Inter Press ServiceThalif Deen – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 23 Feb 2018 16:47:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 Boycott, Divest & Sanctions Campaign Not Anti-Israel but Pro-Palestinian, Says Norwegian MPhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/boycott-divest-sanctions-campaign-not-anti-israel-pro-palestinian-says-norwegian-mp/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boycott-divest-sanctions-campaign-not-anti-israel-pro-palestinian-says-norwegian-mp http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/boycott-divest-sanctions-campaign-not-anti-israel-pro-palestinian-says-norwegian-mp/#comments Mon, 12 Feb 2018 08:23:02 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154265 When Norwegian parliamentarian Bjørnar Moxnes recently nominated the BDS movement for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, the leader of Norway’s Red Party faced the inevitable: a furious backlash from pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian groups. But “my nomination is first and foremost pro-Palestinian, not anti-Israeli”, declared Moxnes, while arguing his case, in an interview with IPS. The […]

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When Bjørnar Moxnes nominated the BDS movement for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, he faced the inevitable: a furious backlash from pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian groups

Credit: BDS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 12 2018 (IPS)

When Norwegian parliamentarian Bjørnar Moxnes recently nominated the BDS movement for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, the leader of Norway’s Red Party faced the inevitable: a furious backlash from pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian groups.

But “my nomination is first and foremost pro-Palestinian, not anti-Israeli”, declared Moxnes, while arguing his case, in an interview with IPS.

The 13-year old Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a fast spreading global campaign aimed at increasing political and economic pressure on Israel with the ultimate goal of Palestinian statehood.

Inspired by the highly successful 1960s anti-apartheid movement that led South Africa to abandon the widely-condemned racist government in Pretoria in the early 1990s, BDS is being led primarily by academics, trade unions, student bodies, peace activists, parliamentarians and civil society organisations (CSOs) worldwide.

Inspired by the highly successful 1960s anti-apartheid movement that led South Africa to abandon the widely-condemned racist government in Pretoria in the early 1990s, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is being led primarily by academics, trade unions, student bodies, peace activists, parliamentarians and civil society organisations (CSOs) worldwide.

Asked what convinced him to nominate the BDS movement for a Nobel Peace Prize, Moxnes singled out its goals, its achievements, and its growing widespread appeal fighting for the human rights of Palestinians.

“Our party has consistently supported all legitimate forms of struggles carried out to achieve justice for the Palestinian people for decades.”

“What fascinates us about the BDS campaign is that it is non-violent, legal, in line with international law and human rights and highly efficient at putting the struggle for Palestine back on the international agenda at an otherwise very difficult time for the Palestinian cause”.

He said it was also encouraging to see such a broad movement inspired by the anti apartheid campaign in South Africa, endorsed even by former Nobel Peace Prize laureates like Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire, peace activist from northern Ireland.

“We hope this nomination can help ignite an international campaign in favour of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the BDS movement that will change the way the international community think and act regarding the Palestinian people’s just claim for freedom and justice.”

As part of the backlash, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, last week demanded that a German bank close an account that “enables BDS to raise funds to boycott the Jewish state and spread antisemitism”.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, he said: “I am leading an international campaign to defend Israel from the BDS movement’s hateful attacks against Israel’s right to exist”.

This stance against BDS, he said, “has been adopted by our close friends in Germany, including the CDU [Christian Democratic Union] and municipalities such as Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich. I call on the Bank for Social Economy to join the many German institutions, leaders and citizens who are uniting to reject the discriminatory and anti-semitic boycott movement against Israel,” he added.

According to the BDS website, “boycotts” include withdrawing support for Israel and Israeli and international companies that are involved in the violation of Palestinian human rights, as well as complicit Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions.

Norwegian parliamentarian Bjørnar Moxnes, leader of Norway’s Red Party

Norwegian parliamentarian Bjørnar Moxnes, leader of Norway’s Red Party

The “divestment” campaigns urge banks, local councils, churches, pension funds and universities to withdraw investments from all Israeli companies and from international companies involved in violating Palestinian rights

And the “sanctions” campaigns pressure governments to fulfil their legal obligation to hold Israel to account including by ending military trade, free-trade agreements and expelling Israel from international forums such as the UN and Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA).

With an international campaign against the nomination, what are the chances of BDS getting a Nobel?

Moxnes told IPS: “Our party has a critical attitude towards the Nobel Committee because of its long-standing bias in favour of Western geopolitical elite interests and its disregard of the will of Alfred Nobel to award the peace price to persons and organizations that fight for peace and demilitarization”.

However, he pointed out, there have been several important honourable exceptions to that rule, “and we have a realistic hope that our nomination of the BDS campaign can make it at least to the short list, published by the Nobel Committee towards the end of September. And let’s not rule out the possibility of actually achieving the Nobel Peace Prize either.”

“However, and this is a main point that I want to stress, the nomination has already created a positive campaign around the BDS movement, at a time when this movement is sought to be criminalized by Israel”.

If the supporters of justice for Palestine across the world come together to maintain this campaign in favour of rewarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the BDS movement, it can both re-legitimize the BDS movement and contribute to significantly increase the international pressure on the Israeli government to abide by international law, he noted.

Asked if the five-person Nobel committee will not shy away from what could be a highly controversial nomination, despite the fact that PLO leader Yassir Arafat shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, Moxnes said: “Let’s not forget that the Nobel Committee simultaneously awarded the peace prize to Israeli prime minister Yitzak Rabin and Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres, the latter considered the father of the Israeli atomic bomb.”

“So I don’t think it can be claimed that there has been any pro-Palestinian bias, that could justify ruling out a movement that fights for a peaceful and just solution to one of the world’s oldest and most bitter conflicts, through peaceful means. And the just solution for the Palestinians that the BDS movement is campaigning for is really key to achieve peace and stability also in the broader Middle East, something the whole humanity will benefit from. So the BDS really has all it takes to be a worthy Nobel Peace Prize laureate”, he declared.

Asked how much of political support the BDS nomination has in Norway itself, Moxnes said: “The current Norwegian government is closely allied to the USA and seems to be more eager to please the USA and its ally in Tel Aviv, than to uphold a principled stance on international law and human rights”.

Hence the success of this campaign in favour of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the BDS movement depends on the active participation of a broad international movement.

On the other hand, he said, there is broad support for the just claims of the Palestinian people among Norwegians. The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions, a massive player in Norwegian politics, firmly supports the Palestinian cause and voted in favour of implementing BDS measures against Israel last December. Among political parties and NGOs, there is also a lot of support for Palestinian rights.

Asked to respond to Israeli charges that BDS is an “anti-semitic movement”, he said: “One of the things we appreciate about the BDS movement is that it clearly is not hostile towards Jews in general. Actually many progressive Jews and Jewish organizations actively supports the BDS movement”.

This is important for our political party, that consistently reject any kind of racism, including anti-semitism, he added.

“We want a Middle East where Jews and Palestinian can live side by side in peace and security. A non-just and non-violent way towards the just claims of the Palestinian people would be a necessary step towards that end,that would also benefit the Jewish population,” he said.

The Nobel Committee usually publishes a shortlist of nominees by the end of September. The laureates are chosen and announced in October, and the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded on December 10 in Oslo, Norway.

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Tackling Inequality – The Myth that Davos Can Change the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/myth-davos-can-change-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myth-davos-can-change-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/myth-davos-can-change-world/#comments Mon, 29 Jan 2018 18:00:58 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154041 When the World Economic Forum (WEF) concluded in Davos, Switzerland last week, the outcome of the annual talk-fest was seemingly predictable—plenty of unrestrained platitudes but, surprisingly, less of the American populist, protectionist rhetoric. The presence of President Donald Trump was a political side-show as he proudly declared that America was “open for business”— even as […]

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For years now, Davos has listed inequality as a major concern, and yet has also noted that it keeps increasing. (Don’t these leaders have any influence?)

US President Donald Trump at the Davos Forum

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 29 2018 (IPS)

When the World Economic Forum (WEF) concluded in Davos, Switzerland last week, the outcome of the annual talk-fest was seemingly predictable—plenty of unrestrained platitudes but, surprisingly, less of the American populist, protectionist rhetoric.

The presence of President Donald Trump was a political side-show as he proudly declared that America was “open for business”— even as standup comedian Jimmy Kimmel wisecracked: “And who better to make that declaration than a man who declared bankruptcy six different times” (when he was a self-declared “billionaire” businessman before he ran for the US presidency.)

Trump, who has increasingly opted for bilateralism over multilateralism — while pulling out of the 11-member Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and threatening to do the same with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada– appeared more restrained before the world’s business elites, even though he arrived in Davos immediately after he slapped tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines.

But then appearances, as they say, can be frighteningly deceptive.

Implicitly taking a shot at Trump, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Davos Forum that “forces of protectionism are raising their heads against globalization.” Their intention is not only to avoid globalisation but also reverse its natural flow, he warned.

Ben Phillips, Launch Director at the Nairobi-based Fight Inequality Alliance, told IPS: “Davos is over. This is not merely to say that the private helicopters have taken their charges back to private airstrips for their onward journey home. This year, 2018, was the nail in the coffin for the idea that Davos could change the world.”

He described the Davos Forum as a “speed-dating club for plutocrats and politicians”. But the idea that it will be a force for a more equal society is dead, he added.

Last week, WEF boss Klaus Schwab embraced Trump, complaining that Trump’s “strong leadership” had suffered “misconceptions and biased interpretations”.

Schwab, went further, praising Trump’s rushed and irresponsible tax giveaway to billionaires that is cutting services, increasing debt and widening inequality: “On behalf of the business leaders here in this room, let me particularly congratulate you for the historic tax reform package passed last month, greatly reducing the tax burden of US companies”.

According to the New York Times, some in the audience booed at Schwab’s remarks praising Trump.

Davos is now Trump-Davos: the racism and cruelty of Trump is forgiven, said Phillips.

“And Trump became Davos-Trump: his claimed revolt against globalization is now exposed as merely an attack on poor migrants and not a challenge to the global elite. Goldman Sachs – once the target of Trump’s rhetoric but now the source of his key cabinet picks, was clear. They “really like what he’s done for the economy”, Phillips added.

Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director, Greenpeace International, told IPS she saw no evidence that the corporate or government leaders in Davos really understood the urgent need to provide justice for the people or the planet.

“While they speak of inclusive growth and climate action, they fail to investigate or challenge their own role in propping up and benefitting from the underlying system that has created the fractured world we live in,” she added.

However, she said, she was inspired by many of the young global shapers, particularly women, whom she met, leading the way with big ideas and collective leadership.

Morgan pointed out that climate risk and climate action were more present in discussions at Davos this year, but not at the speed or scale required when measured against the scale of the challenge we face.

“Climate disruption is the new norm, which means a transformation of our energy and land-use systems is the only way forward,” she noted.

Phillips told IPS it has not just the embrace of Trump, however, that has ended the myth of Davos as an equalizing force. It is the consistent failure of Davos to deliver.

“For years now, Davos has listed inequality as a major concern, and yet has also noted that it keeps increasing. (Don’t these leaders have any influence?)”, he asked.

As the world’s foremost expert on inequality trends, former World Bank economist Branko Milanovic, concluded last week, Davos has “produced 0 results” in lessening inequality – while the economy has been further adjusted by inequality-exacerbating policies that have returned us to the “early 19thcentury”.

For students of history, noted Phillips, this should all be unsurprising: never, at any time or place, have great strides been made in tackling the concentration of power and wealth by a few by literally concentrating together those powerful and wealthy few.


"All major equalizing change has involved a process of those outside the elite gathering together, building confidence and strength, and pushing for a fairer share. Greater equality has never been freely given, it has always been won through collective struggle."

Ben Phillips, Fight Inequality Alliance

Indeed, all major equalizing change has involved a process of those outside the elite gathering together, building confidence and strength, and pushing for a fairer share.

Greater equality has never been freely given, it has always been won through collective struggle, declared Phillips.

Even the usually-restrained United Nations expressed concern over Trump’s call for countries to pursue their own self-interest – in this age of globalisation and multilateralism.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the outspoken Zeid Raad al-Hussein, declared: “It’s the script of the 20th century. He urged all countries to pursue their own interest, almost without reference to the fact that if you do all of that, if each country is narrowly pursuing its agenda, it will clash with the agendas of others and we will take the world back to 1913 once again.”

Striking a different perspective to Davos, Phillips said “happily, last week was a week when that process of people organizing together for change also took a step forward. But not on the Davos mountain, but on very different mountains.”

As the media summarized it “Forget Davos – Dandora is the key to tackling inequality.”

Dandora in Nairobi is a slum situated on top of a garbage mountain, and it was there, not at the World Economic Forum, that NGOs, social movements and trade unions who have come together in the global Fight Inequality Alliance centred their organizing.

Dandora played host to an Usawa Festival (“Equality Festival”) pulled together by Kenya’s greatest hiphop star Juliani along with grassroots groups working to build up strength from the ground up.

Across the world, similar festivals and rallies brought people together to demand change and build their power. Attendees at Davos complained of being trapped in fog, stuck in ditches, and almost buried by heavy snow.

At the Dandora garbage mountain, in contrast, the sun shone, the participants sang in joyful defiance and people took the initiative for change into their own hands, said Phillips.

“We are the people we’ve been waiting for!” they shouted.

It will take time, they said, but from the garbage mountain top they felt, in an echo of Dr King and of the captives who ran from the Pharaoh, that they could see the promised land, declared Phillips.

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US, Led by an Erratic Trump, Seeks to Undermine UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/us-led-erratic-trump-seeks-undermine-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-led-erratic-trump-seeks-undermine-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/us-led-erratic-trump-seeks-undermine-un/#comments Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:33:00 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153931 The continued erratic and outrageous comments by President Donald Trump – and his attempts to undermine the United Nations – are threatening to cause irreparable damage to the world body. The signs are ominous: the US withdrawal from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the threats against member states voting for anti-Israeli resolutions; […]

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US president Donald Trump addressing the UN General Assembly in September 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

The continued erratic and outrageous comments by President Donald Trump – and his attempts to undermine the United Nations – are threatening to cause irreparable damage to the world body.

The signs are ominous: the US withdrawal from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the threats against member states voting for anti-Israeli resolutions; slashing funds to a 69-year-old UN agency for Palestinian refugees; withdrawal from the 2016 Paris climate change agreement; threats to “totally destroy” a UN member state, North Korea; a US-inspired $285 million reduction in the UN’s regular budget for 2018-2019, and the insidious attempts to wreck the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement.

And more recently, Trump triggered a global backlash when he singled out Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries” eliciting protests from the 55-member African Union (AU).

Trump has also come under fire for his insulting statements that “all Haitians have AIDS” and Nigerians who visit the US “would never go back to their huts.”

But running notoriously true to form, he has reversed himself again and again — and denied making any of these statements, despite credible evidence.

In its editorial last week, the New York Times rightly declared that Trump “is not just racist, ignorant, incompetent and undignified. He’s also a liar.”

That’s quite a mouthful to characterize the supreme leader of the free world: a crown which he may lose, paradoxically, to President Xi Jinping of totalitarian China.

James A. Paul, Executive Director of Global Policy Forum (1993-2012), an NGO monitoring the work of the United Nations, told IPS the Trump administration poses a grave threat to the future of the UN and to the development of international cooperation more generally.

“But we have to ask: how much does the present differ from the past and how close are we to a collapse of the UN under assault from Washington?.”

Every day, there appears new confirmation of the problem, whether it is President Trump’s crude statements about world leaders, his harsh commentary and stereotypical remarks about other countries and peoples, his upsetting of carefully-constructed international agreements, and his utter disregard for the tactfulness of diplomacy, said Paul.

“In terms of the UN as an institution, we see such blows as the US withdrawal from the Climate Change Agreement, looming US defunding of the UN’s Palestinian refugee aid, and US-led slashing of the regular UN budget.”

Crude blackmailing to enforce favorable votes in UN bodies, said Paul, has also been practiced by Washington more than ever.

“At the same time, there is an increasingly-harsh US government rhetoric about the UN as a useless bureaucracy, undeserving of respect and support.”

Paul said “right-wing nationalism has arisen in many lands in recent years, of course, and we should remember that the US has often in the past acted towards the UN and the international community with condescension and domination”.

Recent developments, he argued, are therefore not so much unique as they are extreme, posing deeper-than-ever threats to the viability of the UN in an extremely unstable and dangerous time.

Meanwhile, the US has already announced it will cut about $65 million in funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which providence sustenance to millions of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon.

Responding to a question at a press conference January 16, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “very concerned” about the US funding cuts.

“I strongly hope that, in the end, it will be possible for the United States to maintain the funding of UNRWA, in which the US has a very important share.”

And he made it clear that UNRWA, contrary to a misconception, is “not a Palestinian institution. UNRWA is a UN institution created by the General Assembly.”

Last December, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who has hinted at linking America’s financial leverage as the biggest single donor, to Washington’s political demands, claimed the US had successfully negotiated the $285 million reduction of the UN budget for 2018-2019.

And it was Haley who threatened to “take down names” and cut US aid to countries that voted for a resolution last December condemning US recognition of Jerusalem as the new Israeli capital.

Ian Williams, UN correspondent for Tribune and Senior Analyst, Foreign Policy in Focus, told IPS “Trump’s ignorance and arrogance makes a dangerous compound mixed with Nikki Haley’s ambitions and her pro-Israeli prejudices.”

Her job as Permanent Representative of the UN includes letting the US government know the views of the rest of the world, but it is clear from her counterproductive threats that she does not really care, he said.

Sarah Palin (a former Republican Vice Presidential candidate), announcing her foreign policy credentials, once remarked she could monitor Russia from her backyard in her home state of Alaska.

“And it is clear that Haley can only see Israel from the US mission on First Avenue,” said Williams, author of “UNtold: The Real Story of the UN in Peace and War,” recently released by Just World Books.

That seems to reflect some deep prejudices as well as blatant domestic political ambition. While Bush appeased his right wring by letting John Bolton bluster, Washington and the White House made sure that he did not break up the playground, he added

“Trump shows no signs of restraining the damage that Haley is doing to the UN and international law – nor indeed to American diplomacy which Haley even more than some of her predecessors is making an oxymoron.”

But unlike earlier times, a newly involved, and newly affluent China is waiting to pick up the balls that Haley and Trump throw out, said Williams who has been covering the United Nations since 1989.

Mouin Rabbani, Contributing Editor, Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), told IPS history is demonstrating once again that there is an inherent threat to international peace and security “when powerful states are led by volatile airheads.”

The United Nations is as exposed to these risks as any other state or institution, and arguably more so given its dependency on not only American funding but also US engagement, he added.

“At the same time, it would be a little unfair to assign blame solely to Trump and his diplomats, in this case led by the extraordinarily vulgar Nikki Haley.”

This is because UN-bashing has become something of a national sport if not civic requirement in the US for decades, fed by a ceaseless stream of morbid, utterly fantastical conspiracy theories of the type that Americans excel at concocting and revel in ingesting, he noted.

“We are witnessing, in real time, what happens when powerful states cease to properly invest in the education of their children.”

The problem for the UN is that making the world body a more effective organization is the one item not on the agenda of its US critics, he declared.

With Trump, they smell a unique opportunity to administer permanent and irreparable damage to the UN (and for that matter pretty much everything else they identify with modern civilization).

“It will be for the international community to decide whether to yet again roll over and play dead or prevent the lunatics from taking over the asylum,” Rabbani declared.

Paul told IPS that to get perspective and avoid idealizing earlier years at the UN, “we should remember the negative effects of the Cold War on the UN, including the proxy wars, the fierce battles over decolonization, and the negative pressure constantly brought to bear on UN budgets.”

The Congo crisis in the early 1960s had a deadly effect on the UN in more ways than one. Recent information points to the assassination of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961, showing how far Washington and its allies were prepared to go to weaken the UN so as to protect mining and other interests in Congo and throughout Africa, he noted.

“Today, the budget cuts may be the UN’s most serious danger. In the previous biennium, the Obama Administration already forced budget reductions but this time the cuts have been deeper and more fundamental.”

After years of “doing more with less,” the UN system is desperately short of funds for basic programs. Still, the Trump people in Washington have declared that cuts must go deeper and further shrinkage is necessary.

“Beyond the Regular Budget, Washington is imposing deep austerity on UN agencies, funds and programs. Will the Trump administration simply strangle the UN with steadily more draconian under-funding?,” he asked.

This has apparently been the Trump plan for US government agencies as well, from Environmental Protection to the State Department. “Kill the Beast!” chant the alt-right ideologues to the applause of their neo-liberal corporate backers. said Paul, author of the newly-released book “Of Foxes and Chickens: Oligarchy & Global Power in the UN Security Council.”

To assess the danger, “we need to go beyond calculations about whether Trump will be voted out of office in 2020.” Such possibilities, he noted, are a reminder that Trump’s own peculiarly odious politics could be short-lived.

“But they do not answer the larger question: what is happening in the world that has given rise to so many thuggish right-wing populists and so many corrupt, rightward-leaning centrists as well?”

Could it be the rising hegemony of the multinational corporations and their owners, who think they can rule over the global system with a minimum of interference, from old-fashioned states and ineffective intergovernmental bodies?, asked Paul, a former editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World.

“We, the peoples,” the globe’s citizens, have been lured into this trap, to the surprise of so many intellectuals, globalists, and internationalists. This, not Trump, is the existential threat that the UN faces.

“Can a new leadership arise, with new ability to bring the public to its senses? Can the climate crisis stimulate a new transnational political movement? Can a global constituency for a revived national politics and a new and transformed UN come soon into being?,” he asked.

“The UN’s future almost certainly depends on it”, he said.

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Pakistan, Facing Military Aid Cuts, One Step Ahead of UShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/pakistan-facing-military-aid-cuts-one-step-ahead-us/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-facing-military-aid-cuts-one-step-ahead-us http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/pakistan-facing-military-aid-cuts-one-step-ahead-us/#respond Tue, 16 Jan 2018 14:27:11 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153886 When the United States abruptly cuts off military supplies to its allies for political or other reasons, the reaction has been predictable: it drive these countries into the arms of the Chinese, the Russians and Western European weapons suppliers. So, when the Trump administration decided recently to withhold about $2.0 billion in aid to Pakistan, […]

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'Rafale B', French Air Force combat jets.

By Thalif Deen
NEW YORK, Jan 16 2018 (IPS)

When the United States abruptly cuts off military supplies to its allies for political or other reasons, the reaction has been predictable: it drive these countries into the arms of the Chinese, the Russians and Western European weapons suppliers.

So, when the Trump administration decided recently to withhold about $2.0 billion in aid to Pakistan, the government in Islamabad was one step ahead: it had already built a vibrant military relationship with China and also turned to UK, France, Sweden, Turkey and Italy for its arms supplies.

In the Middle East, some of the longstanding US allies, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Kuwait, are known not to depend too heavily on American weapons systems—and their frontline fighter planes include not only F-15s and F-16s (US-supplied) but also Rafale and Mirage combat jets (France), the Typhoon (a UK/France/Italy joint venture) and Tornado and Jaguars (UK), all of them in multi-billion dollar arms deals.

The primary reason for multiple sources is to ensure uninterrupted arms supplies if any one of the suppliers, usually the US, withholds military aid – as it did in the 1990s when Washington suspended security assistance to Pakistan under the so-called Pressler amendment which called for a certification that Pakistan did not possess nuclear weapons. (It did)

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) latest data for 2012-2016, the US accounted for about a third of the entire global market in major conventional weapons.

SIPRI reports that Pakistan has received significant quantities of weapons from both the United States and China in recent years. Deliveries from China in the last several years reportedly include combat aircraft, tanks, submarines, and other naval vessels.

US deliveries have included armored personnel carriers and systems to modernize US F-16s that were previously supplied to the Pakistani military.

Derek Bisaccio, Middle East/ Africa & Eurasia Analyst at Forecast International Inc., a US-based defense research company, told IPS the two primary arms suppliers to Pakistan are the United States and China.

American arms agreements with Pakistan, he said, have totaled between $5-6 billion since 2001; much of this stems from the sale of F-16 fighter planes.

“Although Chinese arms sales to Pakistan are more difficult to put a dollar figure to– owing to a lack of transparency on both sides– it is expected that Chinese arms sales have eclipsed American arms sales on an annual basis in recent years as Pakistan and China have deepened their military-technical cooperation,” he noted.

In the past decade, China has sold naval patrol vessels, submarines, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems to Pakistan. The two have partnered on projects like the JF-17 fighter jet, assembled and manufactured locally by the Pakistanis.

Other arms suppliers include Ukraine, with whom Pakistan has partnered on its fleet of battle tanks, and Turkey.

Pakistan and Turkey have negotiated in the past few years over Pakistan’s possible purchase of attack helicopters and corvettes. Pakistan has purchased airborne early warning & control aircraft from Sweden and may well acquire more in the coming years, Bisaccio said.

In the past, Pakistan has contracted the United Kingdom, France and Italy for some of its purchases; many naval vessels and aircraft operated by Pakistan are French-origin, he added.

According to a report in the Washington Times last week, China is planning to build a military base in Pakistan, which would be its second overseas military base, after Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

The naval installation will be erected in a key strategic location: the Pakistani town of Jiwani, a port near the Iranian border on the Gulf of Oman and near the Straits of Hormuz, which resides at one of the six proposed economic corridors of the One Belt One Road Initiative, commonly called the Silk Road Economic Belt, the Times said.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS: “The Trump administration’s decision to halt military aid to Pakistan is long overdue. Pakistan’s human rights record is deplorable, as documented in annual reports from the State Department.”

However, that decision was not justified on human rights grounds, she noted. Instead, the administration argues that the Pakistani government is not doing enough to combat terrorism.

“This argument that Pakistan is harboring terrorists is not new. The US-Pakistani relationship frequently features policy cycles that include critical statements by US officials, attempts to reduce or halt aid, and an eventual return to the status quo,” said Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy at the United Nations, on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

“Ironically, the Trump decision to put a hold on military assistance to Pakistan comes at the same time as Reuters reports that the administration is planning to be even more aggressive in pursuing global arms sales. Embassy staffs are apparently going to be asked to promote US arms sales more actively to their host governments. This is reminiscent of similar moves during the Reagan administration.”

She also pointed out that advocates of arms sales often argue that countries can find other suppliers if the US government refuses a sale.

“Yet by avoiding selling sophisticated US weapons to unstable regimes, we may significantly reduce the risk that members of our armed forces will end up fighting our own weapons. And in the end, the US government needs to set ethical standards for arms sales, not merely economic ones.”

Reacting to the US aid cuts, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif was quoted as saying: “We do not have any alliance” with the US. “This is not how allies behave.”

Trump said on Twitter that Pakistan had “given us nothing but lies and deceit” and accused Islamabad of providing “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”

But Islamabad may still retaliate by closing down US supply routes to Afghanistan which goes through Pakistan. Currently, there are over 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan.

Bisaccio of Forecast International Inc told IPS that due to decades of partnership, the Pakistani military has a large amount of U.S.-supplied equipment, either provided directly from the U.S. or a third party, in its force structures, either in active use or in storage.

Much of the Army’s aviation wing is composed of Western-supplied aircraft, with a lot of American systems.

Asked if the Pakistani military can survive if the US suspends military aid– and halts maintenance, servicing and spares to US-made equipment—Bisaccio said it can certainly survive, but in some areas of the military such moves to end cooperation would be painful.

He said the suspension of maintenance, servicing, and the provision of spare parts– should the U.S. decide to enact such a move– would be particularly problematic for the Pakistani F-16 fleet.

Pakistan has already encountered difficulty acquiring new F-16s, as the U.S. Congress blocked Pakistan from using foreign military financing to purchase eight jets in 2016. Inability to acquire maintenance or armaments would impact fleet readiness, especially over time as the F-16s face attrition. Posturing against rival India would suffer as a result, he added.

Moreover, the ability of the Army to carry out counter-insurgency operations could be impacted should Pakistan not be able to obtain servicing for the Army’s aviation assets, especially the AH-1 attack helicopters.

“Pakistan, in recognition that reliance on one supplier could create vulnerability, has over the years diversified its supplier base and worked to build up its own defense industry, which does have the effect of lessening its military dependence on the U.S,” Bisaccio pointed out.

The dispute with President Trump, he pointed out, is a symptom of the longer-running tension between the U.S. and Pakistan, but, in Pakistan’s view, the latest row with the Trump administration provides further validation for this policy.

In an interview with the Financial Times in September 2017, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi reiterated that his country would like to purchase F-16s from the U.S., but could seek alternatives from France or China if need be.

Pakistan’s missile deterrent against India is a key element of the country’s national security and Pakistan was able to develop its missile program without American assistance.

“The gradual fraying of relations between the U.S. and Pakistan has occurred amid a deepening of relations between China and Pakistan. Their joint cooperation on a range of matters, including military-technical issues, will help blunt the impact of the U.S. cutting off aid to Pakistan.”

The volume of security assistance provided to Pakistan from China is unknown but is likely to increase moving forward, offsetting to some extent the temporary or permanent loss of American assistance, he added.

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The Reality of North Korea as a Nuclear Powerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/reality-north-korea-nuclear-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reality-north-korea-nuclear-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/reality-north-korea-nuclear-power/#comments Thu, 11 Jan 2018 11:12:46 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153823 With a track record of six underground nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017, North Korea is desperately yearning to be recognized as the world’s ninth nuclear power – trailing behind the US, UK, France, China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel. But that recognition seems elusive– despite the increasing nuclear threats by Pyongyang and the continued […]

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Credit: UN photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 11 2018 (IPS)

With a track record of six underground nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017, North Korea is desperately yearning to be recognized as the world’s ninth nuclear power – trailing behind the US, UK, France, China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel.

But that recognition seems elusive– despite the increasing nuclear threats by Pyongyang and the continued war of words between two of the world’s most unpredictable leaders: US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Arguing that North Koreans have little reason to give up their weapons program, the New York Times ran a story last November with a realistically arresting headline which read: “The North is a Nuclear Power Now. Get Used to it”.

But the world’s five major nuclear powers, the UK, US, France, China and Russia, who are also permanent members of the UN Security Council, have refused to bestow the nuclear badge of honour to the North Koreans.

North Korea, meanwhile, has pointed out that the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the ouster of Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, were perhaps facilitated by one fact: none of these countries had nuclear weapons or had given up developing nuclear weapons.

“And that is why we will never give up ours,” a North Korean diplomat was quoted as saying.

Dr M.V. Ramana, Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia, told IPS there is, however, hope in the recent placatory moves by North and South Korea.

“I think that the situation can return to a calmer state, although it is entirely possible that this calmer state would involve North Korea holding on to nuclear weapons. I suspect that for the time being the world will have to live with North Korea’s nuclear arsenal,” he added.

“Although that is not a desirable goal, there is no reason why one should presume that North Korea having nuclear weapons is any more of a problem than India, Pakistan, or Israel, or for that matter, China, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, or the United States,” said Dr Ramana, author of The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India, Penguin Books, New Delhi (2012).

“I think the greater problem is the current leadership of the United States that has been making provocative statements and taunts. I think it is for the powerful countries to start the process of calming down the rhetoric and initiate negotiations with North Korea.”

Also, any peace process should be based on reciprocal moves: one cannot simply expect North Korea to scale down its programs without corresponding moves by the United States, he declared.

Jayantha Dhanapala, a former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs (1998-2003), told IPS there is little doubt that North Korea, (also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), has acquired a nuclear weapon capability and the means of delivering it to the mainland of the USA.

That this is clearly in defiance of international norms and a violation of international law and Security Council resolutions is also clear, he noted.

Those norms, quite apart from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), now include the recently negotiated Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, or the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty, the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, with the goal of leading towards their total elimination.

It was adopted on 7 July 2017, but neither the USA nor the DPRK have acceded to it, said Dhanapala a former President of Pugwash (2007-17),

He also pointed out that the persistent efforts of the DPRK since the end of the Korean War to conclude a just and equitable peace with the USA have been rebuffed again and again.

“Past agreements and talks both bilateral and multilateral have failed and we are now witnessing the puerile antics of two leaders engaged in the mutual recrimination of two school-yard bullies asserting that one man’s nuclear button is bigger than the other’s while tensions reminiscent of the Cold War build up alarmingly.”

Such escalation reached dangerous proportions at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis where the historical record proves that the world was saved from nuclear catastrophe by sheer luck.

“We cannot trust to luck anymore,” he warned.

“Some small steps between the two Koreas hold promise of a dialogue beginning on the eve of the Winter Olympics. This must be the opportunity for all major powers to intervene and resume negotiations. The Secretary-General of the UN must act and act now,” he added.

The number of nuclear weapons in the world has declined significantly since the end of the Cold War: down from approximately 70,300 in 1986 to an estimated 14,550, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

According to US intelligence sources, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is anywhere between 20 to 50 weapons. The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) estimates a total of over 50 weapons.

Joseph Gerson, President of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security, told IPS that successive North Korean governments have pursued their nuclear weapons program for two primary reasons: to ensure the survival of the Kim Dynasty and to preserve the survival of the North Korean state.

“As Scott Snyder (a Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy Council on Foreign Relations) taught us years ago, there is a logic – potentially deadly as is the case with any nuclear weapons program – to the development of North Korea’s deterrent nuclear arsenal.”

Beginning with the Korean War, the United States has threatened and or prepared to initiate nuclear war against North Korea. These threats have added resonance for North Koreans as a consequence of the United States military having destroyed 90% of all structures north of the 38th parallel during the Korean War.

Gerson said it is also worth noting that in the wake of the 1994 U.S.-DPRK nuclear crisis, North Korea was prepared to trade its nuclear weapons program in exchange for security guarantees, normalization of relations and economic development assistance.

The United States failed to fulfill its commitments under the 1994 Agreed Framework, by refusing to deliver promised oil supplies and endlessly delaying its promised construction of two light water nuclear reactors in exchange for the suspension of the DPRK nuclear weapons program.

In 2000, former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright negotiated a comprehensive agreement with North Korea. And President Clinton was to travel to Pyongyang to finalize the agreement, but with the political crisis caused by the disputed outcome of the 2000 Presidential Election, he did not make that trip.

Among the first disastrous orders of business of the Bush Administration was the sabotaging of that agreement. This, in turn, led to North Korea’s first nuclear weapons test, said Gerson, author of “Empire and the Bomb: How the US Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World”, “The Sun Never Sets…Confronting the Network of U.S. Foreign Military Bases”, and “With Hiroshima Eyes: Atomic War, Nuclear Extortion and Moral Imagination”.

While expectations for the meeting of North and South Korean officials, currently underway, are low, said Gerson, the world should be celebrating South Korean President Moon’s winter Olympic-related diplomatic initiatives and the resulting functional Olympic Truce.

By welcoming North Korean athletes to participate in the Olympics and by postponing threatening U.S.-South Korean military “exercises,” President Trump’s “my nuclear button is bigger than yours” –ratcheting up of dangers of war have been sidelined– he pointed out.

Following his inauguration last year, President Moon announced that he had a veto over the possibility of a disastrous U.S. initiated second Korean War. Having exercised that veto and forced Trump’s hand, he has opened the way for deeper diplomacy and peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Gerson said: “There remains, of course, the danger the Olympic Truce will simply serve as a temporary reprieve, with President Trump, beleaguered by the Muller investigation and seemingly endless scandals, again ratcheting up tensions. Disastrous war remains a possibility should the nuclear monarch opt for a desperate and deadly maneuver in his struggle for political survival.”

There never was, nor will there be, a military solution to the U.S.-North Korean nuclear crisis, and as U.S. military authorities have repeated warned, given Seoul’s proximity to North Korean artillery, even a conventional U.S. military attack against North Korea would result in hundreds of thousands of South Korean casualties and could escalate to uncontrollable and genocidal nuclear war.

The way forward requires direct U.S.-North Korean negotiations, possibly in multi-lateral frameworks like the Six Party Talks, Gerson noted.

As the growing international consensus advocates, resolution of the tensions will necessitate some form of a “freeze for freeze” agreement, limiting North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in exchange for halting U.S. threats to destroy or overturn the North Korean government and to implement previous commitments to normalization of relations.

With this foundation in place, future diplomacy can address finally ending the Korea War by replacing the Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty and building on numerous proposals for the creation of a Northeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone.

In the end, Gerson said, the only way to prevent similar nuclear weapons proliferation crises is for the nuclear powers to finally fulfill their Article VI Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligation to negotiate the complete elimination of their nuclear arsenals.

As the Nobel Peace Laureate and senior Manhattan Project scientists Joseph Rotblat warned, humanity faces a stark choice. “We can either completely eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons, or we will witness their global proliferation and the nuclear wars that will follow. Why? Because no nation will long tolerate what it perceives to be an unjust hierarchy of nuclear terror.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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US Faces Collective Defiance at UN Over Jerusalemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/us-faces-collective-defiance-un-jerusalem/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-faces-collective-defiance-un-jerusalem http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/us-faces-collective-defiance-un-jerusalem/#respond Fri, 22 Dec 2017 18:45:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153682 When the UN General Assembly condemned the United States for its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the vote was described as a “collective defiance” of the international community against public threats against the United Nations and its member states by a politically unpredictable and predictably wavering US President. Turkish Foreign Minister […]

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UN voting -- electronic board. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 22 2017 (IPS)

When the UN General Assembly condemned the United States for its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the vote was described as a “collective defiance” of the international community against public threats against the United Nations and its member states by a politically unpredictable and predictably wavering US President.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking on behalf of a country that has been a longstanding American ally, declared that Donald Trump’s threat last week to cut off American aid to countries voting for the UN resolution, as an act of “bullying,” and the General Assembly “would not bow to such bullying”.

“It is unethical. The votes and dignity of member states are not for sale– and it was unacceptable for a member state to threaten other member states. A vote in favour of the Palestinian people would place Member States on the right side of history”, he noted.

Stewart Patrick, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, was quoted by the New York Times as saying: “I think this was a significantly self-inflicted wound and really unnecessary, clumsy diplomacy on the part of the United States.”

“More than that, I think it symbolizes the self-defeating notion that for the United States, ‘it’s my way or the highway,’” he said.

Regrettably, there is no love lost between Trump and the United Nations, which he once denounced as just another “social club” – a remark made more through sheer ignorance than a well-thought-out diplomatic pronouncement.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, went one step further by not only warning member states but also the United Nations itself. In an implicit threat on US funding for the UN, she said: “We will remember it (the voting against the US), when we are called upon once again to make the world’s largest contribution (22 percent of the regular budget) to the United Nations”.

The final tally on the vote was 128 in favour to 9 against (Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Togo, United States), with 35 abstentions.

The non-binding General Assembly resolution, which expressed “deep regret” over recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem, also stressed that the future of the Holy City “is a final status issue to be resolved through negotiations in line with relevant UN resolutions” – and, in a stinging rebuke to the US, declared “null and void” any actions intended to alter Jerusalem’s character, status or demographic composition.

Adopted at an emergency special session of the General Assembly on Thursday, the resolution was a devastating attack against Trump’s recent unilateral decision to recognize the historically disputed city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and a pledge to relocate the US embassy from its current location in Tel Aviv—the only country to do so.

The 128 member states supporting the resolution included four of the five permanent members of the Security Council: the UK, France, China and Russia. The fifth permanent member is the US.

Last week, speaking on the impending UN vote, Trump blustered he will not tolerate “all of these nations that take our money and then vote against us in the Security Council and at the General Assembly. They take hundreds of millions of dollars and then they vote against us. Well we’re watching those votes.”

But some of his threats, which is rare for a head of state, have proved to be empty. Trump threatened to hold up aid to Pakistan if it did not cooperate more on US counter-terrorism efforts and also warned he will withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) if it did not increase its joint military spending.

US economic and military aid to American allies such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan, run into billions of dollars annually—but all of these countries voted for the resolution.

One of the strongest denunciations came from Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi of Pakistan who told delegates that the unilateral actions of one country were set to undo decades of work by the international community and to defy international law.

She said Pakistan rejected the decision by the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate its embassy to the Holy City in contravention of several provisions of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

“Member States must recommit to thwarting any attempts to violate the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the ultimate goal of a two State solution”.

Expressing her support for the Palestinian cause, she said it was a key pillar of Pakistan’s foreign policy, recalling that her country had led and sponsored the Assembly’s first ever resolution on Jerusalem.

“In that regard, Pakistan was proud to join the international community once again in adopting a landmark draft resolution to reject the “revisionist” decision of the United States,” declared Dr Lodhi.

Riad al-Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Palestine, said while the State of Palestine respected the sovereignty of all States, it refused to have that principle used as an excuse to deny Palestinians their rights.

“We stand today united for justice,” he declared, stressing “the veto will not stop us”. The State of Palestine would not accept any justification — security, religious or otherwise — to excuse Israel’s continued occupation, he said. The United Nations was today undergoing an unprecedented test “with Palestine as its headline”.

The General Assembly resolution followed a failed attempt by the 15-member Security Council last week to adopt a similar text reflecting regret about “recent decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem.” But that resolution, despite a vote of 14 to 1, was vetoed by the United States, a permanent member of the Security Council.

Both the General Assembly and the Security Council votes have underlined the increasing isolation of the Trump administration—amongst its Western allies and at the United Nations.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Bangladesh Aims at Middle-Income Status by 2021http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/bangladesh-aims-middle-income-status-2021/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladesh-aims-middle-income-status-2021 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/bangladesh-aims-middle-income-status-2021/#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 16:14:03 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153526 The environmental challenges facing Bangladesh, described by the United Nations as one of the world’s “least developed countries” (LDCs), are monumental, including recurrent cyclones, perennial floods, widespread riverbank erosion and a potential sea level rise predicted to put about 27 million people at risk over the next two decades. But the first National Country Investment […]

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Bangladesh. Credit: FAO

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 13 2017 (IPS)

The environmental challenges facing Bangladesh, described by the United Nations as one of the world’s “least developed countries” (LDCs), are monumental, including recurrent cyclones, perennial floods, widespread riverbank erosion and a potential sea level rise predicted to put about 27 million people at risk over the next two decades.

But the first National Country Investment Plan for Environment, Forestry and Climate Change (CIP-EFCC), released December 13, provides a detailed road map for sustainable development that encompasses reduction in poverty, improving environmental and human health benefits and increasing resilience to climate change, among others.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, herself with strong environmental credentials, has endorsed the plan ratified at the highest levels of the National Environmental Council, pointing the way for other developing countries to emulate and follow in the footsteps on Bangladesh.

Described as a “strategic tool,” the plan is anchored to, and aligned with, the vision of transforming Bangladesh from a LDC to a middle income country by 2021, nine years ahead of the UN’s targeted date of 2030 to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The plan, which will enable Bangladesh to monitor and assess the state of the environment, as well as investments in the context of climate change, also provides an avenue for multi sector policy dialogue and coordination for investment in CIP-EFCC – where state agencies, private sector, and civil society are able to advance areas of common interest, including in the forestry and timber sector.

Marco Boscolo, Forestry Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organzation of the United Nations, and former Chief Technical Advisor of the project, told IPS that it was hard to underestimate the size of environmental challenges of Bangladesh.

“Every year, only due to riverbank erosion, tens of thousands of people lose their land and livelihoods, spurring a lot of internal migration, mostly towards cities. Landslides, cyclones and floods make headlines every year during the monsoon season,” he said.

The reasons are complex. Flooding is not a new phenomenon in Bangladesh. Because the country is a flat delta, the monsoon season has always brought some level of flooding. However, climate change (more severe storms and cyclones) and trans-boundary water issues have exacerbated the problem, said Boscolo.

“The pressure on the land is huge. To get a sense of the level of population pressure in Bangladesh one can imagine that, if the whole population of the earth (about 7.6 billion) would be put all in the USA, the population density would be less than what is now in Bangladesh,” he declared.

Asked what Bangladesh needs to implement the SDGs, and also battle natural disasters, Boscolo said that with the adoption of SDGs, countries have sanctioned that most development challenges are cross-sectoral in nature.

Addressing the threat of climate change, tackling poverty and food security, addressing environmental degradation are not and cannot be the exclusive mandate of individual ministries and agencies, he pointed out.

“Unfortunately, in Bangladesh (as in many other countries), there is still a strong sectoral divide in terms of both structure, planning and budgeting which deters coordination and learning. Cross sectoral investment frameworks are essential to implement the SDGs.”

He said the Country Investment Plan (CIP) on the environment, forestry and climate change includes about 30 SDG indicators in its results framework.

Meanwhile, facts and figures on the state of the country’s environment are staggering: about 15 million people in Bangladesh alone could be on the move by 2050 because of climate change induced sea level increases and increases in areas under standing flood water.

With the highest population density of any non-city state globally, Bangladesh will have limited ability to absorb the internal movement of people, which will then lead to the external movement of Bangladeshis.

At the same time, saline intrusion (up to 8 km by 2030) resulting from sea level rise will create a significant reduction in agriculture productivity. https://cgspace.cgiar.org/bitstream/handle/10568/83337/CSA_Profile_Bangladesh.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

Temperature increases are already having a negative effect on yield of rice and other vegetable crops. By 2050 pulse yields under climate change are 8.8% lower than the projected value if climate change did not occur.

“This is followed by wheat and oilseed-rapeseed with 6.4% and 6.3%, respectively, as the greatest reductions in yield. By 2050 rice, yields of vegetables (as a group), and other crop11 (including jute) are 5.3%, 5.7%, and 3.3% less than the NoCC value in 2050, respectively.”

Additionally, extreme weather conditions (floods and cyclones) are expected to increase in frequency and intensity in Bangladesh. Losses related to the 2007 and 2009 cyclones were estimated at around two million metric tons of rice, enough to feed 10 million people.

The south, southwest, and southeast coastal regions of Bangladesh are increasingly susceptible to severe tropical cyclones and associated saltwater intrusion. https://cgspace.cgiar.org/bitstream/handle/10568/83337/CSA_Profile_Bangladesh.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

Pollution can account for as many as one in four deaths. Extremely poor air quality, polluted food and water systems and industrial toxins all contribute to this scenario. http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/environment/2017/10/20/pollution-can-account-one-four-deaths-bangladesh/

Asked about the importance of the CIP, Boscolo told IPS the five year CIP, which took two years to develop, responds to a growing need for an investment framework that allows for resources to be more targeted for environmental improvements, better coordination among agencies, and regular monitoring of the impacts of these investments.

He said the CIP had been designed to help the Government realize its policy objectives by guiding investment choices in their Annual Development Programs.

The plan has identified at least 46 agencies that implement 170 projects directly related to the environment, forestry and climate change. While those projects are worth some $5.0 billion, an additional $7.0 billion are needed by 2021 to meet development targets, such as those set in the Government’s seventh Five Year Plan.

Areas such as environmental governance, pollution control, and the management of natural resources were found to be particularly underfinanced, he noted.

“These additional investments are needed to ensure that the country’s economic development, which has progressed at a rate of over six percent per year, will continue and to ensure the health and well-being of the general public while safeguarding the environment,” Boscolo added. http://www.bd.undp.org/content/bangladesh/en/home/library/crisis_prevention_and_recovery/climate-protection-and-development-budget-report-2017-18–.html

Asked what is urgently needed to help implement the SDGs, Boscolo said improved targeting of climate change (CC) and environmental funds to activities that will have the greatest effect in mitigating the effects of CC and improving the environment.

Additionally, there has to be improved coordination and synchronization of CC and environment funding; increases in internal and external CC funds, such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) etc; increased knowledge of the effect of CC and environmental pollution and the potential impact that targeted investments could have and improved governance structures to lead better CC and environmental investment in Bangladesh.

In particular, he said, there is a need for capacity enhancement within relevant organizations (e.g., General Economics Division, Planning Commission, Prime Minister’s Office’s relevant directorate and ministries like agriculture, disaster management, water resources etc.) which might be helpful.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Are Rising Seas, Coastal Erosion & Powerful Storms a Wave of the Future for Small Island Nations?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rising-seas-coastal-erosion-powerful-storms-wave-future-small-island-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rising-seas-coastal-erosion-powerful-storms-wave-future-small-island-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rising-seas-coastal-erosion-powerful-storms-wave-future-small-island-nations/#comments Fri, 08 Dec 2017 17:19:09 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153421 The 44-member Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) represents some of the world’s most vulnerable island nations fighting a virtually losing battle against rising sea levels triggered by global warming and climate change. A negotiating voice of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), AOSIS has membership drawn from all oceans and regions of the world, including […]

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The Maldives. Credit: UNDP

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 8 2017 (IPS)

The 44-member Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) represents some of the world’s most vulnerable island nations fighting a virtually losing battle against rising sea levels triggered by global warming and climate change.

A negotiating voice of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), AOSIS has membership
drawn from all oceans and regions of the world, including Africa, Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Pacific and South China Sea.

According to the US National Ocean Service (NOS), the two major causes of global sea level rise are thermal expansion caused by warming of the ocean (since water expands as it warms) and increased melting of land-based ice, such as glaciers and ice sheets.

The oceans are absorbing more than 90 percent of the increased atmospheric heat associated with emissions from human activity, says NOS.

Ahmed Sareer, Foreign Secretary of the Maldives and a former AOSIS chair (2015-2017), told IPS that “warming seas have already shifted the fish stocks that we rely on; back-to-back coral bleaching episodes have undermining essential marine habitats as well as critical ecotourism industries.”

Rising seas, worsening coastal erosion, and increasingly powerful storms have forced SIDS to climate-proof their infrastructure projects both in the Caribbean and the Pacific and even threaten the territorial integrity of low-lying SIDS, he said.

“The devastation caused by the recent storms in the Caribbean are a reminder of how vulnerable small island states are, and how years of development and economic gains can be wiped out overnight, leaving these countries to start from scratch”, said Sareer, whose island nation has been threatened by sea level rise triggered by climate change.

Described as “one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries” and comprising more than a thousand coral islands scattered across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives has a population of nearly 440,000 people compared to India, one of its neighbours, with a hefty population of over 1.2 billion.

The Maldives was devastated by the December 2004 tsunami, and according to one report, 57 islands faced serious damage to critical infrastructure, 14 had to be totally evacuated, and six islands were destroyed. A further twenty-one resort islands were forced to close because of tsunami damage estimated at over $400 million.

As part of its defences, the Maldives has been erecting a wall around the capital of Malé to thwart a rising sea and a future tsumani.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on December 5, Ambassador Robert Sisilo of Solomon Islands, told delegates his country sat on the largest aquatic continent in the world, and had a huge maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that was much larger than its land territory.

“The ocean had always been the Solomon Islands’ source of livelihood, but it was also its culture, gastronomy and leisure”.

“The ocean defines who we are,” he said, warning that failing to protect the ocean from climate change, acidification, plastic pollution and oil spills was “failing to protect ourselves”.

The (June 2017) Ocean Conference had represented a ray of hope, and the international community must accelerate that positive momentum, said Sisilo, calling on the Security Council to address the issue of climate change.

Sareer told IPS the SAMOA Pathway, the SIDS blueprint for sustainable development, calls attention to the crosscutting nature of climate change and sustainable development in areas as diverse as infrastructure development, agriculture, marine conservation, and climate adaptation.

The follow-up and review of the SAMOA pathway is scheduled to happen over the next 2 years. “We need broad and comprehensive engagement from all actors including civil society in the regional and interregional consultations which will be taking place.”

He pointed out that the reduction of harmful emissions, transitioning to renewable sources of energy, and investing in mitigation and adaptation are crucial for achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

“As small island states, we are advocating for the more ambitious 1.5 degree goal, recognising that the impacts of climate change at 2 degrees are significantly worse. Therefore these investments, particularly in the context of transitioning to renewable energy need to be scaled up to a great extent, and also be sustainable and durable,” he declared.

“As SIDS, we also believe that equal focus needs to be placed on adaptation as well as mitigation. We are already experiencing the impacts of climate change on our islands, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) needs to adequately cater to these needs instead of having a focus on emissions reductions.”

Therefore, AOSIS works towards accelerating adaptation and mitigation efforts to set SIDS development pathways to a low greenhouse gas and climate-resilient development, he added.

The Maldives, as the Chair of AOSIS, and in collaboration with IRENA, launched the Initiative for Renewable Island Energy (IRIE) in October, which will facilitates support for Small Island States in their transition to renewable energy, and in achieving energy efficiency.

Meeting the financing goal of $100 billion annually by 2020 is essential, and new partnerships with the private sector, non-governmental organisations, and other institutions can help to mobilise the resources, Sareer said.

SIDS say required funding should be predictable, sustainable, adequate and easy to access. In this regard, AOSIS has been advocating for simplified access procedures for the Green Climate Fund (GCF), and also greater transparency on how the funds are allocated and dispersed, with a clear understanding of what constitutes as climate financing.

The Adaption Fund (AF) is important to SIDS because the fund recognizes the particular challenges that many of SIDS face in addressing climate change. In addition, the AF is active in working to ensure its resources are always accessible by SIDS.

In the Fund’s governance, seats on the Adaptation Fund Board (AFB) are reserved for special representatives of SIDS.

So far, 14 countries from SIDS have seen their projects or programmes approved by the AF for a total grant amount of $96,951,733, including readiness grants. Projects in SIDS account for around 22% of the total commitments of the fund.

Even though the total amount approved by the AF is lower than that of the GCF, the AF has approved more projects than the GCF, with less bureaucratic modalities, facilitating direct access through NIEs for small-scale projects adapted to SIDS particular circumstances.

Given the small size of SIDS, Sareer said, projects are more likely to be small-scale projects. It is therefore essential that this characteristic is well understood and taken into account by the different funds under the Convention while reviewing proposals from SIDS.

As AF is tied to the Kyoto Protocol (KP), it may need to undergo changes in its legal status and basic governance structure in order to serve the Paris Agreement

On Oceans, Sareer said marine debris, plastics and micro-plastics, are a global problem, as are the more permanent impacts of deoxygenation and ocean acidification resulting from climate change.

“This presents an existential threat to SIDS, since it has a direct bearing on our economies, marine biodiversity, food security and human health.”

Meanwhile, Tourism and Fisheries, in island states, constitutes a huge portion of government revenue and the health of the oceans are directly linked to these industries.

“Therefore AOSIS wishes to ensure that that these issues are comprehensively addressed, not only in the UNFCCC from the climate change perspective, by also in the context of the implementation of SDG 14 of the 2030 Agenda.”

AOSIS was actively engaged in shaping the outcomes of the first ever oceans conference, and we are advocating strongly for the follow-up of the outcomes from this conference, as well as another conference in 2020, Sareer declared.


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world are currently meeting in Suva, Fiji, through 8 December for International Civil Society Week.

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Post-Nuclear Nightmares Still Linger Over Pacific Islandshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/post-nuclear-nightmares-still-linger-pacific-islands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=post-nuclear-nightmares-still-linger-pacific-islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/post-nuclear-nightmares-still-linger-pacific-islands/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 08:31:35 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153377 The Pacific islands have long remained victims of nuclear crimes – but the perpetrators, three of the world’s major powers with permanent seats in the UN Security Council, never paid for their deadly sins. The testing grounds in the Pacific, included the Marshall Islands (Bikini and Enewetak), and also Johnston Atoll and Christmas Islands in […]

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An atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, on 1 November 1952. Credit: US Government

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 7 2017 (IPS)

The Pacific islands have long remained victims of nuclear crimes – but the perpetrators, three of the world’s major powers with permanent seats in the UN Security Council, never paid for their deadly sins.

The testing grounds in the Pacific, included the Marshall Islands (Bikini and Enewetak), and also Johnston Atoll and Christmas Islands in Kiribati.

The so-called “Pacific Proving Grounds”, which included the Marshall Islands and a few others on the Pacific Ocean, was the site of US nuclear testing between 1946 and 1962.

France tested its weapons on Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls in French Polynesia, with French naval vessels clashing with Greenpeace anti-nuclear campaigners.

The United Kingdom, along with the US, conducted several nuclear tests in and around Kiribati in the late 1950s. But the islanders were not evacuated exposing them to radiation from the blasts.

All of these tests, which left behind environmental hazards and radioactive waste, came to an inglorious end – or so it seems. But the nuclear nightmares over the Pacific continue to linger on.

According to the London Guardian, the Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal awarded more than $2.0 billion in personal injury and land damage claims arising from the nuclear tests, but stopped paying after a compensation fund was exhausted.

After 67 tests, US nuclear experiments in the Marshall Islands ended in 1958. But in a 2012 report, UN Special Rapporteur Calin Georgescu, said “near-irreversible environmental contamination” had led to the loss of livelihoods and many people continued to experience “indefinite displacement”.

And a projected sea-level rise, triggered by climate change, is threatening to unearth the radioactive waste and spill it into the high seas.

According to two researchers, Barbara Rose Johnston and Brooke Takala Abraham, U.S. medical scientists traveled to the Marshall Islands, for nearly four decades, in order to document degenerating health and conduct related experiments, “all without informed consent.”

All told, 1,156 men, women, and children were enrolled in studies exploring the acute and late effects of radiation.

Among the findings of this research: radiation exposure generated changes in red blood cell production and subsequent anemia; metabolic and related disorders; musculoskeletal degeneration; cataracts; cancers and leukemia; and significant impact on fertility as evidenced by miscarriages, congenital defects, and infertility.

“Their experiences also demonstrate how chronic and acute radiogenic exposure compromises immunity, creating population-wide vulnerability to infectious and non-communicable disease”, Johnston and Abraham wrote.

Bob Rigg, a former senior editor with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and ex-chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament, told IPS: “It is impossible to make sweeping generalisations about the entire Pacific region, which is both vast and diverse”.

But US attention, he pointed out, was focused in particular on Micronesia, which includes most of the islands bitterly fought over in the latter years of World War II.

“The US wields disproportionate influence over this sub-region, where most of its 1,054 nuclear tests were conducted,” he added.

The US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, said Rigg, can be defined as the first example of US nuclear testing, given that a principal motive for both attacks was to facilitate large-scale research into the effects of nuclear weapons on living human beings, a subject which was a closed book even to the world’s leading nuclear scientists at the time.

As soon as the war ended, he said, “the US hastened to establish political control over a number of strategically important islands forming an “island chain” in the Pacific – a chain of US military and political influence cementing US control of major trade routes, while also enables it to contain the growing power and influence of Communist China.”

Ironically enough, the US island chain has something in common with China’s South China Sea outposts which today draw the ire of the US, he added.

Robert Alvarez, an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. and an Adjunct Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced Strategic International Studies, told IPS that three major international conferences—in Oslo, Mexico City, and Vienna— focused on the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons, and on establishing a new international legal instrument that would outlaw nuclear weapons.

The humanitarian initiative and the Marshall Islands lawsuits—including one in US federal courts and the other with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague — received a chilly, some might say hostile reception from the nuclear weapons states, for an understandable reason, he pointed out.

The nuclear weapons countries are engaged in costly modernization efforts that all but guarantee the continued existence of nuclear weapons for decades, and perhaps beyond. The Marshalls lawsuits and the humanitarian initiative both seek to make the nuclear states seriously negotiate toward nuclear disarmament, he noted.

In an article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists back in May 2015, Alvarez said the damage did not end with nuclear testing.

In the 1960s, islands of the Enewetak Atoll were stripped of topsoil and used for explosive crater experiments, to see how US missile silos would hold up to enemy missiles.

And in October 1968, the US Navy conducted a biological warfare experiment in which Staphylococcal enterotoxin B, a virulent bacterium, was released over the Enewetak Atoll from fighter aircraft.

“The pathogen proved to be harmful to experimental animals over a 1,500 square mile area. Since the late 1950s, the Kwajalein Atoll and lagoon have served as an anti-ballistic missile launch site for testing against possible missile attacks,” he noted.

Nearly every US intercontinental ballistic missile was test fired at Kwajalein. Now home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, the $4 billion US Air Force complex on Kwajalein is considered a key strategic asset for anti-ballistic missile testing, military space projects, and intelligence gathering, wrote Alvarez, who was also a Senior Professional Staff member for the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, where he conducted an investigation into the conduct of the U.S. nuclear weapons program in the Marshall Islands.

Rigg told IPS Truman had no qualms about bombing Japan and seizing control of several Micronesian Islands where America’s many subsequent nuclear tests could be conducted. Indigenous populations were frequently marginalised, displaced, and impoverished.

Traditional ways of living, cultivating food and eating were frequently replaced within one generation with a barbarised version of US consumer culture. The key operational assumption was that Pacific Islanders represented an inferior culture which, in the patronising words of one US scientist, at least had more in common with civilised westerners than laboratory mice, he said.

“Like the Japanese, Pacific Islanders were viewed through the prism of mainstream US racism. The example of Rongelap Island, which was seriously affected by fallout from the huge Castle Bravo test, is perhaps most instructive.”

When the islanders repeatedly lobbied for permission to return to their home, said Rigg, the US Atomic Energy Commission declared it safe for re-habitation, with US scientists privately noting that “the habitation of these people on the island will afford most valuable ecological radiation data on human beings.”

As a major environmental polluter, he argued, the US contributes to global warming which disproportionately affects many small Pacific Island states whose highest point is in some cases just a couple of metres above sea level.

“Such islands are also acutely vulnerable to the climate change-induced violent storms which increasingly inflict massive destruction on both vegetation and homes. As many of these islands are desperately poor there is all too often no money to rebuild infrastructure and homes, with more than 95% of damaged buildings being uninsured.”

Trump’s America First policy has already produced a 30% cut in State Department funding which will dramatically curtail expenditure on Pacific islands which are not part of the militarised US island chain. Australia abjectly proclaims that it is “joined at the hip” with the US, slavishly following in the wake of Uncle Sam in all things, Rigg said.

“Fortunately, there is one small ray of hope: New Zealand has just elected a new Labour Government which is signalling its willingness to adopt innovative approaches to political problem-solving, including in the region.”

The new Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, he pointed out, has already signalled her government’s willingness to view Pacific Islanders fleeing their submerged islands as refugees. At present Australia’s immigration policies exclude such “environmental refugees.”

This New Zealand initiative could eventually necessitate the re-negotiation of the UN Convention on Refugees, to accommodate a new category of environmental refugees, he added.

In the words of a recent report to a congressional committee, even before the election of Trump, the US had pursued a “policy of benign neglect towards the South Pacific nations.

“Too often have we relied on Australia and New Zealand to determine what US policy should be in the region.” If this was true before Trump, it will be doubly true now.”

Possibly with at least some support from New Zealand, Pacific Island states will have to continue to seek political support from outside their region, as recently, when Fiji and Germany jointly hosted the November meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) in Bonn.

The elevation of Fiji to this prominent role reveals that, in the complete absence of support from both Trump’s US and Malcolm Turnbull’s Australia, there is a heartening emerging international awareness of the extent to which the very existence of some Pacific Island states is already under threat from climate change, he noted.

“But words must be backed up by large quantities of hard cash, without which some small Pacific Island states will undoubtedly go under.”


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world are currently meeting in Suva, Fiji, through 8 December for International Civil Society Week.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Fiji Civil Society Meeting to Focus on Pacific Islands Under Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/fiji-civil-society-meeting-focus-pacific-islands-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fiji-civil-society-meeting-focus-pacific-islands-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/fiji-civil-society-meeting-focus-pacific-islands-threat/#respond Thu, 30 Nov 2017 20:33:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153272 The 57 small island developing states (SIDS), including 20 described as territories which are non-UN members, are some of the world’s most vulnerable – both economically and environmentally. The United Nations says their vulnerabilities are due primarily to their “small size, remoteness, narrow resource and export base, and exposure to global environmental challenges and external […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 30 2017 (IPS)

The 57 small island developing states (SIDS), including 20 described as territories which are non-UN members, are some of the world’s most vulnerable – both economically and environmentally.

The United Nations says their vulnerabilities are due primarily to their “small size, remoteness, narrow resource and export base, and exposure to global environmental challenges and external economic shocks, including to a large range of impacts from climate change and potentially more frequent and intense natural disasters.”

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, the secretary general and CEO of CIVICUS

As a result, they are faced with threats of sea-level rise and frequent hurricanes and typhoons resulting in a devastating impact on social and economic development, including on poverty, hunger, health care and human security, which are part of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Of the 37 SIDS who are UN member states, 16 are in the Caribbean, 13 in the Pacific and 8 in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, Mediterranean and South China seas.

A major conference of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Fiji next week (December 4-8)— billed as International Civil Society Week (ICSW) — will specifically focus on the plight of small island developing states in the Pacific.

https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/topics/sids/list

An annual forum co-organized by CIVICUS and regional or national platforms, ICSW brings together NGOs worldwide for a key global gathering for civil society and other stakeholders to engage constructively in finding common solutions to global challenges.

And for the first time in more than 20 years of international convening, CIVICUS will hold its flagship event in the Pacific region.” The theme of the forum is: “Our Planet. Our Struggles. Our Future.”

Asked why Pacific islands need particular attention, Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, the secretary general and CEO of CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, told IPS the Pacific region has been at the forefront of global issues, from climate change to nuclear non-proliferation.

This is partly because as small island states – or large ocean states – they are particularly vulnerable to changes in the environment, whether rising sea levels, ocean acidification or super storms. “But I think that their leadership on these issues is also about much more than the threats they are facing,” he said.

The Pacific Climate Change Warriors often use the phrase “we’re not drowning, we’re fighting”. “To me, this reflects the spirit and strength of how the peoples of the Pacific are responding to climate change — and something that should inspire the rest of the world.

This is why I was delighted when the CIVICUS Board decided to hold this year’s International Civil Society Week (ICSW) – one of the biggest and most diverse gatherings of civil society leaders – in Fiji.

Having grown up in Australia, I fear that there’s a certain creeping “hemispherism” in which Pacific peoples are often overlooked in global discussions and debates, despite everything they have to offer.”

Asked how civil society plans to respond to the growing crises facing the world’s most vulnerable states, including the least developed countries (LDCs), he said: “We can certainly look to our fellow activists in the Pacific for inspiration”.

Indeed, one of the most important ways to address both global and local issues is to remember that often local, and indigenous activists and organisations are at the forefront of action, he noted.

Protecting civic freedoms of local activists, and their ability to organise and mobilise is essential in terms of ensuring that the world’s most vulnerable people don’t get left behind.

“While we’re holding our meeting in the Pacific, it’s important to remember that it’s not just Pacific Island nations that are affected by climate change. We’ve just had an absolutely devastating hurricane season in the Caribbean.”

Other countries at risk include river delta countries, mountainous countries and countries at risk of drought, so really every type of country in terms of geographical features. In reality, the people who will be most hurt by climate change are already among the world’s most vulnerable.

“What’s forgotten sometimes is these same people often have some of the best solutions, so we need to make sure that we’re letting them do their jobs. Our delegates include leaders from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, so we’ll have a chance to hear firsthand from some of the Indigenous Environmental defenders, who too often face violence and even death when protecting natural resources from exploitation,” Sriskandarajah said.

Asked if the crises was primarily a shortage of funds for climate adaptation or lack of political will, Sriskandarajah told IPS: “When I think about the biggest risks facing the world, there is no shortage of external risks. From climate change to war to rising populism. But one risk that I see is that civil society doesn’t step up to meet those challenges”.

Often civil society, he pointed out, trades in incremental change, “we’re not at the vanguard of progressive change. So for our part as civil society we need to be an effective force that needs to drive behavioral change, whether on climate action, resisting populism or promoting democracy.”

When it comes to financing, he said, the problem is that the funds are not reaching the right places. One of the biggest challenges across the board, whether in humanitarian financing, international development or climate adaptation, is that too little support flows to the people and organisations working at the local level to address these issues.

For example, only a fraction – around 2 percent – of international humanitarian funds go to local or national organisations in the countries where humanitarian crises happen.

In climate change adaptation and mitigation, funds set aside to go to developing countries, are primarily going to middle income countries, not to the poorest countries, that still lack basic access electricity and are eager to leap frog to sustainable, renewable energy, he added.

Asked what the Fiji meeting hopes to achieve in the long run and whether it will adopt a plan of action, Sriskandarajah said: “Importantly this will also be an opportunity right off the bat for civil society to convene around the decisions made at this year’s UN Climate Change COP 23, which was hosted remotely by Fiji in Bonn, Germany. We’ll be particularly able to hear first hand from Fijian delegates to the meeting about the next steps in areas including the implementation of loss and damage programs.”

“One goal that we particularly hope to achieve at the ICSW is to amplify the voices of young leaders in civil society from around the world. 43 percent of the world’s population is under the age of 30, yet this age group is consistently underrepresented in politics.”

“We have some fantastic young leaders joining our meeting, including UN Youth Envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake, from Sri Lanka, and Yolanda Joab, from Micronesia, the founder and executive director of Island PRIDE.”

“There will also be launches of several new initiatives that we hope will help in the long-run, ranging from a declaration on climate- induced displacement and a new Global Standard for CSO Accountability that will help with strengthening civil society’s own role.”

Asked what next after Fiji? And will there be a follow up, if any?

ICSW is in part a members’ meeting, Sriskandarajah said, so bringing together all these delegates from around the world has many benefits in terms of learning and sharing ideas. It’s great to see that this year’s ICSW will be just as diverse as our last ICSW held in Colombia in 2016.

He said he is expecting delegates from more than 100 countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

As the largest global alliance of this sort, “we hope that CIVICUS can help connect activists and organisations, across issues and across geographies, who are working building a more just, inclusive and sustainable world,” he declared.

This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world will meet in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.


The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Should Environmental Refugees be Granted Asylum Status?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/should-environmental-refugees-be-granted-asylum-status/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=should-environmental-refugees-be-granted-asylum-status http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/should-environmental-refugees-be-granted-asylum-status/#respond Wed, 29 Nov 2017 21:55:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153245 The 1951 UN convention on political refugees– which never foresaw the phenomenon of climate change– permits refugee status only if one “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.” But a proposal for an amendment to that Convention—or an optional protocol — […]

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Aerial View of Marovo Lagoon, Solomon Islands. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 29 2017 (IPS)

The 1951 UN convention on political refugees– which never foresaw the phenomenon of climate change– permits refugee status only if one “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

But a proposal for an amendment to that Convention—or an optional protocol — to include a new category of “environmental refugees” has failed to get off the ground.

The threat of sea-level rise — and the possibility of tiny islands, mostly in the Pacific, including Tuvalu, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Palau, Micronesia and Vanuatu, vanishing from the face of the earth or facing economic calamities because of a projected sea-level rise triggered by climate change — — has raised new fears and new challenges.

Should the threat of environmental catastrophes be legitimate grounds for asylum and refugee status?

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, a former UN High Representative and Under-Secretary-General for Least Developed Countries, Land-locked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), told IPS the rationale for the recognition of the category of “environmental refugees” has been established for quite some time.

“As Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations, I had highlighted the case of the most vulnerable countries affected by the degradation of the environment and had advocated for recognition of the resulting refugee situations,” he said.

“These environmental refugees need to be recognized formally as refugees and entitled to be covered by the 1951 U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees. It is high time for us to do that,” Chowdhury declared.

As has been the case with a number of other international treaties and conventions, an optional protocol to the 1951 refugees convention could be adopted to recognize the environmental refugees, he pointed out.

““While climate change affects us all, the risks of displacement are significantly higher in lower-income countries and among people living in poverty. Women, children, indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups are also disproportionately affected.”

Simon Bradshaw, Climate Change Specialist at Oxfam Australia
The international community owes it to these ill-fated hapless victims of environmental catastrophes whether manifesting as loud emergencies or the silent ones,” Chowdhury said.

“The international community should also be forward-looking and flexible to accommodate the new realities our world faces,” he noted.

Chowdhury also said it is not prudent to remain stuck with the sole category of “political refugees” while the world is watching a mass movement of people across international boundaries for economic reasons, now compounded by environmental causes.

“We expect the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, (a former UN High Commissioner for Refugees), to speak up for the cause of the environmental refugees, as he has the right background of managing the global refugees situation for a long time.”

In an address to the UN Security Council in 2011, referring to the climate change, he said “It is a challenge which is adding to the scale and complexity of human displacement; and a challenge that has important implications for the maintenance of international peace and security.”

Even from this perspective, the environmental refugees turn out to have serious political implications for international peace and security, Chowdhury said.

The proposal to recognize “environmental refugees” has surfaced once again, this time against the backdrop of a major conference of non-governmental organisations (NGOs)—the International Civil Society Week (ICSW)– scheduled to take place in Fiji, December 4-8.

An annual forum co-organized by CIVICUS and regional or national platforms, ICSW brings together NGOs from all over the world for a key global gathering for civil society and other stakeholders to engage constructively in finding common solutions to global challenges.

And for the first time in more than 20 years of international convening, CIVICUS will hold its flagship event in the Pacific region.” The theme of the forum is: “Our Planet. Our Struggles. Our Future.

According to the United Nations, about a third of the world’s 47 least developed countries (LDCs), including SIDS, described as the poorest of the world’s poor, are threatened by global warming and sea-level rise.

Selena Victor, Director of Policy & Advocacy, Mercy Corps Europe, told IPS global institutions and conventions must evolve to meet new and developing challenges, and climate change is one of the most pressing facing our world today.

“At Mercy Corps we recognise that people are forced to flee due to many factors; political persecution, war, violence, abject poverty, and climate change are just some of them”.

”It is absolutely critical that we maintain – and strengthen – the fragile protection available to those fleeing persecution – that does not lessen our obligation to help all those forced to flee for their own and their children’s survival,” Victor said.

“When faced with a growing number of displaced people around the world, the question we must ask ourselves is if people are running for their survival, should we make the distinction as to their reasons, or focus our efforts on support and providing refuge?”, she asked.

Simon Bradshaw, Climate Change Specialist at Oxfam Australia (who co-authored Oxfam’s recent policy paper on climate refugees) told IPS that climate change is already forcing people from their land and homes, and putting many more at risk of displacement in future.

He said supercharged storms, more intense and prolonged droughts, rising seas and other impacts of climate change all exacerbate people’s existing vulnerabilities and the likelihood of displacement.

“While climate change affects us all, the risks of displacement are significantly higher in lower-income countries and among people living in poverty. Women, children, indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups are also disproportionately affected.”

Bradshaw also said the world’s atoll countries face a particularly severe challenge from climate change. Rising seas, increased wave heights and higher storm surges are inundating land on which communities grow food, contaminating the thin groundwater lens of which they depend for freshwater, and swallowing homes.

While relocation will always be an option of last resort, even conservative projections for sea level rise over the course of this century pose a grave threat to atoll communities and other low-lying populations around the world.

He pointed out that the loss of homes, livelihoods and ancestral lands through displacement epitomizes the human cost and grave injustice of climate change.

“Those least responsible for climate change are bearing the brunt of its impacts, and have fewer resources to cope with these new realities. However, much can and must be done to minimize the risk of displacement linked to climate change, and to guarantee rights, protection and dignity for those who are forced to move”.

A first priority, he argued, must be far more rapid reductions in global climate pollution, in line with limiting warming to 1.5C and thereby significantly reducing the risks and impacts of climate change.

Minimizing displacement also depends on supporting communities with building resilience to the impacts of climate change, which means increasing the scale and accessibility of international finance for climate change adaptation.

“And while recognizing that all possible measures must be taken to avoid displacement, it is also necessary to support strategies to ensure that people who are forced to can do so safely, with dignity, and on their own terms.”

Bradshaw said the negotiation by September 2018 of a new Global Compact on Migration offers a critical opportunity to help ensure safety, dignity and lasting solutions for those displaced or at risk of displacement as a result of the impacts of climate change.

It must reaffirm the need to minimize displacement by addressing the root causes of climate change and factors in vulnerability; encourage expanded channels for regular migration for those who are nonetheless forced to move; begin a process to ensure status and legal recognition for those displaced in the context of climate change; and ensure all solutions uphold human rights and sovereignty, and are grounded in the perspectives and priorities of affected communities.

This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world will meet in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Will DNA Data Base Deter Sexual Abuse at UN?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/will-dna-data-base-deter-sexual-abuse-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-dna-data-base-deter-sexual-abuse-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/will-dna-data-base-deter-sexual-abuse-un/#respond Fri, 24 Nov 2017 14:52:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153189 16 Days of Activism begins on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day

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Cpt. Dr. Barsha Bajracharya photographed with two of her team mates at UN Post 8-30, near the town of Shakra, South Lebanon. Credit: UNIFIL/Pasqual Gorriz

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 24 2017 (IPS)

The United Nations is fighting a losing battle against the widespread – and continued – sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by UN peacekeepers and civilian staff resulting in relatively few convictions amidst daunting problems in tracking abusers and nailing down paternity claims.

But a proposal for a UN-supervised DNA data base – a law enforcement tool used successfully in many countries—has failed to get off the ground, even as the UN launches “16 Days of Activism” aimed at eliminating violence against women.

Anne Marie Goetz, Clinical Professor, Center for Global Affairs School of Professional Studies at New York University, told IPS there are a number of practical measures that can be taken to reduce cases of SEA, such as deploying more women peacekeepers, improved training and awareness-building, and better means for victims to report abuses.

“But a potentially effective deterrent measure that has not been much discussed is the idea of pre-deployment collection of DNA samples from uniformed and civilian peacekeepers”.

She said a simple mouth swab should be adequate to produce DNA material that can be matched against evidence in a rape case, or against the DNA of a baby in paternity cases.

The very act of collecting this sample should raise awareness about elevated probabilities of being caught in cases of sexual violence, or matched in paternity suits.

“Troop-contributing countries could also use this as an opportunity to explain to their peacekeepers that they will be liable for prosecution in cases of violence or abuse, and will be liable for child maintenance costs in paternity cases,” said Professor Goetz, a former chief advisor on Peace and Security at UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women.

But the proposal for a DNA data base has triggered opposition, both from staffers, and particularly member states, who provide troops for UN peacekeeping operations. The objection is largely on grounds of privacy protection.

Paula Donovan, the Co-Director of AIDS-Free World and its Code Blue campaign, told IPS that “Code Blue’s research leads us to conclude that Member States are unlikely to endorse a database of DNA samples from all military personnel deployed as UN peacekeepers, because the proposal contradicts most countries’ privacy laws and norms.”

She pointed out that most allegations of UN sexual exploitation and abuse are made against civilian personnel, so the Organization could lead the way by making the provision of DNA samples a condition of employment.

However, the UN Organization has an inherent bias in all criminal proceedings and paternity claims involving its own personnel, so the database would have to be created and controlled by an independent third party, she added.

“And even then, DNA evidence is a tool, not a solution: establishing a UN staff member’s paternity, for instance, is useless for a claimant until a court issues a child support order, and the UN enforces it,” said Donovan, a longstanding and relentless activist against sexual exploitation in the UN system.

Asked about the proposal to hold back funds in escrow, in cases of sexual abuse, she said former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed, back in March 2016, that accused peacekeepers’ withheld pay should be transferred to a trust fund when claims are substantiated against them.

“But the key problems remain unaddressed”, said Donovan.

Firstly, she said, there is “conflict of interest: Substantiated by whom – the UN Organization, whose own personnel are the accused?”

Secondly, “double standards: Why only soldiers, when most UN personnel accused of sexual exploitation and abuse are civilian staff and experts on mission,?” she asked.

Thirdly, she said, “there was no substitute for justice: Monies from the trust fund, including wages garnished (only while the accused are still UN personnel), don’t go to the individual victims, but are disbursed to organizations that work with all victims of sex abuse.”

Some individual victims might happen to receive some of that assistance, but in no case is access to victims’ services a replacement for criminal justice or civil court orders, Donovan declared.

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which stores biological information, is described as a molecule that carries the genetic instructions used in the growth, development, functioning and reproduction of all known living organisms and many viruses.

According to a BBC report, Britain pioneered the use of DNA as a crime-fighting tool, introducing the world’s first national database in 1985. Currently, it holds the profiles of more than five million people and is credited with helping solve some 40,000 crimes a year.

The US, Canada, Australia and most European countries have followed the UK’s lead, with DNA profiling internationally regarded as the most important breakthrough in modern policing. Until now, though, there has been little scientific research on whether such databases really do reduce offending, according to the report.

Professor Goetz of New York University told IPS “sexual exploitation and abuse by uniformed and civilian peacekeepers has probably been going on for longer than we know, but there has always been a great reluctance to admit it and address it, in part because of exaggerated anxieties that troop-contributing countries would withdraw badly-needed troops and civilian contributions.”

She said this assumption has never been actually tested. It could well be that, faced with SEA cases and a suspension of troop deployment until cases were resolved, a number of troop contributors would act with a great deal more alacrity to prosecute perpetrators in their ranks, she noted.

Ian Richards, President of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations of the UN System (CCISUA), told IPS: “When UN staff sign up to work for the UN, they shouldn’t have to sign over their DNA. This proposal would presume that all UN staff are potential sex abusers.”

No employer or country, he said, asks its employees or citizens to hand over their DNA, and there are good reasons for that, including the right to privacy and to protect against misuse of personal information.

For example, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a UN agency based in Geneva, was recently accused of trying to obtain staff members’ DNA in order to identify a whistleblower.

“We don’t want this to happen at the UN. And there is a strong likelihood that any UN DNA database could be easily hacked by outside parties, leading to other complications,” said Richards, whose Union represents over 60,000 staffers, both in the field and at UN headquarters in New York.

Providing an update on cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters November 3 that for the period of 1 July to 30 September, the UN has received 31 allegations. “Not all of them have been verified, and some are in the preliminary assessment phase,” he added.

Of the 31 allegations, 12 are from peacekeeping operations and 19 from agencies, funds and programmes: 10 are categorized as sexual abuse, 19 as sexual exploitation, and two are of an unknown nature.

He said that 12 of these allegations occurred in 2017, two in 2016, six in 2015 or prior, and the date(s) are unknown for 11 of them.

Meanwhile, Dujarric said: “We have continued our efforts to implement the Secretary-General’s strategy to combat sexual exploitation and abuse.”

Victims’ Rights Advocates have been appointed at Headquarters and in four field missions, and Assistant Secretary-General Jane Connors has returned from the Central African Republic, where the peacekeeping mission is under scrutiny.

“We are also piloting a Victims Assistance Protocol which sets the roles and responsibilities of those on the ground to ensure coordination to provide victims with immediate assistance.”

And with the most recent voluntary contributions from Member States, the UN Trust Fund in support of victims of sexual exploitation and abuse will rise to $1.5 million.

The Secretary-General has also instructed the heads of all entities system-wide to provide action plans and risk analyses to commit the leadership to the fight against sexual exploitation and abuse and almost all have been received.

“With regards to our efforts to end impunity, we are developing an electronic tool for screening UN staff dismissed as a result of substantiated allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, or who resigned or were dismissed during an investigation.”

“We have also launched mandatory training for all UN personnel prior to deployment. This month we are piloting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a single and uniform ‘Incident Report Form’ to ensure assistance is provided immediately, appropriate investigative action is undertaken, and to improve our data collection.”

Dujarric said: “We also continue our efforts to engage with Member States. So far, 58 Heads of State/Government have joined the Secretary-General’s Circle of Leadership. 74 Member States have signed the Voluntary Compact and 18 more have formally indicated their intention to sign it.”

Meanwhile, a meeting on UN peacekeeping, held in Vancouver, Canada, in mid- November, condemned in the “strongest terms sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN peacekeepers and staff, and called on Member States and the UN Secretariat to redouble efforts on prevention, accountability, and victim assistance.”

“We appreciate the Secretary-General’s latest efforts to establish a high-level Circle of Leadership and to develop voluntary compacts with Member States on the elimination of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, which we encourage all Members to pursue with the UN and implement fully,” the declaration read.

“We welcome the UN’s recent adoption of a victim-centered approach, including the appointment of the Victim’s Advocate, and in this regard, will strive to clearly identify policies and adequate standards to assist the victims of such heinous acts,” it added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Excerpt:

16 Days of Activism begins on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day

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UN Agency Defers Action Cutting Ties to Tobacco Industryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/un-agency-defers-action-cutting-ties-tobacco-industry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-agency-defers-action-cutting-ties-tobacco-industry http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/un-agency-defers-action-cutting-ties-tobacco-industry/#comments Tue, 21 Nov 2017 11:58:01 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153125 Back in November 2008, the 193-member General Assembly decided, by consensus, to ban smoking and tobacco sales at the UN headquarters in New York: a ruling observed by all affiliated agencies worldwide, including the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) which has severed links with the tobacco industry. But there still remains one holdout: the 187-member […]

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Close-up of a woman hands hold and broke a cigarette. Credit: Bigstock

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 21 2017 (IPS)

Back in November 2008, the 193-member General Assembly decided, by consensus, to ban smoking and tobacco sales at the UN headquarters in New York: a ruling observed by all affiliated agencies worldwide, including the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) which has severed links with the tobacco industry.

But there still remains one holdout: the 187-member International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva whose Governing Body, which meets three times a year, has postponed once again its decision on whether or not to cut ILO’s ties with the tobacco industry.

The executive body’s deliberations remained deadlocked at a meeting in early November resulting in a second postponement of a decision to sever ties with an industry, whose products are responsible for killing some seven million people per year from lung cancer and heart disease.

Mark Hurley, International Director of Tobacco Industry Campaigns, told IPS it is disappointing that ILO has postponed a decision on whether to end its relationship with tobacco companies.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, he said, strongly urges the ILO to cut ties with tobacco companies and prohibit all members of the tobacco industry from participation in the ILO when the decision is revisited in March 2018 at the 332nd Session of the Governing Body in Geneva.

He said tobacco companies that spread death and disease across the globe should have no place in a UN agency like the ILO, or any responsible organization. Tobacco products are uniquely lethal and kill up to half of lifetime users.

Around the world, he pointed out, tobacco companies remain the greatest obstacle to reducing the more than 7 million deaths their products cause each year. Tobacco companies like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco fight efforts to reduce tobacco use, aggressively market cigarettes to young people and other vulnerable populations, and deceive the public about the health risks of tobacco use.

Hurley said tobacco companies use membership in respected organizations like the ILO to portray themselves as responsible corporate citizens and divert attention from their role in causing a global tobacco epidemic that is projected to kill one billion people worldwide this century.

“The ILO should not be part of these efforts,” he declared.

The Bangkok-based Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) said it was disappointed that the ILO has postponed its decision on whether to cut its ties with the tobacco industry. “This is a second postponement by the Governing Body and yet another delay in ending an unhealthy relationship,” the Alliance said in a statement released last week.

The ILO is the only remaining UN agency that continues to maintain ties with the tobacco industry. Over the past several years, the ILO has received about $15 million from Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and Eliminating Child Labor in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT), an NGO also funded by the transnational tobacco industry, SEATCA said.

“The tobacco industry is clutching at the last straw of credibility. The tobacco industry needs this sponsorship for endorsement more than the ILO. It is time for the ILO to let it go,” said Dr. Mary Assunta, Senior Policy Advisor of SEATCA.

She pointed out that the tobacco companies’ sponsorship money goes to a few poor countries in Africa (Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi) for programme on child labour, while the companies continue to buy tobacco leaves at cheap prices that use child labour. In Indonesia and the Philippines, child labour persists in tobacco growing.

Assunta also said “the tobacco industry is giving a paltry sum to the ILO compared to the huge profits the transnational companies reap by paying low prices to tobacco growers in poor countries. This industry continues to exploit poor countries especially in Africa and Asia.”

She said tobacco farm workers are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, illness and labour exploitation despite the corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives of tobacco companies.

These CSR activities are not real solutions and serve to divert public attention from a more meaningful and long-term ways to address the problem, Assunta noted.

She pointed out that recent international decisions expose the tobacco industry for what it really is – a harmful industry responsible for 7 million deaths worldwide every year. Since 15 October 2017, the UN Global Compact has delisted companies whose business involves manufacturing or producing tobacco products.

“Given all we know about the transnational corporations who foster the tobacco epidemic and the conditions that keep farm workers in poverty, the ILO must heed the call of the nearly 200 non-governmental organizations from the labour, health and development sectors who sent a letter asking for an end to partnerships with the tobacco industry,” she declared.

Most member states of the ILO are also Parties (183) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) that calls on governments to ban tobacco-related CSR activities. Indeed, many governments have banned such CSR activities and the ILO’s tobacco sponsored programmes run contrary to these efforts, she added.

Meanwhile, an October 2017 report, which went before the Governing Board said the ILO and its constituents have long engaged with tobacco-growing communities and the tobacco industry to promote the Decent Work Agenda.

Tobacco growing and processing is a legal industry yet one that is faced with persistent decent work deficits. It is a major source of employment and income worldwide, involving some 60 million people.

The report also said that more than 80 per cent of the world’s tobacco leaves are produced by some 20 countries, the majority in Asia, followed by the Americas and Africa.

For some countries, tobacco leaf exports are an important source of revenue amounting to more than US$500 million annually. For example, agriculture supports the livelihood of more than 90 per cent of the population in Malawi. The country is largely dependent on tobacco, which accounts for 52 per cent of the total export value.

Employment levels in the tobacco leaf growing sector have decreased in some countries, notably Turkey, and increased in others, or remained stable

In June 2017, Assunta said, the UN ECOSOC adopted a resolution encouraging UN agencies to develop policies that would place a firewall between the UN and the tobacco industry. Last month, the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) permanently banned the tobacco industry’s participation.

“It is high time the ILO dissociates itself from big tobacco whose products cause disease, death and disability globally. Big Tobacco’s collaboration with the ILO to address child labour is just a whitewash by the industry to boost its public image. These programs do little to curb child labour in tobacco fields because they do not improve the tobacco industry-driven cycle of poverty for tobacco farmers that forces children into the fields,” said Assunta.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Global Campaign for Mercury-Free Dentistry Targets Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/global-campaign-mercury-free-dentistry-targets-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-campaign-mercury-free-dentistry-targets-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/global-campaign-mercury-free-dentistry-targets-africa/#comments Mon, 13 Nov 2017 15:36:10 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152996 A vibrant global campaign to ban the use of mercury in dentistry is shifting direction: moving from Europe to the developing world. Charlie Brown, Attorney & President of the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, an organization which is spearheading the campaign, told African and Asian delegates at a meeting in Geneva late September: “When you […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 13 2017 (IPS)

A vibrant global campaign to ban the use of mercury in dentistry is shifting direction: moving from Europe to the developing world.

Charlie Brown, Attorney & President of the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, an organization which is spearheading the campaign, told African and Asian delegates at a meeting in Geneva late September: “When you return to your home countries, please do as the European Union has done: phase out amalgam for children now, for one simple reason: The children of your nation are equally important as the children of Europe.”

President of World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, Charlie Brown (2nd right), Dominique Bally (centre) at a meeting during Charlie Brown’s visit to West Africa.

Billed as the Conference of Parties (COP1), the Geneva meeting was a gathering of signatories and ratifiers of the Minamata Convention, a legally-binding landmark treaty aimed at protecting “human health and the environment” from mercury releases.

The treaty, described as the first new environmental agreement in over a decade and which entered into force August 16, has been signed by 128 of the 193 UN member states and ratified by 84 countries, which are now legally obliged to comply with its provisions.
http://www.mercuryconvention.org/

In an interview with IPS, Brown said: “We made clear our short-term goal in the march toward mercury-free dentistry: ban amalgam for children – worldwide and quickly – as the European Union has done.”

In his opening statement to the plenary session of COP1, he cited major progress phasing down amalgam in nations across Africa and Asia.

Immediately after COP1, the World Alliance intensified its Africa campaign. “I went to five nations in West Africa and Central Africa: Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Bénin, Cameroon, and Nigeria,” Brown told IPS.

In Geneva, the World Alliance fielded a talented team from across the globe, including a coalition of environmental, dental, and consumer non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – each with a record of major achievements in its home country.

The progress in Africa was described as exceptional. Nigeria, being the economic and population colossus of Africa, got the attention it deserves, said Brown.

The World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, working with the NGO SEDI of Benin City, Nigeria, held a workshop for Edo State in the South-South region.

The workshop concluded with the Edo State Stakeholder Resolution calling for amalgam use to cease in Edo State, Nigeria, on 1 July 2018—specifically for children under 16, for pregnant women, and for nursing mothers.

Tom Aneni of SEDI said: “The Edo State Stakeholder Resolution is a model for Nigeria and for the continent. For the children of Africa, we must do, as we already decided in this state in Nigeria’s South-South: No amalgam for children, no amalgam for pregnant women, no amalgam for breastfeeding women.”

Other recommendations include “updating dental schools training curriculum to emphasize mercury-free dentistry and implementation of a phase down work plan. This must also include legislative review and development of guidelines, gathering baseline data and developing the national overview”.

The participants also called for an urgent need for Nigeria to domesticate the Minamata Convention as soon as possible.

The meeting in Nigeria also declared that “mercury is a chemical of global concern owing to its long range atmospheric transport, its persistence in the environment once anthropogenically introduced and its ability to bio-accumulate in ecosystems.

Leslie Adogame of the NGO SRADev, Lagos, pointed to the paradigm shift at Nigerian dental colleges.

“The major dental schools have reversed their teaching, stressing the teaching of mercury-free fillings, which are non-polluting and tooth-friendly, in contrast to dental amalgam. The dental colleges are instructing the dental students that amalgam has no future in Africa.”

The English-language daily, the Guardian of Nigeria, reported that stakeholders from the health sector, media, civil societies, called on governments at all levels to end the use of dental amalgam, a liquid mercury and metal alloy mixture used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay in children under 16 years, regnant and breast feeding women. The chemical is said to be injurious to health.

They therefore advocated that this should become a government policy that should take effect from July 1 2018.

The decision was reached at a stakeholders workshop on phase down of dental amalgam organised by the Sustainable Environment Development Initiative (SEDl), where its Executive Director, Tom Aneni, said exposure to mercury could harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, cardiovascular and immune systems in women, unborn children and infants.

Meanwhile, Cameroon has been witnessing significant changes towards mercury-free dentistry not only in cities like Yaoundé but in more rural areas too, such as the Far North Region.

Gilbert Kuepouo of the NGO CREPD said, “Cameroon civil society – comprising dentists, consumers, hospitals, dental schools – is ready for mercury-free dentistry. Our goal is nothing less than the end of amalgam in Cameroon – a goal that is now realistic.”

Dominique Bally of the African Center for Environmental Health took Brown through three francophone West African nations: Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, and Bénin, where they had meetings with top officials of the three environmental ministries, toured dental colleges, consulted with a top military dentist, and met with NGO leaders.

Bally said, “To donate, sell, or otherwise bring amalgam to Africa is not helping the people of our region – it is dumping a neurotoxin into our environment and our bodies. Africans are tired to see their continent being seen as the world dumping site”.

The World Alliance President, together with the President of the African Centre for Environmental Health, Dominique Bally, an Ivoirian, are partnering with environmental NGOs, Les Amis de la Terre in Togo and with GAPROFFA in Benin.

While delivering his opening speech at COP 1, Brown saluted the work of the Africa region and of the African governments in the march toward mercury-free dentistry.

He said, “The Abuja Declaration for Mercury-Free Dentistry for Africa sets the pace. The government of Mauritius ended amalgam use for children. Dental schools from “Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria across to Tanzania and Kenya have made major curriculum shifts to educate this generation of dentists.”

Meanwhile, the Minamata Convention holds critical obligations for all 84 State Parties to ban new primary mercury mines while phasing out existing ones and also includes a ban on many common products and processes using mercury, measures to control releases, and a requirement for national plans to reduce mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

In addition, it seeks to reduce trade, promote sound storage of mercury and its disposal, address contaminated sites and reduce exposure from this dangerous neurotoxin.

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UN Member States, With Exceptions, Pay Lip Service to Women & Peacekeepinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/un-member-states-pay-lip-service-women-peacekeeping/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-member-states-pay-lip-service-women-peacekeeping http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/un-member-states-pay-lip-service-women-peacekeeping/#respond Tue, 31 Oct 2017 07:59:52 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152823 A UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution adopted on 31 October 2000, underlying the role of women in peacekeeping, has long been described as both historic and unprecedented. But 17 years later, there are widespread expressions of disappointment over the mostly non- implementation of the resolution known by its symbol UNSCR 1325. Mavic Cabrera Balleza, Chief […]

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Sweden and the UN. We build peace. Credit: Jonas Svensson, Swedish Armed Forces

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 31 2017 (IPS)

A UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution adopted on 31 October 2000, underlying the role of women in peacekeeping, has long been described as both historic and unprecedented.

But 17 years later, there are widespread expressions of disappointment over the mostly non- implementation of the resolution known by its symbol UNSCR 1325.

Mavic Cabrera Balleza, Chief Executive Officer/International Coordinator, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, (GNWP) told IPS that despite all the ballyhoo following the resolution, the percentage of women in peacekeeping “is incredibly low”.

In 1993, women made up 1% of deployed uniformed personnel. As of August 2017, women constituted only 3.7 % of military personnel; and 9.4 % of police personnel.

“This is beyond shocking. If we are going to use this as an indicator to assess the achievements of UNSCR 1325, we are failing miserably,” she declared.

Under-Secretary-General Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, told the Security Council last week although women’s absence from peace tables is no longer easily brushed off as normal, it is still commonplace.

“Every year, we track women’s overall participation in peace processes that are led by the UN. We track the inclusion of gender expertise and gender-sensitive provisions in peace agreements, and the requirement to consult with women’s civil society organizations. In all of these indicators, we performed slightly worse than a year ago.”

At the Myanmar Union Peace Conference in 2016—before the current crisis—there were seven women and 68 men among the delegates. And recent peace talks on the Central African Republic hosted by the Community of Sant’Egidio did not include a single woman.

Six years into the Syrian civil war—and in spite of significant efforts by the UN and the Special Envoy—women’s participation in the peace talks is still inadequate, and often limited to an advisory role. This political marginalization extends beyond peace talks, she declared.

Only 17 countries (out of 193 UN member states) have an elected woman Head of State or Government. This includes only one post-conflict conflict country, Liberia, where Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s presidency has just ended after two terms, following democratic elections and the peaceful transfer of power.

“That is something to celebrate,” she added. Meanwhile, the proportion of women parliamentarians in conflict and post-conflict countries has stagnated at 16 per cent in the last two years.

Focusing on another neglected aspect, Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), told IPS there has to be some element of institutional or state responsibility for sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in UN peacekeeping missions.

She said it cannot just be “a soldier” — after all “a government” sent the soldier to the peacekeeping mission, so that government must bear responsibility for egregious behavior.

Second, “we have to be more honest about the ‘grayness’ of exploitation. Poverty and the need for food and water can induce ‘consent’ – so it can be abusive and exploitative but technically not illegal, if it involves an adult.”

Finally, for over 20 years we have heard the common refrain that “it is difficult to find women in militaries”. Why not have a radical re-think regarding the recruitment of women into peacekeeping forces?

It is not only about equal opportunities for jobs that pay better than others, but also about deep personal empowerment, and of course prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.

“How do we do it?”, she asked. “Why not have regional women’s peacekeeping institutes where women can come and get the basic military training needed, as well as skills specific to peacekeeping?”.

There are plenty of countries that export women for domestic work, which entails poor pay and exposure to abuse. Why not support them to become peacekeepers? Their salaries would be higher and their skills could be useful once they return home, she argued.

Cabrera Balleza told IPS the benefits of having more women in peacekeeping are numerous and very tangible. Female peacekeepers serve as role models, they inspire women and girls to assert their rights and to take on leadership and non-traditional positions, including as part of the security sector.

“They are also more sensitive to the needs of female ex-combatants, women refugees, survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. No doubt, women peacekeeping personnel are critical to the success of peace operations”, she noted.

She also pointed out that it is easy to criticize the UN for this dismal failure to achieve gender parity in peace operations.

“However, we need to examine the source – and those are the (193) Member States. There are very few women in UN peacekeeping because the sources are shallow. Discriminatory recruitment and hiring polices as well as unsafe work environment within the Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) prevent women from joining police and military institutions”.

This, she said, is symptomatic of the major obstacles in implementing Resolution 1325– initiated by Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury of Bangladesh when he presided over the Security Council in October 2000– and the supporting women-and-peace and security resolutions.”

She also pointed out that the underrepresentation of women in peacekeeping is mirrored by the under-representation of women in peace negotiations; by the lack of women in decision-making and governance positions; by the absence of women in the design of disarmament programs; by the lack of funding for women’s peacebuilding work.

The problems are multi-pronged: they are political, economic, social and cultural. Hence the solutions should also be multi-pronged and holistic.

The call for a holistic and coherent strategy to implement Resolution 1325 and the supporting resolutions is not new, she added.

The three reviews in 2015, namely the Global Study on UNSCR 1325; the High Level Peace Operations; the Peacebuilding Architecture Review all highlighted the need to address the fragmentation in the UN system in order for peacebuilding efforts to be successful.

Needless to say, the global policy decisions and the efforts to find coherence in the work of the UN should be informed by the voices of women in conflict affected communities and translated into localization initiatives.

“Let’s all roll up our sleeves, buckle down to work and take 1325 out of New York, and bring it to local communities. Only then can we fulfill the promise of this ground breaking international policy,” she declared.

In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Naraghi Anderlini said when she started working in peacebuilding over 20 years ago, the United Nations was coming under fire because multinational forces working as peacekeepers in Cambodia had sexually abused women and girls and spread HIV/AIDS and other diseases among local populations.

In the many years since, UN peacekeepers have been accused of doing the same in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Liberia, and beyond. In 2014, peacekeepers from France and Georgia were implicated in incidents of sexual violence against young children in the Central African Republic.

In 2016, following investigations, the UN reported 41 cases of abuse involving peacekeepers from Burundi and Gabon, including eight paternity cases and six filed on behalf of minors.

With the arrival of Antonio Guterres as the new UN secretary general and Sweden’s presence in the Security Council in 2017, the issues have again gained traction, said Naraghi Anderlini.

As a champion of a “feminist foreign policy,” Sweden has made the Women, Peace, and Security agenda a priority at the UN, she noted.

As Guterres and the Swedish delegation noted, a better balance of women and men in peacekeeping forces would enable greater access to communities while increasing transparency and accountability among the forces themselves and reducing levels of sexual abuse.

“If this seems farfetched, it is worth imagining a scenario where UN peacekeepers are 100 percent female. Incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse likely would disappear altogether. Yet little effort has been put into increasing the number of women,” she declared.

Meanwhile, Sweden has been a staunch supporter of UN peacebuilding and assumed the chair of the Peacebuilding Commission in 2015 while maintaining a long tradition of participating in UN peace operations.

According to the Swedish government, more than 80,000 Swedish women and men have taken part in UN peacekeeping to date. From the very first group of Swedish military observers, who participated in the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) in 1948, to Sweden’s current engagement in the UN stabilisation mission in Mali (MINUSMA), Sweden’s commitment has remained firm.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Russian & US Vetoes Protect Client Stateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/russian-us-vetoes-protect-client-states/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russian-us-vetoes-protect-client-states http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/russian-us-vetoes-protect-client-states/#respond Wed, 25 Oct 2017 15:42:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152722 The vote on the latest American-sponsored resolution in the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Syria was predictable: of the five big powers, China abstained and Russia vetoed, while the US, UK and France voted for it. Not surprisingly, the 15-member UNSC continues to lose its political legitimacy as its five veto-wielding members are more intent […]

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Syrian conflict. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 25 2017 (IPS)

The vote on the latest American-sponsored resolution in the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Syria was predictable: of the five big powers, China abstained and Russia vetoed, while the US, UK and France voted for it.

Not surprisingly, the 15-member UNSC continues to lose its political legitimacy as its five veto-wielding members are more intent in protecting their own national interests – and their client states—than the pursuit of world peace.

The Russian veto – the ninth in six years – was aimed at protecting Syria, one of its longstanding allies in the Middle East, currently embroiled in a seven-year-old military conflict.

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics & Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS that each of the vetoed resolutions in question were quite reasonable and consistent with international law.

“There is no excuse for any permanent member of the Security Council to abuse of its veto power to shield an allied regime from accountability”.

“It should be noted, however, that the United States has used its veto power no less than 42 times to prevent passage of otherwise-unanimous resolutions regarding Israel, resolutions which were also quite reasonable and consistent with international law,” said Zunes, who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council.

During the past 35 years, he said, Washington has used its veto power 78 times (in overall total), as compared with 25 times by Moscow.

“So, while the latest Russian veto fully deserves the criticism it is receiving, the United States is hardly in a position to condemn,” he added.

The resolution, which suffered a veto at a UNSC meeting October 24, was aimed at extending the mandate of a joint UN body of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon (OPCW) to identify the perpetrators of chemical-weapons attacks in Syria.

Eleven of the Council’s 15 members voted in favour, while Russia and non-permanent member Bolivia voted against the text. China, a permanent member, and Kazakhstan, a non-permanent members, abstained.

The UNSC comprises five permanent and 10 non-permanent members elected for two years on a system of geographical rotation.

If the resolution had been adopted, it would have extended the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism’s (JIM) mandate – established unanimously by the Council in 2015 and set to expire on 17 November – for a further one year.

Following the vote, Ambassador Michele J. Sison, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said the United States “deeply regrets that one member of this Council vetoed against this text, putting political considerations over the misery of Syrian civilians who have suffered and died from the use of chemical weapons. The reasons offered fool no one this morning.”

“We reject this cynicism, and we reaffirm our confidence in these technical experts, men and women who come from many regions, many backgrounds, and many perspectives. They knew their work would be attacked by Syria’s allies – yet have carried out their mandate effectively and responsibly,” she added.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Council what was happening was not pleasant. “It stinks, in fact,” because the United States was politicizing the issue.

The Mechanism had been created, with the Russian Federation’s participation, to conduct thorough investigations, and its eagerly awaited report should be seen and discussed calmly before the mandate expired, he said.

“Why put the cart before the horse?”, he asked.

Recalling the attack by the United States against a Syrian air base, he said it had been carried out after a hasty determination that Syria was guilty.

“That rush to judgement had, therefore, been predetermined, as had strategies to impugn the Russian Federation. An early vote was the reason behind politicization,” he added.

Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, said with its veto, Russia has once again sent a disturbing message to victims in Syria, signaling that Syrian government forces can continue to use chemical weapons with impunity and free of international scrutiny.

“Russia has supported investigations into the use of lethal chemicals in Syria, but this time has chosen to protect its ally in Damascus. UN member states should find a way to ensure that the investigation of Syrian chemical attacks continues so perpetrators can be held to account,” he added.

Russia’s ninth veto in the Security Council has only re-affirmed its strong and longstanding political, economic and military interests in Syria, going back to the days of President Hafez al-Assad, father of the current President, Bashar al-Assad.

The relations were strengthened by a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the two countries, a treaty which continued to be renewed every 25 years.

First signed with the then Soviet Union back in October 1970, the treaty provided Syria with long-term credits and outright gifts of Soviet weaponry.

Asked how heavily Syria was dependent on Russian arms, Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher Arms and Military Expenditure Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS that Russia has been, by far, the most important arms supplier to Syria for decades.

However, he pointed out, such arms supplies have fluctuated strongly, from the 1990s to 2008, including Syrian arms imports in general, and from Russia, were low.

After an agreement with Russia about the large debts Syria owed Russia, several significant contracts for new military hardware were signed in 2007.

Some of the equipment was delivered before the Syrian government lost control over large parts of Syria around 2013. Other equipment on order have not been delivered. In recent years, Syrian arms imports from Russia have been very modest, he added.

Asked if Syria’s entire military force structure was equipped with Russian weapons, Wezeman said almost all Syria’s major equipment is of Soviet/Russian origin.

Iran seems to have supplied artillery rockets and probably ammunition in recent years. There do not seem to be any other countries involved in supplying significant numbers of weapons to the Assad regime in recent years, he added.

Asked about reports of Russian naval bases in Syria, he said there are Russian naval and air forces based in Syria, in particular the Russian access to Tartus harbor.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Global Campaign to Smoke Out Tobacco Firms from UN Bodyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/global-campaign-smoke-tobacco-firms-un-body/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-campaign-smoke-tobacco-firms-un-body http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/global-campaign-smoke-tobacco-firms-un-body/#respond Thu, 19 Oct 2017 19:44:24 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152603 The world’s tobacco companies – which have been widely ostracized in the UN system – may be ousted from one of their last fortified strongholds in the United Nations: the International Labour Organization (ILO). A letter signed by nearly 200 public health organizations and labour rights groups worldwide is calling on the Governing Body of […]

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A cigarette vendor in Manila sells a pack of 20 sticks for less than a dollar. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 19 2017 (IPS)

The world’s tobacco companies – which have been widely ostracized in the UN system – may be ousted from one of their last fortified strongholds in the United Nations: the International Labour Organization (ILO).

A letter signed by nearly 200 public health organizations and labour rights groups worldwide is calling on the Governing Body of the Geneva-based UN agency to expel tobacco companies from its subsidiary membership.

“Tobacco companies victimize farmers and other workers through practices including unfair pricing strategies, abusive contracts and child labour. They have no place in a UN agency concerned with fair labour practices and human rights,” says the coalition.

The Governing Body – which will hold its upcoming 331st sessions beginning October 26 through November 9 —is expected to decide whether to sever tobacco companies from its partnership with ILO.

“If the ILO is to live up to its promise of promoting rights at work, encouraging decent employment opportunities and enhancing social protection, the decision should be an easy one: the Governing Body must prohibit all members of the tobacco industry from participation in the ILO,” says the Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK).

Asked whether the world’s poorer nations — where “big tobacco” still has a heavy presence — are losing the battle in the war against smoking, Mark Hurley, International Director of Tobacco Industry Campaigns at CTFK, told IPS that for tobacco companies, “low- and middle-income countries represent the new frontier for a deadly industry”.

Tobacco companies, he pointed out, are increasingly targeting low- and middle-income countries that often lack the regulations and resources to protect themselves against manipulative industry practices.

“Today, more than 80 percent of the world’s smokers live in low- and middle-income countries and if current trends continue, they will account for 80 percent of the world’s tobacco-related deaths by 2030,” said Hurley.

Any action taken by the ILO against tobacco companies would bring the agency in line with the Geneva-based World Health Organization’s (WHO) international treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Last month, the UN Global Compact in New York also took action to cut ties with tobacco companies, CTFK said.

Asked about the Global Compact, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters last week
companies that are part of the Global Compact have to report on the activities they carry out.
If there are concerns about different transactions by those companies, he pointed out, “that can affect their membership in the Compact as well as the sort of nature of their participation with the Global Compact”.

And so the Global Compact will need to be in dialogue with all the various companies, (including tobacco-related companies), in terms of what they’re doing and in terms of “socially responsible business practices”, he added.
The letter, addressed to members of the Governing Body, says tobacco companies use membership in respected organizations like the ILO to portray themselves as responsible corporate citizens when in fact they are the root cause of a global tobacco epidemic that is projected to kill one billion people worldwide this century.

Tobacco companies continue to aggressively market their deadly products to children and other vulnerable populations around the world, to mislead the public about the health risks of their products and to attack every effort to reduce tobacco use and save lives, the letter added.

“Tobacco companies that spread death and disease across the globe should have no place in a UN agency, or any responsible organization”, the letter adds.

The signatories to the letter include the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, the Voluntary Health Association of India, Action on Smoking and Health and Corporate Accountability International, the African Tobacco Control Alliance, the European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention, the Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance, the Austrian Council on Smoking and Health, the Dutch Alliance for Smoke-Free Society and the French Alliance Against Tobacco, among others.

Hurley told IPS “the good news is we know how to reduce tobacco use”.

The WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) obligates its 181 signatory Parties to implement proven, effective measures in their countries, such as increasing tobacco taxes, placing graphic, picture-based health warnings on tobacco packs, and banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

And countries around the world, including those that are low- and middle-income, are taking bold action to implement these life-saving policies, he added.

This includes Nepal, where graphic health warnings cover 90 percent of tobacco packs – the biggest in the world, Uruguay, where public places are 100 percent free of secondhand smoke and in the Philippines where steadily increasing tobacco taxes contributed to a nearly 20 percent decline in tobacco use in six years.

Other countries must take note of these success stories and move to fully implement the FCTC to protect their own populations from the death and disease of tobacco use, he added.

Hurley also said the WHO already states that the tobacco industry’s interests are in clear conflict with public health goals in its international treaty, the FCTC, as agreed to by the 181 signatory nations.

However, other UN agencies like the ILO continue to work with these companies despite public knowledge that tobacco companies aggressively market their deadly products to children and other vulnerable populations around the world, mislead the public about the health risks of their products and attack every effort to reduce tobacco use and save lives.

“We urge the ILO to join other international organizations and agencies acting to cut ties with tobacco companies,” he declared.

Meanwhile, a report titled “ILO Cooperation with the Tobacco Industry in the Pursuit of the Organization’s Social Mandate”, submitted to the last meeting of the Governing Body in February 2017, provides background information on the ILO’s current activities in the tobacco sector, as well as on the role and responsibilities of the ILO within the broader framework of the WHO’s FCTC, to help the tripartite members of the Governing Body to make an informed policy decision regarding the ILO’s future engagement with the tobacco industry in pursuit of its mandate.

The study said tobacco is produced in 124 countries, and some 60 million people are involved in tobacco growing and leaf processing worldwide.

In pursuit of its mandate, the Office has engaged with member States and social partners, including the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) and its affiliates, globally and in a number of member States, to support the realization of fundamental principles and rights at work in tobacco growing communities.

Globally, reduced smoking rates in some industrialized economies have been generally offset by increased rates in developing and middle-income countries.

Tobacco cultivation is labour intensive, involving field preparation, making nursery beds, transplanting seedlings, continual care as the plants grow, harvesting and curing. As with many agricultural crops, most tasks involved in tobacco growing are hazardous, the report continued.

“Tobacco harvesting presents a unique hazard for children and adults – green tobacco sickness – which is nicotine poisoning caused by dermal contact with green tobacco. Given the need to handle leaves with care to avoid damage, manual harvesting predominates. This holds true despite the growth of the market for e-cigarettes, for which tobacco can be harvested mechanically,” the study noted.

There has been a significant geographical shift in tobacco leaf growing in recent years, with important consequences for employment in the sector.

And there have been substantial drops in employment in tobacco leaf growing between 2000 and 2013 in several countries, including Turkey (from 583,500 in 2000 to 66,500 in 2013), Brazil (from 462,800 in 2002 to 342,200 in 2013) and the United States (from 51,700 in 2002 to 14,100 in 2013). In contrast, increases were seen in Argentina (32,300 in 2000 to 58,400 in 2010), India (62,800 in 2001 to 89,300 in 2013) and Zimbabwe (8,500 in 2000 to 56,900 in 2011).

Characterizing the nature of the workforce, the report said that for many countries “tobacco growing, in contrast to manufacturing, still functions as a safety valve which safeguards livelihoods for millions of people who for the most part belong to vulnerable social groups”.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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US Call for Suspending Arms Sales to Myanmar Faces Road Block in Security Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/us-call-suspending-arms-sales-myanmar-faces-road-block-security-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-call-suspending-arms-sales-myanmar-faces-road-block-security-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/us-call-suspending-arms-sales-myanmar-faces-road-block-security-council/#comments Tue, 03 Oct 2017 14:54:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152336 When US Ambassador Nikki Haley called for a virtual arms embargo against the repressive and much-maligned military regime in Myanmar, she took a passing shot at two of her fellow veto-wielding, permanent members of the Security Council – namely China and Russia – who are primary arms suppliers to the increasingly politically-isolated nation. “And any […]

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US Pressure Keeps Palestinians Blacklisted at UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/us-pressure-keeps-palestinians-blacklisted-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-pressure-keeps-palestinians-blacklisted-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/us-pressure-keeps-palestinians-blacklisted-un/#comments Fri, 01 Sep 2017 16:40:37 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151890 When Secretary-General Antonio Guterres proposed the appointment of former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as UN’s Special Representative in Libya back in February, the proposal was shot down by US Ambassador Nikki Haley, purely because he was a Palestinian. And speaking before the US House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee in June, Haley […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 1 2017 (IPS)

When Secretary-General Antonio Guterres proposed the appointment of former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as UN’s Special Representative in Libya back in February, the proposal was shot down by US Ambassador Nikki Haley, purely because he was a Palestinian.

Credit: Institute for Palestine Studies

And speaking before the US House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee in June, Haley went even further down the road when she indicated she would block any appointment of a Palestinian official to a senior role at the UN because Washington “does not recognize Palestine” as an independent state.

Suddenly, the Palestinians, for the first time, seem blacklisted– and declared political outcasts– in a world body where some of them held key posts in a bygone era.

Nadia Hijab, Executive Director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS: “ As the US Administration appears to be steering a breakneck course towards a nuclear war with North Korea, it is little short of remarkable that its representative at the UN can find time to continue her vendetta against the Palestinian people while Israel, a serial violator of the international law the UN was created to uphold, is able not only to sit at the UN but to serve on key committees”.

Instead of blocking Palestinians from their rightful place in the community of nations, Ambassador Haley would do better to push for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land conquered in 1967 and welcome a fully sovereign State of Palestine to the UN, said Hijab, who is of Palestinian origin, and once served as a senior staff member of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

“I wonder if Ambassador Haley is aware that, because Israel has colonized their country, Palestinians carry the nationality of many other countries around the world, including the United States. How far will she take her crusade against this beleaguered people?,” she asked.

In most instances, Palestinians working at the United Nations have been nationals of UN member states, acquiring citizenships in countries such as UK, US, Jordan, Canada, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, among others.

Since 2012, Palestine has been a “non-member observer state” at the UN—as is the Holy See (Vatican).

As one Arab diplomat speculated: “If Fayyad, who was educated at the University of Texas, was in fact also a US citizen, Haley may have blocked the appointment of an American, not a Palestinian.”

“But that’s a question only Fayyad can answer. If true, it will be an irony of ironies”, he added.

Guterres, who apparently relented to US pressure by stepping back on Fayyad’s appointment plucked up courage to tell reporters: “I think it was a serious mistake. I think that Mr. Fayyad was the right person in the right place at the right time, and I think that those who will lose will be the Libyan people and the Libyan peace process.”

And, he rightly added: ““I believe that it is essential for everybody to understand that people serving the UN are serving in their personal capacities. They don’t represent a country or a government – they are citizens of the world representing the UN Charter and abiding by the UN Charter,” he said, pointedly directing his answer at Haley

Samir Sanbar, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General who headed the Department of Public Information (DPI), told IPS that “traditionally, U.N. staffers need not renounce their loyalty to their home country, but they will have to take an oath of exclusive loyalty to the U.N. Secretary-General which in effect places them as international civil servants- a once unique category recently, and systematically eroded.”

He pointed out that a number of Palestinians had served in the UN Secretariat since its early days, like Ismail Khalidi, a Saudi citizen of Palestinian origin and father of Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi, and Shukri Salameh, who was of Palestinian origin and Chief of Staff Services in the Office of Personnel in the UN’s Department of Public Information.

Other senior officials later served with Jordanian, Lebanese, Saudi, Syrian and other papers in addition to those like Assistant Secretary-General Khaled Yassir, who headed the audit department of UNDP and who apparently carried a Palestinian “Stateless” card at the time, said Sanbar, who served under five different UN secretaries-general.

He said a number of U.S. /U.N. officials were flexible on their own government’s position on politically-sensitive issues such as Under-Secretary General Joseph Vernon Reed — former Protocol Chief of U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush—when he attended a General Assembly meeting in Geneva with the participation of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat when he was rebuffed in New York.

As to the approach of Secretary-General Guterres, Sanbar said: “I am not on the inside to comment; yet it seems not yet clear whether he is bowing to pressure or exercising extra care, while undertaking extensive travel, in making consensus senior appointments, including those for heads of Departments, some of whom were given short term extensions and others who are yet to be firmly designated.”

“Perhaps by the middle of next year, an informed perception will be clearer .Inshallah!”,he declared.

Admittedly, to be frank, he said, there were occasional cases where certain individuals tried to exploit the rightful plight of the Palestinian people to their personal advantage. Yet, generally, most international civil servants, made a special effort to demonstrate impressive performance,” said Sanbar.

Meanwhile, after a visit to Lebanon last week, Haley was gunning for the head of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Force Commander and Irish Major-General Michael Beary, and expressing regrets that he is not pursuing his mission of aggressively moving against the militant group, Hezbollah.

Asked for his comments, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters: “First of all, I would say that we obviously stand by the Force Commander in UNIFIL and we have full confidence in his work. I think the men and women of UNIFIL are doing work in a very delicate area. They report regularly and faithfully on what they, on what they see and on what they observe.”

“I understand there is a debate ongoing within Member States regarding the renewal of the mandate of UNIFIL. We will let that debate play out. It’s in the hands of the Security Council. It’s done under their authority,” he added

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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US Lags Far Behind in Banning Dental Health Hazardhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard/#comments Mon, 31 Jul 2017 05:16:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151496 The United States is lagging far behind its Western allies – and perhaps most of the key developing countries – in refusing to act decisively to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry. The 28-member European Union (EU), with an estimated population of over 510 million people, recently announced […]

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The United States is refusing to act decisively to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry

Example of mercury use in the healthcare sector. From left to right: Mercury Sphygmomanometer, Dental Amalgam and a Fever Thermometer. Credit: UNDP

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 31 2017 (IPS)

The United States is lagging far behind its Western allies – and perhaps most of the key developing countries – in refusing to act decisively to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry.

The 28-member European Union (EU), with an estimated population of over 510 million people, recently announced its decision to ban amalgam use in children under age 15, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers. The ban comes into effect July 2018.

“In sharp contrast, the U.S. government has done nothing to protect these vulnerable populations from exposure to amalgam’s mercury,” says a petition filed by Consumers for Dental Choice (CDC), which has been vigorously campaigning for mercury-free dentistry, since its founding back in 1996.

In Norway and Sweden, dental amalgam is no longer in use, while it is being phased out in Japan, Finland and the Netherlands. In Mauritius and EU nations, it is banned from use on children. Denmark uses dental amalgam for only 5% of restorations and Germany for 10% of restorations.

In Bangladesh, it is to be phased out in 2018, and in India, there is a dental school requirement of eliminating amalgam in favour of alternatives.

In Nigeria, the government has printed and distributed consumer-information brochures while the government of Canada has recommended that all dentists stop its use in children and pregnant women — and those with kidney disorders.

Dental amalgam has been described as a dental filling material used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay. And it is a mixture of metals, consisting of liquid (elemental) mercury and a powdered alloy composed of silver, tin, and copper.

In its petition, addressed to the FDA Commissioner, CDC says the United States – the only developed nation with no warnings or restrictions on the use of dental amalgam in children – is the outlier.

“Why are other countries protecting their children while the FDA lets American children be exposed to dental mercury? In order to catch up with other developed nations, the Commissioner must amend FDA’s mercury amalgam rule,” says the lengthy petition replete with facts and figures—and worthy of a research project.

The petition presents its case citing several sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly-Identified Health Risks and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

According to the Wall Street Journal last week, FDA Commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb, in a sweeping regulatory overhaul of Big Tobacco, has cracked down on tobacco companies, demanding that all cigarettes should have such low levels of nicotine so they no longer are considered addictive.

But dental mercury apparently continues to get a free pass.

Charlie Brown, executive director of Consumers for Dental Choice, told IPS that with all the modern mercury-free dental fillings available today, it is inexcusable that FDA remains the world’s chief defender of implanting neurotoxic mercury in children’s mouths – mere centimeters from their developing brains.”

It’s time for FDA to catch up to the European Union and ban amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers,” he added.

Michael Bender, Director, Mercury Policy Project in Vermont, USA, told IPS: “During negotiations, the U.S. stated position was ‘to achieve the phase down, with the goal, the eventual phase out’ of dental amalgam. FDA should stop acting like a rogue agency and follow the US position.”

In its petition, CDC urges the Commissioner to take three key measures to stop amalgam use in children under age 15, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers:

Firstly, issue a safety communication warning dentists, parents, and dental consumers against amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

Secondly, require manufacturers to distribute patient-labeling that includes warnings against amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

Thirdly, develop and implement a public information campaign (including FDA’s website, social media, press releases, and a press conference) to warn dentists, dental associations, parents, and dental consumers against amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

The petition also says the 2013 Minamata Convention on Mercury requires nations to “phase down the use of dental amalgam.”

The U.S. government signed and accepted the Minamata Convention on 6 November 2013. FDA’s official support for “change towards use of dental amalgam” and its rejection of “any change away from use of dental amalgam” in its 2009 dental amalgam rule is contrary to the Minamata Convention’s requirement that parties “phase down the use of dental amalgam.”

FDA’s push for phasing up amalgam use has raised major concerns in the international community, says the petition.

The Convention enters into force – and becomes legally binding– on 16 August. On 18 May the 50th nation ratified, and with that threshold reached, the Convention enters into force in 90 days– namely, 16 August. Jamaica was the 71st nation to ratify the convention last week.

Asked for an FDA response, Stephanie Caccomo, Press Officer, Office of Media Affairs & Office of External Affairs, told IPS the FDA has neither promoted the use of dental amalgams nor supported an increase in their use.

FDA serves as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lead representative to the Minamata Convention on Mercury and takes very seriously the Convention’s objective of protecting human health from the possible adverse health effects of mercury exposure, she added.

“The U.S. actively supported the Convention throughout its development and the FDA continues to work closely with the U.S. Department of State on how the United States will implement the treaty obligations.”

She pointed out that the U.S. government is committed to complying with the Convention by taking at least two of the nine specific measures set forth in Part II of Annex A of the Convention with respect to dental amalgam.

Elaborating further, she said in an email message, that dental amalgam contains elemental mercury. It releases low levels of mercury in the form of a vapor that can be inhaled and absorbed by the lungs. High levels of mercury vapor exposure are associated with adverse effects in the brain and the kidneys.

“FDA has reviewed the best available scientific evidence to determine whether the low levels of mercury vapor associated with dental amalgam fillings are a cause for concern. Based on this evidence, FDA considers dental amalgam fillings safe for adults and children ages 6 and above.”

The weight of credible scientific evidence reviewed by FDA does not establish an association between dental amalgam use and adverse health effects in the general population. Clinical studies in adults and children ages 6 and above have found no link between dental amalgam fillings and health problems, she noted.

“The developing neurological systems in fetuses and young children may be more sensitive to the neurotoxic effects of mercury vapor. Very limited to no clinical data is available regarding long-term health outcomes in pregnant women and their developing fetuses, and children under the age of six, including infants who are breastfed. Pregnant women and parents with children under six who are concerned about the absence of clinical data as to long-term health outcomes should talk to their dentist.”

However, the estimated amount of mercury in breast milk attributable to dental amalgam is low and falls well below general levels for oral intake that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe, she added.

“Despite the limited clinical information, FDA concludes that the existing risk information supports a finding that infants are not at risk for adverse health effects from the mercury in breast milk of women exposed to mercury vapor from dental amalgam.”

Some individuals have an allergy or sensitivity to mercury or the other components of dental amalgam (such as silver, copper, or tin). Dental amalgam might cause these individuals to develop oral lesions or other contact reactions.

“If you are allergic to any of the metals in dental amalgam, you should not get amalgam fillings. You can discuss other treatment options with your dentist,” she advised.

To the extent there are any potential risks to health generally associated with the use of dental amalgam, FDA issued a final rule and related guidance document establishing special regulatory controls to mitigate any such risks.

“Moreover, while FDA does not believe additional action is warranted at this time, FDA continues to evaluate the literature on dental amalgam and any other new information it receives in light of the 2010 advisory panel recommendations and will take further action on dental amalgam as warranted,” Caccomo added.

Asked for a response to the FDA statement, Charlie Brown said: “Consumers for Dental Choice’s petition demands that FDA carry out its duty to provide American children the same protection from amalgam’s mercury that the European Union does over there.”

He pointed out that FDA admits repeatedly that no evidence exist that amalgam’s mercury is safe for young children, yet FDA will not stop being the world’s most stubborn defender of implanting mercury into children’s mouths (and bodies).

“FDA must now fish or cut bait. With our petition in its lap, FDA must choose between, on the one hand, doing its duty as a federal agency, and, on the other hand, keeping in place its four-decade-long program of putting profits for pro-mercury dentists ahead of lives of American children,” he declared.

Meanwhile, Consumers for Dental Choice says its campaign goal for Mercury-Free Dentistry is to phase out the use of amalgam, a 50% mercury product — worldwide. The recently concluded draft mercury treaty requires each signing nation to phase down its use of amalgam, and it provides a road map how.

“We aim to: educate consumers about the use of mercury in dentistry so they can make informed decisions; stop dental mercury pollution; protect consumers – especially vulnerable populations such as children and the unborn – from exposure to dental mercury; empower dental workers – dental assistants and hygienists – to protect themselves from mercury in the workplace; and promote access to mercury-free alternatives to amalgam.

The post US Lags Far Behind in Banning Dental Health Hazard appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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