Inter Press ServiceThalif Deen – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 12 Dec 2017 22:40:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.4 Are Rising Seas, Coastal Erosion & Powerful Storms a Wave of the Future for Small Island Nations?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rising-seas-coastal-erosion-powerful-storms-wave-future-small-island-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rising-seas-coastal-erosion-powerful-storms-wave-future-small-island-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rising-seas-coastal-erosion-powerful-storms-wave-future-small-island-nations/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 17:19:09 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153421 The 44-member Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) represents some of the world’s most vulnerable island nations fighting a virtually losing battle against rising sea levels triggered by global warming and climate change. A negotiating voice of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), AOSIS has membership drawn from all oceans and regions of the world, including […]

The post Are Rising Seas, Coastal Erosion & Powerful Storms a Wave of the Future for Small Island Nations? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

The Maldives. Credit: UNDP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The post Are Rising Seas, Coastal Erosion & Powerful Storms a Wave of the Future for Small Island Nations? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rising-seas-coastal-erosion-powerful-storms-wave-future-small-island-nations/feed/ 0
Post-Nuclear Nightmares Still Linger Over Pacific Islandshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/post-nuclear-nightmares-still-linger-pacific-islands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=post-nuclear-nightmares-still-linger-pacific-islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/post-nuclear-nightmares-still-linger-pacific-islands/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 08:31:35 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153377 The Pacific islands have long remained victims of nuclear crimes – but the perpetrators, three of the world’s major powers with permanent seats in the UN Security Council, never paid for their deadly sins. The testing grounds in the Pacific, included the Marshall Islands (Bikini and Enewetak), and also Johnston Atoll and Christmas Islands in […]

The post Post-Nuclear Nightmares Still Linger Over Pacific Islands appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post Post-Nuclear Nightmares Still Linger Over Pacific Islands appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/post-nuclear-nightmares-still-linger-pacific-islands/feed/ 0
Fiji Civil Society Meeting to Focus on Pacific Islands Under Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/fiji-civil-society-meeting-focus-pacific-islands-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fiji-civil-society-meeting-focus-pacific-islands-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/fiji-civil-society-meeting-focus-pacific-islands-threat/#respond Thu, 30 Nov 2017 20:33:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153272 The 57 small island developing states (SIDS), including 20 described as territories which are non-UN members, are some of the world’s most vulnerable – both economically and environmentally. The United Nations says their vulnerabilities are due primarily to their “small size, remoteness, narrow resource and export base, and exposure to global environmental challenges and external […]

The post Fiji Civil Society Meeting to Focus on Pacific Islands Under Threat appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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

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

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

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, the secretary general and CEO of CIVICUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post Fiji Civil Society Meeting to Focus on Pacific Islands Under Threat appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/fiji-civil-society-meeting-focus-pacific-islands-threat/feed/ 0
Should Environmental Refugees be Granted Asylum Status?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/should-environmental-refugees-be-granted-asylum-status/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=should-environmental-refugees-be-granted-asylum-status http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/should-environmental-refugees-be-granted-asylum-status/#respond Wed, 29 Nov 2017 21:55:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153245 The 1951 UN convention on political refugees– which never foresaw the phenomenon of climate change– permits refugee status only if one “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.” But a proposal for an amendment to that Convention—or an optional protocol — […]

The post Should Environmental Refugees be Granted Asylum Status? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post Should Environmental Refugees be Granted Asylum Status? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/should-environmental-refugees-be-granted-asylum-status/feed/ 0
Will DNA Data Base Deter Sexual Abuse at UN?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/will-dna-data-base-deter-sexual-abuse-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-dna-data-base-deter-sexual-abuse-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/will-dna-data-base-deter-sexual-abuse-un/#respond Fri, 24 Nov 2017 14:52:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153189 16 Days of Activism begins on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day

The post Will DNA Data Base Deter Sexual Abuse at UN? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post Will DNA Data Base Deter Sexual Abuse at UN? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/will-dna-data-base-deter-sexual-abuse-un/feed/ 0
UN Agency Defers Action Cutting Ties to Tobacco Industryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/un-agency-defers-action-cutting-ties-tobacco-industry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-agency-defers-action-cutting-ties-tobacco-industry http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/un-agency-defers-action-cutting-ties-tobacco-industry/#comments Tue, 21 Nov 2017 11:58:01 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153125 Back in November 2008, the 193-member General Assembly decided, by consensus, to ban smoking and tobacco sales at the UN headquarters in New York: a ruling observed by all affiliated agencies worldwide, including the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) which has severed links with the tobacco industry. But there still remains one holdout: the 187-member […]

The post UN Agency Defers Action Cutting Ties to Tobacco Industry appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post UN Agency Defers Action Cutting Ties to Tobacco Industry appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/un-agency-defers-action-cutting-ties-tobacco-industry/feed/ 1
Global Campaign for Mercury-Free Dentistry Targets Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/global-campaign-mercury-free-dentistry-targets-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-campaign-mercury-free-dentistry-targets-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/global-campaign-mercury-free-dentistry-targets-africa/#comments Mon, 13 Nov 2017 15:36:10 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152996 A vibrant global campaign to ban the use of mercury in dentistry is shifting direction: moving from Europe to the developing world. Charlie Brown, Attorney & President of the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, an organization which is spearheading the campaign, told African and Asian delegates at a meeting in Geneva late September: “When you […]

The post Global Campaign for Mercury-Free Dentistry Targets Africa appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post Global Campaign for Mercury-Free Dentistry Targets Africa appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/global-campaign-mercury-free-dentistry-targets-africa/feed/ 1
UN Member States, With Exceptions, Pay Lip Service to Women & Peacekeepinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/un-member-states-pay-lip-service-women-peacekeeping/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-member-states-pay-lip-service-women-peacekeeping http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/un-member-states-pay-lip-service-women-peacekeeping/#respond Tue, 31 Oct 2017 07:59:52 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152823 A UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution adopted on 31 October 2000, underlying the role of women in peacekeeping, has long been described as both historic and unprecedented. But 17 years later, there are widespread expressions of disappointment over the mostly non- implementation of the resolution known by its symbol UNSCR 1325. Mavic Cabrera Balleza, Chief […]

The post UN Member States, With Exceptions, Pay Lip Service to Women & Peacekeeping appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post UN Member States, With Exceptions, Pay Lip Service to Women & Peacekeeping appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/un-member-states-pay-lip-service-women-peacekeeping/feed/ 0
Russian & US Vetoes Protect Client Stateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/russian-us-vetoes-protect-client-states/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russian-us-vetoes-protect-client-states http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/russian-us-vetoes-protect-client-states/#respond Wed, 25 Oct 2017 15:42:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152722 The vote on the latest American-sponsored resolution in the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Syria was predictable: of the five big powers, China abstained and Russia vetoed, while the US, UK and France voted for it. Not surprisingly, the 15-member UNSC continues to lose its political legitimacy as its five veto-wielding members are more intent […]

The post Russian & US Vetoes Protect Client States appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

Syrian conflict. Credit: UN Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post Russian & US Vetoes Protect Client States appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/russian-us-vetoes-protect-client-states/feed/ 0
Global Campaign to Smoke Out Tobacco Firms from UN Bodyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/global-campaign-smoke-tobacco-firms-un-body/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-campaign-smoke-tobacco-firms-un-body http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/global-campaign-smoke-tobacco-firms-un-body/#respond Thu, 19 Oct 2017 19:44:24 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152603 The world’s tobacco companies – which have been widely ostracized in the UN system – may be ousted from one of their last fortified strongholds in the United Nations: the International Labour Organization (ILO). A letter signed by nearly 200 public health organizations and labour rights groups worldwide is calling on the Governing Body of […]

The post Global Campaign to Smoke Out Tobacco Firms from UN Body appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post Global Campaign to Smoke Out Tobacco Firms from UN Body appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/global-campaign-smoke-tobacco-firms-un-body/feed/ 0
US Call for Suspending Arms Sales to Myanmar Faces Road Block in Security Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/us-call-suspending-arms-sales-myanmar-faces-road-block-security-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-call-suspending-arms-sales-myanmar-faces-road-block-security-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/us-call-suspending-arms-sales-myanmar-faces-road-block-security-council/#comments Tue, 03 Oct 2017 14:54:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152336 When US Ambassador Nikki Haley called for a virtual arms embargo against the repressive and much-maligned military regime in Myanmar, she took a passing shot at two of her fellow veto-wielding, permanent members of the Security Council – namely China and Russia – who are primary arms suppliers to the increasingly politically-isolated nation. “And any […]

The post US Call for Suspending Arms Sales to Myanmar Faces Road Block in Security Council appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
The post US Call for Suspending Arms Sales to Myanmar Faces Road Block in Security Council appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/us-call-suspending-arms-sales-myanmar-faces-road-block-security-council/feed/ 1
US Pressure Keeps Palestinians Blacklisted at UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/us-pressure-keeps-palestinians-blacklisted-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-pressure-keeps-palestinians-blacklisted-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/us-pressure-keeps-palestinians-blacklisted-un/#comments Fri, 01 Sep 2017 16:40:37 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151890 When Secretary-General Antonio Guterres proposed the appointment of former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as UN’s Special Representative in Libya back in February, the proposal was shot down by US Ambassador Nikki Haley, purely because he was a Palestinian. And speaking before the US House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee in June, Haley […]

The post US Pressure Keeps Palestinians Blacklisted at UN appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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

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

Credit: Institute for Palestine Studies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post US Pressure Keeps Palestinians Blacklisted at UN appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/us-pressure-keeps-palestinians-blacklisted-un/feed/ 1
US Lags Far Behind in Banning Dental Health Hazardhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard/#respond Mon, 31 Jul 2017 05:16:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151496 The United States is lagging far behind its Western allies – and perhaps most of the key developing countries – in refusing to act decisively to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry. The 28-member European Union (EU), with an estimated population of over 510 million people, recently announced […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But dental mercury apparently continues to get a free pass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard/feed/ 0
Sinking Island Seeks Seat in Security Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/sinking-island-seeks-seat-security-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sinking-island-seeks-seat-security-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/sinking-island-seeks-seat-security-council/#respond Wed, 26 Jul 2017 16:44:55 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151443 The Maldives, one of the world’s low-lying, small island developing states (SIDS) — threatened with extinction because of a sea-level rise– is shoring up its coastal defences in anticipation of the impending calamity. And it is seeking international support for its very survival.—at a time when most Western nations are either cutting down on development […]

The post Sinking Island Seeks Seat in Security Council appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
An aerial view of the Village of Kolhuvaariyaafushi, Mulaaku Atoll, the Maldives, after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

An aerial view of the Village of Kolhuvaariyaafushi, Mulaaku Atoll, the Maldives, after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

The Maldives, one of the world’s low-lying, small island developing states (SIDS) — threatened with extinction because of a sea-level rise– is shoring up its coastal defences in anticipation of the impending calamity.

And it is seeking international support for its very survival.—at a time when most Western nations are either cutting down on development aid or diverting funds to boost domestic security.

“The danger of sea level rise is very real and threatens not just the Maldives and other low-lying nations, but also major coastal cities like New York and Miami,” Ambassador Ahmed Sareer, the outgoing Permanent Representative of the Maldives, told IPS.

Sareer, who held the chairmanship of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) for over two years, said that even though projections vary, scientists anticipate at least three feet of sea level rise by the end of the century.

“This would be problematic for the Maldives, SIDS and many other coastal regions. We are currently building coastal defences to mitigate the danger, but need more support,” said Sareer, currently Foreign Secretary of the Maldives.

Along with Maldives, there are several low lying UN member states who are in danger of disappearing from the face of the earth, including the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Palau and Micronesia.

Asked if the United Nations and the international community were doing enough to help alleviate low-lying small island states, Sareer told IPS: “There has been a heightened focus on the risks SIDS face in recent years, not just from climate change but economic challenges as well. We are grateful for the progress, of course, but it is fair to say we still have much further to go.”

Beginning July 31, the Columbia Broadcast System (CBS), one of the major US television networks, is planning to do a series of stories on “Sinking Islands” threatened by rising sea levels triggered by climate change.

Described as “one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries” and comprising more than a thousand coral islands scattered across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives has a population of over 390,000 people compared to India, one of its neighbours, with a hefty population of over 1.2 billion.

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

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

Meanwhile, in a dramatic publicity gimmick back in October 2009, former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed held an underwater cabinet meeting, with ministers in scuba diving gear, to highlight the threat of global warming.

And earlier, at a Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Kuala Lumpur in October 1989, then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom told delegates that if his country is to host the annual meeting in the foreseeable future, the meeting may have to be held underwater in a gradually disappearing island nation.

The World Bank has warned that with “future sea levels projected to increase in the range of 10 to 100 centimeters by the year 2100, the entire country could be submerged”.

But still, the Maldives which graduated from the status of a least developed country (LDC) to that of a developing nation in 2011, is very much alive – and currently campaigning for a two-year non-permanent seat in the most powerful body at the United Nations: the 15-member Security Council.

This is the first time in its 51 years of UN Membership that the Maldives has presented its candidacy for a seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Over the past 25 years, only six SIDS have served on the Council, out of the 125 elected members during that period. SIDS constitutes 20% of the UN Membership.

Since January 2015, the Maldives has chaired the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a group it helped form in 1990, leading a coalition of 39 member states, of which 37 are UN Members, through landmark agreements on sustainable development, climate change, disaster risk reduction, financing for development, sustainable urbanization, and the follow-up to the SAMOA Pathway- the sustainable development programme of action for SIDS.

In a long-planned effort, the Maldives put forward its candidature on 30 January 2008: ten years before the election, which will take place next year in the 193-member UN General Assembly which will vote for new, rotating non-permanent members of the UNSC.

Sareer said the Maldives seeks to bring a fresh and unique perspective to old challenges.”

And the Maldives believes that non-traditional security threats are as important if not more, than traditional security threats, in today’s world. The Maldives also believes in multi-dimensional approaches to solving issues.

Despite its size, he said, the Maldives has always punched above its weight on the international stage. And it has been a staunch advocate for climate change, and a champion of small States.

Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Palitha Kohona told IPS Maldives has a commendable mission to realise – to push for action on climate change through the Security Council.

This, though a laudable aspiration, will be an uphill battle given that a powerful Permanent Member of the UNSC (the United States) is a declared opponent of the majority global view on climate change, having recently pulled out of the Paris Accord. It will also run in to opposition from the fossil fuel lobby.

However, if elected to the UNSC, Maldives is likely to enjoy the sympathy of the vast majority of the membership of the UN, including those who initiated a movement to seek an advisory opinion in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on responsibility for global warming and climate change in 2012, said Kohona, who co-chaired the UN Working Group on Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdiction and is a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section.

“It will need to deploy considerable resources to secure a seat and then to realise its goal
because Security Council elections, unfortunately, have become a competition among aspirants to see who can spend most on entertaining, junkets and obligatory visits to capitals. These ‘poojas’ become bigger and bigger by the year,” said Kohona.

He said Maldives will be a trend setter for small island developing states, which also must be able to play a role in the UNSC. “They have concerns of global import. It is unsatisfactory in every sense for the UNSC to increasingly become a preserve of big and the powerful.”

He also pointed out that Maldives is well placed and eminently qualified to raise awareness on climate change, global warming and sea level rise. These are threats to the very existence of humanity and could very well morph in to threats to global peace and security.

Already the flood of refugees is having a destabilizing effect on Europe. Refugee flows, which could be massive, resulting from climate change would pose a greater threat to global peace and stability requiring UNSC action. Such action could be taken preemptively rather than after the catastrophe has occurred, he noted.

“Seeing our loyal friend and neighbour seeking a non permanent Security Council seat should also encourage Sri Lanka to do the same in the not-too-distant future,” he added.

Asked whether the 2016 Paris Climate Change Agreement reflected the fears expressed by SIDS on sea level rise, Sareer said sea level rise is just one of the many impacts of climate change, which are of significance to SIDS.

“The Paris Agreement’s main objective is to enhance climate actions, and hence doesn’t directly address sea level rise. However it did include a strong temperature goal and a stand-alone article on loss and damage, which indirectly address these concerns. What is important now is for countries to make deep cuts in their emissions immediately.”

Asked whether the Maldives expects funding from the multi-billion dollar Green Climate Fund (GCF), he said: “We do. The GCF is a primary multilateral vehicle to deliver climate financing to developing countries and therefore ramping up support for the GCF will be critical for all vulnerable countries.”

However, other funds under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are also crucial for transforming climate action in SIDS and also in developing countries.

He said changing rainfall patterns and increasing salinization caused by rising sea levels have led to challenges in securing reliable supplies of drinking water in many Small Island Developing States.

In this context, the Maldives submitted one of the first projects approved through the GCF which will see almost a third of the population of the Maldives becoming freshwater self-sufficient over the next five years.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post Sinking Island Seeks Seat in Security Council appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/sinking-island-seeks-seat-security-council/feed/ 0
Did Arab Coalition Threaten to Pull Out of UN in Protest?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/arab-coalition-threaten-pull-un-protest/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arab-coalition-threaten-pull-un-protest http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/arab-coalition-threaten-pull-un-protest/#respond Wed, 28 Jun 2017 20:36:46 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151084 When Saudi Arabia – which has been spearheading a coalition of Arab states in a devastating war against Yemen since 2015 – was accused of bombing civilians, and particularly children caught up in the conflict, the government in Riyadh threatened to cut off humanitarian funding to the world body. As a result of the looming […]

The post Did Arab Coalition Threaten to Pull Out of UN in Protest? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

Children sitting in front of a school that was badly damaged in the conflict in Yemen. Credit: UNICEF/Abu Monassar

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 28 2017 (IPS)

When Saudi Arabia – which has been spearheading a coalition of Arab states in a devastating war against Yemen since 2015 – was accused of bombing civilians, and particularly children caught up in the conflict, the government in Riyadh threatened to cut off humanitarian funding to the world body.

As a result of the looming threat, Saudi Arabia was de-listed from the “offending” annex to a UN report last year, by then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, largely in order to appease the Saudis.

But the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein of Jordan, with close links to the Jordanian royal family, has cited a report that nine Arab states – the Saudi coalition fighting the Houthi/Saleh rebels in Yemen – made the “unprecedented threat of a withdrawal from the UN if they were listed as perpetrators in the annex of the Secretary General’s report on children and armed conflict.”

The new revelation by Zeid– a former Jordanian Permanent Representative to the United Nations and a former Ambassador to the United States – has shed new light on a hitherto unknown threat by the Arab coalition, coordinated perhaps by the Saudis.

Besides Saudi Arabia, the nine-member Arab coalition includes Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait and Qatar (whose role in the coalition has been suspended since the emergence of a new crisis among Gulf nations early this month).

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics & Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS “this threat by Saudi Arabia and its allies may indeed be unprecedented. Personally, I say call their bluff.”

“It’s important to stick to principle, particularly in regard to international humanitarian law. The reason more countries haven’t actually withdrawn is that they recognize that being part of the United Nations is on balance to their advantage, so it would be their loss and they would eventually return,” declared Zunes.

He said that “countries have threatened, and at times actually pulled out of certain US committees and agencies in protest, but pulling out of the UN itself is almost unprecedented.”

He pointed out that Indonesia pulled out of the UN in January 1965 in protest of Malaysia being elected to the Security Council, but resumed participation after the coup later that year.

Technically, there are no provisions for withdrawal, so the President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) simply referred to it as a “cessation of cooperation” and allowed for Indonesia’s return with little fanfare, said Zunes whose areas of specialization include the United Nations and the Security Council.

He said some right-wing elements in Israel and the United States have threatened to pull out over criticisms of Israel and there are periodic attempts by Republicans for a pullout (currently there is an “American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017” (H.R. 193) introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers, but won’t be going very far.)”

In a statement last year, Amnesty International (AI) said the credibility of the United Nations was on the line “after it shamefully caved in to pressure to remove the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition from the UN’s list of states and armed groups that violate children’s rights in conflict.”

The statement followed an announcement by the spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the change to the list published as part of an annual report by his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.

“The move was a direct result of diplomatic pressure from Saudi Arabia, angry at the UN’s conclusion that coalition operations had led to the death and suffering of children in the armed conflict in Yemen”, AI said.

“It is unprecedented for the UN to bow to pressure to alter its own published report on children in armed conflict. It is unconscionable that this pressure was brought to bear by one of the very states listed in the report,” said Richard Bennett, Representative and Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office.

Speaking before the Law Society in London June 26, Zeid also said the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the Inter-American Court, the Southern African Development Court, and the International Criminal Court have also not been spared such threats.

“Fortunately, in almost all these cases, either the threat of withdrawal has fizzled out, or, even if one or two countries did withdraw, no chain reaction ensued. But the regularity of these threats means it is increasingly probable the haemorrhaging will occur someday – a walk-out which closes the book on some part of the system of international law,” he warned.

Martin S. Edwards, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, told IPS that even though he had not heard of the threat, he would suspect that “this is going to get more common, not only with autocracies under duress, but with countries getting inspired by this White House’s maddening inconsistency with multilateralism.”

“I’m no expert on Saudi foreign policy, but I’d be surprised if it was actually couched in this way. After all, how can the Saudis speak for other countries? I’m sure the Saudi’s own threats to rethink any financial contributions would have been potent enough as it is,” said Edwards who monitors the politics of the United Nations.

Zeid also told the meeting in London that the US is weighing up the degree to which it will scale back its financial support to the UN and other multilateral institutions.

“It is still deciding whether it should withdraw from the Human Rights Council and there was even talk at one stage of it withdrawing from the core human rights instruments to which it is party,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post Did Arab Coalition Threaten to Pull Out of UN in Protest? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/arab-coalition-threaten-pull-un-protest/feed/ 0
UN Work Stoppage in Geneva Halts Human Rights Meetinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/un-work-stoppage-geneva-halts-human-rights-meeting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-work-stoppage-geneva-halts-human-rights-meeting http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/un-work-stoppage-geneva-halts-human-rights-meeting/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 21:53:10 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150960 As UN staffers in Geneva threaten a strike, protesting a proposed salary cut of over 7.5 percent, a token two-hour “work stoppage” last week forced the Human Rights Council to suspend its meeting. But there is more to come, warned Ian Richards, President of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA). […]

The post UN Work Stoppage in Geneva Halts Human Rights Meeting appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
UN Work Stoppage in Geneva Halts Human Rights Meeting

Credit: UN Photo

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

As UN staffers in Geneva threaten a strike, protesting a proposed salary cut of over 7.5 percent, a token two-hour “work stoppage” last week forced the Human Rights Council to suspend its meeting.

But there is more to come, warned Ian Richards, President of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA).

Richards told IPS that a strike would only ever be the last resort. But he accused the United Nations of failing to practice in its own backyard what it preaches to the rest of the world, particularly on labour and human rights.

“Had there been a proper negotiation system in place for staff to have a say in their salaries as the UN preaches to countries, we could have avoided all this.”

“Having said that”, he pointed out, “if there is no avenue for meaningful dialogue, UN staff will have no choice but to escalate their actions.” At the end of the day this isn’t about a budget cut, he noted.

Currently, the UN staff in Geneva number over 5,400 in the professional category of employees.

A resolution adopted by the Geneva staff, at an “extraordinary general meeting” early June, blamed the New York-based International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) for “failing to address the deep concerns and questions raised by staff federations and the heads of 10 Geneva-based agencies over the proposed cut to post adjustment that would result in a reduction in take-home pay of 7.5 per cent (or more).”

The agencies based in Geneva include the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Conference on Trade and Development, (UNCTAD), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Conference on Disarmament and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), among others.

The ICSC, which determines UN salary structures, has awarded staff in New York a pay rise of 2.2 percent, which they rightfully deserve, said Richards. “In the end it’s about some pushing to see what they can get away with,” he added.

The CCISUA will be joined by the 30,000-strong Federation of International Civil Servants Association (FICSA) in any collective action.

The Human Rights Council, the primary UN body dealing with human rights, was forced to suspend its sittings last Friday, but the Geneva staff decided not to disrupt a meeting negotiating an end to the long-drawn-out Syrian civil war which has triggered one of the world’s major humanitarian crises.

Rolando Gómez, Public Information Officer of the Human Rights Council Branch of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva confirmed to IPS about the suspension of the Human Rights Council meeting, resulting from the work stoppage.

“It was the first time such a suspension took place at the Council for such a reason,” he added.

Gomez said the Human Rights Council recognises the right of UN staff to demonstrate against the proposed pay cut and did not wish to take any action that would prevent them from doing so.

“The Council also reiterates its immense gratitude to UN staff at Geneva for the first-rate, indispensable assistance they provide in servicing their meetings throughout the year,” he declared.

Meanwhile, in a letter to staff unions in Geneva, Michael Møller, Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG), said staff representatives have informed the Executive Heads of all Geneva-based common system organizations that they are “planning actions throughout this summer, including work stoppages” with respect to the recent decision of the ICSC on post adjustment levels in Geneva.

This is also refers to an email last week from the UNOG Staff Council with the heading: “Upcoming work stoppage”.

“UN Geneva recognizes and respects the right of staff to freedom of association. Staff are allowed to meet on the UN Geneva premises in a non-disruptive representative manner. UN Geneva also acknowledges the dissatisfaction of staff resulting from the ISCS’s determination on post adjustment for Geneva.”

The letter further warned: “Notwithstanding the above, staff are reminded that actions which disrupt or otherwise interfere with any meeting or other official activity of the Organization, may be considered in contravention to the obligations under staff rule 1.2 (g). This includes any and all conduct which is intended, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the ability of staff or delegates to discharge their official functions.”

Based on guidance from UNHQ (in New York), staff are also reminded that action, such as work stoppage or other collective action, may be considered as unauthorized absence in line with staff regulations and rules, the letter added.

He also said that staff should take note that discussions are still ongoing with the ICSC regarding the implementation of the post adjustment changes, “and we should all ensure that we do not to jeopardize the outcome of such discussions.”

“This is also to call on all of us to act professionally and in a manner befitting our status as international civil servants,” the letter added.

Richards told IPS: “We’re disappointed that UN management should have resorted to threatening staff.”

Asked for his comments, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “The guidance we have from our colleagues in Geneva is that they fully acknowledge the right of staff to freedom of association, which is a basic right. Staff were allowed to meet on the UN… on the premises in Geneva in a non disruptive manner.”

“I think our colleagues in Geneva have acknowledged the dissatisfaction of staff resulting from the issues having to do with the International Civil Service Commission on post adjustments in Geneva. My understanding is that negotiations are still going on, on the implementation of these issues, but we’re all international civil servants, and we need to respect the rules,” he noted.

Richards also said that staff from organizations across Geneva took part in the work stoppage, with the aim of sending a strong message to New York management and the ICSC, that Geneva staff won’t allow their pay to be cut on the basis of absence of negotiations and numerous questions raised about the data and calculations.

“During the stoppage we held a staff meeting, attended by a large number of staff, including directors and staff from HR and security. We have a video which shows a lot of anger.”

Asked what the next step would be, Richards said: “Next steps are the report from a group of statisticians who visited the ICSC last week to check their data and calculations. The ICSC will revisit the issue in Vienna in July and we hope will change their conclusions.”

“It is important to note, he said, that this isn’t about budget cuts, as New York, where ICSC is based, recently got a 2.2 percent pay rise. However, the un-transparent approach used by the ICSC means that another 85 duty stations could be in line for a cut,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post UN Work Stoppage in Geneva Halts Human Rights Meeting appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/un-work-stoppage-geneva-halts-human-rights-meeting/feed/ 0
Proposed UN Pay Cuts Threaten Work Stoppage in Genevahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/proposed-un-pay-cuts-threaten-work-stoppage-in-geneva/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=proposed-un-pay-cuts-threaten-work-stoppage-in-geneva http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/proposed-un-pay-cuts-threaten-work-stoppage-in-geneva/#respond Tue, 30 May 2017 15:30:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150659 Facing significant reductions in US financial contributions from a politically-unpredictable Donald Trump administration, the UN Secretariat is gearing itself for a rash of austerity measures and budgetary cuts, including downsizing peacekeeping operations and cuts in development aid, reproductive health and overseas travel. But UN staffers in Geneva, numbering over 5,400 in the professional category of […]

The post Proposed UN Pay Cuts Threaten Work Stoppage in Geneva appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

UN staff in Geneva protesting proposed pay cuts. Credit: UN photo

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

Facing significant reductions in US financial contributions from a politically-unpredictable Donald Trump administration, the UN Secretariat is gearing itself for a rash of austerity measures and budgetary cuts, including downsizing peacekeeping operations and cuts in development aid, reproductive health and overseas travel.

But UN staffers in Geneva, numbering over 5,400 in the professional category of employees, are already on the warpath because of a proposed 7.5 percent reduction in their take-home pay triggering a strong backlash and public demonstrations—and perhaps leading to a possible work stoppage.

The proposed salary reductions in Geneva aren’t related to the impending US cuts to the UN’s regular and peacekeeping budgets in New York.

A resolution adopted by the Geneva staff, at an “extraordinary general meeting” last week, blames the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), which presides over salary structures, for “failing to address the deep concerns and questions raised by staff federations and the heads of 10 Geneva-based agencies over the proposed cut to post adjustment that would result in a reduction in take-home pay of 7.5 per cent (or more).”

The staff federations include the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA) and the 30,000-strong Federation of International Civil Servants Association (FICSA)

The resolution says the ICSC has refused three times to meet with staff and explain the proposed cuts despite ongoing and serious questions about its data-handling and statistical analysis.

Ian Richards, President of CCISUA, told IPS the resolution was unprecedented and “shows how angry staff in Geneva are at the ICSC’s manipulation of its own methodology to cut pay in what unfortunately is one of the world’s most expensive cities where local salaries rose almost six percent in the last five years”.

“We’re under huge pressure from staff to get the work stoppages going,” he warned.

He said the decision to cut pay was taken by ICSC, but given its failure to provide convincing explanations to the heads of human resources of the organizations in Geneva, most organizations will not implement it for now.

“Those same organizations have also sent a team of statisticians to New York to go through the ICSC’s calculations. Unfortunately the UN secretariat has decided to break ranks, meaning staff in Geneva will be paid different salaries for the same work.”

Richards said pay cuts are also poor employment practices and are only taken by employers in crisis and after negotiating with staff unions.

“The fact that the ICSC increased pay in New York and Washington DC shows we aren’t there right now,” he added.

UN staff in Geneva protesting proposed pay cuts. Credit: UN photo

UN staff in Geneva protesting proposed pay cuts. Credit: UN photo

Geneva is the first UN duty station to be affected by the new rules, but there are 85 duty stations to follow. This summer, several European Union duty stations such as Paris, Vienna, Rome and Madrid, will be up before the ICSC.

According to the staff unions, New York salaries went up by 2.2 percent in February.

“This isn’t about a choice between a pay cut or preserving jobs in Geneva. Organizations did not factor in the pay cut while setting their budgets. Meanwhile Swiss salaries increased 5.7 percent between 2010 and 2015, the same period over which the ICSC is trying to cut ours,” says CCISUA.

There is also a widespread belief that Geneva was victimized first because UN member states aren’t happy at having to pay $1 billion on a new building, which they were strong-armed into paying for, and particularly with possible cost overruns.

Meanwhile, since Washington is the largest single contributor both to the UN’s regular and its peacekeeping budgets, a proposed 29 percent in US foreign assistance by the Trump administration is expected to have a heavy impact on the United Nations in New York.

Currently about 22 percent of the UN’s biennium regular budget of $5.4 billion comes from the US. So does 28 percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget of about $8 billion.

Asked about the impending cuts proposed in the US budget, UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “We’re obviously studying the (US) budget, going through some of the numbers. I think, from where we stand and looking at the budget, as proposed now, would make it simply impossible for the UN to continue all of its essential work advancing peace, development, human rights, and humanitarian assistance around the world”

He said the budgetary process in the US is what it is. “It is going through a legislative process. So we will wait to see what comes out of that legislative process.”

“I think it goes without saying it, but it bears repeating that we’re obviously extremely grateful for the financial contributions the United States has been making and is making to the United Nations over the years as its largest financial contributor”.

Dujarric said that even before the proposed US cuts were announced, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has remained engaged in bringing out reforms in the UN system “ensuring that the UN is fit for purpose, delivers what it’s meant to deliver”.

He said Guterres has put out a number of directives to staff and the Secretariat– over which he has authority– on limiting the amount of travel to necessary-travel only.

He has also asked the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Department of Field Support (DFS) to look at how the UN uses its air assets in peacekeeping missions, which would also include the cutting down as much as possible on the number of special flights.

“I think the Secretary General is extremely aware of the cost… of the monies that is entrusted to us, and he would like to see a reduction in the number of expenditures, and he’s asked his managers to look at that. As for himself, he has also cut down drastically on the delegations and the number of people that travel with him.”

But still, said Dujarric, the UN needs resources to deliver on its mandates laid out by the 193-member General Assembly.

On cuts, Richards said reducing the size of UN staff delegations is probably a good idea. “But at the end of the day, travel is only a small part of the regular, Trump-affected budget. Much travel is paid from extra-budgetary sources, such as projects and events that require travel,” he noted.

Reflecting on the situation in Geneva, Richards pointed that what was noteworthy is that the ICSC decided to remove mitigating measures that would have softened the impact of the cut just before it started working on Geneva.

“The ICSC has agreed to review its decision at its next meeting in July and we hope it will put things right. Many staff have told us they will return from their holidays if need be to take collective action”, he warned.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post Proposed UN Pay Cuts Threaten Work Stoppage in Geneva appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/proposed-un-pay-cuts-threaten-work-stoppage-in-geneva/feed/ 0
Journalist Killings in Sri Lanka Predicated on a Deadly Ironyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/journalist-killings-in-sri-lanka-predicated-on-a-deadly-irony/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalist-killings-in-sri-lanka-predicated-on-a-deadly-irony http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/journalist-killings-in-sri-lanka-predicated-on-a-deadly-irony/#respond Tue, 02 May 2017 15:02:27 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150251 This article is part of special IPS coverage of World Press Freedom Day.

The post Journalist Killings in Sri Lanka Predicated on a Deadly Irony appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

This article is part of special IPS coverage of World Press Freedom Day.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 2 2017 (IPS)

The widespread belief in the politically-motivated killings of journalists in Sri Lanka is predicated on a deadly irony: the hidden hand has always been visible, but the fingerprints have gone missing.

Lasantha Wickrematunge, the Sri Lankan journalist killed in 2009.

Lasantha Wickrematunge, the Sri Lankan journalist killed in 2009.

The two most widely publicized killings relate to IPS UN Bureau Chief in Colombo, Richard de Zoysa, 30, in February 1990, and the Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge, 51, in January 2009.

But both murders remain unsolved—due primarily to political coverups — despite several leads pointing to the killers.

As fate would have it, the politician who apparently ordered the killing of de Zoysa, and the police officer who executed that order both died in a suicide bomb blast in 1993, three years after de Zoysa’s murder.

But the rest of the conspirators are still on the loose and fugitives from justice.

And as the United Nations commemorated World Press Freedom Day, there were reports last week that one of the suspects in the Wickrematunge killing– far from being investigated or prosecuted — had been elevated to the rank of a diplomat and posted to a Sri Lanka embassy in an Asian capital years ago.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), which has an arresting headline on its website titled “Sri Lanka: Where Journalists are Killed with Impunity,” lists the killings of 25 Sri Lankan journalists since 1992, with 19 where “motives were confirmed” and six with “motives unconfirmed.”

David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on ‘the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression’, called on governments “to investigate and hold accountable all those responsible for attacks on journalists.”

In a statement released May 2, he said: “This past year has seen repeated attacks on journalists, leaving many dead or injured. Often terrorist groups carry out such attacks to silence opposition, secularists or atheists.”

Too often, he pointed out, threats are not met with effective protection by law enforcement or, in their aftermath, genuine investigation and prosecution.

“States need to make accountability a priority,” he declared.

In an interview with IPS, Sonali Samarasinghe, Minister Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, confirmed that both high profile killings in Sri Lanka were meant to silence press criticism of political higher-ups.

Speaking strictly as a former journalist and widow of Lasantha Wickrematunge, she said “the authorities at the time wanted to silence Lasantha and cripple two newspapers — The Sunday Leader of which he was Editor-in-Chief and I was Consultant Editor– and The Morning Leader of which I was Editor in Chief.”

In Richard de Zoysa’s case, Samarasinghe said, he was the first Sri Lankan journalist to pay the ultimate price for his journalism.

Like Lasantha, Richard was beloved during his life, and like Lasantha, he has, since his death, become an icon in the media industry in Sri Lanka. Richard was a man of extraordinary talent and range who wrote haunting poetry and powerful plays, she noted.

There is no doubt in my mind that his killing was politically motivated as well, said Samarasinghe, a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, an Edward R. Murrow Fellow in Washington DC, and an International Journalist-in-Residence at the Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York.

Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: Since Lasantha’s killing, has there been any credible investigation to track down his killer or killers? Why has there been no trial or conviction for 8 long years?

SAMARASINGHE: Before January 2015, there had been virtually no serious investigation into this crime. There seems to have been a deliberate cover-up and stonewalling of the case. Such emblematic cases are not properly investigated for several reasons; among them, to hide the truth, to perpetuate a fear psychosis in the people and to create chaos. These assassinations affect not only the families of the victims but society as a whole. A break down in the rule of law and a lack of freedom of information leads to social divisiveness and generates mistrust between groups and in the institutions of the State. They send messages of fear, despondency and submission – and slavish/divisive societies are easier to manipulate.

However, since the change in administration in 2015, a special Criminal Investigations Team was established and there have been concrete steps taken not only in Lasantha’s case but in the cases of other journalists who were beaten, threatened or who disappeared during the previous administration. Lasantha’s body was exhumed late last year as part of this new investigation. These are extremely gut-wrenching circumstances and for me very difficult to endure as his wife. However, for the sake of the greater good and for the purposes of a thorough independent investigation, we have to go through this.

The proper conclusion of these investigations are important in order to re-establish Good Governance and the Rule of Law in our country, and halt the cyclical recurrence of violence in various forms. This is why the present administration has said it is deeply committed to these democratic principles.

IPS: How safe is the political environment for journalists now — as compared with 1990 or 2009?

SAMARASINGHE: As a nation that had suffered a dark period under the yoke of terrorism and an accompanying culture of impunity, this administration has demonstrated in several concrete ways that it is actively conscious of the value of a nation built on the principles of democracy and the Rule of Law. The cornerstone of any democracy is freedom of information. Without this there can be no meaningful advancement of peace, development or human rights. Among others, the proper handling of Lasantha’s case will become the symbol of a restored and renewed democracy where once again, the people of our country will have faith in our judiciary, and in our system of Justice. This is a slow and steady process.

Clearly the current administration has taken several steps in the right direction. For instance after years of civil society activism the Right to Information Act was signed into law in August 2016 and came into force on February 4, 2017. The government unanimously enacted the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crimes and Witnesses Act. A Permanent Office for Missing Persons (OMP) has been established. These are all structures and mechanisms that serve to rebuild trust in the state. I would say that today we have an administration that understands the value of an independent fourth estate and the serious perils of lapdog journalism.

QUESTION: With the increasing attacks on journalists worldwide, is there a role for the UN to stem this onslaught?

SAMARASINGHE: There is definitely a leadership role for the United Nations. From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Article 19 which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” to the unanimously adopted Sustainable Development Goals – particularly Goal 16, to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” we see that member states fully realize the UN’s critical role in this regard.

Target 10 of Goal 16 recognizes that public access to information and fundamental freedoms are indispensable conditions to sustainable development. It reads, “Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.”

IPS: Are most UN member states paying only lip service to the cause of press freedom?

SAMARASINGHE
: In the final analysis, it is the responsibility of individual member states to implement nationally the international agreements and UN resolutions in accordance with their own domestic laws and cultures and to establish Rule of Law and end impunity. The two indicators set by the United Nations Statistical Commission for tracking progress in the achievement of target 10 are pertinent as they relate (a) to the number of verified cases of killing, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention and torture of journalists, associated media personnel, trade unionists and human rights advocates, and (b) to the number of countries that adopt and implement constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information. Therefore SDG 16 is significant in mainstreaming safety of journalists in the international development agenda and for tracking progress in individual countries.

IPS: Do you think the UN should at least name and shame these countries where journalists are constantly in danger of losing their lives in the line of duty?

SAMARASINGHE: There is in fact a UN plan of action for the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity, with UNESCO taking the lead in developing and implementing the plan. This plan includes a number of actions including standard-setting, policy-making, monitoring, reporting, building capacity and awareness-raising.

And yet, according to the UN itself every five days a journalist is killed in pursuit of a story. So yes, clearly the international community must be more proactive in addressing this issue. The numbers from civil society are staggering as well, with the Committee to Protect Journalists reporting that some 370 journalists were murdered between 2004 and 2013 in direct retaliation for their work, with 48 journalists killed in 2016 and 8 already killed in 2017.

However there are several soft approaches that the UN already explores, and awareness-raising through commemorative events or International Days (including World Press Freedom Day) is one. These soft approaches, if constant, can be very effective in shining a light on national situations, transporting incidents to the international stage and affording activists and family members an international platform to make their case.

IPS: Is there any role for journalists themselves to take up the fight at home or, more importantly, internationally?

One way to do this is to highlight or give prominence to the journalists who have been victimized in their own countries. For example, as an exiled journalist at the time, I was invited to speak at international events organized by UN agencies. During this period, I was also given the opportunity to speak at various other international venues, including on Capitol Hill, at the National Press Club, Universities and was also invited to serve as key note speaker at special events, including to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr Day. This kind of exposure helps keep the issues alive on the international stage.

Furthermore, UNESCO has the annual UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize awarded on 3 May that honors a person, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of press freedom. Lasantha was awarded this prize in 2009. He became only the second journalist to be honoured posthumously since this prize was created, and a testimony to the risk many journalists run in the pursuit of their calling. Again, this award, and the buzz it created, became a megaphone opportunity to highlight not only Lasantha’s case, but also the plight of all journalists persecuted everywhere for their work.

And in 2009 Mr Ban Ki Moon the then UN Secretary General highlighted Lasantha’s assassination during his remarks on Press Freedom Day. The world’s top diplomat giving prominence to Lasantha’s case was an important step in the right direction. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SNVeGGe0TU. Other UN agencies and diplomats expressed concern as well quite publicly, and these statements sent a message that the international community was watching. But yes, given the horrific numbers, it is important that the international community remains ever vigilant.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post Journalist Killings in Sri Lanka Predicated on a Deadly Irony appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/journalist-killings-in-sri-lanka-predicated-on-a-deadly-irony/feed/ 0
IPS Journalists Who Perished in the Line of Dutyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/ips-journalists-who-perished-in-the-line-of-duty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ips-journalists-who-perished-in-the-line-of-duty http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/ips-journalists-who-perished-in-the-line-of-duty/#respond Wed, 26 Apr 2017 11:44:12 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150159 This article is part of special IPS coverage of World Press Freedom Day.

The post IPS Journalists Who Perished in the Line of Duty appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

This article is part of special IPS coverage of World Press Freedom Day.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 26 2017 (IPS)

In the politically-risky world of professional journalism, news reporters are fast becoming an endangered species.

The numbers are staggering: some 1,236 journalists have been killed since 1992, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

In 2016 alone, 48 journalists were killed worldwide – and in the first few months in 2017 there have been 8 deaths. The “deadliest countries” for journalists include Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya and Mexico, where international news organizations took the heaviest toll.

But Inter Press Service (IPS) was not spared the agony either.

The news agency, which has relentlessly covered the developing world for over 53 years, has suffered both under repressive authoritative regimes and also in war-ravaged countries where IPS journalists have either been detained, tortured or beaten to death in the line of duty in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

Richard de Zoysa

Richard de Zoysa

But for most surviving families, the tragedy has been doubly devastating because the killer or killers have never been apprehended, prosecuted or convicted in any court of law in their respective home countries—or in some cases their bodies never recovered.

The most glaring example was the fate of 30-year-old Richard de Zoysa, the IPS Bureau Chief in Sri Lanka, who was abducted, tortured, killed and dropped from a helicopter into the ocean – a crime reportedly perpetrated by “death squads”. His bloated body was washed ashore in the suburbs of Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital.

The horrendous politically-motivated crime, which took place in February 1990, is still one of the unresolved murders after 27 long years.

In 2006, Alla Hassan, the IPS correspondent in Iraq, was shot and killed while driving to work in a war zone where killings were routine with little or no rule of law.

And in Argentina in the mid-1970s, two IPS journalists, Luis Guagnini and Roberto Carri, were both abducted at the end of their working day in the IPS Bureau in Buenos Aires – and their dead bodies were never recovered.

In a February 2013 piece titled “Censorship by Murder Will Not Silence Truth”, IPS Regional Editor for Asia Kanya d’Almeida wrote that even though Sri Lanka experienced a “reign of terror” battling two insurgencies in the South and the North in the 1990s, “no one expected that one of its victims would be Richard de Zoysa.”

She described him as “the progeny of two powerful Colombo families, star of the English-language stage, a well-known newscaster and bureau chief of the Rome-based Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency, whose dispatches on Sri Lanka throughout the 1980s earned him a reputation at home and abroad as an exceptionally prolific writer.”

Juan Gelman, Director of the Latin American Bureau of IPS, based first in Buenos Aires between 1974 and 1977 and then in Rome, recounts the disappearance of two IPS journalists – Luis Guagnini and Roberto Carri—in the mid 1970s.

“Just days after the funeral, the media received a directive from the government: no more mention of Richard de Zoysa — not in print, not in pictures, not on the radio. If murder would not suffice to silence him, then censorship would have to be the next best thing.”
The kidnappings, like most such kidnappings at that time, were attributed to para-military groups, such as the self-styled Triple A comprising the Argentinian Anti-Communist Alliance —  which was largely held responsible for the murder of over 2,000 trade union leaders, students and leftist intellectuals.

Writing in “The Journalists Who Turned the World Upside Down”, a publication recounting the history of IPS, Gelman says the result was striking: 30,000 “desaparecidos”–  a term which encompasses four concepts: the kidnapping of unarmed citizens, their torture, their murder and the disappearance of their bodies.

“At the beginning of 1975, the Triple A had IPS in its sights, and the difficulties of obtaining information were multiplying,” says Gelman.

In an act of solidarity, then IPS Director General Roberto Savio decided to relocate the Latin American network to Rome, a task shared by four colleagues.

Every day, news arrived from the southern part of South America about killings and “disappearances” that the agency would punctually distribute. Several IPS journalists had to flee and rebuild their personal and professional lives in exile. This was not easy, but many managed, says Gelman.

In the case of de Zoysa, he was murdered on the eve of his relocation from Colombo to Lisbon as the new IPS Bureau Chief in Europe.

As de Almeida recounted: “On the third day after de Zoysa had been bundled into a jeep by six armed men (one of whom his mother Dr. Manorani Saravanamuththu, would identify as a high-ranking police officer in the president’s detail), wearing nothing but a sarong around his waist, a fisherman bobbing about on the Indian Ocean just off the coast of Moratuwa, a seaside suburb south of Colombo, hauled a floating corpse into his narrow boat and rowed it ashore.”

And although bullet wounds and three days in salt water had eaten away at the handsome 30-year-old, his mother, called in by a magistrate defying government orders to “dispose” of bodies without due process, recognised him.

The news sparked a massive public outcry among Colombo’s elite: louder, even, than the collective fury over the roughly 40,000 deaths that had preceded de Zoysa’s in that black decade, wrote de Almeida.

“Just days after the funeral, the media received a directive from the government: no more mention of Richard de Zoysa — not in print, not in pictures, not on the radio. If murder would not suffice to silence him, then censorship would have to be the next best thing.”

His last dispatch from Colombo was titled “Sri Lanka: Nearing a Human Rights Apocalypse.”

In late 1990, at a ceremony held at the United Nations, IPS posthumously bestowed its annual “International Achievement Award” on de Zoysa for his excellence in journalistic reporting and his news accounts of the killings of students by death squads in Sri Lanka.

But Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations was instructed by the Foreign Ministry in Colombo to reject the invitation and boycott the ceremony — even though more than a hundred diplomats turned out for the event.

The killings of journalists have been mostly in war ravaged or conflict-ridden countries. But Sri Lanka was neither– although successive governments were battling insurgencies both in the country’s South and North.

After de Zoysa’s killing, the most prominent journalist to be murdered in Colombo was Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor-in-chief of the Sunday Leader, in January 2009.

Both were unfortunate deaths in the “fog of bloody insurgencies and Sri Lankan politics”, Sinha Ratnatunga, editor in chief of the Sri Lanka Sunday Times, told IPS.

But there was more to follow, including the abduction of editor Keith Noyar and Poddala Jayantha, and the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda.

As a tribute to the missing journalist, the US State Department named Sandhya Ekneligoda, wife of the slain journalist, for one of its “International Women of Courage” Awards.

Ekneligoda was nominated by the US Embassy in Colombo, for her work “pursuing justice in her own husband’s case, as well as on behalf of missing families from both Sinhalese and Tamil communities, as a profound symbol in Sri Lanka’s efforts towards justice and reconciliation.”

Asked about state of press freedom in Sri Lanka since the killings of de Zoysa and Wickrematunge, Ratnatunga told IPS the danger to media freedom in Sri Lanka is when one compares the environment today to what it was– rather than what it should be.

Clearly, media practitioners faced trying times in the bad old days, beginning with serial indictments against editors and publishers on archaic criminal defamation charges around 1995, followed by censorships on military news as a separatist insurgency gathered momentum.

Emergency regulations promulgated to combat terrorism saw the press caught in the crossfire and suffer collateral damage, said Ratnatunga, a former President of the Editors’ Guild.

By the early 2000s, he pointed out, the military had the upper-hand in a civilian Government desperate to end the blood-letting in the country.

The dreaded ‘white van’ (the mode of transport for those abducted) syndrome emerged.

“Journalists who were critical of the military were targeted; some were killed, others abducted and tortured. The LTTE guerrillas (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) fighting for a separate state on the island were equally merciless with those who critiqued them on their turf.”

With the end of the ‘war’ resulting in the capitulation of the guerrillas, the ‘white van’ syndrome began to fade away, but the bitter after-taste remained and political opponents of the then-Government flogged the issue to its advantage, he added.

As all new Governments do, said Ratnatunga, the 2015 Government that replaced the old regime promised the sun and the moon to the media. Sceptical were those who have seen it all before.

Not too long after, ensconced in power and place, the new Government began to lose patience with the vastly expanding media. They began a “Them” versus “Us” labeling policy but the cohabitation Government of the country’s two major political parties, operating under the euphemism ‘National Unity Government’, became a victim of its own intrigue.

He said the Media Ministry, the official Government newspaper group and state television were, on the surface, supporting the Unity Government against the Opposition, but within, tug-of-wars were taking place; so much so, the President appointed a committee of his party loyalists to ascertain why he was not getting due prominence in the state media – a not-so-thinly veiled message to those backing the Prime Minister.

The Sri Lankan media keeps growing; the print media retains its influence, new publications keep sprouting up and television stations vie for ratings with politics and entertainment as their staple diet while social media adds the spice – usually by not allowing facts to get in the way of a good gossipy story, Ratnatunga added.

To have a say in this vast labyrinth, powerful politicians egg on businessmen they have helped amass wealth to start up newspapers, TV and radio stations; and to control this growing ‘monster’ the Government is regulating the issue of frequencies to who they think are politically ‘questionable’ applicants, also embarking on a new initiative to have a Media (Standards) Commission.

Like their predecessors in office, he said, the new Government uses the ‘carrot and stick’ policy. Journalists, given houses, motorbikes and computers are now being offered compensation for political victimization and physical harassment of the past years.

The Sri Lankan media does live in interesting times, Ratnatunga declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

 

 

The post IPS Journalists Who Perished in the Line of Duty appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/ips-journalists-who-perished-in-the-line-of-duty/feed/ 0
Syrian Regime Survives on Russian Arms & UN Vetoeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/syrian-regime-survives-on-russian-arms-un-vetoes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-regime-survives-on-russian-arms-un-vetoes http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/syrian-regime-survives-on-russian-arms-un-vetoes/#comments Tue, 28 Mar 2017 16:25:57 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149679 As the devastating civil war in Syria entered its seventh year last week, President Bashar al-Assad has continued to survive— despite faltering efforts by the United States and the UN Security Council (UNSC) to rein him in, or impose sanctions on his beleaguered regime. Assad, who did his post-graduate studies in the UK and was […]

The post Syrian Regime Survives on Russian Arms & UN Vetoes appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>

Syrian conflict. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 28 2017 (IPS)

As the devastating civil war in Syria entered its seventh year last week, President Bashar al-Assad has continued to survive— despite faltering efforts by the United States and the UN Security Council (UNSC) to rein him in, or impose sanctions on his beleaguered regime.

Assad, who did his post-graduate studies in the UK and was trained as an ophthalmologist in London, is not your average, run-of-the mill Middle East dictator.

Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch calls him an “Arab dictator 2.0” – technologically upgraded from the likes of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, both of whom died in the hands of their captors.

“He is a different kind of blood thirsty dictator who shops online on his I-pad,” says Houry, describing Assad as more dress-conscious and technologically sophisticated in an age of the social media.

According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: “For six years now, the Syrian people have been victims of one of the worst conflicts of our time” – and under Assad’s presidency.

The death toll is estimated at nearly 400,000, according to the United Nations and civil society organizations monitoring the conflict.

And the Syrian President’s political survival has depended largely on three factors: Russian vetoes in the Security Council (aided occasionally by China) protecting his presidency; a wide array of Russian weapons at his command; and the sharp division among multiple rebel groups trying unsuccessfully to oust him from power.

Assad, however, is not unique in the protection he receives from a divided Security Council. Israel continues to be protected by the US and Morocco by France.

After losing Iraq and Libya — two of its former military allies who were heavily dependent on Russian weapons– Moscow has remained determined to prevent any Western-inspired regime change in Syria.

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics & Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS: “Although the harsh U.S. criticism of Russia and China for the abuse of their veto powers is in itself quite reasonable, it should be noted that while Russia and China have now vetoed six resolutions challenging violations of international legal norms by Syria, the United States has vetoed no less than 43 resolutions challenging violations of international legal norms by Israel.”

Though the Russian and Chinese vetoes of these modest and quite reasonable resolutions on Syria have been shameful, Assad would probably still be in power regardless, he said.

“None of these resolutions allowed for foreign military intervention or anything that would have significantly altered the power balance. The opposition is too divided and, despite the regime’s savage repression, it still has the support of a substantial minority of Syrians, particularly given popular fears of a takeover by Salafist radicals if Assad was overthrown,” he noted.

Furthermore, even the Assad regime’s harshest Western critics have never appeared ready to dramatically escalate their support for Syrian rebels or their direct military intervention regardless of whether or not they had UN authorization to do so, said Zunes who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council.

In a statement last week, the office of Congresswoman Barbara Lee [Democtat-California] pointed out that “President Trump recently deployed 400 troops to Syria and reports indicate that the Pentagon is planning to send 1,000 additional troops in the coming weeks, marking the latest front in this endless war.”

The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is currently involved in a fifth round of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, described as “Geneva V”.

A coalition of civil society organizations, however, warned last week that Geneva IV failed to deliver tangible progress to improve the lives of our people. “Unless there are consequences for the continued killing of civilians, Geneva V will suffer the same fate.”

“As this new round of talks begins, we appeal to you to bring leverage to the table – otherwise your presence does nothing to increase the chances of success. We know what we want for our future and how we should get there. We need what we can’t deliver and what has always been missing: pressure on and leverage over the regime and its allies to enforce Security Council resolutions, which are clear and explicit.”

In a guest editorial in the current issue of the magazine published by the UN Association of UK, Lakhdar Brahimi, who served as UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria from 2012 until 2014, said: “Yes, the UN failed to stop the bloodshed in Syria, but a deeper understanding is needed of why the UN fails when it fails, and why the UN succeeds when it succeeds.

Asked about the continued vibrant military relationship between Syria and Russia, 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 Syrian conflict is seemingly intractable.

Bashar al-Assad has remained in power, despite a conflict that has persisted since 2011. She said Russian support, including arms transfers, has helped President Assad stay in power.

“The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has documented small quantities of weapons transfers to Syria from China, Iran, and North Korea, as well as possible transfers from Belarus. But over the last 15 years, Russia has been by far the Assad regime’s dominant arms supplier.”

President Assad has remained in power, but at great cost, said Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues

Russia has remained the largest single arms supplier dating back to a 25-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed by Syria with the then Soviet Union in October 1970.

Syria’s military arsenal includes over 200 Russian-made MiG-21 and MiG-29 fighter planes, dozens of Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters and SA-14 surface-to-air missiles, and scores of T-72 battle tanks, along with a wide range of rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns, mortars and howitzers.

But most of these are ageing weapons systems, purchased largely in the 1970s and 1980s costing billions of dollars, and badly in need of refurbishing or replacements. As in all military agreements, the contracts with Russia include maintenance, servicing, repairs and training.

Goldring said Syria is yet another example of the costs of proxy warfare. Continued arms transfers fuel the conflict, and the Trump Administration’s plans for US forces in Syria magnify this risk. She said the pattern of the conflict suggests that a military solution is unlikely.

When one group has been able to attain an advantage, it has been temporary, as another group has responded. “Rather than perpetuating the conflict through weapons transfers, the suppliers should stop supplying weapons and ammunition to ongoing conflicts, including in Syria,” said Goldring.

Singling out the role of the United Nations in resolving international crises over the years, Zunes told IPS “the Syrian dictator is not the only autocratic Arab dictator to have received support from a divided Security Council.”

He pointed out that Moroccan King Hassan II and his successor Mohammed VI’s ongoing occupation of Western Sahara, and refusal to go ahead with the promised referendum on the fate of the territory, has put Morocco in violation of a series of Security Council resolutions.

But France—and, depending on the administration, the United States as well—has prevented the United Nations from enforcing these resolutions through Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

As with Indonesia’s 24-year occupation East Timor, he pointed out, Morocco’s permanent member backers have never had to formally exercise their veto power as has Syria’s allies, but the threat of a veto has prevented the United Nations from carrying through with its responsibilities to uphold the right of Western Sahara, as a legally-recognized non-self-governing territory, to self-determination.

Today, more than four decades after the UNSC initially called on Morocco to pull out and allow for self-determination, the occupation and repression continues, he noted.

“If anything, the case for UN action in Western Sahara is legally more compelling. While the death toll and humanitarian crisis in Syria is far worse, it is primarily an internal conflict taking place within that country’s sovereign internationally-recognized borders, while Western Sahara—as an international dispute involving a foreign military occupation–is clearly a UN responsibility,” Zunes declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post Syrian Regime Survives on Russian Arms & UN Vetoes appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/syrian-regime-survives-on-russian-arms-un-vetoes/feed/ 3