Inter Press ServiceTharanga Yakupitiyage – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 17 Nov 2017 19:02:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 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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A Trump Doctrine of Hypocrisyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/trump-doctrine-hypocrisy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-doctrine-hypocrisy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/trump-doctrine-hypocrisy/#respond Wed, 20 Sep 2017 19:38:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152169 In his first address on the global stage of the General Assembly, United States’ President Donald Trump touted an “America First” approach at the very institution that is meant to inspire collaboration between nations. During his 45-minute speech, President Trump praised national sovereignty, referencing the concept a whopping 21 times. “Our government’s first duty is […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 20 2017 (IPS)

In his first address on the global stage of the General Assembly, United States’ President Donald Trump touted an “America First” approach at the very institution that is meant to inspire collaboration between nations.

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

During his 45-minute speech, President Trump praised national sovereignty, referencing the concept a whopping 21 times.

“Our government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens — to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values,” he told world leaders.

“As President of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries will always, and should always, put your countries first.”

But in a global world that relies on each other on issues such as economic growth and environmental protection, can a “me first” approach work?

Peace Action’s Senior Director of Policy and Political Affairs Paul Kawika Martin says no.

“To say one country first over the other certainly is not going to deal with these issues,” he told IPS.

Though the President highlighted the need to work together to confront those who threaten the world with “chaos, turmoil, and terror,” his actions seem to imply otherwise.

Starting with withdrawing from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement to tackle global emissions to threatening funding cuts to not only the UN but also to its own State Department which handles diplomacy and foreign assistance, the U.S. seems to be far from working together with the international community.

As Trump received applause upon speaking of the benefits of the U.S.’ programs in advancing global health and women’s empowerment, he has also sought to eliminate such programs including the gender equality development assistance account ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues and has already withdrawn all funds to the UN’s Population Fund.

“Talk is cheap when you don’t fund the efforts you tout,” said Oxfam America’s President Abby Maxman.

“Mr. Trump continues on a path that will cost America its global influence and leadership,” she continued.

Martin echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “We talk about working together but we don’t seem to do the things that you need to do to work together, which is making sure you have the right diplomacy, supporting the UN, and supporting other international fora.”

He particularly pointed the U.S.’ refusal to participate and sign the new nuclear ban treaty.

Adopted in July, the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons is now open for signature and will enter into force 90 days after 50 countries have ratified it.

Brazilian President Michel Temer was the first to sign the treaty.

However, the world’s nine nuclear-armed states including the U.S. boycotted the negotiations and announced they do not ever intend to become party to the document.

Instead, President Trump used his address to lambast both North Korea and Iran for their alleged pursuits of nuclear weapons and make war-inciting claims.

“We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said.

“It is time for North Korea to realize that the denuclearization is its only acceptable future.”

Martin noted that no country would act kindly to threats of annihilation.

Such threats have instead only served to increase tensions.

Since Trump threatened “fire and fury” on 8 August, North Korea has conducted four nuclear tests.

The President continued to say that the Iran Deal is the “worst” and most “one-sided” agreements, threatening to withdraw from it.

As nuclear tensions continue escalate, Trump’s threats of war and unwillingness to cooperate gives security to none, particularly not Americans.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein criticized the President for his remarks and noted the hypocrisy in using the UN stage of peace and global cooperation to threaten war.

“He missed an opportunity to present any positive actions the U.N. could take with respect to North Korea…By suggesting he would revisit and possibly cancel the Iran nuclear agreement, he greatly escalated the danger we face from both Iran and North Korea,” she said.

“He aims to unify the world through tactics of intimidation, but in reality he only further isolates the United States.”

Martin highlighted the importance of diplomacy rather than intimidation.

“Diplomacy is the hardest thing. It is harder to get together at a table and work on a deal but that’s what needs to be done.”

President Trump did express his support for the UN and its work, citing former President Harry Truman who helped build the UN and made the U.S. the first nation to join the organization.

He referred to Truman’s Marshall Plan which helped restore post-World War II Europe, but still went on to urge nations to “embrace their sovereignty.”

However, it was Truman that spoke of a “security for all” approach during a conference which established the UN Charter in 1945.

He urged delegates to use this “instrument for peace and security” but warned nations against using “selfishly,” stating: “If any nation would keep security for itself, it must be ready and willing to share security with all. This is the price which each nation will have to pay for world peace.”

“Out of this conflict have come powerful military nations, now fully trained and equipped for war. But they have no right to dominate the world. It is rather the duty of these powerful nations to assume the responsibility for leadership toward a world of peace.

That is why we have here resolved that power and strength shall be used not to wage war, but to keep the world at peace, and free from the fear of war.”

Truman’s collective action approach helped prevent another devastating world war.

However, President Trump’s non-cooperation and combative words signal a darker future in global affairs.

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Aung San Suu Kyi: A Leader in Denial?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/aung-san-suu-kyi-leader-denial/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aung-san-suu-kyi-leader-denial http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/aung-san-suu-kyi-leader-denial/#comments Wed, 20 Sep 2017 06:23:09 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152150 After finally breaking silence with a much anticipated address on the ongoing crisis in Rakhine State, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has disappointed the world as she refuses to acknowledge the plight of her country’s Rohingya community. In a 30-minute televised address, Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi said that her […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 20 2017 (IPS)

After finally breaking silence with a much anticipated address on the ongoing crisis in Rakhine State, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has disappointed the world as she refuses to acknowledge the plight of her country’s Rohingya community.

Aung San Suu Kyi

In a 30-minute televised address, Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi said that her government does not fear “international scrutiny” over its management of the crisis in Rakhine.

Suu Kyi, who decided not to attend the ongoing UN General Assembly in New York, said she nevertheless wanted the international community to know what her government was doing.

“We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence,” she said in her first public address since violence reignited after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked security posts on 25 August.

“We feel deeply for the suffering of all the people caught up in the conflict.”

However, her speech was filled with claims considered dubious by many worldwide as she refused to address the reality on the ground in Rakhine including the military’s alleged campaign of killing and burning villages.

“Her speech was disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst,” founder of Fortify Rights Matthew Smith told IPS, adding that some of her claims were “grotesquely untrue.”

A Denial of Atrocities

Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize Suu Kyi said that security forces are exercising “all due restraint” and that there have not been any “clearance operations” since 5 September.

However, Human Rights Watch released new satellite imagery showing that at least 62 villages in northern Rakhine were burned between August 25 and September 14, some of which can even be seen hundreds of kilometers away at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

Numerous global figures have reiterated the urgent scale of the crisis, including the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein who called it a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Suu Kyi that she has a “last chance” to reverse the army’s offensive and if she doesn’t, the crisis will be “absolutely horrible” and may not be reversible in the future.

The spike in refugees fleeing the conflict since 5 September indicate ongoing violence, which Suu Kyi also denied, stating that most Muslims have stayed in Rakhine and that the crisis is not as severe as the international community thinks.

“It’s incredulous,” said head of Amnesty International’s UN Office Sherine Tadros to IPS about Suu Kyi’s statement.

Rakhine State has a population of approximately three million, one million of whom are Rohingya Muslims.

The UN has estimated that over 400,000 Rohingya have already fled to Bangladesh in just three weeks. They have warned 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.

“She has the responsibility to speak out, and at the very least we would expect for her to acknowledge what is going on in the ground in her own country,” Tadros said.

Balancing a Political Tightrope

Though it is unclear why she continues to support a military that placed her under house arrest for 15 years and has prevented her from becoming the President, some say Suu Kyi is walking a tightrope in protecting her own political interests.

This includes keeping the Myanmar’s powerful military, known as the Tatmadaw, happy.

After winning the 2015 elections, Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, entered a power-sharing agreement with the Tatmadaw which includes control over a quarter of all seats in parliament.

The military also retains control over its own budget and key ministries including home affairs, defense, and borders, making it the real power in northern Rakhine.

And the head of Tatmadaw General Min Aung Hlaing has explicitly and consistently spoken out against the Rohingya community, claiming that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar cannot “accept and recognize” them.

“Rakhine ethnics [Buddhists] are our indigenous people who had long been living there since the time of their forefathers,” he said in a Facebook post.

Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority population have also had little sympathy for the Rohingya since 2012, when deadly violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims left at least 200 dead and displaced 90,000.

It seems that Suu Kyi may be between a rock and a hard place. However, many believe that she does not only have the responsibility, but also the power to advance human rights in the country.

“As the moral leader of the country and as the senior most political leader, she is certainly in a position to shape the way that people in the country think about human rights, the way they think about the situation in Rakhine state,” Smith told IPS.

Tadros echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “Even if you don’t have much power over the military, you don’t have to be an apologist for them.”

“She has political concerns and that is a normal thing for any leader, but the fact that the political concerns are taking precedence over the killing and injuring of thousands of people…it’s just beyond words,” she continued.

Suu Kyi also reminded the international community in her speech that Myanmar is a newly democratic country that is still learning its way, stating: “After half a century or more of authoritarian rule, now we are in the process of nurturing our nation.”

“We are a young and fragile country facing many problems, but we have to cope with them all… we cannot just concentrate on the few,” she continued.

Tadros said that excuse is not good enough and that she can show leadership without the state collapsing.

“Myanmar has had decades to deal with the issue and has never done it in an effective way and the Suu Kyi administration is no different,” Smith said.

A History of Violence

Though Suu Kyi claimed that her government has made efforts in recent years to improve living conditions for Muslims living in Rakhine without discrimination, Myanmar’s government has long disputed the Rohingya people’s status as citizens.

Since 1982 when they adopted the biased citizenship law, the country has enacted a series of discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

However, Suu Kyi has consistently remained silent on the plight of the Rohingya and has instead perpetuated their discrimination and exclusion.

In her address, Suu Kyi refused to use the “Rohingya” by name, only referencing it when she spoke of ARSA which she said are responsible for “acts of terrorism.”

When asked if this continues to perpetuate the narrative that Rohingyas are terrorists, Smith said yes.

“She is in a position now to actually save lives, she is in a position now to stop atrocities. Not only is she failing to do that, but she is making matters worse,” he told IPS.

He added that she is contributing to a narrative that may push more civilians to attack Muslim populations in the country.

Suu Kyi said all those who have fled to Bangladesh will be able to return after a process of verification, and added that she wants to find out what the “real problems” are in Rakhine.

“We want to find out why this exodus is happening. We’d like to talk to those who have fled, as well as those who have stayed,” she said.

Though there is no end in sight to the country’s crisis, Smith expressed concern that her promised actions may coerce the population to disavow their ethnic identity.

“That is not a [verification] process to allow the population to self identify as Rohingya, it’s a process to try to systematize and document this population as Bengali and it’s not a pathway to full citizenship.”

Tadros questioned the fate of Rohingya that do return, stating: “The people who have fled have the right to return. But return to what? Return to what sort of conditions? Return to a country where they have no rights and for this cycle of violence to happen again?”

“This isn’t about being able to physically cross the border to go back to your house anymore, this is about using this moment to actually get the Rohingya the rights that they deserve,” she added.

She urged for Suu Kyi and the international community to do everything in their power to stop the violence, while Smith called on the Security Council to declare the crisis as a threat to international peace and security.

“What is needed right now is action. The Security Council needs to start preparing itself to act towards international justice,” he concluded.

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Secretary-General Talks Myanmar, Trump Ahead of General Assemblyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/secretary-general-talks-myanmar-trump-ahead-general-assembly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=secretary-general-talks-myanmar-trump-ahead-general-assembly http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/secretary-general-talks-myanmar-trump-ahead-general-assembly/#respond Thu, 14 Sep 2017 06:47:38 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152070 In an environment full of major threats, countries must work together towards peace and stability, the Secretary-General said ahead of the General Assembly. As the UN gears up for the 72nd Session of the General Assembly, when leaders from around the world will convene, the Secretary-General pointed to pressing issues and actions to be discussed […]

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Secretary-General António Guterres addresses a press conference ahead of the 72nd session of the General Assembly, which begins on 19 September. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 14 2017 (IPS)

In an environment full of major threats, countries must work together towards peace and stability, the Secretary-General said ahead of the General Assembly.

As the UN gears up for the 72nd Session of the General Assembly, when leaders from around the world will convene, the Secretary-General pointed to pressing issues and actions to be discussed over the course of the week.

“Global leaders will gather here next week at a time where our world faces major threats—from nuclear peril to global terrorism, from inequality to cyber crime,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said of his first General Assembly session since assuming office in January 2017.

“No country can meet these tests alone. But if we work together, we can chart a safer, more stable course, and that is why the General Assembly meeting is so important,” he continued.

Among the most pressing issues that is expected to be discussed during the annual meeting is the humanitarian crisis and escalation of violence in Myanmar, which Guterres described as “catastrophic” and “unacceptable.”

“I call on the Myanmar authorities to suspend military action, end the violence, uphold the rule of law, and recognize the right of return of all those who had to leave the country,” Guterres said, recommending that Rohingya Muslims be granted citizenship or at least a legal status that allows them to leave a productive life.

Sparked after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked a security post on August 25, Myanmar’s military has launched “clearance operations” which has left a path of destruction in its wake.

Security forces have reportedly systematically targeted Rohingya communities, including by burning their homes and indiscriminately shooting at villagers.

Over 370,000 Rohingya Muslims have since fled into neighboring Bangladesh, a figure that tripled in just one week.

In response to the violent outbreak, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that the treatment of Rohingya Muslims seems to be a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

When asked if he agrees that the Rohingya population is facing ethnic cleansing, Guterres stated: “When one-third of the Rohingya population have to flee a country, can you find a better word to describe it?”

However, he stopped short of describing the atrocities as genocide, instead calling it a “dramatic tragedy.”

“The question here is not to establish a dialogue on the different kinds of technical words…people are dying and suffering at horrible numbers and we need to stop it. That is my main concern.”

Amid mounting criticism over her response to the latest iteration of the crisis, Nobel Peace laureate and Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi recently cancelled her trip to the UN meeting this year.

In her address to the General Assembly in 2016, Suu Kyi said that her government did not fear international scrutiny over its treatment of the Rohingya population.

“We are committed to a sustainable solution that will lead to peace, stability and development for all communities within the State,” she said.

Myanmar is reportedly sending its Second Vice President Henry Van Thio in Suu Kyi’s place.

The Security Council (UNSC) has also faced criticism for its silence and lack of action on the situation in Myanmar.

The group last met behind closed doors at the end of August but issued no formal statement or proposal to end the crisis.

The Secretary-General wrote a letter to the 15-member council asking it to “undertake concerted efforts to prevent further escalation of the crisis.”

During a press conference, Guterres highlighted his personal commitment to the issue, stating: “This is a matter that I feel very deeply in my heart…the suffering of the people is something I feel very strongly about.”

UNSC held another closed-door meeting on Wednesday which many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are saying is insufficient and are urging for a public meeting.

“[UNSC] needs to take control of the issue and show that they are really concerned about it,” said Human Rights Watch’s UN Director Louis Charbonneau at a press conference on the Myanmar crisis.

“The Security Council is supposed to be the guardian of international peace and security. This is an international peace and security crisis. It is a nightmare—people are dying, there is destruction, there is no excuse for them to keep sitting on their hands,” he continued.

In an effort to advance the UN’s work on peace and security, Guterres also announced a new High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation.

The 18-member group, which includes personalities such as President of Chile Michelle Bachelet and President of the International Crisis Group Jean-Marie Guéhenno, will advise the Secretary-General on mediation efforts and challenges.

Guterres also said that he aims to discuss the Myanmar crisis along with other challenges such as climate change with the United States’ President Donald Trump who is due to attend and speak at the general debate on 19 September.

Since taking office, President Trump has butted heads with the UN, threatening to significantly cut funds to UN programs and even eliminating all funds to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) after citing concerns that the agency conducts “coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization” in China.

Earlier this year, Trump also announced the U.S.’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a landmark commitment made by 195 countries to address and combat climate change.

In response to such challenges, Guterres highlighted the efforts being made to make the U.S.-UN relationship a constructive one and hopes that it will be a message that the President will also convey in his address.

“It is my deep belief that to preserve the American interests is to engage positively in global affairs and to engage positively in support to multilateral organizations like the UN,” Guterres said.

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Myanmar Rohingya Face “Textbook Example of Ethnic Cleansing”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/myanmar-rohingyaface-textbook-example-ethnic-cleansing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myanmar-rohingyaface-textbook-example-ethnic-cleansing http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/myanmar-rohingyaface-textbook-example-ethnic-cleansing/#respond Wed, 13 Sep 2017 06:15:47 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152044 As hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims flee violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, thousands that remain in the country face mass atrocities at a scale never seen before. Since the renewal of violence on August 25, sparked after an armed group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked security posts, over 370,000 Rohingya […]

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Rohingya refugees arriving on a beach in the Teknaf area on fishing boats. The voyage from northern Rakhine state took five hours in rough waters in the Bay of Bengal during the monsoon season. Most were exhausted after the journey and several collapsed on the beach. Credit: UNHCR/Vivian Tan

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

As hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims flee violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, thousands that remain in the country face mass atrocities at a scale never seen before.

Since the renewal of violence on August 25, sparked after an armed group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked security posts, over 370,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighboring Bangladesh and thousands more remain trapped at the border.

“This is the worst situation ever that I’ve seen and I’m afraid it’s going to be the worst situation that the international community will witness in such a short period of time,” UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee told IPS.

As thousands flee violence and persecution, Lee expressed particular concern for the fate of Rohingya that still remain within the country.

Villages on Fire

Though Myanmar has repeatedly denied abuses since it launched its counterinsurgency operation against “extremist terrorists”, many say that the Rohingya community have been systematically targeted as security forces raid, attack, and burn villages.

Momena, 32, told Human Rights Watch that she fled after seeing security forces enter her village. Returning after the soldiers had left, she saw up to 50 villagers dead including some children and elderly with knife or bullet wounds.

“My father was among the dead; his neck had been cut open. I was unable to do last rites for my father—I just fled,” Momena said.

Yasin Ali, 25, said that security forces similarly attacked his village, shooting indiscriminately and forcing residents to flee. He told the organization that a helicopter which circled the village dropped an object after which houses caught fire.

Using satellite imagery, Human Rights Watch has identified 21 separate sites spanning 100 kilometers across northern Rakhine where fires have taken place.

New arrivals struggle to find space in the already-overcrowded Kutupalong camp, which saw over 16,000 new arrivals within a week of the outbreak of violence in Myanmar on 25 August, 2017. Bangladeshi officials are warning of a humanitarian crisis in the strained refugee camps. Credit: UNHCR/Vivian Tan


One such image shows the destruction of 450 buildings in predominantly Rohingya-inhabited areas in Maungdaw while other parts of town remain unharmed. The Rohingya Muslim village of Chein Khar Li in Rathedaung township was also found to be almost completely destroyed with 700 buildings burned.

Lee told IPS that she came across similar accounts during a fact-finding mission after the October 2016 violence when Myanmar’s military conducted a counterinsurgency operation in response to attacks on border posts.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) found that hundreds of Rohingya houses, villages, and mosques were deliberately burned down with one eyewitness noting that only Buddhist houses in her village were left untouched.

They stated that the attacks very likely indicate “crimes against humanity.”

The government rejected these allegations then, telling Lee that it was villagers who had burnt down their own houses, an explanation that the government continues to use for the current burnings.

With bellowing smoke from burning villages that can even be seen from across the border in Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch’s Deputy UN Director Akshaya Kumar told IPS that the scale of this year’s violence is much more expansive, noting that the area being burned is five times longer than the area previously and similarly affected by burnings during the violence in October 2016.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that the treatment of Rohingya Muslims seems to be a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” He called on Myanmar’s government to end its “cruel” and “disproportionate” military operations and to “reverse the pattern” of discrimination against the Rohingya population.

An Unfolding Humanitarian Crisis

While facing the direct threat of violence, many who remain are also facing a severe food and health crisis.

Prior to the eruption of violence, Myanmar’s government blocked international aid agencies and cut off all assistance to Rakhine, restricting access to residents.

World Food Programme (WFP) reported in early September that it has not been able to distribute food to a number of locations in northern Rakhine since mid-July, leaving a total of 250,000 displaced and vulnerable populations without regular food assistance.

“Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, may be trapped in remote areas far from the border with limited food and medical supplies and are unable to reach safety,” Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) Myanmar Spokesperson Pierre Peron told IPS.

Rohingya in Rakhine State had already long faced food insecurity before violence broke out with child malnutrition rates above emergency thresholds.

According to a WFP assessment in July, one-third of Rakhine’s population was severely food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance after the October 2016 violence. Over 80,000 children were expected to be in need of treatment for acute malnutrition within 12 months.

The current lack of humanitarian assistance has therefore only served to compound an already dire situation.

“Without regular access to aid and with severe restrictions on the freedom of movement of thousands of people, any disruption in humanitarian aid has a very real human impact,” Peron said.

“For the sake of vulnerable people in all communities in Rakhine State, urgent measures must be taken to allow vital humanitarian activities to resume,” he added.

In Central Rakhine, where there have been no major violent outbreaks, heightened tensions have impeded life-saving activities.

Contractors have refused to carry food and other services to displacement camps for fear of retaliation from the wider community for helping the Rohingya population and aid agencies.

Kumar said that the reports are not surprising, especially after State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office accused international organizations of assisting militants.

“We have seen a huge and incredibly irresponsible push by the government including from Aung San Suu Kyi’s office saying any aid workers that provide support to this community as indirectly supporting terrorism. And that of course treats everyone who happens to be of this ethnic group as a terrorist,” she told IPS.

“As politicians fan the flames of xenophobia and mobilize communities against the Rohingya population with rhetoric about terrorism, these displaced Rohingya are at special risk—they have no one to protect them,” Kumar added.

Lee said that the accusation was “unfounded” and that ARSA’s attack further fed into the anti-muslim and anti-rohingya narrative that “Rohingya are not welcome.”

No End in Sight

Lee urged the military and ARSA to restrain from this cycle of violence as it is the innocent civilian population that end up suffering the most.

“This is a crisis that could have been prevented and should never have happened,” she told IPS.

Lee highlighted the need for a political solution, including the provision of citizenship to the stateless population.

“This group has been systematically discriminated by law, policy, and practice for too many years.”

However, there seems to be no end in sight yet in the crisis as the Southeast Asian nation rejected a temporary ceasefire proposal from ARSA.

Kumar called on the Security Council, which has so far remained silent, to send a clear message and an unequivocal condemnation of the government’s actions.

The group met behind closed doors in late August to discuss the crisis but did not issue a formal statement. Another closed-door meeting will be held on Wednesday.

Kumar stressed the need for an open meeting to demand actions and threaten measures such as sanctions so as to hold Myanmar’s government accountable.

“If we continue to have silence, inaction or mealy-mouthed statements, then unfortunately this crisis could continue maybe until we are in a position where there aren’t any perceived threat or Rohingya left in the country,” she told IPS.

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Refugee Camps “bursting at the seams” in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/refugee-camps-bursting-seams-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugee-camps-bursting-seams-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/refugee-camps-bursting-seams-bangladesh/#respond Sat, 09 Sep 2017 06:26:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152002 A dramatic increase in the number of refugees fleeing Myanmar is placing a huge strain on already very limited resources in Bangladesh, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said. In the last two weeks alone, an estimated 270,000 Rohingya refugees had sought safety in Bangladesh amid escalating violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. “The situation is very […]

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New arrivals struggle to find space in the already-overcrowded Kutupalong camp, which saw over 16,000 new arrivals within a week of the outbreak of violence in Myanmar on 25 August 2017. Credit: UNHCR/Vivian Tan

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

A dramatic increase in the number of refugees fleeing Myanmar is placing a huge strain on already very limited resources in Bangladesh, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said.

In the last two weeks alone, an estimated 270,000 Rohingya refugees had sought safety in Bangladesh amid escalating violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

“The situation is very grave,” said UNCHR Bangladesh’s spokesperson Joseph Tripura to IPS.

“There are people everywhere and refugees are scattered…[the camps] are at a point of saturation,” he continued.

Two refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in south-east Bangladesh has seen its population more than double, from nearly 34,000 to over 70,000 Rohingya refugees.

“These are people that have been walking for days, many of them are tired and hungry and many are traumatized,” Tripura said.

Though many arrive on foot, refugees are now seeking alternative and risky routes including a five-hour boat ride across the Bay of Bengal.

One family of seven, one of whom was born just nine days ago, told UNHCR that they walked three days through the jungle to Myanmar’s border before taking a fishing boat to neighboring Bangladesh.

At least 300 boats carrying refugees arrived at Cox’s Bazar on Wednesday, the International Organization for Migration reported.

“There are many more waiting for boats,” another family told UNHCR.

“It would take a month to bring them all.”

Though both families reached Bangladesh’s shores safely, others are not so lucky.

A boat carrying at least five children sank on Wednesday and Bangladeshi border guards have reportedly pulled out the bodies of up to 40 Rohingya Muslims last week.

Humanitarian agencies have also reported that many refugees are arriving with serious medical needs including some that have been injured by gunshots and bomb blasts.

Myanmar’s military has repeatedly denied targeting Rohingya Muslims.

With refugee camps already “bursting at the seams”, many new arrivals have no shelter, food or water and limited access to health services.

UNHCR said that refugees are now squatting in makeshift shelters along the road and on available land in the border areas of Ukhiya and Teknaf.

The agency estimated that up to 300,000 Rohingya Muslims may cross the border into Bangladesh.

Tripura told IPS that there is an urgent need for more life-saving resources including more land and shelters. “We are not able to reach everyone and it is growing faster,” he said.

The agency also called for swift action to end the conflict in Myanmar.

“[The Government of Myanmar] needs to understand the underlying root causes of this problem and they should create a conducive environment so these refugees can feel safe to go back—it is a political decision that needs to be made as early as possible,” Tripura said.

“We have been dealing with this situation for a long time, but we are not seeing any improvement…it is getting worse,” he concluded.

The Rohingya Muslim community has faced a long history of repression in Myanmar where their status as citizens is disputed and their movement and access to social services is restricted, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Prior to the most recent exodus, Bangladesh had already been hosting an estimated 500,000 Rohingya Muslims for over three decades.

The influx began after Myanmar’s military launched “clearance operations” following attacks on security posts on Aug. 25 by an armed group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

Many have appealed to Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi including the Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu who fought apartheid in his home country of South Africa.

“For years I had a photograph of you on my desk to remind me of the injustice and sacrifice you endured out of your love and commitment for Myanmar’s people,” Tutu wrote in a letter.

He added that it was “incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country” that “is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people.”

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More Than 18,000 Rohingya Flee as Violence Renewshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/18000-rohingya-flee-violence-renews/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=18000-rohingya-flee-violence-renews http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/18000-rohingya-flee-violence-renews/#respond Fri, 01 Sep 2017 17:04:41 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151893 A surge in deadly violence in Myanmar has forced over 18,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee in less than one week, a migration agency said. The movement began after the Southeast Asian nation’s government launched “clearance operations” following attacks on security posts on Aug. 25 by an armed group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army […]

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Border guards in Bangladesh are refusing entry to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

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

A surge in deadly violence in Myanmar has forced over 18,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee in less than one week, a migration agency said.

The movement began after the Southeast Asian nation’s government launched “clearance operations” following attacks on security posts on Aug. 25 by an armed group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) which left almost 110 dead.

Security forces have since reportedly burned villages and conducted attacks on Rohingya Muslims.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an estimated 18,500 have since crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine state and thousands more are trapped in the no-man’s land in between the two countries.

Some have reportedly fled by crossing the bordering Nauf river where Bangladeshi border guards have already pulled out the bodies of up to 20 Rohingya Muslims.

“I utterly condemn the violent attacks on security personnel, which have led to the loss of many lives and the displacement of thousands of people,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, but highlighted the need for government forces to employ a proportionate response.

“Unfortunately, what we feared appears to be occurring. Decades of persistent and systematic human rights violations, including the very violent security responses to the attacks since October 2016, have almost certainly contributed to the nurturing of violent extremism, with everyone ultimately losing,” he continued.

In October 2016, Myanmar’s military conducted a counterinsurgency operation after Rohingya militants attacked border posts, forcing almost 90,000 to flee.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that attacks against Rohingya civilians during those operations may “very likely” amount to crimes against humanity.

Myanmar authorities however have repeatedly denied the allegations.

A Long History

The government has long disputed the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and has restricted their movement and excluded them from social services, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim urged the government to prevent human rights violations from being inflicted on the civilian population in the current escalation of military conflict.

“The disturbing testimonies of the Rohingyans fleeing Myanmar confirm that serious human rights violations are being carried out against the civilian population. The world society cannot turn a blind eye to the disturbing situation in Myanmar. The Geneva Centre appeals for an immediate end to the persecution of the Rohingyans,” Al Qassim added.

The UN Responds

In response to the violence, the UN Security Council held a closed door discussion.

Though no formal statement was made, British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft called on all parties to de-escalate and to look to the long-term during a press conference.

Rycroft added that the council still supports Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Myanmar’s State Counsellor.

“We look to her to set the right tone and to find the compromises and the de-escalation necessary in order to resolve the conflict for the good of all the people in Burma,” he said.

Fresh violence erupted just two days after a long-awaited report investigating the situation in Rakhine State by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.

“Tensions remain high and they risk becoming worse. Violence will not bring lasting solutions to the acute problems that afflict Rakhine State,” said Chair of the Commission Kofi Annan.

“Nevertheless, the status quo cannot continue,” he added.

Among the recommendations in the 63-page report is for Myanmar’s government to revisit its citizenship law, grant freedom of movement for Rohingya Muslims, and invest in the socio-economic development of Rakhine.

Annan warned that failure to implement its recommendations will only lead to another cycle of violence and radicalization which will further deepen chronic poverty in the state.

Zeid similarly called on the Myanmar Government to follow the recommendations in order to “address rather than sacrifice human rights concerns in the interests of maintaining peace and order.”

Calling for and Criticizing International Support

IOM’s Director-General William Swing called for more international support for civilians fleeing into neighboring Bangladesh.

The South Asian nation has already been hosting an estimated 500,000 Rohingya Muslims for over three decades.

Swing appealed to Bangladesh to either admit people fleeing violence, many of whom are women, children, and the elderly, or facilitate better access for humanitarian aid to reach them.

He also called on Myanmar authorities in Rakhine State to facilitate the work of humanitarian agencies and provide unfettered humanitarian access to help stabilize the situation and reduce the number of people trying to flee the country.

However, the office of Aung San Suu Kyi has accused international organizations of helping “terrorists,” prompting fears for the safety of aid workers and continued violence.

“I am extremely concerned that the unsupported allegations against international aid organizations place their staff in danger and may make it impossible for them to deliver essential aid,” Zeid said.

“Such statements are irresponsible and only serve to increase fears and the potential for further violence,” he continued.

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UN Rights Chief: Trump’s Attack on Press is “Dangerous”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/un-rights-chief-trumps-attack-press-dangerous/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-rights-chief-trumps-attack-press-dangerous http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/un-rights-chief-trumps-attack-press-dangerous/#comments Thu, 31 Aug 2017 21:57:28 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151872 Freedom of the press is under attack in the United States and could incite further violence against reporters, said a UN official. During a press conference, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein criticised U.S. President Trump for attacking news organisations and expressed concern over the consequences of such rhetoric. “It’s really quite […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 31 2017 (IPS)

Freedom of the press is under attack in the United States and could incite further violence against reporters, said a UN official.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

During a press conference, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein criticised U.S. President Trump for attacking news organisations and expressed concern over the consequences of such rhetoric.

“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,” Zeid said.

“It’s sort of a stunning turnaround. And ultimately the sequence is a dangerous one,” he continued.

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.”

Most recently 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 when he said violence was caused by “many sides.”

“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?” Zeid asked.

“I think at an enormous rally, referring to journalists as very bad people, you don’t have to stretch the imagination to see then what could happen to journalists.”

The High Commissioner cited the case of Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs who was recently assaulted by Montana Republican Greg Gianforte.

He also pointed to the poisonous repercussions of such “demonisation” of the press around the world.

In Cambodia, spokesperson Phay Siphan has threatened to take action against media outlets that are perceived to be endangering “peace and security” while citing President Trump’s expulsion of news organisations from a White House briefing earlier this year

“Donald Trump’s ban of international media giants … sends a clear message that President Trump sees that news published by those media institutions does not reflect the real situation,” he said.

“Freedom of expression must be located within the domain of the law and take into consideration national interests and peace,” Siphan added.

Such cases will only expand, the High Commissioner said.

“I almost feel that the President [Trump] is driving the bus of humanity and we are careening down a mountain path,” Zeid said.

“From a human rights perspective, it seems to be reckless driving,” he concluded.

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“The Time is Now” to Invest in Youth, Girlshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/time-now-invest-youth-girls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-now-invest-youth-girls http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/time-now-invest-youth-girls/#respond Fri, 28 Jul 2017 05:52:39 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151466 The demographic dividend: though not a new concept, it is one of the major buzzwords at the UN this year. But what does it really mean? There are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 around the world, the most in the history of humankind. In Africa alone, approximately 60 percent […]

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The demographic dividend - “The Time is Now” to Invest in Youth, Girls

Natalia Kanem, Acting Executive Director the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 28 2017 (IPS)

The demographic dividend: though not a new concept, it is one of the major buzzwords at the UN this year. But what does it really mean?

There are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 around the world, the most in the history of humankind.

In Africa alone, approximately 60 percent of its population is currently under 25 years old and this figure is only expected to rise.

With this change in demographics comes more working-age individuals and thus the potential to advance economic growth and sustainable development, known as the demographic dividend.

However, this will not happen on its own.

Investments are required in areas such as education and sexual and reproductive healthcare in order to provide youth with opportunities to prosper, major components of the globally adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA) new acting executive director Natalia Kanem, who assumed her new role after the unexpected death of former executive director Babatunde Osotimehin, sat down with IPS to discuss the issues, challenges, and goals towards achieving the demographic dividend and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Q: What is the demographic dividend and why is it so important?

A: The demographic dividend is the economic boost that happens in a country when you have more people in productive working ages employed and contributing to the economy compared to the categories of young people or elderly who are dependents in economic terms.

For many of the countries which dwell in poverty today, we are seeing this transition that was predicted to happen.

Through the success in healthcare and sanitation, society has been able to increase life expectancy—people are getting older so we are getting lower death rates.

At the same time, we are getting lower birth rates, which are happening in some of these countries, and that means the working-age population is going to have fewer mouths to feed, fewer shoes to put on the school-aged child’s feet.

Many things have to also happen at the same time—it’s not just simply lowering the birth rate.

You have to equip people to be able to be productive members of a society, and this means education is very important. Adolescent girls in particular should be equipped to reach their potential by providing education of certain types of skills or training.

All of this is going to add up to much more societal progress, potential of young people fulfilled, and human rights being enjoyed.

Q: Where does this fit in and how does it inform UNFPA’s work under your leadership? Does it signal a paradigm shift?

A: We do feel that it is a paradigm shift, and what we are doing at UNFPA is making it accessible so that governments understand its relevance.

The mandate of UNFPA is to promote universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and we feel that a woman’s choice is at the center of all of this.

Right now, as girls get married young and are having coerced sexual activity young, they are really not able to decide for themselves about how many children they want, when they want to have them, and how they would like to space them.

By giving women the choice to exercise their reproductive wishes and educating them—all of these things are going to ignite the potential of young people.

These people have potential, they want to work, they want to be educated, they want to contribute—so let’s make it easier for them, let’s not hide sexual and reproductive health information.

Not every method is going to work for every person, so we really look at human rights across the spectrum of choice.

We also have a lot of experts who have been very strategic in thinking through what really makes a difference, and we can say emphatically that investment in sexual and reproductive health way outweighs the costs—you at least double your money, and if you do the whole package, you can actually get 122 times the investment.

There is nothing on the planet that gives you that kind of payback.

Q: Why isn’t it enough to just equip youth with skills and jobs?

A: The young person exists in a societal environment like we all do, and girls tend to get left out of that picture.

In the past, when we were thinking of farmers, we didn’t realize that more than half of the farmers were women. So we were giving all of the agricultural resources to the wrong people.

And here we are saying the adolescent girl is half of the world and she also needs to be deliberately included.

The cards will be stacked against her if we don’t protect her so she doesn’t fall into the trap of sexual and reproductive dis-ease—so she’s pregnant before she wants to be, she is having her kids too close together, she is physically exhausted, and if she doesn’t finish her education, all of these things work together.

So that’s why we keep harping on this balance of all of these different elements.

The Republic of Korea is the classic example of how its gross domestic product (GDP) grew over 2,000 percent in the 50 odd years when they were investing in voluntary family planning coupled with educating the population and preparing them for the types of jobs that were going to be available.

South Korea’s population pyramid went from looking like a triangle, where there wasn’t enough working age people to take care of those at the bottom, to where there were fewer children per family and greater ability to invest more into nutrition and education and all of the things families want for their children.

And it’s not just fewer families alone, because if you have fewer families but she doesn’t have an education, then it won’t work. You need the packaged deal.

We are ultimately talking about a social revolution which sees young people as an asset to their family, community, and country.

Q: How accepted is the correlation between growth and issues that may not be so obvious such as sexual and reproductive health or child marriage? Has there been pushback on that?

A: First of all, there was lack of recognition. It seems like the dots are very far apart until you paint the picture, but we have been explaining that better.

The regional report card atlas which we just launched earlier this month for the African Union Summit is very telling. We looked at those same parameters for every single African country, one of which was early marriage, and it varies so much.

In some countries, it can be up to 70 percent of girls getting married before the age of 17. In Rwanda it’s under 10 percent, and they have very good family planning which they’ve been working on for a while.

Uganda is a very good example of how pushback was transformed.

President Museveni came in as a strong proponent of big families and said that they need a big population in order to have more workers. But after a lot of discussion, he saw that Uganda already has a big population but it wasn’t enough.

So later, the President started advocating strongly for voluntary family planning services and services like midwives because again, the woman has to be sure that when she does get pregnant she and her baby are going to survive.

Uganda has now transformed its economy and is starting to see that demographic dividend boost.

Q: Where do the resources come from for countries to invest in youth?

A: Many countries are looking to invest their own resources in this proposition because the return on investment argument is highly persuasive.

We have also garnered the interest of development banks. The World Bank is working very closely with UNFPA on the Sahelian Women’s Economic Development and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) program. It’s only been active for a little while now but it is wildly successful because it looks at rural women in countries of the Sahel.

There is also a huge role for the private sector.

Government is very important because of policies and setting the tone and norms and laying down the expectations.

But the reality is that the private sector employs 90 percent of people in the developing world.

This coupling of the public government side and the private investment side is very crucial to ensure rights, freedoms, services, and accurate information—all of that together is needed for development and for this bonus that we call the demographic dividend.

Q: How are the recent funding cuts by the United States affecting UNFPA’s work? Is it hindering progress on the demographic dividend and/or the sustainable development goals?

A: First of all, I would like to say that UNFPA is moving forward.

We are steadfastly committed to our three goals: Zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and the elimination of harmful practices including violence that affect women and girls.

We are very focused on these three goals in our work with governments, civil society, private sector, and other actors in over 150 countries to honor the legacy of our late boss as well as those who preceded him.

There are still 214 million women who want family planning and don’t have modern contraception.

We have a funding gap that stands at about 700 million dollars from now to 2020, and we have been looking for additional funding because we need to reach more and more women and girls without cutting the programs we already have.

The United States’ defunding was such a disappointment in terms of our good standing in the world and our regret that the decision was based on an erroneous claim.

Ultimately, I think our regret on the decision is certainly monetary because we were using that money very effectively in humanitarian core operations.

But we also regret it because of the stature of the U.S. in the fight to make sure that there is gender equality as well as reproductive health and rights.

We are really looking forward to continuing a dialogue and hopefully keeping an open door because the U.S. and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been very good partners with UNFPA.

The time is now for young women to be protected from it being their fault that they got raped, for them feeling shame when they have been assaulted.

Let’s turn that around so that men and boys, women and girls live peacefully with the resources they want and need to survive and thrive.

No one of us can do it alone and I think that UNFPA is a good partner, and that we deserve to be supported.

*Interview edited for length and clarity.

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Migrant Contributions to Development: Creating a “New Positive Narrative”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/migrant-contributions-development-creating-new-positive-narrative/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrant-contributions-development-creating-new-positive-narrative http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/migrant-contributions-development-creating-new-positive-narrative/#respond Wed, 26 Jul 2017 14:42:44 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151437 Despite the “undeniable” benefits of migration, barriers including public misconceptions continue to hinder positive development outcomes, participants said during a series of thematic consultations here on safe, orderly, and regular migration. At a time where divisive rhetoric on migration can be seen around the world, member State representatives, UN agencies, and civil society gathered at […]

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Though the benefits of migration outweigh the costs, public perception is often the opposite and negatively impacts migration policy.

Pakistani migrant workers build a skyscraper in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

Despite the “undeniable” benefits of migration, barriers including public misconceptions continue to hinder positive development outcomes, participants said during a series of thematic consultations here on safe, orderly, and regular migration.

At a time where divisive rhetoric on migration can be seen around the world, member State representatives, UN agencies, and civil society gathered at the UN for a two-day meeting to discuss migrants’ contributions to sustainable development as well as the challenges in harnessing such contributions.

In her opening remarks, Special Representative for International Migration Louise Arbour noted that though the benefits of migration outweigh the costs, public perception is often the opposite and negatively impacts migration policy.

“This must be reversed so that policy is evidence-based and not perception-driven. Policies responding to false perceptions reinforce the apparent validity of these erroneous stereotypes and make recourse to proper policies that much harder,” she added.

Among such evidence is the 575 billion dollars in global remittances transferred by international migrants to their families, almost 430 billion of which went to developing countries.

These essential lifelines, which are are three times larger than official development assistance (ODA) and more stable than other forms of private capital flows, have contributed to progress on key aspects of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in migrants’ countries of origin, including poverty reduction, food security, and healthy families.

Benefits can also be seen in the countries where migrants reside as 85 percent of migrant workers’ earnings remain in the countries of destination.

Migrants also tend to fill labour market gaps at all skill levels in countries of destination, advancing economic growth, job creation, and service delivery.

Participants noted that this contributes to a “triple win” scenario for the country of origin, country of destination, and the migrants themselves.

“When migrants succeed, societies do too,” said Assistant Foreign Minister for Multilateral Affairs and International Security of Egypt and one of the sessions’ moderators, Hisham Badr.

Contributions of migrants to development in origin and destination countries go beyond financial remittances and include transfers of skills and knowledge and entrepreneurship.

Despite representing 13 percent of the overall population in the United States, immigrants made up over 20 percent of entrepreneurs, building businesses from popular search engines to environmentally-friendly cars.

In fact, 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in 2016 had at least one founder who immigrated to the U.S. or was the child of immigrants. According to the New American Economy, those firms alone employed almost 20 million globally and generated more than 5 trillion dollars in revenue.

This diaspora is also often “bridge-builders,” maintaining strong links to their countries of origin.

However, participants noted that inadequate policies stand in the way of positive development outcomes.

“The crucial issue is not that migration and development are linked, but how they can be leveraged to create positive development outcomes,” Badr told delegates.

Arbour noted that that cost of sending and receiving remittances remains excessively high. Currently, the global average cost of transactions is over 7 percent, significantly greater than the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target of 3 percent.

The lack of access to financial services also poses a major obstacle as it prevents the investment of remittances into productive activities and sustainable development in remittance recipients’ communities.

Arbour stressed the need to boost financial inclusion, calling it “low hanging fruit.”

Participants particularly highlighted the importance of integrating migration into development planning, including the need to engage with the diaspora to create more effective migration and development policies.

Numerous UN member States have already launched initiatives to include the diaspora, including Jamaica, which hosts a biennial conference to motivate greater involvement in the country’s socio-economic development.

During the consultations, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) launched a similar platform for diaspora communities to contribute to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), the UN’s first intergovernmentally negotiated and comprehensive agreement on international migration, which is expected to be adopted in 2018.

“Diaspora communities have emerged as key influencers in global development practices,” said iDiaspora Forum moderator Martin Russell.

“The iDiaspora Forum is a platform designed to initiate ideas, learn lessons, and share best practices. Diaspora engagement is a booming industry,” he added.

In the final panel of the meeting, which aims to gather input and recommendations to feed into the GCM, Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Managing Director Marta Foresti pointed to the compact as a unique opportunity that the international community cannot afford to miss.

“With the global compact, we can create a new positive narrative,” she concluded.

Organized by the president of the General Assembly and co-facilitators including the Permanent Missions of Mexico and Switzerland, the informal session is the fourth in a series of six to take place this year.

The last two consultations will take place in Vienna from 4-5 September and Geneva from 12-13 October on the issues of smuggling of migrants and irregular migrants, respectively.

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No Justice, No Peace for Yemeni Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/no-justice-no-peace-yemeni-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-justice-no-peace-yemeni-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/no-justice-no-peace-yemeni-children/#respond Fri, 21 Jul 2017 14:09:04 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151395 Human rights groups are urging the UN Secretary-General to include the Saudi-led Coalition (SLC) in a child rights’ “shame list” after documenting grave violations against children. Save the Children and the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict have documented at least 23 SLC airstrikes which injured or killed children, prompting an urgent call for the […]

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'Zuhoor_Yemen' : One-year-old Zuhoor was forced to have the fingers of her right hand amputated after being seriously injured by an airstrikes near Sana'a. Credit: Mohammed Awadh/Save the Children

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

Human rights groups are urging the UN Secretary-General to include the Saudi-led Coalition (SLC) in a child rights’ “shame list” after documenting grave violations against children.

Save the Children and the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict have documented at least 23 SLC airstrikes which injured or killed children, prompting an urgent call for the UN to help protect children caught in the midst of the deadly two year-long conflict.

“Everywhere you go in Yemen you see the devastation caused by airstrikes…all parties have been responsible for the unnecessary deaths of children in Yemen, and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is among them,” said Save the Children’s Yemen country director Tamer Kirolos.

“The UN Secretary-General must put the interests of children first – and hold all of those responsible to account,” he continued.

The human rights groups compiled evidence of “grave violations” in an effort to push Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to include the SLC in a report on child rights violations in conflict, expected to be released next month.

The annual Children and Armed Conflict report documents grave violations including the killing and maiming of children and attacks on schools and hospitals. It also includes an annex which names and shames perpetrators of such violations.

The coalition was initially listed in the 2016 report, only to be removed a few days later after the Gulf state reportedly threatened to withdraw funding from critical UN programs.

“I had to make a decision just to have all UN operations, particularly humanitarian operations, continue,” former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said following the move.

“I also had to consider the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would defund many UN programs,” he added.

The 2016 report found that the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of all recorded child deaths and injuries.

This pattern has only continued as Save the Children and Watchlist documented the killing and maiming of more than 120 children.

In one incident, multiple airstrikes on a market in Hajjah in March 2016 left 25 children dead and four injured.

Multiple bombings of schools and hospitals have also been recorded, including attacks on two different Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-supported hospitals.

Beyond the immediate and devastating effects on children, such attacks have exacerbated a humanitarian crisis in the country including the “world’s worst cholera outbreak.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), children under the age of 15 account for 40 percent of the almost 300,000 suspected cholera cases and make up a quarter of cholera-related deaths.

The 1.8 million acutely malnourished children under five are particularly vulnerable to such communicable diseases.

However, the health system remains unable to respond to the needs of the population as only 45 percent of health facilities remain with limited functionality.

“As war grinds on and children’s lives are blighted not just in Yemen but around the world, the Secretary-General’s annual list has rarely been more important,” the organisations said in a briefing.

“It offers an opportunity to stand up for children caught in today’s brutal conflict to say that their lives and rights have value,” they continued.

In order to hold perpetrators accountable, the list must be “executed without fear or favour” where every party to the conflict that has committed grave violations is included, they added.

Though listing the SLC is not an end in itself, failure to include a key party to the conflict will set a “dangerous precedent” that others around the world will take note of.

“It would also betray the families whose loved ones were killed, the children who suffered life-changing injuries in airstrikes last year…Yemen’s children deserve accountability for the attacks committed against them,” Save the Children and Watchlist concluded.

The coalition is comprised of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan. Because of an ongoing diplomatic rift, Qatar is no longer a part of the SLC.

More than 4,000 children have been killed or injured by all sides of the conflict.

The post No Justice, No Peace for Yemeni Children appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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