Inter Press Service » Global Geopolitics Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 04 Aug 2015 17:10:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Iran Nuclear Deal Could Boost Diplomacy with North Korea, Diplomat Says Tue, 04 Aug 2015 16:45:32 +0000 Aruna Dutt By Aruna Dutt

The recent agreement between Iran and six nations on nuclear non-proliferation will likely have a “positive impact” on North Korea, according to a senior South Korean diplomat.

Choong-Hee Hanh, South Korea’s Deputy Permanent Representative and former Deputy Director-General for North Korean Nuclear Affairs, told IPS that the Iran nuclear deal bolsters the case for taking a multilateral approach to resolving sensitive international security issues.

“I think the Iran nuclear formula will give us a general hint that these issues should be dealt with in this multilateral approach,” he said. “I think that this case of diplomacy in Iran will (bring) pressure to North Korea and (create) awareness to international society about the benefits of utilising pressure to resolve these issues.”

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council in addition to Germany reached an agreement in Vienna last month to limit Tehran’s nuclear energy programme in order to prevent it from developing weapons. The U.N. Security Council promptly approved the deal, which capped prolonged negotiations.

Similar six-party negotiations involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and United States was begun in 2007 but it stalled in 2009 when North Korea pulled out. Pyongyang has since carried out nuclear tests and withdrawn from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

“I believe the Iranian case can lend a positive impact in North Korea,” Hahn said, but added a note of caution. “On the other hand, North Korea continuously argues that they are a nuclear weapon state according to their constitution. They believe they should not abandon their nuclear weapons as self-defence of the regime, so it is not easy to resolve this issue.”

While China, Japan, Russia and the U.S. shared the objective of preventing the nuclearisation of North Korea, he said, “At the same time, their priorities are a little bit different. “

“The Six-Party Talks are meaningful as this issue will take time to resolve and it is an opportunity to explore the bottom line of North Korea’s mindset on this issue as well as a shared perception among parties,” he added. “I think this shared perception is very important to taking the next step and moving forward.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Churches Seek to Amplify Echo of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Mon, 03 Aug 2015 18:56:27 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila The Atomic Bomb Dome serves as a memorial to the people who died in the Aug. 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. The building was the only structure left standing near the bomb’s hypocentre. Credit: Courtesy of Barbara Dunlap-Berg, UMNS

The Atomic Bomb Dome serves as a memorial to the people who died in the Aug. 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. The building was the only structure left standing near the bomb’s hypocentre. Credit: Courtesy of Barbara Dunlap-Berg, UMNS

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Aug 3 2015 (IPS)

The accounts of survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki will serve as inspiration for leaders of Christian churches grouped in the World Council of Churches (WCC), which advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons.

A delegation of members of churches from Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, South Korea and the United States are making a pilgrimage to the two Japanese cities annihilated by atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945.

“The generation of survivors of the atomic bombings are in their eighties, those that survived. And this generation is passing,” said Peter Prove, director of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the Geneva-based WCC, the largest and most international ecumenical body.

“But these are the real witnesses, those who could give testimony about the human impact of atomic weapons. And I think that we need to capture that moment and to amplify it,” he told IPS.

Bishop Mary-Ann Swenson of the United Methodist Church of the United States said “We will be in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to remember the horror of the atomic bomb.”

“As we gather in places devastated by the deadliest of weapons 70 years ago, we are aware that 40 governments still rely on nuclear weapons,” said Swenson, who is heading the pilgrimage.

“Nine states possess nuclear arsenals and 31 other states are willing to have the United States use nuclear weapons on their behalf,” she added.

Prove explained that the members of the delegation were carefully selected.

“The members of this delegation for this programmed visit are very strategically chosen. They come from countries that are nuclear powers, either historic ones from the War World Two period (1939-1945), like the USA, or more recent ones, like Pakistan, from outside the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) framework,” he said.

The rest of the delegations come from the group of 31 countries mentioned by Swenson: “…so-called ‘nuclear umbrella states’. States that are not nuclear armed themselves but who rely upon protection, if I can use that term, from other nuclear powers, in this case the U.S. especially,” Prove added.

The aim of the pilgrimage is for senior leaders of churches from the seven countries to experience the 70th anniversary of the bombings and to meet the Hibakushas, as the survivors are known.

On their return, “they will convey that message of human impact back to their own governments, back to their own communities, in the interest of trying to make the case for a legal ban on nuclear weapons,” Prove said.

The delegates will have to “point out that there is a legal gap, that all other major categories of weapons of mass destruction have a legal ban….which isn’t the case for nuclear weapons.”

“Churches are good networks for doing that, in their own communities and vis-à-vis their own governments in many countries,” said Prove.

The WCC delegation will meet with Hibakushas and with religious and social figures from Japan during the activities and ceremonies to mark the 70th anniversary, whose central events will be held Aug. 6 in Hiroshima and Aug. 9 in Nagasaki.

The U.S. atomic attack left around 66,000 dead and 69,000 injured in Hiroshima – a total of 135,000 victims. In Nagasaki there were 64,000 victims: 39,000 killed and 25,000 injured.

With respect to the second phase of the church mission to Japan – advocating a ban on nuclear weapons in the rest of the world – Prove said the WCC’s strength is primarily its network of member churches around the world, much more than the Secretariat in Geneva.

“We do represent one quarter of global Christianity, 500 million people in 120 countries. So the real activity will be the extent to which those church leaders and their churches follow up with their own governments,” he said.

“And that would vary from country to country. Obviously a Norwegian church leader potentially has much greater access to influence their government than let’s say, a Pakistani church leader might do relative to their government.

“The World Council of Churches is itself a product of the post War World II period. It’s precisely because of the shock of the atrocities of the destruction of War World II that the WCC really ultimately came into existence,” Prove said.

“So, it’s a reaction to the genocide, to the Holocaust, it’s a reaction to the atomic bombings, it’s a reaction to global war and conflict in general.”

“The WCC has had a long-term commitment to working with civil society partners for nuclear disarmament, for the elimination of nuclear weapons,” he said.

“The lack of success in that project is really a function of the dysfunctionality of the international architecture for those processes,” he maintained.

As an example, he pointed to the collapse of the NPT review conference – the main nuclear disarmament negotiations – held Apr. 27-May 22 at United Nations headquarters in New York.

“The mechanisms for controlling and eliminating nuclear weapons do not function because they are in the hands of those states with an interest in maintaining nuclear weapons,” said Prove.

The WCC supports the global majority of states – 113 – that have signed the humanitarian pledge calling for a legal ban on nuclear weapons.

“So we have achieved a majority of states in support of this ban and we want to encourage a negotiation process for a legal ban on nuclear weapons. And we are hoping that this majority of states will exert their majority in that process,” he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Security Council Resolution on Airlines Disaster Debases U.N. Charter Mon, 03 Aug 2015 12:51:11 +0000 Somar Wijayadasa U.N. Security Council members observe a minute of silence at the start of the meeting to establish tribunal on downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. The draft resolution failed to be adopted due to the veto by Russia. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

U.N. Security Council members observe a minute of silence at the start of the meeting to establish tribunal on downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. The draft resolution failed to be adopted due to the veto by Russia. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Somar Wijayadasa

On July 29 Russia vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council (UNSC) resolution on the establishment of an international tribunal to investigate the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight over eastern Ukraine last year – killing all 298 people on board.

Of the 15 UNSC members, 11 voted in support of the Malaysia-proposed draft resolution, with Angola, Venezuela and China abstaining.The toxic game of political football has, unfortunately, dragged this on for over a year without any honest attempt to find out what happened.

Vetoing the draft UNSC resolution, the representative of Russia to the U.N., Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, noted that Russia had repeatedly said that it wouldn’t support the tribunal “due to the fact the UNSC resolution 2166 [of 2014] didn’t qualify the Boeing tragedy as a threat to international peace and security.”

While all sponsors of the draft resolution and the United States had harsh words condemning Russia’s veto, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said: “There can be no reason to oppose this [draft resolution] unless you are a perpetrator yourself.”

That is a preemptive judgement to blame Russia, ignoring the basic legal tenet that one is innocent until proven guilty.

The Malaysia Airlines passenger jet was shot down on July 17 as it was flying over a war zone, where Ukrainian armed forces and rebels were fighting using military aircraft.

The Ukrainian authorities and Western allies accuse the rebels in eastern Ukraine of downing the plane with a surface-to-air missile allegedly provided by Russia. But Moscow has rejected accusations it supplied the rebels with missile systems. The rebels too deny these accusations.

Meanwhile, Malaysia, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ukraine are conducting a criminal inquiry into the cause of the crash but they have not yet established responsibility for the tragedy.

Separately, the Dutch Safety Board is due to release their official report on the cause of the crash by the end of this year.

It is regrettable that Russia was never allowed to participate in these investigations. Moscow has repeatedly warned against putting blame on anyone before these investigations into the crash have been completed.

Despite the veto, Churkin said, “Russia stands ready to cooperate in the conduct of a full independent and objective investigation of the reasons and circumstances of the crash”.

From the outset, the draft resolution was doomed to fail for three reasons: First, since these reports are still pending, Russians maintain the position that it was premature to set up an international tribunal.

Secondly, the U.N. Security Council last year unanimously adopted a resolution on this issue. And thirdly, the new draft resolution craftily claimed that the tragic downing of the Malaysian plane is a threat to international peace and security.

On July 21, 2014, the Security Council unanimously adopted the resolution 2166 that demanded that those responsible “be held to account and that all states cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability”.

Therefore, it is surprising that a new draft resolution on the same subject surfaced this year with the contentious terminology “a threat to international peace and security”.

As Churkin clearly pointed out, “It is difficult to explain how the event, which wasn’t considered a threat to international peace and security a year ago, now suddenly becomes one.”

Churkin said that “This, in our view, indicates the fact that political purposes were more important for them than practical objectives. This of course is regrettable.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that “the idea to create such a tribunal is aimed at punishing those whom Washington considers to be guilty.”

Furthermore, Chapter VII, Articles 39 to 51 of the U.N. Charter do not provide for the establishment of international tribunals to investigate civil aviation catastrophes of this nature – whether deliberate or accidental.

In the past, there have been similar incidents with civilian aircraft, such as the explosion of the Pan American flight 103 by the Libyans in 1983; downing of Iran Air flight 655 by the U.S. in 1988; and the downing of Korean Air Lines flight 007 by Soviet Union in 1983.

These were investigated according to internationally accepted rules, and the Security Council was not involved in investigations. Therefore, the call for an international tribunal on any pretext is nothing but confrontational.

According to the established rules and regulations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), it is the responsibility of the airline (Malaysian Airlines) as well as the country (Ukraine) in which the accident occurred to investigate as to what exactly happened.

Dutch investigators admit that the plane was shot down while flying over the conflict zone near Donetsk. It is not only an ICAO requirement but a well recognised international practice to inform ICAO and civilian airlines not to use airspace over conflict zones.

Both Ukraine and Malaysian Airlines failed to adhere to elementary rules. Ukraine warned civilian airlines not to use its airspace only after this accident occurred.

With my experience in the U.N. system for over 25 years, I am confident that the U.N. and ICAO could help establish an Independent Committee of International Aviation Experts to conduct a completely independent and transparent investigation – without undue political pressure – to find out who should be held responsible for this grave tragedy.

But the toxic game of political football has, unfortunately, dragged this on for over a year without any honest attempt to find out what happened.

All countries should bury their hatred and differences, and assist in the ongoing investigations to deliver justice to the families of the 298 innocent victims of the crash.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The Sad Historical Consequences of the Greek Bailout Sat, 01 Aug 2015 16:59:06 +0000 Roberto Savio

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that what lies behind the recent convoluted negotiations over Greek debt is nothing other than a dramatic demonstration that Europe is no longer about solidarity, which was the original European dream, but all about fiscal and monetary considerations.

By Roberto Savio
SAN SALVADOR, Aug 1 2015 (IPS)

In recommendations to German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the end of July, the German Council of Economic Experts outlined how a weak member country could leave the Eurozone and called for strengthening the European monetary union.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble wants Greece out because he does not believe that it will ever be able to refund the loans it has received so far, and because he thinks it is question of principle to be strict. In an interview with Der Spiegel a few days after the historical date of Jul. 13, at the end of negotiations on Greece, he said: “My grandmother used to say: benevolence comes before dissoluteness.”

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Explaining the recommendations of the Council of Economic Experts, however, its chairman Christoph M. Schmidt expressed another opinion. “To ensure the cohesion of monetary union, we have to recognise that voters in creditor countries are not prepared to finance debtor countries permanently … A permanently uncooperative member state should not be able to threaten the existence of the euro.”

This is the best illustration of Germany’s Europe. Any country which does not fit into the German scenario will have to quit. Europe is no longer a question of solidarity, it is all about fiscal and monetary considerations.

Germany now says that federalism has exceptions – whenever a member of the Eurozone is perceived to be challenging the rules of the monetary union, it will be subject to complete annihilation of its state sovereignty and national democracy. This is the kind of federalism that Germany has now proclaimed.

This German position on its vision of Europe, where political and ideal considerations are no longer the basis of the European project, has triggered a strong response from a normally obedient France.“We should all realise that the idea of Europe as a political project, based on solidarity and mutual support, is on the wane. Monetary union is no longer just a step towards a democratic political union”

President François Hollande, who appears to have suddenly woken up, has come out with a call to reinforce European integration through the establishment of a “Eurozone government”, which run in the opposite direction from that of Berlin.

Germany will of course go ahead and pursue its own course, but the Paris-Berlin axis which was conceived as the fulcrum of European integration has now been seriously weakened after Germany’s imposed agreement on Greece on Jul. 13. So we have now a major realignment.

France has been the country which has always blocked any substantial progress on European integration, by continually voting against any radical step towards integration in order to preserve as much of its national sovereignty as possible.

Now it is Germany which is intent on changing the course of integration, from a political project to a fixed exchange monetary system based on creditor countries – a system in which some democracies are more equal than others.

Schäuble has been reported as expressing concern over the European Commission’s increased political role, interfering in political issues for which it has no mandate. And it is a stark fact that the Jul. 13 Brussels agreement has sought to remove politics and discretion from the functioning of the monetary union, an idea that has long been very dear to the French, and now are the French who want more European integration as protection from a German Europe.

We should all realise that the idea of Europe as a political project, based on solidarity and mutual support, is on the wane.

Monetary union is no longer just a step towards a democratic political union, as Helmut Kohl and François Mitterand sought at the reunification of Germany, and the creation of the Euro.

We are, in fact, going back to a more toxic version of the old exchange-rate mechanism of the 1990s that left countries trapped in a mechanism which worked primarily for Germany, and which led to the exit of the British pound and the temporary exit of the Italian lira.

But the euro, as Nobel laureate in economics Paul Krugman says, “has turned into a Roach Motel, a trap that’s hard to escape.” Once you’re in, you cannot get out, and you have to accept the diktat of the creditors.

Another Nobel laureate in economics, Joseph Stigliz, who was Chief Economist of the World Bank, says that the current European policy of austerity at any cost, is like going back to a “19th century debtors’ prison. Just as imprisoned debtors could not make the income to repay, the deepening depression in Greece will make it less and less able to repay.”

Of course, what is never said openly (except by Stigliz) is that in the Greek bailout one central reason for the extremism of the new package of conditions was to teach a lessons to a radical left-wing party, Syriza, and to the Greek people who had had the audacity to reject the calls from European leaders to vote against that party.

It is not by chance that countries like Poland, which were asking to be admitted to the Eurozone, have withdrawn their applications.  The euro has become a rallying political issue, with parties from all over Europe asking to withdraw. It has become the first line of action for those who oppose European integration.

Until now, the answer of European governments has been that withdrawal is impossible under the European constitution. But now that the German Council of Economic Experts has come out with a concrete proposal on how to do that, that line of defence is crumbling.

According to many analysts, Angela Merkel is playing with fire. Germany cannot remain a credible leader of a coalition of Northern and Eastern European countries and ignore the realities and needs of Southern Europe. This is unsustainable, even in the medium term.

Meanwhile, the world goes on. Within seven years India will have overtaken China as the most populous country in the world, while within a few decades Nigeria will have a larger population than the United States.

And Europe? Europe will have become the continent with most old people and lower productivity, and will have to face its four horses of the apocalypse:

  • a solution to relations with Russia;
  • common agreement on how to deal with the dramatic flow of immigrants, when countries are not even able to relocate 40,000 people in a region of 450 million;
  • a real policy on the explosive Middle East and terrorism; and soon
  • the request of United Kingdom for a new agreement on the European Union, or else it will exit Europe.

We can safely bet that those negotiations, which will be based purely on economic issues, will be the kiss of death for the original European dream. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris    

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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Opinion: Developing Nations Set to Challenge Rich Ahead of SDG Summit Mon, 27 Jul 2015 14:18:12 +0000 Soren Ambrose

Soren Ambrose is Head of Policy, Advocacy & Research at ActionAid International

By Soren Ambrose
NEW YORK, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

The final round of negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals – the successor to the Millennium Development Goals, due to be inaugurated in September at the U.N. General Assembly – is now underway in New York.

Courtesy of Soren Ambrose/ActionAid

Courtesy of Soren Ambrose/ActionAid

The United Nations and many member governments want to conclude the debates by the end of July, so that there will not be open debate during the SDG Summit. But reports indicate that the atmosphere in the room is one of seething distrust.

That’s because of what happened during the Financing for Development (FfD) conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last month.

The developing countries – those grouped together in the “G77,” which 50 years after its founding actually has 134 members – were pushing a proposal for a universal intergovernmental organisation, within the U.N., which would have as its mandate reform and maintenance of the international tax system.

While this proposal would not have immediately remedied any of the myriad ways that corporations dodge taxes in developing countries, it would be a decisive change to the system that has allowed such activities to flourish.

To the extent that there are international rules, or standards and guidelines, on taxation now, they are proposed and elaborated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD), a club of 34 of the world’s richest countries. Every once in a while they make a show of consulting those other 134 countries, but those others never actually get a vote.Ultimately it’s the pressure of the people which will force their governments to be responsible. The movement to stand up to those who have hijacked our power is building.

In the new proposed way of making decisions on international tax rules, every country would have an equal voice and equal vote. This fight matters is because developing countries are confronting the need to change how the rules are made, and who makes the rules.

Until they manage that, they will always, at best, be running to stay in place. Changing who makes the rules is a necessary, although not sufficient condition, for creating permanent change.

Taxation is vital because wealthy companies and individuals get and stay rich by using a portion of their considerable resources to hire lawyers and accountants to guide them in dodging the taxes they should be paying in the countries where they excavate, grow, or purchase their raw materials, assemble their products, and make an increasing proportion of their sales.

If they don’t have such staff in-house, they can hire the services of big accounting firms for whom this is the most lucrative activity.

Most big companies manipulate “tax treaties” between countries and tax havens like Switzerland, Mauritius, and the Cayman Islands to create legal fictions that exempt them from paying most of the taxes they owe.

What they do is usually not technically illegal, because of the impossibility of keeping up with the tactics of the armies of experts dedicated to avoiding taxes. But neither is it quite ethical.

This deprives countries of the revenue – to the tune of at least 100 billion dollars every year – that they need to fund development, and ensures the perpetuation of the concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few. That wealth translates to power – a veritable global plutocracy.

The OECD, to be fair, has made some moves to clamp down on the most egregious forms of tax avoidance, including their “base erosion and profit shifting” (BEPS) process begun in 2013.

The corporate lawyers and accountants were a little nervous about BEPS, but with the process winding up, it appears that any reforms it demands will not be manageable. The promises at the outset of the process to include developing countries never amounted to much.

The FfD process in the U.N. was, of course, universal. The U.N. and national governments usually like to have the “outcome document” finalised before a summit meeting. The prospect of a messy negotiation with thousands of advocates just outside the door makes them nervous.

But after months of negotiations in New York and a series of missed deadlines, the big debate over the tax body was not resolved. The ministers would go to Addis facing open negotiations.

Bolstered by the support of hundreds of civil society groups, the G77 governments – a group that has to accommodate the interests of very disparate countries – held together. Three BRICS countries – South Africa as the chair of the G77, along with India and Brazil – were vocal actors on the side of the developing countries, something they can’t always be relied on to do as they ascend the global power ladder.

With negotiators starting to meet before the formal start of the meetings on July 13, there were several days filled with ever-shifting rumours. But on the evening of July 15, the eve of the scheduled end of the conference, the announcement came: there would be an outcome document little changed from the unsatisfactory draft they brought from New York.

Promises were made to expand the resources and prestige of the existing U.N. Committee of Tax Experts, but nothing more. No universal membership, and no mandate for reform.

The G77 held out to the end. But the rich countries, led by the United States with the steady support of the European Union, Canada, Japan, and Australia, refused to give up the regime of loopholes and havens and double-dealing that adds up to billions in lost revenue every year.

Make no mistake, ordinary people in rich countries also lose out as corporations dodge taxes. But with their territories serving as the leading facilitators of tax avoidance in the world, their governments showed they want the present system to endure.

The current global hyper-capitalism now puts no constraints on capital. Unlimited profits, unlimited wealth, and unlimited power have been accruing to the finance industry and the wealthy corporations and individuals it serves for over 40 years.

The rich countries’ politicians not only put up with it, they tout the “private sector” as the panacea for development in poor countries, with nearly no evidence to support them.

And at home, they cut public services and impose austerity, explaining that government just can’t afford to serve the people. Their priority has been corporations’ and investors’ bottomless appetite for profit and power.

As my colleague Ben Phillips has written about the FfD, it’s actually good news that the rich countries had to put an ugly stop to the negotiations, with barely a face-saving compromise to point to. Usually they manage to find a way to assign the blame to someone else.

Forcing them to show their hand is valuable; it’s clear that those making the rules are far more identified with a powerful few than with the public they claim to serve.

The next step is at the SDG Summit at the end of September, at the time of the annual U.N. General Assembly meetings. There we will learn whether and to what extent the developing countries will stand up to those who have monopolised power for so long. If they do, we may be on the road to reversing parts of the system that perpetuates the status quo.

Whatever happens, we aren’t going anywhere. Civil Society won’t change this global dynamic by attending these conferences, or through polite lobbying. We will have to endure many more meetings, and more setbacks.

But ultimately it’s the pressure of the people which will force their governments to be responsible. The movement to stand up to those who have hijacked our power is building.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: European Federalism and Missed Opportunities Fri, 24 Jul 2015 07:32:41 +0000 Emma Bonino

In this column Emma Bonino, a leading member of the Radical Party, former European Commissioner and a former Italian foreign minister, argues that serious problems affecting Europe, like the Greek crisis and waves of migration, could have been addressed more quickly and efficiently if the European Union had embraced federalism.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

“A serious political and social crisis will sweep through the euro countries if they do not decide to strengthen the integration of their economies. The euro zone crisis did not begin with the Greek crisis, but was manifested much earlier, when a monetary union was created without economic and fiscal union in the context of a financial sector drugged on debt and speculation.”

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino

These words, which are completely relevant today, were written by a group of federalists, including Romano Prodi, Giuliano Amato, Jacques Attali, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and this author, in May 2012.

Those with a federalist vision are not surprised that the crisis in Greece has dragged on for so many years, because they know that a really integrated Europe with a truly central bank would have been able to solve it in a relatively short time and at much lower cost.

In this region of 500 million people, another example of the inability to solve European problems was the recent great challenge of distributing 60,000 refugees among the 28 member countries of the European Union. Leaders spent all night exchanging insults without reaching a solution.

Unless the federalist programme – namely, the gradual conversion of the present European Union into the United States of Europe – is adopted, the region will not really be able to solve crises like those of Greece and migration.

It can be stated that European federalism – which would complete Europe’s unity and integration – is now more necessary than ever because it is the appropriate vehicle for overcoming regional crises and starting a new phase of growth, without which Europe will be left behind and subordinated not only to the United States but also to the major emerging powers.“Unless the federalist programme – namely, the gradual conversion of the present European Union into the United States of Europe – is adopted, the region will not really be able to solve crises like those of Greece and migration”

Furthermore, its serious and growing social problems – such as poverty, inequality and high unemployment especially among young people – will not be solved.

Within the federalist framework there is, at present, only the euro, while all the other institutions or sectoral policies (like defence, foreign policy, and so on) are lacking.

Excluding such large items of public spending as health care and social security, there are however other government functions which, according to the theory of fiscal federalism (the principle of subsidiarity and common sense), should be allocated to a higher level, that of the European central government.

Among them are, in particular: defence and security, diplomacy and foreign policy (including development and humanitarian aid), border control, large research and development projects, and social and regional redistribution.

Defence and foreign policy are perhaps considered the ultimate bastions of state sovereignty and so are still taboo. However, the progressive loss of influence in international affairs among even the most important European countries is increasingly evident.

To take, for instance, the defence sector: as Nick Witney, former chief executive of the European Defence Agency, has noted: “most European armies are still geared towards all-out warfare on the inner-German border rather than keeping the peace in Chad or supporting security and development in Afghanistan.

“This failure to modernise means that much of the 200 billion euros that Europe spends on defence each year is simply wasted,” and “the EU’s individual Member States, even France and Britain, have lost and will never regain the ability to finance all the necessary new capabilities by themselves.”

It should be noted that precisely because the mission of European military forces has changed so radically, it is nowadays much easier, in principle, to create new armed forces from scratch (personnel, armaments, doctrines and all) instead of persisting in the futile attempt to reconvert existing forces to new missions, while at the same time seeking to improve cooperation between them.

Why should it be possible to create a new currency and a new central bank from scratch, and not a new army?

Common defence spending by the 28 European Union countries amounts to 1.55 percent of European GDP. Hence, a hypothetical E.U. defence budget of one percent of GDP appears relatively modest.

However, it translates into nearly 130 billion euros, which would automatically make the E.U. armed forces an effective military organisation, surpassed only by that of the United States, and with resources three to five times greater than those available to powers like Russia, China or Japan.

It would also mean saving an estimated 60 to 70 billion euros, or more than half a percentage point of European GDP, compared with the present situation.

Transferring certain government functions from national to European level should not give rise to a net increase in public spending in the whole of the European Union, and could well lead to a net decrease because of economies of scale.

Taking the example of defence, for the same outlay a single organisation is certainly more efficient than 28 separate ones. Moreover, as demonstrated by experiences with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during the Cold War, efforts to coordinate independent military forces always produced disappointing results and parasitic reliance on the wealthier providers of this common good. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee/Edited by Phil Harris    

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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Clean Water Another Victim of Syria’s War Fri, 24 Jul 2015 02:07:40 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

By Kanya D'Almeida

Caught in the grips of a summer heat-wave, in a season that is seeing record-high temperatures worldwide, residents of the war-torn city of Aleppo in northern Syria are facing off against yet another enemy: thirst.

The conflict that began in 2011 as a popular uprising against the reign of Bashar al-Assad is now well into its fifth year with no apparent sign of let-up in the fighting between multiple armed groups – including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Caught in the middle, Syria’s civilians have paid the price, with millions forced to flee the country en masse. Those left inside are living something of a perpetual nightmare, made worse earlier this month by an interruption in water supplies.

While some services have since been restored, the situation is still very precarious and international health agencies are stepping up efforts in a bid to stave off epidemics of water-borne diseases.

“These water cuts came at the worst possible time, while Syrians are suffering in an intense summer heat wave,” Hanaa Singer, Syria representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in a statement released Thursday.

“Some neighborhoods have been without running water for nearly three weeks leaving hundreds of thousands of children thirsty, dehydrated and vulnerable to disease.”

An estimated 3,000 children – 41 percent of those treated at UNICEF-supported clinics in Aleppo since the beginning of the month – reported mild cases of diarrhoea.

“We remain concerned that water supplies in Aleppo could be cut again any time adding to what is already a severe water crisis throughout the country,” Singer stated on Jul. 23.

The U.N. agency has blasted parties to the conflict for directly targeting piped water supplies, an act that is explicitly forbidden under international laws governing warfare.

As it is, heavy fighting in civilian areas and the resulting displacement of huge numbers of Syrians throughout the country has been extremely taxing on the country’s fragile water and sanitation network.

There have been 105,886 cases of acute diarrhoea in the first half of 2015, as well as a rapid rise in the number of reported cases of Hepatitis A.

In Deir-Ez-Zour, a large city in the eastern part of Syria, the disposal of raw sewage in the Euphrates River has caused a health crisis among the population dependent on it for cooking, washing and drinking, with UNICEF reporting over 1,000 typhoid cases in the area.

To date, UNICEF has delivered 18,000 diarrhoea kits to help sick children and is now working with its partners on the ground to provide enough water purification tablets for about a million people.

With fuel prices on the rise – touching 2.6 dollars per litre this month in the northwestern city of Idleb – families pushed into poverty by the conflict have been forced to cut back on their water consumption.

Water pumping stations have also drastically reduced the amount of water per person – limiting supplies to just 20 litres a day.

UNICEF’s efforts to deliver water treatment supplies took a major hit earlier this year when the border crossing with Jordan was closed in April, a route the agency had traditionally relied on to provide half a million litres of critical water treatment material monthly.

Despite this setback, the Children’s Fund has trebled the volume of emergency supplies from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day, amounting to 15 litres of water per person for some 200,000 people.

Organisations like OXFAM, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are all assisting the United Nations in its efforts to sustain the Syrian people.

In addition to trucking in millions upon millions of litres of water each month, UNICEF has also helped drill 50 groundwater wells capable of proving some 16 million litres daily.

Still, about half a million Aleppo residents are at their wits’ end trying to collect adequate water for families’ daily needs.

Throughout Syria, some 15 million people are dependent on a limited and vulnerable water supply network.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mideast Arms Build-up Negative Fallout from Iran Nuclear Deal Thu, 23 Jul 2015 21:02:36 +0000 Thalif Deen In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

By Thalif Deen

The nuclear agreement concluded last week between Iran and six big powers, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, is threatening to trigger a new Middle East military build-up – not with nuclear weapons but with conventional arms, including fighter planes, combat helicopters, warships, missiles, battle tanks and heavy artillery.

The United States is proposing to beef up the military forces of some of its close allies, such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, with additional weapons systems to counter any attempts by Iran to revitalise its own armed forces when U.N. and U.S. sanctions are eventually lifted releasing resources for new purchases.“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal." -- Dr. Natalie J. Goldring

All six countries, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), are predominantly Sunni Muslims as against Shia Iran.

According to one news report, the administration of President Barack Obama is also considering an increase in the hefty annual 3.0-billion-dollar military grant – free, gratis and non-repayable – traditionally provided to Israel over the years to purchase U.S weapons systems.

The proposed increase is being described as a “consolation prize” to Israel which has denounced the nuclear deal as a “historic mistake.”

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS although the nuclear agreement with Iran is likely to aid nuclear nonproliferation efforts, it may also result in a dangerous increase in the proliferation of conventional weapons to the region.

“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal,” she said.

On the other hand, the longstanding sanctions against transfers of major conventional weapons, missiles, and missile systems to Iran will continue for several years under the nuclear agreement, she pointed out.

Even so, Gulf states and Israel are reportedly already lining up for more weapons from the United States.

As usual, their argument seems to be that the weapons are needed for their own defence, she added.

“But who are they defending against? Is the presumed adversary Iran, which remains under a conventional weapons embargo? And who has the military advantage?” asked Dr Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

According to The New York Times, she said, Iran’s military budget is only about a tenth of the combined military budgets of the Sunni states and Israel.

The Times said the Arab Gulf nations spend a staggering 130 billion dollars annually on defence while Iran’s annual military budget is about 15 billion dollars.

Israel spends about 16 billion dollars annually on its defence, plus the 3.0 billion it receives as U.S. military grants.

Nicole Auger, Middle East & Africa Analyst and International Defense Budgets Analyst at Forecast International, a leading U.S. defence research company, told IPS the Times figures are pretty much on target.

Furthermore, she said, the Sunni dominated nations (read: Gulf states) and Israel have strengths that their Iranian rival does not.

“Despite Iran’s manpower advantage and large arsenal of rockets and missiles, the GCC combined and Israel have far greater air power capabilities, not to mention superior aircraft platforms,” said Auger, author of International Military Markets, Middle East & Africa.

The modern, Western hardware purchased through the past decade stands in direct contrast to the ageing inventory of Iranian forces, she added.

Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States.

Israel’s air force is equipped with F-16s, Saudi Arabia, with F-15s and Eurofighter Typhoons, UAE, with F-16s. Kuwait, with Boeing F/A-18C Fighters and Qatar, with Dassault-Mirage 2000-5, eventually to be replaced with the Rafale fighter plane both from France.

Auger said Iran’s most modern fighter is the MiG-29, delivered in the early 1990s.

The rest of the fighter force includes aged U.S.-supplied F-14s, F-4s, and F-5s, as well as Russian-supplied Su-24 attack jets and Dassault Aviation Mirage F-1AD fighter-bombers.

But most of them have remained grounded for lack of spares due to economic and military sanctions by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

Dr Goldring told IPS it has to be acknowledged that the United States and its negotiating partners have secured an important agreement with Iran, which should make it more difficult for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

This agreement should also significantly reduce the likelihood of a U.S. war with Iran. The agreement is a good deal for the United States, its negotiating partners, its allies in the Middle East, and Iran, she added..

Still, the U.S. government is once again contemplating providing highly sophisticated weapons to Middle Eastern nations, even though some of the prospective recipients have horrendous human rights records and questionable internal stability.

Continuing to sell our most modern weapons and technologies also makes it more likely that U.S. military officials will soon be testifying before Congress that they need new weapons systems because the current technologies have already been dispersed around the world, she noted.

“We’ve seen this script before. This approach ignores the risks posed by weapons transfers, and increases the risk that our military personnel will end up fighting our own weapons,” said Dr Goldring.

She pointed out that the prospect of increasing conventional weapons sales as a result of the Iran agreement “looks like a sweet deal for the arms merchants, but not for the rest of us. “

It’s long past time to break out of the traditional pattern of the U.S. government using conventional weapons transfers as bargaining chips.

“Middle Eastern countries need to reduce their stockpiles of conventional weapons, not increase them,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Governments Playing Political Ping-Pong with China’s Uyghurs Thu, 23 Jul 2015 16:07:00 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan Uyghurs, a minority Muslim group in China, say they have faced years of oppression under Chinese rule. Credit: Gustavo Jeronimo/CC-BY-2.0

Uyghurs, a minority Muslim group in China, say they have faced years of oppression under Chinese rule. Credit: Gustavo Jeronimo/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

Two reports released in quick succession by the international rights group Human Rights Watch have highlighted the plight of China’s minority Uyghur population and shed light on their continuing struggle to find a safe haven elsewhere in the region.

“The international community needs to take a firm stand to guarantee the rights of Uyghur refugees." -- Alim A. Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association
The international watchdog released a statement on Jul. 10 condemning the Thai government for returning 100 Uyghur immigrants to China, claiming that they will face persecution in country.

The Uyghurs have struggled against the control of the Chinese central government for decades, with many of its activists exiled or imprisoned.

Another HRW report released on Jul. 13 revealed the Chinese government’s restrictions on international travel for religious minorities, including the Uyghurs, for “religious study and pilgrimage.”

A fast-track passport application system made available 12 years ago excluded the Uyghurs and other minorities, the report said.

“Chinese authorities should move swiftly to dismantle this blatantly discriminatory passport system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW in the Jul. 10 statement.

“The restrictions also violate freedom of belief by denying or limiting religious minorities’ ability to participate in pilgrimages outside China,” she added.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a press statement on Jul. 9 that condemned Thailand for returning the Uyghurs to China. The deportations have sparked protests in front of the Chinese embassy and Thailand’s honorary consulate in Turkey.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from the capital Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups that have Turkish descent and speak Turkic languages.

According to the Uyghur American Association, there are over 15 million Uyghurs in the region. Uyghurs are traditionally Muslims.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups of Turkish descent that speak Turkic languages. Credit:

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups of Turkish descent that speak Turkic languages. Credit:

Alim A. Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association based in Washington, D.C., said in a statement that the forcible return of Uyghur refugees was a violation of their safety.

“The international community needs to take a firm stand to guarantee the rights of Uyghur refugees,” he said. “As more Uyghurs flee China’s heavy-handed repression in East Turkestan, and Beijing continues to pressure for their return, concerned governments and multilateral agencies must not permit China to disregard international human rights norms.”

In addition to the restrictions imposed on travel for pilgrimage activities, Uyghurs in China are also reported to face various restrictions that prohibit them from observing the religious fast during the holy month of Ramadan, one of the important months for Islamic countries and communities around the world.

According to the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress and several news sites, local Chinese governmental departments published statements on the websites warning students, state employees and party members from fasting, attending religious activities or entering mosques.

The Xinjiang legislature passed a regulation in January that banned the wearing of the burqa, a headscarf donned by Muslim women.

“This is not a new restriction,” Greg Fay, project manager at the Washington, D.C. based Uyghur Human Rights Association, told IPS. “The restrictions have been getting stricter in the past two years.”

Uyghurs have had an uneasy relationship with Beijing ever since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

A spate of violent attacks in the past year resulted in the government’s vow to “fight against separatism, religious extremism and terrorism” during a yearlong, anti-terror crackdown. Arrests doubled in 2014 since the government announced the crackdown, amounting to 27,164 cases.

In March 2014, a knife attack in Kunming, 2,677 km from Beijing, left 30 people dead. Two months later, a bomb was set off in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, which killed 31 people. In July, an attack on police stations, government offices and vehicles in Xinjiang left at least 50 people dead.

Officials blamed Xinjiang separatists for the attacks. Earlier in 2009, a riot in Urumqi killed nearly 140 people and the government shut off Internet access in the province for months.

“My interpretation of what is happening now is the government has put out a policy of opposing extremism,” Sean Roberts, associate professor at George Washington University, told IPS in an interview. “I think for a lot of local level officials they are just identifying Islam as extremism.”

Seytoff said in an opinion piece in Al Jazeera published in June 2014 that even though the Uyghurs occupy an autonomous region, most Han officials, the majority ethnic group in China, still hold political and economic power in the region.

“China ruthlessly suppressed any sign of Uyghur unrest and transferred millions of loyal Chinese settlers into East Turkestan, providing them with jobs, housing, bank loans and economic opportunities denied to Uyghurs,” he said.

“The Uyghur population in East Turkestan, which was nearly 90 percent [of the area’s total population] in 1949, is now only 45 percent, while the Chinese population grew disproportionately due to state-sponsored mass settlement from around six percent in 1953 to the current 40 percent.”

Protestors wave the Uyghur flag outside the White House, demanding rights for the minority population in China. Credit: Malcolm Brown/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Protestors wave the Uyghur flag outside the White House, demanding rights for the minority population in China. Credit: Malcolm Brown/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Many Uyghurs attempt to flee persecution to Turkey and neighboring Asian countries. Turkey has hosted over 1,000 Uyghur refugees since 1949, but neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Thailand have returned a number of Uyghurs to China.

A New York Times article in Dec. 2009 revealed that Cambodia returned 20 Uyghurs who applied for asylum in 2009—and signed an economic cooperation deal with China two days later.

The Chinese deny any form of oppression of the Uyghurs and insist that Cambodia’s act of repatriation was legal.

Other Chinese state news agencies have claimed that, far from prohibiting the celebration of Ramadan, the government has supported locals in their worship by proving food and ensuring peace.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Despite ISIS Ascendancy, U.S. Public Wary of War Thu, 23 Jul 2015 13:59:52 +0000 Kitty Stapp Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

As the Islamic State, known variously as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, consolidates its hold over parts of Iraq and Syria to the degree that it has in many ways become a functioning state, the U.S. public remains divided over any intervention involving ground troops, a new survey shows.

Sixty-three percent said they approve of the U.S. military campaign against ISIS, with just 26 percent disapproving of the campaign, an increase since President Barack Obama’s first ordered airstrikes against militants in Iraq in August 2014 (when 54 percent approved).

However, only 30 percent said the U.S. military campaign against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria is going very well or fairly well, according to the poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Forty-nine percent said they would oppose the deployment of ground forces against Islamic militants, with 44 percent in favour.

Although the recent murder of five U.S. service members in Chattanooga, Tennessee was dubbed an “ISIS-inspired attack” by the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, it remains unclear what, if any, connections the gunman may have had to terror groups or what his motivation was.

But U.S. officials say they are worried about the threat of ISIS on U.S. soil. Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey claimed the Islamic State now eclipses al Qaeda, and has influenced a significant but unknown number of Americans through a year-long campaign on social media urging Muslims who can’t travel to the Middle East to “kill where you are.”

“It is a very different model,” Comey said. “By virtue of that model it is currently the threat we are worried about in the homeland most of all. ISIL is buzzing on your hip. That message is being pushed all day long, and if you wanna talk to a terrorist, they’re right there on Twitter, direct-messaging for you to communicate with.”

An estimated 3,400 Westerners have traveled overseas to join ISIS in its quest to establish an Islamist state in Iraq and Syria, according to counterterrorism officials. At least 200 Americans have gone or attempted to travel to Syria, although no one knows how many sympathisers they may have within the United States.

“There are thousands of messages being put out into the ethersphere and they’re just hoping that they land on an individual who’s susceptible to that type of terrorist propaganda,” John Carlin, the assistant attorney general heading the Justice Department’s national-security division, told CNN month.

But according to analyst Emile Nakhleh, writing for IPS last September, “ISIS is primarily a threat to Arab countries, not to the United States and other Western countries.”

“Some Bush-era neo-cons and Republican hawks in the Senate who are clamouring for U.S. military intervention in Syria seem to have forgotten the lessons they should have learned from their disastrous invasion of Iraq over a decade ago. Military action cannot save a society when it’s regressing on a warped trajectory of the Divine – ISIS’ proclaimed goal,” he wrote.

“As long as Arab governments are repressive, illegitimate, sectarian, and incompetent, they will be unable to halt the ISIS offensive. In fact, many of these regimes have themselves to blame for the appeal of ISIS. They have cynically exploited religious sectarianism to stay in power.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Addis Outcome Will Impact Heavily on Post-2015 Agenda – Part 2 Thu, 23 Jul 2015 13:00:31 +0000 Bhumika Muchhala Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Bhumika Muchhala
ADDIS ABABA, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is the only universal forum that connects systemic issues to the global partnership for development. The latter recognises North-South cooperation based on historical responsibility and varying levels of development and capacity among member states of the U.N.

And there is a vital acknowledgement of the global rules and drivers that determine national policy space for development.While prospects are uncertain for now, what is increasingly clear is the stark fact that the geopolitical offensive in the U.N. has not abated. If anything, it has become even more pronounced.

With regard to such systemic reforms, the Addis Ababa outcome on Financing for Development (FfD) explicitly ignores a landmark initiative in the U.N. itself to establish an international statutory legal framework for debt restructuring.

Instead, it reaffirms the dominance of creditor-led mechanisms, such as the Paris Club, whose inequitable governance was criticised in the Doha Declaration of 2008.

The Addis outcome also welcomes existing OECD and IMF initiatives which do not address the scale of debt problems afflicting many developing countries today, such as Jamaica, which according to its finance minister’s intervention in Addis Ababa, won’t be able to finance its SDGs until its external debt can achieve sustainability in 2025.

Clearly, servicing creditors has to precede development goals. Reversing this order by incorporating national development financing needs into debt sustainability analyses was neglected by most member states in the FFD negotiations.

In spite of the global recognition that capital controls are crucial to developing countries ability to protect themselves from financial crises, the outcome document demotes the use of “capital flow management measures” as a last resort “after necessary macroeconomic policy adjustment.”

This is a regression from the 2002 Monterrey Consensus, which recognised that “Measures that mitigate the impact of excessive volatility of short-term capital flows are important and must be considered.” Financial regulations, particularly on derivatives trading, goes unheeded.

Similarly, the Addis outcome makes no call for special drawing rights (SDR) allocations. Again, this is a step back from Monterrey, which addressed SDR allocations in two clauses. SDR allocations, if carried out on the basis of need, could serve as a development finance tool by boosting developing countries foreign exchange reserves without creating additional dependency on primary reserve currencies.

Unlike most global economic arenas, FfD has the mandate to address international monetary system reform in a development-oriented manner. The Addis outcome, again, missed this chance entirely.

Despite these critical retrogressions, there are two beacons of light in the Addis outcome: the establishment of a Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM) in the UN that supports SDG achievement, and an institutionalized FFD follow-up mechanism that will involve up to five days of review every year to generate “agreed conclusions and recommendations.”

However, this follow-up forum is to be shared with the review of MOI for the post-2015 development agenda, going against developing countries call for the FFD follow-up to be distinct and independent from that for the post-2015 development agenda in order to maintain focus on the specificities of the FFD agenda.

While the TFM has positive potential, especially if it address intellectual property rights and endogenous technological development in developing countries and does not become a platform to facilitate the ‘green economy’ through the , it is at the same time not tantamount to the financing items that comprise the development agenda. As such, the TFM helps obscure the paucity of political ambition on the FFD agenda.

A crisis of multilateralism

Perhaps the most sordid mark of a process that occurred in bad faith is the fact that negotiations never transpired in Addis Ababa. There was no official plenary, no proposals articulated and no document projected onto a screen to amend.

Instead, what took place over four days in Addis Ababa was a behind-the-scenes pressure campaign exerted by the most powerful countries onto most developing countries. One developing country delegate revealed that the pressure included bullying and blackmailing to silence many developing countries who can’t afford to be politically defiant.

Another delegate disclosed that he had never before experienced such an absence of transparency within the U.N. Some observers commented that what transpired in Addis Ababa was akin to a ‘Green Room’ style of discussions, where private talks are held in small groups without any gesture of openness or transparency.

A central strategy of developed countries was the distortion of developing country narratives and the creation of new narratives to undermine the longstanding arguments of developing countries. Throughout the FFD negotiations in New York, the European Union (EU) created a narrative of ‘the world has changed.’

They argued that developing countries’ emphasis on international public finance as the primary source for financial resources and developing countries’ red line on the Rio principle of CBDR does not reflect a world that has changed since Monterrey in 2002.

Much of the FfD text is still premised on an outdated North-South construct, the EU said, which does not reflect the complexity of today’s world. Germany reinforced the EU’s position, adding that the G77’s positions do not consider the reality that emerging economies are now capable of taking on some of the financing burdens for development.

In response to this challenge laid on middle-income countries, India provided a succinct response. India pointed out that the 30 richest countries of the world account for only 17 percent of the global population, but over 60 percent of global GDP, more than 50% of global electricity consumption and nearly 40 percent of global CO2 emissions.

The UN report on “Inequality Matters – World Social Situation 2013,” said that in 2010, high-income countries generated 55 percent of global income, while low-income countries created just above 1 percent of global income even though they contained 72 percent of the global population. India clarified that despite the relatively faster rates of growth in developing countries, international inequality has not fallen.

The above UN report on inequality shows that that excluding one large developing country (e.g. China), the Gini coefficient of international inequality was higher in 2010 than as compared to 1980. India concluded that these figures attest to the fact of the North-South gap, saying that member states will be doing themselves a disservice if reality is misrepresented.

Implications for post-2015 and climate change

The ways in which key words such as “transformative,” “ambitious,” “rule of law” and “enabling environment” were used, or misused, by developed country negotiators in the FFD negotiations have made their developing country counterparts wary of the gap between actual meaning and rhetorical application.

The phrase ‘enabling environment’ is used by developing countries to refer to an enabling environment for development. This involves development-oriented reforms in the international financial and trade architecture, such as addressing unfair agricultural subsidies in developed countries or pro-cyclical macroeconomic conditions attached to financial loans.

However, developed countries also use the phrase ‘enabling environment’ with equivalent vigor. Except that they are referring to an enabling environment for private investment, such as business-friendly taxes and labour market deregulation.

The experience of the FfD negotiations suggests that when these terms are tossed about in the post-2015 and COP 21 negotiations, they will be associated with limiting the policy space of developing countries. For the most part, this limitation is linked to facilitating private sector activity through multi-stakeholder or public-private partnerships that involve shared financing between multiple entities while most decision-making remains in the seat of the private sector.

Meanwhile, an implicit ebbing, if not a reneging, takes place on the public and international financing obligations of developing countries. Consequently, financing and decision-making shifts to institutions where developing countries have to compete with representatives of the private sector and private foundations for voice and representation.

As the last two weeks of post-2015 development agenda negotiations conclude in New York, the repercussions of the FFD experience remain to be witnessed. Will developing countries unite with renewed strength and determination to bring multilateralism back? Or will the retrogression in commitments and actions induced by Addis Ababa drag the post-2015 outcome down to its lowly ambition?

While prospects are uncertain for now, what is increasingly clear is the stark fact that the geopolitical offensive in the U.N. has not abated. If anything, it has become even more pronounced.

In fact, the current geopolitical dynamics in the U.N. renders a troubling irony to the international community as it embarks on its most ambitious sustainable development paradigm for the next 15 years.

Part of this Op-Ed can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Third FfD Conference Fails to Finance Development – Part One Wed, 22 Jul 2015 13:49:43 +0000 Bhumika Muchhala Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Bhumika Muchhala
ADDIS ABABA, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

The third Financing for Development (FfD) conference in Addis Ababa concluded last Thursday, July 16, in bad faith as developed countries rejected a proposal for a global tax body and dismissed developing countries’ compromise proposal to strengthen the existing U.N. committee of tax experts.

Usually, when large conferences end after conflicts and climax in intergovernmental negotiations, there is a sense of exhilaration. This did not happen in Addis Ababa.The hallmark failure of the 3rd FfD conference is the missed opportunity to create an intergovernmental tax body, despite the persistent push into the 11th hour by a critical mass of developed countries led by India and Brazil.

Instead, there was deep disappointment amidst developing countries and many U.N. staff and outrage amidst civil society who had been following the FfD process over the last year. But among developed countries, there was relief, at best, or complacency, at worst. As the representative of Japan said in the final plenary, many developed countries, including Japan felt a sense of relief.

As the civil society coalition on FfD stated in its reaction to the outcome document, a fundamental opportunity was lost to tackle structural injustices in the current global economic system and ensure that development finance is people-centred and protects the environment.

Not only does the Addis Ababa outcome not rise to the world’s multiple crises, including finance, climate and distribution, it lacks the necessary ambition, leadership and actions to be associated with the post-2015 development agenda.

Indeed, the outcome is wholly inadequate to support the operational Means of Implementation (MOI) for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and exposes an unbridged gap between the rhetoric of aspirations in the post-2015 development agenda and the reality of the void of actions in the Addis Ababa outcome, which does not commit to new financial resources let alone scaling up existing resources.

In light of the agreements in the Monterrey Consensus and the Doha Declaration (in the first and second FfD conferences), the Addis Ababa Action Agenda displays a retrogression from the past, which undermines the FfD mandate to address international systemic issues in macroeconomic, financial, trade, tax and monetary policies.

The hallmark failure of the 3rd FfD conference is the missed opportunity to create an intergovernmental tax body, despite the persistent push into the 11th hour by a critical mass of developed countries led by India and Brazil.

Such a global tax body, that would enable the U.N. to have a norm-setting role in tax cooperation at an equal capacity to that of the current monopoly of the OECD, would have been a meaningful advancement in global economic governance and domestic resource mobilisation.

The intransigence of developed countries against such a key step demonstrated their unwillingness to democratise global economic governance and their disregard for FfD and U.N. standards of “good governance at all levels” and “rule of law.”

The core argument of developing countries is that given the reality that they are most affected by illicit financial flows, tax evasion and avoidance and transfer mis-pricing by large corporations, they should have an equal say at an international negotiation table on tax rules.

Given the glaring absence of new financial commitments, let alone the assurance of new and additional financial resources for climate and biodiversity finance, the majority of funds needed to finance the SDGs will come out of domestic budgets.

However, ample research shows how hundreds of billions of dollars are extracted out of the corporate tax purse of developing countries, particularly in the resource-rich African continent.

This is due to the very loopholes and tricks in the international tax architecture that is defined and dominated by the OECD. A global tax body could have shifted this power imbalance and delivered some fairness to global political economic structures.

The Addis Ababa outcome legitimises the predominance of private finance through blended finance and public-private partnerships (PPPs). This is problematic precisely because it is unattached to accountability measures or binding commitments based on international human and labour rights, and environmental standards.

A fast-growing body of evidence substantiates global concern over an unconditional support for PPPs and blended financing instruments. Without a parallel recognition of the developmental role of the state and robust safeguards to enable the state to regulate in the public interest, there is a great risk that the private sector undermines rather than supports sustainable development.

The Addis outcome’s blind trust in PPPs and blended finance is premised on the notion that such arrangements will lower the risk for private investment. The outcome makes no mention of the critical importance of inclusive and sustainable industrial development for developing countries, for the objectives of supporting economic diversification, adding value to raw materials and ascending the value chain, improving economic productivity and developing modern and appropriate technologies.

Civil society had hoped that being in Addis Ababa governments would remind themselves of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 based on shared prosperity through social and economic transformation.

Similarly, there is no critical assessment of trade regimes. Instead of safeguarding policy space, the Addis outcome fails to critically assess international trade policy in order to provide alternative paths to commodity-dependence, eliminate or at least review investor-state dispute settlement clauses, and undertake human rights impact and sustainability assessments of all trade agreements to ensure their alignment with the national and extraterritorial obligations of governments.

Furthermore, the additional steps to address gender equality and women’s empowerment seem to speak more to “Gender Equality as Smart Economics” than to women and girls’ entitlement to human rights and show a strong tendency towards the instrumentalisation of women by stating that women’s empowerment is vital to enhance economic growth and productivity.

The core competencies of FfD are comprised of international systemic issues such as capital flows, external debt, trade, financialisation and the monetary system.

The ability of the U.N. to address systemic issues is routinely challenged by developed countries who argue that these issues are outside the domain of the U.N.

Power and control over systemic issues and reforms are thus kept exclusively in the rich countries’ domain of the Bretton Woods Institutions (the IMF and World Bank), the G7 and the G20.

However, not only does the U.N. have a longstanding history in substantively analysing and proposing reforms on systemic issues, it is also the only universal forum where all countries, from the smallest island nation to the poorest landlocked country, have a voice and a vote in the General Assembly.

Part Two can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: A BRICS Bank to Challenge the Bretton Woods System? Wed, 22 Jul 2015 08:12:45 +0000 Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu is Professor of International Communication at the University of Westminster in London.

By Daya Thussu
LONDON, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

The formal opening of the BRICS Bank in Shanghai on Jul. 21 following the seventh summit of the world’s five leading emerging economies held recently in the Russian city of Ufa, demonstrates the speed with which an alternative global financial architecture is emerging.

The idea of a development-oriented international bank was first floated by India at the 2012 BRICS summit in New Delhi but it is China’s financial muscle which has turned this idea into a reality.

Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu

The New Development Bank (NDB), as it is formally called, is to use its 50 billion dollar initial capital to fund infrastructure and developmental projects within the five BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – though it is also likely to support developmental projects in other countries.

According to the 43-page Ufa Declaration, “the NDB shall serve as a powerful instrument for financing infrastructure investment and sustainable development projects in the BRICS and other developing countries and emerging market economies and for enhancing economic cooperation between our countries.”

The NDB is led by Kundapur Vaman Kamath, formerly of Infosys, India’s IT giant, and of ICICI Bank, India’s largest private sector bank. A respected banker, Kamath reportedly said during the launch that “our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way.”

The launch of the NDB marks the first tangible institution developed by the BRICS group – set up in 2006 as a major non-Western bloc – whose leaders have been meeting annually since 2009. BRICS countries together constitute 44 percent of the world population, contributing 40 percent to global GDP and 18 percent to world trade.“Our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way” – Kundapur Vaman Kamath, head of the New Development Bank (NDB)

In keeping with the summit’s theme of ‘BRICS partnership: A powerful factor for global development’, the setting up of a developmental bank was an important outcome, hailed as a “milestone blueprint for cooperation” by a commentator in The China Daily.

The Chinese imprint on the NDB is unmistakable. The Ufa Declaration is clear about the close connection between the NDB and the newly-created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), also largely funded by China. It welcomed the proposal for the New Development Bank to “cooperate closely with existing and new financing mechanisms including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.” China is also keen to set up a regional centre of the NDB in South Africa.

If economic cooperation remained the central plank of the Ufa summit, there is also a clear geopolitical agenda.

The Global Times, China’s more nationalistic international voice, pointed out that the establishment of the NDB and the AIIB will “break the monopoly position of the International Money Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) and motivate [them] to function more normatively, democratically, and efficiently, in order to promote reform of the international financial system as well as democratisation of international relations.”

The reality of global finance is such that any alternative financial institution has to function in a system that continues to be shaped by the West and its formidable domination of global financial markets, information networks and intellectual leadership.

However, China, with its nearly four trillion dollars in foreign currency reserves, is well-placed to attempt this, in conjunction with the other BRICS countries. China today is the largest exporting nation in the world, and is constantly looking for new avenues for expanding and consolidating its trade relations across the globe.

China is also central to the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a Eurasian political, economic and security grouping whose annual meeting coincided with the seventh BRICS summit. Founded in 2001 and comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the SCO has agreed to admit India and Pakistan as full members.

Though the BRICS summit and the SCO meeting went largely unnoticed by the international media – preoccupied as they were with the Iranian nuclear negotiations and the ongoing Greek economic crisis – the economic and geopolitical implications of the two meetings are likely to continue for some time to come.

For host Russia, which also convened the first BRICS summit in 2009, the Ufa meeting was held against the background of Western sanctions, continuing conflict in Ukraine and expulsion from the G8. Partly as a reaction to this, camaraderie between Moscow and Beijing is noticeable – having signed a 30-year oil and gas deal worth 400 billion dollars in 2014.

Beijing and Moscow see economic convergence in trade and financial activities, for example, between China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative for Central Asia and Russia’s recent endeavours to strengthen the Eurasian Economic Union. The expansion of the SCO should be seen against this backdrop. Moscow has also proposed setting up SCO TV to broadcast economic and financial information and commentary on activities in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that a new international developmental agenda is being created, backed by powerful nations, and to the virtual exclusion of the West.

China is the driving force behind this. Despite its one-party system which limits political pluralism and thwarts debate, China has been able to transform itself from a largely agricultural self-sufficient society to the world’s largest consumer market, without any major social or economic upheavals.

China’s success story has many admirers, especially in other developing countries, prompting talk of replacing the ‘Washington consensus’ with what has been described as the ‘Beijing consensus’. The BRICS bank, it would seem, is a small step in that direction.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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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Museums Taking Stand for Human Rights, Rejecting ‘Neutrality’ Tue, 21 Jul 2015 09:54:39 +0000 A. D. McKenzie A visitor looking at a panel at the International Slavery  Museum in Liverpool, England. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A visitor looking at a panel at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
LIVERPOOL, England, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

An exhibition on modern-day slavery at the International Slavery Museum in this northern English town is just one example of a museum choosing to focus on human rights, and being “upfront” about it.

“Social justice just doesn’t happen by itself; it’s about activism and people willing to take risks,” says Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum (ISM).

The institution looks at aspects of both historical and contemporary slavery, while being an “international hub for resources on human rights issues”.

It is a member of the Liverpool-based Social Justice Alliance for Museums (SJAM), formed in 2013 and now comprising more than 80 museums worldwide, and it coordinated the founding of the Federation of International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) in 2010.

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum. Credit: National Museums Liverpool

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum. Credit: National Museums Liverpool

The aim of FIHRM is to encourage museums which “engage with sensitive and controversial human rights themes” to work together and share “new thinking and initiatives in a supportive environment”. Both organisations reflect the way that museums are changing, said Fleming.

“Museums are not dispassionate agents,” he told IPS. “They have a role in safeguarding memory. We have to look at the role of museums and see how they can transform lives.”

The International Slavery Museum’s current exhibition, titled “Broken Lives” and running until April 2016, focuses on the victims of global modern-day slavery – half of whom are said to be in India, and most of whom are Dalits, or people formerly known as “untouchables”.

The display “provides a window into the experiences of Dalits and others who are being exploited and abused through modern slavery in India”, say the curators.

“Dalits still experience marginalisation and prejudice, live in extreme poverty and are vulnerable to human trafficking and bonded labour,” they add.

Presented in partnership with the Dalit Freedom Network, the exhibition uses photographs, film, personal testimony and other means to show “stories of hardship” that include sexual servitude and child bondage. It also profiles the activists working to mend “broken lives”.“Museums [in Liverpool, Nantes, Guadeloupe and Bordeaux ] hope that they can play a role in global citizenship, educating the public and encouraging visitors to leave with a different mind-set – about respect for human rights, social justice, diversity, equality, and sustainability”

The display occupies a temporary exposition space at the museum, which has a permanent section devoted to the atrocities of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the legacy of racism.

Along with the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery in the French city of Nantes and the recently opened Mémorial ACTe in Guadeloupe, the Liverpool museum is one of too few national institutions focused on raising awareness about slavery, observers say.

But it has provided a “vital source of inspiration” to permanent exhibitions on the slave trade in places such as Bordeaux, southwest France, according to the city’s mayor Alain Juppé. Here, the Musée d’Aquitaine hosts a comprehensive division called ‘Bordeaux, Trans-Atlantic Trading and Slavery’ – with detailed, unequivocal information.

These museums hope that they can play a role in global citizenship, educating the public and encouraging visitors to leave with a different mind-set – about respect for human rights, social justice, diversity, equality, and sustainability.

“We try to overtly encourage the public to get involved in the fight for human rights,” Fleming told IPS in an interview. “We’ve often said at the Slavery Museum that we want people to go away fired up with the desire to fight racism.

“You can’t dictate to people what they’re going to think or how they’re going to respond and react,” he continued. “But you can create an atmosphere, and the atmosphere at the Slavery Museum is clearly anti-racist. We hope people will leave thinking: I didn’t know all those terrible things had happened and I’m leaving converted.”

Despite Liverpool’s undeniable history as a major slaving port in the 18th century, not everyone will be affected in the same way, however. There have been swastikas painted on the walls of the museum in the past, as bigots reject the institution’s aims.

“Some people come full of knowledge and full of attitude already, and I don’t imagine that we affect these people. But we’re looking for people in the middle, who might not have thought about this,” Fleming said.

A poster sign for the ‘Broken Lives’ exhibition under way at the International Slavery  Museum in Liverpool. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A poster sign for the ‘Broken Lives’ exhibition under way at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

He described a visit to the museum by a group of English schoolchildren who initially did not comprehend photographs depicting African youngsters whose hands had been cut off by colonialists.

When they were given explanations about the images, the schoolchildren “switched on to the idea that people can behave abominably, based on nothing but ethnicity,” he said.

Fleming visits social justice exhibitions around the world and gives information about the museum’s work, he said. As a keynote speaker, he recently delivered an address about the role of museums at a conference in Liverpool titled ‘Mobilising Memory: Creating African Atlantic Identities’.

The meeting – organised by the Collegium for African American Research (CAAR) and a new UK-based body called the Institute for Black Atlantic Research – took place at Liverpool Hope University at the end of June.

It began a few days after a white gunman killed nine people inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in the U.S. state of South Carolina.

The murders, among numerous incidents of brutality against African Americans over the past year, sparked a sense of urgency at the conference as well as heightened the discussion about activism – and especially the part that writers, artists and scholars play in preserving and “activating” memory in the struggle for social justice and human rights.

“Artists, and by extension museums, have what some people have called a ‘burden of representation’, and they have to deal with that,” said James Smalls, a professor of art history and museum studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).

“Many times, artists automatically are expected to speak on behalf of their ethnic group or community, and some have chosen to embrace that while others try to be exempt,” he added.

Claire Garcia, a professor at Colorado College, said that for a number of academics “there is no necessary link between scholarship and activism” in what are considered scholarly fields.

Such thinkers make the point that scholarship should be “theoretical” and “universal,” and not political or focused on “the specific plights of one group,” she said. However, this standpoint – “when it is disconnected from the embattled humanity” of some ethnic groups – can create further problems.

The concept of museums standing for “social justice” is controversial as well because the issue is seen differently in various parts of the world. The line between “objectifying and educating” also gives cause for debate.

Fleming said that National Museums Liverpool, for example, would not have put on the contentious show “Exhibit B” – which featured live Black performers in a “human zoo” installation; the work was apparently aimed at condemning racism and slavery but instead drew protests in London, Paris and other cities in 2014.

“Personally I loathe all that stuff, so my vote would be ‘no’ to anything similar,” Fleming told IPS. “And that’s not because it’s controversial and difficult but because it’s degrading and humiliating. There are all sorts of issues with it, and I’ve thought about that quite a lot.”

He and other scholars say that they are deeply conscious of who is doing the “story-telling” of history, and this is an issue that also affects museums.

Several participants at the CAAR conference criticised certain displays at the International Slavery Museum, wondering about the intended audience, and who had selected the exhibits, for instance.

A section that showed famous individuals of African descent seemed superficial in its glossy presentation of people such as American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and well-known athletes and entertainers.

Fleming said that museums often face disapproval for both going too far and not going “far enough”. But taking a disinterested stand does not seem to be the answer, because “the world is full of ‘faux-neutral’ museums”, he said.

The most relevant and interesting museums can be those that have a “moral compass”, but they need help as they can “do very little by themselves,” Fleming told IPS. The institutions that he directs often work with non-governmental organisations that bring their own expertise and point of view to the exhibitions, he explained.

Apart from slavery, individual museums around the world have focused on the Holocaust, on apartheid, on genocide in countries such as Cambodia, and on the atrocities committed during dictatorships in regions such as Latin America.

“Some countries don’t want museums to change,” said Fleming. “But in Liverpool, we’re not just there for tourism.”

Edited by Phil Harris

The writer can be followed on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale   

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Young Hondurans Lead Unprecedented Anti-Corruption Movement Tue, 21 Jul 2015 07:02:43 +0000 Thelma Mejia The rain has not stopped the ever-growing weekly torch marches organised by the Outraged Opposition citizen movement in the capital of Honduras and 50 other cities around the country. The peaceful protests are demanding the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity, to combat corruption and strengthen democracy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The rain has not stopped the ever-growing weekly torch marches organised by the Outraged Opposition citizen movement in the capital of Honduras and 50 other cities around the country. The peaceful protests are demanding the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity, to combat corruption and strengthen democracy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
TEGUCIGALPA, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

A Honduran spring is happening, led by young people mobilising over the social networks, who are flooding the streets with weekly torch marches against corruption and impunity.

Since late May, the peaceful movement of young people who declare themselves “indignados” or outraged has broken down the media’s resistance to cover what is happening, and has brought hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets in Tegucigalpa and 50 other cities around the country.

The torch marches are demanding the creation of an international commission to fight corruption and impunity, purge this Central American country’s institutions, and strengthen democracy.

The Oposición Indignada or Outraged Opposition citizen movement is largely made up of middle-class young people upset over the embezzlement of 200 to 300 million dollars in the country’s social security institute (IHSS).“But later, as if by some miracle, everything changed. And now every Friday thousands of us come out together with our torches, peacefully, to call for justice and an end to impunity.” -- Gabriela Blen

According to the investigations, some of the money was used to finance the right-wing National Party (PN), which has governed the country since 2010. The scandal also involved the purchase of equipment at marked-up prices, and of expired medications.

The IHSS scandal is the biggest case of corruption in Honduras in half a century and has caused widespread indignation due to the consequences it has had for the health of Hondurans, who already suffer from the scarcity of medicines in the country’s network of public hospitals.

The fraud and graft in the institution that provides social security and healthcare to both public and prívate-sector employees has severely shaken the government of Juan Orlando Hernández, whose four-year term began in January 2014.

The president ordered the investigations. But he never imagined that the straw that would break the camel’s back would be the use of healthcare funds to finance the campaign that led to his election.

So far, 10 checks totalling 147,000 dollars that went towards his party’s campaign have surfaced. But that figure could increase, if the investigation digs deeply enough, experts say.

Hernández says the party will give the money back, and denies any involvement.

The dozen or so people prosecuted in connection with the scandal include former deputy ministers of health, a former IHSS director and an influential businessman. But the investigators say the list will grow and that powerful governing party figures will soon be implicated.

“What made us come together was the embezzlement, and knowing cases of friends whose relatives died in the social security institute because of the shortage of medications,” Gabriela Blen, a young activist who is one of the founders of Oposición Indignada, told IPS.

“On the social networks we started commenting that young people can’t be so indifferent, and the idea of the torch marches emerged,” she said.

In the last 13 months, the organisation – the Latin American branch of the New York-based Covenant House – documented the murders of 1,076 people between the ages of 13 and 27.

Blen, 27, said that “in the beginning there were just a few of us, only 50 or 100 people who would come out to protest in front of the social security institute building. ‘There go those crazy kids’, they would say.

This country of 8.4 million people is one of the poorest in Latin America: 60 percent of households are poor and 40 percent extremely poor, according to official statistics.

Honduras is also one of the most corrupt countries in the region, along with Venezuela, Paraguay and Nicaragua, according to Transparency international, the global anti-corruption watchdog.

And Honduras is not only plagued by corruption and impunity, but by violence. The homicide rate, 68 per 100,000 population in 2014 according to the Autonomous National University’s Observatory of Violence, makes it one of the most violent countries in the world.

Over 60 percent of the population is young, and according to Casa Alianza, a child advocacy organisation, young people in this country are stigmatised as a result of the violence, much of which is gang-related, while policies aimed at boosting social inclusion are lacking.

“But later, as if by some miracle, everything changed,” she said. “And now every Friday thousands of us come out together with our torches, peacefully, to call for justice and an end to impunity.”

Blen says Honduras has woken up.

Every Friday in Tegucigalpa, and on Saturday or Sunday in another 50 cities, hundreds of thousands of “indignados” or angry, outraged protesters pour onto the streets to demand the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity (CICIH), like the one operating in Guatemala since 2007.

The media, which initially kept silent about the movement, is now covering it, although still in a marginal fashion or to discredit it.

But society is sympathetic towards Oposición Indignada, which has also won recognition from the United Nations and the U.S. embassy.

Members of the movement have met with representatives of the U.N. and the U.S. embassy to ask for support for their demand for the installation of the CICIH.

Eugenio Sosa, an expert on social movements, told IPS that Oposición Indignada has the characteristics of a 21st century social movement.

“These are citizen movements without the classic rigid, hierarchical organisational structure, but with horizontal, fluid chains of command instead. That is why this has gone beyond the country’s political, trade union and social leaderships,” he said.

The sociologist said these movements “emerge around issues, and in this case it’s corruption, particularly in the social security institute. It’s a middle-class movement representing a new generation which is challenging the current political class.”

“Honduras is at an interesting historical juncture,” he said.

The government has ignored the protesters’ demands and has presented its own comprehensive proposal to fight impunity and corruption, without including the creation of the international commission the movement is calling for.

The demonstrators, meanwhile, reject the government’s plan.

Hernández called for a national dialogue but without including the political opposition or the “indignados” movement. Alghough the president said the dialogue would be “inclusive and without preconditions,” only traditional actors from some 30 sectors on good terms with the governing party have been invited so far.

The president also sought support from the U.N. and the Organisation of American States (OAS) to facilitate the dialogue.

The U.N. responded by sending a fact-finding mission which is to issue a report in a few weeks, and the OAS agreed to mediate talks but has not yet appointed facilitators.

During a visit to Honduras on Jul. 8, U.S. State Department special adviser Thomas Shannon called the torch marches a genuine expression of democracy and urged the government to “listen to the people.”

Shannon, who visited the country as part of a tour that also took him to El Salvador and Guatemala, said it would be smart for both the Honduran and the Salvadoran governments to consider setting up international commissions against impunity.

Former attorney general Edmundo Orellana told IPS that the situation is becoming complex because no Honduran president has faced such strong pressure from society.

But the movement – which has demanded that the president resign – says it will not engage in talks with the government until the CICIH is set up.

“And they’re right, because if people in the president’s inner circle are implicated in the social security corruption, what is needed is not talks but impeachment,” said Orellana, the country’s first attorney general, who enjoys great prestige.

Honduras, he said, has been caught up in a serious “crisis of legitimacy” since the 2009 coup that toppled then president Manuel Zelaya. And President Hernández “has lost credibility and popularity, and is really using the state for his own benefit.”

Orellana was referring to Hernández’s tight control over the three branches of the state and over the attorney general’s office itself.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Security Council Defies U.S. Lawmakers by Voting on Iran Nuke Deal Mon, 20 Jul 2015 22:06:29 +0000 Thalif Deen The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2231 (2015), following the historic agreement in Vienna last week between the E3+3 (France, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union; plus China, Russia and the United States) on one hand, and Iran, on the other, on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. Credit: UN Photo

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2231 (2015), following the historic agreement in Vienna last week between the E3+3 (France, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union; plus China, Russia and the United States) on one hand, and Iran, on the other, on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen

When all 15 members of the Security Council raised their collective hands to unanimously vote in favour of the recently-concluded nuclear agreement with Iran, they were also defying a cabal of right-wing conservative U.S. politicians who wanted the United Nations to defer its vote until the U.S. Congress makes its own decision on the pact.

By U.N. standards, in a relatively early morning nine a.m. vote on Monday, the Security Council gave its blessings to the international agreement crafted by its five permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany (P5+1) – which was finalised in Vienna last week after months of protracted negotiations.“Some people just can't accept the fact that we are in an increasingly pluralistic and complex world in which the United States simply cannot assert its will whenever and wherever it feels like." -- Stephen Zunes

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS the United States is the only one of the seven signatory countries (P5+1 and Iran) where there is serious opposition to the agreement, which a broad cross-section of strategic analysts worldwide recognise as the best realistically possible.

“Some people just can’t accept the fact that we are in an increasingly pluralistic and complex world in which the United States simply cannot assert its will whenever and wherever it feels like,” he added.

Successful negotiations require compromises from both sides rather than simply capitulation by one side, said Zunes, who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, one of the prime negotiators of the agreement, responded over the weekend to demands by some U.S. Congressmen that the United States should take political and diplomatic precedence over the United Nations – even on an agreement that was international, not bilateral.

“It’s presumptuous of some people to suspect that France, Russia, China, Germany and Britain ought to do what the (U.S.) Congress tells them to do,” he said during a TV interview.

“They have the right to have a vote,” he said, “but we prevailed on them to delay the implementation of that vote out of respect for our Congress, so we wouldn’t be jamming them,” Kerry added.

According to the New York Times, Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, a ranking Democrat on the panel, sent a joint letter to President Barack Obama last week asking him to postpone the Security Council vote until the U.S. Congress has taken its own decision.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS “it’s often a difficult concept to get across to many members of Congress, but the U.S. government can’t run the world — and sometimes official Washington can’t even run the U.N. Security Council.”

This comes as a shock, or at least an affront, to Republicans and quite a few Democrats on Capitol Hill who may never use the word hegemony but fervently believe that the U.S. is a light onto all nations and should not hide that light under such a dubious bushel as international law, he pointed out.

“In this case, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or scream at the dangerous U.S. congressional arrogance that is seeking to upend the Iran deal,” said Solomon, who is also founder and coordinator of, an online action group with some 600,000 active supporters.

Historically, U.S. government policies have been responsible for a great deal of nuclear proliferation in the world, he said.

“Washington still won’t officially acknowledge that Israel now possesses nuclear weapons, and U.S. leaders have turned aside from any and all proposals to seek a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East,” said Solomon.

On Monday, the 28-member European Union (EU) also approved the Iran nuclear deal paving the way for the lifting of Europe’s economic sanctions against Tehran.

“It is a balanced deal that means Iran won’t get an atomic bomb,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. “It is a major political deal.”

The permanent representative of Britain to the United Nations, Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, expressed similar sentiments Monday when he said “the world is now a safer place in the knowledge that Iran cannot now build a nuclear bomb.”

Solomon told IPS the United States is among the leading countries that have promulgated commercial nuclear power in dozens of nations, steadfastly denying the reality that nuclear energy for electricity generation is a major pathway for the development of nuclear weapons.

“We have seen no acknowledgement of this fact in Washington’s high places, let alone steps to move the world away from such dangerous nuclear-power extravaganzas,” he said.

The Iran nuclear agreement now on the table is one of the few big diplomatic achievements that the Obama administration can legitimately claim some credit for, he argued.

But many of the most chauvinistic forces in Washington, he noted, are now doing their best to undermine it.

“In the context of the United Nations, as well as in political arenas of the United States, this dynamic should be fully recognised for what it is — a brazen attempt by, frankly, warmongers in the U.S. Congress to rescue their hopes for war with Iran from the jaws of a peaceful solution.”

After the vote, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Security Council Resolution 2231, adopted Monday, will ensure the enforcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iran nuclear agreement.

He said it establishes procedures that will facilitate the JCPOA’s implementation, enabling all States to carry out their obligations contained in the Agreement.

“The resolution provides for the eventual removal of all nuclear-related sanctions against Iran. It guarantees that the International Atomic Energy Agency will continue to verify Iran’s compliance with its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.”

The United Nations, he assured, stands ready to provide whatever assistance is required in giving effect to the resolution.

Zunes told IPS as nuclear treaties between the United States and the Soviets demonstrated, you can be geopolitical rivals and strongly oppose the other’s system of government and still recognise there is such a thing as a win/win solution on arms control.

Most agreements regarding nuclear weapons have required reciprocity, but none of Iran’s nuclear-armed neighbours — Israel, Pakistan, or India — will be required to eliminate or reduce their weapons or become open to inspections despite the fact that they continue to be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding their nuclear programmes, he added.

And none of the other nuclear powers, including five of the six nations that led the negotiations, will be required to reduce their arsenals either.

“Any notion that Iran could somehow be gaining an unfair advantage through this agreement is utterly absurd,” declared Zunes.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: Iran Deal Has Far-Reaching Potential to Remake International Relations Mon, 20 Jul 2015 12:14:41 +0000 Arul Louis

Arul Louis, a New York-based journalist and international affairs analyst, is a senior fellow of the Society for Policy Studies. He can be contacted at

By Arul Louis
NEW YORK, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

The Vienna agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council acting in concert with Germany has the potential to remake international relations beyond the immediate goal of stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Courtesy of Arul Louis/ICFJ

Courtesy of Arul Louis/ICFJ

Its impact could be felt at various levels, from United States engagement in the Middle East to the interaction of the competitive global powers, and from the economics of natural resources to the dynamics of Iranian society and politics.

President Barack Obama has invested an inordinate amount of political capital on the deal, challenging many in the United States political arena and Washington’s key allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia in hopes that a breakthrough on Iran would be his presidency’s international legacy along with his Cuba opening.

Obama is gambling on the nation’s war-weariness after the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that took a total toll of 6,855 casualties and, according to a Harvard researcher, is costing the nation at least $4 trillion. He presented the nation with a stark choice: War or Peace.

“There really are only two alternatives here,” he said, “either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically, through a negotiation, or it’s resolved through force, through war.”Even if Washington and Tehran don't recapture the closeness of the Pahlevi era, the U.S. will increase its options in the Middle East, a region posing a growing to the world threat from the Sunni-based Islamic State or ISIL.

Though the deal has been denounced by Republicans and some Democrats, and, earlier, the opponents had taken the unprecedented step of inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make their case before Congress, Obama expects to carry the day. Even if Congress votes against the agreement, Obama reckons the opposition will not be able to able to get the two-thirds majority to override his threatened veto.

Obama’s Iran legacy, if it works according to plan, will not have the impact of Richard Nixon’s opening to China, but it still could mark the end of 36 years of virulent hostilities. Even if Washington and Tehran don’t recapture the closeness of the Pahlevi era, the U.S. will increase its options in the Middle East, a region posing a growing to the world threat from the Sunni-based Islamic State or ISIL. Right now Washington is hamstrung by unsure Sunni allies in the region.

Already in Iraq, the U.S. and Iran have been working with different elements on parallel tracks against ISIL. Obama has been blamed for pulling out U.S. troops from Iraq, although it was largely in keeping with his predecessor George W. Bush’s timetable, and for failing to reach an agreement with Baghdad on stationing some troops beyond the pullout deadline. These have been mentioned as factors leading to the rise of ISIL.

Now, there is a chance for Obama to redeem himself through the cooperation of Iran, even if they will not go to the extent of a formal agreement.

In the other ISIL flashpoint to the west of Iraq, there seems to be implacable differences on Syria. Tehran stands firmly by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington considers the irreconcilable foe of peace in that civil war ravaged country. Bridging this gap even if by face-saving measures would be the true test of a diplomatic shift.

The Iran nuclear issue takes the inevitable colour of a Shia-Sunni conflict. In the first place, the unspoken impetus for Tehran’s nuclear ambitions was Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and the threat from its Sunni fundamentalists against Shias.

Now Pakistan’s stock will rise in Saudi Arabia and other Sunni nations as hedge, a Sunni-dominated nuclear power ranged against Iran, which they mistrust.

Add to this mix Israel, which has developed an unlikely alliance with Saudi Arabia. For Israel, the threat comes from fears of the millenarian trends among some Shia Muslims that could cancel out the insurance that Jerusalem, sacred to the Muslims, provides and Teheran’s venomous, ant-Semitic rhetoric.

But a more immediate issue for Israel is Tehran’s support for the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah. The sanctions against Iran limited its potential financial and material backing for these organisations and the flow of funds after sanctions are lifted could boost Tehran’s adventurism, directly and through proxies, Israel fears.

On the global diplomatic front, the Iran deal is a break from the incessant U.N. Security Council squabbles that have hobbled it as issues like Ukraine, Syria, the South China Sea and assorted hotspots in Africa burn. Russia and China showed they could work intensively with the West. Moscow even earned plaudits from Obama for its role in facilitating the deal.

Russia and Iran share some common interests in places like Syria, Central Asia and the caucuses. An unbridled Tehran could more effectively cooperate with Moscow in these areas.

Economically, Russia, like other oil producers, may be hit by falling oil prices, but the diplomatic congruence and future arms sales could compensate.

For the European Union and China, the deal opens up business opportunities in a nation with tremendous economic potential along with lower oil prices.

Iran has the fourth largest known reserves of oil and its current production of 1.1 million barrels could soar to four million within a year. For most of the developing world, further reduction in oil prices will be a great help, even as it increases political and social pressures in some oil-producers.

The picture for India is mixed . It has been paying for Iranian oil imports in rupees while it has been exporting limited amounts of machinery and chemicals. The bilateral trade is in Iran’s favor and is estimated at about 14 billion dollars, with Indian imports at about 10 billion and exports at about 4 billion.

Now India may be able to buy more oil, but it will have to pay in rupees and its exports will have to compete with the rest of the world. With the prospects sanctions going away, India is already facing Tehran’s truculence in oil and gas and railway projects they had agreed on.

The Chabahar port project remains the strategic cornerstone of India’s ambitious engagement with Iran The port on the Gulf of Oman would give India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia bypassing Pakistan.

Chabahar is also a counterweight to Beijing’s Gawadhar project in Pakistan that would provide another sea outlet for China, Afghanistan and Central Asian countries.

On the nuclear nonproliferation front, the Iranian agreement chalks up a small victory after North Korean blatantly developed nuclear weapons. The world has been unable to confront Pyongyang diplomatically or militarily because of its mercurial nature leadership that borders on the insane.

For the Iranians themselves, the deal could ease up their lives and bringing back some normalcy. The bigger question is how it would play in the dynamics of Iranian politics. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved the deal, but he has since expressed mistrust of the West in keeping its end of the bargain. That may be rein euphoria and send a message to the moderates.

Would the deal lead to a lessening of the paranoia among the religious and nationalist elements in Iran and in turn strengthen the moderates and push the present day heirs of the ancient Persian civilisation towards a relatively liberal modernity? If that were to happen Iran would have truly emerged from the shadows of international isolation.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Mandela Day – Where Do We Stand Today? Sat, 18 Jul 2015 08:21:13 +0000 Tamira Gunzburg

Tamira Gunzburg is Brussels Director of ONE Campaign

By Tamira Gunzberg
BRUSSELS, Jul 18 2015 (IPS)

Today Jul. 18 is Mandela Day, the annual international day in honour of the late Nelson Mandela, the first democratically-elected President of the Republic of South Africa.

The day was instated by the United Nations after Nelson Mandela made a call for the next generation to take on the burden of leadership in addressing the world’s social injustices. Mandela said, “It is in your hands now”.

Courtesy of Tamira Gunzburg

Tamira Gunzburg

Today, then, is a moment to reflect on whether we are indeed rising to that occasion. One of the scourges of humanity today, in Mandela’s own words, is poverty. And 2015 is a year rife with opportunities to make historic strides in the fight against extreme poverty. Halfway through the year, what have our leaders made of this potential?

Many of them will have just arrived home from an international summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week. The summit was meant to land an international agreement on how to finance development going forward. Against difficult odds, world leaders indeed signed up to an agreement that could start to reshape how developing countries are supported in their progress towards growth and prosperity.

But over the months of negotiation preceding the summit, some key areas were watered down. For example, one measure to curb illicit financial flows, involving the public disclosure of multinational companies’ tax reports, was weakened.

A proposed commitment to prioritise the poorest countries by directing half of development assistance there suffered the same fate.

The result is a final agreement that, as it stands, is not ambitious enough to be able to successfully end extreme poverty.“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings” – Nelson Mandela, Trafalgar Square, 3 February 2005

Mandela Day is perfectly timed because his legacy reminds us that now is not the time to give up. Indeed, in just two months’ time, another historic opportunity will be within reach.

At the U.N. General Assembly in New York, world leaders will come together once again, this time to adopt a new set of Global Goals that will shape the future of our planet and its people.

The previous set of anti-poverty goals, the Millennium Development Goals, set in 2000 and due to expire this year, indeed played a critical role in drastically bringing down global average levels of hunger, child mortality, and extreme poverty.

But this time around, the Global Goals are all about finishing the job. In order to reach the very last person at the end of the very last mile, leaders will have to put the most vulnerable at the centre of their efforts from the get-go.

When this new blueprint is unveiled in September, we expect leaders to underpin the goals and objectives with the means and actions needed to actually achieve them by the 2030 deadline.

It would be the perfect opportunity for big donors like the European Union to prioritise the poorest countries by announcing they will direct half of their development aid to the least developed countries.

There are plenty more ways in which individual countries can step up and guarantee that the Global Goals are launched with the best chances of succeeding. I, for one, am optimistic about the prospects of that happening.

Part of that optimism I derive from my South African heritage. My mother, who grew up in South Africa under the cloud of apartheid, always tells me that she grew up convinced the world as she knew it would never change. And then one day it did.

We have Nelson Mandela to thank for that. But also many others who believed that a better world was possible, and who worked tirelessly to change the status quo.

In the year 2015, our generation faces formidable challenges of its own, but looking back at incredible transformations like South Africa’s shows that anything is possible.

In the last twenty years, we already halved the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty, and virtually eliminating it by 2030 is entirely possible if our leaders get it right.

There is no better day than today to contemplate the role each and every one of us can play in making sure we do not fail on that count.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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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Kashmiri Women Suffering a Surge in Gender-Based Violence Fri, 17 Jul 2015 21:15:55 +0000 Athar Parvaiz A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
SRINAGAR, India, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

Rizwana* had hoped and expected that justice would be served – that the man who raped her would be sufficiently punished for his crime. Months after she suffered at his hands, however, the perpetrator remains at large.

"We receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually." -- Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s only women’s police station
Hailing from a poor family in the northwestern part of the Indian administered state of Kashmir, Rizwana worked hard to finish her studies, knowing that if she landed a job it would help ease her family’s financial woes.

When an official in the frontier Kupwara District hired her as an assistant earlier this year, she thought she had struck gold. But she quickly discovered that the man’s support and eagerness to offer her a job was simply a front for ulterior motives.

“After working in the office for just a few days he summoned me to a room on the upper floor and bolted the door. Then he made sexual advances on me. When I objected to his behaviour, he forcibly raped me,” the young graduate told IPS.

Her entire family was traumatised by the experience; Rizwana quit her job and her mother suffered a panic attack that confined her to the hospital for weeks

Rizwana approached the State Women’s Commission (SWC) in Srinagar, the state’s summer capital, and pleaded that the official be terminated from his position and sent to jail.

“But so far nothing has happened,” she said. “While the women’s commission is supporting me, the rapist is yet to be brought to justice as he uses his influence to get away with the crime.”

Militarisation breeds impunity

Anyone who follows the daily headlines in this heavily militarised territory in northern India knows that Rizwana’s case is not unusual. Every year, thousands of women experience sexual or physical abuse, both in and outside their homes, though few come forward to report it.

Women’s rights advocates blame the conflict in Kashmir – which dates back to the 1947 partition of India and has claimed 60,000 lives in six decades – for nursing a culture of impunity that makes women extremely vulnerable to gender-based violence.

In 2007, the Indian government revealed that it had 337,000 army personnel stationed in the region. At the time, this amounted to roughly one soldier for every 18 persons, making Kashmir “the most heavily militarised zone” in the world, according to sociologist Bashir Ahmad Dabla.

In 2013, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on violence against woman stated in her final country report on India that legislative provisions like “the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has mostly resulted in impunity for human rights violations [since] the law protects the armed forces from effective prosecution in non-military courts for human rights violations committed against civilian women among others, and it allows for the overriding of due process rights.”

Noting that impunity for armed forces was “eroding fundamental rights and freedoms […] including dignity and bodily integrity rights for women in Jammu and Kashmir”, the rapporteur called on the Indian government to repeal the Act.

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Two years later, her recommendations are yet to be acted upon, with the result that not only armed forces but officials in any capacity feel at liberty to exploit women’s rights and freedoms, often in the form of sexual transgressions.

For instance, IPS recently gained access to a sexual harassment complaint filed by the female staff of the Kashmir Agricultural University with the State Women’s Commission.

Staff filed a joint appeal earlier this month so as to conceal each woman’s individual identity.

It stated: “Being the working ladies at the university, we want to share with you [the] bitter and hard realities we have been facing for the past many years”, adding that the male staff – and one official in particular – routinely harass the women, using their institutional authority to prevent the victims from taking action.

The complainants are demanding “strict punishment” for the culprits according to provisions on sexual harassment in India’s 2013 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act.

Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor, chairperson of the SWC, told IPS that she acted on the appeal as soon as it was filed, and has already visited the university in order to take up the issue with the necessary authorities.

“They have assured me of initiating a fair probe, and we are expecting a detailed report within a few days,” she stated.

Domestic violence on the rise

These assurances are comforting but hold little weight in a society that routinely puts women’s issues on the backburner, a reality reflected in the low rate of reporting sexual crimes.

The situation is even worse in the domestic sphere, experts say, where spousal or intimate partner violence is on the rise.

Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s lone Women’s Police Station, has been a busy officer over the past few years as she struggles to deal with a growing domestic violence caseload.

On a typical day, she receives between seven and 10 cases of domestic disputes involving violence towards the female partner.

“When this police station was established in 1998, it used to receive far fewer complaints compared to what we have been receiving over the past five-year period,” Akhtar told IPS.

“Now we receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually,” she said, adding that the SWC receives an additional 500 complaints on average every year.

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

These figures – which are conservative estimates, considering that many women are silent about their suffering – reveal that every single day, over five Kashmiri women endure sexual or physical abuse.

Local news reports indicate that Jammu, the state’s winter capital, tops the list of districts with the highest number of domestic violence cases, recording over 1,200 separate incidents since 2009.

Earlier this year, newspapers quoting officials from the State Home Ministry stated that over 4,000 culprits have been booked in connection with these crimes, but rights groups maintain that prosecution levels are too low to act as a deterrent.

This past May, the women’s rights NGO Ehsaas organised a sit-in at Partap Park in Srinagar to draw attention to a surge in domestic violence.

Academics, journalists and activists gathered to mourn a woman whose husband had burned her to death the month before.

Addressing the crowd, Ehsaas Secretary and Women’s Project Consultant Ezabir Ali said, “It is high time to speak out against this barbaric form of human nature and a send message to the government to act strictly against such acts.”

The sit-in called attention to all the many forms of violence against women – from dowry killings and burnings, and from verbal and emotional abuse to rape. In 2013, according to statistics released by the Crime Branch, Kashmir recorded 378 cases of rape, an increase of 75 cases from the year before. Data for 2014-2015 is still pending.

Conflict leaves women vulnerable

Some experts say the increase in such heinous crimes is due to militarisation and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch noted that “a local court recently ordered the reopening of the investigation into alleged mass rapes in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district in 1991. Residents of the villages allege that soldiers raped women during a cordon and search operation.”

Because of the brutality involved in these incidents, and because the victims included old women and young girls alike, scholars and advocates have claimed that it set a precedent for violence against women, since the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice.

Others say violence has risen together with women’s shifting socio-economic role in traditional Kashmiri society. With more women leaving the home to work, men feel their financial hold weakening.

“This is causing conflict as many men […] do not feel comfortable with women acquiring a [better] economic status,” author and sociologist Dabla told IPS.

IPS recently met two women at Srinagar’s Rambagh women police station, one of whom had come to lodge a complaint that her husband was forcing her to hand over her monthly earnings, or risk a divorce.

Indeed, surveys and studies undertaken by the women’s NGO Ehsaas reveal that 75 percent of Kashmiri men “felt their masculinity was threatened” if their wives did not obey them.

Activists working to safeguard women and create a more peaceful society overall say that deep and fundamental changes in both the law and social attitudes are necessary to achieve some degree of gender equality and women’s rights.

*Name changed for her protection

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Civilian Killings? West Literally Gets Away With Murder Thu, 16 Jul 2015 22:03:05 +0000 Thalif Deen Plumes of smoke rise into the evening Afghan sky as Allied air support brings an end to Operation Glacier 4 in February 2007. Operation Glacier 4 was a deliberate action against Taliban Forces in the district of Garmsir by Royal Marines of 42 Commando in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Credit: Sean Clee/OGL license

Plumes of smoke rise into the evening Afghan sky as Allied air support brings an end to Operation Glacier 4 in February 2007. Operation Glacier 4 was a deliberate action against Taliban Forces in the district of Garmsir by Royal Marines of 42 Commando in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Credit: Sean Clee/OGL license

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations continues to come under heavy fire for singling out mostly non-Western states for human rights violations while ignoring the misdeeds of Western nations or big powers.

As part of its annual ritual, the U.N. Third Committee, which deals with human rights issues, has religiously adopted country-specific resolutions every year, mostly critical of nations like Iran, Syria, Cuba and North Korea for their infractions.“Given the importance of the U.S. to the global system of governance, it is important for this nation not to be exempt from that which it demands from others.” -- Dr Gerald Horne

But none of these resolutions have been adopted unanimously – rather, with an increasing number of abstentions.

Last November, the resolution criticising Syria for human rights violations was adopted by a vote of 125 in favour with 13 against and 47 abstentions; the vote on North Korea was 111 in favour with 19 against and 55 abstentions; and the vote on Iran was 78 to 35 with 69 abstentions.

Still, both the United Nations and its Human Rights Council (HRC) have rarely, if ever, launched an investigation into civilian killings, including of women and children, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen by drone attacks or aerial bombings by the United States and its Western allies.

“They literally get away with murder,” says one Asian diplomat, complaining about the double standards on human rights violations and war crimes.

Currently, the Geneva-based HRC has Commissions of Inquiry or Fact-Finding Missions related to four countries: Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Sri Lanka and Gaza (on the civilian killings by Israel in the conflict back in July last year).

But most of these human rights violations, including political repression, torture or war crimes, are within the territorial borders of these countries.

Dr Gerald Horne, Moores Professor of History and African-American Studies at the University of Houston, told IPS even the recent spate of police shootings in the United States, of mostly unarmed African-Americans, merits a thorough investigation by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“It is true that U.S. allies will object. However, the U.S. itself has established a precedent by its frequent call for investigations of the internal affairs of U.N. member states,” he said.

Yet, he pointed out, “given the importance of the U.S. to the global system of governance, it is important for this nation not to be exempt from that which it demands from others.”

In recent years, according to published reports, there has been a spate of racially motivated killings by the police or by law enforcement officials, including in Staten Island, New York, Ferguson, Missouri, Brooklyn, New York and in Chicago in the U.S. state of Illinois.

Dr Horne said “given that the U.S. is a nuclear power on hair-trigger alert, it is quite disturbing to see an urban insurrection just miles from the White House in Baltimore – after yet another killing of an unarmed African-American man.”

Arguably, it would not be unfair to suggest that this dire situation too represents a grave threat to international peace and security that the U.N. should ignore at its peril.

“I should add parenthetically that historically the U.S. has required external intervention to resolve nagging internal issues; for example, it is now well recognised that British abolitionists played a major role in forcing the collapse of slavery in the U.S. in the 19th century.”

Today’s outrages in the U.S. demand no less, declared Dr Horne, who has authored more than 30 books, including the premier study of civil unrest in Los Angeles in 1960s, along with several publications on the slave trade.

The issue of political double standards has been vociferously highlighted by Sri Lanka: a country accused of civilian killings at the end of its decades long battle against separatists in its northern province in May 2009.

Addressing the U.N.’s Third Committee last year, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona said current developments in the Human Rights Council suggest that its credibility was gradually eroding as a result of its increasing politicisation.

“A handful of countries had been selected for adverse attention by the Council, while others in similar circumstances were ignored,” he added.

Turning to the Council’s resolution related to his country, he said the text had infringed on the fundamental principles of international law, which required that national mechanisms needed to be exhausted before resorting to international measures, and had challenged its sovereignty and independence.

Asked about the rising civilians killings attributed to U.S. drone attacks, Dr Horne told IPS the legally questionable drone warfare of the U.S. authorities is an unfortunate complement to the repetitive slayings of unarmed African-American men and boys (Tamir Rice in Cleveland had yet to reach his teen years before he was slain on videotape).

Surely, it establishes a dangerous precedent when a U.N. member state – the U.S. – is allowed to slay its own citizens and then slay others abroad, while all the while complaining about the internal affairs of sovereign states worldwide, he argued.

Asked about double standards on human rights violations, Dr Horne said assuredly, there is a double standard in international relations which is quite corrosive of international peace and security.

He said the ancestors of the U.S. authorities kidnapped Africans from the region stretching from Senegal to Angola, with a particular emphasis on the Congo River basin, then rounding the Cape to seize Africans in Madagascar, Mozambique and Zanzibar.

“This crime against humanity weakened all of these U.S. member states and then, to exacerbate the original crime, the descendants of these captive Africans are now slain like wild boar in the woods.”

Sadly, he noted, the international community has been quiet about this outrage which no doubt convinces the U.S. authorities that if they can slay their “own” citizens with impunity, then certainly they can act similarly abroad with drone warfare.

This matter cries out for “humanitarian intervention” by the international community, he declared, in a challenge to the United Nations.

Addressing the opening session of the HRC last March, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein criticised member states for ‘cherry-picking’ human rights – advocating some and openly violating others – perhaps to suit their own national or political interests.

Despite ratifying the U.N. charter reaffirming their faith in fundamental human rights, there are some member states who, “with alarming regularity”, are disregarding and violating human rights, “sometimes to a shocking degree,” he said.

“They pick and choose between rights,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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