Inter Press Service » Global Geopolitics http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 27 Feb 2015 19:01:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Opinion: The Middle East and Perpetual Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:27:23 +0000 Leon Anderson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139398 Palestinians demonstrating outside the UN office in Gaza calling for freedom for political prisoners. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Palestinians demonstrating outside the UN office in Gaza calling for freedom for political prisoners. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

By Leon Anderson
PHILADELPHIA, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

There is a currently popular idea in Washington, D.C. that the United States ought to be doing more to quash the recently born Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), because if we don’t, they will send terrorists to plague our lives.

Incredibly, most of the decision makers and policy influencers in Washington also agree that America has no standing in the Middle East; that is, the U.S. has no natural influence based on territorial proximity, ethnicity, religion, culture, politics or shared history. In short, the only apparent reason for our presence in the Middle East is to support Israel.Oil is not a weapon as some would have us believe. As the Middle East, and now Russia, knows all too well, it is a crutch.

To say that the United States is universally resented by everyone in the region is a massive understatement. That we are hated, despised, and the sworn enemies of many, is not difficult to understand. There is no moral ground under our feet in any religion. Stealing is universally condemned.

Abetting in the pillaging of Palestinians and their land is hard to justify. Yet we keep sending Israel military and financial aid, we support them in the United Nations, and we ignore the pleas of Israel’s neighbours to stop the spread of settlers on more stolen land.

There was once an old canard that we had to intervene in the Middle East to protect the flow of oil to Western Europe and America. But since the defeat of Nazi Germany in North Africa, that threat has never again existed. The fact is that the source of most of the wealth in the Middle East is oil, which is a commodity; there’s a lot of it all over the world.

If it’s not sold, the producer countries’ economies collapse, because that’s all they have on which to survive. They are, few of them in the Middle East, industrial economies, or mercantile economies. They are almost completely dependent on oil exports to Europe and Asia for their economic survival.

The oil crunch in 1973 that saw prices rise in the West and shortages grow was a temporary phenomenon produced by the Persian Gulf countries that was impossible to sustain. It was like a protest movement, a strike. It ended by costing OPEC a lot of money and by spurring a world-wide surge in exploration and drilling for more oil supplies.

Oil is not a weapon as some would have us believe. As the Middle East, and now Russia, knows all too well, it is a crutch.

Therefore, we get down to the real reasons why the United States is involved militarily in the Middle East. One, we clearly don’t need their oil. A possible reason for being there is conquest: we covet Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan for ourselves. I think we can dismiss that notion as absurd and move on.

Then the question screams: Why are we there? Why are we continuing to give ISIS and other extremist, nationalistic groups a reason to hate us and want to destroy us?

The only answer is Israel. We have made Israel the artificial hegemonic power in the region against the will of everyone who is native to the area. We have lost all credibility among Arabs, all moral standing and nearly all hope of ever restoring either.

The United States has become a pariah in the Middle East, and the result is that we will be faced with endless war and terrorist attacks for ages to come unless we make a dramatic change of course in our foreign policy—namely, stop supporting an Israeli regime that will not make peace with its neighbours.

An organisation called the Jewish Voice for Peace has endorsed a call from Palestinians for a boycott of Israel, divestment of economic ties, and sanctions (on the order of those imposed on Iran and Russia) to encourage Israel to end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied since 1967.

The JVP urges Israel to dismantle the grotesque wall they have built to keep the Palestinians out of territory that was once theirs; to recognise Palestinians as citizens of Israel with equal rights; and to recognise the right of refugees to return to their homes and properties in Israel as stipulated in U.N . Resolution 194.

The argument that we are fighting ISIS because they threaten our democracy is absurdly infantile. That’s another of those political throwaways we hear because our leaders think we’re all simpletons who can’t figure things out for ourselves.

How on earth could 40,000 or 100,000 disaffected Arabs destroy American democracy? They are fighting us because we are there fighting them. Let us go home, and they would have no reason to fight us.

I suggest this avenue knowing full well that some may say that we must instill the spirit of democracy among these people or there will never be peace in the world. Excuse me, but there will never be peace in the world. We all thought that when Gorbachev gave up the Soviet Empire a new era of Russian democracy would ensue.

Instead, Russia got drunken and loutish leadership until a strongman, in the Russian historical context, Vladimir Putin, took over. Democracy cannot be exported. It has to be wanted and won in the light of local historical, religious, social and economic needs. If they want what we have, Arab women will find a way to get it.

In spite of all this more or less common knowledge, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, warns us that if we don’t crush Iran, if we don’t continue to support Israel and back their hegemony, the world will collapse in anarchy, and democracy will be lost to all of us. I ask you: how much of this nonsense are you willing to take? Someone has to begin a discussion on what the hell we’re doing in the Middle East—and do it soon.

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.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Europe Under Merkel’s (Informal) Leadershiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-europe-under-merkels-informal-leadership/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-europe-under-merkels-informal-leadership http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-europe-under-merkels-informal-leadership/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 09:32:32 +0000 Emma Bonino http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139392

In this column, Emma Bonino, a former Italian foreign minister and former European Commissioner, argues that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the de facto representative of Europe in the world today, putting other European heads of states and institutions in the shade. Moreover, the economic and political measures taken by EU member countries since 2008 have aimed at “renationalising” their interests, and the author fears that a definitive crisis of the European federalist project is on the horizon.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

When I am asked whether Europe is still a relevant “protagonist” in the modern world, I always answer that there is no doubt about it. For a long time now, the continent has been shaken by financial crises, internal security strategy crises – including wars – and instability within its borders, which definitely make it a protagonist in world affairs. 

If the question asked were about what the leading role of the European Union actually is, it is enough to take a look at a few days’ entries in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s diary.

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino

On Thursday Feb. 5 she was in Moscow with French President François Hollande for negotiations on the Ukraine crisis with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the following day she met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for talks in Kiev. At the weekend she was back in Munich, where she argued publicly for resistance against increasing pressure from the United States to arm the Ukrainian forces.

On Monday Feb. 9 Merkel was in Washington, where she obtained – at least temporarily – U.S. President Barack Obama’s agreement to her stand against providing arms to Ukraine, in order to maintain a favourable climate for the negotiations that were about to be held in Minsk.

Next she went to Minsk to participate in three exhausting days of talks including a 17-hour debate with the presidents of Russia and Ukraine, which led to a proposal of truce in Ukraine, presented on Thursday Feb. 12 to an informal meeting of E.U. heads of state in Brussels.

This brief overview, and the reports and images disseminated in the media, clearly show that Angela Merkel personifies the global role of Europe and puts other European heads of state and institutions in the shade.

Other protagonists on the international stage, like Obama and Putin, show a similar perception when they make important agreements with the German Chancellor.

In my federalist vision of Europe, it would be just perfect if Merkel were the president of the United States of Europe. Unfortunately, that is not the case.“I am convinced that Berlin is aware that Germany is called on to shoulder strategic responsibilities that go beyond its status as an economic superpower”

I do not want to dwell on the oversimplified dilemma that has been exercising think tanks for years: Are we moving towards a Europeanised Germany, or towards a Germanised Europe?

But I am convinced that Berlin is aware that Germany is called on to shoulder strategic responsibilities that go beyond its status as an economic superpower. This view is reinforced by the certainty that the proposal to reform the United Nations Security Council by granting Berlin a permanent seat is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

And if, at some date far in the future, such a reform of the Security Council is approved, the Council’s powers may by then have been reduced.

I believe this because in the last few months, while the events that are public knowledge were happening in Syria, in Iraq, with respect to the Islamic State, in Ukraine, in Sudan, Libya and Nigeria, the Security Council was conspicuous by its absence.

Furthermore, it is a disappointing surprise to witness the almost non-existent resilience of the institutions created by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, which reformed the European Union. At the time they were praised as a new departure in the framework of international law and as the consolidation of a united European foreign policy.

While we watched the serious conflict in Ukraine on our continent, many of us asked ourselves what the top E.U. authorities, who had been elected transnationally for the first time, were doing: E.U. President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.

What credibility can possibly remain for structures that are systematically side-lined when conflicts become red-hot?

The problem does not lie in the persons who perform these functions. Such an analysis would be too superficial.

It is rather a question of ascertaining whether European institutions are sufficiently robust to resist what many call a return to the Westphalian system, that is, to the treaties of 1648 that demarcated a new order in Europe founded on the nation-state as the basis of international relations.

Outside Europe, this tendency has been developing for some time. The role of global power is increasingly taken over by “mega states”: the United States, Russia, China, India, and soon to include Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia.

The European Union has difficulty matching up to these as a valid counterpart.

I am afraid that this tendency may lead to the definitive crisis of the European federalist project. However, we federalists must resist the trend and reflect on the best way to face the situation.

Since 2008, the economic and political measures taken by EU member countries have aimed at “renationalising” their interests, with the exception of actions implemented by Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank.

Consequently, Europe has abandoned the pursuit of a common foreign policy and has reverted to inter-governmental practices that prioritise national interests.

The dilemma is clear: either the European Union is a global power and is recognised as such, or Europe will be represented by others in crucial debates.

In this context, what is emerging is that Germany is increasingly taking on a new role.

This process began with the bizarre designation in 2006 of a group of countries to negotiate with Iran, known as 3+3, or more commonly, outside Europe, as 5+1: the five permanent members of the Security Council (the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France) plus Germany.

Since then Berlin has taken on a leading role, not only in the European context but also in many international affairs, often on behalf of the European Union.

To sum up: the European Union works jointly to the extent that this is possible. After that there is a level at which decisions – and responsibilities – are taken by those with the power to do so. That is the scheme practised in today’s Europe. It is time for other Europeans to sit up and take notice. (END/IPS 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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Human Rights in Asia and the Pacific: A “Regressive” Trend, Says Amnesty Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 23:03:11 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139360 Protestors armed with bamboo sticks faced police in riot gear in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on May 4, 2013. Credit: Kajul Hazra/IPS

Protestors armed with bamboo sticks faced police in riot gear in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on May 4, 2013. Credit: Kajul Hazra/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

The cradle of some of the world’s most ancient civilizations, home to four out of the planet’s six billion people, and a battleground for the earth’s remaining resources, Asia and the Pacific are poised to play a defining role in international affairs in the coming decade.

But what does the future look like for those working behind the scenes in these rising economies, fighting to safeguard basic rights and ensure an equitable distribution of wealth and power in a region where 70 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day?

In its flagship annual report, the State of the World’s Human Rights, released Wednesday, Amnesty International (AI) slams the overall trend in the region as being “regressive”, pinpointing among other issues a poor track record on media freedom, rising violence against ethnic and religious minorities, and state repression of activists and civil society organisations.

The presence of armed groups and continuing conflict in countries like Pakistan, particularly in its northern tribal belt known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), as well as in Myanmar and Thailand, constitute a major obstacle to millions of people trying to live normal lives.

Much of the region’s sprawling population is constantly on the move, with the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) counting 3.5 million refugees, 1.9 million internally displaced people (IDPs), and 1.4 million stateless people, mostly hailing from Afghanistan and Myanmar.

UNHCR has documented a host of challenges facing these homeless, sometimes stateless, people in the Asia-Pacific region including sexual violence towards vulnerable women and girls and a lack of access to formal job markets pushing thousands into informal, bonded or other exploitative forms of labor.

Intolerance towards religious minorities remains a thorny issue in several countries in Asia; Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have allowed for the continued prosecution of Shi’a Muslims, Ahmadis and Christians, while hard-line Buddhist nationalist groups in both Myanmar and Sri Lanka have operated with impunity, leading to attacks – sometimes deadly – on Muslim communities.

Meanwhile, ethnic Tibetans in China have encountered an iron fist in their efforts to practice their rights to freedom of assembly, speech, and political association. Since 2009, about 130 people have set themselves aflame in protest of the Chinese government’s authoritarian rule in the plateau.

A dark forecast for women and girls

Despite all the conventions ratified and millions of demonstrators in the streets, violence against women and girls continues unchecked across Asia and the Pacific, says the AI report.

In the Pacific island of Papua New Guinea, home to seven million people, an estimated 75 percent of women and girls experience some form of gender-based or domestic violence, largely due to the age-old practice of persecuting women in the predominantly rural country for practicing ‘sorcery’.

In the first six months of 2014, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission had recorded 4,154 cases of violence against women, according to the AI report, while India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported an average of 24,923 rapes per year.

A 2013 U.N. Women study involving 10,000 men throughout Asia and the Pacific found that nearly half of all respondents admitted to using physical or sexual abuse against a partner.

According to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), two out of every five girls in South Asia could wind up as child brides, with the highest prevalence in Bangladesh (66 percent), tailed closely by India (47 percent), Nepal (41 percent) and Afghanistan (39 percent).

“In East Asia and the Pacific,” the organisation said, “the prevalence of child marriage is 18 percent, with 9.2 million women aged 20-24 married as children in 2010.”

Holding the State accountable

Amnesty’s report presents a cross-section of government responses to activism, including in China – where rights defender Cao Shunli passed away in a hospital early last year after being refused proper medical treatment – and in North Korea, where “there appeared to be no independent civil society organisations, newspapers or political parties [and] North Koreans were liable to be searched by the authorities and could be punished for reading, watching or listening to foreign media materials.”

Imposition of martial law in Thailand saw the detention of several activists and the banning of gatherings of more than five people, while the re-introduction of “colonial-era sedition legislation” in Malaysia allowed the government to crack down on dissidents, AI says.

Citizens of both Myanmar and Sri Lanka faced a virtually zero-tolerance policy when it came to organised protest, with rights defenders and activists of all stripes detained, threatened, attacked or jailed.

Throughout the region media outlets had a bad year in 2014, with over 200 journalists jailed and at least a dozen murdered according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Amnesty’s report also found torture and other forms of ill treatment to be a continuing reality in the region, naming and shaming such countries as China, North Korea, the Philippines and Sri Lanka for their poor track record.

An earlier Amnesty International report, ‘Torture in 2014: 30 years of broken promises’, found that 23 Asia-Pacific states were still practicing torture, three decades after the U.N. adopted its 1984 Convention Against Torture.

The report found evidence of torture and ill treatment ranging “from North Korea’s brutal labour camps, to Australia’s offshore processing centres for asylum seekers or Japan’s death rows – where prisoners are kept in isolation, sometimes for decades.”

In Pakistan the army, state intelligence agencies and the police all stand accused of resorting to torture, while prisoners detained by both the policy and military in Thailand allege they have experienced torture and other forms of ill treatment while in custody.

In that same vein, governments’ continued reliance on the death penalty across Asia and the Pacific demonstrates a grave violation of rights at the most basic level.

Amnesty International reported that 500 people were at risk of execution in Pakistan, while China, Japan and Vietnam also carried on with the use of capital punishment.

Perhaps the only positive trend was a rise in youth activism across the region, which is home to 640 million people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the United Nations. The future of the region now lies with these young people, who will have to carve out the spaces in which to build a more tolerant, less violent society.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Better to Die at Sea, than Languish in Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/better-to-die-at-sea-than-languish-in-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=better-to-die-at-sea-than-languish-in-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/better-to-die-at-sea-than-languish-in-poverty/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 17:31:46 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139349 For most Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just a sad return journey home. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

For most Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just a sad return journey home. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

Weerasinghearachilage Ruwan Rangana had it all planned out last year in September: the big break that would change his life and those of his extended family had finally arrived.

The Sri Lankan youth in his early twenties was not too worried that the arrangement meant he had to make a clandestine journey in the middle of the night to a beach, board a two-decade-old trawler with dozens of others and be ready to spend up to three weeks on the high seas in a vessel designed to carry loads of fish.

“Besides trade and security, a large driver of the Australian government’s foreign policy is its single-minded focus on ensuring that all asylum seekers or refugees are processed at offshore facilities." -- Human Rights Watch
He and his fellow commuters prayed that the boat would not crack in two before it reached Australian waters, where they all expected to find a pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow.

Rangana told IPS that most of the roughly three-dozen people on board were leaving in search of better economic prospects, though members of the minority Tamil community are known to take the same journey to escape political persecution.

The boat ride was the relatively easy part. After reaching Australia, Rangana would have to seek asylum, land a job and secure an income, before beginning the process of bringing his family there to join him.

“At least, that was the plan,” said the young man who was a contract employee of the state-owned Ceylon Transport Board in the remote village of Angunakolapelessa in Sri Lanka’s southern Hambantota District earning a monthly salary of 12,000 rupees (about 90 dollars) when he took the boat ride.

Half of the plan – the life-threatening part – worked. The other part – the life-changing one – did not.

Despite a leaking hull, the vessel did reach Australian waters, but was apprehended by the Australian Navy, newly emboldened by a policy to turn back boatloads of asylum seekers after fast-tracked processing at sea, sometimes reportedly involving no more than a single phone call with a border official.

By mid-September Rangana was back in Sri Lanka, at the southern port city of Galle where he and dozens of others who were handed over to Sri Lankan authorities were facing court action.

Thankfully he did not have to spend days inside a police cell or weeks in prison. He was bailed out on 5,000 rupees (about 45 dollars), a stiff sum for his family who barely make 40,000 rupees (about 300 dollars) a month.

Now he sits at home with no job and no savings – having sunk about 200,000 rupees (1,500 dollars) into his spot on the rickety fishing boat – and makes ends meet by doing odd jobs.

“Life is hard, but maybe I can get to Australia some day. I did get to the territorial waters; does that mean I have some kind of legal right to seek citizenship there?” he asks, oblivious to the tough policies of the Australian administration towards immigrants like himself.

Clamping down on ‘illegal’ entry

Since Australia launched Operation Sovereign Borders in September 2013 following the election of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, at least 15 boats have been turned back at sea, including the one on which Rangana was traveling, to Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Last year only one boat reached Australia, according to the government.

The programme has resulted in a significant drop in the number of illegal maritime arrivals in Australia. Compared to the one boat that reached Australia in 2014, the 2012-2013 period saw 25,173 persons reaching the country safely.

In the 10 months prior to the controversial military programme, 281 unauthorized boats arrived with a total of 19,578 people on board, according to the Australian Department of Immigration.

Just this past week, Australian authorities interviewed four Sri Lankans at sea, and sent them back to the island. Officials claim that the new screening process saves lives and assures that Australian asylum policies are not abused.

“The Coalition government’s policies and resolve are stopping illegal boat arrivals and are restoring integrity to Australia’s borders and immigration programme. Anyone attempting to enter Australia illegally by sea will never be resettled in this country,” Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s office said in a statement this week.

As of end-January, there were 2,298 persons in immigration detention facilities in Australia, of whom 8.1 percent were Sri Lankans.

The policy has been criticised by activists as well as rights groups, including by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“UNHCR’s position is that they (asylum seekers) must be swiftly and individually screened, in a process which they understand and in which they are able to explain their needs. Such screening is best carried out on land, given safety concerns and other limitations of doing so at sea,” the agency said in a statement earlier this month.

According to the international watchdog Human Rights Watch, “Besides trade and security, a large driver of the Australian government’s foreign policy is its single-minded focus on ensuring that all asylum seekers or refugees are processed at offshore facilities.

“The government has muted its criticism of authoritarian governments in Sri Lanka and Cambodia in recent years, apparently in hopes of winning the support of such governments for its refugee policies,” the rights group added in a statement released last month.

The end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long civil conflict and the election of a new, possibly more democratic government in January this year add to Canberra’s justification for turning away those who seek shelter within its borders.

In reality, the risk for asylum seekers is still high. Newly appointed Minister of Justice Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe told IPS that the government was yet to discuss any changes to accepting returnees. “They will face legal action; change in such a policy is not a priority right now,” he added.

Lawyers working with asylum seekers say their clients are unlikely to face extended jail terms, but could be slapped with fines of up to 100,000 rupees (750 dollars), still a lot of money for poor families.

Even if the legal process is swift, and those impounded are able to post bail, their reasons for wanting to leave remain the same.

Take the case of Kanan*, a young man from the war-torn northern town of Kilinochchi. He took a boat in August 2013 after paying a 750-dollar fee, agreeing to pay the remaining 6,750 dollars once he reached Australia.

He never even made it halfway. Six days into the journey, the boat broke down and was towed ashore by the Sri Lankan Navy.

He was fleeing poverty – his home district boasts unemployment rates over twice the national figure of four percent – and possible political persecution, not an unusual occurrence among the Tamil community both during and after Sri Lanka’s civil war.

He knows that very few have gotten to the Australian mainland and that even those whose cases have been deemed legitimate could end up in the Pacific islands of Nauru or Papua New Guinea.

But Kanan still hopes to give his ‘boat dream’ another try. “There is no hope here; even risking death [to reach Australia] is worth it,” says the unemployed youth.

*Name changed on request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Syria’s “Barrel Bombs” Cause Human Devastation, Says Rights Grouphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/syrias-barrel-bombs-cause-human-devastation-says-rights-group/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrias-barrel-bombs-cause-human-devastation-says-rights-group http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/syrias-barrel-bombs-cause-human-devastation-says-rights-group/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 22:18:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139328 A girl cries near a damaged car at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo's Dahret Awwad neighbourhood Jan. 29, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

A girl cries near a damaged car at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo's Dahret Awwad neighbourhood Jan. 29, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2015 (IPS)

The warring parties in the brutal four-year-old military conflict in Syria, which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 civilians and triggered “the greatest refugee crisis in modern times,” continue to break every single pledge held out to the United Nations.

Despite Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s plea for a political rather than military solution to the country’s ongoing civil war, both the Syrian government and the multiple rebel forces continue to escalate the conflict with aerial attacks and artillery shelling, hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid.“Amid talk of a possible temporary cessation of strikes on Aleppo, the question is whether Russia and China will finally allow the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions to stop barrel bombs.” -- Nadim Houry

But the worst of it, says Human Rights Watch (HRW) in report released Tuesday, is the use of locally improvised deadly “barrel bombs.”

By examining satellite imagery, HRW said, it has identified at least 450 distinct major damage sites in 10 towns and villages held by rebel groups in Daraa and over 1,000 in Aleppo between February last year and January this year.

“These impact sites have damage signatures strongly consistent with the detonation of large, air-dropped munitions, including improvised barrel and conventional bombs dropped by helicopters. Damages that possibly result from the use of rockets, missiles, or fuel-air bombs are also likely in a number of instances,” the group said.

According to HRW, barrel bombs are unguided high explosive weapons that are cheaply made, locally produced, and typically constructed from large oil drums, gas cylinders, and water tanks, filled with high explosives and scrap metal to enhance fragmentation, and then dropped from helicopters usually flying at high altitude.

Asked if the explosives in the barrel bombs originate either from Russia or China, two strong political and military allies of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the United Nations Director of HRW Philippe Bolopion told IPS: “We are not in a position to say where the high explosive is coming from but barrel bombs are pretty primitive and made from commonly found materials.”

With the 15-member Security Council deadlocked over Syria, there is little or no hope that Russia and China, two members with veto powers, will ever relent or penalise the Assad regime despite several resolutions.

“We certainly hope they will stand by their own resolution and impose consequences on the regime for thumbing its nose at the Security Council,” Bolopion said.

Asked if protests by HRW and other human rights organisations will be an exercise in futility, he said: “Sadly, when thousands of civilians are being slaughtered, we have to continue to place the Security Council, and Russia and China in particular, in front of their responsibilities, no matter how futile it may sound.”

Nadim Houry, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said: “For a year, the Security Council has done nothing to stop Bashar al-Assad’s murderous air bombing campaign on rebel-held areas, which has terrorized, killed, and displaced civilians.

“Amid talk of a possible temporary cessation of strikes on Aleppo, the question is whether Russia and China will finally allow the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions to stop barrel bombs,” Houry said.

The Security Council is expected to meet Thursday for its next round of reporting on resolution 2139 of Feb. 22, 2014, which demanded that all parties to the conflict in Syria end the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs and other weapons in populated areas.

In a statement released Tuesday, HRW said non-state armed groups have also conducted indiscriminate attacks, including with car bombs and explosive weapons in government held areas.

The Security Council should impose an arms embargo on the government as well as rebel groups implicated in widespread or systematic indiscriminate attacks, HRW said.

The government attacks have led to the death and injury of thousands of civilians in rebel-held territory, according to HRW researchers.

The Violations Documentation Center (VDC), a local monitoring group, has documented 609 civilian deaths, including 203 children and 117 women, in Daraa from aerial attacks between Feb. 22, 2014, and Feb. 19, 2015.

During the same period they have documented 2,576 civilian deaths in Aleppo governorate from aerial attacks, including 636 children and 317 women.

While deaths from aerial attacks are not exclusively from barrel bombs, residents from rebel-held territory in Daraa and Aleppo told HRW that barrel bombs account for a majority of air strikes.

Last week, Ban appealed to all parties to de-escalate the conflict in order to provide a reprieve for the long-suffering civilians of Syria. An immediate de-escalation is a much needed step towards a political solution to the conflict, he added

U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council last week that the Syrian government has committed to suspend all aerial attacks and artillery shelling over the entire city of Aleppo for a period of six weeks.

This is in order to allow the United Nations to implement a pilot project of unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid starting with one district in Aleppo and building incrementally to others.

Ban said Security Council resolution 2139 called for an end to the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas in Syria, including shelling and aerial bombardment, and expects the Syrian government to follow through on its commitment.

The secretary-general also appealed to all armed opposition groups in Aleppo to suspend their shelling of the city.

He pointed out that the last four years of war have led to the deaths of over 200,000 civilians, the greatest refugee crisis of modern times and created an environment in which extremist groups and terrorist organisations such as ISIL/Daesh flourish.

The secretary-general recalled Security Council resolutions 2170 and 2178 and stressed that there is no military solution to this conflict.

“This is a political conflict. Ending the killing, reversing the increasing fragmentation of Syria requires a political process, based on the full implementation of the Geneva Communique of 2012, that addresses the deep roots of the conflict and meets the aspirations of all Syrians,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Tackling Corruption at its Root in Papua New Guineahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tackling-corruption-at-its-root-in-papua-new-guinea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tackling-corruption-at-its-root-in-papua-new-guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tackling-corruption-at-its-root-in-papua-new-guinea/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 15:50:04 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139320 Transparency International (PNG) organises an annual Walk Against Corruption in Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Transparency International (PNG) organises an annual Walk Against Corruption in Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Feb 24 2015 (IPS)

Corruption, the single largest obstacle to socioeconomic development worldwide, has had a grave impact on the southwest Pacific Island nation of Papua New Guinea. While mineral resource wealth drove high gross domestic product (GDP) growth of eight percent in 2012, the country is today ranked 157th out of 187 countries in terms of human development.

Key anti-corruption fighters in the country say that money laundering must be tackled to increase deterrence and ensure that stolen public funds earmarked for vital hospitals and schools do not pay for luxury assets abroad.

A patronage system of governance and a culture of secrecy have led to the misappropriation of an estimated half of Papua New Guinea's development budget of 7.6 billion kina (about 2.8 billion dollars) between 2009 and 2011 -- Investigation Task-Force Sweep (ITFS)
“Our police officers, school teachers and health workers live and work in very squalid circumstances,” Lawrence Stephens, chairman of Transparency International (PNG), in the capital, Port Moresby, told IPS.

“So when we see the government awarding a contract for pharmaceutical and medical supplies to a company not qualified to tender, a company quoting a price 40 percent higher than the closest qualified tender and costing the equivalent of 160 new homes for nurses each year of the three-year contract, we blame corrupt individuals for destroying development.”

Papua New Guinea has been given a corruption score of 25/100, where 100 indicates clean governance, in comparison to the world average of 43/100, by Transparency International.

The country’s dedicated anti-corruption team, Investigation Task-Force Sweep (ITFS), launched by the government in 2011, has described the country as a ‘mobocracy’, where a patronage system of governance and a culture of secrecy have led to the misappropriation of an estimated half of the development budget of 7.6 billion kina (about 2.8 billion dollars) from 2009 to 2011.

Large-scale theft of public funds, including foreign aid, is alleged to have occurred across government departments responsible for national planning, health, petroleum and energy, finance and justice.

A 2006 Public Accounts Committee Inquiry into the Lands Department alone concluded that it had conducted itself illegally over many years and given priority to the interests of private enterprise and speculators over the interests and lawful rights of the State. The department’s shortfall in revenue was 5.9 million kina (2.2 million dollars) in 2001 and 4.9 million kina (1.8 million dollars) in 2003.

State capture, where powerful private sector interests exert undue influence over state leaders, officials and procurement processes, has had devastating repercussions for national development. Approval of ‘white elephant projects’ has channelled windfalls to criminal syndicates, Sam Koim, the ITFS Chairman, reported in the Griffith Law Journal.

Koim told IPS that, of 302 cases of corruption entailing revenue of up to 5.3 billion kina (1.9 billion dollars) under investigation, 91 had been prosecuted. Twenty-eight senior public servants have been suspended or removed from office, while two Members of Parliament and two senior public servants have been convicted and jailed.

To date, 8.3 million kina (3.1 million dollars) in proceeds of crime have been recovered, but including all outstanding cases this figure could potentially rise to 500 million kina (187 million dollars). Investigation into corporate tax evasion has led to the restitution of 22.6 million kina (8.4 million dollars).

Globally it is estimated that corruption drains the developing world of up to one trillion dollars every year and what is lost is in the magnitude of 10 times the official development assistance budget, claims the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

This has impacted increasing inequality in countries such as PNG, where 40 percent of the population of seven million live below the poverty line, maternal mortality is 711 per 100,000 live births, literacy is just 63 percent and only 19 percent of people have access to sanitation.

It is a vicious cycle, as Koim also believes that the state becomes an alternative source of personal prosperity when there are few legitimate avenues available for people to economically improve their lives.

Banks crucial to fighting corruption

The majority of stolen funds have been transferred through banks to offshore investments. Australia receives about 200 million Australia dollars (155 million dollars) of illicit gains from the Melanesian island state every year, claims the Australian Federal Police.

Several PNG politicians have purchased luxury homes with a total estimated value of 11.5 million Australian dollars (8.9 million dollars) in the northern Australian city of Cairns.

“Without banks and financial institutions, it is impossible to commit economic crimes, such as fraud and money laundering,” states the Investigation Task-Force Sweep (ITFS).

In a report last year on the government’s payment of fraudulent legal fees, ITFS identified numerous control gaps, such as lack of written contracts, oversight of procurement and payment clearance processes and the failure of banks to prevent evidently suspicious transactions.

“The duty imposed on banks to avoid engaging in money laundering should not be limited to ticking the boxes or submitting periodic transaction reports, but also taking proactive steps including rejecting transactions and closing bank accounts,” the report recommended. Sixty-five percent of PNG’s financial sector assets are held by commercial banks, including foreign bank subsidiaries.

There are also gaps between national legislation and banking sector regulations. For instance, money laundering is a criminal offence under the Proceeds of Crime Act (2005), but there is no obligation on banks to check inexplicably large or unorthodox patterns of transactions.

Action is also required by recipient nations, experts say. Professor Jason Sharman of the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Queensland’s Griffith University told IPS that there was a need for improved government “supervisory responsibility to make sure that Australian banks are not accepting suspect funds from PNG Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs).”

“One of the main weaknesses is in the Australian real estate sector with very little scrutiny of foreign money coming in, especially when, as is often the case, this money is routed via lawyers’ or real estate agents’ trust accounts,” he added.

But progress by the anti-corruption team has accelerated broader action. “A number of PNG-based banks have closed accounts of high risk customers and refused suspicious transactions”, while some international corresponding banks “have refused transactions they view to have originated from illicit sources,” ITFS reports.

Reducing and preventing corruption is a long-term battle, which includes addressing the cultural divide between an introduced western government system and centuries of traditional governance based on a leader’s ability to acquire and distribute resources to his own kin. But if corruption is driven largely by the lure of a quick route to untold personal wealth, then a critical measure now is eliminating safe havens for the plunder.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Argentina Moves Towards Marriage of Convenience with Chinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/argentina-moves-towards-marriage-of-convenience-with-china/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-moves-towards-marriage-of-convenience-with-china http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/argentina-moves-towards-marriage-of-convenience-with-china/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 22:33:52 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139304 The entrance to Chinatown in Buenos Aires, where a sign promotes the renovation of Argentina’s railways, partly financed by Beijing. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The entrance to Chinatown in Buenos Aires, where a sign promotes the renovation of Argentina’s railways, partly financed by Beijing. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

The government of Argentina is building a marriage of convenience with China, which some see as uneven and others see as an indispensable alliance for a new level of insertion in the global economy.

The process forms part of a radical change with respect to Argentina’s diplomacy, which years back involved ties with the United States described as “carnal relations.”

President Cristina Fernández called the new relationship with China an “integral strategic alliance,” after signing a package of 22 agreements with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Feb. 4.

The accords include areas like space technology, mining, energy, financing, livestock and cultural matters. They cover the construction of two nuclear and two hydropower plants, considered key to this country’s goal of energy self-sufficiency.

“Although they are important, the new agreements and others that were signed earlier are insufficient to gauge the dimension of the bilateral commitment,” said Jorge Castro, the director of the Strategic Planning Institute and an expert on China.

“For Argentina, the relationship with China has elements that are essential for insertion into the international system of the 21st century, along with other countries of the South, headed by Brazil,” he told IPS.

“These ties are between the new fulcrum of the global economy, China-Asia, and Argentina as a nation and as a regional unit,” he said.

Castro pointed out that Asia’s giant is currently South America’s leading trade partner, due to the volume of its purchases of raw materials, which implies a level of interdependence given that “China has placed the food security of its population in the hands of South American countries.”

In the case of Argentina, China is its second-largest trading partner, after neighbouring Brazil – displacing long-time partners like the United States and European countries.

In 2014, exports to China totalled five billion dollars while imports stood at 10.8 billion dollars – a bilateral record which represented 11.5 percent of this country’s trade balance, according to Argentina’s Chamber of Commerce.

Prior accords that cemented the alliance

Before Fernández’s visit to China, the two countries had already signed investment agreements in strategic sectors, such as the one between China’s Sinopec and Argentina’s YPF, two state-owned oil companies, for the exploitation of one of the Loma Campana deposits of unconventional oil and gas resources in Vaca Muerta in southern Argentina.

There was also an accord for China to provide some 2.5 billion dollars in financing for the reconstruction of the railway of the Belgrano Cargas y Logística company, which will transport Argentine and Brazilian agricultural products to Chilean ports on the Pacific ocean.

“The investment agreements with China are important to the extent that they facilitate the conditions to continue generating, for example, the infrastructure for development that Argentina needs, in a scenario” of a shortage of foreign currency, economist Fernanda Vallejos told IPS.

The Chinese space station under construction in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, rejected by the political opposition of all stripes and social groups. Credit: Courtesy of DesarrolloyDefensa

The Chinese space station under construction in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, rejected by the political opposition of all stripes and social groups. Credit: Courtesy of DesarrolloyDefensa

In July 2014, Argentina reached an 11 billion dollar currency swap agreement with China, to shore up this country’s weakened foreign reserves, of which it received one billion dollars in December.

The swap “has been a very powerful instrument,” which is added to measures by the government and the Central Bank to promote exchange stability and help slow down inflation, said Vallejos, a member of a group that advises the Ministry of the Economy and Public Finance.

Critical voices

Sectors of the business community are critical of the alliance with Beijing, such as the Argentine Industrial Union (UIA) or the Chamber of Exports, which sounded a warning about the asymmetrical nature of the relationship.

This country’s exports to China are only half of what it imports from the Asian giant, and they are basically raw materials or farm products. A full 75 percent is soy or by-products.

Imports, by contrast, are mainly machinery and electronics, computers, telephones, chemical products, motorcycles or parts for household appliances.

The UIA said the framework agreement on economic cooperation and investment, signed in July 2014 and pending final approval by the legislature, “contains clauses that pose an enormous risk to Argentina’s development.”

“Over the last decade, China’s strategy has pursued two central objectives: to consolidate its transnational companies in global value chains and to obtain commodities and inputs with little value-added, for its growing productive and employment needs,” the UIA said in a communiqué.

“In free trade agreements in this era of globalisation, the essential thing is not trade but investment,” said Castro, who questioned the concept of “asymmetry” and backed the agreement with China.

The China expert said the relationship should be analysed in a broader context. For example, by remembering that in the next 10 years, China’s foreign direct investment is estimated to climb to 1.1 trillion dollars.

“The question is how to manage to be part of China’s flow of investment in industry in the next 10 to 20 years,” Castro said.

The UIA agrees that it is important to be part of that current, but with allocations that would not harm local goods and services, which have no chance of receiving Chinese financing, the business chamber said.

The UIA and some trade unions also worry that Chinese labour power, which is included in several projects, will displace local workers.

“Don’t worry, we continue to defend Argentine workers and the business community’s participation,” said centre-left President Fernández, who urged those sectors to engage in technical discussions about the accords.

The new empire?

Some in Argentina see the China of the 21st century as the new England of the 19th century or the United States of the 20th century, in terms of economic and territorial hegemony and domination.

They also question the construction of a Chinese space tracking and control station in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, which according to the government will monitor, control and gather data as part of China’s programme of missions to explore the moon and outer space.

Raúl Dobrusin, an opposition legislator from Neuquén, told IPS that the agreement, which grants China the use of 200 hectares for 50 years and is opposed by left-wing groups and social organisations, did not go through the Neuquén provincial legislature, which was not informed of the details of the accord.

So far there is no Chinese military presence in the construction project, said Dobrusin, but in his view, the space station poses “major geopolitical risks.”

“If there is a confrontation between powerful nations, we will be a place to be taken into account by the enemies of China…In short, we are getting into an area where the possibility of deciding whether or not to participate in conflicts is no longer a sovereign decision, they won’t ask us,” he warned.

“The alliance transcends economic matters and forms part of the search for independence, on both the economic and political fronts, which makes it possible to reach economic and social development goals, by breaking the yoke of neoliberalism and the empire-dependence logic,” said Vallejos.

China, in her view, “is far from the voracity of the Western powers…It is part of a new global order that is struggling to be born, where the role of emerging countries is no longer one of colonialism but of assuming the position of builders of our own destiny,” said the economist.

“That does not mean that China isn’t obtaining benefits from its ties with our nations, but that it is possible to build a win-win relationship for all of the parties involved,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Threats, Deaths, Impunity – No Hope for Free Press in Pakistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/threats-deaths-impunity-no-hope-for-free-press-in-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=threats-deaths-impunity-no-hope-for-free-press-in-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/threats-deaths-impunity-no-hope-for-free-press-in-pakistan/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 14:47:31 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139278 Journalists in Pakistan protest against the killing of their colleagues. Credit: Rahat Dar/IPS

Journalists in Pakistan protest against the killing of their colleagues. Credit: Rahat Dar/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 20 2015 (IPS)

It is no surprise that most Pakistani journalists work under tremendous stress; caught between crime lords in its biggest cities, militant groups across its tribal belt and rival political parties throughout the country, censorship, intimidation and death seem almost to come with the territory.

But while many have become accustomed to working with a degree of fear and uncertainty, none could have been prepared for the number of tragedies that unfolded in 2014, the worst year ever for the media in Pakistan.

All told, last year saw the deaths of 14 journalists, media assistants and bloggers, while dozens more were injured, kidnapped or intimidated.

Reports by rights groups here point to a culture of impunity that is rendering impossible the notion of a free press, which activists and experts say is crucial to development and peace in a country mired in poverty and conflict.

Deaths, attacks, violence

“Pakistan’s media community is effectively under siege. Journalists, in particular those covering national security issues or human rights, are targeted from all sides in a disturbing pattern of abuses carried out to silence their reporting." -- David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s deputy Asia-Pacific director
A report released last month by the Pakistan-based Freedom Network (FN) documents numerous assassinations and attacks including the Jan. 1 shooting of Shan Dahar, a reporter with Abb Takk Television in Larkana, a city in the southern Sindh Province.

The local media initially reported that stray bullets fired during New Year’s Day celebrations hit Dahar, but subsequent investigations suggest that the killing was planned.

At the time of his death, the reporter had been working on a story about Pakistan’s sprawling black market for unregulated drugs; some believe that those with vested interests in the industry had a hand in his death.

Other documented deaths include the Jan. 17 killing of Waqas Aziz Khan, Ashraf Arain and Muhammad Khalid in a suburb of Karachi when gunmen opened fire on a media van used for live transmissions by Express TV.

While none of those killed were journalists – one was a security guard, one a driver and the other a technician for Express TV – activists here say their deaths represent the deadly climate for anyone involved, however remotely, with the press.

The FN report tracks patterns and challenges ahead for the industry in Pakistan, including trends such as the invocation of laws on blasphemy and treason to intimidate media houses, and the use of crippling fines and blanket bans on coverage that have forced many outlets to practice self-censorship in an effort to stay afloat.

In what the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) called a “chilling” example of these laws, last November one of the country’s Anti-Terrorism Courts sentenced four citizens to 26 years each in prison, plus a 12,800-dollar fine apiece, for airing a “contentious” television programme, supposedly in violation of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Climate of impunity

Other incidents that have media workers here on edge include the April 2014 assault on Hamid Mir, a senior reporter for Geo TV, who was fired at by gunmen on motorcycles while on his way from the airport to his office in Karachi.

Though he survived the attack, and his since undergone a successful operation, his assailants are still at large, and the threat to his life is still very much alive.

Mazhar Abbas, a former president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, tells IPS that the government’s inability to ensure freedom of expression has put reporters in an extremely difficult situation.

“The problem is that nobody knows who is killing the journalists,” he says. A complete dearth of official information on the perpetrators, combined with a lack of proper investigations, means that far too many journalists continue to operate within a climate of uncertainty and impunity, experts say.

In the northern Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), journalists suffer constant threats and attacks from the Taliban and other militant groups that have operated on the border of Afghanistan since fleeing the U.S. invasion of their country in 2001.

Since the War on Terror began, 12 journalists in FATA have lost their lives, while scores of others have fled to Peshawar, capital of the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

For others, being out of reach of terrorist groups does not necessarily guarantee security. According to Amnesty International, hundreds of journalists in Pakistan experience threats, harassment and violence, sometimes even at the hands of the intelligence services.

The rights group’s recent report, ‘A Bullet has Been Chosen for You’, presents 34 cases in which journalists have been killed in retaliation for their work since 2008; only one of the perpetrators has been booked for the crime. The report blasts the authorities for failing to stem the bloody wave of violence against media workers, which activists say constitutes a grave violation of human rights.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) estimates that 56 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992. This figure, however, includes only those cases in which there was a clear motive for the death; activists here believe the true number of murders could be much higher.

Even those who aren’t killed exist in a kind of grey space, where they constantly fear reprisals for investigations or exposures that implicate any number of political actors.

“Pakistan’s media community is effectively under siege,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s deputy Asia-Pacific director, when the report was released last year. “Journalists, in particular those covering national security issues or human rights, are targeted from all sides in a disturbing pattern of abuses carried out to silence their reporting.

“The constant threat puts journalists in an impossible position, where virtually any sensitive story leaves them at risk of violence from one side or another,” he added.

In a country that is ranked 126th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), just a few places ahead of nations like Myanmar, Afghanistan and North Korea, experts say that a free press is essential to educating the public and exposing fraud, theft and rights violations on a massive scale.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: U.S. and Middle East after the Islamic Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 16:38:31 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139262 Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Congress ponders President Barack Obama’s request for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), U.S. policymakers must focus on the “morning after” before they embark on another potentially disastrous war in the Levant.

The president assured the nation at his press conference on February 11 that IS is on the verge of being contained, degraded, and defeated. If true, the United States and the West must address the future of the region in the wake of the collapse of IS to avoid the rise of another extremist threat and another “perfect storm” in the region.

The evidence so far that Washington will be more successful than during the Iraq war is not terribly encouraging.

The Iraq War Parallel

George Tenet, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote in his book At the Center of the Storm that in September 2002 CIA analysts presented the Bush administration with an analytic paper titled “The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq.” The paper included “worst-case scenarios” of what could go wrong as a result of a US-led invasion of Iraq.

The paper, according to Tenet, outlined several negative consequences:

  • anarchy and the territorial breakup of Iraq
  • regime-threatening instability in key Arab states
  • deepening Islamic antipathy toward the United States that produced a surge of global terrorism against US interests

The Perfect Storm paper suggested several steps that the United States could take that might mitigate the impact of these potentially negative consequences. These included a serious attempt at solving some of the key regional conflicts and domestic economic and political issues that have plagued the region for decades.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration spent more time worrying about defeating Saddam’s army than focusing on what could follow Saddam’s demise. Ignoring the Perfect Storm paper, as the past decade has shown, was detrimental to U.S. interests, the security of the region, and the stability of some key Arab allies. The U.S. and the region now have to deal with these consequences—anarchy, destruction, and refugees—of the Bush administration’s refusal to act on those warnings."If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture"

The past decade also witnessed the resurgence of radical and terrorist groups, which happily filled the vacuum that ensued. U.S. credibility in the region plummeted as well.

When CIA analysts persisted in raising their concerns about a post-Saddam Iraq, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary for Policy Doug Feith dismissed the concerns as “persnickety.”

If the Obama administration wants to avoid the miscalculations of the previous administration about Iraq, it should make sure the land war against IS in Iraq and Syria does not become “enduring” and that the presence of US troops on the ground does not morph into an “occupation.”

Defeating IS might be the easy part. Devising a reasonably stable post-IS Levant will be more challenging because of the complexity of the issues involved. Before embarking on the next phase of combat, U.S. policymakers should have the courage and strategic vision to raise and answer several key questions.

  1. How will Sunni and Shia Muslims react to the re-entry of U.S. troops on the ground and to the likelihood that US military presence could extend beyond three years?

The “liberation” of Iraq that the Bush administration touted in March 2003 quickly turned into “occupation,” which precipitously engendered anger among the population. Iraqi Sunnis and Shia rose up against the US military. The insurgency that erupted attracted thousands of foreign jihadists from the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world. Bloody sectarianism and vigilantism spread across Iraq as an unintended consequence of the invasion, and it still haunts the region today.

During the Iraq war, the Iraqi Sunni minority, which has ruled the country since its creation in the early 1920s, perceived the United States as backing the Shia majority at the expense of the Sunnis. They also saw the United States as supporting the sectarian policies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, especially as he excluded Sunnis from senior government positions. This feeling of alienation pushed many Iraqi Sunnis to support the Islamic State.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to admit that an insurgency and a civil war were spreading across Iraq. By the time he admitted that both were happening, it became impossible to defend the “liberation” thesis to Iraqis and other Arabs and Muslims.

  1. If the U.S.-led ground war against IS extends to Syria, how will Washington reconcile its announced policy favouring Assad’s downfall with fighting alongside his forces, and how will the Arab public and leaders react to such perceived hypocrisy? 

It’s foolish to argue that the US-led war against IS in Syria is not indirectly benefiting the Assad regime. Assad claimed in a recent BBC interview that the coalition provides his regime with “information” about the fighting. Regardless of the veracity of his claim, Assad has enjoyed a breathing room and the freedom to pursue his opponents viciously and mercilessly, thanks to the US-led coalition’s laser-like focus on IS.

Sunni Arab regimes, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are already urging the Obama administration to increase substantially its military support of the anti-Assad mainstream opposition. These regimes, which are also fighting IS, argue that the United States could simultaneously fight IS and work toward toppling Assad.

If this situation continues and Assad stays in power while IS is being contained, Sunni Arab populations would soon begin to view the United States as the “enemy.” Popular support for radical jihadists would grow, and the region would witness a repeat of the Iraq scenario.

The territorial expansion of IS across Iraq and Syria has for all intents and purposes removed the borders between the two countries and is threatening the boundaries between Syria and Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture. Otherwise, the “Iraq fatigue” that almost crippled U.S. efforts in Iraq in recent years, especially during the Maliki era, will surely be replaced by a “Levant fatigue.”

It will take a monumental effort to redesign a new Levant based on reconciling Sunnis, Shia, Christians, Kurds, and Arabs on the principles of inclusion, tolerance, and respect for human rights, economic opportunity, and good governance. If the United States is not prepared to commit time and resources to this goal, the Levant would devolve into failed states and ungovernable territories.

  1. If radical Sunni ideology and autocracy are the root causes of IS, what should the United States do to thwart the rise of another terrorist organization in the wake of this one?

Since the bulk of radical Sunni theology comes out of Saudi Arabia and militant Salafi Wahhabism, the United States should be prepared to urge the new Saudi leadership, especially the Deputy to the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef, to review the role of Salafi Wahhabi preachers and religious leaders in domestic public life and foreign policy. This also should certainly apply to Saudi education and textbooks.

Whereas in the past, Saudi officials have resisted any perceived foreign interference as an encroachment on their religion, this type of extremist, intolerant ideology has nevertheless given radical jihadists a religious justification for their violence. It now poses an undeniable threat to the national security of the United States and the safety of its citizens in the region.

Autocracy, corruption, repression, and anarchy in several Arab states have left millions of citizens and refugees alienated, unemployed, and angry. Many young men and women in these populations will be tempted to join new terrorist organizations following IS’s demise. The governments violate the rights of these young people at whim, imprison them illegally, and convict them in sham trials—all because of their political views or religious affiliation or both—in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

In Egypt thousands of political prisoners are languishing in jail. In Bahrain, the regime has been stripping dozens of citizens of their citizenship because of their pro-democracy views. Once their passports are taken away, Bahraini citizens are deprived of most government services and opportunities. When visiting a government office for a particular service, they are required to show the passport, which the government has already taken away, as a proof of identity—a classic case of “Catch 22” leaving these citizens in a state of economic and political limbo.

Partnering with these autocrats in the fight against IS surely will reach a dead end once the group is defeated. Building a new Levant cannot possibly be based on dictatorship, autocracy, and corruption. Iraq and Afghanistan offer stark examples of how not to build stable governments.

The Perfect Storm paper warned the Bush administration about what could follow Saddam if critical questions about a post-Saddam Iraq were not addressed. The Bush White House did not heed those warnings. It would be indeed tragic for the United States if the Obama administration made the same mistake.

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. 

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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The Two Koreas: Between Economic Success and Nuclear Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/the-two-koreas-between-economic-success-and-nuclear-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-two-koreas-between-economic-success-and-nuclear-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/the-two-koreas-between-economic-success-and-nuclear-threat/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 11:49:06 +0000 Ahn Mi Young http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139234 The Koreas on the globe. Credit: TUBS/ Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Koreas on the globe. Credit: TUBS/ Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Ahn Mi Young
SEOUL, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

The two Koreas are an odd match – both are talking about possible dialogue but both have different ideas of the conditions, and that difference comes from the 62-year-old division following the 1950-53 Korean War.

During this time, North Korea has become a nuclear threat – estimated to possess up to ten nuclear weapons out of the 16,300 worldwide (compared with Russia’s 8,000 and the 7,300 in the United States) according to the Ploughshares Fund’s report on world nuclear stockpiles – and South Korea has become the world’s major economic success story.

In a national broadcast on Jan. 16, South Korean president Park Geun Hye presented her vision for reunification by using the Korean word ‘daebak‘ (meaning ‘great success’ or ‘jackpot’). “If the two Koreas are united, the reunited Korea will be a daebak not only for Korea but also for the whole world,” she said.North Korea has become a nuclear threat – estimated to possess up to ten nuclear weapons out of the 16,300 worldwide – and South Korea has become the world's major economic success story

Since she became leader of the South Korea’s conservative ruling party in 2013, Park has been referring to a new world that would come from a unified Korea. Her argument has been that if the two Koreas are reunited, the world could be politically less dangerous – free from the North Korea’s nuclear threat – and a united Korea could be economically more prosperous by combining the South’s economic and cultural power and the North’s natural resources and discipline.

Denuclearisation has been set as a key condition for daebak to come about. At a Feb. 9 forum with high-ranking South Korean officials, President Park said that “North Korea should show sincerity in denuclearisation efforts if it is to successfully lead its on-going economic projects. No matter how good are the programmes we may have in order to help North Korea, we cannot do so as long as North Korea does not give up its nuclear programme.”

However, observers have said North Korea has no reason to give up its nuclear weapons as long as it depends on its nuclear capability as a bargaining chip for political survival.  “Nuclear capabilities are the North’s only military leverage to maintain its regime as it confronts the South’s economic power,” said Moon Sung Muk of the Korea Research Institute of Strategies (KRIS).

In fact, there are few signs of changes. North Korea has conducted a series of rocket launches, as well as three nuclear tests – all in defiance of the U.S. sanctions that are partially drying up channels for North Korea’s weapons trade.

Amid recent escalating tension between Washington and Pyeongyang over additional sanctions, activities at the 5-megawatt Yongbyon reactor in North Korea which produces nuclear bomb fuel are being closely watched to monitor whether the North may restart the reactor.

In the meantime, South Korea has been denying the official supply of food and fertilisers to North Korea under the South Korean conservative regimes that started in 2008.

During the liberal regime of 2004-2007, South Korea was the biggest donor of food and fertilisers to North Korea.

Then there appeared to be a glimmer of hope when North Korea’s enigmatic young leader Kim Jong Un presented a rare gesture of reconciliation towards South Korea in his 2015 New Year’s speech broadcast on Korean Central Television on Jan. 1.

“North and South should no longer waste time and efforts in (trying to resolve) meaningless disputes and insignificant problems,” he said. “Instead, we both should write a new history of both Koreas … There should be dialogue between two Koreas so that we can re-bridge the bond that was cut off and bring about breakthrough changes.”

In his speech, the North Korean leader even went as far as suggesting a ‘highest-level meeting’ with the South Korean president. “If the South is in a position to improve inter-Korean relations through dialogue, we can resume high-level contacts. Also, depending on some circumstances and atmospheres, there is no reason we cannot have the highest-level meeting (with the South).”

In South Korea, hopes for possible inter-Korean talks have been subdued. “What North Korea wants from dialogue with the South is not to talk about nuclear or human rights, but to have the South resume economic aid,” said Lee Yun Gol, director of the state-run North Korea Strategic Information Centre (NKSIS).

The government in Seoul remains cautious about Pyongyang’s peace initiatives. “We are seeing little hope for any rosy future in inter-Korean relationships in the near future, although we are working on how to prepare for the vision of ‘daebak‘,” said Ryu Gil Jae, South Korean reunification minister, in a Feb. 4 press conference.

North Korean observers have said that economic difficulties have been pushing the North Korean government to relax its tight state control over farm private ownership. North Korean farmers can now sell some of their products in markets nationwide, in a gradual shift towards privatised markets.

Further, according to Chinese diplomatic academic publication ‘Segye Jisik’ (세계 지식), quoted by the South Korean news agency Yonhap News, the North Korean economy has improved since its new leader took office in 2012. From a 1.08 million ton deficit in stocks to feed the 20 million North Koreans in 2011, the deficit now stands at 340,000 tons.

According to observers, this report, if true, could send the signal that if North Korea is economically better off, it may be politically willing to reduce its dependence on the nuclear card in any bargaining process with South Korea.

U.S. sanctions have been used in the attempt to force North Korea to denuclearise, thus restricting North Korea’s trade, and the U.S. government levied new sanctions against North Korea on Jan. 2 this year in response to a cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment. The FBI accused North Korea of the attack in apparent retaliation for the film, The Interview, a comedy about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

But, while sanctions may work in troubling ordinary North Koreans concerned with meeting basic food needs, they have little impact on the North Korean government. “North Korea’s trade with China has become more prosperous and most of North Korea’s deals with foreign partners are behind-the-scene deals,” said Hong Hyun Ik, senior researcher at the Sejong Research Institute.

And, in response to the threat that it may be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), on the basis of U.N. findings on human rights, Kim Jong Un reiterated: “Our thought and regime will never be shaken.”

South Korea may now stand as the only hope for North Korea, as the United States and the United Nations gather to turn tough against the country over the human rights issue, and South Korea may find itself faced with a ‘two-track’ diplomacy between the hard-liner United States and its sympathy for the North Korean people.

In past decades, North Korea has usually played out a game with the United States and South Korea. “In recent year, the United States has been using ‘stick diplomacy’ against the North Korea, while South Korea may want to shift to ‘carrot diplomacy’,” said Moon Sung Muk of the Korea Research Institute of Strategies (KRIS).

“The Seoul government knows that the pace of getting closer to the North should be constrained by U.N. or U.S. moves,” Moon added.

Edited by Phil Harris    

 

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OPINION: Developing Economies Increasingly Vulnerable in Unstable Global Financial Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-developing-economies-increasingly-vulnerable-in-unstable-global-financial-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-developing-economies-increasingly-vulnerable-in-unstable-global-financial-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-developing-economies-increasingly-vulnerable-in-unstable-global-financial-system/#comments Mon, 16 Feb 2015 08:50:00 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139199

In this column, Yilmaz Akyuz, chief economist at the South Centre in Geneva, argues that emerging and developing economies have become more closely integrated into an inherently unstable international financial system and will probably face strong destabilising pressures in the years ahead.

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Feb 16 2015 (IPS)

After a series of crises with severe economic and social consequences in the 1990s and early 2000s, emerging and developing economies have become even more closely integrated into what is widely recognised as an inherently unstable international financial system. 

Both policies in these countries and a highly accommodating global financial environment have played a role. Not only have their traditional cross-border linkages been deepened and external balance sheets expanded rapidly, but also foreign presence in their domestic credit, bond, equity and property markets has reached unprecedented levels.

Yilmaz Akyuz

Yilmaz Akyuz

New channels have thus emerged for the transmission of financial shocks from global boom-bust cycles.

Almost all developing countries are now vulnerable, irrespective of their balance-of-payments, external debt, net foreign assets and international reserve positions, although these play an important role in the way such shocks could affect them.

Stability of domestic banking and asset markets is susceptible even in countries with strong external positions.

Those heavily dependent on foreign capital are prone to liquidity and solvency crises as well as domestic financial turmoil.

The new practices adopted in recent years – including more flexible exchange rate regimes, accumulation of large stocks of international reserves or borrowing in local currency – would not provide much of a buffer against severe external shocks such as those that may result from the normalisation of monetary policy in the United States. “The surge in capital inflows that started in the early years of the new millennium, and continued with full force after a temporary blip due to the collapse in 2008 of the Lehman Brothers financial services firm, holds the key to the growing internationalisation of finance in developing countries”

And the multilateral system is still lacking adequate mechanisms for an orderly and equitable resolution of external financial instability and crises in developing economies.

This process of closer integration was greatly helped by highly favourable global financial conditions before 2008, thanks to the very same credit and spending bubbles that culminated in a severe crisis in the United States and Europe. The crisis did not slow this process despite initial fears that it could lead to a retreat from globalisation.  Integration has even accelerated since then because of ultra-easy monetary policies pursued in advanced economies, notably in the United States, in response to the crisis.

The surge in capital inflows that started in the early years of the new millennium, and continued with full force after a temporary blip due to the collapse in 2008 of the Lehman Brothers financial services firm, holds the key to the growing internationalisation of finance in developing countries.

It has resulted in a rapid expansion of gross external assets and liabilities of developing economies. More importantly, the structure of their external balance sheets has undergone important changes, particularly on the liabilities side, bringing new vulnerabilities.

The share of direct and portfolio equity in external liabilities has been increasing. An important part of the increase in equity liabilities is due to capital gains by foreign holders. In many developing countries presence in equity markets is greater than that in the United States and Japan.

While still remaining below the levels seen a decade ago as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), external debt build-up has accelerated since the crisis in 2008. This is mainly due to borrowing by the private sector, which now accounts for a higher proportion of external debt than the public sector in both international bank loans and security issues. A very large proportion of private external debt is in foreign currency. There is also a renewed tendency for dollarisation in domestic loan markets.

As a result of a shift of governments from international to domestic bond markets and opening them to foreigners, the participation of non-residents in these markets has been growing. The proportion of local-currency sovereign debt held abroad is greater in many developing countries than in reserve-issuers such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan. It is held by fickle investors rather than by foreign central banks as international reserves.

International banks have been shifting from cross-border lending to local lending by establishing commercial presence in developing countries. Their market share in these countries has reached 50 percent compared with 20 percent in developed countries.

These banks tend to act as conduits of expansionary and contractionary impulses from global financial cycles and increase the exposure of developing economies to financial shocks from advanced economies.

One of the key lessons of history of economic development is that successful policies are associated not with autarky or full integration into the global economy, but strategic integration seeking to use the opportunities that a broader economic space may offer while minimising the potential risks it may entail. This is more so in finance than in trade, investment and technology.

For one thing, the international financial system is inherently unstable in large part because multilateral arrangements fail to impose adequate discipline over financial markets and policies in systemically important countries which exert a disproportionately large impact on global conditions.

For another, the multilateral system also lacks effective mechanisms for orderly resolution of financial crises with international dimensions.

Thus, closer integration of several into the international financial system in the past ten years, after a series of crises with severe economic and social consequences, is a cause for concern.

In all likelihood, these countries will be facing strong destabilising pressures in the years ahead as monetary policy in the United States returns to normalcy after six years of flooding the world with dollars at exceptionally low interest rates.

In weathering a possible renewed instability, they cannot count on the more flexible currency regimes they came to adopt after the last bouts of crises or the reserves they have built from capital inflows or the reduced currency exposure of the sovereign.

It is important that they, as well as the international community, avoid going back to business-as-usual in responding to a new round of financial shocks, bailing out investors and creditors and maintaining an open capital account at the expense of incomes and jobs.

They need to include many unconventional policy instruments in their arsenals to help lower the price that may have to be paid for the financial excesses of the past several years

They should also take the occasion to rebalance the pendulum and to bring about genuine changes in the international financial architecture. (END/IPS 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. 

* This column is based on Internationalization of Finance and Changing Vulnerabilities in Emerging and Developing Economies, South Centre Research Paper 60, January 2015, which is available here.

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Israel’s Obsession for Monopoly on Middle East Nuclear Powerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/israels-obsession-for-monopoly-on-middle-east-nuclear-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israels-obsession-for-monopoly-on-middle-east-nuclear-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/israels-obsession-for-monopoly-on-middle-east-nuclear-power/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 20:53:10 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139180 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) jointly addresses journalists with Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, in Jerusalem, on Oct. 13, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) jointly addresses journalists with Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, in Jerusalem, on Oct. 13, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2015 (IPS)

As the Iranian nuclear talks hurtle towards a Mar. 24 deadline, there is renewed debate among activists about the blatant Western double standards underlying the politically-heated issue, and more importantly, the resurrection of a longstanding proposal for a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Asked about the Israeli obsession to prevent neighbours – first and foremost Iran, but also Saudi Arabia and Egypt – from going nuclear, Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Jerusalem-based Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS, “This is primarily the work of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has built his political career on fanning the flames of fear, and saying that Israel has to stand pat, with a strong leader [him] to withstand the challenges.”"If Israel lost its regional monopoly on nuclear weapons, it would be vulnerable. So the U.S. goes all out to block nuclear weapons - except for Israel." -- Bob Rigg

And this is the primary motivation for his upcoming and very controversial partisan speech before the U.S. Congress on the eve of the Israeli elections, which has aroused a tremendous amount of opposition in Israel, in the American Jewish community and in the U.S. in general, he pointed out.

Iran, which has consistently denied any plans to acquire nuclear weapons, will continue its final round of talks involving Germany and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia (collectively known as P-5, plus one).

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asked the United States and Israel, both armed with nuclear weapons, a rhetorical question tinged with sarcasm: “Have you managed to bring about security for yourselves with your atomic bombs?”

The New York Times quoted the Washington-based Arms Control Association as saying Israel is believed to have 100 to 200 nuclear warheads.

The Israelis, as a longstanding policy, have neither confirmed nor denied the nuclear arsenal. But both the United States and Israel have been dragging their feet over the proposal for a nuclear-free Middle East.

Bob Rigg, a former senior editor with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), told IPS the U.S. government conveniently ignores its own successive National Intelligence Estimates, which represent the consensus views of all 13 or so U.S. intelligence agencies, that there has been no evidence, in the period since 2004, of any Iranian intention to acquire nuclear weapons.

“If Israel is the only nuclear possessor in the Middle East, this combined with the U.S nuclear and conventional capability, gives the U.S. and Israel an enormously powerful strategic lever in the region,” Rigg said.

He said this is even more realistic, especially now that Syria’s chemical weapons (CW) have been destroyed. They were the only real threat to Israel in the region.

“This dimension of the destruction of Syria’s CW has gone strangely unnoticed. Syria had Russian-made missiles that could have targeted population centres right throughout Israel,” said Rigg, a former chair of the New Zealand Consultative Committee on Disarmament.

A question being asked by military analysts is: why is Israel, armed with both nuclear weapons and also some of the most sophisticated conventional arms from the United States, fearful of any neighbour with WMDs?

Will a possibly nuclear-armed Iran, or for that matter Saudi Arabia or Egypt, risk using nuclear weapons against Israel since it would also exterminate the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories? ask nuclear activists.

Schenker told IPS: “I believe that if Iran were to opt for nuclear weapons, the primary motivation would be to defend the regime, not to attack Israel. Still, it is preferable that they not gain nuclear weapons.”

Of course, he said, the fundamental solution to this danger would be the creation of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East.

That will require a two-track parallel process: One track moving towards a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the other track moving towards the creation of a regional regime of peace and security, with the aid of the Arab Peace Initiative (API), within which a WMD Free Zone would be a major component, said Schenker, a strong advocate of nuclear disarmament.

As for the international conference on a nuclear and WMD free zone before the next NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference, scheduled to begin at the end of April in New York, he said, the proposal is still alive.

In mid-March, the Academic Peace Orchestra Middle East initiative will convene a conference in Berlin, whose theme is “Fulfilling the Mandate of the Helsinki Conference in View of the 2015 NPT Review Conference”.

It will include a session on the topic featuring Finnish Ambassador Jaakko Laajava, the facilitator of the conference, together with governmental representatives from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Germany.

There will also be an Iranian participant at the conference, said Schenker.

Rigg told IPS Israel’s first Prime Minister Ben Gurion wanted nuclear weapons from the outset. Israel was approved by the new United Nations, which then had only 55 or so members. Most of the developing world was still recovering from World War II and many new states had yet to emerge.

He said the United States and the Western powers played the key role in setting up the U.N.

“They wanted an Israel, even though Israeli terrorists murdered Count Folke Berdadotte of Sweden, the U.N. representative who was suspected of being favourable to the Palestinians,” Rigg said.

The Palestinians were consulted, and said no, but were ignored, he said. Only two Arab states were then U.N. members. They were also ignored. Most of today’s Muslim states either did not exist or were also ignored.

“When the U.N. approved Israel, Arab states attacked, but were beaten off. They did not want an Israel to be transplanted into their midst. They still don’t. Nothing has changed. ”

Given the unrelenting hostility of the Arab states to the Western creation of Israel, he said, Israel developed nuclear weapons to give itself a greater sense of security.

“If Israel lost its regional monopoly on nuclear weapons, it would be vulnerable. So the U.S. goes all out to block nuclear weapons – except for Israel,” he added.

Not even Israel argues that Iran has nuclear weapons now.

“A NW free zone in the Middle East is simply a joke. If Israel joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it would have to declare and destroy its nuclear arsenal.”

The U.S. finds excuses to avoid prodding Israel into joining the NPT. The U.S. is effectively for nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, but successive U.S. presidents have refused to publicly say that Israel has nuclear weapons, he added.

Because of all this, a NWF zone in the ME is not a real possibility, even if U.S. President Barack Obama and Netanyahu are at each other’s throats, said Rigg.

Schenker said Netanyahu’s comments come at a time when the 22-member League of Arab States, backed by the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have, since 2002, presented Israel an Arab Peace Initiative (API).

The API offers peace and normal relations in exchange for the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and an agreed upon solution to the refugee problem.

This doesn’t mean that the danger of nuclear proliferation isn’t a problem in the Middle East, said Schenker.

“As long as Israel has retained a monopoly on nuclear weapons, and promised to use them only as a last resort, everyone seemed to live with the situation. ”

The challenge of a potential Iranian nuclear weapons programme would break that status quo, and create the danger of a regional nuclear arms race, he noted. Unfortunately, the global community is very occupied with the challenge of other crises right now, such as Ukraine and the Islamic State.

“So it is to be hoped the necessary political attention will also be focused on the challenges connected to the upcoming NPT Review conference, and the need to make progress on the Middle Eastern WMD Free Zone track as well,” he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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“Drastic Decline” Seen in World Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/drastic-decline-seen-in-world-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drastic-decline-seen-in-world-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/drastic-decline-seen-in-world-press-freedom/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 00:44:26 +0000 Leila Lemghalef http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139134 Source: Reporters Without Borders

Source: Reporters Without Borders

By Leila Lemghalef
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2015 (IPS)

A leading advocacy group warns of a “worldwide deterioration in freedom of information” last year.

Out of the 180 countries being surveyed, two-thirds have slipped in standards compared to last year, according to the Reporters Without Borders’  World Press Freedom Index 2015. The best have become less near-perfect, and the worst have gotten even worse.“We live in a world where there is much more data available. But how we can trust that data, the source of that data, and how we might understand that data, is subject to all kinds of forces." -- Charlie Beckett

Finland and Eritrea remain at first and last place, respectively. Norway and Denmark are in 2nd and 3rd place, while Turkmenistan and North Korea are second runner-up and runner-up to Eritrea, respectively.

In an interview with IPS, the U.S. Director of Reporters Without Borders, Delphine Halgand, brought up several cases, including China “the world’s biggest prison for journalists”, and Azerbaijan, which has “managed to eliminate almost all traces of pluralism”.

Since 2002, Reporters Without Borders has been publishing the Index to measure the degree of press freedom. The Index is not a measure of the quality of media.

“It’s a way for anybody to be aware of how press freedom, journalists, are attacked, in many countries. Sometimes they don’t have any idea. Like, ‘we love to go to Turkey, we love to go to Vietnam, but we don’t have the idea that there’re so many news providers that are targeted in these beautiful countries.’ So it’s a way to highlight this very important issue,” said Halgand.

She said that this year, for the first time, a lot of the data has been made public in order to improve the transparency and methodology used in the Index, which uses qualitative and quantitative criteria.

The 2015 Index trends are grouped into seven causes:

Measuring up

Press freedom and how to measure it is a very complex question today, said Halgand.

“Press freedom in Sudan isn’t the same thing as press freedom in Italy. So that’s why we try to work around these seven criteria of pluralism, media independence, self-censorship, legislative frameworks, transparency, infrastructure, abuses.

“It’s a complex issue definitely and that’s why we need to use many criteria to try to be as precise as possible. But even if we try to put this complicated issue into criteria, of course the situation is always unique in each country,” she told IPS.

Charlie Beckett is professor at the London School of Economics (LSE) in the department of media and communications, and is also the director of Polis, which is the LSE’s journalism think tank.

“Whilst at some levels it’s very complicated,” he told IPS, “at some levels it’s very simple.

“If you look at journalists that have been put in jail, if you look at journalists who have been hurt physically, then it’s quite crude but that’s quite a good measure of basic journalistic freedom. And I know personally, I’ll start to worry about the more subtle things, such as disinformation, I’ll worry about them, but my life isn’t being threatened if I’m a journalist.

“So first give me my basic freedoms and you know, then we can talk about the more sophisticated problems.”

The more sophisticated problems include surges in data.

“I think it’s increasingly difficult to measure media freedom because increasingly media has become so complex,” Beckett told IPS.

“We live in a world where there is much more data available. But how we can trust that data, the source of that data, and how we might understand that data, is subject to all kinds of forces.

He explained that it is no longer straightforwardly about censorship, or laws, or even about the physical manifestation of violence against journalists.

There’s also the “chilling climate” wherein if one journalist gets killed, the other 99 are much more likely to do as they’re told, he said.

“Even where the press is publishing something, you don’t know under what circumstances. Are they being intimidated, are they being bribed, are they being pressurized?”

Another point is that “there’s no point in having free journalists if people aren’t free to share the information, for example, themselves”, as Beckett said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Marshall Islands Nuclear Proliferation Case Thrown Out of U.S. Courthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/marshall-islands-nuclear-proliferation-case-thrown-out-of-u-s-court/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marshall-islands-nuclear-proliferation-case-thrown-out-of-u-s-court http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/marshall-islands-nuclear-proliferation-case-thrown-out-of-u-s-court/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 20:58:38 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139131 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 12 2015 (IPS)

A lawsuit by the Marshall Islands accusing the United States of failing to begin negotiations for nuclear disarmament has been thrown out of an American court.

The Marshall Islands is currently pursuing actions against India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom in the International Court of Justice, for failing to negotiate nuclear disarmament as required in the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.“By side-stepping the case on jurisdictional grounds, the U.S. is essentially saying they will do what they want, when they want, and it’s not up to the rest of the world whether they keep their obligations.” -- David Krieger

Action against the U.S. had been filed in a federal court in California, as the United States does not recognise the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ.

David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, said the U.S. conducted 67 nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, the equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima bombs detonating daily for 12 years.

Despite documented health effects still plaguing Marshallese islanders, U.S. Federal Court judge Jeffrey White dismissed the motion on Feb. 3, saying the harm caused by the U.S. flouting the NPT was “speculative.”

White also said the Marshall Islands lacked standing to bring the case, and that the court’s ruling was bound by the “political question doctrine” – that is, White ruled the question was a political one, not a legal one, and he therefore could not rule for the Marshalls.

Krieger, whose Nuclear Age Peace Foundation supports Marshall Islands in its legal cases, called the decision “absurd.”

“I think it was an error in his decision. There were very good grounds to say the Marshall Islands had standing, and this shouldn’t have been considered a political question,” he told IPS.

“The Marshall Islands know very well what it means to have nuclear bombs dropped on a country. They’ve suffered greatly, it’s definitely not speculative.”

The foundation of the multiple cases brought by the Marshall Islands was that the U.S., and other nuclear powers, had not negotiated in good faith to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. White ruled it was “speculative” that the failure of the U.S. to negotiate nuclear non-proliferation was harmful.

Krieger said the Marshalls would appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit of Appeals. He said the decision set a troubling precedent regarding U.S. adherence to international agreements.

“The U.S. does not accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ, and in this case, the judge is saying another country does not have standing [in an American court]. In essence, it means any country that enters into a treaty with the U.S. should think twice,” he said.

“Another country will be subject to the same decision of the court. Where does that leave a country who believes the U.S. is not acting in accordance with a treaty?

“By side-stepping the case on jurisdictional grounds, the U.S. is essentially saying they will do what they want, when they want, and it’s not up to the rest of the world whether they keep their obligations.”

Krieger said that the judge’s comments about the “speculative” nature of the case meant essentially that a nuclear accident or war would have to break out before such a case for damages could be heard.

“It’s saying a state must wait until some kind of nuclear event, before damages won’t be speculative,” he said. “It’s absurd that the claim that the U.S. has not fulfilled its obligations to negotiate in good faith to end the nuclear arms race, is called ‘speculative’ by the judge.”

Marshall Islands had intended to pursue all nine nuclear powers – the U.S., China, Russia, Pakistan, India, the U.K., France, North Korea and Israel – in the ICJ on their failure to negotiate for nuclear non-proliferation.

The Marshall Islands is still pursuing cases in the ICJ against Pakistan, India and the U.K., but John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, said the other cases had stalled as those nations did not accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ.

“The other six states, the Marshall Islands invited and urged them to come before the court voluntarily, which is a perfectly normal procedure, but none of them have done so,” Burroughs told IPS.

Burroughs, also a member of the international team in the ICJ, said China had explicitly said it would not appear before the court.

“Any of those countries could still agree to accept the court’s jurisdiction,” he said.

He said preliminary briefs had been filed in the India and Pakistan cases, with responses due by mid-2015. A brief will be served on the U.K. case in March.

Burroughs said he doubted the decision in U.S. federal court would impact the cases in The Hague.

“I don’t see the decision having any effect at all,” he said.

Edited By Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Touts 2015 as Milestone Year for World Bodyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-touts-2015-as-milestone-year-for-world-body/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-touts-2015-as-milestone-year-for-world-body http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-touts-2015-as-milestone-year-for-world-body/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 21:25:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139103 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the opening of the high level dinner, “Making 2015 a Historic Year”, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the opening of the high level dinner, “Making 2015 a Historic Year”, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

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

The United Nations, in a sustained political hype, is touting 2015 as a likely breakthrough year for several key issues on its agenda – primarily development financing, climate change, sustainable development, disaster risk-reduction and nuclear non-proliferation.

At the same time, the world body is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year while also commemorating the 20th anniversary of the historic Beijing Conference on Women which strengthened gender empowerment worldwide."Above all, it is a reminder that the world’s states are acting, as usual, irresponsibly. And that we need a world that functions far better if we are to survive the threats and challenges of the twenty-first century." -- James Paul

In a report titled ‘The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet’ released last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said 2015 is “the time for global action.”

The upcoming events include the Third World Conference on Disaster-Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan in March; the five-year review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) Treaty in April-May in New York; and the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis Ababa in July.

Speaking to reporters last week, the secretary-general singled out three priorities “I have been repeating all the time.”

“We have to do the utmost efforts to meet the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (ending 2015). Then the Member States are working very hard to shape the post-2015 development agenda by September.”

The United Nations will host a special summit of world leaders, Sep. 25 to 27, and “we expect that most of the world leaders will be here and discuss and adopt and declare as their vision to the world, aiming by 2030, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he added.

And in December this year, he said, “we must have a universal, meaningful climate change agreement” in talks scheduled to take place in Paris.

At each of these “milestones,” he pointed out, “we will continue to be ambitious to end poverty, reduce inequality and exploit the opportunities that accompany the climate challenge.”

As for the 70th anniversary, he said, it will be “an important moment for serious reflection on our achievements and setbacks”.

But Jim Paul, who monitored the United Nations for over 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS he was sceptical of the political hype surrounding the upcoming conferences.

“The United Nations has been trumpeting the global meetings of 2015 as watershed events, but real world expectations are lagging behind the rhetoric of the secretary-general and his team,” he said.

Paul said there are several issues to bear in mind: while the U.N.’s summits address some of the world’s most pressing issues, powerful member states like the United States usually seek to weaken the events and prevent strong outcomes.

This trend was already visible in the 1990s, the golden decade of U.N. summits, when Washington began to insist that summits were too “expensive” and reached too far, said Paul, a onetime lecturer and assistant professor of political science at Empire State College in the State University of New York system.

“That policy reached its most extreme form in the run-up to the summit of 2005, when the U.S. insisted on a massive, last-minute re-working of the agreed text, but it can be found in many other cases before and since,” he said.

Paul pointed out that powerful states, the U.S. first and foremost, do not like to be limited by U.N.-based decisions.

Second, there is the problem of the lack of binding outcomes to these global events.

He said grand aspirations are often expressed in the outcome documents, and the word “binding” is sometimes used, but all participants know that the outcome will remain aspirational – not tough, compelling policy to be adhered to.

This gives rise to cynicism among the diplomats and especially among the public, urged by governments to blame “the U.N.” for its supposedly feckless behaviour (whilst they themselves are often at fault), he declared.

At a press conference last month, the president of the 193-member General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, said 70 years after the founding of the United Nations “we have a truly historic opportunity to agree on an inspiring agenda that can energize the international community, governments everywhere and the citizens of the world.”

“We must be ready to seize this challenge,” he added.

Speaking on the specifics of SDGs, Chee Yoke Ling, director of programmes at the Penang-based Third World Network, told IPS while the incorporation of the SDGs is an important part of the post-2015 development agenda, “We need to put the economic agenda as a priority for the Development Summit.”

She said financial instabilities “continue to loom before us, while increasingly anti-people and anti-development trade rules are being pushed by major developed countries in bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

“The notoriety of transnational investors suing national governments for hundreds of millions of dollars under bilateral investment agreements has triggered protests in many countries, with some developing country governments reviewing and even terminating those grossly unfair treaties. “

She said the Addis Ababa conference is crucial for addressing several fundamental financial and economic issues – without structural reforms that respect national policy space and ensure stability, sustainable development will remain elusive.

Paul told IPS there are various alternative policy venues, such as the World Bank, the G-8, the G-20, the IMF, and so on.

The United Nations must confront the challenge of great powers who take decisions in venues they prefer and according to their own priorities and timetables.

Washington is certainly not the only U.N. member state to act this way, but as the biggest and richest, it has the strongest inclination to act according to its own perceived interests and not in a broadly consultative process, he said.

“Finally, we should remember the difficult policy context of 2015 – the deep crisis of climate change that requires decisions that go very far and necessarily upset the comfortable assumptions of the existing global order,” Paul noted.

Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 85 percent is so radical a goal that no one even wants to think about it, much less create policy around it, said Paul.

And creating a fair, stable and just global economic order under the Sustainable Development Goals appears also nearly impossible in a global economy that is stumbling seriously and creating ever-greater inequality. Will the world’s oligarchs concede power and revenues? he asked.

Does all this mean that the U.N.’s aspirational summit meetings in 2015 are useless or downright negative? Not necessarily.

“To know that we cannot expect a miracle is perhaps a valuable adjustment of our unreasonable expectations and a way to think more realistically about what can and cannot be accomplished,” Paul said.

“Above all, it is a reminder that the world’s states are acting, as usual, irresponsibly. And that we need a world that functions far better if we are to survive the threats and challenges of the twenty-first century.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: People Power, the Solution to Climate Inactionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-people-power-the-solution-to-climate-inaction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-people-power-the-solution-to-climate-inaction http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-people-power-the-solution-to-climate-inaction/#comments Tue, 10 Feb 2015 11:15:55 +0000 Rob McCreath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139086 If we keep on burning coal, oil and gas at ‘business as usual’ levels, our grandchildren will inhabit a planet some 5 degrees Celsius hotter by the end of the century. Credit: Bigstock

If we keep on burning coal, oil and gas at ‘business as usual’ levels, our grandchildren will inhabit a planet some 5 degrees Celsius hotter by the end of the century. Credit: Bigstock

By Rob McCreath
BRISBANE, Feb 10 2015 (IPS)

Nothing is more important to farmers like me than the weather. It affects the growth and quality of our crops and livestock, and has a major impact on global food supply.

The world’s weather is being messed up by global warming, mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels, which releases heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.If your bank lends money to coal, oil and gas projects, then take your business to one that doesn’t. It will put a smile on your face.

Every national science organisation in the developed world agrees that global warming is real and caused by human activities. That’s good enough for me.

If we keep on burning coal, oil and gas at ‘business as usual’ levels, our grandchildren will inhabit a planet some 5 degrees Celsius hotter by the end of the century – rendering large parts of it uninhabitable, including many currently densely populated areas, which will be under water due to melting glaciers and ice caps.

The impacts on farming in Australia (and everywhere else) of such a rise in temperature would be very severe indeed.

To avoid such a bleak future, we simply must stop putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If our politicians had any common sense, they would change quickly to renewable energy, but sadly they are captives of the fossil fuel industry that funds their re-election campaigns.

Just look at the Nationals, who in spite of claiming to represent farmers, this month declared donations of 30,000 dollars from oil & gas company Santos, 25,000 from coal miner Peabody, and 50,000 dollars from prominent climate change denier and coal & oil company director Ian Plimer.

So, for the sake of future generations, we have to make this change happen ourselves, and the best way to do this is to disrupt the business model of companies trying to make money from fossil fuels by pulling the financial rug out from underneath them.

It’s called divestment, which is simply the opposite of investment. Here’s how it works. If you’ve got shares in fossil fuel companies, then sell them and invest in something that won’t wreck the planet.

If your super fund invests in fossil fuels, then transfer your money to a fund that doesn’t. If your bank lends money to coal, oil and gas projects, then take your business to one that doesn’t. It will put a smile on your face.

The global movement to divest from fossil fuels is gaining momentum, and the more people that take part, the better it works. Share prices (just like wheat and cattle prices) are set by supply and demand, so as more people sell, the price falls.

When a company’s share price falls far enough, it finds it more difficult to borrow money, with which to fund its next coal mine. Take oil and gas company Santos, for example. Due mainly to the recent plunge in oil prices, in the past six months its share price has dropped by almost 50 percent.

As a result, the company has announced plans to cut back on expenditure and reduce its operations.

On the flip side, the more money that flows into companies involved in renewable energy, energy efficiency and green technology, the faster they will grow and the sooner we can put a lid on runaway climate change.

A brave new world awaits. Let’s divest together and change the future!

Global Divestment Day will be taking place on Feb. 13-14. Hundreds of events spanning six continents will be taking place. Join an event near you. For more information visit: gofossilfree.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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OPINION: China – The Future, After 4,000 Years of Historyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-china-the-future-after-4000-years-of-history/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-china-the-future-after-4000-years-of-history http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-china-the-future-after-4000-years-of-history/#comments Mon, 09 Feb 2015 11:24:19 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139066

Johan Galtung is Professor of Peace Studies and Rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University, and the author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including '50 Years – 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives' published by TRANSCEND University Press. In this column, he describes a China marked by relative coherency of dynasties and the West as a series of empires that decline and fall.

By Johan Galtung
PENANG, Malaysia, Feb 9 2015 (IPS)

A theory serves comprehension, prediction and identification of conditions for change. Seven such historical-cultural pointers will be indicated for China – using the West in general, and the United States in particular, for comparison.

Look at a map combining world history and geography, time and space. China shows up through 4,000 years as relatively coherent dynasties with complex transitions and the West as empires-birth-growth-peaking-decline-fall, like the Roman, British and now U.S. empires – duration vs bubbles that burst, China-centric vs hegemonic.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

China marginalised space peopled by South-West-North-East barbarians – outside the “Chinese pocket” between the Himalayas-Gobi desert-Tundra-Sea, except for the East China-East Africa silk roads, destroyed by Portugal and England from 1500, colonising Macao-Hong Kong.

A goal of current Chinese foreign policy is to restore the silk roads and lanes: high speed trains for Eurasia, cooperating for mutual and equal benefit, harmony.

The United States marginalises time by disregarding past history, and with the idea that creates future New Beginnings for immigrants, and New History for itself, for other countries, for the whole world.

For Daoism, valid knowledge is holistic and dialectic, based on big, complex units of thought (whole humans, China, the world) riveted by forces and counter-forces, yin-yang, good vs bad, themselves yin-yang, with what is suppressed growing and what is dominant declining until the next turn. The holon may jump from one contradiction tapering off to the next.

For the West, valid knowledge is based on subdivision and accumulation of knowledge about elements, woven together in theories.

For Mao Zedong the basic contradiction was foreign imperialism with landowners vs the people, students-peasants-workers. The 1949 revolution started a distribution vs growth dialectic with jumps every nine years (1958-1967-1976): Mao’s death, four chaotic years.“China shows up through 4,000 years as relatively coherent dynasties with complex transitions and the West as empires-birth-growth-peaking-decline-fall, like the Roman, British and now U.S. empires”

For Deng Xiaopeng, it was misery vs lack of growth. The 1980 revolution accumulated capital with farmers near cities and in Shenzen (26 percent annual growth), and re-created merchants. Then nine years distribution vs growth again: from 1989 (Tiananmen!) distribution, 1998, 2007, 2016: new focus on growth.

China draws on Daoist insights, on Confucian ideas of hierarchies with harmony, and Buddhist small community equality: Buddhism for distribution, Confucianism for growth, Daoism for jumps between them.

The West could have drawn upon the positives in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but focused on negatives for discrimination-prejudice-war-genocide – now as Judeo-Christianity vs Islam – with unused synergies.

Chinese Mandarin rulers combined rule by rules with high culture, over farmers and artisans, and merchants marginalised at the bottom; Western aristocrat rulers combined rule with force, trade and clergy benediction; later to become State, Capital, Intelligentsia. A basic difference was marginalisation vs integration of merchants.

The Chinese Emperors were Sons of the Heaven trading with those who paid tribute to the Emperor; in the West, Heaven was the only God for the whole world at all time, creating and taking life, the monarch being the only person with a Mandate from God-rex gratia dei-by the grace of God, also entitled to take life, delegated to His army.

The English refused to pay tribute, using opium wars, “gunboat diplomacy”, burning (with the French) the imperial palace instead; China was never violent outside the “pocket” (except when provoked by India in 1962).

The Mandate of the Heaven is lost when People shout in the streets, and regained by addressing their grievances and ideas in the ancient petition system – by “idea democracy, not arithmetic democracy”; the West counting votes in multi-party national fair and free elections.

The Cultural Revolution shouted in the streets against Confucian rule by older men with high education from East China, paving the way for the young, the women and West China – also in 80 million educated “communist” Party members, presumably wise enough to understand the yin-yang dialectics. Tiananmen 1989 was not about democracy, “no votes for uneducated”, but – like Hong Kong (?) – about losing their feudal position to wealthy farmers, merchants, private and state capitalists.

China is China-centric, the deep culture is still holistic-dialectic with a Western surface, the three civilisations synergy is there. So is the Chinese inability to handle the “pocket”: Taiwan-Tibet-Uighurs-Mongolians-Vietnamese-Koreans.

But China indeed went global; trading with barbarians; upgrading merchants-traders-money people; accumulating huge wealth. Mao opened up society for huge masses of Chinese, the young, women, and the West; Deng lifted the bottom 300-400 million up 1991-2004, with the communist focus on the needs of the neediest, into capitalism: capi-communism. Beijing 1980: six million bicycles 0 private cars; 2010: 0 vs five million.

The West, out-competed by BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa), did more killing than learning.

China’s ruling class, steeped in culture, linked dynastic cycles to yin-yang thought, and traders to barbarians. Today’s rulers, deep in money shouting to beget more money, link money to corruption – and speculation? And competition from Latin America+Africa – shouting in the streets may send China packing – and the end of a dynasty is near.

China’s lead is not forever. Nothing ever was. Except, maybe, some China. A more spiritual dynasty, after materialist “communism”? (END/IPS 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: This Is Going to Hurt Me More Than It Hurts Youhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-this-is-going-to-hurt-me-more-than-it-hurts-you/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-this-is-going-to-hurt-me-more-than-it-hurts-you http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-this-is-going-to-hurt-me-more-than-it-hurts-you/#comments Sat, 07 Feb 2015 17:45:38 +0000 Peter Costantini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139063 The Third Geneva Convention and the UN Covenant Against Torture do not exempt tortures that somebody believes to be “effective”. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

The Third Geneva Convention and the UN Covenant Against Torture do not exempt tortures that somebody believes to be “effective”. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Peter Costantini
SEATTLE, Washington, Feb 7 2015 (IPS)

“Enhanced interrogation”: the George W. Bush administration bureaucrats who coined the term had perfect pitch. The apparatchiks of Kafka’s Castle would have admired the grayness of the euphemism. But while it sounds like some new kind of focus group, it turns out it was just anodyne branding for good old-fashioned torture.

Unfortunately, the debate around it unleashed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report has largely missed the point.If the leaders of the richest and most powerful empire in history can claim that defending it requires torturing prisoners, what other government or non-state actor will hesitate to make the same claim?

Certainly, the report did provide overwhelming evidence that torture did not produce useful intelligence.  The CIA had concluded previously that torture is “ineffective”, “counterproductive”, and “will probably result in false answers”.

An FBI agent wrote that one prisoner had cooperated and provided “important actionable intelligence” months before being tortured.  Some CIA agents and soldiers reportedly questioned the legality of the policies and resisted carrying them out.

A Bush Justice Department lawyer acknowledged: “It is difficult to quantify with confidence and precision the effectiveness of the program.”  In any case, it is inherently impossible to know that any intelligence purportedly extracted by torture could not have been elicited by legal interrogation.

Fundamentally, though, whether torture “works” or not is immaterial.

The Third Geneva Convention and the U.N. Covenant Against Torture do not exempt tortures that somebody believes to be “effective”.  The codes are based on the hard-headed calculation that by agreeing not to torture non-combatants, nations can reduce the probability of their own non-combatants being tortured.

Post-WWII trials imprisoned and executed German and Japanese officials for war crimes including torture.  Nuremberg and Tokyo established the indelible principle that acting as responsible government officials, or following the orders of one, is not a defense against accusations of war crimes.

Granted, these norms have been observed as much in the breach as in practice.  And on the blood-soaked canvas of the past century, the damages of torture pale beside the scope of suffering inflicted by the “legal” savageries of war.  Yet if the leaders of the richest and most powerful empire in history can claim that defending it requires torturing prisoners, what other government or non-state actor will hesitate to make the same claim?

Dick Cheney, former Vice President and current Marketing Director for the Spanish Inquisition, says: “I’d do it again in a minute.”  No one should doubt his sincerity.

One of the “enhancements” was reportedly an effort to fabricate a justification for invading Iraq.  High Bush administration officials allegedly put heavy pressure on interrogators “to find evidence of cooperation between al-Qaeda and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime,” in an effort to fabricate a justification for invading Iraq, according to a former senior US intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist cited by McClatchy News.  No such evidence was found.

But beyond such immediate imperatives, the torture policy meshed seamlessly with a discretionary war premised on lies and optimized for “Shock and Awe”.  This neat ideological package asserted the unchallengeable power of a “Unitary Executive” above constitutional checks and balances, national law and international treaties.

Echoing Richard Nixon’s circular self-justification of three decades earlier, Justice Department lawyer Steven Bradbury told Congress: “The president is always right.”

Strategically, the Bush-Cheney project targeted conceptual smart bombs on the very idea of human rights.  The rest of the world got the message, and the damage to US national security has yet to be repaired.

“Enhanced interrogation”, however, has roots reaching back decades into CIA collaboration with dictatorships in Latin America.

Brazil’s National Truth Commission recently concluded that from 1954 through 1996 the US gave some 300 military officers “theoretical and practical classes in torture”.  Current President Dilma Rousseff was one of those tortured by the military, which ruled the largest country in Latin America from 1964 through 1985.

Over the past half-century, the CIA has been implicated in providing similar training to military dictatorships across South and Central America.  The United States also provided military aid and advice to many of them, participated in coups against elected governments, and was complicit in the murder and disappearance of hundreds of thousands, according to investigative journalist Robert Parry.

In Guatemala, for example, the CIA trained and supported a military and intelligence apparatus that exterminated close to 200,000 people over 30 years and committed genocide against Mayan communities, according to an independent Historical Clarification Commission.

The origins of US torture policies go back to early in the Vietnam War. According to the Senate report, “In 1963, the CIA produced the KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual, intended as a manual for Cold War Interrogations, which included the ‘principal coercive techniques of interrogation …’”.

In 1983, sections of KUBARK were incorporated into the Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, “used to provide interrogation training in Latin America in the early 1980s”.

One of the CIA officers who provided these trainings was later “orally admonished for inappropriate use of interrogation techniques.”  But his efforts ultimately proved to be a good career move.  In 2002, the CIA made him chief of interrogations.

Bush’s head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center allegedly destroyed videotapes of torture and discouraged field agents from questioning the practices, according to historian Greg Grandin.

In 1992, the Pentagon destroyed most documentation of these training programmes, Parry reported.  The orders came from the office of then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

In response to mounting evidence of decades of torture, what would an “indispensable nation” do?

The release of the Senate report was an important precedent. But until perpetrators all the way to the top are brought to justice, our government will rightly be seen as hypocritical when it criticises the human rights violations of others.

Ultimately, the gravity and scope of wrongdoing call for a reincarnation of the 1975 Church Committee, which investigated abuses by intelligence agencies in the wake of Watergate. It should serve as a truth commission exposing the US government’s use of torture, terror and other human rights violations, going back 40 years to where Church left off.

The official U.S. Senate history of the Church Committee cites historian Henry Steele Commager, referring to executive branch officials who seemed to consider themselves above the law: “It is this indifference to constitutional restraints that is perhaps the most threatening of all the evidence that emerges from the findings of the Church Committee.”

Meanwhile, allies have begun digging.  In 2009, Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzón Real opened two investigations of the Bush torture programme, one of which is still pending.  In December, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin filed complaints accusing several high Bush administration figures of “the war crime of torture” under German and international law.

The odds of seeing Cheney and company in a glass booth may be slim.  But it would be a small victory for humanity if they had to look over their shoulders whenever they travel abroad.

As some of us never seem to learn, genuine national security is about not black ops and drones, but hearts and minds.

As an epitaph for the Bush-Cheney vision, consider Percy Bysshe Shelley’s 1818 poem “Ozymandias”:

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

 

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.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Debating U.S. Foreign Policy: Where are the Women?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/debating-u-s-foreign-policy-where-are-the-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=debating-u-s-foreign-policy-where-are-the-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/debating-u-s-foreign-policy-where-are-the-women/#comments Fri, 06 Feb 2015 22:25:07 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139058 By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Feb 6 2015 (IPS)

Women are running some of the United States’ most prominent foreign policy focused think tanks, leading U.S. diplomatic initiatives, and reporting from the front lines of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones.

But there’s a dearth when it comes to women’s voices in U.S. media coverage of foreign policy issues, according to the founders of a new organisation that aims to amplify women’s voices in the media.“Those who say that they make an effort to include women but cannot find any are pushing a load of BS.” -- Suzanne Dimaggio

“There is a disparity between the number of women [and men] we see commenting on foreign policy issues,” said Foreign Policy Interrupted co-founder Elmira Bayrasli to a packed room of women (and a few men) Feb 4. at the Washington-based New America, a non-profit public policy institute and think tank.

While some well-known female commentators are called upon by major media outlets to “check the box,” added Bayrasli, “Every six months there’s still an uproar about ‘where are the women?’”

Absent or overshadowed?

According to data compiled by U.S. foreign policy analysts Tamara Coffman Wittes and Marc Lynch, 65 percent of last year’s Middle East events at six influential think tanks in Washington included no female speakers.

Women are also “systematically cited less than their male peers,” wrote Wittes and Lynch in a recent Washington Post op-ed discussing the gap between the considerable number of senior women in the field and their notable absence from public discourse.

With women comprising roughly half of the U.S. population, the question becomes: Is the dearth due to a lack of qualified women for media outlets to reach out to when covering foreign policy issues?

“Those who say that they make an effort to include women, but cannot find any are pushing a load of BS,” said Suzanne Dimaggio, who has been directing Track II diplomatic initiatives with several countries in the Middle East and Asia throughout her career.

“Today we see an ever-growing cadre of women with expertise on every aspect of foreign policy—from the traditional to the non-traditional and emerging issues,” Dimaggio told IPS during a telephone interview.

Bayrasli and co-founder Lauren Bohn—both commentators on international affairs—argue that women are underrepresented in media coverage of U.S. foreign policy because mainstream media has traditionally relied on male commentators and because women hold themselves to extremely high standards, which can hold them back.

In today’s fast-paced, competitive news media world, staff are scrambling to get out good information fast, so they don’t always have or take the time to look for new voices, said Bayrasli.

“The reality is that what bookers, producers and editors know is a rolodex of white men and that needs to change, but we also need to help them change that,” she said.

“I do think there’s this sense [among women that what they send to editors] has got to be really, really good, and honestly there’s a point when the best is the enemy of the ho good,” added moderator and New America president Anne-Marie Slaughter, the director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009-11.

Beyond checking the box

Dimaggio, a leader in facilitating U.S.-Iran policy dialogues, has a long resume of achievements in her field. But she acknowledged that especially earlier in her career, there were occasions when her abilities were underestimated because she is a woman.

“It was assumed that I would take a secondary role and men were given the last word,” said Dimaggio, an expert dialogue practitioner who runs New America’s Iran programme from New York. “But that’s not to say that I accepted playing a secondary role.”

She added that if major media outlets overlook qualified women when seeking expert commentary on foreign policy issues they should be held accountable, but more needs to be done by women as well.

“This problem won’t be resolved by only pressing those in positions of power to include more women. That certainly is a big piece of this. But, we, as women, must [also] change our own behaviour,” said Dimaggio.

“Things are getting better, but we still have a long way to go,” she said.

While Foreign Policy Interrupted, though still in its launch phase, exists to help women increase and improve their media presence, at least one well-known U.S. media publication has meanwhile been actively incorporating more women into its overall operation.

In the last three years Foreign Policy Magazine, a division of the Graham Holdings company, has gone from having one to 11 female regular columnists—half of its regular roster of 22—and its editorial staff is roughly 50/50.

“We realised that the magazine needed to be better, that there were too many of the same voices, and that our publication, which covers the ‘big tent’ of foreign policy, would not be adequately representative if it didn’t include women’s voices,” Executive Editor Ben Pauker told IPS.

Although the magazine now features an equal balance of female and male columnists, the male columnists write more frequently than the women. That could be for a number of reasons.

“It’s a function of getting some of our new columnists, both male and female, up to speed,” said Pauker.

Pauker told IPS that the magazine’s equity initiative, which will extend beyond the gender issue, is still a work in progress, but said at least anecdotally the response from readers has been “enormously positive.”

“It just makes us a better publication,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sri Lanka Seeks U.S.-U.N. Backing for Domestic Probe of War Crimes Chargeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sri-lanka-seeks-u-s-u-n-backing-for-domestic-probe-of-war-crimes-charges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lanka-seeks-u-s-u-n-backing-for-domestic-probe-of-war-crimes-charges http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sri-lanka-seeks-u-s-u-n-backing-for-domestic-probe-of-war-crimes-charges/#comments Fri, 06 Feb 2015 21:10:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139055 The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 6 2015 (IPS)

Sri Lanka’s newly-installed government, which has pledged to set up its own domestic tribunal to investigate war crimes charges, is seeking political and moral support both from the United States and the United Nations to stall a possible international investigation.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera is due in the United States next week to press the country’s case before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.“Any domestic investigation would not negate the need for continued international action and engagement to ensure justice and accountability in Sri Lanka, or Sri Lanka’s need to cooperate with the United Nations." -- David Griffiths

The United States was one of the prime movers of a resolution adopted last March by the 47-member Human Rights Council to appoint a U.N. panel, headed by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, to probe into “alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka” at the end of decades-old war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) back in 2009.

During his visit to New York, Samaraweera is also scheduled to meet with representatives of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Asked about the new government’s proposed “domestic mechanism”, HRW’s Asia Director Brad Adams told IPS, “We do not expect the government to conduct a serious investigation.”

He specifically mentioned the former Army Chief Sarath Fonseka – who led the armed forces to victory against the LTTE – being a member of the current government thereby politicising any such domestic investigation.

Adams also hinted the investigation could get embroiled in local politics since the newly-elected president, Maithripala Sirisena, is planning to hold island-wide parliamentary elections in June this year.

“The United Nations should continue to be at the centre of the current process,” he added, but still complimented the government for reaching out to HRW.

“We are very encouraged and we are happy to meet with the foreign minister,” Adams said.

David Griffiths, deputy director for Asia-Pacific at Amnesty International, told IPS President Sirisena and other officials in the new administration have promised Sri Lanka will restore rule of law and conduct domestic investigations into alleged crimes under international law.

He said commitments have also been given to investigate the killing of journalists.

“These are important pledges which are to be welcomed, provided that the investigations are conducted promptly and in good faith, with independence, adequate resources and effective witness protection, and provided that where sufficient admissible evidence exists, they lead to the prosecution of those suspected of the crimes, regardless of their rank or status.”

What’s crucial, said Griffiths, is that a change in rhetoric must be matched by a change in political will and followed by action.

He pointed out that Amnesty International has documented Sri Lanka’s long history of ad hoc commissions of inquiry that have not delivered justice – the new administration must address this legacy of impunity.

“Any domestic investigation would not negate the need for continued international action and engagement to ensure justice and accountability in Sri Lanka, or Sri Lanka’s need to cooperate with the United Nations,” he declared.

Asked about the remote likelihood of Sri Lanka being hauled before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Dr. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s outgoing Permanent Representative to the United Nations and a former chief of the U.N. Treaty Section, told IPS, “The ICC acquires jurisdiction over an alleged violator of its provisions only after the relevant state becomes a party.”

Sri Lanka is not a party, but a state could voluntarily submit to the jurisdiction of the court.

Importantly, said Dr. Kohona, it is individuals and groups who can be indicted before the ICC because crimes are committed by individuals and groups.

“An individual can be indicted if his country is a party to the ICC Statute, or if the Security Council has referred the matter to the ICC or if a state voluntarily accepts the jurisdiction of the ICC,” he explained.

A prosecution is not automatic. It follows a long process of investigation, he added.

According to the United Nations, the United States included Art 98 (2) which prohibits a person being surrendered to the ICC contrary to the provisions of a state’s treaty obligations.

The United States has concluded 143 bilateral agreements, including with Sri Lanka, for this purpose. The United States signed but did not ratify the Rome Statute that created the ICC.

Another possibility, as in the case of non-ICC member Sudan, is that the Security Council can decide on hauling Sri Lankan individuals before the court.

But any such resolution in the Security Council could be vetoed either by China and Russia, or both, since they have close political ties to Sri Lanka –at least to the former government President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which denied war crimes charges and refused to cooperate with the U.N. investigations.

Amnesty’s Griffiths told IPS the adversarial relationship promoted by Sri Lanka’s former leadership vis-à-vis the United Nations was unhealthy and unproductive, and the new Sri Lankan government has now vowed to “prioritize” its engagement with the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The Sri Lankan government has committed to a large number of important reforms in a very short period of time, and international expertise and technical assistance could help it to fulfil its reform agenda, particularly where truth seeking, reparation and justice are concerned, he added.

“Amnesty International cannot stress enough the need for justice for the victims of appalling human rights abuses and their families,” Griffiths said.

Last year, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein criticised the former Sri Lankan government for its refusal to cooperate with the investigation.

“This continuing campaign of distortion and disinformation about the investigation, as well as the insidious attempts to prevent possible bona fide witnesses from submitting information to the investigating team, is an affront to the United Nations Human Rights Council which mandated the investigation,” he added.

“The Government of Sri Lanka has refused point blank to cooperate with the investigation despite being explicitly requested by the Human Rights Council to do so,” Zeid said.

“Such a refusal does not, however, undermine the integrity of an investigation set up by the Council — instead it raises concerns about the integrity of the government in question. Why would governments with nothing to hide go to such extraordinary lengths to sabotage an impartial international investigation?” he said.

The report of the U.N. panel is expected to go before the next session of the Human Rights Council in March. But Sri Lanka is seeking a deferment.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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