Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 30 May 2015 01:41:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Leaked Internal Documents Show U.N. Ignored Child Abusehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/leaked-internal-documents-show-u-n-ignored-child-abuse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=leaked-internal-documents-show-u-n-ignored-child-abuse http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/leaked-internal-documents-show-u-n-ignored-child-abuse/#comments Fri, 29 May 2015 20:07:08 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140861 Anders Kompass, Director for Field Operations and Technical Cooperation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, was asked to resign after leaking the report on child abuse by French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

Anders Kompass, Director for Field Operations and Technical Cooperation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, was asked to resign after leaking the report on child abuse by French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2015 (IPS)

Leaked United Nations documents show high-level staff knew of abuses by soldiers in the Central African Republic and failed to act, all while planning the removal of U.N. whistleblower Anders Kompass.

Twenty-three soldiers from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea are implicated in the abuse, according to one of the reports.

The documents, released Friday by the organisation AIDS-Free World as part of their Code Blue campaign, implicate the U.N. in making no attempt to stop the ongoing crimes or protect children, and then scrambling to cover up inaction.

“The documents indicate a total failure of the U.N. to act on claims of sexual abuse, even when they know that U.N. involvement might be the surest route to stopping crimes and ensuring justice,” said Paula Donovan, AIDS-Free World’s co-director, in a statement.

Included in the leak is Anders Kompass’ own account of the events, which shows his claim that he was asked to resign by the High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who was acting on a request from the head of U.N. Peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous.

Another revelation is an email chain involving Joan Dubinsky, Director, U.N. Ethics Office; Susana Malcorra, Chef de Cabinet, Executive Office of the Secretary-General; Carman Lapointe, Under Secretary General for Office for Internal Oversight Services; and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the subject “CONFIDENTIAL — Call from DPR Sweden regarding Anders Kompass”, dated Apr. 7-10, 2015, detailing discussions across U.N. departments about Kompass’ case.

AIDS-Free World suggested that the latest documents bring into question the independence of the U.N.’s Office for Internal Oversight Services and Ethics Office, which is supposed to operate at arm’s length from the rest of the U.N. system, to ensure accountability.

The documents show that the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had evidence of abuse by the soldiers on May 19, 2014. Then, during a June 18 interview, a 13-year-old boy said he couldn’t number all the times he’d been forced to perform oral sex on soldiers but the most recent had been between June 8 and 12, 2014 – several weeks after the first UNICEF interview.

“By agreeing to be interviewed by the UN, the children expected the abuse to stop and the perpetrators to be arrested. When children report sexual abuse, adults must report it to the authorities. A child needs protection and, by definition, does not have the agency to decide whether to press charges. They deserved the protection they assumed they would receive once the UN knew of their abuse,” AIDS-Free World said in a statement.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Relief Organisation Urges Mandatory Funding for Humanitarian Appealshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/relief-organisation-urges-mandatory-funding-for-humanitarian-appeals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=relief-organisation-urges-mandatory-funding-for-humanitarian-appeals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/relief-organisation-urges-mandatory-funding-for-humanitarian-appeals/#comments Fri, 29 May 2015 13:47:37 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140848 UNICEF estimates that 3.5 million children in Pakistan suffer from acute malnutrition. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

UNICEF estimates that 3.5 million children in Pakistan suffer from acute malnutrition. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is not only overwhelmed by a spreading humanitarian crisis, largely in Africa and the Middle East, but also remains hamstrung by a severe shortfall in funds, mostly from Western donors.

In conflict-ridden South Sudan, a major crisis point, about 40 percent of the country’s 11.4 million population is facing “alarming levels of hunger,” according to the Rome-based World Food Programme (WFP)."The system is overwhelmed and assistance often arrives too little and is too late." -- Shannon Scribner of Oxfam America

But lack of funding and shrinking access are compromising the agency’s ability to meet humanitarian needs.

Currently, the funding shortfall for WFP amounts to 230 million dollars for food and nutrition assistance.

Overall, the number of people requiring critical relief has more than doubled since 2004, to over 100 million today, according to the United Nations.

And current funding requirements for 2015 stand at a staggering 19.1 billion dollars, up from 3.4 billion dollars in 2004.

The United Nations considers four emergencies as “severe and large scale”: Central African Republic, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

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

“Yet there is not enough funding to meet the needs,” Shannon Scribner, Humanitarian Policy Manager at Oxfam America, told IPS.

She said the current humanitarian system is led by the United Nations, funded largely by a handful of rich countries, and managed mostly by those actors, large international non-governmental organisations (including Oxfam), and the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement.

This system has saved countless lives over the past 50 years and it has done so with very little funding, she said, and less than what the world’s major donors spend on subsidies to their farmers.

“However, the system is overwhelmed and assistance often arrives too little and is too late,” she pointed out.

So strengthening the capacity of local actors to prevent, prepare and respond to emergencies in the first place makes sense, as well as increasing assistance to disaster risk reduction (DRR) that can have a high rate of return in saving lives and preventing damage to communities and infrastructure, as seen in South Asia, Central America, and East Africa.

However, between 1991 and 2010, only 0.4 percent of total official development assistance (ODA) went to DRR, Scribner said.

Last week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed a high-level U.N. panel to address the widening gap between resources and financing for the world’s pressing humanitarian efforts.

Oxfam has recommended the panel looks at having U.N. member states make mandatory payments to humanitarian appeals – similar to what is done for U.N. peacekeeping missions, in which funding is received by mandatory assessments charged to member states.

Currently, the United Nations and its key agencies are funded by assessed contributions from the 193 member states and based on the principle of “capacity to pay”, with the United States the largest single contributor at 22 percent of the U.N.’s regular budget. All of these are mandatory payments.

Additionally, U.N. agencies also receive “non core” resources which come from voluntary contributions from member states.

Over the last decade, Ban said, the demand for humanitarian aid had risen “dramatically” amid an uptick in water scarcity, food insecurity, demographic shifts, rapid urbanisation and climate change.

“All these and other dynamics are contributing to a situation in which current resources and funding flows are insufficient to meet the rising demand for aid,” he declared.

“Humanitarian actors expected to stay longer and longer in countries and regions impacted by long-running crises and conflicts.”

Over the past 10 years, the global demand for humanitarian aid has, in fact, risen precipitously, he pointed out.

Oxfam said 12.2 million people are in need of assistance in Syria, almost 4 million refugees and 7.6 million internally displaced people.

In Yemen, two out of three Yemenis needed humanitarian assistance before current crisis. And in both countries, the U.N. appeal is only 20 percent funded

Scribner told IPS one way to address the ongoing problem of assistance being too little and arriving too late is to invest more in humanitarian action led by governments in crisis-affected countries, assisted and held accountable by civil society, as it is often faster and more appropriate, and can even save more lives.

Yet, during 2007-2013, just 2.4 percent of annual humanitarian assistance went directly to local actors.

Meanwhile, the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing will be co-chaired by the Vice President of the European Commission, Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria, and Sultan Nazrin Shah of Malaysia.

The Panel will also include Hadeel Ibrahim of the United Kingdom; Badr Jafar of the United Arab Emirates; Trevor Manuel of South Africa; Linah Mohohlo of Botswana; Walt Macnee of Canada; Margot Wallström of Sweden; and Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah of Sri Lanka.

The United Nations said the panel is expected to submit its recommendations to the Secretary-General in November 2015 which will help frame discussions at next year’s World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.N. Security Council Takes “Historic” Stand on Killings of Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/u-n-security-council-takes-historic-stand-on-killings-of-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-security-council-takes-historic-stand-on-killings-of-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/u-n-security-council-takes-historic-stand-on-killings-of-journalists/#comments Fri, 29 May 2015 13:14:57 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140846 Protesters in Moscow demand that authorities investigate an attack on prominent Russian journalist Oleg Kashin on Nov. 6, 2010. Credit: Yuri Timofeyev/cc by 2.0

Protesters in Moscow demand that authorities investigate an attack on prominent Russian journalist Oleg Kashin on Nov. 6, 2010. Credit: Yuri Timofeyev/cc by 2.0

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2015 (IPS)

When war breaks out, most non-combatants run the other way. But a handful of courageous reporters see it as their duty to tell the world what’s happening on the ground. And many pay a high price.

Since 1992, 1,129 journalists have been killed on the job, 38 percent of them in war zones, according to figures compiled by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). And increasingly, they are being deliberately targeted."As excellent as it may be, there is no certainty that a new resolution will in and of itself be enough to resolve the problem." -- Christophe Deloire of Reporters Without Borders

In an explicit recognition of the key role of the media in peace and security, the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday unanimously adopted a resolution condemning all violations and abuses committed against journalists and deploring impunity for such acts.

“Recent killings of journalists have been given extensive and welcome attention around the world, including the brutal murders of Western media representatives in Syria,” said U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson.

“Yet we must not forget that around 95 per cent of the killings of journalists in armed conflict concern locally-based journalists, receiving less media coverage,” he added.

Syria remains the deadliest place for journalists, with at least 80 killed there since the conflict erupted in 2011. The second and third places in journalist deaths were shared by Iraq and Ukraine.

According to CPJ, about one quarter of the journalists killed last year were members of the international press, double the proportion the group has documented in recent years.

Eliasson urged member states to implement the U.N. Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, endorsed by the U.N. Chief Executives Board on Apr. 12, 2012.

Its measures include the establishment of a coordinated inter-agency mechanism to handle issues related to the safety of journalists, as well as assisting countries to develop legislation and mechanisms favourable to freedom of expression and information, and supporting their efforts to implement existing international rules and principles.

But this call may fall on deaf ears in some quarters. In March, a military spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition conducting air strikes in Yemen openly stated that media organisations associated with the Houthi rebels and former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh are legitimate targets.

On Mar. 18, Abdul Kareem al-Khaiwani a Yemeni journalist from Sana’a, was shot and killed by assailants on motorbikes after representing a Houthi group in a conference on Yemen’s future, while on Mar. 26 Shi’ite Houthi militiamen overran the Sana’a headquarters of three satellite television channels: Al-Jazeera, Al-Yaman-Shabab (Yemen-Youth), and Yemen Digital Media.

On Apr. 20, journalist and TV presenter Mohammed Shamsan and three other staff members of Sana’a-based television station Yemen Today were killed in an airstrike that appears to have deliberately targeted the broadcaster’s office.

Christophe Deloire, director-general of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, said Wednesday that, “It’s historic that the Security Council should make a link between the right to freedom of expression and the need to protect journalists, even though it may seem obvious.”

But Deloire noted that hundreds of journalists have been killed since the last resolution was adopted in 2006 – 25 this year alone – and “as excellent as it may be, there is no certainty that a new resolution will in and of itself be enough to resolve the problem.”

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power singled out Colombia, once considered the most dangerous country for journalists in South America, as taking positive action by establishing a 160-million-dollar annual fund to protect 19 groups, including journalists.

Earlier this week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with representatives of CPJ in Bogota and the Colombian press freedom group Foundation for a Free Press (FLIP) and pledged to prioritise combating impunity in attacks against the press.

While the security situation in Colombia has improved in recent years, impunity is entrenched and threats and violence against journalists continue, according to CPJ research.

“I envision a normal country where journalists won’t need bulletproof cars and bodyguards and will not need any protection,” said Santos, himself a former journalist and one-time president of the freedom of expression commission for the Inter-American Press Association.

“But for now we need to make sure that the programme is properly funded and effective,” he added.

Launched in 2011, the journalist protection programme provides protection for around 7,500 at-risk people, including human rights activists, politicians, and journalists, at a total cost of 600,000 dollars per day.

But the delegation recommended that it also focus on preventing attacks from occurring in the first place.

Colombia ranked eighth on CPJ’s 2014 Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and their killers go free.

Iraq ranked number one, followed by Somalia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Syria, Afghanistan and Mexico.

At the Security Council meeting, Deloire from Reporters Without Borders called for the creation of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the protection of journalists in order to increase the prominence of the issue within the U.N system.

He stressed that a staggering 90 percent of crimes against journalists go unpunished.

“Such a high impunity rate encourages those who want to silence journalists by drowning them in their own blood,” Deloire said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Humanitarian Crisis in South Sudan Continues to Worsenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/humanitarian-crisis-in-south-sudan-continues-to-worsen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crisis-in-south-sudan-continues-to-worsen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/humanitarian-crisis-in-south-sudan-continues-to-worsen/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 22:22:13 +0000 Ann-Kathrin Pohlers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140844 Oxfam estimates that 800,000 people in South Sudan have reached “emergency levels” of hunger. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

Oxfam estimates that 800,000 people in South Sudan have reached “emergency levels” of hunger. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

By Ann-Kathrin Pohlers
MUNICH, Germany, May 28 2015 (IPS)

After peace talks failed earlier this month, the ongoing conflict in South Sudan between government forces and opposition forces that began at the end of 2013 is having a severe impact on the country’s food security and civilian safety.

While fighting continues, widespread burning, destruction, and looting of property have aggravated the efforts of both sides to gain control of the oilfields in the north of the country.

"South Sudan is locked in a horrible cycle of conflict and abuse and there has been absolutely no accountabillity whatsoever for any of these horrific abuses." -- Skye Wheeler, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Researcher for Sudan and South Sudan
“South Sudan is locked in a horrible cycle of conflict and abuse and there has been absolutely no accountabillity whatsoever for any of these horrific abuses,” Skye Wheeler, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Researcher for Sudan and South Sudan, based in Nairobi, told IPS.

To date, 10,000 people have been killed and two million forced to flee their homes.

Aid organisations are calling this a severe humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has decried the brutal violence against civilians and children, including the burning down of entire villages and the rapes and murders of women, and children as young as seven years old, over the past few weeks.

The states of Unity and Jonglei are the worst affected. It is unclear exactly who is responsible for the violence and destruction of property.

An estimated 13,000 children under 15 years of age have been recruited by both government and opposition forces, an act that constitutes a war crime, not only in South Sudan but also according to international law.

Another concern is the displacement of civilians and destruction of agriculture.

“People should be planting crops right now, instead they are fleeing,” Pawel Krzysiek, a staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, told IPS.

With the rainy season fast approaching, farming communities in Unity State need to plant their crops now to ensure decent harvests, something they cannot do due to the fighting. Many people have little choice but to depend on food aid.

According to Oxfam,  two-thirds of the population is now food insecure, with 7.8 million people in “Phases 2, 3 and 4 of food insecurity.”

The number of hungry people is projected to rise to 4.6 million by the end of July, accounting for 40 percent of the population. The rights group further estimates that 800,000 people have reached “emergency levels of hunger, facing extreme and dangerous food shortages.”

An Oxfam statement released Wednesday cautioned that this latest analysis “was undertaken before the recent escalation of the war, so it is expected that for thousands of people in South Sudan, the outlook is now even worse.”

Hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan have been cut off from food and medical supplies by fresh bouts of fighting. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

Hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan have been cut off from food and medical supplies by fresh bouts of fighting. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

Children have been badly hit, with malnutrition at a “critical level” in 80 percent of all counties in the Greater Upper Nile, Warrap and Northern Bahr El Ghazal states.

Dependence on food aid will only increase now with worsening displacement – gaining access to those most in need is becoming increasingly difficult, aid workers say.

“ICRC is providing food and medicine for about 120,000 people. Many of them are displaced as a result of the fighting, which is challenging our aid workers,” Krzysiek says.

More than two million people are displaced, about 500,000 of them are completely cut off from services.

Besides civilians, aid organisation now find themselves affected, with ongoing violence limiting both the options and capacity of various humanitarian groups.

According to Krzysiek, medical facilities in Unity State and Jonglei State were attacked, targeted and detroyed. Aid organisations were forced to evacuate staff to ensure security.

ICRC was forced to move its base from the city of Kodok to Oriny to the disadvantage of civilians.

“The hospital of Kodok is the only one in its region and therefore very important. People now have even more limited access to health services and food because of the country‘s insufficient infrastructure,” Jean-Yves Clemenzo, based at the ICRC headquarters in Geneva, told IPS.

Humanitarian organisations putting their operations on hold could spell disaster for the roughly 50 percent of South Sudan’s 12 million who are almost entirely dependent on the delivery of aid supplies.

UNICEF estimates it will distribute aid to meet the humanitarian needs of children alone to the tune of 165 million dollars by the end of 2015.

Human Rights Watch is very concerned about the continous deterioration of the conflict. Over the last couple of months, dozens of cases have been documented in which civilians were arrested arbitrarily, beaten up or tortured by unidentified forces.

“It looks like we are seeing a repeat of late 2013, when government forces moved through these areas burning, looting and destroying large parts of it,” Wheeler told IPS.

South Sudan became an independent state in 2011, in a moment that marked the end of a two-decade-long war for independence, which claimed 2.5 million lives. But peace was short-lived.

In December 2012 a power struggle between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his then-vice president Riek Machar escalated after Machar was accused of attempting to depose Mayardit.

War broke out once again on Dec. 15, 2013, and since then the world’s ‘newest country’ has been consumed by a tide of violence.

Back in March 2015, peace talks hosted by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa failed.

In response, the United Nations security council imposed sanctions on the country, in a resolution that threatened travel bans and asset freezes on individuals or entities “responsible for, complicit in, or engaged directly or indirectly in actions or policies threatening the peace, security or stability of South Sudan.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Let’s End Chronic Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-lets-end-chronic-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-lets-end-chronic-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-lets-end-chronic-hunger/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 16:43:36 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140834

Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, May 28 2015 (IPS)

At the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS), heads of government and the international community committed to reducing the number of hungry people in the world by half. Five years later, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) lowered this level of ambition by only seeking to halve the proportion of the hungry.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: Abdul Ghani Ismail

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: Abdul Ghani Ismail

The latest State of World Food Insecurity (SOFI) report for 2015 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme and International Fund for Agricultural Development estimates almost 795 million people—one in nine people worldwide—remain chronically hungry.

The number of undernourished people—those regularly unable to consume enough food for an active and healthy life—in the world has thus only declined by slightly over a fifth from the 1010.6 million estimated for 1991 to 929.6 million in 2001, 820.7 million in 2011 and 794.6 million in 2014.

With the number of chronically hungry people in developing countries declining from 990.7 million in 1991 to 779.9 million in 2014, their share in developing countries has declined by 44.4 per cent, from 23.4 to 12.9 per cent over the 23 years, but still short of the 11.7 per cent target.

Thus, the MDG 1c target of halving the chronically undernourished’s share of the world’s population by the end of 2015 is unlikely to be met at the current rate of progress. However, meeting the target is still possible, with sufficient, immediate, additional effort to accelerate progress, especially in countries which have showed little progress thus far.With high levels of deprivation, unemployment and underemployment likely to prevail in the world in the foreseeable future, poverty and hunger are unlikely to be overcome by 2030 without universally establishing a social protection floor for all.

Progress uneven

Overall progress has been highly uneven. All but 15 million of the world’s hungry live in developing countries. Some countries and regions have seen only slow progress in reducing hunger, while the absolute number of hungry has even increased in several cases.

By the end of 2014, 72 of the 129 developing countries monitored had reached the MDG 1c target — to either reduce the share of hungry people by half, or keep the share of the chronically undernourished under five per cent. Several more are likely to do so by the end of 2015.

Instead of halving the number of hungry in developing regions by 476 million, this number was only reduced by 221 million, just under half the earlier, more ambitious WFS goal. Nevertheless, some 29 countries succeeded in at least halving the number of hungry. This is significant as this shows that achieving and sustaining rapid progress in reducing hunger is feasible.

Marked differences in undernourishment persist across the regions. There have been significant reductions in both the share and number of undernourished in most countries in South-East Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean—where the MDG target of halving the hunger rate has been reached.

While sub-Saharan Africa has the highest share of the chronically hungry, almost one in four, South Asia has the highest number, with over half a billion undernourished. West Asia alone has seen an actual rise in the share of the hungry compared to 1991, while progress in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Oceania has not been sufficient to meet the MDG hunger target by 2015.

Efforts need to be stepped up

Despite the shortfall in achieving the MDG1c target and the failure to get near the WFS goal of halving the number of hungry, world leaders are likely to commit to eliminating hunger and poverty by 2030 when they announce the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the United Nations in September.

To be sure, there is enough food produced to feed everyone in the world. However, hundreds of millions of people do not have the means to access enough food to meet their dietary energy needs, let alone what is needed for diverse diets to avoid ‘hidden hunger’ by meeting their micronutrient requirements.

With high levels of deprivation, unemployment and underemployment likely to prevail in the world in the foreseeable future, poverty and hunger are unlikely to be overcome by 2030 without universally establishing a social protection floor for all. Such efforts will also need to provide the means for sustainable livelihoods and resilience.

The Second International Conference of Nutrition in Rome last November articulated commitments and proposals for accelerated progress to overcome undernutrition. Improvements in nutrition will require sustained and integrated efforts involving complementary policies, including improving health conditions, food systems, social protection, hygiene, water supply and education.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The U.N. at 70: A Glass Half Fullhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-a-glass-half-full/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-a-glass-half-full http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-a-glass-half-full/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 20:34:07 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140810

Dr. Palitha Kohona is former Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
COLOMBO, May 26 2015 (IPS)

As the U.N. enters its 70th year, it is legitimate to ask whether it has been a success so far. Over the years, the media, in particular the Western media, has tended to highlight the U.N.’s failures.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

The still unfinished business in the Korean Peninsula, the morass that was Congo, the impotency in Vietnam, it’s ineffectiveness during much of the cold war, the paralysis in Rwanda, it’s inability to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end, and many such unedifying instances have tended to garner the headlines.

But as Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold so succinctly proclaimed, the U.N. was not created to send humanity to heaven, simply to stop it from going to hell. Likewise, it has been said that if the U.N. did not exist we would have had to invent it.

Given the current global suspicions and rivalries, it is unlikely that we would succeed in creating a U.N. today from scratch. Despite all the criticisms for its failures, it has achieved much in its 70 years of existence. It could be described as the most successful and truly global political organisation ever created.

One of the key goals of the United Nations, created on the ashes of the devastating Second World War, was to prevent another world war. In this it has succeeded. The major powers have not battled each other militarily in the last 70 years. While innumerable regional, bilateral, and internal conflicts and proxy wars have caused millions of deaths and inestimable property damage, a global conflagration has been avoided.The end of the Cold War brought hope that the world body would be able to make useful progress on many fronts. But the rekindling of confrontational attitudes again among the major powers has introduced a new era of uncertainty.

The U.N. has been described as a private club. Its members decide what the club should do. Although the world at large may have other higher expectations, the U.N. is able to do only what it’s membership and the Charter would permit it to do. The most effective results are achieved where a consensus is obtained.

The way it’s constitution (the Charter) is formulated ensures that it’s powers are strictly constrained. (More about this later). At the same time the rights and privileges of those who won the Second World War are well and truly entrenched in a blatantly undemocratic manner, causing much disenchantment in a world where the political, economic and social power centres have shifted significantly.

Due to the manner it was designed, especially due to the power of veto conferred on the P5 in the Security Council, its freedom of action is limited to situations where the veto wielders agree. The Cold War paralyzed the U.N. substantially hobbling it during those dangerous years of East -West confrontation.

The end of the Cold War brought hope that the world body would be able to make useful progress on many fronts. But the rekindling of confrontational attitudes again among the major powers has introduced a new era of uncertainty.

Similarly, North South relations have always been clouded by suspicions traceable to the colonial experience. This constraint continues to influence attitudes and is not helped by an overbearing, “we know best” approach of the West. The Group of 77, originally intended to be the platform of developing countries on economic and social issues, is no longer 77. Taking in China (a P5 country), it has grown to 134. Not all of its members are poor developing countries.

Similarly, the Non Aligned Movement, originally intended to be the force not aligned to the East or the West, has tended to pull in different directions with no cohesive non aligned focus. Some have dropped out of this group. The growing tendency of the Security Council to adopt decisions binding on all member states on a range of issues that should properly be the responsibility of the General Assembly, has also come in for criticism.

The Security Council, dominated by the P5, has taken upon itself the task of legislating to the entire international community in certain situations, denying the vast majority of Member States any opportunity to influence such law making.

On the positive side, the human, social and economic rights standards of the world have improved substantially due to the work of the United Nations. From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the Organisation has progressively adopted a range of multilateral conventions setting standards on civil and political rights, social, economic and cutural rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, indegenous rights, disabled persons’ rights, racial discrimination, etc.

With these globally agreed benchmarks in place, the world is certainly a better place today than it was in 1945. Admittedly, the conclusion of a multilateral treaty or becoming party to a treaty does not per se advance the condition of individual persons. But the very existence of these universally accepted standards, creates the incentive to strive for those higher goals. some times with a little bit of added pressure.

The U.N. has been mainly responsible for the unprecedented development of the international rule of law. The secretary-general’s office is the repository of over 550 multilateral treaties, the vast majority of them negotiated under the auspices of the U.N.. They cover almost every aspect of human interaction, including the environment, the oceans, aviation, trade, human rights, disarmament, terrorism, organised crime, the outer space, shipping, road rules, etc.

The complex network of rules encompassed in these treaties have established standards for the conduct of individual states as never before. The international rule of law thus established, seeps down to national level in many areas influencing the development of the rule of law within countries.

The U.N. and its agencies have been successful in mobilising the international community on various issues of common interest. As the scourge of terrorism surged across borders and became a threat to many countries, the U.N. was able to mobilize states and resources to address this threat.

Expertise was assembled, resources were mobilised, training was provided to countries that needed it, and awareness was raised to a high level. In the absence of the U.N. and it’s agencies, it is doubtful if these advances could have been achieved. Much more remains to be done.

Similarly, the global response to health threats such as the AIDS pandemic, the swine flu and avian flu threats that had the potential to cause havoc and the more recent Ebola epidemic were countered due to the existence of the U.N. and it’s agencies. The U.N. has developed an impressive ability to raise awareness rapidly and mobilise member states to respond quickly to threats of this nature.

The manner that the world body has responded to natural and man made disasters has saved countless lives and alleviated much misery. The U.N.’s ongoing work in the areas of the environment, the oceans and sustainable development will bring further benefits to humankind.

The U.N. has been successful in restoring normalcy to a number of global situations that threatened to continue causing untold violence and misery. Cambodia has emerged as a stable and increasingly prosperous country after a decade of conflict largely as a consequence of the U.N. brokered peace and the subsequent peacekeeping operation.

Timor Leste, after a quarter century of conflict, has established itself as a peaceful member of the international community. The U.N. prodded and cajoled Mozambique and Angola to a new era of peace.

South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy and majority rule was painstakingly facilitated by the U.N. The role of the world organisation in guiding the Former Yugoslavia’s successor states to peace, after the initial explosion of violence, was not insignificant. Even the complex legal question of succession was dealt with imaginatively by the world body.

This brings us on to a vital and expanded area of U.N. activity – peacekeeping. Since its first peacekeeping operations on the borders of Israel and between India and Pakistan, its peacekeeping role has expanded substantially, with peacekeepers being given multidimensional mandates.

Today the U.N. is actively engaged in peacekeeping operations in 16 countries. It has over 122,000 staff performing peacekeeping functions, including civilian, police and military personnel, contributed voluntarily by 122 Member States.

The cost of peace keeping exceeds 7.1 billion dollars, making it the costliest segment of U.N. operations. Now, U.N. peacekeepers may be permitted to play an offensive role to defend their mandates, including the protection of civilians.

While there are impressive success stories, peacekeeping related criticisms also abound. The U.N.’s peacekeeping efforts may meet with greater success if their mandates are formulated with better information originating at ground level and following more structured consultations, including with host governments, if the mandates are clearly defined and the peace keeping troops are better briefed, equipped and selected on the basis of experience and training, if operations are regularly reviewed and exit strategies are well defined. Unfortunately, there has been a tendency for some missions to be extended indefinitely.

As the world moves forward there is an increasing clamour to reform the United Nations to reflect contemporary political and economic circumstances. The most difficult challenge will be to reform the Security Council which substantially reflects the power structures of the post World War world. Two of the P5 are Europeans and members of the EU. It is quite likely that two elected members would also be members of the EU.

At the moment, the WEOG group in the Security Council with New Zealand has six members out of 15. Africa has three of the elected members, Latin America and the Caribbean two and Asia two plus the Permanent seat (China).

This imbalance in the Security Council structure can not be sustained. While an entity that reflects the privileges of the victors of a war concluded 70 years ago may not be modified by another war. But dramatically altered global socio-economic realities might help to introduce change.

Making the international civil service of the U.N. truly effective has been another challenge. Constantly criticised by the major contributors, it has chugged along for 70 years. While intermittent efforts have been made under different SGs to make it more dynamic and responsive to contemporary needs, it is probably the time to approach this task in a comprehensive manner. The Organisation must be able to deliver on its mandates efficiently to the satisfaction of member states.

By Kitty Stapp

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Failure of Review Conference Brings World Close to Nuclear Cataclysm, Warn Activistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/failure-of-review-conference-brings-world-close-to-nuclear-cataclysm-warn-activists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=failure-of-review-conference-brings-world-close-to-nuclear-cataclysm-warn-activists http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/failure-of-review-conference-brings-world-close-to-nuclear-cataclysm-warn-activists/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 20:55:31 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140789 United States Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on April 27. The United States, along with the UK, and Canada, rejected the draft agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

United States Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on April 27. The United States, along with the UK, and Canada, rejected the draft agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 23 2015 (IPS)

After nearly four weeks of negotiations, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference ended in a predictable outcome: a text overwhelmingly reflecting the views and interests of the nuclear-armed states and some of their nuclear-dependent allies.

“The process to develop the draft Review Conference outcome document was anti-democratic and nontransparent,” Ray Acheson, director, Reaching Critical Will, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS.“This Review Conference has demonstrated beyond any doubt that continuing to rely on the nuclear-armed states or their nuclear-dependent allies for leadership or action is futile." -- Ray Acheson

She said it contained no meaningful progress on nuclear disarmament and even rolled back some previous commitments.

But, according to several diplomats, there was one country that emerged victorious: Israel, the only nuclear-armed Middle Eastern nation, which has never fully supported a long outstanding proposal for an international conference for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

As the Review Conference dragged towards midnight Friday, there were three countries – the United States, UK, and Canada (whose current government has been described as “more pro-Israel than Israel itself”) – that said they cannot accept the draft agreement, contained in the Final Document, on convening of the proposed conference by March 1, 2016.

As Acheson put it: “It is perhaps ironic, then, that three of these states prevented the adoption of this outcome document on behalf of Israel, a country with nuclear weapons, that is not even party to the NPT.”

The Review Conference president’s claim that the NPT belongs to all its states parties has never rung more hollow, she added.

Joseph Gerson, disarmament coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) told IPS the United States was primarily responsible, as in the 2005 review conference, for the failure of this year’s critically important NPT Review Conference.

“The United States and Israel, that is, even if Israel is one of the very few nations that has yet to sign onto the NPT,” he pointed out.

Rather than blame Israel, he said, the U.S., Britain and Canada are blaming the victim, charging that Egypt wrecked the conference with its demands that the Review Conference’s final declaration reiterate the call for creation of a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone.

But, the tail was once again wagging the dog, said Gerson, who is also the AFSC’s director of Peace and Economic Security Programme.

He said that Reuters news agency reported on Thursday, the day prior to the conclusion of the NPT Review Conference, that the United States sent “a senior U.S. official” to Israel “to discuss the possibility of a compromise” on the draft text of the Review Conference’s final document.

“Israeli apparently refused, and (U.S. President) Barack Obama’s ostensible commitments to a nuclear weapons-free world melted in the face of Israeli intransigence,” said Gerson.

John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, told IPS the problem with NPT Review Conference commitments on disarmament made over the last 20 years is not so much that they have not been strong enough. Rather the problem is that they have not been implemented by the NPT nuclear weapon states.

Coming into the 2015 Review Conference, he said, many non-nuclear weapon states were focused on mechanisms and processes to ensure implementation.

In this vein, the draft, but not adopted Final Document, recommended that the General Assembly establish an open-ended working group to “identify and elaborate” effective disarmament measures, including legal agreements for the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear weapons free world.

Regardless of the lack of an NPT outcome, this initiative can and should be pushed at the next General Assembly session on disarmament and international security, this coming fall, said Burroughs, who is also executive director of the U.N. Office of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA).

Acheson told IPS that 107 states— the majority of the world’s countries (and of NPT states parties)—have endorsed a Humanitarian Pledge, committing to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.

The outcome from the 2015 NPT Review Conference is the Humanitarian Pledge, she added.

The states endorsing the Pledge now and after this Conference must use it as the basis for a new process to develop a legally-binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons.

“This process should begin without delay, even without the participation of the nuclear-armed states. The 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has already been identified as the appropriate milestone for this process to commence.”

Acheson also said a treaty banning nuclear weapons remains the most feasible course of action for states committed to disarmament.

“This Review Conference has demonstrated beyond any doubt that continuing to rely on the nuclear-armed states or their nuclear-dependent allies for leadership or action is futile,” she said.

This context requires determined action to stigmatise, prohibit, and eliminate nuclear weapons.

“Those who reject nuclear weapons must have the courage of their convictions to move ahead without the nuclear-armed states, to take back ground from the violent few who purport to run the world, and build a new reality of human security and global justice,” Acheson declared.

Gerson told IPS the greater tragedy is that the failure of the Review Conference further undermines the credibility of the NPT, increasing the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation and doing nothing to stanch new nuclear arms races as the nuclear powers “modernize” their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems for the 21st century continues apace.

He said the failure of the Review Conference increases the dangers of nuclear catastrophe and the likelihood of nuclear winter.

The U.S. veto illustrates the central importance of breaking the silos of single issue popular movements if the people’s power needed to move governments – especially the United States – is to be built.

Had there been more unity between the U.S. nuclear disarmament movement and forces pressing for a just Israeli-Palestinian peace in recent decades, the outcome of the Review Conference could have been different, noted Gerson.

“If we are to prevail, nuclear disarmament movements must make common cause with movements for peace, justice and environmental sustainability.”

Despite commitments made in 1995, when the NPT was indefinitely extended and in subsequent Review Conferences, and reiterated in the 2000 and 2010 Review Conference final documents to work for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, Obama was unwilling to say “No” to Israel and “Yes” to an important step to reducing the dangers of nuclear war, said Gerson.

“As we have been reminded by the Conferences on the Human Consequences of Nuclear War held in Norway, Mexico and Austria, between the nuclear threats made by all of the nuclear powers and their histories of nuclear weapons accidents and miscalculations, that we are alive today is more a function of luck than of policy decisions.”

The failure of Review Conference is thus much more than a lost opportunity, it brings us closer to nuclear cataclysms, he declared.

Burroughs told IPS debate in the Review Conference revealed deep divisions over whether the nuclear weapon states have met their commitments to de-alert, reduce, and eliminate their arsenals and whether modernisation of nuclear arsenals is compatible with achieving disarmament.

The nuclear weapon states stonewalled on these matters.

If the nuclear weapons states displayed a business as usual attitude, the approach of non-nuclear weapon states was characterised by a sense of urgency, illustrated by the fact that by the end of the Conference over 100 states had signed the “Humanitarian Pledge” put forward by Austria.

It commits signatories to efforts to “stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Germany’s Asylum Seekers – You Can’t Evict a Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/germanys-asylum-seekers-you-cant-evict-a-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=germanys-asylum-seekers-you-cant-evict-a-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/germanys-asylum-seekers-you-cant-evict-a-movement/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 19:16:23 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140745 Refugees in Berlin defied a municipal eviction order in June 2014 with a nine-day hunger strike on the rooftop of a vacant school building using the slogan “You Can’t Evict a Movement” which today has become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement in Germany. Credit: Denise Garcia Bergt

Refugees in Berlin defied a municipal eviction order in June 2014 with a nine-day hunger strike on the rooftop of a vacant school building using the slogan “You Can’t Evict a Movement” which today has become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement in Germany. Credit: Denise Garcia Bergt

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, May 21 2015 (IPS)

In a move to take their message of solidarity to refugees across the country and calling for their voices to be heard in Europe’s ongoing debate on migration, Germany’s asylum seekers have taken their nationwide protest movement for change on the road under the slogan: “You Can’t Evict a Movement!”.

Earlier this month, in a twist to conventional protest movements, refugees organised a Refugee Bus Tour across Germany, turning action into networking through mobile solidarity.

“We wanted to go out and bring a message of solidarity to all corners of Germany, to meet other refugees and tell them not to be afraid, to take life into their own hands and above all that you are not a criminal,” Napuli Görlich told IPS, tired but relieved after a month of travelling."In dictatorships, young people suffer systematic oppression for a mere criticism of the regime. Faced with joblessness and lack of freedom of expression, they will seek legal or illegal emigration following the lure of the foreign media's often empty slogans of justice and freedom" – Adam Bahar, Sudanese blogger and campaigner for Germany’s refugee movement

On the morning of Apr. 1, Napuli had stood on this same spot, flanked by fellow campaigners Turgay Ulu,  Kokou Teophil and Gambian journalist Muhammed Lamin Jadama, staring at the burnt-out refugee Info Point in Berlin, victim of one of a number of disturbing arson attacks this year, including one on a refugee home in Tröglitz, in the eastern state of Saxony.

Until the day before, the Info Point had functioned as a social solidarity base in the heart of Berlin’s Oranienplatz square, known here as the O’Platz. The square holds a symbolic importance as the central stronghold of the nation-wide refugee movement.

“That was a very sad moment for us,” said Napuli. “Such brutal attacks hit us where it hurts most, in our sense of vulnerability, precariousness, and invisibility,” she continued, vowing that the Info Point, registered as an art installation in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, will be rebuilt.

One of the most vocal and resilient personalities of the German refugee movement, Napuli was born in Sudan and studied at the universities of Ahfad and Cavendish in Kampala.  A human rights activist, she suffered torture and persecution for running an NGO and fled to Germany, where she has been with the refugee movement ever since.

From the start, she has also been associated with the O’Platz “protest camp”, which became her home and that of 40 other refugees in October 2012.  They had pitched their tents in the square after a 600 km march from what they termed a “lager” reception centre in Würzburg, Bavaria. The refugees stayed, on braving the elements, until the district council ordered bulldozers to tear it down in April last year.

“When they came to clear the camp I had nothing, absolutely nothing, only a blanket on my shoulders,” Napuli recalled. For the next three days, she took her blanket, her protest and her rage at the lack of an agreement with the Berlin authorities up a nearby tree, literally.

Germany’s refugee movement was sparked by the suicide of a young Iranian asylum-seeker Mohammad Rahsepar who hanged himself in his room at the Würzbug reception centre on Jan. 29, 2012.  En route to the German capital the marchers stopped by other “lagers”, starting to raise awareness about the inhumane conditions of isolation for asylum applicants, inviting them to leave their camps and join the march for freedom to Berlin.

Since then, the movement has been calling unequivocally for abolition of Germany’s enforced residence policy, or “Residenzpflicht”, a lager system which effectively denies asylum-seekers freedom of movement.

Other demands are an end to deportations, and rights to education, the possibility to work legally and access to emergency medical care, so far unavailable to asylum seekers.

After the O’Platz protest camp was razed to the ground, many of the prevalently African refugees occupied a vacant school building in Berlin, the Gerhardt-Hautmann-Schule in the Kreuzberg district’s Ohlauerstrasse, where they ran social and cultural activities until June 2014.

The local authorities attempted to enforce an eviction order, flanked by a 900-strong federal police force, and barring all access to visitors, press, voluntary organisations and even Church groups were denied access to the school or delivery of food.

Refusing to leave the building, some of the refugees took to the school’s rooftops for a nine-day hunger strike and standoff, waving a banner with the slogan “You can’t evict a movement”, which has now become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement.

Some, like Alnour, Adam Bahar and Turgay Ulu, continue to live here, still hopeful that the district will agree to a proposal to set up an international refugee centre here and that they may be able to receive visitors.

Angela Davis, the iconic U.S. civil and human rights activist, was denied access when she tried to visit them on the premises recently.  “The refugee movement is the movement of the 21st century,” said Davis, referring to the plight of migrants worldwide.

Angela Davis (Flickr)

During her May 2015 visit to Berlin, Angela Davis brought a message of support to members of the German refugee movement outside an occupied school building in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. Credit: Francesca Dziadek/IPS

“The Polizei can come at any time of night and snatch us away; we are under constant threat of deportation. I am feeling very stressed, I cannot sleep very well,” Alnour told IPS, explaining how they have had to make do with one, cold, defective shower for 40 people.

Undeterred on his return from the Refugee Bus Tour, Turgay Ulu, a Turkish journalist who was tortured and imprisoned as a dissident for 15 years, published the refugee movement’s magazine and is an active network organizer, has a very busy “working” schedule.

“There is a lot to do, from organising sleeping places for the homeless, writing and producing video content, organising spontaneous demonstrations and occupations, musical events, theatre performances, and consciousness-raising on national and international refugee bus tours,” Ulu told IPS.

“We have two choices, we either sit in the lagers and eat, sleep and eat again and go crazy, or we protest.”

Germany’s problem has been the exceedingly long waiting times necessary for processing asylum applications.  The United Nations has reported that in 2014 the country had the highest number of asylum applications since the Bosnian War in 1992. There are reportedly 200,000 asylum applications still outstanding and it is being predicted that this will have risen to 300,000 this year.

Adam Bahar, a Sudanese blogger and one of the refugee movement’s campaigners, told IPS that his dream of a better life of freedom and wealth evaporated when he reached Europe, where he soon realised that freedom and human rights are not for everyone to enjoy.

“In dictatorships, young people suffer systematic oppression for a mere criticism of the regime,” he said. ”Faced with joblessness and lack of freedom of expression, they will seek legal or illegal emigration following the lure of the foreign media’s often empty slogans of justice and freedom.”

Today, continued Bahar, who is in demand as a speaker and gives seminars at Berlin’s Humboldt University, “colonialism, which was born in Berlin in 1884, is being implemented by starting wars and marketing weaponry.”

As politicians busy themselves with strategies and programmes and allocating resources to more programmes to hold back refugees, they should be naming and shaming the real culprits instead, he said. “Change begins by uprooting dictators who are clandestinely colluding to misuse their nation’s wealth and remain in power thanks to the support of the pseudo democracies of the first world.”

Meanwhile, the refugee movement’s unified front appears to be making some, albeit limited, headway. The forced residence system, for example, has been abolished in a number of federal states and the Berlin Senate has just announced plans to provide refugee shelter accommodation to be completed by 2017 in 36 locations for 7,200 asylum seekers spread out across Berlin’s local districts at an overall cost of 150 million euros.

Germany is currently walking a tightrope between honouring its international humanitarian responsibilities, pursuing its international economic interests, including its remunerative arms sales contracts, and handling dangerous right-leaning swings in public opinion against immigrants.

At the same time, Germany is pursuing a risky carrot-and-stick immigration policy agenda which is sending out contradictory signals – a 10-year-old immigration law which placed Germany on the map as a land of “immigration” for highly skilled foreigners, while tightening restrictions for those who are not deemed to be candidates for economic integration.

At issue is the divisive policy which places refugees in “asylum-worthy” categories. “In Germany there are three categories of refugees,” Asif Haji, a 30-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker, told IPS.

“The first are Syrians and other Middle East refugees who are awarded permits and education. Second come the Afghans and Pakistanis, who have to struggle a bit but are allowed language school and work permits. But then there are the Africans who are widely perceived as economic migrants leeching on the system and petty criminals dealing in drugs who are not particularly welcome anywhere.”

“This is unfair,” he said. “Human tragedy should not be classified.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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The U.N. at 70: The Past and Future of U.N. Peacekeepinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-the-past-and-future-of-u-n-peacekeeping/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-the-past-and-future-of-u-n-peacekeeping http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-the-past-and-future-of-u-n-peacekeeping/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 14:26:26 +0000 Jean-Marie Guehenno http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140736

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, a former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations (2000-2008), is the president & CEO of the International Crisis Group. He is the author of The Fog of Peace: a Memoir of International Peacekeeping in the 21st Century (Brookings), published this month.

By Jean-Marie Guéhenno
NEW YORK, May 21 2015 (IPS)

When the Cold War ended in 1991, there was hope the U.N. Security Council would be able to take decisive action to create a more peaceful world. Early blue helmet successes in Cambodia, Namibia, Mozambique, and El Salvador seemed to vindicate that assessment.

Photo courtesy of Jean-Marie Guéhenno

Photo courtesy of Jean-Marie Guéhenno

This optimism was tripped up by the tragedies that followed in the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, and Rwanda. U.N. peacekeepers were bystanders to horrible atrocities. Peacekeeping shrank rapidly.

By the end of the 1990s, common wisdom was that such missions were a thing of the past, and that from now on regional organisations would take charge.

Pundits were proven wrong, and in 1999 U.N. missions were deployed in quick succession to Kosovo, East Timor, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In terms of legitimacy and force-generation, they showed that the U.N. still had comparative advantages over all other organisations. But it was not at all clear if this was enough to allow the peacekeepers to succeed.

This was the turning point when I assumed the post of U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations in 2000. Over the next eight years, I learned that reviving and rebuilding U.N. peacekeeping was much more than a managerial and military challenge.The U.N. has reached a new turning point. Should the world double down on its investment, or cut its exposure before significant losses appear?

Today’s peacekeeping is a political enterprise whose success rests on the support of major powers, a viable political process between the parties to a conflict, and a wise and limited use of force.

This all came into vivid focus around the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Security Council was divided, the U.N. was besieged by scandals and the U.S. administration was at best indifferent to the United Nations. Yet the renewed expansion of peacekeeping continued unabated. To this day, it has not been reversed, and some 107,000 peacekeepers are presently deployed in 16 missions.

In 2000, a panel of experts led by Lakhdar Brahimi, a former foreign minister of Algeria, had made recommendations to avoid a repetition of the disasters of the 90’s: strengthen and professionalise peacekeeping, and don’t deploy peacekeepers where there is no peace to keep. Fifteen years later, U.N. peacekeeping is more professionally managed, and yet, it is still in a very precarious situation.

The demands on peacekeeping have grown too fast, the operational role of the U.N. is clearly ahead of its capabilities, and most peacekeeping missions are deployed in places where war has only subsided, not ended. The U.N. has reached a new turning point. Should the world double down on its investment, or cut its exposure before significant losses appear?

The reality is that the U.N. cannot just cut and run: in South Sudan, more than 100,000 people are sheltered in U.N. compounds, and their lives would be at risk if the U.N. were to pull out. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the state remains very weak, and there is little confidence that the country would not slide back into chaos if the mission was abruptly withdrawn. What is to be done?

First, acknowledge that force indeed matters, and can provide indispensible political leverage. That means a further strengthening of the operational capacities of the U.N. An 8.47-billion-dollar budget looks enormous, but the fact is that the world is doing peacekeeping on the cheap. This apparently high figure is but a fraction of what the U.S. and NATO were spending in Afghanistan.

But subcontracting U.N. operations to organisations like NATO is not a viable strategy for the future: it is very costly, and politically discredited by the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan. Peacekeeping is all in the art of implementation, and when the U.N. is left outside the military chain of command, it quickly loses control over the political strategy.

There is no alternative to a direct U.N. operational role if peacekeeping is to retain a reputation of impartiality, but specific capacities are needed to be effective.

Western militaries, which have largely shunned U.N. peacekeeping since the end of the nineties, need to re-engage with U.N. peacekeeping in a significant way, either as blue helmets, or through ad hoc arrangements that will allow for the provision of quick reaction forces and dedicated assets.

Second, return to politics. It is unrealistic to expect a U.N. force – or any force for that matter, as the Iraq and Afghanistan experiences show – to impose a peace. An exclusive focus on military operations to protect civilians, as in Congo, can become a diversion.

An extensive definition of terrorism, which enrolls the U.N. in the so-called “war on terror”, is shrinking the political space in which it should operate. The most important contribution that the U.N. can make to peacemaking is not fighting; it is to support inclusive political processes.

The rhetoric of peacekeeping has been ahead of its reality, and we should not oversell it. It is an enormous responsibility to intervene in the life of others, and the path between irresponsible indifference and reckless activism is narrow.

To gain domestic support for foreign interventions, peace operations have been presented as opportunities to reengineer countries. As outsiders, we should be more modest.

A genuine international community, based on shared values, should remain our goal, but it will not exist unless we can shore up the imperfect states that are its building blocks. Many are crumbling faster than new structures can be built, but the international order is still based on their primary responsibility.

For an organisation of states like the U.N., this is an existential challenge. For the people who are the unwitting victims of collapsed states, this is a matter of life and death. Even if the risk of failure is always there, abstention should never be the option of choice.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Boatloads of Migrants Could Soon Be ‘Floating Graveyard’ on Southeast Asian Watershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/boatloads-of-migrants-could-soon-be-floating-graveyard-on-southeast-asian-waters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boatloads-of-migrants-could-soon-be-floating-graveyard-on-southeast-asian-waters http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/boatloads-of-migrants-could-soon-be-floating-graveyard-on-southeast-asian-waters/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 07:05:32 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140663 This photo, taken in 2012, shows desperate Rohingya refugees from Myanmar attempting to get past border patrol guards in Bangladesh. Now, in 2015, a fresh exodus of mainly Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh has the international community on edge. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

This photo, taken in 2012, shows desperate Rohingya refugees from Myanmar attempting to get past border patrol guards in Bangladesh. Now, in 2015, a fresh exodus of mainly Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh has the international community on edge. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, May 16 2015 (IPS)

On Thursday, May 14, a group of journalists rented a boat from Ko Lipe, a small island in Thailand’s southwest Satun Province, and headed out into the Andaman Sea – a water body in the northeastern Indian Ocean bounded by Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Strait of Malacca.

Ten miles into the journey, they came upon a sight not often spied in these waters: a three-storey, rickety wooden vessel, filled with ragged men, women and children who, upon seeing the boatload of journalists, began crying out for help.

“We don’t have a flotilla to go out and help them, but there are plenty of countries in the region that do, and plenty of reasons for them to do it – if they don’t, they’ll be dealing with a floating graveyard soon, rather than a flotilla of ships." -- Leonard Doyle, director of media and communications for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
This ship and its desperate human cargo – hundreds of migrants from the Rohingya Muslim community in Myanmar and Bangladesh – now symbolizes the plight of a persecuted people, and the harsh migration policies of a handful of Southeast Asian countries that have resulted in a game of ‘maritime Ping-Pong’ played out with human lives.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), smugglers abandoned the ship and its passengers after failing to dock in Thailand as a result of that country’s harsh crackdown on what it calls “illegal” maritime arrivals, but what rights activists say are beleaguered citizens fleeing ethnic persecution and economic hardship in their native lands.

Earlier, the boat made a failed attempt to land in Malaysia, and on Friday Thai authorities moved the vessel further out to sea, claiming that its passengers wanted to carry on with their journey – an unlikely scenario given that the emaciated group of refugees have been out at sea for three months, and have little to no food or water left onboard.

A regional crisis

And they are not the only ones – the IOM estimates that some 6,000 people out of roughly 8,000 who have been out at sea since early March remain marooned off the coasts of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

These countries, all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have taken an uneven approach to the refugee crisis: the IOM says some 1,500 people have managed to disembark in Malaysia and Indonesia, while thousands of others have been turned away, with the navies of each respective country going so far as to tow some of the boats further out to see.

A statement issued through the spokesperson of the United Nations Secretary-General Thursday called on governments in the region to respond to the crisis by upholding international obligations, including the prohibition on ‘refoulement’ – the forcible return of persecuted individuals to their country of origin.

The U.N. chief also asked governments to “facilitate timely disembarkation and keep their borders and ports open in order to help the vulnerable people who are in need.”

However, these requests have so far gone unheeded.

Alarmed by the plight of those stranded out at sea, the IOM on Friday released one million dollars from its Migration Emergency Funding Mechanism, with the aim of expanding relief to refugees on shore and assisting those still on the water.

While the fund will provide potentially life-saving emergency aid to hundreds of people, “it’s really up to countries nearby to respond,” IOM Director of Media and Communications Leonard Doyle told IPS.

He said the emergency funds will be used to provide desperate migrants with whatever they might need, but they have to be brought ashore first.

“We don’t have a flotilla to go out and help them, but there are plenty of countries in the region that do, and plenty of reasons for them to do it – if they don’t, they’ll be dealing with a floating graveyard soon, rather than a flotilla of ships,” he stressed.

At the very least, he said, powerful emerging countries within range of the crisis should use their naval capacity to bring those needing medical attention ashore – it is believed that pregnant women are among the migrants still drifting well within reach of land – but no government has so far demonstrated a willingness to do so.

Risking death to flee their homes

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) believes that about 25,000 people “departed irregularly by sea” from the Bay of Bengal in the first quarter of 2015 – double the departure rate for the two preceding years.

The U.N. agency also says an estimated 300 people have died out at sea since October 2014, from starvation, dehydration or after being beaten severely by boat crews.

Hailing largely from Bangladesh and Myanmar, passengers pay between 90 and 370 dollars to board these ships, in addition to the thousands of dollars they might pay moneylenders in interest rates, or to immigration officials for their freedom once they land on safer shores.

The sudden spike in departures could be driven by a number of factors, not least of which the harsh conditions in IDP camps in Myanmar where over 140,000 refugees, the majority of whom identify as Rohingya Muslims, have been interned since inter-communal violence in the country’s western Rakhine State displaced them from their homes nearly three years ago.

Other reasons for the exodus include economic hardships, or ethnic persecution, the U.N. says.

That so many are willing to risk death by drowning for a mere chance of a better life speaks volumes of their plight in their home countries.

An IOM statement released Friday explained, “In the past three years, an estimated 160,000 migrants from the coasts of Myanmar and Bangladesh were smuggled by boat to Thailand before being brought overland to Malaysia.”

But the discovery in early May of mass graves in smuggling camps drove a major crackdown on migrants in both countries, resulting in the current regional stalemate.

These and other issues are expected to be the focus of a regional summit scheduled to take place later this month, which U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon called an opportunity “for all leaders of Southeast Asia to intensify individual and collective efforts to address this worrying situation and tackle the root causes, of which the push factors are often human rights violations.”

Others believe that such a settlement, if it comes at all, will come too late.

“These people are not going to last that long,” IOM’s Doyle told IPS. “They need to be rescued now and that’s what we’ve been calling for. As you can imagine, one day out on a boat is enough, but these people have been out there for [months]… This is shocking, really shocking treatment of human beings.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The U.N. at 70: Is It Still Fit for the Purpose?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-is-it-still-fit-for-the-purpose/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-is-it-still-fit-for-the-purpose http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-is-it-still-fit-for-the-purpose/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 11:48:04 +0000 Julia Rainer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140625 A boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. The UN at 70 must “be fit for the purpose … otherwise it would be letting down people in need and compromising its legitimacy”. Photo credit: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

A boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. The UN at 70 must “be fit for the purpose … otherwise it would be letting down people in need and compromising its legitimacy”. Photo credit: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, May 14 2015 (IPS)

Events are being organised around the world to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, but a recent seminar held in the Austrian capital was not held to applaud the body’s past contributions.

Rather, the 45th International Peace Institute (IPI) Seminar, held from May 6 to 7,  saw representatives from the political, NGO, media and military sectors come together to discuss the organisation’s capability to deal with the crises and challenges of the future.

There was consensus among participants that the difficulties in the realms of international peace and security are very different today from those that dominated the international community at the time of the foundation of the United Nations in 1945.The global scenario has seen the entry of non-state “actors” such as criminals and terrorists representing a real threat to stability of the international system that the United Nations was set up to safeguard

Not only has the number of member states quadrupled since then, the global scenario has seen the entry of non-state “actors” such as criminals and terrorists representing a real threat to stability of the international system that the United Nations was set up to safeguard.

At the same time, the planet is afflicted by other threats that do not stop at national borders, such as climate change, pandemics and wars, which have global dimensions and are extremely difficult to contain in our globalised world.

As Martin Nesirky, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Vienna, put it: “The UN grew from the ashes of World War Two and there has been no global conflict since then, but neither has there been global peace.”

This year, debate about reform of the United Nations comes at a time that represents a possibility for change and action on two major fronts.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), although they have not yet been fully realised, are being pushed forward in the spirit of adapting a new development agenda in the form of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Furthermore, there are hopes that a global agreement on climate change will finally be reached in Paris in December at the U.N. Climate Change Conference.

According to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, “this is not just another year, this is the chance to change the course of history.”

However, the not all participants at the IPI seminar were convinced that the United Nations could fulfil its destined role without adapting to the fast changing circumstances that shape the world community.

A hotly debated issue was the long demanded reform of the U.N. Security Council and the power of veto held by its five permanent members – China, United States, France, United Kingdom and Russian Federation – which were said not to represent the world community.

Some participants noted that the current geopolitical situation is marked by a breakdown of power relations which have complicated the work of the United Nations enormously.

Richard Gowan, Research Director at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation (CIC) and a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), expressed his concern about the escalation of power struggles in recent years.

“Tensions between Russia and the West, and to some extent China and the West, have severely impaired the UN’s ability to deal with the Syrian crisis and stopped the UN having a serious role in the Ukrainian crisis altogether.”

He called for resolution of ongoing geopolitical competition to enable the United Nations to regain the strength to deal with pressing crises” and warned that “if the Security Council breaks down, the rest of the UN will ultimately break down.”

Meanwhile, as the world faces the most severe refugee crisis since the Second World War, it was stressed that the proper functionality of international institutions – and of the United Nations in particular – is of the highest importance. More than 53 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced today, a figure equal to the entire population of South Korea.

The last tragic incidents of hundreds of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean have shown that the international community is failing to ensure the security of those seeking a safe future in Europe. “Desperation has no measure and no cost,” said Louise Aubin, Deputy Director of the Department of International Protection at the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

During her work for the U.N. refugee agency, Aubin came face to face with the situation of the world’s largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, situated some 100 kilometres from the Kenya-Somalia border, which houses an estimated 500,000 Somali refugees, some of whom are third generation born in the camp.

“It’s impossible for me to explain as a parent that I would actually accept that situation,” Aubin said.” There is no way I would not do anything in my power to try to send my children somewhere else. And that somewhere else is across the Mediterranean.”

In the light of the recent tragedies suffered by refugees, participants said that it is necessary to create safe access to asylum in order for refugees to enjoy the rights that are theirs under international law.

It is clear that this responsibility does not lie only with the United Nations, they agreed, pointing to the role of the European Union in dealing with refugee flows.

However, both the United Nations and the European Union are only as strong as their member states allow them to be.

If the UN at 70 turns out not be fit for the purpose, it has to take immediate measures to become so – otherwise it would be letting down people in need and compromising its legitimacy.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Campaign to End Sexual Violence Targets Civilian Peacekeepers Firsthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/campaign-to-end-sexual-violence-targets-civilian-peacekeepers-first/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=campaign-to-end-sexual-violence-targets-civilian-peacekeepers-first http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/campaign-to-end-sexual-violence-targets-civilian-peacekeepers-first/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 20:25:21 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140614 Different jurisdictions and immunities apply to civilian and military personnel, made more obscure by a lack of transparency and detail in the U.N.’s reporting of abuse cases. Photo: UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz

Different jurisdictions and immunities apply to civilian and military personnel, made more obscure by a lack of transparency and detail in the U.N.’s reporting of abuse cases. Photo: UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, May 13 2015 (IPS)

“We can really argue as much as we want but if we put ourselves in the skin of victims, we just have to do something to stop this.”

This was Graça Machel’s appeal at the launch of Code Blue, the campaign to end impunity for sexual violence by United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping personnel Wednesday.“Each country will act according to what it thinks is appropriate and more often than not rather than a full-fledged investigation you simply see a plane arriving and a bunch of people being put on a plane and disappearing." -- Lt. General Roméo Dallaire

Machel, a renowned human rights advocate, spoke of her own dismay when researching the landmark U.N. study ‘The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children’.

“We came across, eye to eye, women and girls who had been abused by U.N. peacekeeping personnel – it was shocking to us,” Machel said.

Peacekeeping is about more than military peace but also about bringing peace in people themselves, Machel said.

Her sentiments were shared by a panel of international leaders, including Lt. General Roméo Dallaire, Force Commander for the U.N. mission during the Rwandan genocide; Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary General; Theo Sowa, CEO of the African Women’s Development Fund; and Paula Donovan Co-director of AIDS-Free World, the organisation spearheading Code Blue.

The panel implored the United Nations and world leaders to act, and called for a truly independent Commission of Inquiry, with unobstructed access to U.N. records and correspondence, and full subpoena power.

Mahel called for the response to cut through the complex technicalities that raised many questions from the media present at the launch.

The problem is truly complex, with different jurisdictions and immunities applying to civilian and military personnel, made more obscure by a lack of transparency and detail in the U.N.’s reporting of cases.

One issue discussed at the forum was Code Blue’s decision to first focus on civilian personnel. The founders of Code Blue argued that this is an important first step to addressing the overall problem.

IPS spoke with Dr Roisin Burke, author of the book ‘Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by U.N. Military Contingents,’ who said that while she agreed that the “jurisdictional vacuum” surrounding civilian personnel needed to be addressed, she also hoped that Code Blue would equally tackle sexual abuse and sexual exploitation by both military and civilian personnel.

“The vast majority of U.N. operations, 70-80 percent of the people who are deployed are military, so you’ve got hundreds of thousands of military personnel deployed across the world,” Burke said.

“Per person, it’s happening more with civilian personnel, the problem is that doesn’t mean that in terms of numbers that it’s happening more.”

The panel also discussed the problems among military personnel, which Code Blue plans to address after first tackling the problem of bureaucratic delays around immunities impairing investigations into civilian personnel.

Lt. General Dallaire also discussed the problems associated with investigating allegations against military personnel who continue to fall under the jurisdiction of their home country.

“Each country will act according to what it thinks is appropriate and more often than not rather than a full-fledged investigation you simply see a plane arriving and a bunch of people being put on a plane and disappearing,” said Dallaire.

“There is far too much centralisation and taking away the ability of those in the field to be able to do the investigation in a timely fashion,” he said.

The panel disagreed with the idea that troop contributing countries will be less likely to send troops if their troops risk prosecution for sexual abuse.

“I come from Bangladesh, the largest troop contributing country. Bangladesh will welcome very much setting the standards high,” Chowdhury said.

Dallaire also agreed that this argument did not hold up and that it was holding the U.N. to ransom.

The first problem Code Blue plans to address though is immunity for civilian personnel. Donovan said that it was often not possible to substantiate allegations against civilian peacekeepers because bureaucracy gets in the way.

“The first step that kicks off the bureaucracy is immunity,” she said.

Immunity is not meant to cover sexual exploitation and abuse because personnel are only covered by immunity during their normal functions as a U.N. staff member. However, Donovan said that there are significant delays because each individual case has to be reviewed by the secretary-general before immunity can be waived. During this time evidence is eroded and witnesses disappear, making a successful investigation almost impossible.

Chowdhury told IPS he believed the U.N. should no longer hide behind legal difficulties and should take the moral high ground in these situations. He added that addressing sexual exploitation and abuse was important if the U.N. was serious about involving more women in peacekeeping operations.

An internal expert report leaked by AIDS-Free World earlier this year said that there is considerable under-reporting of these cases.

Sowa spoke passionately, saying it was heartbreaking this issue had to be discussed, “when the U.N. becomes the protector of predators instead of the prosecutor of predators, that destroys me because I believe in the U.N.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Reviving Dignity: The Remarkable Perseverance of Myanmar’s Displacedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 16:27:21 +0000 Rob Jarvis and Kim Jolliffe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140574 Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

By Rob Jarvis and Kim Jolliffe
SITTWE, Myanmar, May 12 2015 (IPS)

In Myanmar’s Western Rakhine State, over a hundred thousand people displaced by inter communal violence that broke out nearly three years ago remain interned in camps on torrid plains and coastal marshes, struggling to survive.

In the face of unimaginable hardship, many have found ways to cope and maintain their dignity, through innovation and hard work.

Behind sensational and at times gory headlines peddled by the mainstream media, a far more simple story is unfolding: the story of scores of victims of violence in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) outside the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, gaining sustenance, acquiring fuel for fires, re-establishing businesses, and developing community-led social services.

Inter communal violence erupted in 2012 between the region’s majority Rakhine Buddhists and minority Muslims who mostly self-identify as Rohingya, an ethnic label that remains heavily contested and at the heart of a decades-old conflict.

Three years later, over 140,000 IDPs, predominantly Rohingya Muslims, remain effectively interned and segregated in camps from which the government has not allowed them to return home.

Aid is administered through United Nations agencies and other mainstream bodies that are bound to work primarily with the government, leading to top-down interventions that do little to build the capacity of beneficiaries themselves, at worst stifling their ability to take their lives back into their own hands.

Up against the odds, these communities are nevertheless demonstrating the sheer strength of the human spirit, and the remarkable resilience that often presents itself only in the darkest, most hopeless situations. Through small acts of determination, courage and kindness, they are assuring their own survival and slowly regaining their dignity.

Arafa lives in this tent with her six children and three grandchildren. When she fled her burning home she had nothing but her longyi (traditional skirt) and one shirt so has begun growing gourds on the tent for extra sustenance. Her grandchildren photographed here, all wear beads that were blessed by the local Mullah. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Arafa lives in this tent with her six children and three grandchildren. When she fled her burning home she had nothing but her longyi (traditional skirt) and one shirt so has begun growing gourds on the tent for extra sustenance. Her grandchildren photographed here all wear beads that were blessed by the local mullah. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Chu Mar Win, a Rakhine Buddhist IDP in her early twenties whose house was burned down by Rohingya Muslims in July 2012, volunteers as a teacher in her camp. To ensure the young children can stay in school, the community all donate some rice and small amounts of money to ensure that she can afford to keep teaching. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Chu Mar Win, a Rakhine Buddhist IDP in her early twenties whose house was burned down by Rohingya Muslims in July 2012, volunteers as a teacher in her camp. To ensure the young children can stay in school, the community all donate some rice and small amounts of money so she can afford to keep teaching. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Zadi Begum, a 25-year-old single mother of five, runs a small noodle shop out of the front of her hut. As she fled her village in July 2012 with her mother and children, her husband, 30-year-old Ibrahim, stayed behind to collect some things but was killed by Rakhine Buddhists with a machete. She struggled to raise the roughly 27 dollars needed to buy the basic tools and materials to start her noodle shop. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Zadi Begum, a 25-year-old single mother of five, runs a small noodle shop out of the front of her hut. As she fled her village in July 2012 with her mother and children, her husband, 30-year-old Ibrahim, stayed behind to collect some things but was killed by Rakhine Buddhists with a machete. She struggled to raise the roughly 27 dollars needed to buy the basic tools and materials to start her noodle shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Three years ago, in July 2012, Noor Ahmed had his boat stolen by Rakhine Buddhists in his village of Myo Thu Gyi. Now, he and his 13-year-old son, both IDPs, work tirelessly on other people’s boats for daily wages. He stands before one such boat that the pair has been working on for 20 days. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Three years ago, in July 2012, Noor Ahmed had his boat stolen by Rakhine Buddhists in his village of Myo Thu Gyi. Now, he and his 13-year-old son, both IDPs, work tirelessly on other people’s boats for daily wages. He stands before one such boat that the pair has been working on for 20 days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mohammed Hussain, aged eight, spends his weekends in the mud with friends looking for buried pieces of wood that can be salvaged for fuel. Here, he has been at work with his three brothers and two friends for four hours, and they have found a single piece that he is excited to take home to his mother. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Mohammed Hussain, aged eight, spends his weekends in the mud with friends looking for buried pieces of wood that can be salvaged for fuel. Here, he has been at work with his three brothers and two friends for four hours, and they have found a single piece that he is excited to take home to his mother. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

La La May is making a blouse, catching the last minutes of sunlight through her doorway. She provides training to other girls here and makes between fifty cents and one dollar per day by tailoring clothes. She currently has four female students who she teaches for free using this single sewing machine, which they bought from the ‘host community’, locals from the neighbouring village. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

La La May is making a blouse, catching the last minutes of sunlight through her doorway. She provides training to other girls here and makes between fifty cents and one dollar per day by tailoring clothes. She currently has four female students who she teaches for free using this single sewing machine, which they bought from the ‘host community’, locals from the neighbouring village. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Farida, aged 18, works in her family’s betel nut processing business. The nuts belong to Rakhine business owners, who pay the family less than 0.09 dollars per nut. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Farida, aged 18, works in her family’s betel nut processing business. The nuts belong to Rakhine business owners, who pay the family less than 0.09 dollars per nut. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Abul Kasim, aged 53, a father of seven, finds it hard to explain what is wrong with him. He spends most of his days at the local clinic in Say Tha Ma Gee IDP camp, having not been able to eat properly, with severe bowel problems and internal bleeding for eight months. The clinic has referred him to Sittwe General Hospital but he says dares not go, and could not afford to in any case. Relying on traditional medicine, he has bouts of pain every day that leave him shaking uncontrollably. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Abul Kasim, aged 53, a father of seven, finds it hard to explain what is wrong with him. He spends most of his days at the local clinic in Say Tha Ma Gee IDP camp, having not been able to eat properly, with severe bowel problems and internal bleeding for eight months. The clinic has referred him to Sittwe General Hospital but he says dares not go, and could not afford to in any case. Relying on traditional medicine, he has bouts of pain every day that leave him shaking uncontrollably. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

 

Da Naing clinic demonstrates the abject level of neglect faced by the IDP communities, as a result of aid mismanagement and the government’s lack of care. The clinic was built by an international NGO in 2012 and has lain dormant for much of the time since. Though the government promised doctors and medicine, such provisions have been discontinued. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Da Naing clinic demonstrates the abject level of neglect faced by the IDP communities, as a result of aid mismanagement and the government’s lack of care. The clinic was built by an international NGO in 2012 and has lain dormant for much of the time since. Though the government promised doctors and medicine, such provisions have been discontinued. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. She buys the chillies fresh from the local market and then sells small affordable packets of 1-2 teaspoons worth, and is able to make just about two dollars in three or four days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. She buys the chillies fresh from the local market and then sells small affordable packets of 1-2 teaspoons worth, and is able to make just about two dollars in three or four days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mi Ni Ra, 16, is from Nasi village, which was burned to the ground during the violence in 2012. Her baby, just 16 days old here, was born in a small hut in Bu May IDP camp, outside Sittwe. Her baby was delivered traditionally in a small hut nearby, with the help of a local traditional birth attendant, without modern medical support. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mi Ni Ra, 16, is from Nasi village, which was burned to the ground during the violence in 2012. Her baby, just 16 days old here, was born in a small hut in Bu May IDP camp, outside Sittwe. Her baby was delivered traditionally in a small hut nearby, with the help of a local traditional birth attendant, without modern medical support. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This boy spends his days selling betel nut in the traditional form, wrapped in a leaf with a bit of lime powder and tobacco. A salvaged halved buoy serves as his basket. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This boy spends his days selling betel nut in the traditional form, wrapped in a leaf with a bit of lime powder and tobacco. A salvaged halved buoy serves as his basket. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This elderly Rakhine woman has lived through independence and suffered as a member of a repressed minority under authoritarian rule by successive military regimes in Burma. After Rohingya Muslims burned her village in 2012, she has lived in an IDP camp outside Sittwe, where she struggled to save enough money to open this shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This elderly Rakhine woman has lived through independence and suffered as a member of a repressed minority under authoritarian rule by successive military regimes in Burma. After Rohingya Muslims burned her village in 2012, she has lived in an IDP camp outside Sittwe, where she struggled to save enough money to open this shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

In the face of adversity, many of the displaced Muslims have turned to God, as instructed by their mullahs. These handmade bamboo Mosques have been built in each IDP camp, with pump well washing facilities outside. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

In the face of adversity, many of the displaced Muslims have turned to God, as instructed by their mullahs. These handmade bamboo mosques have been built in each IDP camp, with pump well washing facilities outside. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Angu Mia plucks and boils chickens for a female Rakhine business owner, who pays him 0.4 dollars per bird and then sells the meat at a local market. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Angu Mia plucks and boils chickens for a female Rakhine business owner, who pays him 0.4 dollars per bird and then sells the meat at a local market. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This man has installed solar panels to the top of his hut to provide a phone charging service to the minority of IDPs who have phones, as their huts have no power. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This man has installed solar panels to the top of his hut to provide a phone charging service to the minority of IDPs who have phones, as their huts have no power. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These pufferfish are dried and turned inside out to be sold to traders who take them to China. This man lost stocks of the product worth hundreds of dollars when his house was burned down in June 2012. He now leases fish from local fishermen, promising to pay them in full once he has made a sale. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These pufferfish are dried and turned inside out to be sold to traders who take them to China. This man lost stocks of the product worth hundreds of dollars when his house was burned down in June 2012. He now leases fish from local fishermen, promising to pay them in full once he has made a sale. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These women spend hours crouched in the sun on the seashore, drying out fish caught in previous days. Drying the fish preserves it for longer, making it more attractive locally, where a single fish will be eaten over days with small portions of rice. Large numbers of Rohingya Muslims from fishing communities in other parts of Rakhine State fled by boat when the violence began and came straight to this part of the coast, where the Rohingya Muslim communities have long run their fishing businesses. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These women spend hours crouched in the sun on the seashore, drying out fish caught in previous days. Drying the fish preserves it for longer, making it more attractive locally, where a single fish will be eaten over days with small portions of rice. Large numbers of Rohingya Muslims from fishing communities in other parts of Rakhine State fled by boat when the violence began and came straight to this part of the coast, where the Rohingya Muslim communities have long run their fishing businesses. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

Photos by Rob Jarvis: info@robjarvisphotography.com.

Text by Kim Jolliffe: spcm88@gmail.com

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A Nightmare Comes to a Close in Liberia as MDs Declare It ‘Ebola-Free’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/a-nightmare-comes-to-a-close-in-liberia-as-mds-declare-it-ebola-free/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-nightmare-comes-to-a-close-in-liberia-as-mds-declare-it-ebola-free http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/a-nightmare-comes-to-a-close-in-liberia-as-mds-declare-it-ebola-free/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 11:32:38 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140571 By Lisa Vives
New York, May 12 2015 (IPS)

With no new infections in 42 days, Liberia has been declared free and clear of Ebola by the World Health Organization.

The announcement was made in the emergency command center in Monrovia, a room packed with reporters, aid agencies and dignitaries, including the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Deborah R. Malac. Responses ranged from applause to tears followed by a moment of silence called by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

“At this symbolic juncture, I ask the whole world to remember the 4,608 Liberians who lost their lives, and the many thousands more who endured the horror of fighting the disease,” Johnson-Sirleaf said.

“Let us celebrate, but stay mindful and vigilant,” she said. “Clearly, the events of the last year must never be forgotten.

Then, in an action of physical closeness not seen in many months, she went around the room shaking hands.

It was just over a year – in March 2014 – that the outbreak was confirmed in Liberia. It had traveled swiftly south, from Guinea to Sierra Leone and then Liberia, frightening health officials and world health agencies with its deadly ferocity. In Liberia more than 3,000 Ebola cases were confirmed and more than 4,700 cases were fatal.

But alarm bells had hardly been sounded before the virus reached foreign shores. In July 2014, a Liberian-American, Patrick Sawyer, collapsed and died in Nigeria, leaving 19 people infected and eight dead. Four months later, Thomas Eric Duncan flew into Texas where his symptoms exploded. Sent home with antibiotics, he survived only a short time after re-entering Texas Presbyterian Hospital, where he passed away on Oct. 8.

Less than a year has passed and Liberians have successfully prevented any new infections since the last case was reported on March 20th.

Still, outbreaks persist in neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone, creating a risk that infected people may cross into Liberia over the region’s exceptionally porous borders.

Meanwhile, writing in FrontpageAfricaonline, Liberians gave thanks to God, the Liberian President, U.S. President Obama and the American people, the European Union, Cuba, China, support from Nigeria and Ghana, the United Nations and other NGOs.

“Liberian people at home and abroad, thanks,” wrote Boima Gbelly, described as self-employed. “If we fought this unknown enemy, certainly we can fight other challenges. Let’s unite and help build a prosperous Liberia in a civil manner.”

“Lord, with you, all things are possible,” wrote Daa Onenokay, of the Liberian diaspora. “We want to extend thanks and sincere appreciation to our international partners for all the help and support which brought relief to Liberia… We hope that the entire Mano River Basin will be Ebola-free soon.”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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EU to Focus on Human Smuggling Amid Mediterranean Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/eu-to-focus-on-human-trafficking-amid-mediterranean-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eu-to-focus-on-human-trafficking-amid-mediterranean-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/eu-to-focus-on-human-trafficking-amid-mediterranean-crisis/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 23:32:02 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140566 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, May 11 2015 (IPS)

Speaking at the U.N. Security Council, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, called on the international community to take urgent steps to end the Mediterranean crisis and dismantle the human smuggling rings that facilitate it.

”The EU is united and we will work, but we cannot work alone. We need to share and act together, as it’s a EU responsibility and a global responsibility,” said Mogherini

In 2014, 3,300 migrants died while fleeing their countries of origin to enter Europe. Three people out of four perished in the Mediterranean Sea, and 2015 looks set to be even worse, added Mogherini.

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) about 60,000 men, women and children have crossed the Mediterranean this year, and 1,800 of them have tragically died during the journey.

“Saving lives and preventing the loss of lives at sea is a top responsibility that we all share, not only as Europeans but globally,” Mogherini said at the Council briefing, adding that an exceptional situation requires an immediate strategy to solve the crisis.

The Mediterranean problem is a structural problem rooted in poverty, increasing inequality, conflicts and human rights violations in African and Middle Eastern countries and beyond, including the situation in Syria, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, said the European High Representative.

Also speaking at the Council was Antonio Tete, Permanent Representative Observer of the African Union to the U.N., who underlined that smuggling of migrants has emerged due to several factors that lead people in many African countries to escape from abject poverty, climate change, water scarcity, insufficient progress in employment and rising inequality.

Since April, the EU has been collaborating with the African Union in countries such as Tunisia, Niger, Mali, Sudan, but also with Egypt given the situation in Syria and Iraq, in order to strengthen cooperation and dialogue on a regional and international level.

“This humanitarian emergency is also a security crisis, since smuggling networks are linked to finance and terrorist activities, which contributes to instability in a region that is already unstable enough,” Mogherini said.

If the international community fails to frame its response to the crisis, it will be a “moral failure,” said Peter Sutherland, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration.

On May 13, the European Commission will present a new agenda on migration, drafted by member countries in April.

The EU is also calling for a U.N. resolution in order to disrupt smugglers’ networks and business by destroying vessels before their use, in accordance with international law.

On May 18, EU member states will discuss the possibility of launching a naval operation, in the framework of the EU common security and defence policy, Mogherini said.

“But we want to work with the U.N. Security Council and with the UNHCR […] we need a (global) partnership if we want to end this tragedy,” she said.

A military operation in the Mediterranean was rejected by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his last visit to Italy, who called it “potentially dangerous for migrants and local fishermen.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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Q&A: Nuclear Disarmament a Non-Starter, “But I Would Love to Be Proven Wrong”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-nuclear-disarmament-a-non-starter-but-i-would-love-to-be-proven-wrong/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-nuclear-disarmament-a-non-starter-but-i-would-love-to-be-proven-wrong http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-nuclear-disarmament-a-non-starter-but-i-would-love-to-be-proven-wrong/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 18:46:09 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140555

Interview with Dr Jennifer Allen Simons, Founder and President of the Simons Foundation, dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 11 2015 (IPS)

Albert Einstein, the internationally-renowned physicist who developed the theory of relativity, once famously remarked: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Dr. Jennifer Allen Simons. Credit: The Simons Foundation

Dr. Jennifer Allen Simons. Credit: The Simons Foundation

Perhaps Einstein visualised a nuclear annihilation in the next world war, with disastrous consequences in its aftermath: humanity going back to the Stone Age.

According to most peace activists, the move to eliminate nuclear weapons is not gaining traction, with no hopeful signs of an ideal world without deadly weapons of mass destruction.

Over the last few decades, the five major nuclear powers – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – have been joined by four more: India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea.

And if Iran goes nuclear – even later than sooner – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are likely to follow in its footsteps.

The most frightening worst-case scenario is the new Cold War between the United States and Russia, triggered primarily by the political crisis in Ukraine and Russian annexation of Crimea.My greatest fear is that the catalyst to elimination will be the detonation of a nuclear weapon, by accident, miscalculation, design or successful cyberattack.

A proposal on the sidelines of a month-long review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which concludes next week, is to begin negotiations on a proposed international convention to eliminate all nuclear weapons worldwide.

Asked if the proposal will be a reality, Dr. Jennifer Allen Simons, founder and president of the Simons Foundation, a relentless advocate of nuclear disarmament, bluntly told IPS: “I think it is a non-starter,” but added: “I would love to be proven wrong.”

She pointed out that nuclear weapons states (NWS) are offering the same old rhetoric while upgrading their arsenals and planning for a long future with nuclear weapons.

“The most that may happen is consensus on lowering the operational status of nuclear weapons,” said Dr Simons, who was an adviser to the Canadian government delegation to the 2000 NPT Review Conference and the 2002 NPT Prepcom.

The global zero commission report on de-alerting has been well received, said Dr Simons, who was at the United Nations last week for the NPT Review Conference, and whose foundation, established to eliminate nuclear weapons, is commemorating its 30th anniversary this year.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Judging by the current NPT negotiations, do you think the Review Conference will succeed in adopting an outcome document, by consensus, by May 22?

A: Though it is too early to tell, so far it seems likely they will get a consensus document, and if so, it will not contain the convention/ban, humanitarian impact issues. I heard that several delegations are prepared to push for disarmament convention/ban or framework of agreements through the open-ended working group if NPT consensus on this issue fails.

Q: Will the new Cold War between the U.S. and Russia have an impact on the outcome of the Review Conference?

A: It may not have an impact because the NWS are not going to eliminate their arsenals. The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is on track with reductions, but I do not believe we will see another bilateral commitment for further reductions.

Q: What, in your view, are the major obstacles for total nuclear disarmament?

A: The major obstacle may be fear! Lack of trust between Russia and the West, lack of trust that the over 30 nuclear-capable states may move forward to nuclear weapon capability. My greatest fear is that the catalyst to elimination will be the detonation of a nuclear weapon, by accident, miscalculation, design or a successful cyberattack will trigger the highly automated system or a spoofed attack.

While the U.S. feels its system is impenetrable, however a recent report from the U.S. Defence Science Board warned that the vulnerability of the U.S. command and control system had never been fully assessed. It is not known whether Russia’s and China‘s systems are vulnerable. It also cannot be assumed that India’s and Pakistan’s systems are invulnerable.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s flaunting of Russia’s nuclear option is worrying and an obstacle to changing the political salience of nuclear weapons and also provides the other NWS states with a rationale for retaining and upgrading their weapons.

Q: Will we ever see nuclear disarmament in our lifetime or perhaps within the next 50 years?

A: It could happen within my lifetime — and probably only if there was a detonation. This would be such a tragic event and a crime against humanity that it would prompt a ban.

The irony of all this is that everyone is afraid to use them, the military don’t like them not only because of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, but worse, they cost so much to maintain and the military would rather have the money for other weapons.

Frankly, I will never understand why people want to kill.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Migrants Between Scylla and Charybdishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/migrants-between-scylla-and-charybdis-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-between-scylla-and-charybdis-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/migrants-between-scylla-and-charybdis-2/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 11:13:22 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140545 Mohammed (left) and Ahmed, two Somali migrants who survived crossing the Mediterranean and are now hosted in one of Syracuse’s first aid and reception centres, although they are not planning to remain in Italy for long. Credit:  Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Mohammed (left) and Ahmed, two Somali migrants who survived crossing the Mediterranean and are now hosted in one of Syracuse’s first aid and reception centres, although they are not planning to remain in Italy for long. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
AUGUSTA, Syracuse, Italy , May 11 2015 (IPS)

Not even a month has passed since over 700 hundred migrants lost their lives in their attempt to reaching the shores of Italy and the media spotlights have already faded on the island of Sicily, Italy’s southern region and main gateway to Europe.

Yet, the migration flows have not stopped.

Five days ago, on May 3, 300 people arrived in the port of Augusta, in the province of Syracuse, and among them were 19-year-old Ahmed and 22-year-old Mohammed.“That boat trip was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I’m here, I’m OK and it will get better now” – Mohammed, a Somali migrant who survived crossing the Mediterranean to reach Italy

Both come from Somalia but they met in Libya, where they had worked for several months in order to save enough money to pay the smugglers running the traffic in migrants across the Mediterranean.

Ahmed and Mohammed are now hosted in one of Syracuse’s first aid and reception centres, but they are not planning to remain in Italy for long. Ahmed wants to go to Belgium, where some of his relatives already live, while Mohammed hopes to continue his trip towards Germany.

Crossing the Mediterranean was frightening, but they seem to have left all of their fears on the Libyan shores and their eyes are full of hope for the future.

“The sight of the sea from Libya was so scary, but when I look at it from here, it’s beautiful again,” says Ahmed, who is hoping to be able to study in Europe and become a doctor.

For Mohammed, “that boat trip was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I’m here, I’m OK and it will get better now.”

Before leaving Libya, Ahmed had heard about the tragedy of the 700 who lost their lives, but that did not stop him because, he says, the risks are higher in Somalia than on the boats.

“The weather has been bad these days, but look how calm the sea is today,” a carabiniere standing in front of the centre told IPS. “We are getting ready for many, many more to arrive.”

Despite the fact that more than 25,000 migrants have already made it to Italy this year, the actual ‘migration season’ is just about to start. Meanwhile, Europe is lurching to answer southern European states’ request for help.

Currently, the Mediterranean is patrolled under Operation Triton, a border security operation conducted by Frontex, the European Union’s border security agency, which aims to deter migrants. Operation Triton replaced Operation Mare Nostrum, which had been a broader Italian search and rescue initiative.

During an extraordinary European summit on the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean held on Apr. 23, E.U. leaders agreed to triple funding for rescue operations in the Mediterranean, but this is far from being the ‘European solution’ to the migration crisis.

“Of course more capacity and more boats and early detection by planes increase the possibility of saving more people,” the Frontex press officer in Catania, Ewa Moncure, told IPS.

“But even with the best efforts, if people are put on these boats and sent to sea with no safety equipment, with not enough water, then nobody can guarantee that they will be found on time and that the rescue services will save everybody, because that would be simply a lie.”

While E.U. leaders continue to discuss possible naval blocks off Libyan territorial waters and southern European states try to open a debate on quotas of refugees to be shared among all member states, local authorities and Sicilian citizens are left with the task of handling the first aid and reception operations.

Augusta, a town of around 40,000 inhabitants, is one of the main bases of the Italian Navy in Sicily and it served as the headquarters of the Mare Nostrum operation, until it ended in October 2014.

Between April and October 2014, the town also hosted an emergency centre for unaccompanied minors, raising concerns and complaints of around 2,000 people who signed a petition to move the centre somewhere else and to propose naval blocks at the departure ports.

“This petition suggested exonerating from the allocation of migrants those municipalities that already suffer from economic insolvency and high unemployment levels, as is the case of Augusta,” Pietro Forestiere, local spokesperson for the right-wing Fratelli d’Italia party and one of the initiators of the petition, explained to IPS.

“The logic behind it is that you cannot ask someone who is already struggling to deliver proper services to its citizens to take care of migrant reception as well.”

The emergency centre of Augusta was eventually closed in October, but its example could be easily extended to the whole region, which suffers from the highest levels of poverty and the second highest unemployment rate in the whole of Italy.

Yet, despite the voices calling for strong action against immigration, it is very common to hear people in Augusta sympathise with the migrants, especially when it comes to refugees.

“They are made of flesh and blood, just like us. We simply can’t let them drown,” Alfonso, who owns a stand in the fish market, told IPS. “They are escaping war and poverty. If we can’t prevent them from coming, once they approach the coast, we must help them.”

Most citizens in Sicily do not appear to fear future arrivals. The problem is rather the feeling of being abandoned in handling the situation, as a customer at the market pointed out:

“This is a port, we have always been used to seeing foreigners around. The impact on our daily life is quite limited. Yet, something needs to be done, not so much for us but rather to help them, and we can’t do it on our own. This is a European – if not global – issue, and Europe must act.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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The Biggest Lessons Nepal Will Take Away From This Tragedyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-biggest-lessons-nepal-will-take-away-from-this-tragedy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-biggest-lessons-nepal-will-take-away-from-this-tragedy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-biggest-lessons-nepal-will-take-away-from-this-tragedy/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 15:56:24 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140496 Experts have said for years that Kathmandu is an extremely high-risk city in the event of seismic activity, yet Nepal was caught off guard when a massive earthquake struck on Apr. 25, 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Experts have said for years that Kathmandu is an extremely high-risk city in the event of seismic activity, yet Nepal was caught off guard when a massive earthquake struck on Apr. 25, 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, May 8 2015 (IPS)

There has never been any doubt that Nepal is sitting on one of the most seismically active areas in South Asia. The fact that, when the big one struck, damages and deaths would be catastrophic has been known for years.

Indeed, when this correspondent visited Nepal several years ago, and found himself climbing up the narrow, winding stairwell of the Nepal Red Cross Society office in Kathmandu, a poster on one of the doors demanded a close read: “Kathmandu Valley is most vulnerable during an earthquake,” the sign said.

"[This] is one of the poorest countries in the world and resources were woefully lacking." -- Orla Fagan, regional media officer at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Bangkok
“One study has shown than in case of an earthquake, 40,000 people may die, 95,000 persons may be seriously injured and 60 percent of houses will be totally destroyed.”

Looking out of the window at the densely populated hillsides, dotted with three-storey concrete structures hugging each other in the jam-packed metropolis, it was clear the warnings were not hyperbolic.

Little over a month before the massive earthquake struck on Apr. 25, Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, Nepal’s minister for foreign affairs, warned the world yet again of what was to come.

“It is […] estimated that the human losses in the Kathmandu Valley alone, should there be a major seismic event, will be catastrophic,” he told the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, in March.

Horrifyingly, his words were prophetic of the tragedy that unfolded not long after.

Caught off guard

Less than two weeks after the 7.8-magnitude quake rippled through Nepal, close to 8,000 people have been pronounced dead, while hundreds are still missing. Families wait for news, while officials wait for their worst fears to be confirmed: that the death toll will likely climb higher in the coming days.

Over 17,500 people are injured, and ten hospitals have been completely destroyed, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

An estimated eight million people, largely in the country’s Western and Central Regions, have been affected by the disaster – representing over a quarter of Nepal’s population of over 27 million people.

The largest cities, such as Kathmandu and Pokhara, have been badly hit; within 72 hours of the quake, over half a million fled Kathmandu to outlying areas.

Despite ample evidence of the damage a disaster of this scale could wreak on the country, Nepal was in many ways caught unawares, and is now struggling to meet the challenges of providing for a beleaguered and petrified population, who weathered numerous aftershocks in the week following the major quake.

Scores of families are still living in tents, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued an urgent funding appeal for the estimated 3.5 million people in need of emergency food aid.

With so many hospitals destroyed, doctors have resorted to treating patients in the street. The U.N. health agency has allocated 1.1 million dollars for medical staff and supplies and has so far treated 50,000 patients in the 14 most severely affected districts.

‘Resources woefully lacking’

But there is a limit to what aid agencies and donor countries can do, and eventually the government will have to shoulder the lion’s share of the recovery effort: something experts feel Nepal is unprepared for.

“It is a massive relief operation, probably the largest in this region that we have launched,” Orla Fagan, regional media officer at OCHA’s office in Bangkok, Thailand, told IPS.

The long-term reconstruction bill could be as high as five billion dollars, while U.N. agencies said last week that they need at least 415 million dollars for more immediate efforts over the next three months.

Fagan said that because the threat levels were known, some degree of coordination and disaster preparedness work was being carried out in the Himalayan country prior to the disaster, mostly relating to training and building awareness.

“There was coordination between the government and U.N. agencies, but it was on a very small scale,” she said, adding, “You need to understand that this is one of the poorest countries in the world and resources were woefully lacking.”

Nepal is considered a Least Developed Country (LDC) and currently ranks 145 out of 187 on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). It is also saddled with massive debt – over 3.8 billion dollars owed to donors like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) – and funneled over 217 million dollars into debt repayments last year, money that might have been better spent shoring up its disaster preparation and management systems.

Fagan explained that the main gaps in disaster preparedness levels were in information management, with the government failing to collect data gathered by various actors into a cohesive national data bank. The country was also lacking a tried and tested national blueprint on early response and coordination of relief efforts.

A little known fact is that despite the very real threats of earthquakes, heavy rains, landslides and glacial lake outbursts, Nepal’s disaster response policies are governed by the over three-decades-old 1982 Natural Calamities Relief Act.

Though a 2008 draft act envisaged a National Disaster Management Authority, it is yet to be ratified by parliament.

“The hope now is that with all the international resources and goodwill pouring in, Nepal can build a stronger national disaster preparedness policy and mechanism,” Fagan said.

Learning lessons from the region

Regional disaster experts agree with that assessment.

“First the funds need to be used for recovery interventions,” explained N.M.S.I. Arambepola, director of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center in Bangkok. “But a part of the funds should be used to develop a road map for a disaster resilient Nepal.

“The document would also identify the roles and responsibilities [of various government agencies] in implementation, ensuring that the government initiates a long-term plan for disaster risk reduction with the support of the development community,” the expert told IPS.

Such a document would specify which branches would issue warnings, which would disseminate them and which would be in charge of evacuations, for instance.

Arambepola also believes Nepal could learn a thing or two from its neighbors, no strangers to natural disasters.

“Nepal should take the example of other South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka to develop policy [and] legal frameworks and an institutional set-up for disaster risk reduction,” he stressed.

Sri Lanka in particular presents an excellent case study, since it was just ten years ago that the country was caught in a similar crisis, completely at a loss to deal with the devastating impact of the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Whereas Nepal at least has been aware of the earthquake threat in its densely populated cities for many years, Sri Lanka had no idea that its coast – home to 50 percent of the country’s 20 million people – was in such grave danger.

It found out the hard way on Dec. 24 when the killer waves knocked the stuffing out of three percent of its population, leaving 35,000 dead, over a million destitute, and a reconstruction bill of three billion dollars.

The country’s former secretary to the ministry of disaster management, S M Mohamed, described the tsunami as an “eye-opener”, sparking efforts at both government and civil society levels to ensure that the country would never again be caught off guard.

While the road to stronger management and preparedness has by no means been a smooth one, Sri Lanka has nevertheless made great strides since that fateful day, including setting up the country’s first-ever Disaster Management Centre (DMC).

In the last decade the DMC has evolved into the main national hub for disaster preparedness levels as well as becoming the nodal public agency for relief coordination and early warnings in the event of a natural calamity.

It has district offices in all 25 districts with personnel ready at any time for immediate deployment. In April 2012, the DMC was instrumental in efficiently evacuating over a million people from the coast, due to a tsunami threat.

“The Sri Lankan operation grew from scratch, and now it’s at a somewhat effective level, [though] there are still gaps. Disaster resilience is more about lessons learnt by trial and error,” DMC Additional Director Sarath Lal Kumara told IPS.

Although Nepal’s challenges are unique compared to some of the worst disasters in the region’s history – with 600,000 flattened houses after the quake, compared to Sri Lanka’s 100,000 following the tsunami, for instance – it still stands to take away valuable lessons, that will hopefully prevent unnecessary damages and loss of life in the case of future catastrophes.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Families in Quake-Hit Nepal Desperate to Get on With Their Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/families-in-quake-hit-nepal-desperate-to-get-on-with-their-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-in-quake-hit-nepal-desperate-to-get-on-with-their-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/families-in-quake-hit-nepal-desperate-to-get-on-with-their-lives/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 16:47:56 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140458 Sixty-five-year-old Rita Rai still has not received emergency relief in the remote village of Mahadevsthan in Kavre district, 100 km south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Sixty-five-year-old Rita Rai still has not received emergency relief in the remote village of Mahadevsthan in Kavre district, 100 km south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
KAVRE DISTRICT, Nepal, May 5 2015 (IPS)

Just over a week after a dreadful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal, displaced families are gradually – but cautiously – resuming their normal lives, though most are still badly shaken by the disaster and the proceeding aftershocks that devastated the country.

However, delivery of humanitarian aid and basic relief supplies remains slow, hindered by the scale of the tragedy. With the annual summer monsoon just around the corner – and heavy rains already lashing some parts of the country – experts say the clock is ticking for effective relief efforts.

“We have stopped crying out of fear because we need to move on now and be brave." -- Sunita Tamang, a teenager from rural Nepal who lost her home and school in the recent quake
As of May 3, the death toll was 7,250 in 30 districts, with half of them in Kathmandu and its neighbouring Sindupalchok district, according to the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS), the largest humanitarian NGO in the country.

A further 14,122 people have been injured.

Over one million families have been displaced in 35 districts, while over 297,000 houses have been completely destroyed.

The United Nations says close to eight million people – over a quarter of Nepal’s population of 27 million – have been impacted by the crisis.

Of these, about 3.5 million are in need of food aid. The World Food Programme (WFP) has issued an urgent appeal for 116.5 million dollars to deliver aid to those most in need – some 1.4 million people – over the next three months.

The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), meanwhile, is worried about the plight of the country’s wheat harvest.

The agency had predicted a yield of 1.8 million tonnes in 2015, but is concerned that this forecast will change, as farmers struggle to access devastated fields and deal with severely damaged drainage systems and irrigation canals.

As the government scrambles to meet the needs of its people, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced Tuesday that it had begun to airlift 80 metric tonnes of humanitarian aid to the worst-affected areas.

According to a statement on the agency’s website, “[The] aircraft will deliver water, sanitation, and hygiene supplies, such as chlorination material, diarrhoea and cholera kits, as well as water bladders, to provide clean and safe water supplies as fears of an outbreak of waterborne diseases grow. Also on board are health kits and tarpaulins, with many families having fled to open spaces under threat of further aftershocks.”

Families yearn for normalcy

“We have stopped crying out of fear because we need to move on now and be brave,” 13-year-old Sunita Tamang tells IPS, hugging her best friend – 12-year-old Manju Tamang.

The girls hail from the remote Ghumarchowk village of Shankarpur municipality, 80 km from the centre of Kathmandu city. Both of their families lost their homes, cattle and food stocks in the quake.

Their school remains dilapidated and though they are desperate to resume their classes, they must patiently wait out the month-long government-declared closure of schools in case of further natural calamities.

In this village, which is only accessible after a steep, three-hour uphill trek, most of the 500 homes remain unsafe for residence, a major obstacle for families who are getting tired of sleeping under the stars in their potato and squash farms where they are living in makeshift tents, nothing but thin plastic sheets covering their heads.

This village in Nepal's Kavre district was one of the worst casualties of the Apr. 25 earthquake that devastated great swathes of this South Asia nation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

This village in Nepal’s Kavre district was one of the worst casualties of the Apr. 25 earthquake that devastated great swathes of this South Asia nation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

The torrential rainfall that is lashing this village makes life in agricultural fields difficult, as the ground becomes too muddy to sleep on.

“I would rather return home and take the risk,” a social worker named Bikash Tamang from the Scout Community Group tells IPS.

The National Society for Earthquake Technology-Nepal (NSET), which aims to create “earthquake safe communities in Nepal by 2020”, has begun a series of assessments of major offices and residential areas across the country.

Chief of communications for the NSET tells IPS in Kathmandu that the organisation is assessing the extent of the damage, to ensure that key service providing agencies within the government, as well as the medical and communications sector, can access those most in need.

But the destruction is so extensive that an exhaustive assessment will take time.

Residents of affected areas are receiving sporadic assistance from local Nepali engineers, who have been volunteering their services to assess damages and safety issues in neighborhoods across the country.

“These engineers are helping us free of charge, and I am so grateful to them,” Shankar Biswakarma, hailing from Bagdol ward in Kathmandu, tells IPS.

But these charitable efforts will not be enough.

Migrant families remain in limbo

The number of residents in Tundikhel, the largest camp area for the displaced in Kathmandu, has halved over the last few days. The remaining families are largely migrant workers, a 25-year-old mother of two children tells IPS.

“Many have left who have relatives and friends to help,” says young Manisha Lama. “Those who come from outside Kathmandu are the ones left here in the camps.”

Her home is in the remote village of Deupur in Kavre district, which is among the most affected districts, nearly 100 km south of the capital.

Kavre also has a record number of destroyed homes – some 30,000 lost to the quake, according to NRCS records.

“The needs of the most affected families are crucial and the response is becoming a huge challenge,” NRCS Chief of Communications Dibya Paudel tells IPS.

He explains that affected people are growing extremely frustrated at the snail’s pace of the emergency response, adding that the government and its relevant agencies are inundated by requests, and under intense pressure to respond to the specific humanitarian needs of million of affected people.

As of May 2, the combined total pledged by the international community to the relief effort stood at 68 million dollars, far short of the required 415 million dollars needed for full recovery, according to estimates prepared by the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

To make matters worse, aid agencies are reporting incidents of looting of relief goods before they reach their specified destination; those on the ground say families are getting too desperate to wait for supplies to reach them through formal channels.

“We’re still waiting for relief but I heard the government and agencies are now scared to come because of the incidents of looting,” Sachen Lama, a resident of the affected village of Bajrayogini, 10 km from Kathmandu, tells IPS.

He and his fellow villagers have been asking the community to stay calm when the relief arrives, and let the aid workers do their job so that there is no obstruction in the distribution process.

“But there was looting two days ago by some local people as they were desperate, [so our] relief supplies never arrived here,” Lama says.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Israel Slammed Over Treatment of Palestinian Children in Detentionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/israel-slammed-over-treatment-of-palestinian-children-in-detention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-slammed-over-treatment-of-palestinian-children-in-detention http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/israel-slammed-over-treatment-of-palestinian-children-in-detention/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 08:15:29 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140450 Palestinian children, no matter how young, are often victims of mistreatment in Israeli police and military detention facilities. Photo credit: UNICEF/El Baba

Palestinian children, no matter how young, are often victims of mistreatment in Israeli police and military detention facilities. Photo credit: UNICEF/El Baba

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, May 5 2015 (IPS)

Palestine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, has sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council demanding that action be taken against Israel over the abuse of Palestinian children after they have been arrested by Israeli security forces.

“Every single day and in countless ways, Palestinian children are victims of Israeli human rights violations, with no child considered too young to be spared the oppression being meted out by the Israeli occupying forces and extremist settlers,”  wrote Mansour. “These crimes committed against our children are intolerable and unacceptable.”

"Every single day and in countless ways, Palestinian children are victims of Israeli human rights violations, with no child considered too young to be spared the oppression being meted out by the Israeli occupying forces and extremist settlers” – Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s ambassador to the United Nations
The letter, sent on May 1, followed the detention of a nine-year-old boy, Ahmad Zaatari from Wadi Joz in East Jerusalem, who had been detained on the night of Apr. 28 for approximately eight hours by Israel police after they alleged that he and his brother, 12-year-old Muhammad Zaatari, had thrown stones at an Israeli bus.

Allegations of the mistreatment of Palestinian children while in Israeli police and military detention facilities in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank are not new.

“The ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised throughout the process,” said the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in a 2013 report titled Children in Israeli Military Detention, which recommended that 38 changes be made after consulting with Israeli authorities.

However, in February 2015, UNICEF released an update reviewing progress made in implementing the report’s 38 recommendations during the intervening period, which found that “reports of alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased in 2013 and 2014.”

In an April 2015 report on ‘Children in Israeli Military Detention’, rights group Military Court Watch (MCW), which monitors the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention, said that “at least 87 percent of UNICEF’s recommendations lack effective implementation and the ill treatment of children who come in contact with this system still remains ‘widespread, systematic and institutionalised’.”

Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP), a Palestinian human rights organisation specifically focused on child rights has been reported as saying that “Palestinian children are treated as mercilessly as adults. Most troubling are brutal beatings, other forms of torture and prolonged isolation in solitary confinement.”

According to DCIP, unlike Jews, Palestinian parents cannot accompany their children when interrogated, and there are cases of children even younger than 12 arriving at interrogation centres shackled, blindfolded and sleep-deprived.

Most experience physical abuse amounting to torture before, during and after interrogation, and “almost all children confess regardless of guilt to stop further abuse,” said DCIP, adding that the children are often forced to sign confessions in Hebrew which they cannot read or understand.

“Similarities in the situation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank exist because of the inevitable tensions that arise due to the prolonged military occupation,” Gerard Horton from MCW told IPS.

“You can tinker with the system as much as you like but unless the underlying causes are addressed the situation will remain the same.

“Most Palestinian children are arrested near Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. If you insert 500,000 settlers into occupied territory and the security forces’ job is to protect them, this inevitably results in the local population being terrorised,” added Horton.

Meanwhile, Israel was harshly criticised in a report of the board of inquiry regarding incidents during last year’s Gaza war released by U.N. Secretary General Bank Ki-moon on Apr. 27.

The board of inquiry concluded that Israel was responsible for the death of 44 Palestinians, and the injuring of 227 others, when they carried out seven attacks on six U.N. sites in Gaza where Palestinian civilians were sheltering.

Ban condemned the shelling attacks with “the utmost gravity” and said that “those who looked to them [U.N. shelters] for protection and who sought and were granted shelter there had their hopes and trust denied.”

According to Chris Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the United Nations provided the Israelis with the exact locations of the U.N. facilities where the civilians were sheltering.

“The U.N. inquiry found that despite numerous notifications to the Israeli army of the precise GPS coordinates of the schools and numerous notifications about the presence of displaced people, in all seven cases investigated by the Board of Inquiry when our schools were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, the hit was attributable to the IDF [Israel Defence Forces],” said Gunness.

However, the U.N. Secretary General also criticised Palestinian groups for putting some of the U.N. schools at risk by hiding weapons in some of them.

“I am dismayed that Palestinian militant groups would put United Nations schools at risk by using them to hide their arms. However, the three schools at which weaponry was found were empty at the time and were not being used as shelters,” said Ban.

Israeli diplomats put pressure on the United Nations not to release its findings into the war until the Israeli authorities had conducted their own investigation into alleged human rights violations. In September last year, Israel opened investigations into five criminal cases, including looting.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed during the Gaza conflict. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed by rockets and attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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