Inter Press Service » Global Geopolitics http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 27 Feb 2017 08:11:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 Merkel Under Pressure for Refugee Policy in Germanyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/merkel-under-pressure-for-refugee-policy-in-germany/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=merkel-under-pressure-for-refugee-policy-in-germany http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/merkel-under-pressure-for-refugee-policy-in-germany/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2017 17:57:24 +0000 Wolfgang Kerler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149088 Wolfgang Kerler, a reporter for German public broadcaster ARD, is a specialist on globalization, digitalization, migration and investigative reporting.]]>

Wolfgang Kerler, a reporter for German public broadcaster ARD, is a specialist on globalization, digitalization, migration and investigative reporting.

By Wolfgang Kerler
MUNICH, Feb 23 2017 (IPS)

Internationally, German chancellor Angela Merkel was praised for her humanitarian decision to open the countries’ border to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq. But the decision has considerably reduced her support among Germans. Chances are real that Merkel could lose the chancellorship in the upcoming national elections.

Refugees in Germany

Refugees in Germany

On October 3rd 2016, a bulk of several hundred gathered in the historic center of Dresden, where the official celebration for Germany’s Unity Day took place. Most of the people did not come to celebrate though. They came to protest. When Angela Merkel finally arrived in Dresden, the crowd started to boo and yell “Merkel must go!”, “get out!” or “traitor!”.

Not long ago, a scene like this seemed impossible.

In spring 2015, all national polls saw Merkel’s conservative party at more than 40 percent support among Germans. The Social Democrats, which came in second, reached less than 25 percent. Even after almost ten years as chancellor, Merkel was considered as indispensable by most Germans. She enjoyed an approval rating of 75 percent.

However, after the events of September 2015, her popularity quickly started to drop to levels below 50 percent. Her party fell to 32 percent in recent polls.

Angela Merkel made her famous statement “we can make it” on August 31st of 2015. The number of refugees entering the country had already risen to 100,000 a month and she wanted to assure the public that Germany could tackle the integration of those immigrants.

Within days after Merkel’s comment the situation became even more dramatic.

Hungarian authorities had blocked thousands of refugees, who were fleeing violence and war in the Middle East, from boarding trains to Austria or Germany where they wanted to apply for asylum. Families had to sleep in makeshift shelters outside Budapest’s train station, while volunteers were struggling to provide at least a minimum of aid.

On September 4th, chancellor Merkel and her Austrian counterpart Werner Faymann therefore decided to open their countries’ borders for the people stranded in Budapest. Soon afterwards, first trains arrived in Munich, and many Germans welcomed the refugees and supplied food, drinks and clothing. A total of 890.000 asylum seekers entered Germany in 2015.

“The German government’s reaction was not an open-door policy, but a humanitarian reaction on the basis of international law”, Petra Bendel, a professor for political science at Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, told IPS.

She also pointed out that Merkel’s grand coalition switched to a more restrictive refugee policy within weeks.

For example, the coalition introduced residence restrictions for asylum seekers. Instead of giving out money, some social benefits are provided in kind. And by granting only subsidiary protection instead of refugee status for Syrians, family reunions were made more difficult. On top of that, the German government started to push forward returns and expulsions.

“Timing suggests that these policy proposals must have existed in the drawers and waited for their time to come, since they were introduced in record time”, Bendel, who is also a member of The Expert Council on Integration and Migration, added.

But the rapid shift to a more restrictive stance on immigration and even the steep decline in the number of refugees coming to Germany in 2016 did not lead to a recovery of Merkel’s popularity.

Those parts of society that saw refugees as a threat to their wealth and security had already turned their back on her. Social networks were flooded with “Merkel must go!”-postings. After the events of Cologne and other cities, where groups of migrants sexually assaulted hundreds of women on New Year’s Eve 2015, tensions within the German society intensified.

“The events clearly had a decisive effect on public opinion”, said Bendel. “Survey data showed that in January 2016 for the first time a clear majority – 60 percent of survey participants instead of 46 percent in December – considered that Germany could not cope with such a large number of refugees.”

In the same time, eurosceptic right-wing party AfD gained momentum with a fierce and populist anti-immigrant rhetoric. The party easily surpassed the long-established Greens, the Left Party, and the Liberals in several regional elections with double digit results. In return, Merkel’s own Christian Democrats suffered one defeat after another.

In recent weeks, however, polls showed diminishing support for AfD. But it was not Merkel’s conservative block that benefitted. Instead, the Social Democrats which have been the junior partner in the ruling coalition made a comeback after nominating Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, as their candidate for chancellor.

Schulz already outpolled Angela Merkel in personal popularity.

“The few moderate AfD-supporters have migrated to the Social Democrats because they believe Martin Schulz could oust Angela Merkel, whom they hate”, Manfred Güllner, the head of pollster Forsa commented a survey that his institute conducted for TV network RTL and magazine Stern.

However, the resurge of the Social Democrats does not mean that refugee policy will not play a major role in the campaign for the national election due in September.

“Analyzing the party platforms, migration issues are on top of each and every party’s agenda”, Bendel said. “The danger exists that particularly the AfD’s campaign, which has already been leaked, further builds on irrational, explosive contents and appeals to most primitive instincts.”

Political observers now see a chance that after twelve years, Angela Merkel could lose the chancellorship.

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Palestinian Rejection Underscores Limits of UN Chief’s Powershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/palestinian-rejection-underscores-limits-of-un-chiefs-powers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestinian-rejection-underscores-limits-of-un-chiefs-powers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/palestinian-rejection-underscores-limits-of-un-chiefs-powers/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 16:38:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149033 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

Pointing out an example of the hierarchy of political power at the United Nations, a former Nigerian ambassador once told a group of reporters of an encounter at an international gathering in Africa when he ran into one of his friends who had returned from a visit to New York.

guterres_300“I met your boss,” he told a perplexed Nigerian envoy. “What boss?”, he asked his friend. “I don’t have a boss in New York.”

When his friend explained that he really meant the UN Secretary-General (SG) whom he had met during his visit to the UN, the envoy shot back: “He is not my boss. I am his boss.”

And the Nigerian envoy was dead on target.

But most outsiders, however, do not realise the limitations and restrictions under which a Secretary-General operates.

A creature of the world body’s 193 member states, the Secretary-General is really the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of the United Nations and has to do the bidding of member states— particularly on politically sensitive issues and on senior appointments.

And he rarely, if ever, defies the five veto-wielding permanent members (P-5), namely the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, whose nationals traditionally hold some of the most senior positions in the UN Secretariat— jobs doled out mostly under political pressure.

The current Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who took office in January, was a two-time Prime Minister of Portugal (1995-2002) and the first and only UN chief who was a former head of government.

And Prime Ministers, protocol-wise, are known to exercise vast political powers in their home countries – and rarely known to take orders from others.

Still, one of Guterres’ early appointments – of the former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the Secretary General’s Special Representative in Libya – was unceremoniously shot down by US Ambassador Nikki Haley, purely because he was a Palestinian.

A visibly disappointed Guterres told reporters last week: “I think it was a serious mistake. I think that Mr. Fayyad was the right person in the right place at the right time, and I think that those who will lose will be the Libyan people and the Libyan peace process.”

“And I believe that it is essential for everybody to understand that people serving the UN are serving in their personal capacities. They don’t represent a country or a government – they are citizens of the world representing the UN Charter and abiding by the UN Charter,” he said pointedly directing his answer at Haley.

Asked to comment on the issue of limits of power exercised by a Secretary-General, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury of Bangladesh, a former UN High Representative and Under-Secretary-General, told IPS that “essentially there are four main constraints to the effectiveness of the Secretary-General”.

Firstly, veto and veto-wielding members of the Security Council, which influences matters in all areas of UN system’s work; secondly, promises and commitments made by the Secretary-General as a candidate to secure his election; thirdly, aspiration to get re-elected for a second term from day one of the first term; and, fourthly, the labyrinthine UN bureaucracy, said Chowdhury, who was one of the senior UN officials in former Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s cabinet and management team.

The late Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, who had a running battle with senior US officials, and particularly with US Ambassador Madeleine Albright, was the only Secretary-General who was denied a second five-year term.

At a Security Council meeting, 14 of the 15 members voted to give him a second term. But the US cast the single veto punishing him for his defiance, and making a mockery of the concept of majority rule– and an overwhelming majority in this case– which it preaches to the rest of the world.

The right course of action for the US would have been to abstain on that vote and respect the views of the remaining 14 members. But it never did.

Martin Edwards, Associate Professor in the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, told IPS: “I think this is a learning process for Guterres in how to work with the new administration.”

The storm over Fayyad will blow over, and it’s clear that the party that loses most here isn’t Guterres, but the White House, which now looks petulant, said Edwards whose expertise includes International Organizations and International Political Economy.

He pointed out that the more intriguing development lies in the appointments announced last Tuesday.

Both Jeffrey Feltman of the US (renewed mandate as Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs) and Jean-Pierre Lacroix of France (Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations) are one-year appointments, setting up potential jockeying with the US and France over these offices next year.

“So these are early days as Guterres seeks to build his team,” he noted.

Asked if the nomination of Fayyad was based on consultations with all of the members of the Security Council, UN Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters last week: “We do consult broadly in the course of make appointments, and based on the understanding he had at the time, he believed he could go forward.”

Asked if Guterres spoke personally with Ambassador Haley regarding this nomination, he said: “I can’t characterize the full range of discussions he had. Like I said, he did… he and the Secretariat did consult prior to this, and we believed we had the understandings in hand. We… but we did not.”

Clarifying further, Haq said the Security Council is consulted on all appointments having to do with senior officials who report directly to the Security Council or carry out its mandates.

“So, that is part of the standard procedure in which all of the 15 members of the Security Council have a say. Regarding where we go forward from here, the Secretary General will continue his consultations. We’ll let you know of an appointment once something is decided.”

Asked if Guterres’ power or reputation — is diminished by the Fayyad incident, and whether it was embarrassing for him personally and a blow to his credibility, Haq said: “I don’t think it should be a blow to his credibility. I think it’s really suggested there is a problem where people’s perceptions should not blind them to the actual qualifications of a person for the job.”

In a wide-ranging IPS oped piece before the election of Guterres last year Chowdhury said: “Like any leader of an organization, the UN leader’s success or absence of it depends on his team. That is another area I belief needs a total overhaul in UN. It is long overdue.”

As in the case of any new corporate Chief Executive Officer, each time the UN’s Chief Administrative Officer – that is how the S-G is described in the UN Charter – gets elected or re-elected, interested quarters wonder whether he will introduce any new guidelines on senior appointments, and will he be subject to pressure from the big powers — as it happened with his predecessors?

In that context, he said, it is strongly felt that the UN’s so-called political appointments of Assistant-Secretaries-General (ASG) and Under-Secretaries-General (USG), should be more transparent and open.

The pressures from Member States and personal favoritism have made the UN Charter objective of “securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity” (article 101.3) almost impossible to achieve, he added.

It is also to be kept in mind that for his own appointment, the incoming Secretary-General makes all kinds of deals – political, organizational, personnel and others. And those are to be honored during first years in office, said Chowdhury, a former chairman of the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee that approved Kofi Annan’s first reform budget.

“That then spills over for the second occasion when he starts believing that a second term is his right, as we have seen in recent years.”

The tradition of all senior management staff submitting their resignations is only notional and window-dressing. The new Secretary-General knows full well that there is a good number of such staff who will continue to remain under the new leadership as they are backed strongly by influential governments. In the process, merit and effectiveness suffer, said Chowdury, initiator of Security Council resolution 1325 underscoring women’s equality of participation.

It is a pity that the UN system is full of appointments made under intense political pressure by Member States individually or as a group. Another aspect of this is the practice of identifying some USG posts for P-5 and big contributors to the UN budget.

“What makes this worse is that individuals to these posts are nominated by their governments, thereby violating article 100 of the UN Charter which says that “In the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization.”

“The reality in the Secretariat does not reflect the Charter objectives – I believe it never did.”

One way to avoid that would be to stop nomination and lobbying – formally or informally – for staff appointments giving the S-G some flexibility to select senior personnel based on “competence and integrity”.

Of course, one can point out inadequacies and possible pitfalls of this idea. But, there the leadership of the S-G will determine how he can make effective use of such flexibility being made available to him.

A very negative influence on the recruitment process at the UN, not to speak of senior appointments, has been the pressure of donors – both traditional and new ones – to secure appointments of staff and consultants, mostly through extra-budgetary resources and other funding supports.

This has serious implications for the goals and objectives as well as political mission and direction of the UN in its activities, he noted.

“No Secretary-General would be willing or be supported by the rest of the UN system to undertake any drastic reform of the recruitment process for both the senior management or at other levels. Also, at the end, he has to face the Member States in the General Assembly to get their nod for his reforms,” he declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Of Arabs and Muslims and the Big Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 10:35:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149025 This article slightly updates a previous one that IPS had published regarding the recurrent confusion about who are Arabs and who, Muslims.]]> Arab countries in the Middle East and North of Africa. Dark Green: Arab majority population. Light Green: Arab minority countries | Credit: Public Domain.

Arab countries in the Middle East and North of Africa. Dark Green: Arab majority population. Light Green: Arab minority countries | Credit: Public Domain.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

Now that President Donald Trump’s decision to ban citizens of seven Muslim majority countries from entering the United States continues to drift into legal labyrinths about its legality–or not, it may be useful to clarify some myths that often lead to an even greater confusion regarding the over-written, under-reported issue of who are Arabs and who Muslims.

To start with, it is a common belief – too often heralded by the mainstream media – that the Middle East is formed entirely of Arab countries, and that it is about the so-wrongly called Muslim, Arab World.

This is simply not accurate.

Firstly, because such an Arab World (or Arab Nation) does not actually exist as such. There is not much in common between a Mauritanian and an Omani; a Moroccan and a Yemeni; an Egyptian and a Bahraini, just to mention some examples. They all have different ethnic roots, history, original languages, traditions and religious beliefs.

Example: The Amazighs – also known as the Berbers – are an ethnic group indigenous to the North of Africa, living in lands stretching from the Atlantic cost to the Western Desert in Egypt. Historically, they spoke Berber languages.

There are around 25-30 million Berber speakers in North Africa. The total number of ethnic Berbers (including non-Berber speakers) is estimated to be far greater. They have been “Arabised” and “Islamised” since the Muslim conquest of North of Africa in the 7th century.

Secondly, because not all Muslims are Arabs, nor all Arabs are Muslims. Not to mention the very fact that not all Arabs are even Arabs. It would be more accurate to talk about “Arabised,” “Islamised” peoples or nations rather than an Arab World or Arab Nation.

Here are seven key facts about Muslims that large media, in particular the Western information tools, often neglect or ignore:

1. Not all Muslims Are Arabs

In fact, according to the most acknowledged statistics, the number of Muslims around the world amounts to an estimated 1.56 billion people, compared to estimated 2.2 billion Christians and 1.4 million Jewish.

Of this total, Arab countries are home to around 380 million people, that is only about 24 per cent of all Muslims.

2. Not all Arabs Are Muslims

While Islam is the religion of the majority of Arab population, not all Arabs are Muslims.

In fact, it is estimated that Christians represent between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of the Arab combined population. Therefore, Arab Muslims amount to just around one-fifth of all the world’s Muslims.

Arab Christians are concentrated mainly in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Egypt, where they represent up to 13 per cent of the total population amounting to 95 million inhabitants according to last year’s census.

It is also estimated that there are more Muslims in the United Kingdom than in Lebanon, and more Muslims in China than in Syria.

3. Major Muslim Countries Are in Asia

According to the U.S-based Pew Research Center, this would be the percentage of major religious groups in 2012: Christianity 31.5 per cent; Islam 23.2 per cent; Hinduism 15.0 per cent, and Buddhism 7.1 per cent of the world’s total population.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center estimated that in 2010 there were 49 Muslim-majority countries.

South and Southeast Asia would account for around 62 per cent of the world’s Muslims.

According to these estimates, the largest Muslim population in a single country lives in Indonesia, which is home to 12.7 per cent of all world’s Muslims.

Pakistan (with 11.0 per cent of all Muslims) is the second largest Muslim-majority nation, followed by India (10.9 per cent), and Bangladesh (9.2 per cent).

The Pew Research Center estimates that about 20 per cent of Muslims live in Arab countries, and that two non-Arab countries – Turkey and Iran – are the largest Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East.

In short, a large number of Muslim majority countries are not Arabs. This is the case of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey.

3. Largest Muslim Groups

It is estimated that 75 to 90 per cent of Islam followers are Sunni, while Shii represent 10 to 20 per cent of the global Muslim population.

The sometimes armed, violent conflicts between these two groups are often due to political impositions. But this is not restricted to Arab or Muslim countries, as evidenced by the decades of armed conflict between Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland.

4. Muslims Do Not Have Their Own God

In Arabic (the language in which the sacred book, the Koran, was written and diffused) the word “table” is said “tawla;” a “tree” is called “shajarah;” and a “book” is “ketab.” In Arabic “God” is “Allah”.

In addition, Islam does not at all deny the existence of Christianity or Christ. And it does fully recognise and pay due respect to the Talmud and the Bible.

Probably the main difference is that Islam considers Christ as God’s closest and most beloved “prophet,” not his son.

5. Islamic “Traditions”

Islam landed in the 7th century in the Gulf or Arab Peninsula deserts. There, both men and women used to cover their faces and heads to protect themselves from the strong heat and sand storms. It is not, therefore, about a purely Islam religious imposition.

Meanwhile, in the Arab deserts, populations used to have nomadic life, with men travelling in caravans, while women and the elderly would handle the daily life of their families. Islamic societies were therefore actually matriarchal.

Genital mutilations are common to Islam, Judaism (male) and many other religious beliefs, in particular in Africa.

Likewise other major monotheistic religions, a number of Muslim clerics have been using faith to increase their influence and power. This is fundamentally why so many “new traditions” have been gradually imposed on Muslims. This is the case, for example, of denying the right of women to education.

As with other major monotheistic religions, some Muslim clerics used their ever-growing powers to promote inhuman, brutal actions. This is the case of “Jihad” fundamentalists.

This has not been an exclusive case of Muslims along the history of humankind. Just remember the Spanish-Portuguese invasion of Latin America, where indigenous populations were exterminated and Christianity imposed by the sword, for the sake of the glory of Kings, Emperors… and Popes.

6. The Unfinished Wars between the West and Islam (and Vice-Versa)

There is a growing belief among Arab and Muslim academicians that the on-going violent conflicts between Muslims and the West (and vice-versa) are due to the “unfinished” war between the Christian West and the Islamic Ottoman Empire, in spite of the fact that the latter was dismantled in the early 1920s.

This would explain the successive wars in the Balkans and the Middle East, for instance.

7. The “Religion” of Oil

It has become too common, and thus too given for certain, that oil producers are predominantly Arabs and Muslims. This is not accurate.

To start with, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was founded in (the under British mandate) Baghdad, Iraq, in 1960 by five countries: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. These were later joined by Qatar (1961), Indonesia (1962), Libya (1962), the United Arab Emirates (1967), Algeria (1969), Nigeria (1971), Ecuador (1973), Gabon (1975) and Angola (2007).

And here you are: OPEC full membership includes: Ecuador, Venezuela, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola. None of these is either Arab or Muslim. They are all Christian states. As for Iran and Indonesia, these are Muslim countries, but not Arab.

Then you have other major oil and gas producers and exporters outside the OPEC ranks: the United States [which produces more oil (13,973,000 barrels per day) than Saudi Arabia (11,624,000)]; Russia (10,853,000); China (4,572,000); Canada (4,383,000, more than United Arab Emirates or Iran or Iraq); Norway (1,904,000, more than Algeria) and Mexico, among others.

Again, none of these oil producers is Arab or Muslim.

In short, not all Muslims are Arabs (these are less than 20 per cent of the total); not all Arabs are Muslims, and… not all Arabs are even Arabs!

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Beware of the New US Protectionist Plan, the Border Adjustment Tax – Part 1http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/beware-of-the-new-us-protectionist-plan-the-border-adjustment-tax/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beware-of-the-new-us-protectionist-plan-the-border-adjustment-tax http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/beware-of-the-new-us-protectionist-plan-the-border-adjustment-tax/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 12:37:51 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148990 If the tax plan is implemented it will have serious adverse effects on many contries, like China or Mexico, which sell hundreds of billions of dollars of manufactured products to the US. Credit: Bigstock

If the tax plan is implemented it will have serious adverse effects on many contries, like China or Mexico, which sell hundreds of billions of dollars of manufactured products to the US. Credit: Bigstock

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Feb 17 2017 (IPS)

A new and deadly form of protectionism is being considered by Congress leaders and the President of the United States that could have devastating effect on the exports and investments of American trading partners, especially the developing countries.

The plan, known as a border adjustment tax, would have the effect of taxing imports of goods and services that enter the United States, while also providing a subsidy for US exports which would be exempted from the tax.

The aim is to improve the competitiveness of US products, drastically reduce the country’s imports while promoting its exports, and thus reduce the huge US trade deficit.

On the other hand, if adopted, it would significantly reduce the competitiveness or viability of goods and services of countries presently exporting to the US.  The prices of these exports will have to rise due to the tax effect, depressing their demand and in some cases make them unsalable.

And companies from the US or other countries that have invested in developing countries because of cheaper costs and then export their products to the US will be adversely affected because of the new US import tax.

Some firms will relocate to the US.   Potential investors will be discouraged from opening new factories in the developing countries.  In fact this is one of the main aims of the plan – to get companies return to the US.

The plan is a key part of the America First strategy of US President Donald Trump, with his subsidiary policies of “Buy American” and “Hire Americans.”

The border adjustment tax is part of a tax reform blueprint “A Better Way” whose chief advocates are Republican leaders Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives and Kevin Brady, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

President Trump originally called the plan “too complicated” but is now considering it seriously.  In a recent address to congressional Republicans, Trump said:  “We’re working on a tax reform bill that will reduce our trade deficits, increase American exports and will generate revenue from Mexico that will pay for the (border) wall.”

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

The proposal has however generated a tremendous controversy in the US, with opposition coming from some Congress members (including Republicans), many economists and American companies whose business is import-intensive.

It however has the strong support of Republican Congress leaders and some version of it could be tabled as a bill.

Trump had earlier threatened to impose high tariffs on imports from countries having a trade surplus with the US, especially China and Mexico.

This might be a more simple measure, but is so blatantly protectionist that it would be sure to trigger swift retaliation, and would also almost certainly be found to violate the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The tax adjustment plan may have a similar effect in discouraging imports and moreover would promote exports, but it is more complex and thus difficult to understand.

The advocates hope that because of the complexity and confusion, the measure may not attract such a strong response from US trading partners.  Moreover they claim it is permitted by the WTO are presumably willing to put it to the test.

In the tax reform plan, the corporate tax rate would be reduced from the present 35% to 20%.   The border adjustment aspect of the plan has two main components. Firstly, the expenses of a company on imported goods and services can no longer be deducted from a company’s taxable income.  Wages and domestically produced inputs purchased by the company can be deducted.

The effect is that a 20% tax would be applied to the companies’ imports.

This would especially hit companies that rely on imports such as automobiles, electronic products, clothing, toys and the retail and oil refining sectors.

The Wall Street Journal gives the example of a firm with a revenue of $10,000 and with $5,000 imports, $2 000 wage costs and $3,000 profit.  Under the present system, where the $5,000 imports plus the $2,000 wages can be deducted, and with a 35% tax rate, the company’s taxable total would be $3,000, tax would be $1,050 and after-tax profit would be $1,950.

Under the new plan, the $5,000 imports cannot be deducted and would form part of the new taxable total of $8,000.  With a 20% tax rate, the tax would be $1,600 and the after-tax profit $1,400.

Given this scenario, if the company wants to retain his profit margin, it would have to raise its price and revenue significantly, but this in turn would reduce the volume of demand for the imported goods.

For firms that are more import-dependent, or with lower profit margin, the situation may be even more dire, as some may not be financially viable anymore.

Take the example of a company with $10,000 revenue, $7,000 imports, $2,000 wages and $1,000 profit.   With the new plan, the taxable total is $8,000 and the tax is $1,600, so after tax it has a loss of $600 instead of a profit of $1,000.

The company, to stay alive, would have to raise its prices very significantly, but that might make its imported product much less competitive.  In the worst case, it would close, and the imports would cease.

The economist Larry Summers, a former Treasury Secretary, gives a similar example of a retailer who imports goods for 60 cents, incurs 30 cents in labour and interest costs and then earns a 5 cent margin.  With 20% tax, and no ability to deduct import or interest costs, the taxes will substantially exceed 100% of profits even if there is some offset from a stronger dollar.

On the other hand, the new plan allows a firm to deduct revenue from its exports from its taxable income.  This would allow the firm to increase its after-tax profit.

The Wall Street Journal article gives the example of a firm which presently has export sales of $10,000, cost of inputs $5,000, wages $2,000 and profit $3,000.  With the 35% corporate tax rate, the tax is $1,050 and after-tax profit is $1,950.

Perhaps the most vulnerable country is Mexico, where many factories were established to take advantage of tariff-free entry to the US market under the North American Free Trade Agreement. President Trump has warned American as well as German and Japanese auto companies that if they make new investments in Mexico, their products would face high taxes or tariffs on entry, and called on them to invest in the US instead.
Under the new plan, the export sales of $10,000 is exempt from tax, so the company has zero tax.  Its profit after tax is thus $3,000.   The company can cut its export prices, demand for its product increases and the company can expand its sales and export revenues.

At the macro level, with imports reduced and exports increased, the US can cut its trade deficit, which is a major aim of the plan.

On the other hand, the US is a major export market for many developing countries, so the tax plan if implemented will have serious adverse effects on them.

The countries range from China and Mexico, which sell hundreds of billions of dollars of manufactured products to the US; to Brazil and Argentina which are major agricultural exporters; to Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam which sell commodities like palm oil and timber and also manufactured goods such as electronic products and components and textiles, Arab countries that export oil, and African countries that export oil, minerals and other commodities, and countries like India which provide services such as call services and accountancy services to US companies.

American industrial companies are also investors in many developing countries. The tax plan if implemented would reduce the incentives for some of these companies to be located abroad as the low-cost advantage of the foreign countries would be offset by the inability of the parent company to claim tax deductions for the goods imported from their subsidiary companies abroad.

Perhaps the most vulnerable country is Mexico, where many factories were established to take advantage of tariff-free entry to the US market under the North American Free Trade Agreement.  President Trump has warned American as well as German and Japanese auto companies that if they make new investments in Mexico, their products would face high taxes or tariffs on entry, and called on them to invest in the US instead.

After the implications of the border adjustment plan are understood, it is bound to generate concern and outrage from the United States’ trading partners, in both South and North, if implemented.  They can be expected to consider immediate retaliatory measures.

A former undersecretary for international business negotiations of Mexico (2000-2006), Luis de la Calle, said  in a media interview:  “If the US wants to move to this new border tax approach, Mexico and Canada would have to do the same….We have to prepare for that scenario.”

In any case, it can be expected that countries will take up complaints against the US at the WTO.   The proponents claim the tax plan will be designed in a way that is compatible with the WTO rules.

But many international trade law experts believe the tax plan’s measures will violate several of the WTO’s principles and agreements, and that the US will lose if other countries take up cases against it in the WTO dispute settlement system.

This prospect may however not decisively deter Trump from championing the Republicans’ tax blueprint and signing it into law, should Congress decide to adopt it.

The President and some of his trade advisors have criticised the WTO’s rules and have mentioned the option of leaving the organisation if it prevents or impedes the new America First strategy from being implemented.  If the US leaves the WTO, it would of course cause a major crisis for international trade and trade relations.

There are many critics of the plan.  Lawrence Summers, a former US Treasury Secretary, warns that the tax change will worsen inequality, place punitive burdens on import-intensive sectors and companies, and harm the global economy.

The tax plan is expected to cause a 15-20% rise in the US dollar.  “This would do huge damage to dollar debtors all over the world and provoke financial crises in some emerging markets,” according to Summers.

While export-oriented US companies are supporters, other US companies including giants Walmart and Apple are strongly against the border tax plan, and an influential Republican, Steven Forbes, owner of Forbes magazine, has called the plan “insane.”

It is not yet clear what Trump’s final position will be. If he finds it too difficult to use the proposed border tax, because of the effect on some American companies and sectors, he might opt for the simpler use of tariffs.

In any case, whether tariffs or border taxes, policy makers and companies and employees especially in developing countries should pay attention to the trade policies being cooked up in Washington, and to voice their opinions.

Otherwise they may wake up to a world where their products are blocked from the US, the world’s largest market, and where the companies that were once so happy to make money in their countries suddenly pack up and return home.

This article is the first in a two-part series on the border adjustment tax, which would have the effect of taxing imports of goods and services that enter the United States, while also providing a subsidy for US exports which would be exempted from the tax. You can find Part 2 here

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A Dire Vacuum in a World in Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/a-dire-vacuum-in-a-world-in-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-dire-vacuum-in-a-world-in-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/a-dire-vacuum-in-a-world-in-crisis/#comments Thu, 09 Feb 2017 13:21:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148875 Courtesy of the Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue.

Courtesy of the Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue.

By Baher Kamal
ROME/GENEVA, Feb 9 2017 (IPS)

“The world is in a crisis, not least because governing élites have estranged themselves from the needs and aspirations of ordinary people. This sense of being left behind has lead the latter to rebel against their country’s stratified governance,” warns a Geneva-based human rights and dialogue centre.

“At the same time, complaints about the unfairness of globalisation were hushed up or ignored when they hit the poor in the Global South but now that people in the Global North are feeling the pinch as well, the issue’s priority is moving up in media reports”, says the Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue(GCHRAGD).

All these trends have exacerbated populist movements rejecting citizenship in favour of narrower concepts of identity related to dominant races or religions, the Centre continues, adding that on the other hand foreign military invasions in the Middle East, with the resultant casualties and exclusions, have created bitterness and have destroyed social mechanisms for conflict resolution.

“These developments have brought about a vacuum, which has been occupied by terrorist groups seeking legitimacy in a perverted interpretation of Islam… Thus for different reasons, the two main world religions have become embroiled in the rise of extremist ideologies and are increasingly being perceived as part of the problems underlying this world crisis.”

Now the GCHRAGD is in the process of launching a new initiative during the current session of the UN Human Rights Council (Feb. 27 to Mar. 24, 2017)—a side-event on March 15th a panel discussion around the theme “Islam and Christianity, The Great Convergence: Working jointly towards equal citizenship.”

According to the Centre, this initiative is aimed at creating a grand coalition to let these major world religions become part of the solution to the current crisis by unleashing their joint potential for peace at the service of equality in citizenship which implies a definition of identity based on citizenship rather than on religious, ethnic or other affiliations.

Thus could be addressed the issue of minorities, both Muslim ones in the West and Christian ones in the Middle East, let alone the parlous situation of Muslim minorities in parts of Asia or religious tension between Muslims and Christians in some parts of Africa as well as contemporary phobic language which tends to create more social tension, explains GCHRAGD.

“A side-event is only a first awareness raising opportunity which should be followed by other initiatives, hopefully in the Human Rights Council itself and beyond.”

The panel discussion will build on a series of events organised by the Geneva Centre in collaboration with various partners working on the promotion and protection of human rights in the Arab region and in Europe, as well as on extremist violence and Islamophobia.

In this context, the Geneva Centre organised in 2016 a number of conferences on four related themes: The Advancement of the Status of Women in the Arab World; Islamophobia and the Implementation of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18: Reaching out; De-radicalisation or the Roll-Back of Extremist Violence; and Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony.

According to its organisers, the side event seeks to ascertain religious diversity and consolidate the view of the Christian and Muslim religions as vectors of peace, by focusing on the great convergences between Islam and Christianity based on the commonalities of their basic values.

The Rationale Behind

The Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue explains the rationale behind the March 15th side event:

“Over the past few years, on-going armed conflict and indiscriminate terrorist attacks bringing bereavement principally to the Arab region and to parts of Africa, and spilling over to the Western world, have contributed to an exacerbation of human rights violations with a worldwide worsening human rights impact of unprecedented proportions not witnessed since the end of World War II.

“This can take form through the violation of human rights encompassing the freedom of worship, the freedom of expression, the freedom of movement, the restriction of education, the repression of women, and the violations of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

“Against this dire background, the world is witnessing a rise of right wing populism and extremist ideologies, resulting from increasing remoteness of the State from the electorate.

“Feeding on violence and dormant biases, Islamophobia has been increasing steadily and worryingly over the past years. For instance, only in the United States alone, hate crimes against Muslims rose by a staggering 67 per cent since 2015.

“The Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar has also witnessed ethnic cleansing and religious persecution by Buddhist extremists in the state of Rakhine that has largely been neglected and ignored by the world community.

“Other relevant examples of religious persecution can be extended to include the genocide committed by the Bosnian Serbs on the Bosniaks of Bosnia-Herzegovina in which the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, largest massacre in Europe after the end of the Second World War, was carried out in the town of Srebrenica resulting in the killing of more than 8,000 Muslims.

“During the late 1980s, the Bulgarian Turks experienced widespread human rights violations by the Bulgarian government that launched a campaign to erase the ethnic and religious identities of the Bulgarian Turks.

“Moreover, the demolition of the Baburi mosque by Hindu extremists in 1992 gave rise to heightened Muslim-Hindu tensions in India. Likewise, the distorted representation of Muslim communities as well as of Islam itself in the media has been playing a malevolent role in strengthening xenophobic trends around the world, by perpetuating stereotypes and negative portrayals of Muslims.

“We can explore ways in which the media can mitigate their role in presenting a distorted picture of religious minorities, and more fully contribute to increased tolerance and inter-religious understanding by promoting peaceful messages to the public.”

The primary outcome of the side event could be the adoption of a draft agenda for an international conference to be held on the same subject for which a first draft is attached as an annex to the concept note.

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Trump’s Muslim Ban a Test for Unity and Solidarityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 16:14:30 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148766 Outgoing African Union Chair described the Muslim ban as a test for unity and solidarity. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Outgoing African Union Chair described the Muslim ban as a test for unity and solidarity. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK / UNITED NATIONS, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Outgoing African Union Chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has described the United States ban on refugees and immigrants from seven countries as “one of the greatest challenges and tests to our unity and solidarity.”

Speaking to African leaders on Monday Zuma asked why “the very country to whom our people were taken as slaves during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, have now decided to ban refugees from some of our countries.”

On Friday 27 January United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily ceasing entry to the United States for nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order also suspended the entire U.S. refugee program for 120 days and indefinitely blocked all refugees from Syria from entering the United States.

African leaders are not the only ones who see the ban as a test of unity and solidarity.

Others see growing anti-Muslim sentiment as a rallying point for solidarity between different religious groups, with American Jews questioning the “terrible irony” of the bill being signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

IPS spoke with Fadi Hallisso, a former Jesuit from Syria and Said Sabir Ibrahimi, who was born in Afghanistan and is involved in interfaith solidarity events between Jewish and Muslim people living in New York.

“Religion is a powerful tool, but instead of using it for destruction and hatred, we are going to use it to build bridges between different communities to pave the way towards a better community for our kids,” -- Fadi Hallisso

Hallisso, is the co-founder of Basmeh and Zeitooneh a Syrian NGO, whose five founders include three Christians.

“Our work in Turkey and Lebanon is almost 100 percent with Muslim Syrians,” Hallisso told IPS. “I think working hand-in-hand with different people from different religious backgrounds is what we need right now.”

“Religion is a powerful tool, but instead of using it for destruction and hatred, we are going to use it to build bridges between different communities to pave the way towards a better community for our kids,” he said.

Trump’s order also states that once the U.S. refugee program resumes it will prioritise claims from religious minorities – prompting some to believe that Christian refugees from these Muslim majority countries will be prioritised.

However Hallisso, himself a Syrian Christian, disagreed that in the case of Syria Christians are more persecuted than Muslims.

“We are all human beings suffering from an impossible situation that we wish to have an end to soon,” he said.

Hallisso described the women’s marches that occurred the day after Trump’s inauguration as an important act of solidarity.

“I wish we can in the coming few months and years to expand this solidarity to become global solidarity movement,” he said. “If the people of goodwill do not work together and the bad guys would have the last say.”

Said Sabir Ibrahimi, who was born in Afghanistan and now lives in New York told IPS that he has seen a growing movement of people of different background in the United States bridging divides.

Ibrahimi is part of a group which organises interfaith solidarity events between Jewish and Muslim people living in New York.

“We sense open Islamaphobia and subtle anti-semitism – not to mention the anti-women rhetoric and more,” Ibrahimi told IPS.

“The good news is that some Muslim-Jewish and other faith or non-faith groups have come together to voice their concerns about this whole chaotic policy shift and we have witnessed these groups showing up in protests in large crowds, across the country, in unprecedented ways probably since the 1960s during the Vietnam war.”

Meanwhile, the White House has also been criticised for failing to mention Jewish people in its statement issued on Holocaust Memorial Day.

“I think it’s so bizarre to talk about the Holocaust and not mention Jewish people,” said Ibrahimi. “It was the Jewish people who had suffered the most during those horrific times of World War Two.”

He said that people are drawing connections and associating significance with the marginalisation of minorities in Nazi Germany and the events unfolding in the United States.

For some American Jews, it was no coincidence that the dramatic change in US immigration policy was announced on Holocaust Remembrance Day:

Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of Liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street said that it was a “terrible irony” that Trump signed the order on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“The fact that President Trump’s order appears designed to specifically limit the entry of Muslims evokes horrible memories among American Jews of the shameful period leading up to World War Two, when the United States failed to provide a safe haven for the vast majority of Jews in Europe trying to escape Nazi persecution,” said Ben-Ami.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that she was ready to register as a Muslim in response to Trump’s proposed Muslim Registry – which as yet has not been enacted:

“I was raised Catholic, became Episcopalian & found out later my family was Jewish. I stand ready to register as Muslim in #solidarity,” said Albright who came to the United States from Czechoslovakia as a refugee.

Hallisso expressed dismay that the United States a country “built on immigration,” and “built by immigrants escaping religious persecution in Europe” has begun “portraying all immigrants and refugees as potential terrorists.”

“To see this coming from Americans now, some American leaders, is for me devastating because it is like someone ignoring all of the history of his own country,” he said.

“But also it is problematic for us in the Middle East for a number of reasons, because for God’s sake, how do you expect countries like Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey to continue to receive more than a million refugees if 10,000 Syrian refugees coming to the United States are a problem?”

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The Trump Presidency: The First Weekhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-trump-presidency-the-first-week/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-trump-presidency-the-first-week http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-trump-presidency-the-first-week/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 10:58:34 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148757 The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.]]>

The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

By Johan Galtung
ALICANTE, Spain, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Attacking the Affordable Care Act; the “global gag rule” against abortion; the federal regulation and hiring freeze; canceling the TPP; restarting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline; limiting entry with the Mexican Wall; the 90-day travel ban on seven countries; more undocumented people prioritized for deportation; no federal funding for cities refusing to cooperate; communications blackout from federal agencies; Guantánamo torture continued–What does it add up to?

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

A very strong white state centered on a president with absolute power and control over life (birth) and death (care) of the citizens. Not regulating police racism. So far, no order on the military.

Fascism? Too early to say; but in that direction. It opens for questions about the inner workings of Donald J. Trump. Who is he?

A Johns Hopkins psychologist sees Trump suffering from “malignant narcissism“. A Norwegian historian, Öystein Morten, in a detailed analysis of Norwegian king crusader Sigurd Jorsalafare (1103-1130)–clearly crazy–has a Norwegian psychiatrist diagnose him as suffering from “bipolar depression”, manic-depressive. Is Trump only manic?

This column early on saw Trump as suffering from “autism”, living in his own bubble, speaking his babble with no sense of reciprocity, the reaction of the other side. The column stands by that.

However, this column drew a line between his words and deeds; denouncing his rhetoric as grossly insulting and prejudicial, but pinning some hope on his deeds. Wrong, and sorry about that. After one week, Trump clearly means every word he says, and enacts them from Day 1; even what he once retracted in a New York Times interview.

Combine the two points just made: autism and immediate enactment. He acts, and from his bubble does not sense how others will react, and increasingly proact. He assumes that others will accept his orders, obey, and that is it. It is not. His orders my even backfire.

As many point out, terrorism in the USA after 9/11 is almost nil. But his actions may change that. Some Mexicans may hit back, not only against the wall but the border itself, drawn by USA grabbing 53% of Mexican territory in 1846-48, then soaking Mexico in debt and violence importing drugs and exporting arms, even unaware of the harm they do.

Take the seven countries targeted by Trump for collective punishment: Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen; the old seven with state central banks targeted by Bush, with Yemen substituted for Lebanon. All mainly Muslim.

Imagine them reacting by cooperating, learning from China to raise the bottom up, starting building a West Asian community with links across the Red Sea, and “Saudi” Arabia soon joining?

If their governments do not do that, imagine the Islamic State doing exactly that? What a gift to the Islamic State/Caliphate!

As a minimum, the 7 might reciprocate and block US citizens’ entry for the same period. How would that affect US military operations? Would it force Trump to use force? In fact, are his demands on other countries so extreme, not only in words but in deeds, that there are no more words and deeds left short of force? Does his extremism limit his range of options, making war as probable as under Hillary Clinton?

And yet what he has done so far, firing and backfiring, is little relative to what other US presidents have done of harm.

Take FDR spending much of his presidencies on beating Japan, scheming to provoke Japan into war, defeat and permanent occupation to eliminate Japan as a threat to US economy and polity. That policy is still being enacted, now as “collective self-defense.”

Take JFK getting USA into the Vietnam War in 1961.

Take Eisenhower eliminating Lumumba, maybe Hammarskjöld.

They caused devastation of Japan, of Vietnam and set back Africa on its way to freedom, autonomy, independence. Trump is retracting, contracting, away from others, but not expanding into them. So far.

The reaction inside the USA has been from judges challenging the legality of the orders and launching court suits. The market has been ambiguous but generally down with heavy protests from Silicon Valley. Trump claims the orders are working. What else will happen?

It is difficult to imagine that there will not be a CIA response, being challenged and provoked by Trump, not only for accusing Russia of intervening to his advantage.

There are probably at this moment countless meetings in Washington on how to get rid of Trump. Yet, he has command over not only his Executive, Congress and the Supreme Court, but also over the overwhelming number of states in the union.

US presidents have been assassinated before Trump when the forces against are sufficiently strong. Could somebody from the Travel ban 7 be hired to do the job, making it look as a foreign conspiracy?

Another and more hopeful scenario would be nonviolent resistance. Difficult for border officials. But inside the USA people to be deported may be hidden, protected by their own kind and by others–with care though, Trump also has some good points.

More constructive would be alternative foreign policies by cities, at present not by the federation, nor by most of the states. Reaching out to the seven and above all to Mexico for dialogue; searching for better relations than at present and under Trump.

Preparing the ground for something new, under the Democratic Party or not. Not a third party, impossible in the USA it seems, but as general approach. The relation between New York and Baghdad, Tehran, Damascus, Tripoli, Khartoum, Mogadisciu and Sana’a as an example. Still some space!

There is no greatness in what Trump does, he makes USA smaller. Trying rebirth instead of rust, canceling stupid deals like TPP: OK. But retracting into a self-glorifying strong state is not greatness, it is isolation. Greatness is not in what you are but in how you relate. And Trump relates very badly.

Johan Galtung’s article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS): TMS: The Trump Presidency: The First Week

The statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Shocks for Developing Countries from President Trump’s First Dayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/shocks-for-developing-countries-from-president-trumps-first-days/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shocks-for-developing-countries-from-president-trumps-first-days http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/shocks-for-developing-countries-from-president-trumps-first-days/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2017 12:12:16 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148712 General Assembly Holds High-level Dialogue on Building Sustainable Peace for All. Two executive orders are being prepared to reduce the US’ role in in the United Nations and other international organisations. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

General Assembly Holds High-level Dialogue on Building Sustainable Peace for All. Two executive orders are being prepared to reduce the US’ role in in the United Nations and other international organisations. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Jan 30 2017 (IPS)

His first days in office indicate that President Donald Trump intends to implement what he promised, with serious consequences for the future of the United Nations, trade, the environment and international cooperation, and developing countries will be most affected.

Those who hoped Trump would be more statesman-like in style and middle-of-the-road in policy matters after his inauguration had their illusions dashed when the new United States President moved straight into action to fulfil his election pledges.

The world and the world order have to prepare for more major shocks.  It will be far from business as usual.  And while other powerful countries can prepare tit-for-tat counter-moves when President Trump strikes, most developing countries won’t have the means, and may suffer the most.

Even close friends are not spared.  Trump signed an order fast-starting building a wall at the US border with Mexico. To add insult to injury, he asked Mexico to pay for the wall and threatened to impose a 20% tax on Mexican products to finance it.  He has also discouraged US companies from moving to Mexico.

Mexicans are understandably outraged and the Mexican President cancelled his planned trip to Washington.  Mexico has been one of America’s strongest allies. If it can be treated in this manner, is there hope for others to avoid being targeted?

The Trump order to ban the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, even those holding a Green card or are working in the US, on the ground that they could pose a security threat, has caused not only anger in the affected countries but also uncertainty among people in other developing countries who fear they may also be targeted in future.

The executive order also suspended the admission of all refugees into the US.  If made permanent, this measure signals the end of a long tradition of the US (in line with many other Western countries) to welcome a limited number of people escaping from troubled countries. In some of these countries, the troubles that prompted them to leave resulted from interventions or interference by the US and its Western allies.

The world and the world order have to prepare for more major shocks. It will be far from business as usual. And while other powerful countries can prepare tit-for-tat counter-moves when President Trump strikes, most developing countries won’t have the means, and may suffer the most
Very troubling are the signs that the US is revamping its approach to international cooperation. Two executive orders are being prepared to reduce the US’ role in in the United Nations and other international organisations, according to a New York Times report.

One of the draft orders calls for at least a 40% cut in US funding toward international organisations and terminating funds for any international body that fit certain criteria.

The other order calls for a review of all current and pending treaties, and recommendations on which negotiations or treaties the US should leave.

The New York Times says that if Trump signs the orders, the cuts could severely curtail the work of UN agencies which rely on billions of dollars in annual US contributions.   “Taken together, the orders suggest that Mr Trump intends to pursue his campaign promises of withdrawing the US from international organisations.  He has expressed heavy scepticism of multilateral agreements such as the Paris climate agreement and the UN.”

The US has been the major creator of the post-Second World War system of international relations, with the United Nations at its centre.  The UN has served as a crucial universal forum for international discussion and cooperation, including on peace-keeping and economic and social issues.

It convenes leaders and representatives of almost all countries for meetings and conferences, with resolutions and declarations, on a wide range of current affairs.  Its agencies have supported global and national policy making and actions on economic development, health, food, the environment, human rights, culture and education, natural disasters and refugees.

The UN has been playing a critical positive role in providing a venue for developing countries to voice their opinions and take part in decision-making on global affairs.  The UN agencies have provided resources and support to developing countries to build their national capacities for economic and social development, and in preventing and managing political conflicts.

Of course the UN needs to be improved, including in democratisation of the Security Council and in giving more say to developing countries, especially on global economic and financial issues on which decisions are usually taken by a few powerful countries and outside the UN.

But denigrating the UN’s role and reducing funds for its operations would severely weaken the spirit and substance of international cooperation, to the detriment especially of developing countries.

Another looming problem is that President Trump looks intent on doing a complete turnaround on the present US environmental policies.  This will have a grave effect on the world, both in terms of the physical environment itself and in turning back the clock on global efforts to tackle multiple environmental crises.

Within a day of Trump’s inauguration, pages and references to climate change were removed from the White House website. The Environmental Protection Agency was reportedly told to remove its web section on climate change, though that order was later countered.   Staff at the EPA were forbidden to issue media statements or new scientific studies and research grants were suspended.

Two major projects cancelled during Obama’s presidency on environmental and social grounds, the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota access pipeline, are being revived.   The Clean Power Act, a centrepiece of the Obama effort to address climate change, has been under attack.

And all these even before the assumption of office of Trump’s nominee for the new EPA chief, the Oklahoma attorney-general Scott Pruitt, who is well known for having sued the EPA 14 times.  His selection by Trump was described by the New York Times as signalling Mr Trump’s determination to dismantle President Obama’s efforts to counter climate change – and much of the EPA itself.”

This policy turnaround will negatively affect international efforts to combat the global environmental crisis.  In particular, the many years of collective work to get agreed action on climate change will be seriously impeded since the US is looked up to show an example that developed countries take domestic climate actions seriously and are also committed to provide climate-related financial assistance to developing countries.

At this point it is not certain whether the US will remain in the Paris Agreement or even the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; its withdrawal from either or both would be disastrous.

It can however be expected that under Trump, the US will stop its funding to the Green Climate Fund, to which the Obama administration had pledged $3 billion in its initial period and delivered $1 billion.  If the US withdraws, will other countries increase their funding to make up for the loss of US, or will they also reduce their share, thereby plunging the GCF into an uncertain future?

Another major action was Trump’s move to withdraw the US from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. He had pledged to do so but when he acted, on his first working day, it still came as a shock.

Initially Australia and New Zealand tried to get the remaining 11 TPP countries to pledge they would continue to get the TPP to enter into force.  But this has not gained traction, with Japan and Canada bluntly stating that the TPP is meaningless and cannot continue without the US.

Thus, the TPP has been killed. Even if in future Trump or his successor has a change of heart, the public mood is such that the US Congress would be unlikely to approve.

More important than Trump’s action itself is what it represents in terms of the new US approach towards trade.   The TPP was loaded to favour US interests in many ways.  On the trade aspect, the US has lower tariffs than the developing country partners with which it did not yet have a trade agreement, and thus stood to gain in terms of trade balance.

On the non-trade aspects of the TPP, which the US under Obama had insisted upon, American companies would have gained in the areas of intellectual property, investment, government procurement and state-owned enterprises.

Yet the TPP was unpopular with the American public, because it perceived that whatever gains the US would have would flow to the corporations and the elites, leaving the working and middle classes to face problems such as possible job losses from cheaper imports and relocation of factories abroad.

With the demise of the TPP, developing countries which are its members regret the loss of their opportunity to gain greater access to the US market.  But they are also spared from having to take on heavy obligations on investment, intellectual property and state-owned enterprises, and other issues.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

The Trump move on the TPP is a prelude to other trade policies to rolled out soon, in pursuance of his America First strategy, which includes the subsidiary slogans Buy American and Hire Americans.

Policies being considered include higher tariffs or else “border adjusting taxes” on products from countries with which the US has trade deficits, starting with China and Mexico; tax incentives for companies that export; taxes to punish US companies located abroad that export to the US; and requirements that companies that win government infrastructure and other contracts have to make use of American-made goods.

Many developing countries which depend on the US for their exports, and that presently host US companies or hope to attract new US investments, will be adversely affected by these policies, which together spell a new era of US protectionism.  It will end the US-championed policies of liberalisation of trade and investment.

Trump also announced he plans to initiate new one-to-one bilateral trade agreements, in place of regional or plurilateral trade agreements. If his aim is to promote the US companies’ interests even more strongly than in previous FTAs, this may mean a negotiating stance of maximising US exports to while minimising imports from the bilateral partners, and pressurising them to accept provisions on investment, services, intellectual property, procurement, state-owned enterprises and other issues that are even stronger than what the TPP had.

Other developed countries like Japan and the post-Brexit United Kingdom may be interested in starting negotiations with the US with its new template, in an attempt to get mutual benefits.  It remains to be seen whether there would be developing countries willing to be new partners in what for them would likely be very one-sided bilateral agreements.

Another question is whether the rules of the multilateral trading system will act to constrain the new US administration.  Many of the new policies announced by Trump or his team (such as higher taxes and tariffs on Chinese and Mexican goods, or taxes on American companies exporting to the US) are probably against one or another of the agreements under the World Trade Organisation.

Even if the Trump administration fine-tunes its policy measures in an attempt to fit within the WTO’s rules, they will most likely be challenged by other WTO members.   If the WTO panels rule against the US, will it comply with the decisions, or will Trump turn his fire against the WTO and its system instead?

Meanwhile, the WTO members are waiting to see what positions the new US trade team will take in the on-going WTO negotiations in Geneva.

Given that Trump ran on the promise to upend the establishment, and it looks as if he intends to keep to his word, leaders and people around the world, and especially in the developing countries since they are more vulnerable, should prepare themselves to respond to more and bigger shocks ahead.

 

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Who Will Rule Trump Foreign Policy?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/who-will-rule-trump-foreign-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-will-rule-trump-foreign-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/who-will-rule-trump-foreign-policy/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2017 14:56:05 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148683 Photo of Steve Bannon by Don Irvine via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo of Steve Bannon by Don Irvine via Wikimedia Commons.

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jan 26 2017 (IPS)

The most frightening commentary I’ve read in the run-up to the inauguration—and there have been many—appeared in a column identifying the four people whose foreign policy ideas were likely to be most influential with the then-president-elect. It was written by The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin and entitled “Inside Trump’s Shadow National Security Council.”

Those four people, according to Rogin, are chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who “has been working on the long-term strategic vision that will shape the Trump administration’s overall foreign policy approach;” chief of staff Reince Priebus; Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and his national security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.).

What is particularly striking about these four men is their collective lack of foreign-policy-making experience. I can’t see any in Bannon’s resume. Priebus, until he took over the Republican National Committee six years ago, was essentially a local Wisconsin political operative. Aside from occasional visits to Israel and his family foundation’s philanthropy for Israeli and settler institutions, Kushner has never, to my knowledge, expressed any particular interest in foreign policy although, according to Rogin, he has recently been meeting with “leading representatives from countries including Israel, Germany and Britain.” Although Flynn undoubtedly gained a lot of experience overseas, his entire career was devoted to military intelligence, not policy making. And, despite her lengthy resume compiled in the national security bureaucracies under various Republican presidents, Flynn’s hand-picked deputy, K.T. McFarland, worked virtually exclusively in communications and speechwriting — never in a policy-making role.

Is there any modern precedent for this total lack of experience in the top echelons of the White House, including the National Security Council?

No Experience, Lots of Opinions

The absence of foreign-policy-making experience however, does not mean that these individuals lack foreign-policy opinions. And, of course, in Washington, as a hoary, inside-the-Beltway maxim puts it: “Personnel is policy.”

Aside from his overseas business interests, Trump himself also has no foreign-policy experience. Nor, it seems, does he have much curiosity about the subject. Aside from the fairly consistent Islamophobia and aggressive nationalism expressed in various ways and degrees over the past couple of decades, he also doesn’t seem to have much in the way of fixed foreign-policy ideas or principles other than self-glorification, a desperate need to gain and retain public and media attention, and possibly the repayment of any debts he feels he may have incurred to foreign interests that helped— Putin? The Adelsons on behalf of Bibi?—put him in the presidency. Certainly, his often-contradictory utterances during the election campaign bolstered the impression that he is not grounded in any firm beliefs about Washington’s role in the world. So it seems relatively safe to assume that the worldviews of the same individuals cited by Rogin as the most influential—and closest to the Oval Office—are those that will at least initially guide Trump.

Is there any modern precedent for this total lack of experience in the top echelons of the White House, including the National Security Council?
Of the five individuals mentioned above, only three have particularly strong publicly expressed foreign-policy worldviews: Bannon, Flynn, and McFarland.

Of these, Bannon appears pre-eminent, at least for the moment. That became clear not only in the content and dark, almost apocalyptic tone of Trump’s “America First” inaugural address—which, according to the Wall Street Journal, was actually drafted by Bannon and alt-right fellow-traveller Stephen Miller—but also in Trump’s controversial interview last week with The Times of London and Das Bild.

The most comprehensive account of Bannon’s worldview is contained in his 50-minute interview at a conference held at the Vatican in 2014. In addition to the kind of populist ethno-nationalism with which his name and Breitbart News (of which he was former CEO) have now been associated, Bannon sees the world as a true “clash of civilizations” that pits “Islamic Fascism” against the “Judeo-Christian West.” His remarkable invocation in that interview of the “church militant” and the battles of Tours against the Arabs in 732 and Vienna against the Ottomans in 1638 as historical models to which the Judeo-Christian world should now aspire suggests a certain grandiosity (that would naturally appeal to Trump, too). To Bannon, global or other kinds of supra-national institutions that espouse universalist ideals and that get in the way of “strong nationalist movements …[that are] really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States,” are anathema. (You have to wonder how much modern European history Bannon has studied.) In the entire text, he never mentions human rights or democracy or other liberal values.

Along with his ideas about capitalism, Ayn Randism, traditionalism, and populism, it’s fair to say that Bannon thinks deep—if somewhat contradictory—thoughts. He’s also very, very far to the right—although he identifies as “center right”—and has what I would call proto-fascist inclinations. It’s no wonder that he’s fascinated by and identifies with Europe’s far-right nationalist and anti-European Union (EU) movements. But he also finds common ground with Putin and his promotion of the Russian Orthodox Church and Israel’s Likud Party. The latter’s roots, after all, lie in Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Betar movement, which, despite its founder’s liberal convictions, has always harbored messianic nationalist, if not fascist tendencies.

The degree to which Trump has apparently absorbed and now echoes these ideas is reflected in his most recent public remarks. Compare, for example, Bannon’s defense of Putin—that “people …want to see the sovereignty for their country, they want to see nationalism for their country”—with what Trump said in defending Brexit in his interview with The Times and Bild. “People, countries want their own identity, and the U.K. wanted its own identity,” Trump stressed as he effectively urged other EU members to emulate Brexit, presumably as part of the Judeo-Christian civilizational struggle against Islam. He reiterated this theme in his inaugural speech Friday in the kind of messianic vision favored by Bannon: “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the Earth” (emphasis added). In the same Times/Bild interview, Trump clearly tried to undermine confidence in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership, saying that he trusted her as much as Putin, at least for the time being—a rather striking assertion that must have sent blood pressures soaring in various foreign ministries, including the State Department. Trump also questioned the current relevance of NATO to similar effect in European defense ministries and the Pentagon.

Of course, these statements were presaged by Trump’s enthusiasm over Brexit itself and the fact that the first foreign “leader” to personally celebrate his election victory with him was none other than Nigel Farage. Farage, who Trump subsequently recommended as UK ambassador here much to the discomfort of the British prime minister, was subsequently seated in the special VIP section at Friday’s inauguration, along with leaders of the Israeli settlement movement. Bannon has made little secret of his admiration—and support—for the French National Front’s Marine Le Pen, another anti-EU European, pro-Putin leader (whose visit to Trump Tower two weeks ago likely included a tete-a-tete with Trump’s chief strategist). We’ll see whether the far-right, Islamophobic Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, shows up at the Tower at some point before this year’s elections in the Netherlands, while Czech President Milos Zeman, another Islamophobic Putin admirer, is set to visit the White House in April. Can Hungary’s Viktor Orban be far behind?

Bannon and Putin—and probably Netanyahu, too—clearly have Angela Merkel and the EU in their crosshairs as part of a larger effort to create what The Daily Beast’s called a “worldwide ultra-right” movement, or, perhaps more bluntly, a Proto-Fascist International. Aside from exterminating “radical Islamic terrorism,” such a coalition appears to be a central goal of Bannon’s “long-term strategic vision.” That makes Rogin’s final observation about Bannon’s role in the White House especially chilling. According to Rogin, Bannon’s mandate includes “connecting the Trump apparatus to leaders of populist movements around the world, especially in Europe.” Whatever is meant by “the Trump apparatus,” its intellectual leader is now sitting in the White House, just a few steps from the Oval Office.

As for the two senior advisers with actual foreign policy—if not policy-making—experience, Flynn and McFarland are far more likely to embrace Bannon’s vision than to oppose it. What unifies all three is an intense Islamophobia and Manichaeism befitting Fox News, as well as Breitbart. We have covered Flynn’s wacky worldview, particularly as expressed in his 2016 book, Field of Fight, co-authored by serial intriguer Michael Ledeen, at considerable length. Suffice to recall Flynn’s belief in the existence of “an international alliance of evil countries and movements that is working to destroy us,” an alliance that includes North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia (whose government, incidentally, just hosted the former First Daughter, Malia Obama on a lengthy trek through the Andes). The same alliance also includes al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, the Islamic State, and “countless other terrorist groups.” As Rogin reported Sunday, Flynn, who, like Bannon, also appears to admire Putin, is filling senior NSC positions with a phalanx of former military intelligence officers with whom he has worked closely in the past. The White House’s in-house foreign-policy shop will thus see the world rather narrowly—in Flynn’s words, through the sights of a “rifle scope.” Neither Flynn nor McFarland are likely to challenge Bannon’s broader strategic agenda. If anything, they may reinforce it.

Will Anyone Challenge Bannon?

Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis (ret.), who obviously enjoys the support of the foreign-policy establishment, has already made it very clear that he strongly opposes key elements of Bannon’s radical worldview, particularly anything that would threaten NATO, the EU, and other multilateral institutions that have underpinned the post-World War II order. According to various accounts, Mattis has already clashed with the White House—meaning Bannon, Kushner, and Flynn—over appointments to key Pentagon positions. Tillerson’s views are much less well known, but the fact that his nomination was championed by Republican establishment stalwarts, including Robert Gates, Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, and James Baker, suggests that they believe he will exert a moderating influence, a notion bolstered by reports that he rejected the choice of far-right and Adelson favorite John Bolton as his deputy. Gen. John Kelly, the new head of Homeland Security, and UN Amb. Nikki Haley are also considered unlikely to support the White House’s far-right, Islamophobic agenda. All four cabinet members, as well as CIA director Mike Pompeo (a leading Iranophobe during his Congressional career), testified that they disagreed with at least some of the more controversial positions, ranging from torture to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and to Putin, espoused by Trump during the election campaign.

But none of these officials has so far gotten anywhere nearly as much face time with Trump himself as his White House aides. This despite the potentially momentous foreign-policy decisions already taken by the White House, including the abandonment of the Trans Pacific Partnership, the visa and immigration ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries, and the apparent green light Trump has given to Netanyahu for vast new settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, thus overturning more than four decades of U.S. opposition. Proximity often translates into power.

Post columnist Ruth Marcus put the situation in a nutshell in a piece entitled “Can Trump’s Cabinet Save Him From Himself?”:

For every Mattis and Pompeo, for every John F. Kelly (the retired Marine general tapped to head the Department of Homeland Security, who testified that a border wall with Mexico “in and of itself will not do the job’’) and even Rex Tillerson (the former ExxonMobil chief executive nominated to be secretary of state, who testified that “the risk of climate change does exist”), there will be, in the West Wing, a Stephen K. Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor and Michael T. Flynn as national security adviser. Their records suggest they will inflame Trump’s worst instincts, not restrain them.

Bannon and Flynn have been politically closer to Trump longer; they will be physically closer to him at the White House. Trump could continue to be swayed by the last person whispering in his ear. Or the stature, knowledge and experience at bureaucratic maneuvering of some Cabinet secretaries could, at least at times, avert bad decisions. How all this plays out will shape the course of the Trump presidency.

Of course, Priebus, whose job appears centered on reconciling differences between the Republican congressional leadership and Trump, could also exert a moderating influence. Kushner could as well, though the nomination of David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel, his encouragement of the settlement movement in the West Bank, and the presence of settlement leaders as honored guests at the inauguration, as well as his own family’s history of philanthropic support for the settlement movement, suggests that, on Israel-related questions, Kushner is no moderate. And with no real background, let alone expertise, in foreign policy, both Priebus and Kushner are more likely to acquiesce in Bannon’s strategic designs than oppose them …unless other powerful figures in the administration and Congress—not to mention foreign leaders—make it very clear that the political and popularity costs to Trump will be “yuge.”

This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy Lobelog.com

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Decades-Old U.S. Sanctions on Sudan Liftedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/decades-old-u-s-sanctions-on-sudan-lifted/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=decades-old-u-s-sanctions-on-sudan-lifted http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/decades-old-u-s-sanctions-on-sudan-lifted/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2017 08:43:47 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148675 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
United Nations, Jan 26 2017 (IPS)

Among his final actions, President Obama lifted U.S. sanctions against Sudan, a move welcomed by some.

On January 13, the Obama administration announced its change to the 20-year old policy, stating that it is “easing” comprehensive unilateral sanctions on Sudan.

Idriss Jazairy

Idriss Jazairy

The UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures Idriss Jazairy applauded the move, stating: “By lifting sanctions on Sudan, after adopting similar decisions on Cuba and Iran, President Obama will be remembered as a leader who listened to the international community and stakeholders, in particular the poor and the wretched who were the unintended main victims of such measures.”

The U.S. Treasury Department said the action was a result of “sustained progress” by the Government of Sudan including a reduction in offensive military activity, a pledge to maintain the cessation of hostilities and steps toward improving humanitarian access throughout the country. They also added that the change in regulations aim to further incentivize the Sudanese government to continue to improve its conduct.

The amendment now allows U.S. individuals to process transactions to Sudan and engage in trade of goods and oil.

The move received criticism, including from Human Rights Watch which expressed concern over the government’s continued role in Sudan’s conflict. However, Jazairy reported that such coercive measures have significantly impacted human rights on the ground including the rights to health, food and education.

In a report to the Human Rights Council, Jazairy found a lack of vaccines, preventative and treatment drugs for infectious diseases, and medical equipment including computer programmes used for medical diagnostics, obstructing effective emergency and epidemic response in the country.

Though sanctions targeting Sudan have exemptions for the health sector, they are ineffective when financial transactions are also prohibited, he noted.

U.S. sanctions also affected education by limiting technology and scholarship opportunities which would allow citizens to improve and update resources for teaching and learning.

Sanctions have also had a role in compounded Sudan’s external debt, affecting the ability and realization of development projects and thus resulting in increased costs of living and higher rates of poverty among civilians. In 2009, poverty rate increased to 46 percent of the population, largely due to the embargo on the country.

Meanwhile, the measures have not had a significant impact on officials or any elite group, Jazairy said.

Jazairy, who is also the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue, noted that U.S. decision to revoke sanctions is in line with recommendations made in the report, including lifting restrictions on commercial and financial transactions.

He also advocated for a reduction of coercive measures in accordance with the fulfillment of objectives by the Sudanese government, and applauded President Obama’s acknowledgement of “positive actions” by the Government of Sudan.

“I urge the Sudanese authorities to intensify their efforts to enhance peace and stabilization efforts and uphold human rights,” Jazairy said.

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Trump to Pull Out of the UN, Expel It from the US?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-to-pull-out-of-the-un-expel-it-from-the-us/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-to-pull-out-of-the-un-expel-it-from-the-us http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-to-pull-out-of-the-un-expel-it-from-the-us/#comments Tue, 24 Jan 2017 14:38:27 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148646 Caption United Nations General Assembly hall in New York City. Photo: Patrick Gruban, cropped and downsampled by Pine. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Caption United Nations General Assembly hall in New York City. Photo: Patrick Gruban, cropped and downsampled by Pine. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 24 2017 (IPS)

So far, Donald Trump’s first decisions as president of the United States have left no doubt that he intends to implement his electoral threats, while most likely not fulfilling the promises he made as a candidate.

Barely 48 hours after his inauguration as the 45th president of the United States, a shocking report was circulated saying that “A bill was introduced early January that calls for the removal of the United States from the United Nations.

According to the Congress website, H.R. 193 — known as the American Sovereignty Restoration Act — was introduced to the House on January 3 and referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

While its official title says it seeks to end membership in the U.N., there are several other key components of the bill which include: ending the 1947 agreement that the U.N. headquarters will be housed in the U.S., ending peacekeeping operations, removing diplomatic immunity, and ending participation in the World Health Organization.

Should the bill pass, the Act and its amendments will go into effect two years after it has been signed.”

It Is Real

During a UN briefing on Jan. 23, a correspondent noted, “There is a call from the US Congress by five… resolution drafted by five or six congressmen calling on the United States to withdraw its membership from the United Nations.”

Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. | Author: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America |  Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. | Author: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America | Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

The UN Spokesman answered: “We’re not going to comment on draft legislation that is floating around a legislative body.”

So such draft legislation is there.

More explicitly, a US academic, a professor of politics who closely monitors US-UN relations, told IPS the proposed legislation is “real.”

“But it only has six sponsors at this point (a handful of far right and libertarian Republicans), so I doubt it will get very far.”

Regardless of the number of sponsors and if and when it would pass or not, the fact is that the Trump administration’s intention to withdraw from the world’s multilateral body could easily be implemented.

In fact, it would be enough that Washington refrains from paying its share in the UN budget – or even just delaying it — to make the whole structure collapse.

The UN, Bankrupted

This would happen at one of the worst moments for the United Nations’ finances. The world body is, in fact, now bankrupted. Day after day, its agencies – from the children’s fund to the refugees agency — launch desperate appeals for funds to meet the ongoing unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

Moreover, an eventual US withdrawal would leave the UN in the hands of big private corporations. Actually, several transnational private businesses have over the last few years been among the major UN humanitarian operations’ funders.

Such a scenario would lead this unique multilateral system to be run by big business pundits. This risk should not be discarded, as the UN would in this case provide a needed “legal” coverage to their actions, whatever these would be.

In other words, the UN de facto is already being transformed into a private corporation, funded and guided by big private business that needs to keep its formal, legal umbrella wide open to handle everything… legally.

The UN? Just a Club!

President Trump’s thoughts regarding the UN were summarised in one of his tweets, in which he wrote: “The UN has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk, and have a good time.”

But that “… get together, talk and have a good time” is certainly not the case for the millions of women and girls who make up 71 per cent of all victims of human trafficking, as reported just a month ago by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Let alone the fact that children make up almost a third of all human trafficking victims worldwide.

Neither is it the case for the one third of women aged 20 to 24 who were child brides, nor that every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence, as stated in UNICEF’s Statistics and Monitoring report released in July last year.

Not to mention the 2.4 billion people who lack access to improved sanitation, including 946 million who are forced to resort to open defecation for lack of other options, and that 16,000 children die every day, mostly from preventable or treatable causes.

All these victims of human rights violations, which have been often perpetrated by US-led military coalitions and/or other members of the UN Security Council, and have been suffering the direct of indirectly consequences of massive war interventions, have so far depended on the UN assistance.

Maybe it would be right to remind here that many key United Nations bodies were created seven decades ago mostly to provide humanitarian assistance to millions of victims of the European conflict that became World War II.

UNICEF, for instance, aided up to five million European children.

Who Would Host the World Body?

Then comes a second point: which country would eventually host the United Nations, should the proposed bill end the 1947 agreement that the U.N. headquarters be housed in the US? And who would afford replacing the US contribution to its budget?

The US shoulders 22 per cent of the world body’s budget in exchange for a non-written pact that an equivalent percentage of key, decision-making staff would be appointed by the US administration.

The total regular UN budget for the year 2016-17 amounts to 5.6 billion dollars, of which the US contributes 610.836.578 dollars, according to the UN report “Contributions by Member States to the United Nations regular budget for the year 2017.”

Japan contributes the second highest share with 9.68 per cent, followed by China (7.921 per cent), Germany (6.389 per cent), France (4.859 per cent) and UK (4.463 per cent) in the top five. Brazil contributes about 3.823 per cent and is 6th in this list.

None of the current major contributors to the UN budget would clearly be able to replace the US share, plus its own.

Moreover, European powers are still facing the consequences of the financial crisis that was created in 2007 by giant private financial corporations based in the US and Europe.

Add to this the fact that they are all now witnessing a growing scenario of the rise of right-wing, ultra-conservative, xenophic, nationalist, and populist parties who clamorously cheer Donald Trump’s ascension to power.

In short, Trump seems to be seriously determined to carry out his electoral threats, while failing his populist promises.

To start with, his decision to trash the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), or the so-called Obamacare, a health care system which was enacted by President Barack Obama on March 2010.

Under this Act, hospitals and primary physicians would transform their practices financially, technologically, and clinically to drive better health outcomes, lower costs, and improve their methods of distribution and accessibility.

That Act was abolished on Trump’s first business day, threatening the health benefits of millions of US citizens, who he promised to place at the top of his priorities.

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Please, Do Not Get Offended, But:http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/please-do-not-get-offended-but/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=please-do-not-get-offended-but http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/please-do-not-get-offended-but/#comments Sun, 22 Jan 2017 17:49:36 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148616 By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 22 2017 (IPS)

With the inauguration of Donald Trump on Jan. 20, the new leadership of the most powerful nation has signaled it is breaking away from the rest of the world. Here, a few thoughts…

a) Those who voted Trump are generally totally unaware of what happens beyond their immediate surroundings. So it will take a long time before they will realize that Trump is not about their real interest. This means that the polarization and the division of the U.S. will continue for a long time to come. And in the end, disillusionment and frustration will result in a further decline of democracy, and with a possible new populism coming up.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

b) The American democratic system is incomprehensible for us foreigners. We understand the history, the constitution, everything. But we think that a system where somebody who with 3 million votes less than his opponent becomes president, on the basis that this was adequate two centuries ago, needs to be updated urgently. And then you find out that this is not possible, because the smaller states are majority, and can block any constitutional change, like direct democracy. This, for us, looks like an inadequate democratic system.

c) Since the Supreme court did install George W. Bush, and then gave a vote to the corporations because they have equal rights as the people, we foreigners look at the Supreme Court as a partisan place, not as the Supreme institution that is there to act in defense of the citizens. Add to this the permanent fight between the legislative, judicial and executive, and instead of the balance of power that the founding fathers wanted, we have a dysfunctional democracy.

d) Elections now cost over 2 billion dollars. To be elected in the senate, you need a war chest of least 40 million dollars. You have two brothers who can invest in the elections 800 million dollars. That is not democracy, it is oligarchy.

All this are structural problems, and for me Trump is the proof that democracy in the U.S. is in crisis. Yet, I ceased to discuss this with my American friends, because they are not only convinced to be in a democracy, but many, as George W Bush said, the only democracy….

Maybe Trump will bring debates and reflections on the state of democracy in the US. But I doubt that the system will be able to evolve. Especially if Trump stays eight years….

But that said, a crisis of democracy is when people stop believing in it. And in Europe this is what is happening, and Brexit is a clear signal of that. Today the European leaders of populist and xenophobe parties met in Coblenz, to coordinate themselves, in view of the next elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany. And here two points, to echo somehow David:

1) All the right wing parties look to Putin as a point of reference. Defence of the family, religious values, national interests and identity, etc. Putin has been funding Le Pen, and Wilders, Farage, Salvini and so to look on him as a leader: not only Trump.
2) Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, has declared that part of his job is to create an international Alliance of populist and xenophobe parties, and he has indicated Farage as the example of a European whom the White House is looking up to.

My conclusion: we are in for a hell of a time. And the best example that we have is that the compass is lost and that we all live in an Anglo world, with values of democracy, human rights, common gods, sustainable development, woman empowerment and so on, which all come from the Anglo world. Pax Britannia lasted until 1914. It was replaced by Pax Americana. And in 11 months, both countries abdicated their role in the world…knowing well that we are in a multipolar world, with China, India and so on in the race…this is simply crazy…

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Were UN Plans to Ban Nukes Pre-empted by Trump?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/were-un-plans-to-ban-nukes-pre-empted-by-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=were-un-plans-to-ban-nukes-pre-empted-by-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/were-un-plans-to-ban-nukes-pre-empted-by-trump/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 23:16:16 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148579 A UN meeting on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

A UN meeting on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

Despite not being a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the United States exerts a strong influence over the United Nations plans to negotiate a ban on nuclear weapons than any other nation. US President Donald Trump pre-empted their agreement by proposing to expand the United States nuclear arsenal.

UN member states pushing to ban nuclear weapons have found a greater impetus to unity and a bigger threat following US President Donald Trump pre-empted their agreement by proposing to expand the United States nuclear arsenal.

In one of their final decisions of 2016, the UN General Assembly agreed to hold a conference in March 2017 to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

123 of the UN’s 193 member states supported the General Assembly resolution which initiated the conference. Notable votes against the resolution included: France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Aside from China, which abstained, the no votes included all of the countries permitted to possess nuclear weapons under the current UN non-proliferation treaty which was adopted in 1968.

The 1968 treaty bans all UN member states except China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States from owning nuclear weapons and commits those states to eventually eliminating their atomic arsenals, pledges that have been ignored. Though not signatories to the treaty, Iraq, North Korea, Iran (and unofficially, Israel) have all developed nuclear weapons.

However the resolution – adopted on December 23 – was foreshadowed by a tweet by President-elect Donald Trump on December 22 in which he stated: “United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes”. Trump also mentioned that dismantling Obama’s long-negotiated Iran nuclear agreement was his “number one priority”.

"This treaty will be negotiated with or without US support, so I don't see Trump having a significant impact," -- Beatrice Fihn, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Some have seen these comments as an act of assertion aimed at strengthening his negotiating position upon arriving in the Oval Office, as Trump has already reversedhis position on issues to which he pledged support.

Beatrice Fihn, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has described these statements as ‘nuclear-sabre rattling’ and the challenge to implementing the treaty as imperative.

“The Obama administration was very hostile to the idea of a ban treaty,” Fihn told IPS, despite Obama’s comments to the contrary, “and there’s no expectation that Trump will be more friendly. This treaty will be negotiated with or without US support, so I don’t see Trump having a significant impact. However, his rhetoric should definitely serve as a motivation for all of us. It’s a signal that the nuclear-armed states are not interested in real progress.”

Chief among the issues that would comprise a treaty is the Iranian nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a long-negotiated tool many on the Security Council are seeking to protect.

Fihn and representatives from other non-proliferation organisations are awaiting clearer statements from Trump’s administration before establishing their strategies, an approach that may have worked when dealing with previous administrations but could face unprecedented difficulty today. Trump has spoken before about the value of being unpredictable when it comes to nuclear weapons as a means to keep other leaders, both friends and enemies, keen to appease.

Unpredictability is also the hallmark of North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un. In his New Year’s address, Kim warned that North Korean engineers were in the “final stage” of preparing to test an intercontinental ballistic missile. Provoking a disbelieving response from Trump and more cautious tones from China and South Korea.

The most recent attempt at a nonproliferation review treaty in 2015 was unsuccessful, largely because of the failure of efforts to engage Iran and Israel. Both countries still absorb a disproportionate amount of the efforts to implement a treaty.

In an address to the IAEA Conference Commit to Further Strengthening Nuclear Security, Director General Yukiya Amano reinforced the socioeconomic value of nuclear technology as not remaining the preserve of wealthy countries. “Terrorists and criminals will try to exploit any vulnerability in the global nuclear security system, and any country could become the target of an attack. That is why effective international cooperation is vital.”

According to the findings of a congressional study into international arms sales that found that the sale of global arms dropped in 2015 to $80bn from 2014’s $89bn with the US responsible for around half of all sales.

Over the next decade, the United States is expected to spend around half a trillion dollars on maintenance and upkeep of delivery systems of its nuclear weapons armoury, considerably larger than the Department of Defence claims is required to deter a nuclear attack.

“The treaty needs a strong and clear prohibition on use and possession of nuclear weapons but it will be a challenge to make sure the prohibition will cover other relevant activities too,” says Fihn, “such as assistance to other states not party to the treaty.”

“It will also be a lot of work to get as many states as possible to engage in the negotiations and sign it. And of course a real challenge will be the implementation of the treaty, once it’s in place – we need to make sure the treaty has a real impact.”

The conference is scheduled to run from March 27-31 and continue from June 15-July 7.

Update: This article has been updated to more clearly state that the United States is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and to reflect that since Iran is not a party to the treaty it is not violating it.

Correction: an earlier version of the this article referred to Beatrice Kihn, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. It should have read Beatrice Fihn.

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Trump’s UN Pick: “UN Could Benefit from a Fresh Set of Eyes”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-un-pick-un-could-benefit-from-a-fresh-set-of-eyes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-un-pick-un-could-benefit-from-a-fresh-set-of-eyes http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-un-pick-un-could-benefit-from-a-fresh-set-of-eyes/#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2017 21:46:01 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148558 Samantha Power, outgoing Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the UN, addressing the council after a controversial vote on Israeli Settlements in December 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

Samantha Power, outgoing Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the UN, addressing the council after a controversial vote on Israeli Settlements in December 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 18 2017 (IPS)

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, nominated to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the UN, outlined her vision of a strong U.S. role in the human rights institution at a confirmation hearing today.

Noting her potential role as a “fresh set of eyes” and an “outsider,” Haley highlighted the need for a strong U.S. leadership position at the UN.

“When America fails to lead, the world becomes a dangerous place. And when the world becomes more dangerous, the American people become more vulnerable,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding that she will bring back the U.S.’ “indispensable voice of freedom.”

When asked about Russia, Haley expressed caution in trusting them but suggested that their government could be an asset.

“Russia is trying to show their muscle right now…and we have to continue to be very strong back. We need to let them know that we are not okay with what happened in Ukraine and Crimea and what is happening in Syria, but we are also going to tell them that we do need their help with ISIS,” she said.

In her last major speech, current U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power similarly noted U.S. interest in solving problems and cooperating with Russia, but expressed dire concerns over Russia’s “aggressive and destabilizing actions” in Crimea, Syria and its interferences in numerous governments.

“Russia’s actions are not standing up a new world order. They are tearing down the one that exists. This is what we are fighting against—having defeated the forces of fascism and communism, we now confront the forces of authoritarianism and nihilism,” she said.

During her hearing, Haley acknowledged that Russia violated the international order when it invaded Crimea and its actions in Syria constitute war crimes, and that she supports preserving sanctions against the government. She also noted the need to stand up to any and all countries that attempts to interfere with the U.S.

This represents what could be perceived as a break with President-elect Trump who has previously denied intelligence pointing to Russian involvement in the recent U.S. elections.

In recent comments, President-elect Trump also suggested easing sanctions against Russia in return for a deal to reduce nuclear weapons. He additionally criticised the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), calling it “obsolete.”

When asked about these comments, Haley again differentiated her position from Trump’s:

“It is important that we have alliances…I think as we continue to talk to him about these alliances and how they can be helpful and strategic, I do anticipate he will listen to all of us and hopefully we can get him to see it the way we see it,” she said.

“I’m going to control the part that I can,” she continued.

Haley also blasted the UN for what she described as its “biased” position on Israel during the hearing, stating: “Nowhere has the UN’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than its bias against our close ally Israel.”

Like President-elect Trump, Haley particularly criticised the recent passage of a Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements, calling it a “terrible mistake” that makes a peace agreement even harder to achieve.

During the vote in December, the U.S. broke with long-standing foreign policy towards Israel by abstaining, rather than vetoing. The other 14 members of the 15 member council all voted for the resolution.

Haley vowed to never abstain when the UN takes action that comes in direct conflict with U.S. interests, including actions against Israel.

She highlighted the need for UN reforms, stating that the goal is to “create an international body that better serves the American people.” To bring about changes, Haley suggested using U.S. funding as leverage.

“We are a generous nation but we must ask ourselves what good is being accomplished by this disproportionate contribution. Are we getting what we paid for?” she asked. She pointed to the Human Rights Council as an example, questioning their role in supporting and promoting human rights while countries such as Cuba and China are members.

The U.S. currently contributes 22 percent of the UN’s budget.

Recent legislation proposed by two U.S. Republican Senators would see the United States withdraw its funding not only to the UN Secretariat but also to the entire UN-system, including UNICEF, the UN Development Program and UN Women.

Though initially stating that she would not “shy away” from withdrawing U.S. funds to achieve reforms, Haley later backtracked and said that she does not support a “slash and burn” approach in terms of pulling funding from the UN when there are undesirable outcomes, but rather use funds as leverage to help make agencies more effective.

Haley is a South Carolina-born daughter of Indian immigrants and is the first female and first minority governor of her state. She gained national attention after calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state’s Capitol. Haley will replace Ambassador Power as the only woman on the 15-member council.

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UN Meeting Says No to Anti-Muslim Hatredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 23:49:48 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148538 Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit:  UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 17 2017 (IPS)

The rise in anti-muslim attitudes around the world prompted a special UN meeting Tuesday, just days before the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump whose controversial policies have drawn on anti-Muslim sentiments.

As if to illustrate just how easily noble intentions are misinterpreted, co-opted and misused, the event’s hashtag #No2Hatred was quickly taken over by nefarious social media actors and became an outlet for angry political diatribe.

“Anti-muslim hatred does not occur in a vacuum,” said David Saperstein, American Ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom at the event. “The rise of xenophobia across the world creates challenges that focus our attention and the data leaves us no doubt that this is happening.”

Saperstein quoted studies showing a massive rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence, France has seen a 223 percent increase in attacks on Muslims between 2014 and 2015, the British investigative group TELL MAMA reported a 326 percent increase in abuse and public attacks on Muslims in the UK over the same period. A 2016 study found 72 percent of  Hungarians admit to a negative view of Muslims.
"Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence," -- Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada.

“Underreporting is a very serious structural problem that obscures these numbers. The silencing effect is enormous and we must resolve to confront this,” Saperstein said.

“I sincerely regret just how necessary these deliberations have become,” said Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada. “Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence.”

Panels looked at civil society building how governments could best combat anti-Muslim discrimination, and positive narratives to promote inclusion. Several topics recurred for discussion; how best to engage with political actors and organisations of different beliefs, and how to counter misinformation online.

The American Jewish Committee’s Muslim-Jewish relations director, Mr Robert Silverman reinforced the idea of creating powerful messages by finding alliances and shared priorities with unlikely groups.

“Too often initiatives result in people speaking within bubbles to each other. In a country like the United States or in a place like Europe, we need to get out of our bubbles and reach out to the unlikely and unorthodox partners.”

“You should focus on the common ground,” he continued. “Don’t try to bring in an issue like climate change. Just focus narrowly on the common grounds.”

European Commission Coordinator on Combating anti-Muslim hatred David Friggieri outlined his meeting with the heads of Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google where “open and frank discussion” lead to the enforcement of the European Union’s free speech laws in an effort to counter anti-Muslim sentiment. The ‘red line’ agreed to by the companies and the European law, he told IPS, was one of incitement.

“We have a law prohibiting incitement to violence or hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity or nationality,” said Friggieri. “We are monitoring the situation with them every few months. We have had our first monitoring and there are some improvements but we look forward to seeing more.”

“In terms of the really bad type of hate speech such as incitement to violence, we look at: how are they taking it down? How long before they take it down? What responses does the company give to individuals who notify and to trusted flaggers? Ultimately the aim is to take down (from the internet) the worst type of incitement to violence.”

In a similar effort to address the recent increase in hate speech and anti-Muslim rhetoric, Moiz Bokhari, advisor to the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation spoke of the Center for Dialogue, Peace and Understanding a newly established website that provides foundations to deconstruct dangerous narratives. The site is aimed at addressing the potential for crimes, radicalisation and to “counter all types of radical extremist discourse in order to delegitimise the violent and manipulative acts committed in the name of religion, ideology or claims of cultural superiority.”

 The High Level Forum on Combating Anti-Muslim Discrimination and Hatred was dominated by discussion of how to address anti-Muslim sentiment and increase the  message of tolerance and inclusion. The forum was convened by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations and the Permanent Missions of the United States and Canada.

UN Secretary General Antònio Guterres used his introductory address to reaffirm the recently-launched initiative Together – Respect, Safety and Dignity for All. An outcome from the Summit for Refugees, the strategy is designed to strengthen the bonds between refugees migrants and host countries and communities.

Speakers throughout the day highlighted bipartisan interfaith success stories: the Canadian town that raised money to rebuild a mosque that had been burned down following the Paris terror attacks, the Norwegian mosque that was protected from attack by Oslo’s Jewish community, the power of positive stories of Muslims in the news and popular culture, and the success of Sadiq Khan who overcame a campaign rife with xenophobic rhetoric to become the first Muslim Mayor of London.

“Politics is moving against us, but local politics not so much,” said Catherine Orsborn, director of interfaith anti-Islamophobia campaign group Shoulder to Shoulder.

Several panellists highlighted the importance of establishing relationships with local political and law enforcement agencies so that any future instances Islamophobia could be dealt with more effectively.

Friends of Europe’s Director Europe and Geopolitics Alfiaz Vaiya ended the discussion on civil society and coalition building with an optimistic note: “The political climate is very toxic, but it’s about politicians being able to sell and be confident in selling a strong narrative on inclusion and diversity. I think youth are the way forward, we see how they vote we see how they follow progressive trends and we should encourage more youth to get involved in conversations like this.”

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Mário Soares, a Rebel with a Cause – Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 08:07:08 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148456 Photo: Mario Soares attending a rally to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, 25 April 2014 in Lisbon. Photo: FraLiss. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Photo: Mario Soares attending a rally to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, 25 April 2014 in Lisbon. Photo: FraLiss. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

By an IPS Correspondent
LISBON, Jan 10 2017 (IPS)

Hardly a leader could reap so much respect, even from most relentless political rivals, both throughout his life and after his death on Jan 7 at the age of 92, like Portuguese Mário Soares.

Characterised as “an indefatigable political animal,” by the New York Times, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres hailed the commitment to freedom and democracy that made Soares “one of those rare political leaders of true European and global stature.”

The UN chief, who is himself Portuguese, said Soares has left an “indelible mark” on political life in Portugal, the result of his “steadfast and courageous political commitment and the principles and values that he consistently pursued throughout his life. Liberty was always his foundational value.”

Soares Legacy Goes Far Beyond Portugal – UN Chief

To a great extent, Guterres said, we are indebted to him for the democracy, the freedom and the respect for fundamental rights that all Portuguese have been able to enjoy in recent decades, and that are today established values in our country.”

Paying tribute to Soares, “who will, I am certain, remain in our memory and in the history of our country as a man of freedom, who wanted all to live in liberty, and fought for his entire life to realize that hope,” the UN Secretary-General added that the late leader’s legacy goes far beyond Portugal.

Indeed, this is not only because Soares was responsible for Portugal’s full integration into the international community, “but also because his commitment to freedom and democracy make him one of those rare political leaders of true European and global stature,” concluded Guterres.

Mário Soares was Prime Minister of Portugal from 1976 to 1978 in the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution that ended decades of right-wing dictatorship. He returned as PM in the early 1980s, and served as Portugal’s president between 1986 and 1996.

After flirting briefly with communism at university and then embracing Portugal’s democratic movement as a Socialist, Soares was jailed 12 times and then exiled for his political activities during the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

The Carnation Revolution

Soares played a key role after the 1974 Carnation Revolution –a military-led coup that soon turned in a massive popular movement of civil protest characterised by carnations that were handed out and placed in the barrels of soldiers’ rifles and tanks—that put an end to 48 years of Salazar rule.

A fierce critic of the military Junta that ruled Portugal for the next two years, Soares in 1976 became the first post-war democratically elected prime minister.

Soares spearheaded the country’s entry into the European Union. But, in recent years, he became a vocal critic of the austerity policies associated with the massive euro-zone bailout Portugal sought in 2011.

He left the presidency in 1996 after the maximum tenure in the office permitted under the constitution, with his popularity at a peak. For years, he remained one of the country’s most influential politicians.

He ran again for president in 2006 at the age of 82, but finished in third.

“President Mário Soares was born and graduated to be a fighter, to have a cause to fight – freedom,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said. “Soares never gave up on a free Portugal, a free Europe, a free world and what was decisive… he was always victorious.”

IPS President and Member of International Board of Trustees

As part of his unflagging commitment to freedom –in this case freedom of expression—lawyer, historian and politician Mário Soares, chaired the International Board of Trustees of Inter Press Service (IPS).

He graduated in Historical-Philosophical Sciences in 1951 and in Law in 1957 at Lisbon University. He taught at a private secondary school and was director of the Colégio Moderno, in Lisbon.

Soares practised law for some years and during his exile in France he was “Chargé de Cours” at Vincennes University and at the Sorbonne. He was associate professor at the Faculty of Arts of Haute Bretagne (Rennes).

More recently, he was guest professor in International Relations at the School of Economics of the University of Coimbra.

Mário Soares was the fourth president of IPS International Board of Trustees, succeeding the agency’s founder, Roberto Savio; former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, and former Prime Minister of Japan, Toshiki Kaifu. UNESCO’s former director general, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, succeeded Mario Soares as president of IPS International Board of Trustees.

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Oceans, Tuberculosis and Killer Robots – the UN’s Diverse Agenda in 2017http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/oceans-tuberculosis-and-killer-robots-the-uns-diverse-agenda-in-2017/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oceans-tuberculosis-and-killer-robots-the-uns-diverse-agenda-in-2017 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/oceans-tuberculosis-and-killer-robots-the-uns-diverse-agenda-in-2017/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 02:12:25 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148445 200 million people worldwide rely on fishing and related industries for their livelihoods. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS.

200 million people worldwide rely on fishing and related industries for their livelihoods. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 10 2017 (IPS)

UN member states hope to reach agreement on a diverse range of global issues in 2017, from managing the world’s oceans to banning killer robots to stopping tuberculosis, one of the world’s deadliest diseases.

In recent years the UN has tackled big issues including ebola, the global migration crisis, financing for development and climate change, with varying degrees of success.

Many pressing environmental, humanitarian and development issues continue to fill the UN’s agenda – even as incoming President of the United States has argued that things will be different at the UN after his inauguration on 20 January.

Trump has suggested that the UN “is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.” However UN discussions have led the 71 year old organisation with 193 member states to create more than 560 international treaties.

Oceans and Life Below Water

One of the biggest meetings on the UN’s agenda this year is focused on the oceans or more specifically Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.

“The United Nations has the opportunity to drive profound change for the oceans in 2017,” Elizabeth Wilson, director, international ocean policy at the Pew Charitable Trusts told IPS.

In recent years the UN has tackled big issues including ebola, the global migration crisis, financing for development and climate change, with varying degrees of success.

“This event will provide UN member states an opportunity to assess progress on ocean conservation, make new commitments, and create meaningful partnerships,” she said.

The meeting – which will take place in New York from 5 to 9 June – is considered to be of global importance for many reasons. For example, according to a 2016 World Economic Forum report, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by the year 2050. Declining fish stocks will effect the more than two billion people worldwide who rely on fish as a source of protein. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation also estimates that 200 million people worldwide rely on fishing or related activities for their livelihoods, the vast majority of whom live in developing countries.

Another important related issue on the UN’s agenda in 2017 will be working towards creating a treaty to protect the high seas, the areas of the global oceans, which fall beyond any country’s sea borders, said Wilson.

Tuberculosis

The UN General Assembly has only ever convened special high-level meetings on two global health threats, HIV/AIDS and antimicrobial resistance. However in 2018, the General Assembly will meet to discuss Tuberculosis.

Although the decision to convene the special meeting has been welcomed, it will not come soon enough for the nearly two million people who will likely die of tuberculosis in 2017.

“The tuberculosis burden is much higher than we expected and the measures to be taken must be much more focused and serious than before,” Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership told IPS.

A series of global meetings will be held in 2017, in preparation for the 2018 meeting however, said Ditiu who also noted that these global meetings should not be seen as a silver bullet.

Although tuberculosis is treatable, the emergence of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in recent years is a major cause for concern. Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is just one example of antimicrobial resistance – a serious health problem which world leaders addressed at the UN General Assembly in 2016.

Banning Nuclear Weapons and Killer Robots

Possibly the most ambitious item on the UN’s agenda in 2017 will be an attempt to create an international treaty for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The first session of the UN conference to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination will take place in New York from 27 to 31 March.

The treaty will be a more ambitious iteration of the already existing Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

However proponents of total abolition of nuclear weapons will face an even more challenging political context in 2017, with US President-elect Donald Trump appearing to have unpredictable views on nuclear weapons potentially at odds with the existing non-proliferation treaty which bans new countries from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Another, more contemporary issue on the UN’s agenda in 2017 will be killer robots. UN member states have agreed to begin talks to ban killer robots this year. According to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots the talks will “(bring) the world another step closer towards a prohibition on the weapons.” A similar agreement back in 1995, led to government agreeing to pre-emptively ban lasers that would permanently blind, according to the campaign.

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Trump, the Banks and the Bombhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb/#comments Sat, 07 Jan 2017 07:59:40 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148435 Nuclear weapon test at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

Nuclear weapon test at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 7 2017 (IPS)

When pro-nuclear disarmament organisations last October cheered the United Nations decision to start in 2017 negotiations on a global treaty banning these weapons, they probably did not expect that shortly after the US would elect Republican businessman Donald Trump as their 45th president. Much less that he would rush to advocate for increasing the US nuclear power.

The United Nations on Oct. 27, 2016 adopted a resolution to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons, putting an end to two decades of paralysis in world nuclear disarmament efforts.

At a meeting of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters, 123 nations voted in favour of the resolution, 38 against it and 16 abstaining.

The resolution will set up a UN conference beginning in March 2017, which will be open to all member states, to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. The negotiations will continue in June and July this year.

The Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a civil society coalition active in 100 countries, hailed the adoption of the resolution as a major step forward, marking a “fundamental shift in the way that the world tackles this paramount threat.”

“For seven decades, the UN has warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and people globally have campaigned for their abolition. Today the majority of states finally resolved to outlaw these weapons,” said ICAN’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn.

Despite arm-twisting by a number of nuclear-armed states, the resolution was adopted in a landslide. A total of 57 nations were co-sponsors, with Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa taking the lead in drafting the resolution.

European Parliament’s Resolution

The UN vote came just hours after the European Parliament adopted its own resolution on this subject – 415 in favour, 124 against, 74 abstentions– inviting European Union member states to “participate constructively” in the 2017 year’s negotiations, ICAN noted.

Nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet outlawed in a comprehensive and universal manner, despite their well-documented catastrophic humanitarian and environmental impacts, the anti-nuke campaign chief warned.

“A treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would strengthen the global norm against the use and possession of these weapons, closing major loopholes in the existing international legal regime and spurring long-overdue action on disarmament,” said Fihn.

“Today’s [Oct. 27, 2016] vote demonstrates very clearly that a majority of the world’s nations consider the prohibition of nuclear weapons to be necessary, feasible and urgent. They view it as the most viable option for achieving real progress on disarmament.”

Biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions are all explicitly prohibited under international law. But only partial prohibitions currently exist for nuclear weapons.

ICAN also recalls that nuclear disarmament has been high on the UN agenda since the organisation’s formation in 1945. “Efforts to advance this goal have stalled in recent years, with nuclear-armed nations investing heavily in the modernisation of their nuclear forces.”

Other pro-nuclear disarmament organisations also welcomed the UN resolution. They included PAX, a partnership between IKV (Interchurch Peace Council) and Pax Christi; Soka Gakai International (SGI), a community-based Buddhist organisation that promotes peace, culture and education centered on respect for the dignity of life; and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), just to mention a few.

US Must Greatly Strengthen, Expand Its Nuclear Capability – Trump

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.  Photo: Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Wikipedia

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Wikipedia

The global ani-nuke movment, however, soon saw its joy being frustrated by the US president-elect Donald Trump, who in a tweet on Dec. 22, 2016, wrote:

Donald J. Trump Verified account ‏@realDonaldTrump : “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.

Trump’s announcement, if materialised, would imply one of the most insourmountable hardles facing the world anti-nuclear movement.

Is Your Bank Funding Nuclear Bombs?

Meanwhile, the international campaign to prevent private banks and financial companies from funding the production and modernisation of nuclear weapons has achieved a further step forward.

“Governments have decided to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban treaty in 2017, and now is the time for banks, pension funds and insurance companies to get ready and end financial relations with companies involved in nuclear weapons,” says Susi Snyder from PAX and author of a the Hall of Fame report.

“Around 400 private banks, pension funds and insurance companies continue to fund –with their clients’ money– the production of nuclear weapons.”

According to this study, 18 banks, controlling over 1.7 trillion Euros, are ready not to collaborate in the funding of atomic weapons, with policies that strictly prohibit any investment of any type in any kind of nuclear weapon-producing company.

These 18 banks are profiled in the Hall of Fame of the Don’t Bank on the Bomb 2016 edition, which was issued on Dec. 7, 2016. These Hall of Fame institutions are based in Australia, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The report also shows there are another 36 financial institutions with policies that specifically name nuclear weapons as a concern, and limit investment in some ways.

“Even though these policies have loopholes, they still demonstrate there is a stigma associated with investments in nuclear weapons. PAX calls on these institutions to strengthen their policies and Don’t Bank on the Bomb offers tailored recommendations for each financial institute in the Runners-Up.”

Investments are not neutral, warns the report. “Financing and investing are active choices, based on a clear assessment of a company and its plans. Institutions imposing limitations on investing in nuclear weapons producers are responding to the growing stigma against these weapons, designed to kill indiscriminately.”

All of the nuclear-armed countries are modernising their nuclear weapon arsenals, and Don’t Bank on the Bomb details how 27 private companies are producing key components to make nuclear weapons as well as the 390 banks, insurance companies and pension funds that still invest in nuclear weapon-producing companies, the report adds.

“As a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons is to be negotiated in 2017, states should include a prohibition on financing to provide an added incentive for the financial industry to exclude nuclear weapon associated companies from their investment universe, and raise the economic cost of nuclear weapons deployment, stockpiling and modernisation.”

Some Striking Facts about Nukes

The International Campaign against Nuclear Weapons summarises the most striking facts about this weapon of mass destruction:

Which countries have nuclear weapons and how many?

What are their effects on health and the environment?

Who supports a global ban on nuclear weapons?

What are the most significant events of the nuclear age?

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January Brings Changes for UN Security Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/january-brings-changes-for-un-security-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=january-brings-changes-for-un-security-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/january-brings-changes-for-un-security-council/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 01:55:53 +0000 Andy Hazel and Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148419 UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres with Olof Skoog of Sweden, President of the UN Security Council for the month of January Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres with Olof Skoog of Sweden, President of the UN Security Council for the month of January Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Andy Hazel and Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

Five of the UN Security Council’s 15 seats were filled by new members this week, but a bigger shift in the council is expected later this month under the new US administration.

Sweden, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Italy replaced outgoing non-permanent members Spain, Malaysia, New Zealand, Angola and Venezuela.

They will join the other five non-permanent members – Japan, Egypt, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay – as well as the five permanent members of the council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The council’s five permanent members are considered to be the most powerful, since they hold the ability to veto any vote they disagree with.

This is why the change in the United States administration may signal a greater political shift in the council than the rotation of non-permanent members.

The possible change was foreshadowed by President-elect Trump in December following a controversial vote on Israeli settlements.

The United States took the surprise decision to abstain from the vote condemning Israeli settlements in the disputed territory of the West Bank, rather than using its veto power.

“As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” Trump tweeted shortly after the vote took place.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power – a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet – defended the abstention saying, “Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 undermines Israel’s security, harms the viability of a negotiated two-state outcome, and erodes prospects for peace and stability in the region.”

Power is expected to be replaced by Trump’s pick for the council, Nikki Haley, the current Governor of South Carolina, after Trump’s inauguration on January 20.

However Sweden’s Ambassador to the UN, Olof Skoog downplayed the political implications of the change in US administration for the Security Council.

“I haven’t spoken with anyone from the administration of the President-elect, but I expect that when they come to look at the work we’re doing they’ll see it is in the interests of the United States,” Skoog told journalists on Tuesday.

With January bringing a new US president, a changed Security Council and a new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Skoog said that he hoped to harness this “spirit of newness” to spur momentum into the Council’s work.

However Skoog said he was not expecting particular challenges to the Security Council’s work to come from the incoming US administration, with whom he said he looked forward to collaborating.

Skoog described Power as a strong voice with whom he shares many views. He said he also had a working relationship with Haley, but would not be drawn on possible changes regarding Israeli-Palestinian policy within the council.

Sweden has officially recognised the state of Palestine, putting it at odds with Trump’s pro-Israel stance.

Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that he hoped Italy could bring the Israel-Palestine conflict “to the forefront of the United Nations’ agenda,” during their month as president in November. Migration from the Middle East and Syria are also expected to be among the issues Italy will prioritise. Italy will be represented by Ambassador Sebastiano Card.

In a new and unusual step, Italy will share its security council seat with the Netherlands due to an impasse vote in the UN General Assembly for the final European seat. Italy will sit on the council in 2016 and the Netherlands in 2017. Gentiloni described the move as “a message of unity between European countries.”

2016 will be the first time that Kazakhstan will sit on the Security Council. The Central Asian country – which is keen to be seen as a major international power – will be represented by the ex-Ambassador to the United States Mr Kairat Umarov.

Kazakhstan – a part of the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone – may also bring a different perspective to Security Council discussions on nuclear non-proliferation. President-elect Trump’s comments on nuclear weapons have signalled that this may be an area high on the UN’s agenda in 2017.

Succeeding Venezuela as the Latin American representative, and holding a seat on the Council for the first time since 1979, is Bolivia. The plurinational state is represented by the Sacha Llorenti, a published author who spent two years at the President of Bolivia’s Permanent Assembly for Human Rights and was a minister in the government of Evo Morales.

Llorenti resigned from the ministry in 2011 following a violent police response to protesters marching against the building of a road through the Amazon rainforest. This was not the first time Llorenti was involved in clashes between indigenous populations and infrastructure.

Ethiopia replaces Angola and joins Senegal as an African representative on the Council. Ethiopia has become a major contributor of over 8,000 troops to UN peacekeeping operations. However in 2016, Ethiopia faced political instability within its own borders amid crackdowns on protestors.

In its first month on the council, Sweden has also taken up the rotating position of President. Skoog told press on Tuesday that the council’s priorities for January would include Syria, South Sudan and the Congo.

Skoog also highlighted massive population displacement, diminishing resources and rise of Boko Haram in Lake Chad region as detailed by Oxfam in a report entitled Lake Chad’s Unseen Crisis, which draws parallels between climate change, terrorism and national security.

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Ban Ki-moon’s Mixed Legacy as UN Secretary-Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ban-ki-moons-mixed-legacy-as-un-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ban-ki-moons-mixed-legacy-as-un-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ban-ki-moons-mixed-legacy-as-un-secretary-general/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2017 22:15:14 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148409 Ban Ki-moon with Korean pop singer Psy in 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

Ban Ki-moon with Korean pop singer Psy in 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 4 2017 (IPS)

Ban Ki-moon ended his ten years as UN Secretary-General at midnight on New Year’s Eve with his last official duty – dropping the ball at New York’s Times Square.

“I’ll be in Times Square for the ball drop. Millions of people will watch me lose my job.” Ban wrote beforehand on Twitter, hinting at possible relief that years of ribbon-cutting, handshaking and selfie-taking were finally over.

Ban – a former foreign minister of South Korea and career diplomat – seemed to embrace these ceremonial duties tirelessly during his two terms as Secretary-General.

However, when it came to some of the bigger responsibilities of the role, some critics argue he could have done more.

UN Secretaries-General have to tread a delicate path of diplomacy and bureaucracy. They are servants to the UN’s 193 member states, but they also have a responsibility to be a “true voice” of the UN Charter, Stephen Lewis, co-founder of international advocacy organisation AIDS-Free World, told IPS.

“Ban is a traditional diplomat to his bone marrow. He always felt that offending big powers was a taboo,” -- Richard Gowan.

“With the world in the state it now is in, we need a Secretary-General who speaks truth to power, who speaks his mind, who takes strong positions, and that has not been characteristic of the last several year of Ban Ki-Moon’s tenure,” said Lewis, who is also a former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF and a former Canadian Ambassador to the UN.

Lewis said that Ban could have done more to follow in the footsteps of former Secretaries-General such as Kofi Annan of Ghana or Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden, two Secretaries-General admired for their ability to stand up to UN member states when needed.

“It’s the difference between someone who’ll use the middle ground to try and satisfy everyone and someone who says, my job is to lead this world in a principled way, upholding the charter and telling the member states when they’re wrong and when their human rights are being violated,” said Lewis.

The charter is the founding document of the United Nations which was established in 1945 in the wake of the Second World War.

UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations Richard Gowan agreed that Ban chose to be diplomatic rather than disagree with UN member states.

“Ban is a traditional diplomat to his bone marrow.  He always felt that offending big powers was a taboo,” said Gowan.

However Gowan – who has followed Ban’s tenure closely – noted that over time Ban began to take stronger positions.

“I do think Ban got better over time. After the 2009 Sri Lanka crisis he felt compelled to highlight serious human rights abuses. He is a moral man.”

However overall, Gowan said that Ban was considered too cautious in the face of major crises facing the UN. These include ongoing conflicts in Syria and South Sudan.

“The constant refrain I have heard from UN officials over the last decade has been that Ban has been too cautious and too concerned about protecting his own position in the face of major crises,” said Gowan.

However while Ban may have only had limited influence over the UN member states’ responses to the world’s protracted disasters he did have responsibility for how the UN responded to them.

This includes oversight for UN peacekeepers – whose numbers swelled to over 100,000 during Ban’s tenure.

UN peacekeepers have faced scandals, including allegations of sexual abuse, however it is the UN’s tepid response under Ban’s leadership to problems within peacekeeping that has attracted the most criticism.

Gowan argues that the UN’s responses under Ban seemed in part to reflect his lack of understanding of the operational intricacies of the UN.

“Secretaries-General are not magicians.  The UN bureaucracy is hard to manage, and peace operations are especially difficult to control,” said Gowan. “But Ban never seemed to have a detailed operational sense of what the UN has been doing on the ground on his watch.”

“When a big crisis hit a UN mission, or a sexual abuse scandal blew up, he always seemed to be on the back foot. I credit him with trying to do the right thing over cholera in Haiti, but he was slow.”

UN peacekeepers from Nepal responding to the 2010 earthquake bought cholera to Haiti in part because untreated sewage from a UN base ran into local water sources.

At the beginning of December 2016, soon before ending his time as Secretary-General, Ban apologised for cholera outbreak, but stopped short of accepting the UN’s role in bringing cholera to Haiti.

“His apology was very much characteristic of the middle ground that satisfied only part of his role,” said Lewis. “He never accepted the responsibility for the UN bringing cholera to Haiti. He only ever apologised for the consequences of the cholera. In other words he stopped short of embracing an important matter of principle.”

This may have been because a full apology could potentially open the UN and its member states to paying reparations to the people of Haiti, thousands of whom have already died due to the cholera outbreak.

Nevertheless, many saw Ban’s apology as an attempt to make amends for one of the darkest aspects of his ten years as Secretary-General.

His tenure did see progress made in other areas, for example Ban was considered to have progressed LGBTI rights within the UN by openly showing his support.

Ban’s successor Antonio Guterres, the former Prime Minister of Portugal, took office on 1 January, beginning his five year term with a message of peace to the world.

“We’re hoping that Guterres will be a Hammarskjold,” said Lewis, referring to the Swedish Secretary-General who is admired by many UN aficionados for his dedication to the UN charter.

Ban is widely considered to be vying for the Presidency of South Korea.

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