Inter Press ServiceThalif Deen – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 10 Dec 2018 19:35:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 US Blasts Migrant’s Compact – Even as 180+ Countries Embrace ithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/us-blasts-migrants-compact-even-180-countries-embrace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-blasts-migrants-compact-even-180-countries-embrace http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/us-blasts-migrants-compact-even-180-countries-embrace/#respond Mon, 10 Dec 2018 12:11:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159123 As UN delegates met in Morocco to adopt a global compact to protect the rights and safety of refugees and migrants (GCM), the Trump administration launched a blistering attack condemning it as a violation of national sovereignty. “The United States proclaims and reaffirms its belief that decisions about how to secure its borders, and whom […]

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Credit: IOM

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 10 2018 (IPS)

As UN delegates met in Morocco to adopt a global compact to protect the rights and safety of refugees and migrants (GCM), the Trump administration launched a blistering attack condemning it as a violation of national sovereignty.

“The United States proclaims and reaffirms its belief that decisions about how to secure its borders, and whom to admit for legal residency or to grant citizenship, are among the most important sovereign decisions a State can make, and are not subject to negotiation, or review, in international instruments, or fora”.

The Trump administration, which pulled out of the negotiations last December, “maintains the sovereign right to facilitate or restrict access to our territory, in accordance with our national laws and policies, subject to our existing international obligations.”

“We believe the Compact and the process that led to its adoption, including the New York Declaration, represent an effort by the United Nations to advance global governance at the expense of the sovereign right of States to manage their immigration systems in accordance with their national laws, policies, and interests,” the US said in a “national statement” released on the eve of the conference¸which began in Marrakesh December 10 and concludes December 14.

But despite strong US opposition, more than 180 of the UN’s 193 member states, along with human rights organizations, international relief agencies and civil society organizations (CSOs) , either expressed support for it or are participating in the conference.

In an interview with IPS, Sarnata Reynolds, Oxfam International’s Policy Advisor for Global Displacement & Migration, said the contents of the GCM represent the culmination of two years of hard work, debate, and good faith negotiations among 192 UN member states, civil society and UN agencies, to bring together a blueprint for cooperation on migration that both respects the rights of the women, men and children leaving home, and the ability of states to respond to their economic and political challenges, among others.

Excerpts from the interview:

REYNOLDS: As we move into these last few days before adoption of the GCM, some world leaders and political actors are avoiding domestic grievances by shifting attention to the GCM, and asserting it will undermine sovereignty or worker’s rights, which is just not true.

Regardless of justifications provided so far, governments withdrawing from the GCM have not done so based on the contents of the GCM, which create no new rights and are not legally binding, they have done so based on current domestic politics.

Given this moment of heightened and heated rhetoric, positions of governments now may not remain the same as new administrations take office, and indeed they may temporarily get worse. But they could also get better.

Currently it looks as if 183 out of 193 UN members will adopt the GCM on Monday and Tuesday. A few countries have dropped out, and while that is of course unfortunate, the GCM does not require all UN member states to be functional and effective.

Ultimately, the GCM’s success will be measured by how well states work together to ensure that labor, demographic, family, education and other needs are addressed in a mutually beneficial way that bolsters human rights. It’s not particularly unusual in terms of international agreements, that 10 states will not adopt the GCM at the outset.

For example, the Rome Statute, which brought the International Criminal Court into effect, was adopted without the support of the US, has 139 signatories now, and has had a profound impact on international jurisprudence since it entered into force in 2002, whether states are parties to it or not.

There are 145 parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. No one would question that it has been highly influential and a lifeline to millions of people.

IPS: How effective is the compact if its implementation is only voluntary — particularly in the context of the Refugee Convention (signed and ratified by all UN member states) which is being violated by countries such as the US, Hungary and Poland?

REYNOLDS: It was never the intent for the GCM does to create any new rights or obligations. Indeed, the GCM arose out of commitments made in the New York Declaration (July 2016), https://refugeesmigrants.un.org/declaration. Neither the NY Declaration nor the GCM are legally binding, and this is specifically stated in both documents.

The entire impetus for this process arose because states around the world were struggling with the mobility of so many migrants and refugees, and there was a shared recognition that global coordination and a common governance was necessary.

The GCM is a carefully crafted understanding of what is needed and what can be claimed by right. If applied as written, it would mean that nations are finally tackling the newer migration occurring because of climate change, environmental degradation and increasing disasters.

It would mean that more visas are made available for students, workers and those in need of respite abroad in a way that is mutually beneficial. Going forward, we will be monitoring and participating in national plans of action consistent with the GCM monitoring alongside hundreds of other civil society organizations that have engaged in this process.

No doubt countries are violating the Refugee Convention, but governments do take their obligations to refugees into account when developing migration and protection policies. They are sensitive to the criticism they receive from civil society, and many make efforts to address them, even if partially.

And over and over again, through conflicts and across decades, ordinary people, mayors, families and organizations have taken on the responsibility to welcome and protect refugees.

Almost 70 years after the passage of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, governments generally accept that people fleeing conflict and persecution have the right to seek protection in another country, and countries neighboring those in conflict have protected tens of millions of refugees for protracted periods of time.

Over the past 40 years, millions of women, men, and children from dozens of countries have been resettled elsewhere, and States have contributed billions of dollars in support to refugees and their host countries. So there is hope in the GCM (and GCR) and there is also the reality that states will likely always need to be pushed to live up to their obligations.

IPS: Has the concept of refugees undergone a dramatic change — from political refugees of the cold war era to economic refugees of today?

REYNOLDS: The general concept of refugees has not undergone a dramatic change. The Refugee Convention was drafted in the aftermath of World War II and reflects both the circumstances, social norms, and populations displaced during that period. It had limitations as a result, including that rape and sexual slavery (common weapons of war) were not even considered forms of persecution until the 1990s. It has always been a living document.

Just as in the 1950s, in this decade there are people fleeing home and moving home for a variety of reasons – some for work, others for education, and still others to marry or reunite with family members. This is a constant throughout human history. Another constant is the migration taking place. In the 1970s, about 3% of the world’s populations were migrants.

Since then, in every decade, the number of migrants has remained at 3%, even until today. There is much myth-making around migration, which is positive and negative, ebbs and flows with economies and politics. Currently we’re in negative space.

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A UN Conference Undermined by 11th Hour Withdrawalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/un-conference-undermined-11th-hour-withdrawals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-conference-undermined-11th-hour-withdrawals http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/un-conference-undermined-11th-hour-withdrawals/#respond Fri, 07 Dec 2018 17:10:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159088 When the long-awaited UN conference focusing on the rights and safety of migrants and refugees takes off in Morocco, it will be a rare, if not an unprecedented meeting, for one reason: the withdrawal of at least seven member states almost at the 59th minute of the eleventh hour. As the international community struggles to […]

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Refugees from South Sudan. Credit: UNHCR/Will Swanson

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

When the long-awaited UN conference focusing on the rights and safety of migrants and refugees takes off in Morocco, it will be a rare, if not an unprecedented meeting, for one reason: the withdrawal of at least seven member states almost at the 59th minute of the eleventh hour.

As the international community struggles to resolve a spreading global humanitarian crisis, and restrict the intake of refugees and migrants, the approval of a “Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration” is turning out to be a politically sensitive issue.

The United States, which withdrew from the long-drawn-out negotiations back in December last year, will be a notable absentee, along with Austria, Hungary, Poland, Israel, Switzerland and Australia—all of whom have problems relating either to refugees or migrants.

Other non-starters may include Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, according to published reports.

Not surprisingly, these countries don’t want to be a party to a compact, which is expected to be adopted at the meeting in Marrakesh December 10-14.

This despite the fact that 192 member states, minus the US, finalized the Global Compact last July, after years of negotiations.

The reluctance is all the more surprising because the implementation of the compact is voluntary – unlike the mandatory 1951 Refugee Convention which has been signed and ratified by virtually all of the 193 UN member states, but not necessarily implemented.

Asked about the non-participants, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters November 30: “ I think what is regrettable, as we’ve seen, is a number of countries walking away from what was agreed already here in New York when the pact was adopted. I think it bears reminding again and again, that this is not a binding legal instrument. This is non-binding. This is guidance for countries on how to manage migration.”

As the Marrakesh conference is about to get off the ground, Denmark has announced plans to move “unwanted” immigrants to Lindholm Island, two miles out to sea, and once used for studying sick animals, according to Cable News Network (CNN).

“Rising far-right and anti-immigration sentiments that have swept Europe have now reached the highest levels of government in Denmark. Some of the country’s legislators have made it clear they have no qualms about testing the boundaries of human rights conventions to preserve what they call the Danish way of life. The controversial deal still must be passed by the parliament”, CNN said.

So, it seems very likely that Denmark may also join the rest of the team of absentees at the conference.

Joseph Chamie, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and an independent consulting demographer, told IPS the migration conference, despite its shortcomings, “is certainly an achievement.”

However, about a dozen countries are not participating and some additional countries are having strong objections raised by opposition parties to signing the Global Migration Compact (GMC), he added.

This will certainly have serious negative consequences on the Compact, especially as the United States — the largest immigrant receiving country — is having no part of the Global Compact.

“It will also be problematic for the European Union (EU) as these countries are divided on the Compact and some are not participating in the conference,” he noted.

Asked if this was unprecedented, Chamie said: “Yes, it is unusual for so many countries to bow out of a UN conference and this will weaken the effectiveness of the Global Compact.“

In an interview with the Associated Press (AP), Louise Arbour, the UN Special Envoy on International Migration, said she was “very disappointed” that some countries are reneging on their support — and in some instances for “bizarre” reasons.

She rightly pointed out that the global compact was “not legally binding” and “there is not a single country that is obligated to do anything that it doesn’t want to.”

Arbour was quoted as saying: “Some have said, for instance, we will not sign which is rather strange because there’s nothing to sign. It’s not a treaty. Others have said we will not come. Others have said we don’t endorse the compact.”

Meanwhile, one in every 70 people around the world is caught up in a crisis, including the refugee crisis, with more than 130 million people expected to need humanitarian aid next year.

The United Nations and its partners will aim to help more than 93 million of the most vulnerable people, according to the 2019 Global Humanitarian Overview presented by Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock in Geneva last week.

In a statement released December 5, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said migration has always been a polarizing topic.

But in recent years it has become even more divisive, to the point of dominating elections in many countries.

Concerns about the impacts of migration on receiving states have led some governments to adopt strategies specifically designed to reduce and deter migration, extending even so far as restricting access to essential and lifesaving services including basic health care, shelter, food and legal assistance.

The IFRC said governments have the right to set migration policies. However, contrary to conventional wisdom, all migrants, even those with no claim to asylum, have rights under international law. These rights include access to health, safety and protection.

Chamie told IPS that while the implementation of the Compact is voluntary, it is establishing global norms concerning international migration, which is a goal in itself.

“Of course, countries may not follow conventions and international compacts and there are certainly many instances of violations in the recent past.”

Countries are sovereign — something that has universal agreement– and they will promote their national interests even when it violates agreements they’ve signed, he added.

Asked about Denmark’s plans, he said confining “unwanted” immigrants to a remote island as Denmark proposes is likely to be problematic in many respects.

Aside from the important issue of human rights, it will be difficult logistically and will become increasingly problematic, especially with respect to children and those needing medical care. Moreover, over time as the numbers increase, the difficulties will be compounded, he added.

Chamie also pointed out the simple fact : the supply of potential immigrants is FAR, FAR greater than the demand.

In addition, the receiving countries are selecting immigrants and many of those who wish to migrate will not be selected.

“As a result, many of those migrating without legal status are claiming asylum and seeking refugee status when in fact they are actually seeking employment opportunities and improved living conditions for themselves and families,” he added.

And as a consequence, Chamie pointed out, people are migrating illegally and upon arrival at their desired destination will attempt to remain in the country by all means possible, including seeking refugee status.

Again, one has to face the demographic facts, something most politicians typically avoid. Many of the populations of migrant sending countries are growing rapidly and most developed receiving countries are growing slowly.

The considerable pressures and strong forces for illegal immigration will certainly continue and the receiving countries are still lacking effective policies to address this demographic phenomenon, declared Chamie.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Will Member States Help Offset US Funding Cuts to UN?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/will-member-states-help-offset-us-funding-cuts-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-member-states-help-offset-us-funding-cuts-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/will-member-states-help-offset-us-funding-cuts-un/#respond Wed, 05 Dec 2018 07:39:09 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159040 The speculation that the Trump administration plans to reduce its mandatory assessed financial contributions to the UN’s regular budget was implicitly confirmed when the US president told delegates last September that Washington “is working to shift more of our funding, from assessed contributions to voluntary contributions, so that we can target American resources to the […]

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The UN General Assembly will decide on any proposed cuts on US assessed contributions to the UN. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 5 2018 (IPS)

The speculation that the Trump administration plans to reduce its mandatory assessed financial contributions to the UN’s regular budget was implicitly confirmed when the US president told delegates last September that Washington “is working to shift more of our funding, from assessed contributions to voluntary contributions, so that we can target American resources to the programs with the best record of success.”

Any such reduction in the scale of assessment – which is based on each country’s “capacity to pay” — will not only undergo a long-drawn-out negotiating process but will also have a significant impact on the day-to-day operations of the world body.

But that resolution may be adopted by the 193-member General Assembly if the US resorts to strong-arm tactics — as US Ambassador Nikki Haley once threatened to “take down names” and cut American aid to countries that voted for a resolution condemning US recognition of Jerusalem as the new Israeli capital.

At a press conference announcing her decision to step down as US ambassador to the UN, Haley told reporters last October that that during her two year tenure “we cut $1.3 billion in the UN’s budget. We’ve made it stronger. We’ve made it more efficient.”

At the same time, the US has slashed its contribution to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) , from $69 million in 2016 to zero in 2017, and cut $300 million in funds to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), aiding Palestinian refugees.

The US, which pulled out of the Human Rights Council last June, has also threatened to “defund” the Geneva-based Council.

Scott Paul, Oxfam America’s Humanitarian Policy Lead, told IPS the Trump administration’s recent threats to cut funding for and cooperation with the UN undercut the world’s most important mechanism for reducing the risk of conflict, addressing acute humanitarian needs and building a better, safer world.

“Cutting US contributions not only undermines the effort to prevent conflict and end poverty; it limits the ability of the US to make it better and revitalize it to meet today’s challenges,” he pointed out.

Paul said responses to forgotten crises like the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are both less than 50% funded, “and we will likely see major humanitarian crises even less funded than they are right now”.

“With less reliable funding, when new crises emerge in the future, there will less capacity to respond to help the world’s most vulnerable people survive and live with dignity”.

“We hope other countries will step up to save lives in humanitarian crises, but the US is leaving a big gap to fill, and families caught in crisis will pay the price,” declared Paul.

However, the proposed reduction in assessed contributions by the US has to be approved by the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee (the Fifth Committee), the Committee on Contributions and finally endorsed by the General Assembly.

Currently, the US makes the largest single contribution, paying 22 percent of the UN’s regular budget, which also give the US plenty of financial clout not only to demand some of the highest ranking jobs in the world body but also dominate discussions on the biennial budget, which is estimated at $5.4 billion for 2018-2019.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, a former UN Under-Secretary-General and one-time President of the Security Council, told IPS that to have an agreement on reducing the scale approved by the General Assembly is a very complex and complicated process.

The proposal to reduce the scale by a country, particularly with a sizeable contribution, like the US, would mean increase in the contribution of other countries as the scale for all countries together adds up to 100 percentile points.

“It is a zero-sum situation,” he added.

According to this formula, besides the 22% contribution by the US, the percentage for the other major contributors include: Japan 9.7 %, China 7.9%, Germany 6.4%, France 4.9 %, UK 4.5%, Italy 3.7% and Russia 3.1%.
The poorest countries of the world pay 0.001% of the UN budget, whereas the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), described as the poorest of the poor, have a cap of 0.01% each.

Ambassador Chowdhury pointed out that a Member State proposing reduction needs to go through a painstaking and arduous process of bargain-laden negotiating process. It needs consistency, expertise and collegiality in going through the process till its objective of reduction in the scale is achieved.

Very importantly, he noted, the Permanent Representative of that Member State needs to be personally involved and lead the process throughout.

“The whole scenario for this unfolds as a Fifth Committee exercise at the UN – but also at the bilateral/regional levels for influencing that exercise. This is a tall order.”

The last time such an exercise was undertaken for the reduction of the US scale, from 25 percent to 22.5 percent, Ambassador Chowdhury was very closely following that process, as US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke was leading that effort on behalf of his country “in a masterful way using all kinds of avenues and leverages available to him.”

“That kind of tenacity, perseverance, skillful diplomatic maneuvers and personal relationship built with many of his counterparts from other nations at UN during his tenure is a rare combination.”

“As I was chairing the Fifth Committee in 1997-98 during the 52nd UN General Assembly session– and the scale of assessment and the biennium budget were both on the agenda– Richard kept in regular touch and sought clarification from me on many related issues.”

“That gave me an insight into the way his patient step-by-step strategy was bringing him close to his objective and finally, it was achieved without much acrimony and hard feeling,” Ambassador Chowdhury added.

At a press conference last October, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres– in response to a question on proposed US funding cuts– told reporters: “Until now, the United States has not put into question the assessed contributions to the United Nations”.

He said there have been decisions to withdraw support from different agencies whose work is not agreed by the United States, but there has not been a disruption of the funding from the assessed contributions, both for the normal function of the Secretariat and of peacekeeping.

“And, of course, we are doing everything we can in order to make sure that we can overcome the difficulties that have happened in relations to agencies like UNRWA [UN Relief and Works Agency] or UNFPA [UN Population Fund] that we consider to have a very important function that needs to be maintained,” he added.

Meanwhile, US National Security Adviser John Bolton rejected the argument that Washington will not be able to cut funding to the Human Rights Council because the Council’s operating expenses are funded through assessed contributions.

In an interview with Associated Press (AP), Bolton was quoted as saying: “We’ll calculate 22 percent of the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner’s budget, and our remittances to the UN for this budget year will be less 22 percent of those costs — and we’ll say specifically that’s what we’re doing.”

Ambassador Chowdhury told IPS that another important element in his scale-reduction strategy by Holbrooke was a carrot –- namely paying up of all US arrears to UN amounting to $300 million plus, blocked by US Senator Jesse Helms as Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“That was also a considerable inducement.”

“In this context, I would say that it is nothing new for the UN to suffer due to US actions for not paying the assessed annual contribution on time, withholding part of the contribution on some excuse, proposing the reduction of the scale (in fact. since UN founding, US scale has come down from 30 percent to current 22 percent) etc.”

“I believe it would be smart on the part of the general UN membership and UN’s Senior Management leadership not to succumb to such eventualities as the US decides to lessen its multilateral engagements.”

“Yes, I agree that on time, in full and without condition payment of assessed contribution is a Charter obligation. But UN has not done anything to enforce this obligation.”

He said “contribution or absence of it” by the largest payer and the host country of UN should not have a negative impact on the policy direction and activities of the world body.

The UN needs to internalize the culture of doing more with less – motivation and inspiration to be of service to humanity should not be dependent on availability of “funds” only, he declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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African Nations Show Rare Transparency in Military Spendinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/african-nations-show-rare-transparency-military-spending/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-nations-show-rare-transparency-military-spending http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/african-nations-show-rare-transparency-military-spending/#respond Mon, 26 Nov 2018 12:06:31 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158867 When the United Nations began publishing annual reports on arms expenditures, starting in 1981, not all 193 member states voluntarily participated in the exercise in transparency– primarily because most governments are secretive about their defense spending and their weapons purchases. The original goal of the reports, according to the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), […]

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A panel discussion on the politics of peace. Credit: SIPRI

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 26 2018 (IPS)

When the United Nations began publishing annual reports on arms expenditures, starting in 1981, not all 193 member states voluntarily participated in the exercise in transparency– primarily because most governments are secretive about their defense spending and their weapons purchases.

The original goal of the reports, according to the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), was to facilitate reductions in military budgets, particularly in the context of the trillions of dollars in annual global military spending– reaching a staggering $1.7 trillion in 2017.

The United Nations has vociferously – but unsuccessfully – long campaigned for a significant diversion of military budgets into development aid, including a much-needed $100 billion by 2020 to curb carbon emissions and weather the impact of climate change.

According to UNODA, a total of 126 UN Member States have submitted reports to the UN Secretary-General regularly or at least once.

But only a minority of States report in any given year, while a small number of States consistently report every year. In addition, there are significant disparities in reporting by States among different regions.

Transparency in armaments, according to the UN, contributes to international security by fostering trust and confidence among countries.

And in a rare exercise in transparency, countries in sub-Saharan Africa have consistently reported on their military expenditures, according to a new report released last week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

Asked to single out the most transparent, and the least transparent, of the African countries, Dr Nan Tian, Researcher at SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, told IPS that based on SIPRI’s analysis, countries with relatively high transparency include Burkina Faso, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania, among others.

He said the least transparent include Eritrea, Ethiopia, Malawi, Lesotho, Gambia, Equatorial Guinea and Djibouti.
According to UNODA, information on military matters, particularly transparency on military expenditures, helps build confidence between countries.

At the same time, it can also help governments determine whether excessive or destabilizing accumulations of arms are taking place.

The new SIPRI report says transparency in military spending in sub-Saharan Africa is higher than expected.

Between 2012 and 2017, 45 of the 47 states surveyed published at least one official budget document in a timely manner online.

‘Contrary to common belief, countries in sub-Saharan Africa show a high degree of transparency in how they spend money on their military,’ says Dr Tian.

He says citizens everywhere should know where and how public money is spent. It is encouraging that national reporting in sub-Saharan Africa has

In a joint statement Dr Tian and Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher in SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, told IPS global participation in reporting of military expenditure to the UN, on the other hand, has decreased to a very low level.

“The latest information we have is that in 2018, only 32 countries submitted data about their military spending in 2017.”

In the period 2008–17, only five states in sub-Saharan Africa reported at least once, and no reports were submitted during the years 2015–17.

“2018 has not yet ended but, as far as we know, no African country reported this year.”

Still, SIPRI data shows that governments in 45 countries in the region made either military expenditure budgets or figures on actual military expenditure publicly available in the period 2012–16, said Dr Tian and Wezeman.

These states could have opted to simply use this information in a submission to the UN using either their own format or the simplified form.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS the latest SIPRI report contains good news for analysts and advocates concerned about global transparency on military expenditures.

She said SIPRI has documented the publication of military spending reports in 45 of 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa for at least one year between 2012 and 2017.

The United Nations has a long-standing instrument that is intended to collect information on UN members’ military expenditures.

Unfortunately, participation in that instrument has been low in recent years. And the vast majority of the countries that reported on their 2017 budgets in 2018 are countries in Europe.

The other regions of the world are vastly underrepresented.

“It’s ironic that so many countries in Africa are publishing their individual reports on military spending, but are choosing not to report the same data to the United Nations,“ said Dr Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy at the United Nations, on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

She pointed out that UN Member States regularly describe “reporting fatigue,” with numerous – and sometimes overlapping – reporting requirements imposing burdens on agencies and departments that are chronically understaffed.

“One possible solution would be to try to reduce the number of reports and to create standard forms to gather data that would otherwise be submitted in multiple reports.”

“Although the inclusion of virtually all sub-Saharan countries in the SIPRI report is good news, knowing the monetary value of military budgets only gets you so far. Military budget numbers are often not good proxies for countries’ military power”.

For example, the horrendous destructive power of the small arms and light weapons that are being used in conflicts all over the world is completely out of proportion to their relatively modest cost, she added.

Asked how most Asian, Latin American and Middle Eastern countries compare with transparency by African countries, Dr Tian and Wezeman told IPS they do not make any comparisons in the report, nor an extensive assessment of other regions in the past few years.

“Still based on SIPRI’s continuous monitoring of military spending in the world we can sketch the situation in other regions.”

Military spending transparency in Latin America is relatively high, for all countries useful and often detailed information is available, they said.

In Asia, transparency varies a lot. In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Malaysia, Kazakhstan and Indonesia, very useful military spending data is published by the governments.

However in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, North Korea, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, military spending is kept secret, while military spending data in China is incomplete.

Also in the Middle East transparency varies highly.

Turkey, Israel, Iran and Jordan publish quite detailed information, but public reporting on military spending in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt and Iraq is low to minimal, “whereas we have not found any useful military spending data for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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E-Commerce Giants Under Fire for Retailing Hazardous Mercury-Based Cosmeticshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/e-commerce-giants-fire-retailing-hazardous-mercury-based-cosmetics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=e-commerce-giants-fire-retailing-hazardous-mercury-based-cosmetics http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/e-commerce-giants-fire-retailing-hazardous-mercury-based-cosmetics/#respond Fri, 16 Nov 2018 11:18:28 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158706 A coalition of over 50 civil society organizations (CSOs), from more than 20 countries, have urged two of the world’s largest multi-billion dollar E-commerce retailers – Amazon and eBay – to stop marketing “dangerous and illegal mercury-based skin lightening creams.” The protest is part of a coordinated global campaign against a growing health hazard in […]

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

A coalition of over 50 civil society organizations (CSOs), from more than 20 countries, have urged two of the world’s largest multi-billion dollar E-commerce retailers – Amazon and eBay – to stop marketing “dangerous and illegal mercury-based skin lightening creams.”

The protest is part of a coordinated global campaign against a growing health hazard in the field of cosmetics.

So far, the groups have reached out to the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO) and INTERPOL, the Lyon-based international law enforcement agency whose mandate includes investigating the sale of illegal health products online.

Michael Bender, International Coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group, told IPS internet moguls must stop breaking the law with their toxic trade in illegal cosmetics.

“Amazon and eBay have the responsibility and resources to prevent exposing their customers to this dangerous neurotoxin,” he added.

At the same time, said Bender, the FDA must enforce the law— no matter how big the retailer, since no one is above the law.

The CSOs have identified 19 skin products sold by these two companies that contain illegal mercury levels—even as the use of these products are skyrocketing globally, and in the US, and used worldwide mostly by women in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.

In a letter to Jeff Bezos, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Amazon, the groups say: “We strongly urge Amazon to self-police its website to ensure that cosmetics found to have mercury levels over 1 part per million (ppm) are no longer offered for sale to your customers worldwide.”

Since 1973, the FDA has warned against using cosmetics with over 1ppm mercury and detailed the risks. And mercury is known to state, federal and international agencies as toxic and harmful to human health.

In a letter to Devin Newig , president and CEO of eBay, the groups say the products advertised for sale on the e-Bay website are “unpermitted and illegal”.

The protest has taken added relevance against the backdrop of the upcoming second meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP2) which will take place November 19-23 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Minamata Convention is an international treaty which has been signed by 128 UN member states and ratified by the legislatures of 101 countries.

Syed Marghub Murshed, Chairperson, Environment and Social Development Organization-ESDO, said “skin-lightening creams are pushing the youth towards a serious health risk and environmental havoc”.

He urged the government to take a regulatory and legislative step to protect future generations — and the environment.

Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, European Environmental Bureau Project Manager “Zero Mercury Campaign” and International Co-ordinator, Zero Mercury Working Group, told IPS that toxic trade in illegal high mercury skin lighteners is a global crisis which is expected to only worsen with skyrocketing global demand.

“To combat this, it’s important for governments to quickly enact and/or enforce regulations and effectively warn consumers”, he added.

Sonya Lunder of the Sierra Club’s Gender, Equity and Environment Program, said internet sellers should be held to the highest standards for selling safe and legal cosmetics.

“Not only should they remove all illegal products from their websites immediately, but they must develop a system to ensure that toxic products remain out of their supply-chains,” declared Lunder.

The WHO says mercury is a common ingredient found in skin lightening soaps and creams. It is also found in other cosmetics, such as eye makeup cleansing products and mascara.

“Skin lightening soaps and creams are commonly used in certain African and Asian nations. They are also used among dark-skinned populations in Europe and North America.”

In Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Togo, 25%, 77%, 27%, 35% and 59% of women, respectively, are reported to use skin lightening products on a regular basis, says WHO.

In 2017 and 2018, 338 skin-lightening creams from 22 countries were collected by 17 NGO partners and tested for mercury, according to the group.

And 35 creams (10.4% of the samples) had mercury concentrations ranging from 260 – 16,353 parts per million (ppm).

These levels significantly exceeded not only regulations in many countries, but also new provisions in the Minamata Convention disallowing, after 2020, the “manufacture, import or export” of cosmetics with a mercury above 1 ppm.

The health consequences include damage to the skin, eyes, lungs, kidneys, digestive, immune and nervous systems.

The Mercury Policy Project, the Sierra Club and the European Environmental Bureau say they have purchased skin lighteners from eBay and Amazon websites.

The brands purchased included many previously identified as high mercury by New York City, the state of Minnesota, countries of the European Union, Singapore, United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Philippines, among others.

Of these, 19 products had illegal mercury levels, typically more than 10,000 times higher than the legal threshold of 1ppm.

In their letters, the groups are calling on Amazon and eBay to:

(1) Ensure the products they sell comply with government regulations; monitor lists of toxic skin lighteners identified US regulators; and keep them out of their inventory; and

(2) Add skin lightening cream products to a list of categories requiring prior approval before sale; and require that sellers provide documentation verifying that the products do not contain mercury and that the products are otherwise compliant with all applicable regulations.

Out of the 22 countries where the global cosmetics sampling took place, 14 have legislation or other requirements consistent with the Minamata convention provisions, the letter says.

Out of the 7 countries where high mercury samples were found, only 4 have legal requirements prohibiting creams with more than 1 ppm mercury content.

The Zero Mercury testing showed also that in:

–in Bangladesh, 50% of the creams sampled and tested had mercury content exceeding 1 ppm.

–In the Dominican Republic, one out of 3 samples had mercury above 1 ppm (33%), whereas in Indonesia it reached 31%.

— in Mauritius, one out of 15 creams was found to contain more than 1 ppm (7%).

— in the Philippines, 19% of the samples exceeded 1 ppm mercury content, while the Thai samples reached 63; and.

–in Trinidad and Tobago, 20% of the samples tested also exceeded the Minamata limits.

The Group’s research demonstrates that hazardous substance restrictions and accompanying risk communication strategies in many countries are incomplete and/or inadequately enforced.

”This thereby raises the risk of health effects, primarily to women.”

However, as the Minamata Convention on Mercury provision pertaining to cosmetics take effect after 2020, new opportunities for countries to reduce exposure to mercury from skin lighteners are emerging, including resources that may become available to Parties for the following, perhaps in collaboration with all levels of government and civil society:

1. Development and adoption of national government cosmetic regulations;

2. Continuously updated global government detention website listing of product violations, including product photo, manufacture, country of origin, seller identification, links, etc.

3. Enhanced harmonization and increased enforcement of by custom officials at borders;

4. Effective risk communication to consumers at risk and in particular pregnant and nursing mothers and woman of child bearing age;

5. Effective oversight of the marketplace;

6. Adoption of effective labeling guidelines to assure consumers are provided with the necessary information on hazardous substances, but also on alternatives, since they may contain other hazardous substances;

7. Effective cyber crime oversight of the internet, in global collaboration with Interpol, (since most lighteners are imported); and

8. Through national ad councils, assuring that non-discriminatory advertising guidelines do not reinforce negative social stereotyping on the basis of skin color.

Globally, mercury-based products are a big business. Demand is skyrocketing, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, with sales of $17.9 billion in 2017, and projected to reach $31.2 billion by 2024, according to Global Industry Analysts.

Skin lightening products — also known as “bleaching creams,” “whiteners,” “skin brighteners,” or “fading creams” — work when inorganic Mercury salts (e.g. 1-10% ammoniated mercury) inhibit the formation of melanin, resulting in a lighter skin tone.

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Trump’s Anti-Media Rhetoric Resonates Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/trumps-anti-media-rhetoric-resonates-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-anti-media-rhetoric-resonates-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/trumps-anti-media-rhetoric-resonates-worldwide/#comments Wed, 14 Nov 2018 07:44:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158659 A former French president once remarked: Never pick a fight with a little kid or the press. The kid will throw the last stone at you and the press will have the last word. But that obviously does not apply to a teflon-coated Donald Trump because nothing apparently sticks on him – even as he […]

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Donald J. Trump. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

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

A former French president once remarked: Never pick a fight with a little kid or the press. The kid will throw the last stone at you and the press will have the last word.

But that obviously does not apply to a teflon-coated Donald Trump because nothing apparently sticks on him – even as he survives a barrage of criticisms from the mainstream media while he continues to utter falsehoods and mouth blatant lies.

As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan never said: Trump may be entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts.

The leader of the free world, according to some critics, is fast emulating the authoritarian lifestyle of a tin pot third world dictator.

At a highly confrontational press conference last week, Trump lashed out at Jim Acosta, the chief White House correspondent for Cable News Network (CNN) for his sharp questioning of the US president– specifically on Trump’s deliberate mischaracterizations of the Central American migrant caravan.

As a result, the White House, in an unprecedented move, suspended Acosta’s press credentials while also threatening to blacklist other reporters —including Peter Alexander of National Broadcasting Company (NBC), April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks and Yamiche Alcindor of Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)– “if they did not treat the White House with respect”.

Trump’s decision is a violation of the basic right of journalists to cover the government. He characterized one reporter as “very nasty” and dismissed another reporter for asking “a stupid question”.

But Trump’s authoritarian tactics and his hostility towards the mainstream media—dismissing negative stories as “fake news” – are increasingly influencing other right wing and dictatorial leaders, including in the Philippines, Hungary, Egypt, Myanmar, Turkey, China, Poland and Syria, who are following in his footsteps.

Barbara Crossette, a former New York Times UN Bureau Chief, told IPS “it isn’t only authoritarian regimes that may be taking heart from Trump — in fact it may be the other way around.”

She said Trump admires their strong-man behavior. And more democracies are also putting journalists and intellectuals in many fields into harm’s way, she added.

Maria Ressa is right now under extreme pressure and legal threats in the Philippines, and in India, which prides itself on its democratic credentials, journalists and academics have been threatened, assaulted and in some cases killed by extreme Hindu nationalist mobs spawned in a way very similar to Trump’s unleashing of white supremacists.

Among the victims killed in India was Gauri Lankesh, an internationally known journalist who had been critical of the Hindu nationalists, said Crossette, who was a former New York Times chief correspondent for South and Southeast Asia.

CNN, which has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for the suspension of Acosta’s press credentials, said “if left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers elected officials.”

In a statement released November 13, CNN demanded the return of Acosta’s credentials arguing that “the wrongful revocation of these credentials violates CNN and Acosta’s First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process.”

Zeke Johnson, senior director of programs at Amnesty International USA, told IPS Trump’s contempt for the press and his decision to bar certain reporters from the White House not only is an affront to the right to free speech, and anathema to good governance, but also sends a dangerous signal to other leaders.

“We have seen governments around the world try to silence journalists just for reporting on uncomfortable truths or expressing a difference of opinion from the ruling power,” he pointed out.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been imprisoned in Myanmar for nearly a year for exposing crimes against humanity against the Rohingya.

Johnson said President Erdogan of Turkey has a history of shutting down outlets and imprisoning journalists. Trump’s actions are especially galling coming so recently after the horrifying disappearance and murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“While Khashoggi’s case may be an extreme example of the dangers reporters face, Trump’s insistence that reporters show him deference or face consequences only emboldens those who see a free press as a threat to authoritarian rule.”

Courtney Radsch, Advocacy Director at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said journalists should be able to do their job without fear that a tough series of questions will provoke retaliation.

“The White House should immediately reinstate Jim Acosta’s press pass, and refrain from punishing reporters by revoking their access–that’s not how a free press works.”

“In the current climate, we hope President Trump will stop insulting and denigrating reporters and media outlets, it’s making journalists feel unsafe,” added Radsch.

Meanwhile, in a New York Times piece last week, Megan Specia pointed out how Trump’s words have justified aggressive and undemocratic actions by several political leaders worldwide.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly invoked “fake news” to denounce his critics. So has Poland’s right wing government.

Responding to an Amnesty International report on thousands of deaths in Syrian prisons, President Bashar al-Assad was quoted as saying: “You can forge anything these days. We are living in a fake news era.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Marco Napoli, 86, Ensured the Survival of IPS at UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/marco-napoli-86-ensured-survival-ips-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marco-napoli-86-ensured-survival-ips-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/marco-napoli-86-ensured-survival-ips-un/#respond Fri, 09 Nov 2018 07:48:58 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158612 Marco Napoli, who passed away on November 6, began his early professional career as a New York-based correspondent for several international news organizations, including the Italian Il Progresso News, back in the 1960s, long before he was Regional Director, IPS North America. As part of his beat, he had to cover some of the shenanigans […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 9 2018 (IPS)

Marco Napoli, who passed away on November 6, began his early professional career as a New York-based correspondent for several international news organizations, including the Italian Il Progresso News, back in the 1960s, long before he was Regional Director, IPS North America.

Marco Napoli

As part of his beat, he had to cover some of the shenanigans of reputed Mafia families in New York, relying largely on anonymous sources in New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) Organized Crime Control Bureau.

Marco once recounted one of his more memorable experiences interviewing a legendary Mafia boss in the backseat of a black limousine in New York’s famed Central Park.

Fearful of any possible attacks on the head honcho, who was apparently on a hit list, Marco was uneasily looking over his shoulder as he continued with his interview. Sensing Marco’s nervousness, the Mafia boss looked at him, tapped at the car window with his clenched fist, and told Marco: “Don’t worry, it’s bullet proof.”

And so began some of Marco’s adventurous days reporting from the asphalt jungle—a crime-infested 1960s New York City where a bank robber could get mugged fleeing to his get-a-way car.

At IPS, Marco led a more restrained life as an administrator and financial controller— graduating from shoe-leather reporting to shoe-leather fund-raising, as he pounded the sidewalks of the UN neighborhood, personally following up on project proposals as he shuttled from one UN agency to another – UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, all in the shadow of the UN secretariat where he had a third floor office.

As a longtime Regional Director, Marco was very protective of IPS staffers. When the head of UN media accreditation complained that he does not see any IPS reporters at the daily UN news briefings to justify press credentials, Marco angrily shot back: “Are you now spying on my staff”?

When I first walked into the IPS office in the late 1970s, IPS had a full complement of four staffers—all women, two Americans, one Indian and one French Moroccan. Talk of gender parity at the UN? I found myself a minority of one.

We all worked under the leadership of Marco who not only believed in perseverance and hard work but also punctuality. While Marco’s primary task was the economic survival of IPS, he scrupulously kept away from editorial assignments which were coordinated by an editor-in-chief, first in Rome, later in Amsterdam.

Over the years, Marco successfully extended the IPS empire, to include Canada and the Caribbean. With strong support from Director-General Roberto Savio, Marco was an aggressive fund raiser in the UN system, and sustained strong personal links to all of the UN agencies based in New York.

Thalif Deen, IPS UN Bureau Chief and Regional Director, UNCA’s Giampaolo Pioli, Former IPS DG Mario Lubetkin and Marco Napoli, former IPS Regional Director for North America. 19 May, 2009.

Marco’s crowning glory was the annual IPS International Achievement Award ceremony held at the UN delegate’s dining room– a high profile event attended by ambassadors, senior UN officials, representatives of civil society and the press corps.

The recipients of the awards, who added a tinge of political glamour, included two UN secretaries-general — Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan and three heads of state: Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti, Martti Ahtisaari of Finland (also a Nobel laureate in 2000) and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil.

Marco, almost singlehandedly, organized and coordinated the annual events, which in the hands of a novice, would have been a logistical nightmare.

As Marco would recollect, there was only one IPS correspondent, Deodoro Roca, when he joined the UN Bureau in January 1979.

And then began a wave of correspondents and stringers, including Jim Lobe, Mario Dujisin, Joan Draper, Karl Meier, Madeleine Eisner, Asma bin Hamida, Maria Blaque-Belair, Shalini Dewan, Farhan Haque, Jaya Dayal, Alejandro Kirk and Yvette Collymore.

“We shared the office with Japan’s Kyodo news agency and the New York Times (which used part of our office as its archives),” said Marco, who was the political live wire of the Bureau.

Marco, who retired on 31 December 1999, said the UN Bureau had very strong working relationships with successive Secretaries-General, including Kurt Waldheim (Austria), Javier Perez de Cuellar (Peru), Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egypt) and Kofi Annan (Ghana).

Under Marco, IPS had one of the most spacious press offices on the third floor of the Secretariat building, which he jealously safeguarded as he presided over several successive IPS UN, Bureau Chiefs, including Claude Robinson (Jamaica), Appan Menon (India) and Rajiv Tiwari (India).

The only drawback was that it was a windowless office– perhaps one of the few such offices among the UN press corps on the third floor. But as one wisecracking IPS Bureau Chief remarked: “We never had a room with a view– but all our new computers had windows.”

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Gay & Lesbian Rights Prove Divisive at Parliamentarians’ Conferencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/gay-lesbian-rights-prove-divisive-parliamentarians-conference/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gay-lesbian-rights-prove-divisive-parliamentarians-conference http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/gay-lesbian-rights-prove-divisive-parliamentarians-conference/#respond Thu, 01 Nov 2018 17:45:07 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158482 When the International Parliamentarians’ Conference (ICPI) on population and development concluded its two-day forum in the Canadian capital last week, more than 150 legislators from around the world approved a seven page Declaration reaffirming their opposition to some of the culturally sensitive issues, including female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriages. The legislators pledged to […]

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By Thalif Deen
OTTAWA, Canada, Nov 1 2018 (IPS)

When the International Parliamentarians’ Conference (ICPI) on population and development concluded its two-day forum in the Canadian capital last week, more than 150 legislators from around the world approved a seven page Declaration reaffirming their opposition to some of the culturally sensitive issues, including female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriages.

The legislators pledged to take measures to prevent adolescent pregnancies and unsafe abortions; guarantee access to safe and modern methods of contraception; adopt legislation to eliminate FGM and child and forced marriages; raise the minimum legal age of marriage to 18 years; and enact laws to end discrimination on the basis of gender and sexuality.

Ousman Sillah, national assembly member from Gambia and chairperson of the Select Committee on Health, Women and Children, urged legislators to ensure implementation of the proposals “even if we are to lose our seats—and commit political suicide.”

But one sensitive issue failed to get off the ground: the rights of gays, lesbians and transgender people.

The contentious issue proved divisive– as some of the Muslim and African nations expressed reservations about including LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex) in the text of the final Declaration.

“There are certain words – like LGBTI – that are not acceptable in our country,” said a parliamentarian from the Middle East.

The reservations were not surprising considering the fact that 71 countries have either banned or criminalized homosexuals, including lesbians and transgender people.

But this number, according to the annual report of the LGBTI Association, titled “State Sponsored Homophobia”, is really down: from 92 countries back in 2006.

The controversial non-paragraph in the Declaration should have read: …many “who are marginalized or in vulnerable situations face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including LGBTI, who are still subject to discriminatory laws, policies and harmful practices…”

After a long drawn out discussion, the legislators agreed on a compromise, and adopted the Declaration by consensus, so that the final text would read “including sexual minorities”, instead of “LGBTI”.

Still, some of the other vulnerable groups, like indigenous peoples, have remained marginalized in relation to reproductive health and education.

In an interview with IPS, Rep. Teddy Jr. Baguilat, member of the Philippine House of Representatives from Ifugao’s Lone District, said Indigenous Peoples (IP) of the Philippines, particularly in Central Luzon, the small islands and Mindanao, remain the poorest of the poor with limited access to public health and education.

“While the situation has improved a bit as government strives to conceptualise more social protection programs to the marginalised, including the IPs, a large number of them remain economically dependent on subsistence farming and government dole outs.”

He pointed out that there are still instances of displacement of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands due to extractive industries, civil war, climactic changes and development projects.

“Some tribal leaders have also been killed because of their defense of their ancestral lands,” said Baguilat, a strong advocate of indigenous rights.

“The law to protect IPs are in place and only its honest-to-goodness implementation and adequate funding can IPs fulfill many of their goals as mandated by our Constitution and the Indigenous People’s Rights Act,” he declared.

Meanwhile, the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic Asian country, has one of the fastest growing populations in the region with the highest total fertility rate among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—the other nine being Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

The country’s current population stands at over 107 million with over half of Filipinos 24 years of age or below.

“For this youthful country to reap a demographic dividend, there is an imminent need to invest more in health, education and employability of young people and on gender equality,” says Iori Kato, UNFPA Country Representative in the Philippines.

In the Philippines, 49 per cent of unmarried, sexually active women and 17 per cent of married women have an unmet need for family planning, as the 2017 National Demographic and Health survey revealed, according to UNFPA.

The report found there is no country that can claim that all of its citizens enjoy reproductive rights at all times. Most couples cannot have the number of children that they want because they either lack economic and social support to achieve their preferred family size, or the means to control their fertility. The unmet need for modern contraception prevents hundreds of millions of women in the world from choosing smaller families, according to the report.

Asked how much of progress Philippines has made on the 1994 Program of Action (PoA)– including gains in reproductive health (RH), gender empowerment and reduction in maternal and infant mortality—Baguilat said: “Unfortunately, despite some relevant legislation passed like the Reproductive Health (RH) and Responsible Parenthood Law and the Magna Carta for Women, we have failed to curb maternal mortality and while fertility rates have gone down, it’s still relatively very high in the region.”

He pointed out that budgetary allocations have been insufficient. For RH alone, it is estimated that at least P4Billion is needed yearly to provide the unmet RH needs of the poor and yet our recently passed annual budget only allotted P200Million

“Being a predominantly Catholic country, resistance to contraceptive use and very conservative religious values have led to big families in many poor communities”.

The Philippine legislator also said that HIV AIDS infections, among the highest in the world in terms of increase, and rising teenage pregnancy are among the country’s serious reproductive health problems.

A new HIV AIDS law and an anti-teenage pregnancy bill will hopefully provide stronger legislative mechanism to combat this problem.

“The historic transition to lower fertility has emerged through people claiming their right to make choices about their reproductive lives, and to have as few, or as many, children as they want, when they want,” according to The State of World Population 2018, published last month by UNFPA.

Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: What role have parliamentarians played in helping achieve the ICPD goals since the 1994 Cairo conference?

Rep. Baguilat: Many parliamentarians are unaware of the ICPD goals. The presidential form of government has led to a disconnect, sometimes between government’s commitment to international agreements and Congress’ obligations to actualise these agreements such as the ICPD through budgetary allocations and legislation.

There’s a need for more information dissemination on the ICPD goals for us Parliamentarians to fulfill our duties as legislators

IPS: On average, how much of development funding, including official development assistance (ODA), has the Philippines received from Western donors? What is the gap between needs and deliveries?

Rep. Baguilat: The Philippines has already graduated from a low income country to a middle income country and thus receives less ODA from donor countries despite emerging public health problems.

IPS: On a more wider question, how is Southeast Asia faring in terms of achieving the goals of the ICPD’s Program of Action? Any thoughts?

Rep. Baguilat: Religion and cultural beliefs remain a strong barrier for the region to achieve ICPD targets. Generally, indicators have improved but there are still marginalised sectors which remain poor and under serviced.

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Canada Takes a Lead Role Funding Reproductive Health, Women’s Rights & Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/canada-takes-lead-role-funding-reproductive-health-womens-rights-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=canada-takes-lead-role-funding-reproductive-health-womens-rights-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/canada-takes-lead-role-funding-reproductive-health-womens-rights-sustainable-development/#comments Mon, 29 Oct 2018 07:28:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158415 Canada, which has been described as one of the world’s most progressive countries, has legitimized gay rights, vociferously advocated gender empowerment, offered strong support for abortion rights – and recently became the world’s first major economy to legalize recreational marijuana. Currently the fifth largest donor to the UN’s development agencies — and holding the Presidency […]

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By Thalif Deen
OTTAWA, Canada, Oct 29 2018 (IPS)

Canada, which has been described as one of the world’s most progressive countries, has legitimized gay rights, vociferously advocated gender empowerment, offered strong support for abortion rights – and recently became the world’s first major economy to legalize recreational marijuana.

Canada’s Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau

Currently the fifth largest donor to the UN’s development agencies — and holding the Presidency of the G7 comprising the world’s leading industrialized nations– it is planning to run for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council for 2021-22.

Host to the 7th International Parliamentarians’ Conference (ICPI) on population and development in Ottawa last week—and having hosted the first such meeting in 2002 – Canada has also launched a Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP).

Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, says Canada is repositioning itself as a leader on gender equality, women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights, which includes FIAP, and hosting the upcoming Women Deliver conference, scheduled to take place in Vancouver in 2019.

“For Canada’s commitment to be truly lasting, continued support is needed for the feminist and human rights advocates working with their decision-makers at all levels of government to establish and protect laws, policies and programs that safeguard these rights,” said Prasad.

Leading the fight for women’s rights, gender empowerment, and sexual and reproductive rights is Marie-Claude Bibeau, the Canadian Minister of International Development, who is also a strong advocate for increased development financing.

In an interview with IPS, she said international events like IPCI can be a strong catalyst for mobilizing people, ideas and resources.

“This is why the IPCI Conference is so important – – it provides a unique opportunity for parliamentarians from around the world to gather together to discuss their role in implementing the ICPD Programme of Action,” she said.

Canada, the minister assured, will continue to be a strong and vocal advocate for the achievement of the goals set by the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), including universal sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

“I am proud to say that, since the launch of our Feminist International Assistance Policy, in June 2017, 93% of our humanitarian assistance includes a SRHR or Women’s empowerment component.”

“We are also very pleased to be hosting the Women Deliver Conference in 2019, which is not only a conference, but a movement to empower women and girls and build a better world,” she added.

Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: Canada is currently the 5th largest donor to the UN system. But with the US making drastic cuts — including a reduction of $300 million to UNRWA and $69 million to UNFPA — is there any possibility that Canada, along with other Western donors, would step in to fill this gap?

MINISTER BIBEAU: Canada is committed to providing humanitarian assistance and responding to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable.

This is why I was proud to announce, on October 12, 2018, Canada’s support of up to $50 million over two years for Palestinian refugees through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

This new funding to UNRWA is urgently needed and will help improve the lives and protect the human dignity of millions of Palestinian refugees.

Canada is also a longstanding partner with the the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and among UNFPA’s top 10 bilateral donors. In 2017/18, Canada provided $142 million in International Assistance – helping further to cover UNFPA’s funding gap.

IPS: The developing countries — and specifically the 134 member Group of 77 in its ministerial declaration at the UN last month — complained of a downward trend in official development assistance (ODA) — with increased resources being diverted to refugee funding. Does this also apply to Canada, whose ODA of 0.26 to gross national income (GNI) is below the 0.7 commitment, which has been reached only by six Western donors, including Norway, Luxemburg, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and UK? When does Canada hope to reach the 0.7 target?

MINISTER BIBEAU: Our partners asked the Government of Canada for three things: funding, good policy and leadership; and this is what Canada is providing.

The budget 2018 announced $2 billion in new funds over five years to help implement the Feminist International Assistance Policy and support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as $1.5 billion over five years starting in 2018-19 to help expand the impact of Canada’s international assistance.

Canada is also leading on good policy, which is not measured by the volume of ODA, but by the quality and effectiveness of its assistance and its contributions to policy innovation that can get better results for the poorest and most vulnerable.

Furthermore, as the historic investment in education for women and girls-in-crisis and conflict situations at the G7 leaders’ summit in Quebec demonstrates, Canada is creating momentum around various initiatives and leading other countries and partners to make significant investments, notably in girls and women’s education, in fragile, conflict and crisis contexts.

IPS: As the current G7 president, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau presided over a summit in June this year which committed a hefty $3.8 billion Canadian dollars (CAD) to advance education for girls and women in the world’s battle zones. What would be the time span for disbursing these funds? Has it already got off the ground?

MINISTER BIBEAU: Canada was proud to lead the unveiling of a historic $3.8-billion investment in girls’ education at the G7 leaders’ summit in Quebec and to commit to an investment of $400 million over three years.

The announcement marked a fundamental shift toward improving access and reducing barriers to quality education around the world.

We are currently working with the other countries and organizations contributing to this $3.8-billion investment (the European Union, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the World Bank) to develop an accountability framework to track and report on it. Parameters such as time span, results and indicators will be included.

Together, we’ll make sure the voices of women and girls are included when decisions are made on education and employment.

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Despite Progress, Over 200 Million Women Still Waiting for Modern Contraceptionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/despite-progress-200-million-women-still-waiting-modern-contraception/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-progress-200-million-women-still-waiting-modern-contraception http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/despite-progress-200-million-women-still-waiting-modern-contraception/#respond Tue, 23 Oct 2018 06:25:14 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158308 The international community will be commemorating two milestones in the history of population and development next year: the 50th anniversary of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the 25th anniversary of a Programme of Action (PoA) adopted at the1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. “Let’s use these important benchmarks to launch […]

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End Child Marriage. Credit: UNFPA

By Thalif Deen
OTTAWA, Canada, Oct 23 2018 (IPS)

The international community will be commemorating two milestones in the history of population and development next year: the 50th anniversary of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the 25th anniversary of a Programme of Action (PoA) adopted at the1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo.

“Let’s use these important benchmarks to launch accelerated action – together. Starting here in Ottawa,” UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem told a gathering of over 150 parliamentarians from more than 60 countries who were meeting in the Canadian capital to review the progress made in several key socio-economic issues on the UN agenda, including reproductive health, maternal and infant mortality, family planning, female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, women’s empowerment and gender equality.

She said this is a time to reflect on some fundamental questions.

“Have we done justice to the vision that world leaders articulated nearly 25 years ago in Cairo? What have we achieved? Where is progress lagging? For whom? Why is it that life-saving sexual and reproductive health and rights interventions come into question time and again?,”

She pointed out that the world has made great progress in recent decades, as reflected in impressive declines in maternal deaths and child marriage rates.

Fewer women around the world are dying in pregnancy and childbirth. More women are using modern contraception. More girls are in school.

“Yet, more than 200 million women and girls are still waiting for modern contraception. And every year, there are still nearly 100 million unintended pregnancies,” said Dr Kanem.

And over 300,000 women die during pregnancy or childbirth every year while tens of thousands of girls continue to be married off every day—in child marriages. And the global epidemic of violence against women and girls, including the violence of female genital mutilation (FGM) persists, she warned.

Marie-Claude Bibeau, the Canadian Minister of International Development, who played a key role in hosting the Parliamentarians’ Conference, which concluded October 23, said her country is committed to lead the discussion on gender equality– and welcomes the present conference as a key stepping stone towards hosting the “Women Deliver Conference” in 2019.

“Canada firmly believes that if we want to maximize the impact of our actions and help eradicate poverty, we must passionately defend gender equality and the rights of women and girls so they can participate fully in society,” she added.

To this end, Canada has fully committed itself to mobilizing global support for the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls.

Both are key commitments in Canada’s “Feminist International Assistance Policy”.

As a vibrant discussion followed, Martha Lucia Micher, a parliamentarian from Mexico,
drove home the point that “women’s bodies were being politicized”.

Senator Catherine Noone of Ireland said some of those who opposed legalizing abortions in her country offered a convoluted theory that men will resort to more sex if abortion was made legal.

Dr Kanem said it was an outrage that so many women and girls have so few choices.

“Let’s turn outrage into action. Choice can change the world! Let’s expand rights and choices for all. This is key to gender equality and the only way to advance the ICPD and 2030 agendas.”

Meanwhile, UNFPA has its own ambitious aims for the 2030 deadline of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
• Zero unmet need for family planning,
• Zero preventable maternal deaths and
• Zero gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls (including child marriage and female genital mutilation).

“And our actions towards these three zeros will be grounded in quality population data and evidence.”

“The 2020 census round is an important piece of this puzzle, and we are ramping up our preparations. When everyone is counted, we can identify and reach those still being left behind. That includes millions of women and girls,” she added.

Paying a tribute to parliamentarians, she said: “Your commitment to the principles and goals of the ICPD Programme of Action paves the way for further progress. Your defense of human rights, including reproductive rights; of gender equality; public participation and democratic principles is vital.”

“As parliamentarians, you have the power to transform the voices of your people into concrete action. You have the power to make a real difference. I appeal to you to protect the precious mandate that you share with UNFPA. Our women, girls and young people deserve no less,” she declared.

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UN Vote on Palestine a Humiliating Defeat for US & its Envoyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/un-vote-palestine-humiliating-defeat-us-envoy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-vote-palestine-humiliating-defeat-us-envoy http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/un-vote-palestine-humiliating-defeat-us-envoy/#comments Wed, 17 Oct 2018 15:43:47 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158235 Nikky Haley, the vociferously anti-Palestine US Ambassador to the United Nations, warned member states last year she will “take down names” of those who vote against American interests in the world body—perhaps with the implicit threat of cutting US aid to countries that refuse to play ball with the diplomatically-reckless Trump administration. But that vengeance-driven […]

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Credit: Institute for Palestine Studies

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 17 2018 (IPS)

Nikky Haley, the vociferously anti-Palestine US Ambassador to the United Nations, warned member states last year she will “take down names” of those who vote against American interests in the world body—perhaps with the implicit threat of cutting US aid to countries that refuse to play ball with the diplomatically-reckless Trump administration.

But that vengeance-driven head count – and no ball playing — could be a tedious exercise for the US when 146 out of 193 member states vote to affirm Palestine as the new chairman of the 134-member Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing countries at the United Nations.

The 146 included some of the strongest Western allies of the US, plus four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: UK, France, China and Russia.

The only two countries that stood sheepishly by the US were Israel, its traditional client state, and Australia, a newcomer to the ranks of US supporters.

The 15 abstentions included some of the usual suspects: Austria, Andorra, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Honduras, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Monaco, Poland, Slovakia and Tuvalu.

The vote in the General Assembly on October 16 was, by all accounts, a humiliating defeat to the Trump administration which moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and cut $300 million from its contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) aiding Palestinian refugees.

Both were decisions aimed at undermining Palestine at the United Nations. But the Palestinians pulled off a major victory despite the behind-the-scenes lobbying both by the US and Israel to thwart the Palestinians.

Palestine, which is a non-member state, was endorsed as the chairman of the Group of 77, beginning January next year, at a ministerial meeting late September. The General Assembly vote was a ratification of that decision.

Mouin Rabbani, Resident Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies at Washington DC, told IPS the election of Palestine as the new Chairman of the Group of 77, particularly given the overwhelmingly lopsided nature of the vote, can only be interpreted as a pre-meditated and deliberate slap in the face to the United States by the international community.

Last month the civilized world audibly laughed at Trump as he engaged in another boorish display of Americana at the General Assembly, he added.

“Today it demonstrated that its response to the determination of the United States to dismantle the international system and its institutions, eliminate the concept of accountability under international law, make US power the sole arbiter of international affairs, and use the Question of Palestine as the vehicle of choice for achieving these objectives, can also take more serious forms”.

Following the vote, Haley said the United States voted against the resolution granting the Palestinians privileges at the United Nations as chair of the “Group of 77” – a coalition of developing Member States at the UN.

“The United States does not recognize a Palestinian state, notes that‎ no such state has been admitted as a UN Member State, and does not believe that the Palestinians are eligible to be admitted as a UN Member State.”

The U.S. strongly opposes the Palestinian election as Chair of the G77, as well as the so-called enabling resolution in the UN General Assembly, added the outgoing envoy, who announced last week that she will resign her post by the end of the year.

“The Palestinians are not a UN Member State or any state at all. The United States will continually point that out in our remarks at UN events led by the Palestinians.

“Today’s UN mistake undermines the prospects for peace by encouraging the illusion held by some Palestinian leaders that they can advance their goals without direct peace negotiations. In fact, today’s vote does nothing to help the Palestinian people,” said Haley.

The Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour said the General Assembly vote represents multilateralism at its best, with the wider membership supporting a resolution to enable the elected Chair of a group to perform its duties effectively.

He said it was an expression of respect for the decision of the Group of 77 and China to elect the State of Palestine as its chair for the year 2019 by consensus, following the endorsement by the Asia-Pacific group of the State of Palestine’s candidature, also by consensus.

“The State of Palestine will spare no effort to prove worthy of this trust in its capacity to represent and defend the interests of the Group of 77 and China, while also engaging constructively, and in an inclusive and transparent manner, with all partners, in order to advance cooperation and mutually beneficial agreements, for the common good of all humanity,” he added.

The General Assembly resolution not only ratified the ministerial decision but also provided Palestine with additional rights and privileges, including the right to make statements on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, including among representatives of major groups; the right to submit proposals and amendments and introduce them on behalf of the Group of 77 and China and the right to co-sponsor proposals and amendments.

Additionally, Palestine has been given the right to make explanations of vote on behalf of the States Members of the United Nations that are members of the Group of 77 and China; the right of reply regarding positions of the Group of 77 and China; and the right to raise procedural motions, including points of order and requests to put proposals to the vote, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China.

Rabbani said the election of Palestine to lead the Group of 77 should be seen as a direct response to the US recognition of exclusive Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem in flagrant violation of numerous UNSC resolutions, the termination of US funding to UNRWA as part of a campaign to redefine Palestinian refugees out of existence, punitive measures taken against the Palestinian civilian population of the occupied territories to dissuade the Palestinians from pursuing claims against Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and further measures to legitimize perpetual Israeli control over the Palestinian people, their territory, and resources.

“If this was a traditional election for the Chairmanship of the Group of 77 it is questionable whether Palestine would have been nominated, highly unlikely it would have won, and virtually out of the question it would have achieved the result it did. In other words, this was about issues much larger than the managerial qualifications of the successful candidate, and above all a political message directed at Washington,” Rabbani declared.

The vast majority of Group of 77 members have gotten in line to ask Nikki Haley, and by extension the “hidden genius”, Jared Von Metternich, to take down their names and note that they categorically reject US policy on Palestine and on the broader objectives the Trump administration is seeking to achieve, he said.

“The greater challenge is to translate these symbolic victories, important as they may be, into substantive achievements,” he declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Parliamentarians to Assess Population & Development Funding 24 Years After Historic Conferencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/parliamentarians-assess-population-development-funding-24-years-historic-conference/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=parliamentarians-assess-population-development-funding-24-years-historic-conference http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/parliamentarians-assess-population-development-funding-24-years-historic-conference/#respond Wed, 17 Oct 2018 13:11:56 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158232 When international parliamentarians-– both from the developed and developing world— meet in Canada next week, the primary focus would be to assess the implementation of a landmark Programme of Action (PoA) on population and development adopted at a ground breaking UN conference, led by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), held in Cairo back in 1994. […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 17 2018 (IPS)

When international parliamentarians-– both from the developed and developing world— meet in Canada next week, the primary focus would be to assess the implementation of a landmark Programme of Action (PoA) on population and development adopted at a ground breaking UN conference, led by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), held in Cairo back in 1994.

Population Growth through 2100. Credit: UN Photo

With one year to go before the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), more than 150 parliamentarians will meet at a three day forum in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, October 22-24, to rate the successes and clear roadblocks, if any, to a strategy laid out more than two decades ago.

The thrust of the PoA included a commitment to reduce maternal and infant mortality, promote reproductive health and family planning, halt the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and children, as well as strengthen women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Underlying some of these issues were problems related to ageing, urbanization, female genital mutilation (FGM), midwifery, migrants and refugees, child marriages, adolescent pregnancies, the role of youth and the rising world population, which now stands at over 7.6 billion.

Besides sharing experiences, parliamentarians will also focus on the road ahead with a call for an increase in Official Development Assistance (ODA) — specifically funding for population and development which is being increasingly diverted to help finance refugee settlements.

Austria is one of the Western donors which has taken a lead role in helping developing nations reach some of the ICPD goals.

Asked about her country’s contributions, Petra Bayr, an Austrian member of parliament (MP) and chair of the Sub-Committee for Development Cooperation in the Austrian Parliament, told IPS: “As a multi-party group on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), we are pushing for more funds in that important political field for many years.”

“At the moment, we are successful. For the first time in recent years, we have some extra funding to combat FGM and to support access to SRHR services in the development cooperation budget,” she added.

She pointed out that there is one million Euros (about $1.2 million US dollars) available for fighting FGM and providing family planning services, and the UNFPA is being supported with 200,000 Euros (about $232,000) in core budgeting.

“I anticipate more cooperation between the Austrian Development Cooperation and UNFPAwhich remains to be explored,” said Bayr, who is also chair of the Austrian All Party Parliamentary Group on Population and Development.

She also pointed out that the Austrian strategy on International Financial Institutions (IFI) tackles the empowerment of women and their better involvement in economic activities.

“We know that economic independence leads to increased self-determination, also in private lives, including the decision about the number and the spacing of children,” she declared.

Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: What are your expectations of the upcoming International Parliamentarians’ Conference in Ottawa? Should there be, in your opinion, any economic commitments from Western nations to meet the funding needs of some of the developing countries who have fallen behind in the implementation of the PoA?

BAYR: My expectations are focused on cooperation, exchange of strategies on how to combat the global back clash in the field of SRHR and how we can fortify our communication to strengthen women’s rights which are human rights.

Also, how to meet economic commitments governments of the global north have already signed or pledged but still not fulfilled; they should definitely be an important part of our discussions in Ottawa.

IPS: The US, which was a significant contributor to UNFPA providing about $69 million in FY 2016, has cut off all funding to the UN agency. Should European nations step in and fill this funding gap?

BAYR: I’m very grateful that the Dutch minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Liliane Ploumen, initiated the global fund “She Decides” to curb the shortfall of about USD 600 million over the four years of Trump´s presidency and guarantee millions of women access to SRHR services.

Besides, this supports the fundamental rights of girls and women to decide freely and for themselves about their sexual lives, including whether, when, with whom and how many children they want to have. UNFPA shares the same goals, and of course, the agency´s loss should be refilled, also with funds from European countries.

The financial contribution of Austria will definitely not be enough to fill the gap but we are working hard as multi party group to push our government for more core funding for UNFPA.

IPS: As one of the key parliamentarian networks, what role does the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (EPF) play in helping implement the PoA, including reproductive health, reducing maternal and infant mortality and gender empowerment?

BAYR: It’s we as legislators who decide about the laws underlying the programs that support SRHR and it is for us to ensure there is sufficient funding for these programs. As EPF has a clear focus on the rights of women and girls not only in Europe but through our development cooperation also in the global South, we have a key role to play so that women and girls can enjoy their human rights, have access to evidence based sexuality education and modern means of contraceptives, as well as medically attended pregnancies and deliveries and the economic independence to decide and self determine. EPF supports us in order to exchange good practise, take part in international discussions on SRHR and join forces to make SRHR a reality for all.

IPS: Is the widespread refugee problem in Europe hindering Europe’s ODA commitments? Is there a diversion of European funds from development financing to refugee funding?

BAYR: In general, we have witnessed a shift from fundings for development cooperation to refugee funding in Europe. I’m happy that we managed not to have this terrible involvement in Austria.

Despite the fact that our ODA is very poor, only 0.3% of the gross national expenditure (GNE) and that — already for decades — Austria extensively counts all fundings for refugee spendings in Austria into our ODA, even if this is in line with the criteria of OECD. We have to increase our ODA and dedicate it to the needs of those who are mostly in need.

If we want to achieve the spirit of the Agenda 2030 and leave no one behind, we should follow the good examples of some Nordic countries, the UK and others who show that it is possible to meet one’s international commitments by fostering the political will to do so.

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When Gender Parity Knocks at the UN Door, Does Merit Fly Out of the Window?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/gender-parity-knocks-un-door-merit-fly-window/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-parity-knocks-un-door-merit-fly-window http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/gender-parity-knocks-un-door-merit-fly-window/#comments Thu, 11 Oct 2018 10:02:45 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158108 As gender empowerment gathers momentum, both inside and outside the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to announce shortly a set of new proposals to improve UN human resources policies– specifically aimed at increasing gender and geographical diversity within the Secretariat. When he swore in Michele Bachelet as the new High Commissioner for Human […]

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

As gender empowerment gathers momentum, both inside and outside the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to announce shortly a set of new proposals to improve UN human resources policies– specifically aimed at increasing gender and geographical diversity within the Secretariat.

Credit: UN photo

When he swore in Michele Bachelet as the new High Commissioner for Human Rights back in September, he also anointed a new Ombudswoman.

These two swearings-in bring the parity of women to men, 24 to 22 — 24 women to 22 men in the Secretary-General’s Senior Management Group, perhaps for the first time in the 73-year history of the world body.

But his recent proposals to amend UN staff rules and regulations to further advance gender parity at the United Nations, have triggered a strong protest from the Geneva-based federation of UN staffers worldwide.

Ian Richards, President, Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), representing over 60,000 staffers in the UN system worldwide, told IPS that staff unions disagree with the proposal to change the downsizing rules to make achievement of gender parity at the UN a factor in determining who is fired when posts are cut.

“The current rules state an order of retention based on contract type with due consideration for length of service, performance and integrity — standard practice for most organisations elsewhere as well”.

This is implemented, he pointed out, through a points system that has been signed off by the secretary-general and unions, and is relatively well accepted by staff.

But “management is now proposing to sweep this aside so that gender becomes the determining factor regardless of performance, competence, integrity, length of service and so forth,” Richards added.

In a brief but pithy comment, Guy Candusso, a former Vice President of the UN Staff Union, told IPS: “Merit left the building years ago”.

“More important is that senior officials are never held accountable for their decisions, especially in terms of personnel”, noted Candusso, a longstanding UN staffer, currently in retirement.

Guterres is emphatic that achieving gender parity was a top priority for him. When he took over as Secretary-General in January 2017, he said management reform must ensure “we reach gender parity sooner rather than later”

He pointed out that the initial target for the equal representation of women and men among United Nations staff was the year 2000.

“We are far from that goal. I pledge to respect gender parity from the start in all my appointments to the Senior Management Group and the Chief Executives Board.”

By the end of his mandate, he pledged, the UN should reach full gender parity at the Under-Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General levels, including special representatives and special envoys.

“We need a clear road map with benchmarks and time frames to achieve parity across the system, well before the target year of 2030”.

Richards said the situation is pretty serious as there is plenty of restructuring going on right now: at the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), peacekeeping missions, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) —and they would all be affected.

On top of that, should those staff wish to apply for posts elsewhere in the UN to avoid them and their families being put out on the street, they would be subject to the same gender barriers to get back in.

“We all want a diverse workforce, including geographically, for which lip service is paid. But the measures proposed are dangerous. The gender team appears to have got carried away at the expense of staff and their families,” he declared.

He said they forget that those same staff risk their lives in the world’s most dangerous locations for this organization.

“Staff are now merely numbers in a political calculation”.

Richards said member states aren’t aware of this yet but it will come their way.

“They may pick up that it contravenes Article 8 of the UN Charter, which states that you shouldn’t be barred from a job at the UN because of your gender.”

In the meantime, he said, the staff union has requested an emergency meeting of the Staff-Management Committee. Staff are worried for their jobs and will be watching this very closely, he added.

In January 2017, a Gender Parity Task Force was established to come up with a clear roadmap, with benchmarks and timeframes, to achieve parity across the system, according to the UN.

The Task Force, consisting of staff from more than 30 UN entities, was divided into subgroups focusing on:
• Data / setting targets / establishing common definitions of what is being measured / accountability
• Special measures
• Senior Appointments
• Mission Settings
• Enabling environment / organizational culture / policies related to work environment

Meanwhile, an Asian diplomat, who monitors the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee (Fifth Committee), told IPS that while Guterres may be doing the right thing, there could also be a long-term hidden agenda, according to rumours floating down the UN corridors.

To the best of my knowledge, he is not being pushed by any member states on his far reaching proposals on gender. Perhaps it’s his own initiative to stave off a potential challenge to his second term in office from a woman, he added.

Also, Guterres’ entry into the UN coincided with an increase in the retirement age to 65. And with few staff due to retire, the only way to meet his tight gender targets is to fire people, the diplomat added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Climate Change Undermining Global Efforts to Eradicate Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/climate-change-undermining-global-efforts-eradicate-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-undermining-global-efforts-eradicate-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/climate-change-undermining-global-efforts-eradicate-hunger/#respond Mon, 24 Sep 2018 14:27:25 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157737 The United Nations warned last month that the accelerating impacts of climate change—“already clearly visible today”– have triggered an unpredictable wave of natural disasters– including extreme heatwaves, wild fires, storms, and floods during the course of this year. “If we do not change course by 2020”, cautions UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “we risk missing the […]

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Despite the UN goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger globally, Africa's senior citizens are finding themselves cornered with destitution. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo / IPS

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

The United Nations warned last month that the accelerating impacts of climate change—“already clearly visible today”– have triggered an unpredictable wave of natural disasters– including extreme heatwaves, wild fires, storms, and floods during the course of this year.

“If we do not change course by 2020”, cautions UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us.”

Coincidentally, his warning was followed by the annual 2018 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) which singled out climate change as one of the primary factors responsible for the rise in global hunger – and for the third consecutive year in 2017.

Along with military conflicts and global economic meltdowns, climate change is a driving force in the rise in global hunger while extreme weather, land degradation, desertification, water scarcity and rising sea levels—are collectively undermining global efforts to eradicate hunger.

As the UN continues to express concern over rising natural disasters worldwide, the world body is taking an active role in New York City’s “Climate Change Week” which is scheduled to conclude Sunday September 30—and takes place in the margins of the 73rd sessions of the UN General Assembly where more than 125 world political leaders are due to speak this week.

A primary focus of Climate Change Week will be the number of climate-related disasters, which have doubled since the early 1990s, with an average of 213 of these events occurring every year during the period of 1990–2016, according to FAO.

Asked about the severity of climate change on food security, Cindy Holleman, Senior Economist at FAO, told IPS the number of extreme climate-related disaster events has doubled since the early 1990s (extreme heat, droughts, floods and storms) – “which means we now experience on average 213 medium and large climate-related catastrophic events every year”.

She pointed out that climate-related disasters account for more than 80 percent of all major internationally reported disasters. Climate variability and extremes are already negatively undermining the production of major crops in tropical regions.

“So climate variability and extremes, are not only events that will happen in the future; they are occurring now and are contributing to a rise in global hunger,” she warned.

Holleman said droughts feature among the most challenging climate extremes in many parts of the world. Drought causes more than 80 percent of the total damage and losses in agriculture, especially for the livestock and crop production subsectors.

For almost 36 percent of the countries that experienced a rise in undernourishment since the mid-2000s, this coincided with the occurrence of a severe agricultural drought, she noted.

“Most striking is that nearly two-thirds of these cases (19 out of 28) occurred in relation to the severe drought conditions driven by El Niño in 2015–2016.

During the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event of 2015–2016, this change across so many countries contributed to a reversal of the prevalence of undernourishment (PoU) trend at the global level, she noted.

In its latest 2018 report on “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World” (SOFI), FAO said the absolute number of undernourished people, i.e. those facing chronic food deprivation, has increased to nearly 821 million in 2017, from around 804 million in 2016. These are levels from almost a decade ago.

The share of undernourished people in the world population – the prevalence of undernourishment, or PoU – may have reached 10.9 percent in 2017, according to the report.

Persistent instability in conflict-ridden regions, adverse climate events in many regions of the world and economic slowdowns that have affected more peaceful regions and worsened the food security, all help to explain this deteriorating situation.

The situation is worsening in South America and most regions of Africa, FAO said. Africa remains the continent with the highest PoU, affecting almost 21 percent of the population (more than 256 million people).

The situation is also deteriorating in South America, where the PoU has increased from 4.7 percent in 2014 to a projected 5.0 percent in 2017. Asia’s decreasing trend in undernourishment seems to be slowing down significantly.

The projected PoU for Asia in 2017 is 11.4 percent, which represents more than 515 million people. Without increased efforts, the world will fall far short of achieving the SDG target of eradicating hunger by 2030.

The most recent Typhoon Mangkhut, on September 15, caused considerable devastation in the Philippines.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the typhoon affected 893,000 people, including over 280,000 farmers. Some 236,000 people were displaced — 70 per cent of whom are still in evacuation centres.

The typhoon damaged nearly 1,500 houses. It is also estimated that 1.22 million hectares of rice and corn have been damaged, with losses estimated at $267 million.

The United Nations said it is working closely with its partners and the Government of the Philippines to coordinate rapid assessment and response. Major needs include food, health care, water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as shelter. The United Nations said it stands ready to support the Government’s relief efforts as needed.

Still, there are some who are skeptical about climate change itself.

As Gail Collins, a columnist for the New York Times, pointed out last week the unpredictable US President Donald Trump does not believe in climate change.

“Who among us can forget the time he claimed the whole idea (of climate change) was a Chinese plot to ruin American manufacturing”,? she asked.

Guterres, meanwhile, is convening a Climate Summit in September 2019 to bring climate action to the top of the international agenda. The high-level gathering of world political leaders is scheduled to take place one year before countries are set to enhance their national climate pledges under the Paris Agreement.

“I am calling on all world leaders to come to next year’s Climate Summit prepared to report not only on what they are doing, but what more they intend to do when they convene in 2020 for the UN climate conference,” he said.

Kristen Hite, Oxfam International Climate Policy Lead, told IPS climate change is a factor leaders must take into account as we all collectively try to reach the milestones set by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

She said climate change is already compromising food security and food production, including hitting adaptive limits, with more people migrating because they cannot grow food anymore. And this is only the beginning. With every tick up on the thermometer, millions more are forced into poverty.

Hite said climate impacts on the poor happen through increased food prices, food insecurity and hunger, lost resource base for livelihoods and income, and displacement from flooding and heat waves.

“There is a big difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees, especially for crop production in Sub-Saharan Africa, West Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America. The poor are hit the hardest, and rain-fed agriculture is especially vulnerable.”

As climate emissions barrel on, she said, there is more pressure to displace food farming with carbon farming. It doesn’t have to be this way- if wealthy polluters can get their emissions in check and we all embrace the renewable energy revolution, there is still time to curb this crisis.

Meanwhile, at the upcoming climate change conference, COP24 in Poland in December, there will be an attempt to finalize the rulebook of the Paris Agreement and to deliver on its promises.

FAO’s Holleman told IPS the strongest direct impacts are felt on food availability, given the sensitivity of agriculture to climate and the primary role of the sector as a source of food and livelihoods for the rural poor.

Climate variability and extremes are undermining also the other dimensions of food security. Spikes in food prices and price volatility follow climate extremes and extend well beyond the actual climatic event.

Net buyers of food are the hardest hit by price spikes: these are the urban poor, but also small-scale food producers, agriculture labourers and the rural poor. Those whose livelihoods depend on agriculture and natural resources lose income but also assets and access to food, she pointed out.

The quality and safety of food is affected by more erratic rainfall and higher temperatures: crop contamination, outbreaks of pests and diseases because of rainfall intensity or changes in temperature, she explained.

Hollleman said that stability of production and access to food is also increased by climate variability and extremes. Changes in climate also heavily impact nutrition through impaired nutrient quality and dietary diversity of foods produced and consumed impacts on water and sanitation, with their implications for patterns of health risks and disease.

Prolonged or recurrent climate extremes lead to diminished coping capacity, loss of livelihoods, distress migration and destitution, she declared.

Asked if some of the countries, mostly in Asia, Latin America and sub Saharan Africa, will be able to meet the SDG goal of hunger eradication by 2030, Holleman said ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition is an ambitious goal, but it is one we strongly believe can be reached.

“We need to strengthen our common efforts and work to tackle the underlying causes of hunger and malnutrition, as well as to urgently address key drivers behind the recent rise in hunger,” she said.

“ We should strengthen political will and put hunger elimination and good nutrition as a fundamental goals in the development effort. Extreme poverty, inequality and marginalization is at the roots of hunger and need to be addressed. This is universal, almost a tautology.”

Fundamental entry points to the effort to eliminate hunger is agriculture, the food system in general and social protection. “We also have to deal with the additional challenges created by conflict, climate variability and extremes and economic slowdowns.”

Addressing the root causes of conflict will involve humanitarian, development and peace building strategies which meet immediate needs while making the necessary investments to build resilience for lasting peace and food security and nutrition for all, Holleman declared.

“Meeting the challenge posed by climate variability and extremes requires that we scale-up actions to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity of people and the agricultural and food systems.”

She added: “We need integrated—rather than dissociated—disaster risk reduction and management and climate change adaption policies, programmes and practices with short-, medium- and long-term vision.”

Meanwhile, in what was described as “an unprecedented global partnership”, the United Nations, World Bank, International Committee of the Red Cross, Microsoft, Google and Amazon Web Services have announced a plan to prevent future famines.

The international organizations are launching the Famine Action Mechanism (FAM) – the first global mechanism dedicated to preventing future famines.

In the past, responses to these devastating events has often come too late, once many lives have already been lost, incurring high assistance costs.

“The FAM seeks to change this by moving towards famine prevention, preparedness and early action – interventions that can save more lives and reduce humanitarian costs by as much as 30%. The initiative will use the predictive power of data to trigger funding through appropriate financing instruments, working closely with existing systems,” the coalition said in a press release September 24.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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UN Expects More Upheavals as Trump’s Foreign Policy Runs Wildhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/un-expects-upheavals-trumps-foreign-policy-runs-wild/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-expects-upheavals-trumps-foreign-policy-runs-wild http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/un-expects-upheavals-trumps-foreign-policy-runs-wild/#respond Wed, 19 Sep 2018 10:22:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157674 The unpredictable Donald Trump, described by some as a human wrecking ball, will be walking down his own path of self-inflicted destruction when he visits the United Nations next week. The volatile American president’s unorthodox and reckless foreign policy has already reverberated throughout the United Nations: a $300 million reduction in funding to the UN […]

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Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America, addresses the Assembly’s annual general debate. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 19 2018 (IPS)

The unpredictable Donald Trump, described by some as a human wrecking ball, will be walking down his own path of self-inflicted destruction when he visits the United Nations next week.

The volatile American president’s unorthodox and reckless foreign policy has already reverberated throughout the United Nations: a $300 million reduction in funding to the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) aiding Palestinians and a $69 million cut in funding, since last year, for the UN Population Agency (UNFPA), advancing reproductive health.

And there is widespread speculation that the United States will also initiate a General Assembly resolution later this year to reduce its assessed contributions to the world body – currently at 22 percent of the annual budget.

But that resolution may be adopted by the 193-member General Assembly if the US resorts to strong-arm tactics — as US Ambassador Nikki Haley once threatened to “take down names” and cut American aid to countries that voted for a resolution condemning US recognition of Jerusalem as the new Israeli capital.

Making his second visit to the United Nations on September 25 to address the 73rd session of the General Assembly and later to preside over a Security Council meeting, Trump is known to hold the UN in contempt ever since he called for the renegotiation of the 2015 Climate Change agreement which has been signed by 195 countries and ratified by 180.

In May, Trump also withdrew from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)– while all other signatories, including France, UK, Russia and China, (four of the five permanent members of the Security Council), plus Germany and the European Union (EU), refused to follow his destructive path.

And he once denounced the UN as just another “social club” – a remark made through sheer ignorance than a well-thought-out diplomatic pronouncement.

The world body is expecting more upheavals from an erratic political leader who has kept the international community guessing – not excluding the United Nations.

Norman Solomon, Executive Director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS: “The world is too large, too diverse and too wondrous to have the foremost world body held hostage by the United States government. Trump’s jingoistic arrogance has dragged powerful discourse to new lows at the United Nations”.

The madness of Donald Trump, he pointed out, is shocking on a daily basis, but his administration is an extreme manifestation of what the UN has all too often tolerated in previous times, in more “moderate” forms from Washington.

“The time has come — the time is overdue — for the United Nations to clearly distinguish its operational missions from destructive agendas of the U.S. government,” said Solomon, Co-Founder and Coordinator of the online activist group RootsAction.org, which has 1.4 million active online members.

Meanwhile, as part of his contempt for the international trading system, Trump has threatened to withdraw from the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva as he continues to break trade agreements and impose unilateral tariffs.

Still, he has his adherents out there in Washington DC.

Stephen Moore, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, has proposed that Trump should receive the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics, since the much-coveted Nobel Peace Prize is far beyond his reach.

Writing in Investor’s Business Daily last week, Moore said Trump’s economic achievements have been overshadowed by reports regarding his erratic and “dangerous” behavior.

As his foreign policy runs wild, Trump also broke political ranks with the rest of the world when he decided to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in open violation of a Security Council resolution calling for the warring parties to decide on the future of the disputed city.

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

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

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

Mouin Rabbani, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Washington DC told IPS that speculating on what issues President Trump will address at the United Nations, and how he will conduct himself, is a difficult task.

“Virtually the only thing that can be said with certainty is that he will once again put on a display of breathtaking vulgarity, will spew falsehoods with abandon (in many cases, it must be said, without having a clue that he is doing so), and will for these reasons be celebrated for unprecedented acts of heroism by his American and Israeli supporters,” he added

If Trump sticks to the script drafted by his handlers, which he may or may not do, the United States is expected to focus on its attempts to isolate Iran, he noted.

“It’s an interesting choice, given that the JCPOA is an international treaty that has been ratified by the UN Security Council, that Iran has repeatedly been judged to be in compliance with its JCPOA obligations, and that the United States in unilaterally renouncing its obligations under this treaty stands in open, willful violation of both international law and its obligations to the world body,” he pointed out.

Last week National Security Adviser John Bolton told the Federalist Society in Washington DC the Trump administration will push hard against any investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of US citizens (read: American soldiers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan) or allies (read: Israel accused of war crimes by the Palestinians) from “unjust prosecution by an illegitimate court.”

Meanwhile, Haley has already held out a threat on US funding for the UN when she said “We will remember it (the voting against the US) when we are called upon once again to make the world’s largest contribution (22 percent of the regular budget) to the United Nations”.

Solomon told IPS the U.S. government’s contempt for international law, humanitarian priorities and the United Nations as an institution has reached new overt heights during the Trump presidency.

“The destructive arrogance of Washington’s current policies, represented at the UN by Ambassador Nikki Haley, must be condemned and opposed.”

But governments should do more than directly push back against the dangerous militarism and implicit racism of the current U.S. administration. Members of the UN should also assess — and fundamentally change — the trajectory of the world body’s subservience to the U.S. government and its long-term consequences he noted.

During the last few decades, while several different individuals have been in the White House, the U.S. government has engaged in de facto bribery, blackmail and other devious methods to manipulate member states — sometimes using very heavy-handed tactics to induce members of the Security Council to endorse or at least not oppose the USA’s aggressive military actions and ongoing wars, said Solomon.

Most permanent and rotating members of the Security Council have too often served as silent partners, rubber stamps or outright complicit assistants to the U.S. government’s flagrant, destabilizing and deadly violations of international law.

Yet the undue efforts to go along with Washington’s policies during the last several decades have disfigured the noble ideals of the United Nations — all too often twisting them into rationalizations for enabling the United States to claim the UN’s acquiescence, he declared.

Rabbani told IPS “Perhaps more interesting than Trump’s ramblings at the General Assembly will be his presiding over a session of the UNSC, over which the US holds the presidency this month.”

Watching Trump preside over a UN Security Council session, which includes an obligation to respect its procedures etc. will be a sight to behold. It’s entirely possible that he will open the session with an offer to remodel the building on the basis of one of his special discounts, and request that his fellow UNSC members adopt a resolution to dismiss Special Counsel Robert Mueller, said Rabbani.

If he does stick to script, and insists on pursuing the Iran agenda, one can think of a number of UNSC members that will provide pointed responses to the US position, and these may include US allies as well.

There appears to be a growing realisation that the US agenda is not limited to individual objectives such as the destruction of the JCPOA or ensuring permanent Israeli supremacy over the Palestinian people, but rather has a core objective the dismantling of international institutions, particularly those concerned with international law, and replacing these with naked power, primarily US and Israeli, as the arbiter of international affairs.

This agenda, he said, also helps further explain recent funding decisions taken by Washington vis-a-vis UN institutions such as UNRWA, though there are clear ideological factors at play as well.

“If Trump does come in for serious criticism at the UN, and particularly the UNSC, we should expect Washington to take further measures to seek to marginalise, de-fund, and render impotent the world body and its various agencies.”

“What we recently witnessed with respect to UNRWA and the ICC may prove to be just a precursor to what is coming,” warned Rabbani.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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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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