Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 18 Sep 2014 00:49:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 U.N. Launches Ambitious Humanitarian Plan for Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 16:07:45 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136688 Palestinian families take shelter at an UNRWA school in Gaza City, after evacuating their homes in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2014. UNRWA has now launched a humanitarian reconstruction programme. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

Palestinian families take shelter at an UNRWA school in Gaza City, after evacuating their homes in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2014. UNRWA has now launched a humanitarian reconstruction programme. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees has launched an ambitious recovery plan for Gaza following the 50-day devastating war between Hamas and Israel which has left the coastal territory decimated.

However, the successful implementation of this plan requires enormous international funding as well as a long-term ceasefire to enable the lifting of the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory.

“We are working on a 24-month plan aimed at 70 percent of Gaza’s population who are refugees but this will only be possible if the blockade is lifted and construction materials and other goods are allowed into Gaza,” Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA), told IPS.

“Taxpayers are being asked once again to fund the reconstruction of Gaza and at this point there are no security guarantees, so a permanent ceasefire is essential if we are not to return to the repetitive cycle of destruction and then reconstruction,” Gunness said.“If Gaza is to recover and Gazans are to have any hope for the future, it is vital that the international community intervenes to help those Gazan civilians who have and continue to pay the highest price” – Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesman

The attack on Gaza, euphemistically code-named “Operation Protective Edge” by the Israelis, now stands as the most severe military campaign against Gaza since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967.

“The devastation caused this time is unprecedented in recent memory. Parts of Gaza resemble an earthquake zone with 29 km of damaged infrastructure,” said Gunness.

Following the ceasefire, the Palestinian death toll stood at 2,130 and more than 11,000 injured.

Over 18,000 housing units were destroyed, four hospitals and five clinics were closed due to severe damage, while 17 of Gaza’s 32 hospitals and 45 of 97 its primary health clinics were substantially damaged. Reconstruction is estimated to cost over 7 billion dollars.

According to UNRWA, 22 schools were completely destroyed and 118 damaged during Israeli bombardments, while many higher education facilities were damaged.

Some 110,000 displaced Gazans remain in UN emergency shelters or with host families, according to UNRWA.

The reconstruction of shelters alone will cost over 380 million dollars, 270 million of which relates to Palestinian refugees.

According to the Palestinian Federation of Industries, 419 businesses and workshops were damaged, with 129 completely destroyed.

“We have a two-year plan in place which addresses the spectrum of Palestinian needs. Currently we have 300 engineers on the ground in Gaza assessing reconstruction needs,” Gunness told IPS.

Palestinian boy inspecting the remains of a house which was destroyed during an air strike in Central Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, July 2014. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

Palestinian boy inspecting the remains of a house which was destroyed during an air strike in Central Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, July 2014. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

UNRWA’s strategic approach has been divided into the relief period, the early recovery period and the recovery period of up to four months following the cessation of hostilities.

“The relief period, which will continue for the next four months, involves urgent humanitarian intervention including providing shelter, food and medical needs for displaced Gazans,” said the UNTWA spokesman.

“The early recovery period will continue for the next year and will address the critical needs of the population such as repairing damage to environmental infrastructure, restoring UNRWA facilities and supplementary assistance for livelihood provisioning.

“The recovery period will last for two years and will focus on the impact of the conflict through a sustainable livelihoods programme promoting self-sufficiency and completing the transition of UNRWA emergency and extended-stay shelters back to intended use and full operational capacity.”

One thrust of UNRWA’s programme will focus on protection, gender and disability. The increased numbers of female-headed households and households with disabled men is having an impact on unemployment patterns.

“Women are the primary caregivers and are closely linked to homes and the psychological trauma being exhibited by children. Furthermore, there have already been signs of increased gender-based violence,” explained Gunness.

“We want to focus on raising awareness of domestic violence, how to deal with violence in the home and building healthy and equal relationships through our gender empowerment programme.”

The UN agency will also address food distribution by providing minimum caloric requirements through basic food commodities, including bread, corned beef or tuna, dairy products and fresh vegetables. Non-food items provided include hygiene kits and water tanks for 42,000 families.

Emergency repairs to shelters are also being undertaken with 70 percent more homes destroyed or damaged than during the 2008-2009 hostilities. Emergency cash assistance for refugee families to meet a range of basic needs is also being distributed.

“Due to the enormous damage done to hospitals and health facilities, UNRWA has so far established 22 health points to provide basic health services to the sick and wounded, and health teams have been deployed to monitor key health issues,” noted Gunness.

The psychological impact of the war is another area that concerns UNRWA.  “There isn’t a person in Gaza who hasn’t been affected by the war. In consultation with UNRWA’s Community Health Programme, we have hired additional counsellors and youth coordinators who will provide a range of services to groups and individuals.”

“If Gaza is to recover and Gazans are to have any hope for the future,” said Gunness, “it is vital that the international community intervenes to help those Gazan civilians who have and continue to pay the highest price.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.S. Ground Troops Possible in Anti-ISIS Battlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 12:28:21 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136671 General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: DoD/public domain

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: DoD/public domain

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

U.S. combat troops may be deployed against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) if the strategy announced by President Barack Obama last week fails to make substantial progress against the radical Sunni group, Washington’s top military officer warned here Tuesday.

The statement by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, delivered during testimony before a key Congressional committee, suggested for the first time that the administration may substantially broaden military operations in Iraq beyond air strikes and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces far from the front lines.As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst." -- Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.)

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“At this point, his [Obama’s] stated policy is we will not have U.S. ground forces in direct combat,” he said. “But he has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis.”

Dempsey’s remarks, which came as Congress appeared poised to approve a pending 500-million-dollar request to train and equip Syrian rebels committed to fighting ISIS, as well as the government of President Bashar al-Assad, appeared certain to fuel doubts about Obama’s plans, particularly given his promise last week that U.S. forces “will not have a combat mission.”

“We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq,” he declared in last week’s nationally televised speech in which he also pledged to build an international coalition, including NATO and key regional and Sunni-led Arab states, to fight ISIS forces in both Iraq and Syria.

While Secretary of State John Kerry has since gathered public endorsements for the administration’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, notably at a meeting of Arab states in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last week and from a larger group of nations in Paris Sunday, scepticism over the strength and effectiveness of such a coalition appears to have deepened.

Although Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and France appear committed to provide some air support to anti-ISIS operations, several key allies, including Britain, have remained non-committal about their willingness to help with military operations.

Turkey, whose army is the largest and most potent in the region and whose porous borders with ISIS-controlled regions in eastern Syria have been fully exploited by the group, has been particularly disappointing to officials here.

Despite repeated appeals, for example, Ankara has reportedly refused to permit U.S. military aircraft to use its strategically located Incirlik air base for carrying out anything but humanitarian missions in or over Iraq, insisting that any direct involvement in the campaign against ISIS would jeopardise the lives of dozens of Turkish diplomats seized by the group at Ankara’s consulate in Aleppo earlier this year.

Critics of Washington’s strategy are also concerned that Kerry may have reduced the chances for co-operation with another potentially key anti-ISIS ally – Iran – which he explicitly excluded from participation in any international coalition due to its support for Assad and its alleged status as a “state sponsor of terror”.

While Kerry Monday said Washington remained open to “communicating” with Tehran — which, along among the regional powers, has provided arms and advisers to both Kurdish and Iraqi forces — about its efforts against ISIS, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who earlier this month reportedly authorised limited co-operation over ISIS, ridiculed the notion, insisting that it was Iran who had rebuffed Washington.

But Kerry’s exclusion of Iran from the anti-ISIS coalition, according to experts here, was motivated primarily by threats by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to drop out if Tehran were included – a reflection not only of the ongoing Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the region, especially in the Syrian civil war, but also of the difficulty Washington faces in persuading governments with widely differing interests to unite behind a common cause.

“Leaving Iran out of the collective effort to contain and eventually destroy ISIS, especially after what happened in Amerli [a town whose siege by ISIS was eventually broken by a combination of U.S. airpower and Iranian-backed militias and Iraqi troops], defies logic and sanity and cannot be explained away by anyone in Iran,” noted Farideh Farhi, an Iran specialist at the University of Hawaii.

“It suggests to many [in Iran] that the fear of legitimising Iran’s role in regional security continues to be a driving force in U.S. foreign policy,” she told IPS in an email exchange.

Indeed, the success of Obama’s strategy may well depend less on U.S. military power than on his ability to reconcile and reassure key regional actors, including Iran.

“To have any hope of success, America’s do-it-yourself approach needs to be replaced with an effort to facilitate co-operation between the region’s great Muslim powers,” according to Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.), who served as Washington’s chief envoy to Riyadh during the first Gulf War.

“… As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst,” he told IPS.

Despite these difficult diplomatic challenges faced by Obama, most of the scepticism here revolves around his military strategy, particularly its reliance on air power and the absence of effective ground forces that can take and hold territory, especially in predominantly Sunni areas of both western and north-central Iraq and eastern Syria.

While U.S. officials believe that Kurdish peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army – with Iranian-backed Shi’a militias – can, with U.S. and allied air support, roll back most of ISIS’s more-recent gains in Iraq, it will take far more time to wrest control of areas, including cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, which the group has effectively governed for months.

Obama announced last week that he was sending nearly 500 more military personnel to Iraq, bringing the total U.S. presence there to around 1,600 troops, most of whom are to serve as trainers and advisers both for the peshmerga and the Iraqi army.

According to Dempsey, however, these troops have not yet been authorised to accompany local forces into combat or even to act as spotters for U.S. aircraft.

As for Syria, Washington plans to train and equip some 5,000 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a fractious coalition of “moderate” fighters who have been increasingly squeezed and marginalised by both pro-government forces and ISIS and who have often allied themselves with other Islamist groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate.

It will take at least eight months, however, before that force can take the field, according to Dempsey and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel. Even then, they said, such a force will be unable “to turn the tide” of battle. Dempsey’s said he hoped that Sunni-led Arab countries would provide special operations forces to support the FSA, although none has yet indicated a willingness to do so.

Hawks, such as Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have argued that these plans are insufficient to destroy ISIS in either country.

Some neo-conservative defence analysts, such as Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, have called for as many as 25,000 U.S. ground troops, including thousands of Special Forces units to work with “moderate” Sunni forces, to be deployed to both countries in order to prevail. They have also warned against any co-operation with either Iran or Assad in the fight against ISIS.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Good – and the Bad – News on World Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/the-good-and-the-bad-news-on-world-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-good-and-the-bad-news-on-world-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/the-good-and-the-bad-news-on-world-hunger/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 00:30:16 +0000 Phil Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136660 To meet the challenge of feeding the world’s 805 million hungry people, this year’s State of Food Insecurity report calls for the creation of an ‘enabling environment’. Credit: FAO/Giulio Napolitano

To meet the challenge of feeding the world’s 805 million hungry people, this year’s State of Food Insecurity report calls for the creation of an ‘enabling environment’. Credit: FAO/Giulio Napolitano

By Phil Harris
ROME, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

The number of hungry people in the world has declined by over 100 million in the last decade and over 200 million since 1990-92, but 805 million people around the world still go hungry every day, according to the latest UN estimates.

Presenting their annual joint report on the State of Food Insecurity in the World, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), international Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and World Food Programme (WFP) said that while the latest hunger figures indicate that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of undernourished people by 2015 is within reach, this will only be possible “if appropriate and immediate efforts are stepped up.”

These efforts include the necessary “political commitment … well informed by sound understanding of national challenges, relevant policy options, broad participation and lessons from other experiences.”"We cannot celebrate yet because we must still reach 805 million people without enough food for a healthy and productive life" – WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin

Introducing this year’s report, FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said that the figures indicate that a “world without hunger is possible in our lifetime.”

The three Rome-based UN agencies noted that while there has been significant progress overall, some regions are still lagging behind: sub-Saharan Africa, where more than one in four people remain chronically undernourished, and Asia, where the majority of the world’s hungry – 520 million people – live.

In Oceania there has been a modest improvement in percentage terms (down 1.7 percent from 14 percent two years ago) but an increase in the number of hungry people. Latin America and the Caribbean have made most progress in increasing food security.

However, WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin warned that “we cannot celebrate yet because we must still reach 805 million people without enough food for a healthy and productive life.”

Calling for what they called an ‘enabling environment’, the agencies stressed that “food insecurity and malnutrition are complex problems that cannot be solved by one sector or stakeholder alone, but need to be tackled in a coordinated way.” In this regard, they called on governments to work closely with the private sector and civil society.

According to the report, the ‘enabling environment’ should be based on an integrated approach that includes public and private investments to increase agricultural productivity; access to land, services, technologies and markets; and measures to promote rural development and social protection for the most vulnerable, including strengthening their resilience to conflicts and natural disasters.

Speaking at the presentation of the report, the WFP Executive Director referred in particular to the current outbreak of Ebola in the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea which, she said, “is an unprecedented health emergency which is rapidly becoming a major food crisis.”

“You cannot isolate people without addressing the food and nutrition challenges of those who need assistance,” she added, noting that the populations in these countries are not harvesting or planting according to their regular seasonal requirements while the crisis rages.

“This is rapidly becoming a food crisis that is potentially affecting 1.3 million people today, with an unknown number of how many will be affected in the future.”

“We cannot let the unprecedented level of humanitarian crisis undermine our efforts to progress even further, to reach our planet’s most vulnerable people and to end hunger in our lifetimes.”

The State of Food Insecurity report will be part of discussions at the Second International Conference on Nutrition to be held in Rome from 19-21 November, jointly organised by FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO).

This high-level intergovernmental meeting will seek a renewed political commitment at global level to combat malnutrition with the overall goal of improving diets and raising nutrition levels.

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Declining Majority Still Supports “Active” U.S. Role in World Affairshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/declining-majority-still-supports-active-u-s-role-in-world-affairs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=declining-majority-still-supports-active-u-s-role-in-world-affairs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/declining-majority-still-supports-active-u-s-role-in-world-affairs/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 23:40:22 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136636 Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeoffrey Keever is bathed in blue light as he writes the status of each aircraft on the status board in the Carrier Air Traffic Controller Center aboard the USS John F Kennedy (CV 67) during flight operations on April 15, 2005. Credit: public domain

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeoffrey Keever is bathed in blue light as he writes the status of each aircraft on the status board in the Carrier Air Traffic Controller Center aboard the USS John F Kennedy (CV 67) during flight operations on April 15, 2005. Credit: public domain

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

Despite elite concerns about growing “isolationism” in the U.S. electorate, nearly six in 10 citizens believe Washington should “take an active part in world affairs,” according to the latest in a biennial series of major surveys of U.S. foreign-policy attitudes.

Nonetheless, the number of citizens who believe that the U.S. should “stay out of world affairs” is clearly on the rise, according to the survey, which was conducted in May by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and released here Monday.It’s clear that Americans are fatigued by a decade of war, but describing them as isolationist is misleading." -- Chicago Council President Ivo Daalder

Forty-one percent – the highest percentage since World War II — of the more than 2,000 adults polled chose the “stay-out” option, including 40 percent of self-identified Republicans and 48 percent of independents.

“For the first time ever, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the U.S. should stay out of world affairs,” said Dina Smeltz, the Council’s chief pollster and co-author of an accompanying report, “Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment”. She noted that the proportion of Republicans who say they want the U.S. to stay out of world affairs has nearly doubled since 2006.

Nonetheless, her co-author, Council president Ivo Daalder, insisted that the public was not turning away from global engagement. “It’s clear that Americans are fatigued by a decade of war, but describing them as isolationist is misleading,” he said.

“They understand that we live in a dangerous world and that our safety and security will at times require a resort to arms. When that clearly is the case, Americans will support using force,” according to Daalder, who served U.S. ambassador to NATO during President Barack Obama’s first term.

Indeed, the survey suggested the public accords a high priority to military power.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) said they believed current defence spending – which makes up almost 40 percent of the world’s total military expenditures – should remain the same or be increased, and nearly six in 10 (71 percent) said they want to maintain or increase the number of as many long-term U.S. bases overseas as there are now, the highest level ever recorded since the Council first asked the question in 1974.

More than half (52 percent) said “maintaining U.S. superior military power” was a “very important” foreign policy goal – lower than the 68 percent who took that position in 2002, but on a par with the findings of the mid-1990’s.

In addition, 69 percent said they would favour military action, including the use of U.S. troops, to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, although support for military engagement was considerably less strong (around 45 percent) for other specific cases, such as defending Israel or South Korea against attack or even the Baltic states – despite their NATO membership — against a Russian invasion.

In other findings, the Council’s survey, which has long been considered among the most authoritative on U.S. foreign policy attitudes, found that, by a margin of more than three to one (77 to 23 percent), respondents believe that economic power is more important than military power; and that public support for economic globalisation – particularly among Democrats – has reached a record high.

It also found that that about four in 10 respondents believe China poses a “critical threat” to the U.S. That was down substantially from the mid-50-percent range that prevailed during the 1990s until 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

At the same time, anti-Russian sentiment has returned to Cold-War levels, according to Daalder, who noted the poll was conducted when Russian actions against Crimea dominated the headlines.

The new survey’s release comes amidst renewed concerns here over the threat posed by Islamist extremism, as represented by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) whose sweep from its stronghold in eastern Syria into central and northern Iraq earlier this summer triggered the first direct intervention by U.S. military forces in Iraq since 2011.

Several major polls released over the last two weeks – and especially following the video-taped beheadings by ISIS of two U.S. reporters — have shown strong public support for U.S. air strikes against ISIS, particularly among Republicans who, as the Council’s survey demonstrated, had previously appeared increasingly divided between its dominant interventionist wing and an ascendant libertarian faction led by Kentucky Sen. Ron Paul.

But the current rallying behind military action may be short-lived, according to Daalder. “It would be a mistake to think that the current public mood will last forever,” he cautioned. “That support [for military action] is highly conditional … on success.”

Nonetheless, the Council’s survey found strong support for air strikes against alleged terrorists already in May when respondents were interviewed.

Seven in 10 respondents said they supported air strikes against terrorist training camps and other facilities, as well as the assassination of terrorist leaders. And 56 percent said they supported attacks by U.S. ground troops against terrorist targets.

The notion that the public has become increasingly isolationist has been stoked by a series of surveys over the past year, notably a Pew Research Center poll from last year that, for the first time, found a majority (52 percent) of respondents who agreed with the proposition that “the U.S. should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best then can on their own.”

But that finding was not surprising to Steven Kull, long-time director of the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), who sees it as an expression of public frustration with a “leadership [that] is more invested in American [global dominance] than most Americans are,” especially in the wake of Washington’s experience in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It may also help explain the sharp rise in the percentage of Republicans who now believe the U.S. should “stay out of world affairs.”

In 2007, 85 percent and 73 percent of Republicans said the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, were worth fighting. Seven years later, the respective percentages have fallen to 34 percent and 40 percent. Independents and Democrats, by contrast, have been consistently more sceptical about both wars.

The Council poll also found a more general convergence in foreign-policy views between members of the two parties, particularly with respect to their approaches to China, Iran, and Syria, although Republicans tended to be more hawkish on the use of force, while Democrats were more likely to favour more U.S. support for the U.N. and peacekeeping activities.

The sharpest partisan differences, on the other hand, were on immigration and U.S. policy in the Middle East, with Republicans consistently showing more support for Israel.

Asked to choose among 18 possible “critical threats” against the U.S., cyber-warfare was cited most often (69 percent), followed by “international terrorism” (63 percent), “the possibility of unfriendly countries becoming nuclear powers” (50 percent), and “Iran’s nuclear program” (58 percent).

Among 15 possible “very important” foreign-policy goals, about three of four respondents cited protecting U.S. jobs, reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

“Helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations” was the least favoured; only 17 percent of respondents cited that as a “very important goal.” That was half the level recorded in 2002 — after Washington succeeded in ousting the Taliban in Afghanistan and just before its invasion of Iraq.

Asked what circumstances might justify using U.S. troops abroad, 71 percent of respondents cited “to deal with humanitarian crises” and “to stop a government from committing genocide and killing large numbers of its own people.” Sixty-nine percent cited “to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” Fifty-four percent cited “to ensure the oil supply.”

Strengthening the United Nations has declined as a “very important goal” for U.S. foreign policy from a high of 57 percent in 2002 to 37 percent in this year’s survey. Half of Democrats rated it as a “very important goal,” but only 27 percent of Republicans agreed.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Bypasses Security Council on Impending Invasion of Syriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-bypasses-security-council-on-impending-invasion-of-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-bypasses-security-council-on-impending-invasion-of-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-bypasses-security-council-on-impending-invasion-of-syria/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 19:37:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136608 The U.N. Security Council discusses the situation in Syria on June 26, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

The U.N. Security Council discusses the situation in Syria on June 26, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

The U.N. Security Council (UNSC), the only international body empowered to declare war and peace, continues to remain a silent witness to the widespread devastation and killings worldwide, including in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Ukraine.

A sharply divided UNSC has watched the slaughter of Palestinians by Israel, the genocide and war crimes in Syria, the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, the U.S. military attacks inside Iraq and now a virtual invasion of Syria – if U.S. President Barack Obama goes ahead with his threat to launch air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)."As an instrument for preventing or restraining war, the United Nations has devolved into a plaintive institution, with its Security Council dominated by superpowers." -- Norman Solomon

The United States has refused to go before the UNSC for authorisation and legitimacy – even if it means suffering a veto by Russia or China or both.

Still, ironically, Obama is scheduled to preside over a UNSC meeting when he is in New York in late September since the United States holds the presidency under geographical rotation among the 15 members in the Council.

A head of state or a head of government chairing a meeting of the Security Council is a rare event, not a norm.

But it does happen when a UNSC member presides over the Council in the month of September during the opening of a new General Assembly session, with over 150 world leaders in tow.

In his address to the nation early this week, Obama said, “I will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to further mobilise the international community around this effort” (“to degrade and destroy ISIS”, the rebel Islamic militant group inside Iraq and Syria).

Still, the proposed strike inside Syria is not part of the Council’s agenda – and certainly not under the U.S. presidency.

Obama also said intelligence agencies have not detected any specific ISIS plots against the United States.

ISIS is still a regional threat that could ultimately reach out to the United States, he said, justifying the impending attacks.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org, told IPS, “As an instrument for preventing or restraining war, the United Nations has devolved into a plaintive institution, with its Security Council dominated by superpowers — most of all by the United States in tandem with its permanent-member allies.”

He said it used to be that U.S. presidents at least went through the motions of seeking Security Council approval for going to war, but this is scarcely the case anymore.

“When it lacks the capacity to get what it wants by way of a non-vetoed Security Council resolution for its war aims, the U.S. government simply proceeds as though the United Nations has no significant existence,” said Solomon, author of ‘War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.’

Internationally, he said, this is the case because there are no geopolitical leverage points or institutional U.N. frameworks sufficient to require the United States to actually take the Security Council seriously as anything much more than a platform for pontification.

A Russian official was quoted as saying the Obama administration would need to get a UNSC resolution before it launches air attacks inside Syria — which, of course, the Russians did not do either before they intervened in Ukraine.

Perhaps all this points only in one direction: the UNSC has time and again proved its unworthiness – and remains ineffective and politically impotent having outlived its usefulness, particularly in crisis situations.

Humanitarian aid? Yes. Collective international action? No.

The veto-wielding permanent members of the UNSC – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – are obviously not interested in fairness, justice or political integrity but only interested in protecting their own national interests.

In an editorial Friday, the New York Times struck a cautious note when it said there will be no turning back once air strikes enter Syrian territory, unleashing events that simply cannot be foreseen.

“Surely, that’s a lesson America has learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco where he serves as coordinator of the programme in Middle Eastern Studies, told IPS, “Regardless of whether it is justified or not, air strikes by the United States or other foreign powers in Iraq and Syria are clearly acts of war requiring U.N. authorisation.”

If the threat from ISIS and the limited nature of the military response is what President Obama says it is, then the United States should have little trouble in receiving support from the Security Council, said Zunes, who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council and serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.

“The refusal to come to the United Nations, then, serves as yet another example of the contempt Washington apparently has for the world body,” he said.

Peter Yeo, executive director of Better World Campaign, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to strengthening U.S.-U.N. relations, has called on the U.S. Congress to engage the United Nations in addressing the critical challenges in the Middle East, including Syria and Iraq.

“Let Congress know the U.S. cannot go it alone in confronting this challenge, and that we should continue to utilise resources like the U.N. Security Council and the U.N.’s humanitarian response agencies to combat ongoing and future threats,” he said.

More than ever, the U.S. needs the U.N. as a strategic partner to help facilitate the complex security and humanitarian response needs in the region, he said in a statement released Thursday.

Solomon told IPS that the domestic politics of the U.S. have been sculpted in recent decades to relegate the U.N. to the role of afterthought or oratorical amphitheatre unless it can be coupled to the U.S. war train of the historic moment.

“Deformed as it is as a representation of only the governments of some sectors of global power, the Security Council still has some potential for valid exercise of discourse – even diplomacy – if not legitimate decision-making per se.”

But the Security Council ultimately represents the skewed agendas of its permanent members, and those agendas only include peace to the extent that permanent members are actually interested in peace and such interest, at best intermittent, depends on undependable willingness to look beyond narrow nationalistic and corporate interests, Solomon added.

“Of course, the U.S. government has continued to engage in acts of war in several countries on an ongoing basis for more than a dozen years.”

The military strikes now being planned by the White House will add Syria to the list of countries attacked by a Washington-based government that speaks loudly about international law at the same time that it violates international law at will, he argued.

The U.S. government will decide whether to seek any authorisation or resolution from the U.N. Security Council primarily on the basis of gauging likely benefits of rhetorical grandstanding, Solomon predicted.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Bishop Appeals to U.N. to Rescue Minorities in Northwestern Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-bishop-appeals-to-u-n-to-rescue-minorities-in-northwestern-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-bishop-appeals-to-u-n-to-rescue-minorities-in-northwestern-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-bishop-appeals-to-u-n-to-rescue-minorities-in-northwestern-iraq/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:07:03 +0000 Bishop Bawai Soro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136599 Iraqi Christians attend an Easter mass at Chaldean Catholic church in Amman Apr. 24, 2011. Thousands of Iraqi Christians fled to neighbouring Jordan following a spate of bombings that targeted churches in Iraqi cities in the past few years. Credit: http://catholicdefender2000.blogspot.com/

Iraqi Christians attend an Easter mass at Chaldean Catholic church in Amman Apr. 24, 2011. Thousands of Iraqi Christians fled to neighbouring Jordan following a spate of bombings that targeted churches in Iraqi cities in the past few years. Credit: http://catholicdefender2000.blogspot.com/

By Bishop Bawai Soro
SAN DIEGO, Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

For decades, the minority Christian population of Iraq has been suffering hardships. But in the summer months of 2014 – and since the beginning of the military campaign by ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIL or Islamic State) – the situation has gone from bad to intolerably worse.

The Chaldean Catholic Church is one of the Eastern Catholic Churches, which is an autonomous, self-governing church in full communion with the Pope (Bishop of Rome) and the wider Roman Catholic Church.What is needed is not short-term panacea or lip-service or promises but long-term institutional solutions overseen by the United Nations and aimed at protecting the human right to life of the minority Chaldea and Assyrian Christians, and their Yazidi neighbours.

Chaldean Christians number over half a million people who are ethnic Assyrians and indigenous to predominantly northwestern Iraq and parts of northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran.

The core villages of the Chaldean people, located in the Nineveh plain in northwestern Iraq, were attacked and decimated by ISIS in a matter of days, leaving the fleeing Christian inhabitants not only homeless but also internally displaced refugees (IDRs) in their own ancient land.

After having their lives threatened and facing the stark choice of either converting to the warped and extremist interpretation of Islam proselytised by ISIS, paying a heavy tax, or dying in large numbers (many by beheading), tens of thousands of men, women, children, the elderly and infirm fled.

And many of them fled on foot in the searing heat with little or no food, water or shelter – into Iraqi Kurdistan, mostly to Erbil and Duhok, seeking safety, security and asylum.

It is incumbent on all democratic peoples to aid the scattered Chaldean people who find themselves in such a desperate, stark life or death situation. Some are encouraging the displaced to return to their villages, and indeed they are always free to do so.

However, we must understand that people have chosen to leave their beloved homeland to reach safety and protect their families, even at the cost of their dignity.

Upon their return, the displaced would more often than not find their homes damaged, looted or destroyed by ISIS and their local allies.

The million-dollar question therefore is: What kind of future awaits the minority Chaldean and Assyrian Christian population of Iraq?

The people fleeing and begging for international asylum have spoken for themselves. It is now up to those in the democratic West led by the United States and Europe, together with the United Nations, to respond to this acute humanitarian crisis and crimes against humanity.

They need swift justice and human generosity.

What is needed is not short-term panacea or lip-service or promises but long-term institutional solutions overseen by the United Nations and aimed at protecting the human right to life of the minority Chaldea and Assyrian Christians, and their Yazidi neighbours.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s White House address to the nation on Wednesday night was very encouraging, to say the least.

As President Obama stated, the launching of “a steady, relentless effort” to root out the extremists from ISIS “wherever they exist” shall create the necessary security environment to bring about peace and stability.

It will undoubtedly create conducive conditions for the return of displaced minority Chaldean and Assyrian Christians and the Yazidi to their homes in Nineveh province they have inhabited for over two thousand years.

The future of a united Iraq depends on maintaining peace, stability and economic prosperity for all the peoples inhabiting this ancient land.

Ensuring that the spirit of tolerance and cohabitation deepens and thrives is part and parcel of any such long-term structural solution.

It is imperative that policymakers in Washington, DC, New York and at the United Nations and in western European capitals take this long-term vision on board and act accordingly with adequate resources made available.

It is then, and only then, that the plight of the minority Chaldean and Assyrian Christians and other minorities can be addressed in a truly meaningful fashion in a future peaceful, multi-religious, multi-ethnic and economically prosperous Iraq.

Failure to do so will only see a recurrence of the tragic events unfolding in Iraq and Syria, further compounding the destitution, misery and desperation of millions of human beings caught up in the mayhem being unleashed by armed terrorists.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. 

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Hamas Rocket Launches Don’t Explain Israel’s Gaza Destructionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/hamas-rocket-launches-dont-explain-israels-gaza-destruction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hamas-rocket-launches-dont-explain-israels-gaza-destruction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/hamas-rocket-launches-dont-explain-israels-gaza-destruction/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 18:24:22 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136560 Palestinians collect their belongings from under the rubble of a residential tower, which witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Aug. 24. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

Palestinians collect their belongings from under the rubble of a residential tower, which witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Aug. 24. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Sep 9 2014 (IPS)

Israel and its supporters abroad have parried accusations of indiscriminate destruction and mass killing of civilians in Gaza by arguing that they were consequences of strikes aimed at protecting Israeli civilians from rockets that were being launched from very near civilian structures.

That defence has already found its way into domestic U.S. politics. A possible contender for the Democratic nomination for president, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, defended her vote for more military aid for Israel during the Israeli assault on Gaza by citing the rocket launch defence.The IDF obviously did not have actual intelligence on each of those homes that had been reduced to rubble. The massive designation of houses as “hideouts” indicates the Israelis believed Palestinian fighters were hiding in some of them.

“[W]hen Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets,” said Warren. “And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself.”

But although some Hamas rockets were launched near homes or other civilian structures, military developments on both sides have rendered that defence of Israeli attacks on civilian targets invalid.

The rocket launchers for Hamas’s homemade Qassam missiles consist of simple tripods that can be removed in seconds, and the extensive Hamas tunnel network has given it underground launching sites as well as storage facilities for its larger, longer-range Grad and M-75 missiles.

On the other side, the Israeli Air Force possesses air-to-ground missiles that are so accurate that they can destroy a very small target without any damage to civilian structure even if it is very close.

A video released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in a report on Hamas’s “illegal use of civilian infrastructure” last month shows an attack – obviously by an Israeli drone — on an underground rocket launcher only a few metres away from a mosque causing no damage whatever to the mosque.

These technological changes take away any justification for flattening civilian buildings even if a rocket launch site is nearby. In fact, however, the evidence now available indicates that Hamas launch sites are not that close to hospitals, schools and mosques.

The IDF sought in mid-July to use the rocket launcher defence to explain the damage to Al Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatic Hospital in eastern Gaza City from 15 rockets, which forced the staff to evacuate its patients. An IDF spokesman said the military had “no choice” because rockets had been launched from very near the hospital.

Clearly revealing that the rocket launch justification for the attack was a ruse, however, the spokesman revealed to Allison Degler of Mondoweiss that the alleged launch site was 100 metres from the hospital. That would have been far more space than was needed to strike the launch site without any damage to the hospital whatever.

A report released by the IDF Aug. 19 included an aerial view of Al Wafa Hospital with two alleged rocket launching sites marked at locations that appeared to be much farther from the hospital than the 100 metres claimed by the IDF spokesman.

The IDF nevertheless went so far as to declare on Jul. 21, “Hamas fires rockets from Wafa hospital in the Gaza neighborhood of Shujaiya.”

When the IDF destroyed Al Wafa hospital completely by airstrikes on Jul. 23, it abandoned the pretense that the reason was a Hamas rocket launch site. Instead it released a video purporting to show firing at IDF troops from the hospital.

It turned out, however, the video clips of the firing been shot during “Operation Cast Lead” in 2009, not in 2014.

The IDF has continued to suggest that its destruction of public civilian facilities was forced on it by rocket launches from within those facilities. At the end of the “Operation Protective Edge” the IDF spokesman’s office claimed that 597 rockets had been launched from civilian facilities, of which 160 were allegedly fired from schools, 50 from hospitals, and 160 from mosques.

But those figures were by produced only by pretending that launching sites some distance from the facilities in question were on the premises of the facilities.

An IDF “declassified report” released Aug. 19, aimed at showing that civilian facilities were serving as military infrastructure for Hamas, includes no evidence of any rocket launches on the grounds of any civilian facility.

A very blurry 20-second video appears to show a rocket launch from what is identified as “Abu Nur” school. But it, too, is deceptive. A black streak rises from the area of the school for a little more than a second of the video, but for the entire length of the video two voices declare repeatedly that they saw three rockets launched “from within the school”.

Careful viewing of the footage reveals, however, that the apparent launch comes from outside the wall of the three-story school building rather than from within it.

In three other cases of alleged rocket launches from schools, the IDF provides no visual evidence – only large red dots drawn on an aerial view of the schools.

During the “Operation Protective Edge”, the IDF openly targeted mosques, claiming they are military targets, demolishing 73 mosques and partially destroying 205 more.

The Aug. 19 IDF report refers to a “rocket cache and gathering point for militants hidden in a mosque” in Nuseirat. But despite frequent repetitions of the notion that Hamas routinely stores rockets in mosques, the IDF has not produced photographic evidence of rocket storage in a single mosque.

Nor has the IDF made public any video evidence of secondary explosions from the destruction of mosques. In a tacit admission that such evidence is lacking, the report instead cites an instance of a “concealed entrance” to a Hamas tunnel located between a mosque and a school.

The most extensive destruction of civilian structures in “Operation Protective Edge” was the complete leveling of large parts of entire neighbourhoods in the Shujaiya district of Gaza City on Jul. 19. After the United Nations published a map showing the complete destruction of those areas of Shujaiya, the IDF published its own map on Aug. 4 aimed at justifying the destruction.

The map shows that the IDF can’t claim the proximity of Hamas rocket launching sites as the justification for the leveling of many residential blocks in Shujaiya. The Israeli military had identified every home in the devastated neighbourhoods on its map as a “hideout” for Hamas or Islamic Jihad fighters.

The IDF obviously did not have actual intelligence on each of those homes that had been reduced to rubble. The massive designation of houses as “hideouts” indicates the Israelis believed Palestinian fighters were hiding in some of them.

Although the red dots on the IDF map identifying rocket launch sites are too big to estimate accurately the distance between them and the closest houses, only a few such dots appear to be as close as one city block to a house in one of the areas of massive destruction. And all but a few of the homes destroyed are much farther than a block from the alleged launching sites.

An account of the Shujaiya destruction by journalist Mark Perry based on a Jul. 21 U.S. Defence Department report recalls that the IDF fired 7,000 artillery shells at residential areas in the district the night of Jul. 19, including 4,500 shells in the space of just seven hours.

Such massive and indiscriminate destruction of civilian structures is strictly prohibited by the international laws of war. Israeli officials have frequently said the purpose of IDF military operations in both Lebanon and Gaza was to “deter” their adversaries in the future by imposing heavy costs on the civilian population.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted at porter.gareth50@gmail.com

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: From Schools to Shelters in Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-from-schools-to-shelters-in-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-from-schools-to-shelters-in-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-from-schools-to-shelters-in-iraq/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 17:59:24 +0000 Fred Abrahams http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136558 The U.S. can help the Yazidis and their Kurdish hosts by increasing financial support for desperately needed shelters and schools. Credit: Fred Abrahams / Human Rights Watch

The U.S. can help the Yazidis and their Kurdish hosts by increasing financial support for desperately needed shelters and schools. Credit: Fred Abrahams / Human Rights Watch

By Fred Abrahams
ERBIL, Sep 9 2014 (IPS)

Using schools for shelter was a natural. When the Islamic State drove waves of people from the Sinjar area of Iraq in early August, most of them members of the Yazidi minority group, they fled first to the mountains and then to the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan. They camped out in whatever unoccupied structures they could find.

Now more than 600 schools are filled with desperate families struggling to come to terms with the trauma of the mass killings, abductions, and sexual violence by the Islamic State that decimated their communities. They sleep in classrooms, hallways, and the courtyards of facilities intended for children’s education.The governor of Duhok, Farhad Atrushi, said 130,000 people were living in Duhok schools. “If I didn’t open the doors, they would be on roads and in open areas,” he said.

The impact is double-edged. With no prospect for them to return home soon, these people need better shelter and care for the long term, including education for the tens of thousands of children among them. Yet the children of accommodating host communities also need access to their schools.

The school year under the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is due to start on Sep. 10. But hundreds of schools will not be able to open that day.

According to the KRG Education Ministry, 653 schools in the Dohuk governorate, which has borne the brunt of the crisis, are being used to shelter displaced Yazidis and others, with schools playing a similar role in the cities of Sulaimaniya and Erbil. Across Iraq, around 2,000 schools are being used to shelter the displaced, the United Nations says.

The northwestern Duhok governorate, with its 1.3 million residents, has absorbed 520,000 displaced people, according to the U.N. That’s in addition to 220,000 refugees from the conflict in neighboring Syria already in KRG areas. Around the country, 1.8 million people are internally displaced.

The governor of Duhok, Farhad Atrushi, said 130,000 people were living in Duhok schools. “If I didn’t open the doors, they would be on roads and in open areas,” he said.

The immediate answer to the crisis gripping Duhok schools is to build camps, and that is happening. But it will take months before the 14 planned camps in KRG areas are up and running, and they will only serve half of the displaced. More funds are urgently needed to expedite and expand the work.

The United States and other countries can help the Yazidis and other Iraqis by increasing their financial support for desperately needed humanitarian aid.

Compounding the problem is an ongoing budget dispute between the KRG and Iraq’s central government, which has blocked central government funding for displaced people in the Kurdish region and kept teachers there from getting regularly paid for months. Children should not be held hostage to the political crisis gripping Iraq.

The dispute includes differences in curriculum between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish-run region. To promote education and reduce tension, the Baghdad authorities and the KRG should rapidly find ways to deliver textbooks and administer exams.

The logistical and political hurdles are daunting. But the children here, both residents and the displaced, need all the help they can get to turn the shelters back to schools.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

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U.S. Military Joins Ebola Response in West Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-military-joins-ebola-response-in-west-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-military-joins-ebola-response-in-west-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-military-joins-ebola-response-in-west-africa/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 22:45:46 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136550 As one of the Ebola epicentres, the district of Kailahun, in eastern Sierra Leone bordering Guinea, was put under quarantine at the beginning of August. Credit: ©EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre

As one of the Ebola epicentres, the district of Kailahun, in eastern Sierra Leone bordering Guinea, was put under quarantine at the beginning of August. Credit: ©EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

The U.S. military over the weekend formally began to support the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Advocates of the move, including prominent voices in global health, are lauding the Pentagon’s particularly robust logistical capacities, which nearly all observers say are desperately needed as the epidemic expands at an increasing rate.On Monday, the United Nations warned of an “exponential increase” in cases in coming weeks.

Yet already multiple concerns have arisen over the scope of the mission – including whether it is strong enough at the outset as well as whether it could become too broad in future.

President Barack Obama made the first public announcement on the issue on Sunday, contextualising the outbreak as a danger to U.S. national security.

“We’re going to have to get U.S. military assets just to set up, for example, isolation units and equipment there to provide security for public health workers surging from around the world,” the president said during a televised interview. “If we don’t make that effort now … it could be a serious danger to the United States.”

While the United States has spent more than 20 million dollars in West Africa this year to combat the disease, Washington has come under increased criticism in recent months for not doing enough. Obama is now expected to request additional funding from Congress later this month.

The military’s response, however, has already begun – albeit apparently on a very small scale for now, and in just a single Ebola-hit country.

A Defence Department spokesperson told IPS that, over the weekend, Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel approved the deployment of a “25-bed deployable hospital facility, equipment, and the support necessary to establish the facility” in Liberia. For now, this is the extent of the approved response.

The spokesperson was quick to note that additional planning is underway, but emphasised that the Pentagon is responding only to requests made by other federal agencies and taking no lead role. Further, its commitment to the hospital in Liberia, the country most affected by the outbreak, is limited.

The Department of Defence “will not have a permanent presence at the facility and will not provide direct patient care, but will ensure that supplies are maintained at the hospital and provide periodic support required to keep the hospital facility functioning for up to 180 days,” the spokesperson said.

“This approach provides for the establishment of the hospital facility in the shortest possible period of time … Once the deployable hospital facility is established, it will be transferred to the Government of Liberia.”

On Monday, Liberia’s defence minister, Brownie Samukai, said his government was “extremely pleased” by the announcement.

“We had discussions at the Department of Defence on the issues of utilising and requesting the full skill of United States capabilities, both on the soft side and on the side of providing logistics and technical expertise,” Samukai, who is currently here in Washington, told the media. “We look forward to that cooperation as expeditiously as we can.”

No security needed

The current Ebola outbreak has now killed some 2,100 people and infected more than 3,500 in five countries. On Monday, the United Nations warned of an “exponential increase” in cases in coming weeks.

Yet thus far the epidemic has resulted in an international response that is almost universally seen as dangerously inadequate. Obama’s statement Sunday nonetheless raised questions even among those supportive of the announcement.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the French humanitarian group, remains the single most important international organisation in physically responding to the outbreak. While MSF has long opposed the use of military personnel in response to disease outbreaks, last week it broke with that tradition.

Warning that the global community is “failing” to address the epidemic, the group told a special U.N. briefing that countries with “civilian and military medical capability … must immediately dispatch assets and personnel to West Africa”.

Yet while MSF has welcomed Obama’s announcement, the group is also expressing strong concerns over the president’s reference to the U.S. military providing “security for public health workers”.

MSF “reiterates the need for this support to be of medical nature only,” Tim Shenk, a press officer with the group, told IPS. “Aid workers do not need additional security support in the affected region.”

Last week, MSF urged that any military personnel deployed to West Africa not be used for “quarantine, containment or crowd control measures”.

The Defence Department spokesperson told IPS that the U.S. military had not yet received a request to provide security for health workers.

Few guidelines

The United States is not the only country now turning to its military to bolster the flagging humanitarian response in West Africa.

The British government in recent days announced even more significant plans, aiming to set up 68 beds for Ebola patients at a centre, in Sierra Leone, that will be jointly operated by humanitarians and military personnel. The Canadian government had reportedly been contemplating a military plan as well, although this now appears to have been shelved.

Yet the concerns expressed by MSF over how the military deployment should go forward underscore the fact that there exists little formal guidance on the involvement of foreign military personnel in international health-related response.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), for instance, has no broad stance on the issue, a spokesperson told IPS. As the WHO is an intergovernmental agency, it is up to affected countries to make related decisions and request.

“Each country handles its own security situation,” Daniel Epstein, a WHO spokesperson, told IPS. “So if governments agree to military involvement from other countries, that’s their business.”

Another spokesperson with the agency, Margaret Harris, told IPS that the WHO appreciates “the skills that well-trained, disciplined and highly organised groups like the US military can bring to the campaign to end Ebola.”

Yet there is already concern that the U.S. military response could be shaping up to be far less robust than necessary.

MSF’s Shenk noted that any plan from the U.S. military would need to include both the construction and operation of Ebola centres. Thus far, the Pentagon says it will not be doing any operating.

While around 570 Ebola beds are currently available in West Africa, MSF estimates that at least 1,000 hospital spaces, capable of providing full isolation, are needed in the region.

In a series of tweets on Monday, Laurie Garrett, a prominent global health scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington think tank, expressed alarm that the Defence Department’s Ebola response was shaping up to be “tiny” in comparison to what is needed.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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War Over but Not Gaza’s Housing Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/war-over-but-not-gazas-housing-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-over-but-not-gazas-housing-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/war-over-but-not-gazas-housing-crisis/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 08:12:19 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136527 Members of Abu Sheira's family in front of the tent they set up in the grounds of Al-Shifa hospital, Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Members of Abu Sheira's family in front of the tent they set up in the grounds of Al-Shifa hospital, Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

“When the [Israeli] shelling started, I gathered up my family and headed for what I though was a safe place, like a school, but then that became overcrowded and lacked sanitation, so we ended up in the grounds of the hospital.”

Islam Abu Sheira from Beit Hanoun, a city on the north-eastern edge of the Gaza Strip, was speaking to IPS in front of what has been his family’s makeshift ‘home’ at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City for the last two months. His eyes misted over as he recalled his devastated home and his efforts to find a safe refuge for his family."I found no other safe place to shelter in but Al-Shifa Hospital. Together with our seven children we fled into the hospital grounds and slept our first night under trees to escape the Israeli missiles that were destroying whole areas, killing entire families" – Islam Abu Sheira, a refugee from Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip

In his forties, Islam described his family’s ordeal after Israeli shelling left them homeless and they first sought refuge in a school run by UNRWA, the U.N. relief and development agency for Palestinian refugees, and were then forced by overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions to move out and seek shelter elsewhere.

“I found no other safe place to shelter in but Al-Shifa Hospital. Together with our seven children we fled into the hospital grounds and slept our first night under trees to escape the Israeli missiles that were destroying whole areas, killing entire families, ” said Islam,  adding that “during the war, the only thing we were looking for was a place that could protect us from the shelling.”

Like the majority of Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed, they have lost their belongings and, for the time being, their chances of living a life of dignity. Most families in the Gaza Strip were forced to leave their homes so quickly that they had no time to take anything with them.

“We simply have no livelihood and my children sleep every night on the ground without even a blanket to cover them,” lamented Islam. “We have been living a primitive life since we fled our home without even taking the clothes we need.”

As the numbers of people escaping the shelling mounted, so did the difficulty of sheltering them. Schools did their best, but there were insufficient basic necessities and medical supplies, and they were housing four or five persons, if not more, in each classroom.

Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed by Israeli shelling of Gaza sheltering in a UNRWA school. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed by Israeli shelling of Gaza sheltering in a UNRWA school. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Jamila Saad, a housewife who is taking care of her 12-member family and also fled to one of the UNRWA schools, told IPS: “The school was receiving more and more refugees, and we and the other refugee families were sharing one toilet. We need a better life for our children and we hope that our home will soon be rebuilt so that we can begin a new life there in our new home.”

The complex and harsh conditions that the Palestinian refugees are suffering in schools and other shelter centres has pushed most international organisations to provide the refugees with as much aid as possible, but this is far from finding a final solution for the refugees’ suffering.

The conditions of the thousands of refugees who have lost their homes has placed the new Palestinian government before an enormous challenge and a huge responsibility to provide these refugee families with care and a secure environment, as well take on the responsibility of implementing the reconstruction programmes financially aided by the European Union and donor states in accordance with ceasefire agreement brokered in Cairo between Israel and Hamas, especially in terms of the reconstruction of Gaza.

Mufid al-Hasayna, Minister of Public Works and Housing in the new Palestinian unity government, told IPS that “the amount of destruction of houses and economic facilities is massive, and the population of Gaza is living under hard conditions, so we are working hard to improve the living conditions of people. We are working on programmes to start reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and rebuild destroyed houses and

Al-Hasayna believes that the blurred vision Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have of their future after 50 days of war and their constant fear of being retargeted by the Israeli occupation forces have only added to a worsening of their situation.

Amjad Shawa, Director of the Palestinian NGO Network, told IPS: “The harsh circumstances that the Gaza Strip underwent over the 50 days of the Israeli occupation’s war reduced the population’s access to water and food and threatened people’s security, while the bombing of residential high ‘towers’ housing dozens of families has left serious impacts on civilians.

According to Shawa, the housing situation is now all the more dramatic because, even before Israel’s ‘Operation Protective Edge’, the Gaza Strip was already suffering from the deficit of 70,000 housing units that had been destroyed in the 2009 and 2012 wars.

“Following the two wars, scheduled housing projects to rebuild the infrastructure were not implemented, and the deficit of housing units has reached a state that has put the population in a situation of real disaster,” Shawa told IPS.

He called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to form an independent body of Palestinian civil society organisations to create a plan for reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

According to a report prepared by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), in June 2014 the Gaza Strip was home to an estimated population of 1.76 million living in a coastal area that extends along the Mediterranean Sea and covers approximately 365 square kilometres with a maximum width of 12 kilometres.

The PCBS believes that Gaza Strip’s narrow surface area and high population has contributed to some extent to the distribution of people in large blocks and increased its population density, turning the Strip into one the most densely populated areas in the world.

Population density in the Gaza Strip has reached 2,744 per square kilometre, and experts say this means that food, health and education should be the top priorities for the future development agenda of decision-makers.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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New Operation Could Hide Major Shift in Europe’s Immigration Control Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-operation-could-hide-major-shift-in-europes-immigration-control-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-operation-could-hide-major-shift-in-europes-immigration-control-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-operation-could-hide-major-shift-in-europes-immigration-control-policy/#comments Sat, 06 Sep 2014 17:27:05 +0000 Apostolis Fotiadis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136519 By Apostolis Fotiadis
ATHENS, Sep 6 2014 (IPS)

‘Mare Nostrum’ – the largest search and rescue immigration operation ever carried out in the Mediterranean Sea – has become an issue of bitter brinkmanship between human rights groups and anti-immigrant lobbies.

At a higher political level, it has produced a tough negotiation between Italy and Europe, with the former asking for a European solution to immigration control in the Mediterranean.

Abandoned migrant boats lie lifeless opposite the port of Lampedusa, Italy, an island which experiences frequent migration from nearby North Africa. Credit: UN Photo/UNHCR/Phil Behan

Abandoned migrant boats lie lifeless opposite the port of Lampedusa, Italy, an island which experiences frequent migration from nearby North Africa. Credit: UN Photo/UNHCR/Phil Behan

‘Mare Nostrum’ was launched in October 2013 by Italy in the wake of a shipwreck south of the island of Lampedusa – the southernmost part of Italy lying 176 km off the coast of Sicily – that took the lives of 368 immigrants, mostly refugees from Syria and African countries.

The search and rescue operation is a military naval operation supported by the Italian Air Force and Coast Guard as well as civilian volunteers and medical personnel. It has operated in a vast area of the Central Mediterranean.

Between October 2013 and August 2014, ‘Mare Nostrum’ rescued over 115,000 people, mostly refugees, and transferred them to Italian territory. About 2,000 people are estimated to have lost their lives in the Mediterranean during the same period.

Human rights activists have praised the operation for rescuing refugees while its opponents have blamed it for producing a pull factor for immigrants and providing an illicit shuttle to Europe for them, making the job of traffickers easier.

The European Commission has now decided to flank the ‘Mare Nostrum’ initiative, although it has no intention of replacing it. After a meeting on August 27, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom and Italian Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano announced a new Frontex operation to stand by Italy’s ‘Mare Nostrum’ operation in the Mediterranean.

One of the main roles of Frontex – the European Union agency for external border security that started operations in May 2005 – is to protect Europe’s external borders from illegal immigration and people trafficking.

Announcing the new operation, which has temporarily been named ‘Frontex Plus’, Commissioner Malmstrom called on European member states to translate “oral solidarity into concrete action” by contributing resources and means.Humanitarian organisations in Italy have been quick to criticise ‘Frontex Plus’, saying that its description is still vague and that its primary aim is not the rescuing of immigrants and refugees but the upgrading of border surveillance and deterrence.

Ska Keller, Green Member of the European Parliament  told IPS that the new operation is “the result of pressure extorted by Italy on Brussels, but not what Italy has been asking for. It’s true Italy is rescuing a lot of people but this is not their main concern, they will not necessarily be happy to continue with Mare Nostrum.”

Humanitarian organisations in Italy have been quick to criticise ‘Frontex Plus’, saying that its description is still vague and that its primary aim is not the rescuing of immigrants and refugees but the upgrading of border surveillance and deterrence.

Silvia Canciani, press officer of the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI), told IPS that her association is “extremely concerned” because the only certainty about the new operation “is that ships will patrol only in European waters, 12 miles from the coast”, meaning they will no longer venture into international waters, like ‘Mare Nostrum’, which operated 170 miles from the Italian coast.

She added that it is still unknown whether Italian authorities plan to postpone, amend or carry on with ‘Mare Nostrum’ as it is, but a withdrawal from the operation might have a direct consequence on lives being lost in the Mediterranean.

Other critical voices stress how conservatives in the European Union see an opportunity in the negotiations that will follow on the new operation to capitalise on the issue of returning incoming migrants to safe third countries or to their countries of embarkation.

In a blog commenting on the announcement of ‘Frontex Plus’, Italian law professor Fulvio Vassalo Paleologo, a well-known commentator on immigration issues in the region, observed that in their joint announcement “the word ‘rescue’ has disappeared from Alfano’s and Malmstom’s vocabulary.” He also noted that neither of them had made a single remark about the conditions immigrants face in transit countries.

Both could be indications that the European Commission is seriously considering pushing for the control of population influxes outside European borders.

One day before the Malmstrom-Alfano announcement, the Italian edition of Huffington Post published an article citing an anonymous source in the Italian Ministry of the Interior, who was present at negotiations for the new operations in Brussels, as saying that “many people in Brussels see Mare Nostrum as an informal ferry for migrants.”

The unprecedented flows Europe is going to face given the geopolitical crisis in the Middle East will enforce a change of policy, which will translate into trying to “manage the flows of refugees and migrants in transit countries before they are on board for Italy,” the source said.

For this, he continued “we must work to re-negotiate readmission agreements with countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco” and then stop incoming immigrants on board and not let them proceed to Italy “unless they have already started the procedures for refugee status and we have already made identifications before they are on board.”

The policy scenario in the Huffington Post article was vividly mirrored in an Italian Interior Ministry’s press release two days later, after a meeting between Minister Alfano and his French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve to discuss “illegal immigration in the Central Mediterranean”.

Notably the meeting took place only one day after the announcement of ‘Frontex Plus’ in which France is expected to be one of the most active partners.

In the ministry’s press release, the term ‘rescue’ is again absent and the definition of the aim of ‘Frontex Plus’ is to “ensure control and surveillance of the external sea borders of the European Union … according to the rules of Frontex.”

From the press release, it also appears that both the Italian and French ministers believe that the issue of immigration should increasingly be dealt with “as a foreign policy issue” with “more emphasis to be given to the role of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”, meaning the European External Action Service (EEAS) which implements the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

The two ministers also identified two key policy objectives to push for within the European Union: “the commitment of all Member States of the European Union to a strict application of the rules for the identification of illegal migrants provided by European legislation and the strengthening of cooperation with countries of origin and transit in the field of border surveillance, police cooperation and development aid to these countries.”

Frontex’s key role in a new operation could facilitate these objectives given that the regulation “establishing rules for the surveillance of the external sea borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operation Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the EU (Frontex)” adopted on April 30, 2014, includes provisions for the interception of incoming vessels in international waters and their return to third countries.

Many pro-immigrant organisations such as Frontexit (a campaign led by associations, researchers and individuals from both North and South of the Mediterranean on the initiative of the Migreurop network), the Belgian Coordination Initiative for Refugees and Foreigners (CIRE), as well as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists, have indicated highly controversial legal gaps in the regulation that could compromise the rights of persons in need of international protection.

In a joint briefing, the latter said that despite some positive aspects, other aspects fail to meet the requirements of international law, including refugee law, human rights law, the law of the sea and E.U. law.

When asked to comment on the nature of the ‘Frontex Plus’ operation, Malmstroms’s office said: “At the moment we do not have anything to add in addition to the statement made by the Commissioner last week. The Commission is working on the definition of the adequate operational area and the components of a larger joint operation which can be a useful complement to the Italian efforts.”

It is thus clear that ‘Frontex Plus’ will eventually only play a merely auxiliary role alongside Italy’s ‘Mare Nostrum’ operation, particularly so when the costs of the operation are taken into account.

‘Mare Nostrum’ costs Italy over 9 million euro each month, while the current entire 2014 budget for Frontex is 89 million euro, with only 55 of them allocated for operational activities.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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No Easy Choices for Syrians with Small Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/no-easy-choices-for-syrians-with-small-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-easy-choices-for-syrians-with-small-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/no-easy-choices-for-syrians-with-small-children/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 12:24:01 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136492 What remains of a street in Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

What remains of a street in Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
GAZIANTEP, Turkey, Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

The woman who walked into the Islamic Front (IF) media office near the Turkish border was on the verge of fainting under the hot Syrian sun, but all she cared about was her infant son.

With over half of the country’s population displaced, she was just one of the parents among the more than three million UN-registered Syrian refugees grappling with how to keep their children safe and healthy while dealing with the innumerable dangers inherent in war zones, refugee camps and statelessness.

When IPS met the young woman in early August, she was living in the nearby Bab Al-Salama camp in northern Syria after having been displaced from an area of heavy fighting.Over 200,000 Syrians are living outside the camps in Gaziantep and rent prices have roughly tripled since the massive influx of refugees starting. Protests broke out in mid-August against their presence, and they are increasingly being targeted by violence.

The infant was only a few weeks old and needed to be breastfed, but there was nowhere out of the sight of men. And so, wearing a stifling niqab, she asked to use the room that now serves to ‘register’ foreign journalists crossing the border.

The room afforded some shade and privacy in which to breastfeed and, once the twenty-two-year-old former fighter in charge of the office had stepped out, she started feeding her child.

As she blew gently his sweaty forehead, the woman told IPS that she had kidney problems and could not sit – she could only lie down or stand up. She said that she was also having problems accessing medical care, for both herself and her feverish son. And even if the black abaya covering her body and the niqab over her face were hot, ‘’it’s better to use them,’’ she said, ‘’it’s war”.

The area around the Bab Al-Salama camp just across the border from the Turkish town of Kilis has been bombed several times, including a car bomb in May that killed dozens.

On the other side of the border, the camps that the Turkish government has set up for the over 800,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations are said to be able to accommodate fewer than 300,000 of them.

In formal and informal refugee camps throughout the world, women are notoriously at risk of sexual crimes. Alongside economic issues, many parents on both sides of the border cite this as a reason to marry off their daughters earlier, in the attempt to ‘’protect their honour’’ and find someone to provide for them.

The children resulting from these unions are almost always unable to be registered and are thus stateless, joining the ranks of the many Syrian Kurds and others denied citizenship under Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.

Mohamed was an officer in the Syrian regime’s army. From a fairly large tribe in Idlib, his family was targeted by the regime once the conflict began and he has fought with different Free Syrian Army brigades over the past few years.

Soon after a number of women were reportedly raped by ’shabiha’ in his area, he moved his young wife, mother and sisters across the border. He now crosses illegally into Turkey to see them when not fighting.

Street scene in rebel-held Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Street scene in rebel-held Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Mohamed is seeking ways to reach Europe. When IPS first met him in autumn of 2013, he had no intention of leaving. However, since then, his first son has been born, stateless.  The Syrian regime did not issue passports to officers in order to prevent them from defecting even prior to the 2011 uprising, and none of his family possesses one.

As a professional soldier without a salary and with no moderate rebel groups providing adequate wages to support a family, as well as no desire to join extremist groups – many of which would pay better – he feels does not know how else he can provide for his family.

‘’There’ s no future here,’’ he said.

On the Turkish side of the border, Ahmad – originally from Aleppo, Syria’s industrial capital – says he does not want to leave the region.

“I once asked my wife what country in the world she would go to if she could, and she answered ‘Syria’,’’ he told IPS proudly.

However, he added that he had stopped going backwards and forwards as a fixer and media activist as the day approached for his wife to give birth and the situation in Aleppo worsened.

When children approached a table as IPS was having tea with him in a Turkish border town, he somewhat gruffly told a little girl begging that she should ‘’work, even if that means selling packets of tissues on the streets.’’

‘’They have to learn to work and not just ask for money. Turks are starting to get angry that we are here,’’ he said.

Over 200,000 Syrians are living outside the camps in Gaziantep and rent prices have roughly tripled since the massive influx of refugees starting. Protests broke out in mid-August against their presence, and they are increasingly being targeted by violence.

Meanwhile, some attempts are being made to raise money for schools inside Syria that would be virtual ‘bunkers’, as Assad’s regime continues to target both schools and medical facilities.

In rebel-held Aleppo, IPS stayed with a Syrian family for a number of days in August as the regime barrel bombing campaign continued and as the danger of an impending siege by government forces or a takeover by the extremist Islamic State (IS) became more likely.

The eldest of the family’s four girls – only eight-years-old – had recently been hit by a sniper’s bullet while crossing the road to one of the few schools still functioning. Although it was healing, the exit wound will leave a very ugly scar on her arm.

Whenever the bombs fell during the night, the occupants of the room would move about restlessly, while the eight-year-old was always already awake, staring into the dark, utterly motionless.

Her father was adamant, however, that – come what may – the family would not leave.

In the late afternoon, little boys could be seen playing outside in the street with scant protection from snipers, only the nylon tarp of a former UNHCR tent hung across the street in an attempt to shield them. Large gaping holes marked the buildings, or what was left of them, in the street around them.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Iraq On the Precipicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-iraq-on-the-precipice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-iraq-on-the-precipice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-iraq-on-the-precipice/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 04:23:16 +0000 Bill Miller http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136478 Since Aug. 3, there has been a massive dislocation of some 200,000 people from Iraq, resulting in more than 1.2 million displaced. Credit: Mustafa Khayat/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Since Aug. 3, there has been a massive dislocation of some 200,000 people from Iraq, resulting in more than 1.2 million displaced. Credit: Mustafa Khayat/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Bill Miller
NEW YORK, Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

The catastrophic events in Iraq that are unfolding daily are more significant than at any point in recent memory.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is now calling itself the Islamic State (IS), steamrolled out of Syria into Iraq and appeared to be unstoppable in its march to Baghdad. The Iraqi military, which was far larger and better armed, was either unable or unwilling to confront this ragtag, but determined, force of about 1,000 fighters.

Simultaneously, the world was riveted on the minority Yazidi community that had to escape to Mount Sinjar to avoid certain annihilation.

What made the situation even more dangerous was that Mount Sinjar is a rocky, barren hilltop about 67 miles long and six miles wide, protruding like a camel’s back with a daytime high temperature of 110 degrees, as Kieran Dwyer, communications chief for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, recently reported from Erbil.

Dwyer also shared other staggering statistics:

– Since Aug. 3, there has been a massive dislocation of 200,000 people, as armed groups have ramped up their violence, and there are more than 1.2 million displaced people.

– The U.N. High Commission for Refugees is providing protection and assisting local authorities with shelter, including mattresses and blankets.

– The U.N. World Food Programme set up four communal kitchens in that Governorate and has provided two million meals in the past two weeks.

– The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has provided drinking water and rehydration salts to help prevent or treat diarrhea, as well as provisions of high-energy biscuits for 34,000 children under the age of five in the past week.

– The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) is supporting over 1,300 pregnant women with hygiene supplies and helping local authorities with medical supplies to support 150,000 people.

While returning from South Korea, Pope Francis sanctioned intervening in Iraq to stop Islamist militants from persecuting not only Christian, but also all religious minority groups.

This is a dramatic turnaround, given that the Vatican normally eschews the use of force. His caveat was that the international community must discuss a strategy, possibly at the U.N., so that this would not be perceived as ‘a true war of conquest.’

Shortly thereafter, French President Francois Hollande called for an international conference to discuss ways of confronting the Islamic State insurgents who have seized control of territory in Iraq and Syria.

Both suggestions tie directly into U.S. President Barack Obama’s intention to preside over a meeting of the United Nations Security Council during his attendance at the world body’s annual General Assembly meeting in mid-September.

Specifically, Obama’s agenda will focus upon counterterrorism and the threat of foreign fighters traveling to conflict zones and joining terrorist organisations.

Additionally, all major players in the region, even ones that have had a traditional animosity to one another such as Iran vs. Saudi Arabia and the U.S., must be at the table.

It is critical to remember that a major reason for the disasters occurring in many areas of the Middle East can be traced directly back to the misguided and widely-viewed illegal invasion of Iraq by former President George W. Bush in March of 2003.

Allegedly, the U.S. went to Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which did not exist.

When the bogus WMD argument collapsed, the rationale quickly moved to regime change and then to establishing democracy in the Arab world.

The real reasons were to control the oil fields and re-do that area so it could be manipulated by Western interests.

In reality, the legacy of the biggest U.S. foreign blunder in history left Iran as the powerhouse in the region, converted Iraq into a powder keg for conflict among the Sunnis and Shias, got 200,000 Iraqis and over 4,000 U.S. military personnel killed, and gave the American taxpayer a bill for two trillion dollars, which is a figure that will continue to rise because of the thousands of troops that will need medical and psychological assistance, as well as Iraq requesting financial, military and technical assistance in the future.

Tragically, some media outlets, such as Fox News and many right-wing talk radio stations, are putting the same purveyors of misinformation and disinformation – such as former Vice-President Dick Cheney, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. Administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer, Senator John McCain and Bill Kristol – back on the air to re-write history on how the Iraq War was really a glowing success.

In a democracy it is critical to have a cross-section of ideas and stimulating debate on Iraq and other issues, but it is questionable and foolish to heed the advice of such a devious and counterproductive group that adheres to the nonsensical tenets that if only the U.S. had stayed longer, left more troops or invested more blood and treasure in that region, there would have been a positive outcome.

They refuse to recognise that neither the Iraqis nor the Iranians wanted the U.S. to stay, and the American public was turning against a failed war.

Couple that with the fact that former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tried to isolate the Sunnis from any power-sharing or involvement in the political, financial and cultural facets of Iraq.

From the despicable beheadings of freelance photographer James Foley and freelance journalist Steven Sotloff, to the imposition of draconian Sharia Law that violates human and civil rights, the challenges in Iraq are multiplying daily.

Probably no one in the world knows this better than U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who said recently, “… I can bring world leaders to the river, but I cannot force them to drink.”

When the leaders of the world meet later this month at the U.N., it will be time for them to ‘drink the water’ for everyone’s benefit.

(END)

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Mass Deportations Don’t Squelch Migration Dreams of Honduranshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mass-deportations-dont-squelch-hondurans-migration-dreams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mass-deportations-dont-squelch-hondurans-migration-dreams http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mass-deportations-dont-squelch-hondurans-migration-dreams/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 08:09:47 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136463 Red Cross volunteers board a bus bringing back deported child and adult migrants at the Honduran border in Corinto, to check how they are and provide them with a bag of essentials. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Red Cross volunteers board a bus bringing back deported child and adult migrants at the Honduran border in Corinto, to check how they are and provide them with a bag of essentials. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
CORINTO, Honduras , Sep 3 2014 (IPS)

The clock marks 9 AM when a bus coming from the Mexican city of Tapachula reaches Corinto, on the border between Honduras and Guatemala. It is the first bus of the day, carrying children and their families sent back from a failed attempt at making it across the border into the United States.

The bus is carrying 19 children between the ages of five and 12, six women and seven men, all of them families. The trip took 10 hours. A team of volunteers from Red Cross Honduras, supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), meets them and climbs aboard to provide them with bags of essentials.

It is the first stop the bus will make in Honduras, in the northwestern department or province of Cortés.

Its destination is the nearby city of San Pedro Sula, where they will be censused in a government shelter and given a bag of food and a small amount of money to help them return to their homes. The authorities don’t allow journalists to interview, photograph or film the minors.“It’s awful to see people killed or just left lying there, people from your country. Things are really ugly there, I’m relieved to be back because I’m alive, others aren’t, they were killed by the criminals and some were thrown off the train. I saw all that and it feels really bad.” -- Daniela Díaz

But this IPS reporter is allowed to get on the bus, where I see the sad, exhausted faces of the children. Their parents or other relatives look down into their laps, to hide their pain, defeat and sense of impotence.

Today, four busloads of deported immigrants – two of which carry children as well as adults – totaling 152 people come through customs at Corinto. The flow is steady, although minors only arrive, alone or accompanied, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“The buses bring an average of 30 to 38 people,” Yahely Milla, a volunteer with the Red Cross team, explains to IPS. She says “the mass deportation of minors started in April,” and in May and June, when the crisis of unaccompanied Central American child immigrants broke out in the United States, up to 15 buses a day were arriving.

“Children from the age of three months to 10 years, some of them alone and others accompanied by their parents, came one time; it had a big impact on us because we hadn’t seen so many deportations since we have been here at the border,” she said.

Corinto is 362 km from the capital, Tegucigalpa. It is one of the main areas along the border used by Hondurans heading north on the migration route to the United States. There are at least 80 “blind spots” used by migrants to cross the border into Guatemala before continuing on to Mexico and, if they’re lucky, to the United States.

The authorities have beefed up controls along the border, which has slightly curbed the exodus.

Institutions are practically nonexistent here and the only support for deported migrants comes from the Red Cross and the ICRC, which has been operating in this town for about two years.

The only time the government made an appearance, people here say, was in July, when the deportations spiked and Ana Hernández, the wife of president Juan Orlando Hernández, came to receive a group of children.

Over a month later, the promised camps have not yet been built, and there isn’t even a toilet at the bus stop for the deportees to use.

Between buses, Mauricio Paredes, the head of the Red Cross at the Corinto post, explained to IPS how the reception centre works. The magnitude of the humanitarian crisis has made it necessary to ration the aid.

For children there are disposable diapers, water, baby bottles and IV saline solution, while the adults are given water, toilet paper, toothpaste and toothbrushes, sanitary pads for women and razors for men. They are also allowed a three-minute call to phone their families.

At the crowded government shelter in San Pedro Sula, deported families with children receive instructions for being censused and for the return to their home villages and towns. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

At the crowded government shelter in San Pedro Sula, deported families with children receive instructions for being censused and for the return to their home villages and towns. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The sun is beating down five hours later when the next bus comes, from the Mexican town of Acayuca. It brings 38 immigrants, including adolescents and adults.

One of them, 19-year-old Daniela Díaz, calls her mother to tell her that she is back from her second attempt to reach the United States. She then tells IPS about her odyssey.

“I set out on this journey nine months ago and although it’s my second try, I was still shocked by what I saw,” she says.

“This time I managed to get up on The Beast [the Mexican cargo train used by migrants, who ride on top of the wagons], but horrible things happen there. I saw women raped, I saw how the coyotes [migrant smugglers] sell people to criminal bands,” she says, speaking with long pauses.

“It’s awful to see people killed or just left lying there, people from your country. Things are really ugly there, I’m relieved to be back because I’m alive, others aren’t, they were killed by the criminals and some were thrown off the train. I saw all that and it feels really bad,” she says with a broken voice.

“What you go through is so tough that I almost have no tears left. I went out of need, because there’s no work here, my family is very poor, sometimes we eat, sometimes we don’t, we are five brothers and sisters, I’m the youngest and the most rebellious, my mom says,” adds the young woman who is from Miramesí, a poor neighbourhood in the capital.

But despite her experiences, she says she’s going to try it again. “Going to the United States is my dream, and I’ll do it even if I die in the attempt,” she says, while getting ready to hitchhike – or walk – back to the capital, because she came back without a cent.

The deportees return like Díaz – without money and with a broken dream.

Poverty and violent crime are the main factors driving Hondurans to attempt the dangerous trek to the United States, experts say. Between October 2013 and May 2014, an estimated 13,000 unaccompanied Honduran minors reached the United States.

In the first six months of this year, some 30,000 Hondurans were deported by the United States and Mexico, according to the governmental Centro de Atención al Migrante Retornado (Reception Centre for Returned Migrants).

David López, 18, comes from Copán Ruinas in the western department of Copán, one of the “hot spots” in the country, where organised crime flourishes.

That is what he was fleeing. But he came back frightened, defeated and frustrated. He was assaulted twice by criminal bands that operate along the migration route. “I left because it’s not safe to live here anymore, you see things that it’s better not to talk about. I told myself, it’s time to leave the countryside, and I came back defeated, yes alive!…but defeated,” he tells IPS with a pained voice.

His aquiline features crumple as he remembers the assaults, the abuse, the drought and the hunger he survived.

“I thought the paths life took you on were different, but this is really tough,” he says. “I’m ashamed to go home because I failed this time. But I’ll try again, when things have calmed down along the border.”

In August alone some 19,000 deportees were brought back to the country through Corinto – as many as arrived in all of 2013, Paredes said.

This Central American nation of 8.4 million, where 65 percent of households are poor, is also one of the most violent countries in the world, with a homicide rate of 79.7 per 100,000 population, according to the Honduran Observatory on Violence.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Criminalisation of Homelessness in U.S. Criticised by United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/criminalisation-of-homelessness-in-u-s-criticised-by-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=criminalisation-of-homelessness-in-u-s-criticised-by-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/criminalisation-of-homelessness-in-u-s-criticised-by-united-nations/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 22:41:08 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136460 Men line up to receive food distributed by Coalition for the Homeless volunteers at 35th St, FDR Drive, in New York City. Credit: Zafirah Mohamed Zein/IPS

Men line up to receive food distributed by Coalition for the Homeless volunteers at 35th St, FDR Drive, in New York City. Credit: Zafirah Mohamed Zein/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 2 2014 (IPS)

A United Nations panel reviewing the U.S. record on racial discrimination has expressed unusually pointed concern over a new pattern of laws it warns is criminalising homelessness.

U.S. homelessness has increased substantially in the aftermath of the financial downturn, and with a disproportionate impact on minorities. Yet in many places officials have responded by cracking down on activities such as sleeping or even eating in public, while simultaneously defunding social services.

The new rebuke comes from a panel of experts reviewing the United States’ progress in implementing its obligations under a treaty known as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, commonly referred to as CERD or the race convention.

“The Committee is concerned at the high number of homeless persons, who are disproportionately from racial and ethnic minorities,” the CERD panel stated in a formal report released on Friday, “and at the criminalization of homelessness through laws that prohibit activities such as loitering, camping, begging, and lying in public spaces.”

This was only the second time that the United States’ record on race relations and discriminatory practices, and particularly the federal government’s actions in this regard, have been formally examined against the measuring stick of international law.

The panel not only called on the U.S. government to “abolish” laws and policies that facilitate the criminalisation of homelessness, but also to create incentives that would push authorities to focus on and bolster alternative policy approaches.

The CERD findings were actually the second time this year that new U.S. laws around the criminalisation of homelessness have been criticised at the international level. Similar concerns were expressed by the Human Rights Committee, which warned the cumulative effect was “cruel, inhuman, and degrading”.

“These are human rights experts who have seen human rights abuses all over the globe, but still when they hear about these issues in the United States it boggles their mind,” Eric S. Tars, a senior attorney with the National Law Center on Poverty & Homelessness, told IPS.

The CERD panel underscored these concerns by requesting additional information from the U.S. government before the country’s next such review, in 2017. The other issues so highlighted included racial profiling and gun violence, areas that have typically received far more interest from policymakers and the media.

Questionable progress

The formal review of the United States’ progress on implementing the race convention took place over two days in mid-August, attended by some 30 U.S. officials and dozens of civil society groups. The federal government’s formal report to the committee is available here, while non-government analyses lodged with the commission covering education, housing, gun violence, health care, immigration and other issues, are available here.

Observers say the mere act of the government going before an international body to discuss these issues was important, a sense strengthened by the significant delegation and substantive response offered by the administration of Barack Obama.

“In many ways it undercuts the idea of U.S. exceptionalism – that we don’t have human rights violations here,” Ejim Dike, the executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network, a leading organiser around the CERD review, told IPS following the CERD discussions.

“In fact we have a lot of human rights violations, and our racial past and unfortunate racial present are indications of these concerns. Sometimes the headlines are so reminiscent of what happened during the 1950s and 1960s that it begs the question of how much progress we actually have made.”

Indeed, some metrics of racial discrimination in the United States are currently worse than they were decades ago. An official summary of the review’s discussions between the U.N. experts and civil society groups noted one committee member’s shock “to realize that in spite of several decades of affirmative action in the United States to improve the mixing up of colors and races in schools … segregation was nowadays much worse than it was in the 1970s.”

Likewise, recent years have underscored the significant racial disparities that continue to characterise homelessness in the United States, a discrepancy noted by the U.N. panel. This pattern has continued and has even been strengthened in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

In 2010, for instance, African-Americans were seven times more likely to need emergency housing than whites, according to statistics from the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness, a research organisation. Similar discrepancies can be seen in the case of Hispanics and other minority groups.

This is important because, unlike U.S. domestic law, the race convention prohibits policies that have the effect of being discriminatory, regardless of whether or not they are meant to discriminate.

Banning sleeping, eating

As important as this continued racial pattern is how officials are responding to the new surge in homelessness. Even as the financial downturn in recent years has simultaneously squeezed state budgets and led more people to lose their jobs and homes, the official response has been to strengthen enforcement – to make homelessness more difficult.

Over the past three years, for instance, the number of U.S. cities that have banned sleeping in cars has grown by 119 percent, according to findings released in July. Bans on sleeping or camping in public have likewise risen by 60 percent during that same time.

“These numbers in general are going up and in some cases going up significantly,” the National Law Center’s Tars says. “The only cases in which those numbers are going down is where some cities have removed ordinances banning panhandling and sleeping in certain areas, and instead replaced them with bans that cover the whole city.”

Meanwhile, the financial recession has increased poverty in places where such problems hadn’t previously been visible, in suburban and rural communities. Social services were likely already weak in these areas, and the economy’s broader troubles have led authorities to slash these budgets even further.
“First the communities and governments are cutting resources for homeless shelters and related organisations and saying this isn’t the government’s responsibility. But then some are even making it difficult for charities to deal with the issue – for instance, by punishing people for eating donated food in public,” Tars says.

“In fact, there’s significant evidence that criminalisation is often more expensive and less effective than providing affordable housing.”

Nonetheless, the new focus on austerity budgets in other countries, particularly in the European Union, is seeing governments across the globe increasingly turn to this U.S. model of criminalisation. In June, an Australian researcher noted a new “proliferation” of enforcement-based homelessness laws and policies internationally.

Edited by Stephanie Wildes

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The Age of Survival Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-age-of-survival-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-age-of-survival-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-age-of-survival-migration/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 12:41:53 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136410 A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant heading to the U.S. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant heading to the U.S. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

“Survival migration” is not a reality show, but an accurate description of human mobility fuelled by desperation and fear. How despairing are these migrant contingents? Look at the figures of Central American children travelling alone, which are growing.

The painful journeys of children and teenagers from Central America to the United States border sounded alarms this year.While Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Mexico are like hell on Earth, the Refugee Convention is not easily applicable in these cases, and moves to broaden or amend it have failed so far.

More than 52,000 children —mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador— were detained when they crossed the border without their parents in the last eight months, says the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

While it is an unprecedented crisis, Gervais Appave, special policy adviser to the International Organisation for Migration’s director general, frames it “within a more general global trend”, which could be defined as “survival migration”.

Children travelling from the Horn of Africa to European countries, through Malta and Italy, or seeking to reach Australia by boat from Afghanistan, Iran and Sri Lanka, are just two examples.

The European agency dealing with borders, Frontex, reported an increase in the “phenomenon of unaccompanied minors claiming asylum in the European Union (EU)” during 2009 and 2010.

According to Frontex, the proportion of children migrating alone “in the overall number of irregular migrants that reach the EU is worryingly growing.”

Appave told IPS it is impossible to identify a single cause for the spread of this child migration. But he pointed out there is a “very effective and ruthless smuggling industry”. There is “a psychological process that kicks in if you have a critical mass of people moving. Then others will try to follow because this is seeing as ‘the’ solution to go forth,” he said.

The muscle of smugglers and traffickers is apparent in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. But nobody flees without a powerful reason.

According to a report published in July by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, 85 percent of the new asylum applications received by the United States in 2012 came from these three countries, while Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize registered a combined 435 percent increase in the number of individual applications from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

A broader definition of refugee

Exactly 30 years ago, with Central America engulfed by civil wars and authoritarian regimes, the Latin American Cartagena Declaration enlarged the international concept of refugee.

This made it possible to include people who had fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom were threatened “by generalised violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violations of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.” Many Latin American countries adopted this regional concept.

In 2004, the countries adopted an action plan and a regional programme of resettlement. In July this year, governments of Central America and Mexico met in Nicaragua to discuss how to tackle the displacement forced by transnational mafias. The goal to protect vulnerable migrants must rest on the principle of shared responsibility of the involved states, they agreed.

A new Latin American plan on refugeees, asylum and stateless people for the next decade will be adopted in December in a meeting in Brazil to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration.

While in recent weeks there have been fewer children crossing the U.S. southern border, “this phenomenon has been here since years ago,” Adriana Beltrán, WOLA’s senior associate for citizen security, told IPS.

Criminal gangs, mafias and corruption are major drivers, agree Beltrán and José Guadalupe Ruelas, director of Casa Alianza – Honduras, an NGO working to promote children’s rights.

Killings, extrajudicial executions, extortion and fear “have grown dramatically” in Honduras, Ruelas told IPS.

The country has 3.7 million children under 18, and one million do not attend school; half million suffer labour exploitation; 24 out of 100 teenage girls get pregnant; 8,000 boys and girls are homeless, and other 15,000 fled the country this year, according to official statistics.

“Five years ago, there were 43 monthly murders and arbitrary executions of children and under-23 youths,” he said. Now the monthly average is 88, according to Casa Alianza’s Observatorio de Derechos de los Niños, Niñas y Jóvenes.

Moreover, the perception of security is altered. When people in the “colonias” (poor neighbourhoods) see an ambulance, they “immediately presume a murder or a violent death, instead of a life about to be saved or an ill person to be cured,” and if they see a police or a military patrol, “they think there will be heavy fire and deaths.”

These terrified people mistrust state institutions. Only last year, 17,000 families left their homes following gangs’ threats, “and the state could do nothing to prevent it.”

“They are displaced by the war,” Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández said in June.

The 1951 U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol establish that a refugee is a person who fled his or her country due to persecution on the grounds of political opinion, race, nationality or membership to a particular social group.

While Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Mexico are like hell on Earth, the Convention is not easily applicable in these cases, and moves to broaden or amend it have failed so far. Instead, the 1984 Cartagena Declaration (see sidebar) offers a more flexible refugee definition for the region.

Through a 10-point plan of action, the UNHCR asks governments to include refugee considerations in migration policies, particularly when dealing with children, women and victims of trafficking.

According to a 2008 law, U.S. authorities must screen all cases of children under 18 who crossed the border alone to determine whether they are victims of trafficking or abuse, to provide them with legal representation and ensure due process. But the agencies in charge are overloaded and lack adequate resources.

“Some sectors want to change this law and, despite the fact that there have not been deportations, Washington has not clearly indicated yet which stance will take,” said Ruelas.

With elections set for November, it is highly unlikely the political parties will keep this issue out of the electoral fight, he added.

Beyond the urgency of this refugee crisis, underlying causes are a much more complicated issue.

It is not just violence or poverty, but “incredibly weak criminal justice institutions penetrated by organised crime,” said Beltrán.

Ruelas points out the “wrongful” militarisation of Honduras, which will further erode the state’s ability to control its territory. “Despite more soldiers patrolling the streets, criminals feel free to threaten and murder in the colonias,” he said.

According to Beltrán, the United States’ ad hoc assistance through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) is excessively focused on the “anti-drug fight”, when the region requires more investment in prevention policies, particularly at the local level.

“Washington needs to refocus its policies toward the region, but Central American governments can’t evade their own responsibility,” she added.

Their fiscal revenues, for example, are among the lowest in Latin America, thus undermining their capacity to provide services and respect human rights.

However, the crisis of migrant children is providing a golden opportunity to reexamine all of these larger issues, Ruelas says. “We need a human security, one which regains the public space for the citizens.

“When people control the territory,” he argued, “because the police protect and support them, they gain the chance to rebuild a more peaceful community life.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at dia.cariboni@gmail.com

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South Sudan’s Hip Hop Artists call for Peace and Reconciliation Through the Unhip Practice of Farminghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudans-hip-hop-artists-call-for-peace-and-reconciliation-through-the-unhip-practice-of-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudans-hip-hop-artists-call-for-peace-and-reconciliation-through-the-unhip-practice-of-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudans-hip-hop-artists-call-for-peace-and-reconciliation-through-the-unhip-practice-of-farming/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 09:47:48 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136384 Men and women planting vegetable seeds in a nursery bed in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

Men and women planting vegetable seeds in a nursery bed in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

By Adam Bemma
JUBA, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

“What is the benefit when children are crying and people are dying due to hunger? There is no need to cry when you have the potential to dig,” sings Juba-based dancehall reggae group, the Jay Family, in their latest single “Stakal Shedit,” which means “Work Hard” in Arabic.

In the Stakal Shedit video, the three members, Jay Boi, Jonio Jay and Yuppie Jay, are seen sporting denim overalls and rubber boots with garden hoes slung over their shoulders. The objective is to motivate youth to engage in agriculture as a means to fight food insecurity in South Sudan.

“Agriculture is the backbone of this country,” 23-year-old Jay Boi told IPS. “The land in South Sudan is fertile. If you look around all you see are trucks bringing in food from outside of the country.”

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations states three-and-a-half million, or almost one in three South Sudanese, are facing a severe food crisis as the conflict-ridden nation is on the brink of starvation.

The Jay Family comes from Yei, South Sudan, 100 kms southwest of the capital, Juba. The group formed in 2010 with the objective to spread South Sudanese music to all parts of East Africa and beyond.

“Our music is influenced by hip hop, reggae and afro-dance music,” 23-year-old Yuppie Jay told IPS. “I’m also a farmer. I learned from my uncle who grows many different crops.”

The Stakal Shedit music video was shot at the Rajaf Prison farm outside of the capital, Juba. Prisoners are seen farming in the video.

“We learned from the prisoners how to distribute seeds. In the video we were cultivating maize, okra, tomatoes, carrot and cassava,” Jay Family’s manager, Stephen Lubang, told IPS.

A scene depicts a group of young men sitting at a table playing a game of cards while drinking alcohol. It then cuts to the Jay Family singing in the prison’s farm.  The song continues, “Don’t blame the government when you can do something. Cultivate!”

The group calls on South Sudanese youth to consider agriculture and agri-business, instead of violence, as a way to combat unemployment and generate income. In the song the group addresses how poor infrastructure, like roads, can frustrate people starting small business.

“The major activity for youth in this country is to sit and cry that there are no jobs. If you want the government to help you, start farming,” Lubang said. “Then you can go to the government and ask for assistance.”

Last May, a group of 12 South Sudanese artists united in calls for peace when news of British explorer and journalist Levison Wood’s 6,000 km trek along the Nile River reached Juba. “Let’s Stand Together” was recorded by South Sudan All Stars. The song urges political leaders to reconcile at the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia peace talks.

Silver X is a 26-year-old South Sudanese musician who wrote the song “Let’s Stand Together.” He was displaced from his home in Torrit, South Sudan with his family in 2000. Four years ago he returned to his birthplace from a refugee camp in Uganda to launch his music career and help jumpstart South Sudan’s burgeoning music industry.

“When the recent fighting started it affected us all in different ways. I decided to write a song with artists from different tribes,” he told IPS. “If leaders could see the youth of this country crying for peace, I thought things might start to change.”

Moro Lokombu is a radio journalist and host of The Beat, a music programme highlighting South Sudanese music, at Juba’s United Nations-run Radio Miraya.

“We need to promote peace through local music by first exposing South Sudanese to it,” Lokombu told IPS. “I play Stakal Shedit and Let’s Stand Together on my radio show because they are songs with a powerful message.”

On Jun 16, the Jay Family, along with Silver X, launched a national campaign called “Music Against Hunger” at the Juba Regency Hotel. Dates are now set in September for performances in the southern cities of Nimule and Yei with more to come.

“We are starting with free concerts in two states, but we hope to travel to all 10 states to perform,” Lubang said. “Let’s work hard to stop war and develop our country. The future of South Sudan relies on its youth. Hunger is something we can fight.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Civil Society Condemns Immunity for Sitting African Leaders Accused of Serious Crimeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/civil-society-condemns-immunity-for-sitting-african-leaders-accused-of-serious-crimes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-condemns-immunity-for-sitting-african-leaders-accused-of-serious-crimes http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/civil-society-condemns-immunity-for-sitting-african-leaders-accused-of-serious-crimes/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 20:37:14 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136369 Some of the Kenyans who were forcefully evicted from their homes in Rift Valley during the 2007/2008 post-election violence. They are pictured in a dated photo in a camp in Kiambu Central Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Some of the Kenyans who were forcefully evicted from their homes in Rift Valley during the 2007/2008 post-election violence. They are pictured in a dated photo in a camp in Kiambu Central Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Mary Wacu lived in the Rift Valley region for 10 years prior to the 2007/08 post-election violence that rocked Kenya after a disputed general election.

“My husband was shot with a poisoned arrow, and my children hacked to death. Everything was burnt to ashes, I barely escaped with my life,” she tells IPS.

According to human rights organisations, the violence in this East African nation left an estimated 1,500 people dead and resulted in the rape of 3,000 women and the displacement of 300,000 people.

From her shanty in the sprawling Kibera slums, in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, Wacu follows the proceedings of the cases for crimes against humanity levelled against President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and journalist Joshua Sang at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands.

But here in Kenya, like many who bore the brunt of the unprecedented violence, justice remains beyond Wacu’s reach. It is a scenario that is all too familiar in Africa’s conflict-prone countries like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Against this backdrop, civil society organisations (CSOs) in Africa as well as international ones working on the continent, have opposed the recently-adopted Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights by the African Union (AU) member heads of states in June.

The protocol extends criminal jurisdiction to the African Court, and offers immunity to serving heads of states and all senior government officials during their term of office for serious crimes. The African Court was established by African countries to ensure protection of human and peoples’ rights on the continent.

A source from Malawi attending the just-concluded meeting to promote ratification of AU treaties, which was held in Nairobi by the AU Office of the Legal Counsel on the 25 and 26 of August, explains to IPS that the amendments include an immunity provision for heads of states or governments and certain senior state officials for serious crimes against humanity.

The contentious article 46A categorically states that no charges shall be commenced or continued against any serving AU head of state or government, or anybody acting or entitled to act in such capacity.

“Lifting immunity for sitting officials for serious crimes committed is an assurance to African leaders that they are above the law,” the source says.

AU officials at the meeting, however, refused to comment to IPS on the protocol.

Malawi has taken the lead in mobilising other CSOs across Africa to tell their governments that the immunity provision is a blatant disrespect for human rights.

The source says that with a number of African leaders already under the radar of the ICC, “an immunity provision is offering African leaders the licence to abuse their people. It will further entrench dictatorship since many leaders will be afraid of being indicted when their term ends.”

The civil society community says that the African Court was moving in the right direction, until now.

Edigah Kavulavu, of the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists, tells IPS that the adopted protocol is the first legal instrument to extend a regional court’s authority to criminal jurisdiction “regional courts often deal with human rights issues, which are matters of a civil nature.”

He says that the African Court can now try cases of a criminal nature, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

He points out that the main bone of contention with the protocol is the immunity provision. Article 46A, Kavulavu says, is in breach of the principles that govern human rights.

“Through ICC and other regional courts such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone, these courts complement each other so that they can bridge the impunity gap,” he explains.

James Gondi of the Kenyans For Peace With Truth and Justice, a coalition of over 30 Kenyan and East African legal, human rights, and governance organisations, tells IPS that international criminal law and international justice demand that “those bearing greatest responsibility are often head of states, heads of military and high level elites who plan, finance and coordinate criminal acts [be held to account]. The amendment is meant to serve the interests of these three categories of people.”

The human rights lawyer further says that immunity negates the principles of transparency and accountability, respect for the rule of law and for humanity.

He says that the immunity provision is a display that African leaders are immune to the criminal justice system.

Gondi says that the objective of the criminal justice of which the African Court now has mandate is and should be to “deter future atrocities and to end impunity.”

The lawyer says that the regime of law has developed such that immunity for heads of state is lifted in many national and international laws where crimes committed are so heinous that the law cannot turn a blind eye.

African countries with national laws that rule out immunity for sitting officials for serious crimes include Benin, Kenya, Burkina Faso the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa.

Gondi says that while the general principle of the law is that “we cannot give immunity for crimes against humanity because they are so grave. The law is an issue of politics and politics are defined by impunity and political will.”

Moving forward, Gondi says that there must be a concerted international and regional effort to end impunity and the political will to drive these efforts, “citizens must also demand for accountability from their leaders.”

The Malawi source urged CSOs to lobby, protest and campaign to have their governments reject the adoption and continue with sustained campaigns.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Nepal Landslide Leaves Women and Children Vulnerablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 01:50:55 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136342 Relief workers and aid agencies are worried about the security, protection and psychological health of women and children in post-disaster settings. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Relief workers and aid agencies are worried about the security, protection and psychological health of women and children in post-disaster settings. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
DABI, Nepal, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Living in a makeshift tarpaulin shelter, which barely protects her family from the torrential rainfall or scorching heat of this remote village in southern Nepal, 36-year-old Kamala Pari is under immense stress, worrying about her financial security and children’s safety.

The family’s only house and tiny plot of farmland were completely destroyed by the massive landslide on Jul. 2 that struck the village of Dabi, part of the Dhusun Village Development Committee (VDC) of Sindhupalchok district, nearly 100 km south of the capital Kathmandu.

Dhusun was one of the four VDCs including Mankha, Tekanpur and Ramche severely affected by the disaster, which killed 156 and displaced 478 persons, according to the ministry of home affairs.

This was Nepal’s worst landslide in terms of human fatalities, according to the Nepal Red Cross Society, the country’s largest disaster relief NGO.

“My students are too scared to return to their classrooms. They really need a lot of counseling." -- Krishna Bhakta Nepal, principal of Jalpa High School
Though the government is still assessing long-term damages from that fateful day, officials here tell IPS the worst victims are likely to be women and children from these impoverished rural areas, whose houses and farms are erected on land that is highly vulnerable to natural catastrophes.

Left homeless and further impoverished, Pari is worried about the toll this will take on her children, who are now living with the reality of having lost their home and many of their friends.

“We’re not just living in fear of another disaster but have to worry about our future as there is nothing left for us to survive on,” Pari told IPS, adding that their monthly income fell from 100 dollars to 50 dollars after the landslide.

Her 50 neighbours, living in tarpaulin tents in a makeshift camp on top of a hill in this remote village, are also preparing for hard times ahead.

“We lost everything and now we run this shop to survive,” 15-year-old Elina Shrestha, a displaced teenager, told IPS, gesturing at the small grocery shop that she and her friends have cobbled together.

Their customers include tourists from Kathmandu and nearby towns who are flocking to destroyed villages to see with their own eyes the landslide-scarred hills and the lake created by the overflow of water from the nearby Sunkoshi river.

Protecting the vulnerable

Relief workers and protection specialists from government and aid agencies told IPS they are worried about the security, protection and psychological health of women and children.

An estimated 50 children were killed in the landslide, according to the ministry of women, children and social welfare.

“In any disaster, children and women seem to be more impacted than others,” Sunita Kayastha, chief of the emergency unit of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told IPS, adding that they are most vulnerable to abuse and violence.

Women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die in a disaster, according to a report by Plan International, which found adolescent girls to be particularly vulnerable to sexual violence in the aftermath of a natural hazard.

Senior psychosocial experts recently visited the affected areas and specifically reported that children and women were under immense psychological stress.

“The children need a lot of counseling [and] healing them is our top priority right now,” Women Development Officer Anju Dhungana, point-person for affected women and children in the Sindhupalchok district, told IPS.

Dhungana is concerned about the gap in professional psychosocial counseling at the local level and has requested help from government and international aid agencies based in Kathmandu.

Schools are gradually being resumed, with the help of aid agencies who are identifying safe locations for the children whose classrooms have been destroyed.

One school was totally destroyed, killing 33 children, and the remaining 142 children are now studying in temporary learning centres built by Save the Children and the District Education Office, officials told IPS.

A further 1,952 children who attend schools built close to the river are also at risk, experts say.

Trauma is quite widespread, the sight of the hollowed-out mountainside and large dam created close to the river still causing panic among children and their parents, as well as their teachers.

“I lost 28 of my students and now I have [the] job of healing hundreds of their school friends,” Balaram Timilsina, principal of Bansagu School in Mankha VDC, told IPS.

“My students are too scared to return to their classrooms. They really need a lot of counseling,” added Krishna Bhakta Nepal, principal of Jalpa High School of Khadichaur, a small town near Mankha.

International agencies Save the Children, UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) are helping the government’s efforts to restore normal life in the villages, but it has been challenging.

“We need to help children get back to school by ensuring a safe environment for them,” Sudarshan Shrestha, communications director of Save the Children, told IPS.

The international NGO has been setting up temporary learning centres for hundreds of students who lost their schools.

High risk for adolescent girls

Shrestha’s concern is not just for the children but also the young women who are often vulnerable in post-disaster situations to sexual violence and trafficking.

“The risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking is always high among the families impoverished by disaster, and during such situations, girls are often hoaxed and tricked by traffickers,” explained Shrestha.

Sindhupalchok, one of Nepal’s most impoverished districts, is notorious for being a source of young girls who are trafficked to Kathmandu and Indian cities, according to NGOs; a recent report by Child Reach International identified the district as a major trafficking centre.

“Whenever disaster strikes, the protection of adolescent girls should be highly prioritised and our role is to make sure this crucial issue is included in the disaster response,” UNFPA’s country representative Guilia Vallese told IPS, explaining that protection agencies need to be highly vigilant.

Government officials said that although there have been no cases of sexual or domestic violence and trafficking, they remain concerned.

“There are also a lot of young girls displaced [and living] with their relatives and after our assessment, we found that they need more protection,” explained officer Dhungana.

She said that many of them live in the camps or in school buildings in villages that are remote, with little or no government presence.

The government has formed a committee on protection measures and will be assessing the situation of vulnerability soon to ensure that children and women are living in a secure environment.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Boosting Resilience in the Caribbean Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-boosting-resilience-in-the-caribbean-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-boosting-resilience-in-the-caribbean-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-boosting-resilience-in-the-caribbean-countries/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 10:42:20 +0000 Jessica Faieta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136332 By Jessica Faieta
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

Having lived and worked for more than a decade in four Caribbean countries, I have witnessed firsthand how Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are extremely vulnerable to challenges ranging from debt and unemployment to climate change and sea level rise.

Such aspects make their paths towards sustainable development probably more complex than non-SIDS countries. That was my experience, working closely with governments, civil society organisations and the people of Belize, Cuba, Guyana and Haiti – where I led the U.N. Development Programme’s (UNDP) reconstruction efforts after the devastating January 2010 earthquake.In addition to saving lives, for every dollar spent in disaster preparedness and mitigation, seven dollars will be saved when a disaster strikes.

That’s why the upcoming UN Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), taking place in Samoa, Sep. 1-4 is so important. It will provide an opportunity to increase international cooperation and knowledge sharing between and within regions. And it takes place at a key moment, ahead of the Climate Change Summit at the UN General Assembly, to be held on Sep. 23.

Climate change—and all natural hazards, in fact—hit Small Island Developing States hard, even though these countries haven’t historically contributed to the problem. Extreme exposure to disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, droughts, landslides and earthquakes place these countries at a particularly vulnerable position.

In the Caribbean, two key sectors, agriculture and tourism, which are crucial for these countries’ economies, are especially exposed. Agriculture provides 20 percent of total employment in the Caribbean. In some countries, like Haiti and Grenada, half of the total jobs depends on agriculture. Moreover, travel and tourism accounted for 14 percent of Caribbean countries’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2013 – the highest for any region in the world.

According to Jamaica’s Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, during the period 2000-2010 the country was impacted by 10 extreme weather events which have led the country to lose around two percent of its GDP per year. Moreover, sea levels have risen 0.9 mm per year, according to official figures. This causes Jamaicans, who live largely on the coast, not only to lose their beaches, but it also increases salinity in fresh waters and farming soil.

Courtesy of UNDP

Courtesy of UNDP

Also, when I visited Jamaica in July, the country was facing one of the worst droughts in its history. This had already led to a significant fall in agricultural production, higher food imports, increased food prices and a larger number of bush fires – which in turn destroy farms and forested areas.

Clearly, if countries do not reduce their vulnerabilities and strengthen their resilience – not only to natural disasters but also to financial crises – we won’t be able to guarantee, let alone expand, progress in the social, economic and environmental realms.

Preparedness is essential—and international cooperation plays a key role. UNDP is working closely with governments and societies in the Caribbean to integrate climate change considerations in planning and policy. This means investing in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and preparedness, particularly in the most vulnerable communities and sectors.

In Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago, where I also met recently with key authorities, UNDP is working with the government to enhance climate change preparedness on three fronts: agriculture, natural disasters and promoting the use of renewable energy resources, which is critical to reduce the dependency on imported fossil fuels.

Knowledge-sharing between and within regions is also vital. UNDP has been working with governments in the Caribbean to share a successful practice that began in Cuba in 2005. The initiative, the Risk Reduction Management Centres, supports local governments’ pivotal role in the civil defence system.

In addition, experts from different agencies collaborate to map disaster-prone areas, analyse risk and help decision-making at the municipal level. Importantly, each Centre is also linked up with vulnerable communities through early warning teams, which serve as the Centre’s “tentacles”, to increase awareness and safeguard people and economic resources.

This model has been adapted and is being rolled out in the British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

In Jamaica, for example, in hazard-prone St Catherine’s Parish on the outskirts of Kingston, a team has been implementing the country’s first such Centre, mapping vulnerable areas and training community leaders to play a central role in the disaster preparation and risk reduction system.

In Old Harbor Bay, a fishing community of 7,000 inhabitants, UNDP, together with the government of Jamaica, has provided emergency equipment and training for better preparation and evacuation when hurricanes or other disasters strike.

Boosting preparedness and increasing resilience is an investment. In addition to saving lives, for every dollar spent in disaster preparedness and mitigation, seven dollars will be saved when a disaster strikes.

However, it is also crucial to address vulnerability matters beyond climate change or natural disasters. Small Island Developing States—in the Caribbean and other regions— are often isolated from world trade and global finance. The international community needs to recognise and support this vulnerable group of countries, as they pave the way to more sustainable development.

Jessica Faieta is United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and UN Development Programme (UNDP) Director for Latin America and the Caribbean www.latinamerica.undp.org @jessicafaieta @undplac

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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