Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 28 Apr 2015 01:33:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.3 Want to Help Nepal Recover from the Quake? Cancel its Debt, Says Rights Grouphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/want-to-help-nepal-recover-from-the-quake-cancel-its-debt-says-rights-group/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=want-to-help-nepal-recover-from-the-quake-cancel-its-debt-says-rights-group http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/want-to-help-nepal-recover-from-the-quake-cancel-its-debt-says-rights-group/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 20:05:10 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140345 School children in Nepal’s Matatirtha village practice an earthquake drill in the event of a natural disaster. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal on Apr. 25, 2015, has endangered the lives of close to a million children. Credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/CC-BY-2.0

School children in Nepal’s Matatirtha village practice an earthquake drill in the event of a natural disaster. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal on Apr. 25, 2015, has endangered the lives of close to a million children. Credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

The death toll has now passed 3,300, and there is no telling how much farther it will climb. Search and rescue operations in Nepal entered their third day Monday, as the government and international aid agencies scramble to cope with the aftermath of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck this South Asian nation on Apr. 25.

Severe aftershocks have this land-locked country of 27.8 million people on edge, with scores missing and countless others feared dead, buried under the rubble.

“Nepal owes 3.8 billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders and spent 217 million dollars repaying debt in 2013.” -- Jubilee USA Network
With its epicenter in Lamjung District, located northwest of the capital, Kathmandu, and south of the China border, the massive quake rippled out over the entire country, causing several avalanches in the Himalayas including one that killed over 15 people and injured dozens more at the base camp of Mt. Everest, 200 km away.

The United Nations says Dhading, Gorkha, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk, Kavre, Nuwakot, Dolakha, Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur and Ramechhap are the worst affected areas. In total, 35 out of 75 districts in the Western and Central regions of the country are suffering the impacts of the quake and its severe aftershocks.

Questions abound as to how this impoverished nation, ranked 145 out of 187 on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) – making it one of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs) – will recover from the disaster, considered the worst in Nepal in over 80 years.

One possible solution has come from the Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based organisations and 400 faith communities worldwide, which said in a press release Monday that Nepal could qualify for debt relief under the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) new Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCR).

The IMF created the CCR this past February in order to assist poor countries recover from severe natural disasters or health crises by providing grants for debt service relief. Already, the fund has eased some of the financial woes of Ebola-impacted countries by agreeing to cancel nearly 100 million dollars of debt.

Quoting World Bank figures, Jubilee USA said in a statement, “Nepal owes 3.8 billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders and spent 217 million dollars repaying debt in 2013.”

Nepal owes some 1.5 billion dollars each to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, as well as 54 million dollars to the IMF, 133 million dollars to Japan and 101 million dollars to China.

“In order for Nepal to receive relief from the IMF’s fund, the disaster must destroy more than 25 percent of the country’s ‘productive capacity’, impact one-third of its people or cause damage greater than the size of the country’s economy,” Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA Network’s executive director, told IPS. “It seems clear that Nepal will qualify for immediate assistance from the IMF.”

According to Jubilee USA Network, Nepal is scheduled to pay back 10 million dollars worth of loans to the IMF in 2015 and nearly 13 million dollars in 2016. Relieving the country of this burden will free up valuable and limited funds that can be redirect into the rescue and relief effort.

Strong emergency response – but is it enough?

“Time is of the essence for the search and rescue operations,” Under-Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said Monday.

“The actions of the Government of Nepal and local communities themselves have already saved many lives. Teams from India, Pakistan, China and Israel have started work, and more are on their way from the U.S., the UK, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, the European Union and elsewhere.”

Early on Sunday morning the United States’ department of defense confirmed it had dispatched an aircraft to Nepal carrying 70 personnel and 700,000 dollars worth of supplies.

But it is unclear whether or not the immediate response will prove equal to the mammoth task ahead.

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 940,000 children from areas severely affected by the quake are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has been supplying emergency food rations, while the World Health Organisation has sent in enough medical supplies to meet the needs of 40,000 affected people, yet experts say much more will be needed in the weeks and months ahead.

Tens of thousands of people are sleeping in the open air in makeshift tents; almost all are in need of better accommodation, clean water, sanitation, tents and blankets, and improved medical supplies.

A situation report released over the weekend by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) revealed, “In Kathmandu Valley, hospitals are overcrowded, running out of space for storing dead bodies and lack medical supplies and capacity. BIR hospital [one of the country’s leading medical facilities] is treating people in the streets.”

Scenes of devastation all around the country highlight the need for emergency relief, but do not do justice to the massive reconstruction effort that will be needed in the months and years to come.

“Nepal’s rebuilding efforts will take years and debt cancellation is a recipe for long-term financial stability,” LeCompte stressed.

“Since the IMF has clear rules in place and the financing available with their trust, aid [to Nepal] should come relatively quickly,” he added. “Unfortunately, with the bulk of the debt owed to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, the rules for debt relief are less clear.

“It’s unfortunate that the World Bank, as a development institution, still has not yet released a plan similar to the IMF to respond rapidly to humanitarian crises. In the short term, the World Bank must offer a plan for grants and debt relief. I hope this crisis also motivates the World Bank to release their plans for a rapid response mechanism,” LeCompte concluded.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Middle East Conflicts Trigger New U.S.-Russia Arms Racehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/middle-east-conflicts-trigger-new-u-s-russia-arms-race/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-east-conflicts-trigger-new-u-s-russia-arms-race http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/middle-east-conflicts-trigger-new-u-s-russia-arms-race/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 15:30:56 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140332 The U.S. Navy variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, conducts a test flight over the Chesapeake Bay. The F-35 programme includes an unusual arrangement with U.S. allies under which sales of the aircraft will begin as it is being deployed with U.S. forces. Credit: public domain

The U.S. Navy variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, conducts a test flight over the Chesapeake Bay. The F-35 programme includes an unusual arrangement with U.S. allies under which sales of the aircraft will begin as it is being deployed with U.S. forces. Credit: public domain

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

The escalating military conflicts in the Middle East – and the month-long aerial bombings of Yemen by an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia – have triggered a new arms race in the politically-volatile region.

The primary beneficiaries are the United States and Russia, two of the world’s largest arms suppliers, who are feeding the multiple warring parties in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and most recently in Yemen.We keep repeating the same mistake, which is to assume that our foreign policy decisions will not be answered by our adversaries. Time and time again, we’ve been proven wrong in this regard." -- Dr. Natalie Goldring

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS “once again, the Middle East seems to be mired in an arms race.”

The New York Times, she pointed out, recently published a provocative article titled, “Sale of U.S. Arms Fuels the Wars of Arab States,” mentioning several potential U.S. arms sales to the region in the near future.

“But this isn’t likely to be the whole story,” she added.

In all likelihood, said Dr. Goldring, if the proposed U.S. sales go forward, the Russian government will use them as an excuse to supply its clients with more weapons.

“It’s an easy cycle to predict — the United States makes major sales to clients such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or the United Arab Emirates. Then Russia sells weapons to Iran and perhaps Syria with the argument they’re simply balancing U.S. sales. And the cycle continues,” she added.

The six-member Arab coalition engaged in bombarding Yemen is led by Saudi Arabia and includes the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt – all of them equipped primarily with U.S. weapons systems.

The jets used in the attacks inside Yemen are mostly F-15s and F-16s – both front line fighter planes in Middle East arsenals.

The London Economist says ”oblivious to the unfolding humanitarian crisis,” Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, described as a billionaire member of the Saudi royal family, is offering 100 super luxury Bentley cars (one each) to the fighter pilots participating in the bombing raids inside Yemen.

Last week, Russia announced it was lifting a five year voluntary embargo on a long-pending sale of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, which is accused of arming the Houthi rebels under attack by Saudi Arabia and its allies.

The Saudi coalition, which temporarily halted the aerial attacks last week, resumed its bombings over the weekend.

As the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, the air campaign has transformed Yemen into a battlefield for broader contest over regional power between Shiite Iran and Sunni Muslim countries led by Saudi Arabia.

There were also reports the Russian government has offered to sell advanced surface-to-air missiles to Iran, providing Tehran with a mobile system that could attack both missiles and aircraft.

The system, the Antey-2500, apparently has the capacity to defend against – and attack – ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and fixed-wing aircraft.

Meanwhile, Russia has also continued to be the primary arms supplier to Syria, another military hot spot in the Middle East.

Historically, virtually all of the weapons systems in the Syrian arsenal have come from Russia, which decades ago signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with Damascus ensuring uninterrupted supplies of arms from Moscow.

The civil war in Syria, which has cost over 220, 000 lives, is now in its fifth year, with no signs of a settlement.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recently released data that showed the United States was still the world’s leading arms exporter.

In the most recent period its data covered, 2010-2014, the United States accounted for 31 percent of the world’s transfers of major conventional weapons. Russia was in second place with 27 percent. No other country accounted for more than 5 percent of arms sales during this period.

According to the New York Times, U.S. defence industry officials told Congress they were expecting within days a request from Arab countries “to buy thousands of American-made missiles, bombs and other weapons, replenishing an arsenal that has been depleted over the past year.”

And Qatar is planning to replace its French-made Mirage fighters with U-S.-made F-15 jets.

Dr. Goldring told IPS one particularly troubling aspect of recent press accounts is the consideration of potential sales of the U.S.’s new F-35 stealth fighter, one of the most advanced, to countries in the Middle East.

“We’ve seen this tactic before. First, U.S. policymakers want to sell our most sophisticated fighter aircraft. Then they turn around and say we need to develop new fighters because the current technology has been distributed to so many countries.

“If we want to preserve our military forces’ technological advantages over potential adversaries, we need to show more restraint in our weapons transfers,” she added.

The F-35 programme already includes an unusual arrangement with U.S. allies under which sales of the aircraft will begin as it is being deployed with U.S. forces.

“We shouldn’t compound this error by considering even wider sales of the F-35,” Goldring said.

Meanwhile, France is negotiating the sale of its most sophisticated fighter plane, the Rafale, to the United Arab Emirates.

Ironically, as these potential sales were being negotiated, countries have been meeting in Vienna to develop implementation plans for the Arms Trade Treaty.

The Arms Trade Treaty calls on countries to be more reflective before making weapons sales decisions, taking into account their potential effects on human rights and humanitarian concerns, and considering factors such as the effect of the transfers on peace and security, among other issues.

“Middle Eastern suppliers and recipients alike desperately need to do this sort of reevaluation. Unfortunately, the recent reports suggest that it’s ‘business as usual’ in the Middle East,” declared Dr. Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

“For years, I’ve written and spoken about the ‘fallacy of the last move’ in U.S. foreign policy. We keep repeating the same mistake, which is to assume that our foreign policy decisions will not be answered by our adversaries. Time and time again, we’ve been proven wrong in this regard. It’s likely to happen again in this case.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Saudis Compensate Civilian Killings with 274 Million in Humanitarian Aid to Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/saudis-compensate-civilian-killings-with-274-million-in-humanitarian-aid-to-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=saudis-compensate-civilian-killings-with-274-million-in-humanitarian-aid-to-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/saudis-compensate-civilian-killings-with-274-million-in-humanitarian-aid-to-yemen/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 19:45:14 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140265 Morocco is also participating in Operation Decisive Storm, with at least six fighter aircraft. Credit: ra.az/cc by 2.0

Morocco is also participating in Operation Decisive Storm, with at least six fighter aircraft. Credit: ra.az/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

Saudi Arabia’s right hand does not know what its left foot is up to, belittles an Asian diplomat, mixing his metaphors to describe the political paradox in the ongoing military conflict in Yemen.

The Saudis, who are leading a coalition of Arab states, have been accused of indiscriminate bombings resulting in 1,080 deaths, mostly civilians, and nearly 4,352 injured – and triggering a large-scale humanitarian crisis in Yemen.“Repeated airstrikes on a dairy factory located near military bases shows cruel disregard for civilians by both sides to Yemen’s armed conflict.” -- HRW's Joe Stork

As if to compensate for its sins, Saudi Arabia this week announced a 274-million-dollar donation “for humanitarian operations in Yemen”, according to the United Nations.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia temporarily halted its nearly month-long air attacks, presumably under pressure from the United States, which was seriously concerned about the civilian killings.

Asked why the United States intervened to pressure the Saudis to halt the bombings, an unnamed U.S. official was quoted by the New York Times as saying: “Too much collateral damage” (read: civilian killings).

The attacks, which demolished factories and residential neighbourhoods, also hit a storage facility belonging to the London-based charity Oxfam, which said the contents were humanitarian supplies with no military value.

Oxfam welcomed the announcement that “Operation Decisive Storm” in Yemen has ended. However, it warned that the work to bring aid to millions of Yemenis is still only beginning.

Grace Ommer, Oxfam’s Country Director for Yemen, told IPS the airstrikes and violence during the past 27 days have taken as many as 900 lives. More than half of these were civilians.

“The news that airstrikes have at least temporarily ended is welcome and we hope that this will pave the way for all parties to the current conflict to find a permanent negotiated peace,” she said.

“The news will also come as a massive relief to our 160 Yemeni staff throughout the country as well as the rest of the civilian population all of whom have been struggling to survive this latest crisis in their fragile nation,” Ommer added.

With instability and insecurity rife throughout the country and fighting continuing on the ground, all parties to the conflict must allow aid agencies to deliver much needed humanitarian assistance to the millions currently in need, Ommer said.

Oxfam also pointed out that Yemen is the Middle East’s poorest country where 16 million – over 60 percent of the population – are reliant on aid to survive.

The recent escalation in violence has only added to the unfolding humanitarian disaster, it said.

The Saudi air strikes were in support of ousted Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi whose government was overthrown by Houthi rebels.

Sara Hashash of Amnesty International told IPS more than 120,00 people have been displaced since the Saudi-Arabian-led military campaign began one month ago “leading to a growing humanitarian crisis.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters the Saudi donation will support the needs of 7.5 million Yemenis in the coming three months.

“This funding will provide urgently-needed lifesaving assistance including food assistance for 2.6 million people, clean water and sanitation for 5 million people, protection services to 1.4 million people and nutrition support to nearly 79,000 people,” he added.

The air attacks also struck a dairy factory last week, killing about 31 workers, and flattened a neighbourhood, leaving 25 people dead.

“Repeated airstrikes on a dairy factory located near military bases shows cruel disregard for civilians by both sides to Yemen’s armed conflict,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“The attack may have violated the laws of war, so the countries involved should investigate and take appropriate action, including compensating victims of unlawful strikes,” he added.

While civilian casualties do not necessarily mean that the laws of war were violated, the high loss of civilian life in a factory seemingly used for civilian purposes should be impartially investigated, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, in a statement released here.

“If the United States provided intelligence or other direct support for the airstrikes, it would as a party to the conflict share the obligation to minimize civilian harm and investigate alleged violations.”

According to HRW, the Saudi-led coalition, which is responsible for the aerial attacks, includes Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, and United Arab Emirates.

“If the U.S. is providing targeting intelligence it is a party to the conflict and is obligated to abide by the laws of war,” Stork said.

“Even if not, in backing the coalition the US will want to ensure that all airstrikes and other operations are carried out in a way that avoids civilian loss of life and property, which have already reached alarming levels.”

Asked about reports of civilian killings, Dujarric said “obviously, just at first glance, these kinds of reports are extremely disturbing when you see a probability of a high level of civilian casualties.”

“But I think all… all the violence that we’ve seen over the weekend, I think, serves as a reminder for the parties to heed the Secretary‑General’s call on Friday for cessation of hostilities and for a ceasefire, which he talked about in Washington,” he added, 24 hours before the temporary cease-fire.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.N. Helpless as Crises Rage in 10 Critical Hot Spotshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-helpless-as-crises-rage-in-10-critical-hot-spots/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-helpless-as-crises-rage-in-10-critical-hot-spots http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-helpless-as-crises-rage-in-10-critical-hot-spots/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 10:22:47 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140252 A U.N. peacekeeper from Niger is ready to begin a patrol at the Niger Battalion Base in Menaka, in eastern Mali, Feb. 25, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

A U.N. peacekeeper from Niger is ready to begin a patrol at the Niger Battalion Base in Menaka, in eastern Mali, Feb. 25, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is fighting a losing battle against a rash of political and humanitarian crises in 10 of the world’s critical “hot spots.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says even the U.N.’s 193 member states cannot, by themselves, help resolve these widespread conflicts.“We need more support and more financial help. But, most importantly, we need political solutions.” -- U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric

“Not a single country, however powerful or resourceful as it may be, including the United States, can do it,” he warned last week.

The world’s current political hotspots include Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic – not forgetting West Africa which is battling the spread of the deadly disease Ebola.

Historically, the United Nations has grappled with one or two crises at any given time. But handling 10 such crises at one and the same time, said Ban, was rare and unprecedented in the 70-year history of the United Nations.

Although the international community looks to the world body to resolve these problems, “the United Nations cannot handle it alone. We need collective power and solidarity, otherwise, our world will get more and more troubles,” Ban said.

But that collective power is conspicuous by its absence.

Shannon Scribner, Oxfam America’s humanitarian policy manager, told IPS the situation is serious and Oxfam is very concerned. At the end of 2013, she said, violent conflict and human rights violations had displaced 51 million people, the highest number ever recorded.

In 2014, the U.N. appealed for assistance for 81 million people, including displaced persons and others affected by protracted situations of conflict and natural disaster.

Right now, the humanitarian system is responding to four emergencies – those the U.N. considers the most severe and large-scale – which are Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, and Syria.

These crises alone have left 20 million people vulnerable to malnutrition, illness, violence, and death, and in need of aid and protection, she added.

Then you have the crises in Yemen, where two out of three people need humanitarian assistance; West Africa, with Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea asking for eight billion dollars to recover from Ebola; in Somalia, remittance flows that amount to 1.3 billion dollars annually, and are a lifeline to millions who are in need of humanitarian assistance, have been cut or driven underground due to banking restrictions; and then there is the migration and refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, where almost 1,000 people have died trying to escape horrible situations in their home countries, Scribner said.

The United Nations says it needs about 16 billion dollars to meet humanitarian needs, including food, shelter and medicine, for over 55 million refugees worldwide.

But U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday virtually all of the U.N.’s emergency operations are “underfunded”.

Last month, a U.N. pledging conference on humanitarian aid to Syria, hosted by the government of Kuwait, raised over 3.8 billion dollars.

But the United Nations is appealing for more funds to reach its eventual target of 8.4 billion dollars for aid to Syria by the end of 2015.

“We need more support and more financial help,” said Dujarric. “But, most importantly, we need political solutions.”

But most conflicts have remained unresolved or stalemated primarily due to sharp divisions in the Security Council, the U.N.’s only political body armed with powers to resolve military conflicts.

Asked if the international community is doing enough, Scribner told IPS there is no silver bullet for dealing with these crises around the world because there are so many problems causing them: poverty, bad governance, proxy wars, geopolitical interests playing out; war economies being strengthened through the shipment of arms and weapons; ethnic tensions, etc.

The humanitarian system is not built for responding to the crises in the 21st century.

She said Oxfam is calling for three things: 1) More effective humanitarian response by providing funding early on and investing more in local leadership; 2) More emphasis on working towards political solutions and diplomatic action; and 3) Oxfam encourages the international community to use the sustainable development goals to lift more people out of poverty and address inequality that exists around the globe today.

Scribner said the combined wealth of the world’s richest 1 percent will overtake that of everyone else by next year given the current trend of rising inequality.

The conflicts in the world’s hot spots have also resulted in two adverse consequences: people caught in the crossfire are fleeing war-torn countries to safe havens in Europe while, at the same time, there is an increase in the number of killings of aid workers and U.N. staffers engaged in humanitarian work.

Over the weekend, hundreds of refugees and migrant workers from war-devastated Libya died in the high seas as a result of a ship wreck in the Mediterranean Sea. The estimated death toll is over 900.

On Monday, four staff members of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF were reportedly killed in an attack on a vehicle in which they were riding in Somalia, while four others were injured and remain in serious condition.

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS: “We’re appalled at the loss of our colleagues in Garowe, Somalia and are very concerned for those injured. They truly were heroes doing great work in one of the world’s most dangerous locations.”

He said the United Nations has been clear that it will continue to operate in Somalia and “our work is needed there.”

“We support the work of our colleagues in these difficult circumstances,” he said.

At the same time, Richards told IPS, “We should not lose sight of a context in which U.N. staff and, in the case of local staff, their families, are increasingly targeted for their work.”

It is therefore important, he said, that the secretary-eneral and the General Assembly fully review the protection the U.N. provides to staff in locations where their lives are at risk, so that they may continue to provide much-needed assistance in such locations.

Oxfam’s Scribner told IPS attacks on aid workers have steadily risen over the years – from 90 violent attacks in 2001 to 308 incidents in 2011 – with the majority of attacks aimed at local aid workers. They often face more danger because they can get closer to the crisis to help others.

Because local aid workers are familiar with the landscape, speak the local language, and understand the local culture, and this also puts them more at risk, she said.

“That is why it is not a surprise that local aid workers make up nearly 80 percent of fatalities, on average, since 2001,” Scribner added.

Last year on World Humanitarian Day, the New York Times reported that the number of attacks on aid workers in 2013 set an annual record at 460, the most since the group began compiling its database, which goes back to 1997.

“These courageous men and women aren’t pulling out because they live in the very countries where they are trying to make a difference. And as such, they should be supported much more by the international community,” Scribner declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.N. Struggles to Cope with New Humanitarian Crisis in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 19:05:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140203 On Apr. 14, 2015, the Security Council adopted resolution 2216 (2015), imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen. Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany (centre), Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the UN, addresses the Council. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

On Apr. 14, 2015, the Security Council adopted resolution 2216 (2015), imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen. Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany (centre), Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the UN, addresses the Council. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, which is providing humanitarian aid to over 50 million refugees worldwide, is struggling to cope with a new crisis in hand: death and destruction in Yemen.

In an urgent appeal for 274 million dollars in international aid to meet the needs of some 7.5 million people affected by the escalating conflict, the U.N.’s Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van Der Klaauw said Friday, “The devastating conflict in Yemen takes place against the backdrop of an existing humanitarian crisis that was already one of the largest and most complex in the world.”“Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence." -- U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric

“Thousands of families have now fled their homes as a result of the fighting and air strikes. Ordinary families are struggling to access health care, water, food and fuel – basic requirements for their survival,” he warned.

Asked about the severity of the crisis in relation to the humanitarian disaster in Syria where over 220,000 have been killed in a continuing civil war, Jens Laerke, the Geneva-based spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IPS, “We tend not to compare crises.”

“We have just launched the flash appeal [for 274 million dollars] and hope the response will be generous,” he said.

Responding to a question, he said: “There is, to my knowledge, no current plans for a humanitarian pledging conference for Yemen.”

Last month, a U.N. pledging conference on humanitarian aid to Syria, hosted by the government of Kuwait, raised over 3.8 billion dollars.

But the United Nations is appealing for more funds to reach its eventual target of 8.4 billion dollars by the end of 2015.

According to the United Nations, the conflict in Yemen escalated significantly last month, spreading to many parts of the country. Air strikes have now affected 18 of Yemen’s 22 governorates. And in the south, conflict has continued to intensify, particularly in Aden, where widespread fighting continues, including in residential neighbourhoods.

“Hospitals, schools, airports and mosques have been damaged and destroyed across the country and there are reports of serious violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law,” the U.N. statement said

The conflict is taking a significant toll on civilians: 731 people were killed and 2,754 injured, including a large number of civilians.

The number of food insecure people has increased from 10.6 million people to 12 million; at least 150,000 people have been displaced; food prices have risen by more than 40 percent in some locations; and fuel prices have quadrupled. Lack of fuel and electricity has triggered a breakdown in basic water and sanitation services, according to the latest figures from OCHA.

“The humanitarian community in Yemen continues to operate and deliver assistance, including through Yemeni national staff and national partners,” said Van Der Klaauw. “But to scale up assistance, we urgently need additional resources. I urge donors to act now to support the people of Yemen at this time of greatest need.”

The most urgent needs include medical supplies, safe drinking water, protection, food assistance as well as emergency shelter and logistical support, he said.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, “Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence.”

He said the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and others have managed to get planes in. Bit it’s very difficult in an active combat zone, he added.

“We will continue… we will continue to do what we can and bring aid in to alleviate the suffering of the people of Yemen.”

“What is obviously critical in order to enable our humanitarian colleagues and our humanitarian partners to do their work is for all the parties involved in this to halt the violence and to create an atmosphere, not only where they can go back to the political table, but also to allow humanitarian aid to go in,” he added.

A coalition of Arab nations, led by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, has continued with its air attacks on Yemen, where the country’s president has been ousted by rebel forces.

Early this week, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution by 14 votes in favour and one abstention (Russia), placing an embargo on arms and related materiel to rebel forces, primarily the Houthis.

The Council demanded that all warring parties, in particular the Houthis, immediately and unconditionally end the violence and refrain from further unilateral actions that threatened the political transition.

The 14 members of the Council also demanded that the Houthis withdraw from all areas seized during the latest conflict, relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions, cease all actions falling exclusively within the authority of the legitimate government of Yemen and fully implement previous Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid al Hussein, appealed to the warring parties to ensure that attacks resulting in civilian casualties are promptly investigated and that international human rights and international humanitarian law are scrupulously respected.

The High Commissioner said a heavy civilian death toll ought to be a clear indication to all parties to this conflict that there may be serious problems in the conduct of hostilities. The High Commissioner also warned that the intentional targeting of civilians not taking direct part in hostilities would amount to a war crime.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Sexual Violence in Conflict “The Contemporary Moral Issue” Says United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/sexual-violence-in-conflict-the-contemporary-moral-issue-says-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexual-violence-in-conflict-the-contemporary-moral-issue-says-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/sexual-violence-in-conflict-the-contemporary-moral-issue-says-united-nations/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 08:54:23 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140190 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

Impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in war must end, said Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, who presented to the U.N. Security Council the Secretary-General’s 2015 report on the issue on April 15.

Speaking to the Council, Bangura said, “The history of war zone rape has been a history of denial. It is time to bring these crimes, and those who commit them, into the spotlight of international scrutiny.”

Calling on Council member states, Bangura remarked that sexual abuse is used in war as a tool to terrorise, displace victims and establish power, by state and non-state actors, as well as militia rebel groups.

Hamsatu Allamin, from the “Working Group on Women, Peace and Security”, a Nigerian NGO, urged the Council to find concrete solutions.

“Women’s meaningful participation in peace and security processes must be a core component of any effort to effectively reduce and address incidents of conflict-related sexual violence,” she said.

The U.N. report acknowledges for the first time the impacts of the “use of sexual rape as a war tactic upon women, girls, but also men and boys, by extremist armed groups – providing a list of 45 suspected parties – in countries such as Iraq, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria.”

The study, which analysed the situation in 19 war torn countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and Middle East, described sexual violence as a “truly global crime”, coming in the form of abuse, sexual slavery, forced marriage, and nudity.

Sexual violence is also used as an instrument of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, the report noted. It highlighted the risks for LGBT individuals, which are targeted by armed groups which seek to impose social control and “morality”.

In a previous talk at the U.N. earlier in the week, Bangura told the press that including women into the peacebuilding and peacemaking framework would be a strong step forward in offering them the possibility to increase their power and role in conflict societies.

Progress is being made, Bangura explained, as in the past two years the international community has cooperated with the African Union, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, and will soon with the League of Arab States. Also a number of regional organizations have appointed envoys on women, peace and security.

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

 

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Cyclone Pam Worsens Hardship in Port Vila’s Urban Settlementshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cyclone-pam-worsens-hardship-in-port-vilas-urban-settlements/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cyclone-pam-worsens-hardship-in-port-vilas-urban-settlements http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cyclone-pam-worsens-hardship-in-port-vilas-urban-settlements/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 16:06:34 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140133 Port Vila's informal settlements, characterised by vulnerable housing, were destroyed by Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu on Mar. 13, 2015. Credit: International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Port Vila's informal settlements, characterised by vulnerable housing, were destroyed by Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu on Mar. 13, 2015. Credit: International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Apr 13 2015 (IPS)

Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam, which swept through the South Pacific Island state of Vanuatu in mid-March, has deepened hardships faced by people living in the informal settlements of the capital, Port Vila. Winds of up to 340 kph and torrential rain shattered precarious homes, cut off fragile public services and flooded communities with unsealed roads, poor drainage and sanitation.

“Eighty percent of my community has been affected by the cyclone,” Joel, a Port Vila resident, told IPS, describing that his house was damaged by gale force winds. “We have enough food, but the quality of the water has been very bad.”

“Most of the displaced in urban and peri-urban areas have been highly devastated and are vulnerable to future shocks. The scale of devastation to homes and infrastructure is huge." -- Peter Korisa, operations manager at Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office
Other city residents saw their homes completely destroyed. In the last week, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) found 50 people still sheltering in a shed-like structure in the informal settlements a month after the cyclone. They are in need of food, water and sanitation as they wait for assistance to rebuild their homes.

Vanuatu is an archipelago of more than 80 islands and an estimated 265,000 people located northeast of Australia. Sixty-three percent of the population, or close to 166,000 people, were affected by Cyclone Pam, which counted a death toll of 11 and is thought to be the worst natural disaster in the country’s history.

The main urban centre of Port Vila, situated on the southwest coast of Efate Island, is very exposed to severe weather and sea surges. An estimated 30-40 percent of its 44,000 residents live in informal settlements, such as Freswota and Seaside. Here, sub-standard housing, inadequate basic services and overcrowding all contribute to a poverty rate of 18 percent in Port Vila, in contrast to 10 percent in rural areas.

In the wake of Cyclone Pam, Peter Korisa, operations manager at Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office, said, “Most of the displaced in urban and peri-urban areas have been highly devastated and are vulnerable to future shocks. The scale of devastation to homes and infrastructure is huge. Bridges and roads have also been damaged and that will definitely be a high cost in the recovery effort.”

Frido Herinckx, head of the International Red Cross support team in Vanuatu, told IPS that he had witnessed serious damage in the urban settlements. “During the first week after the cyclone there were 43 evacuation centres in Port Vila supporting 4,000-5,000 people,” he said.

United Nations Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said this past Friday that only 36 percent of the U.N.’s ‘flash appeal’ for 30 million dollars has so far been pledged. He called attention to the fact that 111,000 people have no access to safe drinking water, and warned that the destruction of 90 percent of the country’s crops spelled danger for those who rely on agriculture for a livelihood.

While most people live in rural areas, urbanisation, driven by people seeking jobs and services, is happening at a rapid rate of four percent in Vanuatu, exceeding the state’s capacity to scale up urban planning. One quarter of the national population is now urban and that is predicted to increase to 53 percent by 2050.

Situated on the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’ and in a tropical climate zone south of the equator, with a cyclone season from November to April, the developing island state is vulnerable to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, cyclones and tsunamis.

It has been hit by at least 20 damaging cyclones in the past 25 years and only one year has passed since Cyclone Lusi impacted 20,000 people across northern and central provinces, destroying villages and crops, in 2014. According to the United Nations, Vanuatu has the most exposed population to natural disasters in the world, at 63.6 percent.

The vulnerability of the urban population is heightened by the makeshift state of 27 percent of houses in the capital. Constructing a strong, resilient house is too expensive and financial credit is unaffordable for many residents who live on low wages.

In the Freswota settlement area, home to 7,000-8,000 people, Chief Kalanga Sawia explained, “The government’s objective is to provide housing for the people, but they can only provide the land. The government doesn’t have the financial resources to build houses as well.”

Therefore, people have turned to building improvised dwellings as best they can with salvaged or cheaply bought materials, such as timber, corrugated iron, tin and fabric.

While power, water and communication services were all crippled by the disaster, Herinckx said, “[B]asic services are now back to the state they were before the cyclone, which is not optimal.”

Residents of the Freswota 2 sub-settlement, for instance, usually have access to a water supply, but only half have electricity. Across the country, only 28 percent of people have access to electricity and 64 percent to sanitation.

Recognising the threat disasters pose to lives, development efforts and the economy, the Vanuatu Government has worked to strengthen the nation’s disaster preparedness.

Nine years ago, it became the first Pacific Island country to integrate disaster risk management into national planning and, in 2013, a new state-of-the-art disaster warning centre capable of monitoring volcanic, seismic, and tsunami activity, operating 24/7, opened in Port Vila.

As Cyclone Pam approached, new technology was used to issue warnings and advice to people via text messages, reaching more than 80 percent of the population.

However, as one of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Vanuatu has minimal capacity to cope with the relentless destructive toll of catastrophes year upon year. Korisa, of the National Disaster Management Office, claims that post-disaster recovery in Port Vila’s settlements will be very slow and hindered by land tenure issues, finance and resource constraints.

Currently the Red Cross is helping people in the settlements to build back better after the cyclone “by advising people on simple methods of building homes so they are more stress resistant,” Herinckx said.

But looking to the future, Korisa emphasised that more investment is needed in urban disaster risk reduction measures.

“For instance, the building code needs to be applied and enforced in all dwellings, including private, commercial and public buildings, and land use planning policy needs to be improved and implemented.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Secretary-General Calls for International Unity on Yemen and Syriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-secretary-general-calls-for-international-unity-on-yemen-and-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-secretary-general-calls-for-international-unity-on-yemen-and-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-secretary-general-calls-for-international-unity-on-yemen-and-syria/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 21:49:34 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140102 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 9 2015 (IPS)

“Political negotiations, not military intervention, are the solution” said United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on the rapidly deteriorating conflict situation in Yemen and recent developments in Syria at the Yarmouk refugee camp.

Speaking from the U.N. Headquarters in New York, Ban expressed concern that countless civilians have been abandoned to misery in recent days as violence has escalated.

“Yemeni families are struggling for the very basics – water, food, fuel and medicines. Hundreds have been killed. Hospitals and schools are shutting down – some of which are direct targets of the fighting,” said Ban.

Before the current crisis, Yemen’s overall humanitarian needs were on a similar scale to all other nine countries of the Sahel region combined, but now the country has almost doubled the number of people classified as ‘severely food insecure’, he added.

The territorial advance by the Houthis and their allies, undermining the legitimate government, is a clear violation of the Security Council resolutions and a violation of the international humanitarian law, Ban said.

The crisis in Yemen has worsened since the Arab coalition military operation led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the request of president Hadi.

Ban said, “The U.N.- brokered negotiations, endorsed by the Security Council, remain the best chance to help get the transition back on track and preserve the country’s unity and territorial integrity.”

On Syria, the Secretary-General addressed the situation in the Yarmouk refugee camp, in Damascus, where residents, including over 3,500 children, are being held hostage by Da’esh armed elements.

According to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), around 18,000 Palestinian and Syrian refugees are being held in the camp.

“Civilians must be spared. Civilians must be protected at all times,” remarked Ban, saying that he is urging world leaders, member states, governments and parties involved to end all forms of violence.

Also on Thursday, U.N. Special Advisers on both genocide and the Responsibility to Protect expressed concern about the situation in Yarmouk.

“The Special Advisers recalled the commitment by all Heads of State and government in 2005 to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to cooperate in fulfilling their collective responsibility to protect.”

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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At Least 18 Already Killed in Yarmouk Attacks: Amnesty Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/at-least-18-already-killed-in-yarmouk-attacks-amnesty-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=at-least-18-already-killed-in-yarmouk-attacks-amnesty-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/at-least-18-already-killed-in-yarmouk-attacks-amnesty-international/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 03:16:05 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140092 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 9 2015 (IPS)

At least 18 civilians have already been killed in the attack on the Syrian refugee camp of Yarmouk, according to Amnesty International.

The Palestinian refugee camp, on the outskirts of Damascus, was besieged by members of the so-called Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra last week. By Apr. 4, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 90 percent of the camp was controlled by militants.

Amnesty reported Wednesday that those living in the camp have come under sniper fire and clashes between armed groups, as well as shelling and barrel bombing by Syrian government forces. Fighting in the camp, which houses around 18,000 refugees, has largely been between IS and members of Palestinian militia group Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.

Residents told Amnesty 25 barrel bombs have been dropped on the camp, mostly during night hours.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, accused the Syrian government of committing a “war crime” in dropping barrel bombs on the camp.

“The use of barrel bombs against a besieged and starving civilian population is yet another demonstration of the Syrian government flouting international humanitarian law and its callousness towards civilians,” he said in a statement on Amnesty International’s website.

“Shelling and dropping barrel bombs on a populated civilian area is a war crime. All such attacks must end immediately.”

Amnesty reported a 12-year-old girl killed by a sniper, and a humanitarian worker shot in crossfire, were among at least 18 killed in Yarmouk in the last week, and warned many more deaths were on the way if fighting continued.

“Thousands more are at risk as Syrian government forces have intensified the shelling and aerial bombardment of the camp in response to the IS takeover of the area, including by dropping barrel bombs,” Amnesty said in a statement on its website.

Fighting may soon intensify, with reports the Syrian government has offered to arm Palestinian forces fighting IS militia. Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Official Anwar Abdul Hadi said Tuesday that “Syrian authorities are ready to support the Palestinian fighters in a number of ways, including militarily, to push IS out of the camp.”

Amnesty claimed no relief organisations remained in the camp, and that Syria government and IS forces have blocked medical and humanitarian assistance. One of Yarmouk’s two medical facilities was hit by a missile on the first day of the siege.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) wrote on social media Wednesday that food packages distributed to refugees in the camp have run out. On Twitter, UNRWA said it was assisting 94 civilians who had managed to escape Yarmouk overnight and take refuge in a school.

Amnesty’s Sahraoui said civilians faced “an agonising struggle for survival.”

“After enduring a crippling two-year-long government-imposed siege, now they are pinned down by sniper fire fearing for their lives as shelling and aerial attacks escalate,” he said.

“Immediate and unfettered access to Yarmouk by independent humanitarian agencies is desperately needed to alleviate this relentless suffering.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Situation in Besieged Yarmouk Camp ‘One of the Most Severe Ever’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/situation-in-besieged-yarmouk-camp-one-of-the-most-severe-ever/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=situation-in-besieged-yarmouk-camp-one-of-the-most-severe-ever http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/situation-in-besieged-yarmouk-camp-one-of-the-most-severe-ever/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 02:32:48 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140058 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2015 (IPS)

The head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees has described the situation inside the Syrian refugee camp of Yarmouk, under attack by Islamic State (IS) militants, as “one of the most severe ever” for the already spartan camp.

Fighters allegedly from the IS, and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra, began their attack on the camp, on the outskirts of Damascus, on Apr. 1. By Apr. 4, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 90 percent of the camp was controlled by militants.

Around 18,000 people, including 3,500 children, are believed to be trapped inside Yarmouk.

Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner general for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), told a press briefing Monday the current situation was among the most dire faced by refugees in the camp, already under siege for two years and suffering from a lack of food, water and medical help.

“The current escalation has made the hour more desperate than ever for civilians inside Yarmouk,” Krähenbühl said via videoconference from Jordan.

“Concerted action by [U.N. Security Council] members and U.N. members to uphold humanitarian law is required.”

He said UNRWA had been unable to render assistance to those trapped inside due to access issues, but that the agency was “ready at any time to resume humanitarian assistance.”

On Sunday, UNRWA released a statement demanding access to the camp. “The lives of civilians in Yarmouk have never been more profoundly threatened,” the statement read.

“The level of our aid has been well below the minimum required. Potable water is now unavailable inside Yarmouk and the meagre health facilities that existed have been overrun by conflict.  The situation is extremely dire and threatens to deteriorate even further.”

Krähenbühl was unable to comment on how much of the camp may be under militant control, but conceded that affected areas did house the highest concentration of civilians.

Reports from Yarmouk include alleged beheadings by IS members, but Krähenbühl was again unable to comment, saying UNRWA had been “unable to independently verify” such reports.

Ongoing gun battles in the streets of Yarmouk further escalate an already bleak and miserable living situation for Palestinian refugees. Civilians are said to subsist on just 400 calories a day, with sparse access to food or water. Krähenbühl conceded UNRWA was only able to provide “meagre” assistance to Yarmouk residents, calling their living conditions “unbearable.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council have been briefed on the situation. While it is unclear what, if any, action the U.N. may take, Krähenbühl made several cryptic comments calling on the international community to “influence” armed groups to curtail their offensive.

“There are no easy solutions … messages have to be passed to all the parties and armed groups inside Yarmouk that respect for life is an element not only in international law, it is a fundamental human principle that is found in all religions,” he said.

“We call on states to act and influence parties on the ground … more concerted action could influence action on the ground.”

When asked whether UNRWA had any direct contact with IS, Krähenbühl said no.

“It is not up to me to give any indication on who may channel messages to different parties, including the armed groups inside Yarmouk,” he said.

 

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Death Sentences up, Executions down in 2014http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/death-sentences-up-executions-down-in-2014/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=death-sentences-up-executions-down-in-2014 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/death-sentences-up-executions-down-in-2014/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 21:51:50 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139998 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

Governments worldwide sentenced at least 2,466 people to death in 2014; judgements which have been condemned by rights group Amnesty International.

Amnesty’s annual Death Sentences and Executions report, released Wednesday, documented a 28 percent uptick in death sentence judgements compared to 2013.

This increase was largely due to sharp spikes in death sentences in Egypt and Nigeria, where courts imposed mass sentences against scores of people in some cases,” the report outlined.

There were 509 death sentences recorded in Egypt and 659 in Nigeria, up from 109 and 141 respectively.

Many of these sentences came in response to terrorism threats. Pakistan, which had placed a six-year moratorium on the death penalty, reinstated capital punishment after the attack in December 2014 at a Peshawar school, where terrorists killed 145 people including 132 children.

People in at least 55 countries were sentenced to death in 2014.

Actual executions decreased in number, with 607 recorded executions in 2014 representing a 22 percent fall compared to the 778 recorded in 2013.

In launching the report at United Nations headquarters in New York, Amnesty International’s Renzo Pomi stressed the reported numbers were a bare minimum, due to difficulty in collecting accurate numbers.

“For sure, these are significantly underestimated from the real figures,” Pomi said.

“We have no data from China, because the numbers are considered a state secret.”

Amnesty stated that “thousands are executed and sentenced to death [in China] every year” but that secrecy makes the actual numbers “impossible to determine.”

“We call on China to be more transparent on its use of the death penalty,” Pomi said.

He said Amnesty condemned government use of death sentences in an attempt to solve crime problems, saying such attempts are “deceiving the public” and are often used “to cover inefficient systems.”

After China, Iran was said to be the world’s next most prolific executioner, with 289 executions; however, Amnesty stated at least 454 more were not acknowledged by authorities. Saudi Arabia carried out at least 90, Iraq at least 61, and the United States of America recorded 35 executions.

While executions dropped in 2014, Pomi expressed alarm that death sentences were widely being imposed for less serious crimes, such as drug crimes, adultery, blasphemy and robbery.

“The concern is the death penalty is being imposed not for the most serious of crimes, but for crimes that don’t fit in this category,” he said.

“The death penalty often discriminates against the poor and ethnic minorities. There have been grossly unfair trials and evidence extracted under torture, thereby increasing the risk of executing people innocent of the crime for which they have been condemned.”

Amnesty believes almost 20,000 people worldwide were under death sentences at the end of 2014.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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U.N.’s Next Stop: Humanitarian Summit to Resolve Exploding Refugee Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-s-next-stop-humanitarian-summit-to-resolve-exploding-refugee-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-next-stop-humanitarian-summit-to-resolve-exploding-refugee-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-s-next-stop-humanitarian-summit-to-resolve-exploding-refugee-crisis/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 21:14:16 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140002 Billions of dollars of humanitarian aid pledged last year have been used to provide food, medical relief and other life-saving support to millions of Syrian families. Credit: Beshr Abdulhadi/CC-BY-2.0

Billions of dollars of humanitarian aid pledged last year have been used to provide food, medical relief and other life-saving support to millions of Syrian families. Credit: Beshr Abdulhadi/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

As the world’s spreading humanitarian crisis threatens to spill beyond the borders of Syria and Iraq into Libya and Yemen, the United Nations is already setting its sights on the first World Humanitarian Summit scheduled to take place in Istanbul next year.

“Let us make the response to the Syria crisis a launching pad for a new, truly global partnership for humanitarian response,” says Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.

That partnership could come in Istanbul in May next year – even as the refugee crisis may worsen in the next 12 months.

“Let us make the response to the Syria crisis a launching pad for a new, truly global partnership for humanitarian response." -- Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees
The flow of millions of refugees is having a devastating impact on the economies and societies in five countries: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

Putting it in the context of the Western world, Guterres told the international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, “The number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon would be equivalent to 22.5 million refugees coming to Germany and 88 million arriving in the United States.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointedly said the Syrian people are “victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time” – with over 220,000 dead.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power described the 8.4 billion-dollar target as “the largest in history, and 3.4 billion more than last year’s appeal.”

“Yet too many countries are giving the same amount, or even less than they have in the past,” she complained. “And as more people need help, we are reaching a smaller share of them.”

The three major donors at this year’s pledging conference were: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

Meanwhile, 48 hours after the donor conference pledged 3.8 billion dollars for humanitarian aid, the United Nations said it would continue to appeal for additional funds to meet its targeted 8.4 billion dollars by the end of 2015.

Amanda Pitt, chief, media relations and spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IPS the requirements for the Syria crisis are 8.4 billion dollars for the whole of 2015 and for the whole crisis (including inside Syria, and efforts in the region).

“The Kuwait pledging conference was one event in the year’s fundraising efforts – which saw a number of donors generously pledge 3.8 billion dollars,” she said.

But fundraising will continue throughout the year – as it does every year for all the humanitarian appeals, she added.

Responding to reports that the pledging conference had fallen short of its expectations, the United Nations said it didn’t expect the target of 8.4 billion dollars to be met at the conference in Kuwait on Tuesday.

Farhan Haq, U.N. deputy spokesperson, told reporters, “One of the things we said in advance, we didn’t have any particular targets for this meeting.”

He said, “This meeting is one step of the process, and in fact, it’s extremely impressive that we got as much as 3.8 billion dollars.”

“If you compare the figures for pledges this year compared to last, we’re actually doing really quite well,” he insisted.

“At the same time, of course, the needs have grown, and as the year progresses, we’re going to keep trying to get closer and closer to the 8.4 billion figure.”

So two things need to happen, he noted.

“First of all, we do need ultimately to go beyond the pledges that we receive today, so that we get to 8.4 billion, which is what we’ve estimated [are] the needs both within Syria and in the neighbouring countries.”

But second of all, he said, “We also have to, as always, make sure that these pledges are converted into actual cash and actual assistance on the ground, and we’ll start doing that right away.”

The rates of delivery of the last two pledging conferences in 2013 and 2014, both held in Kuwait, have been described as relatively good.

In January 2014, the second pledging conference in Kuwait raised 2.4 billion dollars.

Ninety per cent of those funds have since been disbursed to provide life-saving support for millions of families in Syria and the region, according to OCHA.

“Last year, some 8.9 million people received basic relief items, more than five million people received monthly food aid, two million children were helped to go to school and millions received medical treatment and had access to clean water thanks to these contributions,” OCHA said.

“People have experienced breathtaking levels of violence and savagery in Syria,” said U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos.

“While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organisations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” she added.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Landmine Threats Down, IED Threats Risinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/landmine-threats-down-ied-threats-rising/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=landmine-threats-down-ied-threats-rising http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/landmine-threats-down-ied-threats-rising/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 04:16:47 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139987 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

Almost 90 percent of recent deaths or serious injuries to United Nations peacekeepers in Mali have been attributed to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), a U.N. panel has heard.

Ahead of International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on April 4, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) is this week hosting a series of events and discussions in New York.

The theme of the 2015 awareness campaign is ‘More Than Mines,’ encompassing a range of other explosive hazards besides traditional landmines, according to UNMAS Director Agnès Marcaillou.

“This issue, thought to be an issue of the past, has come back in full force. ‘More Than Mines’ includes IEDs, cluster bombs, unexploded ordnance,” Marcaillou told a panel on IEDs on Monday.

Representatives from Afghanistan, Chad, Japan, Colombia, France and the Netherlands told how the dangers of explosive ordnance are shifting; mine threats becoming more manageable, with enforcement of international agreements and reduction of stockpiles, while the occurrence of IEDs is on the rise.

“In Afghanistan, victims of landmines are declining, but they are being replaced with victims of IEDs,” Marcaillou said.

Gombo Tchouli, Political Coordinator of the Permanent Mission of Chad to the United Nations, said UNMAS had recorded 409 casualties from IEDs in Mali since January 2013, with 135 deaths and 274 injuries. Of those 409 casualties, 142 were peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), 89 percent of the mission’s 158 total peacekeeper casualties.

“IEDs undermine operational effectiveness and freedom of movement, stop peacekeepers moving outward from camp, and prevent implementation of critical mission mandated tasks,” he said.

Eric Schilling, a counter-IED advisor with UNMAS, said U.N. peacekeepers were now more frequently targeted by IEDs and other explosives than in the past.

“The devices can be relatively low-cost, victim-operated pressure plates, up to more sophisticated technology using cell phones. They are limited only by the imagination of the bomb-maker and their ability to gather the materials needed,” he said.

In a session earlier in the day, titled ‘Visions From The Field,’ UNMAS explored how mine-clearing action was being taken in Colombia. Marcaillou called Colombia “one of the most mine-affected countries in the world,” second in impacts only to Afghanistan. Mines are said to have killed 11,000 Colombians since 1990.

Initiatives to engage locals, especially women, in helping to clear mines were hailed as a “best practice” example. Bringing locals in to work, and by extension, assuring them that areas are safe and that they can return to work and school, is seen as the most effective way to restore communities.

“De-mining can’t be imposed from the outside. It is important to connect with people locally, to be working with local communities, and generating benefits for the local population,” said Ambassador Karel van Oosterom, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands.

Activities for International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action continue all week.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter at @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Pledges for Humanitarian Aid to Syria Fall Short of Target by Billionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-to-syria-fall-short-of-target-by-billions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-to-syria-fall-short-of-target-by-billions http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-to-syria-fall-short-of-target-by-billions/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 23:20:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139976 More than 12 million people inside Syria are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

More than 12 million people inside Syria are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

When United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stood before 78 potential donors at the Bayan Palace in Kuwait Tuesday, his appeal for funds had an ominous ring to it: the Syrian people, he remarked, “are victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.”

Four out of five Syrians live in poverty, misery and deprivation, he said.

And the devastated country, now in its fifth turbulent year of a seemingly never-ending civil war, has lost nearly four decades of human development.

Nearly half the world’s top donors didn’t give their fair share of aid to the Syrian humanitarian effort in 2014 based on the size of their economies. --Oxfam
A relentless, ruthless war is destroying Syria, the secretary-general continued. “The violence has left so many Syrians without homes, without schools, without hospitals, and without hope,” Ban added.

Still, his appeal for a hefty 8.4 billion dollars in humanitarian aid fell short of its target – despite great-hearted efforts by three major donors: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

At the end of the day, the third international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria was able to raise only about 3.8 billion dollars against an anticipated 8.4 billion dollars.

Without expressing his disappointment, Ban said the kind of commitments made at the conference will make a profound difference to the four million Syrians who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries and the five million still trapped without food or medical help in hard-to-reach besieged areas in the war ravaged country.

The U.N. chief also praised the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, for hosting the pledging conference – for the third consecutive year.

The first conference in 2013 generated 1.2 billion dollars in pledges and in 2014 about 2.4 billion dollars – with Kuwait as the major donor at both conferences.

“This is yet another example of the vital, life-saving leadership that Kuwait has [shown] to help those in dire need around the world,” he added, describing the Emir as one of the world’s “humanitarian leaders.”

In his address, the Emir implicitly criticised the five permanent members of the Security Council – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – for their collective failure to bring about a political settlement in Syria.

“The international community, and in particular the Security Council, has failed to find a solution that would put an end to this conflict, and spare the blood of our brethren, and maintain the entity of a country, which [has] been injured by the talons of discord and torn apart by the fangs of terrorism,” he added.

Valerie Amos, the outgoing under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said people have experienced “breathtaking levels of violence and savagery in Syria.”

“While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organisations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” she added.

After announcing his pledge, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said the situation in Syria is worsening every day and it is becoming increasingly difficult for humanitarian organisations to reach those in need.

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, more than 11.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, including 3.9 million who fled to neighbouring countries, and more than 12 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance inside Syria alone – an increase of 30 percent compared to one year ago, he added.

The countries where Syrians have sought refuge include Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

Andy Baker, Oxfam’s regional programme manager based in Jordan, told IPS the whole exercise “is not a game of numbers” – it involves people’s lives.

He said those caught up in the conflict have to make difficult choices: either take a leaking boat to Europe, ask the children to be breadwinners, or arrange early marriages for their daughters.

“The ultimate choice for them is to take that leaking boat,” he said.

In a “full fair share analysis for funding,” Oxfam has calculated that nearly half the world’s top donors didn’t give their fair share of aid in 2014, based on the size of their economies, including Russia (seven percent), Australia (28 percent), and Japan (29 percent).

Governments that gave their fair share and beyond included Kuwait (1,107 percent), United Arab Emirates (391 percent), Norway (254 percent), UK (166 percent), Germany (111 percent) and the U.S. (97 percent).

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Staffers Caught in Deadly Crossfire in Ongoing Conflictshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-staffers-caught-in-deadly-crossfire-in-ongoing-conflicts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-staffers-caught-in-deadly-crossfire-in-ongoing-conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-staffers-caught-in-deadly-crossfire-in-ongoing-conflicts/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 00:13:14 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139957 This bronze sculpture outside the United Nations in New York City symbolizes the organisation’s dedication to non-violence, but this does not mean U.N. staffers are immune to the deadly impacts of conflicts around the world. Credit: David Ohmer/CC-BY-2.0

This bronze sculpture outside the United Nations in New York City symbolizes the organisation’s dedication to non-violence, but this does not mean U.N. staffers are immune to the deadly impacts of conflicts around the world. Credit: David Ohmer/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The deadly Syrian military conflict – now entering its fifth year – which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 mostly civilians, including women, children and aid workers, has not spared the United Nations either.

The world body has been mourning the loss of 17 of its staffers, with an additional 30 missing, probably held in detention either by the Syrian government or by rebel forces battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Unfortunately, we're no longer in an era when warring parties respected the U.N. flag and those who operated under it. As the figures show, U.N. staff are now a specific target by rebel groups.” -- Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA)
The agency most affected is the U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), which has lost 14 of its staff, including five of them killed last year.

Asked if they were singled out because of their affiliation with the United Nations, Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesperson and director of advocacy and strategic communications, told IPS the staff killed in Syria died in many different ways “caught up in this pitiless conflict”.

“We have no evidence that they were singled out and killed because they work for the U.N. But their deaths illustrate the price UNRWA staff have paid for their dedication to the humanitarian cause.”

He said they were all local Palestinian staff, while the 18,000 civilians trapped in the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk are a mixture of Palestinian refugees and Syrians.

Many Palestinian refugees have been killed or seriously wounded, including in incidents that affected UNRWA installations.

“But UNRWA is not in a position to verify figures on the total numbers of Palestinian refugees killed,” said Gunness, on the eve of the third international conference on humanitarian aid to Syria to be hosted by the government of Kuwait.

The ongoing civil war in Syria – and the spreading conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Yemen – has made it increasingly difficult for U.N. staffers in humanitarian missions aimed at providing food, medicine and shelter to the ever-growing number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), representing 60,000 staff working at the United Nations, told IPS, “Unfortunately, we’re no longer in an era when warring parties respected the U.N. flag and those who operated under it. As the figures show, U.N. staff are now a specific target by rebel groups.”

At the same time, he said, the U.N. has a policy of “stay and deliver” meaning that it is reluctant to pull out of conflict zones. This means it has a very real duty to protect its staff.

While security in the field is taken more seriously than before, the U.N. and its member states could do much more, Richards added.

“One example that we are keen to highlight is that the warring parties in Syria who kill or kidnap U.N. staff get their financing and support from sources located in U.N. member countries, yet this is rarely brought up.”

The treatment of local staff is also a worry, he said.

The U.N. argues that in contrast to international staff, local staff and their families were already located in the conflict zone.

However, by working for the U.N., local staff and their families are seen as a legitimate target, especially by some of the groups operating in Syria.

“Therefore the U.N. does need to do more for local staff and their families,” Richards noted.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed serious concern over the continued killings of U.N. staffers in field operations.

“I am appalled by the number of humanitarian workers and peacekeepers who have been deliberately targeted in the past year, while they were trying to help people in crisis,” he said, at a recent memorial ceremony to honour fallen staff members.

In the past year, U.N. staff members were killed while relaxing over dinner in a restaurant in Kabul while two colleagues were targeted after getting off a plane in Somalia, he added.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Why So Many Palestinian Civilians Were Killed During Gaza Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/why-so-many-palestinian-civilians-were-killed-during-gaza-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-so-many-palestinian-civilians-were-killed-during-gaza-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/why-so-many-palestinian-civilians-were-killed-during-gaza-war/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 15:19:41 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139941 The Qassem family from Beit Hanoun in Gaza, civilians whose home was targeted by Israeli air strikes during the 2007/2008 Israel-Gaza war, leaving them homeless. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

The Qassem family from Beit Hanoun in Gaza, civilians whose home was targeted by Israeli air strikes during the 2007/2008 Israel-Gaza war, leaving them homeless. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
GAZA, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

The U.N. investigation into Israel’s devastating military campaign against Gaza, from July to August 2014, has been delayed until June and in the interim Israel and the Palestinians are waging a media war to win the moral narrative as to why so many Palestinian civilians were killed during the bloody conflict.

The postponement of the investigation was announced at the Mar. 23 U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meeting in Geneva.

Israel says it went out of its way to avoid civilian casualties but its critics, including Israeli human rights organisations, have questioned this claim.

“The ferocity of destruction and high proportion of civilian lives lost in Gaza cast serious doubts over Israel’s adherence to international humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and precautions in attack,” Makarim Wibisono, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967, told the UNHCR meeting.“The ferocity of destruction and high proportion of civilian lives lost in Gaza cast serious doubts over Israel's adherence to international humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and precautions in attack" – Makarim Wibisono, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967

During the war over 2,300 Palestinians were killed, the majority of them civilians including more than 500 children, and over 10,000 injured. On the Israeli side, six civilians and 67 soldiers were killed.

Many of the Palestinian civilians killed died after Israel targeted residential buildings in the Gaza Strip, killing hundreds of Palestinians inside as the buildings collapsed on them.

Israeli rights group B’Tselem released a report in January titled Black Flag: The Legal and Moral Implications of the Policy of Attacking Residential Buildings in the Gaza Strip, Summer 2014.

The report focuses on the policy that the Israeli military implemented of strikes on homes, attempting to explain if and how “policymakers’ claims about Israel’s commitment to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) provisions comport with the policy of attacking residential buildings.”

Damage to residential buildings was enormous, with 18,000 homes either destroyed or badly damaged. More than 100,000 Palestinians were left homeless and with little to no reconstruction taking place, most of these Gazans remain displaced.

B’Tselem investigated 70 incidents involving attacks on civilian homes which killed 606 Palestinians, half of whom were women, 93 babies and children under the age of 5, 129 children aged 5 to 14, 42 teenagers and 37 elderly Palestinians.

B’Tselem said that a number of the cases it examined indicated that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) actions contravened IHL.

“A military objective, the only legitimate target for attack by parties to hostilities, is defined as one that makes an effective contribution to military action whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralisation, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage to the attacking side,” said the rights group.

“Over the course of the fighting that took place in the summer, both government officials and top military commanders refrained from spelling out the specific objective of most of the attacks.

“Instead, the IDF spokesperson provided only general figures on the number of strikes carried out each day against what the spokesperson defined as ‘terror sites’.”

The rights group added that the IDF also appeared to change its definition as the war progressed, with many of the residential homes targeted allegedly belonging to Hamas operatives.

Kamal Qassem, 43, his wife Iman, and their five children aged 6 to 12, from Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza were forced to flee to an emergency U.N. shelter after their house was destroyed by Israeli bombs, which targeted their homes over two nights during the war.

“My wife Iman was injured during the bombing and spent two nights in hospital. She also requires regular hospital treatment for kidney problems,” Qassem told IPS

“My daughter Shadha, 9, was severely traumatised during the aerial assault and now suffers from epilepsy and soils her sheets at night. None of us were fighters.”

However, Israel’s newly appointed military chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot’s contribution to the Dahiya Doctrine, established during the second Israel-Lebanon war in 2006, could provide some answers to the immense destruction wrought on Gaza’s civilian infrastructure.

The Dahiya Doctrine is a military strategy that envisages the destruction of the civilian infrastructure of hostile regimes, and endorses the employment of disproportionate force to secure that end.

The doctrine is named after a southern suburb in Beirut with large apartment buildings which were flattened by the IDF during the 2006 war.

“What happened in the Dahiva quarter of Beurut in 2006 would happen in every village from which shots were fired in the direction of Israel,” stated Eizenkot.

“We will wield disproportionate power and cause immense damage and destruction.”

Former Rapporteur to the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, wrote that under the doctrine, “the civilian infrastructure of adversaries such as Hamas or Hezbollah are treated as permissible military targets, which is not only an overt violation of the most elementary norms of the law of war and of universal morality, but an avowal of a doctrine of violence that needs to be called by its proper name: state terrorism.”

Members of the U.N. fact-finding mission into the 2007/2008 Israel-Gaza war suggested that the Dahiya Doctrine had been employed while other analysts added it was also behind Israel’s 2014 military campaign.

Meanwhile, Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket fire on Israeli civilian towns, preceding last year’s war and one of the main reasons for Israel launching its assault on Gaza, could resume again should the siege on Gaza continue with no political breakthrough on the horizon – an ominous sign for Gaza’s civilians.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Cash-Strapped U.N. to Seek Funds for Syria at Pledging Conference in Kuwaithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:49:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139915 According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

A cash-strapped United Nations, which is struggling to reach out to millions of Syrian refugees with food, medicine and shelter, is desperately in need of funds.

The current status on humanitarian aid looks bleak: an appeal for 2.9 billion dollars for Syria’s Response Plan has generated only about nine percent of funding, and Syria’s Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan’s appeal for 4.5 billion dollars is only six percent funded, according to a statement released by the Security Council Thursday.

“Today, a Syrian's life expectancy is estimated to be 20 years less than when the conflict started. Unemployment is around 58 percent, up from around 10 percent in 2010; and nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty." -- Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos
Still, the United Nations is hoping for a more vibrant response from the international community at a pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, scheduled to take place in Kuwait next week.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the Syrian people feel increasingly abandoned by the world as they enter the fifth year of a war that has torn their country apart and claimed the lives of over 200,000 civilians.

The pledging conference, scheduled to take place Mar. 31, “is an opportunity to raise some of the resources required to maintain our life-saving work. I encourage governments to give generously,” the U.N. chief said.

According to the United Nations, the devastating five-year old military conflict in Syria has also triggered “the greatest refugee crisis in modern times.”

Over half of Syria’s pre-war population — some 12.2 million people — and the more than 3.9 million Syrian refugees arriving in countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, “are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance”.

For the third consecutive year, the pledging conference is being hosted by the government of Kuwait, which has taken a significant role in alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

The conference will be chaired by the U.N. secretary-general, and hosted by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

The last two pledging conferences were held in January 2013 and January 2014. The total pledged in 2013 was about 1.5 billion dollars and in 2014 about 2.4 billion dollars.

The largest contributions came from the host country, Kuwait, which pledged 300 million dollars in 2013 and 500 million dollars in 2014, which included 200 million dollars from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Kuwait, amounting to a total of 800 million dollars at both conferences.

Asked about the rate of delivery, a spokesman for the Kuwaiti Mission to the United Nations told IPS that Kuwait had delivered 100 percent of pledges to U.N. agencies, funds and programmes, plus international NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Asked about next week’s conference, he said more than 78 countries and 40 mostly international organisations are expected to participate.

U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said a very big part of Ban’s message next week would be: “As long as the crisis in Syria is not solved, you’re going to see millions of Syrians travelling to other countries in the region, and that has a tremendous effect on the livelihoods and the services and the way of life for people in all of the countries in the region.”

“So, we need to solve the problem in Syria, but we also need to give support to these countries at this time of need.”

Addressing the Security Council Thursday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Syria, which she described as “characterised by breathtaking levels of savagery.”

She said the secretary-general has submitted report after report highlighting the failure of the warring parties to meet their basic minimum legal obligations.

Amos pointed out indiscriminate aerial bombings, including the use of barrel bombs, car bombs, mortar attacks, unguided rockets and the use of other explosive devices in populated areas, are the hallmarks of this conflict.

“I have previously reported on the worsening socio-economic situation in the country, which has eroded the development gains made over a generation.

“Today, a Syrian’s life expectancy is estimated to be 20 years less than when the conflict started. Unemployment is around 58 percent, up from around 10 percent in 2010; and nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty,” she told the Council.

The inability of this Council and countries with influence over the different parties at war in Syria to agree on the elements for a political solution in the country means that the humanitarian consequences will continue to be dire for millions of Syrians, she warned.

Children are particularly badly affected with 5.6 million children now in need of assistance. Well over two million children are out of school. A quarter of Syria’s schools have been damaged, destroyed or taken over for shelter. It will take billions of dollars to repair damaged schools and restore the education system, Amos said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Palestine Crisis at Its Worst Since 1967, Says United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:07:58 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139904 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

In 2014, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) saw the worst escalation of hostilities since 1967, said a report by the United Nations Office of Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), released on March 26.

The report, Fragmented Lives, said that the Gaza strip’s 1.8 million civilians were directly affected by the war. Over 1,500 were killed, more than 11,000 injured and 100,000 remain displaced. Meanwhile, settlement expansion and the forced displacement of Palestinians in Area C and East Jerusalem are continuing.

“The crisis stems from the prolonged occupation, and recurrent hostilities, alongside a system of policies that undermine the ability of Palestinians to live normal, self-sustaining lives and realize the full spectrum of their right to self-determination,” the report stated.

UNOCHA,who have detailed key humanitarian concerns in the oPt for the past four years, reports that about 4,000,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza strip remain under an Israeli military occupation that prevents them from exercising many of their basic human rights.

The U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the territory, James Rawley, told U.N. media that the economic and social problems are expanding from Gaza to East Jerusalem.

“A record number of 1,215 Palestinians were displaced due to home demolitions by Israeli authorities, while settlement and settler activity continued, in contravention of international law, and contributed to humanitarian vulnerability of affected Palestinian communities,” he noted.

The report was released on the same day as Robert Serry, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the U.N. Security Council about peace negotiations.

Nearing the end of his mandate, Serry expressed his disappointment at the failure of the negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Serry pointed out that a two-state solution cannot be forced by the international community, but can only succeed if both parties are willing and committed to such a peaceful solution.

“I must tell you, I am disheartened by seeing what has happened in these seven years, and these past three negotiations. If the parties wish to live in peace with each other, then there is no other alternative, and it is time to really think of a two state solution,” Serry said in comments to the press.

Serry urged the Security Council to revive talks, saying a greater focus should be put on Gaza.

“Gaza first, doesn’t mean Gaza only. But I don’t see how, this shattered piece (of land) can be ‘pieced’ together without addressing it now as a priority issue.”

 Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri
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Israel Using Live Ammunition for Palestinian Crowd Controlhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/israel-using-live-ammunition-for-palestinian-crowd-control/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-using-live-ammunition-for-palestinian-crowd-control http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/israel-using-live-ammunition-for-palestinian-crowd-control/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 17:24:39 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139906 Israeli sniper using live ammunition – Ruger rifle with 0.22 mm calibre bullets – against Palestinian stone throwers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Israeli sniper using live ammunition – Ruger rifle with 0.22 mm calibre bullets – against Palestinian stone throwers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

A Palestinian youth lost his fight for life this week after lying critically injured in Ramallah Hospital for days after Israeli soldiers used live ammunition as a method of crowd control against stone-throwing Palestinians near a Palestinian refugee camp.

“Ali Safi had critical injuries to his kidneys, spinal cord, lungs and spleen,” Dr Sami Naghli, who runs Jelazon refugee camp’s medical relief services, told IPS.

Seventeen-year-old Safi was shot last week by an Israeli sniper armed with a Ruger rifle during clashes between Palestinian youngsters and Israeli soldiers.

The bullet which hit him was a 0.22 inch calibre bullet, which is considered less lethal than ordinary bullets of 5.56 mm calibre.“Many of the wounded have been shot at close range and it appears as if the soldiers are shooting to kill. In my five years as a surgeon, the situation has been getting progressively worse, especially lately” – orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ahmed Barakat

There has been a recent increase in the use of this kind of bullet against Palestinian demonstrators by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) despite disagreement within the Israeli military about the use of this controversial weapon for riot control when the lives of Israeli soldiers are not endangered.

The head of Israel’s security department in the Operations Directorate stated in 2001 that the Ruger could not be considered a non-lethal weapon and could only be used in circumstances which justified the use of live fire.

Due to the large number of Palestinians injured and killed by 0.22 bullets, the use of this ammunition was suspended during the second Intifada, or uprising, from 2001 to 2008.

However, they are once again being used by the Israelis and the number of Palestinians seriously injured by them is growing, with at least two deaths in the last several months.

“Recent months have seen a dramatic rise in Israeli security forces’ use of live 0.22 inch calibre bullets. The firing of this ammunition is an almost weekly occurrence in the West Bank in sites of protests and clashes,” reported Israeli rights group B’tselem in January.

“Most of those injured have been young Palestinians, including minors. Yet, in the last two months, one Palestinian woman, at least three photographers, and a foreign national who was taking part in a demonstration were also hit by these bullets,” said B’tselem.

The humanitarian organisation has also said it witnessed cases of Israeli soldiers provoking clashes in order to fire live ammunition at protesters.

The reintroduction of this controversial weapon prompted B’tselem to complain to Israel’s Military Attorney General (MAG), who responded confirming that “the Ruger and similar means are not classified by the IDF as means for dispersing demonstrations or public disturbances.”

Dr Naghli told IPS that the Israeli soldiers are also using a kind of bullet which fragments on impact, causing severe trauma and damage to bones, organs and nerves, although he could not confirm if this was a 0.22 or another type.

“During the last three months there have been over 40 wounded from these types of gunshots,” said Naghli.

Over the last few weeks, IPS has witnessed Israeli snipers firing repeatedly at Palestinians during several clashes in the West Bank when stones thrown landed at a distance away from the soldiers presenting no danger.

IPS also visited some of the wounded in Ramallah Hospital and spoke to orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ahmed Barakat who was treating them.

“Many of the wounded have been shot at close range and it appears as if the soldiers are shooting to kill. In my five years as a surgeon, the situation has been getting progressively worse, especially lately,” Dr Barakat told IPS.

In a related development, the IDF has also temporarily suspended the use of attack dogs when arresting Palestinians, most accused of stone-throwing.

This follows a video, which went viral and caused an outcry, of 16-year-old Hamzeh Abu Hashem, 16, of Beit Ummar near Hebron in the southern West Bank, being savaged by two dogs as soldiers arrest him.

A subsequent IDF investigation found that while the use of dogs in confrontations “could be justified, in the case in question, the youth could have been arrested using other means.” Abu Hashem has been incarcerated since the incident.

Meanwhile, torture of Palestinians in detention by Israeli security services has been on the rise since the second half of 2014, according to the Public Committee Against Torture (PCAT) in Israel, an attorney representing Palestinian prisoners and Israel’s left-leaning Haaretz daily.

“In years past there were a few rare cases of torture. But something has changed,” the attorney told Haaretz.

In all of 2014, 23 Palestinians filed a number of complaints of torture by the Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic intelligence agency).

Until 1999, thousands of Palestinian prisoners were tortured every year. PCAT estimates that most Palestinians questioned had experienced at least one kind of torture.

In September 1999, following a petition to the High Court of Justice, the court prohibited the systematic use of torture, but left a small opening for interrogators

This opening applied to cases known as “ticking time bombs” where the use of force is permitted to obtain crucial information.

However, critics have pointed out that what constitutes a “ticking time bomb” is open to interpretation as well as the fact that Palestinian prisoners who have been tortured have sometimes given false information just to stop the torture.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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U.N. Security Council Focuses on Children as Victims of Armed Groupshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-security-council-focuses-on-children-as-victims-of-armed-groups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-security-council-focuses-on-children-as-victims-of-armed-groups http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-security-council-focuses-on-children-as-victims-of-armed-groups/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 02:41:10 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139876 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

24 hours after the shocking kidnap of more than 400 women and children in Nigeria by Boko Haram, the United Nations Security Council discussed the safety of children as victims of non-state armed groups.

In New York, the Permanent Representative of France called the meeting to urge countries to address the issue of violations of children’s rights in conflict areas.

The U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said to the Council, “Since I last addressed the Council on this issue one year ago, hundreds of thousands more children have been confronted with the emergence or intensification of conflict, and have endured new and grave threats posed by armed groups.”

In 2014, it was estimated that 230 million children lived in areas where armed groups are fighting, and almost 15 million were direct victims of violence.

“The tactics of groups such as Daesh and Boko Haram make little distinction between civilians and combatants. These groups not only constitute a threat to international peace and security, but often target girls and boys,” he added.

U.N. Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said that from Nigeria to Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali and Syria, extremist actors militarise schools, abducting and recruiting children to become soldiers, or sexual slaves. Especially girls who suffer sexual abuse and are denied education.

“Armed groups are taking controls of lands, erasing borders, using modern technology to recruit people and to expose (the world to) their brutal actions,” said Zerrougui, who in 2014 jointly launched a programme with the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “Children not Soldiers”, aimed at ending the recruitment and use of children as soldiers by government forces by 2016.

Constructive dialogue, even if it seems a difficult task, may be one of the strategies that mediators and peacekeepers should pursue to protect children and fight extremism, she added.

“We need to think of all possibilities to engage with them…Taking into account children’s safety is essential if we want lasting peace,” Zerrougui concluded.

2015 is the 10th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1612, which condemns the recruitment of child soldiers by parties to armed conflicts.

Among the speakers, Junior Nzita, an ex-child soldier in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, brought to light the harsh realities of growing up as a child soldier.

Speaking to the Council, Nzita said, “We had to kill, and destroy infrastructure, we did everything they demanded, violating international human rights laws. Carrying munitions, we walked with one fundamental principle: ‘we must fire on whatever moves before they fire on us’. Innocent lives were taken without reason… I continue to regret it.”

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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