Inter Press Service » Peace News and Views from the Global South Fri, 06 May 2016 21:28:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Is the System Broke or Broken? Wed, 04 May 2016 17:35:19 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Families displaced from their homes in Pakistan’s troubled northern regions returning home. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Families displaced from their homes in Pakistan’s troubled northern regions returning home. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Though the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit may seem timely, a debate ensues on an important question: is the world humanitarian system broke or broken?

The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, which takes place in Istanbul on May 23-24, was convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to address the pressing needs of today’s humanitarian problems.

“We believe this is a once in a generation opportunity to address the problems, the suffering of millions of people around the world,” said European Union Ambassador to the United Nations João Vale de Almeida during a press briefing.

More than 125 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance globally. If this were a country, it would be the 11th largest in the world. Over 60 million are forcibly displaced, making it the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Crises now last longer, increasing the average length of displacement to 17 years from 9 years.

However, need has surpassed capacity and resources. As of the beginning of May, almost $15 billion in appeals is unmet for crises around the world including in Nigeria, Central African Republic, and Syria. Approximately 90 percent of UN humanitarian appeals continue for more than three years.

The meeting therefore represents not only a call for action, but also an alarm to reform the increasingly strained humanitarian system.

From the recent earthquake in Ecuador to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, local communities and NGOs are often the first responders due to their proximity.

Among the summit’s core responsibilities is strengthening partnerships and a multi-stakeholder process that puts affected civilians at the heart of humanitarian action.

“The current system remains largely closed, with poor connections to…a widening array of actors,” a summit synthesis report stated following consultations with over 23,000 representatives. “It is seen as outdated.”

Senior Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Humanitarian Policy Group Christina Bennett agrees, noting that humanitarian and aid structures have changed very little since it was first conceived.

“It’s still a very top-down, paternalistic way of going about things,” she told IPS.

In an ODI report, Bennett found that the system has created an exclusive, centralised group of humanitarian donors and actors, excluding local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from participating.

In 2014, 83 percent of humanitarian funding came from donor governments in Europe and North America.

Between 2010 and 2014, UN agencies and the largest international NGOs (INGOs) received 86% of all international humanitarian assistance. Meanwhile, less than two percent was directly provided to national and local NGOs.

This has prevented swift and much needed assistance on the ground.

Field Nurse for Doctor of the World’s Greece chapter Sarah Collis told IPS of her time working in the Idomeni refugee camp in Greece, noting the lack of medical resources and basic items such as food and blankets.

“Distribution of blankets only happened at night because the aid agencies were worried about mass crowds,” she told IPS. “This meant that single mothers and young families often had no chance,” she added.

Collis also recalled that there were only two ambulances for the whole region and at times, her team often had to pile six people in an ambulance at once.

The most fast acting groups, Collis said, were the small NGOs and volunteers with direct funding sources and less red tape.

From the recent earthquake in Ecuador to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, local communities and NGOs are often the first responders due to their proximity. They also have better access to hard-to-reach areas, have familiarity with the people and cultures, and can address and reduce risk before disaster strikes.

On the other hand, larger organisations or institutions such as the UN often have difficulty conducting efficient and effective humanitarian operations.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) identified the UN as being at the “heart of the dysfunction” in the humanitarian system. They found that UNHCR’s three-pronged role, as being a coordinator, implementer and donor, led to their poor performance in South Sudan, Jordan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In South Sudan’s Maban county, UNHCR was reportedly slow in response and struggled to mobilise qualified staff.

Their “triple” role also made it difficult for subcontracting NGOs to share implementation challenges and for the agency itself to “admit to bigger problems or to ask for technical assistance from other UN agencies, for fear of losing out on funding or credibility.” This, in turn, impacted the quality of information to make sound decision-making.

Though some funds from UN agencies and INGOs are provided to local NGOs, the relationship is more “transactional” rather than a “genuine, strategic engagement,” Bennett says.

For instance, when aid is provided, it is often determined by the availability of goods and services rather than what people actually need or want on the ground.

“We don’t have more of an alliance…with these organisations as equal players,” Bennett told IPS.

These issues also came to a head during consultations for the World Humanitarian Summit in Geneva.

“Southern NGOs are demanding accompaniment rather than direction,” Executive Director of African Development Solutions (Adeso) Degan Ali told government officials, UN representatives, and civil society. “Be prepared to be uncomfortable.”

Though many acknowledge that there is an important role for INGOs and donor governments in the humanitarian system, there is an emerging understanding that such actors must shift their positions from one that is dominating to one that is enabling.

Organisations such as Oxfam and Adesso have called for the UN and large INGOs to enable local NGOs by directly providing funds. This will not only help them to prepare and improve their responses to crises, but it would also put decision making and power “where it should be,” Oxfam stated.

They have also urged for a target of 20 percent of all humanitarian funding to go directly to local organisations. Already, a charter has been created to commit INGOs to these actions. Among the signatories are Oxfam, Care International and Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Despite these calls to action, Bennett told IPS that she does not believe that the World Humanitarian Summit will lead to change.

“I think it isn’t something on the agenda of the World Humanitarian Summit…partially because they are hard to address and they’re very political—these aren’t easy wins,” she said.

In order to achieve fundamental changes, donor governments and institutions with decision making power must address the underlying assumptions and power dynamics that hold the system back, Bennett remarked.

“Until they move, the system is stuck.”

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Analysis: The Role of the Free Press in Sustainable Development Tue, 03 May 2016 15:54:05 +0000 Maddie Felts Newspapers on sale in Istanbul. But the freedom of Turkish journalists is seriously threatened. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS.

Newspapers on sale in Istanbul. But the freedom of Turkish journalists is seriously threatened. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS.

By Maddie Felts
May 3 2016 (IPS)

This year’s World Press Freedom Day marks the 250th anniversary of the first-ever freedom of information law, enacted in what are now Sweden and Finland. 3 May, 2016 is more than just an important anniversary, however; this is the first celebration of World Press Freedom Day since the adoption of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Securing a free press is essential for progress towards achieving these ambitious goals for people and planet by the year 2030.

To reach development targets, a free press must identify areas in which nations and the world are lacking, from access to education and healthcare to sustainable industrialization and consumption. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals seek to address the real and most pressing issues facing the people of this planet, and development efforts will only be effective if they have reliable benchmarks upon which to improve.

A key difference between the Sustainable Development Goals and their predecessor the Millennium Development Goals is a new emphasis on environmental protections that have a clear impact on human development. Environmental crimes and simple mismanagement of natural resources remain pressing issues worldwide.

Developing countries are faced with a trade-off between lower-cost industrialization using fossil fuels or sustainable economic production, and often, they choose the former. Developed nations, who achieved industrialization by consuming fossil fuels and producing pollution, criticize industrializing nations while still contributing to growing global carbon emissions themselves.

Through the efforts of a free press, all nations in any stage of development are held accountable for promoting global sustainability. Known for wielding a tight grip on its news media, China has recently expanded censorship over information regarding pollution. In a nation with sixteen of the world’s twenty most polluted cities, the Chinese government releases incomplete or misleading information on its air quality. The World Health Organization uses two air quality guidelines, one for the developed world and a less rigid standard for developing nations. China’s pollution standards are lower than both. Meanwhile, industrial pollution has resulted in cancer becoming China’s leading cause of death, and the globally shared ozone layer is continually depleted by man-made emissions.

The media must expose the human suffering resulting from environmental abuses across the world so that individuals with the power and the means to demand change can do so. This imperative extends far beyond one nation’s environmental practices; society is at its best when journalists are unafraid and free to discover and expose the truth.

April brought the release of the Panama Papers, an unprecedented leak of information linking global political and business leaders to offshore tax havens. This development is a victory for free press worldwide and supports the tenth Sustainable Development Goal to reduce inequality within and among countries. Citizens have become aware of a great dichotomy between the richest and the average individuals within nations and worldwide. The fight to close the gap between the immensely rich and the general populace has new relevance due to fearless journalism.

In the political sphere, press freedom is necessary to expose misuse of power. Contexts in which a free news media is needed most, however, are usually times when repressive rule works its hardest to silence journalists.

2015 was a challenging year for news media, with press freedom at its weakest in 12 years. While typically high-risk regions for journalists like the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and Latin America continued to limit the press, the democracy advocacy group Freedom House found that media freedom decreased in Europe in the past year, largely due to surveillance and security measures in response to terrorism.

While fear and legitimate safety concerns often understandably overshadow calls for press freedom, those of us who can demand the truth must do so for others who cannot. In the Middle East and North Africa in particular journalists can risk death for speaking out against the ideology of oppressive regimes and violent extremism.

We must pursue the sixteenth Sustainable Development Goal and “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms” for all, appreciating the and utilizing the freedom we do have to fight for universal press freedom.

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Free Press a Casualty of Pakistan’s Terror War Mon, 02 May 2016 14:59:49 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai 0 Black Colombian Activists Continue Our Struggle For Rights Sun, 01 May 2016 23:28:03 +0000 Charo Mina Rojas Black Women are leading the resistance in Northern Cauca, Colombia.  Credit: ACONC (Association of Community Councils of Northenr Cauca).

Black Women are leading the resistance in Northern Cauca, Colombia. Credit: ACONC (Association of Community Councils of Northenr Cauca).

By Charo Rojas
Cauca, COLOMBIA, May 1 2016 (IPS)

While Colombia’s peace talks continue in Havana, Cuba, back home in the region of North Cauca, Black Colombians have found their cries for access to their ancestral lands met with tear-gas and rubber bullets.

We saw them approach, the ESMAD, the dreaded special police unit called out to squelch popular mobilizations against the government. We pressed even closer together to maintain our lines on one of the main highways that connects Colombia’s north and south. Over a thousand of us, black Colombians from one of the poorest regions of the country, gathered to demonstrate to the government that we would not be silenced while our territories are taken away. Suddenly, without warning, the ESMAD began their assault and soon elders, children, women and our young people were choking from the tear-gas and holding parts of their bodies stinging from rubber bullets indiscriminately fired at us.

The ESMAD’s assault took place on April 25 in the region of North Cauca, Colombia. The next day, the ESMAD sabotaged conversations between the community councils and the authorities, their renewed attacks this time also effecting some of the government officials. A three month-old baby and several children were hurt by a tear-gas grenade that exploded inside their house. We black Colombians are more or less held hostage by the ESMAD, while the national government had promised a meeting at the Mayor’s office in the nearest town.

The Afrodescendant Women’s Mobilization has received numerous death threats due to our actions to protect our community’s rights and territories. However, the government fails to find the responsible persons for the illegal mining or the death threats.

The Northern Cauca region, located in the department of Cauca, is a critical area in the negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC that are currently taking place in Havana, Cuba. Yet Black communities and our interests have not been considered during these discussions, even though our ancestral territories will be compromised by at least one of the agreements: the 63 so-called campesino reserves. Most of the areas the FARC wants to settle or continue to control are in the middle of or close to black and Indigenous lands.

The main national Black organizations have been concentrated in the National Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA by its acronym in Spanish), which with the Interethnic Commission of Peace, has demanded and lobbied the Colombian government to bring our voice and interests to the table in Havana. But since our demands have been ignored we have had to find new ways to make our voices heard.

As has often been the case in our long history of struggle and resistance in Colombia we have again had to turn to protest. In November 2014, eighty Afro-descendant women mobilized and walked across the country to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, where we seized the building of the Ministry of Interior to demand a stop to the increase in illegal mining in our territories. These mining activities have brought death, violence and tragedy. In one mine collapse alone, over 40 of our people were killed.

These mobilizations have often been led by Black women, increasingly so in recent years. We have made the government sign agreements to remove illegal mining and admit that granting mining rights to multinationals violates its own laws. We have also made the government acknowledge that these agreement violate the right to prior and informed consultation and consent, as recognized by the International Labour Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention. Yet those admissions and agreements have not translated into respect for our rights or any change in government’s actions or approach. In fact, despite the agreements, and the laws and the constitutional mandate to consult, to respect, promote and protect the rights of Black people, the Colombian government has granted mining concessions that cover seventy percent of the Cauca lands to multinationals such as Anglo Gold Ashanti.

The Afrodescendant Women’s Mobilization has received numerous death threats due to our actions to protect our community’s rights and territories. However, the government seems incapable of finding those responsible for the illegal mining or the death threats.

That is why we must continue to resist. The Community Councils will continue blocking the road until the national authorities commit to a renewed dialogue that will lead to substantive changes in how the interests of our communities are protected. It is clear for us that our Black lives matter only through our own efforts.

Charo Mina Rojas is an activist with the Black Communities’ Process in Colombia.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of IPS.

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Can the UN Security Council Stop Hospitals Being Targets in War? Fri, 29 Apr 2016 13:41:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands The Agency Headquarters Hospital (AHH) in Bajaur Agency, shortly after a Taliban suicide bomb attack in 2013. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

The Agency Headquarters Hospital (AHH) in Bajaur Agency, shortly after a Taliban suicide bomb attack in 2013. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

Hospitals, health care workers and patients in war zones are supposed to be protected under international humanitarian law yet recent attacks from Syria to Afghanistan suggest that they have become targets.

The seeming lack of respect for the sanctity of health care in war zones has prompted UN Security Council members in New York to consider a new resolution designed to find new ways to halt these attacks.

The Security Council is expected to vote on the resolution on May 3, just days after Al Quds Hospital in Aleppo, Syria was bombed. Twenty seven staff and patients were killed in the airstrike on the hospital on Wednesday night, Dr Hatem, the director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo told The Syria Campaign.

Among the victims was Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz, who Dr Hatem described as “the city’s most qualified paediatrician.”

Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria told journalists in Geneva Wednesday that Dr Maaz was the last paediatric doctor left in Aleppo, although IPS understands there is another paediatrician in the Aleppo countryside.

Dr Hatem said that Dr Maaz used to work at the children’s hospital during the day and attend to emergencies at the Al Quds hospital at night time.

“Dr Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients,” said Dr Hatem.

Dr Hatem said that “hospitals are often targeted by government and Russian air forces.”

“When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them,” he said.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia will be expected to vote on the proposed new resolution reinforcing the protection of hospitals, doctors and patients in war zones.

“When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them.” -- Dr Hatem, director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo.

Another Security Council Member accused of bombing a hospital, the United States, is expected to release its report Friday of its own investigation into the attack on the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan on Oct. 3 2015.

MSF say that 42 people we killed in the sustained bombing of the hospital, including 24 patients and 18 staff.

Roman Oyarzun Marchesi, permanent representative of Spain to the UN said that the “the wake up call (for the Security Council resolution) came from organisations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres who are forced to stay out of certain areas or countries due to the lack of protection on the ground.”

“Attacks against the provision of health care are becoming so frequent that humanitarian actors face serious limitations to do their jobs,” said Marchesi at an event held to discuss the proposed resolution at the International Peace Institute earlier this month.

The event brought together representatives from the medical community with the five Security Council members drafting the resolution, Egypt, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, and Uruguay.

Speaking on behalf of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), whose hospitals have come under frequent attacks in recent months and years, Jason Cone, Executive Director of MSF America called for greater accountability.

“As of today suspected perpetrators get away with self-investigating and there’s no independent follow-up of attacks,” said Cone.

“It is a critical moment for member states to reaffirm the sanctity of the medical act in armed conflict,” he said.

The current situation does not reflect the respect given to health care in war from the earliest stages of the Geneva conventions, Stéphane Ojeda, Deputy Permanent Observer to the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross told the meeting.

“The protection of the wounded and sick has been at the heart of International Humanitarian Law since the start,” said Ojeda.

“Indeed the wounded and sick and the medical personnel taking care of them were the first categories of protected persons under international humanitarian law because in the 1864 first Geneva Convention,” he said.

The principle that health care personnel should not be punished for caring for the wounded and sick also needs to be respected, said Ojeda.

“If you start questioning this that’s a whole pillar of humanity starting to collapse,” he said.

Cone also added to Ojeda’s calls for the duties of doctors in caring for the wounded and sick to be respected.

“We can not accept any criminalisation of the medical act, any resolution should reinforce and strengthen protection for medical ethics,” he said.

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Why we need to stand united against governments cracking down on dissent Thu, 28 Apr 2016 14:33:35 +0000 Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah Police use tear gas and water canons in Istanbul to disperse demonstrators protesting the new Internet bill in February 2014. Credit: Emrah Gurel/IPS.

Police use tear gas and water canons in Istanbul to disperse demonstrators protesting the new Internet bill in February 2014. Credit: Emrah Gurel/IPS.

By Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah

Last month, after receiving threats for opposing a hydroelectric project, Berta Caceres, a Honduran indigenous and environmental rights campaigner, was murdered. A former winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize for her opposition to one of Central America’s biggest hydropower projects, Berta was shot dead in her own home.

In the same month, South African anti-mining activist, Sikhosiphi Bazooka Radebe, leader of a fiercely fought campaign to protect a pristine stretch of the Pondoland Wild Coast, was also shot dead.

Across the world, civic activists are being detained, tortured and killed. The space for citizens to organise and mobilise is being shut down; dissenting voices are being shut up. In 2015, at least 156 human rights activists were murdered. 156 that we know of.

The scale of the threat cannot be underestimated. The most recent analysis by my CIVICUS colleagues shows that, in 2015, significant violations of civic space were recorded in over 100 countries, up from 96 in 2014. People living in these countries account for roughly 86% of the world’s population. This means that 6 out of 7 people live in states where their basic rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression are being curtailed or denied. No single region stands out; truly, this is a worldwide trend, a global clampdown.

Hostility towards civil society is becoming normalised as threats emanate from an increasing range of state and non-state actors: corrupt politicians and officials, unaccountable security forces, unscrupulous businesses and religious fundamentalists.

Hostility towards civil society is becoming normalised as threats emanate from an increasing range of state and non-state actors: corrupt politicians and officials, unaccountable security forces, unscrupulous businesses and religious fundamentalists. But perhaps more worrying is the demonisation of civil society in mainstream political discourse. A recent bill in Israel, touted by its supporters as the ‘Transparency Bill’, places rigorous new disclosure demands on any Israeli non-profit organisation that receives more than 50% of its funding from “Foreign Political Entities’, in other words from foreign governments, the EU or UN. Following an escalating global trend, the bill seeks to cast Israeli CSOs as disloyal ‘foreign agents’, demanding that their public communications state the source of their funding and calling for their employees to wear distinctive tags.

In the UK recent government efforts to restrict the lobbying activities of civil society organisations prompted over 140 charities to express their concern. A proposed new grant agreement clause seeks to prevent UK charities from using their funds to enter into any dialogue with parliament, government or a political party. In India, Prime Minister Modi has cautioned his judiciary against being influenced by what he called, ‘five star activists’. Insinuating that the civil society sector is elitist and out of touch with realities on the ground, the comments lent renewed impetus to the country’s ongoing crackdown on critical civil rights activists and NGOs.

The recent proliferation of counter-terrorism measures has also served to further stigmatise and stifle the sector. By suggesting that non-profit organisations are particularly vulnerable to abuse or exploitation by terrorist groups, governments have justified new laws and regulatory restrictions on their legitimate activities and the political space they inhabit. Freedom of speech is being silenced, funding sources cut off; the effect has been debilitating.

State surveillance of online activities is also on the rise as authorities note the power of the internet and social media as a tool for citizen mobilization. Governments have woken up to the power of civil society. The deepest fear of repressive regimes is no longer necessarily the rise of new political opposition parties; it is 100,000 of their citizens taking to the streets in the pursuit of change. And so a concerted push-back has begun, an effort to tame civil society, to smother its ability to catalyse social transformation.

We need to push back on these incursions on civic space, urgently and across the world. We need to be challenging our governments over rights violations, about the murder of activists, about their progress in fighting poverty, climate change and inequality.

There is much cause for hope. Last year, a coalition of Tunisian civil society organisations won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in bringing a country back from the brink of civil war and laying the foundations of a pluralistic democracy. The latest innovations in protest and movement building, in technologies that can liberate and mobilise citizens, in citizen-generated data that can empower campaigners and increase transparency around the monitoring of our global goals: all of these signal a new era of dynamic civic activism. Over the last few days more than 500 leading activists and thinkers gathered at International Civil Society Week 2016 in Bogota, Colombia to plot civil society’s global fight-back. It is fitting that this meeting took place against a backdrop of the peace negotiations that Colombian civil society has played such a key role in making possible.

Our gathering has the potential to be a defining moment for the future of democratic struggles. There will be more setbacks, low points and sacrifices to come but the demands for change won’t go away. Nor will civil society’s ability to affect it. A new, radically different vision for the future of civic action is being formulated. And those of us who believe in a healthy, independent civil society have more responsibility than ever before to keep on making our case. Knowing the threats she faced, Berta Caceres said, ‘We must undertake the struggle in all parts of the world, wherever we may be, because we have no spare or replacement planet. We have only this one and we have to take action’. She was right.

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah is the Secretary General of CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of IPS.

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Why the World Needs a UN Leader Who Stands Up for Human Rights Wed, 27 Apr 2016 22:03:39 +0000 Anna Neistat The Human Rights Council in Geneva. UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot.

The Human Rights Council in Geneva. UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot.

By Anna Neistat

Last August, Balla Hadji, a 61-year-old truck driver in Bangui in the Central African Republic, was having breakfast with his wife when they heard shots outside. He ran out to call his daughter inside, but troops were already there, and shot him in the back as he ran away. His 16-year-old son, Souleimane, was also shot when he ran towards his father. Balla died on the spot, his son Souleimane the next day.

The soldiers were neither armed groups nor government forces; they wore the famous blue helmet and vest of United Nations (UN) peacekeepers. Witnesses told Amnesty International that instead of helping the wounded father and son, the peacekeepers – who were meant to protect them – fired another round when the daughter tried to cross the street to reach her injured relatives.

What happened to an organization meant to protect and give voice to the world’s most vulnerable people? This is a question that candidates to succeed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon must address in the process that started at the UN General Assembly earlier this month. In the coming months governments will select the UN’s next leader – who will take up their post in 2017.

This is a crucial turning point for a twentieth century body being shoe-horned into the twenty-first.

The UN showed it can still deliver when it brokered agreements on development and climate goals in 2015, but its response to major crises was woefully inadequate. From its failure to protect civilians in conflicts like Syria and South Sudan to abuses perpetrated by its own forces, the UN is an organization creaking at the seams.

This is largely the fault of governments willfully thwarting UN action aimed at preventing war crimes and crimes against humanity or holding perpetrators to account. The UN Security Council appears less a place where people’s security and rights are protected than a forum where the richest and most powerful countries in the world play politics with their lives.

Four times a Security Council member has vetoed UN efforts to respond to the Syrian conflict. The result: nearly 12 million forced to flee their homes, and more than 250,000 dead.

At the Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia’s western allies did its bidding, obstructing the establishment of a UN-led inquiry into violations by all sides in the conflict in Yemen, even while the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign commits war crimes. The result: a conflict that has taken the lives of more than 2,800 civilians, 700 of them children.

Even when the Security Council has acted and imposed sanctions and arms embargoes they have not been implemented effectively, for example in Sudan.

This cannot go on. I have seen the consequences on the ground in countries like Syria and Yemen: thousands detained, killed, displaced, and disappeared. When the victims and their families ask me if there is an organization that can help them, I know the answer should be the UN. Today I cannot look them in the eye and promise it will.

Failure to protect human rights will sow the seeds of future crises by fueling the injustice and repression that breed instability. Look at the uprisings in the Arab world five years ago, a palpable example of the link between system failure and governments repressing dissent and human rights.

The UN has not failed, yet. But its ability to fulfill its purpose is in grave jeopardy. The governments who select the next Secretary-General have to answer the critics who question whether the organization is fit for purpose in the twenty-first century.

The world needs someone who will champion marginalized people, protect civilians in conflict and prevent mass violations, combat impunity by supporting the International Criminal Court, fight for gender equality, defend activists against repressive governments and deal with the biggest global refugee crisis in seventy years.

That is a tall order, but essential in a world racked by proliferating conflict, deliberate targeting of civilians by states and armed groups, and rising xenophobia.

The next Secretary-General can do that by putting the protection of human rights front and centre. Human rights are meant to be the UN’s third pillar, along with development, and maintaining peace and security. But they risk becoming the third rail of UN politics: too controversial to touch, and a black mark in the eyes of certain Security Council members.

The new Secretary-General must bring human rights and humanitarian crises before the Security Council. When serious human rights violations occur, he or she should use their powers under Article 99 of the UN Charter to bring threats to international peace and security before the Security Council. This power has not been used for decades.

The next Secretary-General must also restore the reputation of an organisation tarnished by sexual exploitation and abuse committed by its own peacekeepers. The UN’s own statistics show 69 allegations of abuse in 2015, 22 of them from its peacekeeping force in the Central Africa Republic. The UN must make sure peacekeepers are punished when they turn predator.

But a critical first step is to have a fair and transparent process to select a highly qualified next leader for the UN. In the past, powerful governments who felt a strong Secretary-General was not in their interest have had too much control over the final decision. The debates held earlier this month kick started a vital opportunity for governments to reinvigorate the UN.

The election of the UN Secretary-General this year may capture a fraction of the attention of the US presidential campaign. Yet for much of the world who stand to benefit from a dynamic UN, it could be just as significant. If not more.

Anna Neistat is Senior Director for Research at Amnesty International. She has conducted more than 60 investigations in conflict areas around the world, including Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Zimbabwe, Nepal, Kenya, Yemen, Chechnya, Sri Lanka and Haiti. Follow her @AnnaNeistat

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of IPS.

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Any Ways to Combat Extremism? Mon, 25 Apr 2016 13:45:16 +0000 Baher Kamal Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 25 2016 (IPS)

“The objective of extremists is for us to turn on each other [and] our unity is the ultimate rebuke for that bankrupt strategy.”

This is what the UN chief Ban Ki-moon has recently said. “While it may be inevitable to draw on examples, such as Da’esh [also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL] or Boko Haram, “the phenomenon of violent extremism conducive to terrorism is not rooted or confined to any religion, region, nationality or ethnic group.”

“Let us also recognize that today, the vast majority of victims worldwide are Muslims,” Ban on April 8 stressed while addressing the Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism – The Way Forward.

There, Ban stressed, “violent extremism is clearly a transnational threat that requires urgent international cooperation.” Then he explained that his Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism puts forward a comprehensive and balanced approach for concerted action at the global, regional and national levels.

Such Plan was first submitted to the General Assembly on 15 January. Then, on 12 February, the 193-nation body adopted a resolution that welcome Ban’s initiative, pledging to give further consideration to the Plan, including in the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy review in June 2016, as well as in other relevant forums.

So far, so good.

Barely six days after the UN chief’s assertion that the vast majority of victims of extremism are Muslims, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—which was founded in 1969 being the second largest inter-governmental body after the UN, grouping 57 member states – held its 13th Islamic Summit in Istanbul on 14-15 April to discuss ways on how to combat the escalation of extremism and terrorism and the resulting growing Islamophobia.

How to do this? IPS posed this question in an interview to Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC.

OIC summit in Istanbul. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

OIC summit in Istanbul. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

“The OIC summit agreed on a set of measures to counter Islamophobia. And member states have been also be urged to establish stronger dialogue with the international community at the bilateral and multilateral levels and engage with the West in order to establish stronger cross-cultural and religious ties as a counterweight to polarising sentiment against religious minorities.”

Talebna explained that the Istanbul summit discussed “the need to reinforce the role of religious and social leaders in halting tendencies towards extremism, which sometimes fuel Islamophobia, by encouraging the principles of tolerance, moderation, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.”

Asked what are the key reasons behind on-going wave of Islamophobia in Western countries in general and in Europe in particular, Talebna said “despite the growing social ethics, the Economy in Europe has gone towards the opposite direction, hand-in-hand with populist rhetoric and a resurgence in far-right politics.”

“Negative Stereotypes Against all Muslims”

This coupled with the extremist acts of a few Muslims that have made it easier to generalise negative stereotypes and discrimination against all Muslims to take place, she said.

“Such circumstances inter-mingled with the rising intolerance against Islam and Muslims in western countries, which to a large extent was proliferated by widespread reporting, writings, articles, interviews, commentaries, and editorials in some western print and visual media, including social media and cinema that has resulted in negative stereotyping and racial discrimination and victimization directed against Muslims and distortion of the Islamic faith.”

According to the OIC senior official, “ironically, terrorist groups like DAESH and right-wing extremist groups in the west, and the negative media campaigns feed off each other. Here at the OIC, we are committed to oppose right wing extremists and to combat terrorist groups like DAESH.”

“We also encouraged all OIC Member States to work with the media to promote the understanding of responsible use of freedom of speech, to hold the media accountable for perpetuating hate speech and extremism, and to speed up the implementation of the OIC Media Strategy in Countering Islamophobia, adopted at the Ninth Islamic Conference of Information Ministers held in Libreville, Republic of Gabon, in 2012.”

This requires partnership and mutual trust with the West, and notably advancing cultural rapprochement something the OIC is committed to, Talebna added.

Asked about the role of religious and social leaders in halting tendencies towards extremism, Talebna said “We are setting up an anti-extremism messaging centre that uses leading Islamic clerics, through the International Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence) Academy, to create religiously sound counter-narratives against extremist propaganda.”

“We will also collaborate with various NGOs and institutions and community leaders advocating and promoting tolerance, moderation and mutual respect and countering extremist rhetoric.”

Empowering Women to Restrain Extremism

The OIC is also making efforts to restrain extremism by taking actions such as empowering women as well as building capacity among the youth in order to promote peace and development in the Muslim world. We expect that such an approach will help easing the problem of extremism in the long run, she said.

Asked how could she explain to lay people the reasons behind the growing trend of Muslim societies, especially in the Middle East, to seek refuge in religion, Talebna said, “If such a trend is indeed taking place, then this is not a trend confined to Muslim societies. Religion is generally on the rise across the developing world.”

She explained that countless surveys have shown that religious people are more law-abiding happier and generally not prone to extremism. “If it makes people happier then more religion and religious practice should be welcomed. Even many people believe that religion could bring about, not only happier, but also healthier life.“

“Religion can play a positive social, political, economic, cultural and spiritual role in society. After all, it has done so for centuries across the Islamic world and led the world in scientific discovery, education, governance and proven conducive to building strong multicultural societies. There is no reason any increased observance of religion in the Islamic world cannot, with the right institutions and intellectual leadership, lead to similarly positive results.”

The OIC Summit planned to adopt a set of “practical” measures “to counter mounting anti-Muslim sentiment, both in Western countries and other regions of the world. How?

“The official communiqué of the Islamic Summit calls on all Member States to increase the role of religious and community leaders to curb tendencies of extremism, and to diminish Islamophobia, which is in fact main factors of extremism,” Talebna said to IPS.

“The conference encouraged all Member States to promote inter-faith and inter-religious dialogues within the OIC Member States to raise awareness about religious interpretations and beliefs, and open space for further discussion about Islam and faith and to initiate relevant projects at the level of United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.”

The OIC also encouraged all Member States to make further efforts to effectively implement of the Action Plan contained in Res. 16/18 of the Human Rights Council that focuses on combatting anti-religious hatred without double standards

“In an attempt to address the root causes of factors giving rise to the resurgence of racism and xenophobia more generally, of which Islamophobia is a part, the OIC expressed support for efforts to galvanize the international community towards re-engaging with the on-going discourse on the negative historic legacies of trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism.”

According to the OIC high official, such a discourse would include the reference to the looting of cultural heritage and artifacts and the related issues of restitution, reparations and atonement for these wrongs, including the need for an agreement on strategies for achieving them.

In this regards, the Istanbul summit further mandated the OIC to support the convening of an international conference to comprehensively discuss the issue of the slave trade, slavery, colonialism, restitution and reparations.


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Deep Discord at United Nations over Global Drug Policy Wed, 20 Apr 2016 14:41:27 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage A youth smokes diamba (marijuana) at a gang base in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

A youth smokes diamba (marijuana) at a gang base in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

International drug conventions ultimately aim to ensure the health and welfare of humankind, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said here Tuesday at the opening of a special three-day session on drugs known as UNGASS.

Convened by the 193-member UN General Assembly, the meeting brought together government officials, UN agencies and civil society organisations to review the current international drug control regime.

In his address, Eliasson noted the sensitivity of the subject but urged for collaboration and action.

“It is…important that we listen to each other and learn from each others’ experiences, not least of how the well-being of people is affected,” he stated.

“We must base our decisions on research, data and scientific evidence. And we must not shy away from new ideas and approaches – even if these sometimes may challenge traditional assumptions,” Eliasson added.

However, the ongoing discussions reflect a deep discord regarding drug policy within the international community. UNGASS, which was due to be held in 2019, was advanced to 2016 at the request of the leaders of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico, countries that have been at the frontline of drug-related violence.

Ahead of UNGASS, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos remarked on the failure of war on drugs in an opinion editorial for the Guardian.

“Vested with the moral authority of leading the nation that has carried the heaviest burden in the global war on drugs, I can tell you without hesitation that the time has come for the world to transit into a different approach in its drug policy,” he wrote.

“This is not a call for legalisation of drugs. It is a call for recognition that between total war and legalisation there exists a broad range of options worth exploring,” President Santos added.

Since the 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, states have focused on the criminalisation and eradication of drugs. However, evidence has shown that this approach has not only failed to reduce the production and consumption of drugs, but it has also negatively impacted human rights, health and development around the world.

In Colombia, production of the world’s supply of coca leaves stood at less than 10 percent up to the 1980s. However, following the United States-led war on drugs in Peru and Bolivia, which funded crop eradication programs and anti-narcotics policing, cocaine production was pushed northward into Colombia. By 2000, the country cultivated an estimated 90 percent of the world’s coca leaves.

Despite US-funded anti-narcotics operations in Colombia in the 1990s, drug-fuelled violence spiked and contributed to the Western hemisphere’s longest war. Approximately 220,000 civilians were killed and more than five million were displaced during the Colombian armed conflict.

Meanwhile, Colombia continues to be a major coca and cocaine producing country.

Public health concerns also arose from the use of glyphosate in aerial spraying campaigns which were conducted for over two decades to eradicate coca crops. In 2015, the World Health Organisation warned that the herbicide could cause cancer.

In the U.S. itself, the criminalisation of drugs has led to unprecedented levels of incarceration. The north American nation currently has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, many of whom have been imprisoned for drug offences.

Mass incarceration and drug-policing disproportionately impacts African American communities.

Though Whites use drugs five times more than African Americans, African Americans are sent to prison for drug offences at 10 times the rate of White drug users, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

This has produced social costs that do not stop until long after prison sentences end, if at all.

A nation-wide study found that the majority of formerly incarcerated individuals were unable to access employment, education and housing. Approximately 67 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals in the study were still unemployed or underemployed five years after their release.

Many families also lose income and struggle to meet basic needs when a family member is incarcerated and unable to earn wages. In the same study, nearly 2 in 3 families with an incarcerated member were unable to meet their family’s basic needs, and 70 percent of those families include children. This perpetuates a vicious cycle of poverty and further incarceration with little if any change in drug consumption and production nationally.

The U.S. has begun to address the issue, implementing changes in its criminal justice system. During the National Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta in March 2016, President Barrack Obama highlighted the need to change drug approaches.

“For too long we’ve viewed drug addiction through the lens of criminal justice,” Obama said at the conference.

“The most important thing to do is reduce demand. And the only way to do that is to provide treatment – to see it as a public health problem and not a criminal problem,” he continued.

In the last two years, Obama has commuted 248 sentences of non-violent drug offenders who were harshly sentenced as a result of the war on drugs. The U.S. Justice Department also plans to release 6000 drug offenders following a drug law reform which reduced punishment for federal drug offences.

The UNGASS has incorporated some of these perspectives, experiences and evidence in its newly and unanimously adopted outcome document which aims to more effectively address the world drug problem.

In the document, the General Assembly has called for alternative measures to conviction and proportionate sentencing for drug-related offences. It also highlights the need to increase access to health services and treatment and address root causes including poverty.

However, many have already criticised the session and outcome document as being insufficient to effectively address the global drug issue.

Global Drug Policy Observatory’s (GDPO) Senior Research Officer Julia Buxton told IPS of her disappointment stating: “The outcome document is shameful – a hapless fudge…it goes against science, reason, evidence, best practice and lessons learned in decades of failed efforts,” she concluded.

She added that the outcome of meeting would move towards not only evidence-based approaches, but also harm reduction based approaches.

Harm reduction includes a set of strategies utilising a social justice lens to reduce negative health consequences associated with drug use.

“It demonstrates how fundamentally out of touch many national bureaucracies and governments are with the urgency of change and tragically, will condemn another generation to violence, disease, overdose, stigmatisation and rights abuses,” she concluded.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), approximately 27 million people are problem drug users. As of 2015, there has been little change in the production, use, and health consequences of illicit drugs.

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Can an Animal Heist Fable Help Solve the Middle East Crisis? Fri, 15 Apr 2016 15:37:20 +0000 Baher Kamal A scene from the film, Giraffada, directed by Rani Massalha and produced by Pyramide Films. The film was screened at the UN on 7 April 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Pyramide Films | Source: UN News Centre

A scene from the film, Giraffada, directed by Rani Massalha and produced by Pyramide Films. The film was screened at the UN on 7 April 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Pyramide Films | Source: UN News Centre

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 15 2016 (IPS)

Make no mistake-the Middle East is the longest and perhaps the most complex crisis in recent History, this explaining the innumerable, successive –and frustrating- attempts to solve it.

Now, while expecting the US president Barack Obama to follow the “tradition” of his predecessors of calling for a big summit in Washington to talk about this crisis as one of his last official acts, an animal heist fable has just appeared as a new try to serve as poignant metaphor for Middle East relations.

See what is this all about: A 4.5 meter giraffe is one of the main characters in Giraffada, a film shown on April 13 at the United Nations headquarters in New York, depicting the struggles of living in a Palestinian town as seen through the eyes of a young boy who has a close connection with the animal.

The award-winning production’s title is a cross between “giraffe” and “intifada” or Palestinian “uprising,” the director Rani Massalha told the UN News Centre in an interview ahead of the screening.

“The film is set during the second Intifada,” Massalha said, referring to a period of intensified Israeli-Palestinian violence from September 2000 to February 2005.

The film focuses on a widowed Palestinian veterinarian, Yacine, and his 10-year-old son, Ziad, who are trying to keep a giraffe named Rita from dying of loneliness after her partner is killed in an Israeli air raid. The only viable solution is for Rita to be placed in a zoo in Tel Aviv, Israel, or so it seems.

Created as a fable, the film shows “what it is to be a kid in West Bank today living in war, living with a wall surrounding you, with checkpoints, colonies, it’s a very different childhood from people in the West,” the director said.

In one of the most emotional scenes in the film, a giraffe meanders through Palestinian streets, temporarily stopping day activities, such as shopping and praying, as people watch in jaw-dropping disbelief.

“The giraffe is the tallest animal in nature so it sees man from above looking down,” Massalha said, a reference to the height giving the animal perspective to see the situation in the Middle East as it is, not politicized.

The director also used giraffes as a metaphor for how the relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians could be, with two giraffes coming together from both sides of the West Bank barrier, known simply as the wall.

In this interview clip, Massalha discusses how he came up with the idea of having the world’s tallest land animal star in the film, and the connection with hope for peace in the Middle East.

The screening was organised under the auspices of the UN Working Group of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

Deputy Permanent Representative of Malta to the United Nations and Chairperson of the Working Group, Natasha Meli-Daudey, said the film was chosen because of its portrayal of “the reality of the conflict and the impact of the Israeli occupation on the daily life of Palestinian adults and children.”

“We thought the film was well suited to inform a UN and broader New York audience about such topics,” she continued, adding that more than 500 people, including children, attended the screening.

The film’s human characters include different portrayals of Israeli and Palestinian personalities, often with fluid stereotypes. The characters include an Israeli veterinarian, who is actually played by an Arab actor of Moroccan descent, and whose help is integral to the plot’s success.

In contrast, there is an angry confrontation between the characters and a gun-wielding Israeli settler.

Despite it being a film with animals, shown through a child’s eyes, there are scenes that touch on the brutality of living in a war zone. Rather than give away the film’s ending, the UN News Centre asked Massalha to explain one of the scenes from the film

The ‘Two-State Solution Is in Danger’

All this is fine. The point is that only one day after the film screening, a new UN report warned that the viability of a two-state solution –which envisages peaceful co-existence of both Israel and Palestine– is in danger due to the negative trends on the ground, including recent violence, on-going settlement activity, demolitions, incitement, and the absence of Palestinian unity.

The report, issued on April 14 by the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), highlights an increase in settlement activities by Israel and a further consolidation of Israeli control over the West Bank.

It underscores that the demolition of Palestinian homes and livelihood structures more than doubled in the reporting period as compared with the previous six months, noting that the total demolitions by mid-April already exceeded last year’s total. The report also expresses concern over Palestinian access to land and natural resources in ‘Area C’ of the West Bank, among other development factors.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has condemned the April 6 large scale home demolitions by Israeli authorities in the Bedouin refugee community of Um al Khayr in the South Hebron Hills.

A boy in the Bedouin refugee community of Um al Khayr in the South Hebron Hills where large scale home demolitions by Israeli authorities took place. Credit: UNRWA

A boy in the Bedouin refugee community of Um al Khayr in the South Hebron Hills where large scale home demolitions by Israeli authorities took place. Credit: UNRWA

As a result, according to UNRWA, 31 Palestine refugees, including 16 children, were made homeless in a community that has endured several rounds of demolitions and often faced harassment from the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Karmel.

Already this year, over 700 Palestinians have been displaced by Israeli demolitions in the West Bank. This figure is approaching the total number of displaced for all of 2015, said Lance Bartholomeusz, Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank, who stated that he was “appalled” by the “unjustifiable” demolitions, which are in violation of international law.

“As the UN has said repeatedly, these demolitions must stop,” said UNRWA.

Regarding the Palestinian side, the new UNSCO report notes that despite continuing reconciliation discussions held in February and March between Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Qatar, no consensus has been reached on achieving genuine Palestinian unity.

“The formation of a national unity government and the holding of elections are vital to laying the foundations of a future Palestinian state,” the report adds.

Degenerated Human Rights Situation

Citing a protracted humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory, the report says that “some 1.1 million people in the West Bank and some 1.3 million in Gaza, over 900,000 of them refugees, need some form of humanitarian assistance in 2016.”

The report stresses that the human rights situation degenerated with the dramatic rise in clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli Security Forces in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, increased instances of punitive measures against families of alleged perpetrators of attacks, and administrative detentions.

The new UN report will be presented to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) at its bi-annual meeting in Brussels on 19 April. The Committee, chaired by Norway and co-sponsored by the European Union and the United States, serves as the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Merely three weeks ago, the UN envoy for the peace process in the Middle East warned the Security Council that the prospects for an independent Palestinian state are disappearing, and questioned the political will of the Israeli and Palestinian actors to address the main challenges blocking peace efforts.

“The time has come to ring the alarm bells that the two-state solution is slipping from our fingers,” on 24 March said Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, pointing to ongoing Israeli settlement activities and confiscation of Palestinian land, as well as the continued lack of genuine Palestinian unity.


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UN Chief Lauds Oman for Discreet Role in Peace Talks Wed, 30 Mar 2016 21:09:09 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has singled out Oman as perhaps the only Arab country in the Gulf playing a discreet role – mostly behind-the- scenes – in helping resolve some of the military and political conflicts in the war-ravaged region.

The conflicts include the devastating war in Yemen, the long drawn out confrontation between Iran and the big powers on a controversial nuclear agreement with Tehran, and the eight year- long Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

The Secretary-General’s sentiments have been reinforced in a new book titled “Oman Reborn” by Linda Pappas Funsch, Professor of Middle East Studies at Frederick Community College, Maryland, who points out that “the Sultanate of Oman is arguably one of the few ‘good news’ stories to emerge from the Middle East in the contemporary era.”

Described as one of the oldest independent countries in the Arab and Muslim world, Oman differs from many of its neighbours in the Middle East, Funsch says.

Largely ignored by a mainstream media that “gravitates toward sensation and scandal, Oman remains a hidden gem…”

When he visited Oman last month, the Secretary-General specifically acknowledged Oman’s role in hosting discreet talks between U.S. and Iranian officials, which eventually helped set the stage for the landmark nuclear agreement involving Iran and P5+1 – namely the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the US, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany.

As the United Nations moves towards mediating peace negotiations between Yemen and Saudi Arabia in Kuwait on April 18— preceded by a cease-fire on April 10 — the Secretary-General said Oman has been a critical partner “as we try to bring peace to Yemen.”

Ban said he is particularly appreciative of Oman’s support for UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, including enabling him to meet representatives of the parties to the Yemen conflict in the Omani capital of Muscat, ahead of peace talks in Switzerland late last year.

Meanwhile, Oman has helped secure the release of foreign nationals held in captivity in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, and has opened its doors to hundreds of Yemenis needing medical assistance and temporary accommodation.

The Sultanate has also re-settled 20 detainees – all Yemenis – who were transferred from the Guantanamo Bay detention centre to Oman.

Oman’s role as a mediator, Ban said, also goes back to the cease-fire negotiations which the Sultanate hosted during the 1980s to help end the conflict between Iran and Iraq (1980-1988).

Paying a tribute to the leadership of Sultan Qaboos bin Said who has been in power for over 26 years as the longest reigning leader in the Middle East, Funsch says Oman neither adopts modernization and Westernization wholesale nor rejects their components outright.

The nine member Saudi coalition, accused of indiscriminate civilian killings in Yemen, includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan—but not Oman, which has scrupulously kept out of the ongoing conflict.

In her book, Funsch says Oman has maintained a venerable tradition of friendship and longstanding cooperation both with Western friends, including UK and the US, with which it shares strong bilateral ties dating back more than two centuries, and with Eastern friends such as Iran, whose history is inextricably linked to Oman’s own.

“Oman is distinguished from many of its regional neighbours in its steadfast embrace of a measured and independent foreign policy, designed to preserve its sovereignty and avoid interference in the internal affairs of other countries while simultaneously pursuing peaceful coexistence with all nations.”

This strategy, says Funsch, effectively permits the country’s leadership to pursue a path of “quiet diplomacy”, engaging with various parties, when requested, in an attempt to serve as interlocutor and mediator in the cause of defusing regional and international tensions.

The present Sultan took over the leadership from his father in 1970. “This affair may have gone down as a bloodless coup but for the fact that one palace insider who attempted to oppose the (former) Sultan’s removal was killed in the melee that followed.”

Meanwhile, according to Ban, Oman is currently helping the United Nations to digitize the world body’s audiovisual archives dating back to the founding of the Organisation 70 years ago.

They will now be preserved for all time, thanks to Oman, the Secretary-General said.

“All Member States stand to benefit from gaining access to these online archives from anywhere in the world.”

Oman’s reputation as a strong presence on the world stage, he declared, can only be enhanced by this generous act. “And Omanis will gain archiving skills that will help you to safeguard your own precious cultural heritage,” Ban said.

The writer can be contacted at

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Yemen’s Health Crisis is “Critical,” Says WHO Mon, 28 Mar 2016 20:55:52 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The health situation in Yemen has severely deteriorated and is critical, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported.

The conflict, which is now entering its second year, has devastated the country’s health system. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien has called the crisis a “human catastrophe.”

Since March 2015, more than 6,200 people have been killed and 30,000 injured.

WHO has expressed alarm over the rise in the number of causalities amid hospital damages as well as shortages in trained staff and medicine. Approximately 25 percent of all health facilities have already shut down in the country.

However, health needs remain vast, said WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Dr Ala Alwan.

“Operating in a conflict context is never an easy task,” Alwan added.

According to WHO, more than 21 million people—82 percent of the total population—are in dire need of humanitarian aid.

Though the provision of health services was already weak prior to the conflict, the escalation of violence has left millions of Yemenis without access to essential health services.

As a result of air strikes and rockets, water infrastructure has been and continues to be severely damaged. In February, a water reservoir serving over 40,000 people was destroyed in the capital of Sana’a following an airstrike.

Almost 19 million people currently lack access to clean water and sanitation, increasing the risk of epidemics such as dengue fever, malaria and cholera.

More than 14 million Yemenis also require urgent health services, including over 2 million acutely malnourished children and pregnant and lactating women. WHO found that 16 percent of children under the age of 5 are acutely malnourished, with the rate in some areas reaching more than 30 percent.

Alwan noted the numerous challenges in providing health services, including lack of access to hard-to-reach areas.

Permission to move and distribute humanitarian foods and personnel has been inconsistent by al-Houthi forces and allied groups such as Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners.

In a statement to the Security Council, O’Brien found that bureaucratic requirements have delayed and impeded the delivery of humanitarian assistance and even restricted movement of aid workers.

In one week alone in February, the Ministry of Interior in Sana’a rejected travel permission to three separate UN missions.

More than one third of Yemenis in need of assistance live in inaccessible areas.

Alwan highlighted the need for all parties to provide humanitarian access to all areas of Yemen and to respect the safety of health workers and health facilities which operate “under extremely challenging conditions.”

He also expressed concern over the limited funding for the health sector, which has only received 6 percent of its 2016 requirements. In February, the UN also appealed for $1.8 billion for the 2016 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan. So far, 12 percent has been funded.

“Despite our efforts so far, much more needs to be done to respond to the health needs of people in Yemen,” he urged.

Last week, UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced that the country’s warring parties have agreed to cease hostilities starting on April 10 and to continue peace talks in Kuwait on April 18.

Under-Secretary-General O’Brien welcomed the move and urged for continued action to support and provide assistance to civilians in the country.


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Peace in Colombia, Shielded by International Support Fri, 25 Mar 2016 03:25:47 +0000 Constanza Vieira 0 Western Powers Unlikely to Impose Arms Embargo on Saudi Arabia Thu, 24 Mar 2016 14:50:44 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

As hundreds of civilians continue to be killed in the ongoing conflict in Yemen, one of the leading human rights organization is calling for an arms embargo – specifically against Saudi Arabia which is leading a coalition of eight countries battling Houthi rebels in the war-ravaged neighbouring country.

U.N. headquarters. Credit: Tressia Boukhors/IPS

U.N. headquarters. Credit: Tressia Boukhors/IPS

“The United States, United Kingdom, France and others should suspend all weapon sales to Saudi Arabia until it not only curtails its unlawful airstrikes in Yemen but also credibly investigates alleged violations”, said Human Rights Watch (HRW).

But chances of an embargo are remote considering the massive multi-billion dollar arms markets nurtured by the three Western powers who, coincidentally, are three of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council (the other two being China and Russia).

Asked for a response, Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher, Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS the final direct results of such calls in terms of actual restrictions have been minimal, though they serve as a clear symbolic element of the campaigns aimed at ending what is considered the irresponsible or even criminal use of arms by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

“The only case of significant restrictions involves the Netherlands announcing in January that it will only issue permits for arms exports to Saudi Arabia if it is certain the arms in question cannot be used in Yemen,” he pointed out.

“For the past year, governments that arm Saudi Arabia have rejected or downplayed compelling evidence that the coalition’s airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians in Yemen,” said Philippe Bolopion, Deputy Global Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch.

“By continuing to sell weapons to a known violator that has done little to curtail its abuses, the US, UK, and France risk being complicit in unlawful civilian deaths,” he added.

Asked whether a Western arms embargo would be realistic, Bolopion told IPS: “Lucrative arms deals should not blind the US government to the appalling abuses committed over the last year by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.”

He said looking the other way and continuing to provide arms to Saudi Arabia would expose the US to a risk of complicity in these crimes.

“You can’t put a price tag on that,” he added

Currently, the Saudis have strong military links to the three Western powers — with British, French and mostly American military suppliers providing sophisticated weapons, including state-of-the-art fighter planes, helicopters, missiles, battle tanks and electronic warfare systems.

The Saudi arsenal includes Boeing F-15 fighter planes (US supplied), Tornado strike aircraft (UK), Aerospatiale Puma and Dauphin attack helicopters (French), Bell, Apache and Sikorsky helicopters (US), Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning Control System (US), Sidewinder, Sparrow and Stinger missiles (US) and Abrams and M60 battle tanks (US).

The Saudi-led coalition, unleashing air attacks on Yemen, consist of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan.

The Houthi rebels, on the other hand, are also accused of indiscriminate attacks resulting in civilian killings.

In a statement released here, HRW said non-governmental organizations and the United Nations have investigated and reported on numerous unlawful coalition airstrikes since the beginning of the conflict in March 2015.

Human Rights Watch, Crisis Action, Amnesty International, and other international and Yemeni groups have issued a joint statement calling for the cessation of sales and transfers of all weapons and military-related equipment to parties to the conflict in Yemen where “there is a substantial risk of these arms being used… to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law.”

Human Rights Watch has documented 36 unlawful airstrikes – some of which may amount to war crimes – that have killed at least 550 civilians, as well as 15 attacks involving internationally banned cluster munitions.

The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen, established under UN Security Council Resolution 2140 (2013), in a report made public on January 26, 2016, “documented 119 coalition sorties relating to violations” of the laws of war, according to HRW.

Saudi Arabia has not responded to letters from HRW detailing apparent violations by the coalition and seeking clarification on the intended target of attack.

On the contrary, Saudi Arabia has successfully lobbied the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to prevent it from creating an independent, international investigative mechanism.

Wezeman told IPS considering both the size of the arms sales to Saudi Arabia and several of its allies and the military campaign against the Houthi rebels the lack of enthusiasm amongst governments to restrict arms sales is not surprising.

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia was the world’s second largest arms importer in the past five years.

Despite the steep fall in oil prices and drop in Saudi government revenues, signs are that the country will continue to order more expensive military equipment.

For the UK, Saudi Arabia has been the most important arms export market for many years.

France has for years tried hard to increase its arms sales to the country and has found in 2015 new major markets in Egypt and Qatar, countries that are involved in the military intervention in Yemen, he said.

In addition, said Wezeman, there is a fear that significant arms sales restrictions will damage other trade relations with these countries, which are worth more than the arms deals.

In the case of the US, he said, the economic aspects of arms sales to Saudi Arabia are significant too even if they are less essential to the US arms industry as compared to what’s the case in Europe.

The US has in the past shown to be prepared to impose export restriction even if it involved significant loss of revenues, though losing the Saudi market would probably be too big a economic loss in any case.

However, possibly more important, the US considers the Saudi actions as an important part of efforts to establish security in the region and therefore supports the military intervention as part of overall US foreign and security policy.

“A lot has to happen before the US suspends its arms supplies to Saudi Arabia,” Wezeman added.

Jamie McGoldrick, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, told reporters in Geneva early this week that 2015 has been a terrible one for Yemen, with airstrikes, shelling and localized violence.

One in ten Yemenis is displaced — 2.5 million people. More than 6,400 people have been killed and more than 30,000 injured, with half of those killed and injured being civilians.

Today, he said, more than 20 million people in Yemen — 80 per cent of the population — require some kind of humanitarian assistance: 14 million people need food assistance; 7 million people are severely food insecure; 20 million people do not have access to water and sanitation; and 14 million lack adequate health care.

At the same time, he said, human rights violations have soared.

Meanwhile, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said Wednesday he had just completed an extensive round of consultations with Yemeni leaders and regional partners.

After active consultations with the President Hadi and Yemeni officials in Riyadh and the delegations of Ansar Allah and the General People’s Congress in Sana’a, the parties to the conflict have agreed to a nation-wide cessation of hostilities beginning at midnight on 10 April, he said.

This is in advance of the upcoming round of peace talks, which will take place on 18 April in Kuwait, to be hosted by the Prince of Kuwait Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

The writer can be contacted at

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Will Children of Colombia Know Peace at Last? Tue, 22 Mar 2016 14:22:32 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

“No child in Colombia today knows what it is like to live in a country at peace,” said UN Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) Representative in Colombia Roberto De Bernardi during the launch of a new report.

The new report, titled ‘Childhood in the Time of War: Will the children of Colombia know peace at last?’, illustrates the profound impacts of the country’s 50-year conflict on youth.

According to national data, collected since 1985, approximately 2.5 million children have been affected by war. Of this population, 2.3 million have been displaced, 45,000 children have been killed, and 8,000 have disappeared.

Children under the age of five comprise of 1 in 10 of those killed, abducted, disappeared and tortured, and 1 in 5 of the total number of displaced persons.

Indigenous and Afro-Colombian children have been especially vulnerable during the conflict, representing 12 percent of the displaced, 15 percent of sexual violence survivors, and 17 percent of those tortured.

“It is time to turn the page,” De Bernardi remarked.

Though there has been some improvement since peace talks were initiated in 2013, people under the age of 18 continue to bear the brunt of suffering.

Persistent fighting between rival groups have displaced 230,000 children, killed 75 children and injured another 180. The UN also estimates approximately 1,000 children—or one child per day–were recruited by non-state armed groups.

Children have also been unable to attend school due to threat of physical and sexual violence, recruitment, and the presence of mines in and around schools.

As peace negotiations inch towards a final agreement, ending one of the longest wars in modern history, UNICEF urges parties to consider and prioritize children’s interests first.

“Even if the peace agreement were to be signed tomorrow, children will continue to be at risk of all kinds of violations including recruitment, landmines and sexual exploitation,” De Bernardi stated.

Though the main parties to the conflict are the country’s Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) who are currently involved in ongoing talks, other armed groups remain active in the country including the National Liberation army (ELN) which threaten sustained violence and instability.

UNICEF stressed the importance of providing social and psychological support to children affected by conflict, helping them reunite with families and reintegrate into society.

This is especially needed for vulnerable communities with few resources and even fewer options other than to join an armed group in order to survive.

“Unless more and better resources are invested in creating opportunities for children and young people to thrive, long lasting peace in Colombia will continue to be an elusive dream,” De Bernardi concluded in the report.

UNICEF has made an appeal of $52 million to provide essential services to children in Colombia.


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Women`s Revolution Sun, 20 Mar 2016 14:16:36 +0000 Bina Shah By Bina Shah
Mar 20 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

For as long as I can remember, people have been talking about the possibility of revolution in Pakistan. They were originally inspired, or perhaps frightened, by the Iranian Revolution in 1979, when ordinary Iranians rose up under the leadership of the clergy and overthrew Western-backed Reza Shah Pahlavi.

As an intellectual exercise, Pakistanis have always wondered whether a similar revolution could take place in Pakistan, and if so, what would that revolution look like? Some envision it as a religious revolution where the Pakistani religious right wing encourages its militants to come out on the streets and seize power and enact Sharia throughout the country. Others imagine a revolution along the lines of the French revolution, where the have-nots slaughter the haves in a bloody uprising, and take control of their land and property.

Most people dismiss the idea of these kinds of revolutions, however, in light of the cloud of apathy in which Pakistanis live. The status quo, they think, is here to stay. Well, the revolution is already here, but it doesn`t quite look like what people imagined it to be.

Nor is it being enacted by the people they expected it to encompass. Pakistan`s revolution is a women`s revolution, and although we`re in its early stages, it`s already looking powerful enough to change a nation.

Although women have always participated in political revolutions around the world, the women`s liberation movement in the 1970s was the first time that women, mostly in the developed world, joined together to agitate for their rights. While many offshoots of feminism, including radical feminism and socialist feminism, developed from this movement, women in countries like Pakistan did not feel its benefits directly in their lives.

Pakistani women had their own problems to deal with when Bhutto started to Islamise Pakistan. Then Gen Zia picked up the baton after deposing Bhutto, hurtling the country towards even greater heights of gender discrimination. And he wielded that baton unmercifully on Pakistani women`s bodies.

Pakistani women have never truly held full authority over their own bodies; their bodies belonged to their families, to their male protectors, fathers, husbands, brothers and sons, who decided how and when to dispose of them through marriage or other means.

Now the state was codifying the control of women`s bodies, prescribing jailing, lashing and even execution for adultery and for the crime of being raped. Encasing them in chadar and chardiwari, repressing their very existence until the practice of pre-Islamic Arabs burying their baby girls at birth started to look less painful compared to how Pakistani women were being symbolicallyburied throughout their lives. And while Zia is long gone, regressive societal attitudes towards women live on.

Reading Ta-nehisi Coates`s excellent book on race in America, Between the World and Me where Coates writes of the state`s ability to enact destruction on black bodies with no repercussions for perpetrators of those attacks, it struck me that the same thing happens to the bodies of women in this country.

Here in Pakistan, families enact the violence, but the state is complicit through its inaction. Without legal and social reform, Pakistan`s girls and women will continue to be shot in the head for trying to exercise their own autonomy. Men will continue to enslave women while pretending to be their protectors and caretakers. Half the country`s population will continue to function as second-rate citizens, and justice and peace will forever remain elusive in Pakistan.

The furore of the religious right against the Women`s Protection Act in Punjab, and the anger and hysteria about something that is morally unarguable a woman`s right tonot be abused, thrown out of her house, even killed proves that a rotten nerve has been exposed to the light. We cannot accept this situation as the status quo anymore. Yet as proven in the American Civil War, men do not give up their slaves easily.

Revolution begins when a human beingsays `Enough.` Pakistan`s women have finally said `enough`. Enough of the domestic violence, the sexual harassment and abuse, the beatings, the acid attacks, the `honour` killings. Enough of keeping girls illiterate, of stopping women from collecting their inheritance, from owning property.

Enough blood their own has been spilled.

Pakistan`s women are raising not just their voices, but their bodies. They are insisting on the right to be educated, to work, to live in safety and security. Women parliamentarians are taking up their cause in the legislature, enacting laws to protect them. Nobody can reverse this social awakening.

It may seem like the path to chaos and societal destruction, but when the smoke clears, it will change Pakistan for the better. This revolution may even rescue us from the morass of degeneracy that has gripped us for so long we no longer know what a normal environment for women looks like.

The writer is an author. Twitter: @binashah

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Myanmar’s Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis Thu, 17 Mar 2016 06:53:13 +0000 Maung Zarni Dr Maung Zarni is a non-resident research scholar, Sleuth Rith Institute, (A permanent Documentation Centre of Cambodia) & former visiting lecturer, Harvard Medical School, USA]]> Dr Maung Zarni is a non-resident research scholar, Sleuth Rith Institute, (A permanent Documentation Centre of Cambodia) & former visiting lecturer, Harvard Medical School, USA]]> 0 Civil Wars Threaten to Break up a Volatile Middle East Mon, 14 Mar 2016 20:26:28 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

As civil wars and cross-border military conflicts continue to escalate in the Middle East, Syria, Iraq and Libya are in danger of breaking up —even as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continues to make territorial gains in the volatile region.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has already warned that “it may be too late to keep Syria as a whole if we wait much longer.”

Currently there is a fragile “cessation of hostilities” by the warring factions in Syria in a civil war which began on 15 March 2011. But it is anybody’s guess as to how long the cease-fire is going to last.

Antonio Guterres, the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees and a candidate for the post of UN Secretary-General, has warned that if the protracted conflict in Syria does not end quickly, “it might be the end of Syria as the world knew it.”

The speculation is ultimately there may be two Syrias: a Sunni Syria and a Shia Syria. And the same was true for Iraq, Guterres told the Security Council last December.

The international community could not allow today’s sectarian divide to escalate to the level of the wars of religion that had flattened large parts of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The lessons of history showed that peace could not wait, he declared.

In Iraq, the prediction is it may eventually break up into three nation states: a Sunni Iraq and a Shia Iraq (an Eastern and Western Syria) — and a separate Kurdistan, a homeland for millions of Kurds in Iraq and Turkey fighting a longstanding battle for a separate state of their own.

Libya, which has been destabilized since the fall of Muammar el Qaddafi in 2011, already has two centres of political power and rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk

Meanwhile, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebi warned last week that ISIS, which has captured parts of Libya, is threatening to create a new Islamic state inside Tunisia.

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Connectcut, told IPS the general argument is that these states – Syria, Iraq and Libya – have already been deeply damaged by regime change policies.

“Their integrity has (also) been greatly damaged. There is no need to partition Syria, for example, for it has already been fragmented by the war,” said Prashad, whose soon-to-be-released book is titled ‘The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution’ (University of California Press and LeftWord Books).

He pointed out the Syrian Center for Policy Research in Damascus has a report out which argues the economy that has been produced by the war has led to several Syrias, each one built now around the carapace of survival.

The creation of the enclave in northern Iraq in 1991 had already divided up Iraq, while the US occupation set the various factions into a sectarian matrix.

Libya barely exists as a country – with three governments, one in Tripoli, one in Tobruk/Bayda and an ISIS government in Sirte. These are each now building up their own apparatus of rule, said Prashad.

Addressing the Security Council last month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “We must recognize that 2015 was one of the most troubled and turbulent years in recent history, with civil wars ravaging Syria and Yemen and violent extremism spreading.”

Meanwhile, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said last week that between 2007 and 2014, civil wars have almost tripled.

Wars have recently grown in intensity and scale, becoming more deadly, more protracted, more complex and less amenable to settlement, he said.

“There is a glaring disrespect and disregard for international humanitarian law,” said Eliasson.

Several factors feed conflict: political rivalries, international interference (“proxy wars”), economic volatility and inequalities, weak governance, human rights violations and a growth in violent extremism, he noted.

Uncoordinated action and the pursuit of short-sighted national interests will only perpetuate instability. The peaceful solutions are in today’s world both in the national and international interest, he added.

In response to these conflicts, said Eliasson, the United Nations and its Member States launched major reviews in 2015 on the tools to respond to conflict, including on peace operations, peacebuilding and the World Humanitarian Summit.

The writer can be contacted at

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Palestinian Refugees from Syria Fri, 11 Mar 2016 07:09:36 +0000 Silvia Boarini 1 CTBTO to Install Two Nuclear Monitoring Stations in Ecuador Mon, 07 Mar 2016 14:41:25 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), based in Vienna, will soon install two new monitoring stations in Ecuador.

CTBTOs Executive Secretary Dr Lassina Zerbo told IPS the two stations in Ecuador, RN 24 and IS 20, “will brings us an important step closer to the completion of the International Monitoring System – the network that monitors the globe 24/7 for signs of nuclear explosive testing.”

Courtesy of CTBTO

Courtesy of CTBTO

“I am very grateful to the Government and the people of Ecuador for this valuable contribution to global security, especially given the special status of the Galapagos Islands,” he added.

The stations will be located on Galapagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, and a province of Ecuador.

Zerbo underlined the importance of both stations which are expected to enhance global coverage of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) verification regime.

The stations will be located near the Equator, where detection capabilities through infrasound and radionuclide monitoring are relatively lower due to the absence of steadily flowing winds.

The two stations will considerably enhance coverage for the Pacific Ocean, where hundreds of nuclear tests were conducted in past decades.

According to CTBTO, the infrasound station in the Galapagos will not only enhance the verification regime’s global detection capabilities but also assist in regional disaster warning efforts, including detections of volcanic eruptions.

There are a number of volcanoes in Ecuador, including the Tungurahua volcano which last erupted in April 2014. Data generated by both stations can also contribute to research of the atmosphere, storm systems and climate change.

The CTBTO’s global monitoring network now comprises over 300 stations, some in the most remote and inaccessible areas of the earth and sea.

The network captures four types of data: seismic (shockwaves in the earth), hydroacoustic (measuring sound through water), infrasound (low frequency sound) and radionuclide (radioactivity). It is about 90 percent complete.

When completed, the system will have 337 stations placed globally to monitor every corner of the planet effectively

Currently, there are three certified seismic stations in Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil), 16 auxiliary seismic stations, six certified infrasound stations, with two still planned, including the one in Ecuador, one hydroacoustic station (Juan Fernandez Island, Chile), and nine radionuclide stations, two of which are under construction – not including the one planned in Ecuador.

There are also radionuclide laboratories in Argentina and Brazil.

The locations of the various stations is prescribed by the CTBT and based on scientific methods which are designed to ensure complete coverage of the globe.

Every additional station that is certified, improves the overall reliability of the network (which, incidentally, is already performing at a far higher and more accurate rate than was envisaged when the Treaty was being negotiated), according to CTBTO.

The network is a way to guard against test ban treaty violations because the CTBT prohibits nuclear explosions worldwide: in the atmosphere, underwater and underground.

“The CTBTO’s International Monitoring System has found a wider mission than its creators ever foresaw: monitoring an active and evolving Earth,” said Zerbo.

He said some compare the system to a combined giant Earth stethoscope and sniffer that looks, listens, feels and sniffs for planetary irregularities.

It’s the only global network which detects atmospheric radioactivity and sound waves which humans cannot hear, said Zerbo.

He said the CTBTO would work closely together with all national stakeholders involved to ensure that the establishment of the two stations at the Galapagos Islands would be amongst the quickest ever undertaken by the organization, while ensuring the highest environmental protection standards during the stations’ installation and operation.

He also expressed his appreciation for the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry’s excellent coordination in this regard.

The writer can be contacted at

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