Inter Press Service » Global Geopolitics http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 02 May 2015 20:58:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.4 The U.N. at 70: Impressive Successes and Monumental Failureshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-impressive-successes-and-monumental-failures/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-impressive-successes-and-monumental-failures http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-impressive-successes-and-monumental-failures/#comments Fri, 01 May 2015 13:38:19 +0000 Somar Wijayadasa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140414 The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2219 (2015), extending the arms embargo on Côte d’Ivoire by a year, until April 30, 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2219 (2015), extending the arms embargo on Côte d’Ivoire by a year, until April 30, 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Somar Wijayadasa
NEW YORK, May 1 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations was created to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, protect human rights, maintain international peace and security, and uphold international law. Its 70-year history is marked with many successes, but also disappointments. We need to look at both sides so that we can make the U.N. more effective in the future.

The U.N. has an impressive record of resolving many international conflicts. U.N. peacekeepers have, since 1945, undertaken over 60 field missions and negotiated 172 peaceful settlements that ended regional conflicts. Right now, peacekeepers are in 20 hot spots around the world trying to save lives and avert wars.The Security Council must be reformed and strengthened to enable the U.N. as a whole to confront and resolve complex challenges of our world.

The U.N. also fought for the liberation of countries that have been under colonial rule for over 450 years. Eighty nations and more than 750 million people have since been freed from colonialism.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights empowered the U.N. to act as custodian for the protection of human rights, discrimination against women, children’s rights, torture, missing persons and arbitrary detention that was occurring in many countries.

Moreover, the U.N. and its specialised agencies are engaged in enhancing all aspects of human life, including education, health, poverty reduction, the rights of women and children, and climate change.

As a result, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded 12 times to the U.N., its specialised agencies, programmes and staff. This included an award in 1988 to the U.N. Peacekeeping Forces, and in 2001 to the U.N. and its secretary-general, Kofi Annan.

The U.N. defined, codified and expanded the realm of international law, governing the legal responsibilities of States in their conduct with each other, and their treatment of individuals within State boundaries. More than 560 multilateral treaties on human rights, refugees, disarmament, trade, oceans, outer space, etc. encompassing all aspects of international affairs were negotiated by the U.N.

The U.N. has made progress with its eight Millennium Development Goals, which will be followed by 17 Sustainable Development Goals to enhance social, environmental and economic progress by 2030. But it could not stop the United States from abandoning the Kyoto Protocol, ignoring the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, repudiating the Biological Weapons Convention, and repealing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The U.N. is not without shortcomings. In 1970, when the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed by 190 nations, all five superpowers owned nuclear weapons. Later, despite the NPT and Partial Test Ban Treaty, several countries – North Korea, Israel, Pakistan, and India – developed nuclear weapons. This revealed the U.N.’s inability to enforce regulations on offending nations.

Along similar lines, the U.N.’s International Court of Justice has resolved major international disputes, but the U.N.’s veto powers have limited its effectiveness at critical times.

The International Criminal Court, established in 2002, has prosecuted several war criminals – but it has been criticised for prosecuting only African leaders while Western powers too have committed war crimes.

Dag Hammarskjold, secretary-general  from 1953-1961, said that the “U.N. was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.” The U.N. has solved many violent conflicts, prevented wars, and saved millions of lives but it also faced disappointments.

In Cambodia, a peacekeeping mission (1991–95) ended violence and established a democratic government, but well after Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge (1975-79) had executed over 2.5 million people.

In Rwanda, over 800,000 were massacred in 100 days. In 1995, Bosnian Serb forces overran the “safe zone” of Srebrenica and massacred 8,000 Muslim men and boys. In Darfur, an estimated 300,000 Sudanese civilians were killed. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has killed over 13,000 people.

A recent report by “Body Count” revealed that “in addition to one million deaths in Iraq, an estimated 220,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan as a result of US foreign policy”.

Last year, Israel attacked homes, schools, hospitals, and U.N. shelters in Gaza killing 2,200 Palestinians. Condemning that action, Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that “Israel was deliberately defying international law in its military offensive in Gaza and that world powers should hold it accountable for possible war crimes.” The U.N. Security Council (SC) has failed as the United States vetoes any action against Israel.

The Arab Spring in the Middle East caused thousands of deaths and regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Libya is devastated with over 40,000 deaths, and the civil war in Syria has killed over 220,000 people. These wars have displaced over 50 million people. Now, ISIS has infiltrated these countries causing gruesome killings, human rights abuses, and war crimes, at an unprecedented rate.

These catastrophic events might have been prevented if the Member States of the U.N. had the ability to resolutely act in a timely manner. But the U.N. is not a world government, and it does not have a standing army of peace-keepers ready for deployment. And, it is the Member States that make decisions at the U.N.

These setbacks clearly reflect the shortcomings of the U.N. Security Council, and its veto powers that allow some members’ own interests to be placed ahead of the need to end a raging conflict.

Navi Pillay, addressing the Security Council, said that “short-term geopolitical considerations and national interest, narrowly defined, have repeatedly taken precedence over intolerable human suffering and grave breaches of – and long-term threats to – international peace and security.”

During the last 70 years, geopolitics have changed drastically that call for reform of the U.N. – to meet global needs and challenges of the 21st century.

Member States accuse the Security Council of being arrogant, secretive and undemocratic but the veto powers resist change. Meanwhile, violations of the U.N. Charter by powerful countries continue to erode the effectiveness of the United Nations.

However, as mandated by its Charter, the U.N. has prevented another World War. The U.N. has made impressive and unprecedented progress in all aspects of human development, bringing great benefits to millions of people around the world.

Our convoluted world needs the U.N. The Security Council must be reformed and strengthened to enable the U.N. as a whole to confront and resolve complex challenges of our world.

As President Obama has said, the U.N. is imperfect, but it is also indispensable.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: Comprehensive Ban on Nuclear Testing, a ‘Stepping Stone’ to a Nuke-Free Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-comprehensive-ban-on-nuclear-testing-a-stepping-stone-to-a-nuclear-weapons-free-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-comprehensive-ban-on-nuclear-testing-a-stepping-stone-to-a-nuclear-weapons-free-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-comprehensive-ban-on-nuclear-testing-a-stepping-stone-to-a-nuclear-weapons-free-world/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 17:28:36 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140382 Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 29 2015 (IPS)

With the four-week-long review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) underway at the United Nations, hopes and frustrations are running equally high, as a binding political agreement on the biggest threat to humanity hangs in the balance.

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Behind the headlines that focus primarily on power struggles between the five major nuclear powers – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – scores of organisations refusing to be bogged down in geopolitical squabbles are going about the Herculean task of creating a safer world.

One of these bodies is the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), founded in 1996 alongside the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), with the aim of independently monitoring compliance.

With 183 signatories and 164 ratifications, the treaty represents a milestone in international efforts to ban nuclear testing.

In order to be legally binding, however, the treaty needs the support of the 44 so-called ‘Annex 2 States’, eight of which have so far refused to ratify the agreement: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea and the United States.

This holdout has severely crippled efforts to move towards even the most basic goal of the nuclear abolition process.

Still, the CTBTO has made tremendous strides in the past 20 years to set the stage for full ratification.

Its massive global network of seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound and radionuclide detecting stations makes it nearly impossible for governments to violate the terms of the treaty, and the rich data generated from its many facilities is contributing to a range of scientific endeavors worldwide.

In an interview with IPS, CTBTO Executive Secretary Dr. Lassina Zerbo spoke about the organisation’s hopes for the review conference, and shared some insights on the primary hurdles standing in the way of a nuclear-free world.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What role will the CTBTO play in the conference?

"Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by [a] handful of countries [...]." -- Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO)
A: Our hope is that the next four weeks result in a positive outcome with regards to disarmament and non-proliferation, and we think the CTBT plays an important role there. The treaty was one of the key elements that led to indefinite extension of the NPT itself, and is the one thing that seems to be bringing all the state parties together. It’s a low-hanging fruit and we need to catch it, make it serve as a stepping-stone for whatever we want to achieve in this review conference.

For instance, we need to find a compromise between those who are of the view that we should move first on non-proliferation, and between those who say we should move equally, if not faster, on disarmament.

We also need to address the concerns of those who ask why nuclear weapons states are allowed to develop more modern weapons, while other states are prevented from developing even the basic technologies that could serve as nuclear weapons.

The CTBT represents something that all states can agree to; it serves as the basis for consensus on other, more difficult issues, and this is the message I am bringing to the conference.

Q: What have been some of the biggest achievement of the CTBTO? What are some of your most pressing concerns for the future?

A: The CTBTO bans all nuclear test explosions underwater, underground and in the air. We’ve built a network of nearly 300 stations for detecting nuclear tests, including tracking radioactive emissions.

Our international monitoring system has stopped horizontal proliferation (more countries acquiring nuclear weapons), as well as vertical proliferation (more advanced weapons systems).

That’s why some [states] are hesitant to consider ratification of the CTBT: because they are of the view that they still need testing to be able to maintain or modernise their stockpiles.

Any development of nuclear weapons happening today is based on testing that was done 20-25 years ago. No country, except for North Korea, has performed a single test in the 21st century.

Q: How do you deal with outliers like North Korea?

A: We haven’t had official contact with North Korea. I can only base my analysis on what world leaders are telling me. [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov has attempted to engage North Korea in discussions about the CTBT and asked if they would consider a moratorium on testing. Yesterday I met Yerzhan Ashikbayev, deputy foreign minister for Kazakhstan, which has bilateral relations with North Korea, and they have urgently called on North Korea to consider signature of the CTBT.

Those are the countries that can help us, those who have bilateral relations.

Having said this, if I’m invited to North Korea for a meeting that could serve as a basis for engaging in discussions, to help them understand more about the CTBT and the organizational framework and infrastructure that we’ve built: why not? I would be ready to do it.

We are also engaging states like Israel, who could take leadership in regions like the Middle East by signing onto the CTBT. I was just in Israel, where I asked the questions: Do you want to test? I don’t think so. Do you need it? I don’t think so. So why don’t you take leadership to open that framework that we need for confidence building in the region that could lead to more ratification and more consideration of a nuclear weapons-free zone or a WMD-free zone.

Israel now says that CTBT ratification is not an “if” but a “when” – I hope the “when” is not too far away.

Q: Despite scores of marches, thousands of petitions and millions of signatures calling for disarmament and abolition, the major nuclear weapons states are holding out. This can be extremely disheartening for those at the forefront of the movement. What would be your message to global civil society?

A: I would say, keep putting pressure on your political leaders. We need leadership to move on these issues. Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by the handful of countries [that have not ratified the treaty].

Only civil society can play a role in telling governments, “You’ve got to move because the majority of the world is saying ‘no’ to what you still have, and what you are still holding onto.” The CTBT is a key element for that goal we want to achieve, hopefully in our lifetime: a world free of nuclear weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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As Nuke Talks Begin, U.N. Chief Warns of Dangerous Return to Cold War Mentalitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/as-nuke-talks-begin-u-n-chief-warns-of-dangerous-return-to-cold-war-mentalities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=as-nuke-talks-begin-u-n-chief-warns-of-dangerous-return-to-cold-war-mentalities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/as-nuke-talks-begin-u-n-chief-warns-of-dangerous-return-to-cold-war-mentalities/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 23:31:56 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140353 A view of the General Assembly Hall as Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (shown on screens) addresses the opening of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The Review Conference is taking place at U.N. headquarters from Apr. 27 to May 22, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

A view of the General Assembly Hall as Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (shown on screens) addresses the opening of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The Review Conference is taking place at U.N. headquarters from Apr. 27 to May 22, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Against the backdrop of a new Cold War between the United States and Russia, two of the world’s major nuclear powers, the United Nations is once again playing host to a four-week-long international review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A primary focus of this year’s conference, which is held every five years, is a proposal for a long outstanding treaty to ban nuclear weapons.“Recognising the deep flaws in the NPT, we see the importance of a strong civil society presence at the 2015 Review Conference.” -- Jackie Cabasso

“Eliminating nuclear weapons is a top priority for the United Nations,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told delegates Monday.

“No other weapon has the potential to inflict such wanton destruction on our world,” said Ban, who has been a relentless advocate of nuclear disarmament.

He described the NPT as the cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime and an essential basis for realising a nuclear-weapon-free world.

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, director of the Acronym Institute and former chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), told IPS: “If we rely solely on the NPT to fulfil nuclear disarmament, we’ll have a lifelong wait, with the ever-present risk of nuclear detonations and catastrophe.

“That’s because the five nuclear-armed states treat the NPT as giving them permission to modernise their arsenals in perpetuity, while other nuclear-armed governments act as if the NPT has nothing to do with them,” she added.

A next-step nuclear ban treaty is being pursued by ICAN’s 400 partner organisations and a growing number of governments in order to fill the legal gap between prohibition and elimination.

Whatever the NPT Review Conference manages to achieve in 2015, said Dr. Johnson, “a universally applicable nuclear ban treaty is clearly on the agenda as the best way forward to accelerate regional and international nuclear disarmament, reinforce the non-proliferation regime and put pressure on all the nuclear-armed governments.”

Expressing disappointment over the current status on nuclear disarmament, the secretary-general pointed out that between 1990 and 2010, the international community took bold steps towards a nuclear weapon-free world.

There were massive reductions in deployed arsenals, he said, and States closed weapons facilities and made impressive moves towards more transparent nuclear doctrines.

“I am deeply concerned that over the last five years this process seems to have stalled. It is especially troubling that recent developments indicate that the trend towards nuclear zero is reversing. Instead of progress towards new arms reduction agreements, we have allegations about destabilising violations of existing agreements,” he declared.

Instead of a Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty in force or a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons, he said “we see expensive modernisation programmes that will entrench nuclear weapons for decades to come.”

Over the weekend, Peace and Planet Mobilization, a coalition of hundreds of anti-nuclear activists and representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), delivered more than eight million petition signatures at the end of a peace march to the United Nations.

The president of the Conference, Ambassador Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, and the United Nations have received several petitions from civil society organisations (CSOs) calling for the successful conclusion of the current session and negotiations for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

But the proposal is expected to encounter strong opposition from the world’s five major nuclear powers: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

According to the coalition, the weekend began with an international conference in New York attended by nearly 700 peace activists; an International Interfaith Religious convocation attended by Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Shinto religious leaders; and a rally with over 7,500 peace, justice and environmental activists – including peace walkers from California, Tennessee and New England at Union Square North.

“Recognising the deep flaws in the NPT, we see the importance of a strong civil society presence at the 2015 Review Conference, with a clarion call for negotiations to begin immediately on the elimination of nuclear weapons,” said Jackie Cabasso of the Western States Legal Foundation.

“We also recognised that a multitude of planetary problems stem from the same causes. So, we brought together a broad coalition of peace, environmental, and economic justice advocates to build political will towards our common goals”, she said.

Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee said people from New York to Okinawa, Mexico to Bethlehem “picked up on our ‘Global Peace Wave,’ with actions in 24 countries to build pressure on their governments to press for the beginning of ‘good faith’ negotiations for the elimination of the world’s nuclear weapons.”

The Washington-based Arms Control Association said rather than the dozens of nuclear-armed states that were forecast before the NPT entered into force in 1970, only four additional countries (India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea, all of which have not signed the NPT) have nuclear weapons today, and the taboo against the use of nuclear weapons has grown stronger.

The 2015 NPT Review Conference provides an important opportunity for the treaty’s members to adopt a balanced, forward-looking action plan: improve nuclear safeguards, guard against treaty withdrawal, accelerate progress on disarmament, and address regional nuclear proliferation challenges, the Association said.

However, the 2015 conference will likely reveal tensions regarding the implementation of some of the 65 key commitments in the action plan agreed to at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, it warned.

“There is widespread frustration with the slow pace of achieving the nuclear disarmament goals of Article VI of the NPT and the lack of agreement among NPT parties on how best to advance nuclear disarmament.”

Though the United States and Russia are implementing the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) accord, they have not started talks on further nuclear reductions.

“Russia’s annexation of Ukraine will likely be criticized by some states as a violation of security commitments made in 1994 when Kiev joined the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state,” the Association said.

At the same time, most nuclear-weapon states–inside and outside the NPT–are modernising their nuclear arsenals.

This is leading some non-nuclear-weapon states to call for the negotiation of a nuclear weapons ban even without the participation of the nuclear-weapon states; while others are pushing for a renewed dedication to key disarmament commitments made at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the Association argued.

Ban said the next few weeks “will be challenging as you seek to advance our shared ambition to remove the dangers posed by nuclear weapons”.

This is a historic imperative of our time, he said. “I call on you to act with urgency to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to you by the peoples of the world who seek a more secure future for all,” he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Middle East Conflicts Trigger New U.S.-Russia Arms Racehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/middle-east-conflicts-trigger-new-u-s-russia-arms-race/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-east-conflicts-trigger-new-u-s-russia-arms-race http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/middle-east-conflicts-trigger-new-u-s-russia-arms-race/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 15:30:56 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140332 The U.S. Navy variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, conducts a test flight over the Chesapeake Bay. The F-35 programme includes an unusual arrangement with U.S. allies under which sales of the aircraft will begin as it is being deployed with U.S. forces. Credit: public domain

The U.S. Navy variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, conducts a test flight over the Chesapeake Bay. The F-35 programme includes an unusual arrangement with U.S. allies under which sales of the aircraft will begin as it is being deployed with U.S. forces. Credit: public domain

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

The escalating military conflicts in the Middle East – and the month-long aerial bombings of Yemen by an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia – have triggered a new arms race in the politically-volatile region.

The primary beneficiaries are the United States and Russia, two of the world’s largest arms suppliers, who are feeding the multiple warring parties in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and most recently in Yemen.We keep repeating the same mistake, which is to assume that our foreign policy decisions will not be answered by our adversaries. Time and time again, we’ve been proven wrong in this regard." -- Dr. Natalie Goldring

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS “once again, the Middle East seems to be mired in an arms race.”

The New York Times, she pointed out, recently published a provocative article titled, “Sale of U.S. Arms Fuels the Wars of Arab States,” mentioning several potential U.S. arms sales to the region in the near future.

“But this isn’t likely to be the whole story,” she added.

In all likelihood, said Dr. Goldring, if the proposed U.S. sales go forward, the Russian government will use them as an excuse to supply its clients with more weapons.

“It’s an easy cycle to predict — the United States makes major sales to clients such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or the United Arab Emirates. Then Russia sells weapons to Iran and perhaps Syria with the argument they’re simply balancing U.S. sales. And the cycle continues,” she added.

The six-member Arab coalition engaged in bombarding Yemen is led by Saudi Arabia and includes the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt – all of them equipped primarily with U.S. weapons systems.

The jets used in the attacks inside Yemen are mostly F-15s and F-16s – both front line fighter planes in Middle East arsenals.

The London Economist says ”oblivious to the unfolding humanitarian crisis,” Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, described as a billionaire member of the Saudi royal family, is offering 100 super luxury Bentley cars (one each) to the fighter pilots participating in the bombing raids inside Yemen.

Last week, Russia announced it was lifting a five year voluntary embargo on a long-pending sale of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, which is accused of arming the Houthi rebels under attack by Saudi Arabia and its allies.

The Saudi coalition, which temporarily halted the aerial attacks last week, resumed its bombings over the weekend.

As the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, the air campaign has transformed Yemen into a battlefield for broader contest over regional power between Shiite Iran and Sunni Muslim countries led by Saudi Arabia.

There were also reports the Russian government has offered to sell advanced surface-to-air missiles to Iran, providing Tehran with a mobile system that could attack both missiles and aircraft.

The system, the Antey-2500, apparently has the capacity to defend against – and attack – ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and fixed-wing aircraft.

Meanwhile, Russia has also continued to be the primary arms supplier to Syria, another military hot spot in the Middle East.

Historically, virtually all of the weapons systems in the Syrian arsenal have come from Russia, which decades ago signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with Damascus ensuring uninterrupted supplies of arms from Moscow.

The civil war in Syria, which has cost over 220, 000 lives, is now in its fifth year, with no signs of a settlement.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recently released data that showed the United States was still the world’s leading arms exporter.

In the most recent period its data covered, 2010-2014, the United States accounted for 31 percent of the world’s transfers of major conventional weapons. Russia was in second place with 27 percent. No other country accounted for more than 5 percent of arms sales during this period.

According to the New York Times, U.S. defence industry officials told Congress they were expecting within days a request from Arab countries “to buy thousands of American-made missiles, bombs and other weapons, replenishing an arsenal that has been depleted over the past year.”

And Qatar is planning to replace its French-made Mirage fighters with U-S.-made F-15 jets.

Dr. Goldring told IPS one particularly troubling aspect of recent press accounts is the consideration of potential sales of the U.S.’s new F-35 stealth fighter, one of the most advanced, to countries in the Middle East.

“We’ve seen this tactic before. First, U.S. policymakers want to sell our most sophisticated fighter aircraft. Then they turn around and say we need to develop new fighters because the current technology has been distributed to so many countries.

“If we want to preserve our military forces’ technological advantages over potential adversaries, we need to show more restraint in our weapons transfers,” she added.

The F-35 programme already includes an unusual arrangement with U.S. allies under which sales of the aircraft will begin as it is being deployed with U.S. forces.

“We shouldn’t compound this error by considering even wider sales of the F-35,” Goldring said.

Meanwhile, France is negotiating the sale of its most sophisticated fighter plane, the Rafale, to the United Arab Emirates.

Ironically, as these potential sales were being negotiated, countries have been meeting in Vienna to develop implementation plans for the Arms Trade Treaty.

The Arms Trade Treaty calls on countries to be more reflective before making weapons sales decisions, taking into account their potential effects on human rights and humanitarian concerns, and considering factors such as the effect of the transfers on peace and security, among other issues.

“Middle Eastern suppliers and recipients alike desperately need to do this sort of reevaluation. Unfortunately, the recent reports suggest that it’s ‘business as usual’ in the Middle East,” declared Dr. Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

“For years, I’ve written and spoken about the ‘fallacy of the last move’ in U.S. foreign policy. We keep repeating the same mistake, which is to assume that our foreign policy decisions will not be answered by our adversaries. Time and time again, we’ve been proven wrong in this regard. It’s likely to happen again in this case.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Arab Youth Have No Trust in Democracyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-arab-youth-have-no-trust-in-democracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-arab-youth-have-no-trust-in-democracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-arab-youth-have-no-trust-in-democracy/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 07:24:40 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140315

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that from a high point in the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions, Arab youth have largely lost their trust in democracy, betrayed by the return of the army to power or the clinging of the old guard to power regardless of the costs.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

The results of a survey of what 3,500 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 – in all Arab countries except Syria – feel about the current situation in the Middle East and North Africa have just been released.

The report of the survey, which was carried out by international polling firm Penn Schoen Berland (PBS), is not a minority report given that 60 percent of the population of the Arab population is under the age of 25, which means 200 million people. Well, the outcome of the survey is that the large majority of them have no trust in democracy.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The word democracy does not exist in Arabic, being a concept totally alien to the era in which Muhammad created Islam. However, it is worth noting that the concept of democracy as it is known today is also relatively recent in the West, and we have to wait from its origins in the Greek era for it to make a comeback at the time of the French Revolution.

It became an accepted value just after the end of the Second World War, and the end of the Soviet, Nazi and Japanese regimes.

As a matter of fact, it is still not a reality in large parts of Asia (just think of China and North Korea) and Africa.

Then we have governments, as in Hungary where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is openly preaching a style of governance à la Russian President Vladimir Putin, followed by several of his esteemers, including the National Front party in France, and the Northern League in Italy. But few have such a negative view of democracy as young Arabs.After the Arab Spring revolutions in 2012, a massive 72 percent of young Arabs believed that the Arab world had improved. The figure dropped to 70 percent in 2013, then 54 percent in 2014, and now it stands at just 38 percent

After the Arab Spring revolutions in 2012, a massive 72 percent of young Arabs believed that the Arab world had improved. The figure dropped to 70 percent in 2013, then 54 percent in 2014, and now it stands at just 38 percent.

According to the survey, 39 percent of young Arabs agreed with the statement “democracy will never work in the region”, 36 percent thought it would work, while the remaining 25 percent expressed many doubts.

It is clear that the Arab Spring has been betrayed by the return of the army to power as in Egypt, or by the clinging of the old guard to power regardless of the costs, like Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

If you add to this the fact that 41 percent of young Arabs are unemployed (out of a total unemployment figure of 25 percent), and of those 31 percent have completed higher education and 17 percent have graduated from university, it is not difficult to understand that frustration and pessimism are running high among Arab youth.

It also contributes to explaining why so many young people feel attracted to the Islamic State (ISIS) which wants to topple all Arab governments, defined as corrupt and allied to the decadent West, and create a Caliphate as in Muhammad’s times, where wealth will be distributed among all, the dignity of Islam will be enhanced, and a world of purity and vision will substitute the materialistic one of today.

This is why ISIS is attracting youth from all over. Besides, according to experts, for the terrorist to have a geographical space and run it  as a state, where hospitals and schools function and there is a daily life to prove that the dream is possible, represents a great difference with previous terrorist movements like Al-Qaeda, which could only destroy, not really build.

But the survey also reveals something extremely important. To the question “which is the biggest obstacle for the Arab world?”, 37 percent indicated the expansion of ISIS and 32 percent the threat of terrorism. The problem of unemployment was mentioned by 29 percent and that of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by 23 percent.

It is worth noting that the threat of a nuclear Iran was mentioned by only 8 percent (contrary to the declarations of Arab governments), while 17 percent consider that the real problem is the lack of political leaders, while only 15 percent denounce the lack of democracy.

It is important to note that no interviews were carried out in Iran, which is not an Arab country but is a Muslim country. However Iranian Muslims are Shiites and not Sunnis, as in all Arab countries, except for Iraq and Bahrein, and perhaps Yemen, where Shiites are a majority. Of the world’s total Islamic population of 1.6 billion people, Shiites make up only 10 percent.

It is within Sunnite Islam that a dramatic conflict is going on, where Wahabism, a Sunni school born in Saudi Arabia and the official religion of the Saudi reigning house, has now split into those who want to return to the purity of the early times and those are considered “petrowahabists” because they have been corrupted by the wealth created by petrol (they are also called sheikh wahabists because they accept government by sheikhs).

Saudi Arabia has been spending an average of 3 billion dollars a year to promote Wahabism. It has built over 1,500 mosques throughout the world, where radical preachers have been asking the faithful to go back to the real and uncorrupted Islam.

It was with Osama Bin Laden that the Wahabist movement escaped from the control of Saudi Arabia, very much like the radical Hamas movement, originally supported by Israel to weaken the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Yasser Arafat, turned against the Israeli state. It is not possible to ride radicalism.

The survey also reveals that young Sunnis see ISIS and terrorism as their main threat, but we are talking here of a poll which should represent 200 million people between the ages of 18 and 25. Even if just one percent of them were to succumb to the call of the jihad, we are talking of a potential two million people … and this is now being felt acutely.

The polarisation inside Sunni society (Shiites are not part of that – there are no Shiite terrorists) is felt as the most important problem for the future.

In Europe and the United States, this should be the clearest of examples that ISIS and terrorism are first and foremost an internal problem of Islam and that to intervene in that problem will only unify the Arab world against the invader. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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U.N. Committee Gets ‘Unhindered Access’ to Azerbaijan’s Detention Centres – But Is it Enough?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-committee-gets-unhindered-access-to-azerbaijans-detention-centres-but-is-it-enough/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-committee-gets-unhindered-access-to-azerbaijans-detention-centres-but-is-it-enough http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-committee-gets-unhindered-access-to-azerbaijans-detention-centres-but-is-it-enough/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 22:08:58 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140310 Against the backdrop of serious human rights allegations, Azerbaijan is gearing up to host the first-ever European Games. Credit: ResoluteSupportMedia/CC-BY-2.0

Against the backdrop of serious human rights allegations, Azerbaijan is gearing up to host the first-ever European Games. Credit: ResoluteSupportMedia/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Months after being denied access to Azerbaijan’s places of detention, the head of the United Nation’s Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) announced Friday that her four-member delegation had successfully conducted investigations of Azerbaijani prisons, police stations and investigative isolation units.

“The Azerbaijani Government this time enabled unhindered access to places of deprivation of liberty,” confirmed Aisha Shujune Muhammad, head of the SPT delegation, in a statement published by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“I can’t think of a single case of the ones we’ve followed – which largely are connected to political activists, journalists and human rights defenders – in which allegations of torture have been effectively investigated." -- Jane Buchanan, associate director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch
As a state party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, Azerbaijan is obliged to allow independent experts full access to sites of detention, but last September the SPT was forced to suspend its visit after being prevented from inspecting some sites and barred from completing its work at others, “in violation of Azerbaijan’s treaty obligations”, according to OHCHR.

This month, from Apr. 16-24, SPT members visited a range of sites including pre-trial detention facilities, psychiatric hospitals, and social care institutions.

On Friday the subcommittee presented its confidential preliminary observations to Azerbaijani authorities, including recommendations for strengthening systems to protect those persons deprived of their liberty against torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment.

While welcoming the government’s cooperation, Muhammad stressed, “[The] State party has yet to guarantee all fundamental legal and procedural safeguards to persons deprived of their liberty, including access to a lawyer, a medical doctor, and to contact his or her family.”

Streets empty of political dissidents

The statement confirms what international watchdogs have been warning for the past few years: that ill treatment of prisoners and impunity, particularly with regards to political activists and journalists, is rampant in this land-locked nation of 9.4 million people.

“We have had long-standing concerns about conditions in detention and ill treatment and torture of people detained in police stations, in prisons and other facilities,” Jane Buchanan, associate director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

“We have huge concerns about fair trials and due process, so we don’t have a sense of optimism at all – nor do I read a lot of optimism into the SPT’s statement. I would not say the trajectory is good.”

She said the situation is particularly worrying for human rights defenders and the media, who are currently weathering a harsh government crackdown against any form of dissent.

In 2014 alone, Human Rights Watch (HRW) recorded over 35 cases of activists, journalists and human rights defenders who were detained or imprisoned on politically motivated charges.

Buchanan said other, local groups have longer lists, whose numbers are closer to the 100 mark.

Even these could be conservative estimates, as many of those who would otherwise be monitoring violations of human rights are now behind bars, or have fled the country to escape prosecution.

“The government is effectively shutting down mechanisms for transparency and accountability for all kinds of things including torture and ill treatment,” she stated.

Amnesty International’s most recent country report for Azerbaijan echoes many of these concerns, highlighting cases like the arrest on May 6 of Kemale Benenyarli, a member of the opposition Azerbaijani Popular Front Party (APFP) who subsequently alleged that she was “beaten, punched, dragged and locked in a cell, where she was kept without food and water until her trial the following morning.”

At the time of her arrest, Benenyarli was among a group of peaceful protestors gathered outside the Baku City Grave Crimes Court, demanding the release of jailed youth activists associated with the NIDA Civic Movement.

Amnesty also reported that another protestor arrested that day, Orkhan Eyyubzade, complained that he was “stripped naked, dragged by the hair, punched, kicked and threatened with rape after he engaged in an argument with police officers during his detention on May 15.”

Other allegations of torture in detention include the withholding of medical treatment, denial of necessary foods due to medical conditions, and the use of physical violence on the part of staff or cellmates, according to HRW’s Buchanan.

“I can’t think of a single case of the ones we’ve followed – which largely are connected to political activists, journalists and human rights defenders – in which allegations of torture have been effectively investigated,” she added.

At present, rights groups say over 50 political prisoners are being held in jails around the country, largely on trumped-up charges.

European Games: A chance to shine a light on injustice?

Against the backdrop of serious rights allegations, which have been escalating since 2012, Azerbaijan is gearing up to host the first-ever European Games under the auspices of the Olympic Movement.

Over 6,000 athletes representing 50 countries are scheduled to participate in the event, which will run from Jun. 12-28 this year.

According to the London-based Business News Europe, the games are budgeted at an estimated eight billion dollars, and billed as the “most spectacular show in Azerbaijan’s history.”

While the government of President Ilham Aliyev hopes to use the games to spotlight his country’s economic development, rights groups are pushing the European Olympic Committees and key National Olympic Committees to instead shift the focus onto human rights abuses and political prisoners.

The Sports and Rights Alliance, a coalition comprised of the likes of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Football Supporters Europe, and Transparency International Germany, recently submitted a letter to Patrick Hickey, president of the European Olympic Committees, arguing that the current crackdown on critics and dissidents is “at odds with key principles of the Olympic Charter that the European Games are meant to uphold.”

The Alliance also urged the sporting body to use its leverage with Azerbaijan to, among other things, demand the immediate and unconditional release of rights activists like Khajida Ismayilova, Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunus, Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov, Rauf Mirgadirov, Anar Mammadli, Ilgar Mammadov, and Tofig Yagulblu.

“Those participating in the European games being funded by the Azerbaijani government have a real obligation to speak out,” Buchanan stressed.

Among those receiving “funding” to attend the games is Britain’s team of 160 athletes. In February, the Guardian reported that the British Olympic Association (BOA) had admitted that the host country would cover the bulk of the costs associated with getting its teams to Baku.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Media Watchdog Unveils Top Ten Worst Censorshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/media-watchdog-unveils-top-ten-worst-censors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=media-watchdog-unveils-top-ten-worst-censors http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/media-watchdog-unveils-top-ten-worst-censors/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 21:11:42 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140306 The collapse of autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt broke the state's stranglehold on the local press, but journalists and bloggers must still be careful what they say. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

The collapse of autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt broke the state's stranglehold on the local press, but journalists and bloggers must still be careful what they say. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

While technology has given millions greater freedom to express themselves, in the world’s 10 most censored countries, this basic right exists only on paper, if at all.

According to a report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which will be officially released at U.N. headquarters on Apr. 27, the worst offenders are Eritrea and North Korea, followed by Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Iran, China, Myanmar and Cuba."Countries that were on our list in previous years continue to be on the list. But the forms of censorship have changed." -- CPJ's Courtney Radsch

Courtney Radsch, the advocacy director of CPJ, told IPS, “These countries use a wide range of traditional tactics of censorship, including jailing of journalists, harassment of journalists, prosecuting local press and independent press.”

According to CPJ’s 2014 prison census, Eritrea is Africa’s leading jailer of journalists, with at least 23 behind bars – none of whom has been tried in court or even charged with a crime. Among the other most censored countries on the list is China with 44, Iran with 30, and 17 jailed journalists in Ethiopia.

In countries where governments jail reporters regularly for critical coverage, many journalists are forced to flee rather than risk arrest, said the report.

Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), Felix Horne, told IPS, “If you are a journalist in Ethiopia, you are faced with a stark choice: either you self-censor your writings, you end up in prison, or you are exiled from your country.”

According to the report Journalism is not a Crime, released by HRW in January 2015, over 30 journalists fled Ethiopia in 2014. Six of the last independent publications have shut down and there are at least 19 journalists and bloggers in prison for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

In both Ethiopia and Eritrea, anti-terrorism laws have been used to effectively silence dissenting voices and to target opposition politicians, journalists, and activists, Horne said.

“This law is the ultimate threat for Ethiopian journalists and its use against bloggers and journalists has led to increased rates of self-censorship amongst what is left of Ethiopia’s independent media scene.”

Traditional forms of censorship are going hand in hand with new subtle, modern, and faster strategies such as internet restrictions, regulation of media and press laws, and the limitation of mobile devices.

Radsch underlined, “The situation has gotten worse. We have seen a historical level of imprisonment of journalists and an increasing expansion of censorship (which) developed more sophisticated forms, including pre-publications censorship, restricted access to info content, and content regulations.”

The CPJ report says that in order to avoid an “Arab Spring” in Eritrea, the authorities have strongly limited internet access, with no possibility of gathering independent information.

Radsch highlighted that gathering public information through local internet access – the right to broadband – is recognised by the U.N., as a fundamental human right. But, in Eritrea and North Korea, as well as Cuba, the internet is essentially not permitted.

Access to mobile phones is also restricted.

“There are virtually no phones in Eritrea and there are limited phones in North Korea, where they can get in through smuggling networks from China,” she said, adding that these kind of restrictions are applied not only to reporters, but to the general public more broadly.

According to CPJ, globally, Eritrea has the lowest rate of cell phone users, with just 5.6 percent of the population owning one. In North Korea, only 9.7 percent of the population has cell phones, excluding phones smuggled in from China.

Other countries, including Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam and Azerbaijan, have internet, but its access is strongly limited through the blocking of web content, restrictive access regulations, and persecuting those who violates the rules, added Radsch.

Censorship in the 10 listed countries affect mainly local journalists, apart from the case of Egypt where foreign reporters have been imprisoned, said Radsch. But censorship is also applied to foreign correspondents in other ways, such as denying entry visas to those countries or by deporting them.

The previous two lists of most censored countries compiled by CPJ date back to 2006 and 2012.

Radsch said, “One of the reasons why we cannot publish these lists every year is because censorship tactics have not changed much from year to year. In general, countries that were on our list in previous years continue to be on the list. But the forms of censorship have changed.”

To keep track of government data is difficult due to their lack of transparency, explained Radsch.

Although the international community is aware of human rights violations in repressive countries, concrete action to protect freedom of expression is still lacking.

Horne underlined that in Ethiopia, for instance, despite its dismal human rights record, the country continues to enjoy significant support from Western governments, both in relation to Ethiopia’s progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and its role as a regional peacekeeper.

“But ignoring Ethiopia’s horrendous human rights situation and the internal tensions this is causing may have long-term implications for Western interests in the Horn of Africa,” Horne concluded.

CPJ is also calling on the international community to ensure that anti-terrorist laws are not used illegitimately by states to strengthen censorship even further against the press.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Burundi – Fragile Peace at Risk Ahead of Electionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-burundi-fragile-peace-at-risk-ahead-of-elections/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-burundi-fragile-peace-at-risk-ahead-of-elections http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-burundi-fragile-peace-at-risk-ahead-of-elections/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 10:59:08 +0000 David Kode http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140290

In this column, David Kode, a Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, describes a series of restrictions on freedom in Burundi and, in the run-up to elections in May and June, calls on the international community – including the African Union and donor countries – to support the country by putting pressure on the government to respect democratic ideals and by condemning attacks on civil liberties.

By David Kode
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa is not permitted to get close to an airport, train station or port without authorisation from a judge.  He cannot travel outside of the capital of his native Burundi, Bujumbura. Whenever called upon, he must present himself before judicial authorities.

These are some of the onerous restrictions underlying the bail conditions of one of Burundi’s most prominent human rights activists since he was provisionally released on medical grounds in September last year, after spending more than four months in prison for his human rights work.

David Kode

David Kode

Mbonimpa was arrested and detained on May 15, 2014, and charged with endangering state security and inciting public disobedience. The charges stemmed from views he expressed during an interview with an independent radio station, Radio Public Africaine, in which he stated that members of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, were being armed and sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo for military training.

The arrest and detention of Pierre Claver is symptomatic of a pattern of repression and intimidation of human rights defenders, journalists, dissenters and members of the political opposition in Burundi as it heads towards its much anticipated elections in May and June 2015.

The forthcoming polls will be the third democratic elections organised since the end of the brutal civil war in 2005.  The antagonism of the CNDD-FDD government and its crackdown on civil society and members of opposition formations has increased, particularly as the incumbent, President Pierre Nkurunziza, silences critics and opponents in his bid to run for a third term even after the National Assembly rejected his proposals to extend his term in office.“The international community and Burundi’s donors cannot afford to stand by idly and witness a distortion of the decade-long relative peace that Burundi has enjoyed, which represents the most peaceful decade since independence from Belgium in 1962”

Tensions continue to mount ahead of the polls and even though the president has not publicly stated that he will contest the next elections, the actions of his government and the ruling party clearly suggest he will run for another term.  Members of his party argue that he has technically run the country for one term only as he was not “elected” by the people when he took to power in 2005.

Civil society organisations and religious leaders recently pointed out that Constitution and the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement – which brought an end to the civil war – clearly limit presidential terms to two years.

As the 2015 polls draw closer, state repression has increased, some political parties have been suspended and their members arrested and jailed. The Imbonerakure has embarked on campaigns to intimidate, physically assault and threaten members of the opposition with impunity. They have prevented some political gatherings from taking place under the pretext that they are guaranteeing security at the local level.

Civil society organisations and rival political movements have on several occasions been denied the right to hold public meetings and assemblies, while journalists and activists have been arrested and held under fictitious charges in an attempt to silence them and force them to resort to self-censorship.

Legislation has been used to stifle freedom of expression and restrict the activities of journalists and the independent media.  In June 2013, the government passed a new law which forces journalists to reveal their sources.

The law provides wide-ranging powers to the authorities and sets requirements for journalists to attain certain levels of education and professional expertise, limits issues journalists can cover and imposes fines on those who violate this law.  It prohibits the publication of news items on security issues, defence, public safety and the economy.

The law has been used to target media agencies and journalists, including prominent journalist Bob Rugurika, director of Radio Public Africaine.

The government does not see any major difference between opposition political parties and human rights activists and journalists and has often accused civil society and the media of being mouth pieces for the political opposition, describing them as “enemies of the state”.

In the lead-up to the last elections in 2010, most of the opposition parties decided to boycott the elections and the ruling party won almost unopposed. However, the post-elections period was characterised by political violence and conflict.

Ideally, the upcoming elections could present the perfect opportunity to “jump start” Burundi’s democracy.  For this to happen, the media and civil society need to operate without fear or intimidation from state and non-state actors.  On the contrary, state repression is bound to trigger a violent response from some of the opposition parties and ignite violence similar to that which happened in 2010.

The international community and Burundi’s donors cannot afford to stand by idly and witness a distortion of the decade-long relative peace that Burundi has enjoyed, which represents the most peaceful decade since independence from Belgium in 1962.

It is increasingly clear that the people of Burundi need the support of the international community at this critical juncture. The African Union (AU), with its public commitment to democracy and good governance, must act now by putting pressure on the government of Burundi to respect its democratic ideals to prevent more abuses and further restrictions on fundamental freedoms ahead of the elections.

The African Union should demand that the government stops extra-judicial killings and conducts independent investigations into members of the security forces and Imbonerakure who have committed human rights violations and hold them accountable.

Further, Burundi’s close development partners, particularly Belgium, France and the Netherlands, should condemn the attacks on civil liberties and urge the government to instil an enabling environment in which a free and fair political process can take place while journalists and civil society activists can perform their responsibilities without fear.  (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Opinion: Challenging the Nuclear Powers’ Extremismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-peace-planet-challenging-the-nuclear-powers-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-peace-planet-challenging-the-nuclear-powers-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-peace-planet-challenging-the-nuclear-powers-extremism/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 21:26:48 +0000 Joseph Gerson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140272 United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the 2010 High-level Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on May 3, 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the 2010 High-level Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on May 3, 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Dr. Joseph Gerson
NEW YORK, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

On the eve of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference five years ago, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that governments alone will not rid the world of the specter of nuclear annihilation.

Addressing an assembly of movement and civil society activists, he expressed heartfelt sympathy and appreciation for our efforts, urging us to remain steadfast in our outreach, education, organising and in pressing our demands.Practicing the double standard of holding one set of parties accountable to a contract while others flaunt its terms is its own kind of extremism. C. Wright Mills called it “crackpot realism.”

As if to prove the secretary-general’s critique of governments correct, anyone who has been paying attention knows that this year’s Review Conference is in trouble before it starts. It could fail, jeopardising the future of the treaty and – more importantly – human survival.

In the tradition of diplomatic understatement, U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Angela Kane has explained that this is “not the best of times for disarmament.”

Apparently not understanding the meaning and purpose of treaties, and with remarkable disregard for the vast majority of the world’s nations which have long been demanding that the nuclear powers fulfill their NPT Article VI obligation to engage in good faith negotiations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, lead U.S. Non-Proliferation negotiator Adam Scheinman warned that “countries not pursue extreme agendas or place unrealistic demands on the treaty.”

Practicing the double standard of holding one set of parties accountable to a contract while others flaunt its terms is its own kind of extremism. C. Wright Mills called it “crackpot realism.”

Joseph Rotblat, the realist Nobel Laureate and single senior Manhattan Project scientist to quit the nuclear bomb project for moral reasons, put it well years ago while speaking in Hiroshima. He explained that the human species faces a stark choice.

We can either completely eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons, or we will face their global proliferation and the omnicidal nuclear wars that will follow. Why? Because no nation will long tolerate what it perceived to be an unequal balance of power, in this case nuclear terror.

Blinded by the arrogance of power, Schienmen and his Nuclear Nine comrades are apparently oblivious to the mounting anger and loss of trust by the world’s governments in the face of the nuclear powers’ disregard for their Article VI obligations, traditional humanitarian law, and the dangers to human survival that follow.

As a U.S. American, I had something of an Alice in Wonderland “through the looking glass” experience observing the U.N. High Level Conference on Disarmament debate in 2013.

After the opening formalities, Iranian President Rouhani spoke on behalf of both his country and the Non-Aligned Movement, stressing three points: Iran does not intend to become a nuclear weapons state.

The P-5 Nuclear Powers have flaunted their refusal to fulfill their Article VI NPT obligation to commence good faith negotiations for the elimination of their nuclear arsenals. And, the United States had refused to fulfill its 2010 NPT Review Conference commitment to co-convene a conference on a Middle East Nuclear Weapons and WMD-Free Zone.

What was remarkable was not Rouhani’s speech. It was the succession of one head of state, foreign minister and ambassador after another who rose to associate his or her government with the statement made by President Rouhani on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The U.S. response? A feeble and arrogant “trust us”, followed by the announcement that under Chinese leadership the P-5 had almost completed work on a glossary of terms.

Similar dynamics followed at the International Conferences on the Human Consequences of Nuclear Weapons in Mexico and Austria, which were attended by the vast majority of the world’s nations.

The tiny New START Treaty reductions in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, which leaves them still holding more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenals – more than enough to inflict Nuclear Winter many times over – won’t pacify the world’s nations.

Nor will the recent U.S.-Iran deal which the U.S. Congress has placed in jeopardy. On the eve of the 2015 Review Conference the inability of other nations to trust commitments made by the United States are one more reason the Review Conference and the NPT itself could fail.

Add to this the new era of military confrontations, resumption of nuclear (and other) arms races, and continuing nuclear threats from the simulated U.S. nuclear attack on North Korea to the U.S. and Russian nuclear “exercises” over Ukraine.

What are other nations to think when the U.S. is on track to spend a trillion dollars for new nuclear weapons and their delivery systems and every other nuclear power is following suit?

Clearly Ban Ki-moon was right.

And as anti-slavery abolitionist Fredrick Douglas observed more than a century ago, “Power concedes nothing without a struggle. It never has, and it never will.”

This is why nuclear abolitionists, peace, justice and environmental advocates – including 1,000 Japanese activists carrying five million abolition petition signatures in their suitcases – are returning to New York from across the United States and around the world for the Peace & Planet mobilisation on the eve of this year’s NPT review conference.

We’re anything but starry eyed.

Recognising that change will only come from below, our international conference at The Cooper Union and our rally, march and festival in the streets will press our central demand: Respect for international law.

The Review Conference must mandate the beginning of good faith negotiations for the abolition of the world’s nuclear weapons. And, being the realists that we are, we will be building the more powerful and issue-integrated (abolition, peace, economic and social justice and climate change) people’s movement needed for the longer-term and urgent struggle ahead.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Helpless as Crises Rage in 10 Critical Hot Spotshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-helpless-as-crises-rage-in-10-critical-hot-spots/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-helpless-as-crises-rage-in-10-critical-hot-spots http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-helpless-as-crises-rage-in-10-critical-hot-spots/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 10:22:47 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140252 A U.N. peacekeeper from Niger is ready to begin a patrol at the Niger Battalion Base in Menaka, in eastern Mali, Feb. 25, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

A U.N. peacekeeper from Niger is ready to begin a patrol at the Niger Battalion Base in Menaka, in eastern Mali, Feb. 25, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is fighting a losing battle against a rash of political and humanitarian crises in 10 of the world’s critical “hot spots.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says even the U.N.’s 193 member states cannot, by themselves, help resolve these widespread conflicts.“We need more support and more financial help. But, most importantly, we need political solutions.” -- U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric

“Not a single country, however powerful or resourceful as it may be, including the United States, can do it,” he warned last week.

The world’s current political hotspots include Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic – not forgetting West Africa which is battling the spread of the deadly disease Ebola.

Historically, the United Nations has grappled with one or two crises at any given time. But handling 10 such crises at one and the same time, said Ban, was rare and unprecedented in the 70-year history of the United Nations.

Although the international community looks to the world body to resolve these problems, “the United Nations cannot handle it alone. We need collective power and solidarity, otherwise, our world will get more and more troubles,” Ban said.

But that collective power is conspicuous by its absence.

Shannon Scribner, Oxfam America’s humanitarian policy manager, told IPS the situation is serious and Oxfam is very concerned. At the end of 2013, she said, violent conflict and human rights violations had displaced 51 million people, the highest number ever recorded.

In 2014, the U.N. appealed for assistance for 81 million people, including displaced persons and others affected by protracted situations of conflict and natural disaster.

Right now, the humanitarian system is responding to four emergencies – those the U.N. considers the most severe and large-scale – which are Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, and Syria.

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

Then you have the crises in Yemen, where two out of three people need humanitarian assistance; West Africa, with Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea asking for eight billion dollars to recover from Ebola; in Somalia, remittance flows that amount to 1.3 billion dollars annually, and are a lifeline to millions who are in need of humanitarian assistance, have been cut or driven underground due to banking restrictions; and then there is the migration and refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, where almost 1,000 people have died trying to escape horrible situations in their home countries, Scribner said.

The United Nations says it needs about 16 billion dollars to meet humanitarian needs, including food, shelter and medicine, for over 55 million refugees worldwide.

But U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday virtually all of the U.N.’s emergency operations are “underfunded”.

Last month, a U.N. pledging conference on humanitarian aid to Syria, hosted by the government of Kuwait, raised over 3.8 billion dollars.

But the United Nations is appealing for more funds to reach its eventual target of 8.4 billion dollars for aid to Syria by the end of 2015.

“We need more support and more financial help,” said Dujarric. “But, most importantly, we need political solutions.”

But most conflicts have remained unresolved or stalemated primarily due to sharp divisions in the Security Council, the U.N.’s only political body armed with powers to resolve military conflicts.

Asked if the international community is doing enough, Scribner told IPS there is no silver bullet for dealing with these crises around the world because there are so many problems causing them: poverty, bad governance, proxy wars, geopolitical interests playing out; war economies being strengthened through the shipment of arms and weapons; ethnic tensions, etc.

The humanitarian system is not built for responding to the crises in the 21st century.

She said Oxfam is calling for three things: 1) More effective humanitarian response by providing funding early on and investing more in local leadership; 2) More emphasis on working towards political solutions and diplomatic action; and 3) Oxfam encourages the international community to use the sustainable development goals to lift more people out of poverty and address inequality that exists around the globe today.

Scribner said the combined wealth of the world’s richest 1 percent will overtake that of everyone else by next year given the current trend of rising inequality.

The conflicts in the world’s hot spots have also resulted in two adverse consequences: people caught in the crossfire are fleeing war-torn countries to safe havens in Europe while, at the same time, there is an increase in the number of killings of aid workers and U.N. staffers engaged in humanitarian work.

Over the weekend, hundreds of refugees and migrant workers from war-devastated Libya died in the high seas as a result of a ship wreck in the Mediterranean Sea. The estimated death toll is over 900.

On Monday, four staff members of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF were reportedly killed in an attack on a vehicle in which they were riding in Somalia, while four others were injured and remain in serious condition.

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS: “We’re appalled at the loss of our colleagues in Garowe, Somalia and are very concerned for those injured. They truly were heroes doing great work in one of the world’s most dangerous locations.”

He said the United Nations has been clear that it will continue to operate in Somalia and “our work is needed there.”

“We support the work of our colleagues in these difficult circumstances,” he said.

At the same time, Richards told IPS, “We should not lose sight of a context in which U.N. staff and, in the case of local staff, their families, are increasingly targeted for their work.”

It is therefore important, he said, that the secretary-eneral and the General Assembly fully review the protection the U.N. provides to staff in locations where their lives are at risk, so that they may continue to provide much-needed assistance in such locations.

Oxfam’s Scribner told IPS attacks on aid workers have steadily risen over the years – from 90 violent attacks in 2001 to 308 incidents in 2011 – with the majority of attacks aimed at local aid workers. They often face more danger because they can get closer to the crisis to help others.

Because local aid workers are familiar with the landscape, speak the local language, and understand the local culture, and this also puts them more at risk, she said.

“That is why it is not a surprise that local aid workers make up nearly 80 percent of fatalities, on average, since 2001,” Scribner added.

Last year on World Humanitarian Day, the New York Times reported that the number of attacks on aid workers in 2013 set an annual record at 460, the most since the group began compiling its database, which goes back to 1997.

“These courageous men and women aren’t pulling out because they live in the very countries where they are trying to make a difference. And as such, they should be supported much more by the international community,” Scribner declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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The U.N. at 70: A View from Outer Spacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/the-u-n-at-70-a-view-from-outer-space/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-a-view-from-outer-space http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/the-u-n-at-70-a-view-from-outer-space/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 09:44:08 +0000 Nandasiri Jasentuliyana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140227

Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana is President Emeritus of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL), Formerly Deputy Director-General, United Nations Office at Vienna and Director, Office for Outer Space Affairs, United Nations.

By Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

When the founding fathers of the United Nations met in San Francisco 70 years ago, an American banker named Beardsley Ruml made a remark:

Courtesy of Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana

Courtesy of Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana

“At the end of five years, you will think the United Nations is the greatest vision ever realized by man. At the end of 10 years, you will find doubts within yourself and all throughout the world.

“At the end of 50 years, you will believe the United Nations cannot succeed. You will be certain that all the odds are against its ultimate life and success. It will be only when the United Nations is 100 years old that we will know that the United Nations is the only alternative to the demolition of the world.”

At 70, the United Nations perhaps is in a transitional phase from the pessimistic to the optimistic stage of expectations. In the interim, it has dealt with the entire gamut of human activity, and therefore not surprisingly in outer space activities ever since man ventured into outer space nearly 60 years back.

At the beginning, in the context of the Cold War, the concern of the United Nations was in preventing an extension of the arms race into outer space.  Since its establishment by the General Assembly in 1959, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has been the focal point of international political and legal discussions and negotiations aimed at promoting international cooperation in space, and thus limiting an arms race in space.Opportunities are quite clear as space-faring nations are pursuing ambitious new projects at a cost of many millions of dollars and new technologies emerge, enabling exciting applications such as harnessing solar power.

By an imaginative and innovative effort at international legislation within the United Nations, and through the arduous work painstakingly carried out over a period of time by the Committee, the General Assembly elaborated a set of multilateral treaties and legal principles, which provide the framework of international space law and policy that governs space activities.

The treaties embodied fundamental principles establishing that exploration and use of outer space shall be the province of all mankind and that outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation.

They banned the placement of nuclear weapons and any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction in outer space, thus preventing an arms race in space. They have provided for international responsibility of States for national activities in outer space, liability for damage caused by space activities, the safety and rescue of astronauts, freedom of scientific investigation and the exploration of natural resources in outer space, as well as the settlement of disputes.

They encouraged the international cooperation in space activities and promotion of peaceful uses of space technology for the benefit all mankind.

The fact that these treaties were negotiated and concluded among rival space-faring nations during the Cold War, ratified by as large a number of states as any international treaty, and kept order in space for over half a century, is indeed no mean achievement.

The end of the Cold War and the subsequent changes in the international security environment raised new possibilities for the utilisation of space technology to promote international peace, security and stability.

The rapid advancement of space technology in the in the post-Cold War era, the increasingly widespread use of that technology for essential economic and social services, and the new international political environment led the international community to seize the opportunity to ensure that space technology is effectively used to promote security in all its forms – political, military, economic and environmental – for the benefit of all countries.

The United Nations and the specialised agencies developed new policies and programmes for the innovative use of space technologies for communications, information gathering, environmental monitoring and resource development for the benefit of all people.

Recognition that through its global reach and global perspective, space technology can make a vital contribution to promoting international security and those new initiatives should be taken to ensure that all countries have access to the benefits of space activities, led to the convening of three Global Conferences on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE Conferences).

They offered the opportunity for all nations to share information on the possibilities of utilising space technology applications for developmental purposes. They also made all countries keenly aware of the dangers of dual use technologies and to take measures to promote peaceful applications ensuring international security.

The conferences, which were held at periodic intervals, helped assess the state of space science and technology with a view to taking a fresh look at their potential, especially for benefiting the developing countries. These global conferences laid down an agenda for nations to follow in the interim periods. They also established or revitalised existing programmes and mechanisms for sharing the benefits of space technology applications by all countries.

The United Nations itself took the leadership in the education and training of specialists in developing countries to enable them to establish or continue operating space applications programmes and institutions that are suitable to the countries concerned.

Seven Regional Space Education and Training Centers were established in Asia, Africa and Latin America that continue to operate with much success. A database was established to enable the dissemination of information on space applications for the use of developing countries.

A treaty-based register of space objects launched into space was established and all states launching space objects register their launchings with the the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs which is operating the register, thereby establishing their ownership as well as liability for such objects.

More recently, the ‘United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response’ (UN-SPIDER) was established to ensure that all countries have access to and develop the capacity to use all types of space-based technologies and information to support humanitarian and emergency response during disaster management.

The United Nations through the specialised agencies has developed and operates several other programmes to assist nations in the orderly development of space technology applications.

At the inception, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) established the World Weather Watch which pioneered the use of space technology for weather forecasting. International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has developed and operates a detailed regulatory regime for the allocation of frequency and orbital slots for communication satellites and thus avoiding interference in satellite operations.

Other agencies have established operational programmes for the use of space technology such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for the use of remote sensing satellites in monitoring agriculture, desertification, deforestation; the International Maritime Organization (IMO) enabling the operations of the maritime industry in operating maritime satellites; and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) facilitating civil aviation operations through its air navigation system.

Much has been achieved so far, but much remains to be done in the next few decades as the United Nations look forward with optimism towards its century.

Opportunities are quite clear as space-faring nations are pursuing ambitious new projects at a cost of many millions of dollars and new technologies emerge, enabling exciting applications such as harnessing solar power, and commercial utilisation of the space station in producing newer forms of pharmaceuticals and hitherto unknown forms of materials.

At the same time, we are presented with new challenges as countries face mounting pressure regarding Earth’s environment and climate as traditional weather patterns are disturbed, with devastating floods and hurricanes killing thousands of people with the developing countries bearing the brunt of such disasters; and misuse or abuse of natural resources is a serious problem threatening food security.

These are compelling reasons for international cooperation in space activities as space technology is daily providing us with new tools in dealing with those challenges and opportunities, and the United Nations will have to continue its vital role as facilitator of that vital cooperation so that all nations can benefit from space exploration.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Paying Real Tribute to All Victims of War and Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-paying-real-tribute-to-all-victims-of-war-and-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-paying-real-tribute-to-all-victims-of-war-and-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-paying-real-tribute-to-all-victims-of-war-and-conflict/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 07:39:23 +0000 Christian Guillermet and Puyana David http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140173

In this column, Christian Guillermet Fernández* and David Fernández Puyana* describe the background to negotiations on a United Nations declaration on the right to peace.

By Christian Guillermet Fernández and David Fernández Puyana
GENEVA, Apr 18 2015 (IPS)

The international community will have a great opportunity to jointly advance on the world peace agenda when a United Nations working group established to negotiate a draft U.N. resolution on the right to peace meets from Apr. 20 to 24 in Geneva.

In July 2012, the Human Rights Council (HRC) of the United Nations adopted resolution 20/15 on the “promotion of the right to peace” and established the open-ended working group to progressively negotiate a draft United Nations declaration on the right to peace.“Present generations should ensure that both they and future generations learn to live together in peace and brotherhood with the highest aspiration of sparing future generations the scourge of war and ensuring the maintenance and perpetuation of humankind”

High on the agenda of the working group has been giving a voice to victims of war and conflict.

Chaired by Ambassador Christian Guillermet, Deputy Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations in Geneva, the working group has been conducting informal consultations with governments, regional groups and relevant stakeholders to prepare a revised text on the right to peace.

This text has been prepared on the basis of the following principles:

  • the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, such as the peaceful settlement of disputes, international cooperation and the self-determination of peoples.
  • elimination of the threat of war.
  • the three pillars of the United Nations – peace and security, human rights and development.
  • eradication of poverty and promotion of sustained economic growth, sustainable development and global prosperity for all.
  • the wide diffusion and promotion of education on peace.
  • strengthening of the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.
Christian Guillermet Fernández, Deputy Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations in Geneva and Chairperson/Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Peace

Christian Guillermet Fernández, Deputy Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations in Geneva and Chairperson/Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Peace

The draft Declaration on the right to peace solemnly invites all stakeholders to guide themselves in their activities by recognising the supreme importance of practising tolerance, dialogue, cooperation and solidarity among all human beings, peoples and nations of the world as a means to promote peace through the realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular the right to life and dignity.

To that end, it recognises that present generations should ensure that both they and future generations learn to live together in peace and brotherhood with the highest aspiration of sparing future generations the scourge of war and ensuring the maintenance and perpetuation of humankind.

The main actors on which the responsibility rests to make reality this highest and noble aspiration of humankind are human beings, states, United Nations specialised agencies, international organisations and civil society. They are the main competent actors to promote peace, dialogue and brotherhood in the world.

It follows that everyone should be entitled to enjoy peace and security, human rights and development. In this case, entitlement is used to refer to the guarantee of access of every human being to the benefits derived from the three U.N. pillars – peace and security, human rights and development.

This draft Declaration could not have been achieved without the extensive cooperation and valuable advice received in recent years from academia and civil society. In fact, this process has involved consultations with prestigious professors of international law from over ten universities and research centres.

In particular, the Chairperson-Rapporteur has written papers – some of which will be published in the near future – in cooperation with other experts in prestigious journals of international relations and law on the different aspects on peace. He has also contributed to the Research Guide on Peace recently prepared by the Library of the United Nations in Geneva.

Since the beginning of the negotiation process, the working group has based its approach on the TICO approach – transparency (T), inclusiveness (I), consensual decision-making (C) and objectivity (O) – and a little realism.

Consensus is a process of non-violent conflict resolution in which everyone works together to make the best possible decision for the group. Consensus is the tendency not only in international relations, but the United Nations.

For important issues affecting the life of millions of people, the United Nations, including its multiple entities and bodies, works on the basis of multilateralism with the purpose of reaching important consensual decisions.

The working group on the right to peace will meet as the United Nations is commemorating its 70th anniversary and the most important message that should be given is the adoption by consensus of a declaration which, among others, pays real tribute to all victims of war and conflict. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

* Christian Guillermet Fernández is Deputy Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations in Geneva and Chairperson/Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Peace.
* David Fernández Puyana is Legal Assistant of the Chairperson/Rapporteur, Permanent Mission of Costa Rica in Geneva.

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Foreign Fighter Recruits: Why the U.S. Fares Better than Othershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 20:13:37 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140205 Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

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

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

More than 25,000 fighters seeking to wage “jihad” or an Islamic holy war have left home to join terrorist networks abroad.

The foreign fighters, mostly bound for Islamic extremist groups like the Syria-based al-Nusra Front and the self-titled Islamic State (also in Iraq), come from more than 100 countries worldwide, according to a United Nations report released earlier this month.“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated." -- analyst Emile Nakhleh

While the highest numbers are from Middle Eastern and North African countries, Western countries have also seen foreign recruits.

Out of the top 15 source-Western countries listed in February by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (I.C.S.R.), France, as well as Germany and the United Kingdom have had the highest numbers (1,200 and 500-600 respectively). Only 100 foreign fighters have come from the United States.

Why has the U.S. seen such a lower number of recruits compared to its Western European allies?

Integration vs. alienation

“In this country, the law enforcement authorities have worked much more closely with Muslim communities so that now, some elements within the Muslim community follow the phrase ‘see something, say something,’” Emile Nakhleh, who founded the Central Intelligence Program’s (C.I.A.) Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, told IPS.

“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated,” said Nakhleh, a scholar and expert on the Middle East who retired from the C.I.A. in 2006.

While the majority of Muslims worldwide reject violent extremism and are worried about increasing rates in their home countries, American Muslims—an estimated 2-6 million who are mostly middle class and educated—reject extremism by larger margins than most Muslim publics.

A 2011 Pew Survey of Muslim Americans, the most current of its kind, found more than eight-in-10 American Muslims saw suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets as never justified (81 per cent) or rarely justified (5 per cent) to defend Islam from its enemies. That’s compared to a median of 72 per cent of Muslims worldwide saying such attacks are never justified and 10 per cent saying they are rarely justified.

Unlike their European counterparts, Muslim Americans come from more than 77 home countries, in contrast with Western European countries where Muslims are mainly from two or three countries.

Muslims in America—who make up a smaller percentage relative to the population than their counterparts in France and the U.K.— are also not dominated by a particular sect or ethnicity.

A 2007 Pew Survey also found that Muslim Americans were more assimilated into American culture than their Western European counterparts.

A majority of Muslim Americans expressed a generally positive view of the larger society and said their communities are excellent or good places to live. Seventy-two percent of them agreed with the widespread American opinion that hard work can help you succeed.

Western European Muslims are conversely generally less well off and frustrated with the lack of economic opportunities.

Ripe for recruitment

An estimated 1,200 fighters have left France to become jihadists in Syria and Iraq, according to the U.K.-based I.C.S.R., which has been tracking fighters in the Iraqi-Syrian conflicts since 2012. More British men have joined Islamic extremist groups abroad than have entered the British armed forces.

Ideologically centered recruitment—particularly online and through social media—and discontent with perceived domestic and foreign policies affecting Muslims, are the primary causes of Islamic radicalisation in Western countries, especially where Muslim communities are isolated from others.

The sense of alienation, especially among the youth of Muslim immigrants, mixed with antipathy toward their country’s foreign policy makes some Muslims prime targets for foreign recruiters.

“Algerian French-Muslim immigrants or South Asian Muslims in the U.K. feel excluded and constantly watched and tracked by the authorities,” said Nakhleh.

While surveillance programmes targeting Muslims are also in effect in the U.S.—more than half of the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 said government anti-terrorism policies singled them out for increased surveillance and monitoring—Muslim Americans have not expressed the same level of discontent with their lives as those in Western European countries such as France and the United Kingdom.

Indeed, the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 who reported discrimination still expressed a high level of satisfaction with their lives in the United States.

Conversely, French Muslims in particular complain of religious intolerance in the generally secular society.

The French law banning Islamic face coverings and burqas, which cover the entire body, resulted in a series of angry protests and clashes with police. Muslim groups have also complained of increasing rates of violent attacks since the ban became law in 2010.

A nine-month pregnant woman was beaten last month in southern France by two men who tore off her veil, saying “none of that here.” Another Islamophobic attack in 2013 resulted in a French Muslim woman in Paris suffering a miscarriage.

Obama embraces U.S. Muslims

But the U.S. government has been working to prevent its Muslim communities from feeling discriminated against and isolated.

Throughout his two terms in office, U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly distinguished between Islamic extremism and Islam as a religion.

“We are not at war with Islam, we are at war with those who have perverted Islam,” said Obama Feb. 18 at the White House-hosted Summit to Counter Violent Extremism.

He has also encouraged religious tolerance while calling for Muslim community leaders to work more closely with the government in rooting out homegrown extremism.

“Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding,” said Obama.

“If we’re going to solve these issues, then the people who are most targeted and potentially most affected — Muslim Americans — have to have a seat at the table where they can help shape and strengthen these partnerships so that we’re all working together to help communities stay safe and strong and resilient,” he said.

The Jan. 7 terrorist attack in Paris, where two gunmen executed 11 staffers at the Charlie Hebdo magazine for what they considered deeply offensive portrayals of Islam, have put Western countries on heightened alert for so-called “lone-wolf” attacks, where individuals perpetuate violence to prove a point or for a cause.

The U.S. has not seen a similar major terror attack since April 2013, when two Chechnyan-American brothers deployed pressure-cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others.

But with sophisticated foreign-terrorist recruitment efforts on the rise, Washington has increased its counter-terrorism measures at home and worldwide.

While the Islamic State and similar groups could plan attacks on U.S. soil if they see the U.S. as directly involved in their battles, according to Nakhleh, their primary goal at the moment is to recruit foreigners as combatants.

“The more Western Jihadists they can recruit, the more global they can present themselves as they seek allegiances in Asian countries, and in North Africa,” he said.

“This is how they present themselves as a Muslim global caliphate.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: Iranian Balochistan is a “Hunting Ground” – Nasser Boladaihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 09:43:27 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140191 View of Zahedan, administrative capital of the troubled Iranian Sistan and Balochistan region whose population “has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

View of Zahedan, administrative capital of the troubled Iranian Sistan and Balochistan region whose population “has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
GENEVA, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

Nasser Boladai is the spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. IPS spoke with him in Geneva, where he was invited to speak at a recent conference on Human Rights and Global Perspectives in his native Balochistan region.

Could you draw the main lines of the CNFI?

There are 14 different groups under the umbrella of the CNFI: Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baloch, Kurds Lors and Turkmen … all of which share a common cause vow for a federal and secular state where each one´s language and culture rights are respected.

Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The CNFI is meant to be a vehicle for all of us as there are no majorities in the country, we are all minorities within a multinational Iran. Today´s is a regime based on exclusion as it only recognises the Persian nation and Shia Islam as the only confession.

Which poses a biggest handicap in Iran: a different ethnicity or a religious confession other than Shia Islam?

Iran’s population is a mosaic of ethnicities, but the non-Persian groups are largely located in the peripheries and far from the power base, Tehran.

Elements within the opposition to the regime claim that religion is not an issue and some centralist groups would support a federal state, but not one based on nationalities. The ethnical difference is doubtless a bigger hurdle in the eyes of those centralist opposition groups as well as from the regime.

Iran appears to have been unaltered by turmoil in Northern Africa and the Middle East region over the last four years. Is it?

In 2007 we had several meetings in the European Parliament. Our main goal was to convey that, if any change came to Iran, it should not be swallowed as happened with [Ayatollah] Khomeini in 1979.“Islamic extremism of any kind, no matter if it comes from the Ayatollahs or ISIS [Islamic State], cannot solve the people´s problems so both are condemned to disappear” – Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI)

In May 2009 there were demonstrations against the regime in Zahedan before the controversial elections but the timing could not have been worse for a change. Mir-Hussein Moussavi was leading the so called “green movement” against [incumbent President Mahmoud] Ahmadineyad but he had no real intention of diverting from Khomeini´s idea.

Among others, the green movement failed because the people´s disenchantment was funnelled into an electoral dispute, but also because that movement did not include the issue of nationalities in its programme.

However, the changes in North Africa and the Middle East will have a positive psychological effect on the Iranian psyche in the long run in the sense that they can see that a tyrannical system cannot stay forever.

Islamic extremism of any kind, no matter if it comes from the Ayatollahs or ISIS [Islamic State], cannot solve the people´s problems so both are condemned to disappear.

Hassan Rouhani replaced Mahmoud Ahmadineyad in the 2013 presidential elections. Was this for the good?

Not for us. Since he took power there have been more executions and more repression. Rouhani is not only a mullah; he has also been a member of the Iranian security apparatus for over 16 years.

The death penalty continues to be applied in political cases, where individuals are commonly accused of “enmity against God”. Iran´s different nations´ plights have not yet been discussed. They have often promised language and culture rights, jobs for the Baloch, the Kurds, etc., but we´re still waiting to see these happen.

You come from an area which has seen a spike of Baloch insurgent movements who seemingly subscribe a radical vision of Sunni Islam.

It´s difficult to know whether they are purely Baloch nationalists or plain Jihadists as their speech seems to be winding between both in their different statements.

However, insurgency against the central government in Iran has a long tradition among the Baloch and we have episodes in our recent history where even Shiite Baloch were fighting against Tehran, an eloquent proof that their agenda was a national one, completely unrelated to religion.

Paradoxically, Tehran is to blame for the rise of Sunni extremism in both Iranian Kurdistan and Balochistan. Both nations are mainly Sunni so they empowered the local mullahs; they were brought into the elite through money and power to dissolve a deeply rooted communist feeling among the Kurds and the Baloch.

Khomeini just stuck to a policy which was introduced in the region by the British. They were the first to politicise Islam as a tool against Soviet expansion across the region.

You once said that Iranian Balochistan has become “a hunting ground”. Can you explain this?

It´s a hunting ground for the Iranian security forces. Even a commander of the Mersad [security] admitted openly that it had been ordered to kill, and not to arrest people.

As a result, many of our villages have suffered house-to-house searches which has emptied them of youth. The latter have either been killed systematically or emigrated elsewhere.

The fact that our population has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis speaks volumes about the situation in our region.

Human Rights Watch has further documented the fact that the Baloch populated region has been systematically divided by successive regimes in Tehran to create a demographic imbalance.

Less than a century ago, our region was called “Balochistan”. Later its name would be changed to “Balochistan and Sistan”, then “Sistan and Balochistan”… The plan is to finally call it “Sistan” and divide it into three districts: Wilayat, Sistan and Saheli.

How do you react to the claims of those who say that Iran also played a role in the creation of ISIS, similar to Tehran’s backing of Al Qaeda in Iraq to tear up the Sunni society and prevent it from sharing power in post-2003 Iraq?

The theocratic regime in Iran indirectly supports extremist religious forces and, at the same time, manipulates them to control and deter them from becoming moderate and uniting with moderate religious, liberal or democratic forces in Iran.

The Iranian and Pakistani governments cooperate in the building and using of the extremist groups to first, create controlled instability in Balochistan, and second, to create false artificial political dynamics in the form of Islamic extremists to obstruct and distort Baloch struggles for sovereignty and self-determination.

They also try to change the Baloch liberal and secular culture, which is based on moderate Islam, into an extremist version of their own creation of fundamentalist Islam.

Balochistan’s geopolitical location allows access to the sea, something that the Islamic groups need. Balochistan’s division between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan enables the groups to communicate with each other across the borders and move to and from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran to the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.

With the support and tacit consent of both Iranian and Pakistani government, they also use the region to transport fighters and suicide bombers to the Arab countries and other locations in the world. From there, financial help is brought to extremist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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EU Inaction Accused of Costing Lives in the Mediterraneanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/eu-inaction-accused-of-costing-lives-in-the-mediterranean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eu-inaction-accused-of-costing-lives-in-the-mediterranean http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/eu-inaction-accused-of-costing-lives-in-the-mediterranean/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 19:08:23 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140159 Boat carrying asylum seekers and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo credit: UNHCR/L.Boldrini

Boat carrying asylum seekers and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo credit: UNHCR/L.Boldrini

By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

“The unbearable number of lives lost at sea will only grow if the European Union does not act now to ensure search-and-rescue operations across the Mediterranean,” Human Rights Watch warned Apr. 15.

The international human rights organisation was reacting to reports that as many as 400 migrants may have died in the Mediterranean sea over the past weekend, according to witness accounts collected by the Save the Children charity among the more than 7,000 migrants and asylum seekers rescued by the Italian Coast Guard since Apr. 10.

Noting that 11 bodies have been recovered so far from one confirmed shipwreck over the past few days, Judith Sunderland, acting deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch said that “if the reports are confirmed, this past weekend would be among the deadliest few days in the world’s most dangerous stretch of water for migrants and asylum seekers.”

Many of those rescued over the weekend remain on Italian vessels as authorities scramble to find emergency accommodation, and Human Rights Watch said that the lack of preparation for arrivals was entirely preventable because many had predicted that 2015 would be a record year for boat migration.

“Other E.U. countries have shown a distinct lack of political will to help alleviate Italy’s unfair share of the responsibility,” according to the human rights organisation.

The European Union’s external border agency, Frontex, launched Operation Triton in the Mediterranean in November 2014, as Italy downsized its massive humanitarian naval operation, Mare Nostrum, which has been credited with saving tens of thousands of lives.

Triton’s geographic scope and budget is far more limited than Mare Nostrum, and the primary mandate of Frontex is border control, not search and rescue.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as many as 500 migrants and asylum seekers have died already in the Mediterranean in 2015, a 30-fold increase over recorded deaths in the same period in 2014.

However, said Human Rights Watch, if the reports of hundreds more dead over the past few days are confirmed, the death toll in just over three months would be nearly 1,000 people, and that number is likely to rise as more migrants take to the seas during the traditional crossing season in the spring and summer months. The death toll for all of 2014 was at least 3,200 people.

The European Commission is to present a “comprehensive migration agenda” to E.U. member states in May but some of the proposals, while cloaked in humanitarian rhetoric about preventing deaths at sea, raise serious human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said.

These include setting up offshore processing centres in North African countries, outsourcing border control and rescue operations in order to prevent departures, and increasing financial assistance to deeply repressive countries like Eritrea, one of the key countries of origin for asylum seekers attempting the sea crossing, “without evidence of human rights reforms.”

While some proposals contain elements that could potentially address root causes of irregular migration or provide safe alternatives for migrants, Human Rights Watch said that the proof of their success will rest on whether they respect the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, rather than simply stop the flow.

Early signs of intent suggest that rather than building the capacity to protect, the emphasis will be on enhancing and outsourcing containment mechanisms to prevent departures, and “it’s hard not to see these proposals as cynical bids to limit the numbers of migrants and asylum seekers making it to E.U. shores,” Sunderland said.

“Whatever longer term initiatives may come forth, the immediate humanitarian imperative for the European Union is to get out there and save lives.”

Meanwhile, the debate around immigration in Italy has taken on xenophobic tones in some quarters, with the leader of Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League, Matteo Salvini, calling on all local authorities to resist “by any means” requests to accommodate asylum seekers, and saying that his party is ready to occupy buildings to prevent arrivals.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: Two Winners and One Loser at the Summit of the Americashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-two-winners-and-one-loser-at-the-summit-of-the-americas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-two-winners-and-one-loser-at-the-summit-of-the-americas http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-two-winners-and-one-loser-at-the-summit-of-the-americas/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 10:58:35 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140141

In this column Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, argues that U.S. President Barack Obama earned a place in history at the recent Summit of the Americas for taking the first steps towards overturning a policy that has lasted over half a century but has failed in its primary goal of ending the Castro regime in Cuba. The other winner, he says, is Cuban President Raúl Castro, who wisely accepted Obama’s challenge and rose to the occasion, while Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro failed in his attempt to have the summit condemn Obama.

By Joaquín Roy
MIAMI, Apr 14 2015 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama has earned a place in history for taking the first steps towards rectifying a policy that has lasted over half a century without ever achieving its primary goal of ending the Castro regime in Cuba.

At the Seventh Summit of the Americas, held in Panama City Apr. 10-11, Obama set aside the tortuous negotiations with his Cuban counterpart Raúl Castro and the impossible pursuit of consensus with his domestic opponents. Going out on a limb, he made an unconditional offer. He knew, or he sensed, that Castro would have no option but to accept.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

The Cuban economy is on the verge of collapse and the regime is receiving subtle pressure from a population that has already endured all manner of trials.

Signs of weakening in Venezuela, its protector, with which it exchanged social favours (in the fields of health and education) for subsidised oil, are gathering like hurricane storm clouds over the Raúl Castro regime

Instead of shaking the tree to knock the ripe fruit to the ground, Obama chose to do the unexpected: to prop it up and instead encourage its survival.

Obama is committing to stability in Cuba as the lesser evil, compared with sparking an internal explosion, with conflict between irreconcilable sectors and the imposition of a military solution more rigid than the current level of control. Washington knows that only the Cuban armed forces can guarantee order. The last thing the Pentagon aspires to is to take on that unenviable role.

Thus, between underpinning the Raúl Castro government and the doubtful prospect of attempting instantaneous transformation, the pragmatic option was to renew full diplomatic relations and, in the near future, lift the embargo.

Raúl Castro, for his part, yielded ground on the oft-repeated demand for an end to the embargo as a prior condition for any negotiations, and has responded wisely to the challenge. He contented himself with the consolation prize of reviewing the history (incidentally, an appalling one) of U.S. policy towards Cuba, in his nearly one-hour speech at the Summit.

“Obama is committing to stability in Cuba as the lesser evil, compared with sparking an internal explosion, with conflict between irreconcilable sectors and the imposition of a military solution more rigid than the current level of control”
To sugar the pill, however, he generously recognised that Obama, who was not even born at the time of the Cuban Revolution, shares no blame for the blockade. In this way, Castro contributed decisively to Obama’s triumph at the summit.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has emerged from this inter-American gathering as the clear loser. The key to his failure was not having calculated his limitations and having undervalued the resources of his fellow presidents. Initially, Maduro logically exploited Obama’s mistake in decreeing that Venezuela is a “threat” and imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials.

A large number of governments and analysts criticised the language used in the U.S. decree. In the run-up to the summit, Obama publicly recanted and admitted that Venezuela is no such threat to his country.

Maduro’s weak showing at the Summit was due to a combination of his own personality, the reactions of important external actors (significantly distant from the United States), the weak support of many of his traditional allies or sympathisers in Latin America, and the absence of unconditional support from Cuba.

It should be noted that the United States barely made its presence felt over this issue, although U.S. State Department counsellor Thomas Shannon made an effort to smooth over Maduro’s excesses and visited the Venezuelan president in Caracas ahead of the summit.

Maduro’s actions were already burdened by the imprisonment of a number of his opponents on questionable charges. As a result, protests spread worldwide, especially in Latin America, but also in Europe.

A score of former Latin American presidents signed a protest document which was presented at the summit.

Although these former presidents might be regarded as conservative and liberal, they were joined by former Spanish president José María Aznar (a notorious target of attacks by the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and, afterwards, Maduro himself) and former Spanish socialist president Felipe González, who offered to act as defence lawyer for Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, who is one of those imprisoned by the Venezuelan regime.

Maduro’s attempt to have a condemnation of the U.S. decree included in the summit’s final communiqué ended in another defeat. Although efforts were made to eliminate direct mention of the United States, the outcome was that the summit issued no final declaration because of lack of consensus.

In spite of the loquacity of its partners and protégés in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), Venezuela’s Latin American supporters showed caution and avoided direct confrontation with Washington.

The same was evidently true of the Caribbean countries; fearful of losing supplies of subsidised Venezuelan oil, they made their request to Obama for preferential treatment by the United States at the meeting of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Jamaica earlier in the month.

But Maduro’s main failure was not realising that Raúl Castro would have to choose between fear of diminished supplies of cheap Venezuelan crude and rapprochement with Washington. It remains unknown how Cuba will be able to continue supplying Cuban teachers and healthcare personnel to Venezuela, until now the jewel in the crown of the alliance between Havana and Caracas in the context of ALBA.

Translated by Valerie Dee/Edited by Phil Harris   

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

Joaquín Roy can be contacted at jroy@Miami.edu

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Latin America Heralds New Era with United Stateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/latin-america-heralds-new-era-with-united-states/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-heralds-new-era-with-united-states http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/latin-america-heralds-new-era-with-united-states/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 21:51:43 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140137 Group photo at the Seventh Summit of the Americas, taken Apr. 11 in Panama City, the second day of the two-day gathering, which for the first time brought together all 35 countries in the hemisphere. Credit: Seventh Summit of the Americas

Group photo at the Seventh Summit of the Americas, taken Apr. 11 in Panama City, the second day of the two-day gathering, which for the first time brought together all 35 countries in the hemisphere. Credit: Seventh Summit of the Americas

By Ivet González
PANAMA CITY, Apr 13 2015 (IPS)

Latin America presented its own recipes for development in the new era of relations with the United States in the Seventh Summit of the Americas, where Cuba took part for the first time and the U.S. said it would close the chapter of “medd[ling] with impunity” in its neighbours to the south.

“We must understand that the Americas to the north and to the south of the Rio Grande are different. And we must converse as blocs,” Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said Saturday Apr. 11 on the closing day of the summit, where the leaders of all 35 countries of the Western Hemisphere met for the first time.

With references to history, anti-imperialistic declarations, proposals for solutions and suggested development goals, the leaders who gathered in Panama City expressed a diversity of political positions and priorities, under the summit’s slogan: “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas”.

The two-day meeting was historic due to the presence of Cuba, suspended from the Organisation of American States (OAS) between 1962 and 2009. “It was time for me to speak here in the name of Cuba,” said President Raúl Castro in his speech during the summit’s plenary session.

Cuba’s participation was preceded by another historic development: the restoration of diplomatic ties announced Dec. 17 by Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Without exception, the heads of state and government who addressed the plenary in the Atlapa Convention Centre celebrated the socialist island nation’s participation in the Americas-wide meeting, which many of them saw as representing the end of the Cold War and burying a period of ideological clashes between the left and right.

At the summit, Obama and Castro put 56 years of bitter conflict further behind them with a handshake and small talk during the opening ceremonies, points in common in their speeches, exchanges of praise and a bilateral meeting where they confirmed their earlier decision to normalise relations without renouncing their differences.

The region “no longer permits unilateral, isolationist policies,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said in her address. “Today we have gathered together in a different context.”

Cuba’s full insertion and the advanced talks held since 2012 between the Colombian government and leftwing guerrillas to end the last armed conflict in the region, which has dragged on for over half a century, means Latin America can soon declare itself a region of peace, as sought by the 33 countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

In Rousseff’s view, “the consolidation of democracy and new political paradigms in each one of our countries led to a shift, and public polices now put a priority on sustainable development with social justice.”

Alcibíades Vásquez, Panama’s minister of social development, while being interviewed, surrounded by indigenous leaders who on Apr. 11 delivered to him the declaration “Defending our nations” in the name of 300 native representatives who participated in one of the alternative forums held parallel to the Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

Alcibíades Vásquez, Panama’s minister of social development, while being interviewed, surrounded by indigenous leaders who on Apr. 11 delivered to him the declaration “Defending our nations” in the name of 300 native representatives who participated in one of the alternative forums held parallel to the Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

The leader of Latin America’s powerhouse, who has a history of trade unionism and activism against Brazil’s 1964-1985 dictatorship, said “Latin America today has less poverty, hunger, illiteracy and infant and maternal mortality than in previous decades,” even though it remains the most unequal region in the world.

Rousseff called for sustained economic growth, unified development targets, the reduction of vulnerabilities in security, education, migration, climate change, guaranteed rights, cooperation, decent work and disaster prevention, as southeast Brazil is suffering the worst drought in 80 years.

After fielding criticism from Correa regarding human rights and respect for sovereignty, Obama said “The United States will not be imprisoned by the past — we’re looking to the future.”

He said he had fulfilled his earlier pledge “to build a new era of cooperation between our countries, as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
“We are more deeply engaged across the region than we have been in decades,” he said. He added that “We still have work to do to harmonise regulations; encourage good governance and transparency that attracts investment; invest in infrastructure; address some of the challenges that we have with respect to energy.”

Castro, who was applauded at the start and end of the summit, discussed at length the history of relations between Cuba and the United States. He thanked Obama for trying to end the economic embargo in place against his country since 1962, which “affects the interests of all states” because of its extraterritorial reach.

He urged the hemisphere to strengthen cooperation in fighting climate change and improving education and healthcare, and cited the joint efforts by Latin America and North America in combating the ebola epidemic in West Africa, which has already claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people.

He said that currently 65,000 Cubans are working in 89 countries, as part of the country’s cooperation in the areas of education and health.

And he added that the hemisphere could do a great deal, because Cuba, “with very limited resources,” has helped trained 68,000 professionals and technical workers from 157 countries.

Argentine President Cristina Fernández invited more investment in the countries of Latin America to curb migration to the United States or Canada.

Meanwhile, Peru’s leader, Ollanta Humala, reiterated the need for the region to diversify production, which is based on commodities, and mentioned technology transfer.

The main point of friction at the summit was the Mar. 9 executive order signed by Obama, in which he called Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security. The prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, said 33 of the 35 countries meeting in Panama City had called for the repeal of the decree.

Although there was no official confirmation, the issue was reportedly the main cause for the fact that for the third time since these summits began, in 1994, the highest-level inter-American meeting ended without a final declaration, which was to be titled “Mandates for Action”.

Alternative or parallel forums

But the participants in the Fifth Summit of Indigenous Peoples of Abya Yala (the Americas) did agree on a final statement, “Defending our nations”, which some 300 native leaders delivered to the convention centre where the presidential summit was taking place, decked out in traditional dress complete with feathers and other ceremonial adornments.

“If all voices are not represented, prosperity with equity is impossible,” Hokabeq Solano, a leader of the Kuna people of Panama, told IPS.

“There was very little representation of our communities in the summit and the parallel forums,” another representative of the hemisphere’s 55 million indigenous people complained.

The indigenous gathering was independent of the Fifth People’s Summit, where more than 3,000 representatives of social movements participated. Since 2005, this meeting has been the alternative conference to the official summits.

In their declaration, the indigenous leaders demanded constitutional reforms that include native peoples, protection of sacred sites, and a roadmap for the unification of indigenous peoples. They also rejected development projects that entail forced displacement of communities.

Some 800 participants in the Forum of Civil Society and Social Actors, another parallel meeting, also delivered to the president a document with proposals on health, education, security, energy, environment, citizen participation and democratic governance.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Spiritual Leaders Urge Action On Nuclear Disarmamenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/spiritual-leaders-urge-action-on-nuclear-disarmament/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=spiritual-leaders-urge-action-on-nuclear-disarmament http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/spiritual-leaders-urge-action-on-nuclear-disarmament/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 14:55:58 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140132 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 13 2015 (IPS)

Religious leaders addressed the United Nations in New York last week, pleading on moral grounds for global nuclear disarmament.

Leaders representing a number of faiths spoke at the ‘Nuclear Weapons and the Moral Compass’ event, presented by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, outlining religious and moral arguments for nuclear disarmament.

Outlining the objections of successive Popes, Archbishop Bernadito Auza, Permanent Representative Observer Mission of the Holy See, called nuclear arms “the terrible weapons modern science has given us.”

“Since the emergence of the nuclear age the Holy See see has not ceased to raise the moral argument against the possession and use of nuclear weapons,” Auza said.

“Because of the incalculable and indiscriminate consequences of such weapons, their use is clearly against international humanitarian law.”

Auza said the nuclear disarmament movement “is currently in crisis,” and called for nations to renew their push for a nuclear-free future.

“The institutions doing this [pushing for disarmament] have been blocked for years,” he said.

“The pre-eminent nuclear countries have not only not disarmed, they are modernising their arsenals.”

The United Nations will host a Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in New York from Apr. 27-May 22. Several speakers alluded to the upcoming talks during their presentation, urging world leaders to work for stronger action and reform during the conference.

Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute, disputed arguments that management of nuclear weapons could lead to a secure future. He stated disarmament, not management, was the only acceptable solution.

“The situation… is in fact abnormal, immeasurably dangerous, certainly not sane, and morally unacceptable,” he said.

“The possession and threat to use nuclear weapons in the pursuit of security represents unprecedented folly of the highest order and an expression of the law of power in its most raw form.”

Bishop Oscar Cantu, of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, outlined his own moral arguments against nuclear weaponry on the grounds of discrimination, proportionality and probability of success.

“The moral problem of nuclear weapons is, the incredible devastation they wreak cannot discriminate between combatants and non-combatants,” Cantu said.

“Death and destruction caused by force cannot be out of proportion of protecting human lives and rights.”

Cantu said the prospects of success in any nuclear conflict would be unclear.

“What would success look like? It’s impossible to imagine,” he said.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter: @JoshButler

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U.N. Warns of Growing Divide Between Nuclear Haves and Have-Notshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-warns-of-growing-divide-between-nuclear-haves-and-have-nots/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-warns-of-growing-divide-between-nuclear-haves-and-have-nots http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-warns-of-growing-divide-between-nuclear-haves-and-have-nots/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 11:45:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140129 Angela Kane, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addresses the 2013 session of the Conference on Disarmament. Credit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

Angela Kane, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addresses the 2013 session of the Conference on Disarmament. Credit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

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

As she prepared to leave office after more than three years, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane painted a dismal picture of a conflicted world: it is “not the best of times for disarmament.”

The warning comes against the backdrop of a new Cold War on the nuclear horizon and spreading military conflicts in the politically–volatile Middle East, including in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen."The return to Cold War mindsets by the U.S. and Russia and the negative record of all the nuclear weapon states have converted the goal of a nuclear weapon free world into a mirage." -- Jayantha Dhanapala

“The prospects for further nuclear arms reductions are dim and we may even be witnessing a roll-back of the hard-won disarmament gains of the last 25 years,” she told the Disarmament Commission last week.

In one of her final speeches before the world body, the outgoing U.N. under-secretary-general said, “I have never seen a wider divide between nuclear-haves and nuclear have-nots over the scale and pace of nuclear disarmament.”

Kane’s warning is a realistic assessment of the current impasse – even as bilateral nuclear arms reductions between the United States and Russia have virtually ground to a standstill, according to anti-nuclear activists.

There are signs even of reversal of gains already made, for example, with respect to the longstanding U.S.-Russian Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

No multilateral negotiations on reduction and elimination of nuclear arsenals are in sight, and all arsenals are being modernised over the next decades.

And contrary to the promise made by the 2010 NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference, a proposed international conference on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East never got off the ground.

John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy (LNCP), told IPS: “As the world heads into the NPT Review Conference, Apr. 27-May 22, is nuclear disarmament therefore doomed or at least indefinitely suspended?”

Not necessarily, he said.

The tensions – with nuclear dimensions – arising out of the Ukraine crisis may yet spark some sober rethinking of current trends, said Burroughs, who is also director of the U.N. Office of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA).

After all, he pointed out, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis served to stimulate subsequent agreements, among them the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco establishing the Latin American nuclear weapons free zone, the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the 1972 US-Russian strategic arms limitation agreement and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Jayantha Dhanapala, former U.N. under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs, said the “Thirteen Steps” agreed upon at the 2000 NPT Review Conference and the 64-point Action Programme, together with the agreement on the Middle East WMD Free Zone proposal and the conceptual breakthrough on recognising the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, augured well for the strengthened review process.

“And yet the report cards meticulously maintained by civil society on actual achievements, the return to Cold War mindsets by the U.S. and Russia and the negative record of all the nuclear weapon states have converted the goal of a nuclear weapon free world into a mirage,” he added.

Unless the upcoming NPT Review Conference reverses these ominous trends, the 2015 Conference is doomed to fail, imperiling the future of the NPT, Dhanapala warned.

A stocktaking exercise is relevant, he added.

In 1995, he said, “We had five nuclear weapon states and one outside the NPT. Today, we have nine nuclear weapon armed states – four of them outside the NPT.

“In 1970, when the NPT entered into force, we had a total of 38,153 nuclear warheads. Today, over four decades later, we have 16,300 – just 21,853 less – with over 4,000 on deployed status and the promise by the two main nuclear weapon states to reduce their deployed arsenals by 30 percent to 1550 each within seven years of the new START entering into force.”

Another NPT nuclear weapon state, the UK is on the verge of renewing its Trident nuclear weapon programme, he pointed out.

Turning to the issue of conventional weapons, Kane said: “We are flooded daily with images of the brutal and internecine regional conflicts bedevilling the globe – conflicts fuelled by unregulated and illegal arms flows.”

It is estimated that more than 740,000 men, women, and children die each year as a result of armed violence.

“However, in the midst of these dark clouds, I have seen some genuine bright spots during my tenure as high representative,” Kane said.

The bitter conflict in Syria will not, in the words of the secretary-general, be brought to a close without an inclusive and Syrian-led political process, but Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention, facilitated by the Framework for the Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons agreed upon between the Russian Federation and the United States of America, has been one positive outcome from this bloody conflict, she added.

“We have seen the complete removal of all declared chemicals from Syria and the commencement of a process to destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons production facilities.”

Emerging from the so-called ‘disarmament malaise’, the humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament, supported by a clear majority of states – as illustrated by the 155 states that supported New Zealand’s statement in the First Committee – has continued to gather momentum, Kane told delegates.

“This is not a distraction from the so-called ‘realist’ politics of nuclear disarmament. Rather, it is an approach that seeks to underscore the devastating human impact of nuclear weapons and ground them in international humanitarian law,” she said.

“This movement is supported by almost 80 percent of U.N. member states. The numbers cannot be ignored.”

One of the international community’s major achievements in the last year has been to bring the Arms Trade Treaty into force only a year and a half after it was negotiated.

This truly historic treaty will play a critical role in ensuring that all actors involved in the arms trade must be held accountable and must be expected to comply with internationally agreed standards, Kane said.

This is possible, she pointed out, by ensuring that their arms exports are not going to be used to violate arms embargoes or to fuel conflict and by exercising better control over arms and ammunition imports in order to prevent diversion or re-transfers to unauthorised users.

“To my mind, these achievements all highlight the possibility of achieving breakthroughs in disarmament and non-proliferation even in the most trying of international climates,” Kane declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Economic Slowdown Threatens Progress Towards Equality in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/economic-slowdown-threatens-progress-towards-equality-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=economic-slowdown-threatens-progress-towards-equality-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/economic-slowdown-threatens-progress-towards-equality-in-latin-america/#comments Sat, 11 Apr 2015 16:22:59 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140125 Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff with her counterparts from Mexico (left), Panama and the United States, during a panel at the Second CEO Summit of the Americas, Friday Apr. 10 in Panama City. Credit: Courtesy of the IDB

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff with her counterparts from Mexico (left), Panama and the United States, during a panel at the Second CEO Summit of the Americas, Friday Apr. 10 in Panama City. Credit: Courtesy of the IDB

By Ivet González
PANAMA CITY, Apr 11 2015 (IPS)

Predictions of a sharp slowdown in Latin America’s economic growth this year make it even more necessary for the region’s leaders to make commitments to boost prosperity with equality during the Seventh Summit of the Americas, currently taking place in the Panamanian capital.

In several of the summit’s forums, the executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, said the regional economy was expected to grow a mere one percent in 2015, after GDP growth amounted to just 1.1 percent in 2014.

The two-day inter-American summit that opened Friday Apr. 10 has once again brought together high-level representatives of the governments of the 35 countries of the Western Hemisphere, with the novel inclusion of Cuban President Raúl Castro making it a historic meeting.

The heads of state and government, and parallel civil society, academic, youth and business forums, are meeting in Panama City to debate the central theme “Prosperity with Equity: The Challenge of Cooperation in the Americas”.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff put an emphasis on a key issue of the economic slowdown: the serious social impact it could have in the world’s most unequal region.

In a panel in the Second CEO Summit of the Americas, also attended by the U.S., Mexican and Panamanian presidents, Rousseff said the region should work hard to keep the large numbers of people pulled up into the middle class by social policies in recent years from falling back into poverty.

According to ECLAC, South America will show the worst economic performance – close to zero growth – compared to 3.2 percent growth in Central America and Mexico and 1.9 percent in the Caribbean.

The president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Luis Alberto Moreno, also warned that the governments must take measures to prevent the economic stagnation from undoing the great achievement of the last decade, when poverty in the region dropped from around 50 percent 15 years ago to less than 30 percent today.

In the panel, U.S. President Barack Obama called on governments in the region to cooperate to create mechanisms towards lifelong education, in order for the hemisphere to continue to grow.

“We have to replace the dynamic of extractivism with a culture of sustainability,” Bárcena said in another panel. In her view, the drop in the rate of growth should drive new social pacts in the region, in order to keep up the efforts to curb inequality.

“Without equitable distribution of wealth, there will be neither growth nor development,” Erick Graell, secretary of Panama’s Central Nacional de Trabajadores trade union confederation, told IPS. He participated in the alternative People’s Summit.

Behind barriers at the University of Panama, 3,000 members of social and labour movements from the Americas are meeting Thursday Apr. 9 to Saturday Apr. 11 in the alternative meeting to the official summit organised by the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Representatives of indigenous communities from Latin America grab a bite to eat outside the People’s Summit, in the University of Panama assembly hall on Friday Apr. 10. The alternative gathering is taking place parallel to the Apr. 10-11 Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

Representatives of indigenous communities from Latin America grab a bite to eat outside the People’s Summit, in the University of Panama assembly hall on Friday Apr. 10. The alternative gathering is taking place parallel to the Apr. 10-11 Seventh Summit of the Americas. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

At the People’s Summit, women and men in colourful traditional indigenous dress walk around the university assembly hall, where social protest chants can be heard and the walls are festooned with posters and phrases of legendary Argentine-Cuban guerrilla leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) and other historic leaders of Latin America’s left.

Participants from Canada and the United States mingle with the predominant racially and culturally diverse South American, Central American and Caribbean crowd at the People’s Summit, attended Friday by Bolivian President Evo Morales, and which expected the participation of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Cuba’s Raúl Castro.

“It has become a tradition that every time the presidents get together in their elite summits, ignoring the country’s development, social movements hold this alternative meeting,” said Graell, with the People’s Summit organising committee.

“We are going to express our concerns about poverty and inequality in the recommendations we send the presidents,” the trade unionist said with respect to the citizen gathering whose first edition was held parallel to the Fourth Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 2005.

The alternative forum, whose slogan this year is “A homeland for all, with peace, solidarity, and social justice,” is discussing issues such as human, economic, social and cultural rights, democracy and sovereignty, trade union freedom, migration, indigenous communities, education, social security and pensions.

Investing more in education is key to leaving behind dependence on commodities and to strengthening the knowledge sector and technology, which would guarantee economic and social sustainability, said ECLAC’s Bárcena. At the same time, she said, it is a challenge for governments, given the economic slowdown.

Latin America and the Caribbean must close structural gaps in terms of production, education and income levels to advance towards inclusive and sustainable development, because inequality conspires against the stability of democracies, Bárcena said.

“There is a lack of coordination at the government level to reduce regional disparities,” said Jorge Valdivieso, executive secretary of the Central Obrera Boliviana trade union confederation. “One example of this is that there are borders between our countries and visa requirements. Latin America is one single country,” he told IPS at the People’s Summit.

Salvadoran nurse Idalia Reyes, who is taking part in the alternative summit in representation of the trade union of workers of El Salvador’s social security institute, told IPS that “cooperation can help improve the quality of life of local communities.”

She stressed that several countries, including Brazil, Cuba or Venezuela, have regional cooperation programmes in areas such as scientific research, productivity, post-disaster recovery, health and education, despite their internal limitations.

But she lamented that in the case of the United States, support for countries in the region “comes with so many conditions attached.”

“It has a lot to offer but it should stop always asking for something in exchange,” said the activist who lives in a region – Central America – marked by high levels of violent crime and migration to the United States.

In an attempt to reduce the exodus by bolstering economic growth and security, in November 2014 El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras presented the plan for the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, which the United States is supporting with one billion dollars. It will be added to efforts towards customs and trade integration.

The activist brought to the alternative summit the demand to avoid the privatisation of the pensions of the working class – a phenomenon she said was a growing problem in Central America. “We want mixed, secure pensions, to which the government and workers throughout their working years contribute,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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