Inter Press Service » Global Geopolitics http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 31 Mar 2015 07:45:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Opinion: Cuba and the European Union – The Thaw Beginshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 06:46:40 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139934

In this column, Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, looks at the geopolitical context within which the normalisation of relations between the European Union and Cuba is likely to place following the recent visit to Cuba of the Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, and the scheduled visit of French President François Hollande in May.

By Joaquín Roy
MADRID, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The visit to Cuba of Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on Mar. 23-24, and the forthcoming visit in May planned by French President François Hollande, have fast-tracked the agenda of relations between the European Union and Cuba.

The sudden announcement of normalisation of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba in December last year set the context for the rapprochement between Brussels and Havana.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

At the time, negotiations were already under way on a bilateral ‘Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement’; after years of confrontation, the European Union was prepared to abandon the “common position” imposed by Brussels on the Fidel Castro regime in 1996.

While Washington’s stance was that the persistence of a strictly Marxist regime deserved the imposition of conditions for ending its embargo, the European Union and a consensus of its governments held to the policy of so-called “constructive engagement”. EU member states continued to relate to Cuba on an individual basis according to their special historical links, economic interests and a range of views on human rights.

After a number of tensions were overcome, in 2014 Brussels decided to adopt a pragmatic programme that would lead to a cooperation agreement similar to those signed between the European Union and every other country and bloc in Latin America and the Caribbean.

For many years E.U. relations with Cuba were mainly represented by initiatives led by Spain, which veered from spearheading the imposition of demands on Havana, especially at critical times during right-wing People’s Party (PP) governments, to pursuing an incentives strategy under the left-wing Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).“While Washington’s stance was that the persistence of a strictly Marxist regime deserved the imposition of conditions for ending its embargo, the European Union and a consensus of its governments held to the policy of so-called ‘constructive engagement’ [with Cuba]”

The process even came to be sarcastically called a “Hispanic-Spanish issue”.  In this context, a number of European states behaved according to their own convenience, with no essential change in the overall scenario.

Cuba avoided dealing with the broader European community, opting instead a for country-by-country approach. But the world was changing, and the real value of Europe’s stock in Cuba fell.

Then it was the right time for Brussels to seize the day and take advantage of the circumstances to negotiate with Cuba, with an open agenda that would include dismantling the “common position”.

After discrete exchanges, both sides decided to sit down for talks. Surprisingly, Cuba was open to a process without which the common position would be eliminated, as had been its strong traditional demand.

Spain itself was facing a delicate internal situation and needed to seek stability on other fronts. Consolidation of its relations with Latin America depended on juggling the claims and expectations of different domestic ideological groupings. Moreover, the vote of the Latin American bloc was vitally important for Spain’s candidature to the U.N. Security Council, a consideration that counselled extreme caution on the part of Madrid.

In the new era, it is hard to predict what role Spain will play in the Cuban transition, but in principle it has remarkable potential, and not just because of the weight of history and the contemporary importance of the “special relationship” between the two countries.

It is relevant to note that U.S. influence on Cuba’s own national identity has not been limited to imposing its hegemonic power. A hefty dose of the “American way of life” has become an essential part of the Cuban being.

The “enemy” was never the United States per se, but its concrete policies of harassment. The ease with which Cuban exiles of different epochs and different social backgrounds fit into U.S. society shows the naturalness of this curious relationship. Normalisation of relations will help reinforce the link.

European interests would do well to take note because the rebirth of the natural relationship between the United States and Cuba will provide strong competition to the relative advantage that European interests have so far achieved, and could significantly reduce it.

The outcome of competition from U.S. economic and political power in Cuba vis-á-vis renewed European operations will depend to a large extent on the nature and intensity of Washington’s renewed involvement with the island. Europe could maintain its relative advantage if the Cuban authorities themselves, or the surviving embargo restrictions, however moderated, set limits to U.S. activity.

It is worth emphasising that European activities in Cuba will continue to be limited, within E.U. institutional structures as well as on the pragmatic agendas of its member countries, as long as the U.S. embargo lasts. Restrictions on trade and investments continue to affect full freedom of movement by European companies in Cuba itself, as well as their transnational alliances in the rest of the world where U.S. interests are dominant.

As a result, even in a relatively open relationship, the real possibilities for a European advantage remain largely speculative, and may even decline, especially in the area of trade and investments.

The key factor in this uncertainty is a legacy of more than half a century of the absence of relations, which have not been ”normal” during this period yet which aspire to become so in the future. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee – Edited by Phil Harris    

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

* Joaquin Roy can be contacted at jroy@miami.edu

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U.N. Staffers Caught in Deadly Crossfire in Ongoing Conflictshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-staffers-caught-in-deadly-crossfire-in-ongoing-conflicts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-staffers-caught-in-deadly-crossfire-in-ongoing-conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-staffers-caught-in-deadly-crossfire-in-ongoing-conflicts/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 00:13:14 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139957 This bronze sculpture outside the United Nations in New York City symbolizes the organisation’s dedication to non-violence, but this does not mean U.N. staffers are immune to the deadly impacts of conflicts around the world. Credit: David Ohmer/CC-BY-2.0

This bronze sculpture outside the United Nations in New York City symbolizes the organisation’s dedication to non-violence, but this does not mean U.N. staffers are immune to the deadly impacts of conflicts around the world. Credit: David Ohmer/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The deadly Syrian military conflict – now entering its fifth year – which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 mostly civilians, including women, children and aid workers, has not spared the United Nations either.

The world body has been mourning the loss of 17 of its staffers, with an additional 30 missing, probably held in detention either by the Syrian government or by rebel forces battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Unfortunately, we're no longer in an era when warring parties respected the U.N. flag and those who operated under it. As the figures show, U.N. staff are now a specific target by rebel groups.” -- Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA)
The agency most affected is the U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), which has lost 14 of its staff, including five of them killed last year.

Asked if they were singled out because of their affiliation with the United Nations, Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesperson and director of advocacy and strategic communications, told IPS the staff killed in Syria died in many different ways “caught up in this pitiless conflict”.

“We have no evidence that they were singled out and killed because they work for the U.N. But their deaths illustrate the price UNRWA staff have paid for their dedication to the humanitarian cause.”

He said they were all local Palestinian staff, while the 18,000 civilians trapped in the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk are a mixture of Palestinian refugees and Syrians.

Many Palestinian refugees have been killed or seriously wounded, including in incidents that affected UNRWA installations.

“But UNRWA is not in a position to verify figures on the total numbers of Palestinian refugees killed,” said Gunness, on the eve of the third international conference on humanitarian aid to Syria to be hosted by the government of Kuwait.

The ongoing civil war in Syria – and the spreading conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Yemen – has made it increasingly difficult for U.N. staffers in humanitarian missions aimed at providing food, medicine and shelter to the ever-growing number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), representing 60,000 staff working at the United Nations, told IPS, “Unfortunately, we’re no longer in an era when warring parties respected the U.N. flag and those who operated under it. As the figures show, U.N. staff are now a specific target by rebel groups.”

At the same time, he said, the U.N. has a policy of “stay and deliver” meaning that it is reluctant to pull out of conflict zones. This means it has a very real duty to protect its staff.

While security in the field is taken more seriously than before, the U.N. and its member states could do much more, Richards added.

“One example that we are keen to highlight is that the warring parties in Syria who kill or kidnap U.N. staff get their financing and support from sources located in U.N. member countries, yet this is rarely brought up.”

The treatment of local staff is also a worry, he said.

The U.N. argues that in contrast to international staff, local staff and their families were already located in the conflict zone.

However, by working for the U.N., local staff and their families are seen as a legitimate target, especially by some of the groups operating in Syria.

“Therefore the U.N. does need to do more for local staff and their families,” Richards noted.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed serious concern over the continued killings of U.N. staffers in field operations.

“I am appalled by the number of humanitarian workers and peacekeepers who have been deliberately targeted in the past year, while they were trying to help people in crisis,” he said, at a recent memorial ceremony to honour fallen staff members.

In the past year, U.N. staff members were killed while relaxing over dinner in a restaurant in Kabul while two colleagues were targeted after getting off a plane in Somalia, he added.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Why So Many Palestinian Civilians Were Killed During Gaza Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/why-so-many-palestinian-civilians-were-killed-during-gaza-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-so-many-palestinian-civilians-were-killed-during-gaza-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/why-so-many-palestinian-civilians-were-killed-during-gaza-war/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 15:19:41 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139941 The Qassem family from Beit Hanoun in Gaza, civilians whose home was targeted by Israeli air strikes during the 2007/2008 Israel-Gaza war, leaving them homeless. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

The Qassem family from Beit Hanoun in Gaza, civilians whose home was targeted by Israeli air strikes during the 2007/2008 Israel-Gaza war, leaving them homeless. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
GAZA, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

The U.N. investigation into Israel’s devastating military campaign against Gaza, from July to August 2014, has been delayed until June and in the interim Israel and the Palestinians are waging a media war to win the moral narrative as to why so many Palestinian civilians were killed during the bloody conflict.

The postponement of the investigation was announced at the Mar. 23 U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meeting in Geneva.

Israel says it went out of its way to avoid civilian casualties but its critics, including Israeli human rights organisations, have questioned this claim.

“The ferocity of destruction and high proportion of civilian lives lost in Gaza cast serious doubts over Israel’s adherence to international humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and precautions in attack,” Makarim Wibisono, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967, told the UNHCR meeting.“The ferocity of destruction and high proportion of civilian lives lost in Gaza cast serious doubts over Israel's adherence to international humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and precautions in attack" – Makarim Wibisono, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967

During the war over 2,300 Palestinians were killed, the majority of them civilians including more than 500 children, and over 10,000 injured. On the Israeli side, six civilians and 67 soldiers were killed.

Many of the Palestinian civilians killed died after Israel targeted residential buildings in the Gaza Strip, killing hundreds of Palestinians inside as the buildings collapsed on them.

Israeli rights group B’Tselem released a report in January titled Black Flag: The Legal and Moral Implications of the Policy of Attacking Residential Buildings in the Gaza Strip, Summer 2014.

The report focuses on the policy that the Israeli military implemented of strikes on homes, attempting to explain if and how “policymakers’ claims about Israel’s commitment to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) provisions comport with the policy of attacking residential buildings.”

Damage to residential buildings was enormous, with 18,000 homes either destroyed or badly damaged. More than 100,000 Palestinians were left homeless and with little to no reconstruction taking place, most of these Gazans remain displaced.

B’Tselem investigated 70 incidents involving attacks on civilian homes which killed 606 Palestinians, half of whom were women, 93 babies and children under the age of 5, 129 children aged 5 to 14, 42 teenagers and 37 elderly Palestinians.

B’Tselem said that a number of the cases it examined indicated that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) actions contravened IHL.

“A military objective, the only legitimate target for attack by parties to hostilities, is defined as one that makes an effective contribution to military action whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralisation, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage to the attacking side,” said the rights group.

“Over the course of the fighting that took place in the summer, both government officials and top military commanders refrained from spelling out the specific objective of most of the attacks.

“Instead, the IDF spokesperson provided only general figures on the number of strikes carried out each day against what the spokesperson defined as ‘terror sites’.”

The rights group added that the IDF also appeared to change its definition as the war progressed, with many of the residential homes targeted allegedly belonging to Hamas operatives.

Kamal Qassem, 43, his wife Iman, and their five children aged 6 to 12, from Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza were forced to flee to an emergency U.N. shelter after their house was destroyed by Israeli bombs, which targeted their homes over two nights during the war.

“My wife Iman was injured during the bombing and spent two nights in hospital. She also requires regular hospital treatment for kidney problems,” Qassem told IPS

“My daughter Shadha, 9, was severely traumatised during the aerial assault and now suffers from epilepsy and soils her sheets at night. None of us were fighters.”

However, Israel’s newly appointed military chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot’s contribution to the Dahiya Doctrine, established during the second Israel-Lebanon war in 2006, could provide some answers to the immense destruction wrought on Gaza’s civilian infrastructure.

The Dahiya Doctrine is a military strategy that envisages the destruction of the civilian infrastructure of hostile regimes, and endorses the employment of disproportionate force to secure that end.

The doctrine is named after a southern suburb in Beirut with large apartment buildings which were flattened by the IDF during the 2006 war.

“What happened in the Dahiva quarter of Beurut in 2006 would happen in every village from which shots were fired in the direction of Israel,” stated Eizenkot.

“We will wield disproportionate power and cause immense damage and destruction.”

Former Rapporteur to the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, wrote that under the doctrine, “the civilian infrastructure of adversaries such as Hamas or Hezbollah are treated as permissible military targets, which is not only an overt violation of the most elementary norms of the law of war and of universal morality, but an avowal of a doctrine of violence that needs to be called by its proper name: state terrorism.”

Members of the U.N. fact-finding mission into the 2007/2008 Israel-Gaza war suggested that the Dahiya Doctrine had been employed while other analysts added it was also behind Israel’s 2014 military campaign.

Meanwhile, Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket fire on Israeli civilian towns, preceding last year’s war and one of the main reasons for Israel launching its assault on Gaza, could resume again should the siege on Gaza continue with no political breakthrough on the horizon – an ominous sign for Gaza’s civilians.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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The U.N. at 70: U.N. Reform Must Benefit All Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-u-n-at-70-u-n-reform-must-benefit-all-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-u-n-reform-must-benefit-all-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-u-n-at-70-u-n-reform-must-benefit-all-countries/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 11:41:17 +0000 Jayantha Dhanapala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139927

This is the first in a series of articles on the U.N. turning 70 this year. Jayantha Dhanapala is a former Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the U.N. Office in Geneva 1984-87; Director of UNIDIR,1987-92; and U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs 1998-2003.

By Jayantha Dhanapala
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Mar 28 2015 (IPS)

U.N. anniversaries are occasions for stocktaking – not all of it positive. But there is a lot of good that the U.N. has done and is doing and there are many good, dedicated people working silently but effectively within the U.N. system where I have also worked for a part of my long diplomatic career.

It is however, sadly, not always the moral compass of humankind such as when raisons d’etat dictate the U.N. Security Council resolutions to maintain international peace and security and vetoes frustrate the search for a wise consensus.

Credit: cc by 2.0

Credit: cc by 2.0

The Intellectual History Project of the U.N. led by Sir Richard Jolly and others has documented the ideas launched by the U.N. system in the area of economic and social development alone.

It is a glimpse of the remarkable vision and creativity of the founders of the U.N., which must remain to inspire us and guide us. It shows how the U.N. in its economic and social development work – especially through its specialised agencies – has often been significantly ahead of governments, academia and other international institutions that later adopted its ideas. The capacity to generate these ideas must continue.

As the U.N. Intellectual History Project stated in 2001 “Ideas matter. People matter”- and ideas that benefit the peoples of the United Nations matter the most. The U.N. is uniquely situated to be a vanguard of global public opinion.

Transcending individual state-centred approaches, the U.N. can take a synoptic view of issues highlighting a multilateral perspective with global interdependencies clearly delineated. And because these synoptic views are based on consensus, broader public acceptance is made easier.Whether it is a group enjoying the power of the purse or the power of the majority, we need to allow the equilibrium to remain as difficult as it may be. To upset it is to unravel the Charter.

Over the seven decades of the U.N.’s existence we have seen many successes although major challenges remain. The achievement of the decolonisation of scores of Asian and African countries; the focus on human rights and its mainstreaming in international relations; the emphasis on environment and sustainable development; on gender issues and the shaping of a co-ordinated response to globalisation, to terrorism, climate change and other global challenges like HIV/AIDS are some of them.

At the same time the U.N. has been engaged in the prevention of conflict and, where conflict has broken out, in peacekeeping, peacemaking, peace building and disarmament.

This is truly a collective achievement. But it also derives from a value base of the organisation. Legitimacy and universality are the two pillars of the U.N. Beginning with the Charter which sets out the purposes and principles of the U.N. in Chapter 1 there has also been an ethical foundation built over the years.

The Millennium Declaration adopted in September 2000 identified the shared values of the U.N. community as Freedom, Equality, Solidarity, Tolerance, Respect for Nature and Shared Responsibility.

No change can affect these values, which represent powerful forces motivating humankind through history. They provide what might be called the collective legitimation of the U.N. helping the global body to build a normative structure.

They have been the accelerators of human progress and the benchmarks for assessing the performance of the U.N. The U.N. is not merely a platform or a forum. It is a depository of values and ideals and an incubator of ideas. It has to generate new thinking constantly and for this an effective Secretariat is essential.

There has also been a consensus established that the core areas of the U.N.’s work are in peace and security, human rights and development and that all three of these areas are interconnected and interlaced so that you cannot have one without the other. The budget of the U.N. must reflect this for the U.N.’s institutions to function effectively.

There is another guiding principle that must remain with us as we change the U.N. to make it a more effective vehicle of multilateral action. I am deeply convinced that the architects of the U.N. wisely built into the organisation an indispensable equilibrium amongst the principal organs of this world body benefiting from the experience of the League of Nations.

Thus while the General Assembly functions as the Parliament of Nations based on the democratic principle of the sovereign equality of nations (Article 2:1) making recommendations on a wide range of issues and approving the budget, it is the Security Council that acts on behalf of the U.N. members in its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security using the powers vested in it under Chapter VI – Pacific Settlement of Disputes – and Chapter VII – Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression.

Amidst the unfulfilled demands for the reform of the Security Council, and especially its enlargement, tensions appear to have grown between the General Assembly and the Security Council.

The current debate on U.N. reform has been seriously complicated by deep-seated concerns that, under the guise of reform, attempts are being made to change the equilibrium that is inherent in the Charter. The need for change is recognised.

That however should not be an occasion for a struggle for power over the organisation by one group of countries over the other. Whether it is a group enjoying the power of the purse or the power of the majority, we need to allow the equilibrium to remain as difficult as it may be. To upset it is to unravel the Charter.

Another important principle that has to be observed in implementing change is the need for equity as far as the member states are concerned. Changing the U.N. is not the object of one country or group of countries. It is the collective wish of the entire membership and consensus documents vouch for this.

Change must therefore benefit all countries. It is for the purpose of making the U.N. deliver public goods in a more efficient and effective manner. If changes are perceived as being asymmetrical in the benefits they will confer on the member states they will be controversial, as indeed some of them have been.

Often the problem is in the perception and that arises from the atmosphere of mistrust that prevails among the groups notably between the developing and developed countries.

Urgent confidence-building measures are necessary and they can be designed and led by a group of middle ground countries that enjoy the trust of all member states.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Nuclear Threat Escalating Beyond Political Rhetorichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 22:36:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139917 Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

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

As a new cold war between the United States and Russia picks up steam, the nuclear threat is in danger of escalating – perhaps far beyond political rhetoric.

Dr. Randy Rydell, a former senior political affairs officer with the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) told IPS he pities the general public.

“Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear weapons powers (the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry.” -- The Economist
“They’re being fed two competing narratives about nukes,” Dr. Rydell said, in a realistic assessment of the current state of play.

“Oracle 1 says everybody’s rushing to acquire them or to perfect them.”

Oracle 2 forecasts a big advance for nuclear disarmament, as the bandwagon for humanitarian disarmament continues to gain momentum, said Rydell, a former senior counsellor and report director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission.

“The irony is that if Oracle 2 is wrong, Oracle 1 will likely win this debate – and we’ll all lose,” he grimly predicted about the nuclear scenario.

In a recent cover story, the London Economist is unequivocally pessimistic: “A quarter of a century after the end of the cold war, the world faces a growing threat of nuclear conflict.”

Twenty-five years after the Soviet collapse, it said, the world is entering a new nuclear age.

“Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear weapons powers (the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry.”

Shannon Kile, senior researcher and head of the Nuclear Weapons Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS he agrees with the recent piece in The Economist that the world may be entering a “new nuclear age”.

“However, I would not narrowly define this in terms of new spending on nuclear weapons by states possessing them. Rather, I think it must be defined more broadly in terms of the emergence of a multi-polar nuclear world that has replaced the bipolar order of the cold war,” he added.

Kile also pointed out that nuclear weapons have become core elements in the defence and national security policies of countries in East Asia, South Asia and the Middle East, where they complicate calculations of regional stability and deterrence in unpredictable ways.

This in turn raises risks that regional rivalries could lead to nuclear proliferation and even confrontation that did not exist when the nuclear club was smaller.

Meanwhile, the signs are ominous: the negotiations to prevent Iran going nuclear are still deadlocked.

Saudi Arabia has signed a new nuclear cooperation agreement, presumably for “peaceful purposes”, with South Korea; and North Korea has begun to flex its nuclear muscle.

Last week Hyun Hak Bong, North Korea’s ambassador to the UK, was quoted by Sky News as saying his country would use its nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack by the U.S.

“It is not the United States that has a monopoly on nuclear weapons strikes,” Hyun said.

“If the United States strike us, we should strike back. We are ready for conventional war with conventional war; we are ready for nuclear war with nuclear war. We do not want war but we are not afraid of war,” Hyun said.

The Economist also pointed out that every nuclear power is spending “lavishly to upgrade its atomic arsenal.”

Russia’s defence budget has increased by over 50 percent since 2007, a third of it earmarked for nuclear weapons: twice the share of France.

China is investing in submarines and mobile missile batteries while the United States is seeking Congressional approval for 350 billion dollars for the modernization of its nuclear arsenal.

Kile told IPS a subsidiary aspect of the “new nuclear age” is more technical in nature and has to do with the steady erosion of the operational boundary between nuclear and conventional forces.

Specifically, he said, the development of new types of advanced long-range, precision guided missile systems, combined with the increasing capabilities of satellite-based reconnaissance and surveillance systems, means that conventional weapons are now being given roles and missions that were previously assigned to nuclear weapons.

“This trend has been especially strong in the United States but we also see it in [the] South Asian context, where India is adopting conventional strike systems to target Pakistani nuclear forces as part of its emerging limited war doctrine.”

Kile also said many observers have pointed out that this technology trend is driving doctrinal changes that could lead to increased instability in times of crisis and raise the risk of the use of nuclear weapons.

“What these developments suggest to me is that while the overall number of nuclear warheads in the world has significantly decreased since the end of the cold war (with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989), the spectrum of risks and perils arising from nuclear weapons has actually expanded.”

Given that nuclear weapons remain uniquely dangerous because they are uniquely destructive, “I don’t think anyone will dispute that we must redouble our collective efforts aimed at reaching a world in which nuclear arsenals are marginalised and can be eventually prohibited,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Cash-Strapped U.N. to Seek Funds for Syria at Pledging Conference in Kuwaithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:49:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139915 According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

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

A cash-strapped United Nations, which is struggling to reach out to millions of Syrian refugees with food, medicine and shelter, is desperately in need of funds.

The current status on humanitarian aid looks bleak: an appeal for 2.9 billion dollars for Syria’s Response Plan has generated only about nine percent of funding, and Syria’s Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan’s appeal for 4.5 billion dollars is only six percent funded, according to a statement released by the Security Council Thursday.

“Today, a Syrian's life expectancy is estimated to be 20 years less than when the conflict started. Unemployment is around 58 percent, up from around 10 percent in 2010; and nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty." -- Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos
Still, the United Nations is hoping for a more vibrant response from the international community at a pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, scheduled to take place in Kuwait next week.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the Syrian people feel increasingly abandoned by the world as they enter the fifth year of a war that has torn their country apart and claimed the lives of over 200,000 civilians.

The pledging conference, scheduled to take place Mar. 31, “is an opportunity to raise some of the resources required to maintain our life-saving work. I encourage governments to give generously,” the U.N. chief said.

According to the United Nations, the devastating five-year old military conflict in Syria has also triggered “the greatest refugee crisis in modern times.”

Over half of Syria’s pre-war population — some 12.2 million people — and the more than 3.9 million Syrian refugees arriving in countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, “are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance”.

For the third consecutive year, the pledging conference is being hosted by the government of Kuwait, which has taken a significant role in alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

The conference will be chaired by the U.N. secretary-general, and hosted by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

The last two pledging conferences were held in January 2013 and January 2014. The total pledged in 2013 was about 1.5 billion dollars and in 2014 about 2.4 billion dollars.

The largest contributions came from the host country, Kuwait, which pledged 300 million dollars in 2013 and 500 million dollars in 2014, which included 200 million dollars from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Kuwait, amounting to a total of 800 million dollars at both conferences.

Asked about the rate of delivery, a spokesman for the Kuwaiti Mission to the United Nations told IPS that Kuwait had delivered 100 percent of pledges to U.N. agencies, funds and programmes, plus international NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Asked about next week’s conference, he said more than 78 countries and 40 mostly international organisations are expected to participate.

U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said a very big part of Ban’s message next week would be: “As long as the crisis in Syria is not solved, you’re going to see millions of Syrians travelling to other countries in the region, and that has a tremendous effect on the livelihoods and the services and the way of life for people in all of the countries in the region.”

“So, we need to solve the problem in Syria, but we also need to give support to these countries at this time of need.”

Addressing the Security Council Thursday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Syria, which she described as “characterised by breathtaking levels of savagery.”

She said the secretary-general has submitted report after report highlighting the failure of the warring parties to meet their basic minimum legal obligations.

Amos pointed out indiscriminate aerial bombings, including the use of barrel bombs, car bombs, mortar attacks, unguided rockets and the use of other explosive devices in populated areas, are the hallmarks of this conflict.

“I have previously reported on the worsening socio-economic situation in the country, which has eroded the development gains made over a generation.

“Today, a Syrian’s life expectancy is estimated to be 20 years less than when the conflict started. Unemployment is around 58 percent, up from around 10 percent in 2010; and nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty,” she told the Council.

The inability of this Council and countries with influence over the different parties at war in Syria to agree on the elements for a political solution in the country means that the humanitarian consequences will continue to be dire for millions of Syrians, she warned.

Children are particularly badly affected with 5.6 million children now in need of assistance. Well over two million children are out of school. A quarter of Syria’s schools have been damaged, destroyed or taken over for shelter. It will take billions of dollars to repair damaged schools and restore the education system, Amos said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Palestine Crisis at Its Worst Since 1967, Says United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:07:58 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139904 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

In 2014, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) saw the worst escalation of hostilities since 1967, said a report by the United Nations Office of Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), released on March 26.

The report, Fragmented Lives, said that the Gaza strip’s 1.8 million civilians were directly affected by the war. Over 1,500 were killed, more than 11,000 injured and 100,000 remain displaced. Meanwhile, settlement expansion and the forced displacement of Palestinians in Area C and East Jerusalem are continuing.

“The crisis stems from the prolonged occupation, and recurrent hostilities, alongside a system of policies that undermine the ability of Palestinians to live normal, self-sustaining lives and realize the full spectrum of their right to self-determination,” the report stated.

UNOCHA,who have detailed key humanitarian concerns in the oPt for the past four years, reports that about 4,000,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza strip remain under an Israeli military occupation that prevents them from exercising many of their basic human rights.

The U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the territory, James Rawley, told U.N. media that the economic and social problems are expanding from Gaza to East Jerusalem.

“A record number of 1,215 Palestinians were displaced due to home demolitions by Israeli authorities, while settlement and settler activity continued, in contravention of international law, and contributed to humanitarian vulnerability of affected Palestinian communities,” he noted.

The report was released on the same day as Robert Serry, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the U.N. Security Council about peace negotiations.

Nearing the end of his mandate, Serry expressed his disappointment at the failure of the negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Serry pointed out that a two-state solution cannot be forced by the international community, but can only succeed if both parties are willing and committed to such a peaceful solution.

“I must tell you, I am disheartened by seeing what has happened in these seven years, and these past three negotiations. If the parties wish to live in peace with each other, then there is no other alternative, and it is time to really think of a two state solution,” Serry said in comments to the press.

Serry urged the Security Council to revive talks, saying a greater focus should be put on Gaza.

“Gaza first, doesn’t mean Gaza only. But I don’t see how, this shattered piece (of land) can be ‘pieced’ together without addressing it now as a priority issue.”

 Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri
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Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery: A New Horizon for South-South Partnerships?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:39:08 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139889 The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

First the centre of the silk route, then the epicenter of bloody conflicts, Afghanistan’s history can be charted through many diverse chapters, the most recent of which opened with the election of President Ashraf Ghani in September 2014.

Having inherited a country pockmarked with the scars of over a decade of occupation by U.S. troops – including one million unemployed youth and a flourishing opium trade – the former finance minister has entered the ring at a low point for his country.

“Our goal is to become a transit country for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.” -- Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan
Afghanistan ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), tailed only by North Korea, Somalia and Sudan.

A full 36 percent of its population of 30.5 million people lives in poverty, while spillover pressures from war-torn neighbours like Pakistan threaten to plunge this land-locked nation back into the throes of religious extremism.

But under this sheen of distress, the seeds of Afghanistan’s future are slumbering: vast metal and mineral deposits, ample water resources and huge tracts of farmland have investors casting keen eyes from all directions.

Citing an internal Pentagon memo in 2010, the New York Times referred to Afghanistan as the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”, an essential ingredient in the production of batteries and related goods.

The country is poised to become the world’s largest producer of copper and iron in the next decade. According to some estimates, untapped mineral reserves could amount to about a trillion dollars.

Perhaps more importantly Afghanistan’s landmass represents prime geopolitical real estate, acting as the gateway between Asia and Europe. As the government begins the slow process of re-building a nation from the scraps of war, it is looking first and foremost to its immediate neighbours, for the hand of friendship and mutual economic benefit.

Regional integration 

Speaking of his development plans at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday, Ghani emphasised the role that the Caucasus, as well as Pakistan and China, can play in the country’s transformation.

“In the next 25 years, Asia is going to become the world’s largest continental economy,” Ghani stressed. “What happened in the U.S. in 1869 when the continental railroad was integrated is very likely to happen in Asia in the next 25 years. Without Afghanistan, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and West Asia will not be connected.

“Our goal is to become a transit country,” he said, “for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.”

Ghani added that the bulk of what Afghanistan hopes to produce in the coming decade would be heavy stuff, requiring a robust rail network in order to create economies of scale.

“In three years, we hope to be reaching Europe within five days. So the Caspian is really becoming central to our economy […] In three years, we could have 70 percent of our imports and exports via the Caspian,” he claimed.

Roads, too, will be vital to the country’s revival, and here the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already begun laying the groundwork. Just last month the financial institution and the Afghan government signed grant agreements worth 130 million dollars, “[To] finance a new road link that will open up an east-west trade corridor with Tajikistan and beyond.”

Thomas Panella, ADB’s country director for Afghanistan, told IPS, “ADB-funded projects in transport and energy infrastructure promote regional economic cooperation through increased connectivity. To date under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programme, 2.6 billion dollars have been invested in transport, trade, and energy projects, of which 15 are ongoing and 10 have been completed.

“In the transport sector,” he added, “six projects are ongoing and eight projects have been completed, including the 75-km railway project connecting Hairatan bordering Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s transport sector accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the U.S. occupation, a contribution driven primarily by the presence of foreign troops.

Now the sector has slumped, but financial assistance from the likes of the ADB is likely to set it back on track. At last count, on Dec. 31, 2013, the development bank had sunk 1.9 billion dollars into efforts to construct or upgrade some 1,500 km of regional and national roads, and a further 31 million to revamp four regional airports in Afghanistan, which have since seen a two-fold increase in usage.

In total, the ADB has approved 3.9 billion dollars in loans, grants, and technical assistance for Afghanistan since 2002. Panella also said the bank allocated 335.18 million dollars in Asian Development Fund (ADF) resources to Afghanistan for 2014, and 167.59 million dollars annually for 2015 and 2016.

China too has stepped up to the plate – having already acquired a stake in one of the country’s most critical copper mines and invested in the oil sector – promising 330 million dollars in aid and grants, which Ghani said he intends to use exclusively to beef up infrastructure and “improve feasibility.”

Both India and China, the former through private companies and the latter through state-owned corporations, have made “significant” contributions to the fledgling economy, Ghani said, adding that the Gulf states and Azerbaijan also form part of the ‘consortium approach’ that he has adopted as Afghanistan’s roadmap out of the doldrums.

‘A very neoliberal idea’

But in an environment that until very recently could only be described as a war economy, with a poor track record of sharing wealth equally – be it aid, or private contracts – the road through the forest of extractive initiatives and mega-infrastructure projects promises to be a bumpy one.

According to Anand Gopal, an expert on Afghan politics and award-winning author of ‘No Good Men Among the Living’, “There is a widespread notion that only a very powerful fraction of the local elite and international community benefitted from the [flow] of foreign aid.”

“If you go to look at schools,” he told IPS, “or into clinics that were funded by the international community, you can see these institutions are in a state of disrepair, you can see that local warlords have taken a cut, have even been empowered by this aid, which helped them build a base of support.”

Although the aid flow has now dried up, the system that allowed it to be siphoned off to line the pockets of strongmen and political elites will not be easily dismantled.

“The mindset here is not oriented towards communities, it’s oriented towards development of private industries and private contractors,” Gopal stated.

“When you have a state that is unable to raise its own revenue and is utterly reliant on foreign aid to make these projects viable […] the straightforward thing to do would be to nationalise natural resources and use them as a base of revenue to develop the economy, the expertise of local communities and the endogenous ability of the Afghan state to survive.”

Instead what happens is that this tremendous potential falls off into hands of contracts to the Chinese and others. “It’s a very neoliberal idea,” he added, “to privatise everything and hope that the benefits will trickle down.

“But as we’ve seen all over the world, it doesn’t trickle down. In fact, the people who are supposed to be helped aren’t the ones to get help and a lot of other people get enriched in the process.”

Indeed, attempts to stimulate growth and close the wealth gap by pouring money into the extractives sector or large-scale development – particularly in formerly conflict-ridden countries – has had disastrous consequences worldwide, from Papua New Guinea, to Colombia, to Chad.

Rather than reducing poverty and empowering local communities, mining and infrastructure projects have impoverished indigenous people, fueled gender-based violence, and paved the way for the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

A far more meaningful approach, Gopal suggested, would be to directly fund local communities in ways that don’t immediately give rise to an army of middlemen.

It remains to be seen how the country’s plans to shake off the cloak of foreign occupation and decades of instability will unfold. But it is clear that Afghanistan is fast becoming the new playground – and possibly the next battleground – of emerging players in the global economy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Appointing a New U.N. Secretary-Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-appointing-a-new-u-n-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-appointing-a-new-u-n-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-appointing-a-new-u-n-secretary-general/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 20:12:20 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139881

Dr. Palitha Kohona is the former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations and onetime Chief of the U.N. Treaty Section

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
NEW YORK, Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

With Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s term of office tapering off by the end of 2016, there is increasing chatter in the corridors of the United Nations on his successor.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

The interest in the top post at the U.N. has been heightened because of the issues that have emerged.

Among them: the importance of respecting the principle of regional rotation; the need to have a woman occupy the top job at the U.N. after 70 years of its existence; and the importance of more transparency in an organisation that devotes much energy to promote democracy in the world.

These are prominent among some of the conversation starters in the U.N. cocktail circuit, all against the background clamour to reform the Organisation.

The Charter itself says little on the appointment process. Article 97 stipulates that the General Assembly (GA) will appoint a secretary-general (SG) on the recommendation of the Security Council. As with much else at the U.N., the practice with regard to the appointment of the SG also has evolved in response to contemporary pressures. Resolutions 11/1 of 1946 and 54/246 of 1997 are important on this matter.

The Security Council will, in the first instance, seek consensus prior to recommending a candidate to the GA, although 9 votes in favour of a candidate in the Council would suffice.

If consensus is not feasible, the Council will vote on the candidates available. The practice of conducting straw polls among the members of the SC has become popular in recent times.While early aspirants to the post did not campaign under spurious pretexts, the need to approach a wide range of countries to seek their blessings is increasingly recognised.

To the disappointment of many members of the world body, the recommendation is adopted at a private meeting in accordance with Rule 48 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure.

The Permanent Five of the SC (P5) – namely Britain, the U.S. France Russia and China — exercises inordinate power over the selection process. Today the endorsement of the P5 is essential and consequently the veto acquires a particular significance in the SC recommendation.

In 1996, the significance of P5 endorsement was clearly highlighted. As the Council began its consideration of potential candidates, Boutros Boutros Ghali, the incumbent SG, received 14 endorsements in a straw poll, except the U.S.

Boutros Ghali had offended the U.S. with comments on the situation in the Middle East. A week later, a former senior U.N. official, Kofi Annan, a surprise candidate from the Secretariat, received the necessary endorsement of the SC with the backing of the P5.

Similarly, former Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim’s efforts to secure a third term in1981 were vetoed by the Chinese. It is now almost mandatory for the aspirants to the post of SG to undertake visits to the capitals of the P5 to seek their blessings and not say or do anything that would cause them alarm.

This was not always the case. When, in 1951,Trygve Lie of Norway was vetoed by the Soviet Union, as he sought his second term, the U.S. had him appointed through a clear majority of votes in the GA. Given the difficulties that Trygve Lie faced subsequently, especially in dealing with a hostile Soviet Union, it would be unlikely that such an approach would be adopted today.

Although there are suggestions that the SC should recommend more than one candidate, for the sake of transparency and to facilitate democratic choice, the GA has decided in Res 11 of 1946 that it would be desirable for the Council to proffer only one candidate.

Whether this sentiment continues to be shared by many in the GA today with its much wider membership is unclear. While a divisive vote in the GA is always possible, in recent times, the GA has tended to rubber stamp the recommendations of the SC.

While early aspirants to the post did not campaign under spurious pretexts, the need to approach a wide range of countries to seek their blessings is increasingly recognised. Visits to capitals could generate a groundswell of sympathy for a candidate which could influence members of the SC.

The present incumbent, a former Foreign Minister of South Korea, advancing his candidature the first time round, used his position as his country’s representative in the SC to visit as many capitals as possible.

The second time round, he was advised to seek the endorsement of the regional groups as he was mulling presenting his candidature, in particular, the Asia Pacific Group, his own regional group.

This was against the background of some whispered reservations about his performance in the first term, especially by certain countries of the Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG).

They were mostly concerns about his perceived lack of fluency in the working languages of the Organisation and the absence of firmness in dealing with difficult issues.

Still, the Asia Pacific Group endorsed him unequivocally, setting in motion a tide of endorsements from the other regional groups. He announced his candidature immediately following his meeting with the Asia Pacific Group.

The WEOGs provided the first two SGs. An assertive developing world demanded the next. U Thant of Burma (now Myanmar) was appointed, despite initial opposition from France.

The Eastern European Group has asserted a claim to the post after Ban because the group has never had this position before and because there are many suitable candidates from the region.

Res 51/241 supports their position. Among the possible Eastern European aspirants are the former U.N. Under-Secretary-General and the Former President of Slovenia, Danilo Turk, the Executive DIrector of UNESCO, Irena Bukova of Bulgaria, EC Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria, the Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaite, the vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Monte Negro, Igor Luksic, and the popular Permanent Representative of Romania, Simona Miculescu.

The WEOGs have occupied the post three times – the Asia Pacific twice, Africa twice and Latin America and the Caribbean once. Candidates from the P5s are not considered for the post. Should Eastern Europe come up with a suitable candidate, they are likely to get the post this time.

Given the perceived lack of clarity with regard to the Eastern European candidature, others have begun to test the water.

Among them are, Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister of Australia; Helen Clerk, the Administrator of the UNDP and former Prime Minister of New Zealand; Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and former Prime Minister of Portugal; and Michelle Bachelet, former Executive Director of UN Women and current president of Chile.

It is noteworthy that the Non-Aligned Movement, the largest single political grouping of developing nations, has strongly backed the appointment of a woman to succeed Ban.

The general feeling among Member States is that the time for a woman SG has arrived. There does not seem to be a shortage of exceptionally qualified women in the field.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Indonesian President Unyielding on Death Penaltyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/indonesian-president-unyielding-on-death-penalty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesian-president-unyielding-on-death-penalty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/indonesian-president-unyielding-on-death-penalty/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 00:38:53 +0000 Sandra Siagian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139870 Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a rally on Election Day on Jul. 9, 2014, at Proklamasi Monument Park in Jakarta. Human rights groups have condemned the country’s seventh president for his “backwards” stance on capital punishment. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a rally on Election Day on Jul. 9, 2014, at Proklamasi Monument Park in Jakarta. Human rights groups have condemned the country’s seventh president for his “backwards” stance on capital punishment. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARTA, Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

When Indonesia’s law and human rights minister visited one of the country’s prisons in December last year, he met a Nigerian convict on death row for drug trafficking, who performed songs for him before leaving him with a parting gift.

“He sang […] beautifully,” Yasonna Laoly, the human rights minister, tells IPS. “He first quoted from the Bible before he gave me a souvenir when I left – it was a painting, a beautiful one.”

“There are no statistics of a deterrent effect with the death penalty. Jokowi is using the death penalty […] to prove to his critics that he is firm." -- Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras)
A month ago, at one of the weekly Christian services held at his ministry in the capital, Jakarta, a pastor came up to the minister to plea for some prisoners facing the death penalty.

She brought up the Nigerian man Laoly had met last year, stressing that he had reformed, converted to Christianity and become a good person.

“She asked me, ‘Why can’t you help?’,” explains the minister, who has also received an album of songs from the Nigerian death row inmate.

“I told her that, psychologically, it bothers me, but I have to face the case,” Laoly tells IPS, adding that he “does not believe in capital punishment”.

“I spoke to the Attorney General [H.M. Prasetyo], who was with me when I visited him and he just replied: ‘This is the law of the country and we have a policy’.”

The government of this archipelago nation of 250 million people has a no-tolerance policy when it comes to drug trafficking and smuggling, and has no qualms about using the death penalty for such offenses.

Just after midnight on Jan. 18, six drug convicts were executed by firing squad, the first imposition of capital punishment since President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo took office last October.

Another 10 drug convicts – citizens of Australia, France, Brazil, the Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria and Indonesia – are slated to be executed next, following their transfer to the island prison of Nusakambangan.

Prior to Widodo’s presidential election victory last year, capital punishment in the archipelago had declined. Four people were executed in 2013 after a five-year hiatus and no capital sentences were carried out by the state in 2014.

Still, there are currently 138 people – one-third of them foreigners – on death row, primarily for drug-related offenses. The government claims its hard-line stance has to do with the growing drug menace in Indonesia – at present, 45 percent of drugs in Southeast Asia flow through this country, making it the largest drug market in the region.

Citing statistics from the country’s National Narcotics Board (BNN), Troels Vester, country manager of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) put the number of drug users at 5.6 million this year.

Government statistics further indicate that drug abuse kills off some 40 Indonesians every day, a figure hotly disputed by local rights groups.

A street food vendor walks past a sign, warning residents against taking drugs, outside of the Russian consulate in South Jakarta. Indonesia imposes harsh penalties, including capital punishment, for drug-related crimes. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

A street food vendor walks past a sign, warning residents against taking drugs, outside of the Russian consulate in South Jakarta. Indonesia imposes harsh penalties, including capital punishment, for drug-related crimes. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Officials say that rampant drug use also fuels a demand for medical and health services, putting undue pressure on the government to expend public resources on treatment and counseling, HIV testing, and anti-retroviral therapy for those people living with HIV/AIDS.

But the United Nations says that the use of the death penalty will not necessary reduce Indonesia’s drug woes, and has urged the country to stopper the practice of capital punishment in line with international law.

Earlier this month some 40 human rights groups from around the world dispatched a letter to the Indonesian president, reminding him, “Executions are against Article 28(a) of the Indonesian Constitution, which guarantees everyone’s right to life.”

The letter further stated, “They are also in breach of Indonesia’s international legal obligations under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which recognises every human being’s inherent right to life.”

Such efforts have so far failed to sway the president, or stay the country’s harsh hand of justice.

Ignoring international pressure

Widodo has also rejected political bids for clemency, including entreaties from foreign governments to spare the lives of their citizens; five of the six drug convicts executed in January were foreigners.

In January, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands personally requested Widodo to pardon Dutch national Ang Kiem Soe – convicted of being involved in a scheme to produce 15,000 ecstasy pills a day – but Widodo was unmoved.

Brazil and the Netherlands recalled their ambassadors from Jakarta after their nationals were executed in January, while Australia has been campaigning furiously to save two of its own citizens, with the country’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, attempting an eleventh-hour prisoner swap, which was rejected.

Widodo has met all such efforts with a simple answer: there will be “no compromise” on the issue.

Human rights advocates like Amnesty International have slammed the Indonesian president’s “backwards” stance on capital punishment, accusing him of manipulating data to support his decisions.

“He says that 40 to 50 people are dying every day from drugs, but where is that figure coming from?” asks Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), adding that the president’s actions came as a surprise as he never shared his views on capital punishment during his campaign.

“The hospitals, doctors and the health ministry aren’t giving us data. These figures are from the anti-drugs body BNN, but they have never been proven,” Azhar adds.

Other activists like Hendardi, head of the Setara Institute, believe the president is using the death penalty to protect his image and regain public support following criticism over his government’s weak performance in law enforcement.

“There are no statistics of a deterrent effect with the death penalty,” the human rights defender tells IPS. “Jokowi [a popular nickname for the president] is using the death penalty […] to prove to his critics that he is firm. I think he is trying to gain back popularity as the death penalty is still favoured among Indonesians.”

While there has been no comprehensive nationwide poll to assess public opinion on, or popular support for, capital punishment, surveys conducted by the media suggest that some 75 percent of the population is in favour of death sentences, primarily for terrorism, corruption and narcotics charges.

Death sentences are typically carried out by a firing squad comprised of 12 people, who shoot from a range of five to 10 metres. Prisoners are given the choice of standing or sitting, as well as whether to have their eyes covered by a blindfold, or their face concealed by a hood.

Inmates are generally informed of their fate just 72 hours prior to execution, a practice that has been blasted by human rights groups.

While the human rights minister admits that the death penalty may not solve all the country’s drug problems, he believes that a firm policy is the first step to preventing millions from falling “into ruin” at the hands of narcotics.

UNODC estimates that there are 110,000 heroin addicts and 1.2 million users of crystalline methamphetamine in Indonesia. But experts like Azhar feel the problem cannot be ‘executed away’. Instead, the Kontras coordinator suggests the country adopt a humane approach to law enforcement.

According to Amnesty International, some “140 countries have now abolished the death penalty. Indonesia has the opportunity to become the 141st country.” However, if the president’s resolve remains unchanged, this is unlikely to happen in the near future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Foreign Policy is in the Hands of Sleepwalkershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-foreign-policy-is-in-the-hands-of-sleepwalkers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-foreign-policy-is-in-the-hands-of-sleepwalkers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-foreign-policy-is-in-the-hands-of-sleepwalkers/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 11:55:27 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139857

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, takes a recent scathing report from the House of Lords that the United Kingdom “sleepwalked” into the Ukraine crisis to argue that recent history shows the West having entered a number of conflicts without looking beyond the immediate consequences, and without any consideration for long-term analysis

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Mar 25 2015 (IPS)

The United Kingdom has been accused of “sleepwalking” into the Ukraine crisis – and the accusation comes from no less than the House of Lords, not usually considered a place of critical analysis.

In a scathing report, the upper house of the U.K. parliament has said that the United Kingdom, like the rest of the European Union, has sleepwalked into a very complex problem without looking into the possible consequences, letting bureaucrats taking critical political decisions.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

It said that it was only when the conflict was well entrenched that political leaders decided to negotiate the Minsk ceasefire agreement, reached by Angela Merkel of Germany, Francois Hollande of France, Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation and Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, with the notable absence of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron.

In fact, it was left up to bureaucrats of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to take decisions regarding Ukraine, the same kind of bureaucrats as those appointed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission who, with their usual arrogance, decided the European bailout conceded to Greece where it is widely known that the priority was to refund European (especially German) banks.

The media have a great responsibility in this situation. In all latter day conflicts, from Kosovo to Libya, the formula has been very simple. Let us divide conflicts into good and bad, let us repeat the declarations of the ‘good guys’ and demonise the ‘bad guys’. Let us not go into analytical disquisitions, complexities and side issues because readers do not like that. Let us be to the point and crisp.“The media have a great responsibility … the formula has been very simple. Let us divide conflicts into good and bad, let us repeat the declarations of the ‘good guys’ and demonise the ‘bad guys’. Let us not go into analytical disquisitions, complexities and side issues because readers do not like that”

The latest example. All media have been talking of the Iraqi army engaged in taking back the town of Kirkuk from the Caliphate, the Islamic State. But how many are also informing that two-thirds of the Iraqi army is actually made up of soldiers from Iran? And that the Americans engaged in overseeing this offensive are in fact accepting cooperation from Iran, formally an archenemy?

How many have been reporting that the ongoing negotiations over the nuclear capabilities of Iran are really based on the need to restore legitimacy to Iran, because it has become clear that without Iran there is no way to solve Arab conflicts? And how many have informed that all radical Muslims have received financial support from  Saudi  Arabia, which is intent on supporting Salafism, the Muslim school which is at the basis of al-Qaeda and now of the Islamic State?

Recent history shows the West has gone into a number of conflicts (Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2011 and Syria in 2012), without looking beyond the immediate consequences, and without any consideration for long-term analysis. The costs of those conflicts have always exceeded the benefits foreseen. An auditor company could not certify any of those conflicts in terms of costs and benefit.

Let us start from the collapse of Yugoslavia, and let us remind ourselves that the West has three principles of international law under which to shield itself as a result of its actions.

One is the principle of inviolability of state borders, which was not applied to Serbia, but is now the case for Ukraine. The second is the principle of self-determination of people, which was used in Kosovo for the Albanian minority living in that part of Serbia but it is not considered valid now for the Russian populations of East Ukraine. The third is the right to intervene for humanitarian interventions, which was used first in Libya, and is now under consideration for Syria.

The drama of the Balkan conflicts was due to a very unilateral action by Germany, which decided to extrapolate Croatia and Slovenia from the Yugoslav federation as its zone of economic interest. The then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, pushed this in an unprecedented way throughout the West.

It was the first time that Germany had play an assertive role, with U.S. support, and it was a Cold War reflex – let us eliminate the only country left after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which still inspires itself to a socialist state and not to a market economy.

Serbia, which considered itself heir to the Kingdom of Serbia (out of which Josep Broz Tito had created the socialist Yugoslavia), intervened and a terrible conflict ensued, with civilians paying a dramatic cost.

That conflict renewed dormant ethnic and religious divisions, about which everybody knew, but Genscher, who was then no longer in the German government, explained at a meeting in which the author participated: “I never thought the Serbians would resist Europe.”

It is interesting to note in this context that just a few weeks ago, the International Court of Justice ruled that neither Serbia nor Croatia had engaged in a genocidal war. The news was reported by many media, but without a word of contextualisation.

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had been destroyed to implement the winning theory of “free market against socialism”. Did the creation of five mini-states improve the lives of the people? Not according to statistics, especially of youth unemployment, which was unknown in the days of Tito.

Then there was Iraq where, in the aftermath of the Twin Towers attack in September 2001, the rationale for attacking the country was based on assertions that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was both harbouring and supporting al-Qaeda, the group held responsible for the attack, and possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed an immediate threat to the United States and its allies. These, which turned out to be lies, were blindly propagated by the media

But if, as is widely believed, petroleum was the cause, let us look at figures as an accounting company would do. That war is estimated to have cost at least two trillion dollars, without considering human life and physical destruction.

Iraq’s annual petroleum output at full pre-war capacity was 3.7 million barrels per day. Now a part of that is under the control of the Islamic State and Kurds have taken more than one-third under their control. But even at the full production, it would have taken more than 20 years to recoup the costs of the war.

It is, to say the least, unlikely that the United States would have had all that time – and since the war, has spent more than a further trillion dollars just in occupation and military costs.

And what about Afghanistan where there is no petroleum? Two trillion dollars have also been spent there … and the aim of that war was just to capture al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden!

Among others, it was said that democracy would be brought to Afghanistan. Now, after more than 50.000 deaths, nobody speaks any longer of institutional building, and the United States and its allies are simply trying to extricate themselves from a country whose future is bleak.

Now, the question I want to raise here is the following: what has happened to looking beyond the immediate consequences and long-term analysis in foreign policy?

Is it possible that nobody in power questioned the wisdom of an intervention in Libya for example, even assuming that Muammar Gaddafi was a villain to remove?  Did any of them ask what would happen afterwards? Did any of those in power ask what it would mean to support a war to remove Bashar al-Assad in Syria and what would happen after?

It appears that the House of Lords is right, we are taken into conflict by sleepwalkers. The West is responsible either for creating countries which are not viable (Kosovo), or for disintegrating countries (Yugoslavia and now probably Iraq), or for opening up areas of instability (Libya, Syria).

Without mentioning Ukraine where intervention is aimed at pushing the country towards Europe and NATO, thus provoking the potential retaliation of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Those errors have cost hundreds of thousands of lives, displaced millions of people and, altogether, cost at least seven trillion dollars. Who is going to wake the sleepwalkers up? (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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Pacific Islanders Say Climate Finance “Essential” for Paris Agreementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 21:56:35 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139854 Natural disasters and climate change, including sea level rise, are already impacting many coastal communities in Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Natural disasters and climate change, including sea level rise, are already impacting many coastal communities in Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia , Mar 24 2015 (IPS)

As Pacific Islanders contemplate the scale of devastation wrought by Cyclone Pam this month across four Pacific Island states, including Vanuatu, leaders in the region are calling with renewed urgency for global action on climate finance, which they say is vital for building climate resilience and arresting development losses.

In a recent public statement, the Marshall Islands’ president, Christopher Loeak, said, “The world’s best scientists, and what we see daily with our own eyes, all tell us that without urgent and transformative action by the big polluters to reduce emissions and help us to build resilience, we are headed for a world of constant climate catastrophe.”

“Like other small vulnerable countries, we have experienced great difficulty in accessing the big multilateral funds. The Green Climate Fund must avoid the mistakes of the past and place a premium on projects that deliver direct benefits to local communities." -- Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands
Progress on the delivery of climate funding pledges by the international community could also decide outcomes at the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December, they say.

“It is reassuring to see many countries, including some very generous developing countries, step forward with promises to capitalise the Green Climate Fund. But we need a much better sense of how governments plan to ramp up their climate finance over the coming years to ensure the Copenhagen promise of 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 is fulfilled,” Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, told IPS.

“Without this assurance, success in Paris will be very difficult to achieve.”

The Pacific Islands are home to about 10 million people in 22 island states and territories with 35 percent living below the poverty line. The impacts of climate change could cost the region up to 12.7 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of this century, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates.

The Pacific Islands contribute a negligible 0.03 percent to global greenhouse gas emissions, yet are the first to suffer the worst impacts of global warming. Regional leaders have been vocal about the climate injustice their Small Island Developing States (SIDS) confront with industrialised nations, the largest carbon emitters, yet to implement policies that would limit global temperature rise to the threshold of two degrees Celsius.

In the Marshall Islands, where more than 52,000 people live on 34 small islands and atolls in the North Pacific, sea-level rise and natural disasters are jeopardising communities mainly concentrated on low-lying coastal areas.

“Climate disasters in the last year chewed up more than five percent of national GDP and that figure continues to rise. We are working to improve and mainstream adaptation into our national planning, but emergencies continue to set us back,” the Marshall Islands’ Foreign Minister said.

The nation experienced a severe drought in 2013 and last year massive tidal surges, which caused extensive flooding of coastal villages and left hundreds of people homeless.

“Like other small vulnerable countries, we have experienced great difficulty in accessing the big multilateral funds. The Green Climate Fund must avoid the mistakes of the past and place a premium on projects that deliver direct benefits to local communities,” de Brum continued.

Priorities in the Marshall Islands include coastal restoration and reinforcement, climate resilient infrastructure and protection of freshwater lenses.

Bilateral aid is also important with SIDS receiving the highest climate adaptation-related aid per capita from OECD countries in 2010-11. The Oceanic region received two percent of OECD provided adaptation aid, which totalled 8.8 billion dollars.

Sixty percent of OECD aid in general to the Pacific Islands comes from Australia with other major donors including New Zealand, France, the United States and Japan. But in December, the Australian government announced far-reaching cuts to the foreign aid budget of 3.7 billion dollars over the next four years, which is likely to impact climate aid in the region.

Funding aimed at developing local climate change expertise and institutional capacity is vital to safeguarding the survival and autonomy of their countries, islanders say.

“We do not need more consultants’ reports and feasibility studies. What we need is to build our local capacity to tackle the climate challenge and keep that capacity here,” de Brum emphasised.

In the tiny Central Pacific nation of Kiribati, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson expressed concern that “local capacity is limited”, a problem that is “addressed through the provision of technical assistance through consultants who just come and then leave without properly training our own people.”

Kiribati, comprising 33 low-lying atolls with a population of just over 108,000, could witness a maximum sea level rise of 0.6 metres and an increase in surface air temperature of 2.9 degrees Celsius by 2090, according to the Pacific Climate Change Science Program.

The country is experiencing higher tides every year, but can ill afford shoreline erosion with a population density in some areas of 15,000 people per square kilometre. The island of Tarawa, the location of the capital, is an average 450 metres wide with no option of moving settlements inland.

As long-term habitation is threatened, climate funding will, in the future, have to address population displacement, according to the Kiribati Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

“Climate induced relocation and forced migration is inevitable for Kiribati and planning is already underway. Aid needs to put some focus on this issue, but is mostly left behind only due to the fact that it is a future need and there are more visible needs here and now.”

Ahead of talks in Paris, the Marshall Islands believes successfully tackling climate change requires working together for everyone’s survival. “If climate finance under the Paris Agreement falls off a cliff, so will our response to the climate challenge,” de Brum declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Palestinian Women Victims on Many Frontshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-women-victims-on-many-fronts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestinian-women-victims-on-many-fronts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-women-victims-on-many-fronts/#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 10:17:44 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139798 Islam Iliwa lost her home and cleaning products business in Gaza following an Israeli bombardment. She is one of many single, divorced mothers struggling to survive under the siege. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Islam Iliwa lost her home and cleaning products business in Gaza following an Israeli bombardment. She is one of many single, divorced mothers struggling to survive under the siege. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
GAZA CITY, Mar 21 2015 (IPS)

Israel’s siege of Gaza, aided and abetted by the Egyptians in the south, has aggravated the plight of Gazan women, and the Jewish state’s devastating military assault on the coastal territory over July and August 2014 exacerbated the situation.

In a resolution approved by the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women on Mar. 20, Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory was blamed for “the grave situation of Palestinian women.”

The 45-member commission adopted the resolution – which was sponsored by Palestine and South Africa – by a vote of 27-2 with 13 abstentions. The United States and Israel voted against, while European Union members abstained.The collective suffering of Palestinian women extends beyond death and injury, with forcible displacement and surviving in overcrowded shelters with inadequate facilities, including inadequate clean drinking water and food, lack of privacy and hygiene issues.

“Women’s suffering doubled in the Gaza Strip in particular due to the consequences of Israel’s latest offensive, as they have been enduring hard and complicated living conditions,” said Gaza’s Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in a statement released on Mar. 8 to mark International Women’s Day.

“During the 50-day Israeli offensive, women were exposed to the risks of death or injury because of Israel’s excessive use of lethal force as well as Israel’s blatant violations of the principles of distinction and proportionality under customary international humanitarian law,” said PCHR.

During the war, 293 women were killed (18 percent of the civilian victims) and 2,114 wounded, with many sustaining permanent disabilities.

However, inherent cultural, religious and legal implications have also played a part in making life untenable for Gaza’s female population.

The world of 40-year-old Islam Iliwa from Zeitoun in Gaza City was shattered during a night of heavy bombardment last year during the war.

The divorced mother of three children, aged 10 to 16, lost nearly everything when an Israeli air strike destroyed her home and with it the business that she had worked so hard for years to build up.

Iliwa had been living in Dubai when she and her husband divorced, a move that makes it particularly hard for women to reintegrate into conservative Arab society.

The divorce was traumatic but Iliwa was determined to make a go of her life and moved back to Gaza in 2011 with the money she had saved up while working in Dubai.

Under Islamic law, the father would have been given automatic custody of their three children at their respective ages.

However, Iliwa decided she would pay her husband to sign custody of the children over to her as well as forfeit her rights to child support.

“I told him I would survive without him and make a good life for myself and my children,” Iliwa told IPS.

“On arriving back in Gaza, I poured my life savings of 20,000 dollars into a small business which sold cleaning materials,” she said.

“In a good month before the war I was able to earn about 2,400 dollars and my business was growing. However, my home and the little factory I built were both destroyed during the Israeli bombing attack. My son Muhammad was also injured,” recalled Iliwa, as she broke down and wept at the bitter memory.

Iliwa and her three children were forced to flee to a U.N. shelter, along with hundreds of thousands of other desperate Gazans.

When it was safe to leave the shelter, after a ceasefire had been reached, Iliwa and her children were destitute and homeless.

However, the plucky mother of three has been able to rent a new home and slowly rebuild her business with the help of Oxfam, even though she is now making a fraction of what she used to.

The collective suffering of Palestinian women extends beyond death and injury, with forcible displacement and surviving in overcrowded shelters with inadequate facilities, including inadequate clean drinking water and food, lack of privacy and hygiene issues.

A rise in domestic violence has aggravated the situation with women having little recourse to societal or legal support with many Palestinians believing that this is a private matter between spouses.

Under Palestinian law, the few men that are arrested for “honour killings” receive little jail time and women beaten by husbands would have to be hospitalised for at least 10 days before police would consider intervening.

According to PCHR’s documentation, 16 women were killed last year in different contexts related to gender-based violence.

Last year, U.N. Women in Palestine released a statement saying that they it was “seriously concerned” about the killings, highlighting that the “worrying increase in the rate of femicide demonstrated a widespread sense of impunity in killing women”.

A 2012 survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) said that 37 percent of Palestinian women were subject to some form of violence at the hands of their husbands, with the highest rate in Gaza at 58.1 percent and the lowest in Ramallah at 14.1 percent.

Gaza’s Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) explained that the difficult economic circumstances, poverty and unemployment, were the reasons behind the spike in domestic violence.

“These factors reflect negatively on men’s psychological status. They became more stressed and angry as they can’t support their families financially, live in crowded conditions and have no privacy,” PCDCR told IPS.

“There has also been a reversal in gender roles where women accept low-paying jobs which men consider below their status as the head of families or single women/widows are forced to take on the breadwinner role.

“This has all fed into men’s feelings of inadequacy and to them taking their frustrations out on their female relatives,” PCDCR told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: The Exceptional Destiny of Foreign Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-the-exceptional-destiny-of-foreign-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-exceptional-destiny-of-foreign-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-the-exceptional-destiny-of-foreign-policy/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 23:36:42 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139782

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, analyses the incongruences in U.S. and European foreign policy as pressure builds up for military confrontation over Ukraine.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

For a long time, citizens of the United States have firmly believed that their country has an exceptional destiny, and continue to do so today even though their political system has become totally dysfunctional.

The three pillars of U.S. democracy – legislative, executive and judicial – are no longer on speaking terms,  so dialogue or the possibility of bipartisan policy has virtually disappeared.

In this context, to please his opponents, and with a view to the U.S. presidential elections in 2016, President Barack Obama is increasingly being pushed to act as strong guy.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

This is the only reasonable explanation on why he has suddenly declared Venezuela a security threat to the United States, just months after starting the process of normalisation of relations with Cuba, a long-time U.S. enemy in Latin America and ally of Venezuela.

The country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, is extremely happy because his denunciations of a U.S. plot with Venezuela’s opposition to have him removed have now been officially justified – by no less than the United States itself. Even the New York Times, in an editorial on Mar. 12, wondered about the wisdom of such move.

The problem is that, behind Obama’s back, U.S. Republican senators are doing unprecedented things, like writing an admonitory letter to the Supreme Guardian of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, indicating that any nuclear agreement made with Obama would last only as long as he remained in office.

That letter must have made Khamenei and Iran’s hardliners very happy, because they have always said that the United States cannot be trusted, and that the ongoing nuclear negotiations make no sense."This escalation [over Ukraine] has already taken a direction that clear heads should exam with a long-term perspective. Are the members of NATO – an institution that needs conflict to justify its new life now that the Soviet Union no longer exists – ready to enter a war, just to keep making the point? "

We are now facing an extension of the concept of the exceptional destiny of the United States, in which its foreign policy can also be exceptional, not subject to logic and rules.

Across the Atlantic, what is certainly exceptional is that while Europe has practically always followed U.S. foreign policy, even when it is against its interests as is the case of the confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, the United Kingdom – which has a special relationship with the United States – is now indulging in some divergent action.

Through its Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, the United Kingdom has announced that it intends to join the Chinese initiative for the creation of an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), in which Beijing is investing 50 billion dollars. This has raised the ire of the United States because the AIIB is seen as an alternative to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, in which the United States (and Japan) have powerful interests.

Shortly after Cameron’s move, France, Germany and Italy followed, while Australia will also join and South Korea will have to do so. This will leave the United States isolated, opening up a new “exceptional” dimension – economic might (China) is more attractive than military might (United States).

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has responded to U.S. irritation by declaring that the United Kingdom is joining the AIIB because “we think that it’s in the UK’s national interest”.

Of course, Cameron is playing up to his financial constituency, which is very aware of its interest, even when it does not coincide with U.S. interest. After all, China’s share of global manufacturing output, which was three percent in 1990, had risen to nearly 25 percent by 2014.

Even worse is that Cameron has also decided to cut spending on defence and while the U.K. government currently meets the two percent of GDP target that the United States expects all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to pay into the alliance, it has only committed itself to continuing that until the end of the current Parliament in May.

For the U.S. administration, this could be taken as a sign of weakness by Russian President Vladimir Putin who, it argues, should be put under growing pressure and shown that the confrontation over Ukraine will escalate until he backs down.

This escalation has already taken a direction that clear heads should exam with a long-term perspective. Are the members of NATO – an institution that needs conflict to justify its new life now that the Soviet Union no longer exists – ready to enter a war, just to keep making the point?

The signals are those that precede a war.

U.K. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has declared that Russia is “as great a threat to Europe as ‘Islamic States’.” Troops are amassing in the Baltic States to serve as a deterrent for a possible Russian invasion. The U.S. Republican Congress is overtly asking for the supply of massive and heavy weapons to the Ukrainian army.  Hundreds of U.S. troops have been assigned to Ukraine to bolster the Kiev regime against Russian-backed rebels in the east. The United Kingdom is sending 75 military advisers.

Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, the Polish government is supporting the creation and training of militias, and plans to provide military training to any of the many Poles who are increasingly concerned that “the great Russian behemoth will not be sated with Ukraine and will reach out once again into the West.” The same is happening in the Baltic States, which all have a sizable Russian presence and think Putin could invade them at any moment.

Media everywhere have engaged in a frenzy of personal vilification of Putin and in the popular pastime of using Putin and Ukraine to justify military expansionism – to advocate tit for tat what Putin is doing.

It is difficult to look to Putin with sympathy, but this confrontation has again pushed the Russian people behind its leader, and at an unprecedented level that now stands at around 80 percent.

The Guardian has reported veteran Russian leftist Boris Kagarlitsky as commenting that most Russians want Putin to take a tougher stand against the West “not because of patriotic propaganda, but their experience of the past 25 years”, and it would be a mistake to underestimate the role that humiliation can play in history.

It is commonly accepted that Hitler emerged from the frustrations of the German people after the heavy penalties that they had to pay the victors after the First World War. The same sense of humiliation made the war of Slobodan Milosevic against NATO popular with the Serbian population.

It is the humiliation of the Arabs divided among the winners of the First World War which is at the roots of the Caliphate, or the Islamic State, which claims that Arabs are finally going to be given back their dignity and identity.

And it is also humiliation over the imposition of austerity which is now creating a strong anti-German sentiment in Greece, to which Germans respond with a sense of righteous indignation (52 percent of Germans now want Greece to leave the Euro).

Has anyone considered who is going to take over Russia if Putin goes away? Certainly not those who are now in the opposition. Has anyone considered what it would mean to take on responsibility for a very weak state like Ukraine?

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has now approved a 17.5 billion dollar relief fund for Ukraine but warned that the country’s rescue “is subject to exceptional risks, especially those arising from the conflict in the East.”

In fact Ukraine needs to plug a hole of at least 40 billion dollars in the immediate term, and economists all agree that the country does not have a viable economy. It will require many years of consistent help to reach some economic equilibrium – if there is no war.

Europe is close to recession and apparently unable even to solve the problems of Greece, but goes headlong into supporting Kiev against Russian-backed rebels. NATO can support Ukrainian soldiers up to their last man, but it is impossible that they will beat Russia. Will the West then intervene or back off and lose face, after many deaths and much waste and destruction?

A widespread view now is that sanctions should starve Russia, which will have lost its revenues from oil. What if Putin does not back down, sustained by the Russian people? Are Europeans ready to go to war to please the Republican Congress in the United States? (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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Nobel Peace Laureate Calls for Global Human Compassion to Combat Child Slaveryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nobel-peace-laureate-calls-for-global-human-compassion-to-combat-child-slavery/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nobel-peace-laureate-calls-for-global-human-compassion-to-combat-child-slavery http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nobel-peace-laureate-calls-for-global-human-compassion-to-combat-child-slavery/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 22:38:26 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139760 By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi has called for globalised human compassion to combat the global and persistent problems of child labour and child slavery.

“We live in a globalised world, let us globalise human compassion, ” Satyarthi told an audience at the United Nations Tuesday.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Kailash Satyarthi speaks at the DPI/NGO Special Briefing: Ending Child Slavery by 2030. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Kailash Satyarthi speaks at the DPI/NGO Special Briefing: Ending Child Slavery by 2030. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Satyarthi, a tireless activist against child labour, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 together with Malala Yousafzai “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

Satyarthi said that he was confident that he would see the end of child servitude in his lifetime but emphasised that everybody had a moral responsibility to address the issue.

Child labour still remains a truly global problem hurting millions of children worldwide.

In South Asia 250,000 children, some as young as four, work up to eighteen hours a day tying knots for rugs that are exported to the U.S. and Europe.

In Haiti, UNICEF estimates that 225,000 children, mostly girls, between the ages of five and 17 live as ‘restaveks’, live-in domestic servants with wealthier families.

In the Central African Republic, the U.N. reports there are some 6,000 child soldiers, including young girls used as sex slaves.

Worldwide more than half of all child labourers work in agriculture, including in the United States where Human Rights Watch reports children working on tobacco farms are exposed to nicotine poisoning.

In total, the International Labor Organization reports that there are 168 million children in child labour, and that more than half of them, 85 million, are in hazardous work.

Satyarthi said that behind every single statistic there is a cry for freedom from a child that we are not listening to.

“That is the cry to be a child, a child who can play, a child who can love, a child who can be a child,” he said.

Satyarthi contrasted the number of children in full time work with the 200 million adults who are jobless worldwide. He explained that addressing this imbalance was a complex issue, in part because in vulnerable populations children were seen as easier to exploit than adults.

Satyarthi also expressed concern that while progress has been made on child labour, the more heinous crime of child slavery has stagnated.

“The number of child slaves, the children in forced labour has not reduced at all”

He said the number of child slaves worldwide had stagnated at 5.5 million for the past fifteen years.

Satyarthi said that the United Nations played a key role in addressing child labour. He emphasised that there needed to be clear language on tackling child labour in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

He also called for greater cooperation between organisations working to protect children to ensure a holistic strategy.

Also speaking at the event, Susan Bissell, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection said, “The first line of defense against falling victim to slavery is the child and his or her family.”

“By empowering families socially and economically and building their resilience to recognise child slavery, and being aware of their rights and how to exercise them, we can deliver a first strong blow against slavery,” she said.

Bissell also called on the private sector to stamp out child slavery, saying that children’s rights should be seen as a relevant business mandate.

Satyarthi concluded his speech with a strong call to action.

“If one single child anywhere in the world is in danger the world is not safe. If one single girl is sold like an animal and sexually abused and raped, we cannot call ourselves a cultured society.

“I refuse to accept that some children are born to live without human dignity,” he added. “Each one of you has some moral responsibility. It cannot go on me alone.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Unseen and Unheard: Afghan Baloch People Speak Uphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/unseen-and-unheard-afghan-baloch-people-speak-up/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unseen-and-unheard-afghan-baloch-people-speak-up http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/unseen-and-unheard-afghan-baloch-people-speak-up/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 22:08:47 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139744 Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZARANJ, Afghanistan, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Balochistan, divided by the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, is a vast swathe of land the size of France. It boasts enormous deposits of gas, gold and copper, untapped sources of oil and uranium, as well as a thousand kilometres of coastline near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz.

Despite the wealth under their sandals, the Baloch people inhabit the most underdeveloped regions of their respective countries; Afghanistan is no exception.

“Against all odds, our national identity is [growing]. We just need the rest of the world to know about us.” -- Baloch intellectual and historian Abdul Sattar Purdely
Often overlooked, the Afghan Baloch count as just one among the many groups that make up the colourful ethnic mosaic of Afghanistan. And like the Pashtuns, the Tajiks and the Uzbeks, they have also seen their land divided by the arbitrary boundaries in Central Asia.

Baloch historian and intellectual Abdul Sattar Purdely tells IPS there are “about two million of us in Afghanistan, but only those living in the southern provinces of Nimroz and Helmand speak Balochi.”

In his late sixties, this former MP during the rule of Mohammad Najibullah (1987-1992) is today a professor, writer, and a leading advocate for the preservation of the Baloch language and culture in Afghanistan.

In coordination with the Afghan Ministry of Education, Purdely has written textbooks in Balochi that go as far as the 8th grade, which are already being used in three schools.

The Baloch in Afghanistan make up just a tiny portion of a people scattered throughout the Iranian Plateau, but they are united by the experience of religious, linguistic and ethnic persecution in a region increasingly marked by Islamic extremism.

A shepherd and his family walk their cattle in Zaranj, capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. In the absence of comprehensive census data, the Baloch intellectual Abdul Sattar Purdely tells IPS that Afghan Balochs number about two million, though not all speak the Balochi language. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A shepherd and his family walk their cattle in Zaranj, capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. In the absence of comprehensive census data, the Baloch intellectual Abdul Sattar Purdely tells IPS that Afghan Balochs number about two million, though not all speak the Balochi language. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The Baloch people, who hail from the Iranian plateau, have settled for centuries alongside the banks of the Helmand River in Afghanistan. But severe droughts and the excessive use of the river’s water for opium cultivation in Nimroz have lead to the collapse of agriculture in the province, affecting scores of Baloch families. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The Baloch people, who hail from the Iranian plateau, have settled for centuries alongside the banks of the Helmand River in Afghanistan. But severe droughts and the excessive use of the river’s water for opium cultivation in Nimroz have lead to the collapse of agriculture in the province, affecting scores of Baloch families. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The majority of the Baloch people are Sunni Muslims but their moderate vision of Islam has turned them into victims of growing Islamic extremism in the region. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The majority of the Baloch people are Sunni Muslims but their moderate vision of Islam has turned them into victims of growing Islamic extremism in the region. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The neglected village of Haji Abdurrahman, in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province, is a hub for Afghan and Pakistani Baloch people, the latter seeking shelter in Afghanistan. Dozens of families struggle to survive in this cluster of mud houses without electricity or running water.

The neglected village of Haji Abdurrahman, in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province, is a hub for Afghan and Pakistani Baloch people, the latter seeking shelter in Afghanistan. Dozens of families struggle to survive in this cluster of mud houses without electricity or running water.

Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A Baloch teenager poses next to his portrait inside his house in Nasirabad, another mud-hut village in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province. Like the majority of the local population, he is also illiterate. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A Baloch teenager poses next to his portrait inside his house in Nasirabad, another mud-hut village in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province. Like the majority of the local population, he is also illiterate. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

In Pakistan, for instance, the Baloch people have long weathered a crackdown against what the government calls an insurgency, while “Tehran is constantly trying to quell any Baloch initiative in Nimroz [a province in southwest Afghanistan] as they consider it a potential threat to their security,” according to Mir Mohamad Baloch, a political and cultural activist.

This Afghan-born Baloch tells IPS that an independent Balochistan is a “life dream” for him – but under current political conditions in the region, this dream is a long way from reality.

Currently, Zaranj hosts the only TV programme in Balochi in Afghanistan for one hour a day between five and six pm. Although the first TV channel in Balochi was set up in 1978 preceding the printing of the community’s first books and newspapers, the fall of the Communist government led to a sharp cultural decline in Afghanistan.

Historically a nomadic group, the Baloch people have endured years of brutal repression for their moderate vision of Islam. Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, even issued a fatwa, an Islamic edict, against the people of Nimroz, calling for the ethnic cleansing of the Baloch and Shia population.

“Against all odds, our national identity is [growing] bigger despite the ongoing chaos in the country,” proclaims Abdul Sattar Purdely from his office in downtown Kabul. “We just need the rest of the world to know about us.”

A Baloch family from the Taliban-stronghold of Kandahar stand for a photograph. While millions of Afghans have fled to Pakistan over the past four decades, Pakistani Balochs are taking the opposite route, fleeing to Afghanistan to avoid repression by the Pakistani government. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A Baloch family from the Taliban-stronghold of Kandahar stand for a photograph. While millions of Afghans have fled to Pakistan over the past four decades, Pakistani Balochs are taking the opposite route, fleeing to Afghanistan to avoid repression by the Pakistani government. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

 

This Pakistani Baloch elder and his two sons are today hiding in Afghanistan. Rights groups have criticised the Pakistan government’s crackdown on the Baloch people. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

This Pakistani Baloch elder and his two sons are today hiding in Afghanistan. Rights groups have criticised the Pakistan government’s crackdown on the Baloch people. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch fighters from the Balochistan Liberation Army crouch at an undisclosed location along the Afghan-Pakistan border. There are several Baloch insurgent groups fighting for independence in Pakistan. Some of their fighters often cross the border to evacuate the wounded and treat them in Afghan hospitals. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch fighters from the Balochistan Liberation Army crouch at an undisclosed location along the Afghan-Pakistan border. There are several Baloch insurgent groups fighting for independence in Pakistan. Some of their fighters often cross the border to evacuate the wounded and treat them in Afghan hospitals. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Karim and Sharif Baloch, both of them from Pakistan, show the portraits of their lost brother and father at their current residence in Zaranj. They tell IPS their relatives were killed in 2011 during a Pakistani military operation. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Karim and Sharif Baloch, both of them from Pakistan, show the portraits of their lost brother and father at their current residence in Zaranj. They tell IPS their relatives were killed in 2011 during a Pakistani military operation. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck travels down a lost road in Nimroz, the only Afghan province where the Baloch minority form a majority. In the country’s remote southwest, Nimroz shares a 500-kilometre border with both Iran and Pakistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck travels down a lost road in Nimroz, the only Afghan province where the Baloch minority form a majority. In the country’s remote southwest, Nimroz shares a 500-kilometre border with both Iran and Pakistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck pauses at the Afghan-Iranian border in Zaranj, the administrative capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. Pakistani writer Amhed Rashid tells IPS this province is a smuggling hub through which heroin goes out and weapons come in. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck pauses at the Afghan-Iranian border in Zaranj, the administrative capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. Pakistani writer Amhed Rashid tells IPS this province is a smuggling hub through which heroin goes out and weapons come in. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Millions of Children Impacted by Ebola Outbreakhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nine-million-children-impacted-by-ebola-outbreak/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nine-million-children-impacted-by-ebola-outbreak http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nine-million-children-impacted-by-ebola-outbreak/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 18:24:56 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139730 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Nine million children live in areas affected by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, while thousands have lost parents to the virus, according to a new report from The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

More than 24,000 people, including 5,000 children, have been infected with Ebola since the latest strain broke out in January 2014, eventually affecting large areas of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. More than 10,000 people have died.

While reports of new cases have slowed to a trickle, UNICEF has warned Africa and the international community to not become complacent about the virus, and highlighted its devastating effect on children in affected countries.

The ‘Ebola: Getting to zero’ report, released Monday, states the mortality rate for children under age five is 80 per cent, while for children under one year, casualty rates are 95 per cent.

“These children have seen death and suffering beyond their comprehension, UNICEF said.

Up to nine million children live in areas severely affected by the outbreak, described as the most severe in the disease’s history. Five million were deprived of months of education after schools were shut down, while many children did not receive vaccinations.

Medical facilities had “inadequate staffing,” were “poorly equipped,” and “completely unprepared to deal with an outbreak of this nature and scale,” the report stated.

Many parents actually actively avoided healthcare facilities, for fear of contracting the disease.

The report claims children also did not receive vaccinations for other diseases including measles – leading to a confirmed outbreak in Guinea and suspected cases in Liberia – and also impacting the treatment of malaria, malnutrition, HIV and AIDS.

“In Guinea, consultations and hospitalizations were down by about 50 per cent in 2014… In Sierra Leone, the number of children receiving basic immunization fell by 21 per cent and the number of children treated for malaria was down 39 per cent,” UNICEF reported.

The report also stated more than 16,000 children “lost one or both parents, or their primary caregiver” to Ebola. More than 52,000 children also received psychosocial support in the wake of the outbreak.

While the World Health Organisation recently announced Liberia had reported no new cases of Ebola for two consecutive weeks, UNICEF warned complacency should not set in.

“This is definitely not the time to let our guard down,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“We need to get to zero cases, and to do this, we must track down every single case and anyone who may have had contact with an infected person.”

New health and preventative safety procedures have been established across the affected areas, with rapid response units ready to address further outbreaks, and greater education for citizens.

The UNICEF report also called for further funding of nutrition treatment centres to address rising malnutrition, support for vaccination programs, improving access to safe water and sanitation; and basic social services, particularly programs to “protect affected populations from stigma and discrimination.”

“Before the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia, this country had enjoyed one of the fastest rates of decline in child mortality,” said Patrick Sijenyi, of UNICEF Liberia’s Child Survival and Development Section.

“For this positive trend to continue it is essential that we stop this outbreak, and invest in stronger health and other social services that are critical to a child’s survival and well-being.”

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Veto Costs Lives as Syrian Civil War Passes Deadly Milestonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/veto-costs-lives-as-syrian-civil-war-passes-deadly-milestone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=veto-costs-lives-as-syrian-civil-war-passes-deadly-milestone http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/veto-costs-lives-as-syrian-civil-war-passes-deadly-milestone/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 12:27:06 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139703 The aftermath of a bombing in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 6, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

The aftermath of a bombing in Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 6, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

As the long drawn-out Syrian military conflict passed a four-year milestone over the weekend, the New York-based Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) summed it up in a striking headline: 4 years, 4 vetoes, 220,000 dead.

It was a harsh judgment of the 15-member Security Council, the most powerful political body at the United Nations, which critics say is desperately in need of a resurrection."Those states who have vetoed resolutions aimed at ending atrocities in Syria will be judged very harshly by history." -- Dr. Simon Adams

The devastating civil war and the sectarian violence in Syria have also displaced over 11 million people – more than half of Syria’s population – with 12 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

Dr. Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for R2P, told IPS Syria is clearly the most tragic failure of the U.N. Security Council in a generation.

“Each veto and the inaction of the Council has been interpreted as a license to kill by atrocity perpetrators in Syria,” he added.

The four vetoes, cast by Russia and China to protect the beleaguered government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, were cast in October 2011, February 2012, July 2012 and May 2014.

Dr. Adams said 220,000 dead is a horrifying indictment of the magnitude of the Security Council’s failure in Syria. “They constitute 220,000 reasons why we need reform of the veto rights of the five permanent members when it comes to mass atrocity crimes.”

The five (P-5) holding veto powers are the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – and each of them has exercised the veto mostly to protect their close allies or their national interests over the years.

Since the creation of the United Nations 70 years ago, the two big powers have cast the most number of vetoes: a total of 79 by the United States and 11 by the Russian Federation (plus 90 by its predecessor, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or USSR), while China’s tally is nine, according to the latest available figures.

“The veto costs lives. Those states who have vetoed resolutions aimed at ending atrocities in Syria will be judged very harshly by history. They have a responsibility to protect and a responsibility not to veto,” Dr. Adams said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has consistently called for a political solution, said the Syrian people feel increasingly abandoned by the world as they enter the fifth year of the war that has torn their country apart.

They and their neighbours, he said, continue to suffer under the eyes of an international community that is divided and incapable of taking collective action to stop the killing and destruction.

Retracing the violent history of the ongoing conflict, Ban recalled that it began in March 2011, when thousands of Syrian civilians went to the streets peacefully calling for political reform.

But this legitimate demand was met with a violent response from the Syrian authorities. Over time, civilians took up arms in response, regional powers became involved and radical groups gained a foothold, he added.

In what appeared to be a diplomatic turnaround, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has not ruled out a political solution to the Syrian civil war.

“We are working very hard with other interested parties to see if we can reignite a diplomatic outcome,” he said during a television interview Sunday, although the U.S. has been supporting rebel forces trying to overthrow the Assad regime by military means.

Angelina Jolie Pitt, a Hollywood celebrity and Special Envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said: “People are entitled to feel bewildered and angry that the U.N. Security Council seems unable to respond to the worst crisis of the 21st century.”

She said it is shameful that even the basic demand for full humanitarian access has not been met.

Meanwhile, neighbouring countries and international humanitarian agencies are being stretched beyond their limits.

“And it is sickening that crimes are being committed against the Syrian people on a daily basis with impunity. The failure to end this crisis diminishes all of us,” Jolie declared.

Ban said the lack of accountability in Syria has led to an exponential rise in war crimes, crimes against humanity and other human rights violations.

Each day, he said, brings reports of fresh horrors: executions, widespread arbitrary arrests, abductions and disappearances as well as systematic torture in detention; indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas, including with barrel bombs; siege and starvation tactics; use of chemical weapons, and atrocities committed by Daesh (the Islamic State) and other extremist groups.

Dr. Adams told IPS President Assad and all atrocity perpetrators in Syria belong in handcuffs at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

“The U.N. Security Council has failed to end a conflict that has already cost 220,000 lives, but the least they can do now is refer the situation to the ICC so that victims have some chance of justice,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Palestinian Grassroots Resistance to Occupation Growinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-grassroots-resistance-to-occupation-growing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestinian-grassroots-resistance-to-occupation-growing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-grassroots-resistance-to-occupation-growing/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 10:02:46 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139700 Unarmed Palestinian confronts Israeli soldiers during protest near Jelazon refugee camp, north of Ramallah, West Bank. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Unarmed Palestinian confronts Israeli soldiers during protest near Jelazon refugee camp, north of Ramallah, West Bank. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

As soon as the truck carrying Israeli dairy products entered Ramallah’s city centre it was surrounded by Palestinian activists who proceeded to remove and trash almost 20,000 dollars’ worth of mainly milk and yoghurt.

The driver of the truck, a Palestinian from the nearby Qalandia refugee camp, and an Israeli employee fainted after watching helplessly.

The goods, already paid for by Palestinian shopkeepers, were smashed up and stomped on before they were spread all over the street in front of the Palestinian police stationed at the traffic circle.

Activists from the Palestinian Authority (PA)-affiliated Fatah movement are behind a boycott of Israeli goods throughout the West Bank.“The strength of the grassroots organisations’ action against Israel is not going to go away anytime soon and will only continue to grow in strength internationally” – Professor Samir Awad of Birzeit University

The boycott follows the withholding by Israel of millions of Palestinian tax dollars in retaliation for the PA advancing plans to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged Gaza war crimes and abuses in the West Bank.

We have entered the second phase of the campaign which is confiscating and damaging these goods,” said Abdullah Kamal, who is the leader of the campaign.

Several weeks earlier, the campaign had involved Kamal and his associates making the rounds of shops in Ramallah and ordering shopkeepers to rid their stores of Israeli produce and being warned not to purchase any more. Similar moves are under way in other cities of the occupied West Bank.

Although the Palestinian territories are not a huge part of Israel’s domestic market, the move is part of a number of grassroots campaigns of defiance by Palestinians against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its siege of Gaza.

“The local boycott by Palestinians is peaceful and a way of exerting some pressure on Israel even if it not very strong,” Professor Samir Awad, a political scientist from Birzeit University near Ramallah, told IPS

“The least Palestinians can do is not finance the occupation.”

A more serious development, from Israel’s point of view, was a recent vote by the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) executive committee in favour of discontinuing security coordination with Israel’s intelligence and security services.

Palestinians have long accused the PA of being Israel’s sub-contractor to the occupation and the Israelis rely on this security coordination to prevent another Palestinian uprising and control armed resistance.

A final decision on breaking off security coordination lies with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The situation on the ground is getting serious and it is possible that Abbas could make this decision before the end of the month,” Fatah member Murad Shitawi told IPS.

“We will not accept the continuing occupation with its economic and security implications,” said Shitawi, who is the coordinator of protests in the northern West Bank village of Kafr Qaddoum, and who was recently released from an Israeli jail.

Every Friday, dozens of villages throughout the West Bank and Gaza take part in protests against Israel’s expropriation of Palestinian land and the occupation despite the huge toll this has taken on Palestinians in terms of the number wounded and killed.

Shitawi pointed out that four or five years ago there were only a few villages taking part in regular protests on a weekly basis.

“Now there are many and the protests are not limited to Friday.”

Another act of Palestinian defiance has been the repeated building of protest tents and villages in Area C of the West Bank, 60 percent of the territory, in protest against Israel’s forced removal of Bedouins and other Palestinians who have lived there for centuries.

Israel has designated Area C off limits to Palestinians and exclusively for Israeli settlers, which is illegal under international law.

One of these protest camps near the village of Abu Dis, just outside Jerusalem, has been rebuilt 10 times after Israeli security forces rased it, confiscated equipment and arrested and assaulted activists who had encamped there.

Furthermore, Palestinian grassroots activists are also working in conjunction with their international supporters, and with Israeli peace groups, to up the pressure on Israel as the international Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign continues to strengthen.

A growing number of global businesses, church and university groups and artists are either refusing to visit Israel, do business with Israeli companies involved in the West Bank, or are boycotting Israeli institutions operating abroad.

Israel Apartheid Week, “an international series of events that seeks to raise awareness about Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians and to build support for the growing BDS campaign” was held in a number of capitals across the globe during March.

Israeli peaceniks and grassroots activists have been among some of the most vocal critics of their government’s policies towards the Palestinians, spawning a number of organisations which take part in the weekly protests.

Groups such as Ta’ayush, Breaking the Silence, Ir Amim and Rabbis for Human Rights seek to educate people about the realities of life under occupation.

Some of them also accompany Palestinian farmers trying to cultivate their land under continued settler harassment.

“The strength of the grassroots organisations’ action against Israel is not going to go away anytime soon and will only continue to grow in strength internationally,” Awad told IPS.

“The PA will also continue with its plans to take Israel to the ICC and should Israel continue to withhold Palestinian tax money indefinitely, the PA could collapse and the result would be chaos.” (END/2015)

Edited by Phil Harris

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Four Ways Women Bring Lasting Peace to the Tablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-ways-women-bring-lasting-peace-to-the-table/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=four-ways-women-bring-lasting-peace-to-the-table http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/four-ways-women-bring-lasting-peace-to-the-table/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 16:52:33 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139684 The Security Council debate on women, peace and security in October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

The Security Council debate on women, peace and security in October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

2015 marks anniversaries for two significant commitments made to increasing women’s participation at peace tables.

Yet despite the Beijing Platform for Action and the Security Council Resolution 1325 both committing to increasing women’s participation in peace building 20 and 15 years ago, respectively, there has been very little progress to report.

The latest available statistics show that women made up only 9 per cent of negotiators at peace tables between 1992 and 2011. That the most recent data is from 2011 shows that more work is needed even in basic areas such as data collection and reporting of women’s participation in peace building.

IPS summarises here four reasons we should value women’s participation at the peace table more, based on discussions at the 59th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) over the past week.

Beijing Platform for Action Section E

Women and Armed Conflict Diagnosis

Strategic objective E.1. Increase the participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels and protect women living in situations of armed and other conflicts or under foreign occupation. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.2. Reduce excessive military expenditures and control the availability of armaments. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.3. Promote non-violent forms of conflict resolution and reduce the incidence of human rights abuse in conflict situations. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.4. Promote women's contribution to fostering a culture of peace. Actions to be taken

Strategic objective E.5. Provide protection, assistance and training to refugee women, other displaced women in need of international protection and internally displaced women. Actions to be taken.

Strategic objective E.6. Provide assistance to the women of the colonies and non-self-governing territories. Actions to be taken.

  1. Women Bring Commitment and Experience to the Peace Table

Often the first people invited to participate in formal peace negotiations are the people holding the guns and the last are women who have expertise in building lasting peace.

Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, told a CSW side event on Tuesday last week, “In the Central African Republic, the only community where they were not killing each other was a community where the Christian women said, ‘These Muslim women are our sisters.’

“Why? Because the women in the community said, ‘We have lived together for the last 100 years’,” Bangura said.

In the Phillipines, Irene Santiago was a member of the government panel that negotiated peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Santiago came to the table with years of experience working with Christian, Muslim and Indigenous women leaders for peace.

Speaking at a CSW side event at the International Peace Institute (IPI) on Thursday, Santiago said that she knew that her years of experience working with civil society for peace stood her in good stead to make a significant contribution to formal peace negotiations, which she did.

Speaking with IPS, Santiago said women’s voices not only have to be heard, but that they also have to be acted on.

“For women. It’s almost never always about themselves, it’s always about our children, our husbands but also about our communities,” Santiago told IPS.

In Africa, women have fought to be included in peacemaking, even when their contributions have not been recognised.

Bineta Diop, Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security to the African Union, says that mediators need to be held accountable when they only invite the people who hold guns to the peace table and ignore women’s contributions.

“I have been involved in many crises where women were knocking at the door and saying we want to be at the table,” Diop said.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, known as the father of Security Council Resolution 1325, said that the determination of African women to be involved in peace negotiations should be seen as an inspiration by other countries.

Despite serious difficulties, war and conflict, African women have shown continued determination to hold their countries accountable, Chowdhury said.

  1. Gender Equality in Peace Time Prevents Conflict

Also speaking at the IPI, Valerie Hudson, co-author of ‘Sex and World Peace’, said that her research has shown that the way women are treated within a country is one of the most accurate indicators of the quality of relations that country will have with other countries.

Diop agreed with Hudson, saying that countries that are likely to fall into conflict have higher levels of discrimination and inequality.

“Discrimination against women, especially the non-participation and non-inclusion of women in democracy is … one of the root causes of the conflict,” Diop said.

Ambassador Choudhury agreed with these sentiments, telling IPS, “I believe that no country can claim that their country is not in conflict if women’s rights are denied, if women’s equality is not ensured, if women’s participation at all participation levels is not there.

“I think that if we women are violated, if women’s equality of participation is not there we cannot say that we are at peace, we are in conflict with ourselves. This is a conflict which is happening within ourselves and within the countries. We don’t have to go into the traditional description of conflict, civil conflict or fighting with another country,” Chowdhury added.

Dr. Youssef Mahmoud, Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute also speaking at the IPI event said, “A world where 51 per cent are ignored is a dangerous world for everyone. I can’t imagine why any men would be indifferent to this.”

  1. Women Are Active In Civil Society

Several discussions at the CSW questioned why militaries were the primary actors in peace building, while non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society’s expertise was not called on.

Santiago told IPS that civil society, especially women, have a lot to contribute to humanise, to concretise, and to make peace negotiations relevant to people’s lives.

Winnie Kodi from the Nuba mountains in Sudan told reporters on Monday that civil society was vital to helping indigenous communities like her own that have been affected by conflict. She said that the main way her people were able to have their voices heard was by working together with NGOs and civil society.

Chowdhury told IPS he is advocating for the U.N. and governments to hold more consultations with civil society, saying that the involvement of women and of civil society is very important.

Santiago also called for renewed focus on the important role of NGOs in the area of women, peace and security,

“Again I see that why are we focusing on the UN as the locus of change,” she said. “To me it is not, it is the means, it is an important audience, but it is not the locus of social change.

“Let us form the global civic networks that we need to bring about the local global and civil change that we need” Santiago said.

  1. Women Challenge The Causes of Conflict

Challenging militarism and militarisation was another theme discussed during the first week of the CSW, particularly by civil society groups at the parallel NGO forum.

Choudhury told IPS that increased militarism and militarisation is slowing down efforts for equality. “Increasing militarism and militarisation has really been effecting women in a very negative way. This is something that women should stand up against, we should all stand up against,” Chowdhury said.

Militarisation is also affecting indigenous women and men. Maribeth Biano, from the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network, told reporters on Monday that Indigenous women are hugely affected by militarisation in Indigenous territories.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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