Inter Press Service » Global Governance http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 16 Sep 2014 13:40:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 For These Asylum Seekers, the Journey Ends Where it Beganhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 07:25:30 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136641 Afghan migrants wait patiently for the smugglers who will take them to Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan migrants wait patiently for the smugglers who will take them to Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZARANJ, Afghanistan, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

“Of course I’m scared, but what else can I possibly do?” asks Ahmed, a middle-aged man seated on the carpeted floor of a hotel located on the southern edge of Afghanistan. He is bound for Iran, but he still has no idea when or how he’ll cross the border.

In his early 40s, Ahmed looks 15 years older than his real age. He says he has no means of feeding his seven children back in his hometown of Bamiyan, 130 km northwest of Kabul. Being illiterate poses yet another major hurdle to earning money and supporting his family.

“We’re all starving back home,” Ahmed tells IPS from his position on the floor where he will rest until the smugglers finally show up. It won’t be too long now, he says.

"We were going to Tehran but were caught in Iranshahr - 1,500 km southeast of the Persian capital. The police beat us with batons and cables, all over our bodies, before taking us back to the border by bus." -- Abdul Khalil, a 22-year-old Afghan migrant
“They never spend more than two days here,” notes Hassan, the innkeeper, who prefers not to disclose his full name. He is well versed in the details of Ahmed’s impending journey, since he is the one who mediates between his ‘guests’ and the smugglers who – for a sizeable fee – facilitate the trip across the border.

“They’ll be taken in the back of a pickup all the way down to Pakistan. From there they have to walk through the desert for a full day until they reach the Iranian border. Many don’t even make it there,” Hasan tells IPS.

Ahmed is just another customer at another one of many similar establishments scattered around Zaranj’s main square, 800 km southwest of Kabul. This is the capital of Afghanistan’s remote Nimruz province, the only one that shares borders with both Iran and Pakistan.

Also called ‘Map Square’, due to a giant map of Afghanistan hanging atop a huge pedestal, Zaranj is the last stop before a journey, which, in the best-case scenario, will be remembered as a nightmare.

Every day, thousands of Afghans put their lives in the hands of mafias that offer them an escape route from a country still in turmoil 13 years after the U.S. invasion in 2001.

In 2011, some 35 percent of Afghanistan’s population of 30.55 million people lived below the poverty line, a situation that has barely improved today. The official unemployment rate stood at seven percent that same year, but the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that this number could be much higher.

Thus it comes as no surprise that Afghanistan is, after Syria and Russia, the source country for the largest number of asylum seekers worldwide.

A recent report by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) found that in 2013 alone, some 38,700 Afghans requested refugee status, accounting for 6.5 percent of the global total of asylum seekers.

Of the many destinations, Turkey remains by far the most popular, with 8,700 Afghan refugees requesting asylum last year.

Other industrialised countries like Sweden, Austria and Germany also attract a good share of Afghans in search of a better life, but the proximity of Iran, coupled with a shared language, makes it a far more sensible choice.

What many migrants find across the border, however, is a far cry from the warm embrace of a kindly neighbour.

Point “zero”

There are less than two kilometres between Map Square and the official border crossing with Iran. It’s obviously not the way out for Ahmed, but it might well be his route back.

Right next to the bridge over the Helmand River, the “no man’s land” between the two countries, lies “zero” point. It’s the place where all Afghans coming from the other side, either deported or on a voluntary basis, are told to register in.

At five in the evening, their number almost reaches 500.

Afghan migrants walk back home after being deported from Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan migrants walk back home after being deported from Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“Only today we have registered 259 deportees and 211 who came voluntarily,” Mirwais Arab, team leader of the Directorate for Refugees and Returnees at the “zero” point, explains to IPS.

“Among all these we can only address the most immediate needs of 65; we give them food and shelter for the first night and a small amount of money so that they can go back home,” adds the government official.

Given the number restrictions, and the limited assistance available, the majority of migrants keep walking once they have registered in. This is not an occasional drip but a steady stream of exhausted men. The sense of defeat is overwhelming.

Many of them, like the Khalil brothers, aged 21 and 22, are very young. They tell IPS that they reached Iran six days ago, via Pakistan, after a long journey across the desert.

Like many others, they had to pay a high protection fee to a Taliban-affiliated group to ensure they could pass unharmed. Their return journey to Afghanistan was not much easier:

“We were going to Tehran but were caught in Iranshahr – 1,500 km southeast of the Persian capital. The police beat us with batons and cables, all over our bodies, before taking us back to the border by bus,” recalls Abdul, the elder of the two, speaking to IPS on the hard shoulder of the road at Zaranj’s southern entrance.

The Arifis’ story is even more dramatic. After reaching Zaranj from Kunduz, located on the northernmost edge of Afghanistan, they crossed the border illegally. They were five in all, but one of them, a seven-year-old, has not yet made it back.

Fifteen-year-old Ziaud furnishes IPS with the details of his family’s ordeal:

“When we were arrested by the Iranian police, they dragged my brother Mohammed and myself into one car, and my parents into another one. That’s when our little brother disappeared,” says the teenaged migrant.

“My father is going to try to go back today to get him,” he adds, still in a state of shock.

Najibullah Haideri, head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Nimruz, tells IPS that Iran deports an average of 600 men and 200 families on a monthly basis.

Meanwhile, Ahmadullah Noorzai, head of the UNHCR office in Zaranj, tells IPS that the wave of deportations started six years ago.

In a report released in 2013, Human Rights Watch pointed out that Afghans, by far the largest expatriate population in Iran, are subjected to a host of abuses by both state and private actors, which violate Iran’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and endanger some one million Afghans recognised as refugees, as well as scores of others who have fled the war-torn country.

The NGO claimed that “thousands of Afghan nationals, who are in Iran’s prisons for crimes ranging from theft to murder and drug trafficking, are regularly denied the right to access lawyers.”

According to HRW, hundreds of Afghan migrants are believed to have been executed in recent years without any notification to Afghan consular officials.

“Getting a visa to Iran costs about 85,000 Afghanis (around 1,150 euros),” the manager of another hotel in Zaranj, who prefers to remain anonymous, explains to IPS.

“Prices for an illegal entry start at 25,000 (around 330 euros), but it always depends on the final destination. The most expensive are Tehran, Esfahan and Mashad – Iran’s largest cities. Migrants pay only when they reach their final destination so they’ll try again and again until they make it, or until they get killed,” adds the innkeeper.

Just behind him, Hamidullah, 43, and his son Sameem, 17, wait their turn to access a better life. Chances are, they’ll be back at this border crossing before too long.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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World Bank Tribunal Weighs Final Arguments in El Salvador Mining Disputehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/world-bank-tribunal-weighs-final-arguments-in-el-salvador-mining-dispute/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-tribunal-weighs-final-arguments-in-el-salvador-mining-dispute http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/world-bank-tribunal-weighs-final-arguments-in-el-salvador-mining-dispute/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 00:05:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136639 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

A multilateral arbitration panel here began final hearings Monday in a contentious and long-running dispute between an international mining company and the government of El Salvador.

An Australian mining company, OceanaGold, is suing the Salvadoran government for refusing to grant it a gold-mining permit that has been pending for much of the past decade. El Salvador, meanwhile, cites national laws and policies aimed at safeguarding human and environmental health, and says the project would threaten the country’s water supply.“This mining process would use some really poisonous substances – cyanide, arsenic – that would destroy the environment. Ultimately, the people suffer the consequences." -- Father Eric Lopez

The country also claims that OceanaGold has failed to comply with basic requirements for any gold-mining permitting. Further, in 2012, El Salvador announced that it would continue a moratorium on all mining projects in the country.

Yet using a controversial provision in a free trade agreement, OceanaGold has been able to sue El Salvador for profits – more than 300 million dollars – that the company says it would have made at the goldmine. The case is being heard before the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an obscure tribunal housed in the Washington offices of the World Bank Group.

“The case threatens the sovereignty and self-determination” of El Salvador’s people, Hector Berrios, coordinator of MUFRAS-32, a member of the Salvadoran National Roundtable against Metallic Mining, said Monday in a statement. “The majority of the population has spoken out against this project and [has given its] priority to water.”

The OceanaGold project would involve a leaching process to recover small amounts of gold, using cyanide and, critics say, tremendous amounts of water. Those plans have made local communities anxious: the United Nations has already found that some 90 percent of El Salvador’s surface water is contaminated.

On Monday, a hundred demonstrators rallied in front of the World Bank building, both to show solidarity with El Salvador against OceanaGold and to express their scepticism of the ICSID process more generally. The events coincided with El Salvador’s Independence Day.

“We’re celebrating independence but what we’re really celebrating is dignity and the ability of every person to enjoy a good life, not only a few,” Father Eric Lopez, a Franciscan friar at a Washington-area church that caters to a sizable Salvadoran community, told IPS at the demonstration.

“This mining process would use some really poisonous substances – cyanide, arsenic – that would destroy the environment. Ultimately, the people suffer the consequences: they remain poor, they are sick, women’s pregnancies suffer.”

Provoking unrest?

The case’s jurisdictions are complicated and, for some, underscore the tenuousness of the ICSID’s arbitration process around the Salvador project.

It was another mining company, the Canada-based Pacific Rim, that originally discovered a potentially lucrative minerals deposit along the Lempa River in 2002. The business-friendly Salvadoran government at the time (since voted out of power) reportedly encouraged the company to apply for a permit, though public concern bogged down that process.

Frustrated by this turn of events, Pacific Rim filed a lawsuit against El Salvador under a provision of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) that allowed companies to sue governments for impinging on their profits. While Canada, Pacific Rim’s home country, is not a member of DR-CAFTA, in 2009 the company created a subsidiary in the United States, which is.

In 2012, ICSID ruled that the lawsuit could continue, pointing to a provision in El Salvador’s investment law. The country’s laws have since been altered to prevent companies from circumventing the national judicial system in favour of extra-national arbiters like ICSID.

Last year, OceanaGold purchased Pacific Rim, despite the latter’s primary asset being the El Salvador gold-mining project, which has never been allowed to go forward. Although OceanaGold did not respond to a request for comment for this story, last year the company noted that it would continue with the arbitration case while also seeking “a negotiated resolution to the … permitting impasse”.

For its part, the Salvadoran government says it has halted the permitting process not only over environmental and health concerns but also over procedural matters. While these include Pacific Rim’s failure to abide by certain reporting requirements, the company also appears not to have gained important local approvals.

Under Salvadoran law, an extractive company needs to gain titles, or local permission, for any lands it wants to develop. Yet Pacific Rim had such access to just 13 percent of the lands covered by its proposal, according to Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group.

Given this lack of community support in a country with recent history of civil unrest, some warn that an ICSID decision in OceanaGold’s favour could result in violence.

“This mining project was re-opening a lot of the wounds that existed during the civil war, and telling a country that they have to provoke a civil conflict in order to satisfy investors is very troublesome,” Luke Danielson, a researcher and academic who studies social conflict around natural resource development, told IPS.

“The tribunal system exists to allow two interests to express themselves – the national government and the investor. But neither of these speak for communities, and that’s a fundamental problem.”

Wary of litigation

Bilateral and regional investment treaties such as DR-CAFTA have seen massive expansion in recent years. And increasingly, many of these include so-called “investor-state” resolution clauses of the type being used in the El Salvador case.

Currently some 2,700 agreements internationally have such clauses, ICSID reports. Meanwhile, although the tribunal has existed since the 1960s, its relevance has increased dramatically in recent years, mirroring the rise in investor-state clauses.

ISCID itself doesn’t decide on how to resolve such disputes. Rather, it offers a framework under which cases are heard by three external arbiters – one appointed by the investor, one by the state and one by both parties.

Yet outside of the World Bank headquarters on Monday, protesters expressed deep scepticism about the highly opaque ISCID process. Several said that past experience has suggested the tribunal is deeply skewed in favour of investors.

“This is a completely closed-door process, and this has meant that the tribunal can basically do whatever it wants,” Carla Garcia Zendejas director of the People, Land & Resources program at the Center for International Environmental Law, a watchdog group here, told IPS.

“Thus far, we have no examples of cases in which this body responded in favour of communities or reacted to basic human rights violations or basic environmental and social impact.”

Zendejas says the rise in investor-state lawsuits in recent years has resulted in many governments, particularly in developing countries, choosing to acquiesce in the face of corporate demand. Litigation is not only cumbersome but extremely expensive.

“Governments are increasingly wary of being sued, and therefore are more willing to accept and change polices or to ignore their own policies, even if there’s community opposition,” she says.

“Certain projects have seen resistance, but political pressure often depends on who’s in power. Unfortunately, the incorrect view that the only way for development to take place is through foreign investment is still very engrained in many of the powers that be.”

While there is no public timeframe for ISCID resolution on the El Salvador case, a decision is expected by the end of the year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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

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

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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FILM: From Hamas Royalty to Israel’s Spyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/film-from-hamas-royalty-to-israels-spy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=film-from-hamas-royalty-to-israels-spy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/film-from-hamas-royalty-to-israels-spy/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 14:31:36 +0000 Mitchell Plitnick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136630 In the past few years, Mosab has become something of a minor celebrity on right-wing and fundamentalist Christian talk shows. His message varies, but his target is often Islam in general.

In the past few years, Mosab has become something of a minor celebrity on right-wing and fundamentalist Christian talk shows. His message varies, but his target is often Islam in general.

By Mitchell Plitnick
WASHINGTON, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

The son of one of the founders of the biggest Palestinian militant group decides to work with Israel. He spends a decade working undercover with the Israeli security service, the Shin Bet, thwarting dozens of Palestinian attacks and contributing significantly to the arrest or elimination of dozens of leading Palestinian militants.

This sounds like the makings of a Hollywood big budget spy thriller. In fact, it is the plot of a documentary, “The Green Prince,” based on the autobiography of Mosab Hassan Yousef."As long as Hamas is digging tunnels and promoting extremism, I don’t see how anyone can co-exist with this type of danger.” -- Mosab Hassan Yousef

Yousef and his handler in the Shin Bet, Gonen Ben Yitzhak, narrate the film, which somewhat frenetically throws together surveillance footage and live interviews. Although the film tries to focus on the growing bond between Ben Yitzhak, “The Handler”, and Yousef, “The Asset,” there is an underlying tension in the film that is only partially due to the sense of overwhelming danger that Yousef faced on a daily basis.

The most obvious question that is raised by the film is “how does the son of Hassan Yousef, who helped found Hamas and is one of its most prominent leaders to this day, become a spy for Israel?”

The film itself offers only a very succinct answer to this question. As a youth, Mosab was arrested by Israel and was tortured in his interrogation, which was also when he was identified as a potential mole.

He was then sent to prison, where he witnessed far worse torture by Hamas activists, including murder, against fellow Palestinians they suspected might be Israeli agents. This, he said, convinced him to take up the Shin Bet’s offer to work for them.

Indeed, it seems that Mosab’s disillusionment with the Palestinian leadership runs much deeper than just antipathy toward Hamas. In the film, Hamas is the focus, but in the wake of Israel’s recent devastation of the Gaza Strip, the absence of the difficulties of occupation in the film is even more keenly felt. Yet Mosab very much holds to the Israeli view of recent events.

“Palestinians can continue to export their internal problems and blame Israel, but at the end of the day, they have bigger problems than occupation,” he told IPS. “There is corruption, greed, and mismanagement; those are actual enemies of Palestinian people.

“If they can come to a higher conscience where they can see violence is not the way, but negotiations and co-existence is the higher path to achieve their freedom, then the international community will trust them and build bridges. But as long as Hamas is digging tunnels and promoting extremism, I don’t see how anyone can co-exist with this type of danger.”

In fact, in the past few years, Mosab has become something of a minor celebrity on right-wing and fundamentalist Christian talk shows. His message varies, but his target is often Islam in general.

In 2010, on the Canadian news show, Power and Politics, Mosab told a shocked host that “The problem is much bigger than Hamas, the problem is in the God of Islam…he is a god of torture, he is the deceit god, this is what he talks (sic) about himself.”

More recently, on Sep. 6, in the aftermath of the massive destruction by Israel in Gaza, Mosab told Fox News that “I recommend that we stop saying ISIS, this is the Islamic State, this is the Islamic dream, and this is the manifestation of the Qur’anic verses on the ground.”

This echoes the views he has espoused several times as a guest on the far-right wing Sean Hannity show.

When talking with Pat Robertson on his Christian Broadcasting Network in 2010, which caters to the most extreme of Christians in the United States, Mosab continually spoke of his love of Jesus and how Jesus was the only true path to peace.

This would displease many Jews who have come to adore him, not only for his story but for stances like the one the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported him telling an orthodox Jewish crowd in 2011.

“There is no room for another state in that small country [of Israel],” he said. “The Jewish nation has the historic right to that land [in] the West Bank…The Israeli historic right to this land is obvious and clear to any person who can read.”

All of this raises some real questions about Mosab’s motivations, and indeed how sincere the story we saw in the film was. “The Green Prince shows a man who made a difficult choice but believed he was doing it to save lives. The film does note that Mosab converted to Christianity, but gives no hint of his deep antipathy toward Islam.

What we do see in the film, quite clearly, is the growing bond between Mosab and his Shin Bet handler, Gonen Ben-Yitzhak.

Ben-Yitzhak, now a lawyer in Israel after losing his job with the Shin Bet, echoes Yousef’s view that the Palestinians are to blame for the perpetuation of the conflict, although Ben-Yitzhak has a somewhat less idealized view of Israel.

“Look, I’m not pleased with all Israeli policies,” Ben-Yitzhak told IPS. “But now, Palestinians need to find a way to develop. But for many years, they are stuck with bombing and terrorism and violence. Many (people around the world) criticize Israel, but can you compare occupation to blowing up people on a bus? What is the comparison, what are the values that make him blow himself up?

“I’m sure he doesn’t share any values with you… My grandparents, although they suffered and left family in Europe, took responsibility to build a new future, rather than wait for an outside power, a miracle to change their lives. The biggest problem the Palestinians have is that they don’t take responsibility for their own lives, waiting [instead] for the outside world to do something.”

Clearly, Mosab and Gonen built a strong and devoted bond. They both believe that their friendship can be a model for co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians.

“I don’t see a big difference between Israelis and Palestinians,” Gonen told IPS. “When I worked with Shin Bet, I was working with people. I didn’t see a Palestinian as anything but a human being. If we all look at each other as human beings, not as Israelis, Palestinians, occupier and occupied, we can solve these problems.” Mosab put forth a similar sentiment.

Yet it seems that this coming together only happened because Mosab fully came over to the Israeli worldview, and a somewhat extreme one at that. This accounts for some of the discomfort in the film, where one has the feeling that there is a lot that is being omitted. Mosab’s and Gonen’s relationship seems more like a blueprint for surrender than for co-existence.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at plitnickm@gmail.com

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U.N. Climate Summit: Staged Parade or Reality Show?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-climate-summit-staged-parade-or-reality-show/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-climate-summit-staged-parade-or-reality-show http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-climate-summit-staged-parade-or-reality-show/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 13:46:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136627 Soil degradation, climate change, heavy tropical monsoonal rain and pests are some of the challenges faced by farmers around the world. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Soil degradation, climate change, heavy tropical monsoonal rain and pests are some of the challenges faced by farmers around the world. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

The much-ballyhooed one-day Climate Summit next week is being hyped as one of the major political-environmental events at the United Nations this year.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged over 120 of the world’s political and business leaders, who are expected to participate in the talk-fest, to announce significant and substantial initiatives, including funding commitments, “to help move the world towards a path that will limit global warming.”"What is needed to stop climate change are ambitious, equitable, binding emissions cuts from developed countries, along with finance and technology transfer to developing countries." -- Dipti Bhatnagar of FoEI

And, according to the United Nations, the summit will mark the first time in five years that world leaders will gather to discuss what is described as an ecological disaster: climate change.

The United Nations says the negative impact of global warming includes a rise in sea levels, extreme weather patterns, ocean acidification, melting of glaciers, extinction of biodiversity species and threats to world food security.

But what really can one expect from a one-day event lasting probably over 12 hours of talk time, come Sep. 23?

“A one-day event was never going to solve everything about climate change, but it could have been a turning point by demonstrating renewed political will to act,” Timothy Gore, head of policy, advocacy and research for the GROW Campaign at Oxfam International, told IPS.

Some political leaders, he pointed out, will still use the opportunity to do that, “but too many look set to stay out of the limelight or steer clear of the kind of really transformational new commitments needed.”

Gore said the summit is designed as a platform for new commitments of climate action, but there is a real risk that even those that are made won’t add up to much.

“The focus on voluntary initiatives rather than negotiated outcomes means there are no guarantees that announcements made at the Summit will be robust enough,” he warned.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was launched in 2011, is expected to mobilise about 100 billion dollars per year from developed nations by 2020, according to the United Nations. But it is yet to receive any funds that can be disbursed to developing countries to undertake their climate actions.

Dipti Bhatnagar, climate justice and energy co-coordinator for Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) and Justica Ambiental (FoE Mozambique), told IPS, “On Sep. 23 we will see world leaders falling far short of delivering what we need to tackle dangerous climate change.”

The Climate Summit is completely inadequate and expected ‘pledges’ by governments and business at the Summit will be tremendously insufficient in the face of the climate catastrophe, she warned.

“The whole idea of leaders making voluntary, non-binding pledges itself is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of people dying every year because of the impacts of climate change,” Bhatnagar said. “We need equitable, ambitious and binding emissions reduction targets from industrialised countries – not a parade of leaders trying to make themselves look good.

“But this fake parade is the only thing we will see at this one-day summit,” she added.

On Sep. 21, two days ahead of the summit, hundreds of thousands of people will march against climate change in New York and in cities across the globe.

Martin Kaiser, leader of the Global Climate Policy project at Greenpeace, told IPS, “We welcome Ban Ki-moon hosting a global climate summit this month and will be on the streets of New York on Sep. 21 as the largest climate march in history sends a loud and clear message that world leaders must act now.”

He said governments and businesses must bring concrete commitments to the summit: Corporations should announce firm deadlines by which they will run their businesses on 100 percent renewable energy.

Additionally, “Governments need to commit to phase out of fossil fuels by 2050 and take concrete steps to get us there such as ending the financing of coal fired power plants.

“We also expect governments to announce new and additional money for the Green Climate Fund to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate disasters and steer the world to clean and safe energy,” he added.

FoEI’s Bhatnagar told IPS: “We also need secure, predictable, and mandatory public finance from developed to developing countries through the U.N. system.”

Developed countries’ leaders are neglecting their responsibility to prevent climate catastrophe. Their positions are increasingly driven by the narrow economic and financial interests of wealthy elites, the fossil fuel industry and multinational corporations, she added.

“What is needed to stop climate change are ambitious, equitable, binding emissions cuts from developed countries, along with finance and technology transfer to developing countries,” Bhatnagar added. “We also need a complete transformation of our energy and food systems.”

Oxfam International’s Gore told IPS there is also a need for more transparency to judge whether the announcements made are consistent with the latest climate science and protect the interests of those most vulnerable to climate impacts.

For example, he asked, “Are they consistent with a rapid shift away from fossil fuels towards renewables and do they ensure improved energy access for people that need it? Or do they just add green gloss to business as usual?”

Asked about the role of the private sector, Gore said: “We need private sector leadership to tackle climate change, and there are good examples emerging of companies that are stepping up to the plate.”

In the food and beverage sector, for example, Oxfam has worked with companies like Kellogg and General Mills to make new commitments to cut emissions from their massively polluting agricultural supply chains.

“But overall this Summit shows that too many parts of the private sector are not yet up to the job, as the initiatives that will be launched fall short of the transformational change we need,” he pointed out.

“This serves to remind us of the critical importance of strong government leadership on climate change – bottom-up voluntary initiatives are no substitute for real government action,” Gore declared.

FoEI’s Bhatnagar told IPS the private sector cannot be trusted to address climate change. Dirty energy corporations have a huge voice in the private sector but their aim is higher profits, not a safe climate, she said.

“They make climate change worse day by day and on top of that they are still massively subsidised by the public unfortunately. These public subsidies must stop now,” she added.

Li Shuo, a senior policy officer with Greenpeace China, told IPS the Climate Summit will see the new Chinese administration make its debut on the international climate stage.

As China has made significant progress on ending its coal boom at home, the Chinese government should grasp this opportunity to end the current “you go first” mentality that has poisoned progress through the U.N. climate talks, he said.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if China, emboldened by its domestic actions, were to lead the world to a new global climate agreement by announcing in New York that China will peak its emissions long before 2030?” Li asked.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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‘Breaking Silence’ on the Slave Tradehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/breaking-silence-on-the-slave-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-silence-on-the-slave-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/breaking-silence-on-the-slave-trade/#comments Sun, 14 Sep 2014 10:04:06 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136620 Jazz musician Marcus Miller (left), spokesman for the Slave Route Project, is using music to help educate people about slavery. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Jazz musician Marcus Miller (left), spokesman for the Slave Route Project, is using music to help educate people about slavery. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Sep 14 2014 (IPS)

The Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave opened many people’s eyes to the barbarity of slavery and fuelled some discussion about that period in world history. But the film is just one of the many initiatives to “break the silence” around the 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade and to “shed light” on its lasting historical consequences.

One of these – the Slave Route Project – which observed its 20th anniversary this month in Paris is pushing for greater education about slavery and the slave trade in schools around the world.“People of all kinds suffered from slavery and people of all kinds profited from slavery just like so many people are now profiting from modern-day slavery. Racism is a direct result of this monstrous heritage and we need to increase the dialogue about this” – Ali Moussa Iye, head of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project

According to Ali Moussa Iye, chief of the History and Memory for Dialogue Section of UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, who directs the organisation’s Slave Route Project, “the least the international community can do is to put this history into the textbooks. You can’t deny this history to those who suffered and continue to experience the consequences of slavery.”

The Project is one of the forces behind a permanent memorial to slavery that is being constructed at UN headquarters in New York, scheduled to be completed in March 2015 and meant to honour the millions of victims of the traffic in humans.

UNESCO is also involved in the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), which is aimed at recognising people of African descent as a distinct group and at “addressing the historical and continuing violations of their rights”. The Decade will officially be launched in January next year.

“The approach is not to build guilt but to achieve reconciliation,” Moussa Iye said in an interview. “We need to know history in a different, more pluralistic way so that we can draw lessons and better understand our societies.”

He is aware that some people will question the point of the various initiatives, preferring to believe that slavery’s legacy has ended, but he said that international organisations can take the lead in urging countries to examine their past acts and the results.

“People of all kinds suffered from slavery and people of all kinds profited from slavery just like so many people are now profiting from modern-day slavery,” he said. “Racism is a direct result of this monstrous heritage and we need to increase the dialogue about this.”

According to UNESCO, the Slave Route Project has put these issues on the international agenda by contributing to the recognition of slavery and the slave trade as crimes against humanity, a declaration made at the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

Ali Moussa Iye, head of UNESCO's Slave Route Project. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Ali Moussa Iye, head of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

It has also been collecting and preserving archives and oral traditions, supporting the publication of books, and identifying “places of remembrances so that itineraries for memory” can be developed.

For many people of African descent, however, much more needs to be done to raise awareness. Ricki Stevenson, a Paris-based African-American businesswoman who heads a company called Black Paris Tours, focusing on the African Diaspora’s contributions in the French capital, told IPS that there ought to be “national and international conversation about the continued effects of enslavement.”

“We need to break the silence on how racism continues to hurt, not just Black people, but all people in any country that would kill, imprison, deny education and rights to individuals,” she said. “The United States, France, and all of Europe made unimaginable money from the cruel, inhumane kidnapping and enslavement of millions of Africans.

“These nations grew rich, built their cities and economies on the enslavement of Africans, on the forced labour of Black people who were stripped of every basic human right, treated less than animals,” she added. “Today we are learning that the wealth of Wall Street and so many major corporations, insurance companies, shipping companies, banks, private families, even churches, is still tied to slavery.”

Stevenson said she knows that some find it hard to comprehend the legacy of slavery. “I doubt if anyone who has never lived in the United States can understand the overwhelming challenge of ‘breathing while Black’,” she told IPS. “It is a horrible, daily fact of life every Black man, woman, child has faced or will face at some point in their lives.”

In France, meanwhile, the rise of nationalism is leading to a culture of exclusion as well as racism, according to political observers. Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, for example, author of a 2001 law bearing her name that also recognises slavery as a crime against humanity, has been the target of racist depictions on social media and in certain publications.

Speaking at the 20th anniversary ceremony of the Slave Route Project, Taubira described her battle against “hatred” and said that the world’s challenge today is to understand the global forces that divide people for exploitation.

“We cannot accept this kind of inhumanity,” she said, adding that the “anonymous victims” were not just victims but “survivors, creators, artists, cultural, guides … and resistors”, despite the immense violence they suffered.

Some individuals and municipalities in France have worked to highlight the country’s active role in the transatlantic slave trade, through cultural and memorial projects. The northwestern city of Nantes, which achieved vast wealth through slavery in the 18th century, built a memorial to victims in 2012.

Historians say that more than 40 percent of France’s slave trade was conducted through the city’s port, which acted as a transhipment point for some 450,000 Africans forcibly taken to the Americas. But this part of Nantes’ history was kept hidden for years until the move to “break the silence” cumulated in the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery.

In England, the city of Liverpool has an International Museum of Slavery, and Qatar and Cuba have also set up museums devoted to this history, carrying out partnership projects with UNESCO.

Acclaimed American jazz musician Marcus Miller, spokesman for the Slave Route Project, is also using music to educate people about slavery. Prior to an uplifting performance in Paris with African musicians, Miller said he wanted to focus on the resistance and resilience of the people forced into slavery and those who fought alongside to end the centuries-long atrocity.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Rattled by Russian Expansionism, Tashkent Looks Easthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/rattled-by-russian-expansionism-tashkent-looks-east/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rattled-by-russian-expansionism-tashkent-looks-east http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/rattled-by-russian-expansionism-tashkent-looks-east/#comments Sat, 13 Sep 2014 13:25:53 +0000 Joanna Lillis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136612 By Joanna Lillis
TASHKENT, Sep 13 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Russia’s aggressive actions toward Ukraine are vexing Central Asian states.

First, officials in Kazakhstan were chagrined to hear comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, during a recent town-hall-style meeting with university students, appeared to denigrate Kazakhstani statehood. Now, Uzbek leaders are showing signs of displeasure with Moscow.“Tashkent is deeply concerned about the potency of Russian media and disinformation campaigns, as well as the potential political vulnerability of the status of millions of Uzbek [labor] migrants in Russia." -- Alexander Cooley

Insular Uzbekistan has long viewed Russia with a wary eye: it has kept its distance from Moscow-led regional bodies and has shown no interest in joining the Eurasian Economic Union, Putin’s pet project to reassert Kremlin influence across the former Soviet Union.

The rhetoric currently coming out of Tashkent suggests that the conflict playing out in Ukraine has unsettled President Islam Karimov’s administration, and is prompting Uzbek officials to consider new steps to distance themselves further from the Kremlin.

During Independence Day celebrations on Sep. 1, Karimov pointedly denounced the tyranny of the Soviet past – and effectively thumbed his nose at Moscow. The “totalitarian” Soviet period, Karimov said, was a time of “oppressive injustice” and “humiliation and affront, when our national values, traditions, and customs were trampled upon.”

Karimov was harking back to the past, but given the battles raging in southeastern Ukraine, and with Putin making no secret of his ambition to expand Russia’s sway over former Soviet territory, the remarks were a clear sally at the Kremlin.

Karimov did not name Ukraine, but spoke of the need to prevent the escalation of conflicts into full-blown warfare in the current “alarming situation.” In comments clearly aimed at Russia, he went on to call for sovereignty and borders to be respected, and the use of force rejected.

Like other post-Soviet states, Tashkent has struggled to formulate a response to the Ukraine conflict, in large part because the Karimov administration finds neither side appealing. On one hand, Tashkent is leery of Kremlin expansionism; on the other, the dictatorial Karimov is no fan of popular uprisings, such as that embodied in the Euromaidan movement.

Analysts say Uzbek President Islam Karimov is clearly apprehensive about the Kremlin’s capacity to use soft power to undermine his long rule if he fails to toe Russia’s line. Credit: Agência Brasil/cc by 3.0

Analysts say Uzbek President Islam Karimov is clearly apprehensive about the Kremlin’s capacity to use soft power to undermine his long rule if he fails to toe Russia’s line. Credit: Agência Brasil/cc by 3.0

Ukraine “has raised grave concerns [for Uzbekistan], precisely because each side has given the [Karimov] regime something to fear,” Alexander Cooley, a professor at New York’s Barnard College who specialises in Central Asian affairs, told EurasiaNet.org.

Until recently, Karimov’s government may have viewed Euromaidanist Ukraine as representing the larger threat to Uzbekistan’s status quo. But attitudes in Tashkent may be shifting.

“[The] revolutionary change of power seen in Ukraine is something that Uzbek authorities under President Karimov have been tirelessly working to prevent in their country by effectively rooting out any potential pockets of political dissent,” Lilit Gevorgyan, a regional analyst at IHS Global Insight, told EurasiaNet.org.

“It is hard to see Uzbekistan cheering for the popular uprising in Ukraine,” she added – but “they are still likely to be critical, albeit not openly, of Russia’s meddling in Ukraine.”

What Karimov is clearly apprehensive about is the Kremlin’s capacity to use soft power to undermine his long rule if he fails to toe Russia’s line, suggested Cooley.

“Tashkent is deeply concerned about the potency of Russian media and disinformation campaigns, as well as the potential political vulnerability of the status of millions of Uzbek [labour] migrants in Russia,” said Cooley. “They could be a lever for Moscow to bring Uzbekistan further in line with its position.”

Uzbekistan could face a destabilising social crisis if Russia opted to expel Uzbek guest workers. Uzbekistan’s economy would be ill-equipped to absorb such a vast number of returning workers.

Russia’s assertion of a right to defend Russian-speakers abroad is also viewed with trepidation in Tashkent, David Dalton, Uzbekistan analyst at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, told EurasiaNet.org.

“As with the other Central Asian countries that have a Russian minority, the Uzbek leadership, already wary of Russia’s ambitions in the area, will have viewed with great alarm Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine on the pretext of protecting Russian-speakers,” he said.

Uzbekistan does not share a border with Russia and has a relatively small ethnic Russian minority, comprising 5.5 percent of the country’s overall population of almost 29 million, but Kremlin policies still make Tashkent nervous.

The Kremlin’s muscle-flexing incentivizes Uzbekistan to boost other alliances, analysts believe. “It will emphasise Uzbekistan’s need to diversify security and economic partnerships to the greatest extent possible,” Cooley said, mainly “through growing partnership with China, as well as economic partnerships with emerging Asian powers such as South Korea, Japan and the Gulf States.”

Tilting east is more promising for Tashkent than attempting to turn westward: partly since Uzbekistan’s geopolitical importance to the West is waning as NATO withdraws from Afghanistan; and partly since many Western states consider doing business with Karimov toxic due to Uzbekistan’s poor human rights record.

Western states, especially the United States and United Kingdom, “remain constrained from increasing their engagement by political and human rights concerns, as well as the negative blowback they received from forging close security ties with Tashkent in the 2000s,” Cooley pointed out.

After 9/11, Washington wooed Uzbekistan (which sits on Afghanistan’s northern border) to open a military base – from which it was summarily ejected after criticising the killing of protesters by Uzbek security forces in Andijan in 2005.

“Uzbekistan has tended to ‘turn West’ when it finds that Russia is becoming too assertive, and then back again to Russia when pressed too strongly by the West on its poor human rights record,” said Dalton. “This could happen again this time – although with most of its gas pipelines connecting with China, and Western forces pulling out from Afghanistan this year, it is not clear what Uzbekistan could offer the West in return.”

Ultimately, China – now a major purchaser of Uzbek gas – stands to benefit from Uzbekistan’s present dilemma. Karimov’s visit to Beijing in August was “an important signal,” said Dalton, “that Uzbekistan wishes to maintain good ties with strong foreign partners, to counterbalance Russian influence.”

Editor’s note:  Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specialises in Central Asia. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humanitarian aid? Yes. Collective international action? No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Say ‘No’ to War and Media Propagandahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-say-no-to-war-and-media-propaganda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-say-no-to-war-and-media-propaganda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-say-no-to-war-and-media-propaganda/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 18:04:20 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136606

In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, condemns NATO’s recent decision to create a new rapid reaction force for initial deployment in the Baltics, arguing that what the world needs is not more weapons but cool heads and people of wisdom.

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

While the United States, United Kingdom and NATO are pushing for war with Russia, it behoves people and their governments around the world to take a clear stand for peace and against violence and war, no matter where it comes from.We are at a dangerous point in our history of the human family and it would be the greatest of tragedies for ourselves and our children if we simply allowed the war profiteers to take us into a third world war, resulting in the death of untold millions of people.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

NATO’s decision at its summit in Wales (September 4-5) to create a new 4,000 strong rapid reaction force for initial deployment in the Baltics is a dangerous path for us all to be forced down, and could well lead to a third world war if not stopped. What is needed now are cool heads and people of wisdom and not more guns, more weapons, more war.

NATO is the leadership which has been causing the ongoing wars from the present conflict in the Ukraine, to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and others.

NATO’s latest move commits its 28 member states to spend two percent of their gross domestic product on the military, and to establish a series of three to five bases in Eastern Europe where equipment and supplies will be pre-positioned to help speed deployments, among other measures. “We are at a dangerous point in our history of the human family and it would be the greatest of tragedies for ourselves and our children if we simply allowed the war profiteers to take us into a third world war, resulting in the death of untold millions of people”

This decision by the United States/NATO to create a high readiness force with the alleged purpose of countering an alleged Russian threat reminds me of the war propaganda of lies, half-truths, insinuations and rumours to which we were all subjected in order to try to soften us all up for the Iraq war and subsequent horrific wars of terror which were carried out by NATO allied forces.

According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE) observation team, NATO’s reports, including its satellite photos which show Russian combat forces engaged in military operations inside sovereign territory of Ukraine, were based on false evidence.

While NATO is busy announcing a counter-invasion to the non-existent Russian invasion of Ukraine, people in Ukraine are calling out for peace and negotiations, for political leadership which will bring them peace, not weapons and war.

This spearhead military force will be provided by allies in rotation and will involve also air, sea and special forces. We are also informed by a NATO spokesperson that this force will be trained to deal with unconventional actions, from the funding of separatist groups to the use of social media, intimidation and black propaganda.

No doubt the current Western media’s demonisation of President Vladimir Putin and the Russian people, by trying to inculcate fear and hatred of them, is part of the black propaganda campaign.

NATO’s latest proposals of 4,000 soldiers, and a separate force of 10,000 strong British-led joint expeditionary force also proposed, is a highly aggressive and totally irresponsible move by the United States, United Kingdom and NATO. It is breaches the 1997 agreement with Moscow under which NATO pledged not to base substantial numbers of soldiers in Eastern Europe on a permanent basis.

NATO should have been disbanded when the Warsaw Pact disintegrated but it was not and is now controlled by the United States for its own agenda. When speaking of NATO, one of President Bill Clinton’s officials said “America is NATO”. Today NATO, instead of being abolished, is re-inventing itself in re-arming and militarising European states and justifying its new role by creating enemy images – be they Russians, IS (the Islamic State), and so on.

In an interdependent, interconnected world, struggling to build fraternity, economic cooperation and human security, there is no place for the Cold War policies of killing and threats to kill and policies of exceptionalism and superiority. The world has changed. People do not want to be divided and they want to see an end to violence, militarism and war.

The old consciousness is dysfunctional and a new consciousness based on an ethic of non-killing and respect and cooperation is spreading. It is time for NATO to recognise that its violent policies are counterproductive. The Ukraine crisis, groups such as the Islamic State, etc., will not be solved with guns, but with justice and through dialogue.

Above all, the world needs hope. It needs inspirational political leadership and this could be given if President Barack Obama and President Putin sat down together to solve the Ukraine conflict through dialogue and negotiation and in a non-violent way.

We live in dangerous times, but all things are possible, all things are changing … and peace is possible. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They need swift justice and human generosity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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Obama’s Anti-ISIS Strategy Met with Scepticismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obamas-anti-isis-strategy-met-with-scepticism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obamas-anti-isis-strategy-met-with-scepticism http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obamas-anti-isis-strategy-met-with-scepticism/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 00:14:35 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136594 President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama’s new strategy to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is being met with widespread scepticism among both hawks and doves, as well as regional specialists.

While Congress is expected to acquiesce, if not formally authorise, the plans he outlined in his nationally televised prime-time speech Wednesday night, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have not been shy about expressing reservations.“The proverbial 64,000-dollar question is whether the seemingly mediocre Abadi government can peel enough of [the Sunni Arab tribes and veteran Awakening cadres] away from active and passive support for ISIS or from the sidelines.” -- Wayne White

“While the president presented a compelling case for action, many questions remain about the way in which [he] intends to act,” said Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

Indeed, while he adopted a determined and confident tone that won plaudits even from Republicans like Boehner, it is no secret here that Obama, who has made Washington’s extraction from Middle East wars a legacy issue for his presidency, has consistently resisted pressure to escalate U.S. military involvement in the region.

Speaking on the eve of the 13th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, Obama announced that he will increase U.S. support for Iraq’s army and the Kurdish Peshmerga with more training, intelligence, and equipment and will dispatch 475 U.S. military personnel to join the 1,000-plus who have deployed there since ISIS swept across much of the northern and central part of Iraq in June.

At the same time, he pledged that the campaign “will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”

In addition, he said the U.S. will carry out airstrikes against ISIS targets “wherever they exist,” not only in Iraq, but, most significantly, in Syria, as well.

Washington, he said, is also assembling “a broad coalition of partners”, including NATO, and, more importantly, the Sunni-led Gulf states, Jordan, and Lebanon whose governments pledged support for the anti-ISIS campaign and the new government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, during a meeting Thursday with Secretary of State John Kerry in Jiddah.

And Obama asked Congress to swiftly approve a pending request for 500 million dollars to train and equip anti-government and anti-ISIS Syrian rebels.

Saudi Arabia, a major backer of various factions in the three-year insurgency against President Bashar Al-Assad, has agreed to host training camps for these “moderate” rebels, according to administration officials.

This “comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” – which he compared to Washington’s long-standing operations in Yemen and Somalia — will “take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL (Islamic State of Syria and the Levant),” Obama said, using the administration’s preferred acronym.

While the plan gained guarded approval from most lawmakers – who, facing mid-term elections in November, are particularly sensitive to a sudden hawkish shift in public opinion – many said it raised as many questions as it answered, including whether Obama has the legal authority to order strikes against ISIS, especially in Syria, without getting explicit Congressional authorisation.

At the same time, hawks questioned whether the strategy – notably Obama’s pledge not to introduce combat troops – was sufficient to achieve its goals.

“Obama’s ‘strategy’ has no chance of success,” wrote Frederick and Kimberly Kagan of the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Institute for the Study of War, respectively, on the Weekly Standard’s website.

The two Kagans, who helped devise the Bush administration’s “Surge” to curb Iraq’s Sunni-Shi’a conflict in 2007, argued that a counter-terrorism (CT) strategy would not work against a full-fledged insurgency, which they said ISIS has become. “It’s awfully hard to develop a sound strategy when you start by misdiagnosing the problem so profoundly,” they wrote. Frederick Kagan has argued that 10-15,000 U.S. troops are necessary for Iraq alone.

Others disagreed. “Getting more U.S. troops on the ground is precisely what … [ISIS chief Abu Bakr] Al-Baghdadi wants,” Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (ret.), former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, told IPS. “A target-rich environment is what they want, and in their area.

“If the Iraqis and others are not up to defeating [ISIS] forces, then U.S. and allied airpower, some advice on the ground, and intelligence assistance should be sufficient to do so. …[ISIS] is not 10 feet tall, not even four – despite all the media hype to the contrary,” he said.

In Iraq, defeating ISIS will depend largely on whether Abadi follows through on his pledge to share power with Sunni Arabs and fully integrate them into a new security structure, according to regional experts.

“One hundred years of war …has demonstrated that air power can only succeed if a robust ground force is ready to take advantage of air strikes to physically take and occupy territory,” according to Wayne White, a former top State Department Middle East intelligence officer now with the Middle East Institute (MEI).

“The president is not ignorant of this dictum: hence, his part in ousting the loathsome [former Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki and the need for a credibly inclusive new government in Baghdad that can revive the Iraqi Army,” he wrote in an email exchange.

“…The proverbial 64,000-dollar question is whether the seemingly mediocre Abadi government can peel enough of [the Sunni Arab tribes and veteran Awakening cadres] away from active and passive support for ISIS or from the sidelines,” White added. “Only a sizeable Sunni Arab force from within could make considerable headway along with airstrikes in unhinging ISIS from key holdings like cities and large towns.”

Even if the strategy in Iraq succeeds, however, attacking ISIS in Syria will be far more difficult, in major part because Western-backed rebel factions are “much weaker than two years ago,” according to former acting CIA chief Michael Morrell whose assessment echoed that of most regional experts, some of whom, such as former the former U.S. Amb. to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, have argued for working with Assad as the lesser evil – a step that the administration appears so far to reject.

“The speech left major questions about Syria unanswered,” said Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Middle East analyst. “If ISIS is to be set back, who fills that vacuum? If it is the Assad regime, how does that square with the continued U.S. opposition to that regime? If it is supposed to be someone else, how does that square with the persistent lack of unity, strength, and credibility of the so-called moderate opposition?”

Along with Wilkerson, regional experts worried that Obama’s strategy is susceptible to “mission creep”.

“If the air strikes do not ‘defeat’ ISIS, what policy will the president pursue considering that he ruled out putting boots on the ground?” asked Emile Nakhleh, a former director of the CIA’s political Islam strategic analysis programme.

He also questioned the commitment of the Sunni Arab states that signed on to the strategy in Jiddah “considering that domestic radical Islamists are already posing a serious challenge to such countries as Saudi Arabia and Jordan.”

Thomas Lippman, a Gulf specialist at MEI, agreed that the coalition that Obama was putting together could prove problematic, noting that its members “…are united about what they DON’T want — namely more ISIS — but are not united about what they DO want. And many of them are suspicious about some of the others,” he said in an email exchange.

He noted that Turkey, with the most potent military force in the region and whose Incirlik air base has been used in the past for U.S. operations over Iraq, had participated in the Jiddah meeting Thursday but failed to sign the summit statement.

Like Wilkerson, Nakhleh also suggested that Obama’s hand been forced as a result of the “media frenzy about the hyped-up ISIS threat” which some commentators have blamed on the sensational coverage of the recent beheadings by ISIS of two U.S. journalists and overheated rhetoric by some of Obama’s top officials, including Kerry and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel.

A poll conducted last week by ABC News and the Washington Post found 71 percent support for air strikes against “Sunni insurgents in Iraq” – up from 54 percent in mid-August and 45 percent in mid-June as ISIS swept across Iraq.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Majority of Consumer Products May Be Tainted by Illegal Deforestationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/majority-of-consumer-products-may-be-tainted-by-illegal-deforestation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=majority-of-consumer-products-may-be-tainted-by-illegal-deforestation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/majority-of-consumer-products-may-be-tainted-by-illegal-deforestation/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 23:43:39 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136591 Stacks of confiscated timber logged illegally in the National Tapajos forest, Brazil. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Stacks of confiscated timber logged illegally in the National Tapajos forest, Brazil. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

At least half of global deforestation is taking place illegally and in support of commercial agriculture, new analysis released Thursday finds – particularly to supply overseas markets.

Over the past decade, a majority of the illegal clearing of forests has been in response to foreign demand for common commodities such as paper, beef, soy and palm oil. Yet governments in major markets such as the United States and European Union are taking almost no steps to urge corporations or consumers to reject such products.“The biggest threat to forests is gradually changing, and that threat is today from commercial agriculture." -- Sam Lawson of Earthsight

Indeed, doing so would be incredibly difficult given the incredibly widespread availability of potentially “dirty” products, the new analysis, published by Forest Trends, a Washington-based watchdog group, suggests. In many countries, consumers are likely using such products on a regular basis.

“In the average supermarket today, the majority of products are at risk of containing commodities that come from illegally deforested lands,” Sam Lawson, the report’s author and director of Earthsight, a British group that investigates environmental crime, told IPS.

“That’s true for any product encased in paper or cardboard, any beef, and any chicken or pork given that these [latter] animals are often raised on soy. And, of course, palm oil is now in almost everything, from lipstick to ice cream.”

In the absence of legislation to prevent such products from being imported and sold, Lawson says, “There’s always this risk.”

Overall, some 40 percent of all globally traded palm oil and 14 percent of all beef likely comes from illegally cleared lands, the paper estimates. The same can be said of a fifth of all soy and a third of all tropical timber, widely used to make paper products.

Meanwhile, some three-quarters of Brazilian soy and Indonesian palm oil are exported. Such trends are growing in countries such as Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While many case studies on these issues have previously been published on particular countries, sectors or companies, the new report is the first to try to extrapolate that data to the global level.

“Consumer demand in overseas markets resulted in the illegal clearance of more than 200,000 square kilometers of tropical forest during the first 12 years of the new millennium,” the report estimates, noting this adds up to “an average of five football fields every minute”.

While much this illegal clearing is being facilitated by corruption and lack of capacity in developing countries, Lawson places the culpability elsewhere.

“It’s companies that are carrying out these acts and they bear ultimate responsibility,” he says. “Big consumer countries also need to stop undermining the efforts of developing countries by allowing these products unfettered access to their markets.

Logging lessons

The ramifications of degraded forestlands, of course, are both local – impacting on livelihoods, ecosystems and human health – and global. Standing, mature forests not only hold massive amounts of carbon but also continually suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Between 2000 and 2012, the emissions associated with illegal deforestation for commercial agriculture each year was roughly the same as a quarter of the annual fossil fuel emissions in the European Union.

The new findings come just ahead of two major global climate summits. Later this month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will host international leaders in New York to discuss the issue, and in December the next round of global climate negotiations will take place in Peru, ahead of intended global agreement next year.

The Lima talks are being referred to as the “forest” round. Some observers have suggested that forestry could offer the most significant potential for global emissions cuts.

This rising global consensus around the importance of maintaining forest cover in the face of global climate change has led to significant international efforts to tackle illegal logging. And these have met with some important success.

Yet Earthsight’s Lawson says that some of the companies that were previously involved in illegally cutting tropical hardwoods are now engaging in the illegal clearing of forests to make way for large-scale agriculture.

“The biggest threat to forests is gradually changing, and that threat is today from commercial agriculture,” he says. “What we need now is to repeat some of the efforts that have been made in relation to illegal logging and apply those to agricultural commodities.”

The European Union, for instance, is currently in the process of implementing a bilateral system of licensing, in order to allow for legally harvested timber to be traced back to its source. Similar bilateral arrangements, Lawson suggests, could be introduced around key commodities.

Proven legality

Such a process would charge governments and multinational companies with ensuring that globally traded commodities do not originate from illegally cleared forestlands. In essence, this would create a situation in which the base requirement for entry into major markets would be proven legality.

Today, of course, the choice of whether or not to purchase a product made with ingredients potentially sourced from illegally deforested lands is up to the consumer – if that information is available at all. Yet such a new arrangement would turn that responsibility around entirely.

“All of this onus on the consumer bothers me – it really shouldn’t have to be so difficult to make these choices,” Danielle Nierenberg, the president of Food Tank, a Washington think tank focused on sustainability issues, told IPS.

“The fact is, consumers are still blind to these issues – despite the growth of the local food movement in Western countries, there remains significant demand for a range of inexpensive products. That’s why the real action has to come from the corporate side, and governments need to take a bigger interest.”

The United States has landmark legislation in place that bans the use of illegally sourced wood products in the country. By many accounts, that legal regime has been notably effective in cutting off the country’s massive market to those products.

Yet for now, Nierenberg says that there is no political appetite in Washington to do something similar regarding agricultural commodities.

“Instead, the real opportunity for government initiative comes from the developing world,” she says. “They need to invest more in small- and medium-scale farmers, protect their lands from land grabs, and invest in simple agricultural technologies that actually work. That’s where the real change could happen.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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OPINION: At Last, New Faces at the European Unionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-at-last-new-faces-at-the-european-union/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-at-last-new-faces-at-the-european-union http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-at-last-new-faces-at-the-european-union/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 15:47:34 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136533

In this column Joaquín Roy, Joaquin Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, analyses the new faces and the balance of power among the men and women who are leading Europe.

By Joaquín Roy
BARCELONA, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

At last, after the obligatory summer break, the European Union (EU) has some new faces to fill the top vacancies on the team that began to emerge from the May 25 parliamentary elections.

Before the recess, conservative Luxembourger Jean-Claude Juncker had been appointed to the presidency of the European Commission, the executive body of the 28-nation bloc.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

There was stiff opposition from some governments, particularly from British Prime Minister David Cameron, but in the spirit of the Treaty of Lisbon the post was offered to the candidate of the political group winning most seats in the new European Parliament, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).

The second agreement was to leave German socialist Martin Schultz in his present post as president of the Parliament for another two and a half years. A balance was thereby struck between moderates of the right and of the left.

The thorniest issues remained to be faced. The traditional “Carolingian” (Franco-German) Europe was still in control of the bloc, and renewal was needed. Eastern Europe was demanding a larger role and there was a notable absence of women.

Juncker had already made it known that he would not accept a new Commission that did not have at least one-third women members. The established order, an unabashedly male-dominated club, gave no signs of correcting itself. The EU’s customary intricate balancing act was set in motion.“Renzi wanted to attack head-on Italy’s poor track record in European affairs in recent years, tarnished by the deplorable presence of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in power and in opposition, a handicap that affected his predecessor Enrico Letta before him”

The jigsaw pieces began to fall into place. Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s candidacy fell out of favour. Then followed a dual move by the community. First, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a conservative from the entourage of former president Lech Walesa, was appointed president of the EU Council, made up of its heads of state and government.

Secondly, Federica Mogherini, the Italian foreign minister, was catapulted to the position of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (FASP).

Proposing her candidacy, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi doggedly fought resistance from representatives of the Baltic states who regarded her as too soft on Russia, citing the example of her invitation to President Vladimir Putin to a meeting in July.

The sweetener of Tusk’s designation mollified the resistance of Eastern European countries, but not the reluctance of other nations that regarded the inexperienced Mogherini, just 41 in June, as not strong enough to face external enemies in a convulsed world.

However, Renzi, himself only 39, was playing a risky juggling act with several balls in the air. Mogherini was his message to the power clique in Rome to try to end the illusion that political respect requires having reached an age of around 100.

Moreover, Renzi wanted to attack head-on Italy’s poor track record in European affairs in recent years, tarnished by the deplorable presence of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in power and in opposition, a handicap that affected his predecessor Enrico Letta before him.

Furthermore, Renzi wanted to create an opportunity to influence European Union foreign policy through Mogherini’s cooperation.

Renzi’s bold proposal may backfire on him, precisely because of the weakness of the Italian system, which is tolerating leadership by a moderate Socialist so long as he does not shake its foundations.

Within the European community, Renzi will have to rely on the support of his Socialist counterparts, who have been going through a bad patch recently. They have suffered from the crisis, which has forced them to apply neoliberal austerity policies, causing heads to roll from Scandinavia to Portugal and Greece.

For her part, Mogherini will have to face traditional problems and new challenges. The establishment already mistrusts her because of her age. She will find little support from a group of people, most of whom could be her parents.

On the Commission, where she is vice president, she will hardly be comforted by the handful of women Juncker manages to recruit. On the Council she will have the support of only four ladies, led by Angela Merkel, in a boardroom full of boring men in dark suits and dreadful ties, each of them obsessed with managing foreign policy on their own terms and at their own risk.

The worst of the bad omens for the appointment is the suspicion that the EU’s hard core does not believe the position of High Representative to be important, given that the main security and defence competences remain in the national domains.

Mogherini’s second challenge, like that of her predecessor Catherine Ashton of the United Kingdom, is to cope with the enduring imprint of the founder of the position, Javier Solana of Spain.

However, her ambition and track record already surpass those of the eminently forgettable Ashton, a Brussels official who had already booked her ticket on the Eurostar train under the Channel back to London when she was unexpectedly appointed to FASP.

Mogherini can document her solid preparation for such a high-profile job over two decades, with her degree in Political Science, her exchange experience on an Erasmus scholarship in the French city of Aix-en-Provence, and her thesis on political Islam.

A mother of two with a gentle smile and light-coloured eyes, she gives the impression of an assistant professor working up the academic ladder towards a full professorship. But she could surprise some of the detractors who are already prophesying her failure.

She is a professional in a field that needs new vocations and fresh vision. She will lead the most impressive diplomatic team on the planet, made up of the ministries of 28 countries and the European External Action Service. She deserves good luck, not just for herself and Renzi, but for all Europeans and people beyond. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

 

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OPINION: Ebola Crisis Reversing Development Gains in Liberiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-ebola-crisis-reversing-development-gains-in-liberia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-ebola-crisis-reversing-development-gains-in-liberia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-ebola-crisis-reversing-development-gains-in-liberia/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:18:37 +0000 Antonio Vigilante http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136586 An Ebola victim is carried by health workers for burial on May 13, 2014. Credit: ©EC/ECHO/Jean-Louis Mosser

An Ebola victim is carried by health workers for burial on May 13, 2014. Credit: ©EC/ECHO/Jean-Louis Mosser

By Antonio Vigilante
MONROVIA, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

As the Ebola crisis continues to take a toll on people’s lives and livelihoods in West Africa, the focus is increasingly not just on the health aspects of the crisis, but also on its social and economic consequences.

Sure, the human and medical aspects of the crisis are still on the front burner, as they should be. Losing a spouse, a child or another close relative is devastating. The health sector is under tremendous pressure to cope with the sick, and even to protect its own workers from contagion.Fear and isolation can in the end take more lives than the Ebola virus itself if businesses are not operating, livelihoods disappear and public services are not delivered.

There are also health ramifications for those not affected by Ebola: access to regular health care is reduced due to closures of hospitals and clinics, loss of nurses and doctors and increased fees by private health care providers.

Vaccination coverage, for instance, had already declined by 50 percent by July. Women in labour struggle to obtain skilled maternity care — in some cases they are turned away from the few institutions still in operation.

People with HIV who are on antiretroviral drugs and people with chronic diseases on prolonged care have had their treatment interrupted as a result of the closure of health facilities. The public health care system has all but collapsed in parts of the areas hardest hit by Ebola.

Before the current crisis, Liberia’s economy experienced impressive growth rates of up to 8.7 per cent (2013). GDP growth was already projected to decline to 5.9 per cent this year, as mining production levelled off temporarily, coupled with the fall in international prices for rubber and iron ore, before rising to 6.8 per cent in 2015 and 7.2 per cent in 2016. Future growth figures will now have to be revised, as economic activities have slowed down dramatically in most sectors.

But there is also an underlying issue at hand: The impressive recent growth in Liberia has not been equitable or inclusive. About 57 per cent of the country’s approximately four million inhabitants live below the poverty line and 48 per cent live in conditions of extreme poverty.

The lack of equitable, inclusive development means that more than half of the country’s population—especially women and children–is particularly vulnerable to shocks and crises, ultimately making the whole country less robust and less able to handle a crisis of any magnitude.

Part of the challenge in restoring livelihoods is psychological in nature. Fear and isolation can in the end take more lives than the Ebola virus itself if businesses are not operating, livelihoods disappear and public services are not delivered.

Reduced tax revenues go hand in hand with a decrease in the government’s ability to respond to the crisis. A decline in revenues is expected as Ebola continues to claim the lives of Liberians and the government continues to enforce travel restrictions as part of the state of emergency.

Soon, this is likely to impact salary payments for public employees and could paralyze the country further. Trust in the government is also on the line as it becomes increasingly unable to protect its citizens and deliver the services they desperately need.

At the same time, prices of locally grown and imported foods are increasing as the state of emergency, military road blocks and restricted travel slow down trade. The trend is amplified by a vicious cycle of falling consumer demand and shrinking levels of income.

In this scenario, it is crucial to put in place adequate social protection mechanisms, as the fall in disposable income make families unable to afford food and health services. This would not only contribute to improving social stability and security, but would also make Liberian society as a whole more robust and resilient.

Indeed, a large portion of the population is in need of public assistance. The latest data indicate that about 78 percent of the labour force is in a situation of vulnerable employment. By contrast, formally paid employees (about 195,000 people) make up only about 5 per cent of the population.

About 13 percent of households do not have access to sufficient food and 28 per cent are vulnerable to food insecurity. If the poorest segments of the population get access to some form of social protection mechanism, it will enable them to better withstand the current crisis, as well as future ones.

In the remote parts of the country, far from the hustle and bustle of its capital, Monrovia, it is also necessary to strengthen local authorities’ ability to handle the crisis, for instance by improving monitoring mechanisms and making protection equipment available for those who are in direct contact with Ebola patients and corpses.

The resurgence of the Ebola crisis since July and its gradual escalation into a national emergency in Liberia has diverted the focus and resources available to the authorities to the containment of the virus. In this phase of the crisis, it is necessary to act on all fronts to meet the devastating health, social and economic challenges before Liberia and other affected countries see all their hard-won development gains dwindle to nothing.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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Free Economic Zone Plan Slammed as ‘Suicide’ Pact for Taiwan Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 12:14:50 +0000 Dennis Engbarth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136580 A worker, farmer and doctor are hanged in the “Suicide Zone” outside of Taiwan’s national legislature, in a street theater protest by student groups against government efforts to establish “Free Economy Pilot Zones” across Taiwan. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

A worker, farmer and doctor are hanged in the “Suicide Zone” outside of Taiwan’s national legislature, in a street theater protest by student groups against government efforts to establish “Free Economy Pilot Zones” across Taiwan. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

By Dennis Engbarth
TAIPEI, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

The Taiwan government’s plan to liberalise tariff-free imports of agricultural produce from China and other countries for processing in free economic pilot zones, which will then be exported as ‘Made in Taiwan’ items, may mean suicide for Taiwanese farmers if approved by the national legislature.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) government of President Ma Ying-jeou conceived the Free Economic Pilot Zone (FEPZ) plan in 2012 as a way to urge Taiwanese investors in China to relocate value added operations back to Taiwan, through tax and other incentives.

In early 2013, the KMT government re-packaged the plan to feature components for the promotion of value-added agriculture and international medical services, among others, and submitted required changes in the legal code to implement the plan in a draft Free Economic Pilot Zone Special Act to the KMT-controlled Legislature in December 2013.

“The intention of the Ma government to lift the ban on Chinese agricultural commodities through the FEPZ special act violates his own promise in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, but dovetails with Beijing’s objective of cross-strait economic integration." -- Lai Chung-chiang, convenor of the Democratic Front Against Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement
The special act offers investors in FEPZs business tax exemptions, tariff-free importation of industrial or agricultural raw materials, eased entry and income tax breaks for foreign professional workers, including from China, and streamlined procedures for customs and quarantine checks, labour safety inspections and environmental impact assessments.

Social movement groups have warned that the China-friendly KMT government aims to use the FEPZ programme as a back door to realise full deregulation of trade between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China, and avoid the need for legislative ratification of trade pacts after the Sunflower citizen and student occupation movement in March derailed a controversial service trade pact between the two governments.

Lai Chung-chiang, convenor of the Democratic Front Against Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement, observed that the Sunflower movement spurred the formation of a consensus in Taiwan that the Legislature should enact a law strictly governing the negotiation of cross-strait agreements before reviewing the ‘trade in services’ agreement or other pacts with China.

Fearing indefinite delays in future China trade deals, the Ma government tried to ram a first reading of the draft FEPZ special act through the national legislature’s economic affairs committee in two extraordinary sessions in July and August, but opposition lawmakers blocked this push.

Lai told IPS that the core of the FEPZ concept is to arbitrarily grant tariff-free entry for raw materials and products from all countries into Taiwan’s six main seaports and its major international airport in order to display Taiwan’s interest to enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other regional free trade pacts.

Instead, this act will sell out Taiwan’s economic future, warned Lai, adding, “Our major trade partners will have no reason to engage in negotiations with us to further open their markets as our government will have surrendered all of our bargaining chips even before talks begin.”

“The intention of the Ma government to lift the ban on Chinese agricultural commodities through the FEPZ special act violates his own promise in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, but dovetails with Beijing’s objective of cross-strait economic integration,” Lai added.

Despite a high-powered advertising campaign, the Taiwan public is not visibly enthusiastic about the FEPZ plan. Nearly 63 percent of respondents in a poll carried out by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s Public Survey Center in June said they were worried about the scheme’s impact on Taiwan’s economy.

Labour organisations are leery of further liberalisation of foreign workers, including white-collar professionals from China, while medical and educational organisations object to plans to offer health and educational tourism programmes that would spur the commodification of public services.

Raw deal for local farmers

Made in Taiwan?

“As a Taiwanese farmer, I oppose the use of the ‘Made in Taiwan’ label, for which Taiwan farmers worked so hard, to endorse products made with Chinese raw materials,” Wu Chia-ling, a farmer working with the Yilan Organic Rice Workshop, told IPS.

Tsai Pei-hui, convenor of the Taiwan Rural Front, also said that the FEPZ “value-added agriculture” programme would damage Taiwan’s reputation by “contributing to the exploitation of farmers around the region and the world.”

“Growers of tea in China and Vietnam, coffee in Latin America and cocoa in Africa should not just be workers producing agricultural raw materials for purchase at low prices for processing abroad,” Tsai said, adding that Taiwan has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and should not follow in the footsteps of countries that have engaged in exploitative agricultural practices.
However, the most controversial segment is a so-called value-added agriculture plan promoted by Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Pao-chi.

Chen Chi-chung, a professor at the National Chung Hsing University Agricultural Policy Center, stated, “Taiwan may become the first producer of agricultural goods that will permit agricultural produce from all over the world, including China, to be used for processing in its own factories free of tariffs or business taxes.”

Article 42 of the draft special act would fully lift the current ban on import from China of 2,186 types of raw materials, including 830 types of agricultural commodities, while Article 38 would exempt FEPZ enterprises from tariffs, cargo levies and business income taxes. Article 41 would exempt most such commodities from customs or health inspections.

Moreover, makers of processed agricultural goods or foods exported from FEPZs will be able to attach ‘Made in Taiwan’ labels to their products.

Rural Life Experimental Farm Director Liao Chih-heng told IPS that instead of helping farmers cope with the unfair competition from producers in China due to state subsidies and lower labour and environmental costs, the Ma government is inviting such unfair competition into our home market.

Tai Chen-yao, a farmer of squash and lemons in Kaohsiung City in southern Taiwan, told IPS, “If Taiwan sells processed Chinese agricultural goods as Made in Taiwan, food processors as well as farmers will be hurt since there will be no way to guarantee the safety or quality of raw material and thus the food safety for consumers of such products.”

Su Chih-fen, Yunlin County Mayor for the opposition DPP, echoed these sentiments, telling IPS that a rising share of Taiwan farmers, including youth who are returning to the countryside, are absorbing new knowledge and creating innovative agricultural products that can out-compete imports, which may be cheaper but have higher food safety risks.

The value-added agriculture plan would deprive this emerging cohort of new style farmers of access to export markets and divert resources away from assisting the majority of farmers to upgrade, said Su, who is mayor of Taiwan’s agricultural capital.

Agriculture accounted for 1.7 percent of Taiwan’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013. Primary sector workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing and livestock accounted for nearly five percent of Taiwan’s 10.97-million-strong workforce or 544,000 persons as of May 2014.

Su further warned that the government’s plan would effectively punish farmers who kept their roots in Taiwan and have worked to upgrade and grow high quality produce.

In the wake of such widespread criticism, the official National Development Commission (NDC) has announced modifications including dropping the provision that 10 percent of agriculture value-added goods made with raw materials from China could be sold on the domestic market.

However, Chen Chi-chung declared that the changes, along with the NDC’s claim that processed foods made in the FEPZ using imported materials from China or other low-cost suppliers would not enter or affect Taiwan’s domestic market, were deceptive semantics.

Using imported raw agriculture materials, such as tea or peanuts, to make processed food products in Taiwan will surely reduce the demand for domestic agricultural products and thus the income of Taiwan farmers, said Chen.

According to the Council of Agriculture’s statistics, average annual income for a farm household in 2012 was about 33,200 dollars; however, the net income from farming activities was only 7,200 dollars.

KMT Legislative Caucus Convenor Fei Hung-tai told IPS that the majority KMT caucus aims to actively promote passage of the FEPZ statute during the upcoming session.

Noting that civil society organisations and opposition parties have called for the elimination of Articles 38, 41, 42 and other provisions harmful to the interests of Taiwan farmers, workers and public services, Lai told IPS, “If the KMT pushes passage of this act, it will have to either have to accept major concessions in the final content of the bill or face an intense backlash in civil society and public opinion.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Mideast Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone Remains in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 06:08:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136575 A proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

A proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

After four long years of protracted negotiations, a proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo – and perhaps virtually dead.

But United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a relentless advocate of nuclear disarmament, is determined to resurrect the proposal.

“I remain fully committed to convening a conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone, free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction,” he said in his annual report to the upcoming 69th session of the General Assembly, which is scheduled to open Sep. 16.

Ban said such a zone is of “utmost importance” for the integrity of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

"Western governments which helped Israel to go nuclear compound the problem, participating in this conspiracy of silence by never mentioning Israel's nuclear weapons.” -- Bob Rigg, former chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament
“Nuclear weapons-free zones contribute greatly to strengthening nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regimes, and to enhancing regional and international security,” he noted.

The existing nuclear weapons-free zones include Central Asia, Africa, Mongolia, Southeast Asia, South Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Antarctica and Outer Space – all governed by international treaties.

Still, the widespread political crises in the Middle East – destabilising Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Palestine – may threaten to further undermine the longstanding proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the militarily-troubled region.

The proposal, which was mandated by the 2010 NPT Review Conference may not take off – if at all – before the 2015 Review Conference scheduled for early next year.

If it does not, it could jeopardize the review conference itself, according to anti-nuclear activists.

Finland, which has taken an active role in trying to host the conference, has been stymied by implicit opposition to the conference by the United States, which has expressed fears the entire focus of the meeting may shift towards the de-nuclearisation of one of its strongest Middle East allies: Israel.

Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Jerusalem-based Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS while it would appear that the recent Gaza-Israel war might have created additional problems for the convening of the conference, it actually opens new opportunities for progress.

Egypt played a key role as the host and major facilitator of the negotiations to arrive at a cease-fire, and Cairo remains the hub for the follow-up negotiations for dealing with the issues not dealt with in the initial cease-fire agreement, he said.

In the course of the current tragic round of mutual violence, he pointed out, there was a perception that a common strategic interest has evolved between Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and the Palestinian Authority led by President Abbas, against Hamas, which spills over to the threat from the Islamic fundamentalist forces that are active in Iraq and Syria.

“This unofficial alliance creates possibilities for the development of new regional security understandings,” Schenker added.

Such a development would require initiatives beyond a cease-fire, and the resumption of serious negotiations to resolve the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he added.

Bob Rigg, a former chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament, told IPS there have already been many attempts at a conference on the weapons-free zone.

“All have come to nothing, principally because a regional nuclear weapons-free zone would pre-suppose the destruction, under international control, of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.”

The acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability was a key priority of Ben Gurion, Israel’s first leader, and has continued to be at the heart of its security policies ever since, said Rigg, an anti-nuclear activist and a former senior editor at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

He said while the government of Israel continues to be unwilling, in any context, to formally admit to the possession of nuclear weapons, there is no basis for any meaningful discussion of the issue, even if a conference actually takes place.

“Western governments which helped Israel to go nuclear compound the problem, participating in this conspiracy of silence by never mentioning Israel’s nuclear weapons.”

For example, he said, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was once ferociously attacked by U.S. politicians and the media for saying that Israel had nuclear weapons.

Alice Slater, New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation who also serves on the coordinating committee of Abolition 2000, told IPS that U.N. chief Ban quite correctly raised a serious warning last week about the future viability of the NPT in the absence of any commitment to make good on a pledge to hold a conference to address the formation of a Middle East Zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

The NPT took effect in 1970 providing that each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control, she pointed out.

All but three nations in the world signed the treaty, including the five nuclear weapons states (UK, Russia, the United States, France, China).

Only India, Pakistan, and Israel refused to join the treaty and went on to acquire nuclear arsenals.

North Korea, taking advantage of the treaty’s unholy bargain for an inalienable right to so-called peaceful nuclear power, acquired the civilian technology that enabled it to produce a bomb, and then walked out of the treaty, said Slater.

The NPT was set to expire in 25 years unless the parties subsequently agreed to its renewal.

Schenker told IPS that without active American involvement, the conference will not be convened.

Whatever the outcome of the mid-term elections in November, President Barack Obama will then have two more years to establish his presidential legacy, to justify his Nobel Peace Prize and to advance the vision he declared in his 2009 Prague speech of “a world without nuclear weapons”.

He said the U.N. secretary-general issued a timely warning that a failure to convene the Mideast weapons-free-zone conference before the 2015 NPT review conference “may frustrate the ability of states to conduct a successful review of the operation of the (NPT) treaty and could undermine the treaty process and related non-proliferation and disarmament objectives.”

He said one of the primary tools that could be used to advance this process is the Arab Peace Initiative (API), launched at the Arab League Summit Conference in Beirut in 2002, which has been reaffirmed many times since.

The API offers Israel recognition and normal relations with the entire Arab world, dependent upon the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, alongside the State of Israel.

He said the API could also be a basis for establishing a new regional regime of peace and security.

The convening of the international conference mandated by the 2010 NPT Review Conference, if approached with diplomatic wisdom on all sides, could become one of the components of progress towards this new regional regime of peace and security, he noted.

The new strategic “alliance” in the region could be used as a basis for the convening of the conference, said Schenker.

A successful outcome of the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear programme could be another constructive building block towards the convening of the conference.

Slater told IPS the prospects for any success at this upcoming 2015 NPT Review, are very dim indeed and it is unclear what will happen to the badly tattered and oft-dishonored treaty.

“It is difficult to calculate whether the recent catastrophic events in Gaza and Israel will affect any change in Israel’s unwillingness to participate in the promised Middle East conference.”

All the more reason to support the efforts of the promising new initiative to negotiate a legal ban on nuclear weapons, just as the world has banned chemical and biological weapons, she declared.

(END)

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OPINION: A New European Foreign Policy in an Age of Anxietyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-a-new-european-foreign-policy-in-an-age-of-anxiety/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-new-european-foreign-policy-in-an-age-of-anxiety http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-a-new-european-foreign-policy-in-an-age-of-anxiety/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 17:47:37 +0000 Shada Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136572 By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Sep 10 2014 (IPS)

The appointment of Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini as the new European Union foreign policy chief offers the opportunity for an overhaul of EU foreign and security policy.

With many EU leaders, ministers and senior officials slow to respond to world events given Europe’s traditionally long summer break, the 2014 summer of death and violence has left the reputation of ‘Global Europe’ in tatters, highlighting the EU’s apparent disconnect from the bleak reality surrounding it.

When she takes charge in November along with other members of the new European Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, Mogherini’s first priority must be to restore Europe’s credibility in an increasingly volatile and chaotic global landscape.

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

It cannot be business as usual. A strategic rethink of Europe’s global outreach is urgent.

Europe can no longer pretend that it is not – or only mildly – shaken by events on its doorstep. In a world where many countries are wracked by war, terrorism and extremism, EU foreign policy cannot afford to be ad hoc, reactive and haphazard.

Given their different national interests and histories, European governments are unlikely to ever speak with “one voice” on foreign policy. But they can and should strive to share a coherent, common, strategic reflection and vision of Europe’s future in an uncertain and anxious world.

Changing gears is going to be tough. Many of Europe’s key beliefs in the use of soft power, a reliance on effective multilateralism, the rule of law and a liberal world order are being shredded by governments and non-state actors alike.

With China and other emerging nations, especially in Asia, gaining increased economic and political clout, Europe has been losing global power and influence for almost a decade.“Europe can no longer pretend that it is not – or only mildly – shaken by events on its doorstep. In a world where many countries are wracked by war, terrorism and extremism, EU foreign policy cannot afford to be ad hoc, reactive and haphazard”

Despite pleas by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the crisis in Ukraine, most European governments remain reluctant to increase military and defence spending. At the same time, the Eurozone crisis and Europe’s plodding economic recovery with unacceptably high unemployment continue to erode public support for the EU both at home and abroad.

Populist far-right and extreme-left groups in Europe – including in the European Parliament – preach a protectionist and inward-looking agenda. Most significantly, EU national governments are becoming ever greedier in seeking to renationalise important chunks of what is still called Europe’s “common foreign and security policy”.

To prove her critics wrong – and demonstrate foreign policy expertise and flair despite only a six-month stint as Italy’s foreign minister – Mogherini will have to hit the ground running.

Her performance at the European Parliament on September 2, including an adamant rejection of charges of being “pro-Russian”, appears to have been impressive. Admirers point out that she is a hard-working team player, who reads her briefs carefully and speaks fluent English and French in addition to her native Italian.

These qualities should stand her in good stead as she manages the unwieldy European External Action Service (EEAS), plays the role of vice president of the European Commission, chairs EU foreign ministerial meetings, chats up foreign counterparts and travels around the world while also – hopefully – spearheading a strategic review of Europe’s global interests and priorities.

Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The tasks ahead are certainly daunting. There is need for reflection and action on several fronts – all at the same time. Eleven years after the then EU High Representative Javier Solana drew up the much-lauded European Security Strategy (partially revised in 2008), Europe needs to reassess the regional and global security environment, reset its aims and ambitions and define a new agenda for action.

But this much-needed policy overhaul to tackle new and evolving challenges must go hand-in-hand with quick fire-fighting measures to deal with immediate regional and global flashpoints.

The world in 2014 is complex and complicated, multi-polar, disorderly and unpredictable. Russia’s actions in Ukraine have up-ended the post-World War security order in Europe. The so-called “Islamic State” is spreading its hateful ideology through murder and assassination in Syria and Iraq, not too far from Europe’s borders. A fragile Middle East truce is no guarantee of real peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Relations with China have to be reinforced and consolidated. These and other complex problems require multi-faceted responses.

The days of ‘one-size-fits-all’ foreign policy are well and truly over. In an inter-connected and interdependent world, foreign policy means working with friends but also with enemies, with like-minded nations and those which are non-like-minded, with competitors and allies.

It is imperative to pay special attention to China, India and other headline-grabbing big countries, but it could be self-defeating to ignore the significance and clout of Indonesia, Mexico and other middle or even small powers. Upgrading ties with the United States remains crucial. While relations with states and governments are important they must go hand-in-hand with contacts with business leaders, civil society actors and young people.

Finally, Europe needs to acquire a less simplistic and more sophisticated understanding of Islam and its Muslim neighbours, including Turkey, which has been left in uncertainty about EU membership for more than fifty years.

Europe’s response to the new world must include a smart mix of brain and brawn, soft and hard power, carrots and sticks. Isolation and sanctions cannot work on their own but neither can a foreign policy based only on feel-good incentives. The EU’s existing foreign policy tools need to be sharpened but European policymakers also need to sharpen and update their view of the world.

Mogherini’s youth – and hopefully fresh stance on some of these issues – could be assets in this exercise. Importantly, Mogherini must work in close cooperation and consultation with other EU institutions, including the European Parliament and especially the European Commission whose many departments, including enlargement issues, trade, humanitarian affairs, environment, energy and development are crucial components of ‘Global Europe’.

The failure of synergies among Commission departments is believed to be at least partly responsible for the weaknesses of the EU’s “Neighbourhood Policy”.

Also, a coherent EU foreign policy demands close coordination with EU capitals. This is especially true in relations with China. Recent experience shows that, as in the case of negotiations with Iran, the EU is most effective when the foreign policy chief works in tandem with EU member states. Closer contacts with NATO will also be vital if Europe is to forge a credible strategy vis-à-vis Russia and Ukraine.

Such cooperation is especially important if – as I suggest – Mogherini embarks on a revamp of EU foreign and security policy.

Mogherini will not be able to do it on her own. Much will depend on the EEAS team she works with and the knowledge, expertise and passion her aides bring to their work. Team work and leadership, not micro-management, will be required.

Putting pressing global issues on the backburner is no longer an option. The change of guard in Brussels is the right moment to review and reconsider Europe’s role in the world. Global Europe’s disconnect needs to be tackled before it is too late.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Global Citizenship: “From Me to We to Peace”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-citizenship-from-me-to-we-to-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-citizenship-from-me-to-we-to-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-citizenship-from-me-to-we-to-peace/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 14:56:05 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136569 The U.N. has held High-Level Forums on the Culture of Peace for the past three years. Ambassador Chowdhury moderates a panel at last year’s event. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The U.N. has held High-Level Forums on the Culture of Peace for the past three years. Ambassador Chowdhury moderates a panel at last year’s event. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 10 2014 (IPS)

If a Silicon Valley existed for the culture of peace, it would most likely look to global citizenship as the next big industry shake-up.

“Global citizenship, or oneness of humanity [is] the essential element of the culture of peace,” Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former under-secretary general and high representative of the U.N., told IPS on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s High-Level Forum on the Culture of Peace Tuesday.“We need to think about the culture of peace as a start-up operation." -- Kathleen Kuehnast

The day-long forum included panel discussions on global citizenship and the contributions of women and youth to a nonviolent world community.

Ambassador Chowdhury took the lead in putting the culture of peace on the U.N. agenda in the late 1990s. The culture of peace concept was evolving in the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), but Chowdhury felt that it deserved to be discussed at an even higher level.

The U.N. needed “to shift gear” away from peacekeeping operations “to focus on individual and community transformation,” Chowdhury told IPS.

In 1999, at the urging of Chowdhury, the General Assembly (GA) passed the milestone Resolution 53/243 on the “Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.”  The resolution asserts that a culture of peace is a way of life based on non-violence, territorial integrity, human rights, the right to development, freedom of expression and the promotion of equal rights for women and men.

Article 4 of the resolution makes clear that “Education at all levels is one of the principal means to build a culture of peace.” Governments, civil society, the media, parents and teachers are all called upon to promote a peaceful culture.

The 1999 resolution also led to the observance from 2001 to 2010 of the U.N. International Decade for Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.

While its official decade may be over, the culture of peace continues to be relevant 15 years after Resolution 53/243 was adopted. Each year, the GA adopts a resolution reaffirming the commitment of member states to building a culture of peace.

This year’s all-day event built on the success of two past high-level forums in 2012 and 2013, giving member states, U.N. entities and civil society a chance to exchange ideas on how to best promote nonviolence, cooperation and respect for all.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon kicked off the day with an endorsement of the culture of peace.

“We need new forms of cultural literacy and diplomacy, between societies and within them,” he said. “We need educational curricula to deepen global solidarity and citizenship.

“Every day, I see the need to build a new culture of mediation, conflict resolution, peace-building and peace-keeping.”

Interactive panels focused on the keys to attaining a culture of peace.

Lakhsmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, highlighted the role of women in building and sustaining the culture of peace.

Women “must be seen as agents of conflict prevention,” she said.

“With women, mothers, grandmothers, other family members often being the first teachers of children, they have and can play a vital role in educating young people to the value of peace.”

Women should bring their leadership and solutions to the peacemaking table, according to the panellists.

The youth population is also crucial to making a culture of peace a reality.

“Young people can be agents of peace,” said Ahmad Alhendawi, the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth. “We must continue working together to ensure that the largest generation of humans is an opportunity, not a liability for our time.”

Kathleen Kuehnast, director of the Centre for Gender and Peacebuilding at the U.S. Institute of Peace, received a round of applause when she proposed a new perspective on the culture of peace, invoking the analogy of creative, high-energy entrepreneurship.

“We need to incentivise peacebuilding,” she said. “We need to think about the culture of peace as a start-up operation. What we need is a Silicon Valley for nonviolent approaches to global problem solving.”

Dot Mayer, president of the New York-based National Peace Academy, identified emerging trends and concepts that herald the rise of global citizenship, such as the sharing economy, the global commons and bioregional dialogues.

As a human community, “We are making this shift from I or me to we,” Mayer said. Global citizenship is a pathway “from me to we to peace.”

While the U.N. is a strong supporter of global citizenship and the culture of peace, it could do a much better job of spreading the message, according to Ambassador Chowdry.

The “U.N. has been focusing and putting most of its money on hardware for peacekeeping,” Chowdhury told IPS. It should be concentrating more on the “transformation of individuals into agents of peace and nonviolence.”

Throwing money at educational infrastructure will not be enough, Chowdhury said, because there is no guarantee that it would go toward the right type of education. The U.N. must work more with communities and societies to build education systems that teach young people to be citizens of the world.

“It has to be a comprehensive approach,” Chowdhury said. “It should be a transformational investment.”

In her remarks, Dot Mayer made the observation that “energy follows thought, and we know that whatever we choose to focus on, we will get more of in life.”

Supporters of the culture of peace hope that the energy and ideas from Tuesday’s high-level forum will spread the message of global citizenship to the human community, leading to a true transformation.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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Global Commission Urges Decriminalisation of Drug Usehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-commission-urges-decriminalisation-of-drug-use/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-commission-urges-decriminalisation-of-drug-use http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-commission-urges-decriminalisation-of-drug-use/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 01:02:09 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136563 Coca field in an Amazon jungle village. Credit: Courtesy of Central Asháninka del Río Ene/IPS

Coca field in an Amazon jungle village. Credit: Courtesy of Central Asháninka del Río Ene/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 10 2014 (IPS)

A top-level international panel called Tuesday for a major shift in global drug-control policies from prohibition to decriminalisation and regulation.

In a 43-page report, the Global Commission on Drug Policy denounced what has been known for more than four decades as the “war against drugs” as a failure and argued that new approaches prioritising human rights and health were urgently needed.“There’s no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle.” -- Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance

“In this report, we set out a broad roadmap for getting drugs under control,” wrote former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who chairs the Commission. “We recognize that past approaches premised on a punitive law enforcement paradigm have failed, emphatically so.

“They have resulted in more violence, larger prison populations, and the erosion of governance around the world. …The Global Commission on Drug Policy instead advocates for an approach to drug policy that puts public health, community safety, human rights, and development at the center,” according to Cardoso.

Such an approach would, among other changes, encourage governments to regulate markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with marijuana, coca leaf, and certain psycho-active drugs; seek alternatives to prison for low-level, non-violent participants in the drug trade; and ensure equitable access to essential medicines, especially opiate-based pain medications, according to the report, “Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies That Work.” It called for a pragmatic approach that would include experimentation and trial and error.

The report’s recommendations, which come as governments prepare for the 2016 U.N. General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, drew a mixed response from the U.S. government which has largely driven international drug policy since former President Richard Nixon first declared a “war on drugs” in 1971.

“We agree that we should use science-based approaches, rely on alternatives to incarceration for non-violent drug offenders, and ensure access to pain medications,” said Cameron Hardesty of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“…However, we disagree that legalisation of drugs will make people healthier and communities safer. Our experience with the tobacco and alcohol industries show that commercialization efforts rely upon increasing, not decreasing use, which in turn increases the harm associated with the use of tobacco and alcohol. In fact, if we take Big Tobacco as prologue, we can predict that that approach is likely to cause an entirely new set of problems,” she said.

Nonetheless, independent analysts said the Commission’s recommendations are likely to substantially advance the growing debate over drug policy if, for no other reason, than its membership is not easily dismissed.

In addition to Cardoso, its 21 members include former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, as well as former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and former Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Paul Volcker.

The report was released at a press conference that featured several of the Commission’s members in New York City Tuesday morning.

“This is a very important report that will provoke more serious discussion and debate,” Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, an influential Washington-based inter-hemispheric think tank, told IPS. “There have already been significant changes at the state level [in the U.S.] and in some countries in Latin America, and this will push things along.”

In 2011, the Commission published its first report in which it also condemned the drug war as a failure and made a series of recommendations designed to “break the taboo” against considering legalisation and regulation of some drugs as alternatives.

Having broken the taboo, the Commission offered political cover for some Latin American leaders, including former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, and Uruguayan President Jose Mujica (whose country last December became the world’s first to regulate the legal production, distribution, and sale of marijuana), to endorse far-reaching reform.

In mid-2013, the Organisation of American States (OAS) also released a report commissioned by the region’s reads of states that included legalisation as a policy alternative and that strongly favoured the view that drugs should be seen increasingly as a public health, rather than a security issue.

Among other measures, it proposed legalising and regulating marijuana production, distribution and sales – a recommendation that has since been adopted by voters in the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington. Nearly half of all U.S. states have legalised cannabis for medical purposes, and 17 states have decriminalised personal possession.

Virtually all observers agree that the drug war has been a signal failure. As prices drop for drugs that are have become purer with each passing year, governments have been spending an estimated 100 billion dollars annually on enforcement measures. The U.N. has estimated the value of global illicit drug trade at over 350 billion dollars.

The Commission offered a number of general recommendations in its report, beginning with a call for a “fundamental re-orientation of policy priorities” that would replace traditional goals and measures — such as amounts of drugs seized, the number of people arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for drug law violations – with “far more important” benchmarks, such as reducing drug-related harms, such as fatal overdoses, HIV infections, crime, violence, human rights abuses, and the power of criminal organisations that profit from the drug trade.

In addition to calling for equitable access to essential medicines, regulating markets for some drugs, and relying on alternatives to incarcerating non-violent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets, such as farmers and carriers, the report called for governments to be “far more strategic” in efforts to reduce the power of criminal organisations.

It noted that militarised “crackdowns” may actually increase criminal violence and public insecurity without actually deterring drug production, trafficking or consumption.

“…(I)n the longer term, drug markets should be responsibly regulated by government authorities. Without legal regulation, control and enforcement, the drug trade will remain in the hands of organised criminals. Ultimately this is a choice between control in the hands of governments or gangsters; there is no third option in which drug markets can be made to disappear,” according to the report.

“The idea behind this report and its timing is to ensure that there can be no repeat of the empty slogans, such as “a drug-free world, we can do it,” which was the theme of the UNGASS on Drugs in 1998, said John Walsh, a drug-policy expert at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

“To avoid a repeat, the idea is to ensure that a genuine debate will be unavoidable. That doesn’t mean that the world’s countries will rally around this new paradigm of legal regulation instead of prohibition, but the hope is that these issues cannot be ignored.”

“There’s no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle,” said Ethan Nadelmann, the veteran director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “The former presidents and other Commission members pull no punches in insisting that national and global drug control policies reject the failed prohibitionist policies of the 20th century in favour of new policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.”

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Sep 9 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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