Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies News and Views from the Global South Fri, 05 Feb 2016 16:51:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ebola Recovery Funds Impossible to Track, Says New Study Mon, 01 Feb 2016 19:40:31 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When the Ebola epidemic devastated three West African countries – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea two years ago – the international community responded with pledges of over $5.8 billion in funds to fight the disease which has killed over 11,300 people.

But six months after the International Conference on Ebola Recovery, hosted by the United Nations, about $1.9 billion worth of promised funds have not been delivered, while “scant information” is available about the remaining $3.9 billion, according to a new study released here by Oxfam International.

The pledged recovery funds has “proved almost impossible to track,” said the UK-based aid and development charity.
Asked if the lack of transparency is due to corruption, David Saldivar, Oxfam America’s Policy and Advocacy Manager, told IPS: “This lack of transparency is not due to a single cause – it is a systemic challenge that is the collective responsibility of all—donors, governments, and implementing organizations—to improve.”

Oxfam believes that more funding should be given directly to local governments and organizations, as they understand the context and need best and are more accountable to the local communities they serve, he added.

Asked about the gap between pledges and delivery, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS: “It is important that the countries that did such excellent work in dealing with the recent Ebola crisis receive the funds that had been pledged to them.”

The Ebola outbreak has not only been a setback to the economies of affected countries but also shattered already inadequate health systems and ruined people’s livelihoods, according to Oxfam.

Still, the Ebola epidemic is not over yet. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced last week that another 150 people were exposed to the risk of Ebola in Sierra Leone.

“This is not the end of Ebola in West Africa or globally”, said Oxfam, pointing out that it has taken almost two years, more than 11,300 deaths, massive provision of resources, technical assistance and billions of US dollars from around the world to tackle the Ebola epidemic in West Africa – specifically Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.”

As African Heads of State meet in Addis Ababa this week to discuss making 2016 the year of Human Rights in Africa, Oxfam is calling on them to focus attention on the Right to Health.

“The slow identification and response by government health services to the recent cases in Sierra Leone and Liberia clearly demonstrate that they are still not capable of responding effectively to Ebola and other highly contagious diseases. “

In April 2001, heads of state of African Union (AU) countries met and pledged to set a target of allocating at least 15% of their annual budget to improve the health sector.

In 2013, just before the Ebola outbreak only 6 AU member States had met these commitments and the ECOWAS (West African) average was at only 8% with Sierra Leone just 6.22%, according to Oxfam.

Aboubacry Tall, Oxfam’s Regional Director for West Africa, said: “Although Oxfam and other organizations responded by mobilizing community volunteers, this is not enough. If we are going to succeed, communities need to be a part of the process and a part of the planning, from the very beginning.”

“After the recent outbreak of Ebola in Liberia, I was horrified to see the same patterns of distrust emerging. Rumors were rampant, some people didn’t believe it was Ebola and others felt that it had been re-introduced on purpose. Rumors like these are extremely dangerous and can lead to community complacency.”

In order to prevent the same tragedy from happening again, Oxfam urges the Governments of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to empower communities to take a leading role in their own healthcare, by making sure that local people are put at the heart of decisions about where resources go, and how they are used.

Oxfam’s experience during the Ebola response has shown that community leadership and trust in local health systems is absolutely vital and should be considered a medical necessity, he added.

Asked whether the decline in funds was due to the global economic recession and the fall in oil prices, Saldivar told IPS the global humanitarian system is stretched by an unprecedented number of simultaneous crises, which makes it all the more important that countries recovering from shocks like the Ebola outbreak have the tools and support they need, including the information they need to plan and manage the recovery.

“The biggest problem is with efforts to track recovery funds is the lack of a single system for consistently reporting clear, up-to-date information across all donors.”

He pointed out that different donors report information in different ways, making it difficult for local actors to follow the funds.

Over $1 billion of funds pledged from major donors are available for countries to draw from as governments determine their most critical recovery needs.

“It is reasonable that only 6 months after the UN conference, that not all pledged funds have been spent. But, the key issue is that local stakeholders deserve to have the most up to date information on the situation so they can monitor and have a say in how resources are spent,” he noted.

The writer can be contacted at

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UN Fighting Losing Battle Over Global Humanitarian Crises Wed, 27 Jan 2016 15:35:17 +0000 Thalif Deen Syrian mother and child near Ma'arat Al-Numan, rebel-held Syria.  Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Syrian mother and child near Ma'arat Al-Numan, rebel-held Syria. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Thalif Deen

As the global refugee crises continues to worsen by the hour, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is quick to point out that when he took office in January 2007, the international appeal for funds for humanitarian emergencies was only about 4.0 billion dollars annually.

“Now, we need more than 20 billion dollars,” he said last week, underlining the tragic turn of events worldwide: over 60 million people either displaced internally or who have fled their home countries becoming refugees virtually overnight.

And there are about 40 countries – out of the 193 UN member states – which are engulfed in “high-level, medium-level and low-level crises and violence,” he added.

A new study by Oxfam International, titled “Righting the Wrong,” says tens of millions of people receive vital humanitarian aid every year, but millions more suffer without adequate help and protection, and their number is relentlessly rising.

“Far too often their suffering is because their governments cannot, or intentionally will not, ensure their citizens’ access to aid and protection.”

In addition, says the study released January 26, international aid has not kept pace with the rising tide of climate-related disasters and seemingly intractable conflicts, and promises to help affected people reduce their vulnerability to future disasters and lead their own humanitarian response have not yet been kept.

As a result of the growing crises, the United Nations and several of its agencies continue to put out appeals for funds with monotonous regularity, but the responses are few and far between.

Ban said some donors are cutting 30 to 40 percent of their funding. “This is an understandable situation. But it is not a zero-sum game”.

“Development aid and humanitarian aid, there must be an additional budget and money for those people. This is what I have been urging.”

The largest single funding appeal is for Syria – amounting to over $3.2 billion for 2016 – as it struggles with a five year old conflict where more than 220,000 have been killed, 7.6 million displaced and nearly 4.0 million described as refugees.

The UN children’s fund UNICEF has appealed for $2.8 billion to provide assistance to about 43 million refugee children worldwide; the World Health Organisation (WHO) is seeking $76 million to meet the health emergencies arising from El Nino which has triggered disease outbreaks and water shortages affecting about 60 million people in seven high-risk countries: Ethiopia, Lesotho, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda.

At the same time, the World Food Programme (WFP) is appealing for $41 million to feed nearly 2.5 million people facing hunger in the Central African Republic.

Last week the UN launched an $885 million plan to meet the needs of 30,000 Yemenis fleeing their war-ravaged country into Somalia—with more expected in 2016.

And the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, along with 65 other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), last week appealed for $550 million for food, water, shelter and medical care for refugees making their way to Europe.

In Syria, both government and rebel forces have blocked humanitarian access to parts of the country depriving food and water to nearly 181,000 residents in besieged towns and villages, while 4.5 million Syrians live in”hard-to-reach” areas.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said using starvation as a tool of war is a clear violation of international humanitarian law and constitute war crimes.

The Oxfam study says the international humanitarian system—the vast UN-led network in which Oxfam and other international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs), the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, and others play key roles—is not saving as many lives as it could because of deep design flaws that perpetuate an unsustainable reliance by aid recipients on international donors.

Despite these flaws, much has been accomplished in the past 70 years.

“Courageous aid workers have saved thousands of lives and provided vital services such as health care, water, and protection to millions. “

“But today’s system is overstretched, and humanitarian assistance is often insufficient, late, and inappropriate for the local context,” warns Oxfam.

Addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in order to create a stronger and more sustainable funding base for UN humanitarian appeals, “we are seeking commitments to regular contributions from at least 10 new nations.”

“In tandem with that effort, we will seek at least a 30 percent increase in financing for global humanitarian appeals, from $10 billion in 2015 to $13 billion this year,” he added.

Asked for a response, Oxfam America President Ray Offenheiser told IPS Kerry’s comments about the United States renewed focus on strengthening the international response to the global refugee crisis show critical leadership and Oxfam welcomes them.

The refugee crisis is being brought on by the seemingly intractable conflicts raging as well as increasing natural disasters and climate change, which is being further exacerbated by this year’s Super El Nino.

We must also work together to address the root causes of the refugee crisis and invest more in making sure communities are better able to respond when disaster strikes.

Oxfam has been calling for the international community to meet appeals, resettle refugees, and allow refugees to work and do more to support countries hosting refugees.

We need to look beyond the issue of resettlement, which is vitally important, to holistically address what we can do to improve the situation for refugees and their host communities.

In terms of employment, the international community needs to do more to work with countries to develop policies that allow refugees to support themselves financially and contribute to the economy of their host community. It is in everyone’s best interest for refugees to be able to find stable and legal employment – not only is it their right to work, it will lead to more successful and stable communities.

In its study, Oxfam asks: “How do we right this wrong?”

By shifting more power, resources, and responsibility from the international actors—UN agencies, wealthy donor countries, large INGOs, and the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement—to local actors, including Red Cross/Red Crescent local chapters, national governments, national NGOs, local NGOs, community-based groups, and other civil society organizations.

It’s a huge task, admits Oxfam. But today, only a small fraction of funding is given directly to local actors.
More often, local humanitarian aid workers take direction from the international humanitarian community, which tends to relegate them to the role of subcontractors, rather than equal partners.

This role leaves the local actors in no better position to prevent or respond to the next crisis.

In addition, donors and national governments are investing too little in prevention and risk reduction efforts that could diminish the need for humanitarian response, Oxfam said.

The writer can be contacted at

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Iraq’s Civilians Continue to Bear the Brunt of Instability: UAE Paper/Newswire Fri, 22 Jan 2016 19:55:28 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie By Katherine Mackenzie
ROME, Jan 22 2016 (IPS)

At least 18,802 people were killed in Iraq and another 36,245 were injured; this is the number of civilians killed in violence over the past two years and it is staggering.

The figures given are most likely an underestimate and are casualties incurred from January 1, 2014 through October 31, 2015, according to a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the United Nations Human Rights Agency (OHCHR). About half of the deaths reported took place in Baghdad alone.

Emirates News Agency carried a commentary from the Gulf Today looking at the new United Nations report on Iraq and the instability rocking the region.

“The reason is that the figures capture those who were killed or maimed by overt violence, but ignores the fact that countless others have died from lack of access to basic food, water or medical care,” said ‘The Gulf Today’ this week.

“Around 3.2 million people have been internally displaced in the country since the beginning of 2014 when the dreaded Daesh group took over large parts of the country. As is known now, the Daesh terrorists engaged in numerous inhuman activities including killings in gruesome public spectacles, beheading, bulldozing, burning alive and throwing people off the top of buildings.

“Child soldiers who tried to flee were mercilessly murdered by the terrorists, while continuing to subject women and children to sexual violence, particularly in the form of sexual slavery.

“As per the UN report, an estimated 3,500 people, mainly women and children, are believed to be held as slaves in Iraq by Daesh militants who impose a harsh rule marked by gruesome public executions.

“Such horrors were what led to Iraqi refugees attempting to escape to Europe and other regions. Ramadi has been touted as the first major success for Iraq’s US-backed army since it collapsed in the face of Daesh’s advance across the country’s north and west in mid-2014,” said the paper.

“But, as per indications, clearing the city of militants and explosives could take weeks. The discovery of more civilians than expected trapped among the ruins, after what the survivors say was a deliberate effort by fighters to use them as shields, suggests future battles against Daesh could be more complicated.

It said, “Ramadi, where nearly half a million people once lived, sadly has witnessed widespread destruction. The heartless terrorists continue to kill, maim and displace Iraqi civilians in the thousands and create endless suffering. Many of the actions by Daesh militants surely amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

“The perpetrators of such deeds should be made accountable and pay for the extreme cruelty they committed,” concluded the newspaper.

“The violence suffered by civilians in Iraq remains staggering,” said the UN report. “The so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL) continues to commit systematic and widespread violence and abuses of international human rights law and humanitarian law. These acts may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.”

The report compiled by UNAMI and OHCHR is based largely on testimony given by the victims. Some of these people were survivors and witnesses of human rights violations. Among those giving the accounts were internally displaced people.

“During the reporting period, ISIL killed and abducted scores of civilians, often in a targeted manner,” the report notes. “Victims include those perceived to be opposed to ISIL ideology and rule; persons affiliated with the government, such as former Iraqi security forces (ISF), police officers, former public officials and electoral workers; professionals, such as doctors and lawyers; journalists; and tribal and religious leaders.”

The report adds that “others have been abducted or killed on the pretext of aiding or providing information to Government security forces. Many have been subjected to adjudication by ISIL self-appointed courts which, in addition to ordering the murder of countless people, have imposed grim punishments such as stoning and amputations.”

“ISIL continued to subject women and children to sexual violence, particularly in the form of sexual slavery,” the report said.

The UN indicated that concerning reports have also been received of unlawful killings and abductions perpetrated by some elements associated with pro-Government forces.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein indicated that the civilian death toll may be actually much higher, and called for urgent action for those freely committing the violence to stop it.

“Even the obscene casualty figures fail to accurately reflect exactly how terribly civilians are suffering in Iraq,” he said. “The figures capture those who were killed or maimed by overt violence, but countless others have died from the lack of access to basic food, water or medical care.”

“This report lays bare the enduring suffering of civilians in Iraq and starkly illustrates what Iraqi refugees are attempting to escape when they flee to Europe and other regions. This is the horror they face in their homelands,” Said the Human Rights Commissioner.

Mr. Zeid also made an appeal to the government to undertake legislative amendments to grant Iraqi courts jurisdiction over international crimes and to become party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.


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Declining Oil Prices May Undermine Development and Humanitarian Aid Mon, 18 Jan 2016 13:49:34 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The sharp decline in oil prices in the world market -– the lowest in nearly 13 years –- is expected to have a devastating impact on both developed and developing nations.

As the price of oil hit a new low of less than $30 per barrel last week — compared to $110 in 2014 — the economic realities are gradually coming into play.

As the New York Times put it, the long slide in oil prices means “oil rich nations are not so rich anymore.”

And predictably, the so-called “oil-rich nations” of a bygone era may vanish from market vocabulary.

The world economy is already suffering from a slowdown in China and the appreciation of the US dollar– resulting in rising anxieties in global markets.

Meanwhile, the decline in oil prices is also expected to drain the $7.2 trillion in sovereign-wealth funds, mostly built on oil and natural gas revenues, held by oil-producing countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

With the lifting of US sanctions on Iran – the world’s seventh largest oil producer in 2014– there will be a further glut in the market, forcing prices down with negative consequences on the global economy.

Closer home, UN agencies which depend heavily on Western industrialized nations for core and non-core “voluntary contributions” are preparing for the worse.

Asked for a comment, UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS that while Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon understands the economic realities that member states face, “it is crucially important for nations to continue to provide generously to development assistance and humanitarian aid.”

A new UN report, by a High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, released Friday, says there will be a 15 billion dollar shortfall in funding for humanitarian emergencies in 2016.

Titled “Too Important to Fail – Addressing the Humanitarian Financing Gap,” the study warns of a growing gap between the increasing numbers of people in need of assistance and sufficient resources to provide relief.

Asked about declining aid, Ban told reporters last month he appreciates the difficulties and challenges facing many European countries.

“At the same time, I commend such compassionate leadership and generous support for many refugees who are seeking better opportunities and safety. “

“While I appreciate such difficulties, I ask the rich countries, the European countries, to increase their financial support and generous support for all these migrants and refugees, rather than diverting their already earmarked development aid.“

Ban said he realizes there is a limit to resources. “So inevitably, they may have to temporarily divert and use this development money for humanitarian purposes but in the longer term, if this kind of trend continues, it will only perpetuate this bad balancing between humanitarian and development.”

In its report, the high-level panel makes several recommendations, including the following:

— Reclassifying the eligibility criteria of the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), so that funding follows people in need — and not countries– to enlarge opportunities to middle-income countries (MICs).

— A far higher proportion of official development assistance (ODA) to be directed to situations of fragility and protracted emergencies, and oriented towards building resilience and reducing fragility.

— Tripling IDA’s Crisis Response Window and expanding the funding capacity for emergencies in other development finance institutions.

— A voluntary sign-up by governments to a “solidarity levy” mechanism to fund humanitarian aid.

— And channelling Islamic social finance and other instruments to humanitarian causes.

“Our starting point was the stark facts and figures: 125 million people in need; a record $25 billion a year going to aid them; but, in spite of that, the needs continuing to outpace resources,” said the report’s co-chairs, Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria and Sultan Nazrin Shah of Perak, Malaysia.

“A gap of $15 billion is a lot of money but in a world producing $78 trillion of gross domestic product (GDP) it should not be out of reach to find. Closing the gap would mean nobody having to die or live without dignity for lack of money and a victory for humanity at a time when one is greatly needed.”

As this report points out, Ban said, more than 120 million people live in constant distress, without jobs, food, water, shelter or health care.

“If they were all in one country, I am told that it would be the eleventh largest country on earth. And it would be one of the fastest growing nations.”

“And if our world were a school, it would have few spaces for needy children – as you know we have 60 million children out of school.”

This is not an abstract analogy, the Secretary-General said, pointing out that three quarters of a million Syrian children last year were shut out of classes because “we could not fund their right to an education.”

The United Nations, he said, is working every hour of every day to address the complex root causes of crises. “We also rush to fight fires. So many fires are burning around the world.”

Ban said he was serving as Secretary-General of the United Nations at a time of tragic records.

Since the UN was founded, the world has the most-ever people in need of humanitarian assistance and the highest-ever amount funding appeals. “We also face the biggest-ever appeal shortfalls.”
And last year, he said, nearly half of the UN’s appeals were unmet.

But with oil prices taking a severe beating and world economies shrinking, the prospects for humanitarian and development aid in 2016 seem bleak.

The writer can be contacted at

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Syria: Minding the Minds II Tue, 12 Jan 2016 19:03:04 +0000 Johan Galtung Johan Galtung is professor of peace studies, founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives’]]>

Johan Galtung is professor of peace studies, founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives

By Johan Galtung
OSLO, Jan 12 2016 (IPS)

Baher Kamal, in … And All of a Sudden Syria!: “The “big five,” the United Nations veto powers, have just agreed United Nations Resolution 2254 of 18-12-2015, time to end the Syrian five-year long human tragedy; they waited until 300,000 innocent civilians were killed and 4.5 million humans lost as refugees and homeless at home, hundreds of field testing of state-of-the-art drones made, and daily U.S., British, French and Russian bombing carried out.” No Chinese bombing.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

One term in the resolution, road map, already spells failure. There is another reason: missing issues. But something can be done. Roads twist, turn and may be far from straight. Traveling a road is a linear, one step or mile-stone after another, process, by the map. The West loves linearity; as causal chains, (falling dominoes,) from a root cause; as deductive chains from axioms; as ranks from high to low.

However, is that not how the world is, moving in time, causes-effects, axioms-consequences, rank, power, over others? Are roads not rather useful? They are. Is there an alternative to a road map? There is.

One step after the other in time is diachronic. An alternative would be synchronic; at the same time. Let us call it a cake map.

A cake is served, cut in slices, each party takes a slice, waits till all are served to start together. By the road map, first come first served first to eat. Or, highest rank eats first, down the line. The cake map stands for togetherness, simultaneity, shared experience. Not necessarily good: it was also used by the West to carve up Africa.

The cake is an issue; the slices are aspects. How it is defined, how it is cut, who are invited is essential. Basic to the cake map is equality among parties and slices: all get theirs at the same time.

For the Syria issue the Resolution lists the aspects on the road:
• 25 January 2016 (in two weeks) as the target date to begin talks;
• immediately all parties stop attacking civilians;
• within one month: options for a ceasefire monitoring mechanism;
• within 6 months “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance”;
• within 18 months “free and fair elections–by the new constitution”.

Kamal mentions many actors and crucial problems with this agenda. The focus here is on the linearity: ceasefire-governance-constitution-free and fair elections. Why stop attacking civilians who can become or are combatants? Why should actors agree to a ceasefire before their rights are guaranteed in a constitution? Why non-sectarian “governance” in a sectarian country? Each step presupposes the next. The “peace process” can be blocked, at any point, by any one party. Like a road.

Proposal: On 25 January, appoint four representative commissions– one for each of the four aspects–with mechanisms of dialogue for all six pairs and plenaries. Then report on all aspects on the agenda.

Back to the cake, “Syria.” Does “Syria” exist? Once much of the Middle East, the name was used for the French “mandate” carved out of the vast Ottoman Empire from 1516 to 1916 when ended by Sykes-Picot. A commission on the Ottoman period, exploring millets for minorities, is indispensable. So is a commission on the Sykes-Picot trauma, also with Turkey as a member; hopefully with UK-France-Russia apologizing.

We have seen it before. The US was a major party to the conflict and the UN conference manager 2013-14. There are now more parties: Jordan has identified up to 160 terrorist groups (Kamal), probably not counting state terrorists. And today the UN is the conference manager.

This column at the time (27 Jan 2014) identified seven Syria conflicts:
1 Minority/majority, democracy/dictatorship, Assad/not Assad in Syria;
2 Sunni/Shia all over, also with “Sunni Islamic State Iraq-Syria ISIS”;
3 Syrians/minorities “like Turks and Kurds, Maronites and Christians”;
4 Syria/”those who, like USA and Israel, prefer Syria fragmented”;
5 Syria/Turkey with “neo-Ottoman expansionist policies”;
6 USA-UK-France/Russia-China “determined to avoid another Libya”;
7 Violent perpetrators of all kinds/killed-bereaved-potential victims.

All seven are still there. They have become more violent, like the second, between Saudi Arabia–also financing IS–and Iran. But the resolution focuses on the first and the last. All parties mentioned should be invited or at least consulted publicly. Last time Iran was excluded, defined as the bad one; this time IS(IS), today called Daesh.

A process excluding major process parties is doomed in advance.

However, imagine that the cake is defined as, “the conflict formation in and around Syria”; that the slices are the seven conflicts indicated with one commission for each; that around the table are the actors mentioned, some grouped together. The Resolution aspects are on their agendas; with commissions on the Ottoman Empire and Sykes-Picot.

What can we expect, what can we reasonably hope for, as visions?

“Mandate”, “colony”: there is some reality to Syria (and to Iraq). The borders are hopeless and should be respected, but not for a unitary state. For something looser, a (con)federation. Basic building-blocs would be provinces from Ottoman times, millets for smaller minorities, and cantons for the strip of Kurds along the Turkish border. The constitution could define a national assembly with two chambers: one territorial for the provinces, and one non-territorial for nations and faiths with some cultural veto in matters concerning themselves.

There is also the Swiss model with the assembly being based on territorially defined cantons, and the cabinet on nations-faiths: of 7 members 3 speak German, 1 Rheto-roman, 2 French and 1 Italian (4 Protestant and 3 Catholic?). Not impossible for Syria. With the Kurds as some kind of Liechtenstein (that is where con-federation enters).

In addition to parallel NGO fora. There is much to articulate.

Assad or not? If he is excluded as punishment for violence, there are many to be excluded. A conference only for victims, and China?

Better see it as human tragedy-stupidity, and build something new.

The violent parties will not get what they want. The victims can be accommodated peacefully in this looser Syria. Moreover, the perpetrators should fund reconstruction proportionate to the violence they wrought in the past four years. As quickly as humanly possible.

Syria offered a poor choice between a minority dictatorship with tolerance and a majority dictatorship–democracy–without. Violence flourished, attracting old suspects for proxy wars. “Bomb Syria” was the panacea, after “bomb Libya”. What a shame. Bring it to an end.

*Johan Galtung’s editorial originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 11 January 2016: TRANSCEND Media Service – TMS: Syria (Minding the Minds II)

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Once Auctioned, What to Do with Syrian Refugees? Tue, 12 Jan 2016 15:23:51 +0000 Baher Kamal A young Syrian girl sits on a broken chair by her tent in Faida 3 camp, an informal tented settlement for Syria refugees in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.  Credit: UNICEF/Alessio Romenzi

A young Syrian girl sits on a broken chair by her tent in Faida 3 camp, an informal tented settlement for Syria refugees in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Credit: UNICEF/Alessio Romenzi

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jan 12 2016 (IPS)

Few months ago, an unprecedented “humanitarian auction” was opened in Brussels at the European Commission, shortly after watching the image of the three-year old Syrian child that the sea threw up on the Turkish shores. The “auction” was about deciding upon the number of Syrian refugees to be hosted by each EU country. Germany won the largest batch.

Before taking a final decision, some less rich European countries, like Spain, rushed to argue: “We are trying to get out of the crisis; we have a much too high percentage of unemployed people; also a huge public deficit…,” Spanish authorities, for instance, would try to explain their reluctance, with a more diplomatic wording.

The EU decision was also subject to a wave of political controversies. Some conservative political leaders, like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, would strongly alert against this “tsunami” of Muslims threatening to attack “our Christian civilisation”. And some figures, like US multimillionaire Republican pre-electoral runner Donald Trump, would even call for prohibiting the entry to the US of all Muslims.

Labour Factor

Meanwhile, labour market experts would argue that the so-called “natural selection” process would solve the problem –i.e, that the market forces would hire those skilled refugees as non-expensive manpower, while the non-skilled ones would necessarily end up as undocumented, illegal migrants, therefore easy to repatriate.

But such an argument has never been enough to calm the panic that several politicians and many media outlets induced among European ordinary people.

Another factor these experts take into account is the fact that the European population is steadily ageing, without the needed demographic replacement, a problem that is translated in more pension takers and less tax payers to replenish the retirement budget.

All this, of course, comes aside of Europe’s humanitarian convictions, those that moved the EU to act in view of the massive arrival of refugees.

It was when the EU, led by Germany, decided to offer economic assistance to less rich “reception” countries (6,000 euro per refugee) that the most reluctant ones accepted the deal. This way, Spain, which agreed to host 14,000-16,000 refugees, hailed some weeks ago the arrival of the first 14!

Big Hell

Meanwhile, the mainstream media disseminated tens of dramatic footage and tragic stories about those kilometres-long barbed-wire barriers built by some East European states; the “Calais jungle” in France; the hundreds of refugees stranded at frontiers; the arrival of cold winter, or the daily death of tens of human beings on Greek shores.

Then came the brutal, inhuman, execrable killing of French civilians on 13 November 2015 by Jihadist Islamist terrorists; the immediately previous attacks against unarmed population in Lebanon, and the even previous ones in Tunisia, and, later on, the horrible New Year’s eve assaults in Cologne, Germany, not to mention the daily murdering of innocent people in Egypt, Iraq and Syria, among others.

This created serious problems at home for several European rulers, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, apart from feeding more fears among European citizens.

A Turkish Warehouse

All of a sudden, a “solution” was found: the EU asked Turkey to keep the Syrian refugees in its territory or at its borders, preventing them from passing to Europe, against the payment of 3,000 million euro and the promise to unfreeze the deadlocked process of negotiations with Ankara for its potential integration in the European club.

In other words: to transform Turkey in a “storage room” or “warehouse” of Syrian refugees, until…


Meanwhile, it would be necessary to recall some facts:

The current number of Syrian refugees exceeds 4,5 million – according to the United Nations refugee agency, (UNHCR); This figure does not include the around 7,5 million internally displaced persons, i.e. refugees at home. The total would make over 50 per cent of the Syrian population (23 million.)

The number of Syrian refugees “auctioned” in Europe would represent barely one fifth of their total.

The number of Syrian refugees to be effectively allowed to stay in Europe is expected to come down to less than 15 per cent of those 4.5 million plus.

The remaining ones. i.e, 85 per cent of the 4.7 million Syrian refugees are currently spread out in the Middle East, Arab, poor and/or troubled countries, like Lebanon (with more than one million refugees, representing one fifth of its total population); unstable Iraq, and Jordan, where the Za’atri camp now represents the fourth most populated “city”;

The largest portion of humanitarian aid and assistance comes either from a short-funded UN agencies or civil society organisations.

That the Europeans themselves were also refugees during and after World War II, with numbers that exceeded those of Syrian refugees;

UNICEF’s humanitarian work began in the aftermath of World War II — and by the mid 1950’s millions of European children were receiving aid. Seventy years later, refugees and migrants are entering Europe at levels not seen since World War II. Nearly 1 in 4 are children.

And Now What?

What to do now with the total of 4,5 million Syrian refugees?
The five biggest military powers on Earth (US, UK, France, Russia and China), on 18 December 2015 adopted United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 2254 (2015) endorsing a “road map” for peace process in Syria, and even setting a timetable for UN-facilitated talks between the Bashar al Assad regime and “opposition” groups.
The whole thing moved so rapidly that the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has already set the 25 January 2016 as the target date to begin talks between the parties.

The “road map” talks about many things, including the organisation of “free and fair” elections in 18-months time.

No explicit mention, however, to the fate of the 13 millions of refugees and displaced at home Syrians who do not know what to do or where to go.


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Loneliness and Memories, Syrian Refugees Struggle in Safe Spaces Mon, 11 Jan 2016 07:41:10 +0000 Silvia Boarini 0 Syrian Government to Allow Aid, Loosening the Stranglehold on Madaya Fri, 08 Jan 2016 22:25:56 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie Photo: OpenStreetMap and MapQuest

Photo: OpenStreetMap and MapQuest

By Katherine Mackenzie
ROME, Jan 8 2016 (IPS)

The Syrian government says it will allow humanitarian aid into the besieged rebel-held town of Madaya, according to the United Nations, following reports and horrific pictures of residents starving to death. Aid is expected to reach the area by Monday, but for some it is too little and too late.

The plight of Madaya’s citizens only came to the world’s attention when residents somehow managed to get video out to Britain’s independent television network, ITV. The images of skeletal children and babies rocked the world’s conscience. The report said many were reduced to eating dirt and grass. Some, it said, had eaten cats and dogs.

“The people of Syria are on their knees. The economy has collapsed, essential infrastructure like water and power networks are hanging by a thread, and on top of that a very cold winter is bearing down,” said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). “12 million people inside Syria are in dire need for help.”

The United Nations and ICRC was granted access yesterday but the operation isn’t expected to happen before Sunday or Monday. The ICRC in Syria said details are still being sorted out. The United Nations World Food Programme, WFP, said it expected food convoys to make it to the area by Monday.

The ICRC said its priority, with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, is to bring assistance to 500,000 people living in besieged or difficult to reach areas, such as Madaya, Zabadani, Foua and Kefraya.

“Almost 42,000 people remaining in Madaya are at risk of further hunger and starvation. The UN has received credible reports of people dying from starvation and being killed while trying to leave. On 5 January 2016, a 53- year old man reportedly died of starvation while his family of five continues to suffer from severe malnutrition,” a UN statement said on Thursday.

The UN said it had government permission to access Kefraya and Foah in the north of the country besieged by rebel forces while Madaya and Zabadani are besieged by government forces.

Up to 4.5 million people in Syria live in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged locations who do not have access to the life-saving aid they urgently need.

Medicins Sans Frontieres, (MSF), called the noose around Madaya, “a total stranglehold siege.” It said, “Around 20,000 residents of the town are facing life-threatening deprivation of the basics for survival, and 23 patients in the health centre supported by MSF have died of starvation since December 1. MSF welcomes reports that the Syrian government will allow food supplies into the area, but urges that an immediate life-saving delivery of medicine across the siege line should also be a priority, and calls for sick patients to be allowed urgent medical evacuation to safe places of treatment.”

Of the 23 people who died, said MSF, six were under one-year old, five were over 60, and the other 12 were between five and 60. It said this shows the situation is affecting all age-groups.

The last aid trucks took in medical and humanitarian supplies to the village in October, and then some people were evacuated in December but there has been no new humanitarian access since despite repeated requests.

“Up to 4.5 million people in Syria live in hard-to-reach areas including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged locations who do not have access to the life-saving aid they urgently need,” said the U.N. statement. “The ongoing conflict continues to hamper the humanitarian response and freedom of movement is restricted by the presence of armed actors and landmines.”

The new head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, said on Thursday that with record numbers of refugees and displaced people worldwide there needs to be greater diplomatic effort to find solutions to conflicts and abuses driving people from their homes.

“UNHCR is navigating extraordinarily difficult waters,” said Filippo Grandi at his debut press conference after taking office on January 1. “We owe it first and foremost to the forcibly displaced themselves, but we also owe it to States…States are desperately looking for solutions to situations involving refugees,” he declared, and stressed: “Even under more desperate circumstances we have to think of solving displacement.”

Grandi stressed that countries which host especially large numbers of refugees, such as Lebanon, now home to over one million Syrians, need better help. He also highlighted resettlement, humanitarian visas and family reunification as tools which can allow refugees to find safety in other countries, “not through trafficking but by what we call legal pathways.”

Aid agencies are stretched with no respite in the streams of people leaving conflict areas and seeking assistance. WFP said on Wednesday that it has sufficient funding to provide food assistance to 526,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees in Jordan for the first five months of the current year.

“This is the first time since December 2013 when we managed to receive enough funding to secure assistance over the next five months,” said Shaza Moghraby, WFP’s spokesperson in Jordan.


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… And All of a Sudden Syria! Tue, 05 Jan 2016 11:21:54 +0000 Baher Kamal By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jan 5 2016 (IPS)

The “big five” – i.e., the most military powerful states on earth (US, UK, France, Russia and China) have just agreed that it would be about time to end the Syrian five-year long human tragedy.

Baher Kamal

Baher Kamal

Before reaching such a conclusion, they waited until 300,000 innocent civilians were killed; tons of bullets shot; 4.5 million humans lost as refugees or homeless at home; hundreds of field testing of state-of-the-art drones made, and daily US, British, French and Russian bombing carried out.

So, with these statistics in hand, they on 18 December 2015 adopted United Nations Resolution 2254 (2015) endorsing a “road map” for peace process in Syria, and even setting a timetable for UN-facilitated talks between the Bashar al Assad regime and “opposition” groups.

They also set the outlines of a “nationwide ceasefire to begin as soon as the parties concerned had taken initial steps towards a political transition.”

“The Syrian people will decide the future of Syria,” the Resolution states.

The UN Security Council also requested that the UN Secretary-General convenes representatives of the Syrian Government and opposition to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process “on an urgent basis”, with a target of early January for the initiation of talks.

“Free and Fair Elections”

The “big five” then expressed support for a Syrian-led political process facilitated by the United Nations which would establish “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance” within six months and set a schedule and process for the drafting of a new constitution.

Furthermore, the Security Council expressed support for “free and fair elections, pursuant to the new constitution, to be held within 18 months and administered under United Nations supervision,” to the “highest international standards” of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians — including members of the diaspora – eligible to participate.

And they requested that the UN Secretary-General report back on “options” for a ceasefire monitoring, verification and reporting mechanism that it could support within one month. They of course also demanded that “all parties immediately cease attacks against civilians.”

The road-map says that within six months, the process should establish a “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance,” with UN-supervised “free and fair elections” to be held within 18 months.

The whole thing moved so rapidly that the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan di Mestura, has already set the 25 January 2016 as the target date to begin talks between the parties.

All That Is Fine, But…

… But the resolution gives no specific answer to a number of key questions:

To start with, the Syrian National Coalition (SCN) has dismissed the whole idea as “unrealistic,” Deutsch Welle reported. The Coalition objects to a fact that the Security Council’s Resolution carefully “omits”: what future President Assad has.

According to Deutsch Welle, the SNC expressed annoyance that the UN language talked of ISIS terrorism but not of the “terrorism” of the Assad government. Russia has called for the transition to leave the question of governance up to the Syrians, while France and at times the US have demanded Assad’s immediate ousting as a condition of the deal.

If so, which “opposition” should sit to talk with the Syrian regime? While the US, UK and France support what they decided to consider as “rebel” or “opposition” groups, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia would have different criteria.

In this regard, it was decided to work out a mechanism for establishing which rebel groups in Syria will be eligible to take part in the peace process. For this purpose, Jordan, which was tasked with listing terrorist organisations in Syria, has reportedly presented a document that includes up to 160 extremist groups.

Even though, would President Bashar al-Assad be able to run for office in new elections?

How will the UN monitor the requested ceasefires, and control so many different sides involved in the armed fighting, including the US, UK, France and Russia? And what if the ceasefires do not work? More Syrian civilians to die, flee, migrate? How to control DAESH and so many diverse terrorist groups operating there? What to do with those millions of Syrian refugees, scattered in the region, mainly in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, while hundreds of thousands of them are being “trafficked” by organised crime bands, reportedly including DAESH itself?

And last but not least, which Syria will exist at the end of the 18 months which has been fixed as a target to hold free, fair elections?

Will it be the current Syria or a new, refurbished one after cutting part of it to establish a brand new “Sunni-stan” that US neo-con, neo-liberal, Republican “hawk” and former George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, has recently recommended to create on the territories to be “liberated” from DAESH in Syria and Iraq?

Too many key questions without and clear answers. And too may gaps for this road-map to gain credibility. Unless the idea is to implement a Libyan-style solution, that’s for another Western-led military coalition, under NATO’s umbrella, to attack Syria, let Assad be murdered, and leave the people to their own fate. Exactly what happened in Libya in 2011.


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CPJ: Two Thirds of 2015 Journalist Deaths were Acts of Reprisal Fri, 01 Jan 2016 20:24:32 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie By Katherine Mackenzie
ROME, Jan 1 2016 (IPS)

Of the 69 journalists who died on the job in 2015, 40 per cent were killed by Islamic militant groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Startlingly more than two-thirds were targeted for murder, according to a special report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in its annual report that nine of those killings took place in France, second to Syria as the most dangerous country for the press in last year.

Globally 69 journalists were killed due to their vocation, including those slain for their reporting and those caught in crossfire or in conflict. The total for 2015 is higher than the 61 journalists killed in 2014.

The CPJ says it is investigating the deaths of a further 26 more journalists during the year to determine if they too were work-related.

In 2012, 2013, and 2014, those killed in Syria exceeded those than anywhere else in the world. But the fewer number this year dying on the job in Syria only means it is so dangerous that there are fewer journalists working there, said the report. Many international news agencies chose to withdraw staff anf local reporters were forced to flee, said the CPJ.

The report cited difficulties in researching cases in conflict including Libya, Yemen and Iraq. CPJ went on a research mission to Iraq last year investigating reports that some 35 journalists from the Mosul area had gone missing, were killed or being held by Islamic State.

The militant group has a grip on the city so the CPJ said it could only confirm the deaths of a few journalists. The committee’s report said it had received reports of dozens of other journalists killed but could not independently confirm the deaths or if indeed, journalism was the reason. It said several of these journalists are currently on CPJ’s missing list.

A mural for Avijit Roy in Dhaka, one of four bloggers murdered by extremists in Bangladesh this year. Credit: AP/A.M. Ahad

A mural for Avijit Roy in Dhaka, one of four bloggers murdered by extremists in Bangladesh this year. Credit: AP/A.M. Ahad

The Charlie Hebdo massacre that took place in Paris last January was claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Eight journalists at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were targeted.

Islamic State in October murdered two Syrian journalists living in exile in Turkey, Fares Hamadi and Ibrahim Abd al-Qader. Abd al-Qader was given CPJ’s 1015 International Press Freedom Award as he was an early member of Raqaa is Being Slaughtered Silently, a Syrian citizen journalist group.

“In Bangladesh, members of an Al-Qaeda affiliate or another local extremist group, Ansarullah Bangla Team, were suspected in the hacking or stabbing murders of a publisher and four bloggers, including U.S.-Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was attending a book fair when he was killed,”said the report.

The Taliban in Pakistan claimed responsibility for the shooting of Zaman Mehsud, president and secretary-general of the Tribal Union of Journalists’ South Waziristan chapter and reporter for the Urdu-language Daily Ummat and Daily Nai Baat newspapers.

A security officer investigates the murder of Somali journalist Hindia Haji Mohamed, who was killed by a car bomb in December. Credit: AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab

A security officer investigates the murder of Somali journalist Hindia Haji Mohamed, who was killed by a car bomb in December. Credit: AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab

In Somalia, Hindia Haji Mohamed, a journalist and the widow of another murdered journalist, was killed in December when a bomb blew up her car in an attack claimed by the Islamic militant group al-Shabaab.

Governments around the world were jailing at least 110 journalists on anti-state charges. This is out of 199 total jailed, according to CPJ’s most recent annual prison census.—It shows how the press is being cornered and targeted by terrorists and also squeezed by the squeezed by authorities saying there were committed to fighting terror as well, it said.

More than two thirds of the journalists killed in 2015 were targeted and murdered as a direct result of their work.

The report said about one third of journalists’ deaths worldwide were carried out by criminal groups, government officials, or local residents who were, in most cases, drug traffickers or those involved in organized crime. They included Brazilian Gleydson Carvalho, shot dead by two men while he was presenting his afternoon radio show. He was often critical of politicians and police Brazil had six killings last year, the highest since CPJ began keeping records in 1992.

But Brazilian judicial authorities have made headway in combating impunity by getting six convictions in murder cases in the last two years, said the report.

South Sudan registered for the first time on CPJ’s index of slain journalists when unidentified gunmen attacked an official convoy killing five journalists traveling with a county official. The motive is still unknown but there have been various accusations. Some say this could have been the result of the power struggle between former Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir which set off the civil war in 2013.

The murders of the five landed South Sudan on CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, which highlights countries where journalists are murdered and there is no one held responsible so their killers go free.

South Sudan, Poland and Ghana appeared on CPJ’s killed database for the first time. In Poland, Łukasz Masiak, was fatally assaulted in a bowling alley after telling colleagues he feared for his life. He was the founder and editor of a news website and reported on crime and drugs and pollution. In Ghana, radio reporter George Abanga, was shot dead on his way back from covering a cocoa farmers dispute.

CPJ cites these trends from its research:

• Seventeen journalists worldwide were killed in combat or crossfire. Five were killed on a dangerous assignment.
• At least 28 of the 47 murder victims received threats before they were killed.
• Broadcast reporting was the most dangerous job, with 25 killed. Twenty-nine victims worked online.
• The most common type of reporting by victims was politics, followed by war and human rights.

CPJ, in 1992, began compiling detailed records on all journalist deaths. If motives in a killing are unclear, it is possible that a journalist died in relation to his or her work and CPJ classifies the case as “unconfirmed” and continues to investigate. CPJ said its list does not include journalists who died of illness or natural causes or were killed in car or plane accidents unless the crash considered hostile action.


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Syria ­- A Light to the World Thu, 31 Dec 2015 15:05:54 +0000 mairead-maguire

Mairead Maguire is a peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Dec 31 2015 (IPS)

In November 2015 I visited Syria together with an International Peace delegation. This was my third visit to Syria in the last three years. As on previous occasions I was moved by the spirit of resilience and courage of the people of Syria.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

In spite of the fact that for the last five years their country has been plunged into war by outside forces the vast majority of the Syrian people continue to go about their daily lives and many have dedicated themselves to working for peace and reconciliation and the unity of their beloved Syria. They struggle to overcome their fear, that Syria will be driven by outside interference and destructive forces within, to suffer the same terrible fate of Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Yemen, and so many other countries.

Many Syrians are traumatized and in shock and ask ‘how did this happen to our country’? Proxy wars are something they thought only happened in other countries, but now Syria too has been turned into a war-ground in the geo-political landscape controlled by the western global elite and their allies in the Middle East.

Many of those we met were quick to tell us Syria is not experiencing civil war but a foreign invasion. To tell us too that this is not a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims who, in the words of the Patriarch Gregorios III Laham ‘Muslims and Christians not only dialogue with each other but their roots are inter-twined with each other as they have lived together over 1436 years without wars, despite disagreements and conflicts…over the years peace and co-existence have outweighed controversy.’ In Syria our delegation saw that Christian and Muslim relationships can be more than mutual tolerance, they can be deeply loving.

During our visit we met hundreds of people, local and national political leaders, government and opposition figures, local and national Muslim and Christian leaders, members of reconciliation committees and internally displaced refugees. We also met numerous people on the streets of town and cities, Sunni Shia, Christian, Alawite, all of whom feel that their voices are ignored and under-represented in the West.

The youth expressed the desire to see a new state which will guarantee equality of citizenship and religious freedom to all religious and ethnic groups, and protection of minorities, and said this was the work of the Syrian people, not outside forces, and could be done peacefully. We met many Syrians who reject all the violence and are working for conflict resolution through negotiation and implementation of a democratic process.

Few Syrians we met were under the illusion that their elected (7O percent) leader President Assad, was perfect yet many admired him and felt he was much preferred to the alternative of the government falling into the hands of the Jihadists fighters, fundamental extremists with ideology that would force the minorities (and moderate Sunnis) to flee Syria (or many to get killed).

This had already been experienced with the exodus of thousands of Syrians, when they fled in fear of being killed or homes destroyed by jihadist foreign fighters, and alleged moderates, trained funded and accommodated by outside forces. In Homs we witnessed the bombed out houses when thousands fled after Syrian rebels attacked Syrian forces from residential areas, and the military responded causing lethal damage to civilians and buildings (the rebel strategy of Human Shields) and they also done the same with cultural sites (cultural shields).

In the old city of Homs we had a meeting with members of the reconciliation committee, which is led by a priest and sheikh. We also visited the grave of a Jesuit priest who was murdered by IS fighters and visited the rebuilt Catholic church, the original of which was burned down. During the meeting by candlelight, because of regular power blackouts, we heard how Christians and Muslims in the town had been instrumental in the rehabilitation of fighters who choose to lay down their arms and accept the Syrian Government’s offer of Amnesty.

They appealed to us to ask the international community to end the war on Syria, and support peace, and it was for our delegation particularly sad and disappointing that that very day the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, (UK), publicity announced his support for the UK vote to bomb Syria! (And subsequently the UK Government, voted for War on Syria). (If the UK/USA/EU, etc., wish to help the Syrian people they can immediately lift the sanctions which are causing great hardship to the Syrian people).

We also visited the Christian Town of Maaloula, where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is still spoken and it is one of the oldest Christian towns in the Middle East. We visited the church of St. George and the priest explained how after their church was burned to the ground by western backed rebels, and many Christians killed, the people of Maaloula, carried a table onto the ruins of the church and after praying started to rebuild their church and homes. Sadly also in this place some Muslim neighbours also destroyed Christian neighbours’ homes and this reminded us all of the complexities of the Syrian conflict and the need to teach nonviolence and build peace and reconciliation. It also brought us to a deeper awareness of the plight of not only moderate Sunnis from extremists, but the huge numbers of Christians now fleeing from Middle Eastern countries, and that if the situation is not stabilized in Syria and the Middle East, there will be few Christians in what is called the cradle of civilization and birth of Christianity, and where the followers of the three Abrahamic faiths have lived and worked as brothers and sisters in unity. The Middle East has already witnessed the tragic and virtual disappearance of Judaism, and this tragedy is happening at an alarming rate to the Christians of the Levant.

But there is hope and Syria is a light to the world as there are many people working for peace and reconciliation, dialogue and negotiations, and this is where the hopes lies and what we can all support by rejecting violence and war in Syria, the Middle East and our world.


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Disunity, the Hallmark of European Union Foreign Policy Thu, 31 Dec 2015 14:42:20 +0000 Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino is a leading member of the Radical Party, former European Commissioner and a former Italian Foreign Minister.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, Dec 31 2015 (IPS)

The appalling crisis ravaging the Middle East and striking terror around the world is a clear challenge to the West, but responses are uncoordinated. This is due on the one hand to divergent analyses of the situation, and on the other to conflicting interests.

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino

The roots of the conflict lie primarily in the Sunni branch of orthodox Islam, and within this the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect embraced by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies generally. Both the Islamic State (Daesh) and, earlier, Al Qaeda, arose out of Wahhabism.

The West has historic alliances with the Gulf area, but apparently nothing has been learned from the 3,000 deaths caused by the attack on the Twin Towers in New York. Turkey plays by its own rules, while Russia does not hesitate to resort to any means to recover its position on the global stage, and is only now showing concern about the so-called foreign combatants that Turkey is allowing into Syria. In truth, there is very little common ground.

Consequently, all reactions are inadequate, including the bombing of territory occupied by the Islamic State – whether motivated by emotion or based on reason with an eye to the next elections – by countries like France or the United Kingdom, which wants to demonstrate in this way to the rest of Europe that it is an indispensable part of the EU. Bombings take place, only to be followed by public recognition that aerial strikes are insufficient because there are no more targets to be hit from the sky without guidance from troops on the ground.

The fact is that while the impossibility of achieving victory by air attacks alone is repeated like a mantra, the bombings continue. At the same time, every Arab medium complains daily that these are acts of war waged, once again, by the West against the Arab world.

Doubtless for this reason, the British government has not only increased its military budget but also given the BBC more funding for Arabic language services. The battle in hand is above all a cultural one; arguments are needed over the medium and long term, in addition to attempts at overcoming the contradictions.

The first step is to admit that there is no magical solution; only partial and complex solutions exist. The first measure must be to oblige Sunni Muslims, the Gulf monarchies and the Muslim Brotherhood – the sources of funds and material support for Islamic State combatants – to assume responsibility for their roles. Secondly, we in Europe must take serious measures to address our own shortcomings, by reinforcing our security.

EU counter-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove recently appealed for an agreement to unify the intelligence services of European countries, to no avail. European governments do not want a common intelligence service, they do not want a common defence system, and they do not want a common foreign policy. Some are only willing to commit their air forces to the fray.

In the meantime, we lurch from one emergency to another, managing only to agree on improvised, temporary measures. For instance, now we have forgotten all about the immigrants, as if they had ceased to exist. Vision is lacking, not only for the long term but even for the medium term.

Now European governments are focused on Syria, leaving aside the conflicts in Libya and Yemen, and are not giving needed help to our Mediterranean neighbours threatened by serious crises: Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan. Lately, oil facilities in the Islamic State are being bombed and the tanker trucks used for black market oil exports are being attacked. As is well known, during the first Gulf War bombing of oil wells brought about an ecological disaster and history is repeating itself in the territories occupied by the Islamic State. Meanwhile the attacks on ground transport are blocking supplies of provisions to Syria, where food is already scarce.

For its part, Italy has done well in choosing not to participate in military interventions that risk being counterproductive and that no one believes are effective, as shown by other scenarios from Afghanistan to the Lebanon. But this does not exempt Italy from making greater efforts toward a common European intelligence service and a broader and more efficacious immigration policy.

In a nutshell: the European Union should formulate and apply its own foreign policy in line with its own interests and reality, and dispense with the policies of the United States, Russia, or other powers.

Translated by Valerie Dee

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Displacement Climbs, No Respite Near in 2016 Mon, 28 Dec 2015 08:48:28 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie Thousands of refugees make the perilous journey each day for a better life in Europe and 2015 is set to be a record year for refugee numbers. Governments, Aid Organisations and NGO's struggle to  help them. Credit:  I.Pritchett/UNHCR

Thousands of refugees make the perilous journey each day for a better life in Europe and 2015 is set to be a record year for refugee numbers. Governments, Aid Organisations and NGO's struggle to help them. Credit: I.Pritchett/UNHCR

By Katherine Mackenzie
ROME, Dec 28 2015 (IPS)

Nearly a million people have crossed the Mediterranean as refugees and migrants so far this year, and conflicts in Syria and elsewhere continue to push up levels of human suffering. This makes 2015 likely to exceed all previous years of forced displacement, according to a new United Nations High Commission for Refugees report.

UNHCR’s Mid-Year Trends 2015 Report, referring to the period from January to end June, and looking at displacement across the globe from fighting and persecution, shows markers firmly in the red in each of the three major categories of displacement – Refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons or those who must take refuge within their own countries.

The global refugee total, which a year ago was 19.5 million, had as of mid-2015 passed the 20 million threshold to 20.2 million for the first time since 1992, says UNHCR. Asylum applications were up 78 per cent to 993,600 over the same period in 2014. And the numbers of internally displaced people jumped by around 2 million to an estimated 34 million, the agency added in its report.

The staggering numbers from the first half of this year suggest that 2015 will see global forced displacement exceeding 60 million for the first time. Worldwide that means that one person in every 122 has been forced to flee their home.

“Forced displacement is now profoundly affecting our times. It touches the lives of millions of our fellow human beings – both those forced to flee and those who provide them with shelter and protection,” High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in the report.

The International Organization for Migration said last week the number of migrants and refugees crossing into Europe by land and see this year illegally has hit the million mark.

This is four times the the total number from last from year.
Most crossed by sea, with more than 800,000 travelling from Turkey to Greece. Half are migrants from Syria.

Eleven more migrants drowned last week, adding to the IOM toll of 3,695 people this year dying or missing at sea.

Seven people last week were rescued by Turkish coast guards after the craft went down, apparently en route from Kusadasi in Turkey to the Greek island of Samos.

Beyond UNHCR’s startling numbers there are some indicators that show key areas are worsening. For instance, voluntary return rates…that is people who feel they can return home safely are down and at the lowest level in three decades. The agency uses this as a barometer of the global state of conflict. For example, a year ago 107,000 people wanted to voluntarily return as compared to 84,000 this year in the same period.

Some 839,000 people in just six months fled, in real terms this means an average rate of almost 4,600 being forced to flee their countries every day, said UNHCR. The war in Syria and its effect on the region continues to be generating the most numbers of displaced people.

Pressures on host countries are growing. With infrastructures being stretched there is a great danger that resentment of refugees will increase and their situation become politicized. This is not a new consequence and can be a worrying trend. But too, the first half of 2015 was also marked by extraordinary generosity. Turkey is the world’s biggest hosting country with 1.84 million refugees on its territory as of 30 June.

Pope Francis appealed for peace and reconciliation in conflict zones around the world in his traditional Christmas Day message from Rome. He said he prayed for the success of recent UN resolutions for peace in Syria and Libya.

The Pope also cited the acts of terrorism in France, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Mali, which he condemned. Thousands flocked to St. Peter’s Square to see the address which the Pope makes every year to the city and is broadcast across the world.

Lebanon, a host to refugees for decades, still is a temporary home to more refugees in comparison to its small population. UNHCR counts there are 209 refugees per 1000 inhabitants in Lebanon. Ethiopia is hit most in the pocketbook as it pays most in relation to the size of its economy with 469 refugees for every dollar of GDP. In the end those carrying the responsibility for looking after and hosting refugees are those countries bordering conflict areas, and many are in developing countries.

But the numbers of people reaching Europe by boat via the Mediterranean is only partly reflected in the report mainly because the surge of people escalated in the second half of this year and are still outside the months this report covers. Still, in the first six months of 2015 Germany was the host of the newest asylum claims – 159,000, close to the entire total for all of 2014. The second largest host was the Russian Federation with 100,000 asylum claims, and those were people fleeing trouble in the Ukraine.


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Accord Calls for First Global Conference on Peace Tue, 22 Dec 2015 07:49:30 +0000 Vasu Gounden Vasu Gounden, ACCORD's Chief, addresses high level expert group on climate and migration.

Vasu Gounden, ACCORD's Chief, addresses high level expert group on climate and migration.

By Vasu Gounden
DURBAN, Dec 22 2015 (IPS)

On 21 November 2015, during ACCORD’s 2015 Africa Peace Award celebration, I made a call for the United Nations to convene the first ever UN Global Conference on Peace.

The call was made during the presentation of the Africa Peace Award to the African Union Commission (AUC), in recognition of its central role in contributing to peace and promoting development in Africa. The award was made at a gala dinner by the Chairperson of ACCORD, Madame Graca Machel, and received on behalf of the AUC by Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the AUC.

Over the past few months, our television screens and social media have again exposed us to the graphic nightmares currently plaguing humanity. Terrorism, violent uprisings, and devastating conflicts now afflict several parts of the world, with no corner of our planet immune to either these challenges or their consequences.

Conflicts throughout the world have multiplied in complexity and intensity. The previous paradigm of warfare, where two nations fight one another across borders, is no longer the norm. Today internal conflicts around a number of grievances dominate, and are complicated by the rapid expansion of amorphous groups of radicalised and militant individuals.

As evidenced by the current challenges in Syria and Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Yemen and Ukraine, the consequences of the violence are devastating and will scar these societies for generations to come. Our global community can no longer afford to pursue exclusively military-oriented responses, nor can states afford to remain indifferent to situations that are beyond their immediate concerns or borders. We need a new paradigm for peace.

With an exponentially growing population, unprecedented urbanisation often into unplanned cities, destabilising climate change, a shaky global financial system, growing unemployment, mass migration, and expanding wealth inequality, our planet is in a race against time to create a sustainable future and prevent these global challenges from accelerating and entrenching global instability.

As our work on climate change has shown, challenges such as these can trigger conflict and so even adaptation measures need to be conflict sensitive. While humanity is equipped with unprecedented technological advancements and incredible demographic opportunities to build a better future, we must channel the collective expertise of our global community to find sustainable and transformative pathways forward. The need for sustainable global peace is urgent and the stakes are rising as the challenges deepen. The choice of inaction could close the door on the future for which many strive. We must act quickly!

Collective political dialogue is the only true pathway to begin addressing inter-connected challenges in a sustainable and holistic manner. Over our 23-year history and through engagements with governments, armed groups, civil society, and regional, continental, and multi-lateral bodies, ACCORD has found this maxim to be true.

Our global systems for peace have grown more fragile and stressed just as our conflicts and challenges have evolved with ever increasing complexity. Our dialogue must focus on strategies to resolve current crises, prevent future deterioration, and ensure that peace and prosperity finally take root equitably and sustainably. Further, an urgent need exists to promote critical reflection, earnest debate and mutual solidarity amongst all people. We must underpin these efforts by shepherding a collective shift from an exclusive focus on ‘national interest’ to a collective focus on ‘global responsibility’. There are no easy answers, and no nation on its own has the solution for the challenges of today and more importantly the challenges of tomorrow.

Since its inception the United Nations has convened a number of World Conferences. However, to this day there has not been a UN-sponsored World Conference focused explicitly on peace. Bringing the entire community of humanity under one forum to deliberate earnestly has in the past contributed to tangible landmark global commitments from governments, the private sector and non-state actors alike. Our institutions and processes often limit discussion but a global conference creates a space where all are placed on an equal footing. Many of the current achievements on human rights, social development, climate change, and gender were built on the fresh foundations created by global conferences and dialogue. Such foundations create paradigm shifts, which then lead to practical outcomes.

It is our hope therefore that the Republic of South Africa, in collaboration with other African nations and under the auspices of the African Union, can propose to the UN General Assembly to host the first ever UN Global Conference on Peace in 2019 in Durban, on the 25th anniversary of South Africa’s democracy.

In advance of such a UN Global Conference on Peace and to support a global debate on peace we intend to assemble a multi-disciplinary gathering of experts from around the world in 2017, two years prior to the UN gathering.

As we face our future together we remember that South Africa’s peaceful transition was the result of collective global action and the struggle and outcome gave inspiration and courage to many. Unanimous and collective opposition to apartheid, from Africa and beyond, were critical in supporting the emergence of a peaceful and democratic South Africa against expectations and great odds. We therefore call the entire world to join once more in a free and peaceful South Africa, in the same spirit of collective unity, to begin charting a way forward to deliver global peace.

Now is the time!


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UN Seeks Hefty 20 Billion Dollars for Humanitarian Needs in 2016 Fri, 18 Dec 2015 20:19:42 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The world’s refugee crisis – triggered mostly by conflicts and persecutions – will continue to be one of the biggest problems facing the United Nations next year.

With almost a million people having crossed the Mediterranean as refugees and migrants so far, 2015 is likely to exceed all previous records for global forced displacement, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned in a new report released Friday.

But 2016 could be even worse — if the Syrian conflict continues unabated and new political trouble spots arise, primarily in the Middle East and Africa.

“As we enter 2016, the world needs to aim for a new global compact on human mobility. Demonizing and scapegoating these people based on their religion, ethnicity or country of origin has no place in the 21st century,” says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The United Nations is appealing for a staggering 20 billion dollars in funds to meet next year’s humanitarian needs — five times the level a decade ago.

But donors have been exceedingly generous, says Ban, “but we will likely enter 2016 with a funding gap of more than 10 billion dollars — the largest ever. “

The increased funds will be needed largely to feed, shelter and provide medical care to millions of refugees fleeing conflict zones, including Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

But the devastating conflict in Syria, now into its fifth year, has been described as “the main driver of this sea of humanity on the move.”

According to the UN, about 60 million people are now homeless as a result of armed conflict, instability and persecution, and more than 125 million people will need humanitarian assistance in 2016.

The 20 billion dollar target for 2016 seems phenomenal in comparison to the UN’s regular budget of 5.57 billion dollars for 2016-2017 and its peacekeeping budget totaling 8.2 billion dollars for 2015-2016.

Since the crisis is expected to continue into 2016, the World Humanitarian Summit meeting in May 2016 in Istanbul is expected to be “a critical moment to address systemic funding problems, and agree on concrete steps to better prepare for and respond to crises.”

The UNHCR study, titled ‘Mid-Year Trends 2015’, says the global refugee total, which a year ago was 19.5 million, had as of mid-2015 passed the 20 million threshold (20.2 million) for the first time since 1992.

Asylum applications were meanwhile up 78 per cent (993,600) over the same period in 2014. And the numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) jumped by around 2.0 million to an estimated 34 million.

A consequence of more refugees being stuck in exile is that pressures on countries hosting them are growing too – something which unmanaged can increase resentment and abet politicization of refugees, the study said.

Despite such risks, the first half of 2015 was also marked by extraordinary generosity: on an absolute basis, and counting refugees who fall under UNHCR’s mandate (Palestinians are under the mandate of the UN Works and Relief Agency or UNRWA), Turkey is the world’s biggest hosting country with 1.84 million refugees on its territory, as of 30 June.

Lebanon meanwhile hosts more refugees compared to its population size than any other country, with 209 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants.

And Ethiopia pays most in relation to the size of its economy with 469 refugees for every dollar of GDP (per capita, at PPP), according to UNHCR.

Overall, the lion’s share of the global responsibility for hosting refugees continues to be carried by countries immediately bordering zones of conflict, many of them in the developing world.

Europe’s influx of people arriving by boat via the Mediterranean is only partly reflected in the report, mainly as arrivals there have escalated in the second half of 2015 and outside the period covered by the report.

Nonetheless, in the first six months of 2015, Germany was the world’s biggest recipient of new asylum claims – 159,000, close to the entire total for all of 2014. The second largest recipient was the Russian Federation with 100,000 claims, mainly people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, according to the report.

Speaking at a high-level event marking the 10th anniversary of the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the secretary-general said the fund was a breakthrough in providing fast and predictable funding for early action at times of global crisis.

Over the past decade, the Fund has been an essential component of the UN’s humanitarian response – and it has enhanced the credibility of the United Nations, he added.

Among the CERF’s key strengths is its flexibility and speed. CERF resources are not earmarked for specific countries or crises, but can be deployed quickly wherever needs are greatest.

“Whether a crisis is sudden or protracted; whether it is in the news or not, CERF funds are allocated only on the basis of need,” Ban noted.

Within 11 hours of the earthquake in Haiti, trucks were unloading life-saving aid. And within 48 hours of Nepal’s recent earthquake, people were receiving timely life-saving assistance.

Since 2011, Ban said, the CERF has allocated more than 200 million dollars to humanitarian efforts in Syria and neighbouring countries. “And the CERF continues to deliver in the face of new challenges.”

Currently, the Fund is one of the earliest and largest supporters of early response in countries such as Ethiopia, Malawi and Honduras that are being affected by the El Niño phenomenon, which is one of the strongest in decades.

The world has changed radically over the past decade. But despite the generosity of donors, the gap between humanitarian needs and the resources available to meet them is growing every year, the secretary-general declared.

The writer can be contacted at

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Alaa Arsheed: A Refugee’s Sweet Sound of Success Fri, 18 Dec 2015 11:12:55 +0000 Francesco Farne and Valentina Gasbarri Alaa Arsheed, Syrian refugee and violinist, and Gian Pietro Masa, experimental electronic musician,  during their live peromance at the inauguration of Fornasetti's Calendarium exhibition.  Credit: Fornasetti / IPS

Alaa Arsheed, Syrian refugee and violinist, and Gian Pietro Masa, experimental electronic musician, during their live peromance at the inauguration of Fornasetti's Calendarium exhibition. Credit: Fornasetti / IPS

By Francesco Farnè and Valentina Gasbarri
ROME, Dec 18 2015 (IPS)

“In Beirut I was like a bird in a cage, I felt like a prisoner. Today, I have the chance to let my dreams come true, make a living with my music, realizing my dad’s project: open a new Alpha – my family’s cultural center, destroyed during the war- to share Syrian culture and help my people in Europe,” Alaa Arsheed, a Syrian refugee, told IPS.

Alaa, 29-year old and an accomplished violinist has become living proof of the positive effects migration can have on host countries, especially in countries like Italy where structural problems related both to the financial and migration crises have changed the course of present political history.

In the past century Italy has gone through mass emigration, internal migration and mass immigration. According to ISTAT (Italian National Institute of Statistics) almost 4 million non-EU migrants live in the country in 2015. The flimsy boats filled with human cargo and often sink in in the Mediterranean leaving many adrift in the cold sea, and some perish.

About 3 per cent of the world’s refugees arrive in Italy says the Report on International Protection in Italy 2015, released by The National Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI) , Caritas Italiana, Cittalia, Migrantes Fundation and the The SPRAR project (Protection System for Refugees and Asylum Seekers), in partnership with the Ministry of Interior and The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The report says by the end of 2014 there were 33 on-going wars, 13 crisis situations and 16 UN missions. The humanitarian crises in the Middle-East pushed nearly 19.5 million refugees to flee their home country, 38,2 million were internally displaced people (IDPs) from war and persecution and 1.8 million were asylum seekers. As a consequence, the number of migrants reached 59.5 milion people.

According to the last figures from the Italian Ministry of Interior, in 2015 about 120,000 migrants arrived in Italy. The vast majority of people are refugees and migrants from Syria, followed by Afghanis, Pakistanis and Iraqis. The countries of origin for people crossing from Libya include Eritrea, Gambia, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan. 2,900 migrants have lost their lives in the Mediterranean during their dangerous journey.

Alaa Arsheed says he was drawn by the magnetism of Italy and Italian people while he was looking for a better life and a place where he could have the “right of having rights.” He describes how music, and art in general, helped him overcome many of the difficulties he faced since he left Syria and why he is convinced that Italy is such an inspiring place where he loves to live. An Italian friend of his, Marta, a painter, put him in contact with Barnaba Fornasetti. Barnaba is the son of the internationally renowned Italian designer Piero Fornasetti, and CEO of the Fornasetti Design company. Barnaba, like his father, is an artist and also a skilled DJ.

Audience attending the live music perfomance at the inauguration of Fornasetti's Calendarium exhibition.

Audience attending the live music perfomance at the inauguration of Fornasetti’s Calendarium exhibition. Credit: Fornasetti / IPS

When Barnaba met Alaa, he immediately recognized talent and saw the potential for an artistic collaboration. He invited Alaa to play his violin during the inauguration of his exhibit in Milan. It was an artistic collaboration as the experimental electronic musician Gian Pietro Masa and Alaa, played together in a long session, coordinated by musician and composer Roberto Coppolecchia.

“Art can be a powerful tool for integration, and music, in particular, it is a language that speaks directly to your inner soul, no matter what your religion, nationality, political affiliation, sex or age is,” said Alaa.

“I was born in As-Suwayda, in the Daraa province in southern Syria, where the so called ‘Arab spring’ started in February 2011,” said Alaa. His family owned an art café called Alpha which was the only free cultural space where artists could gather in the city. Alpha’s motto was “Art for All,” he said and then quoted Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”

Since its foundation, more than 140 art exhibitions, music, and literary events took place in Alpha, bypassing government censorship. “That was our way to protest, peaceful, based on art and free from religious and political influences. Once, we revisited Voltaire’s quotations in a visual art exhibit,” he said.

Late in 2011, Alaa, like many other Syrians, was forced to leave his country in the face of the civil war. He was able to bring just his violin and a few things with him. He moved to Beirut, where he lived teaching and playing music. Six months ago, he had a meeting that changed his life forever. While teaching violin to Palestinian refugees in a camp, he met Italian actor and UNHCR ambassador Alessandro Gassman, while he was in Lebanon filming a documentary about “art in times of war” called “Torn – Strappati.”

Alaa was involved in the making of this documentary, which was presented at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival, and he features playing his violin. For him, this instrument has become the symbol of how music can heal the pain of a generation of young Syrians.

His talent, and the visibility that Gassman and UNHCR gave to his him, the Fabrica Communication Research Group offered Alaa a music scholarship in Treviso, a city located in the North-East of Italy. “In Italy I found an inspiring, friendly atmosphere and I was also able to realize one of my professional dreams: publish my first album, sham, which means “Damascus” in the Aramaic language,” he said.

Eventually, he asked for asylum in Europe and today he lives in Italy. “I miss my family and my hometown,” and he said he still plays music with his brothers and sister who play the violin, viola and cello, via Skype. They want to play together as a string quartet in Italy someday.

Alaa is now working on a project, in partnership with Fabrica, that he says will make his parents happy and proud of him. As Alpha was destroyed during the war, he would like to rebuild this cultural space in Europe where it would be a landmark for plenty of refugees with the aim of preserving and spreading Syrian culture, as he said, “Art is stronger than everything.”


 From the left: Gian Pietro Masa, Alaa Arsheed, Barnaba Fornasetti, CEO, Fornasetti design company, and IPS Director General Farhana Haque Rahman at the inauguration of Fornasetti’s Calendarium exhibition. Credit: Fornasetti / IPS

From the left: Gian Pietro Masa, Alaa Arsheed, Barnaba Fornasetti, CEO, Fornasetti design company, and IPS Director General Farhana Haque Rahman at the inauguration of Fornasetti’s Calendarium exhibition. Credit: Fornasetti / IPS

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Human Rights in Turkey: Is Turkish Press Freedom in Danger? Fri, 18 Dec 2015 11:07:01 +0000 Lorena Di Carlo By Lorena Di Carlo
MADRID, Dec 18 2015 (IPS)

The last week of November marked another phase of an ongoing shift in the Turkish Government´s approach to human rights issues – Two important events highlighted the ongoing attack freedom of press is suffering in Turkey. First two prominent Turkish journalists were arrested after publishing a story claiming that members of the state intelligence agency had provided weapons to Syrian rebels; second, lawyer and leading human rights defender and Tahir Elçi, President of the Diyarbakir Bar Association in south eastern Turkey, was killed in crossfire while making a press statement on Saturday 28th of November.

The Government´s reaction has fueled concerns about a sweeping media crackdown, which escalated just before the country´s national elections in November 1st. Since the Justice Development Party (AKP) was re-elected, under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, conditions for media freedom have gradually deteriorated even further.

The present government has enacted laws expanding the state´s capacity to control independent media. The government has now an increased authority to block websites and the surveillance capacity of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) has been strengthened. Journalists are currently facing unprecedented legal obstacles, while courts´ capacity to persecute corruption is circumscribed by references to “national security.” To regulate various media outlets, authorities are making use of the Penal Code, criminal defamation laws and an antiterrorism law.

As a direct result of mass protests in the summer of 2013, the Turkish government tightened its control over media and the internet even further. Followed by corruption allegations in December the same year, the government intensified its control over the criminal justice system and reassigned judges, prosecutors, and police in order to exercise a greater control over the country´s already politicized freedom of the press.

In 2013, during a corruption scandal revealed through leaks to social media of phone calls implicating ministers and their family members, the Turkish government reacted by shutting down Twitter and YouTube for several weeks and introducing an even more restrictive Internet Law than the one already in existence. However, the internet sites were reopened after the Constitutional Court had ruled against the Government measures.

Cumhuriyet, “The Republic”, is Turkey´s oldest up-market daily newspaper. Since AKP´s rise to power it has distinguished itself for an impartial and occasionally courageous journalism. In 2015 the newspaper was awarded the Freedom of Press Prize by the international NGO Reporters Without Borders for its stand against the Government’s mounting pressure on free speech. Shortly after that, Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief, Can Dündar, and the newspaper’s Ankara Bureau Chief Erdem Gül, were arrested and may face life imprisonment for a story claiming that Turkey´s secret services through convoys of trucks across the border were sending arms to Islamist rebels in Syria. Detailed footage depicted trucks allegedly delivering weapons and ammunition to rebels fighting the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Despite its opposition to the Assad government the Turkish government has denied assisting Syrian rebels and by extension contributing to a consolidation of IS. Cumhuriyet’s accusation created a political storm in Turkey, enraging President Erdogan, who declared that the newspaper´s editor-in chief, would “pay a high price” for his “espionage.”

Dündar defended his paper´s action by stating: “We are journalists, not civil servants. Our duty is not to hide the dirty secrets of the state but to hold it accountable on behalf of the people.”
According to the Turkish Interior Ministry, the convoys were actually carrying humanitarian aid to the Turkmen community of neighboring Syria and the Cumhuriyet articles were accordingly politically motivated defamation. Right before appearing in court Dündar declared: “We come here to defend journalism. We come here to defend the right of the public to obtain news and their right to know whether their government is feeding them lies. We come here to demonstrate and to prove that governments cannot engage in illegal activities and defend such acts.”

The Secretary General of Reporters without Borders, Christophe Deloire, stated that “if these two journalists are imprisoned, it will be further evidence that Turkish authorities are ready to use methods worthy of a bygone age in order to suppress independent journalism in Turkey.”

Reporters without Borders, ranks Turkey as the 149th nation out of 180 when it comes to freedom of press, denouncing that there is a “dangerous surge in censorship” in the country. Reporters without Borders has urged the judge hearing the case to dismiss the charges against the two journalists as a case of “political persecution.”

The arrest of the two journalists has caused distress within the European Union. Europe is currently struggling with social problems and political crises due the influx of Syrian refugees and needs Ankara´s help to solve the crisis. Nevertheless, Turkish journalists have urged the EU to avoid making any compromises and in the name of freedom of speech, and as part of the efforts to combat the threat of IS totalitarianism, EU has to react to the Turkish Government´s intentions to control and manage independent information and reporting.

In the case of the lawyer, Tahir Elçi, was speaking to the press, pleading for an end of the violence between nationalist Kurds and the Turkish security forces. His death, considered an assassination by many, has f escalated tensions in Turkey´s Kurd dominated regions, where curfews have been imposed in several communities.

While Elçi, and other lawyers in the south eastern province of Diyarbakır were denouncing the damage caused to the historical patrimony during combat between the YDG-H Militants—a group related to the armed Kurdish group PKK—and the police. The incident was confusing. Video footage shows Elçi, hiding behind a man holding a pistol, as the sound of gunfire rings out from both ends of the street, a moment later the lawyer is seen lying face down on the ground. Officially it was claimed that Kurdish militants opened fire, which was returned by security men. Elçi´s last words before the attack had been: “We do not want guns, clashes or operations here.”

The HDP (People´s Democratic Party), an opposition party with Kurdish origins, declared that Elçi´s death was a planned attack and blamed the ruling AKP party. “This planned assassination targeted law and justice through Tahir Elci. … Tahir Elci was targeted by the AKP rule and its media and a lynching campaign was launched against him.” The HDP did not hesitate to remind that on October 19th, a warrant was issued against Elçi charging him with “propaganda for a terror organization.” The reason was that he during a CNN television program had stated that “PKK is not a terrorist organization… Although some of its actions have the nature of terror, the PKK is an armed political movement.”

Turkey´s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, declared that it was unclear whether Elci was caught in a crossfire, or was assassinated, though he stated that: “The target is Turkey. It’s an attack on peace and harmony in Turkey.” On the same note Erdogan said the shooting was a clear indication that Turkey was right in “its determination to fight terrorism.”


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Another Himalayan Blunder Thu, 17 Dec 2015 11:42:36 +0000 N Chandra Mohan By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Dec 17 2015 (IPS)

South Asian integration remains a distant dream as some member countries like Nepal resent India’s big brotherly dominance in the region. They perceive that they have no stakes in India’s rise as an economic power. Ensuring unrestricted market access perhaps would have made a big difference in this regard. Their resentment has only deepened as this hasn’t happened. Instead they have registered growing trade deficits with India! The on-going travails of the Himalayan kingdom vis-a-vis India exemplify the problematic nature of integration in a region that accounts for 44 per cent of the world’s poor and one-fourth of its’ population.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

Nepal appealed to the UN to take “effective steps” to help remove an “economic blockade” imposed on it by India. According to SD Muni, Professor Emeritus at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, this situation is reminiscent of what happened in 1989 when King Birendra’s decision to import anti-aircraft guns from China and his refusal to reform the Panchayat system in the face of a democratic movement precipitated tensions in bilateral relations. India closed down the special entry points for trade and transit, resulting in a severe shortage of essential supplies. Twenty-six years later, Indian trucks have been stopped from entering Nepal.

This blockade similarly has resulted in a shortage of fuel, food and medicines in the Himalayan Kingdom. Supplies of vaccines and antibiotics in particular are believed to be critically low. UNICEF has warned that this will put more than three million infants at risk of death or disease as winter has set in. More than 200,000 families affected by earthquakes earlier in the year are still living in temporary shelters at higher altitudes. The risks of hypothermia, malnutrition and shortages of medicines will disproportionately affect children. As if all this weren’t bad enough, fuel shortages are resulting in illegal felling of forests.

Nepal’s non-inclusive constitution is the proximate cause of this development disaster-in-the-making. The blockade is being spearheaded by ethnic communities who make up 40 per cent of the population like the Madhesis and Tharus from the southern plains or the Terai These minorities have strong historic links with India and are protesting that the recently promulgated constitution marginalizes them. They have stopped goods from India entering the country by trucks since September. India of course formally denies that it has anything to do with the blockade but it is concerned that the constitution discriminates against these minorities.

As Nepal shares a 1,088 mile open border with it, India is concerned that the violent agitation over the constitution will spill over into its country. The bulk of the Himalayan Kingdom’s trade is with India, including a total dependence on fuel. It is also a beneficiary of special trading trade concessions and Indian aid. Nepali soldiers in the Indian army constitute one of its leading infantry formations — the Gurkha Regiment. Nepali nationals freely cross the border and work in India. Normally, such interdependence should occasion closer bilateral ties and integration. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened till now.

Nepal’s ballooning bilateral trade deficit is of course one factor behind the lingering resentment of India. Realizing this, India’s PM Narendra Modi assured South Asian leaders during a summit meeting in Kathmandu in November 2014 that this trade surplus was neither right nor sustainable. That India stood ready to reduce deficits which South Asian countries were incurring in exchange of their goods and services. This is as clear as it gets that India might roll out unilateral trade liberalization; take whatever they have to offer to boost trade within South Asia from the lowly five per cent level at present.

India’s compulsions to do so are simple. If the drift in South Asian integration is allowed to continue, it will only be to the advantage of China. The dragon’s shadow is indeed lengthening over the region, as it is rapidly developing port and transport infrastructure in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It has promised aid to Nepal to develop its northern border districts. Nepal has also opened more border trading points with China. That China has become Bangladesh’s largest trading partner is a painful reminder to India of its failure to deepen economic cooperation in the neighborhood. Clearly, the challenge for India is to defend its turf against China.

It is in Nepal’s interests, too, that it addresses the sources of discontent over the constitution through dialogue to ensure broad-based-ownership and acceptance. Its top leadership has also agreed to amend the constitution within three months. A more harmonious relationship with India, too, is in its interests. For instance, it has not been able to tap its abundant water resources by developing hydroelectricity generation. South Asia’s diverse topography lends itself to greater cross border power trade, but political inhibitions have ensured that progress has been less than the potential. Some power trading is taking place in the region bordering Bhutan and India.

Nepal has of late seized this opportunity but politics can swiftly derail this process. The signing of a much delayed $1.4 billion deal between the Investment Board of Nepal and India’s GMR Group to develop a 900 MW dam and tunnel system on the upper Karnali River is exactly the sort of big ticket project that can transform the economy of this Himalayan kingdom. Another Indian firm, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited signed a deal with the Nepal Government to build a 900 MW project known as Arun-3 in east Nepal. These are just two examples of India’s involvement to help Nepal realize its hydro power potential.

Nepal is also part of India’s efforts to secure greater connectivity by road, rail and sea within South Asia with Bangladesh and Bhutan. These countries have signed a motor vehicle agreement for freer movement of passenger, cargo and personnel traffic within these countries. These processes must be allowed to fructify. This is exactly the sort of stake that Nepal needs to develop in an economics and business-driven partnership with India. Allowing the processes of regional integration to drift is another Himalayan blunder that Nepal can do without.


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Syrian Refugees, Fleeing Civil War, Reduced to Extreme Poverty, Says New Study Wed, 16 Dec 2015 17:31:36 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended her immigration policies early this week — and announced plans to absorb about one million refugees, mostly from Syria — she was apparently greeted with a nine-minute standing ovation by members of her Christian Democratic Union.

If that was the good news, the bad news arrived 48 hours later: a grim report that the conflict in Syria has led to “the largest refugee crisis of our time, with colossal human, economic and social costs for the refugees, host countries and host communities,” according to a new study released Dec 16 by the World Bank Group and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The nearly 1.7 million Syrians who are registered in neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon live in precarious circumstances– notwithstanding the generosity of hosting governments.

“Refugees have few legal rights, and face constrained access to public services due to unprecedented demand. The vast majority of these refugees live on the margins, in urban or peri-urban areas, many in informal settlements, rather than in refugee camps.”

The plight of the refugees is dire and the lives and dignity of millions is at stake, declared the joint study.

Nearly nine in ten registered Syrian refugees living in Jordan are either poor or expected to be in the near future.

The crisis has had effects that go beyond the Middle East as desperate refugees are starting to move to Europe and beyond, the study warned.

“We have a collective responsibility to respond to the humanitarian and development crises unfolding in the Middle East and to act on the immediate consequences as well as on the underlying causes of conflict,” said Hafez M. H. Ghanem, World Bank’s Vice President for Middle East and North Africa Region.

But despite Germany’s generosity, there is still lingering opposition to the concept of open borders to refugees, who also include asylum seekers from Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission, told a news conference in Strasbourg, France, Tuesday: “The borders that migrants cross are not just Greek borders or Bulgarian borders – they are European borders.”

Such borders are a collective responsibility, he said, and added: “if we don’t protect them in the right way, the consequences will be for all Europeans.”

Still there is widespread criticism of the negative responses both from Eastern European countries and the rich Arab Gulf nations.

Asked whether Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is disappointed that Gulf states and Asian countries have not offered to host refugees, UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said: “Well, you’ll have seen the offers as they come in. It’s still not really enough by our standards.”

He said there’s still a lot more that needs to be done to accept Syrian refugees, but the UN is appreciative of the offers that have gradually been coming in from countries in the Western world, in the region and around.

“But, ultimately, in order to lower the burden on countries like Turkey, like Jordan, like Lebanon, we’ll need other countries to step up and do more.”

Asked specifically about the Gulf countries, he said there’s been some slight movement in different areas, “but it’s still not at the level that we need to actually ease the burden on the countries in the region.”

Addressing the UN General Assembly last month, Abdulmohsen Alyas of Saudi Arabia told delegates his country “had hosted 2.5 million refugees and allowed them free movement within the country.”

He also said Saudi aid to the Syrian people had reached about 700 million dollars, according to the Third International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, held in Kuwait last March.

Still the irony of the crisis was best reflected in a cartoon where Merkel appeals to King Salman of Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the Gulf, to allow some of the migrants to settle in his kingdom.

“Don’t worry Ms Merkel,” King Salman is quoted as saying, “you can take all the refugees – and we will build 200 mosques for them in Germany.”

According to the Lebanese newspaper Al Diyar, Saudi Arabia has vowed to build one mosque for every 100 refugees entering Germany.

Andrea Scheuer, general secretary of the Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria, described the offer as ‘cynical’.

‘No, it is more than cynical,” he added as an afterthought.

“This is no Muslim Brotherhood. Where is the solidarity in the Arab world?’ he asked.

The writer can be contacted at

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Analysis: Kurdish-Led Peace Conference Is Best Hope for Syria Wed, 16 Dec 2015 17:09:26 +0000 Joris Leverink

Joris Leverink is a writer and political analyst based in Istanbul. He is an editor for ROAR Magazine and a columnist for TeleSUR English, where he frequently reports on Turkish and regional politics.

By Joris Leverink
ISTANBUL, Turkey, Dec 16 2015 (IPS)

While the war in Syria continues to draw in more outside forces, the work towards finding a political solution to this five-year old conflict carries on. In the past week, no less than three separate conferences were organized by different clusters of opposition groups. Conferences were held in three places: Damascus, Dêrîk – a city in the Kurdish-controlled northern part of Syria – and Riyadh, the Saudi capital, respectively.

With the Damascus conference widely regarded as a sham, organized with the permission and under the firm control of the Assad regime, and the conference in Dêrîk being all-but ignored by the international media, the eyes of the world were fixed on the proceedings in Riyadh.

The conference in the Saudi capital was sponsored by a number of international allies to the various warring factions inside Syria. The intended outcome was to unite the Syrian opposition so that it could present a common front in upcoming negotiations with the regime, as determined by the Vienna talks held in November.

Remarkably, little attention was paid to the conference in Dêrîk – called the “Democratic Syria Congress” – organized by Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies. This conference brought together more than a hundred delegates representing religious and ethnic groups from all over Syria, with an important role reserved for women and youth organizations. It was the first peace conference of its kind organized in opposition-controlled territory inside Syria – a fact that goes a long way in pointing out the significance of this particular event. Contrary to the one in Riyadh, this was a conference by Syrians, and for Syrians, not controlled by the agendas of powerful international allies nor obstructed by the dogmatic views of some of its participants.

The Riyadh conference was attended by political bodies such as the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and the National Co-ordination Committee for Democratic Change, as well as rebel factions like Jaysh al-Islam, the Southern Front and Ahrar al-Sham, a salafist group fighting in alliance with the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front.

Tellingly, the New York Times reported that in the final statement of the Riyadh conference the word “democracy” was left out because of objections by Islamist delegates, and replaced with “democratic mechanism” instead.

In contrast, the final resolution presented at the Democratic Syria Congress in Dêrîk underlined the delegates’ commitment to democracy, social pluralism, and national unity. It confirmed the participants’ determination “to form a democratic constitution to enable solutions to the Syrian crisis through democratic, peaceful discussion, dialogue and talks; … to hold free and democratic elections required by the current process in Syria; [and] to secure the faith, culture and identities of all Syrian people.”

The Dêrîk conference also saw the establishment of the Democratic Syrian Assembly, which will serve as the political representation of the newly formed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF is a Kurdish-dominated coalition of rebel factions, including Arab, Syriac, Turkmen and Yezidi forces. In recent months, the SDF has proved to be ISIS’ most formidable enemy, and the international coalition’s most reliable ally in the fight against the terrorist organization.

It might come as a surprise, then, that neither the SDF nor any other Kurdish organizations were invited to the Riyadh conference. As a faction that controls an area many times the size of that under control of the National Coalition – or any other rebel group for that matter – and which has been able to claim a string of victories against ISIS, it naturally ought to play a role in any post-Assad, post-ISIS future plan for Syria.

The Kurds’ absence in Riyadh has everything to do with Turkey’s position in the Syrian conflict. From the Turkish perspective, the Kurds in Syria pose a bigger threat to its national security than ISIS.

Turkey fears that the establishment of the autonomous regions, or “cantons,” in the Kurdish parts of northern Syria might inspire its domestic Kurdish population to pursue a similar goal. The fact that the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the most powerful political body in the region, is a sister organization to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging a 35-year insurgency against the Turkish state, only adds insult to injury.

Commenting on the Riyadh conference, PYD co-chair Saleh Moslem stated that “it doesn’t pay regard to the current political and military reality in Syria and the region, as the most active and dynamic actors and representatives of the actual Syrian opposition haven’t been invited. In the circumstances, such meetings will have no seriousness.”

Before it even started, the precarious alliance formed in Riyadh was already on the verge of collapse. Ahrar al-Sham threatened to pull out of the talks, condemning the presence of “pro-Assad forces” and deeming the final statement “not Islamic enough.”

The goal to bring all the different opposition factions to the table, to explore common ground and to form a united front against the Assad regime is a noble one. Unfortunately it is doomed to fail when the alliance neglects to reflect the reality on the ground as well as the will of the Syrian people.

When it is merely the outcome of external parties pushing their agendas for personal benefits – whether it is to strengthen the position of local allies on the ground, to obstruct the efforts of the Kurdish autonomous administration or to explore options for negotiations with Assad in order to be able to focus all energy on destroying ISIS – any alliance will be too weak to withstand the test of time, let alone the test of war.

In this regard, despite the lack of international attention, the conference in Dêrîk might actually supersede the one in Riyadh in terms of importance. Despite the increasing involvement of outside forces, diplomatically, politically and, most important, militarily, any real solution to the crisis in Syria must be initiated by the Syrian people, not any outside power.

The Democratic Syria Congress in Dêrîk has shown that there is not only a will to work towards peace, but that there is also an infrastructure in place, a platform, where the first, cautious steps towards a peaceful future and an “alternative democratic system aiming at change” have been made.


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