Inter Press Service » Peace http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 28 Apr 2015 01:20:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.3 As Nuke Talks Begin, U.N. Chief Warns of Dangerous Return to Cold War Mentalitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/as-nuke-talks-begin-u-n-chief-warns-of-dangerous-return-to-cold-war-mentalities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=as-nuke-talks-begin-u-n-chief-warns-of-dangerous-return-to-cold-war-mentalities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/as-nuke-talks-begin-u-n-chief-warns-of-dangerous-return-to-cold-war-mentalities/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 23:31:56 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140353 A view of the General Assembly Hall as Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (shown on screens) addresses the opening of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The Review Conference is taking place at U.N. headquarters from Apr. 27 to May 22, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Peace Is Not a Boy’s Clubhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/peace-is-not-a-boys-club/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peace-is-not-a-boys-club http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/peace-is-not-a-boys-club/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 12:50:44 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140330 When armed conflict in the Casamance region of Senegal flared up afresh in December 2010, women organised a demonstration calling for peace. Credit: Abdullah Vawda/IPS TerraViva

When armed conflict in the Casamance region of Senegal flared up afresh in December 2010, women organised a demonstration calling for peace. Credit: Abdullah Vawda/IPS TerraViva

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Governments have long pledged to bring more women to the peace table, but for many (if not most), it has been little more than lip service.

In a bid to accelerate this process, the Global Network of Women Peace-builders (GNWP) in partnership with the Permanent Missions of Chile and the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations organised an international workshop on Apr. 23 to better integrate the Women, Peace, Security (WPS) U.N. Security Council Resolutions within the security sector.

The seminar focused on recommendations for the implementation of Resolutions 1325 and 1820 at the international, regional and national level, in order to bring more women to the peace tables in conflict areas, and bring their perspectives into post-conflict reconstruction processes.

According to the 2014 Secretary-General’s report on WPS, a reform of the security sector is needed in order to accomplish these goals.

Speaking from U.N. Headquarters in New York, the International Coordinator of GNWP, Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, stressed “the need for a systematic implementation of Resolution 1325 at the international level.”

In the past three years, GNWP has conducted over 50 localisation workshops in 10 countries, in various communities and municipalities, inviting police officers and the military forces to learn about Resolution 1325.

“It is no surprise to us when they come to our localisation workshops that these officers hear about Resolution 1325 for the very first time. However, working only at the local level is hard, because final approvals come from the higher ups, in order to actually get a full reform and training of officers of the security sector,” highlighted Cabrera-Balleza.

The GNWP is not only calling for a global reform of the security sectors and armed forces for the inclusion of women in peace-building, but also for demilitarisation of countries and the elimination of conflicts to achieve peace worldwide.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former under-secretary general and member of the High-Level Advisory Group for Global Study on Resolution 1325, who was present at the seminar, underlined the inadequacy of governments and peacekeepers in protecting civilians, and especially women, in recent years.

“(We need) the integration of the culture of peace and non-violence in national and global policies, and education for global citizenship. We need a human security policy, and a more inclusive human way of thinking about our future, where women and men can share equally the construction of a safer and just world,” he said.

One positive example of the inclusion of women during peace negotiations comes from the Philippines.

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the Philippine Government Peace Panel with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), explained that after 17 years of peace negotiations between the Philippine authorities and the MILF, in the last two decades, the government and armed forces have moved toward the “civilianisation” of peace processes.

“More and more women were allowed in, either as members of the bureaucracy or government, or civil society leaders, or academia members, and they have all been sitting at the peace table.”

As Coronel-Ferrel said, women brought a more gender-based response into the signing of the final peace agreement between the government and the MILF.

“Not only because there were more women inside the negotiating tracks, but also women around the panels, who would be lobbying the government but also the counter party, making sure that diverse frameworks would be included in the text.”

In addition, the reform of the security sector in the Philippines created local monitoring teams, where either police officers or lower ranking members of the armed forces worked closely with MILF members, leading to trust building and cooperation for better security on the ground, concluded Coronel-Farrel.

Participating in the event were also officers from police and military forces from Argentina, Australia, Burundi, Canada, Colombia, Ghana, Nepal, countries which are implementing reforms within their security sectors at the local, regional and national level.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

By David Kode
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

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

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

David Kode

David Kode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly Ban Ki-moon was right.

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

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

We’re anything but starry eyed.

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Saudis Compensate Civilian Killings with 274 Million in Humanitarian Aid to Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/saudis-compensate-civilian-killings-with-274-million-in-humanitarian-aid-to-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=saudis-compensate-civilian-killings-with-274-million-in-humanitarian-aid-to-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/saudis-compensate-civilian-killings-with-274-million-in-humanitarian-aid-to-yemen/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 19:45:14 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140265 Morocco is also participating in Operation Decisive Storm, with at least six fighter aircraft. Credit: ra.az/cc by 2.0

Morocco is also participating in Operation Decisive Storm, with at least six fighter aircraft. Credit: ra.az/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

Saudi Arabia’s right hand does not know what its left foot is up to, belittles an Asian diplomat, mixing his metaphors to describe the political paradox in the ongoing military conflict in Yemen.

The Saudis, who are leading a coalition of Arab states, have been accused of indiscriminate bombings resulting in 1,080 deaths, mostly civilians, and nearly 4,352 injured – and triggering a large-scale humanitarian crisis in Yemen.“Repeated airstrikes on a dairy factory located near military bases shows cruel disregard for civilians by both sides to Yemen’s armed conflict.” -- HRW's Joe Stork

As if to compensate for its sins, Saudi Arabia this week announced a 274-million-dollar donation “for humanitarian operations in Yemen”, according to the United Nations.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia temporarily halted its nearly month-long air attacks, presumably under pressure from the United States, which was seriously concerned about the civilian killings.

Asked why the United States intervened to pressure the Saudis to halt the bombings, an unnamed U.S. official was quoted by the New York Times as saying: “Too much collateral damage” (read: civilian killings).

The attacks, which demolished factories and residential neighbourhoods, also hit a storage facility belonging to the London-based charity Oxfam, which said the contents were humanitarian supplies with no military value.

Oxfam welcomed the announcement that “Operation Decisive Storm” in Yemen has ended. However, it warned that the work to bring aid to millions of Yemenis is still only beginning.

Grace Ommer, Oxfam’s Country Director for Yemen, told IPS the airstrikes and violence during the past 27 days have taken as many as 900 lives. More than half of these were civilians.

“The news that airstrikes have at least temporarily ended is welcome and we hope that this will pave the way for all parties to the current conflict to find a permanent negotiated peace,” she said.

“The news will also come as a massive relief to our 160 Yemeni staff throughout the country as well as the rest of the civilian population all of whom have been struggling to survive this latest crisis in their fragile nation,” Ommer added.

With instability and insecurity rife throughout the country and fighting continuing on the ground, all parties to the conflict must allow aid agencies to deliver much needed humanitarian assistance to the millions currently in need, Ommer said.

Oxfam also pointed out that Yemen is the Middle East’s poorest country where 16 million – over 60 percent of the population – are reliant on aid to survive.

The recent escalation in violence has only added to the unfolding humanitarian disaster, it said.

The Saudi air strikes were in support of ousted Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi whose government was overthrown by Houthi rebels.

Sara Hashash of Amnesty International told IPS more than 120,00 people have been displaced since the Saudi-Arabian-led military campaign began one month ago “leading to a growing humanitarian crisis.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters the Saudi donation will support the needs of 7.5 million Yemenis in the coming three months.

“This funding will provide urgently-needed lifesaving assistance including food assistance for 2.6 million people, clean water and sanitation for 5 million people, protection services to 1.4 million people and nutrition support to nearly 79,000 people,” he added.

The air attacks also struck a dairy factory last week, killing about 31 workers, and flattened a neighbourhood, leaving 25 people dead.

“Repeated airstrikes on a dairy factory located near military bases shows cruel disregard for civilians by both sides to Yemen’s armed conflict,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“The attack may have violated the laws of war, so the countries involved should investigate and take appropriate action, including compensating victims of unlawful strikes,” he added.

While civilian casualties do not necessarily mean that the laws of war were violated, the high loss of civilian life in a factory seemingly used for civilian purposes should be impartially investigated, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, in a statement released here.

“If the United States provided intelligence or other direct support for the airstrikes, it would as a party to the conflict share the obligation to minimize civilian harm and investigate alleged violations.”

According to HRW, the Saudi-led coalition, which is responsible for the aerial attacks, includes Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, and United Arab Emirates.

“If the U.S. is providing targeting intelligence it is a party to the conflict and is obligated to abide by the laws of war,” Stork said.

“Even if not, in backing the coalition the US will want to ensure that all airstrikes and other operations are carried out in a way that avoids civilian loss of life and property, which have already reached alarming levels.”

Asked about reports of civilian killings, Dujarric said “obviously, just at first glance, these kinds of reports are extremely disturbing when you see a probability of a high level of civilian casualties.”

“But I think all… all the violence that we’ve seen over the weekend, I think, serves as a reminder for the parties to heed the Secretary‑General’s call on Friday for cessation of hostilities and for a ceasefire, which he talked about in Washington,” he added, 24 hours before the temporary cease-fire.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that collective power is conspicuous by its absence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana

Courtesy of Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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To Defend the Environment, Support Social Movements Like Berta Cáceres and COPINHhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 19:06:36 +0000 Jeff Conant http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140238 Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

By Jeff Conant
BERKELEY, California, Apr 20 2015 (IPS)

The 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for Central and South America has been awarded to Berta Cáceres, an indigenous Honduran woman who co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, known as COPINH.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the events that earned Cáceres the prize it is this: to defend the environment, we must support the social movements.COPINH’s leadership has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Like many nations rich in natural resources, Honduras, in the heart of Central America, is a country plagued by a resource curse. Its rich forests invite exploitation by logging interests; its mineral wealth is sought by mining interests; its rushing rivers invite big dams, and its fertile coastal plains are ideal for the industrial cultivation of agricultural commodities like palm oil, bananas, and beef.

Honduras is also the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere. The violence is largely linked to organised crime and to a political oligarchy that maintains much of the country’s wealth and power in a few hands. With the country’s rich resources at stake, environmental defenders are frequently targeted by these interests as well.

Some of the best preserved areas of the country fall within the territories of the Lenca indigenous people, who have built their culture around the land, forests and rivers that have supported them for millennia.

In 1993, following the 500th anniversary of Colombus’ “discovery of America,” at a moment when Indigenous Peoples across the Americas began to form national and international federations to reclaim their sovereignty, Lenca territory gave birth to COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras.

In the 22 years since, COPINH’s leadership in the country’s popular struggles has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Since the early 1990’s, COPINH has forced the cancellation of dozens of  logging operations; they have created several protected forest areas; have developed municipal forest management plans and secured over 100 collective land titles for indigenous communities, in some cases encompassing entire municipalities.

Most recently, in the accomplishment that won Berta Caceres, one of COPINH’s founders, the Goldman Environmental Prize, they successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder, the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, to pull out of the construction of a complex of large dams known as Agua Zarca.

Berta became a national figure in Honduras in 2009 when she emerged as a leader in the movement demanding the re-founding of Honduras and drafting of a new constitution. The movement gained the support of then-president Manuel Zelaya, who proposed a national referendum to consider the question.

But the day the referendum was scheduled to take place, Jun. 28, 2009, the military intervened.  They surrounded and opened fire on the president’s house, broke down his door and escorted him to a former U.S. military base where a waiting plane flew him out of the country.

The United Nations and every other country in the Western Hemisphere (except Honduras itself) publicly condemned the military-led coup as illegal. Every country in the region, except the United States, withdrew their ambassadors from Honduras. All EU ambassadors were withdrawn from the country.

With the democratically-elected president deposed, Honduras descended into increasing violence that continues to this day. But the coup also gave birth to a national resistance movement that continues to fight for a new constitution.  Within the movement, Berta and COPINH have devoted themselves to a vision of a new Honduran society built from the bottom up.

Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has witnessed a huge increase in megaprojects that would displace the Lenca and other indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land is earmarked for mining concessions; this in turns creates a demand for cheap energy to power the future mining operations.

To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects. Among them is the Agua Zarca Dam, a joint project of Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese state-owned Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam developer. Slated for construction on the Gualcarque River, Agua Zarca was pushed through without consulting the Lencas—and would cut off the supply of water, food and medicine to hundreds of Lenca familes.

COPINH began fighting the dams in 2006, using every means at their disposal: they brought the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, lodged appeals against the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank which agreed to finance the dams, and engaged in non-violent civil disobedience to stop the construction.

In April 2013, Cáceres organised a road blockade to prevent DESA’s access to the dam site. For over a year, the Lenca people maintained a heavy but peaceful presence, rotating out friends and family members for weeks at a time, withstanding multiple eviction attempts and violent attacks from militarised security contractors and the Honduran armed forces.

The same year, Tomás Garcia, a community leader from Rio Blanco and a member of COPINH, was shot and killed during a peaceful protest at the dam office. Others have been attacked with machetes, imprisoned and tortured. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.

In late 2013, citing ongoing community resistance and outrage following Garcia’s death, Sinohydro terminated its contract with DESA. Agua Zarca suffered another blow when the IFC withdrew its funding, citing concerns about human rights violations. To date, construction on the project has come to a halt.

The Prize will bring COPINH and Honduras much-needed attention from the international community, as the grab for the region’s resources is increasing.

“This award, and the international attention it brings comes at a challenging time for us,” Berta told a small crowd gathered to welcome her to California, where the first of two prize ceremonies will take place.

“The situation in Honduras is getting worse. When I am in Washington later this week to meet with U.S. government officials, the President of Honduras will be in the very next room hoping to obtain more than one billion dollars for a series of mega-projects being advanced by the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the United States — projects that further threaten to put our natural resources into private hands through mines, dams and large wind projects.

“This is accompanied by the further militarisation of the country, including new ultra-modern military bases they are installing right now.”

Around the world, the frontlines of environmental defence are peopled by bold and visionary social movements like COPINH and by grassroots community organizers like Berta Cáceres.

“In order to fight the onslaught of dams, mines, and the privatisation of all of our natural resources, we need international solidarity,” Berta told her supporters in the U.S. “When we receive your solidarity, we feel surrounded by your energy, your hope, your conviction, that together we can construct societies with dignity, with life, with rebellion, with justice, and above all, with joy.”

If the world is to make strides toward reducing the destructive environmental and social impacts that too often accompany economic development, we need to do all we can to recognise and support the peasant farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and social movements who daily put their lives on the line to stem the tide of destruction.

Learn more about Berta Cáceres and COPINH in this video celebrating her Goldman Prize award.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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

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U.N. Struggles to Cope with New Humanitarian Crisis in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 19:05:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140203 On Apr. 14, 2015, the Security Council adopted resolution 2216 (2015), imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen. Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany (centre), Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the UN, addresses the Council. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

On Apr. 14, 2015, the Security Council adopted resolution 2216 (2015), imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen. Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany (centre), Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the UN, addresses the Council. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

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

The United Nations, which is providing humanitarian aid to over 50 million refugees worldwide, is struggling to cope with a new crisis in hand: death and destruction in Yemen.

In an urgent appeal for 274 million dollars in international aid to meet the needs of some 7.5 million people affected by the escalating conflict, the U.N.’s Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van Der Klaauw said Friday, “The devastating conflict in Yemen takes place against the backdrop of an existing humanitarian crisis that was already one of the largest and most complex in the world.”“Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence." -- U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric

“Thousands of families have now fled their homes as a result of the fighting and air strikes. Ordinary families are struggling to access health care, water, food and fuel – basic requirements for their survival,” he warned.

Asked about the severity of the crisis in relation to the humanitarian disaster in Syria where over 220,000 have been killed in a continuing civil war, Jens Laerke, the Geneva-based spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IPS, “We tend not to compare crises.”

“We have just launched the flash appeal [for 274 million dollars] and hope the response will be generous,” he said.

Responding to a question, he said: “There is, to my knowledge, no current plans for a humanitarian pledging conference for Yemen.”

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

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

According to the United Nations, the conflict in Yemen escalated significantly last month, spreading to many parts of the country. Air strikes have now affected 18 of Yemen’s 22 governorates. And in the south, conflict has continued to intensify, particularly in Aden, where widespread fighting continues, including in residential neighbourhoods.

“Hospitals, schools, airports and mosques have been damaged and destroyed across the country and there are reports of serious violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law,” the U.N. statement said

The conflict is taking a significant toll on civilians: 731 people were killed and 2,754 injured, including a large number of civilians.

The number of food insecure people has increased from 10.6 million people to 12 million; at least 150,000 people have been displaced; food prices have risen by more than 40 percent in some locations; and fuel prices have quadrupled. Lack of fuel and electricity has triggered a breakdown in basic water and sanitation services, according to the latest figures from OCHA.

“The humanitarian community in Yemen continues to operate and deliver assistance, including through Yemeni national staff and national partners,” said Van Der Klaauw. “But to scale up assistance, we urgently need additional resources. I urge donors to act now to support the people of Yemen at this time of greatest need.”

The most urgent needs include medical supplies, safe drinking water, protection, food assistance as well as emergency shelter and logistical support, he said.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, “Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence.”

He said the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and others have managed to get planes in. Bit it’s very difficult in an active combat zone, he added.

“We will continue… we will continue to do what we can and bring aid in to alleviate the suffering of the people of Yemen.”

“What is obviously critical in order to enable our humanitarian colleagues and our humanitarian partners to do their work is for all the parties involved in this to halt the violence and to create an atmosphere, not only where they can go back to the political table, but also to allow humanitarian aid to go in,” he added.

A coalition of Arab nations, led by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, has continued with its air attacks on Yemen, where the country’s president has been ousted by rebel forces.

Early this week, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution by 14 votes in favour and one abstention (Russia), placing an embargo on arms and related materiel to rebel forces, primarily the Houthis.

The Council demanded that all warring parties, in particular the Houthis, immediately and unconditionally end the violence and refrain from further unilateral actions that threatened the political transition.

The 14 members of the Council also demanded that the Houthis withdraw from all areas seized during the latest conflict, relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions, cease all actions falling exclusively within the authority of the legitimate government of Yemen and fully implement previous Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid al Hussein, appealed to the warring parties to ensure that attacks resulting in civilian casualties are promptly investigated and that international human rights and international humanitarian law are scrupulously respected.

The High Commissioner said a heavy civilian death toll ought to be a clear indication to all parties to this conflict that there may be serious problems in the conduct of hostilities. The High Commissioner also warned that the intentional targeting of civilians not taking direct part in hostilities would amount to a war crime.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter: @JoshButler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not necessarily, he said.

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

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

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

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

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

A stocktaking exercise is relevant, he added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Moment of Truth for the Nobel Peace Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-moment-of-truth-for-the-nobel-peace-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-moment-of-truth-for-the-nobel-peace-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-moment-of-truth-for-the-nobel-peace-prize/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 05:22:23 +0000 Fredrik S. Heffermehl and Tomas Magnusson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140067

In this column, Norwegian lawyer Fredrik S. Heffermehl* and Swedish civil servant Tomas Magnusson* argue that in recent years the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize have not reflected the hope of the award’s founder – Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) – that the world be freed of weapons, warriors and war, or promoted the vision of preventing future war by what Nobel called “creating the brotherhood of nations”.

By Fredrik S. Heffermehl and Tomas Magnusson
OSLO, Apr 10 2015 (IPS)

The Nobel Peace Prize is about to bow out to critics. As of Jan. 1, the Oslo-based Norwegian Nobel Committee that selects the winners has a new secretary, Olav Njølstad, who announced that “changes loom” in a recent interview.

However, Njølstad added, the changes “will not be dramatic”, making it unlikely that they will satisfy the full makeover demanded by The Nobel Peace Prize Watch, a newly-formed advocacy group wishing to reverse and undo international militarism.

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

In a letter sent in February to the Nobel Prize awarders, the group pointed to the purpose Alfred Nobel actually had in mind and presented a selection of candidates among the 276 nominated for the 2015 prize who are actually qualified to win. The Nobel Prize awarders have promised to respond to the letter, which, along with the valid candidates, is posted on the group´s website.

The group has chosen to ignore the wishes of the Nobel Committee that has a policy of strict secrecy around candidates and the selection process. By publishing, for the first time, the full nominations of the 25 “valid candidates”, the group has made it possible for everyone to see what types of peace work Nobel actually intended the prize to promote and its “imperative urgency” in the current period.

For over one hundred years, the secrecy rule has shielded the awarders from being held responsible for its neglect of the true Nobel “champions of peace” and they have been able to get away with assertions that the winners Nobel had in mind no longer exist.

According to the group this is untrue. It says that the committee ignores the simple, indisputable – and never disputed – evidence showing that when he designated his prize to the “champions of peace”, Nobel “meant the movement and the persons who work for a demilitarised world, for law to replace power in international politics, and for all nations to commit to cooperating on the elimination of all weapons instead of competing for military superiority.”

Tomas Magnusson

Tomas Magnusson

To make the prize comply with its actual purpose will require a dramatic change of the award policy. The Nobel Peace Prize Watch therefore doubts that the impending changes, described as “undramatic”, will be sufficient to satisfy the legislation on wills and foundations and the decisions of two public agencies in Sweden tasked with overseeing that foundations spend their funds in accordance with the law.

Even if the nominations are secret, The Nobel Peace Prize Watch was able to identify 24 names properly nominated for the 2015 prize. The list of valid candidates for 2015 is dominated by Americans and by people involved is nuclear disarmament, with nominees like Japanese hibakusha (nuclear survivors) Samiteru Taniguchi and Setsuko Thurlow; U.S. lawyer Peter Weiss and the International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), David Krieger and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

Further candidates are David Swanson, the U.S. activist for full disarmament; whistleblowers Kathryn Bolkovac, Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, all from the United States; veteran organisers of a law-based world order, such as lawyers Benjamin Ferencz and Richard Falk, also from the United States; and the Womens´ International League for Peace and Freedom, formed during the First World War.

It seems as if Norwegian politicians, imbued in Western militarism and loyalty to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), are unable to understand Nobel´s idea of peace: to liberate the nations of the world from weapons, warriors and war. The idea to be supported by his will was that all nations must cooperate on disarmament.

Laureates like U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 and the European Union in 2012 both believe in military means and clearly are not the type of winners to whom Nobel dedicated his award.

If the world succeeded in realising the Nobel peace plan, this would release enormous funds to cater to human needs. It would cost only a tiny fraction of the world´s military expenditure to secure everyone access to food, clean water, housing, education, health care. It would become possible to secure decent circumstances for all people, all over the globe, poor and rich, East and West, North and South – and make them more secure in the bargain.

To a realist it must be obvious that a world filled with weapons and warriors, even nuclear weapons, is inherently an unsafe world.

In the letter requesting changes, The Nobel Peace Prize Watch refers to basic rules of law regarding wills and foundations and furthermore invokes decisions passed by two Swedish public agencies during the last few years.

The authorities expect the purpose of the Nobel testament to be respected and also that the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm will keep its Norwegian sub-committee for the peace prize under strict and effective supervision and also refrain from paying the prize amount to a winner outside the purpose Nobel actually had in mind.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, elected by the Parliament of Norway, now has until Apr. 17 to decide whether it will serve the great mandate that Nobel entrusted to it, to illuminate and promote the vision of preventing future war by what Nobel in his will called “creating the brotherhood of nations”.

Governments and citizens all over the world should unite in demanding that Norwegian parliamentarians respect Nobel and help liberate us all from the very dangerous common enemy called militarism. (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. 

* Fredrik S. Heffermehl is a Norwegian lawyer, former Vice President of the International Peace Bureau (IPB) and author of Peace is Possible and The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted. Tomas Magnusson is a Swedish civil servant in immigration and integration issues, and former president of the International Peace Bureau (IPB). The two are founding members of the Lay Down Your Arms Association and organisers of The Nobel Peace Prize Watch

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State of Palestine in Overtimehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/state-of-palestine-in-overtime/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=state-of-palestine-in-overtime http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/state-of-palestine-in-overtime/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 17:35:10 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140097 Israeli soldiers and police blocking Palestinians from one of the entrances to the old city in Jerusalem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Israeli soldiers and police blocking Palestinians from one of the entrances to the old city in Jerusalem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 9 2015 (IPS)

The large majority of countries, and most of the people in the world, already recognise Palestine as an independent state.

Among the member states of the United Nations, for example, 135 countries – representing about 82 percent of world population – officially recognise Palestine as an independent state versus 50 countries that do not recognise the Palestinian state.

Source: Author's calculations based on official data

Source: Author’s calculations based on official data

Large majorities of countries throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America recognise the state of Palestine, including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.

In addition, the European nations that have officially given diplomatic recognition to the Palestinian state include Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Iceland, Malta, Poland, Romania, Russia Federation, Slovakia, Sweden and Ukraine.

In addition to Israel, key countries that do not recognise Palestine as an independent nation include France, United Kingdom, the United States – each with a veto in the U.N. Security Council – as well as Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Spain and Switzerland.Even with the international community’s considerable resources, numerous pronouncements and stated desires to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, few are optimistic that the two-state solution is achievable in the near term.

The general position of these countries is that the recognition of an independent Palestinian state can only be achieved from direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

However, due to frustration over stalled peace talks many of the countries whose governments do not currently recognise the Palestinian state are encountering initiatives and pressures from parliaments and the general public to modify their policies.

In Europe, for example, the parliaments of Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain have passed non-binding advisory resolutions recommending their respective governments recognise the state of Palestine. Also, the European Parliament adopted a resolution supporting Palestinian statehood in principle.

A recent German survey has also reported that a broad majority of German citizens are in favour of their governments’ recognition of a Palestinian state. The study found that 71 percent supported the German government’s recognition of a Palestinian state, with 15 percent rejecting it, and 14 percent abstaining.

Also, a multi-country survey done several years ago found that more people backed recognition of Palestine as an independent state than opposed it. Across the 19 countries survey, 49 percent supported the proposal while 21 percent said their government should oppose recognition of a Palestinian state.

In the United States public opinion regarding Palestinian statehood has fluctuated considerably over time. As recently as 2012, a majority of the American public, 51 percent, supported the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with 37 opposing it and 12 percent having no opinion.

A survey of Americans in March 2015 reported that 39 percent are in support, 36 percent in opposition and 25 percent with no opinion concerning the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Among both Israelis and Palestinians views on Palestinian statehood vary depending on the specifics of the survey question and when it was posed. Less than two years ago, the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians, 63 and 53 percent, respectively, supported a peace agreement based on the general notion of a two-state solution.

However, when details of the two-state solution are spelled out regarding such contentious issues as territorial compromise, settlement evacuation and dividing Jerusalem, support collapses. Approximately three-quarters of Jewish Israelis recently polled, for example, opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders.

Similarly, following the disappointing failure of recent U.S.-mediated peace talks, a poll of Palestinians found about one-third expressed support for a two-state solution.

In addition to the collapse of the U.S.-mediated Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, an important element influencing this possible shift in the policies of countries that do not recognise Palestine is the election campaign statement made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that caused an international uproar.

Although he subsequently toned down his remark, the Israeli prime minister pledged prior to the Israeli election that a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch.

Awaiting the formation of the next Israeli government, the United States, key members of the European Union and several other countries have stated that they are reassessing aspects of their relations with Israel. For some of those governments, those reassessments could include recognition of Palestinian statehood.

Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg indicated, for example, that in the wake of Netanyahu’s apparent refusal to back a two-state solution, the world, including the British Parliament, would have no option, inevitably, but to recognise a Palestinian state.

Source: Author's calculations based on poll data by Gallup and Washington Post/ABC

Source: Author’s calculations based on poll data by Gallup and Washington Post/ABC

While the Obama administration continues to believe that the two-state solution is the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is unlikely to recognise a Palestinian state any time soon. The U.S. administration may not object, however, to a draft resolution on an Israeli-Palestinian peace framework that has been informally circulated in the U.N. Security Council.

France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius indicated recently that his country along with its allies intend to propose a U.N. Security Council resolution in the coming weeks that could present a framework for negotiations toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The proposal is expected to stress the right of both peoples to live in their respective nation-states and declare that the conflict must end through negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

An earlier informal draft resolution, which was circulated in late 2014 and penned by France, pushes for a lasting, comprehensive peaceful two-state solution. Essentially it aims to achieve two independent, democratic and prosperous states, Israel and a sovereign, contiguous and viable State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security within mutually and internationally recognised borders, no later than 24 months after the resolution’s adoption.

The key elements of the draft framework for the negotiated two-state solution are to be based on: (a) the borders on 4 June 1967 with mutually agreed limited land swaps: (b) security agreements that respect sovereignty of a non-militarized Palestinian state, with a full phased withdrawal of Israeli forces; (c) an agreed, just and realistic solution to the refugee question; (d) Jerusalem as the shared capital of the Israel and Palestine; and (e) agreed settlement of other outstanding issues, including water.

If the U.N. Security Council adopts the French draft resolution, which will require the U.S. not to exercise its veto, an international peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to be convened. This event is then to be followed with France and its other European allies recognising an independent Palestinian state built principally on the 1967 borders.

Achieving a two-state solution today has become considerably more complicated logistically than when originally proposed by the U.N. in 1947 due to changing demographics.

For example, when U.N. Resolution 181 divided Mandatory Palestine into two states, one Jewish and other Arab, their respective populations were approximately one-tenth their current sizes, each less than 0.9 million. Today the Israeli population has grown to 8.3 million and the Palestinian population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip stands at about 4.5 million, with more than 5 million additional Palestinians residing in neighbouring countries.

Even with the international community’s considerable resources, numerous pronouncements and stated desires to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, few are optimistic that the two-state solution is achievable in the near term.

Many, especially Israelis and Palestinians, have concluded that the two-state solution is no longer practical, with the chances of achieving a two-state solution in the next five years being slim or non-existent and the one-state solution becoming increasingly the de facto reality.

It seems abundantly clear that the various peace initiatives to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past 40 years have not achieved the desired goal. With most of the world now recognising the state of Palestine, the world’s major powers need to resolve this nearly 70-year conflict and bring about a lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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At Least 18 Already Killed in Yarmouk Attacks: Amnesty Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/at-least-18-already-killed-in-yarmouk-attacks-amnesty-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=at-least-18-already-killed-in-yarmouk-attacks-amnesty-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/at-least-18-already-killed-in-yarmouk-attacks-amnesty-international/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 03:16:05 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140092 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 9 2015 (IPS)

At least 18 civilians have already been killed in the attack on the Syrian refugee camp of Yarmouk, according to Amnesty International.

The Palestinian refugee camp, on the outskirts of Damascus, was besieged by members of the so-called Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra last week. By Apr. 4, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 90 percent of the camp was controlled by militants.

Amnesty reported Wednesday that those living in the camp have come under sniper fire and clashes between armed groups, as well as shelling and barrel bombing by Syrian government forces. Fighting in the camp, which houses around 18,000 refugees, has largely been between IS and members of Palestinian militia group Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.

Residents told Amnesty 25 barrel bombs have been dropped on the camp, mostly during night hours.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, accused the Syrian government of committing a “war crime” in dropping barrel bombs on the camp.

“The use of barrel bombs against a besieged and starving civilian population is yet another demonstration of the Syrian government flouting international humanitarian law and its callousness towards civilians,” he said in a statement on Amnesty International’s website.

“Shelling and dropping barrel bombs on a populated civilian area is a war crime. All such attacks must end immediately.”

Amnesty reported a 12-year-old girl killed by a sniper, and a humanitarian worker shot in crossfire, were among at least 18 killed in Yarmouk in the last week, and warned many more deaths were on the way if fighting continued.

“Thousands more are at risk as Syrian government forces have intensified the shelling and aerial bombardment of the camp in response to the IS takeover of the area, including by dropping barrel bombs,” Amnesty said in a statement on its website.

Fighting may soon intensify, with reports the Syrian government has offered to arm Palestinian forces fighting IS militia. Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Official Anwar Abdul Hadi said Tuesday that “Syrian authorities are ready to support the Palestinian fighters in a number of ways, including militarily, to push IS out of the camp.”

Amnesty claimed no relief organisations remained in the camp, and that Syria government and IS forces have blocked medical and humanitarian assistance. One of Yarmouk’s two medical facilities was hit by a missile on the first day of the siege.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) wrote on social media Wednesday that food packages distributed to refugees in the camp have run out. On Twitter, UNRWA said it was assisting 94 civilians who had managed to escape Yarmouk overnight and take refuge in a school.

Amnesty’s Sahraoui said civilians faced “an agonising struggle for survival.”

“After enduring a crippling two-year-long government-imposed siege, now they are pinned down by sniper fire fearing for their lives as shelling and aerial attacks escalate,” he said.

“Immediate and unfettered access to Yarmouk by independent humanitarian agencies is desperately needed to alleviate this relentless suffering.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Situation in Besieged Yarmouk Camp ‘One of the Most Severe Ever’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/situation-in-besieged-yarmouk-camp-one-of-the-most-severe-ever/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=situation-in-besieged-yarmouk-camp-one-of-the-most-severe-ever http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/situation-in-besieged-yarmouk-camp-one-of-the-most-severe-ever/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 02:32:48 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140058 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2015 (IPS)

The head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees has described the situation inside the Syrian refugee camp of Yarmouk, under attack by Islamic State (IS) militants, as “one of the most severe ever” for the already spartan camp.

Fighters allegedly from the IS, and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra, began their attack on the camp, on the outskirts of Damascus, on Apr. 1. By Apr. 4, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 90 percent of the camp was controlled by militants.

Around 18,000 people, including 3,500 children, are believed to be trapped inside Yarmouk.

Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner general for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), told a press briefing Monday the current situation was among the most dire faced by refugees in the camp, already under siege for two years and suffering from a lack of food, water and medical help.

“The current escalation has made the hour more desperate than ever for civilians inside Yarmouk,” Krähenbühl said via videoconference from Jordan.

“Concerted action by [U.N. Security Council] members and U.N. members to uphold humanitarian law is required.”

He said UNRWA had been unable to render assistance to those trapped inside due to access issues, but that the agency was “ready at any time to resume humanitarian assistance.”

On Sunday, UNRWA released a statement demanding access to the camp. “The lives of civilians in Yarmouk have never been more profoundly threatened,” the statement read.

“The level of our aid has been well below the minimum required. Potable water is now unavailable inside Yarmouk and the meagre health facilities that existed have been overrun by conflict.  The situation is extremely dire and threatens to deteriorate even further.”

Krähenbühl was unable to comment on how much of the camp may be under militant control, but conceded that affected areas did house the highest concentration of civilians.

Reports from Yarmouk include alleged beheadings by IS members, but Krähenbühl was again unable to comment, saying UNRWA had been “unable to independently verify” such reports.

Ongoing gun battles in the streets of Yarmouk further escalate an already bleak and miserable living situation for Palestinian refugees. Civilians are said to subsist on just 400 calories a day, with sparse access to food or water. Krähenbühl conceded UNRWA was only able to provide “meagre” assistance to Yarmouk residents, calling their living conditions “unbearable.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council have been briefed on the situation. While it is unclear what, if any, action the U.N. may take, Krähenbühl made several cryptic comments calling on the international community to “influence” armed groups to curtail their offensive.

“There are no easy solutions … messages have to be passed to all the parties and armed groups inside Yarmouk that respect for life is an element not only in international law, it is a fundamental human principle that is found in all religions,” he said.

“We call on states to act and influence parties on the ground … more concerted action could influence action on the ground.”

When asked whether UNRWA had any direct contact with IS, Krähenbühl said no.

“It is not up to me to give any indication on who may channel messages to different parties, including the armed groups inside Yarmouk,” he said.

 

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Effective War Crimes Inquiry Could Heal Sri Lanka’s Old Woundshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/effective-war-crimes-inquiry-could-heal-sri-lankas-old-wounds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=effective-war-crimes-inquiry-could-heal-sri-lankas-old-wounds http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/effective-war-crimes-inquiry-could-heal-sri-lankas-old-wounds/#comments Sat, 04 Apr 2015 15:06:37 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140024 Dawn breaks over a war memorial honouring government forces at Elephant Pass, in northern Sri Lanka. Many feel that the country has a long way to go before the wounds of conflict are healed. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Dawn breaks over a war memorial honouring government forces at Elephant Pass, in northern Sri Lanka. Many feel that the country has a long way to go before the wounds of conflict are healed. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Apr 4 2015 (IPS)

Jessi Joygeswaran seems like your typical 23-year-old young woman. She has an infectious smile and laughs a lot when she talks. Like many other young women anywhere in the world, her life is full of dreams.

“I want to go to university, I want to do a good job,” she tells IPS. She seems sure that she can make her dreams come true.

“Before we can move [forward], we need to accept our shared, horrible past.” -- Jessi Joygeswaran, a resident of Sri Lanka's former war zone.
In fact, Joygeswaran’s life has been anything but ordinary. She grew up in a war zone, and now spends her days thinking as much about such issues as war crimes probes and national reconciliation as she does about her own future.

Hailing from the minority Tamil community, the young woman was born and bred in the Vanni, the vast swath of land in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province that bore the brunt of the island’s 26-year-long civil war that only ended in mid-2009.

In 2006 Joygeswaran, just 14 at the time, had to flee from her ancestral home in the village of Andankulam, in the northwestern Mannar District, when fighting erupted between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eealm (LTTE), a rebel group attempting to carve out a separate state in the Tamil-speaking north and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka.

“We were running from bullets and shell-fire for three years,” she recalls. It was April 2009 when she and her family finally escaped the horror. “Death was a possibility every second,” she says, the smile vanishing from her face.

Even after the war ended, the Vanni’s troubles did not. A quarter of a million people who escaped the war were restricted to relief camps that looked and felt more like detention centres, where they remained until late 2010.

Over 400,000 people who had fled the region during various stages of the conflict returned to scenes of devastation, forced to rebuild their lives from scratch while coming to terms with the death or disappearance of thousands of their kin. Homelessness, trauma and fear were the order of the day.

A new government – a new era?

All of that changed this past January when Sri Lanka voted in a new president, Maithripala Sirisena, ousting the incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose defeat of the LTTE enabled him to exercise an iron grip over the country.

On Jan. 8, for the first time in her life, Joygeswaran voted alongside her countrymen. Despite all past discrimination against her minority community, she is completely invested in the new national government.

“We voted for justice and peace for all,” she asserts. It is a humble aspiration, but one shared by a majority of people in this island nation of 20 million, where generations of bloodshed resulting in a death toll of between 80,000 and 100,000 had many doubting that the country would ever return to a state of normalcy.

The first 60 days of the new government have been a mixed bag, especially for northern Tamils. Travel restrictions and a suffocating military presence – with members of the armed forces overseeing virtually every aspect of daily life – have eased; but there is still limited progress on more delicate issues, like a comprehensive inquiry into wartime abuses.

The last days of the war could have resulted in a civilian death toll of about 40,000, according to an advisory panel set up by the United Nations Secretary-General – a figure hotly disputed by the previous government.

A new book by the respected research body, University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), titled ‘Palmyra Fallen’, says the figure could be as high 100,000.

Both government forces and the LTTE have been accused of human rights violations during the last bouts of fighting.

Three resolutions put forth at the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) have sought an international investigation into the end of the war. The Rajapaksa government, determined not to allow “foreign interference” in what it called a purely domestic issue, set up its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) but its recommendations have largely been left on paper.

There is an ongoing commission on disappearances, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has begun an island-wide survey on families of the missing.

But not one of these measures has led to a single prosecution or judicial complaint against the perpetrators.

Balancing local efforts with international standards

Sirisena’s government has promised a fresh probe, with international inputs. The new foreign minister, Mangala Samaraweera, has been traveling the globe since assuming office, trying to convince the international community to allow Sri Lanka some breathing room in which to push through an indigenous, credible reconciliation process.

So far his charms seem to be working. The United States, United Kingdom and other western nations agreed to postpone the release of a U.N. Human Rights Council investigation report into wartime human rights abuses. It was due in March and now will be unveiled in September.

The government announced on Mar. 18 that it was considering lifting proscriptions issued on Tamil diaspora groups, in a move that many feel is aimed at garnering the support of moderate Tamils around the world. While no official figures exist, Sri Lanka’s Tamil diaspora is believed to number close to 700,000.

“The government of President Sirisena is seriously committed to expediting the reconciliation process. In doing so, the Sri Lankan diaspora whether it be Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim, has am extremely important role to play,” Samaraweera told Parliament on Mar. 18.

Despite this nod to the diaspora, government officials have made clear that the mechanism for investigating possible war crimes committed by both sides must be a robust, national initiative, without foreign interference.

“Any charges […] against our security forces have to be investigated, [but] it has to be handled by the local mechanism, that is what we have always stated,” Power and Energy Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka told the Foreign Correspondents Association in February.

But it will take some muscle to convince the international community that Sri Lanka is capable of initiating a successful probe with the power to go from theory to practice.

“This is why Amnesty International (AI) and other organisations have urged the Sri Lankan authorities to cooperate with the U.N. and take advantage of international expertise in the development of a credible, effective and truly independent mechanism – one that will not be vulnerable to the kinds of threats and political pressures that have obstructed previous efforts,” David Griffiths, AI’s deputy Asia Pacific director tells IPS.

AI and several other international organisations also favour the setting up of a special tribunal to try any human rights violators.

Among other unresolved issues are allegations that the armed forces conducted summary executions of surrendered LTTE cadres, as well as possible incidents of sexual abuse of persons in captivity. The LTTE has been accused of using civilians as human shields, as well as for conscripting children into its ranks, among other things.

“It is important for everyone concerned and for Sri Lanka’s future that all allegations of crimes under international law are fully investigated and, where sufficient admissible evidence exists, those suspected of the crimes are prosecuted in genuine proceedings before independent and impartial courts that comply with international standards for fair trial.  Victims must be provided with full and effective reparation to address the harm they have suffered,” Griffiths says.

Already some positive changes have occurred under the new government. Ruki Fernando, a researcher with the Colombo-based rights group INFORM, tells IPS that the appointment of a civilian governor to Jaffna, replacing a former military officer, as well as the government’s releasing of lands acquired by the military, bode well for the future.

“I am cautiously optimistic, but it is a long road ahead,” he says.

In Joygeswaran’s words: “Before we can move [forward], we need to accept our shared, horrible past.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Landmine Threats Down, IED Threats Risinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/landmine-threats-down-ied-threats-rising/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=landmine-threats-down-ied-threats-rising http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/landmine-threats-down-ied-threats-rising/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 04:16:47 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139987 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

Almost 90 percent of recent deaths or serious injuries to United Nations peacekeepers in Mali have been attributed to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), a U.N. panel has heard.

Ahead of International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on April 4, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) is this week hosting a series of events and discussions in New York.

The theme of the 2015 awareness campaign is ‘More Than Mines,’ encompassing a range of other explosive hazards besides traditional landmines, according to UNMAS Director Agnès Marcaillou.

“This issue, thought to be an issue of the past, has come back in full force. ‘More Than Mines’ includes IEDs, cluster bombs, unexploded ordnance,” Marcaillou told a panel on IEDs on Monday.

Representatives from Afghanistan, Chad, Japan, Colombia, France and the Netherlands told how the dangers of explosive ordnance are shifting; mine threats becoming more manageable, with enforcement of international agreements and reduction of stockpiles, while the occurrence of IEDs is on the rise.

“In Afghanistan, victims of landmines are declining, but they are being replaced with victims of IEDs,” Marcaillou said.

Gombo Tchouli, Political Coordinator of the Permanent Mission of Chad to the United Nations, said UNMAS had recorded 409 casualties from IEDs in Mali since January 2013, with 135 deaths and 274 injuries. Of those 409 casualties, 142 were peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), 89 percent of the mission’s 158 total peacekeeper casualties.

“IEDs undermine operational effectiveness and freedom of movement, stop peacekeepers moving outward from camp, and prevent implementation of critical mission mandated tasks,” he said.

Eric Schilling, a counter-IED advisor with UNMAS, said U.N. peacekeepers were now more frequently targeted by IEDs and other explosives than in the past.

“The devices can be relatively low-cost, victim-operated pressure plates, up to more sophisticated technology using cell phones. They are limited only by the imagination of the bomb-maker and their ability to gather the materials needed,” he said.

In a session earlier in the day, titled ‘Visions From The Field,’ UNMAS explored how mine-clearing action was being taken in Colombia. Marcaillou called Colombia “one of the most mine-affected countries in the world,” second in impacts only to Afghanistan. Mines are said to have killed 11,000 Colombians since 1990.

Initiatives to engage locals, especially women, in helping to clear mines were hailed as a “best practice” example. Bringing locals in to work, and by extension, assuring them that areas are safe and that they can return to work and school, is seen as the most effective way to restore communities.

“De-mining can’t be imposed from the outside. It is important to connect with people locally, to be working with local communities, and generating benefits for the local population,” said Ambassador Karel van Oosterom, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands.

Activities for International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action continue all week.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter at @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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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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