Inter Press ServiceThalif Deen – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 18 Sep 2018 15:33:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 UN Begins Talks on World’s First Treaty to Regulate High Seashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/un-begins-talks-worlds-first-treaty-regulate-high-seas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-begins-talks-worlds-first-treaty-regulate-high-seas http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/un-begins-talks-worlds-first-treaty-regulate-high-seas/#comments Fri, 07 Sep 2018 10:22:21 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157498 After several years of preliminary discussions, the United Nations has begun its first round of inter-governmental negotiations to draft the world’s first legally binding treaty to protect and regulate the “high seas”—which, by definition, extend beyond 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) and are considered “international waters” shared globally. “The high seas cover half our planet […]

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A trawler in Johnstone Strait, BC, Canada. Human activities such as pollution, overfishing, mining, geo-engineering and climate change have made an international agreement to protect the high seas more critical than ever. Credit: Winky/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 7 2018 (IPS)

After several years of preliminary discussions, the United Nations has begun its first round of inter-governmental negotiations to draft the world’s first legally binding treaty to protect and regulate the “high seas”—which, by definition, extend beyond 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) and are considered “international waters” shared globally.

“The high seas cover half our planet and are vital to the functioning of the whole ocean and all life on Earth. The current high seas governance system is weak, fragmented and unfit to address the threats we now face in the 21stt century from climate change, illegal and overfishing, plastics pollution and habitat loss”, says Peggy Kalas, Coordinator of the High Seas Alliance, a partnership of 40+ non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“This is an historic opportunity to protect the biodiversity and functions of the high seas through legally binding commitments” she added.

The two-week Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), which concludes 17 September, is described as the first in a series of four negotiating sessions which are expected to continue through 2020.

Asked about the contentious issues facing negotiators, Dr Veronica Frank, Political Advisor at Greenpeace International, told IPS “although it is still early, we can expect that some of the potential issues that will require attention include the relationship between the new Global Ocean Treaty and existing legal instruments and bodies.”

These will include those who regulate activities such as fishing and mining, and what role
these other organizations will play in the management of activities that may impact on the marine environment in future ocean sanctuaries on the high seas.

“Also tricky is the issue of marine genetic resources, especially how to ensure the access and sharing of benefits from their use,” Dr Frank said.

Asked how different the proposed treaty would be from the historic 1994 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Essam Yassin Mohammed, Principal Researcher on Oceans and Environmental Economics at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), told IPS: “This new treaty is particularly significant because it is the first time the high seas will be governed.”

These negotiations are an opportunity, not just to protect the health of the oceans, but also to make sure all countries ― not just the wealthy few ― can benefit from the ocean’s resources in a sustainable way, he pointed out.

“As important as The Law of the Sea is, it only covers the band of water up to 200 miles from the coast. It does not cover the use and sustainable management of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction,” he added.

While this was acceptable in an era when the technological capacities that enabled people to venture beyond this area were limited, rapid innovation and technological advancement has changed this. Increasingly, economic activities are taking place in the high seas, he noted.

Most are unregulated and pose a major threat to marine biodiversity. It is more urgent than ever to fill this governance gap and monitor and regulate any activity in the high seas and make sure they benefit everyone ― particularly the poorest countries, he argued.

According to the High Seas Alliance, the ocean’s key role in mitigating climate change, which includes absorbing 90% of the extra heat and 26% of the excess carbon dioxide created by human sources, has had a devastating effect on the ocean itself.

Managing the multitude of other anthropogenic stressors exerted on it will increase its resilience to climate change and ocean acidification and protect unique marine ecosystems, many of which are still unexplored and undiscovered. Because these are international waters, the conservation measures needed can only be put into place via a global treaty, the Alliance said.

Dr Frank said the new treaty must create a global process for the designation and effective implementation of highly protected sanctuaries in areas beyond national borders.

Such global process must include the following elements: (a) a clear objective and a duty to cooperate to protect, maintain, and restore ocean health and resilience through a global network of marine protected areas, in particular highly protected marine reserves, and (b) the identification of potential areas that meet the conservation objective.

Asked about the existing law of the sea treaty, she said UNCLOS, which is the constitution of the ocean, sets the jurisdictional framework, ie general rights and obligations of Parties in different maritime zones, including some general obligations to cooperate and protect marine life and marine living resources that also apply to waters beyond national borders.

However, the Convention doesn’t spell out what these obligations entail in practice and puts much more emphasis on the traditional freedoms to use the high seas.

The Convention does not even mention the term biodiversity, she said, pointing out that
the treaty under negotiation will be the third so-called “Implementing Agreement” under UNCLOS – after the agreement for the implementation of Part XI on seabed minerals and one on fish stocks – and it will implement, specify and operationalise UNCLOS broad environmental provisions in relation to the protection of the global oceans.

Dr Frank said this is the first time in history that governments are negotiating rules that will bring UNCLOS in line with modern principles of environmental governance and provide effective protection to global oceans.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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UN Seeks Probe into Saudi Bombing of Civilian Targetshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/157395/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=157395 http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/157395/#respond Wed, 29 Aug 2018 13:56:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157395 Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of relentlessly bombing civilian targets in strife-torn Yemen and threatening executions of human rights activists, is fast gaining notoriety as a political outcast at the United Nations. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has not only condemned the continued attacks on civilians but also called for “an impartial, independent and prompt […]

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Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. 02 August 2018 United Nations, New York. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. 02 August 2018 United Nations, New York. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

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

Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of relentlessly bombing civilian targets in strife-torn Yemen and threatening executions of human rights activists, is fast gaining notoriety as a political outcast at the United Nations.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has not only condemned the continued attacks on civilians but also called for “an impartial, independent and prompt investigation” into some of the recent bombings in Yemen.

The bombings of civilians have also led to speculation whether the Saudis and their coalition partners could be hauled before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes.

In a report titled “44 Small Graves Intensify Questions About the US role in Yemen”, the New York Times said some members of the US Congress have called on the American military to clarify its role in airstrikes on Yemen “and investigate whether the support for those strikes could expose American military personnel to legal jeopardy, including for war crimes.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has not only condemned the continued attacks on civilians but also called for “an impartial, independent and prompt investigation” into some of the recent bombings in Yemen.

Guterres has described Yemen as “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”, with three in four Yemenis in need of assistance. So far, the UN and its partners have reached out to more than 8 million people with direct assistance this year.

The death toll alone amounts to over 10,000 people, mostly civilians, since 2014.

But any drastic action against the coalition—or even an independent UN investigation–  is most likely to be thwarted by Western powers, including three permanent members of the Security Council, namely the US, UK and France, which are key suppliers to the thriving multi-billion dollar arms market in Saudi Arabia.

According to Amnesty International, the Saudis are also seeking the death penalty for five individuals who face trial before Saudi Arabia’s counter-terror court, including Israa al-Ghomgham, who would be the first woman ever to face the death penalty simply for participating in protests.

With a woman activist being threatened with execution, who is next in line? Children?

Daniel Balson, Advocacy Director at Amnesty International, told IPS “The sad fact is that in Saudi Arabia, children and the mentally disabled are not exempt from execution.”

Abdul Kareem  Al-Hawaj was 16 when he took part in anti-government protests., Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon were arrested on 3 March and 22 May 2012, when they were 16 and 17 years old respectively. Ali al-Nimr was 17 when he was arrested in February 2012.

Balson pointed out that these cases have several things in common: All four are members of the minority Shi’a sect. All four claimed that their confessions were extracted under torture. All four are at risk of imminent execution. Unfortunately, Saudi authorities have proven their willingness to incur substantial political cost simply to put people to death.

In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed 47 people in a single day despite widespread international condemnation. Saudi Arabia is certainly no stranger to killing women – authorities executed two in 2017.

Asked about the continued strong military relationship between the Saudis and Western governments, Balson told IPS that U.S. government officials must, along with their Western allies ban the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, not just to dis-incentivize executions but because these weapons cause innumerable civilian deaths in Yemen.

“This isn’t conjecture, it’s a documented fact,” he said.

Late last year, Amnesty documented that a US-made bomb killed and maimed children in San’a. Media reports have indicated that a bomb that killed dozens of children this month was made in the U.S.

“The U.S. must communicate to Saudi authorities that the killing of children – whether by warplane or executioner – is abhorrent,” he declared.

Hiba Zayadin of Human Rights Watch (HRW) told IPS the public prosecutor is demanding the death penalty for five of the six activists currently on trial.

“We do not know of any other woman activist that has faced the death penalty before for her rights-related work and believe this could set a dangerous precedent. It goes to show just how determined the Saudi leadership is to crush any and all dissent, all the while claiming to be on a path towards modernization, moderation, and reform,” she said.

Zayadin said now is the time for the international community to speak up about the human rights abuses increasingly taking place in Saudi Arabia today, especially by allies such as the US, UK, and France.

“We believe Saudi authorities would be responsive to calls from allies and international businesses seeking to invest in Saudi Arabia to respect the rule of law and release all unjustly detained dissidents”

If the Saudi leadership is truly committed to reform, she said, it would change course, and as long as it does not, the international community has a responsibility to hold it accountable to its promises.

Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Campaigns, said Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most prolific executioners and the world cannot continue to ignore the country’s horrific human rights record.

“We call on the international community to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian authorities to end the use of the death penalty, which continues to be employed in violation of international human rights law and standards, often after grossly unfair and politically motivated trials.”

Meanwhile, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said that at least 22 Yemeni children and four women were killed in an air strike last Thursday (August 23) as they were fleeing the fighting in Al Durayhimi district in Hudaydah governorate.

“This is the second time in two weeks that an air strike by the Saudi-led Coalition has resulted in dozens of civilian casualties. An additional air strike in Al Durayhimi on Thursday resulted in the death of four children,” he added

Lowcock said he was also “deeply concerned” by the proximity of attacks to humanitarian sites, including health facilities and water and sanitation infrastructure.

The UN and its partners, he pointed out, are doing all they can to reach people with assistance. Access for humanitarian aid workers to reach people in need is critical to respond to the massive humanitarian crisis in Yemen. People need to be able to voluntarily flee the fighting to access humanitarian assistance too.

“The parties to the conflict must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and those with influence over them must ensure that everything possible is done to protect civilians,” he added.

In a piece titled “US Commander Seeks Clarity in Yemen Attack”, the New York Times said since 2015, the US has provided the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen with mid-air refueling, intelligence assessments and other military advice.

The US air commander in the Middle East, Lt. Gen Jeffrey Harrigian, has also urged the Saudi-led coalition to be more forthcoming about an airstrike in early August which killed more than 40 children.

Harrigian was quoted as saying “There’s a level of frustration we need to acknowledge. They need to come out and say what occurred there.”

The conflict in Yemen began in 2014 when Houthi rebels, aligned with Iran, seized the capital and sent the government into exile in Saudi Arabia. The fighting intensified beginning 2015.

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Annan Denounced Iraqi Invasion as “Illegal” & Criticized Military Leaders Addressing UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/annan-denounced-iraqi-invasion-as-illegal-criticized-military-leaders-addressing-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=annan-denounced-iraqi-invasion-as-illegal-criticized-military-leaders-addressing-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/annan-denounced-iraqi-invasion-as-illegal-criticized-military-leaders-addressing-un/#respond Mon, 20 Aug 2018 10:17:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157266 The Secretary-General of the United Nations, who is  a creature of member states, rarely challenges or defies his creators. But Kofi Annan, who died last week at the age of 80, did both. Surprisingly, he lived to tell the tale– but paid an unfairly heavy price after being hounded by the United States. When the […]

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Kofi Annan. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Kofi Annan. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 20 2018 (IPS)

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, who is  a creature of member states, rarely challenges or defies his creators. But Kofi Annan, who died last week at the age of 80, did both. Surprisingly, he lived to tell the tale– but paid an unfairly heavy price after being hounded by the United States.

When the US invaded Iraq in March 2003, he described the invasion as “illegal” because it did not have the blessings of the 15-member UN Security Council (UNSC), the only institution in the world body with the power to declare war and peace.

But the administration of President George W. Bush went after him for challenging its decision to unilaterally declare war against Iraq: an attack by one member state against another for no legally-justifiable reason.

The weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), reportedly in Iraq’s military arsenal, which was one of the primary reasons for the invasion, were never found.

Subsequently, Annan came under heavy fire for misperceived lapses in the implementation of the “Oil-for-Food” programme which was aimed at alleviating the sufferings of millions of Iraqis weighed down by UN sanctions.

Ian Williams, author of UNtold: The Real Story of the United Nations in Peace and War, told IPS: “While I am heartened by the outpouring of appreciation for Kofi Annan, I can’t help but notice the contrast with the sound of silence when the Rupert Murdoch press and its followers had his back to the wall with the spurious Oil-for-Food crisis they had manufactured.”

All too many stood back and stayed silent as Annan spent long months under constant sniper fire, he recounted.

While few now remember the Oil for Food crisis, said Williams, it was billed at the time as the “greatest financial scandal” in history.

He said the so-called crisis “was a savage assault on Kofi’s greatest asset– and his perceptible integrity took a severe personal toll, as people who should have known better kept their silence.”

“It was in fact one of the greatest “fake news” concoctions in history, almost up there with Iraqi WMDs. That was no coincidence since many of the sources for both were the same,” said Williams, a senior analyst who has written for newspapers and magazines around the world, including the Australian, The Independent, New York Observer, The Financial Times and The Guardian.

“While I am heartened by the outpouring of appreciation for Kofi Annan, I can’t help but notice the contrast with the sound of silence when the Rupert Murdoch press and its followers had his back to the wall with the spurious Oil-for-Food crisis they had manufactured.”
Annan also virtually challenged the General Assembly which continued to offer its podium to political leaders who had come to power by undemocratic means or via military coups.

In 2004, when the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the present African Union (AU), barred coup leaders from participating in African summits, Annan singled it out as a future model to punish military dictators worldwide.

Annan went one step further and said he was hopeful that one day the UN General Assembly, the highest policy making body in the Organization, would follow in the footsteps of the OAU and bar leaders of military governments from addressing the General Assembly.

Annan’s proposal was a historic first. But it never came to pass in an institution where member states, not the Secretary-General, rule the roost.

The outspoken Annan, a national of Ghana, also said that “billions of dollars of public funds continue to be stashed away by some African leaders — even while roads are crumbling, health systems are failing, school children have neither books nor desks nor teachers, and phones do not work.”

He also lashed out at African leaders who overthrow democratic regimes to grab power by military means.

Jayantha Dhanapala, who served under Annan as Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, told IPS that Annan was “my friend and my Secretary-General”.

He was without doubt the “best Secretary-General the UN was privileged to have, after Dag Hammarskjold,” and steered the global body into the 21st century, with a vision and dedication sadly unmatched by the global leaders of the day, said Dhanapala.

“Kofi was dedicated to the cause of disarmament and re-established the Department for Disarmament Affairs in 1998 appointing me as its head, as part of his UN reforms. It was an honour to serve in his Senior Management Team for five eventful years and implement his policies for the reform of the UN.  His legacy will endure and be an inspiration,” he declared.

“I had known Kofi before he became Secretary-General. He remained unassuming, dignified and sincere in his commitment to peace,” said Dhanapala, a former Sri Lankan envoy to the United States.

Asked about Annan’s criticism of the American invasion of Iraq, he said “the USA went after him for saying that, and harassed him”.

Annan’s public declaration of the illegality of the US invasion provoked negative reactions both from the White House and from U.S. politicians.

White House Spokeswoman Claire Buchan said U.S. officials disagreed with Annan. “We previously made clear that coalition forces had authority [to invade Iraq] under several UN resolutions.”

“If Kofi had his way, [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein would still be in power,” said Senator John Cornyn, a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.

Williams told IPS that Annan was a person of integrity, and recognized his own failings, as in the Balkans and Rwanda, and tried to do something about them, commissioning reports that implicated him.

“With his experience in the UN machinery, he could have put the blame elsewhere but he accepted his share and that gave him the standing to represent the UN.”

People sometimes say that he was not outspoken enough, not loud enough, but that was actually a strength. When Annan spoke, said Williams, it was not just a trite soundbite because “he said what had to be said even it was sometimes unpopular.”

When Annan came back from negotiating with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and said it was a testament to the efficacy of diplomacy, not enough people listened to his corollary – when backed with the threat of force.

That posture of dignity, noted Williams, allowed him to steer the landmark Responsibility to Protect (R2P) resolution through the sixtieth anniversary summit and it is still a landmark even if many of those who did not have the political courage to oppose it at the summit have done so much to frustrate it since.

“Annan was no mere bureaucrat and he was not after the big desk and the title. He wanted to contribute to the world and thought the secretary-general’s office was the best place to do so. No one is perfect, high office demands compromises for practical achievements to win allies and majorities.”

But in office, on development goals, poverty, human rights, gender equality and many other issues, he advanced the UN agenda even as he re-wrote it. After office, Annan continued to do so, with the Elders and his own Foundation, said Williams.

James Paul, who served as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum and monitored the United Nations for over 19 years, told IPS there are many stories about Kofi that deserve attention.

The most important may be about how he told a reporter that the Iraq War was contrary to the UN Charter, and not long afterwards sent a letter to US President George W Bush calling on the United States not to attack Fallujah.

This was before the 2004 US elections and Bush was livid. Soon thereafter Washington claimed to have uncovered a huge “financial scandal” at the UN.  Kofi was threatened by the US and was nearly forced out of office, said Paul.

He was summoned to a meeting at a private apartment in New York and forced eventually to agree to a wholesale change in his top staff in the fall of 2004 (which was detailed in a New York Times article).

After losing his key lieutenants and being humiliated, his wings were clipped. And throughout his tenure, his policies were never up to his charisma. He cut the budget to please Senator Jesse Helms.

He was the first secretary-general to promote a UN relationship with multinational companies (the Global Compact) and he gave backing to the aggressive US-UK program of “humanitarian intervention,” said Paul, author of “Of Foxes & Chickens: Oligarchy and Global Power in the UN Security Council”

When Annan completed his 10-year tenure as secretary-general, he left behind a mixed political legacy: his acknowledged successes in promoting peace, development, gender empowerment and human rights, and his self-admitted failures in reining in a sprawling U.N. bureaucracy facing charges of mismanagement.

 Annan, who served as the seventh secretary-general, from January 1997 to December 2006, shared the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations.

At his farewell press conference in mid-December, Annan specifically zeroed in on the multi-billion-dollar oil-for-food programme, which he said was “exploited to undermine the organization.”

“But I think when historians look at the records, they will draw the conclusion that yes, there was mismanagement; (and) there may have been several U.N. staff members who were engaged” in unethical behaviour.

“But the scandal, if any, was in the capitals, and with the 2,200 companies that made a deal with (Iraqi President) Saddam (Hussein) behind our backs,” he added.

The “capitals” he blamed were primarily the political capitals of the 15 member states of the Security Council — and specifically the five permanent members, namely the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia (P-5), under whose watchful eyes the notorious oil-for-food kickbacks took place.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

 

 

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Amidst Rising Heat Waves, UN says Cooling is a Human Right, not a Luxuryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/amidst-rising-heat-waves-un-says-cooling-human-right-not-luxury/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amidst-rising-heat-waves-un-says-cooling-human-right-not-luxury http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/amidst-rising-heat-waves-un-says-cooling-human-right-not-luxury/#respond Mon, 06 Aug 2018 14:18:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157076 The rising heat waves in the world’s middle income and poorer nations are threatening the health and prosperity of about 1.1 billion people, including 470 million in rural areas without access to safe food and medicines, and 630 million in hotter, poor urban slums, with little or no cooling to protect them, according to the […]

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A refrigerator being transported by cart.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 6 2018 (IPS)

The rising heat waves in the world’s middle income and poorer nations are threatening the health and prosperity of about 1.1 billion people, including 470 million in rural areas without access to safe food and medicines, and 630 million in hotter, poor urban slums, with little or no cooling to protect them, according to the latest figures released by the United Nations.

At least nine countries, with large populations, face “significant cooling risks”, including India, Bangladesh, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, China, Mozambique and Sudan.

Rachel Kyte*, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Special Representative to the United Nations Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), says that in a world facing continuously rising temperatures, access to cooling is not a luxury.

“It’s essential for everyday life. It guarantees safe cold supply chains for fresh produce, safe storage of life-saving vaccines, and safe work and housing conditions.”

But rising temperatures – made worse by global warming – is not confined only middle income and poorer nations.

In a July 30 piece in the US weekly Time magazine, Justin Worland points out that extreme heat recently melted roads in the UK; hit a record-shattering 120 degrees Fahrenheit in Chino, California; and led more than 70 deaths in Quebec, Canada.

“These cases illustrate a vexing paradox for scientists and policy makers: air conditioning keeps people cool and save lives but is also one of the biggest contributors to global warming.”

Erik Solheim of Norway, executive director the Nairobi-based UN Environment (UNE), is quoted as saying that air-conditioning has been “an enormous, enormous drain on electricity.”

“Cooling is probably the biggest energy consumer, and people tend not to think of it,” said Solheim, a former Chair of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Meanwhile, at one time, there were reports that when middle class families, with rising incomes in India, were able to access TV, air conditioners and refrigerators, there were environmental groups that were critical of this because it would add to global warming.

But the middle class argued this was never an issue when the rich and privileged luxuriated with air conditioners and refrigerators as part of essential living.

Asked for a response, Kyte told IPS: “Sustainable Energy for All believes this is a fundamental issue of equity, as we need to ensure ALL have access to effective solutions. At the same time, we must recognize the needs of our planet and the future of our children.”

She said it has been estimated that cooling is now responsible for 10% of warming and growing rapidly. “So, we need to provide cooling solutions that are clean and sustainable over the long-term.”

She said a new report titled “Chilling Prospects: Providing Sustainable Cooling for All” – released last month– recommends all stakeholders accelerate their innovation efforts and think more holistically about the way we provide cooling, focusing firstly on reducing heat loads and then thinking about how to deliver remaining cooling as affordably and sustainably as possible.

“We’re calling on business and other private sector entities to provide those solutions. These groups have to come together as a matter of priority to provide low Global Warming Potential (GWP) technology and business models that are affordable and sustainable, and that address the needs of the poor and vulnerable populations most at risk, so no one has to make a choice between cooling and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Climate objectives.”

Asked if air conditioning and global warming are some of the lingering issues of the UN’s global campaign for ”sustainable energy for all”, Kyte told IPS that achieving both equity and sustainability is one of the reasons this new Chilling Prospects report is so timely and important.

“Cooling is not a luxury. It’s a human right and a fundamental issue of equity that underpins the ability of millions to escape poverty and realize the SDG’s’, she noted.

She said the “findings of the report are a wake-up call for us all, and a call-to-action for government policymakers and industry to think and act more systematically about pathways to provide sustainable cooling that will benefit these communities, economies and current and future generations. “

Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: What is the practical answer to the lack of access to cooling in some of the world’s poorest nations where refrigeration and air conditioning are still luxuries?

KYTE: It’s a great question, because practical and sustainable solutions are absolutely crucial to closing gaps in access to cooling, in all countries, but particularly in the developing world.

This new Chilling Prospects: Providing Cooling for All report tackles the challenge from several angles, including through some very practically-focused recommendations.

For example, the report recommends solutions that address consumer finance, which is a critical requirement for selling sustainable cooling solutions to the rural poor; government financing – governments can make direct investment with public bulk procurements to lower cost and improve efficiency; enterprise financing such as fundraising in the off-grid sector and financing for mini-grids; and then there’s donor funding for concessional financing.

Given that products and markets for access to cooling are still poorly defined, grant and highly concessional financing is really important because it can support R&D on innovative technologies, capital for small businesses offering cooling services and financing for low-income consumers.

It’s important to note that while there are major threats to life, health, economies and the climate, there are also huge opportunities in closing cooling access gaps: reducing the number of lost work hours, improving the productivity of the workforce, avoiding costs of healthcare for people with food poisoning or who are suffering because their vaccines weren’t stored properly, increasing the incomes of farmers, and increasing the number of jobs available to service a new cool economy.

IPS: Is there a role for governments to make these affordable to the poor? if so, how?

KYTE: The Chilling Prospects report calls on all stakeholders to embrace a paradigm shift – thinking more holistically about the way we provide cooling – and that definitely includes governments.

On a practical level, the report includes a recommendation that government policymakers should immediately measure gaps in access to cooling in their own countries, as an evidence base for more proactive and integrated policy-making.

More broadly, government policy-makers need to think and act more systematically about pathways to provide sustainable cooling that will benefit communities, economies and current and future generations.

One example noted in the report, is a 2017 program in India administered by EESL, which was a joint venture by the Indian Ministry of Power and Public Service Undertakings (PSUs). They used $68 million in public resources for a competitive procurement of 100,000 room air conditioners at efficiencies better than had generally been available in the market.

More concerted efforts like these, between governments (national and local) and industry are needed to develop and provide cooling solutions that are affordable and sustainable for all.

IPS: In the US, there are public cooling centres for senior citizens when temperatures reach beyond 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit? Are there any such facilities for the poor in any of the developing nations? Or should they?

KYTE: Ahmedabad in India is a very pertinent example cited in the Chilling Prospects report. It was the first city in South-Asia to formulate a Heat Action Plan after a devastating heat wave hit the city in 2010. Local authorities mapped areas with populations at high risk of heat stress—including slums—and developed an easy-to-understand, early-warning system, as well as a strategy for mobilizing the city in advance of impending heat waves. Their plan uses a well-publicized color-coding system to warn citizens at risk of extreme heat to go to emergency cooling centers.

Chilling Prospects – global map of countries at risk_graphic

The program has proven its worth. Heat-related casualties in Ahmedabad remained low during a major 2015 heat wave, while thousands tragically died elsewhere across India. Last year, 17 cities and 11 states across India had released or were developing heat action plans.

There are also other simple and cost-effective solutions like white-washing rooves or using solar power to drive fans and create a more comfortable and safe living environment for people living in densely packed slums. We need to scale-up today’s most efficient technologies, power them with renewables, and make them affordable for those that need it most. Governments will play essential roles to address cooling access gaps holistically.

*Rachel Kyte served until December 2015 as World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change, leading the Bank Group’s efforts to campaign for an ambitious agreement at the 21st Convention of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP 21). She was previously World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development and was the International Finance Corporation Vice President for Business Advisory Services.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Global Compact & the Art of Cherry-Picking Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/global-compact-art-cherry-picking-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-compact-art-cherry-picking-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/global-compact-art-cherry-picking-refugees/#respond Mon, 30 Jul 2018 13:41:46 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156949 When Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was asked about the legality of the UN’s much-ballyhooed Global Compact for Migration, he was initially evasive in his response. “I’m not a lawyer”, he told reporters July 12, “and I presume that this question might be better asked from a lawyer”. Still, he pointed out that “if I remember well […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2018 (IPS)

When Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was asked about the legality of the UN’s much-ballyhooed Global Compact for Migration, he was initially evasive in his response.

“I’m not a lawyer”, he told reporters July 12, “and I presume that this question might be better asked from a lawyer”.

Burundian refugees arriving from a transition camp in Nyanza are processed at Mahama camp in Rwanda’s Eastern Province. Credit: UNHCR / Anthony Karumba

Still, he pointed out that “if I remember well in my past capacity (as UN High Commissioner for Refugees), I don’t think this can be considered as customary law in the sense, like, for instance, the 1951 Convention (on Refugees), even for countries that have not signed it, is valid as customary international law.”

In the case of something that is not legally binding, (which the Global Compact is), he said: “I don’t think it can be considered directly as customary international law”.

Guterres chief Spokesman Stephen Dujarric added a note of levity when he intervened: “We’ll get a lawyer”. [Laughter]

But the growing humanitarian crises, which triggered the Global Compact for Migration, is no laughing matter.

The lingering question, however, remains: If countries such as the US, Australia, Hungary and the Gulf nations, who have signed and ratified the 1951 Convention, continue to restrict or bar political refugees, what good is the Global Compact, whose implementation is only voluntary?

At the same time there are growing political movements in countries such as UK, Italy and Germany challenging the entry of political refugees and migrants in violation of the Convention.

Asked about the shortcomings of the Compact, Charlotte Phillips, Advisor/Advocate, Refugee and Migrants’ Rights team at the London-based Amnesty International (AI) , told IPS: “As you rightly point out, the Compact is non-binding, which means there is no legal obligation for states to put the Compact into action.:

She said this is one of the key problems with the Compact. It effectively means that states can cherry pick which aspects of the Compact they want to implement.

This reflects and entrenches the current status quo whereby wealthier states can pick and choose what, if any, measures they take to share responsibility, leaving major hosting nations in developing regions to shoulder the lion’s share of refugees, she pointed out.

“Having said that, the Compact is supposed to express a consensus commitment and member states have spent months negotiating the details of the Compact, showing that states do take its content seriously.

“The real question now is whether the political will needed from governments to implement the Compact is there?,” she said.

It is also worth noting, she pointed out, that many of the states negotiating the Compact have already ratified the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which is legally binding and these obligations are still relevant and the Convention is referenced in the Compact’s guiding principles.

“Despite this, whilst negotiations have been in full swing, we have seen the rights of refugees violated by governments. For example, we have seen European governments attacking NGOs’ capacity to rescue refugees stranded at sea and adopting policies of deterrence and border control that expose refugees to abuses”.

“We have seen Australia continue to justify its cruel and torturous detention practises on Manus Island and Nauru. For the Compact to be worth the paper it is written on, we need to see the principles laid out in the Compact translated into real action to protect refugees,” she declared.

Joseph Chamie, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and an independent consulting demographer, told IPS: “The Global Migration Compact is a step in the right direction, but it will not resolve major problems, including the refugee crisis.”

Why?
Fundamentally, he argued, the Compact is non-binding and voluntary and while various factors are at play, four key elements are human rights asymmetry, global demographics, limited migration options and growing opposition.

Firstly, Human rights asymmetry: you have a right to leave your country, but you don’t have a right to enter another country. (See: “Knock, Knock …. Who’s There? Many Migrants!“).

Secondly, Global demographics: the demand for migrants in receiving countries is far less than the growing pool of potential migrants in the sending countries. (See: “Prepare for the 21st Century Exodus of Migrants“).

Thirdly, Limited migration options: the large majority of people wishing to emigrate basically have no legal means available to them other than illegal migration. (See: “Understanding Unauthorized Migration“).

Fourthly, Growing opposition: countries worldwide increasingly aim to reduce immigration levels and stem record flows of refugees by erecting fences and barriers, strengthening border controls, tightening asylum policies and restricting citizenship. (See: “Mind the Gap: Public and Government Views Diverge on Migration“).

A New York Times report on July 22 said thousands protested in cities across Australia to mark five years of a controversial government policy under which asylum seekers and migrants have been turned away and detained in Pacific Islands such as Papua New Guinea and Nauru for years –triggering criticisms from human rights groups and UN refugee agencies.

The fate of over 1,600 people remains in limbo due to this practice of “off shore processing” of asylum seekers.

The Global Compact for Migration, which is expected to be adopted at an international conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, in December, is unlikely to resolve their key problems.

The United Nations is expecting 192 countries to participate in the Morocco conference, minus the US which pulled out of the negotiations back in December, with the Trump administration hostile towards cross border migrations and with a ban on migrants from six Muslim-majority countries: Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan.

An estimated 258 million people are categorized as international migrants, and since 2000, about 60,000 people have died while crossing the seas or passing through international borders.

The European Union (EU) is taking one of its members, Hungary, to the European Court of Justice because of its anti-immigrant laws in violation of several EU treaties.

Iverna McGowan, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, was critical of Hungary’s decision to prohibit civil society organizations (CSOs) from advocating the cause of migrant and refugees.

“Hungary’s attempts to prohibit the legitimate and vital work of people and civil society organizations working to protect the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers are unacceptable.”

“By challenging a legislative package that flagrantly breached EU human rights law, the European Commission has sent a clear and unambiguous message that Hungary’s xenophobic policies will not be tolerated” she said, pointing out that European leaders who have remained largely silent over the human rights crackdown in Hungary must now follow the Commission’s lead and call for these laws to be shelved.

“With new restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly also on track for adoption by the Hungarian parliament tomorrow, it is more important than ever to challenge the Hungarian government loudly and clearly,” said McGowan.

According to Amnesty International, the new infringement procedure by the European Commission concerns a package of xenophobic measures that came into effect in Hungary on 1 July 2018.

Under these laws people providing assistance to asylum seekers and migrants, including lawyers and international and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), can have their access restricted to asylum-processing areas and may even face criminal proceedings if they facilitate claims that are unsuccessful.

The measures make it impossible for people who passed through another country before arriving in Hungary to claim asylum, said Amnesty in a statement released last week.

The European Commission found these measures to be in violation of the Union’s Asylum Procedures, Reception Conditions and Qualifications Directives and of the right to asylum. It also pointed out inconsistencies with the EU’s provisions on the free movement of Union citizens and their family members.

Hungary’s policies and practices on refugees, asylum seekers and migrants cause unnecessary human suffering, while the government has increasingly sought to silence critical voices, Amnesty warned.

Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, said the Global Compact is the biggest step the world has taken to cooperatively face the defining policy challenge of our time: how to better regulate international migration in this century.

The Compact offers a clear mandate and roadmap for countries to work together to get more of what they want from migration and less of what they do not want, he noted.

Unfortunately, he warned, there is currently a political movement ascendant in the U.S., UK, Italy, and elsewhere promising to address the many problems of migration by restricting or eliminating it altogether.

This new Compact is the defining alternative to that movement. It is a treasure chest of the best ideas on how to address the many challenges of migration with hard work and a pragmatic cooperative approach, he said.

“While the Compact is now final, the real work is just beginning. As countries prepare to adopt the Global Compact for Migration in December, discussions will revolve around how to operationalize and implement the commitments agreed to in this document”.

One innovation endorsed by the Compact, he said, is the idea to create Global Skill Partnerships. Other innovations should also be piloted and tested out, as countries and their partners work to identify sustainable solutions to today’s migration challenges and opportunities.

“The road ahead will be difficult and many of the challenges and points of contention that arose during the Compact’s negotiations will not disappear with its adoption”.

Rather, countries will need to tackle these challenges head-on as they work toward pragmatic, evidence-based, and coordinated migration policies and practices that fulfill the objectives and commitments of the Compact, he declared.

Chamie told IPS while the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol are legally-binding, implementation remains problematic, even when countries are in violation.

The trend is clear: governments are increasingly resisting taking in refugees and those who seek asylum. Why?

Global demographics play a central role because of the sheer record-breaking levels of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons.

Claiming refugee status: further complicating the refugee situation is as many unauthorized migrants seek to improve their lives and those of their children. (See: “The Dilemma of Desperation Migration“).

Implicit message: the de facto message and understanding of men, women and children including smugglers as well as the implicit principle guiding many governments of receiving countries is: If you can get in and keep a low profile, you can stay. (See “Illegal Immigration Illogic“).

Ineffective policies: due to the complexity of the issue, limited resources, human rights concerns and heated public sentiments, government policies have been ineffective in coping with surges of unwanted migration.

In the end, although invariably contentious, deferred action, amnesty and regularization are frequently used to address large numbers of unauthorized migrants. (See: “Unwanted Migration: How Governments Cope?“).

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Migration/Pages/GlobalCompactforMigration.aspx

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Palestine to Lead UN’s Largest Group of Developing Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/palestine-lead-uns-largest-group-developing-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestine-lead-uns-largest-group-developing-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/palestine-lead-uns-largest-group-developing-nations/#comments Tue, 24 Jul 2018 07:30:51 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156836 The Group of 77 (G77) — the largest single coalition of developing countries at the United Nations– is to be chaired by Palestine, come January. “It’s a historical first, both for Palestine and the G77,” an Asian diplomat told IPS, pointing out that Palestine will be politically empowered to collectively represent 134 UN member states, […]

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Credit: Institute for Palestine Studies

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 24 2018 (IPS)

The Group of 77 (G77) — the largest single coalition of developing countries at the United Nations– is to be chaired by Palestine, come January.

“It’s a historical first, both for Palestine and the G77,” an Asian diplomat told IPS, pointing out that Palestine will be politically empowered to collectively represent 134 UN member states, including China.

Created in June 1964, the 54-year-old Group comprises over 80 per cent of the world’s population and approximately two-thirds of the United Nations membership

Traditionally, the G77 speaks with a single voice before the 193-member General Assembly, the highest policy making body at the UN, and also at all UN committee meetings and at international conferences.

Under a system of geographical rotation, it was Asia’s turn to name a chairman for 2019. The Asian Group has unanimously endorsed Palestine, which will be formally elected chair at the annual G77 ministerial meeting, scheduled to take place in mid-September.

Palestine will take over from the current chair, Egypt, which is representing the African Group of countries.

The chairmanship is a tremendous political boost for Palestine at a time when it is being increasingly blacklisted by the Trump administration which is kowtowing to the Israelis.

Although it is not a full-fledged UN member state, Palestine is recognized by 136 UN members, and since 2012, has the status of a “non-member observer state” –as is the Holy See (the Vatican).

Nadia Hijab, President, Al-Shabaka Board of Directors, told IPS: “At a time when Israel is moving on all fronts to wipe Palestine definitively off the map through relentless colonization – and to muscle in on UN committees despite its flagrant violations of international law — it is a source of solace to see Palestine slated for a very visible role at the UN.”

However, comforting as this may be, she pointed out, it will take a lot more than this to make “Palestine” a reality on the ground.

Sadly, the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership has been unwilling or unable to end security coordination with Israel and to heal internal divisions. Instead, she said, it is cracking down on peaceful Palestinian protests.

”It is also reshaping the Palestine Liberation Organization, which has always been recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, in a way that excludes alternative and opposing views,” Hijab declared.

Martin Khor, Advisor to the Malaysia-based Third World Network, told IPS: “I think it will be a historic and a significant development-first for the G77 countries to elect Palestine as its chair, and thereby affirm their confidence in its leadership.”

The election will also prove that the State of Palestine itself has decided it can mobilise its human and material resources to take on the complex task of coordinating the largest grouping in the UN system– even though it has to fight its own very challenging battles of survival and independence, said Khor, the former executive director of the Geneva-based South Centre.

“Both Palestine and the G77 deserve the support of people around the world to wish them success in voicing and defending the interests of developing countries in these very difficult times when international cooperation and multilateralism are coming under attack,” he said.

Last week, the Trump administration refused to grant visas to a six-member Palestinian delegation that was expected to participate at the UN’s High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development which took place July 16-18.

This was clearly in violation of the 1947 US-UN Headquarters Agreement which calls on the US, among other obligations, to facilitate delegates participating at UN meetings.

Asked about the visa refusal, UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters last week: “Well, certainly, we’re aware of this latest incident, but as far as I’m aware, there is a Host Country Committee that deals with disputes involving access to the United Nations and any problems dealing with the host country on that.”

”As of now, the Host Country Committee has not been approached or formally informed of this, so they haven’t acted on this. But it’s normally their role to deal with this situation. Of course, we would hope that all of those who are here to attend UN meetings would have the ability to do so,” he added.

Samir Sanbar, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General who headed the Department of Public Information (DPI), told IPS chairing the G-77 will be an unprecedented role for Palestine. He said leading that large, varied yet collaborative group will require tactful handling by all sides at a time when the rightful Palestinian cause needs every support as the region—and a fragmented conflicted, almost leaderless world— is facing serious challenges.

“It is hoped that Ambassador Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine and an experienced diplomat with proven U.N. record, will be given the opportunity and required leeway to operate in an inclusive, patient and fruitful manner to enhance the role of the G 77 while advancing the status of the Palestine, said Sanbar, who served under five different UN secretaries-general.

At the UN, the Trump administration has been increasingly undermining the Palestinian cause – a cause long supported by an overwhelming majority of member states in the world body.

In May, the US relocated its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem even though the UN has deemed it “occupied” declaring that the status of East Jerusalem should be subject to negotiations and that East Jerusalem will be the future capital of the State of Palestine.

Last month, the Trump administration also reduced its funding—from an estimated $360 million in 2017 to $60 million this year — to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), created in 1949 to provide assistance to over 5.5 million refugees resulting from the creation of Israel in 1948.

Last year when Secretary-General Antonio Guterres proposed the appointment of former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as UN’s Special Representative in Libya, 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, 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.

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

A former chair of the G77 chapter in Vienna told IPS although the Palestinian issue is fundamentally a political one, centred as well on the legitimacy and legality of Israeli occupation, it no longer remains in the political-legal realms exclusively.

He said there are a large number of issues of economic, social and cultural and environmental nature, including health, education, food, water, etc, which arises both directly from conditions of occupation, as well as laterally from other conditions such as denial of humanitarian access, and, very recently, the declaration of “Israel as a Jewish state”.

It is logical that advancing a struggle on these issues call for a broad forum of solidarity, and the G 77 fits the bill, he noted.

In an oped piece marking the 50th anniversary of the G77, Mourad Ahmia, the G77 Executive Secretary said: “When it was established on Jun. 15, 1964, the signing nations of the well-known “Joint Declaration of Seventy-Seven Countries” formed the largest intergovernmental organisation of developing countries in the United Nations to articulate and promote their collective interests and common development agenda.

Since the First Ministerial meeting of the G-77 held in Algeria in October 1967, and the adoption of the “Charter of Algiers”, the Group of 77 laid down the institutional mechanisms and structures that have contributed to shaping the international development agenda and changing the landscape of the global South for the past five decades, he pointed out.

“Over the years, the Group has gained an increasing role in the determination and conduct of international relations through global negotiations on major North-South and development issues.”

The Group has a presence worldwide at U.N. centres in New York, Geneva, Nairobi, Paris, Rome, Vienna, and Washington D.C., and is actively involved in ongoing negotiations on a wide range of global issues including climate change, poverty eradication, migration, trade, and the law of the sea.

“Today, the G-77 remains the only viable and operational mechanism in multilateral economic diplomacy within the U.N system. The growing membership is proof of its enduring strength,” he declared.

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A UN Parliament Gains Support in an Age of Divisive Political Leadershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/un-parliament-gains-support-age-divisive-political-leaders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-parliament-gains-support-age-divisive-political-leaders http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/un-parliament-gains-support-age-divisive-political-leaders/#respond Thu, 12 Jul 2018 14:20:53 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156670 A long standing proposal for the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) is slowly gathering momentum. The 751-member European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg has called on the European Union (EU) to extend its support for the establishment of the proposed new body — specifically with a resolution before the upcoming 73rd session of the […]

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

A long standing proposal for the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) is slowly gathering momentum.

The 751-member European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg has called on the European Union (EU) to extend its support for the establishment of the proposed new body — specifically with a resolution before the upcoming 73rd session of the 193-member UN General Assembly (UNGA), which begins in mid-September.

The UN General Assembly. Credit: UN photo

The EP has also called for an equally ambitious “UN Reform Summit” in 2020 — a meeting of world leaders–to boost another long-pending proposal for the restructuring of the United Nations, including significant changes in the composition and functioning of the 15-member UN Security Council (UNSC).

The proposed reform of the UNSC has been under negotiations for over 20 years now — with no tangible success.

A resolution adopted in Strasbourg last week states that a “United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) within the United Nations system” should serve “to increase the democratic character, the democratic accountability and the transparency of global governance and to allow for better citizen participation in the activities of the UN.”

Andreas Bummel, executive director of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Democracy without Borders, welcomed the resolution of the EU Parliament as an “important initiative”.

“Multilateralism and democracy are under attack worldwide. A democratization and strengthening of the UN must be part of the countermeasures,” he said.

Asked if the proposed parliament will conflict with the UNGA, he told IPS: “No. The UNPA is conceived of as an additional and complementary body. In fact, we propose that it should be set up by the UNGA as part of the UNGA’s revitalization according to Article 22 of the UN Charter.”

Bummel also said the international campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly, which is being coordinated by his NGO, is supported by over 1,500 members of parliament from more than 100 countries as well as numerous scientists, former UN officials and personalities.

Explaining further, he said: “Please note that the European Parliament’s support is not the same as such of the EU” (which comprises 28 member states representing over 510 million people in Europe).

The European Parliament calls on the EU’s governments to support. In previous years, he said, Malta and Italy showed an interest and more recently Ireland.

Outside Europe, the Pan-African Parliament and the Latin-American Parliament have endorsed the proposal, Bummel added.

The proposal is also being backed by several international NGOs.

Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programme Officer at the Johannesburg-based CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organizations, told IPS: “We support the call for a UN Parliamentary Assembly. We had argued in our 2014 State of Civil Society Report on ‘reimagining global governance’ that there’s a currently a double democratic deficit that manifests itself at the international level”.

In many parts of the world, he warned, “inclusive democracy is being subverted at the national level by authoritarian regimes and divisive political leaders”.

He pointed out that these very entities then get to make decisions on behalf of their people at the UN where already people’s access and ability to input in decision making is limited.

In any case, a UN Parliamentary Assembly will be an opportunity for people to directly interface with international decision making which increasingly impacts their lives at the local level, he added.

Jens Martens, executive director of the Global Policy Forum based in Bonn/New York, told IPS that in times of rising nationalism and authoritarianism, all efforts to strengthen the UN and democratic multilateralism are highly welcome.

The proposed UN Parliamentary Assembly can be an important element within a UN reform package if it complements the necessary strengthening of civil society participation in the UN.

However, he noted, this kind of governance reforms remain symbolic window dressing as long as the UN does not receive the necessary financial resources to fulfil its mandate and is strengthened in key areas of global policy, including tax cooperation and the regulation of transnational corporations.

Martens said Global Policy Forum supports the call for a “2020 UN Reform Summit”. The 75th anniversary of the UN provides a new opportunity for strengthening and renewal of the institutional framework for sustainable development in the UN.

Meanwhile, a recently-published book by Jo Leinen MEP and Bummel titled “A World Parliament: Governance and Democracy in the 21st Century” features the history, relevance and implementation of the world parliament proposal arguing that a UNPA would be the first step.

The European Parliament and its members have been vocal about their strong support for the proposal.

Jo Leinen MEP (Germany), was quoted as saying, : “The UN urgently needs more openness and a stronger democratic foundation. The European Parliament therefore calls for the establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly within the United Nations system. The European Union and its Member States should now play an active role in the implementation of this innovation.”

According to Eugen Freund MEP (Austria): “The reform of the United Nations has accompanied me for much of my life. I first encountered it when I was at the UN in New York in 1978, forty years ago. Unfortunately, not much has changed since. The General assembly has more members now, but it is still a body of unelected diplomats.”

Therefore, he argued, the idea of eventually complementing them with elected parliamentarians is a very appealing one.

“They would certainly be closer to the populace and thus would have to regularly answer their constituency. Whether that would also streamline the decision making processes remains to be seen.”

Daniel Jositsch MP (Switzerland) said: “The escalating crisis in international cooperation shows that new ways must be found to combat global problems. It is therefore very positive that the European Parliament is calling on the European states to speak out in favour of the creation of a UN Parliament. It is important that they will not simply pay lip service to this goal, but that concrete implementation measures are being taken.”

There has also been support from outside Europe.

Ivone Soares MP (Mozambique and member of the Pan-African Parliament) said: “With resolutions passed by the European Parliament, the Pan-African Parliament and the Latin-American Parliament, the time has come for progressive governments in these three major world regions to consider the creation of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.”

And, according to Fernando Iglesias MP (Argentina), “From the many initiatives in favor of a more peaceful, fair and democratic world the creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly is the decisive one. The recent support given by the European Parliament to this proposal shows that the members of the most important supranational parliamentary body are ready to work for its creation.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Global Campaign Against Mercury Moves to an End Zonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/global-campaign-mercury-moves-end-zone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-campaign-mercury-moves-end-zone http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/global-campaign-mercury-moves-end-zone/#respond Mon, 25 Jun 2018 06:20:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156385 A global campaign to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard– the use of mercury in dentistry—is steadily moving to a successful conclusion. Providing an update, Charlie Brown, head of the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, one of the key campaigners, told IPS that “nation by nation, the world is on the threshold of ending […]

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“Governments and NGOs from 21 nations, plus dentists, manufacturers, and UN Environment, gather in Bangkok”. Credit: Environment & Social Development Organization, Dhaka

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 25 2018 (IPS)

A global campaign to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard– the use of mercury in dentistry—is steadily moving to a successful conclusion.

Providing an update, Charlie Brown, head of the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, one of the key campaigners, told IPS that “nation by nation, the world is on the threshold of ending amalgam for children in 2018.”

“Europe takes that exciting step on July 1. Asian nations like Bangladesh and Vietnam are taking the same bold step this year. Several African nations may follow the lead of Mauritius (which ended amalgam for children in 2014). And Latin American nations such as Uruguay are well-prepared to do the same,” said Brown, a former Governor of the US state of Ohio.

One of the highlights of the global campaign was an international workshop last month in the Thai capital of Bangkok.

Brown said “people arrived at the global workshop believing they would make history– and they left having made history.”

The theme of the Minamata Convention, a legally-binding landmark treaty, is “Make mercury … history.” And the theme of the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, declared Brown, is “Make dental amalgam … history.”

Amalgam has been defined as an alloy that consists chiefly of silver mixed with mercury and variable amounts of other metals and used as a dental filling.

Asked to rate the success of the workshop, he said: “The best thing to come out of the workshop is empowerment. Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans know that, like Europeans, they can end amalgam for children now, and end amalgam for everyone on a timetable.”

Western corporate interests, he pointed out, still try to hoodwink governments by peddling separators, to which is there is defiant opposition.

“Money must be wisely spent on bringing in supplies of alternatives, changing dental school curriculum, providing information to parents and consumers, and focusing government programs and insurance on alternatives,” he noted.

Message from Bangkok to the world: Mercury-free dentistry for children, pregnant women, & breastfeeding mothers. Credit: Environment & Social Development Organization, Dhaka

The Bangkok workshop was co-sponsored by the Nairobi-based UN Environment (UNE) and the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry. And the focus was on amalgam reduction especially to protect “women, children, and through them, future generations” – language from the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

The Minamata Convention, described as the first new environmental agreement in over a decade – entered into force on August 16, 2017.

The primary aim of the Convention is “to protect human health and the environment” from mercury releases, according to the United Nations.

So far, the international treaty has been signed by 128 of the 193 UN member states and ratified by 92 countries, described as “state parties”, which are now legally obliged to comply with its provisions.

The Minamata Convention joins three other UN conventions seeking to reduce impacts from chemicals and waste – the Basel Convention (1992), Rotterdam Convention (2004) and Stockholm Convention (2004).

Dr. Shahriar Hossain of the Asian Center for Environmental Health told IPS that from every continent, there is intense interest in greatly reducing dental amalgam use.

“A complete phase-out of amalgam for children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers was deemed realistic or feasible by representatives from both developing and developed nations alike.”

Dr Hossain said civil society increasingly speaks with one voice in favor of mercury-free dentistry, especially for children.

The Abuja Declaration for Mercury-Free Dentistry for Africa (2014) was followed by similar declarations for other continents: the Dhaka Declaration for Asia (2015), the Berlin Declaration for Europe (2017) and the Chicago Declaration for America (2018).

Dominique Bally of the African Center for Environmental Health, told IPS “those who suggest Africa is not ready for mercury-free dentistry have a fake view of our continent. They do not know Africa, nor do they understand our people’s hopes for the same pollution-free environment to which they aspire for their communities.”

Africans, he said, will continue their intense and united opposition to “Western policies that keep Africa polluted and make our children poisoned by chemicals like mercury. I have been to fully half of the nations on the great continent to work for mercury-free dentistry.”

Assuredly, African governments, African dentists, and African parents want amalgam ended now for both for today’s children and for future children via toxic-free young women, he noted.

Bally said children of the African region deserve mercury-free dentistry in their mouths and mercury-free fish in their food equally so to the children of Europe and wherever mercury-free dentistry is implemented.

Dr. Graeme Munro-Hall, chief dental officer, World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, told IPS: “There is no clinical reason to place an amalgam filling in a child – and every reason not to do it. After all, mercury-free fillings have surpassed amalgam in effectiveness and are now comparably priced. I practiced dentistry for 35 years without placing a single amalgam.”

Maria Carcamo, Latin American Center for Environmental Health said the Minamata Convention specifically calls attention to the populations most vulnerable to mercury: children and pregnant women, especially in developing countries. “When we act to end amalgam in these populations, we fulfill the Minamata mission.”

Asked about the next step forward, Brown said that in 2012-13, the African region led the Minamata Convention to a strong anti-amalgam plank. In 2018, Africans are ready to lead the Minamata Convention to the phase out of amalgam on a timetable.

“Africans famously leapfrog to new technologies. Amalgam is a primitive pollutant of the 19th century imported to Africa from the West. But 21st-century dentistry is mercury-free dentistry,” Brown noted.

He said the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry expresses its deep appreciation to the Honorable Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment, for encouraging this workshop and for providing the opening address, and to Nina Cromnier of the Minamata Convention Bureau for helping to guide it.

“We note that Mr. Solheim, as Environmental Minister of Norway a decade back, was the first minister in the world to ban amalgam for a nation,” he declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Is there Gender Parity & Reverse Sexual Harassment at UN?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/gender-parity-reverse-sexual-harassment-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-parity-reverse-sexual-harassment-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/gender-parity-reverse-sexual-harassment-un/#comments Thu, 14 Jun 2018 12:52:25 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156237 Faced with growing allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in the UN system, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last year announced a “zero-tolerance” policy to fight harassment in the world body. But UN Women, which was created in July 2010 and dedicated to gender empowerment, has moved one step further– and appointed an Executive Coordinator and […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 14 2018 (IPS)

Faced with growing allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in the UN system, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last year announced a “zero-tolerance” policy to fight harassment in the world body.

But UN Women, which was created in July 2010 and dedicated to gender empowerment, has moved one step further– and appointed an Executive Coordinator and Spokesperson on Sexual Harassment and Discrimination, perhaps one of the few UN bodies to do so.

Dr. Purna Sen, UN Women

Holding that new position is Dr. Purna Sen, Director of Policy at UN Women, who under the newly-created role, will build on the current momentum “to find lasting solutions to stop, prevent and respond to sexual harassment both, within and outside the UN.”

Asked whether there have been any charges of sexual abuse or sexual harassment at UN Women, she told IPS that in 2015, one case of sexual harassment was reported: the allegations, which involved a contractor for UN Women, were substantiated, and the contract was immediately terminated.

In 2016, she said, two cases of allegations of sexual harassment were reported. None of the allegations were substantiated.

In 2017, there was one case of allegations of sexual misconduct against one UN Women staff member. The case is still under investigation.

As part of her mandate, Dr Sen will be calling upon and supporting states, government administrations and the private sector to ensure actions are taken to respond to women’s experiences of sexual harassment.

She begins her assignment with two calls: firstly, asking women to share their experiences of sexual harassment and assault and secondly, asking for examples of good practices, policies and laws dealing with harassment.

The email address follows: end.sexualharassment@unwomen.org

Announcing Dr Sen’s appointment, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director PhumzileMlambo-Ngcuka said: “UN Women was established to protect and promote women’s rights. We have a unique role to play in driving action towards accountability.”

“This means zero tolerance for violence and harassment, and actions to ensure that victims are supported. We currently see practices and cultural norms that enable harassment and penalize victims. This has to change.

”In her new role and with her directly relevant background, Purna will help address the deep-rooted patterns of inequality and abuse of women”, she declared.

In an interview with IPS, Dr Sen also responded to charges of “reverse sexual harassments” and the status of gender parity in the UN system.

Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: What is your response to charges of sexual harassment in reverse – where some high ranking UN officials point out cases where “women staffers throw themselves on their bosses to advance their careers?.”

Dr Sen: “Let’s decipher that statement: is it claimed that women are offering sex for jobs or promotion? If so, surely there are some clear responses.

Any muddying of professionalism, competency and recruitment with matters of sexual behaviour is inappropriate and not for defending. That holds whether it is powerful, high ranking officials (mostly men) or junior staff (more likely to be women, young people, national staff etc). Sexual activities in exchange for career advancement is of course unacceptable.

This possibility or practice must not be treated either as a distraction from the seriousness or ubiquity of gendered, structured sex discrimination that is manifest in sexual harassment, abuse and assault or riposte to accusations.

Those men in high ranking positions making these allegations have no doubt had the opportunity to use their positions to raise this issue over their careers. Has this been done? Or are these issues being raised now when women are calling for accountability for those who abuse?

Treating sexual harassment as isolated incidents, or as incomprehensible acts of individuals (as the formulation in the question suggests) is problematic. It leads to obfuscation or denial of the structural and systemic basis of sexual harassment and assault: these are expressions of patterns of unequal power structures where powerful men (predominantly) hold authority and control over junior staff (more likely to be women, local staff.) such that they can influence their careers or experiences at work.

Denial, distraction and excusing of sexual harassment and assault illustrate cultures where the seriousness and harm of harassment is not recognised or prioritized”.

IPS: A General Assembly resolution going back to the 1970s — and reaffirmed later– called for 50:50 gender parity amongst UN staffers, particularly in decision-making posts. How is UN women conforming to this resolution? What is the breakdown of your staff in numbers between men and women?

Dr Sen: UN Women is supporting the SG’s gender parity efforts through its unique mandate to lead and coordinate the UN system’s work on gender equality, as well as promote accountability, including through regular monitoring of system-wide progress.

UN Women is also a source of substantive guidance on gender parity and related issues for the UN system, and serves as a repository for best practices, provides guidance and tools, and analyses overall UN system trends to identify obstacles to and key drivers of change in advancing towards equal representation.

Additionally, UN Women supports interagency knowledge-sharing and collaboration, as well as capacity building of gender expertise, through system-wide gender networks, including the Gender Focal Points, IANWGE and the UN-SWAP network

Another important step UN Women is taking is the upcoming development of the Guidelines on Enabling Environment, containing system-wide recommendations and practical measures aimed at creating a work environment that is free from discrimination, harassment and abuse of authority, as well as supports women in their careers through family-friendly policies, work-life balance and professional development programmes.

As of today our overall workforce breakdown is 71% female; 29% male.

IPS: What is your response to the argument that jobs in the UN system should go to the most qualified and the most competent – rather than based on gender equality?

Dr Sen: “The problem with this question is that it assumes a contradiction between being ‘the most qualified and the most competent’ on the one hand, and the pursuit of gender equality, on the other. That is a false premise. It assumes that the goal of gender equality jettisons competency and good qualification.

What lies behind this assumption is the belief that women (for it is in general the appointment of greater numbers of women that makes up actions towards gender equality in staffing or representatives’ profiles) cannot be the best qualified or the most competent.

Therein lies a fully gendered belief in the essential incompetence of women and, in contrast, the innate competence of men. I reject that assumption and there are many examples that support such rejection.

In a nutshell, women can be and are both competent and qualified, including the most competent and qualified, in any sector. More pertinent is the question why is it that competent and qualified women are not being appointed?

The same gendered assumption that pre-supposes that women can be neither, is what stops their true talents, skills and competencies being recognized and rewarded. Cultures of gender inequality are insidious and have long passed their expiry date.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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UN Exemptions Make Mockery of Sexual Abuse in World Bodyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/un-exemptions-make-mockery-sexual-abuse-world-body/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-exemptions-make-mockery-sexual-abuse-world-body http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/un-exemptions-make-mockery-sexual-abuse-world-body/#respond Thu, 07 Jun 2018 14:41:44 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156105 When allegations of sexual harassment were made against a senior UN official—holding the rank of Under-Secretary-General at the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC)– the United Nations admitted that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has no jurisdiction over a UN body created by the General Assembly and answerable only to member states. http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/sexual-abuse-un-chief-no-jurisdiction-act/ But this glaring exemption to […]

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The UN General Assembly, the ultimate authority to ban exemptions on sexual abuse in the UN system. Credit: UN photo/Manuel Elias

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 7 2018 (IPS)

When allegations of sexual harassment were made against a senior UN official—holding the rank of Under-Secretary-General at the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC)– the United Nations admitted that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has no jurisdiction over a UN body created by the General Assembly and answerable only to member states. http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/sexual-abuse-un-chief-no-jurisdiction-act/

But this glaring exemption to the UN’s much-ballyhooed “zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse” (SEA) also applies to several other UN bodies created by the General Assembly, including, most importantly, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) and the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) — making a mockery of the ongoing fight against harassment in the world body.

And these exemptions may also cover some of the UN “Commissions, Boards, Committees, Councils and Panels” – all of which are considered subsidiary bodies of the General Assembly.

“I find it absolutely appalling that three of the UN entities entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring effective functioning of the UN system are themselves flouting some basic UN norms, taking advantage of legal lacuna without any supervision of the Secretary-General,” Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary-General, UN High Representative and Chairman of the General Assembly’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee (commonly referred to as the Fifth Committee) (1997-1998), told IPS.

He said it is “extremely urgent” that this situation be addressed without any more delay by the 193-member UN General Assembly (UNGA).

“By feeling helpless about such abuse and misuse in view of its past resolutions, the Assembly is shunning its responsibility as the world’s highest intergovernmental decision-making body,” Chowdhury said.

Asked for her comments on the ICSC exemption from the UN’s zero tolerance policy, Dr Purna Sen, Director of Policy at UN Women, Executive Coordinator and newly-appointed Spokesperson on Sexual Harassment and Discrimination, told IPS that zero tolerance is not an optional extra that (some) employers can apply or not.

“It must have universal reach so that all staff can enjoy safety and respect”.

First of all, she pointed out, sexual abuse, harassment, exploitation and assault are all aspects of sexual violence. There are laws against violence and all states have committed to ending violence by 2030 (Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals 5.2).

“The obligation for ending violence rests with states but all actors, the private sector, universities etc all have a role to play in making this happen. ICSC cannot be exempt from this work: independence cannot confer impunity,” Dr Sen said.

Secondly, the notion there can be places where accountability cannot reach is not tenable.

“With great respect for women who have shouted and hollered until they have been heard, I wish to note the international clamour from women who have put abusers on notice,” she noted.

The MeToo, BalanceTonPorc and other such women-led imperatives for change have at last got attention. Accountability has to be made real – at the ICSC, as well as elsewhere, Dr Sen said.

Finally, it seems that any exemption from the UN’ policies is something that exists due to a General Assembly resolution.

“It is surely within the authority and competence of the GA then to review and change that situation.”

The need for independence cannot trump the need for safety and respectful workplaces, where abuse of power and gender inequality are rendered obsolete, she declared.

“Surely our collective efforts are not incapable of finding arrangements for their co-existence such that staff and the public have confidence in the whole UN system.”

Seeking an intervention by the Secretary-General and the GA President, Chowdhury told IPS: “I believe very strongly that the President of the Assembly, with his trusted leadership, needs to take the initiative on a priority basis, in consultation with the Secretary-General, to table a UNGA resolution to overcome this lack of jurisdiction and control which results in such abuse without any higher supervisory control”.

He said “past decisions should not be an excuse to overlook such aberrations which the IPS article has very rightly highlighted. Independence of a UN entity should not give it immunity to disregard norms which are core values of the UN.”

Asked to weigh in with his comments, Ian Richards, President of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations of the UN System (CCISUA), told IPS: “We expect all parts of the UN system to have policies and structures in place to prevent sexual harassment, in line with Secretary-General Guterres’s promise of zero tolerance.”

“This allows our member unions to help victims assert their individual rights to a harassment-free workplace and get justice when their rights are infringed,” he added.

However, he pointed out, “we are currently unable to assist staff who work for bodies such as the ICSC, ACABQ and JIU, to benefit from these rights. This despite their staff also having UN contracts and being appointed by the Secretary-General.”

He said the ICSC will itself touch on this issue when it discusses workforce diversity at its 87th session this July in Bonn.

“We hope it will join us in calling for consistent HR policies and structures throughout, without of course compromising the independence these bodies require to do their job.”

Brenden Varma, Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly (PGA) told IPS: “It’s for Member States to take such an initiative – not the PGA. From the PGA’s side, he continues to stand firmly against all forms of sexual abuse and harassment.”

Meanwhile, providing an update on cases of sexual exploitation and abuse in the UN system, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters May 1 that for the first three months of this year, from 1 January to 31 March 2018, there were 54 allegations for all UN entities and implementing partners.

But not all allegations have been fully verified, and many are in the preliminary assessment phase, he added.

Out of the 54 allegations, he said, 14 are reported from peacekeeping operations and 18 from agencies, funds and programmes. Twenty-one allegations relate to implementing partners and one to a member of a non-UN international force.

Of the 54 allegations, 17 are categorized as sexual abuse, 34 as sexual exploitation, and 3 are of an unknown nature.

The allegations involve 66 victims — including 13 girls (under the age of 18) and 16 victims whose age remains unknown.

With regard to the status of the allegations, he said, 2 have been substantiated by an investigation; 2 were not substantiated; 21 are at various stages of investigation; 27 are under preliminary assessment; and 1 investigation’s result is under review.

With over 95,000 civilians and 90,000 uniformed personnel working for the UN, sexual exploitation and abuse are not reflective of the conduct of the majority of the dedicated women and men who serve the Organization, Dujarric said.

“But every allegation involving our personnel undermines our values and principles and the sacrifice of those who serve with pride and professionalism in some of the most dangerous places in the world. For this reason, combating this scourge, and helping and empowering those who have been scarred by these egregious acts, continue to be key priorities for the Secretary-General in 2018.”

At a meeting with the Secretary-General in London on May 3, the executive heads of UN agencies, who are members of the Chief Executives Board (CEB), reiterated “their firm commitment to uphold a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment; to strengthen victim-centred prevention and response efforts; and to foster a safe and inclusive working environment.”

In addition, they pledged to provide mechanisms such as 24-hour helplines for staff to report harassment and access support; establish a system-wide database to avoid rehire of individuals who have perpetrated sexual harassment.

The CEB also pledged to institute fast track procedures to receive, process and address complaints; recruit specialized investigators, including women; enforce mandatory training; provide guidelines for managers; harmonize policies; and launch staff perception surveys to learn from experiences.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Pompeo in Talks with Blacklisted North Korean Official in New Yorkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/pompeo-talks-blacklisted-north-korean-official-new-york/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pompeo-talks-blacklisted-north-korean-official-new-york http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/pompeo-talks-blacklisted-north-korean-official-new-york/#respond Fri, 01 Jun 2018 09:52:04 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156336 A rare closed-door meeting between the United States and North Korea was described as a major breakthrough—the first time in nearly two decades. The venue for the meeting was, not surprisingly, New York City which hosts the Permanent Mission of North Korea to the United Nations, the only official presence of the heavily-sanctioned Pyongyang regime […]

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By Thalif Deen
NEW YORK, Jun 1 2018 (IPS)

A rare closed-door meeting between the United States and North Korea was described as a major breakthrough—the first time in nearly two decades.

The venue for the meeting was, not surprisingly, New York City which hosts the Permanent Mission of North Korea to the United Nations, the only official presence of the heavily-sanctioned Pyongyang regime in the United States.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with General Kim Yong Chol, the highest ranking North Korean official to visit the US in 18 years, who is also described as the “right-hand man” of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The meeting was in advance of the upcoming summit meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump scheduled to take place in Singapore June 11-12.

Prior to the talks in New York, the Trump administration issued a waiver for General Kim to travel to the US since the Obama administration had blacklisted him back in 2010 for his role as the head of North Korean intelligence agency.

The agency had been castigated for its secretive role in supplying conventional weapons to countries such as Syria in defiance of UN sanctions.

General Kim refused to respond to questions from the press as he left the residence of the deputy permanent representative of the United States to the UN, where he and his delegation were hosted for dinner.

After the bilateral talks, Pompeo told reporters: “I believe they are contemplating a path forward where they can make a strategic shift, one that the country had not been prepared to make before. And they will have to choose”

With Singapore summit still up in the air, a senior State Department official was quoted as saying: “The president can make a fly or no-fly decision any time he wants to.”

 

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The Day the UN Elected a President in a Virtual Lotteryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/day-un-elected-president-virtual-lottery/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=day-un-elected-president-virtual-lottery http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/day-un-elected-president-virtual-lottery/#comments Thu, 31 May 2018 15:40:01 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156003 The battle between two candidates for the presidency of the 193-member General Assembly next week harks back to the day when the president of the highest policy making body at the United Nations was elected on the luck of a draw –following a dead heat. With the Asian group failing to field a single candidate, […]

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The UN General Assembly in session. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 31 2018 (IPS)

The battle between two candidates for the presidency of the 193-member General Assembly next week harks back to the day when the president of the highest policy making body at the United Nations was elected on the luck of a draw –following a dead heat.

With the Asian group failing to field a single candidate, the politically-memorable battle took place ahead of the 36th session of the General Assembly (GA) back in 1981 when three Asian candidates contested the presidency: Ismat Kittani of Iraq, Tommy Koh of Singapore and Kwaja Mohammed Kaiser of Bangladesh (described as the “battle of three Ks”).

On the first ballot, Kittani got 64 votes; Kaiser, 46; and Koh, 40. Still, Kittani was short of a majority — of the total number of members at that time — to be elected to the presidency. On a second ballot, Kittani and Kaiser tied with 73 votes each.

In order to break the tie, the outgoing General Assembly President – Rudiger von Wechmar of Germany– drew lots, as specified in Article 21 relating to the procedures in the election of the president (and as recorded in the Repertory of Practice of the General Assembly).

And the luck of the draw, based purely on chance, favoured Kittani, in that unprecedented General Assembly election.

Come June 5, two candidates will vie for the prestigious post, but it is very unlikely that history will repeat itself.

The two in the running are:Mary Elizabeth Flores Flake, Permanent Representative of Honduras, and María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility of Ecuador—both from the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) group.

On the basis of geographical rotation, the LAC Group claims the upcoming presidency—an elected high ranking UN position which has been overwhelmingly dominated by men.

Since 1945, the Assembly has elected only three women as presidents: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India (1953), Angie Brooks of Liberia (1969) and Sheikha Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa of Bahrain (2006). And that’s three out of 72 Presidents, 69 of whom were men.

Espinosa Garces, a former Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations (2008-2009), was once the trade union leader of the UN Permanent Representatives Association.

The biggest single factor that may go against her is that Ecuador had held the Presidency once before– Leopoldo Benites of Ecuador back in 1973. And to be elected again would go against precedent.

As a longstanding tradition, every one of the 193 member states –- with the exception of the five permanent members of the Security Council, namely Britain, the United States, France, China and Russia –- is expected to take their turn for the presidency.

The only country that has been elected twice is Argentina (Jose Arce at the second Special Session in 1948 and Dante Caputo in 1988).

According to a Middle Eastern diplomat,Flores Flake of Honduras, on the other hand, is unlikely to garner many votes from either the Arab or Muslim member states because Honduras is one of the few countries which has followed in the highly-controversial footsteps of President Donald Trump and decided to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem.

As a result, it could be a close fight for the presidency.

One of the recently contested presidencies was in 2011 when two candidates– Kul Chandra Gautam of Nepal and Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser of Qatar— vied for the post, both representing the Asian Group.

Providing a detailed analysis of the political mechanics behind GA elections, Gautam, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and an ex-deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS last week that the election of the president of the General Assembly (PGA) is normally settled in the regional groups, and goes to the full GA for formal endorsement of the nominee of the region concerned.

If no unanimous choice emerges at the regional level through informal negotiations among multiple candidates, the common practice has been to have one or more “straw polls” at which the candidate with the most votes is “nominated’ as the “unanimous” candidate of the region, he explained.

Usually, he said, there is a “gentleman’s agreement” among members of the regional group to abide by the result of the “informal straw poll” in which the member state whose candidate gets fewer votes “voluntarily” withdraws its candidate to allow the candidate who got more votes to be the “unanimous nominee” of the whole region.

Because of this “gentleman’s understanding” at the regional level to which most member states subscribe “voluntarily” — there has rarely been a contested election in the full GA, said Gautam.

Usually, as a formality, the GA approves the single nominee of the region “unanimously” by acclamation.

“As you mention, in 1981, the Asian Group could not come to a consensus, and hence a real election was conducted in the GA, and when the votes in the GA were evenly divided, it went to the luck of the draw by the then PGA,” he pointed out.

“As I said, this happens very rarely, when some member-states presenting candidates for PGA feel that they may not win the majority in their regional group but feel they can garner more support from other regions in the full GA. As securing “unanimous nomination” from a regional group is not a binding UN rule but depends on the informal “gentlemen’s understanding”, member states contesting for the PGA position do retain the right to ask for voting in the full GA, if they so choose,” he noted.

“I am not sure how it all played in the GRULAC (Latin American and Caribbean) regional group in the current contest for PGA,” said Gautam.

In the case of Nepal and Qatar contesting for PGA, both these member-states — and the Asian Group as a whole — had agreed to the “gentlemen’s agreement” formula to nominate whoever got more votes in the informal “straw poll” in the Asian Group as the region’s “unanimous” candidate.

It was agreed in advance, he said, that the votes cast in the straw poll would be kept secret, known only to three persons — an Ambassador/Permanent Representative (PR) designated by Nepal from among the Asian Group, an Ambassador/PR designated by Qatar, and the President of the Asian Group for that month.

The two ambassadors designated by Nepal and Qatar served as polling officers – who counted the votes and reported the result to the President of the Asian Group.

“I recall the President of the Asian Group advising the assembled PRs and reps of the Asian Group that “the vote was extremely close” but that Qatar had received more votes than Nepal.”

At that point, as agreed in advance, he asked the Nepali Ambassador to speak. The Nepali PR then gracefully withdrew its candidate, allowing the Qatar candidate to be the Asian Group’s “unanimous” candidate referred to the full GA.

“So long as the election/straw poll in the regional group is conducted in a free, fair and impartial manner, I consider that to be an acceptable democratic practice. For member states to take the election to the full GA is actually an even more democratic practice.”

What is sometimes wrong – as in national elections – is if some countries and candidates resort to “cheque-book diplomacy” to secure votes by promises of more aid, trade or other official or personal inducements to secure undue advantage. Unfortunately, it does sometimes happen in the UN and its specialized agencies and is known as an open secret, Gautam said.

“I hope that is not the case in the forthcoming PGA election from the LAC region, as both candidates seem well qualified and neither seeming to have any unfair advantage. May the best candidate win.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Food Waste Enough to Feed World’s Hungry Four Times Overhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/food-waste-enough-feed-worlds-hungry-four-times/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-waste-enough-feed-worlds-hungry-four-times http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/food-waste-enough-feed-worlds-hungry-four-times/#comments Mon, 28 May 2018 17:17:58 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155952 The United Nations is continuing to fight a relentless battle to eradicate extreme hunger – particularly in the world’s poorest nations—by 2030. But it is battling against severe odds: an estimated 800 million people still live in hunger— amidst a warning that the world needs to produce at least 50 percent more food to feed […]

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Food Waste Enough to Feed World’s Hungry Four Times Over

Poland wastes at least 8.9 million tonnes of food every year. Credit: Claudia Ciobanu / IPS

By Thalif Deen
STOCKHOLM, Sweden, May 28 2018 (IPS)

The United Nations is continuing to fight a relentless battle to eradicate extreme hunger – particularly in the world’s poorest nations—by 2030.

But it is battling against severe odds: an estimated 800 million people still live in hunger— amidst a warning that the world needs to produce at least 50 percent more food to feed the growing 9.0 billion people by 2050—20 years beyond the UN’s goal.

Still, the World Bank predicts that climate change could cut crop yields by more than 25 percent undermining the current attempts to fight hunger.

The hunger crisis has been aggravated by widespread military conflicts – even as the Security Council, the most powerful body at the United Nations, was called upon last month to play a greater role in “breaking the link between hunger and conflict.”

Holding out the prospect of wiping out famine “within our lifetime”, Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Security Council that almost two thirds of people living in hunger were in conflict-stricken countries.

He singled out war-devastated Yemen, South Sudan and north-eastern Nigeria, which still faced severe levels of hunger, while the food security situation in Ethiopia, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was “extremely worrying”.

In an interview with IPS, Alessandro Demaio, Chief Executive Officer of the Norway-based EAT, an organization promoting healthy and sustainable food for all, said: “At EAT, our mission is a simple but ambitious one: to transform the global food system and enable us to feed a growing global population with healthy food from a healthy planet – leaving no-one behind.”

“We do this by bringing together leading actors from business, science, policy and civil society to close scientific knowledge gaps, translate research into action, scale up solutions, raise awareness and create engagement,” he noted.

Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: One of the UN’s 17 SDGs (Goal 2, Zero Hunger) aims to eradicate extreme hunger – particularly in the world’s poorest nations– by 2030. Do you thinks this is feasible?

Demaio: Food is, in one way or another, linked to all UNs 17 Sustainable Development Goals. As a doctor, it deeply concerns me that more than 800 million people go hungry and more than two billion are overweight or obese, worldwide. These numbers are accompanied by a ballooning epidemic of diet-related and preventable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers.

We´re not only producing what makes us sick and destroys the planet, we continue to subsidize it with billions of dollars annually. It is the worlds’ poor and the communities who are least responsible for creating them who are disproportionately affected by these trends.
While working in Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Cambodia at the frontlines, I saw firsthand how hunger has many forms. Undernutrition manifests in children in two key ways: by becoming dangerously thin for their height (wasting), or permanently impeding their growth (stunting). In the other extreme, populations with calorie dense but nutrient-poor diets drive the global burden of overweight and obesity.

There is a deeply unjust disconnect between food availability and quality in different parts of the world. One third of all food produced gets lost or goes to waste — that’s enough to feed all of the world’s hungry four times over!

But slow response to increasing pressures from climate change and increasing social inequalities means that not everyone gets access to the right foods. In fact the United Nations last year declared that hunger, after more than a decade in decline, was on the rise again.

I do believe that we can reach zero hunger by 2030. We have many of the solutions to do so, such as connecting smallholder farmers to markets, removing barriers to trade and boosting food production sustainably.

But we just need the political will to match, and to get stakeholders across sectors, borders and disciplines to work together and pull in the same direction.

Food is our number one global health challenge and a formidable climate threat. We´re not only producing what makes us sick and destroys the planet, we continue to subsidize it with billions of dollars annually. It is the worlds’ poor and the communities who are least responsible for creating them who are disproportionately affected by these trends.

 

IPS: What is your agenda to help reform the global food system, including increasing agricultural productivity, and recycling food waste?

Demaio: In our work to reform the global food system, we at EAT connect and partner across science, policy, business and civil society to achieve five urgent and radical transformations by 2050:

  1. Shift the world to healthy, tasty and sustainable diets;
  2. Realign food system priorities for people and planet;
  3. Produce more of the right food, from less;
  4. Safeguard our land and oceans; and
  5. Radically reduce food losses and waste.

About 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted every year, that’s an estimated one in three mouthfuls of food every day. In poorer nations, this waste generally occurs pre-market and can be part-solved by simple technologies in supply chains including transport, packaging and refrigeration. Technological interventions such as precision agriculture or investments in post-harvest processes will make huge differences.

In wealthier countries, the majority of waste occurs after market, in supermarkets and in our homes. This is where buying less but more frequently, avoiding impulse buys and taking measures to reduce the “buy one get one free” that incentivize over-purchasing, are all key.

 

IPS: The world needs to produce at least 50 percent more food to feed the growing 9.0 billion people by 2050. Is this target achievable because climate change can cause devastation to crop yields?

Demaio: The bad news is that modern agriculture doesn’t feed us all and it does not feed us well. The good news is that we have never had a bigger opportunity, more knowledge or the ingenuity and skills to fix it.

Increasing investment in harvesting infrastructure combined with improving access to markets and technology can result in minimizing field losses for farmers in low and middle-income countries, as well as help to pull millions out of poverty. In high income countries, business and consumers have a transformative role to play in reducing wasted food.

Through new business models, improved production, packaging and educational campaigns, businesses can nudge consumers in the right direction. By nudging better purchasing habits, better evaluations of portion size and improving food preparation techniques, consumers can dive headlong towards a circular food economy. Every pound of food saved from loss or waste will create economic, health and environmental gains.

Through working with remote communities, health professionals, and science and business leaders, I have seen how plant-based dietary trends have fueled a rediscovery of countless crop varieties with promising nutritional and environmental profiles.

With their abilities to deliver ‘more crop per drop’ and withstand unpredictable seasonal changes, diversifying what we grow can help meet local and global nutrition needs. In contrast, gene editing or lab grown meats offer to increase productivity, nutrition and tolerance to environmental uncertainties.

Essentially, the future of agriculture doesn’t lie in intensive expansion only — it lies in the harnessing of holistic, precise and tech savvy methods that enhance the production of more nutritious and more climate resilient foods.

 

IPS: How are ongoing military conflicts, particularly in Asia and Africa, affecting the world’s food supplies?

Demaio: Major regional or national conflicts have often profound impacts on food supplies as they disrupt society. Conflicts often originate from a competition over control of the factors of food production, such as land and water.

A growing global population, lower yields and diminished nutrient content of some crops due to changing climatic conditions contribute to increasing stress, raising the risk of civil unrest or military conflict. Countries under the greatest stress often have the least capability to adequately respond to civil unrest.

Contexts are important and whether it is climate change, food shortages, water crises, ocean sustainability, or geopolitical conflicts — many or most are interlinked.

An example of this is how ocean acidification and warming impacts fishery yields and the redistribution of already overfished and stressed fish stocks, which can cause new geopolitical tensions. Given that many of these challenges are intertwined, they also present common opportunities for co-mitigation.

 

IPS: What is the primary goal of the upcoming EAT forum in Stockholm, June 11-12? What’s on the agenda?

Demaio: Feeding a healthy and sustainable diet to a future population of almost 10 billion will be a monumental challenge, but it is within our reach. The EAT Stockholm Food Forum is a contribution to solving this challenge. The concept is simple genius — my favorite kind.

Bring together innovators, leaders and forward thinkers who usually rarely meet but are working on interrelated, global challenges — food systems, climate change, food security, global health and sustainable development. Put them in one room and get them to share ideas, share best practice, share the latest research and hopefully reshape the broken systems driving our planetary shortcomings.

This year we’re hosting the fifth EAT Stockholm Food Forum in partnership with the Government of Sweden. We have an incredible line-up of speakers, including: World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva; climate leader Christiana Figueres, an architect of the historic Paris Climate Agreement; Sam Kass, chef and former chief nutritionist to the Obama Administration; plus a host of global food heroes representing twenty-nine countries and six continents.

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Movie Mogul Arraigned on Charges of Sexual Abusehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/movie-mogul-arraigned-charges-sexual-abuse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=movie-mogul-arraigned-charges-sexual-abuse http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/movie-mogul-arraigned-charges-sexual-abuse/#respond Mon, 28 May 2018 09:54:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156337 When Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein arrived for his arraignment on charges of sexual abuse, there were hordes of photographers and reporters waiting for him outside the New York Supreme Court.   But this time the scenario was different for a celebrity movie producer who was surrendering to authorities after scores of women, including several […]

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By Thalif Deen
NEW YORK, May 28 2018 (IPS)

When Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein arrived for his arraignment on charges of sexual abuse, there were hordes of photographers and reporters waiting for him outside the New York Supreme Court.  

But this time the scenario was different for a celebrity movie producer who was surrendering to authorities after scores of women, including several A-list actresses and fashion models, accused him of sexual misconduct, including first and second degree rape.

Benjamin Brafman, one of the best known lawyers in town, who was defending Weinstein, said in a statement to the media on Friday: “Mr. Weinstein has always maintained that he has never engaged in non-consensual sexual behavior with anyone. Nothing about today’s proceedings changes Mr. Weinstein’s position. He has entered a plea of not guilty and fully expects to be exonerated.”

The arraignment came about seven months after both the New Yorker and the New York Times published damning investigative reports detailing some of Weinstein’s sexual encounters in hotel rooms and Hollywood offices. Weinstein has vehemently denied the charges and said all his sexual encounters were “consensual”.

The charges followed a joint investigation by the police and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. The allegations became a driving force in the #MeToo movement  against sexual harassment, which also triggered a “zero tolerance” policy for sexual misconduct at the United Nations.

At the hearing, Weinstein had to surrender his passport and was released on a $1 million bail. He was barred from travelling beyond New York and Connecticut and his movements will be monitored electronically.

Speaking to reporters outside the court, Brafman said: “Under the circumstances, he’s holding up reasonably well. No one can be happy to be in the position that he is in.”

“As terrible a crime as rape is, it is equally reprehensible to be falsely accused of rape, and since Mr. Weinstein has denied these allegations, that’s where we are,” he added.

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Can Preventive Diplomacy Avert Military Conflicts?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/can-preventive-diplomacy-avert-military-conflicts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-preventive-diplomacy-avert-military-conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/can-preventive-diplomacy-avert-military-conflicts/#respond Mon, 21 May 2018 13:29:44 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155855 In the paradoxical battle against military conflicts, is preventive diplomacy one of the political remedies that can help deter wars before they break out? Miroslav Lajcak, President of the UN General Assembly, points out that prevention takes many forms, and it must tackle conflict at its roots – before it can spread. “This means stronger […]

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Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak delivers a speech after he was elected as president of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at the UN headquarters in New York, May 31, 2017. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
STOCKHOLM, May 21 2018 (IPS)

In the paradoxical battle against military conflicts, is preventive diplomacy one of the political remedies that can help deter wars before they break out?

Miroslav Lajcak, President of the UN General Assembly, points out that prevention takes many forms, and it must tackle conflict at its roots – before it can spread.

“This means stronger institutions. It means smart and sustainable development. It means inclusive peacebuilding. It means promoting human rights, and the rule of law.”

At a recent three-day Forum on Peace and Development, sponsored by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the Swedish Foreign Ministry, participants came up with several responses, including international mediation, pre-conflict peacebuilding, counter-terrorism — and, perhaps most importantly, sustainable development that aims at eradicating poverty and hunger.

Lajcak cites a recent World Bank-United Nations report, titled “Pathways for Peace”, that argues in terms of dollars and cents: that for every $1 spent on prevention, up to $7 could be saved – over the long term.

Speaking on the “Politics of Peace” – the theme of the SIPRI forum which concluded May 9—he said: “Peace can be political. It can be complicated. And it can be messy. Mediators do not have an easy job.”

Jan Eliasson, chairman of the SIPRI Board of Governors and a former Swedish Foreign Minister, points out that “aside from saving and improving human lives, studies suggest that investing $2 billion in prevention can generate net savings of $33 billion per year from averted conflict”.

And according to a World Bank survey, he said, 40 percent of those who join rebel groups do so because of a lack of economic opportunities?

“It is time for us all to get serious about prevention and sustaining peace if we are to achieve the peace envisioned in the SDGs by 2030. Policy makers must focus efforts on prevention, committing additional resources and attention to the highest risk environment,” said Eliasson, a former UN Deputy Secretary-General.

In an introduction to the “Politics of Peace,” SIPRI says targeted, inclusive and sustained prevention can contribute to lasting peace by reducing the risk of violent conflict.

“Unfortunately, the political will to invest in prevention is often lacking where it is needed most,” notes SIPRI.

The UN’s peacekeeping budget for 2017-2018 is estimated at a staggering $6.8 billion. But how much does the UN really spend on preventive diplomacy?

At a high level meeting on peacebuilding last month, several delegates emphasized the concept of prevention. But complained about the failure to aggressively fund such prevention.

Asked how one could explain that “meagre resources, a little bit over $1 million” is being devoted to preventive diplomacy, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters April 25: “I think that’s a question perhaps to those who allocate the budget. The Secretary General has repeatedly called for greater resources and greater emphasis to be put on prevention.”

Siddharth Chatterjee, UN Resident Coordinator & UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya told IPS, today’s violent conflicts are complex, trans-border and multi-dimensional in nature.

Similarly, the causes and patterns of conflict are also complex and intertwined with ethnicity, dispute over boundaries, and competition over scarce resources, weak governance systems, poverty, socioeconomic inequalities, environmental degradation, etc.

The complexity of violent conflict, he argued, makes it prolonged, deadly, and economically costly to the countries which experience conflicts.

According to Collier et. al (2003), “by the end of a typical civil war, incomes are around 15 per cent lower than they would otherwise have been, implying that about 30 per cent more people are living in absolute poverty” due to conflict. And according to the same authors, conflict would also lead to a permanent loss of around 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Chatterjee also pointed out that the main damage of conflict emanates from its adverse effects of diverting resources from the productive sector to violence and destructive activities.

“These widespread conflicts are imposing an enormous cost not only to the countries where conflicts are raging but also to their neighboring countries, which often end up hosting refugees crossing the borders to seek a safe-haven. This further results in considerable economic and environmental problems for the host countries.”

He said armed conflict and violence are increasingly complex, dynamic and protracted. Over 65 million people were forcibly displaced in 2016 alone. Many conflicts have endured for decades; others have repercussions well beyond their immediate area.

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Executive Director of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) told IPS that after so many wars and so much destruction, “I’m stunned that governments still think that weaponry is the pathway to peace and security.”

“When individuals are able to weaponize a car, a bus or truck, hi-tech missiles aren’t going to solve the problem. We need to be looking at the root causes and drivers.”

She said this brings up issues of gross inequality, rising extremism that’s fostering un-belonging, and other issues relating to education, mental health and so forth.

She asked: “What does it cost to build schools in Northern Nigeria so kids have a chance of a future? What does it cost to develop state of the art environmental programs that can preserve water and enable farmers to grow crops, so they aren’t forced to migrate to cities and be jobless and desperate?”

Globally, over 260 million children and youth are not in school, and 400 million children have only primary school education, according to UN estimates released last week. If left unaddressed, the education crisis could leave half of the world’s 1.6 billion children and youth out of school or failing to learn the most basic skills by 2030.

Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his Envoy on Global Education, Gordon Brown, received a petition signed by some 1.5 million young people calling for more investment in education. The petition was delivered by three youth activists from India, Kenya and Sierra Leone.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, said Naraghi Anderlini, “we recognized that human security was integral to state security. The 9/11 attacks threw us off course and we entered a realm of perpetual war and retaliations. Yet at the core sits issues of human security, dignity, legitimate grievances and aspirations. State failure is central to everything we see – from corruption to excessive violence and being absent in basic service provision.”

She warned that “governments can try to hide behind their bluster, weaponry and techno-wizardry but we are hurtling towards a new unknown, but this will not be the path to peace.”

The tragedy is that ordinary people, civil society actors in communities everywhere, have the answers and solutions, she argued.

“They have rolled up their sleeves and with limited resources they are doing extraordinary work. They raise uncomfortable truths for this reason, governments and even the UN system don’t bring them to the table. They provide ‘side events’ and agree to host them on the margins of major summits.”

But the citizens are not marginal, they are at the very center of any state. And civil society organizations that enable citizens to contribute to solving problems should be equal partners in the space of decision making globally, she declared.

Chatterjee told IPS the other emerging threat to the global community is violent extremism which has not only sets in motion a dramatic reversal of development gains already made, but also threatens to stunt prospects of development for decades to come, particularly in border lands and marginalized areas as well as affecting developed countries.

To support prevention of conflict and violent extremism; it is important to focus on the root causes, drivers of conflict and radicalization, which are intertwined with poverty, social, cultural, economic, political and psychological factors.

Extremism, which often evolves into terrorism, has its origin in poverty and human insecurity, which is partly linked to exclusion, marginalization and lack of access to resources and power, he noted.

A recent UNDP report – “the Road to Extremism”- which is based on extensive data collected from East and West African countries, revealed that poverty and marginalization to be the main factors that drive young people to join extremist groups. The study also found that the tipping point is how the government treats the community and the youth.

In addressing both violent conflict and extremism, Chatterjee said, it is important to invest in prevention because attempting to address the problem once it has erupted will cost more and huge amount of resources. And, it will also be complicated, as in the case of Somalia or the Central African Republic (CAR).

That is why the UN Secretary General’s reform agenda emphasizes preventing violent conflicts before they erupt into full-fledged crises. The Secretary General’s agenda also links conflict to SDGs, and the principle of leaving no one behind espoused by the SDGs is a critical condition for sustainable peace and prosperity, said Chatterjee.

He said this approach will strengthen institutions to sustain peace as the best way to avoid societies from descending into crisis, including, but not limited to, conflict, violent extremism and ensure their resilience through investments in inclusive and sustainable development.

“The bottom line is without peace, little or nothing can be achieved in terms of economic and social progress and without development it would be difficult to achieve sustainable peace,” declared Chatterjee.

Asked for his reaction, Dan Smith, SIPRI Director, summed it up as follows: “In general I think that a Norwegian politician, Erik Solheim, now head of UNEP, put it well when he said, at a public meeting many years ago, in response to a question about why prevention is not emphasised more, something along these lines: “Because, to my knowledge, no politician has ever been re-elected on the basis of preventing a war that might not have happened in a faraway country that none of her or his voters have ever heard of.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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How Do You Attain “Sustainable Peace” Amidst Rising Military Conflicts?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/attain-sustainable-peace-amidst-rising-military-conflicts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=attain-sustainable-peace-amidst-rising-military-conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/attain-sustainable-peace-amidst-rising-military-conflicts/#comments Tue, 08 May 2018 14:00:08 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155672 The underlying message at the fifth annual Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development was summed up in its telling title “The politics of peace.” But the task ahead was overwhelmingly difficult: How do you advance peace and development against the backdrop of political unrest in parts of Asia and Africa and continued conflicts in the […]

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The opening panel of the Forum, 'The urgency and logic of investing in violent conflict'. Credit: SIPRI

By Thalif Deen
STOCKHOLM, Sweden, May 8 2018 (IPS)

The underlying message at the fifth annual Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development was summed up in its telling title “The politics of peace.”

But the task ahead was overwhelmingly difficult: How do you advance peace and development against the backdrop of political unrest in parts of Asia and Africa and continued conflicts in the Middle East— all of them amidst rising global military spending triggering arms sales running into billions of dollars.

In his opening address, the chairman of the Board of Governors of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Jan Eliasson set the theme for the three day meeting when he declared: “No peace without development and no development without peace”.

“And none of the above without human rights,” said Ambassador Eliasson, the former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The three-day meeting, May 7-9, was attended by more than 350 political leaders, high-level policy makers, academics and representatives of civil society organizations.

In his keynote address to the plenary, the President of the UN General Assembly (PGA) Miroslav Lajcak underlined the new UN concept of “sustaining peace” which has been the focus of two resolutions, one by the Security Council and the other by the General Assembly.

“It has spurred new initiatives. It has got us all talking – and acting,” he said.

And, two weeks ago, the UN hosted a High-Level Meeting on “Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace”.

The meeting showcased some best practices. “We learned about how we are moving from stand-alone actors or activities for peace, to pooling our assets”, said Lajcak, who is also the Foreign Minister of Slovakia.

Providing one concrete example, the PGA said he actually saw this in action, when he travelled to the Colombian town of Totoró. “There, I saw a real commitment to peace – from the various United Nations Agencies, from government officials and from indigenous communities.”

“And, I saw how all these stakeholders could come together – under a United Nations inter-agency programme –for a common goal: to make the peace agreement stick.”

Secondly, he said, “we talked a lot about partnerships. Years ago, the United Nations was like an island. Too often, it acted alone. But, we have all, now, realised something important: Sustaining Peace is not owned by any one entity. It can only be achieved, if we all work together. “

“We heard, during the Meeting, that partnerships with regional organisations are particularly crucial. And, given where we are, today, this Forum is a good opportunity to look at how we can build up stronger links between the European Union and the United Nations, for Sustaining Peace.”

“Thirdly, I want to say this – very clearly: Not one discussion failed to have a gender dimension. And, I mean that. Not one.”

The other featured high-level participants at the Forum included Margot Wallstrom, the Foreign Minister of Sweden, Isabella Lovin, the Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate Change, Gbehzohngar Milton Findley, Foreign Minister of Liberia, Adela Raz, Deputy Foreign Minister of Afghanistan and Hassan Hussein Hajji, Minister of Justice of Somalia.

Meanwhile, a new SIPRI report, released last week, highlights the rise in global military spending at a time when there is widespread speculation about a new cold war between the United States and Russia.

And US President Donald Trump’s public war-mongering and military threats against countries such as Iran, and until recently, North Korea -– is also likely to escalate military spending further.

And, most visibly, the continued conflicts in Syria and Yemen and the instability in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, have triggered a rise in arms spending and bolstered US and Western arms sales to the war zones in Asia and the Middle East.

Asked if there are any hopes of a decline in arms spending in the foreseeable future, Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher in the Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS “right now there is little hope that global military expenditure will decrease in the near future.”

For 2017, he said, global military spending remained stable for yet another year.

However, this happened at a time that Russia had to decrease its military spending due to the bad economic situation in the country and the year after Saudi Arabia had cut its spending a lot, he explained.

“If those two countries will maintain ambitions to improve their armed forces, we can expect they will increase military spending as soon as their economies improve,” Wezeman predicted.

Saudi Arabia started to increase its spending in 2017, despite the continuing low oil prices. At the same time there are no indications that China will end the long lasting steady annual increases in its spending.

The decrease in US spending ended in 2016, according to Wezeman.

Trump has pushed for increases and a substantial increase in 2018 is likely. Finally, many states in Europe have started to increase their spending in response to heightened threat-perceptions towards Russia, and in relation to the conflicts in the Middle East.

On the contrary, doesn’t it appear that spending will also keep rising in the context of a “new cold war between the US and Russia?

He pointed out that the heightened tensions between the US and most of Europe on one side and Russia on the other are a clear motive for increased military spending.

However, rivalry between major states in the Asia Pacific region, roughly China on the side and the USA, India Japan on the other are also a major element, he declared.

In its report, released May 2, SIPRI said total world military expenditure rose to $1.7 tillion in 2017, a marginal increase of 1.1 per cent in real terms from 2016.

“Continuing high world military expenditure is a cause for serious concern”’ warned Ambassador Eliasson. It undermines the search for peaceful solutions to conflicts around the world.”

After 13 consecutive years of increases from 1999 to 2011 and relatively unchanged spending from 2012 to 2016, total global military expenditure rose again in 2017.* Military spending in 2017 represented 2.2 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) or $230 per person.

‘The increases in world military expenditure in recent years have been largely due to the substantial growth in spending by countries in Asia and Oceania and the Middle East, such as China, India and Saudi Arabia,’ said Dr Nan Tian, Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure (AMEX) programme. ‘”At the global level, the weight of military spending is clearly shifting away from the Euro–Atlantic region”, he added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Despite Setbacks, Africa Viewed as Continent of Hope, Promise & Vast Potentialhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/despite-setbacks-africa-viewed-continent-hope-promise-vast-potential/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-setbacks-africa-viewed-continent-hope-promise-vast-potential http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/despite-setbacks-africa-viewed-continent-hope-promise-vast-potential/#respond Mon, 07 May 2018 11:29:02 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155650 Africa has long been one of the world’s most beleaguered continents – singled out mostly for its conflicts, political and economic instability, rising poverty and hunger, inequalities and its environmental challenges. And in international circles, it is described as “Afro-pessimism.” Still, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has a more positive perspective of the long-suffering continent. Far […]

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By Thalif Deen
STOCKHOLM, May 7 2018 (IPS)

Africa has long been one of the world’s most beleaguered continents – singled out mostly for its conflicts, political and economic instability, rising poverty and hunger, inequalities and its environmental challenges.

And in international circles, it is described as “Afro-pessimism.”

Still, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has a more positive perspective of the long-suffering continent.

Far too often, he said, the world views Africa through a prism of problems. “But when I look to Africa”, he predicted last month, “I see a continent of hope, promise and vast potential.”

According to UN projections, Africa is expected to account for more than half the world’s population growth over the next 35 years. More than 30 per cent of Africa’s population is between the age of 10 and 24, and will remain so for at least the next 20 years.

“With the right investments, these trends could be the region’s greatest asset,” said former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

NAI Director Iina Soiri. Credit: NAI

With 55 years of study and research, the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), based in Sweden, has an equally positive view of Africa.

In an interview with IPS, NAI Director Iina Soiri and NAI head of research and governance specialist Victor Adetula, provided an assessment on the current situation in Africa.

Adetula told IPS the UN Secretary-General was right when he expressed the view that Africa has a vast potential for success.

“We are happy that world leaders are beginning to appreciate Africa in positive terms. We at the Nordic Africa Institute have always pointed out that there is hope for Africa despite all the challenges. Our knowledge production processes and outcomes, as well as other forms of intellectual engagement on the continent, run against the Afro-pessimism that is chanted in some quarters. For us, our knowledge of Africa makes us to have hope for Africa.”

Soiri pointed out that diversification of Africa’s image and promotion of the notion that Africa is “so much of everything” rather than just reduced to one image, this is our mission at NAI.”

Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: Do you think that most African countries would succeed in achieving the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including hunger and poverty alleviation, by the 2030 deadline? What would be the reasons if they falter in their goals?

NAI Head of Research Victor Adetula. Credit: African Peace Building Network

Adetula: First, the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are not exclusively for Africa. Admittedly, the risks are far more for African countries due to a number of challenges. It is interesting however that the lessons of MDGs are being addressed in the SDGs, and there is hope there would be significant improvement in the performance of the African countries, particularly those that have made concerted efforts to synchronise the SDGs goals with their national development plans.

Soiri: The SDGs are global goals that oblige the whole global community. I would also like to point out that Africa on the continental level has its own Vision 2063, as well as national SDG plans. It is important that all countries are given support to enable implementation of the SDGs using their own strengths and analysis.

IPS: What is the biggest single political problem facing African nations? Lack of good governance or lack of financing for development?

Adetula: It is not so much a good idea to reduce the challenge of African countries to two issues, or to label them as political, economic, social etc. based on the historical experiences of other regions. However, it suffices to point out that the challenges in Africa have their causes in both the internal systems in the various African countries that are not supporting good governance, and the international environment which has become increasingly unfavourable to Africa.

Soiri: Again, countries in Africa differ greatly when it comes to governance systems in place. We again need to go into national level and address specific challenges. But as regards to financing for development, that is a problem shared by many African countries, as well as the whole global community.

IPS: Has there been a failure on the part of Western nations to fulfil their commitments on Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Africa?

Adetula: The ability of Western nations to meet up with their commitments on Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Africa cannot be the root cause of Africa’s development challenge. New knowledge has proved this assumption to be wrong that aid can produce autonomous development in Africa. Of course, we should admit that effective global partnership a way to go to promote global development. This needs to be influenced and driven by positive values of equality, fairness, and justice.

Soiri: At the moment, it is clear that financial commitments to match with the requirements of SDG agenda are still lacking drastically behind. Here, I would like to point out that instead of focusing only on ODA and other financial flows to Africa, more effort needs to be done curb illicit financial flows out of Africa and support domestic resource mobilisation. We need to rethink the whole structure of financing for development which has been dominated by ODA reported to OECD-DAC and open up the debate on all financial flows and transactions, to continue the so called Beyond Aid –debate.

IPS: Guterres recently warned that while poverty elimination is a shared priority across two agendas—the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 – there are “significant gaps that persist”, particularly with regard to industrialization, water, energy, infrastructure and the environment. Do you agree with this assessment?

Soiri: It is no news that huge gaps persist. What is most important is to facilitate knowledge and analysis capacity, strengthen countries’ own systems and capacity to own the development processes and allow national debate on the priorities. When a lot of things are missing, we need to first decide where we start to look for and for what – thus national consensus is essential how to go about national development plans.

And reach quick results to keep people satisfied and engaged. Global challenges in sustainable resource utilisation –water, energy, clean air, land, minerals – are huge and connected to sustainability of the whole planet.

And as there exist wide sentiments of grave inequality in how the resources have been used and overused until now, Africa needs to get more say when the future agreements on resource utilisation are made.

IPS: The UN says the majority of undernourished people in Africa live in conflict-affected countries, where hunger is almost twice as high when the crisis is protracted – advocating for stronger commitment by governments, the AU and the UN to promote peace, human rights and sustainable development? Any thoughts?

Adetula: The world is witnessing increase in violent conflicts and some new forms of violence, including those associated with globalisation processes. At the individual country level, good governance in terms of effective service delivery can help scale down the level of violence in Africa. Global governance and global partnership such as cooperation between the AU and the UN is a useful way to go.

Soiri: Many research has shown that there is a strong causality between conflicts and underdevelopment. Therefore most important is to solve the conflicts in order to create conducive environment for development efforts. But how conflicts are solved and peace agreements signed has a paramount importance for how the post-conflict development will succeed. Most important is to allow inclusive peace process which translates to inclusive long lasting state building.

IPS: What key role can the Nordic Africa Institute play in helping advance the political and economic transformation of Africa?

Soiri: During its 55 year of existence, the Nordic Africa Institute has been both the sign of and key for Nordic countries continued engagement in development of Africa. We embody our societies’ interest to continue investing in betterment of African peoples. Via our research and knowledge production and dissemination, we enlarge understanding of African key development challenges and their solutions and deepen decision-makers’ knowledge on best practices to contribute successfully for the development and conflict resolution.

We also build Africa’s own knowledge production capacity with our guest research programs, partnerships and joint research and conference activities, and translate and disseminate African aspirations and analysis for Nordic audiences. We are the only Africa research center in the whole world that surpasses national borders and bring together the whole Nordic region to study, analyse and develop Africa with a specific policy relevant mission – to contribute for the improvement of African people’s lives and educate our own citizens on importance on Africa.

Our library is the biggest resource hub for African social sciences literature in Northern Europe, and by using modern technology some of its resources can be accessed almost everywhere in the world, alleviating the chronic lack of academic and development related resources in the African continent.

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“Fake News” a Growing New Threat to Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/fake-news-growing-new-threat-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fake-news-growing-new-threat-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/fake-news-growing-new-threat-press-freedom/#respond Thu, 26 Apr 2018 12:01:27 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155477 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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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, Apr 26 2018 (IPS)

When a Malaysian politician of a bygone era was asked about the “leading newspapers” in his country, he shot back: “We don’t have any leading newspapers in our country because all our newspapers are misleading.”

But that comment, perhaps uttered half-jokingly about two decades ago, underwent a reality check recently when the Malaysian government passed legislation to impose prison sentences up to six years in jail if journalists are found guilty of spreading “fake news”.

The bill defines fake news as “any news, information, data and reports which is, or are, wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings, or in any other form, capable of suggesting words or ideas.”

And ever since President Donald Trump repeatedly used the term last year – more so to deny even the most verifiable facts and figures— some of the developing nations have followed in his jackbooted footsteps trying to muzzle the press, primarily on negative stories.

A president in perpetual denial, Trump has been described as a “serial liar” by his former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) James Comey – and some of the lying is meant to denigrate journalists whose stories and exposes are dismissed as “fake news.”

Steven Butler, Asia Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told IPS: “Many Asian governments – including Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines – have jumped on the “fake news” bandwagon started by President Trump.”

But more broadly, he pointed out, the lack of a strong U.S. voice promoting the basic value press freedom at the heart of the U.S. constitution has emboldened governments – from China to Pakistan.

“Governments that wish to suppress freedom of expression know that the U.S. President will give them a free pass, something they could not count on in the past. Citizens of these countries need to find their own way to struggle for press freedom,” declared Butler.

In early April, India threatened to penalize journalists for spreading “fake news”. But in less than 48 hours the government had second thoughts and annulled the announcement without an explanation.

Norman Solomon. executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder and coordinator of RootsAction.org, told IPS powerful demagogues in many parts of the world hate a free press and want to curb or crush whatever independent media outlets might get in the way of power.

“Trump’s denunciations of “fake news” amount to a new rhetorical wrinkle in centuries-old techniques of blaming the messengers for unwanted news,” he added.

Governments, like large corporations, are in the business of news management, Solomon said, pointing out that “they use powerful megaphones and an array of leverage to gain favorable media coverage and suppress or discredit unfavorable coverage.”

In some societies, he noted, the repression takes the form of threats, raids, prosecution and imprisonment. In more democratic societies, the repression is apt to take the form of “soft power” inducements, economic carrots and sticks, massive public-relations campaigns and nonstop floods of propaganda.

In the midst of all this, journalists constantly face a challenge of pursuing facts and underlying truths no matter where they might lead, he argued.

In some countries, the obstacles induce fear of imprisonment or even death, while in other countries the fears are along the lines of stalled careers and loss of employment, said Solomon, author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death”

In an oped piece titled “Mr. Trump’s War on the Truth”, the New York Times said in early April that when Trump calls every piece of information he does not like “fake news”, he also encourages politicians in other countries, who are not constrained by constitutional free speech protections or independent judiciaries, to more aggressively squelch the press.

“They know that there will be little international condemnation of their actions because one of the most important standard bearers for a free press – the American government—is led by a man trying to discredit the free press.”

Ian Williams, author of “UNtold: The Real Story of the United Nations in Peace and War*, told IPS that to some extent all news is “fake” but some are flakier than others. But there are degrees of objectivity.

“Fake News” is a real problem – more as an accusation that kills serious debate than as a category of news in itself. Ideologues of both right and left use it to block acceptance of inconvenient information. The main stream media (“MSM”) are particularly reviled, he added.

As Pontius Pilate said, “What is truth?”

“I have a hierarchy of veracity. I would rather believe my own lying eyes than any media source! I watched the planes hit the WTC for example. Do I trust the MSM? Not much, and I would examine its content critically.”

In general, Williams said, the MSM is more conspicuous for what it ignores than for its lies, and it often reveals its biases. In particular the American media depends on government sources and is often naively trusting of them although Trump’s behaviour might be altering that.

For all its faults, he said, the MSM has competition and the fear that it might be scooped by rivals. On the other hand that means it has a herd mentality, so it collectively and uncritically bought into the Iraq WMDs and spurious scandal of “Oil for Food”, said Williams, a senior analyst who has written for newspapers and magazines around the world, including the Australian, The Independent, New York Observer, The Financial Times and The Guardian.

“But I would trust them before Fox, Murdoch tabloids and Breitbart, and above all before authoritarian state news agencies where an editor would lose his or her job and possibly head for not toeing the line”.

He pointed out that the BBC sometimes criticises its government. SANA and Russia Today never!

“And I also mistrust “Independent” journalists, who have permission and help to enter totalitarian states so they can tell the “truth” and expose MSM lies, sometimes at government organised press conferences. I scour their work assiduously but vainly for any hint of criticism of their hosts!”

Is the UN reliable?, he asked.

“Largely so, because it is so leaky that when reports are doctored, word leaks out and there are 193 missions checking for bias and rushing in with corrections”, said Williams, a former UN correspondent for The Nation, and author of Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776; The Deserter: Bush’s War on Military Families, Veterans and His Past; The Alms Trade; and The UN For Beginners.

Solomon, of the Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS that in every society, there is a vital need for ongoing truth-telling that can make democracy real as the informed consent of the governed.

Right now, in the United States, Russia and China, and scores of other nations, people at the top of the governmental and economic power structures are eager to gain and maintain the uninformed acquiescence of the ruled.

“No matter how different the social, political and media systems may be, journalists face the challenge of overcoming the overt or tacit censorship efforts by government, corporate owners or wealthy individuals. The imperative goal is to make good on the potential of press freedom,” declared Solomon.

Meanwhile, a Joint Declaration by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, David Kaye, along with his counterparts from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), reads: “Fake news” has emerged as a global topic of concern and there is a risk that efforts to counter it could lead to censorship, the suppression of critical thinking and other approaches contrary to human rights law.”

“In this Joint Declaration, we identify general principles that should apply to any efforts to deal with these issues,” said a statement released in March.

The Declaration identifies the applicable human rights standards, encourages the promotion of diversity and plurality in the media, and emphasizes the particular roles played by digital intermediaries, as well as journalists and media outlets.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

The post “Fake News” a Growing New Threat to Press Freedom appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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UN Cracks Down on Peacekeeping Troops over Human Rights Abuseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/un-cracks-peacekeeping-troops-human-rights-abuses/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-cracks-peacekeeping-troops-human-rights-abuses http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/un-cracks-peacekeeping-troops-human-rights-abuses/#respond Fri, 13 Apr 2018 15:48:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155272 The United Nations, whose peacekeepers have come under increased scrutiny because of widespread charges of sexual abuse and human rights violations, claims it is now committed to ensuring that all personnel serving with the UN meet the “highest standards of conduct, competence and integrity, including respect for and commitment to human rights.” And there are […]

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MINUSMA peacekeepers patrolling the village of Bara in northeastern Mali. It is one of the most dangerous UN peacekeeping missions. Credit: UN Photo/Harandane Dicko

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 13 2018 (IPS)

The United Nations, whose peacekeepers have come under increased scrutiny because of widespread charges of sexual abuse and human rights violations, claims it is now committed to ensuring that all personnel serving with the UN meet the “highest standards of conduct, competence and integrity, including respect for and commitment to human rights.”

And there are no exceptions to this rule, which applies to over 100,000 civilian, military and police personnel currently deployed in 14 UN peacekeeping operations and 23 special political missions around the world.

Nick Birnback, UN Peacekeeping spokesperson, told IPS “member States that provide personnel to UN peacekeeping operations have the responsibility to certify that all these personnel have not been involved, by act or omission, in violations of international humanitarian law or human rights law, and have not been repatriated on disciplinary grounds from a UN operation.”

The most recent test case under investigation is the deployment of 49 Sri Lankan troops to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) who did not undergo the required vetting process, this time by the local Human Rights Commission based in Colombo.

Taking a tough stand, the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has requested that “the Sri Lankan government immediately prioritize the completion of the screening for the 49 officers already deployed to UNIFIL”.

“If concerns arise regarding the 49 personnel already deployed to UNIFIL, DPKO may request that they be repatriated and replaced at the Government’s cost,” Birnback warned.

“In the case of Sri Lanka where there are specific human rights concerns”, he pointed out, the UN has put in place additional screening measures in 2016 to help ensure that deployed personnel meet our standards.

Prior to their deployment to UNIFIL, he said, the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations provided an attestation certifying that the contingent had not been involved in any violations.

“However, in February 2018, we learned that the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission — which the Government of Sri Lanka had agreed it would undertake human rights screening of all Sri Lankan personnel — had not yet completed the screening when the rotation of the unit in UNIFIL started. UN Peacekeeping immediately raised this with the Sri Lankan authorities and the deployment was stopped.”

“Meanwhile, we’ve asked the government of Sri Lanka to formalize the screening arrangements with the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission. Compliance with these arrangements will be required before the UN can receive any further deployments or rotations from Sri Lanka. The government is cooperating with us in this regard,” Birnback said.

According to DPKO, the United Nations Charter requires that all UN personnel must maintain the highest standards of integrity and conduct. The UN is committed to ensuring that all its personnel deployed globally serve with professionalism, courtesy and dignity.

The UN Standards of Conduct apply to all categories of personnel deployed in UN missions. There is a three-pronged strategy to address misconduct: prevention, enforcement of the UN Standards of Conduct, and remedial action.

In July 2008, the Department of Field Support (DFS) launched the Misconduct Tracking System (MTS), a global, restricted-access database and confidential tracking system for all allegations of misconduct.

The UN Standards of Conduct are based on three key principles: highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity; zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse and accountability of those in command and/or leadership who fail to enforce the standards of conduct, according to DPKO.

Meanwhile, as sexual abuse and paternity claims continue to rise against UN peacekeepers, the United Nations is actively collaborating with troop contributing countries in collecting DNA samples: a protocol introduced back in 2014.

The number of paternity claims – or potential paternity claims – has increased significantly: from 12 each in 2013 and 2014, to 15 in 2015, 33 in 2016 and 56 in 2017.

These are victims of “sexual exploitation and abuse,” according to the United Nations.

Providing an update on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in the UN system– in line with the Secretary-General’s initiative on increasing transparency on ongoing allegations– UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters February 22 that from 1 October to 31 December 2017, “we have received 40 allegations for all UN entities and implementing partners. Not all allegations have been fully verified, and many are in the preliminary assessment phase.”

Out of the 40 allegations, 15 are reported from peacekeeping operations. These 15 are not new allegations — they have all been uploaded on the Conduct and Discipline database as they have come in. And that is a publicly available website.

The remaining 25 allegations are reported from agencies, funds and programmes, and include 8 allegations relating to implementing partners.

Of the 40 allegations, 13 are categorized as sexual abuse, 24 as sexual exploitation, and 3 are of an unknown nature. The 40 allegations involve 54 victims — 30 are women, 16 are girls (under the age of 18), the ages of 8 others are unknown; 12 of the 40 allegations occurred in 2017, 7 in 2016, 3 in [2015] or prior, and the dates are unknown for 18 of them, Dujarric said.

With regard to the status of the 40 allegations, two have been substantiated by an investigation; three are not substantiated; 15 are at various stages of investigation; 18 are under preliminary assessment; two are under review with limited information provided to the investigating entity, he added.

Currently, there are 14 UN peacekeeping operations worldwide, seven of them in Africa. The more than 100,000 troops and civilian personnel come from 123 countries, with the five largest troop-contributing countries (TCC) being Ethiopia (8,326 troops), India (7,471), Pakistan (7,161), Bangladesh (6,772) and Rwanda (6,146).

The approved budget for UN peacekeeping operations for the fiscal year of July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 was $7.87 billion, which is slightly smaller than its previous fiscal year’s budget.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has pointed out that UN’s peacekeeping budget – “less than one half of one per cent of global military spending — is money well spent.”

“It is a fraction of the cost of allowing conflict to spread and erode the gains of economic development. The investment is multiplied by the economic growth and prosperity that follow from stability and security after successful peacekeeping missions,” he declared last March.

He also said “UN peacekeepers are often under-equipped, under-prepared and unready [and] there are gaps in command and control, in culture, in equipment and in training.”

Speaking at a meeting of the UN Security Council, he declared: “Our peacekeepers are vulnerable, and they are targeted for attack,” he added.

Last year, he said, 59 peacekeepers lost their lives as a result of malicious act – highest number ever and a sharp increase over the year before when the figure was 34.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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UN’s Highest Policy-Making Body to Break Male Domination— Momentarilyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/uns-highest-policy-making-body-break-male-domination-momentarily/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uns-highest-policy-making-body-break-male-domination-momentarily http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/uns-highest-policy-making-body-break-male-domination-momentarily/#respond Tue, 03 Apr 2018 14:14:46 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155127 The 193-member General Assembly – one of the highest policy-making bodies at the United Nations – will get a much-needed break, come September, when a woman will preside over its 73rd session, only the fourth in the history of the world body. The two who are in the running are: Mary Elizabeth Flores Flake, Permanent […]

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The opening of the 72nd session of the General Assembly in September 2017. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 3 2018 (IPS)

The 193-member General Assembly – one of the highest policy-making bodies at the United Nations – will get a much-needed break, come September, when a woman will preside over its 73rd session, only the fourth in the history of the world body.

The two who are in the running are: Mary Elizabeth Flores Flake, Permanent Representative of Honduras, and María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility of Ecuador—both from the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) group.

On the basis of geographical rotation, the LAC Group claims the upcoming presidency—an elected high ranking UN position which has been overwhelmingly dominated by men.

The break comes even as the United Nations has continued to vociferously preach gender empowerment to the outside world but failing to practice it in its own political backyard—despite scores of resolutions adopted by member states.

Since 1945, the Assembly has elected only three women as presidents: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India (1953), Angie Brooks of Liberia (1969) and Sheikha Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa of Bahrain (2006).

And that’s three out of 72 Presidents, 69 of whom were men.

The track record of the 15-member Security Council is infinitely worse because it has continued to elect men as UN Secretaries-General, rubber-stamped by the General Assembly, and most recently in October 2016 – despite several outstanding women candidates.

And that’s zero out of nine male UN chiefs: Trygve Lie of Norway, Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden, U. Thant of Burma (now Myanmar), Kurt Waldheim of Austria, Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, Kofi Annan of Ghana, Ban Ki-moon of South Korea and, currently, Antonio Guterres of Portugal.

The two highest ranking political positions at the UN have long been identified as the intellectual birthright of men. And in terms of diplomatic protocol, the President of the General Assembly (PGA) has the status of a head of state in international fora.

Will the election of a fourth woman as the 73rd PGA later this year augur a new era? Or is it just a flash in the pan?

Asked for his response, Miroslav Lajčák of Slovakia, President of the current 72nd session of the General Assembly, told IPS: “I am committed to fostering greater gender parity throughout the work of the General Assembly. The history of the United Nations is filled with the contributions of strong women who have shaped its evolution since 1945. Yet, as of today, there have only been three women Presidents of the General Assembly”

He said it is important to ensure that women leaders’ voices are heard on all matters in the United Nations and having a woman as the next President of the General Assembly would be a major step in this regard.

“As President of the General Assembly, I have taken tangible steps to ensure that women play a key role in our work,” he noted.

For example, he said, he has appointed gender-balanced teams of Ambassadors to lead almost all General Assembly processes.

“Meanwhile, in my own office, I have seen to it that 70 per cent of the staff are women, and that women and men are represented equally at the managerial level. I believe that making our work at the United Nations more gender-balanced and inclusive will have a positive impact around the world,” he declared.

Barbara Crossette, a former UN Bureau Chief for The New York Times (1994-2010), and who has written extensively on gender empowerment, told IPS both candidates seem to bring some interesting resumes and welcome commitments to the work of the General Assembly—“and Latin American women can be quite fearless, as you know”.

“But I can’t really judge how real all this is. In both cases, however, the presidency would be a prestigious prize for either nation. But that’s not of international importance.”

“Now whether a woman makes a difference per se — or breaks a chain of male domination — is hard to judge in advance”, said Crossette, currently UN correspondent for The Nation, a senior fellow of the Ralph Bunche Institute at the City University of New York, contributing editor at PassBlue.com, and a freelance writer on foreign policy and international affairs

She also pointed out that if one or the other is chosen, what she could accomplish would affect how the member nations (or more important, informed public opinion) would react to the idea that a woman in the presidency is a good thing and should happen more often.

This is also the case with appointments to headquarters staff and high-level jobs, she noted.

Antonia Kirkland, Program Manager, Legal Equality, at the New York based Equality Now, told IPS:”It is completely unacceptable that only three women have been elected president of the UN’s General Assembly in the last 72 years. The UN needs to set a better example and live up to its promise of achieving gender parity throughout the UN system. Bringing women into the highest levels of decision making should be a top priority.”

She said achieving gender equality, development and peace, will never be realized without women’s equal access to positions of decision-making power.

The upcoming election of the President of the General Assembly is a perfect opportunity for member states to implement the commitments they have made to increasing women’s political access she added.

“Member states must also promote women’s leadership within their missions and ministries of foreign affairs so that there is equality at the ambassadorial level”, said Kirkland who represents a civil society organization which, since 1992, has been using the law to protect and promote the human rights of women and girls worldwide.

“We hope promoting women’s and girls’ rights around the world, particularly ending sexual violence and ending impunity for sexual assault and sexual harassment by UN staff members, will be a top priority for the next President of the General Assembly,” she declared.

Meanwhile, the General Assembly last year decided to establish a new process for the selection of the President of the General Assembly.

In its resolution 71/323 entitled “Revitalization of the work of the General Assembly”, the Assembly decided to conduct informal interactive dialogues with candidates for the position of President of the General Assembly, thus contributing to “the transparency and inclusivity of the process”, according to the PGA’s website.

Furthermore, the General Assembly has also called upon candidates to present to the Assembly their vision statements.

The new process will be in full respect of the established principle of geographical rotation and the General Assembly resolution 33/138 of 19 December 1978.

Consequently, the President of the 73rd session of the General Assembly is to be elected from the Latin American and Caribbean Group.

In line with the new process, the President of the 72nd session of the General Assembly will convene informal interactive dialogues with the candidates in early May 2018.

In accordance with Rule 30 of the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly, the Assembly shall elect a President and twenty-one Vice-Presidents at least three months before the opening of the session over which they are to preside.

The election of the President of the 73rd session of the General Assembly will take place on Tuesday, 5 June 2018

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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