Inter Press ServiceTharanga Yakupitiyage – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 18 Jan 2018 16:29:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 “The World Has Gone in Reverse”http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/world-gone-reverse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-gone-reverse http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/world-gone-reverse/#respond Thu, 18 Jan 2018 07:06:34 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153922 A year into his position, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that peace remains elusive and that renewed action must be taken in 2018 to set the world on track for a better future. Around the world, challenges such as conflicts and climate change have deepened while new dangers have emerged with the threat […]

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Secretary-General António Guterres briefs the General Assembly on his priorities for 2018. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

A year into his position, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that peace remains elusive and that renewed action must be taken in 2018 to set the world on track for a better future.

Around the world, challenges such as conflicts and climate change have deepened while new dangers have emerged with the threat of nuclear catastrophe and the rise in nationalism and xenophobia.

“In fundamental ways, the world has gone in reverse,” said Guterres to the General Assembly.

“At the beginning of 2018, we must recognize the many ways in which the international
community is failing and falling short.”

Among the major concerns is the ongoing and heightened nuclear tensions.

Guterres noted that there are small signs of hope, including North Korea’s participation in the upcoming winter Olympics as well as the reopening of inter-Korean communication channels.

“War is avoidable—what I’m worried is that I’m not yet sure peace is guaranteed, and that is why we are so strongly engaged,” he said.

Despite UN sanctions, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has refused to surrender the country’s development and stockpile of nuclear missiles.

During a meeting in Canada, United States’ officials warned of military action if the Northeast Asian nation does not negotiate.

“It is time to talk, but they have to take the step to say they want to talk,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told foreign ministers.

A recently released nuclear strategy also outlines the U.S. administration’s proposal to expand its nuclear arsenal in response to Russian and Chinese military threats which may only sustain global tensions.

Guterres has also pinpointed migration and refugee protection as priorities for the year.

Though arrivals have dropped, refugees and migrants from Honduras to Myanmar still embark on dangerous journeys in search of economic opportunity or even just safety. However, they are still often met with hostility.

“We need to have mutual respect with all people in the world. In particular, migration is a positive aspect—the respect for migrants and diversity is a fundamental pillar of the UN and it will be a fundamental pillar of the actions of the Secretary-General,” Guterres said.

The UN Global Compact for Migration is set to be adopted later this year after months of negotiations. The U.S. however has since withdrawn from the compact and is seemingly increasingly abandoning its commitments to migrants and refugees.

Most recently, U.S. President Donald Trump allegedly made offensive comments about immigrants from Caribbean and African nations.

The African Group of UN Ambassadors issued a statement condemning the “outrageous, racist, and xenophobic remarks” and demanded an apology.

UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville echoed similar sentiments, stating: “There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”

Guterres expressed particular concern about U.S. cuts to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) which has served more than five million registered refugees for almost 70 years.

“UNRWA is providing vital services to the Palestinian refugee population…those services are extremely important not only for the wellbeing of these populations—and there is a serious humanitarian concern here—but also it is an important factor of stability,” he said.

Just a day after the Secretary-General’s briefing, the U.S. administration announced that it will cut over half of its planned funding to the agency.

Former UN Undersecretary-General and current Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council urged the government to reconsider its decision.

“Cutting aid to innocent refugee children due to political disagreements among well-fed grown men and women is a really bad politicization of humanitarian aid,” he said in a tweet.

In light of the range of challenges, Guterres called for bold leadership in the world.

“We need less hatred, more dialogue, and deeper international cooperation. With unity in 2018, we can make this pivotal year that sets the world on a better course,” he concluded.

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Thousands Still Dying at Sea En Route to Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/thousands-still-dying-sea-en-route-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thousands-still-dying-sea-en-route-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/thousands-still-dying-sea-en-route-europe/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 07:39:23 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153861 Amid concerns that 160 people may have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this week alone, the UN refugee agency have urged countries to offer more resettlement places. Though the influx of refugees and migrants has slowed, many are still embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe. “[We] have been advocating for a comprehensive approach […]

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Somali refugees on the Tunisian desert. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2018 (IPS)

Amid concerns that 160 people may have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this week alone, the UN refugee agency have urged countries to offer more resettlement places.

Though the influx of refugees and migrants has slowed, many are still embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe.

“[We] have been advocating for a comprehensive approach to address movements of migrants and refugees who embark on perilous journeys across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean,” said spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) William Spindler.

On Monday, the Italian coastguard picked up 60 survivors and recovered eight corpses. Up to 50, including 15 women and 6 children, are feared to have drowned.

Most recently on Wednesday, an inflatable boat carrying 100 refugees sank off the coast of Libya. Libya is among the major countries of departure for refugees.

Approximately 227,000 refugees are estimated to be in need of resettlement in 15 priority countries of asylum and transit along the Central Mediterranean route.

Despite appealing for just 40,000 resettlement places last year, UNHCR has thus far received 13,000 offers of resettlement places.

“Most of these are part of regular established global resettlement programmes and only a few represent additional places,” Spindler said.

After stories of migrants being sold at an auction and being held in horrific conditions in detention centers were revealed, both UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have helped evacuate hundreds of vulnerable refugees from Libya to Niger.

However, the European Union has continued its policy of assisting the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and return migrants in the Mediterranean.

“The suffering of migrants detained in Libya is an outrage to the conscience of humanity…what was an already dire situation has now turned catastrophic,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, adding that the EU’s policy is “inhuman.”

“We cannot be a silent witness to modern day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatized people from reaching Europe’s shores,” he continued, calling for the decriminalization of irregular migration in order to help protect migrants’ human rights.

Human rights officials have also criticized the EU-Turkey deal which returns migrants who have entered the Greek islands to Turkey. Many have found that asylum seekers are also not safe in Turkey as the country does not grant asylum or refugee status to non-Europeans.

UNHCR called for efforts to strengthen protection capacity and livelihood support in countries of first asylum, provide more regular and safe ways for refugees to find safety through resettlement or family reunification, and address the root causes of refugee displacement.

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“We Need to Be Strong” – Award Spotlights Courageous Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/need-strong-award-spotlights-courageous-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=need-strong-award-spotlights-courageous-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/need-strong-award-spotlights-courageous-journalists/#respond Fri, 15 Dec 2017 17:00:06 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153578 As press freedom becomes increasingly limited, journalists are frequently finding themselves in more dangerous predicaments than ever before. Every year, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) honors courageous journalists from around the world at the International Press Freedom Awards. “Journalists around the world face growing threats and pressure,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Those […]

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Awardees Pravit Rojanaphruk, Patricia Mayorga, Afrah Nasser with Joel Simon and Christiane Amanpour. Credit: CPJ/Barbara Nitke

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 15 2017 (IPS)

As press freedom becomes increasingly limited, journalists are frequently finding themselves in more dangerous predicaments than ever before.

Every year, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) honors courageous journalists from around the world at the International Press Freedom Awards.

“Journalists around the world face growing threats and pressure,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Those we honor are the most courageous and committed. They stand as an example that journalism matters.”

Among the awardees is award-winning Yemeni reporter and blogger Afrah Nasser, who noted that being a journalist in Yemen is like walking through a minefield.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) found that the Houthi rebel group is the second biggest abductor of journalists following the Islamic State. When they are not victims of air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, journalists are constantly at risk of detention, forced disappear-ance and assassination.

“I was getting death threats – even subjected to my family – and I was also getting pressure from my family out of protection and love not to write,” Nasser told IPS.

In 2011, as the uprising began in Yemen, Nasser started writing about human rights viola-tions and gender issues in the country, which were soon followed by death threats due to her critical coverage of the regime.

She became a political refugee in Sweden later that year where she now lives and continues to report on Yemen.

“I always believed in the strong power of stories… Freedom of expression is a very vital tool for any community to bring change,” Nasser said.

Though women are often expected to talk about soft topics, Nasser said that she had to express herself.

“I’m not a male, white, Western journalist writing about Yemen…I thought that nobody would take me seriously,” she told IPS about her reaction to CPJ’s award.

But she took the opportunity to highlight the plight of Yemenis and call for international action.

“Being here is not to represent Yemeni journalists only but all Yemenis who feel abandoned by world leaders and international media that are not covering their suffering sufficiently…let’s make sure international media are on the right side of history,” Nasser told attendees.

Like Nasser, Patricia Mayorga also had to seek protection after her colleague was killed in the northwestern state of Chihuahua.

Miroslava Breach Velducea, who covered politics and crime in Chihuahua, was shot eight times in March. A note was found at the crime scene which read, “For being a snitch.”

Mayorga worked alongside her, reporting on the links between politics, corruption, and organized crime. After publishing a story about political candidates ties to organized crime, both Mayorga and Velducea began receiving threats.

“In this moment, I don’t feel fear. I felt courage that I wanted to shout there needs to be justice. But at the same time, you feel like you are living under anesthesia and you have to sort of give yourself up to the experts…because everything got worse,” she told IPS.

Soon after Velducea was killed, Mayorga sought refuge in Peru.

She noted that organized crime was not the only issue for journalists, but also the government’s campaign to silence media on reporting on the reality on the ground.

“When reporters start to question the government, the government starts using surveillance against them. They do campaigns to discredit and criminalize them,” Mayorga said.

“Press freedom isn’t just for journalists, it’s for the people,” she continued.

Mexico continues to be the Western Hemisphere’s deadliest country for the media. An estimated 100 journalists have been murdered since 2000.

“Two months before they killed her in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, Miroslava Breach and I asked ourselves why we kept going. She refused to be complicit, and I refused to betray the people who had put their trust and final hope in journalism,” Mayorga told attendees.

“We need to be strong because Mexico needs us to be strong and clear.”

Other journalists who were honored were Thai reporter Pravit Rojanaphruk, Cameroonian corespondent Ahmed Abba, and managing editor of PBS NewsHour Judy Woodruff.

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A Responsibility to Prevent Genocidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/responsibility-prevent-genocide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=responsibility-prevent-genocide http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/responsibility-prevent-genocide/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 07:43:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153474 Almost 70 years since the Genocide Convention was adopted, the international community still faces a continued and growing risk of genocide. On the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide, the UN launched an appeal for member states to ratify the 1948 convention by the end of 2018. […]

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Thousands of new Rohingya refugee arrivals cross the border near Anzuman Para village, Palong Khali, Bangladesh. Credit: UNHCR/Roger Arnold

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

Almost 70 years since the Genocide Convention was adopted, the international community still faces a continued and growing risk of genocide.

On the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide, the UN launched an appeal for member states to ratify the 1948 convention by the end of 2018.

“Genocide does not happen by accident; it is deliberate, with warning signs and precursors,” said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“Often it is the culmination of years of exclusion, denial of human rights and other wrongs. Since genocide can take place in times of war and in times of peace, we must be ever-vigilant,” he continued.

The Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng echoed similar sentiments, stating: “It is our inaction, our ineffectiveness in addressing the warning signs, that allows it to become a reality. A reality where people are dehumanized and persecuted for who they are, or who they represent. A reality of great suffering, cruelty, and of inhumane acts that have at the basis unacceptable motivations.”

The Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” This includes not only killing members of the group, but also causing serious bodily or mental harm and imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

Despite the comprehensive definition of genocide in the Convention, genocide has recurred multiple times, Guterres said.

“We are still reacting rather than preventing, and acting only when it is often too late. We must do more to respond early and keep violence from escalating,” he said.

One such case may be Myanmar.

After a year of investigation, the organization Fortify Rights and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum said that there is “mounting” evidence that points to a genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar with Burmese Army soldiers, police, and civilians as the major perpetrators.

“The Rohingya have suffered attacks and systematic violations for decades, and the international community must not fail them now when their very existence in Myanmar is threatened,” said Cameron Hudson from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“Without urgent action, there’s a high risk of more mass atrocities,” he continued.

More than half of Myanmar’s one million Rohingya have fled the country since violence reignited in August.

“They tried to kill us all,” 25-year-old Mohammed Rafiq from Maungdaw Township told researchers when recalling how soldiers gathered villagers and opened fire on them on 30 August. It has been the largest and fastest flow of destitute people across a border since the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

“There was nothing left. People were shot in the chest, stomach, legs, face, head, everywhere.”

Eyewitness testimony revealed that Rohingya civilians were burned alive, women and girls raped, and men and boys arrested en masse.

“These crimes thrive on impunity and inaction…condemnations aren’t enough,” said Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights Matthew Smith.

On the other side of the border, refugees find themselves living in overcrowded camps with limited access to food, water, and shelter. They are in need of treatment for not only their physical injuries, but also the mental and emotional scars from their traumatic experiences.

IOM spoke to some of the survivor who made the treacherous journey by boat to Bangladesh including 8-year-old Arafat. His entire family including his parents, two brothers, and a sister drowned when the fishing boat carrying them capsized in stormy weather.

“Where will I go now,” he cried, transfixed with shock.

The government’s strict restrictions on Rohingya’s daily lives also point to signs of genocide.

In 2013, authorities placed a two-child limit on Rohingya couples in two predominantly Muslim townships in Rakhine State.

Others have come forward to claim that the crisis in Myanmar may constitute genocide such as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein and the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Considering Rohingyas’ self-identify as a distinct ethnic group with their own language and culture – and [that they] are also deemed by the perpetrators themselves as belonging to a different ethnic, national, racial or religious group – given all of this, can anyone rule out that elements of genocide may be present?” al-Hussein asked.

Though the UN Human Rights Council recently condemned the systematic and gross violations of human rights in Myanmar, the Security Council has failed to act on the crisis.

As the UN appeals for the remaining 45 member states to ratify the Genocide Convention, what about nations like Myanmar who are already party to the document?

The Convention requires all states to take action to prevent and punish genocide. Not only Myanmar, but the entire international community has failed to protect Rohingya civilians from mass atrocities.

“The world has reacted with horror to the images of their flight, and the stories of murder, rape and arson brought from their still smoldering villages in North Rakhine State. But this horror will have to be matched by action on the part of the international community, if we are to avert a humanitarian disaster on both sides of the border,” said IOM’s Director-General William Lacy Swing.

Perhaps the international community may need to consider additional mechanisms to address and prevent genocide, making sure ‘never again’ really means never again.

To date, a total of 149 member states have ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

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“Banging on the Door” – Women Fight for a Voice and Space in Civil Societyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society/#respond Sat, 09 Dec 2017 14:51:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153427 The space for civil society organizations is shrinking around the world, with particular impacts on women activists and human rights defenders who face additional barriers due to their gender or sexual orientation. Civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists from around the world convened in Fiji over the last week to tackle some of the world’s […]

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Women activists demanding a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Women activists demanding a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 9 2017 (IPS)

The space for civil society organizations is shrinking around the world, with particular impacts on women activists and human rights defenders who face additional barriers due to their gender or sexual orientation.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists from around the world convened in Fiji over the last week to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.Two years before she was murdered, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres said that it was her gender as much as her work that threatened her life.

Participants attended workshops and donned shirts saying “activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet” and “we will never give up on our beautiful planet.”

Among the challenges discussed is the rise in populism which has lead to restrictions in rights to expression and public assembly and thus actions taken by CSOs.

According to civil society alliance CIVICUS, only 2 of every 100 people live in a country with decent protections for civil society.

From Venezuela to Russia, state actors have put significant pressure on CSOs, preventing them from accessing foreign funding and registrations due to their role in defending human rights.

“When there is little or no support from government, the activist is in danger of discrimination and abuse by police and other authorities,” Pacific Women Advisory Board member Savina Nongebatu told IPS.

Human rights defenders (HRDs) have been increasingly subject to intimidation, harassment, and are at times killed for the work they do around the world.

Last year was the deadliest year ever recorded for HRDs with almost 300 killed across 25 countries, 49 percent of whom were defending land, indigenous, and environmental rights.

In addition to threats they face for their work, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are frequently targeted because of their gender or sexual orientation, experiencing attacks that are traditionally perpetrated against women including rape, defamation campaigns, and acid attacks.

In August 2016, Turkish activist Hande Kader was brutally raped and murdered for her outspoken work in lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender (LBGT) rights.

Human rights later Bertha de Leon was subject to a sexualized smear campaign as photos circulated suggesting she had a sexual relationship with a judge who ruled favorably in a case in which she was involved in El Salvador.

Indian tribal rights activist Soni Sori who has been an outspoken critic of police violence towards her community was attacked with a chemical substance in February 2016.

Two years before she was murdered, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres said that it was her gender as much as her work that threatened her life.

“We are women who are reclaiming our right to the sovereignty of our bodies and thoughts and political beliefs, to our cultural and spiritual rights—of course the aggression is much greater,” she said.

Analysts have found that the trend of closing civic space and restrictons to civil society often go hand in hand with the intensification of a fundamentalist discouse on national identity and traditional patricarchal values.

Such threats and actions work to silence WHRDs, limiting their resources and capacity to do work in already restricted civic spaces.

“When we have defenders with limited resources and capacity, the possibility of not being heard or consulted is high,” Nongebatu said.

“The ability to work and build partnerships rests squarely on the few women activists who may have learnt to work smarter from lessons learnt in their journey,” she added.

Such threats and restrictions do not stay isolated within borders, but are often brought over to international fora like the UN.

During International Civil Society Week (ICSW) in Fiji, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark noted UN’s continuous struggle to include civil society voices, reminding participants that the UN Charter begins with the words “We the peoples.”

“It doesn’t say we the countries or we the member states,” she said, adding that barriers to civil society participation often comes from member states.

“Not all member states like civil society very much…you just have to keep banging on the door and force it to respond,” Clark said.

LGBT rights have been particularly long contested at the UN. In 2016, Russia with the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) banned 11 LGBT organizations from attending a UN High-Level meeting on Ending AIDS.

And it was only recently that women were formally recognized for their role in climate action during the UN Climate Change Conference in Germany, kickstarting a process to integrate gender equality and human rights into climate action.

Nongebatu also told IPS of the “North and South divide” where larger civil society organizations take up more resources and space and urged for them to ensure that all women who work in human rights are consulted.

She also called on the UN to be inclusive of those in the Pacific Islands who often are unable to make the long journey to New York.

Despite the numerous challenges, Nongebatu remained motivated and asked women activists to stay determined.

“Intersection of all issues is inevitable!…The work we do is never done! Don’t give up! We need to keep fighting!”


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

 

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No One Country Can Do It Alone — Towards a Migration Compacthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/no-one-country-can-alone-towards-migration-compact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-one-country-can-alone-towards-migration-compact http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/no-one-country-can-alone-towards-migration-compact/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 16:27:08 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153418 International commitment and cooperation is critical to reap the benefits and overcome the challenges of migration, stressed a leading official at the conclusion of a UN meeting. Over 400 delegates from 136 countries convened in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to review data and recommendations for the creation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular […]

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Credit: UNICEF

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 8 2017 (IPS)

International commitment and cooperation is critical to reap the benefits and overcome the challenges of migration, stressed a leading official at the conclusion of a UN meeting.

Over 400 delegates from 136 countries convened in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to review data and recommendations for the creation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration.

“We stand today tasked with the mandate to weave these challenges and opportunities into a global effort to enhance State cooperation in the management of migration,” said UN Special Representative for International Migration Louise Arbour at the end of the three-day meeting.

Arbour reminded delegates of the “tragedy of large mixed flows of people on the move and how to deal with those who are ineligible for international refugee protection yet for whom humanitarian assistance and longer-term solutions are no less urgent.”

In an effort to respond to the unprecedented numbers of people fleeing conflict and poverty, member states adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in 2016 which included an agreement to develop two global compacts for migration and refugees.

The preparatory meeting in Mexico kickstarts the formal process to create these compacts.

“It’s a historic opportunity to have such a compact,” UNICEF’s Associate Director for Gender, Rights & Civic Engagement Susana Sottoli told IPS.

The compact can help trigger political action towards the development of a longer-term global migration response, she added.

Though disappointed in the watered-down declaration which failed to include more concrete commitments, Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner for Refugee and Migrant Rights Denise Bell told IPS that the compact is still “an important set of principles.”

Sottoli urged for a heightened and continued focus on migrant and displaced children for the compact.

Nearly half of the world’s refugees are children, while another 22 million children have been uprooted from their homes due to poverty and other factors.

Over 300,000 have been documented traveling unaccompanied around the world in recent years, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

“We have seen evidence that tell us about terrible situations of children and adolescents in detention centers…in conditions that none of us would ever imagine is acceptable for our own children,” Sottoli told IPS.

In Libya, the main entry point to the Mediterranean Sea and thus Europe, militias hold migrants in detention centers in order to ask their families for ransom money. Women and children have been found living in cramped spaces in militia-run detention centers with little basic services or even access to the outdoors.

In one of the centers, UNICEF spoke to 16-year-old Patti who fled war and poverty in Nigeria.

“The journey was hard. Very hard…we walked for two weeks to reach Libya, sometimes walking and going without water for two days,” she said.

Patti was captured at sea, brought back, and arrested in Libya.

“When I was in the sea, I was so scared. I was just comforted by my dreams of going to Europe and making a good life for myself and my siblings,” she said.

Footage revealing migrants being sold at an auction has also garnered international outrage, prompting the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to evacuate and help hundreds of West African migrants including children return home.

“We are trying to bring these people back into the daylight of our time where they are known and they are assisted and protected,” IOM’s Director-General William Lacey Swing told the UN.

The United States has seen a surge in child migrants fleeing violence in Central America in recent years. In 2014, border agents apprehended almost 70,000 minors, a 77 percent increase from the year before.

The unaccompanied children are often held in detention centers in unsanitary and cramped living conditions and for an indefinite period of time.

UNHCR is now considering providing help to unaccompanied minors crossing the border in light of new policies preventing them from seeking safe refuge.

The new administration has ended a program that allowed children fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to apply for refugee status before leaving home and making the dangerous trip to the border.

The government has also reduced the refugee cap to 45,000, the lowest level since 1980.

Most recently, just hours before the preparatory meeting in Mexico, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley announced that the country was withdrawing from the non-binding global compact, claiming that it would restrict U.S. sovereignty on migration policy.

“The U.S. pulling out of this is a further abdication our global leadership on the refugee crisis…pulling out of this sends a terrible message to refugee host countries and resettlement countries about their need to keep up their commitments,” Bell told IPS.

“The world’s most vulnerable are being punished again and again—first through the slashing of refugee admission numbers to this withdrawal from the Compact,” she added.

A group of U.S. civil society organizations that took part in the meeting also issued a statement calling the move “deeply disappointing” and for the North American nation to recommit to the multilateral process.

“Migration is a global phenomenon which requires a global response. The United States is not immune from the global forces of conflict, economic coercion, and climate change that drive human migration,” they stated.

Sottoli echoed similar sentiments, saying that no one country on its own can protect children as they move across borders.

“We are hopeful that the challenges of tacking this complex agenda will be addressed and that many countries will continue collaborating and look forward to shape a new compact,” she told IPS.

In their ‘Beyond Borders’ report, UNICEF calls to protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, to end the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating, and to keep families together as the best way to protect children.

The report provides case studies of effective methods to protect child refugees and migrants, including that of Greece which established the National Centre for Social Solidarity (EKKA) to help track and monitor unaccompanied children in detention and ensure they are placed in safe accommodation and care.

“Policy decisions need to be made on the basis of acts, experiences, and proven solutions. This is the moment to take stock of what is out there and what is working…solutions are out there,” Sottoli said.

Bell called on the international community to not only protect the rights of refugees and migrants, but also redouble their commitments to resettlement.

“We have to come back to a story of migrants that is historically accurate…migration has always been a positive story,” Swing said.

The next step in the process towards creating the Global Compacts is the Secretary-General’s report on migration, expected to be released in January followed by intergovernmental negotiations. The Global Compacts will be presented for adoption at a conference in Morocco in December 2018.

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UN Makes Record Appeal for Humanitarian Aid in 2018http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/un-makes-record-appeal-humanitarian-aid-2018/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-makes-record-appeal-humanitarian-aid-2018 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/un-makes-record-appeal-humanitarian-aid-2018/#respond Sat, 02 Dec 2017 15:57:49 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153290 The UN has made its largest appeal to work towards reaching the more than 135 million people across the world in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Upon comprehensively assessing world humanitarian needs, the UN found that the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has increased by more than 5 percent. As a […]

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Syrian refugee children learn to survive at a camp in north Lebanon. Credit: Zak Brophy/IPS.

Syrian refugee children learn to survive at a camp in north Lebanon. Credit: Zak Brophy/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 2 2017 (IPS)

The UN has made its largest appeal to work towards reaching the more than 135 million people across the world in need of humanitarian assistance and protection.

Upon comprehensively assessing world humanitarian needs, the UN found that the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has increased by more than 5 percent.

As a result, the institution has launched its strategic humanitarian response plans which aim to reach 91 million of the most vulnerable with food, shelter, health care, and education in 2018.

The ambitious plan will require a record 22.5 billion dollars, slightly higher than the 22.2 billion appeal made in 2017.

“Investing in coordinated response plans is a sound choice. It delivers tangible and measurable results, and has a proven track record of success,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock.

In 2017, donors provided a record level of funding of 13 billion dollars to help humanitarian agencies reach and save tens of millions of people, including those who experienced unprecedented famines in four different countries.

However, 46 percent of the 22.2-billion-dollar appeal remains unfunded.

“Humanitarians can only respond to the growing needs with the generous support of our donors,” said Lowcock during a press conference.

CEO of Save the Children Helle Thorning-Schmidt echoed similar sentiments, noting the need for NGOs to use funding more effectively, as well as donor governments to invest in long-term development.

“[We] need governments and institutions to take a longer term approach by tackling the cause of these crises as well as the symptoms. By brokering peace agreements, investing in education, helping communities build resilience to climate shocks, and speaking up when people are persecuted. Without this, we will continue to see a record level of suffering,” she said.

“There are very few humanitarian crises that can be solved by humanitarian interventions alone,” Lowcock reiterated.

The crisis in Yemen continues to be the most urgent and will require a scaled up response in 2018.

Over 22 million Yemenis, representing over 70 percent of the population, require humanitarian assistance. This includes the 7 million who are on the brink of famine, which has only exacerbated since the Saudi-led coalition imposed a blockade.

Though the blockade has been partially lifted, Lowcock urged for a complete reversal in order to avoid an even bigger catastrophe.

Humanitarian needs will also continue to be high in Syria in 2018 unless a political solution is reached.

As hostilities are ongoing, access to those with the most need still remains constrained, particularly to the over 900,000 in UN-declared besieged areas and almost 3 million living in hard-to-reach areas.

The proportion of the population living in extreme poverty in the Middle Eastern nation has doubled from almost 34 percent before the conflict to almost 70 percent today. Limited access to income and livelihood opportunities has doubled the number of people at risk of food insecurity.

Lowcock pointed to the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo as among the most neglected, with only 40 percent of its appeal funded.

The increase in violence, which is expected to worsen, forced almost 2 million people to flee their homes in 2017, bringing to the total number of internally displaced persons to over 4 million—the highest number of any country on the African continent.

As the majority of the world’s humanitarian crises are driven by conflict, Thorning-Schmidt urged for action to help protect the most vulnerable, including children.

“If we don’t do anything extraordinary, we will end up stealing these children’s futures twice,” she said. “We have to put even more pressure on the global community and on warring parties to make peace.”

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‘Sparks of Hope’ in a Time of Fearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/sparks-hope-time-fear/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sparks-hope-time-fear http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/sparks-hope-time-fear/#respond Fri, 01 Dec 2017 18:43:05 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153287 Out of 300 nominations from across the globe, just four have won an innovation award for their commitment to human rights. Now in its 12th year, the Nelson Mandala-Graça Machel Innovation Awards seeks to celebrate and promote diverse individuals and organizations for their excellence and bravery in creating social change. “Awards like this are so […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 1 2017 (IPS)

Out of 300 nominations from across the globe, just four have won an innovation award for their commitment to human rights.

Now in its 12th year, the Nelson Mandala-Graça Machel Innovation Awards seeks to celebrate and promote diverse individuals and organizations for their excellence and bravery in creating social change.

“Awards like this are so significant because the winners truly are ‘sparks of hope’ with the poten-tial to inspire many others. It’s important that those of us with the freedom to speak out, use our voices to lift up these courageous individuals and organisations,” said Graça Machel of the initi-ative.

This year, the awards form a part of the #WalkTogether campaign which aims to celebrate such ‘sparks of hope’ and inspire compassion and empathy at a time when fear, xenophobia, and hate speech threaten global freedoms and unity.

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires,” Nelson Mandela once said.

The awardees, who will be honored at the upcoming International Civil Society Week in Fiji, were selected across four categories: youth activist, individual activist, civil society organization, and brave philanthropy.

Nic Mackay from the civil society coalition CIVICUS highlighted the significance of the majority of winners being from developing countries, telling IPS: “People of color and citizens of develop-ing countries are often disproportionately affected by social issues – from poverty to climate change to fundamental freedoms – and so, the solutions to these issues need to come from within these communities as much as from without.”

“Equally, when profiling great work in the area of social change, we need to be acutely aware of any bias – intentional or otherwise – toward recognizing white Westerners, or else we risk rein-forcing the type of systemic inequality that is at the core of many of the issues we are seeking to address,” he added.

At just 19, Jubilanté Cutting founded the Guyana Animation Network to help empower young people with skills in media and animation.

Guyana is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere and has a youth unemploy-ment rate of almost 40 percent.

With the dream of developing Guyana’s digital and creative industries, Cutting was honored to to receive the youth activist award under the names of Mandela and Machel.

“I could never have imagined that I would one day receive an award named in honor of these heroes,” she said.

Khaled Elbalshy, who won the individual activist category, is a prominent Egyptian human rights defender and journalist fighting to protect free speech.

The North African country has increasingly cracked down on the press and has since become one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.

Some spend years in detention without being charged, while others face long jail terms or the death penalty after unfair trials.

One of the most well-known cases is that of Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan, who was arrested in August 2013 after he photographed security forces’ violent retaliation against protestors during the coup d’état.

He remained in prison for almost three years without charges and finally in March 2016, he was charged with six offenses and now faces the death penalty.

Elbalshy himself was detained in 2016 and sentenced a year later for harboring journalists wanted for expressing critical views against the government.

“This Award is a powerful recognition of all who are defending freedom of the press in Egypt. It is also a message to the more than 20 imprisoned journalists that their voices are still able to penetrate even the walls of prison,” Elbalshy said.

Civil society organization category winner Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI) is working to raise awareness, de-stigmatize, and promote services on mental health.

Mental health around the world is severely underfunded as low-income countries and lower-middle-income countries allocate only 0.5 percent and 1.9 percent of their total health budgets to mental health, respectively.

Founder of MANI Victor Ugo dedicated their win to all Nigerian youth coping with mental illness. “We are motivated to keep up the discussion and hope our voice will continue to resonate both within and beyond our borders.”

Winning the brave philanthropy category, German-based Guerrilla Foundation is an alternative funder supporting grassroots activists and movements.

Their most recent grantees include Campaign Bootcamp, which aims to build and sustain a di-verse community of campaigners and activists, and Ende Gelände, a grassroots movement that organizes civil disobedience actions against coal mining and use in Europe.

“Courage in philanthropy is truly lacking and it is a field that craves bravery far more than it knows. We hope to give a nudge – or thrust – to that end,” said foundation advisor Ivan Juric.

Mackay urged for others to inspire change like those being honored.

“Remember that the biggest change often begins with the smallest actions…never lose sight of why and who you are doing it for,” he told IPS.

The Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards are led by the global civil society alli-ance, CIVICUS.

This year, the awards have run in collaboration with The Elders, a Nelson Mandela-founded group of independent leaders working together for peace, justice, and human rights. The Elders, which include former Secretary-Generals Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon, launched the #WalkTogether campaign on their 10th anniversary.

This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are re-sponding 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.

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A Cop Out at COP23?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/a-cop-out-at-cop23/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-cop-out-at-cop23 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/a-cop-out-at-cop23/#comments Thu, 23 Nov 2017 11:16:19 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153180 Despite a few victories, the UN’s annual climate change conference ended without achieving its goals or injecting a sense of much needed urgency. Over 20,000 people from around the world descended on Bonn, Germany at the beginning of November for the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23). Timoci Naulusala, a 12-year-old from Fiji, made a […]

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Despite a few victories, the UN’s annual climate change conference COP23 ended without achieving its goals or injecting a sense of much needed urgency.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the COP23 High-Level Plenary. Credit: DPI / Arial Alexovich

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 23 2017 (IPS)

Despite a few victories, the UN’s annual climate change conference ended without achieving its goals or injecting a sense of much needed urgency.

Over 20,000 people from around the world descended on Bonn, Germany at the beginning of November for the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23).

Timoci Naulusala, a 12-year-old from Fiji, made a passionate call for action at the opening of the COP23, stating: “The sea is swallowing villages, eating away at shorelines, withering crops. Relocation of people…cries over lost loved ones, dying of hunger and thirst…you may think it will only affect small nations…you are wrong.”

French President Emmanuel Macron echoed similar sentiments, noting that the effects of climate change have multiplied and are becoming increasingly intense.

“The point of no return has been crossed,” he said.

The conference set out to develop a rule book for implementing the landmark Paris Agreement. Though the deadline for its completion is next year’s COP in Poland, many noted that not enough was achieved this year.

Unwilling and Unprepared

Among the most contentious issues at COP23 was about finance.

Of the 100 billion dollars that was promised each year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, developed countries have so far only pledged a little over 10 billion.

Clare Shakya from the International Institute for Environment and Development also expressed concern to IPS that climate finance often does not reach the frontline poorest countries and people.

“They get a far lower share than is their fair share,” she said.

Less than 10 percent of an already limited amount of climate finance reaches poor communities. This impacts countries such as Ethiopia where drought is drastically affecting livelihoods. The

East African nation, which needs approximately 7.5 billion dollars a year to switch to clean energy and adapt to climate change, is so far receiving between 100 million and 200 million per year.

As part of the Paris Agreement, donors must give a future estimate of how much and what kind of climate finance is going to be committed in order for countries to plan and prepare. However, developed countries pushed back on the demands, further delaying discussion and action on the issue.

“You didn’t see the developed countries coming here prepared to engage seriously on ramping up finance…parties knew there weren’t major political decisions that were going to have to be made as they were facing when they went into Paris,” Union of Concerned Scientist’s Director of Strategy and Policy Alden Meyer told IPS.

While over 150 heads of state attended COP21 when the Paris Agreement was negotiated, a little over 25 heads of state attended this year’s conference.

Both Meyer and Shakya expressed frustration on the lack of urgency over the discussion and implementation of the climate accord.

“It was pretty disappointing for vulnerable countries…that want to see more urgency in terms of mobilizing resources to help them in the wake of devastating hurricanes and typhoons that we have seen this year,” Meyer told IPS.

This can be seen through countries’ pledges made under the Paris Agreement which are only one-third of what is required to keep emissions under two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level by 2030.

Though countries agreed to examine ways to close that gap next year, the apathy at COP23 does not bode well for the next year of climate discussions.

Shakya noted that the negotiations that did happen during the conference also lacked a holistic approach as the words ‘gender’ were blocked in discussions about technology transfer while ‘finance’ was neglected in the gender action plan.

“There’s some really frustrating elements within the negotiations now that are trying to derail the connections that need to be there,” she told IPS.

No Clear Leadership

As the U.S. has stepped back, even hosting a side event on “cleaner and more efficient fossil fuels” which sparked international outrage, many are now looking to both French President Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to take on a leadership role on climate action.

“They both really have personal commitment to the Paris Agreement and at the moment, we are kind of short on leaders—they are our hope,” said Shakya.

In August, the U.S. announced that it will withdraw all funding to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body tasked with researching climate change science.

Macron called on Europe and promised to fill in the gap.

“I hope Europe can replace the US as a climate leader and I can tell you that France is ready for that,” he told delegates.

Merkel pledged to double climate finance to support developing countries by 2020 and made explicit pledges to help least developed countries finance adaptation in areas such as climate information systems and catastrophe risk management.

However, attendees were left disappointed when Merkel did not announce a plan to reduce Germany’s dependence on coal. Approximately 40 percent of the German power sector is reliant on coal and if such dependence continues, the Western European nation will not meet its 2020 emissions reactions targets.

In fact, the European Union (EU) will not be able to reach its goal of reducing emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 unless policies are changed and more pledges are made.

Though countries made a political commitment to ramp up negotiations, Meyer expressed concern that progress may continue to be slow, especially as Poland is hosting COP in 2018.

Poland is a heavily coal-dependent economy, with approximately 80 percent of its electricity generation coming from coal. The Climate Change Performance Index gave the Eastern European country a ranking of 40 and noted that it continues to fight climate legislation.

In an effort to move away from coal as an energy source, the United Kingdom and Canada created an international “powering past coal” alliance. Another 25 national and subnational governments joined the alliance including France, Ethiopia, Mexico, and the U.S. states of Washington and Oregon.

However, the alliance does not commit signatories to a specific phase-out date.

Several big coal countries also did not join the alliance including Germany, Poland, Australia, China, and India.

Small Steps But Big Wins

Despite slow progress, COP23 did not end without small victories.
Countries agreed to review progress on reducing emissions in 2018 and 2019, as well as conduct assessments on climate finance in 2018 and 2020.

The meeting also expanded its representation, formally including women and indigenous communities for the first time.

Shakya noted that the inclusion of women and indigenous groups in the decision-making process will help bring more focus on frontline poorest communities.

“It is a really significant first step, but it is a first step only. We need to see this being the building blocks for them to be included in the process of policy development and investment,” she told IPS.

Shakya called for more transparency in climate finance and proposed that donors form a leadership group outside of formal negotiations in order to identify and collaborate on solutions to improve the quality of finance and reporting.

Meyer expressed hope that there will be further progress in meetings to happen between now and the next COP, particularly pointing to the One Planet Summit hosted by France in December which aims to bring together political leaders as well as those working in public and private finance to discuss how they can support and accelerate global efforts to fight climate change.

“There is a lot more work to do…if there is political will, there will be a pretty decent outcome. If not, we are not going to see much improvement,” he said.

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Keeping the Spotlight on Violence against Women and Girlshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/keeping-spotlight-violence-women-girls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=keeping-spotlight-violence-women-girls http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/keeping-spotlight-violence-women-girls/#respond Tue, 21 Nov 2017 15:36:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153133 16 Days of Activism begins on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day.

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 21 2017 (IPS)

As cases of sexual harassment and assault continue to come to light every day, a different campaign to end such violence wants to keep the spotlight shining.

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, an annual campaign by UN Women, aims not only to end violence against women and girls, but also to leave no one behind.

More than one in three women have experienced violence in some form in their lifetime—that is equivalent to 700 million women, or close to the total population of sub-Saharan Africa. Cases of sexual violence have increasingly come to light among marginalized communities in conflict and humanitarian crises, from Mexico to Myanmar.

The campaign is beginning this year against the backdrop of a global outcry against the “global pandemic”.

Millions have rallied behind the #MeToo campaign, which aims to reveal the magnitude of sexual harassment and other forms of violence that women all over the world experience every day.

Though the original #MeToo movement was launched ten years ago by activist Tarana Burke, the more recent viral campaign has inspired many to come forward with their stories, including those who have exposed celebrities and public officials.

Lakshmi Puri. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

IPS spoke with the Deputy Executive Director of UN Women and Assistant Secretary-General of the UN Lakshmi Puri about global gender-based violence and how to end it.

Q: Why did 16 Days of Activism begin? What is its significance and what does it entail this year?

The most important promise of Agenda 2030 and something that is so essential for sustainable development is leaving no one behind.

So this year’s theme of ending violence against women in the context of empowering and protecting women and girls that tend to be left most behind in terms of being most excluded or marginalized.

That means women who are migrants, refugees, or internally displaced and who, because of displacement, are more exposed to violence including sexual violence, exploitation, and trafficking.

Also, women living with disabilities—those women living, for example, in rural areas where they face communication barriers or various force of discrimination when accessing health or social services.

All of these people are those the farthest from our reach and we must reach the farthest first.

Q: What needs to be done to end such violence?

In the context of leaving no one behind and violence against women, data, statistics, and evidence of what is actually happening to them. Identifying the most marginalized girls is fundamental so that we are able to plan and implement policies and programs that reach them.

We need to understand the special vulnerabilities and how to empower them to resist violence, respond to violence, escape violence and be empowered in every way.

The second aspect is that we need to also address is prevention which means changing the whole culture and context of sexism and male patriarchy.

That is why men have to take responsibility, especially men with public influence taking a very strong stand. That is why we have the HeForShe movement and one of the major commitments for those that join is how they will model positive masculinity and principles of equality, rights, and respect in themselves and in others including their sons and those men and boys they come into contact with as well as holding peers accountable to non-discrimination.

So changing mindsets, changing gender stereotypes, and zero tolerance for violence against women is essential.

The issue is also identifying the different types of violence is very important because sometimes
we find that women and girls live with violence without actually recognizing it, whether it is sexual harassment at the workplace or psychological violence or economic violence.

We should recognize that no violence is acceptable, and all harmful practices need to be recognized.

Q: Is gender-based violence perpetrated by individuals or is it a larger institutional failure? Is everyone complicit in this culture?

Education is a very important aspect—education of both women, girls, men and boys and of institutions.

Institutions need to have their employees, clients, managers fully educated on this issue and aware about principles of equality, rights, and respect and zero tolerance for violence.

Then there is an issue of protection—in the context of what type of policing do you have, particularly when violence takes place in public spaces, and how do you respond as law enforcement when there is a domestic violence case. And in terms of the judiciary and legislature, what kind of laws are there to enforce protection.

Protection is an important part of how the state exercises its duty.

If you have the conviction of perpetrators, then people will know that these are the consequences. But otherwise the culture of impunity that we see then defeats the purpose of prevention and all the actions that we take.

All of this is even more needed in the context of the most marginalized and most lacking in these kinds of situations.

Q: In many conflicts around the world, sexual violence is often used as a weapon of war. What needs to be done to prevent these cases? Will raising the issue of sexual violence to the ICC help in the context of prevention?

Sexual violence in conflicts has now been recognized by the international community and by the Security Council as a war crime. ICC [International Criminal Court] also now recognizes this as one of the elements of a war crime.

What is needed is a policy of acting strongly against [sexual violence] as the UN but also holding perpetrators accountable and supporting victims and survivors.

Advocating with member states and governments and parties to the conflict because this violence is committed sometimes by state agents or sometimes non-state parties including in the context of violent extremism and terrorism.

We also recognize that sexual violence is a predictor of larger conflicts. It is one of those human rights violations that we insist must be seen as a warning of an impending major outbreak of conflict, and it has been proven that this is so.

Q: Sexual violence and harassment is in the spotlight now. How does 16 Days of Activism work alongside or even reinforces other ongoing campaigns right now like #MeToo?

It is really important that we keep the spotlight. And 16 Days of Activism is the high point of spotlighting.

But throughout the year, from the ground to up or top to down, the focus and awareness about this issue of violence against women is really important to highlight in everything that we do.

The revelations that are coming out, the #MeToo movement—all of this is part of what we call movement building.

There is a tendency to say “this happens, stuff happens”—but no, it cannot be seen as inevitable. It can be prevented. Women and girls can be protected. We can punish perpetrators.

It is something that needs to be supported as a society, community, private sector, governments—everyone must act.

It is important that movements are built up. Unless we have a people mobilization around the issue ending violence against women, we are not going to really achieve our objective.

We are very heartened by this reawakening.

Q: What is your message to the girls and women who have experienced some form of violence, whether or not they have spoken out? And to the people who may not have experienced such violence but don’t know how to act/go about addressing the issue?

To women and girls, know that it is wrong that anybody should violate your human rights in the way that violence seeks to do. Understanding that inherent right to be free from violence is the first point that all women and girls must understand. It is not inevitable or something to be accepted as part of the circumstances that they find themselves.

That’s one of the things we have been doing in refugee camps and in humanitarian situations, bringing this message that women are entitled to zero tolerance and freedom of violence in every circumstance.

Secondly, it is important to recognize when violence happens. Inform yourself as to what the forms of violence are whether it is sexual or otherwise.

Third, stand up to it. I know there may be situations where women and girls feel helpless and feel that they can’t stand up, but there are ways to circumvent that and really have the courage to stand up to it and take action.

For people who haven’t experienced violence, one of the things that is important to remember is you can never say that it doesn’t affect me—everything affects you.

Violence against women and girls is such a widespread and ever-present phenomenon that there is hardly a family that has not been affected by it.

And it is incumbent on women and men both, boys and girls, to call out when violence happens against women and girls in your neighborhood, in the street, park, schoolyard, college campuses.

Empathy and action, not apathy and inaction.

All those who have the duty to care must make special efforts to support women and girls in particularly vulnerable situations and circumstances.

Violence against women has no boundaries, and this must be recognized by all.

*Interview edited for length and clarity.

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Aid Groups Sound Alarm on DRC Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/aid-groups-sound-alarm-drc-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aid-groups-sound-alarm-drc-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/aid-groups-sound-alarm-drc-crisis/#respond Mon, 13 Nov 2017 09:25:23 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152989 The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis and the international community must step in before it worsens, humanitarian agencies warn. The escalation of ethnic clashes in southeastern DRC in recent months has left millions displaced and on the verge of starvation. In the past year alone, the […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 13 2017 (IPS)

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis and the international community must step in before it worsens, humanitarian agencies warn.

The escalation of ethnic clashes in southeastern DRC in recent months has left millions displaced and on the verge of starvation.

In the past year alone, the conflict has displaced nearly 2 million, 850,000 of whom are children and some of whom have fled to the neighboring nations of Angola and Zambia. DRC already had the highest number of new displacements in the world in 2016.

Last month, the UN declared the DRC a level three humanitarian emergency—the highest possible classification on par with Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

“The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear,” said Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) DRC Country Director Ulrika Blom.

“The UN system-wide L3 response is only activated for the world’s most complex and challenging emergencies, when the entire aid system needs to scale up and respond to colossal needs.”

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), over 3 million people in the Kasai region are severely food-insecure, exacerbating hunger and malnutrition.

“As many as 250,000 children could starve in Kasai in the next few months unless enough nutritious food reaches them quickly,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley after a four-day mission to the central African country.

NRC said that over 80 percent of people in displacement camps in Tanganyika province did not have access to clean drinking water, heightening the risk of cholera outbreaks.

Though WFP and NRC are both scaling up assistance, aid agencies are constrained by challenges in funds and access.

The UN’s humanitarian response appeal for DRC is only 33 percent funded, the lowest level of funding for the country in more than 10 years, while WFP has received only one percent of the 135 million dollars needed for the next eight months.

Multiple active militias, poor road networks, and the upcoming rainy season further impede humanitarian access.

Swift intervention is needed now to stop the conflict and address humanitarian needs in order to prevent “long-term chaos,” Beasley said.

Though some families have been able to return to their villages in Kasai, Beasley noted that many could not work on their fields for fear of being attacked again.

“I have met too many women and children whose lives have been reduced to a desperate struggle for survival…that’s heartbreaking, and it’s unacceptable,” he said.

Blom expressed hope that a level three emergency classification will bring in more funds, and highlighted the importance of having such resources be flexible.

For instance, North Kivu, which hosts the largest number of displaced people in the country, is not included within the UN’s emergency classification. Blom said that though North Kivu is not experiencing the same level of violence as seen in Kasai, the conflict’s unpredictable nature could change this.

“Resources coming into the country must be flexible so we can put them to use where needs and gaps arise. Lives depend on it,” she warned.

DRC’s long-standing conflict has left over 8 million people in need of assistance and protection. The most recent iteration of the crisis has partly been fueled by the refusal of President Joseph Kabila to step down after his mandate expired in December 2016

Beasley said he saw the horror in survivor’s eyes as they told stories of beheadings and sexual violence.

“The Kasai region, it was rather appalling in ways that are truly hard to explain, in ways you actually don’t want to explain.”

According to a mission report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), security forces and militias “actively fomented, fueled, and occasionally led, attacks on the basis of ethnicity.”

Witnesses told OCHR that two pregnant women’s foetus’ were removed and allegedly chopped into pieces, while another two women were accused of being witches and were beheaded.

Among the survivors was a woman who was raped with a rifle barrel four hours after giving birth. “I did not end up like the others because I lied on the ground pretend to be dead…and I hid my baby under my body,” she told OHCHR. Her newborn baby was reportedly shot twice in the head.

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Aid Groups Condemn Yemen Blockade, Warn of ‘Catastrophic’ Faminehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/aid-groups-condemn-yemen-blockade-warn-catastrophic-famine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aid-groups-condemn-yemen-blockade-warn-catastrophic-famine http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/aid-groups-condemn-yemen-blockade-warn-catastrophic-famine/#respond Fri, 10 Nov 2017 23:13:10 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152976 If aid deliveries are not resumed, Yemen will experience the worst famine the world has seen in recent decades. Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia closed all land, air, and sea ports in Yemen after Houthi rebels fired a missile at Riyadh. Though the Saudi-led coalition reopened the southern port Aden, humanitarian officials have warned of […]

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Fatima Shooie sits between her 85-year-old mother and 22-year-old daughter who are both receiving treatment for cholera at a crowded hospital in Sana’a. Credit: WHO/S. Hasan

Fatima Shooie sits between her 85-year-old mother and 22-year-old daughter who are both receiving treatment for cholera at a crowded hospital in Sana’a. Credit: WHO/S. Hasan

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 10 2017 (IPS)

If aid deliveries are not resumed, Yemen will experience the worst famine the world has seen in recent decades.

Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia closed all land, air, and sea ports in Yemen after Houthi rebels fired a missile at Riyadh.

Though the Saudi-led coalition reopened the southern port Aden, humanitarian officials have warned of a famine and health crisis if other entry points remain shut.

“It will not be like the famine that we saw in South Sudan earlier in the year where tens of thousands of people were affected, and it will not be like the famine that cost 250,000 people their lives in Somalia in 2011—it will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock."If access shuts off entirely, even for a single week, then disaster will be the result. This is the nightmare scenario, and children will likely die." --Yemen Tamer Kirolos of Save the Children

Yemen has long depended on imports, importing up to 90 percent of essential goods.

A previous aerial and naval blockade, instituted days after the war began in 2015, has already left 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

This includes seven million facing famine-like conditions who rely on food aid and almost 400,000 children suffering from severe malnutrition who require therapeutic treatment to stay alive.

Due to limited funding, humanitarian agencies are only able to target one-third of the population while the other two-thirds rely on commercial imports.

If ports are not reopened, food supplies will be exhausted in six weeks.

“The humanitarian situation in Yemen is extremely fragile and any disruption in the pipeline of critical supplies such as food, fuel, and medicines has the potential to bring millions of people closer to starvation and death,” said 18 humanitarian organizations in a joint statement.

“The continued closure of borders will only bring additional hardship and deprivation with deadly consequences to an entire population suffering from a conflict that it is not of their own making,” they added.

In less than a day, the blockade has already dramatically increased the price of fuel by as much as 60 percent and doubled the price of cooking gas.

Having recently visited Yemen, Lowcock told journalists of his encounter with seven-year-old Nora who weighed 11 kilograms, the average weight of a two-year-old.

In the Middle Eastern nation, approximately 2 million children younger than Nora are acutely malnourished and at risk of dying.

Save the Children’s country director for Yemen Tamer Kirolos, an organization which released the joint statement, warned of a disaster for children if aid is impeded.

“It’s already been tough enough to get help in…but if access shuts off entirely, even for a single week, then disaster will be the result. This is the nightmare scenario, and children will likely die,” Kirolos said.

The humanitarian community also warned that the current stock of vaccines in the country will last one month. If it is not restocked, there will be outbreaks of communicable diseases such as polio and measles which will particularly impact children under five and those suffering from malnutrition.

Already, there are over 800,000 cases of cholera, and children under five account for a quarter of all cases. Aid agencies expect that there will be more than one million cases, 600,000 of whom will be children, by the end of the year.

The spread of the outbreak, which is the largest and fastest-growing epidemic ever recorded, has been exacerbated by hunger and malnutrition.

However, the Red Cross reported that its shipment of chlorine tablets needed to combat the cholera epidemic had been blocked, worsening an already dire humanitarian situation.

“What kills people in famine is infections…because their bodies have consumed themselves, reducing totally the ability to fight off things which a healthy person can,” said Lowcock.

Lowcock and humanitarian agencies called on the immediate opening of all ports and unhindered humanitarian and commercial access to people in need.

Lowcock also highlighted the need for the Saudi-led coalition to give clear assurance that there will be no disruption of air services, including the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), and to scale back interference with all vessels that have passed inspection.

The aid agencies called on an end to the conflict, stating: “We reiterate that humanitarian aid is not the solution to Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe. Only a peace process will halt the horrendous suffering of millions of innocent civilians.”

More than 10,000 have been killed and over 40,000 injured since the Yemen civil war began almost three years ago.

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‘Never Again’: Investing in Prevention and Early Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/never-investing-prevention-early-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=never-investing-prevention-early-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/never-investing-prevention-early-action/#respond Thu, 02 Nov 2017 17:30:14 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152858 After the Rwandan genocide, the United Nations promised ‘never again.’ But has the international community kept their word? From Mexico to Myanmar, conflicts and humanitarian crises have multiplied. Millions continue to be targeted for their religious, national, racial or ethnic backgrounds, and some are even forced to cross borders to escape violence committed simply because […]

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Adama Dieng (centre), the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, briefs journalists during his visit to the Central African Republic. At left is Vladimir Monteiro, Spokesperson for the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Credit: UN Photo/Herve Serefio

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 2 2017 (IPS)

After the Rwandan genocide, the United Nations promised ‘never again.’ But has the international community kept their word?

From Mexico to Myanmar, conflicts and humanitarian crises have multiplied.

Millions continue to be targeted for their religious, national, racial or ethnic backgrounds, and some are even forced to cross borders to escape violence committed simply because of their identity.

IPS spoke to the UN Secretary-General’s Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng about these complex crises and efforts needed to avoid another Rwandan genocide.

Q: As Special Advisor, what crises today are most concerning and should be paid attention to or acted on?

A. The situations in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, South Sudan and Syria are some of the places that I have raised concern about recently, although there are many other countries that require attention, including Iraq.

In Syria, the atrocities that have been reported by the Commission of Inquiry have truly shocked the conscience of humanity, from the intensive bombardment of Aleppo last year to the alleged use of chemical weapons, as well as the continued besieging of thousands of civilians in flagrant violation of international law. Despite this, the Security Council has largely failed to take action to protect civilians and provide accountability for victims.

When I visited the Central African Republic earlier this month I was told of serious violations against the civilian population, particularly women and children, for allegedly belonging to certain ethnic or religious groups. Despite progress made towards peace, there are still worrying occurrences of manipulation and incitement to ethnic and religious hatred that needs to be addressed by the government, with the support of the international community, in order to sustain the country’s fragile peace.

Q: What steps can and must be taken in order to prevent genocide?

A. History has shown that genocide and other atrocity crimes take place on a large scale, and are not spontaneous or isolated events; they are processes, with histories, precursors and triggering factors which combined, enable their commission.

If you look at all of these conflicts, whether it is the Central African Republic or Myanmar or Iraq, there is one common denominator: exclusion. People feel that they are not included, so they resort to some form of violence for their rights to be recognized.

So we can link these crises to the lack of respect for human rights, of observance of the rule of law, and also a problem of governance. All of these elements therefore confirm the close link between development, peace, security, and human rights.

This is also one of the reasons why the Secretary-General made prevention a key aspect of his mandate. Unless you invest in prevention, you may not be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or achieve the aspiration of sustaining peace.

There will be no development without peace, and no peace without development.

Unless we manage to make everybody included in whatever we are doing, we are set to fail at the national, local, and international levels.

Unless the member state invests in having strong judiciaries, a strong and courageous parliament, strong and outspoken civil society, it will be hard for those governments to achieve something that is really durable.

And it has to start of course at the local and national levels. If you make sure young people, including women, are included in all of these projects, you have a better chance to win your aspiration for development and peace.

Q: The motto “never again” continues to be used in reference to the Rwandan genocide. Has the international community become better at responding to or acting on atrocities around the world?

A. One of the principal roles of my mandate is to act as an early warning mechanism and a catalyst to mobilize action for the prevention of genocide and other atrocity crimes at the national and international level.

In line with these efforts my office has also developed a Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes that is used by the UN, member states and civil society alike to assess the risk of atrocity crimes and develop strategies to prevent these crimes.

We are today able to identify the risk factors which lead to the commission of these atrocity crimes. We are able to identify those early signs, which is much easier today than it was in the past with new technology spreads information faster.

What is required today more than ever is early action.

For example, I have been calling for the last three years or more the attention of the international community on the situation of the Rohingya Muslim population in Myanmar but without much success.

I identified the risk factors which were there, and I even went to the extent of writing an op-ed to draw the attention of the public at large.

The main problem is the political will to act at the earliest stage.

I think the Secretary General’s prioritization of prevention will hopefully play a key role in further enhancing the ability of the UN as well as the willingness of member states to act early to prevent situations from escalating to the point where there is a risk of atrocity crimes.

My wish is from now onward is for the international community through the Security Council which has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security to be more determined to address situations before they escalate further.

Preventing atrocities before they start continues to be the best way of ensuring that we live up to our commitment of “never again”.

Q: Is what’s happening in Myanmar a genocide, or could it become a genocide?

A. I think in Myanmar there were several warning signs of the violence we are now witnessing. I have repeatedly raised alarm of the risk of atrocities being committed against the Rohingya, and that is why I welcome readily the position of the Security Council to condemn the violence.

But more needs to be done to act on this condemnation.

What we are witnessing today needs to be thoroughly investigated. From the perspective of my mandate, there is no doubt that we are seeing elements which are very worrying—when you see a population being forcibly moved out of their location, their houses being burned, women being raped, people being murdered, and people having no choice than to cross the borders and when you see this was happening without condemnation from the Myanmar authorities.

When Aung San Suu Kyi took to the floor for the first time, her speech raised more questions than answers.

And that is why I do believe that if this situation is not addressed right now in a very energetic manner, the allegations being made that we are witnessing an ethnic cleansing will be confirmed.

It is time for the Myanmar authorities to first and foremost stop the violence and to allow thorough investigation of the alleged atrocities being committed right now.

Q: In Kenya, some have raised concerns that the persisting ethnic divisions in the country are reminiscent of what happened in Rwanda. What are your thoughts on the situation there, and should it be higher on the radar?

A. What is happening in Kenya is a situation of concern. Ahead of the elections, my office had been monitoring the situation. We identified areas where we see a potential of violence and we invested and gave support to the Kenyan National Committee for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and All Forms of Discrimination. We supported their activities aimed to prevent the commission of atrocity crimes.

Because we all remember that in December 2007 and early 2008, there was a spread of violence following the elections and nearly 1300 people were killed. There was definitely at that time ethnicity at play, and this was even the case that was brought to the ICC.

If you take the 2013 elections, they went almost peacefully and my office as well as other international offices invested a lot in it. But I think we should give credit first and foremost to the people of Kenya who mobilized for peaceful elections in 2013.

Now for the 2017 elections, it is remarkable to see for the first time in history, one may agree or disagree, that the Supreme Court really took a decision and I am glad the decision has been respected by the candidates.

I wish that all actors were in this process and now we also have to make every effort to prevent further escalation of violence, to make sure that there is no hatred or hate speech particularly directed against one or another ethnic group.

During the 2013 election, I made a very strong call to all candidates that whoever will be elected should commit that he or she will fight against tribalism. For the current situation, I now call on all the Kenyan leaders to make every effort to send clear messages to their followers to not go into any form of violence, and particularly using ethnic violence should not be tolerated. The law should prevail.

This is the responsibility first and foremost of the Kenyan government but the entire world has an entire responsibility to contribute to preventing atrocity crimes.

Q: Should the International Criminal Court play a greater role or be given more authority to prosecute those involved such atrocities?

A. Without a doubt.

Where you have a weak judiciary and where you have lack of political will from the government to hold perpetrators of atrocity crimes accountable, then efforts have to be made to refer those cases to the ICC if that state concerned is not a state party to the ICC.

Now we have countries which are state parties like Kenya who took the case of the 2007 election violence themselves before The Hague. The case at the end was closed because of lack of evidence but you have to remember, these are very complex crimes.

And today in my view, we need definitely to use the ICC when states are failing to bring criminals before the courts. Impunity is not an option—we have to end impunity everywhere.

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Deliberate Famine Should Be a War Crime, UN Expert Sayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/deliberate-famine-war-crime-un-expert-says/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deliberate-famine-war-crime-un-expert-says http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/deliberate-famine-war-crime-un-expert-says/#comments Wed, 25 Oct 2017 16:39:55 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152706 The deliberate starvation of civilians could amount to a war crime and should be prosecuted, said an independent UN human rights expert. In a new report, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Hilal Elver examined the right to food in conflict situations and found a grim picture depicting the most severe humanitarian crisis […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 25 2017 (IPS)

The deliberate starvation of civilians could amount to a war crime and should be prosecuted, said an independent UN human rights expert.

In a new report, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Hilal Elver examined the right to food in conflict situations and found a grim picture depicting the most severe humanitarian crisis since the UN was established.

Hilal Elver. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

“Contrary to popular belief, causalities resulting directly from combat usually make up only a small proportion of deaths in conflict zones, with most individuals in fact perishing from hunger and disease,” she said.

Conflicts have proliferated around the world and with them has come a rise in food insecurity.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the proportion of undernourished people living in countries in conflict and protracted crises is almost three times higher than that in other developing countries.

In five conflict-stricken countries alone, approximately 20 million are facing famine and starvation.

Another estimated 70 million people in 45 countries currently require emergency food assistance, a 40 percent increase from 2015.

Since the human right to food is a universal one, Elver noted that countries and other parties to conflicts must act and avoid using food as a weapon of war.

“If the famine [occurs] from deliberate action by state or other players, using food as a weapon of war is an international crime and there is an individual responsibility to that,” she said.

“The international community should make it clear that this is a war crime or a crime against humanity, otherwise we will give a certain permission [to it],” Elver continued.

In Yemen, rates of acute malnutrition have increased dramatically since the beginning of the civil war in 2015, making it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Approximately 60 percent of the population are food insecure while 7 million are at risk of famine and acute food insecurity, a situation that is expected to worsen without an increase in emergency food assistance.

According to the World Food Programme, over 3 million children and pregnant or nursing women are acutely malnourished, making them susceptible to communicable diseases such as cholera.

Already, a severe cholera outbreak that began in April has killed over 2,000 people and has exacerbated the nutrition crisis.

Parties to the ongoing conflict have played a significant and deliberate role in the decreased access to food, including a Saudi Arabia-imposed aerial and naval blockade on a country which previously imported 90 percent of its food.

Airstrikes carried out by the coalition have also targeted the country’s agricultural sector including farms, further limiting access to food, while sieges by Houthi fighters in numerous cities have prevented staple items from reaching civilians.

Ta’izz, the Middle Eastern country’s second-largest city, was besieged by Houthi fighters for over a year, causing blockages in supply routes and dire food shortages.

Elver said that Yemen is a “clear situation” where famine constitutes a crime against humanity in which both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthis are responsible.

She noted however that there is still widespread impunity in situations when famine is deliberately caused and pointed to the International Criminal Court (ICC) as an example which has not prosecuted individuals responsible for such crises.

Though UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has included the Saudi-led coalition in his annual shame list for violations against children, Elver called for the creation of legal mandates to prevent famine and protect people’s right to food.

This includes the development of international legal standards to reinforce the norm that deliberate starvation is a war crime or a crime against humanity and the referral of the most serious cases to the ICC for investigation and potential prosecution.

The formal recognition of famine as a crime can prevent the tendency of governments “to hide behind a curtain of natural disasters and state sovereignty to use hunger as a genocidal weapon,” the report states.

“We can see the famine coming, it doesn’t just happen in one day,” Elver said.

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Lack of International Action on Rohingya Crisis Called a “Disgrace”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/lack-international-action-rohingya-crisis-called-disgrace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lack-international-action-rohingya-crisis-called-disgrace http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/lack-international-action-rohingya-crisis-called-disgrace/#respond Mon, 23 Oct 2017 22:29:40 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152655 As the crisis in Myanmar reaches unprecedented levels, frustration is at its peak as the international community remains slow to respond and act cohesively. Over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh since the renewal of violence on August 25, making it the fastest-growing refugee emergency in the world. The UN warns that up to […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 23 2017 (IPS)

As the crisis in Myanmar reaches unprecedented levels, frustration is at its peak as the international community remains slow to respond and act cohesively.

Over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh since the renewal of violence on August 25, making it the fastest-growing refugee emergency in the world.

Idriss Jazairy. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The UN warns that up to one million—representing the entire Muslim population of Rakhine state—could flee to the neighboring nation by the end of the year if the crisis continues.

Rohingya refugees have provided the outside world with glimpses of their horrific experiences, from villages being burned and attacked to women being raped by Burmese soldiers.

One 26-year-old Rohingya woman recounted her story to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) rapid response team, deployed to Bangladesh to assess the situation on the ground, stating:

“I woke up at 3 a.m. and my house was on fire. There was chaos, everyone was running everywhere, they were shooting to kill us, they took women and dragged them away to rape them. They did not spare anyone—even children were beaten and tortured…I have tried for a long time to live in peace, even during difficult times, but this attack was horrible.”

The High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the government’s campaign against the minority a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” while others have said that the violations may amount to crimes against humanity.

Those that are able to reach Bangladesh often arrive to no food or shelter and are at risk of disease outbreaks as the resource-strained South Asian nation struggles to cope with the influx.

Despite the evidence for the scale of violence and suffering, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has largely remained silent on the crisis while divisions in Security Council (UNSC) have prevented decisive progress towards any measure.

With no end in sight, IPS spoke to the Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures and the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue Idriss Jazairy about the crisis in Myanmar, as well as his frustrations and appeals for action.

Q: What is your response to the crisis in Myanmar and what is the Geneva Centre doing to help end the crisis?

I have sent, to all members of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a letter appealing to them to organize a special session on the desperate situation of the Rohingyas that have been pushed back from Myanmar into Bangladesh.

I have not received one single answer.

About 650,000 people have been pushed out mercilessly—all of their property has been burned or destroyed, many have disappeared in large numbers, women have been raped, children have been killed—and nothing happens.

I know in terms of politics there are all sorts of elements that need to be taken into account, but there comes a time when a situation of a violation of human rights exceeds certain proportion, whatever the politics, we should speak up.

Otherwise it shows that, in the UNHRC, politics have definitely taken precedence over values and this would be the beginning of the end of this Council.

It would be enough to have 16 states taking the initiative for a special session to take place.

Can’t we find, in the whole of the membership, a few others that claim they are sensitive to human rights to respond and take this initiative?

In 2007, the UNHRC held a special session on Myanmar because there were some peaceful demonstrations that had been exposed to violent responses by the military.

The situation today is 100 times worse, so I cannot imagine why there isn’t a similar reaction.

Q: Do the atrocities in Myanmar amount to crimes against humanity or even genocide?

I am not qualified to say but I believe that some more qualified than myself have talked at least about ethnic cleansing.

It is a case of ethnic cleansing but no one has responded to my appeal for a special session which would in fact have had a dual purpose—first, to impose, under UN control, a return of these people that have been brutally thrown out of a country in which they were born and lived for generations and secondly, to come to the help of Bangladesh which is one of the poorest countries that finds it difficult to face these financial consequences of the mass arrival of refugees.

We therefore have a double moral obligation.

The lives of all 650,000 people who have lost their homes—doesn’t that justify just a one-day special session when we have special sessions about every other country, every other crisis in the world?

I do not understand that. My multilateral faith in human rights is being undermined.

Q: If such a special session were to happen, what are you hoping would result from that?

A recognition of the right of the Rohingyas to go back to their land, including a recognition of their status of citizens.

I am aware that this [crisis] is the consequence to a great extent of British colonizers who would take some labor from what was then India and bring them over to Myanmar to work.

The source of the problem goes back centuries but you can’t redo history. These people have been there for generations, sometimes hundreds of years.

There must be a proper law that gives them the right to citizenship—citizenship should not be based on race.

Bangladesh should also be given compensation and people or victims themselves must be given compensation for what they have undergone.

It is true that there has been a group of violent protestors that have carried out some unacceptable violent actions like attacking police stations and we would not condone these actions.

But let us have a commission of inquiry that looks into all the issues and submit an official report, including to determine the nature of the crimes in this awful situation.

Q: If the crisis continues, should the international community take more drastic measures? Some are pushing for an arms embargo or targeted financial sanctions, what are your thoughts on that?

I have always been hesitant about sanctions.

Myanmar was exposed to sanctions and then the sanctions were removed. Neither did they improve their performance when the sanctions were on nor obviously since the sanctions have been removed and it has now become even worse.

So for me, this is not a question of just sanctions.

It is a grave issue—I understand the Secretary-General raised the issue four times in the Security Council (UNSC)—and I hope that the international community and UN system can join forces in addressing every aspect of this situation.

But the UNHRC not having a special session on this now is a disgrace.

Q: What is your response to the current divisions within the Security Council on the crisis as both Russia and China cite issues of sovereignty and ask to exercise “patience”?

This is why I say: I understand the politics behind these issues but I do feel that the situation has reached such a peak that there must be action.

The UNSC provides the politics, and the UNHRC provides the ethics. But where are the ethics now?

Idriss Jazairy is the former Algerian Ambassador and has long worked with the UN and other organizations.

Among other high-level positions, he has been the President of UN agency IFAD and the Chief Executive of a consortium of international organizations ACORD.

In 2015, Jazairy was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the first Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

A ministerial-level pledging conference is set to be held in Geneva on 23 October to help meet the most urgent needs of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

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An Inequality Beyond Wealth: Gaps in Women’s Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/inequality-beyond-wealth-gaps-womens-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-beyond-wealth-gaps-womens-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/inequality-beyond-wealth-gaps-womens-health/#respond Wed, 18 Oct 2017 15:54:17 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152578 While many often focus on wealth disparities, economic inequality is often a symptom and cause of other inequalities including women’s access to sexual and reproductive health. In a new report, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) explores the persistent, if not widening, inequalities in sexual and reproductive health around the world, holding back women and girls […]

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A mother and her child from West Point, a low-income neighbourhood of Monrovia, Liberia. The 10-worst countries to be a mother in are all in sub-Saharan Africa. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 18 2017 (IPS)

While many often focus on wealth disparities, economic inequality is often a symptom and cause of other inequalities including women’s access to sexual and reproductive health.

In a new report, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) explores the persistent, if not widening, inequalities in sexual and reproductive health around the world, holding back women and girls from a productive and prosperous future.

“It’s not just about money,” Editor of UNFPA’s report Richard Kollodge told IPS.

“Economic inequality reinforces sexual and reproductive health inequality and vice versa,” he continued.

Despite its recognition as a right, access to sexual and reproductive health is far from universally realized and it is the poorest, less educated, and rural women that continue to bear the brunt of such inequalities.

Globally, women and girls in the poorest 20 percent of households have little or no access to contraception and skilled birth attendants, leading to more unintended pregnancies and higher risk of illness or death from pregnancy or child birth.

In the developing world, 43 percent of pregnancies are unplanned and this is more prevalent among rural, poor, and less educated women.

These inequalities are particularly prevalent in West and Central Africa.

In Cameroon, Guinea, Niger, and Nigeria, use of skilled birth care is at less than 20 percent among the poorest women compared to at least 70 percent among the wealthiest.

The lack of power to choose whether, when or how often to become pregnant can limit
girls’ education, delay their entry into the paid labour force, and reduce earnings, trapping women in poverty and marginalization.

“The absence of these services in these women’s lives leads them to be poor or makes them even poorer,” said Kollodge.

A woman with no access to family planning may be unable to join the labor force because she has more children than intended.

In high-fertility developing countries, women’s participation in the labor force remains low, from 20 percent in South Asia to 22 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.

Once in the paid labor force, underlying gender inequalities lead to women earning less than men for the same types of work.

Though the gender wage gap has decreased in recent year, women still earn 77 percent of what men earn globally.

At the current pace, it will take more than 70 years before the gender wage gap is closed.

Further gaps can be seen for women who have children—a “motherhood penalty,” Kollodge said—as well as for women of color and those with less education.

Illiterate people earn up to 42 percent less than their literate counterparts and a majority of the world’s estimated 758 million illiterate adults are women.

This can also be traced to harmful gender norms that keep girls from school, and creates a vicious cycle that keeps women in the bottom rung of the economic ladder and without access to sexual and reproductive health services.

If all girls stayed in and received secondary education, it’s estimated that child marriages would decrease by 64 percent, early births by 59 percent, and births per woman by 42 percent.

Among the countries that have made most progress is Rwanda, which has effectively closed the gap between poor and rich households in access to contraception.

Kollodge told IPS that Rwanda’s achievement shows that a low-income country can advance access to sexual and reproductive health.

“The policies that [countries] adopt really make a difference. There are things you can do, regardless of your GDP, to improve well-being and reduce inequality in sexual and reproductive health and rights,” he said.

Rwanda’s success is partly due to the expanded availability and integration of family planning services in each of the country’s villages and health centers.

But inequality in sexual and reproductive health is not just a developing country issue, Kollodge noted.

The United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world.

In Texas, maternal mortality rates jumped from 18.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 35.8 deaths in 2014, the majority of whom were Hispanic and African-American woman.

Meanwhile, the government is working to repeal health coverage which risks returning to a time where many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

Already, the Donald Trump administration has rolled back access to contraception, affecting up to 60 million women.

Elsewhere, the U.S.’ decision to cut funding to UNFPA is affecting the health and lives of thousands of women.

In 2016, the government provided 69 million to UNFPA programs, helping avert almost one million unintended pregnancies and prevent 2,300 maternal deaths.

“Any reduction to UNFPA has a direct impact on women and adolescent girls in developing countries,” said Kollodge.

The report calls to make information and services more available and accessible and recommends a number of actions including increasing access to child care which can help women join the labor force and climb out of poverty.

This will lead to not only better reproductive health outcomes, but also a healthier economy and society as a whole.

“If you eliminate these inequalities in accessing sexual and reproductive health and thus give women control over their own lives, you are going to make a lot of headway in economic inequality,” Kollodge told IPS.

He said that though eliminating inequalities in sexual and reproductive health alone will not be enough, countries will never achieve economic inequality if half of the world’s population lacks access to health services and rights.

“And if you continue to have extreme economic inequality, it drags down whole economies and prohibits countries from rising out of poverty fast enough to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” Kollodge continued, pointing to SDG 1 which aims to end poverty by 2030.

The internationally adopted SDGs also include a goal to reduce inequality within and among countries by accelerating income growth of the poorest 40 percent of the population at a rate higher than the national average.

“If you don’t do that, you are never going to achieve shared prosperity,” Kollodge said.

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Press Freedom Groups Condemn U.S. Withdrawal from UNESCOhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/press-freedom-groups-condemn-u-s-withdrawal-unesco/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-freedom-groups-condemn-u-s-withdrawal-unesco http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/press-freedom-groups-condemn-u-s-withdrawal-unesco/#respond Tue, 17 Oct 2017 14:21:01 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152552 Civil society groups have called on the United States to reverse its decision to withdraw from a UN body, citing concerns for press freedom and journalists’ safety. Citing anti-Israel bias and concern over the inclusion of Palestine, the Donald Trump Administration announced that it will end its membership in the UN Education, Scientific, and Cultural […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 17 2017 (IPS)

Civil society groups have called on the United States to reverse its decision to withdraw from a UN body, citing concerns for press freedom and journalists’ safety.

Betlehem Isaak, daughter of 2017 UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize Laureate receiving the award certificate from the hands of Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

Citing anti-Israel bias and concern over the inclusion of Palestine, the Donald Trump Administration announced that it will end its membership in the UN Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) by December 2018.

“This anti-Israel bias that’s long documented on the part of UNESCO, that needs to come to an end,” said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.

“If UNESCO wants to get back and wants to reform itself and get back to a place where they’re truly promoting culture and education and all of that, perhaps we could take another look at this,” she continued.

Though the North American nation wants to provide input as a nonmember observer, press freedom organizations including Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and Article 19 called the move a major blow to press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.

“Their withdrawal from UNESCO represents an attempt to weaken that organization and that they will no longer provide input or influence on important issues that UNESCO has within its mandate which includes the protection of journalists,” RSF’s Advocacy and Communications Director in North America Margaux Ewen told IPS.

“The fact that the U.S. has now decided to no longer be a part of UNESCO, they essentially no longer want to be a part of this portfolio and that is really discouraging to anyone who is in favor of press freedom and protecting journalists,” she added.

CPJ’s Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch echoed similar sentiments, stating: “UNESCO plays a critical role in promoting the safety of journalists around the world and U.S. withdrawal will weaken UNESCO’s ability to address global press freedom violations, creating a power vacuum that could very well be filled by governments that embrace authoritarian tactics.”

Founded on the ashes of World War II in 1945, UNESCO is responsible for coordinating international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication along with encouraging peace and strengthening ties between nations and societies.

Among its objectives is to promote free, independent, and pluralistic media in order to enhance freedom of expression and information around the world.

Alongside its concern for press freedom, the organization has also paved the way to ensure the safety of journalists.

UNESCO has recorded the killings of almost 1,000 journalists and media workers since 2007 and it is the lead agency tasked with ensuring the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and Issue of Impunity, a document which lays out measures to strengthen work on such issues.

“Support for UNESCO is therefore intrinsically linked to ensuring that journalists are safe to do their work, including in some of the most dangerous countries,” the press freedom groups said in a statement.

Though it is unclear if it reflects the ongoing trend of rejecting multilateralism and the UN, Ewen noted that the decision is in line with current violations of press freedom within the U.S.

“The current administration has been very locally against press freedom and has attacked media outlets and journalists individually for coverage that the White House doesn’t like, so this kind of seems like an extension of that type of view of press freedom,” she told IPS.

“Protecting free speech and ensuring journalists’ safety, core US values, requires investing in multilateralism, not running away from it,” he added.

Throughout his presidential campaign and since taking office, President Trump has repeatedly described media organisations including the New York Times and CNN as “fake news.”

During a rally in Arizona, the President called journalists as “truly dishonest people” and criticised their coverage of his reaction to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

Most recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions raised the prospect of media subpoenas to reveal leakers, violating journalists’ right to protect their sources.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has criticized President Trump’s anti-media rhetoric, stating: “It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only sort of a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution but very much something that the United States defended over the years, is now itself under attack from the President himself…to call these news organisations ‘fake’ does tremendous damage and to refer to individual journalists in this way—I have to ask the question: is this not an incitement for others to attack journalists?”

Already, repercussions of such rhetoric can be seen around the world.

In Cambodia, government spokesperson Phay Siphan threatened to take action against media outlets because they do “not reflect the real situation” while citing President Trump’s expulsion of news organizations from a White House briefing earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has labeled report of atrocities against the Rohingya community “fake news” that helps terrorists.

Executive Director of Article 19 Thomas Hughes noted that President Trump’s attacks on media are “more than empty rhetoric” and signal a shift away from “championing freedom of expression worldwide.”

“Protecting free speech and ensuring journalists’ safety, core US values, requires investing in multilateralism, not running away from it,” he added.

The press freedom groups called on the U.S. to reconsider its decision.

“[The U.S. is] a key player on the international stage and they have the ability to influence positive change, so we would like them to continue to be a part of this discussion and ongoing campaigns to make sure that journalists are protected while doing their job on the field,” Ewen told IPS.

This is the second time that the U.S. has left UNESCO, having withdrawn in 1984 due to concerns over the Soviet Union’s influence and rejoining in 2003.

In 2011, the U.S. withdrew its funding to the organization as a response to Palestine’s membership.

The recent move came in the midst of UNESCO’s elections for a new Director-General which saw French-Jewish former Minister of Culture Audrey Azoulay rise to the occasion.

In response to the turmoil, Azoulay said that leaving UNESCO is not the answer.

“In this moment of crisis, I believe we must invest in UNESCO more than ever, look to support and reinforce it, and to reform it—and not leave it,” she said.

If confirmed by the 195-member General Assembly in November, Azoulay will succeed outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova.

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Up to 100 Million Girls Vulnerable to Child Marriagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/100-million-girls-unprotected-child-marriage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=100-million-girls-unprotected-child-marriage http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/100-million-girls-unprotected-child-marriage/#comments Thu, 12 Oct 2017 21:59:28 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152452 Over 20,000 girls are married before the age of 18 every day around the world as countries continue to lack legal protections, according to a new study. Concerned over the lack of progress, Save the Children and the World Bank teamed up to research child marriage laws around the world and found a dismal picture. […]

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Making an Economic Case for Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/making-economic-case-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-economic-case-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/making-economic-case-climate-action/#comments Mon, 02 Oct 2017 15:16:58 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152311 Having faced a year of record temperatures and devastating hurricanes, the United States stands more to lose if it doesn’t take steps to reduce the risk and impact of climate change, according to a new report. Launched by the Universal Ecological Fund, it details the costs of the U.S.’ climate inaction to the national economy […]

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) receives the legal instruments for joining the Paris Agreement from Barack Obama, President of the United States, at a special ceremony held in Hangzhou, China. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 2 2017 (IPS)

Having faced a year of record temperatures and devastating hurricanes, the United States stands more to lose if it doesn’t take steps to reduce the risk and impact of climate change, according to a new report.

Launched by the Universal Ecological Fund, it details the costs of the U.S.’ climate inaction to the national economy and public health and urges for policies to move the country towards a sustainable future.

“It’s not about ideology, it’s about good business sense,” the former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the report’s co-author James McCarthy told IPS.

“Many people say that they will not have the discussion because they are not convinced of the science—well then, let’s just look at the economics, let’s look at what it is costing to not have that discussion,” he continued.

A Wake of Destruction

The U.S. is still reeling from an unprecedented month of three hurricanes and 76 wildfires, devastating landscapes from Puerto Rico to Washington.

Hurricane Maria alone left Puerto Rican residents without food, water, or electricity. Approximately 44 percent of the population lacks clean drinking water and just 11 out of 69 hospitals have fuel or power, pushing the island to the brink of a humanitarian crisis.

“This year was nothing like we’ve seen,” said McCarthy.

Though aid delivery is underway, the economic losses from not only Hurricane Maria, but also Hurricanes Harvey and Irma along with the wildfires that swept through the Western coast, are estimated to be the costliest weather events in U.S. history.

The report estimates a price-tag of nearly 300 billion dollars in damage, representing 70 percent of the costs of all 92 weather events in the last decade.

Since hurricane season is yet to end, more expensive and damaging storms may still be in the forecast.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information, the number of extreme weather events that incurred at least one billion dollars in economic losses and damages have increased in the last decade by almost two and a half times.

Such losses will only rise as human-induced climate change continues, contributing to dry conditions favorable for more wildfires and warm oceans which lead to more intense storms and higher sea levels.

McCarthy, who is also an Oceanography Professor at Harvard University, told IPS that investments beyond creating hurricane-proof infrastructure are needed to counter such damage.

“Infrastructure is important, but everything we can do to reduce the intensity of these events, by slowing the rate of global warming, will make future infrastructure more likely to be effective,” he said.

An Unhealthy Dependence

Among the major drivers of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels which the U.S. continues to rely on to produce energy.

Coal, oil and natural gas—all of which are fossil fuels— currently account for over 80 percent of the primary energy generated and used in the North American nation. When such fossil fuels are burned, large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) are released to the atmosphere, contributing to rapid changes in the climate.

Though emissions regulations have reduced air pollution health damages by 35 percent, or nearly 67 billion dollars per year, burning fossil fuels still produces health costs that average 240 billion dollars every year.

If fossil fuels continue to be used, both economic losses and health costs are estimated to reach at least 360 billion dollars annually, or 55 percent of U.S.’ growth, over the next decade.

And the government won’t be footing the expensive bill, the report notes.

“Time after time, we are going to see the public bearing the costs…it becomes a personal burden for them,” McCarthy told IPS.

He highlighted the importance of the U.S. taking steps to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“To move people, literally and figuratively, into the future to be more healthy and more sustainable and a less expensive way of doing business just makes sense,” McCarthy said.

Not only will it provide sustainable clean electricity and reduce the rate of global warming, renewable energy also can add to the economy by producing jobs.

Clean energy already employs almost 2 million workers, and doubling solar and wind generation can create another 500,000 jobs.

In order to successfully transition to a low-carbon economy, investments are essential, some of which can potentially come from taxing carbon emissions, the report states. A carbon tax aims to reduce emissions and promote a more efficient use of energy, including the transition to electric cars.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a tax on carbon emissions can potentially produce revenues of up to 200 billion dollars in the U.S. within the next decade.

The carbon tax has been a controversial policy, with some expressing concern that companies will simply shift the cost to the consumer by way of increasing the prices of gasoline and electricity.

However, McCarthy noted that the public already currently bears the burden in terms of damages from extreme weather events and unhealthy air expenses.

A Government Denial

Despite the evidence for climate change and the role of fossil fuels in driving such change, U.S. President Donald Trump has begun to unravel many essential environmental protections.

Not only did his administration announce the U.S. withdrawal from the landmark Paris Agreement, but it is currently working to dismantle the Clean Power Plan (CPP) which aims to reduce carbon pollution from power plants across the country.

The move is tied to President Trump’s repeated calls to renew investments in the coal industry, claiming that it will bring back jobs.

McCarthy said that these actions are not “borne out by the facts.”

“The notion that you will be able to return the U.S. to a coal economy—there is no evidence for that. And secondly, if you are going to create jobs, the sensible way to create them is in a forward-looking area such as renewable energy rather than the highly risky and repeated exposure of coal,” he told IPS.

In spite of a national strategy that may exacerbate climate change, McCarthy said that cities and states are taking the lead and will continue to move in the right direction regardless of bipartisan politics.

Iowa is the leading U.S. state in wind power with over 35 percent of its electricity generated from wind energy.

In Oklahoma, where U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt hails from, 25 percent of electricity comes from wind energy.

“When you look at a state like Iowa and see [their] electricity is coming from wind energy, it doesn’t say anything about the politics of Iowa—it says something about people being sensible about how they spend their money and what they invest in to get a particular product,” McCarthy said.

The U.S.’ reluctance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions not only impacts Americans, but also people around the world. Since the process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement will take time, McCarthy expressed hope that the U.S. will change its course.

“We hope over that period of time that [President Trump] will see that this partnership has enormous value and not only what the U.S. is doing that affects the rest of the world but vice versa,” he said.

“We should find reason to join efforts with the community of nations that have recognized, much like what we try to say in this report, that if we don’t do something, these are going to be very expensive and, in some cases, life-threatening consequences of this sort of neglect,” McCarthy concluded.

The EPA is expected to release a revised version of the CPP in the coming weeks, and it is expected to be significantly weaker than the original.

Governments will be convening in Bonn, Germany for the UN’s Annual Climate Change Conference (COP23) in November to advance the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The focus will be on how to implement issues including emissions reductions, provision of finance, and technology.

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Strong Compacts on Refugees and Migrants Urgently Neededhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/strong-compacts-refugees-migrants-urgently-needed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=strong-compacts-refugees-migrants-urgently-needed http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/strong-compacts-refugees-migrants-urgently-needed/#respond Thu, 21 Sep 2017 22:46:49 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152193 One year ago, the international community agreed to work together to protect and save refugees and migrants. However, many are concerned over the lack of progress to make this noble goal a reality. Adopted in September 2016, the historic New York Declaration reaffirms the rights of migrants and refugees and lays out a foundation of […]

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Filippo Grandi (right), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and Louise Arbour (left), Special Representative for International Migration, speak to journalists following a special event on the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 21 2017 (IPS)

One year ago, the international community agreed to work together to protect and save refugees and migrants. However, many are concerned over the lack of progress to make this noble goal a reality.

Adopted in September 2016, the historic New York Declaration reaffirms the rights of migrants and refugees and lays out a foundation of bold commitments agreed upon by all 193 member states.The conflict in South Sudan has fueled the biggest exodus of refugees in Africa since the 1994 Rwandan genocide and has contributed to the creation of the world’s largest refugee camp.

During an event to mark the occasion, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi reminded governments of their commitments as the world faces record numbers of displaced persons and a rise in complex migration.

“The scope and severity of global refugee crises which led to the adoption of the Declaration a year ago have not abated one bit,” he told delegates.

“We have a collective and moral responsibility to strengthen our response to refugee movements, while redoubling efforts to address their causes,” Grandi continued.

He particularly pointed to the exodus of refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine state which has surpassed 400,000 in just three weeks as Rohingya Muslims flee persecution and deadly violence.

“[It] is a chilling reminder of the catastrophic human consequences that ensue when the conflicts and human rights violations that compel refugees to flee their homes go unchecked,” Grandi said.

Among the pledges in the Declaration are increases in humanitarian financing, resettlement slots, and responsibility sharing.

It also calls upon the creation of two global compacts—one on refugees and the other on safe, orderly, and regular migration—to be adopted in 2018.

With negotiations for the draft compacts currently underway, Grandi and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration Louise Arbour urged the international community to ensure the new global compacts are robust.

“Our ability to better manage human mobility rests on both compacts being as strong as possible: widely supported by member states and with the needs of the most vulnerable firmly at their heart,” said Arbour.

She noted that the compacts must be grounded in reality, including the recognition of the benefits of migration, and warned against false rhetoric.

“Discourse which is detached from this reality, grounded in stereotypes and predicated on fear, a discourse which demonises migrants or disparages their contributions not only risks fuelling intolerance but it also obscures the very real challenges we face today.”

Though some countries have stepped up to the challenge, Oxfam America’s new president Abby Maxman told IPS that progress towards the protection of refugees has been insufficient, particularly by wealthy nations.

“No one can resolve this situation on their own. It requires a real sense of interdependence, collaboration and commitment,” she said.

According to Oxfam’s analysis, six of the wealthiest countries host less than 9 percent of the world’s refugees.
Though Germany has welcomed far more refugees than the other richest nations, a major gap remains as low and middle-income countries continue to provide for the vast majority of refugees.

Assistance to such countries has also been lacking, leaving refugee-hosting nations alone to shoulder the costs.

As conflict rages in South Sudan after a peace agreement fell apart in July 2016, over one million refugees have flocked to the neighboring nation of Uganda.

It is the biggest exodus of refugees in Africa since the 1994 Rwandan genocide and has contributed to the creation of the world’s largest refugee camp.

Strained for resources, Uganda requested two billion dollars for the immediate crisis and long-term development solutions. However, world leaders have thus far contributed less than a quarter of the appeal.

“Seeing the state of the crisis, clearly there needs to be a systemic approach to ending the conflict but also commitment to providing support,” said Maxman, who just returned from a trip to South Sudan.

She also pointed to the United States, which has seemingly abandoned its commitments to refugee protection.

One of President Trump’s first actions upon taking office was to issue an executive order that severely restricted immigration from several Muslims countries, suspended all refugee admission for 120 days, and barred all Syrian refugees indefinitely.

Since then, the Trump administration reduced its refugee admission cap from 110,000, set by the previous administration, to 50,000. The figure is the lowest since 1986 when former President Reagan set a cap of 67,000, and the administration is threatening to reduce the cap even further.

President Trump also proposed cutting the Refugee Assistance budget from 3.1 billion dollars to 2.7 billion for next year.

As the North American nation was one of the largest donors to refugee assistance, Maxman expressed concern that the U.S. stepping back will impact the realization of the Declaration’s commitments.

“If responsibility sharing and access to durable solutions continue to remain ad hoc or severely delayed, we will see dramatic psycho-social-economic-educational implications of people living in limbo and that has long-term consequences,” she told IPS.

Maxman expressed hope that the ongoing UN General Assembly will cast a spotlight on the urgency to look for solutions and increase participation by wealthy nations.

“Now it’s time to act,” she said.

Grandi echoed similar sentiments, urging government not to underestimate the task ahead to make the New York Declaration concrete.

“The seeds for change have been planted, but the shoots beginning to emerge need nourishment…We have a collective responsibility to strengthen our response to refugee movements with a new sense of urgency, and redouble our efforts to address their causes,” he stated.

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